Bishop of Derby calls for hope in the face of conflict, during Archbishop’s debate

DerbyOn 5th December 2014, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s debate on the role of soft power and non-military responses to conflict prevention. He noted that for soft power to be successfully exercised, it requires a great deal of trust – particularly trust in a bigger overview, the dignity of all people, a trust in the goodness of heart of people – and a willingness to learn new things. He also reflected on how the Anglican Church at its best is a model for these forms of trust.

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my colleague the most reverend Primate—or perhaps I should say from these Benches my honourable friend—on his securing this debate.

I am attracted by the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about persuasion, but I think that there is something important about the very paradox of the phrase “soft power” that we need to take seriously. I start where Professor Nye starts, by saying that it works through “attraction rather than coercion”. He is clear that attraction works slowly. That is why it was very important to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wei, about dreams. Soft power needs to be attached to a narrative of hope.

The context for this discussion is a world characterised by the dissolving of boundaries and certainties. We are seeing the dissolving of boundaries politically, morally and militarily. Hard power, which has often maintained boundaries, has really been in decline since the retreat of Napoleon from Russia, when he was attacked on the way by what we now regard as terrorist forces. Conflict today rarely involves recognised nations, armies in uniforms and a contained conflict; it involves, as we know, terror groups that fade into society. They make an occasional strike. The conflict is not about victory or defeat; it is about fear, uncertainty and instability—the impossibility of having a dream or a hope.

That is the context: it is messy and it is complicated. This whole debate shows that we have to accept that the soft power that we are grasping after, as hard power is being exposed to have severe limitations in the world in which we live, will be messy and complex.

We need to look to soft power to push hard power out of its comfort zone. We too easily look to military might as a fallback position. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, the whole amazing story of Jesus Christ and the Roman Empire is a very powerful illustration of what soft power can do; or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, it is about hearts and minds and not simply crushing people in a world where you can rarely do that because they just move on and create chaos elsewhere.

I want to do two things: offer a couple of examples of soft power that might give us hope and something to think about, and reflect on how soft power needs to work in our world. My colleague the most reverent Primate is far too modest to say that he is on the forefront of the exercise of soft power at this very moment. On Tuesday, I was privileged to accompany him to Rome for an event about challenging slavery, which we in this House engage with this week and next week.

At this event, besides the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury were the Pope and the leaders of Orthodox Christians, of the Jewish faith, of Muslims—both Shia and Sunni—and of Hindu and Buddhist communities. In one sense, represented in making that statement against slavery were people whose values, visions and hopes connected with 90% of the world’s population. That is an amazing possibility for what we are talking about: soft power gathered to challenge the evils of slavery.

Let me give you another couple of smaller examples. I am privileged to be a trustee and director of Christian Aid. We work in partnership with colleagues in other countries from the bottom up. We are involved at the moment in Colombia, which is one of the most violent societies in the world. With partners, we have been able to set up what are called humanitarian zones—spaces that people recognise amidst the violence where there can be some security and stability. The state has recognised the value of these and has helped to set up a whole network of humanitarian zones within a violent society. That is a small-scale example of soft power creating a narrative of hope within the complexities of conflict.

Another area that we in Christian Aid work in is in Palestine/Israel, where we send people called ecumenical accompaniers. People go from this country to train for three or four months and to live on the West Bank or in Israel. By their presence they give protection and they support Palestinian and Israeli peace activists, and when they come back they are advocates for that kind of experience, that kind of narrative, that kind of working together. Soft power will often work through very small engagements, but ones that add up to a narrative that can be encouraging.

My last example comes from Rome on Tuesday, where I met one of the Shia leaders of Muslims in Iraq. He told me how the previous week he had been on a journey with fellow Shia Muslims to take food to Christian communities that were in great need. He has invited me to see this work and to bless it. That is just another little sign of how hearts can connect in a narrative of hope and a dream of goodness that give a different model and build from the bottom up in a situation where hard power is enormously frustrated in making a decisive difference.

I am going to risk finishing with a little reflection, which might seem rather unlikely, from my experience of being an Anglican. I want to tease out some things about the Anglican tradition and soft power. I need to make clear that neither the most reverend Primate nor I have any real levers that we can pull to make things happen. Everybody thinks that we can and they write to us, but in my diocese and in the Church of England across the communion we have few levers that we can pull in a hard way and something will happen. We have to work with what you might call soft power.

A few years ago I was invited to write a book about Anglicanism, and I had to think about what Anglicanism is; we might have a debate on that one day. I came up with the definition that Anglicanism is fundamentalisms in dialogue: that is, people who believe things absolutely passionately, think that the other lot are totally wrong and are not in an explicit dialogue but are somehow held together. The root of that is Jesus’s teaching that you should love your enemies, which is the great text of soft power. There is a presupposition that you will have enemies. Human beings fall out—we have heard about original sin—but you somehow have to love your enemies. It is hard to do that through hard power but it is what soft power is about. Fundamentalisms often contain a very important truth that just gets overembroidered. The art is to take seriously the fundamentalism in somebody but be willing to challenge the embroidery that stops others getting a look in.

From that experience, I can see four marks of soft power. The first mark in this attempt to love the enemy is to trust in a bigger overview. In our Anglican tradition, that is what episcopal oversight is: we stand for the overview of the whole church with the local and little fundamentalisms. In the world, I guess that the dream of a bigger overview is the dream of the United Nations and how we can have a bigger see within which to operate.

The second mark of soft power is to trust in the dignity of everybody, even the fundamentalists who you find it very hard to engage with. For Anglicans, the scriptures give us countless texts and teaching—a common text about the dignity of all human beings. I guess that, in the world, the equivalent would be things such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are common texts that challenge us to see the dignity of every human being, whatever their fundamentalism or approach.

The third mark of soft power is to trust in the hope for goodness that is in human hearts. I have been involved in Derby with the families of those who have gone to fight for ISIS. Of course, I do not agree with that but some of these young people see that their hope for goodness in their hearts can be best expressed like that. They are not going to kill people; they are going because they believe that that is the way to get a better society. How can we somehow connect with the hope for goodness in people’s hearts? As Anglicans, we do that through what is called common worship. If you go into Anglican churches there is an enormous variety and it does not look common at all. But there is a commonness about the hope for goodness that God can raise in human hearts. I guess that, for politicians, that is the art of setting a tone to raise what I would call public spirit—a spirit in the public who have hopes and dreams for goodness.

The fourth mark of soft power is a willingness to learn new things. For us as Anglicans, that is in struggling to use our reason to try to see what God is trying to teach us. We see through a glass darkly; we can always see new things. That is probably the biggest challenge to hard power and politics, as it is often caricatured through parties and ideologies: the courage to be shown something new and to learn and change, breaking out of the paradigm in which you have been set.

Those would seem to be some marks of how soft power might operate for people like me, as an Anglican, and people like us in a world with high aspirations through soft power. However, it is going to be messy, so I will finish with some questions for the Minister. How seriously can government take the importance of fundamentalisms and have a politics that is generous about seeking the core truth in even the most extreme views, by taking away the embroidery because we recognise the common dignity in human beings? How seriously can government operate soft power through partnership and not partisan power or, as we say in our Prayers here each day, not through “partial affections”? How seriously can the Government work with agents such as the church, faith groups, Christian Aid and the Anglican communion—people who are making small steps to operate soft power and probably need encouragement? The Government probably have the courage to invest in small steps and not big systems all the time.

My last point is that the criteria for government investment in soft power is dominated in our world, inevitably, by what people call smart objectives. As the noble Lord, Lord Wei, said, we need to have dreams and faith. We need to trust in messiness and taking a punt on small things that could have heart-to-heart consequences for our relationships through human beings with other nations. That is a bold thing for government but it is how soft power would need to operate. As hard power is exposed as having severe limitations in the modern world, we need to invest in this kind of approach seriously and heavily.


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