Archbishop of Wales on church's duty to 'change society'

The Archbishop of Wales has said the church has a duty to gets its hands dirty to change society "to overturn poverty, injustice and oppression".

In his Christmas message, Dr Barry Morgan said religion could not distance itself from events in the wider world.

He said the authorities at St Paul's Cathedral had given this "unfortunate impression" when it initially closed its doors to economic protesters.

Dr Morgan said Jesus felt compassion was more important than purity.

'Economic injustice'

His message is entitled - "Church needs to get its hands dirty to do God's work".

The archbishop said: "All of us here know about the protest outside St Paul's Cathedral and the Occupy protesters in many other parts of Britain, including the one until recently in Cardiff outside the Unite offices.

"They are protesting, among other things, about economic injustice and the effect it has on the poorest members of our society.

"St Paul's Cathedral's initial reaction was to close its doors and threaten legal action.

"Later the authorities there changed their minds, opened their doors and welcomed the protesters in.

"However, by initially reacting the way they did, they gave the unfortunate impression that what was happening inside the cathedral had very little to do with what was happening outside it.

"People could have drawn the conclusion from that, that the worship of God has no connection with the world or its concerns because God is literally and metaphorically above it."

Dr Morgan criticised an outdated emphasis on "the importance of dignified worship" which kept the world at "a respectable distance so that it doesn't sully what is going on inside the sacred space".

He pointed out that Jesus himself "shattered" this view of God's holiness.

"He spent most of his ministry out of doors, not in synagogues or temples but preaching to ordinary people, attempting to relate ordinary everyday events to God," said Dr Morgan.

The archbishop added that to do God's will on earth was not "just a matter of changing our own lives to do God's will - a personal morality.

"It is more radical than that - it means trying to change the structures of our society and world, overturning poverty, injustice and oppression.

"Paradoxically, it is the Occupy movement which has reminded us that in Jesus, the view of God as a holy set-apart God, has been shattered forever, in the birth in a cowshed and death on a cross."

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Cardiff, the Most Reverend George Stack, will be visiting a prison on Christmas Day.

In his first Christmas broadcast to BBC Radio Wales since being installed as Cardiff's Catholic archbishop in June, he spoke about types of prisons that we can all create for ourselves through hurt, anger and disappointment.

"Prisons are often confusing places, especially since society isn't quite sure whether it wants them to be places of punishment, rehabilitation or whether prisoners repay their debt to society," he said.

"Christmas is perhaps the loneliest time of all for them when they realise that they've cut themselves off from the normal family things that give people their identity, security and happiness.

"At Christmas mass, they always say they are sorry - sorry for themselves certainly, sorry for what they've done maybe, sorry for cutting themselves off from their family and friends definitely."

But he said there are also many prisons that people create for themselves and the phrase 'I'll forgive but I can never forget' is often used.

He added: "Trapped by hurt and anger and painful memories. Trapped by failed ambition, jealousy or disappointment. The prisons of selfishness and pride.

"The measure of God's love for me is the measure of my need for forgiveness.

"The fact that in me, Jesus sees a person of infinite value, infinitely loveable - a person worth dying for.

"At Christmas, we give thanks that God continues to send his message to all our tomorrows and his message is love."

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