“Holy biased” was the headline of today’s Sun editorial. The article begins: “Yet again the Church of England has revealed its hand as the religious wing of the Labour Party” and takes the bishops to task for blindly supporting the billions spent on aid that is wasted (interesting one to quantify – ed) and for ditching nukes. The editor’s main criticism was over the bishops criticism that the poor have been hardest hit in this time of cutbacks given employment is on the rise and people are being weaned off welfare. As for bishops criticizing austerity cuts, they say ”this was because Britain was left penniless by the Labour Party they secretly support”.
When one of my Green friends posted on his Facebook page a link to an article titled “Church of England calls for a fresh moral vision in British politics”, he did so approvingly. I did rather light heartedly point out that the Church of England was known as the Conservative Party at prayer and may not all be Green sympathisers, although I suspect the Sun editors may dispute this. Today, I found my local (Conservative) MP had waded into the now hotting up election debate echoing similar sentiments to the Sun’s editor. He was keen to share a 80 second “Share the Facts” video making similar points. But as I have argued in other writings,, while the Bible lays down certain principles, it does not tell us which party to support. After all, creating an environment where one can prosper and take care of our families is just as biblical concept as working toward a socially just society. Having come across so many cases of poor and socially excluded people bearing the brunt of systemic and cultural failures, I can quite see why the bishops would want to speak out as they do.
Another Facebook friend posted an interesting link to an article by the outgoing editor of the Daily Telegraph giving reasons why he is quitting the paper. In essence it is about the dumbing down of the content served up by that paper, but specifically its failure to take HSBC to task for a series of banking scandals that we have not yet got to the bottom off but if the paper had done its job properly rather than being beholden to vested interests we may well be in a position of knowing what went to and taking wrong-doers to task. While I don’t regularly read any newspaper, in my young days the Telegraph was my paper of choice and despite its Conservative bias I felt it could be relied on the report fairly, no longer the case it seems. Also, given the role of banks post credit crunch time and against a background of austerity, with some high ups doing remarkably well despite past failures, with seemingly little done by government to make banks accountable, while as the bishops say the poor continue to suffer, and in ways that are avoidable as my community sojourn shows, this situation makes the story especially significant.
Going back to the bishop’s letter, a brief scan through it leads me to think there is much in it to be commended. I agree with one commentator in his article titled: “‘Who is my neighbour?’ – The Church of England finds a new political voice” who declared that the letter “shows how theological truth can speak effectively and illuminatingly to the political health of the nation at a moment of crisis and opportunity“. Rightly, it doesn’t come down to suggesting members follow a particular political party. Rather it encourages members to be engaged politically and ask the searching questions that in my opinion none of the parties are satisfactorily answering. I suspect, I am not a lone voice here and that there are many in the church who because they see “neighbour” to be all inclusive, would want to work toward a society that practices “love thy neighbour“. Whether one’s pre-occupations veers toward steadily growing the economy or dealing directly with poverty matters (and it isn’t either or), what Christian folk can offer is a credible alternative third way.
Much as it may irritate politicians and newspaper editors, the church is called to be a prophetic voice to the nation and history tells us that true prophets are rarely popular. It is refreshing to see the bishops taking the lead, at least on certain matters. Someone should be a voice for the voiceless and speak out regarding matters of truth, justice and righteousness, which biblically speaking is something the church and christian folk should be doing, whatever politicians and newspaper editors say. While there are pitfalls to watch out for, I am pleased to see the bishops are trying to do this, at least to a certain extent, even though they have often capitulated on other matters that I regard as essential, and as one Anglican priest critic of the bishop’s report has pointed out, with irrevocable damage and unacceptable compromise being the unintended outcome.
Much as I like the priest’s article, in particular with its call on the church to repent, I do not believe it has got everything right by a long shot. Every day almost, I see all sorts of wrongs in society that I don’t see being addressed by the two main front runners: Labour and Conservative. nor by any of the lesser pretenders, and this because their main political premises are flawed, their political philosophy is more to do with creating entrenched positions than providing leadership and hope, and there is a lack of vision, which Christians ought to provide. Yet another article, more supportive, written from a Labour perspective, titled “the bishops’ letter to British politicians is a true act of leadership“, has rightly raised a number of matters of concerns that the bishops have also raised and sought to address. I hope and pray all these matters will be added to the mix and usefully aired in the lead up to the General Election. I intend to be wading in to the political foray with this end in mind.
I daresay in the lead up to May’s General Election, I will be making a number of political postings, and in the meantime I will follow developments closely and share my reactions. Whether I declare my hand as to who to support remains to be seen. I don’t do so now because I am supporting no-one. Given the sound bite politics of the Sun and my MP and I fear many of his opponents also, there is a foreboding feeling of here we go again. Holy the bishops may be, and just may be they are out of their depth politically, but biased I question. We all have perspectives on many things, and the bishops are offering theirs. They are raising points that need responding to and, importantly, encouraging the flock to be politically engaged – a good thing. I am glad that some of my holy colleagues, who hold a range of political views will be organizing a hustings for my own constituency: Rochford and Southend East. I hope we will go beyond the soundbite and dig deep for meaningful answers. All the main candidates have been invited: Wednesday 22nd April 2015, 7.15pm, Belle Vue Baptist Church, so watch this space!