Amazon have produced a warm, cuddly, interfaith Christmas ad. And it’s authentic: there are no actors. A real-life vicar and a real-life imam exchange gifts (knee-pads) to help make praying a little more comfortable in their advancing years. It’s a thoughtful, sensitive comfort-blanket that fills you with all sorts of fluffy feelings. There are real friendships across the faiths: dialogue isn’t all bogged down in hard assertions of tawhid or taqiyya or endless arguments about the succession of prophets. Underneath the dog collars and skullcaps of religious office are people who live with bread and need friends. And they can all get arthritis. Christmas is a good time to say ‘Love thy neighbour’ and get yourself a fine pair of knee-pads – especially if it boosts the impending Black Friday shopping orgy.
What this has to do with Brexit or the election of Donald Trump isn’t entirely clear, but the Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes sent out the illustrated tweet with a link to the Guardian (..of course), which includes this paragraph:
There have been reports since Trump’s win of an increase in reports of hate crimes in the US aimed at Muslims, Latinos and African Americans. In the UK, the outgoing prime minister David Cameron condemned “despicable” incidents of xenophobic abuse shortly after the Brexit vote in June.
And so the Bishop of Liverpool dutifully equates the “Trump:Brexit world” with hate, as though the two events are contiguous and repugnant to the holiness of God. Might one not reasonably infer from this that Paul Bayes would have preferred a ‘Hillary:EU’ world; and that he believes ‘ever closer union’ to be a manifestation of the kingdom of God, or that the image of God is better reflected in the ‘Hillary:EU’ benevolent political cosmology? It appears not:
Goes far beyond? Does it? Is there any other way to construe his meaning other than that a Hillary:EU world is the lesser evil and the greater expression of love? A few members of the clergy clearly think not: “It was very hard to interpret it as anything other than a direct insult to me & 51.9% of voters,” tweeted the Rev’d Dan Stork Banks. “That’s how we alienate people,” he added, fully cognisant of the implications for mission. And the Rev’d Richard Mutter agreed: “Is it any wonder so many people couldn’t care less what the bishops say?” he tweeted. “Antipathy is worse than alienation” (that’s them out of the ‘talent pool‘, for sure). And note the Bishop’s reproach “your critical comment”, as though his original chirp could not possibly be construed as censure of the 17.4 million British voters who supported Brexit and the 61.6 million American voters who favoured a Trump presidency. Stupid, ignorant mob. If the Trump:Brexit world amounts to bowing the knee to hate (and note the allusion to idolatry), what does that say of all those who helped to usher in this era of hostility, enmity and mutual loathing? Are we so beyond the pale that bishops of the national church must rebuke and humiliate us so publicly? Are we really out there with the BNP or down their with Britain First? Is this the alienating episcopal mindset?
Consider this tweet sent out in February, when Brexit was but a distant dream and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was nothing but a far-flung fantasy:
Do bishops have any idea how these sorts of public pronouncements are perceived by the world? It’s bad enough having vicars who tweet that Brexiteers are basically racist; that Ukip-ers are to be loathed and despised; that Brexit Christians (..oxymoron alert..) are the new lepers; that “tribalism and division” are uniquely ‘right-wing’ derivatives; or that Conservative beliefs are antithetical to the mind of Christ. But when bishops in the Church of England tell millions of people – their national flock – that anti-EU views constitute and engender ‘hate’, or the way they vote heralds a ‘nightmare’, they project a view of the church that has no place for Brexiteers/Tories/Trumpeters (or whatever they’re called); that holding these delinquent political beliefs is not only worse than leprosy, it’s the sort of abdication of democratic responsibility that might even help Ed Balls to win Strictly.
Stupid, ignorant mob. We need proven and established experts – theologian-guardians, dance judges, Hillary Clinton, Lord Deben, Tony Blair – to save us from our foolish, nasty passions. ‘Mass democracy has failed‘, trumpets former archbishop Rowan, Lord Williams of Oystermouth. Funny, isn’t it, how democracy was flourishing when we had the saintly Obama in the White House, socialists ruling the House of Commons and, of course, unquestionable ever-closer incorporation into the ever-blessed European Union. God forbid that the people might become bitter extremists and vote un-Christianly for uncivilised and unenlightened candidates. They’re so easily duped by false hopes and lies, these people. Far better to be governed by wise ones like Tony Blair and Lord Williams of Oystermouth: they can grasp complex issues, you know. True democracy is when the people learn this, and understand that they must vote for a Hillary:EU world because a Trump:Brexit world is violent, divisive and evil.
Curiously, the Bishop of Liverpool is sensitive to how ecclesial/episcopal contempt for those who erect their Christmas trees in November may harm Christian witness and hinder mission. They must be loved, not disdained:
But if premature wassailers are to be loved, why not Brexit/Trump voters? Why are they juxtaposed with hate and worldly idolatry? What values, norms and reasoned expectations are displaced when church leaders bind everything with narrow consensual meaning? Isn’t it the task of the church to adjust to the new political context and get on with preaching the word in season and out of season (2Tim 4:2)? What’s the point of belligerent bishops being counter-cultural only when democracy produces results they don’t like?