Two marriages have broken down, with all the heartache, tears and loneliness of the innocent parties. One wedding ring has been thrown to the floor in the passion of betrayal; another still worn in the sorrow of defiance. It has been a very public humiliation, and six children are now crying every night in their brokenhearted beds. The pain is deep, and their scars will last a lifetime.
But the Bishop of Manchester refers to the lies, deception and unfaithfulness and as “a bit of a fling“.
He isn’t overly worried by illicit love or the agony of despair: his concern is that Matt Hancock breached his own Covid regulations.
Certainly, hypocrisy is serious: if you are depriving people of their liberty, you at least need to comply with the strictures of your own regulatory framework. After all, people couldn’t kiss their loved ones as they were dying; and then they couldn’t attend the burials or cremations. So, yes, the hypocrisy is serious, because every breach of social distancing might kill granny, as Matt Hancock once warned.
And this is what matters most to the Bishop of Manchester: the external discipline of social distancing outweighs the wicked sin of heart hardening. The commitment before God to fidelity pales alongside the requirement of the State to create space. God allows a little latitude in the vows and sanctity of marriage: it is okay for all middle-aged men (and women?) to have a bit of a fling, just as Abraham used Hagar. God makes allowances: there is no absolute moral obligation.
Can you imagine the Bishop’s marriage preparation counselling, and the service of Holy Matrimony? “Marriage is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church, but Christ could also have a bit of a fling with Hinduism or Islam, and it signifies that, too.”
And after the taking of oaths: “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder, but it’s okay to have a bit of a fling because being put asunder isn’t as bad as breaking government regulations on social asundering.”
One wonders what might happen if the Bishop’s wife, Susan, were to admit to him that she’s been having an affair..
“Darling, I’ve been having a bit of a fling with the Archdeacon.”
“I’m sorry, dear.”
“But have you touched hands? Did your face meet his? Were you closer than two metres indoors?”
“O, for goodness sake, Susan. I don’t expect you to forsake all others for me, but how many times have I told you? Hands! Face! Space!”
For Bishop David Walker, when a man and a woman leave their fathers and mothers and are joined to each other, they only become one flesh until someone else comes along who wants to share in it. The couple’s marital bed may then be stewed with wider human fulfilment, because wherever there is affection there is no need for loyalty. The practice of marriage morphs to the needs of society, and unions of one man and one woman are putatively outmoded.
One doesn’t expect a bishop of the Church to be so cavalier with vows sworn before God — or perhaps one does. Maybe the Bishop of Manchester is living the resurrection life here on earth; the one where men and women are no longer given in marriage but are like angels in heaven (Mt 22:30): the Covid regulations require us to be a community in which the fidelity of love that marriage makes possible has been extended beyond the otiose limits of marriage, such that the confines of monogamy are diminished in the eschatological realisation of the universal community of social affection and neighbourly love.
Matt Hancock is a hypocrite, and for that reason he had to go, despite the universality of political hypocrisy: you simply cannot preach “Hands! Face! Space!” from the pulpit of Parliament and then seek squalid sexual satisfaction in your secret chamber, with no thought at all for all those who have been crucified by Covid and the millions who still bear the scars of the cross. The fact that he is an immoral, lying adulterer and a psycho-sexual swinger ought to count for more, but don’t expect moral prescriptions on marriage and sexuality from a bishop of the Church of England.