This is the 18th contribution to His Grace’s emergency team ministry during the coronavirus pestilence. The author is an Incumbent in the Church of England, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Bishops of the Church of England have for almost three months lived in the Land of Zoom. In this strange country they are able to communicate, function, and meet with each other without the need of weekend conferences. The Land of Zoom is a welcoming country for those for whom meetings matter. So it was perhaps a consequence of living on another plane (we might even say planet) that a number of Bishops discussed a planned attack on the Prime Minister and Her Majesty’s Government, and on a father who did the very best for his family whilst navigating the complexities of government guidance.
There are many who have confused law with guidance, not least these Bishops, and a profound debate needs to be had about why even the police have enforced advice as if it were the law. The numerous tweets that emanated from the Episcopal Land of Zoom could not have been coincidental. Let us assume, however, that they were, and that by some mysterious means, perhaps divine intervention, these diverse and uncoordinated tweets, having emerged at the same time, were one letter (it has, of course, a proper gender balance as a proper mix of men and women all tweeted together). This is what the letter would say:
Dear Prime Minister,
You have no respect for people. You lied to, patronised and treated people as mugs. Integrity, trust and leadership were never there.. just an ideology of power. There is one rule for you and one for the people. You have undermined the bonds of peace and our common life that have been strengthened in these testing times. You need to rebuild trust. It is because of us that the vulnerable live. You have treated people as sheep to be fooled. We can forgive mistakes and poor judgement but.. you are risking lives. You lack integrity and respect. Think of the principle of consent. Sack Cummings or we won’t work with you. We must obey the rules. What are we to teach our children?
The Bishops of the Church of England
Odd, isn’t it, that each tweet distilled down to a single letter says something distinct, yet taken together says so much. How might the Prime Minister reply to the Bishops of the Church of England; to Nick and Paul, Christine and Vivienne, Olivia and John, Philip, Emma and David amongst others?
An immediate response would be words of Our Lord: ‘You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye‘ (Mt 7.5). All their words can so easily be turned on themselves for closing the doors of churches to the most vulnerable. That is obvious. But a better response would be to say what many clergy long to hear: ‘I am not working with you.’
In the glory days of our greatest leader since Churchill, Margaret Thatcher would often scan the list of potential bishops and deans sent to her and throw a grenade into the smug liberal clubiness of the Established Church. Crown patronage was a safeguard to the monochrome incompetence of today’s House of Bishops. Retiring forces chaplains at least knew the Lord Chancellor could find them a parish without them having to sign up to the life-sapping mission statements drawn up in the endless committees at diocesan HQ.
As Her Majesty said recently, better days will return. Better days can return with one simple change. Move your Church Appointments advisor back into Downing Street; into the office so coveted by Alastair Campbell. If you must ask for a review, seek the opinions of clergy and churchwardens, of those who still against all the odds go to church (at least when it isn’t locked against them).
Bishops have made it clear what they think of Boris Johnson, but he would find that a great many other clergy have a higher regard for his ability.
There is a myth that a prime minister must be Anglican to ‘appoint’ bishops. Her Majesty appoints bishops. The Crown nominates judges, generals, chief constables, Heads of Houses at Oxford and Cambridge, inspectors of schools and prisons. It is anomalous to say the least that the Church of England simply asks The Queen to appoint whom it wants.
The Prime Minister’s role is the quid pro quo of having an Established Church. The Church of England desires the privileges without the effort, as we have seen in past weeks. If the Bishops think that things can go on as they are, a better solution might be to say to them that they need to rebuild trust. A start would be to disestablish what is left of the Church of England. It would free up space in the House of Lords, too.