The Rt Rev’d Joanna Penberthy sought to distance her episcopal office from the ensuing outrage and condemnation by insisting that it was a “private tweet”, adding: “I, of course, trust and have trusted many Conservatives and know there are many honourable people in that party.” And then: “I further apologise for other tweets I have posted which have caused upset and offence. While I hold strong political views, I have expressed them on Twitter in a way which was both irresponsible and disrespectful and I deeply regret this. I have now closed my account down.”
This was deemed to be a sincere, heartfelt apology, and certainly sufficient to satisfy the Church in Wales:
Unfortunately, her ‘professional’ or ‘public’ (or however she understands it) @BishopDavids Twitter account contains tweets with that very same expression: “Never trust a Tory.”
She is re-tweeting this not because she thinks it might be of casual interest to her followers, or to engender some wholesome debate about truth and trustworthiness, but because she manifestly agrees with the exhortation, having also tweeted it from her ‘personal’ Twitter account. So “Never, never, never trust a Tory” was not merely the “private” opinion of Joanna Penberthy; it was (and remains [at the time of writing]) the official view of the Bishop of St Davids. Perhaps we oughtn’t to be surprised by such divisive political partisanship when this tweet is ‘pinned’ prominently beneath her symbols of office:
Of course bishops (and all clergy) should involve themselves in politics: as the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a recent podcast, “Politics is how we live together. You can no more exclude religion and the Church from that than you can un-mix a glass of Ribena.” But the interesting thing about the Bishop of St Davids’ tweets (as, indeed, for the “personal” tweets [now deleted] of Joanna Penberthy) is the façade of unity and concord she declares: “This is not about Tory or Labour. This is not about Leave or Remain”, she says, and yet every tweet she spouts is very much about berating ‘Tory’ and cursing ‘Leave’: if she were really concerned with “truth” and “acting in the country’s interests”, you might think you’d see the occasional tweet critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s hypocrisy or Labour’s deficiencies or Remain’s lies. But they don’t exist. All we get is anti-Tory invective, anti-Johnson tirades, and pro-Corbyn adulation:
Accompanied by a yearning for a return of her dream team:
And an exhortation to her diocesan flock to de-fund the Conservative Party:
And renounce Unionism:
Peppered with crude language (honestly, when has any bishop propagated such vulgar and offensive expletives?):
With more assertions that Conservatives are a hairsbreadth away from Hitler and Mussolini:
And conspiracy theory:
Not to mention more Anti-English sentiment, which some might term Anglophobia, if not racism:
We know that Joanna Penberthy is “ashamed of each and every one” who votes Conservative, but now we know that the Bishop of St Davids is also ashamed. We know that Joanna Penberthy questions how “anyone with any moral fibre [can] stand as a Tory candidate”, but now we know that this is also the incredulity of the Bishop of St Davids. Her ‘official’ Twitter account is, in truth, no different from her ‘personal’ one. Indeed, bizarrely, she states in the public profile: “Views my own.”
So tweeting “Never trust a Tory” from this account is no different from tweeting it from her (now deleted) “personal” account which (she insists) only put out “private” tweets. What would her reaction be if the @10DowningStreet Twitter account of the Prime Minister specified ‘Views my own’, and Boris Johnson, having now rediscovered the Faith of his forefathers, denigrated the Church in Wales as a mere “ecclesial community“, and not a church “in the proper sense”? What if he sent a “private tweet” declaring the ontological impossibility of women priests or bishops? Would Joanna Penberthy afford him the latitude of being able to express his personal political-theological views on his prime-ministerial Twitter account?
Or would it be utterly reprehensible because he’s a Tory?
Bishops are supposed to be a focus of unity, which is the preeminent vocation of their ecclesial apostolicity. Of course they can (and should) engage robustly in the political realm, but pronouncements ought to be confined to specific policies or particular politicians, not made in broad, sweeping generalisations about everyone who has ever voted for the Conservative Party or self-identified as a Tory. Bishops should reify the peace of Christ. Their words should be courteous and considerate, for ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger‘ (Prov 15:1). And you’d expect the Twitter account of a bishop to be replete with transcendent sacred stuff, perhaps an expression of pastoral care in the parishes, and maybe the odd mention of Jesus. But the account of the Bishop of St Davids is crammed with secular politics, smeary disinformation, division and strife. There isn’t a single mention of the Lord anywhere, and no apparent understanding of His intention for his people (or even a helpful pointer to a Zoom church meeting during lockdown). Perhaps she reserves all the holiness and reasonableness for her cathedral pulpit.
The Bishop of St Davids deals mercilessly with Tories and those who voted to leave the EU, so presumably she will be open to rational criticism and content to be dealt with robustly herself: ‘Do unto others..’, and all that. On the evidence of her public expression of faith and her Christian witness; on the evidence of reflecting the things of God on social media, the Rt Rev’d Joanna Penberthy is a disgrace to her mitre, her crosier, and (above all) to her pectoral cross. She manifests nothing of Anglican tolerance, restraint, or learning; no faith, hope, or charity toward Tories. If you are a Conservative in the Diocese of St Davids (or, indeed, anywhere) and she ever smiles at you, you now know that in her prejudiced heart she holds you in utter, utter contempt – in both her ‘personal’ life and in her ‘professional’ ministry. And if she now apologises for her ‘public’/’professional’ tweets or closes @BishopDavids down as well, it does not change her mind: she truly believes all Conservatives to be untrustworthy; to be duplicitous liars. Twitter speaks what the heart is full of.
And the greatest sadness is that she believes herself to be utterly right in this ‘personal’ political judgment, and perfectly righteous in her ‘professional’ priestly discernment. And no doubt this is just some nasty right-wing blog written by a bigoted xenophobic Tory who hates miners, despises the poor, and fellowships with fascists.