Church of England

Why do left-wing clerics insult and alienate right-wing laity?

I don’t just disagree with Ukip. I despise them. I despise them for their smug Little Englander mentality. I despise them for their total absence of fellow-feeling towards vulnerable people who look and sound different. I despise them for the way they scapegoat immigrants and whip up the resentment of the white working class. But I especially despise them for the way they dress all this up as the protection of something they call Christian England.

These are the words of the Rev’d Giles Fraser – one-time Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral; now parish priest at St Mary’s Newington – who, writing in his Guardian column, berates Ukip for perverting Christianity and lambasts Nigel Farage in particular for nullifying the very essence of gospel of Christ – that is, the exhortation to love one’s neighbour as oneself. How can Ukip demand the “muscular defence of our Judeo-Christian heritage”, he growls, if they can’t grasp the “basic Christian doctrine” inherent in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

The question isn’t without merit, though Giles Fraser, being a deep-thinking sort of cleric (not to mention a nice guy) who is routinely paid (quite handsomely) by the left-wing media to philosophise on complex matters of theological morality (which he usually performs rather well), does himself a disservice by reducing Ukip immigration policy to the crass caricature of an Owen Jones / Katie Hopkins binary rant of agonisingly dichotomised apprehension. Certainly, some Ukip policies are delinquent in their principles and deficient in their expression. But – let’s be honest – so are some Conservative, Labour and Liberal-Democrat policies, the proponents of which might also be accused of the failure to grasp “basic Christian doctrine”. But you tend not to hear many bishops giving Labour hell, or clergy giving the LibDems a bit of what for, do you?

Right-wing Conservatives, however, are just a precarious breath away from the loony Kippers: those evil Tories spend their days scheming how they might best torture the disabled, victimise the vulnerable and the persecute the poor. Their creed of greed and cult of selfishness and individualism are epitomised by the idolatry of the wicked witch of Grantham, Margaret Thatcher, whose grasp of “basic Christian doctrine” was manifestly as anti-Christian as that of Nigel Farage. When bishops and clergy denounce Ukip, they are simultaneously and vicariously censuring the Conservative Party: there can be no fellowship of Anglican light with Tory darkness.

To be fair, Giles Fraser isn’t alone in this sort of tabloid vilificaction: only a few weeks ago Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden tweeted that precise “Little Englander” left-wing vernacularism in the context of constitutional reform: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are, it seems, permitted their nationalistic yearnings for independence, but God forbid that the “little Englander” might demand something as bigoted and xenophobic as English votes for English laws. Bishop Pete has also dismissed Ukip as “vacuous” and “a blot on the political landscape”, even going so far as to exhort his flock not to cast a vote in their direction, the inference being that to do so would be somehow antithetical to Christian values and an offence against Christ.

One tires of countering these pervasive political caricatures and the left’s hegemony in the Synod’s houses of Bishops and Clergy. People are being lost to salvation; time is precious, and life is short. The Rev’d Giles and Bishop Pete know exactly what they’re saying and precisely what they’re doing: while they minister to the poor, feed the starving and house the homeless (and they do), they cloak their left-wing politicking in the rebuke of Christ, alienating all who derive the same simple-souled inspiration to social works of compassion from quite a different political tradition or philosophy of theology. Their knowing and feeling are not inferior: in the collusion of faith with life, there are variable understandings of duties, limitations, obligations and renunciations. The right-wing monuments are just different in their hermeneutic from the left-wing movements, and somewhere between the two extremes is a richer social justice and a deeper un-thought expression of relationship which bishops and clergy ought to be fostering, not disproving.

Both left-wing and right-wing politics aspire to social goodness and expressions of Christian-ness. For sure, we might differ on means, priorities and the relative ordering of questions, and there may be greater virtue in one specific response to a particular dilemma than may be found in its political parallel. But, from Socrates to Nietzsche, the philosophy of man has erred: his insights have conflated vice with virtue and irrationalism with reason. In a representative liberal democracy, Christians who vote are bound to deal with left-wing confusions and right-wing mystification: both traditions are cloaked in respectability, and both polarities expound a pastiche of religion. But we are not dealing here with good versus evil: Parliament is not divided into into sheep and goats.

Bishops and clergy of the Church of England have a primary pastoral function and duty in this messy democratic context, and it is not to characterise as evil that which seeks to do good, and it is certainly not to foment strife and make enemies where there is none. There are many sincere Christians in Ukip – Margot Parker MEP being just one (the Church of England even has a Kipper vicar – the Rev’d Sam Norton). We may differ on the relative extents of their goodness, and interrogate vigorously their worlds of ideas and ideals. But the church which does not welcome Nigel Farage along with Nelson Mandela is simply not the Church.

Setting aside “basic Christian doctrine” (which, let’s face it, left-wing bishops and clergy routinely do where it does not conveniently accord with their interpretation of the “social gospel”), what of basic Christian praxis? One wonders, for example, whether Jesus entertained more prostitutes and tax-collectors than Giles Fraser and Pete Broadbent have ever voluntarily dined with Kippers, Thatcherites or other bigoted blots on the political landscape.