Nearly a month after Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union, swathes of the Church’s leadership are stuck in furious denial
This blog had very little time for the Revd. Dr. Robert Innes, the Church of England’s Bishop of Europe, before the EU referendum and Britain’s shocking, wonderful decision to leave the EU. But it has even less time for his incessant, self-pitying (and democracy-loathing) moaning in the weeks since that historic vote.
The Archbishop Cranmer blog reports:
“Let me be clear,” said the Rt Rev’d Dr Robert Innes, Bishop of Europe, as he addressed the General Synod of the Church of England. “From my European perspective, this Referendum and its result represent a sad loss of national vocation; an abject failure of political leadership; and a squandering of the birthright of our young people.” And Synod applauded their Euro-prophet for a full 10 seconds, seemingly oblivious to the fact that lay Anglicans voted for Brexit in their droves (and by a majority). “Britain seems to be a country anxious to build fences,” he added, before reminding the people of God that his task as a bishop is to build bridges. Not to the wider world, it seems. Or even to the 22 nations of Europe which aren’t in the European Union, which includes the supremest bridge Pontifex himself, all neatly fenced off in Vatican City State. But Dr Innes’ task as a bishop is to build bridges to the other nations of the European Union, and without political union he is seemingly bereft and hindered from doing so.
Cranmer goes on to highlight Bishop Innes’ complete and utter disregard and disdain for the pro-Brexit opinions of many lay Christians:
The Bishop of Europe acknowledges that some in his Diocese were pleased with the Referendum result, but he doesn’t tell their stories. They are sidelined, disdained and ignored: they don’t quite fit the Bishop’s narrative of shame, anger and deep sadness. “One older man in Paris said to me: ‘I have never been so ashamed of my country.’ A lady in Geneva said to me: ‘I have found it hard to stop being angry.’” There’s no apprehension of joy, liberty, hope or optimism: no awareness of the abundance of bridges we can now build into the whole world. For the Bishop of Europe, British identity and national vocation were wrapped up in ever closer political union: there is no refuge or strength to be found in Brexit.
Christians who voted to leave the EU did so for a variety of reasons, and none of them is worthy of less consideration than the shame of the old man in Paris or the anger of the lady in Geneva. Do we not also seek to cooperate and fellowship with other churches in Europe? Do we not pray to avoid harm and relieve suffering? Are we any less concerned with human rights, the common good or injustice? Are we incapable of loyalty to brotherhood and respect for authority? Is our ethic simply one of nationalistic purity, individualism and xenophobia?
[..] Is there not an echo in our historic national vocation of looking out to the seas and saving Europe from herself? Rather than being an abject failure of political leadership, might Brexit not represent a noble and commendable success? Instead of squandering the birthright of our young people, might we not just have preserved their ancient rights and liberties as freeborn Britons?
One wonders exactly how long the British political and cultural establishment – of which the Church of England is a firm member – can go on being openly, seethingly contemptuous and angry at the British people without finding themselves on the receiving end of an eventual backlash which will make Donald Trump seem the epitome of polite restraint.
The way which those people of privilege and wealth (such as bishops, newspaper columnists and politicians) have conducted themselves since the EU referendum, staggering around the political landscape rending their garments and gnashing their teeth in despair at the prospect of being separated even an inch from their beloved European Union, is enough to induce nausea. It is particularly offensive when such arrogant and self-pitying emotions burst forth from people who fatuously claim to care about the whole of society while reserving a particular duty of care to exactly the type of disenfranchised, economically suffering people who voted for Brexit in their droves.
It is almost enough to make one pine for the days when the establishment merely ignored the concerns, priorities, hopes and dreams of ordinary people as the elite ravenously pursued their own interests. To a poor Christian, it was likely enough of an insult and stretching of Christ’s teaching to be ministered to by a disinterested bishop who lives in a mansion and sits in the House of Lords while they have to trudge five miles to the food bank. Now, as punishment for daring to vote for Brexit, now they must endure the same gulf in circumstances while also being harangued and accused of small-minded racism by some pampered upper middle class oik who uses the collection plate offerings of thousands of other economically struggling Christians to ride the Eurostar first class to “build bridges” with Europe while the social fabric of his own country continues to crumble.
How, one wonders, does the Church of England expect to survive when too few of its bishops follow the example set by Mark Rylands, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who approached the EU question fairly and with the interests of the world’s poorest at heart rather than the interests of Britain’s ruling elites, and determined that Brexit was best for British democracy and for the world’s poor?
How does the Church of England expect to survive when the face it presents to the nation (and its own congregations) too often resembles the contemptuous face of Bishop Robert Innes, horrified by the great unwashed in all their uneducated xenophobia, and the democratic decision they made to leave the European Union?
Quo usque tandem abutere, episcopus, fides nostra?
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