The Bishop And The Brexit Debate


Apparently, Brexit constitutes a “nightmare scenario” for the Bishop of Guildford. No surprise, coming from an established church with such a dubious record on democracy

Should bishops in the Church of England (or indeed the leaders of any other religious denomination) be free to speak their minds on the subject of Brexit and in advising their flocks how to vote in the coming EU referendum?

Of course they should. To suggest otherwise would be an unconscionable encroachment on religious liberty – the only exception being the intolerable Lords Spiritual whose anachronistic and unwelcome presence in the House of Lords makes Britain, like Iran, a technical theocracy.

But while non-political bishops have every right to express an opinion on Brexit, so we have the right to criticise their thinking on the subject, which tends to be woolly at best, and arrogant with a twist of elitism at worst.

King of the woolly thinkers is the Bishop of Guildford, who shared this recent gem on Twitter:

Adrian Hilton of Archbishop Cranmer dissects the Bishop of Guildford’s europhile ramblings over at Reimagining Europe:

So we read that the Brexit “nightmare” would be “very sad” because it would mark a return to “competing nationalisms” and “very dangerous times”. The EU has been “integral in delivering seven decades of peace and economic security”.We must resist the “widespread rise of populism” because “we are European” and “have nothing to fear or to lose if we remain so”. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, wants a ‘Third Way’, but that isn’t on the ballot paper. And the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, aims directly for the Tories, but this isn’t a general election. As you see, it’s all impeccable political neutrality with rigorous episcopal impartiality.

The laity and other clergy will, of course, make up their own minds, but what manner of neutrality is it when CofE comms tells the media that the institution is neither for remaining nor leaving, while many in the House of Bishops preach the Gospel of Remain? Would a bishop ever tweet that his (or her) “nightmare” would be to wake up to a Corbyn premiership? What guilt does the prospect of voting for the Bishops’ (it probably is plural) Brexit “nightmare scenario” inculcate in the spiritually-discerning democratic intellect of the laity and subordinate clergy?

And here is the crux:

Some say we’d be poorer; others that the cost of holidays would rise; still others that our power stations would go dark and terrorism would increase. There is equal expert opinion to the contrary in every case, and it’s hardly four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse stuff, is it? The matter of whether our national destiny is to be bound in perpetuity to an anti-democratic United States of Europe which is creeping, ratchet-like, toward continent-wide assimilation and uniformity cannot simply be distilled to short-term economic interests or security scaremongering.

I can understand Bishop Andrew’s desire to sustain a political union which is ostensibly based on sound Christian principles such as subsidiarity and solidarity. But, as Philip Booth has shown, the EU is antithetical to the very concept of localism, notwithstanding the letter of Maastricht. And I feel sure that the Greeks, Spanish, Italians and Portuguese might balk at assertions that the EU project is any longer concerned with fraternal solidarity, mutuality and social harmony.

This isn’t an organic social contract for diversity, liberty and limited state power, but a fabricated mechanism for the enforcement of national assimilation. When you’re locked – seemingly irrevocably – into a model of “economic governance” which hinders growth, destroys jobs, increases poverty, and leads mothers to abandon their children on the streets and fathers to commit suicide, I have to put to Bishop Andrew that his Brexit “nightmare scenario” would be welcomed by millions of Greeks as a dream of Grexit bliss.

The bishops’ willingness to swallow pro-EU talking points and then arrogantly sound off in public about how the EU has “kept the peace” and “delivered prosperity” is not just intellectually lazy. I would charge that it is a failure in their duty of pastoral care to all Christians in their flock, to accuse those who want Britain to leave the EU of trying to bring about a “nightmare scenario”.

Since when did believing in national democracy and sovereignty based at the level of a commonly understood demos represent a “nightmare” for the Church of England? Since when did the concept of self-determination (as opposed to slavishly following a pre-determined path toward unwanted European political integration set in motion decades ago) become unwelcome? And why is the Church willing to wring its hands and worry about human rights abuses and dictatorship abroad, but turn a blind eye when the rights of its own fellow citizens to determine the course of their own future is suppressed by Brussels?

At its root, the pro-European instincts of many bishops seem to rest in a desperate, stubborn insistence in seeing the world – and the European Union – as they would like it to be, rather than how it actually is. As Hilton suggests, the idea of the bad aspects of nationalism being eroded and replaced by shared European values of a vaguely left-wing bent of “subsidiarity and solidarity” is all well and good. But there is no European demos, and the relentless march toward further integration in the absence of a shared feeling of European-ness above national identity will only compound the simmering resentment.

The Church of England would clearly love nothing so much as to operate in a world where the nation state was consigned to the history books, and where we are primarily governed at a European level – no doubt as a stepping stone toward one world government. And they are entitled to that worldview, premature and perverse though it is.

But the Church and her bishops should at least show some embarrassment and contrition at the fact that by casting any concern for democracy aside and throwing their lot in with the European Union, they are helping to impose an elitist vision of a politically united Europe which more people vehemently oppose than have been scared and bullied by the Remain campaign into meekly supporting.

It is not the job of any Christian (least of all me) to judge another’s adherence to and practising of their faith, and so I will pass no comment on whether Andrew Watson’s gnawing fear that the British people might vote for self-government makes him a bad Christian.

But I will say without hesitation or apology that it does make him a bad citizen, a weak example of a community leader and an emblem of everything that is wrong with the established church’s continued role in the political life of our country.


Church of England - Church and State - Parliament - Lords Spiritual - Cartoon - 2

Bottom Image: Abbreviated cartoon by Dave Walker

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The Daily Smackdown: Cynical Bishops Exploit Terrorism For Publicity

BBC Religion Television

Who will condemn the bishops for exploiting our fear of terrorism in their grubby bid to preserve taxpayer funding of the BBC’s religious output?

The Church of England is very upset that the BBC is considering cutting the amount of taxpayer money it spends on (predominantly) Christian television output.

From the Telegraph:

A spokeswoman confirmed that the BBC was planning to “look at ways we can reduce costs” as it faced “huge financial challenges” but added that cuts would come from across the corporation.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, the Church of England’s lead spokesman on media issues, said the move could threaten something which was “fundamental to our public life”.

“It seems to me that religion has already taken a hit,” he said.

“It has already been reduced certainly in terms of its scope as an independent part of the BBC, at a time when we already need – as everyone acknowledges – more religious literacy in the nation.”

Nothing unusual there. The Church of England is a well oiled lobbying machine, and any private organisation lucky enough to have a bloc of 26 unelected representatives sitting in parliament to influence our laws in their favour would be foolish not to make good use of them. Thus it is no surprise that the unelected theocrats of our state church have been hard at work speaking out against the BBC’s planned actions.

But the fact that the Church of England’s behaviour is understandable does not make it any less reprehensible. Firstly, because it makes a total mockery of the idea of the BBC as an independent broadcaster. Nobody seriously believes that an organisation whose budget is nearly totally dependent on taxpayer money can be truly independent, but the fact that the Lords Spiritual are now actually speaking in parliament about the internal decisions and strategy of the BBC makes any pretence of the BBC’s impartiality or the government’s non-involvement utterly ridiculous.

Worse than this, though, is the flimsy rationale now offered by the bishops as a pathetic excuse for more taxpayer funded religious programming:

Bishops have warned the BBC it risks turnings its back on efforts to tackle extremism and aid integration by slashing spending on religious programming.

[..] The first female cleric in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, remarked that the decision had presumably been taken “to reduce the possibility of offending people with too much God stuff over the holiday”.

It is good to see the newly enobled Rachel Treweek, my Lord Bishop of Gloucester, is wasting no time in rolling up her sleeves and interfering in our national democracy as generations of theocrats have done before her. She will be making the home team very proud. But unfortunately, she and her fellow Lords Spiritual are talking nonsense.

The argument that cutting the amount of taxpayer money devoted to religious television and radio programming on the state broadcaster is somehow a threat to anti-extremism efforts is as ridiculous as it is unfounded.

More moderate Christianity on TV will not result in less Islamic extremism on the margins of British society. And pontificating, busybody bishops who abuse their parliamentary platform to suggest otherwise should provide evidence for the supposed link, or else retract the claim and admit that they are simply exploiting serious issues of national security in a cheap ploy to gain more taxpayer-funded airtime.

The real issue is not so much the pull factor of extremism as the push factor of the alienation of too many young Muslims from British society. It’s the fact that we have living among us too many self-segregated societies comprised of people who hold the same passports as us, but look upon us – and the enlightenment values of reason, education, liberty and democracy to which we try to adhere – as alien and unwelcome. By failing to inculcate a strong and inclusive sense of Britishness, out of craven fear of causing offence, we provide the Islamist recruiters with easy fodder.

Do my Lord Bishops of Gloucester and Norwich (flowery titles for a bygone age) seriously believe that the kind of alienated youths and their families who are now quietly slipping away to ISIS in Syria or seeking out radicalising materials online are the same type of people who tune in to BBC Two at six o’clock in the evening, ready to be reached out to and placated with a documentary about public spirited imams, rabbis and priests working together to open a new community centre? What nonsense.

The people most in need of the BBC’s moderate religious programming and generally liberal worldview are those whose eyes are glued to YouTube videos of anti-American 9/11 conspiracy theories or seditious social media conversations on their smartphone screens. More government intervention – be it through Prevent or the BBC – is not going to make meaningful inroads to these people. The only lasting solution must come from the bottom up, a revitalisation of patriotism and pride in Britain, and the promotion of a common British identity which transcends racial divides (rather than revelling in a multicultural dystopia which sees groups living side by side but separately in parallel, alienated lives.

Do the Lord Bishops have anything meaningful to say about that? No, they do not – perhaps with the exception of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

This is in no way intended as an attack on religion, or on the Church of England (so long as it stays within its own boundaries and stops trying to play an undue role in our public life). I grew up watching Songs of Praise on a Sunday, and have happy memories of doing so. But it is not right for general taxpayers of an increasingly secular country to continue funding religious programming using a model that invites some appointed bureaucrat or another to choose which religions or denominations are to be favoured above others.

Perhaps the Lords Spiritual begin to grasp this. Perhaps they are grasping at these increasingly ludicrous excuses for their continued influence because deep down, they realise that they have no place in the government of a twenty-first century democracy.

But if these are the death throes of theocracy in Britain, they are still very offensive indeed. Claiming that the BBC should continue to spend taxpayer money on religious output favouring the established church because failing to do so will unleash more extremism – and note how the bishops cannot bring themselves to utter the name of the religion from which that extremism currently emanates – is cynical and manipulative, playing on the fears of British people just to win more free promotion.

I have never expected much from the Church of England’s upper hierarchy, or their antidemocratic parliamentary delegation. But this is low, even by their rock-bottom standards.

First female bishop to sit in House of Lords

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Church Of England Parliamentary Team Revel In Their Antidemocratic Role

Church of England - Church and State - Parliament - Lords Spiritual - Cartoon - 2

The Church of England’s Parliamentary Team have taken to joking on Twitter about the various ways in which they subvert British democracy. But there’s nothing funny about these modern-day theocrats

Imagine if a private sector firm had twenty six seats in the upper house of the British Parliament and possessed the ability to debate bills, lobby government ministers and even vote on Acts of Parliament – all without receiving a single vote from anyone in the United Kingdom. That organisation would be counting its undeserved blessings, and doing its best to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention to their wildly over-privileged position.

If the RMT possessed nearly thirty votes in Parliament and used them to thwart key transport bills or trade union legislation, there would rightly be an uproar. If Tesco had their own parliamentary caucus who voted against minimum wage increases and greater employee protection rights, people would march on Westminster with burning torches to evict the voice of the Evil Corporations. And yet when the Church of England enjoys the exact same privilege – twenty six Lords Spiritual who sit in the House of Lords and exert influence over our democracy in the name of the established church – there is a deafening silence.

Well not quite. The one group of people making any kind of noise about this state of affairs are the Church of England’s own Parliamentary Team, who thought that it would be in great taste to post this cartoon on their official Twitter feed today:

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First Woman Bishop In The House Of Lords, Same Rotten Old Theocracy

Rachel Treweek - Bishop of Gloucester - Tax Credits

Don’t cheer for Rachel Treweek as she takes up her unelected, theocratic position in the House of Lords. Chase her – and all of her fellow Lords Spiritual – out of Parliament and back to the pulpits where they belong

So let’s get this straight: Scottish National Party MPs are scolded and warned by the Speaker when they spontaneously applaud what they believe to be a good speech in the Commons chamber, because clapping is wrong and unbecoming. But today, peers give a standing ovation to the first female bishop to take her seat in the House of Lords, and that is A-OK?

The appointment of Rachel Treweek, Lord Bishop of Gloucester, to the red benches is nothing to celebrate. Don’t misunderstand – it’s great that the Church of England now allows women bishops, and some of the first female candidates appear to be excellent theologians and pastoral leaders.

But in every other respect, the enoblement of Rachel Treweek is just another case of the British theocracy doing what it always does – appointing clerics of the favoured national church to unelected positions of power and influence in the heart of our political system. Don’t expect us to cheer on this occasion just because the Lord Bishop in question is a woman. Our belief in equal rights and opportunities for women should not be so glib and superficial.

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