Bishop Nick Baines blogs:

‘Good grief. The debate about foodbanks continues in the UK media, sometimes getting distracted by stuff that misses the point.

OK, the Daily Mail has no alternative but to ridicule the bishops and bang its particular drum. The Times goes a bit weird by suggesting that the bishops are out of touch with their congregations who, according to a poll, are right behind the need for benefits reform. This raises two points: (a) our congregations are also pretty solidly behind reform of banking and tax fraud by the rich, but that is being missed; (b) bishops aren’t there to parrot the views of parishioners, but to tell the truth regardless. There is plenty of debate within the church about such matters, but the bishops are not simply the mouthpiece of particular constituencies.

This has always been the vocation of church leaders. As the Germans found out in the 1930s and ’40s, church leaders are there to describe reality and not to collude in whatever view the masses are led to believe.

But, this week’s golden exclamation mark must go, once again, to the Independent. Are they employing five year olds to write their leader editorials? I had a go at a silly piece some months ago, and here they are again with the same old brain-dead nonsense. To think this stuff is crass, but to publish it as intellectually credible is unbelievable. I obviously wasted my words last time.

Try this from today’s anonymous editorial:

If the facts are undeniable, though, the right of the Church to meddle in politics is absolutely not. Not only do religious leaders come by their public podia by dint of a historical influence at odds with modern secular democracy, but their claims of moral authority are also hardly as absolute as they seem. It is difficult for an archbishop’s remonstrances on the subject of the poor and hungry to be anything but the final moral word, and yet they are subject to the same limitations as any other political perspective… But anecdotal evidence metamorphosed into an unassailable moral position via an institution that no longer represents more than a tiny fraction of the population does more harm than good. David Cameron’s assessment is back to front. The bishops’ facts are fine. Their belief in a divine right to be heard is not.

Where to start?

1. Who does have a right to ‘meddle in politics’? Unelected newspaper editors? Everyone but bishops? Muslims? Atheists? Every citizen has a right and a duty to meddle in politics. Can the Independent please expose and explain the assumptions (prejudices?) that underlie this repeated nonsense? Who else should be removed from public democratic debate?

2. Bishops do not come by their public podia by dint of historical influence. If the writer wants to bang on about bishops in the House of Lords, then let him/her say so and we can have that debate. But, this latest bash isn’t about that and didn’t emanate from bishops in Parliament. Does the editor really believe that bishops should simply keep quiet about anything in the public square? What does he/she think a bishop is? And, again, who else should be kept quiet in the public democratic debate? Or does ‘secular democracy’ really mean that only people with a non-religious world view should be privileged with access to that public square? And who said?

3. Can the writer show us where the bishops made any claim to ‘absolute moral authority’? They told a story and argued a case. By all means, knock it down, if it not true or if the story is selective. But, where is the claim to absolute moral authority? This, again, simply amplifies the unarticulated and uncritical prejudice of the writer. A five year old would be embarrassed to still be trotting out this stuff.

4. ‘Unassailable moral position’? Which century is the writer living in here?

5. Doesn’t a democracy assume that even the tiniest group with the most hesitant voice has a right to be heard, a right to be involved and a right to be thought potentially right? Anyway, bishops do not represent a constituency as an MP represents his or hers. The independent might not like this – and obviously doesn’t – but it will have to find a better intellectual ground for its prejudice than this spurious ex cathedra put down.

6. What ‘more harm than good’ does the writer actually think has happened here? Again, unexplained, unarticulated and worthy of an unelected, morally superior elite who can pass judgement without accountability.

7. When did the bishops assume a ‘divine right to be heard’? This is a joke, right? Just journalese gone a bit too far? Surely?

Clearly, more dangerous than bishops telling a story and arguing a case in the public square – on the basis that they can articulate their case effectively (sometimes…) – is a ‘neutral’ newspaper arrogating to itself everything it will deny of citizens-with-a-religious-world-view. But, really, this is just a joke. The Independent should do better than this. It could start by owning up to its prejudices, subjecting them to informed debate, and identifying who it is who keeps writing this stuff.’


3 thoughts on “ONE CROSS BISHOP

  1. I agree with about 95% of your thinking. the other 5% is what I feel has been grabbed upon and used to push forward with political party dogma rather than equitable governance.

    There was a time when benefits were worth more than work for particular groupings. As always it was a minority, though a notable one. A whole lot of complex issues are contained in this statement. One of the least complex was, first, the lack of a minimum wage and even when one was instituted, it was not a living wage. Taxation is another inequitable burden. Giving Gordon Brown his due, he did try to address the latter in his time as Chancellor Of The Exchequer and he tried to protect children in the scheme of things. Currently, on this front, erosion is not the preserve of the coastline at the moment. The minimum wage – v- a living wage is an ongoing issue, with, as I have already mentioned, many employers benefitting from the cushioning by the tax credits scheme. It maintains the the subjugation of the masses, by maintaining a low wage economy, which, we have had as long as I can remember, and making those in work pay for the credits. The percentage tax take is inequitable on many fronts for those on low to medium incomes.

    There are many other areas in the poverty discussion that are also worthy of awareness. We are now in the game, if you will, of doing what all sectors of society are being forced into, of prioritising need. It’s invidious. Ian Duncan Smith is currently wanting to redefine child poverty. It has not yet rung sufficient alarm bells, it should.


  2. There is a lot of distraction from the truth, the reality of the lives we are letting, nay forcing many people try and live in, including destitution. It is comfortable for the establishment to distract, to dissemble. It deflects from their own corruption and self-serving deviations. Creating one debate after another obscures what’s going on and gets nothing done! Remember, [too much] analysis creates paralysis. All the committees, reports and so on, are delaying tactics working towards the same goal….doing nothing. Keep speaking up, but in plain clear language please and get something appropriate done!


    1. What stuns me is the sheer stupidity of pretending to deal with the issue of poverty as if it is separate from everything else. Surely the job of good government (the emphasis on the ‘good’) is to join up the dots: cutting benefits does absolutely no good at all to anyone, and a great deal of harm, if it is not allied to job creation, a legal insistence on a living wage, and remedial education.


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