Dear Members of the House of Bishops1,
Your recently published 52-page pastoral letter is being viewed as an attack upon the British Political system. I am not so quick to rush to judgement. The opening sentence of your letter is the only one I shall quote back to you:
How should Christian men and women approach the General Election on 7 May 2015?
By the time I had got to this point (not long at all) I already wanted to congratulate you. Well done:
- for making it clear that women may vote. You’ve come a long way in the few short weeks since accepting a woman into your number. Long may your indoctrination of women (and men) continue.
for encouraging your flock to vote. It’s a brave step that risks awakening them to the possibility they could change the House of Bishops as well as the House of Commons.
for including the date of the election. It’s good to have a well-informed electorate and you’ve taken a sensible first step. If you leave them unaware of the real issues, as sadly may be possible given the length of your letter, then at least they’ll be able to turn up on the right day to put a cross in an, albeit random, box.
for giving them a sense of unity at the ballot box. It was a stroke of genius to simply impart upon them your own list of issues. They’ll have to discard their own voting strategies in favour of yours; but this is a small price to pay for unity.
for exercising your rights to freedom-of-speech. If this is the way the modern world is going then I’m sure well have fewer instances of churches attempting to subvert freedom of speech 2 in the future.
for writing a letter containing such sound and popular thinking. You continue to retrospectively re-articulate issues that have already gained wide-spread public support and present them in a manner that suggests they derive solely from your own teachings and are unavailable elsewhere.
However, despite this, I have one concern:
Is that wise?
You, and your church, occupies an enviable and unique position:
- You are the country’s official state religion, which allows you to maintain your UK monopoly in the ‘faith’ industry
You pay no taxes
You receive £42 million government funding each year to maintain your buildings.
You receive £84 million government funding each year in the form of gift aid contributions.
You have 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords 3
Without state support you could not exist in your current form. But your position is under threat. House of Lords reform has been gaining pace since 1997 and your 26 Bishops are in the cross-hairs. If you have entered the political stage to make yourself more relevant, politically, hoping to will stave of any attempt to reduce your number in the Lords, then this is a miscalculation on your part.
The government is there to do the bidding of the people who democratically elect is; and your congregations are a small minority of the electorate. Atheist, who in themselves outnumber your flock, won’t kick up a fuss if you were removed from the House of Lords; and Muslims and Jews will no doubt be pleased to support a bid to remove Christian leaders from positions of public authority that their leaders ever been allowed to hold.
So all-in-all, despite my appreciation of your efforts, it might have been better and safer for you if you could have held your tongue, conceded to Lords reform, and keep the other benefits that come with being the UK’s official religion.
- The House of Bishops is the senior house within the General Synod, which also includes the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. ↩
- Examples of churches subverting freedom of speech include: the Scopes Monkey Trials; the Salman Rushdie fatwa; and Pope’s effort to limit freedom of speech following the Charlie Hebdo attack. ↩
- The UK is the only Western country to have a church represented in its parliament. ↩