Bishops march against poverty
Bishop bashing has become something of a pass-time throughout this Lambeth Conference. The perception is of a worldwide Anglican Communion obsessing over gender and sexuality – fiddling with genitalia while the world burns. And even when they begin to address possible resolutions of the mutually-exclusive positions on these contentious issues - by proposing an Anglican Covenant, a Pastoral Forum, or a ‘Faith and Order Commission’ - the Church’s perpetual media critics damn the bishops before they have had time to digest the proposals themselves.
It was encouraging, therefore, that the Archbishop of Canterbury turned to the bigger picture. He led 600 bishops along with their spouses and other faith leaders down Whitehall, past Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament and across the Thames in a bid to remind world leaders of their commitment to halving world poverty by 2015.
One can ignore the intervention of the Prime Minister. He simply had to be seen in the right place, and heard saying the right thing. He made a rather obvious if hyperbolic speech about the need of rich countries to help the poor, telling the bishops: “This has been one of the greatest public demonstrations of faith that this great city has ever seen. You have sent a symbol, a very clear message with rising force that poverty can be eradicated, poverty must be eradicated and if we all work together for change poverty will be eradicated."
Actually, as long as the Government continues measuring poverty in relative terms, it will never be eradicated. In fact, Jesus must have had the Government’s obsession with relative poverty in mind when he said the poor would always be with us (Jn 12:8). Cranmer is, after all, living in poverty compared to Bill Gates.
The bishops were simply obeying the exhortation of Deuteronomy, that because there will always be poor people in the land, we are commanded to be open-handed toward the poor and needy (15:11). Since no-one takes much notice of the bishops when they preach from their pulpits, the march draws attention to the need to improve education, health care and agricultural production in the poorest nations of the world.
The concern is that the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ will not be met by the target date of 2015. Of this, Dr Williams wrote: ‘Because our faith challenges us to eradicate poverty, and not merely to reduce it, we should all be more alarmed that with the halfway mark to 2015 passed, it is clear that most of these achievable targets will not be met. The cause is not a lack of resources but a lack of global political will.’
And even for this they are mocked and scorned by the media. While The Daily Telegraph is of the opinion that ‘Bishops should stick to religion, not economics’, or that ‘Anglican bishops are promoting ignorance’, there is little appreciation of the fact that they have, at least, attempted to engage with the issue while the eyes of (some of) the world are upon them. Of course most of these bishops are Socialists, with a commitment to wealth distribution because it is the rich getting richer who make the poor poorer. But there will be no placards ‘calling for free markets, free trade and better protection of private property’ until there is a dialogue between the Church and the Conservative Party which can bring enlightenment to Their Graces. It is not that no bishops harbour secret leanings to the right; it is that no-one from the right bothers to talk to them or convincingly reassure them that there is no shame in supporting a Conservative worldview. The only way the Church will ‘get to grips with the real causes of poverty’ is through respectful dialogue and deeper engagement between the religious and the realm of the political right. And scales do not always fall from blinded eyes overnight.
Yet Cranmer wonders why he has never heard The Daily Telegraph criticise the pontifications of the Roman Catholic bishops on global poverty, for, if the Anglican bishops are promoting ignorance, there are some who might assert that the Roman Catholic bishops’ grasp of economics is positively retarded. Their doctrine is concerned with such notions as solidarity, centralisation, economic justice, workers’ rights, minimum wage, state intervention, collectivism, statism...
And one does not hear of them promoting the salvation that may be wrought though free-market capitalism either. But then they are not wont to convene a conference, even once a decade, which is open to media scrutiny or offers opportunity for open debate and a rigorous religio-political analysis of their social doctrine.