Why don't bishops just pick up the phone to ministers?
Another bishop has bashed the Government. This time it's the Rt Rev'd Dr Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, who is of the view that stay-at-home mothers and carers are being discriminated against in the tax and benefits system. And so The Independent gleefully conveys the damning critique: "married couples with only one earner keep less of every extra pound they earn in the UK than in any other country in the developed world."
This follows hard upon the 27 bishops (actually, 35) who clobbered the Coalition over the rise of food-banks: "Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry," they wrote to the Daily Mirror.
And let us not forget Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, who referred to Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms as “frankly a disgrace". He explained to the Telegraph: "..the basic safety net that was there to guarantee that people would not be left in hunger or in destitution has actually been torn apart."
It gives His Grace no pleasure when the most senior Roman Catholic in England and Wales tears strips off the most senior Roman Catholic in the Government. And it must have been a cause of grief in the heavenlies when the Secretary of State's delivered a withering response (via the Sunday Politics) which was steeped in incredulity and contempt for the Cardinal's concerns: "I'm not quite sure what he thinks welfare is about," the Minister scoffed, after entreating: "It would be good if he actually called me before he made these attacks."
Quite why Cardinal Nichols chose to smear a very prominent Conservative minister in the Telegraph before discussing his manifold concerns with a co-religionist is something of a mystery. Unless, of course, the Cardinal is allowing his personal socialist-inclination to cloud his discernment and nullify expressions of basic courtesy. Christian brothers are, after all, supposed to treat one another with kindness - except, it seems, when one hails from inner-city Birmingham via the Thatcher-loathing tenements of Liverpool, and the other from ultra-Tory Chingford via the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Perhaps they simply can't be bothered to test each other's grasp of Roman Catholic social teaching.
But there is no excuse at all for bishops of the Church of England not to pick up the phone to MPs, ministers and secretaries of state before sounding brass and tinkling their cymbals in the left-wing tabloids. This is the Established Church, after all. The Bishop of Chester even sits in the House of Lords: it's not as though he lacks parliamentary nous or an extension number.
As His Grace wrote a few weeks ago: "Conservative politicians do themselves no favours when they try to lecture the Church on social thought when they clearly have little understanding of the depth and long history of Christian social thinking. But Anglican bishops do themselves no favours when they fail even to entertain the moral philosophical stream from which conservative thought proceeds. If the poor are homeless and hungry, there is nothing to be gained by bishops and politicians ranting at each other in public denunciations of their mutual ignorance."
Successive broadsides in the media render mature discussion and debate almost impossible, for each bombardment magnifies distrust, and the crossfire yields nothing but mutual enmity and loathing. And while God's holy warriors and belligerent politicians are scrapping over the definition of justice, the poor go hungry and the homeless shiver in urine-drenched doorways, wondering why God has abandoned them.
So, for God's sake, Your Graces and Eminences, pick up the phone. It's good to talk.