I woke up at the weekend to the sound of Sunday on Radio 4. They were talking about the C of E’s proposed new change of use for many of its ancient buildings. Generally, this will mean no more pews taking up space which could be used for toddler groups and community activities. A female voice also mentioned making them into ‘philosophy cafes.’
Another voice asked if they could now be used for other faiths, as mosques. The voice of a cleric very hesitantly, obviously squirming, said that no, that might not be right as churches are still Christian spaces. He sounded most apologetic about it.
His pusillanimous tone bounced me out of bed, but before I’d landed in my plastic pool shoes, which serve as slippers, we were onto ‘The Sunday Papers,’ and the voice of David Walker, the whispy bearded Bishop of Manchester, accusing David Cameron of refusing to take 50,000 refugees immediately, whom he said could easily be given housing and foster care.
He was one of eighty four bishops who sent a private letter to the PM in September, calling on him radically to increase the number of Syrian refugees coming here. They also wanted him to consider involving the church in a national effort to ‘mobilise the nation as in times past.’
Presumably, he means when around 50,000 Huguenots began to arrive from France in October 1681 or the 40,000 Jews who arrived in the UK during the 1930s. Describing the new mass movement of refugees as a ‘moral crisis,’ the bishops offered to rally ‘churches, congregations and individuals’ across the country behind efforts to make rental properties and spare housing available to those who had fled their homelands. They also told Cameron they would ‘promote and support foster caring’ across the C of E and wider community, so that thousands of unaccompanied children who had become homeless could find places to live and appropriate care.
They had received a dusty answer from Number 10 so have now released details of the letter to The Observer in the hope of embarrassing the Government.
The Rt Revd Dr David Walker, 58, the Bishop of Manchester, a keen hill walker, who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Jeremy Corbyn, has served on the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights panel for the College of Policing and until recently was on a similar body for the Homes and Communities Agency. He is an ‘expert’ on social housing. His C of E web page also says he is: ‘An experienced and highly regarded spiritual leader; Bishop David Walker is passionate about issues which effect social housing, asylum seekers and the benefit cuts.’
All this, before I’d even reached my toaster. And despite hearing the voice of Anglicanism via Radio 4 as the Labour Party on its knees, I did set off to my own church at 9.30 am for the usual Sunday Eucharist. This was quite a risk as earlier in the month I had walked out during a sermon when a Canadian woman priest told us that mass migration to the UK was God’s gift to us.
Unlike the bishops who wrote to the Prime Minister, she did tackle the most difficult question in all this, the subject of Islam, although she didn’t see it as a problem, but another of ‘God’s gifts.’
‘The Muslims of Oxford are all set to welcome the refugees from Syria,’ she said.
‘They have opened their hearts and their homes to people they call, ‘their brothers.’
Her message, like that of Bishop David, was clearly that Christians must welcome mass migration, making no distinction between economic migrants and refugees and expressing no concerns about the arrival of thousands of Muslims. The bishops and most C of E clergy have obviously taken to heart the parable of the Good Samaritan in the gospel of St. Luke, as any Christian must, and also the words of St Paul, who told us that we must love our enemies and do good to those that hate us. There is no way around that, although confusingly the church also sanctions the ‘just war,’ such as that against Hitler.
What is so annoying about these prating prelates is that in their passion for open hearts and open borders, they don’t seem to be aware of the reality of most British people’s lives and aspirations. Charity begins at home and you also have to understand what that home is like. We just cannot absorb many more foreigners, I use that term realising it is not PC, without causing great hardship to many ordinary indigenous people; they do exist, although the Left would deny it, who do not have many extra resources.
Bishop David is purported to be an expert on social housing but he doesn’t seem to have registered that there is not nearly enough of it to go around. According to the charity, Shelter, there are more than 1.8 million households waiting for a social home, an increase of 81 per cent since 1997. Two thirds of households have been on the waiting list for more than a year. Nearly 41,000 households with dependent children are living in temporary accommodation. Shelter says that the issues with social housing stem from a huge lack of supply against surging demand.
Perhaps the good bishop really does think that 50,000 migrant families can go into any of the twelve bishop’s palaces in the UK, and church-goer’s second bedrooms. Apparently, he won’t be taking any into his own six-bedroomed mansion in Salford.
He also wants masses of unaccompanied minors to come here and go into good quality foster care. A brief look at Kent alone shows the problems involved with this overstretched service. Last September, Kent local authority said it had used up every last foster place it had. Whitstable’s asylum-seeker base is now at full capacity. Social services chiefs at Kent County Council said in early October that they were facing an unprecedented surge in the number of young asylum seekers, creating a ‘ticking time bomb’ for the authority. They can no longer place new asylum-seeker children anywhere in the county as there is no space available. In October, there were 872 unaccompanied young asylum seekers being looked after by Kent, either in reception centres or with foster families. A year ago the number was only 200.
The bishops also take St Paul’s edict that we should love and forgive our enemies further than it has ever been taken before, by refusing to even acknowledge that we are threatened by an onrush of migrants who are Muslim. Enemies are to do with old fashioned nationalism; left-leaning people, since the time of Tony Blair, favour an end to the nation state and the concept of borders, even if those who wish to come here hate us. The man and woman in the street knows that Islam is inimical to Christianity, but not so our powerful churchmen.
I have yet to hear any words from the pulpit about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, or even any criticism of the increasingly barbaric Saudi Arabia. Surely that would be a good target for attacking a government, which is trying to keep them sweet at a terrible price, but the church doesn’t mention it. The C of E has no criticisms to make of Islam or SA and resents the Government trying to tackle terrorism, preferring to align itself with left-wing style direct action, which currently takes the form of welcoming migrants.
The Anglican Church in the UK is of course failing to thrive. Country parishes relying on team ministries are often almost empty on Sundays, which is why their buildings are threatened with a change of use. Against this background of decline it seems that church leaders have decided to join what historian Simon Schama calls, ‘communities of exhilaration.’ They have got caught up in what Schama also refers to as, ‘campfire enthusiasm politics.’
Such displays of public piety have little to do with Christian charity and do not attract a cynical public. They will also not help to fill the pews. Left wing people tend to be secular atheists rather than believers and more conservative people will only be irritated at this pulpit posturing. The church has to walk a fine line between insisting on justice and charity and talking fashionable twaddle. This latest attempt to embarrass the Government reveals a sad lack of understanding of how most British people think and live.