We need more Tory bishops
Perhaps the ‘war’ ought to come as no surprise, since the vast majority (if not all) of CofE bishops are paid up (or very sympathetic ex-) members of the Christian Socialist Movement who pore over The Guardian every morning with their mint tea and muesli and intercede fervently for the amelioration of the fortunes of Ed Miliband. “O God, let justice flow like a river,” they pray, hoping desperately for the water to turn red. On that count, they might as well pray to win the lottery: His Grace is firmly persuaded that the Lord wants Ed Miliband to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about as much as He wants Johann Hari to write the Third Testament.
The former Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Rev’d Stephen Lowe, is of the opinion that capping housing benefit could make children suffer. He said: "We have got some families, quite a large number of families I am sad to say, where neither parent is working. They perhaps are not particularly capable of working. They have large families... The fact that child benefit, which is meant to be attached to the number of children, is being discounted in relation to this particular £26,000 is actually going to damage those children's welfare and put potentially another 100,000 children into poverty."
The Rt Rev’d John Packer, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, says: “There is a very real risk that these reforms will cause suffering to the most vulnerable in society. What we’re hoping to do is to lessen that suffering for children in families where parents are unemployed.”
And this, apparently, amounts to ‘war’.
His Grace feels he’s going round in circles on this one, principally because some bishops can’t think beyond their religio-political predisposition, firmly convinced that Jesus, were he to walk our green and pleasant land, would vote Labour.
His Grace would very much like a three-bedroom pad in Kensington, preferably near Harvey Nick’s. And failing that, a nice pied-à-terre in Kensington Palace Gardens would suffice. The reality, of course, is that his abode is commensurate with and proportionate to his meagre stipend: he has no expectation that the taxpayer should subsidise his desire to dwell in a house or an in area he cannot afford.
£2000 a month represents the average weekly wage for working households. Adopting the mean income would appear to be a manifestly fair way of apportioning welfare, the bill for which presently runs at £192bn a year. But the bishops are concerned that the reforms risk pushing thousands of children into poverty and homelessness. How in the name of St Gemma could an income of £2000 a month be considered poverty? Certainly, it won't be enough to pay a rent in Kensington or any major city. So move.
When it comes to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society, the Government's measure of poverty is woefully inadequate, and the bishops need to reflect on the teachings of Jesus (just occasionally). His Grace has said this before, but he will say it again for the economically obtuse. If poverty continues to be defined in relative terms, then Jesus was right to insist that the poor will always be with us. For when the average household income reaches £35,000, there will still be children being brought up in households where the income is a meagre £21,000, and thereby damned to be brought up in ‘Dickensian levels of poverty’.
The proportion of UK households defined as living in poverty has been around the 20 per cent through many decades of both Conservative and Labour administrations.
If the Conservative Party were intent on eradicating child poverty, or any other kind of poverty, they would first need to confront UN/EU/UK/CofE definition of the term and reassess how it is measured, for the social(-ist) scientists have being very busy moving the goalposts.
The bishops are right to highlight that subject of poverty, for it was foundational to the ministry of Jesus: he preached more about money than he did about eternal salvation. But when examining what he said about the poor, consideration has to be given to context and audience, and the nuances of Greek vocabulary also need examining.
What does Luke mean by ‘the poor’ (6:20)? The peasants who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (‘ptochos’) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence) - they were termed ‘penes’. Jesus was (and is) concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual [cf Acts 10:38]). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money - the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated by ‘ptochos’, indicating ‘poverty-stricken…to cower down or hide oneself for fear’ - the need to beg. The ‘penes’ has to work, but the ‘ptochos’ has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not ‘penes’ or the general peasant audience of few possessions.
This is an important distinction upon which the bishops might like to reflect. They might also like to reflect on the teaching of St Paul:
We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has grasped this. But it’s a sorry state of affairs when a lay Roman Catholic has to instruct bishops of the Established Church in God’s justice: we must think of those who pay taxes while some unemployed people live in large houses at public expense. The principle ought very fairly to be that those on benefits cannot ‘earn’ more than those who work.
(2 Thess3:8-12 NIV – so the bishops can understand it).
Mr Duncan Smith said: "The question I'd ask these bishops is, over all these years, why have they sat back and watched people being placed in houses they cannot afford? It's not a kindness. I would like to see their concerns about ordinary people, who are working hard, paying their tax and commuting long hours, who don't have as much money as they would otherwise because they're paying tax for all of this."
His Grace is fed up of the moral hazard in this argument: children have become a vehicle for guaranteed income and a sense of entitlement. While society must always protect the vulnerable, adults must take responsibility for their choices, including the bad ones.
Perhaps, instead of obsessing about which bishops are gay, one or two might have the courage of their convictions and come out as Tory and support this manifestly sensible reform.