ConHome: "The bishops are blind"
The Great Benefit Row: Chapter 5.
ConservativeHome has now waded in, with Priti Patel MP telling us that the bishops are "blind". Specifically, they are "blind to the moral message of IDS’s gospel of work". She says their criticism is "disappointing", and their focus and claims "misplaced".
You see, this is what happens when one side bawls at the other: it simply barks back. Everyone is hearing the undignified clamour, but no one is listening.
The allegation that the bishops are blind to morality is quite possibly one of the most offensive that a Conservative political site could make. Christian leaders spend their lives in moral reflection: when they believe the social effects of a political policy are unjust, they do so not because they are blind, but because they are seeing or have seen. And their appeal is to a criterion that transcends the electoral cycle. Their conscience at its deepest may be informed by socialist thought, but the Christian God, being three in one, is undeniably social. The bishops are concerned with the expression of faith in concrete existence: it is their sensitivity to the plight of individuals which drives them toward change. You may think them misguided, or a product of primordial political thinking, but they are not blind.
Blindness is not only the inability to see; it is indifference and inaction. The bishops who signed that letter to the Mirror (and those who subsequently agreed with them) pray daily that the blind will see: they seek the co-working of divine grace and human endeavour; their goal is moral striving which is exhibited in the depth of their love. The politicians who berate the bishops are as blind to the love revealed in Jesus Christ as they believe the bishops are to the moral message of IDS's "gospel of work". The politicians look at creation and their urge is to reform it in order to achieve their political Utopia: the bishops look at creation and urge reconciliation before the consummation. Both are concerned with the end, but they differ on motive and means.
There is nothing at all to be gained from Christian pronouncements and political broadcasts which reduce complex social issues to simplistic soundbites. We are dealing with human beings, and these bishops - whether you agree with them or not - are concerned with the justice and love of a social theology. Tory politicians may think them blind, and yet this so very often is what they see:
This is the Rev'd Giles Fraser's church in Newington, near the Elephant and Castle, feeding the poor and doubling as a homeless shelter. You may think this Guardian-adoring priest and its lefty bishops to be a political blight on the Church of England, but their theology is operation-centred and emerges from reflection on their very real experiences. They observe and act, and sometimes they speak. You may not agree with their actions or proclamations, and they may only see IDS's reforms through a glass darkly, but the task then is not to hurl insults or berate their visual impairment, but to turn their eyes to the light in order that they may see and understand for themselves.