What a week for Dominic Cummings. As if the backlash coming from Guardianistas, Conservative MPs and the Rose Garden reporters for his Durham trip hadn’t been hellish enough, he’s also had the Church of England on his back.
Indeed, following Boris Johnson’s press conference on Sunday, in which he defended Cummings, bishop after bishop bashed away on Twitter, clearly fuming at the adviser’s political survival.
Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, said Johnson had treated “the people of this country like sheep who can be fooled”, and others followed in this vein, with Nick Bainers (Leeds) writing “The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?”
By far one of the most theatrical of these pontificators was David Walker (Manchester), who exclaimed “[U]nless very soon we see clear repentance, including the sacking of Cummings, I no longer know how we can trust what ministers say sufficiently for [the Church of England] to work together with them on the pandemic.” Who knew that firing employees was such a holy enterprise…
One has a (limited) degree of sympathy with the bishops. Of course, they’ve seen first hand, albeit through online means, the sacrifices people have made around the country to contain the virus, even missing out on funerals. It’s understandable they want to speak out on their behalf.
But the problem is that this seems guided by political ideology more than anything, no thanks to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose statements always sound like code for “let’s stay in the EU”.
After all, whom exactly did it benefit when he offered to head a Citizens’ Assembly to stop a No Deal Brexit? Hilariously, he once cautioned Johnson not to pour “petrol” on Britain’s Brexit divisions, but what’s ironic is his own hopelessness at uniting the nation – too often sounding as if he’s vying for an invite to a dinner party hosted by Caroline Lucas.
The Bishops will simply be seen as more of the same – part of a bullying establishment against Cummings and Brexiteer politicians.
What’s even more appalling is Walker’s threat to stop working with the Government, which is hardly inspiring rhetoric in a pandemic; the sort we might expect from unions, not spiritual leaders. Given the C of E’s role helping with night shelters and community schemes, surely his words will spark fear in the most vulnerable members of our society.
With its depleting numbers of attendees, the C of E simply hasn’t got time for this nonsense. If it wants to protect its own interests, it should focus more on the day job; even make the most out of the fact the pandemic is bringing out more worshippers than ever before to watch its online services.
Some have already been deeply critical of Welby. Though he has apparently been secretly volunteering at St. Thomas’s, it’s his lack of leadership that’s the issue, with The Times calling it “lacklustre” and accusing the Church of England of being “shockingly absent”.
The truth is that even atheists might want a bit of spiritual guidance during this time – so long as it’s sermons on God, not the politics of the EU.