Sunday, 23 February 2014

Meddling Bishops or Freedom of Expression?

I have to say that it was so encouraging to hear Church Leaders speaking out against poverty and, in particular, Government and media attacks on the poor. I don’t intend to get involved in that particular debate here. I fully endorse the comments of Giles Fraser in his Guardian comment –

But this also raised a more fundamental issue. Should Church leaders ‘meddle’ in these matters and should the media give them a platform?

On the BBC’s  Big Question, Evan Harris of the National Secular Society asked why Bishops should have that platform just because of their religion. Although, presumably he was on the programme because of his non religious views.

But it is a fair question and I would actually agree with him, in part.

I certainly do not think that Church leaders should have a privileged position solely on the basis that we are a Christian nation or because Christianity is our state religion. I have said before that there is no such thing as a Christian nation. The bible neither mentions it nor even hints at it. We are culturally and religiously diverse society and long may that continue.

So where there is a genuine conflict of views about issues, is it acceptable for anybody to claim that they are right because of their religious beliefs? At the extreme end there was the recent outburst by UKIP Councillor that we were experiencing extreme weather because of gay marriage.

But what about those who claim the right to discriminate and that equality legislation attacks their beliefs. It as if some Christians feel that they are more equal than others.

But this does not mean that bishops should keep quiet. Poverty is an issue which concerns people across the religious and secular divide – and what a divisive word that is! So all of us, including bishops have the right to speak out. Their status might give them a wider audience but what is wrong with that?

If David Beckham spoke out against government policy it would make headlines. He may only be a sportsman but he has the right to be heard and the fact that he can reach a wide audience is not his fault! You should not be deprived of a right to free speech because you are too prominent.

The same applies to church leaders. Politics affects all of us. Poverty should offend all of us. So I for one congratulate them for standing up and the more people who listen, the better.

There may be a genuine debate about the continuing presence of bishops on the House of Lords. And I certainly question any right to preferential media access to promote a particular religious belief. But that is a discussion for another day.  

In the meantime let’s hear it for the Bishops – the louder the better…

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