The Bishop of St Davids and the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Rt Rev Dr Joanna Penberthy is the 129th Bishop of St Davids. In tweets that came to light recently, she exhibited an antipathy to members of the Conservative Party which did not sit well with her position.  “Never, never, never trust a Tory” is not what people expect to see a bishop tweeting.

Once these tweets came to light, there was a considerable brouhaha which seemed to die down when she apologised and deleted her twitter account.

Now, I happen to think that Bishop Joanna’s tweets were not compatible with her role. I work in a congregation which has political activists in it from time to time of all persuasions and I have had no trouble working and worshipping with them all. I think that she was right to apologise and to make sure that the tweets in question were removed from view.

One does not need to go very far to realise that I do not have much truck with the policies of the Conservative Party. I have, after all, stood against Tory candidates in several elections. I am fairly obviously of the view that engagement with public political discourse is appropriate (if indeed not sometimes necessary) for those who hold prominent positions within the churches. As it happens, I am now a floating voter and not a member of a political party though I do strongly encourage others who are members of political parties to engage fully with them.

One of my frustrations about the manner in which Bishop Joanna has expressed herself is that she will now find it very difficult to comment negatively on that which should legitimately be criticised about government policy.

Policy is the key to the nature of appropriate political discourse I think. For my money, it is generally fair enough to criticise policy and generally not OK to criticise someone’s personality or core identity. 

So, for example, my view is that it is legitimate to criticise this government’s manufactured hostile environment towards refugees (and now, it seems, all those trying to settle in this country). That policy is cruel. I would go so far as to say it is unchristian. Indeed, I have gone so far as to say such things, from the pulpit, in the newspapers and online.

I have little doubt that Bishop Joanna would agree with me. However, she is now so far on the back-foot that she will struggle to be able to articulate any coherent opposition to wicked government policies for a very long time.

Bishop Joanna did get it wrong. However, she did apologise and sought to make amends. Though I think it will be hard for her to do so, I hope that she is back on social media soon and that she will be able to make her points in ways that hit home and which do not lead to her being silenced.

Now, all this would have been fading away, had not the Archbishop of Canterbury interfered in the matter. It is reported today that he has written to the Secretary of State for Wales expressing the view that he was “truly sorry” for Bishop Joanna’s comments.

This has now led, very rightly, to outrage being expressed online about the Archbishop of Canterbury interfering in a matter about which he has no jurisdiction. He has no business apologising for what bishops in Wales say in public. 

Apart from anything else, no archbishop is going to survive the mental gymnastics required if they hold themselves responsible for what every bishop in the Anglican world thinks or says.

The complaint will now be made by some that people are focussing on Archbishop Justin’s comments and forgetting about the “offence” of Bishop Joanna’s comments.

And that is, quite rightly, exactly what people are doing.

Bishop Joanna and the Archbishop of Canterbury have both made statements which are incompatible with their office.

Bishop Joanna has apologised and those who do have jurisdiction in this matter seem to think that her apology is sincere. Her twitter sins should be forgiven. Archbishop Justin has not apologised for his comments.

The more he intervenes in the running of other provinces, the more difficult his job becomes.

The Archbishop of Canterbury hath, as the badge says, no jurisdiction in this Realm of Scotland. The Archbishop of Canterbury hath no jurisdiction in this matter in the Realm of Wales either.

Pollokshields – These are our neighbours

It was impossible not to be moved by people standing around an immigration enforcement van in Pollokshields yesterday chanting “These are our neighbours, let them go”. Many people today are proud of those in this city who stopped this enforcement action.

Every country needs to have an immigration system and every immigration system needs to be enforced in some way. Every such system needs to be fair and just. However the immigration system in this country has ceased to be fair and has ceased to be just. Any government that actively seeks to be hostile to those seeking asylum has already failed the test of being fair and just. The immigration system in this country has not only become hostile to refugees but the government has recently announced plans to make it even more hostile and to limit the possibility of appealing to the Supreme Court in asylum cases.

Every asylum seeker needs access to justice in order that the system itself can be seen to be fair.

Yesterday, the people of Pollokshields came out onto the streets because they believed that what was being done in their name was not fair. With an aggresively hostile system in place as a policy, it is impossible to be sure that any asylum decision is fair.

The police made a wise call yesterday not to try to clear the street and the two men detailed were set free into the community.

We need a fair asylum system.  Without a fair asylum system, there will increasingly be successful protests by citizens who will prevent the authorities from being able to act.

If the government believes it can appeal to voters by making an already hostile asylum system even more hostile, the people in the streets of Pollokshields showed yesterday that at least in some places, that policy will fail.