DOMINIC LAWSON: With biased bishops the church hasn't got a prayer

DOMINIC LAWSON: With biased bishops like this, the church hasn’t got a prayer

What happened to ‘love thy neighbour’? Or, even more difficult, ‘love thine enemy’?

These questions might be addressed to the Bishop of St David’s, Dr Joanna Penberthy. 

It turns out she has been in the habit of using Twitter to say very unforgiving things about millions of her fellow-citizens: those who have ever voted Conservative.

The Anglican blogger known as ‘Archbishop Cranmer’ last week unearthed a number of these eruptions from Dr Penberthy, out of 221,400 she has sent since 2016 (suggesting that the Bishop should perhaps have spent more time tending to her flock, and less on Twitter).

What happened to ‘love thy neighbour’? Or, even more difficult, ‘love thine enemy’? These questions might be addressed to the Bishop of St David’s, Dr Joanna Penberthy (pictured)

On March 25 this year, she wrote: ‘Never never never trust a Tory.’ A little while ago, replying to someone who tweeted that ‘I no longer believe a single word from the Conservative Party. And I am a lifelong supporter’, Dr Penberthy pinged back, with a distinct lack of Christian charity: ‘That you ever supported the Tories says everything we need to know about you.’

And when, last May, a poll showed Conservative support running at 47 per cent, she tweeted: ‘A very sad indictment of British electorate that so many still want to vote Tory. Absolutely appalling. I am ashamed of each and every one of them.’

As Nick Spencer of Theos (pictured) put it, pithily, the relationship between vicars and their congregations resembles ‘Guardian readers preaching at Daily Mail readers’

Propaganda

In fact, it is the Anglican Communion, of which the Church in Wales is a member, which should be ashamed of Dr Penberthy: not for holding the views she has, but the hatred she has expressed for those who don’t share them. After initially brushing this off with the observation that her tweets were from her personal account rather than her official one as bishop, she has now been forced to disgorge an apology for ‘tweets I have posted which have caused upset and offence’.

The interesting thing is why the bishop ever imagined such expressions were acceptable for someone in her position. I suspect it was because she didn’t realise how abnormal they are, outside the circles in which she moves.

For the Anglican Church, at least in the UK, has become a sort of handmaiden to socialism, even as its own congregations have moved in the opposite direction.

As the BBC Thought For The Day regular, Giles Fraser (left), recently observed: ‘Only 6 per cent of Church of England clergy admitted voting Tory at the last election . . . but the number for Pentecostalist church leaders was dramatically different. Among this group, 49 per cent voted Conservative whereas just 12 per cent voted Labour’

A few years ago, The Spectator published an account under the (pseudonymous) name of Harry Pinker, who was then training for ordination at a C of E theological college. He wrote: ‘At my college there are approximately 60 ordinands in full-time residential training. The overwhelming majority would call themselves (proudly) socialist. There is also a sizeable minority of Marxists.’

Karl Marx, of course, founded the doctrine of ‘dialectical materialism’ and denounced religion as ‘the opium of the masses’. Anyway, Pinker revealed that in his college, from staff and visiting speakers, ‘we are fed a constant diet of propaganda which assumes all Tories are evil and that they exist solely for the benefit of the rich’. Who knows, perhaps one of those visiting speaker was Dr Penberthy.

It is true the Church has a mission to support the poor, which is admirable. But it seems to believe the only way to demonstrate that publicly is to argue that the state, via taxpayers, should provide the funds to remove their financial plight.

So, for example, although the Government has racked up huge additional debts to pay for the furlough scheme and other unprecedented expenditures to deal with the pandemic, the C of E, from Archbishop Justin Welby downwards, has expressed outrage at the proposal to cut £4 billion from the current year’s foreign aid budget

It is all about money, and if the dosh isn’t actually available in the amounts demanded, it should be borrowed — that is, paid for by future taxpayers, including those not yet born. So, for example, although the Government has racked up huge additional debts to pay for the furlough scheme and other unprecedented expenditures to deal with the pandemic, the C of E, from Archbishop Justin Welby downwards, has expressed outrage at the proposal to cut £4 billion from the current year’s foreign aid budget.

That would nevertheless mean we will be paying £10 billion this year to supply aid to the developing world, making us still among the most generous governments on the planet (if it can be called generous on the part of politicians, when it is other people’s money they are giving).

It would be helpful to know what Anglican churchgoers think about all this. An idea is provided by Stuart Fox and Ekaterina Kolpinskaya, who in April published an academic study showing that professing Anglicans are increasingly voting Conservative.

They concluded: ‘Anglicans have never been particularly likely to support Labour, but they are becoming even less likely to do so. In the 2019 General Election, Labour’s support among Anglicans was nine points lower than the wider electorate’s.’ A bit of a shock for Dr Penberthy, who stood (unsuccessfully) as a Labour councillor in 2015, when she was a parish priest.

Shrinking

She and her colleagues — including her husband, who is also an Anglican priest — might usefully study a report by the think-tank Theos, which revealed that while 70 per cent of lay Anglicans think state benefits can create dependency, almost two-thirds of ordinands take exactly the opposite view. As Nick Spencer of Theos put it, pithily, the relationship between vicars and their congregations resembles ‘Guardian readers preaching at Daily Mail readers’.

Hardly surprising, then, that those congregations are shrinking. Yet there is one Christian strand whose numbers seem to be increasing in the UK. That is Pentecostalism, especially strong among the ethnically diverse population the C of E would dearly love to attract.

The Pentecostalists tend more to the view that the poor need ‘a hand up, not a hand out’. And as the BBC Thought For The Day regular, Giles Fraser, recently observed: ‘Only 6 per cent of Church of England clergy admitted voting Tory at the last election . . . but the number for Pentecostalist church leaders was dramatically different. Among this group, 49 per cent voted Conservative whereas just 12 per cent voted Labour.

‘This is especially interesting given that Pentecostal churches are predominantly made up of Black Christians.’

I am not a Christian. But from what I understand of the historical figure of Jesus Christ, I imagine he would have been more at home with the open and optimistic Pentecostalists than with the bitter political factionalism of the Bishop of St David’s.

The Lancet’s in the medical mire – yet again  

The Lancet is one of the world’s . . . I was about to say ‘most respected’ medical journals. But under its long-serving editor, Richard Horton, it has disgraced itself — again.

Saturday’s Mail contained a shocking account of what lay behind the journal’s publication in February 2020 of a letter from ‘eminent scientists’ ridiculing the very idea that Covid-19 might not have natural origins, but instead might have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

None of us can know which theory is correct. But the fact the outbreak started in that same city, and near a site which conducted ‘gain of function’ experiments on coronaviruses (how they might be modified to become deadlier or more transmissible), was at least worth taking very seriously.

The Lancet is one of the world’s . . . I was about to say ‘most respected’ medical journals. But under its long-serving editor, Richard Horton (pictured), it has disgraced itself — again

Yet it now turns out the Lancet letter denouncing such a proposition was entirely co-ordinated by Peter Daszak, a Briton whose work is in this highly risky (but potentially beneficial) field, and who has long had a close professional association with the Wuhan Institute. Not only that: the Lancet letter concluded ‘we declare no competing interests’. This appears not to have been true. We might also note that Horton has received multiple honours from the Chinese government.

Why do I say the Lancet has disgraced itself ‘again’? Because it was under Horton’s editorship that in 1998 it published the notorious paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield, spuriously, and with rigged experiments, linking the MMR vaccine with autism in children.

It so happened Wakefield was being funded by a legal firm involved in litigation against the vaccine manufacturers. Yet this was not disclosed to Lancet readers.

To be fair to Horton, who knew Wakefield personally, he had not been aware of that grotesque undeclared ‘competing interest’. But still, the Lancet didn’t ‘withdraw’ the paper until 2010, by which time Wakefield had been struck off the medical register.

You’d think that Horton would have been more careful about checking for conflicts of interest after that fiasco.

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