Comments: bishops in the House of Lords

As a member of the Established Church, I should be delighted if the bishops were removed from the Lords. If the Church of England's leadership had proved a bit smarter at making sure by now that the bishops represented a wider range of backgrounds, perhaps they could have an ongoing role... but as it is, they are an exclusively male, mainly independent-school-educated, nearly all white, pretty homophobic lobby unelected by anyone, least of all their own membership: how could they be said to represent either the Church's members or the wider society in any way?

When they have been removed from attempts to legislate for everyone else, perhaps they will actually be freer to concentrate on running the Church better, something desparately needed. Or is that just a pious hope?

Posted by Fr Mark at Wednesday, 2 September 2009 at 8:18pm BST

When I was a post-graduate student in England in the 1970s, the joke was that England was becoming so much like America that it was almost a fifty-first state.

Now if you rename the House of Lords, and call it a Senate, it will be perfectly positioned for such a transition, since most American states have Senates.

Straw ought to be ashamed of himself. England should remain England, and the Church of it should have Lord Bishops in its House of Lords.

We Anglophile Americans love titles such as "The Right Revd and Right Honourable the Lord Bishop of Rochester" --- thinking here of Thomas Sprat.

Why do some people want England to be modern?

Next thing you know some fool will want to change the Jerusalem hymn because they do not like the people there now.

Posted by Andrew at Wednesday, 2 September 2009 at 8:35pm BST

I'm a Yank, so feel free to tell me to mind my own business, but ...
I'm trying to imagine 5 seats in the United States Senate being permanently reserved for the Episcopal Church. The Senators Spiritual ... Their first problem would be that the late-night talk-show hosts would have a field day.
I know England has a long and grand history, but the country nowadays is a modern secular state.
Does the Prime Minister still nominate Archbishops of Canterbury? Other archbishops? Bishops? You'd think the CofE would want to run its own affairs, without political influence. And in return give up the lords.

Posted by peterpi at Wednesday, 2 September 2009 at 9:35pm BST

From the point of view of an inter-dependent part of the world-wide Anglican Communion - in New Zealand, where we have no official state/church relationship - the continuation of the quasi-feudal system where the Anglican Church of England is represented in the Upper House of Parliament, seems counter to the concept of democratic government and religious freedom.

In a day and age where the whole concept of prince-bishops is seen by the laity as a more *temporal* than *spiritual* reality; and where bishops no longer expect to be addressed in cap-doffing manner as "My Lord"; the perception of bishops as 'shepherds of the flock' demands a more humbly pastoral role than that ofa peer of the realm - at least while still in office.

Episcopacy is not meant to involve political grand-standing. Rather, it is to facilitate the oversight of the Church and the Flock which has been entrusted to the bishop's care, in his or her jurisdiction.

Theocratic states can exert a contrary influence in the ecumenical world of religious freedom.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 2 September 2009 at 11:55pm BST

It is sad, for a country that is not obsessed with the separation of church and state (but unlike the one on the west side of the Atlantic, still can't hypocritically keep religion out of it's politics) that it can't have a dignified representation of the faithful in it's national assembly. However, the actions, or lack of by such in bringing more of an equitable society for has largely relegated them to be an anachronism of their own creation. As the more protestant types in my family were fond of saying, perhaps heretically, "God helps those who help themselves."

On another note, it is curious that ++York has largely been silent during this period of turmoil in the C of E.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 3:21am BST

Isn't Iran the only other country with guaranteed parliament seats for religious leaders? Nice company you are keeping there, England. I would say join the 21st century but this is more like a 19th or even 18th century issue.

Posted by Dennis at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 3:41am BST

peterpi wrote:
"I know England has a long and grand history, but the country nowadays is a modern secular state."

This is not in fact the case. As the blurb for a recent new book on disestablishment put it:

"In England particularly, religious freedom is not yet accompanied by religious equality: the monarch cannot be or be married to a Roman Catholic, and has to be in communion with the Church of England – a requirement which rules out not only all Roman Catholics but all non-Trinitarian Christians as well as people belonging to other religions or none. This system imposes a religious test on heads of state which prevents them choosing their own religion or none.
Moreover, there are more than vestigial remnants still subsisting of a confessional state which once required all inhabitants to be members of the established church. All Anglican bishops and many senior clergy are appointed by the crown, and 26 of the bishops still sit by right as full members of the House of Lords. Church courts are still part of the state judicial system and their most senior members are also appointed by the crown. The government remains responsible for appointing priests to about 700 benefices. The Anglican Synod may initiate primary legislation subject only to the veto of both Houses of Parliament who can only accept or reject and not amend the detail of such legislation."

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 11:05am BST

'Isn't Iran the only other country with guaranteed parliament seats for religious leaders?'

Also, the UK (through the Church of England) has a parliamentary system that has 26 seats only open to those of a male persuasion.

And we won't mention religious representation from other nations within the UK.

Posted by Kennedy at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 11:37am BST

Andrew: "We Anglophile Americans love titles such as "The Right Revd and Right Honourable the Lord Bishop of Rochester" "

We might all love the title, but be rather less enamoured of its most recent holder... I don't think the title would change, though, would it? Not all bishops sit in the Lords, yet the correct form of address for all is "My Lord Bishop": similarly, many hereditary peers no longer have a seat in the Lords, (or, if they were Irish peers, perhaps never did) yet are stil "Lord So-and-so."

It isn't so much the title as the unelected exercising power to make legislation that is offensive nowadays, I think. Does anyone really believe that the likes of Graham Dow, Tom Wright and Michael Nazir-Ali are suitable people to have votes in Parliament on laws which are binding on everyone else? Look at how George Carey voted against every piece of legislation marking steps towards equality for gay people in the UK: much the same was true of the bishops at the time of the Reform Bill, wasn't it? Despite a few honourable exceptions (Richard Harries springs to mind), the bishops have tended to act as a block to the progress of democracy and equality in the UK.

Posted by Fr Mark at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 1:26pm BST

@Fr. Ron Smith:

(OT, I know, but I have to ask. Apologies to our fine hosts.)

You're in Kiwiland? All this time I was thinking you were in Newfoundland for some reason. (Or do I have you confused with someone else?)

Pshee, talk about getting it wrong.

Posted by Walsingham at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 3:51pm BST

Note to the Americans reading this: the House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom; the Church of England is the established church of England. There is a difference. In Scotland the Presbyterian Church is the established church. In Wales (since 1920) and Northern Ireland (since 1871) there is no established religion.

I find it obnoxious that a church which is here a "foreign" church and has no ecclesiastical jurisdiction, gets to vote on laws that affect me through a system of patronage that has no accountability to me. Time to scrap it.

The Church getting into an ugly squabble for temporal power hardly seems edifying to me or in keeping with Jesus' behaviour when he did have the option of seizing temporal power. But, hey, the Bible only matters when it's talking about gay people playing willies, doesn't it.

Everybody seems to argue against a directly elected House of Lords, I don't know why. Set a fixed four year term for parliament and have the Upper House being elected two years out of sync with the (more powerful) Lower House. Or if you're going to keep first past the post for the Lower House, simply elect the Upper House by PR. A combination of those systems seems to work OK in Australia and is better than either hereditary Peers being there because they're related to the Queen, or cronies being appointed for life because they're in with one of the three main political parties.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 5:33pm BST

There should be no reserved seats in the legislature for any sectarian interest other than those which are elected

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 5:47pm BST

"I know England has a long and grand history, but the country nowadays is a modern secular state."

Thanks God it is not - certainly not secular and probably not modern!

Reform of the HoL should be exactly that. Removing anachronistic weaknesses but building on the strengths of the past. Replacing the HoL with just another lot of elected, self-serving, buffoons (similar to those in the lower house) would hardly be an improvement. We don't need more professional politicians - we do need people of proven ability from all walks of life (including the religious communities), who understand the meaning of public service, dedicated to acting independently and as a counter and reform to the many nonsenses proposed by the ruling party in Government.

As to the sort of secularism which insists that religion is a private matter to be kept out of the public sphere I disagree entirely. If JS is really concerned about the ability of Anglican prelates to represent other faiths then he should propose that our pluralist Britain has 'Lords Spiritual' from other denominations and faiths - and there is no reason why they can't be elected by their relevant communities.

Posted by Andrew Holden at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 6:38pm BST

"You're in Kiwiland? All this time I was thinking you were in Newfoundland for some reason. (Or do I have you confused with someone else?)"
- Walsingham -

No. You're confusing me with another 'free-thinker' - my old friend Ford Elms. In Kiwiland we also pride ourselves on our angularity.

"In Wales (since 1920) and Northern Ireland (since 1871) there is no established religion."
- Gerry Lynch -

And I was thinking that Ireland was governed by Roman Catholics. Sorry, couldn't resist that.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 8:27pm BST

"we do need people of proven ability from all walks of life (including the religious communities), who understand the meaning of public service, dedicated to acting independently and as a counter and reform to the many nonsenses proposed by the ruling party in Government."

And who decides who these wonderful, saintly, people are? You need to have some method of election or selection. Either the people elect them or some self-selecting group does - which is pretty much what happens at present: currently, all three main parties get a ration every year and the NI Unionist parties set the odd bone thrown their way from time to time as well.

Other than that, the crown can appoint them (no thank you), some Commission of the great and the good can appoint them, probably on nominations trawled from within the civil service (I was once one of those civil servants who had to make recommendations for civil honours and, ugh, no) or you have some system of indirect election. In the Republic of Ireland, Senators are elected by County Councillors from 'panels' supposedly representing their professional skills. And guess what - it's a straight party vote.

Personally, I'd always put the representation of the people to a vote of the people - democracy, what a radical idea, eh. It's the only way of making sure people get *exactly* what they deserve.

And none of this explains why the church is crawling around looking for temporal power in the first place.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 8:42pm BST

"Personally, I'd always put the representation of the people to a vote of the people - democracy, what a radical idea, eh. It's the only way of making sure people get *exactly* what they deserve."

Except that it usually doesn't work out that way Gerry, you see, somebody on this thread mentioned something about "professional politicians", and that's exactly what we get in the states, retreads that keep coming back, giving speeches on what the people want to hear, then doing something completely else when they get into office, thanks in large to the lobbyists that work for the Fortune 500. Good grief, one got sprung from prison this week and will probably get back into Congress to represent his famously corrupt northeast Ohio city. They never go away.

I don't have a problem with an appointed "elite-tocracy", if they truly are high minded people that can't be bought. An old saying that floats around the U. S. is that the only honest money is inherited money. But yes, having the spectre of that +ding-dong from Rochester in the upper chamber is indeed frightening.

And Father Ron Smith, I think you're confusing Ireland with Boston. Sorry, couldn't resist that either!

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 12:52am BST

choirboyfromhell,

With the greatest of respect, you are talking absolute tripe. Inherited wealth acts and uses power in its own interests the same way as any other group does. The high-minded "elite-ocracy", for example your own old-school North Eastern Episcopalian élite, have always governed primarily in their own interests. Look at how long it took them to allow Jews into their universities on the same terms as they were, for example.

The people leading the argument against, for example, universal healthcare in the US tend to be the children of inherited wealth (as are the CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies). George W. Bush was the product of inherited wealth. The idea that the rest of us should doff the cap to the products of inherited wealth and put them on some sort of self-disinterested moral pedestal is ludicrous.

I've been one of the poor, and I've lived among the rich, and I've seen more selflessness and self-sacrifice among the poor as well as, if I'm being honest, more naked intolerance, violence and callousness. But I really ought to thank you for reminding me how much of a working-class warrior I am - I had quite forgotten.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 11:49am BST

Yes Gerry, it was Ted Kennedy who inherited his grandfather's illegal booze business wealth of the 1920's and acted so selfishly with that position that he championed universal health care here to his dying day.

For every Franklin Roosevelt and Nelson Rockefeller there will probably be a Dick Cheney (who didn't have a lot of inherited wealth by the way) and "W", and having sung in the Bush's church at Greenwich, CT, I can certainly tell you that there is a vast difference between father and son. To judge a person on money via a "poor" person is just as bad as a wealthy excluding the poor because of their situation, and you are guilty as some of these bishops if you judge a person by what they have and not with how they spend it.

It comes down to judging a person by what they do, and not what they are. You of all people shouldn't have to be reminded of this, as this seems to be a basic thesis of this blogsite.

Thank you likewise for reminding me of my upbringing as well, to do well and do good, no matter who you are.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 1:52pm BST

Choirboy,

I'm not judging anyone by how much money they have. I judge people by what sort of person they are and how they behave, not where they're from. You were the one positing the idea that an "appointed elite-ocracy" is OK, based on the premise that "the only honest money is inherited money". I disagree. I take the view that if you're not accountable to me, don't presume to rule me, and people who inherit money come in the same variety of saints, scum and weird combinations of the two that the rest of us do.

I've voted for and run election campaigns for people from all sorts of backgrounds, from Baronets to hod-carriers; I judged them on the degree to which they shared my values and their ability to get them implemented in practice.

And none of this answers the question about why the Church of England is scrabbling about for temporal power in the Upper House of Parliament, which is to me the really important question in all this.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 4:28pm BST

"And none of this answers the question about why the Church of England is scrabbling about for temporal power in the Upper House of Parliament, which is to me the really important question in all this." -- Gerry Lynch
*******
Because they are temporal themselves? Because power never gives up power without a fight? Because it's always been this way? Because the Sermon on the Mount is OK for the masses sitting in the pews, but they know better? Because it's all fine and dandy for Jesus of Nazareth to renounce earthly kingdoms and power, but you can't expect them to do so, can you?
And how do those Lords Spiritual work anyway? Do they vote as a bloc? If so, who tells them how to decide? I mean, they're Spiritual, above party politics, right?

Posted by peterpi at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 6:42pm BST

Gerry,
The problem we have with politicians, and probably the electors themselves, is that the elected act if they are not accountable once they get in there and that the choice for electors is either between two extremes, or worse yet, two that differ very little, and get bought out by the lobbyists once in power. The power elite in the U.S. lies with "beltway" power brokers of military vendors/contractors, Fortune 500 and government bureaucrats that tend to stick around election after election.

As an American I too would be uneasy with a claque of religious leaders appointed to my senate, especially ones from another denomination, let alone from another country. But my point was that ours isn't all that it's all cracked up to be, and "professional politicians" along with an undereducated populace and powerful media can be a very dangerous thing indeed.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 7:54pm BST

Personally,

I'd abolish bishops.

Posted by john at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 9:13pm BST

peterpi - the Lords Spiritual do not vote as a bloc, not on The Gay Stuff and not on anything else. They're not beholden to any party whip, and vote their own conscience (but then, so do most members of the House of Lords, even the party members). Apart from opposing the idea of religiously appointed parliamentarians on grounds of both democratic and Christian principle, for every Richard Harries you get as a Lord Spiritual, you get a Michael Scott-Joynt.

Choirboy - not disagreeing with that; that's why you need an active and involved citizenship.

John - abolishing bishops isn't really very Anglican, though, is it?

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Saturday, 5 September 2009 at 2:22am BST

Gerry, "Personally, I'd always put the representation of the people to a vote of the people - democracy, what a radical idea"

Personally, I think democracy sucks only slightly less than the alternatives. So here's the radical idea, a HoL that acts as a counter to the mistakes and excesses of democracy and is non-political, non-professional, paid only a representative stipend. They would be people who have proved their worth in many other areas of human life and activity and dedicated to serving their country and following their individual, informed conscience.

How to pick them? Well you might as well have a reality TV program called "Lords enthroned....!" or something where Simon Cowell and the public in a telephone vote select the most self-less and able peers as have an election!

Not sure. Maybe a different kind of public choice through recommendations and referals from many different areas of public life. Perhaps even ending with a public vote - but please not just an extension of our present discredited system! We do NOT need MORE politicians.

I am certain that religious leaders have as much right to serve in such an independent and reforming house as leaders from any other community and would hope that Bishops (from all denominations), moderators, Imams, Rabbis etc, etc, would all be selectable for an upper chamber.

Posted by Andrew Holden at Saturday, 5 September 2009 at 4:06pm BST
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