Thinking Anglicans

A response to the bishops’ statement on Brexit

The Reverend Al Barrett is the incumbent of Hodge Hill Church – a partnership between St Philip & St James (Church of England – Birmingham Diocese) and Hodge Hill United Reformed Church. He blogs regularly at This estate we’re in and he has written this: “Not peace, but a sword”: a response to the bishops’ statement.

This is quite a long analysis and deserves to be read in full  He starts out this way:

There is, I realise, something slightly perverse about criticising a unanimous statement, from the Church of England’s bishops, attempting to speak with urgency into a time of profound national division. I also realise it’s not the first time I’ve responded publicly, and critically, to a statement made by my denomination’s senior leadership at a moment of political ‘crisis’. I’m sure there are words for people like me, and ‘irritant’ is probably the politest of them.

But these are indeed critical moments in our national life, and thankfully our bishops rarely presume to have ‘the last word’ in such moments. With whatever authority they seek to speak, their interventions are invitations (implicit or explicit) to further reflection and conversation – and it is to that implicit invitation that I cannot help but respond – with some ‘wonderings’ that can claim no more authority than the bishops’ statement, and certainly no more claim to be ‘the last word’ of a vital ongoing conversation.

I can only imagine the anguished discussions, in person, on the phone, by email, between the bishops in the process of agreeing this unanimous statement. The felt importance of presenting a ‘united front’, a single message – when they will no doubt have, among themselves, had passionate disagreements about the content, the tone, and even whether they should be saying anything public at all. I feel for them in those struggles. None of this is easy. To say anything, as much as to say nothing, is risky, costly, weighty in its responsibility…

And here is his concluding paragraph:

…Here, then, is the dilemma confronting the Church of England, in a nutshell: how do we ‘own up’ with penitent honesty to our own profoundly imbalanced and compromised social location and institutional reality (dominated by White, upper-/middle-class men), while seeking complex solidarities with diverse and marginalized ‘others’ who present challenges to both the church and wider society, and courageously challenging the powers-that-be where power is both concentrated and abused? The answer must, surely, include a willingness to give up – or be stripped of – most of the traces of institutional power that the Church of England, especially, continues to benefit from – even that of presuming to speak into political debate with some kind of ‘authoritative voice’. It must also, equally certainly, include an unshakeable commitment to listen acutely, attentively, enduringly, and with a radical receptivity, to the many within, and beyond the Church who are not White, or not middle-class, or not male, in ways that challenge and change us, to our very DNA. Only in the context of that ongoing commitment to listening, repentance and change can we humbly and courageously seek to ‘speak truth to power’.

But do, please, read the whole thing.

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Stanley MonkhouseMichael MulhernRowland WateridgeJames ByronDavid Runcorn Recent comment authors
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James Byron
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James Byron

Great article. The CoE’s brazenly partisan statement — in calling for Brexit to be delivered, it explicitly rejects the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties, and implicitly discards criticism of how the referendum was conducted — is powerful testimony to the dangers of mixing state and religious power. Secularism is as essential for the well-being of the church as it is the nation. The sooner she flies the nest, the better.

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

An excellent piece.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Quoting Jonnie Parkin, Al Barrett draws attention to the inescapable fact it has already been demonstrated that implementing the decision of the referendum is “exceptionally difficult without doing harm to the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the peace process in Northern Ireland, and the economic, cultural and scientific interests of the UK”. In December 1971 the UK Home Secretary, the English Conservative Reginald Maudling, described the murders and other attacks in Northern Ireland as “an acceptable level of violence”. The English Anglican bishops refer – with what looks like extraordinary ignorance and complacency – to “the great challenges… Read more »

Jo B
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Jo B

This is especially pertinent as these same Bishops have repeatedly justified the continued oppression of our LGBT brothers and sisters on the grounds that it might provoke violence against Christians elsewhere. The hypocrisy is staggering.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

“Brexit became, through the machinations of the Leave campaign, focused on immigration above all other issues, and the rise in race-related hate crime since the EU referendum has exposed the extent to which (as Anthony Reddie’s new book highlights with unflinching clarity) the Leave vote was entangled with a fierce nostalgia for some imagined glory days of a homogenously White “Great Britain” at the centre of a global Empire.” I would agree with the view that race and immigration were key drivers in appealing to people to vote ‘leave’, exploiting understandable emotions about change and in some areas ‘white flight’,… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

It’s precisely because I see the merits in U.K. secession that I counsel the folly of a crash and burn Brexit: it’ll taint the secessionist cause permanently, and lead Britain much deeper into the E.U. after she’s forced to rejoin. That any secessionist contemplates this insanity for a second is testimony to the fact that Brexit, with the elevation of leaving on Hallowe’en whatever the cost to sacred status, has become a doomsday cult, with all the worst aspects of apocalyptic faith on gruesome display: denounce the heretics, ignore voices of caution, everything will magically come good if we can… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

To be plain, I think a no deal ‘Brexit’ would probably tip Scotland over the line to independence, and request to rejoin the EU, so by the time the proverbial hit the fan I think there wouldn’t exactly be a Britain anymore. The quasi-religious shining eyes over ‘Brexit’ is frankly a kind of Victorian re-enactment of the Matter of Britain, drawing on all kinds of myths, from Jesus visiting the islands, to Arthur (who sleeps in a cave but will return as once and future king), to Robin Hood and Richard the (thug) Lionheart, and Magna Carta (a stitch up… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Of course, there are things in the past that are genuinely precious, and things that have indeed been lost. But this other past – the mythical past – is an instrument for propagandists. And I share James Byron’s view that the populace is being played by people who, frankly, have no sense or care for the past, but have their own agenda. There are calm, rational arguments for the UK to reclaim more of its sovereignty and self-determination. That’s why I describe myself as a floating voter. However, the racism and xenophobia and jingoism… this myth of England (it is… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

There’s undoubtedly something ‘1066 and All That’ about the Brexit rhetoric. (Then Good King Boris jumped into the Wash, taking his country with him. Historians consider this to be a Bad Thing.) These myths can be benign, but Bannonism has poisoned them, as it corrupts everything it touches.

As for the bishops, I doubt more than a handful want a blowout Brexit; but then, I doubt more than a handful have any problem with gay people. However kindly their personal feelings, they keep setting them aside in the name of unity. And that’s certainly a Bad Thing.

Father Ron Smith
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In the context of the Bishops’ Statement, one wonders what they think about the illegal tactics of P.M. Boris Johnson to silence the ongoing debate by closing down parliament? After all, Parliament is the body elected to govern the people. If the parliament is working properly, a referendum should not be necessary. Political referenda are too often swayed by powerful pressure groups whose influence can be out of all proportion to the majority view. Perhaps there was too little open and balanced public debate about the relative benefits/disadvantages of leaving the E.U. before the initial Tory decision to resort to… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

The bishops aren’t in a position to be pointing out anyone’s moral deficiencies. Not until they behave with integrity and compassion regarding the abuse crisis and LGBTI issues.

Stanley Monkhouse
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Janet nails it, again. I’m in limbo at present. I’ve done my last service and am on “gardening” leave until retirement in a few weeks. I’m dealing with moving and electrics and plumbing and such like. I’m struck by the pleasantness and willingness of tradesmen and craftsmen – interesting comparisons with attitudes of some church people. Already, what clerics say is pretty irrelevant, even to me. The catastrophic stupidity of a hard Irish border matters: the pronouncements of a compromised politburo are of no import whatsoever.

David Runcorn
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David Runcorn

Stanley Monkhouse As someone just a few months ahead of you on the road I join in wishing you a long and happy retirement. But please, let’s not kick the door in and insult those remaining as we leave. They in their turn will faithfully wrestle with church, faith, life and ministry. And to some will come the added and very particular burden of making sense of your legacy and mine.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Again, Mr Runcorn, you read into my words sentiments that are simply not there. There is no kicking in of doors, nor insults (“compromised politburo” is more of a statement of fact). A statement by a single football manager would likely have more impact than a letter by 100+ bishops. Off topic: football, I’m told, is where many people, as both participants and onlookers, find ritual, soul-food, corporate chanting, and a sense of the numinous. It has its prelates, its priests, its acolytes, its cathedrals, its doctrine and its liturgies. I gather from diocesan propaganda that even Church of England… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

If ever a post brought Larkin’s ‘Church Going’ to mind, it’s this one: “I wonder who / Will be the last, the very last to seek / This place for what it was?”

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

Father Stanley: As an occasional (very lay!) contributor to TA, may I add my best wishes for a long and fruitful retirement. I passed through Burton twice this week on the train and thought of you. The church I saw from the train window with castellated ‘chimney’ pinnacles (not sure that’s a correct architectural description) – slightly reminiscent of Chester Cathedral’s – clearly wasn’t St Modwen’s (as I had wrongly assumed on earlier journeys). Google supplied the correct pictures – what a splendid organ case! – and other features, of course, in St Modwen’s. Best wishes, RW

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Rowland, thanks v much. If you send me (wsmonkhouse@gmail.com) your email address, I’ll send some good pics of Modwen’s (18th century) and Paul’s (19th century). It was Paul’s tower you saw – building by Teale/Grimthorpe, decorations by Bodley, and glass by Hardman and Burlison & Grylls. Modwen’s has a good organ – best in east Staffordshire certainly, Lichfield cathedral apart. Concerts in summer.

James Byron
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James Byron

They don’t, because then the Jester King might get sad and take away some of their palaces. Safer by far to ignore such trivia, say there’s bad people on both sides and anyway Brexit means Brexit, and then, doubtless, ensure their hands are nice and clean.

Michael Mulhern
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Michael Mulhern

An excellent article by Al Barrett. It needs to be read in tandem with Rowan Williams’s incisive lecture from the ABC Religion and Ethics website https://www.abc.net.au/religion/rowan-williams-overcoming-political-tribalism/11566242

Together they leave us in no doubt about what our servile bishops are signing up to – and how abnormal it is.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, we are are not going to be pushed around in this way – not least because we have the full backing of the EU. That is why we will always be stronger.