The Nicodemist posted an article the other day entitled, "The Bishops March on Westminster." It described the stand Church of England bishops took in their position as "Lord's Spiritual" in the English Parliament. At issue was a controversial bill that threatened to cap welfare benefits per household, a move that many believed and some research suggested would lead to even more poverty and homelessness, especially for children. The English bishops used their influence to add wording to the bill that exempted children from capped benefits.
The Nicodemist attacks the privileged place of the Church of England in the English government. As an American, I don't have a problem with that attack. It's interesting to me that there are Lord's Spiritual, and I more or less support the move to either remove their voices from Parliament or to make the Lord's Spiritual more representative of the faiths present in England. But, this isn't the nub of the Nicodemist's attack.
Instead, he points the finger at the way that the bishops went about protecting the poor:
Where precisely is that upside down kingdom that Jesus inaugurated to be found in the ever so predictable assumption of the tools of the powers that be? Protest the victimisation of the poor certainly but do it by modelling the incarnational ministry of solidarity with those they seek to defend – in other words, do it as one of them. Let me put it as simply as possible: if you are a Bishop of the Church continued exercise of Lordly functions as a part of bishopric role is anathema to the example of Jesus whom you are called to follow. Nothing less than repentance is called for.Yes, it is true. Repentance is called for. In fact it is ordered in the faithful use of Morning and Evening Prayer and the weekly service of Holy Communion. While I appreciate the admonition
that the bishops should model their ministry on the example of Jesus, I rankle at the idea that Jesus somehow did not exercise "Lordly" functions in his earthly ministry.
He spoke to the scribes and Pharisees not as one of the people who they oppressed, but as one with authority.
He drove out demons by the force of his word.
He went out of his way to claim and establish his lordship of the Sabbath.
He performed miracles for the sake of showing his authority to forgive sins.
Even his overturning the tables or his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey are not somehow the inauguration of a peaceable kingdom in the way we think of peace. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword," he said to his disciples as he rode up to Jerusalem (Matthew 10:34, NRSV). He did not enact solidarity with the poor and oppressed in his symbolic and royal actions as he approached Jerusalem. He took on the mantle of the Jewish Messiah as he understood that Messiahship from Israel's Scriptures. He was showing himself King, showing himself Lord, a kingship and a lordship exercised (not abdicated) in the form of a servant.
The question is not the abdication of lordly functions by the bishops. The question is whether or not they can exercise their lordship in the way that Christ exercised his.
In the final analysis, the question is this: would the Nicodemist rather the bishops have been silent? The way that a Church relates to the State is always perplexing, but to say that the bishops standing up for the poor isn't somehow good enough because they did so from the House of Lords is, well, ridiculous. Would he not have done the same?
Ed. Note--This is a guest post written by good friend of the blog, Rev. Jason T. Ingalls, a Episcopal priest currently ministering in Cambridge (the one in England, not the one in Massachusetts).