A few days ago, David Cameron warned of a generation-long struggle against Islamist extremism. On the same day, the Bishop of Leeds published an open letter to the Prime Minister, which you can see on his blog, ‘Musings of a restless bishop’. Reading the letter and the substantial paragraph that precedes and qualifies it, I believe it could all be reproduced in a much shorter form:
“Dear Prime Minister,
The world’s in a terrible state because of conflicts between religions and within religions. Let me know when you’ve come up with a solution to this.
The Bishop of Leeds also complains of the persecution of tens of thousands of Christians in Iraq, writing that “they seem to have fallen from consciousness”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. As a casual observer of these matters, there are a bewildering and distressing amount of people of all faiths in the region who are having a very tough time indeed; I wouldn’t say that the Iraqi Christians are either over-represented or under-represented in the media, but if the Bishop chooses to prioritise their plight, then he’s free to do so.
What astonishes me most about this letter is that it contributes nothing, consisting as it does of little else apart from queries and indeed, the Bishop signs off his letter to the Prime Minister by saying “I look forward to your considered response to these pressing questions.” There’s nothing wrong with publishing a letter asking a public figure what he intends to do about any given scenario and we’re all entitled to do such a thing. However, the fact that a British bishop exercises his right to pen a letter in which he publicly admits that he has no solutions to the problems we face apart from suggesting the creation of a new ambassadorial position seems to me to be an exercise in sheer futility at best and an embarrassing admission of imaginative bankruptcy at worst.
We could point to a number of significant dates, but I think it’s reasonable to start with July 7th 2005, when four Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 civilians and injured around 700 more in a series of attacks in London. This was just over nine years ago, which to my mind is a more than ample period of time for the many princes and dignitaries of the Church, in conjunction with their legions of consultants, think-tanks, advisors, partners and supporters, to come up with something – anything – that will benefit us all, whether it be an announcement, a strategy, a document, a notable speech or some other initiative to capture the world’s imagination.
This patently has not happened, while the dismal letter by the Bishop of Leeds provides evidence for this failure, containing as it does its many requests for initiatives, visions, strategies and information from someone else. All this leads me to conclude that the Church is devoid of ideas, while it seems to me that an inordinate amount of whatever energy and inspiration this institution might possess has been expended in recent times on the question of whether or not women can become bishops, an issue that was apparently worth more time and effort in terms of deliberations than that which was expended on the concerns expressed by the Bishop – and supported by the Archbishop – in his letter.
There is a telling scene in the Game of Thrones series where Tywin Lannister curtly informs the ineffectual Joffrey that “Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king”. By the same principle, the representatives of the Church bemoan the lack of “a long-term, overarching and holistic vision” without having anything to contribute towards such a thing, while they confess they are unclear as to “…what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect”. In the next sentence, however, they announce or demand that “The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity”, a statement which to my mind automatically excludes them from such a role in precisely the same way that Joffrey’s statement “I am the king” effectively made him unfit or unsuitable for his own lofty position.
Why must the Church be a primary partner? How can it possibly hope to address these complex problems if everyone involved is hopelessly flailing around in the dark and has nothing but questions? Unless those men and women in the secular authorities collectively manage to show some imagination, ingenuity and conviction, it seems inevitable that Winter is Coming.