Why can’t Anglicans teach their bishops to read the Bible?

What Archbishop Sentamu calls a “childish dream” is in reality a biblical vision

“Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” sings Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. “Why can’t Anglicans teach their bishops how to speak or read or write?” is a dirge of desperation you’re tempted to sing each time you read an episcopal edict in the press—irrelevant or entertaining at best, idiotic or irritating to the point of triggering head-banging at worst.

To frame our jeremiad more theologically: “Why can’t Anglicans teach their bishops how to read the Bible?” Clinical psychologist Prof Jordan Peterson is neither a churchgoer nor a confessing Christian. Yet Peterson expounds the Bible with eloquence and rigour, demonstrating the depth of its ancient wisdom and the breadth of its relevance for today’s culture, politics, morality and life.

Millions of non-Christians, many of them young Western men, are hungrily devouring Peterson’s YouTube lectures on the Bible. There is indeed a famine, not of bread or water, but of hearing the words of the Lord, as the prophet Amos declared. But try getting 50 young white men to listen to the diocesan bishop teach Genesis or even the sexy Song of Songs and if it’s successful, I’ll change my surname to Sentamu or, even better, Sent-to-moo.

“There’s little space or time for theology, and especially not academic theology … certainly not on the bench of bishops, and increasingly not amongst the deans,” said Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark, last week in his eulogy for scholar-priest David Edwards.

You don’t see much of the Word translated into words when our prelates deliver their pronouncements. This has been starkly evident in the case of Brexit. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Bishop Nick Baines of Leeds and almost every bishop in the House of Bishops (except Mark Rylands) voted to remain in the European Union (EU). Not a single bishop made a biblical case defending the globalist vision of the EU or critiquing the nationalist model of Brexit.

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has yet again splattered his ink on Brexit in the Yorkshire Post. He pleads for democracy, compromise and neighbourliness, but pitifully culminates a page of pious platitudes with a note of surly contempt for the majority of Anglicans and 17.4 million people who voted Leave. 

“The idea of a ‘pure’ or ‘maximal’ Brexit, which would somehow make a clean sweep and give us a completely blank page to write on, was a childish dream, and no serious politician should have entertained it,” Sentamu patronisingly pontificates.

“But quite why he should feel the need to insult the intelligence and maturity of those who have qualms about the constitutional position, or who might prefer a ‘hard’ or ‘real’ or ‘pure’ Brexit for other reasons, is a mystery,” asks veteran commentator Adrian Hilton on his Archbishop Cranmer blog

“And for those who don’t attend church, Dr Sentamu is informing potentially 17.4 million people that their desire for the United Kingdom to become a sovereign, democratic, self-governing nation is ‘childish’,” adds Hilton.

Sentamu entreats that our “first concern must be maintaining respect for democratic law-making institutions, which are under heavier pressure today than for more than a century”. Pray, can he not see how transferring legislative and judicial powers to the EU has sabotaged democracy and reduced Britain to a colonial vassal state?

The Archbishop predicts that a “permanent loss of confidence in governmental institutions always results in civil unrest and violence”. But it is not a second referendum, but the mission creep of a supra-governmental institution with imperialist ambitions that stealthily at first, but now with increasing impunity, tramples on national freedoms, that will result in violent resistance.

What on earth gave Sentamu the idea that Brexiteers voted for a “compromise”? We voted for Britain to take back her sovereignty. Of course, we never had any “childish dream” that we would have a “completely blank page to write on” because we knew we could simply draw on centuries of common law and democratic traditions and our relationships with 53 countries of Britain’s Commonwealth and our special relationship with the US. England is the mother of parliaments, doesn’t Sentamu know this?

But back to the Bible. Sentamu and Welby both claim to be evangelical Christians who believe in the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible, as well as its relevance to the modern world. The Bible chronicles a conflict between “two antithetical visions of world order: an order of free and independent nations, each pursuing the political good in accordance with its own traditions and understanding; and an order of peoples united under a single regime of law, promulgated and maintained by a single supranational authority,” notes Yoram Hazony in The Virtue of Nationalism.

Hazony, who combines a rare skill as a biblical scholar and political theorist, shows how the imperial powers of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, continually attempted to establish empires that would impose a universal political order “to create a unified international realm in which men could live together in peace and prosperity”. Imperial intentions were noble, not nefarious!

But the Bible, he points out, is concerned with the independence of nations, despite the obvious economic advantages of an Egyptian or Babylonian peace that would unify humanity. The biblical prophets aspire to the vision of a free and independent Israel living in harmony and justice with other free nations and not to a global empire—which as I wrote in a previous column is the hubristic vision of the Tower of Babel—mocked and toppled by God.

Nationalism is not a bad word. It is a biblical word. Nationalism is a blessing and globalism is a curse, in biblical theology. Globalism is imperialism redivivus, re-heated in a microwave made in Strasbourg.

So why do Sentamu, Welby and the House of Bishops prefer “Babel” to “Israel”? Is it because they are marinated in the globalist ideology so chic among our elite? Is it because they are so isolated from ordinary Britons in small towns who love our green and pleasant land and its traditions more than they love the postmodern glass and steel Towers of Babel in Brussels?

Or, is it, because they no longer view the Bible as “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path?”

Sentamu tells us that he went through Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal document “with a fine-tooth comb”. Perhaps, his proclamations would have some prophetic power if he spent more time going through the Holy Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb. He might also join those who are demanding to see the full Brexit legal advice and go through the small print with a fine-tooth comb.

Never for a moment did I expect Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, to attack Theresa May’s deal with a flame-thrower. What Sentamu hails as the beatitude of “compromise”, King excoriates as “incompetence of a high order”.

What Sentamu sees as the “art of the possible”, King lambasts as beggaring “belief that a government could be hell-bent on a deal that hands over £39 billion, while giving the EU both the right to impose laws on the U.K. indefinitely and a veto on ending this state of fiefdom”.

While Sentamu says a second referendum will unleash the four horsemen of the apocalypse, King notes with prophetic perception: “Vassal states do not go gently into that good night. They rage”—violently as we are seeing in France where Emmanuel Macron has exalted the “green” good of the globe above the good of his people.

Professor Higgins from Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion loved the English tongue. Our archbishops and bishops love the Newspeak of Babel. Perhaps Higgins would adapt his diatribe to the episcopal “prisoners of the gutter, condemned by every syllable they utter” and call for them to “taken out and hung, for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue”. Garn!

(Originally published in Republic Standard)

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