Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm NOT generally a fan of Melanie Phillips, columnist for the Daily Mail in the UK, and usually find that my opinions and hers do not coincide. However, I will admit that I may be have to set aside my "knee-jerk" reaction in regard to this week's offering.

In her column this week, headed: He's ignorant, cruel and un-Christian. But don't expect the spineless Church to banish Bishop Pete Melanie takes a swipe at the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, for rather caustically predicting that the upcoming marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton would only last seven years. He justified this astounding prediction on the "fact" that they are "shallow celebrities" and that the Royal Family is "full of philanderers"

Allow me first to emphasise the point that this is a BISHOP of the Church of England. As Ms. Phillips pointed out, the prelate must have taken a vow swearing "true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors, according to the law," Leaving aside, for the time being, whether or not a church leader should be swearing allegiance to ANY earthly person, the fact remains, that he did, and these comments are not in anyway showing loyalty to the Queen, or the royal family. 

Secondly, irresponsible comments such as those uttered by the bishop are cruel and undeserved. They show a prejudice that is out of place when coming from the lips or finger tips of a Christian. How are William and Catherine "shallow celebrities?" William is the grandson of the Queen. He did nothing to make this happen - he was born into the role. He is famous simply because of his relationship to the Queen. Catherine likewise is only famous because of her relationship with Prince William.

TRUE - we live in a society where everybody feels perfectly justified in expressing their opinions on everything from politics and sport to the latest developments on the latest "reality" TV show and everything in between. And here I am doing just that. True too, not only do people express their opinions, but their opinions can go global and viral, by means of Internet Social Networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and Freedom of expression, is also a human right, and so Pete Broadbent is indeed entitled to his opinion and his political beliefs.  That being said, just because one has an opinion, does not mean it is politic to express it. 

When one holds a high office, either in the church, or in government, or any other organisation, one has to on occasions hold his own counsel, and remain aloof.

Déanann ceann ciallmhar béal iata 

I came across this Irish Gaelic proverb by chance - but it appears to be apt. It means: A wise man keeps his own counsel. 

When we make a statement, we need to bear in mind our role in society, and how our words will be taken bearing in mind that office. 

Here is a categorical statement which is sure to provoke some rigorous discussion, not to say arguments:

POLITICS and RELIGION do not and should NEVER MIX.

Sounds okay on the face of it, and I can sense many readers are nodding. But would Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu agree? I seriously doubt it - it was as Bishop of Johannesburg and later the Archbishop of Cape Town, that he took a very political stance on the racist policy of Apartheid. I could point out other church leaders who rightly or wrongly took a political stance on a variety of matters. 

I am not suggesting that a church leader should NEVER state a political opinion. But I do feel that church leaders should "hold their counsel" on particular political personalities or parties. In this case, I feel that the bishop was way out of line with these comments. It would have been unwise, had he expressed his opinion at a private party among friends, but the controversial clergyman really went too far when he made his thoughts known on the Internet, with the inevitable outcome that his comments would be widely broadcast and discussed. Making negative comments about others behind their backs is spreading gossip - an activity clearly condemned in the Bible. But to suggest this is gossip is to lend some credibility to his remarks, but since his comments are, as far as I can tell, merely an opinion, they are merely speculation. At best, they are erroneous, at worst, they are outright lies. 

Christians should tell the truth. There is a straight forward maxim - not easily argued against - but its counterpart is also true: A Christian should not speak lies. Between the truth and lies there is a no-man's-land of the "unknown" . Into the chasm of the unknown falls such things as speculation and opinion. We are required to tell the truth, but we are not required to say what we are not sure of. 

I would suggest that in this regard, the bishop was speculating about William and Catherine, and his comments were simply not helpful. 

They were cruel in that they were downright nasty about the Royal family being "philanderers".

Only Bishop Peter knows what motivated him to say the things he did, but it would seem that he allowed his political bias to cloud his judgement. 
Whether his comments were wide of the mark or not is frankly irrelevant - they were unjust. 

What God has put together, let no man put asunder - that is what it says in the Bible, and I believe that in as much as William and Catherine are betrothed (promised to one another) they have been put together. Only God knows if it is He who put them together or not, and pronouncing on the success or otherwise of a marriage that is yet to start is, possibly almost as bad as tearing at the very cords that bind them. 

So, perhaps, for once, Ms Phillips and I agree on something. Do you?

UPDATE: In today's paper, an update on this story. The Bishop has been suspended from his duties.