Usually I don’t agree with Polly Toynbee, journalist and commentator on social affairs, because she is deeply secularist and generally disparaging of the religious vision of life; but for once I agree with her when she writes in The Guardian recently:
“On the great questions of war, climate and social justice, the cardinals and bishops never muster their heaviest artillery. They keep their powder dry for their own bizarre morality, focused as ever on sex and fertility – but why should those issues be sacrosanct for MPs’ free votes?” Full article here
Gordon’s Brown’s letter to MPs allowing them a free vote in the forthcoming embryology debate (on the three ethical issues relating to assisted reproduction and stem cell research not previously considered for legislation) doesn’t carry with it any compelling reason why these issues should be made the subject of a free vote rather than, as Toynbee points out, issues to do with war, climate change and poverty. Except that the Catholic Church has issued a clarion call to its members to fight against the Bill about these matters and there are Cabinet ministers who are Catholics.
Where I agree particularly however with Toynbee’s quote is how it points out that when it comes to Iraq, the environment or inequality in society the British bishops are never as vocal as they are on matters of human sexuality.
Maybe this observation is not quite as true of Anglican bishops as it is of Catholic ones. I think of the (Anglican) Bishop of London’s linking of Lenten discipline with cutting carbon; and the clear opposition of Rowan Williams to the war on Iraq. Nevertheless, the Church of England has allowed itself more clearly to be identified as a body which opposes homosexual relations than as a body which opposes unjust invasions and poverty – though this is not necessarily the fault of the English bishops.
However, note this comment from a letter by Bruce Kent, vice-president of Pax Christi:
“Polly Toynbee (Comment, March 25) says that on issues of war and social justice “the cardinals and bishops never muster their heaviest artillery”. In 2006 the Pope said that relying on nuclear weapons for security is “baneful and completely fallacious”. In the same year the Scottish bishops called on the government not to replace Trident. What does Polly want? The Angel Gabriel and trumpet?” See letters to The Guardian