When even secular commentators can see the moral imperative, and support it, why can’t the Bishop?

I know the whole Matt Hancock debacle is a few days old now. But, in truth, the issues that it points to have not, and are not, going away. I thought particularly worthy of mention was this incredible statement by the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker:

I do not deny that the hypocrisy of telling people they must restrict their lives significantly and then failing to abide by those same rules is a problem. Of course, it is. But, as Giles Fraser succinctly put it here, ‘We ought to be soft on hypocrisy… we are all at it. Maybe not on such a grand stage. But most of us — perhaps all of us —  commit little hypocrisies every day. We say one thing and do another. In which case the charge of hypocrisy is itself inevitably hypocritical.’ He goes on, ‘The only people who are not being hypocritical are those who admit their own, which is a kind of paradox.’

Interestingly, Giles seems to have grasped something important about Christian thought that the Bishop of Manchester – his ecclesiastical superior – fails to noticed. The whole Christian message is that we are a bunch of hypocrites! Romans 2:1 puts it clearly enough: ‘Therefore, every one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.’ Only Jesus managed to avoid the charge of hypocrisy and so levelling the charge at anyone else render us hypocrites as we hypocritically point fingers.

But worse, the Bishop of Manchester also fails to consider the greater sin. Matt Hancock’s hypocrisy was certainly wrong, but it wasn’t the biggest wrong of the whole debacle. Committing adultery on your wife must surely rank higher. Determining to leave her, and his paramour deciding to leave her spouse, worse still. Waking up your young children in order to tell them that daddy is leaving, particularly morally dubious. The Bible has some pretty clear things to say about that but David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, blithely ignores them all. He is more concerned about social distancing guidelines – which the Bible doesn’t specifically name – and believes the hypocrisy (which we are all guilty of) is somehow worse than the flagrant adultery and breaking up of a marriage that Jesus himself gave short shrift and even most unbelievers think is not laudable.

It is left to other secular commentators to say what a bishop ought to be saying. Melanie Philips writes on her blog:

Invited onto BBC Radio’s Today programme to discuss his point, Giles [Fraser] however found himself up against a brick wall of incomprehension. 

The presenter seemed unable to grasp that Giles was not exculpating Hancock of saying one thing and doing another. Giles agreed that was intolerable. He was, however, making a different point: that there was worse behaviour than hypocrisy, but that in an age which had abolished moral absolutes, the gap between saying one thing and doing another was the only thing now deemed suitable for condemnation because few now acknowledged that bad behaviour was indeed bad. A fact which the apparently baffled presenter proceeded to confirm. 

Indeed, abandoning spouses and children has now been all but airbrushed out of the moral picture. In our so-called “non-judgmental” age (which is actually oppressively judgmental about attitudes which dissent from subjective and relativist orthodoxies) the only judgment permitted about people who shatter their families is that judging them is bad.

You should read the whole of Philips article. In it, she goes on to lament all the problems that ensue from broken homes with examples all brought about by this non-judgement culture. As Giles Fraser put it in his piece:

Hypocrisy is often thought of as the worst kind of failure going. And I suspect the reason for this is our thoroughgoing subjectivity about morality. In an age where we cannot agree on right and wrong, where we all have our own moral truth, not being true to what you say is the only kind of failure going. When morality becomes so subjective, hypocrisy is the only accusation left.

In another excellent article, the secular commentator Douglas Murray is mentioned and quoted this way:

In a recent discussion with theologian N.T. Wright, [Murray] described himself as “an uncomfortable agnostic who recognises the virtues and the values the Christian faith has brought,” and noted that he is actually irritated by the way the Church of England is fleeing from its inheritance… “My fear is that the Church is not doing what so many of us on the outside want it to do, which is preaching its gospel, asserting its truths and its claims,” he said. “When one sees it falling into all the latest tropes one thinks well, that’s another thing gone, just like absolutely everything else in the era. I’m a disappointed non-adherent.”

Even unbelieving secularists – Atheists and agnostics – get the point. Without the root of Christianity, much of the fruit of society will be rotten. Many intellectual atheists and agnostics, whilst not quite bringing themselves to believe in the Christian gospel, recognise the fruit of it and its importance for a functioning and free society. They recognise it is the best moral and social framework we have got.

And this brings us back to the Bishop of Manchester. A man charged with upholding that biblical, moral framework from his privileged position as a leader in an established church. Yet, what moral stance does he take? Apparently, the very same one as the world. One that even secular commentators who have no particular adherence to the church recognise. Adultery is wrong, it is damaging – especially so when whole families are involved – and The Church used to say so. Nowadays, it kowtows to the secular zeitgeist and parrots back cultural orthodoxy – morality is relative; the only sin is hypocrisy.

If the Church of England leaders can’t even stand up for biblical morality when secular commentators can see that the Biblical position is entirely right, what chance has it got when faced on issues where the secular commentators disagree? If hypocrisy prove to be the only sin, what are we to make of Bishops who claim to teach the scriptures but who are unable to name what even unbelievers recognise to be morally so? What is that word for somebody who claims to stand for the teaching of the Bible but doesn’t actually seem to believe it or hold to it? It’s on the tip of my tongue. To paraphrase Jesus, those who take up the cry of hypocrisy will perish by the cry of hypocrisy.