Is it time for vicars to speak out against lockdown? As an Anglican priest, I've watched in bemusement as some of my colleagues have waded in on Brexit, Black Lives Matter, or Dominic Cummings's trip to Barnard Castle. But why are many of these same voices silent on an issue that affects far more of us: the Prime Minister's drastic order for us to stay at home and the curtailing (again) of church services?
The church used to pride itself on robust debate. It was a seedbed for intellectual giants who were not afraid to say their mind. But whatever happened to those colourful canons, dotty theologians, and rebellious bishops who made the Church of England so gloriously interesting, if not fun?
To be fair to the CofE, there is at least now an acknowledgment of the possible harms of lockdown. A combined letter to the clergy from the archbishops and the Bishop of London said this:
'We know that this pandemic is having a devastating effect on our economy and on people’s mental health.'
But should this letter have gone further? Many of those hardest hit by the drastic measurements taken in response to the pandemic are some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Who will speak for them, if not the church?
Subsequent public letters to the laity and to government were largely in the same vein, pointing out the problems with these measures but limited in the sympathy they offered to those worst affected. With expected spikes in bankruptcies, unemployment, home repossessions, suicides, mental breakdowns, domestic abuse, unreported cancers, and even starvation, how much more of this does it take before my colleagues at least question the wisdom of the measures being taken?
Labour and the Conservatives are largely in cahoots on this issue. This means many ordinary people must be wondering who will speak for them. It would be inspiring to see vicars prepared to get angry and motivated on behalf of those hit hard by the lockdown and letting them know that they have a powerful ally ready to fight their cause, even if that means facing ridicule and ostracisation from so-called progressives for failing to follow 'the science'.
If we had lockdown after lockdown, would the church be prepared to speak out? Vicars shouldn't wait to find out. If the church wants to make itself relevant, it should speak up – and kick start a conversation on the validity of Britain's coronavirus response.