Tuesday, May 26, 2020

For the record

For the record, thoughts originally posted on Facebook over the past 24 hours:

Yesterday, the Prime Minister mistakenly identified the public mood as confused. Today, Dominic Cummings rightly named it as anger, and as justifiable anger, but claimed that it is misdirected anger: we are angry because we have listened to inaccurate reporting by the media, and so he would put the record straight.

I choose to take his statement concerning what he did and why he did it at face value. I have sympathy for him. And I remain dismayed that he is unrepentant.

At a time of national crisis, he, the architect of government policy, failed to do his civic duty at the first hurdle. He then used the hurdle to justify his failure; broke both the letter and the spirit of the law; and blamed the media for reporting a story in the public interest without full knowledge of the facts in the face of dissembling rather than transparency from 10 Downing Street.

What was asked of us is clear, regarding the self-isolation of those who have C-19 symptoms in their own home at which they were resident at the time, and the quarantining of all household members. Rightly, an exception was made for any parent who came down with such symptoms and was living with a violent partner, who feared for the welfare of their child not because of coronavirus (which appears to affect children differently) or hunger (thousands of people have signed up to deliver food to isolating households) but because of domestic violence. This provision meant that the police could not prevent anyone in such circumstances from leaving their home, nor could local councils or shelters turn them away on account of their condition. Sadly, circumstances across the nation have shown that this exception was and is needed. But Cummings has broken both the letter and the spirit of the matter.

There is no shame in not having the strength of character to deal with a national, indeed international, emergency. None at all. But to not see it is a tragedy. And a missed opportunity that stores up future tragedies. And to not have friends around you who can help you to see that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Today, several bishops of the Church of England have received threats, ranging from people threatening to leave the Church to death threats, for criticising the government. Including quite literally at least one member of the House of Lords being told to stay out of politics, or it will be the death of you.

If you feel so strongly that the Church should remain quiet, then please do go ahead and leave. It is a free world, and we are not a private members’ club.


We were explicitly told not to travel to quieter parts of the country to self-isolate, in case, should we become ill, we place an additional burden on local hospitals.

By his own account, Dominic Cummings’ London-based family had to draw upon the resources of a Durham hospital.

The government are mocking the people.

The Conservative Party has a very large majority in parliament. We need to see a very, very significant back bench rebellion. Public silence speaks to the character of every MP.

So far we have heard a few brave voices. This morning, a junior Minister has resigned his post in protest. May this be the beginning.

In the light of the Dominic Cummings affair, I want to reflect on Jesus’ instruction that whoever is without sin cast the first stone (John chapter 8).

The first thing that I note is that Jesus was responding to a group of powerful men who were calling for someone to be put to death. To my knowledge, no representative of the Church of England has suggested, on or off the record, that Dominic Cummings be killed for what he has done; but that he be removed from his post. I am, however, aware that several Church of England bishops have received death threats for speaking out against the government; which is a consequence of the populism Dominic Cummings has carefully cultivated.

The second thing I note is that Jesus fronts down a group of powerful men who have broken both the letter and the spirit of the law.

They claim that the Law of Moses demands that this woman, caught in the very act of adultery, be stoned to death. This is a subtle, or not-so-subtle, revision. The law was understood to instruct that, under certain circumstances, a couple found guilty of adultery be put to death; but they have not brought the man to justice. They have broken the letter of the law.

Moreover, they have broken the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is concerned with the need a society has for trustworthiness, truthfulness and integrity; and that, for the sake of the common good, those who believe that the law does not apply to them are not accommodated. As far as we can tell, in Jesus’ day, the spirit of the law was enforced far more than the letter. However, in bringing this woman before Jesus, these powerful men are abusing the spirit of the law in order to score points against him.

Of course, the woman has also broken the letter and the spirit of the law, another part of the law, the law prohibiting adultery; and, again, Jesus calls her to repentance.

The third thing I note is that Jesus begins to write, in the public space in which all this is unfolding. We don’t know what he writes, but we do know that he keeps writing until every last powerful man who thought that it was a good idea to associate themselves with this travesty have realised that their position is indefensible, and conceded as much in public. Only then does Jesus stop writing.

The fourth thing I note is that Jesus didn’t go looking for this confrontation, but neither did he ignore it. I have far better things to do with my time, caring for hurting people living in previously unimaginably hard circumstances, than use the written word to shame powerful men who show a disregard to the letter and spirit of the law at the cost of others. But, for the sake of those people I am called to serve, and following the example of Jesus, I can’t ignore this.

Were I to do so, I would in effect be adding my own metaphorical stone to the pelting of already hurting people.

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