“civil society and faiths can create and convene safe spaces where difference can be spoken with care and understanding can be deepened, truth revealed and progress made towards a common good”
On 10th December 2021 the Bishop of Birmingham spoke in a House of Lords debate led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on contemporary challenges to freedom of speech and the role of the public, private and third sectors in upholding it
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, as we have been hearing, speech is one of the most precious gifts for humanity, freedom of which is easy to take for granted, as we may do from week to week in this House, but even easier to abuse. Speech is so important that, at this season of the year, for people of Christian tradition, we even call the son of God’s appearance the word of God—the word made flesh
In the same scriptures in which we read that story, there is warning of the danger of the use of the tongue:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Of course, I do not refer to anyone who stands on the platform at Speakers’ Corner or any other venue of that kind. We remember also
“the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”—
the blaze of instant phone recordings or a tweet out of context.
“I have experienced first-hand the sting of injustice—injustice born of being caught up in events that are bigger than we are and in the face of which we are powerless.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani, made her maiden speech in the House of Lords on 2nd December 2021, in a debate led by Lord Collins of Highbury, “That this House takes note of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the case for further action by Her Majesty’s Government to secure her release.”
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I was introduced to the House barely a month ago, having recently taken up my post as Bishop of Chelmsford, that vast and wonderful diocese that covers the whole of Essex and east London. It is a privilege to serve this diocese, which is complex, diverse and full of opportunities and challenges. Today, I thank everyone here who has offered me the warmest of welcomes. I am immensely grateful, in particular, for the help and support that I have received from staff and officials.
I have a deep and personal interest in the subject of this debate. Not only have I met Richard Ratcliffe and followed the story of Nazanin over the years, but I myself originally come from Iran. Born and brought up there, I left as a teenager during the Islamic Revolution, following difficult and traumatic circumstances. I was born into a Christian household, my father having been a convert from Islam to Christianity, in a small village in the centre of Iran. We were part of the tiny Anglican Church in Iran, which, when I was growing up in the 1970s, was made up primarily of converts and second- and third-generation Christians.
“Calm scrutiny will cause people with power, whoever and wherever they may be, whatever they may say, however loudly they may speak, one and all, to be uncomfortable. This applies as much to the Bishops of the Church of England as to anyone else”.
On 2nd December 2021 the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Revd Paul Bayes, made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, during a debate led by Lord Bragg “That this House takes note of the BBC’s value to the United Kingdom and a wider global audience and the case for Her Majesty’s Government giving it greater support.”
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to address your Lordships for the first time and on this subject, and for the privilege of following the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his kind words*. I thank all noble Lords for the warmth of the welcome that I have received, and, for the quality of briefing and induction from the officers and staff of your Lordships’ House, which has been exemplary and profoundly helpful.
I speak as one whose first degree was in drama and theatre arts, and who was almost employed by the BBC as a trainee script editor in what was then called “English Regions Drama”, at the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, in 1975. With whatever wisdom, I chose instead to enter the ordained ministry of the Church, and there have been times when I have felt that I chose the lower calling. Forty-two years of ministry in six different dioceses have culminated in the enormous privilege of my being appointed Bishop of Liverpool in 2014. I have been preferred to your Lordships’ House late in my ministry, but I am very grateful to be here and to receive wisdom for at least a few months.
Among its many dimensions, I want to speak of what the BBC does uniquely in our fragmented public square. To me, the gift and value of public service broadcasting is a matter of form before it is a matter of content: it rests on the decision to assume a tone of voice. The value of the BBC to this nation and our global position is rooted in its decision to be calm, to choose a particular volume and quality of scrutiny and to sustain it, no matter how unpopular it may be.
“what moral authority will we lose, and what price will the Uighurs pay, if we do not do all in our power, whatever the cost, to confront these dreadful atrocities that are unfolding in front of our eyes?”
In the House of Lords on 25th November 2021 Peers debated a Motion from Lord Alton of Liverpool, “That this House takes note of the reported remarks of the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs that a genocide is underway against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China.”
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless work in this area. I also share with him a sense of frustration—I feel as if I have stood up so many times as we have engaged with this issue, yet it seems that we are not able to confront it in a way that is really making a difference. Despite all our hopes of human progress, it is quite extraordinary that here we are, at the start of the 21st century, witnessing events such as we see and which are now well documented. There is no doubt that they are going on.
“a policy that does not go beyond deterrence is not sufficient”
On November 25th 2021 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Hoey, “That this House takes note of the number of migrants arriving in the United Kingdom illegally by boat“.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, for securing this debate, especially at this time. I was helped this morning by the “Thought for the Day” from my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, in which he said that this is a time to dig deeper into our emotions and face the grief we feel at the loss of humanity. It is that sense of grief, our common commitment to the preservation and dignity of life, as well as to a passion for justice for those suffering the ills and evils of the world, which unites us. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, demonstrated that.
Our shared grief is the proof we do not really need of the humanity and vulnerability that unites us. These common concerns, which underpin both our aim to stop migrants making dangerous journeys and our grief today, are the same concerns and moral instincts that require us to sit back and face the reality that a policy that does not go beyond deterrence is not sufficient.
“I praise the emergency services and the police for their sensitivity in the way they have addressed this, but they are doing so within a culture that often treats religion as a private matter.”
The House of Lords considered the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in Committee on 22nd November 2021. The Bishop of Leeds spoke in the debate on an amendment to the Bill from Baroness Stowell of Beeston about police procedure on religious rituals or prayer at crime scenes:
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, this is very sensitive territory. Dying is sacred and is part of our living. I think I am the only minister of religion here, and I have accompanied many people, including my own father, to and through their death. If you have been party to that, you will know that it is holy territory
One could say that violent death is even more holy because of how that dying has been brought about. It seems that there needs to be religious literacy on the part of the emergency services and the police, and that the religious bodies need also to improve their literacy in relation to the nature of these events and how they are dealt with.
On 22nd November 2021 in the House of Lords Lord Moylan asked the Government “what plans they have to establish a multi-professional strategy for the emergency services concerning the attendance of ministers of religion at the scene of situations involving serious injury”. The Bishop of Coventry asked a further question:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I greatly welcome the joint study group announced by the cardinal archbishop. Does the Minister agree that good outcomes from that study would include both further training and education to ensure that police officers understand the significance of spiritual comfort at the point of death, for the dying of whatever faith, and an increased role for police chaplaincy?
The following written question was replied to on November 22nd 2021:
The Lord Bishop of Southwark: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken following the remarks by the High Commissioner for Jamaica on 4 November: “from a human rights perspective I am deeply concerned about cases in which persons are being removed having lived in the UK since childhood and have no known relations in Jamaica or familiarity with Jamaica”. [HL3845]
Chris Loder:  To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, how many services the Church of England has conducted specifically for the purposes of Baptising people seeking asylum in each of the last five years.
In the House of Lords on 18th October 2021 Peers paid tribute to Sir David Amess MP, following his tragic murder. The Archbishop of York, Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke of his friendship with Sir David during his time as Bishop of Chelmsford, how his faith motivated him, and of the need for more kindness in politics.
My Lords, on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of the Church of England and, I am sure, all Christian people and all people of good will, I am here to offer the family of Sir David Amess and the constituents of Southend West my condolences and the assurance of the prayers of the Church. I am very grateful for all that has been said thus far, and, certainly, we on these Benches wish to associate ourselves with those comments.
As was said, I considered David Amess a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my home town. Southend—now the city of Southend—is where I grew up. This appalling murder happened in streets I know well, just around the corner from where my mum lives. It was characteristic of David, whom I got to know during my time as Bishop of Chelmsford, that, when I was appointed, he was one of the first people to congratulate me. When I was translated to York, it was the same. He thought this was another way of putting Southend on the map: a boy who went to a secondary modern school in Southend was now the 98th Archbishop of York. He was so pleased. Last time I saw him, he asked to have his photograph taken with me.
I reckon that, now Southend has been declared a city today, forget about a statue of Vera Lynn at Dover; we are going to put a statue of David Amess at the end of Southend pier. He was—and I know this from the work I did with him—a deeply committed constituency MP. He exemplified what that means. He knew the people he served, and in the constituency he was completely colour blind to political difference. He just served the people he had been elected to serve.
But I want to say this: hate cannot win. It may score many points and land many punches, but it cannot win, because, trusting no one, hate just ends up with endless divisions and suspicions, and, in the end, it just consumes itself. Sorry—I am going to go into sermon mode just for a moment, sisters and brothers. Love is always stronger; it is always more tenacious; its patient endurance draws us together. By love, I mean not just warm feelings of well-disposed good will but that deeply committed determination to get up each morning and live what you believe in, put the needs of others before yourself and recognise our common humanity. That is where the word “kindness” comes from: it is linked to the word “kin”. It means that we belong to each other; we serve the common good; we know that our best interests are absolutely interwoven with those of others, and they lead to those things, those values and that vision, that are worth living for.
This love is what we on these Benches see in Jesus Christ. It was that love and faith in Christ within the community of the Church that was the source and sustenance of David Amess’s vision and values. It was this that enabled him to reach across party-political divides, get on well with everyone and exhibit a good-humoured generosity and a kindness that is, sadly, often woefully lacking in public and political discourse today.
These same values, this same vision, are held in our democracy. They require us to listen and to love one another, especially those with whom we differ and disagree, and to attend to each other’s needs and serve the common good. They call us to speak kindly of each other, to think well of each other and to act generously. It is because Sir David Amess so exemplified those things, regardless of what his politics happened to be, that we are so easily able to come together and remember him, to esteem his contribution to public life and to mourn his death—but not be defeated by the hatred that killed him.
I will conclude with some words that I wrote in a newspaper yesterday about his faith:
“David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart.”
That is the best place for faith because, when you wear it in your heart, it shapes everything.