Bishops and Lords-a-leaping

By Press Office
March 12, 2010

Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, co-directors of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, have commented on the Power2010 initiative - supported and jointly conceived by Ekklesia - to lobby bishops for their backing over fundamental reform of the House of Lords.

Simon Barrow said: "Reform of the House of Lords is now inevitable. The breadth of this initiative, the fact that a reformed Second Chamber came high up the Power2010 public vote, the unsustainability of a non-elected legislature in a modern democracy, and the extraordinary public response to this call to write to the bishops ( all shows that the time for real change is upon us.**

"We need a new way of doing politics, and rather than just 'bashing bishops' for being caught up in a constitutional arrangement which dates back to Henry VIII, the idea behind this initiative is to encourage them to become part of the solution - rather than being seen as part of the problem.

"Objections have rightly been raised about the way unelected representatives of the Church of England have used their influence and votes in parliament to defend their vested interests - as in scuppering equalities provisions, and over financial matters where the Church stands to lose or gain. But bishops have also spoken out positively and courageously on racism, asylum, poverty and other concerns - so what many would like to see now is some constitutional radicalism from them, together with a willingness to step down from their privileged positions and seek to address public issues as equals, on the basis of civic action, free debate and good example - not through special reserved places and exemptions.

"Faith can play a vital role in promoting justice, generosity, peace and possibility in the political arena. But it can only do so by good example, alongside others of goodwill, not by clinging on to privilege or trying to dictate terms in a democratic order. That is why unelected bishops in an unelected House of Lords is an unhelpful anomaly - but one the bishops themselves can help to change."

Jonathan Bartley, who recently publicly debated the role of bishops with the the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, the convener of the Lords Spiritual, said: “During the debate, the first of its kind in the precincts of parliament, the Bishop of Leicester spoke about the importance of democracy and mentioned Power2010 by name. Other bishops too, have spoken favourably about the initiative in the House of Lords itself.

“Reform of the Second Chamber is an inevitability. The debate about the role of religious people has often been conducted in a defensive way. But now religious leaders have the chance to put the case for positive change, which will benefit everyone for years to come. The bishops should take a lead in this.”

More information here:

NOTE ** the initial target of 10,000 letters was achieved in a day. It was reset to 30,000 and achieved today. The current target is 50,000.

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