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Listen to Those Turbulent Priests

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"Will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest," cried Henry II shortly before some knights got the wrong end of the stick and murdered archbishop Thomas Beckett. I would imagine that similar sentiments are being expressed in and around Westminster right now.

But the thing is, when 27 anglican bishops - including such heavy hitters as Mike Hill, the bishop of Bristol, Michael Perham, the bishop of Gloucester and Alan Smith, the bishop of St Albans - a handful of methodist chairs, representatives of the URC and the Quakers and the now cardinal archbishop of Westminster tell you that you are doing something wrong, especially when it comes to something like benefit reform, it's probably best if you listen to them.

There is not one corner or acre of this country that the church does not cover. Wherever you live you are in someone's parish, and are someone's responsibility, even if you have no faith. And if you need help, you can count on the church to at least do something. To be honest, clergy know far more about the state of the country and how the government's policies have affected everyday people than the MPs do themselves, and they are elected to know. Clergy are the ones down in the trenches, day in day out, providing everything from spiritual care to food banks. And with the floods the church has done even more to support their communities. Just ask the bishop of Truro.

So when church leaders tell you that the rise in the need for food banks is a sign that the government's policies are having an adverse effect on the population they are not just talking through their mitres. They know what they are talking about, and rather than dismissing them and trying to write them off as interfering busy bodies, the government should listen to them, and maybe ask them what they can do better.

It's very rare that the church speaks out against the sitting government like it has this time. The last time was, oddly enough, through the Faith in the City report during the Margaret Thatcher era. What's more, I don't think church leaders like getting involved. They would rather focus on the work to which they are called than act as a conscience to conscienceless governments. But that's not the way it's worked out. So now the church is having to take a stand.

I very much doubt that the coalition will listen. They think they know what they are doing, and they will continue to ignore these meddlesome clergy until they go away. But what they don't understand is that they won't go away. The church of England has been around since the end of the sixth Century, while parliament has only been around in its present form since 1801. The church is far older, it has far more supporters, and if the government thinks that by ignoring it, it will just shut up and go away, then they are in for a very big surprise.

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