Bishops have defended slamming Dominic Cummings’ 260-mile lockdown trip and insisted politics and religion mix amid fury at their ‘meddling’ in the scandal.
Rev John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, led the defence of the clergy as he said it was ‘a fact’ that the two are linked.
He was among a number of religious leaders to rubbish claims made by Boris Johnson’s chief adviser during a press conference last night.
Clergymen faced staunch criticism for getting involved in the political spat and some even threatened to refuse to cooperate with the government.
Mr Cummings admitted in the gardens of No 10 he had driven 260 miles to Durham to self-isolate with his family at his parent’s farm.
He also admitted taking a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle to check his eyesight had recovered from the effects of a suspected case of coronavirus.
His comments sparked a rift between the Church of England and the government, with fears the Church may refuse to work with ministers.
Rev John Inge (pictured), Bishop of Worcester, led the defence of the clergy as he said it was ‘a fact’ that the two are linked
He was among a number of religious leaders to rubbish claims made by Boris Johnson’s chief adviser during a press conference last night (pictured)
Rev Inge told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I had an email which said ”keep out of politics or we’ll kill you”, simple as that.
‘I received a lot of offensive emails but the fact is of course that religion and politics have to mix. As I say, I don’t see this as a matter of politics, I see it as a matter of life and death.’
Other also defended their right to intervene, with Bishop of Manchester David Walker retweeting a post that said: ‘People bemused at all these Bishops going on the record calling for Cummings resignation should imagine what’s it’s been like turning bereaved relatives away from funerals for the last 2 months.’
Bishop of Leeds Helen-Ann Hartley added to the Yorkshire Post: ‘Politics is about people, and the right ordering of society. If Christianity has nothing to say about that, it isn’t worth having.’
Bishop of Manchester David Walker (right) and Bishop of Leeds Helen-Ann Hartley (left) backed up Rev Inges defence of bishops
But some felt the bishops should steer clear of politics and blasted them under their social media posts.
One commented: ‘Absolutely dismayed that the church are getting involved in this political bashing.
‘My faith is very strong and I expect those preaching the faith to be non political. You absolutely do not speak for me and I have no clue how you square that circle between politics and religion.’
Another posted: ‘The Church should stay out of political activism. This type of political activism keeps people who would like to participate in Church services away.’
And one man added: ‘If the church meddles in politics it should not be shocked if the politicians decide then to meddle with the church. Especially over their charitable and tax status.’
Some felt the bishops should steer clear of politics and blasted them under their social media posts
At the daily Downing Street press conference last night and on Sunday night, Mr Johnson continued his defence of Mr Cummings’ actions.
He said his adviser had ‘acted reasonably and legally’ but added repeatedly: ‘You will have to make up your own minds.’
Mr Johnson did admit the strategist had created ‘confusion, anger and pain’ over his alleged breach of the lockdown rules.
There had been mounting calls for Mr Johnson to sack Mr Cummings, but these appear to have been ignored.
At the daily Downing Street press conference last night, Mr Johnson reiterated his defence for Mr Cummings
This map and timeline show Mr Cummings’ movements with his wife and son in April and May
Bishops reacted with fury on social media, saying it was an ‘insult’ and that Mr Cummings has ‘no respect for the people’.
Rev Inge tweeted: ‘The PM’s risible defence of Cummings is an insult to all those who have made such sacrifices to ensure the safety of others.’
Bishop of Durham Paul Butler, whose diocese covers the Cummings family farm, said: ‘There will be those in Durham who defend Boris for his standing by Dominic Cummings.
‘But most who have worked so hard to abide by the rules and guidance of the past week will feel hurt, angry & let down. For the nation’s sake rebuilt it quickly.’
David Walker, who is the bishop of Manchester, first praised his colleagues for speaking out.
He added: ‘Unless very soon we see clear repentance, including the sacking of Cummings, I no longer know how we can trust what ministers say sufficiently for @churchofengland to work together with them on the pandemic.
Bishop of Bristol Vivienne Faull tweeted: ‘Day 61 #livingdifferently in a nation where the PM has no respect for the people.
‘The bonds of peace and our common life (which had been wonderfully strengthened during the testing by CV-19) have been dangerously undermined this evening.’
Bishops across the country reacted with fury as the Dominic Cummings’ story continued to develop over the bank holiday
Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, added: ‘The question now is: do we accept being lied to, patronised and treated by a PM as mugs?
‘The moral question is not for Cummings – it is for PM and ministers/MPs who find this behaviour acceptable.
‘What are we to teach our children? (I ask as a responsible father.)’
A few minutes earlier, the Rt Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon, commented in response to a critical tweet about the Prime Minister.
She wrote: ‘Integrity, trust and leadership were never there; just a driven misguided ideology of power that has total disregard for the most weak and vulnerable, and those who work to protect and care for us with relatively low pay.’
Dr Hartley also shared some details of her experience of being unable to see her parents during lockdown.
She tweeted: ‘My parents live in Durham, an hour away from where we live. My father finished radiotherapy treatment just before lockdown.
‘I’ve missed his birthday, Mothering Sunday and countless other catch-ups that would have happened. And that’s a fraction of a story compared with others.’
In reference to US President Donald Trump, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, tweeted on Sunday: ‘Johnson has now gone the full Trump.’
The Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield, commented on Twitter: ‘I don’t usually tweet politics, and I have carefully steered clear during the pandemic.
‘But tonight I must say: the PM & his cabinet are undermining the trust of the electorate and the risks to life are real.’
Commenting on Mr Baines’s tweet, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, Bishop of Reading, wrote on Twitter: ‘I find myself deeply worried by the PM’s judgment call on this one.
‘Not from a political perspective but a moral one.
‘His response lacks both integrity and respect and he has just made his task of leading us through this crisis much, much harder.’
The Rt Revd Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle, also wrote on Twitter she had been left ‘deeply troubled tonight’ after the Prime Minister’s briefing.
She added: ‘We can forgive mistakes and poor judgement and can understand and admire loyalty but forgiveness and understanding need openness and we did not see this tonight.’