Church accused of preaching politics from the pulpit with election briefing

Rt Revd Karen Gorham, the Bishop of Sherborne, in Dorset, has produced an election briefing
Rt Revd Karen Gorham, the Bishop of Sherborne, in Dorset, has produced an election briefing

A Church of England diocese has been accused of “political electioneering” after publishing a briefing note telling worshippers to pray for shorter prison sentences and “justice in the asylum system” ahead of July 4.

The 17-page document produced by the Diocese of Salisbury also tells congregants they are being lied to about the cost of net zero, and that local authorities are not doing enough to provide “safe and culturally appropriate” sites for traveller communities.

The general election briefing, which the diocese insists is not party political, tells readers the “current issues” in everything from education to prisons, gives them key questions to ask politicians and gives them guidance on what to pray for.

A lengthy section on immigration says political candidates should be asked: “Will you eliminate the concept of illegality of those who enter the UK by other non-traditional means?”

It says the Bibby Stockholm barge, which is in the diocese, is “not properly equipped” for the needs of the asylum seekers housed on it and people should pray “for justice in the asylum system in the UK”.

In a section on criminal justice, Anglicans are told to pray for “the courage to re-think the current sentencing guidelines, recognising our current sentencing is longer than other European countries and we lock up more people than other European countries”.

It tells readers to ask political candidates whether they will consider abolishing sentences of less than one year, and says most victims of crime want justice and rehabilitation of offenders “rather than punishment”.

The briefing note was commissioned by Rt Revd Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherborne, who oversees Dorset within the Diocese of Salisbury.

In February, it emerged that six migrants housed on the Bibby Stockholm had been baptised in a church in the diocese on the same day. It came amid concerns over Muslim asylum seekers converting to Christianity to boost their asylum claims, though at the time the church in question insisted it had carried out rigorous checks to ensure there were no ulterior motives for those being baptised.

The bishop, who was brought up in a naturist home and has been a vocal campaigner for clergy being able to enter same-sex civil marriages, says in a preface to the document that it highlights “current concerns” of sector chaplains.

Her immediate boss is the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Stephen Lake, who in turn answers to the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby, who has been criticised for expressing overly political views.

Jonathan Gullis, the Salisbury-born deputy Conservative Party chairman, said: “This political electioneering by the Diocese of Salisbury is a shameful indictment of the current state of the Church of England under the leadership of the woke Justin Welby, who not only wants to flood our streets with illegal migrants but also with dangerous criminals endangering the lives of the church’s parishioners.

“Why don’t these bishops set up a political party or join the Labour Party, where these views are more comfortably held, rather than preaching them from the pulpit?”

On the diocese website, an explanatory note alongside the briefing document says: “As we draw closer to the date of the general election on July 4, Christians are being encouraged to pray and participate through asking questions of candidates and voting.

“The booklet offers questions and pointers for prayer for those who want to deepen their understanding of some of the challenging issues we face in our area.”

In a section on minority groups, the document suggests asking politicians “what are you doing to encourage local authorities to create safe and culturally appropriate traveller sites?”

Turning to climate, the document says: “The power of the fossil fuel lobby is diverting attention away from the climate crisis. The fossil fuel energy sector untruthfully promotes the idea that we can’t afford to go down the green energy route.

“Those who speak out about the climate crisis are being silenced or ignored.”

Worshippers are encouraged to ask politicians: “Will your party pledge not to issue new licences for new gas and oil fields,” and to pray: “That the church will be braver in standing up against the injustice caused by the use of fossil fuels.”

A spokesman for the National Secular Society said: “Like any other civil society group, the Church of England is entitled to engage in political discourse, but it should do so from a position of equality rather than privilege by relinquishing its status as the established Church.”

The Diocese of Salisbury, the Church of England and Lambeth Palace have been contacted for comment.