Digby Anderson finds a lesson to be learnt in comparing a secular to a biblical proverb

Those who reside in glass houses should not throw stones. Those whom they attack might retaliate by throwing stones back at these residents, who would suffer more than their enemies because of the vulnerability of their glass houses. The point is not so much moral as prudential. The residents may well be wrong to throw stones, but they are definitely stupid to do so. What the advice presumes is that the enemies take the same action – throwing stones – as the residents. However, the biblical, indeed, dominical, advice is definitely moral; before sounding off about the mote – speck of wood dust – in your brother’s eye, you should consider and remove the beam in your own. Avoid the sins of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. But the advice is also prudential; when you have removed the plank in your own eye, you will see better to remove the speck in your brother’s.

We should not judge others lest we be judged, especially not for the same faults which we have. It is sinful, stupid and likely to provoke public ridicule: ‘look who’s talking’. The sin is worse and even more stupid when the hypocritical judge knows the advice, and yet more so when his professional duty includes heeding it. Who are we talking about? Churchmen who judge the secular world for sins their own church exhibits and for which they are professionally responsible. His Holiness, Pope Francis, is well known for, indeed it seems publicly proud of, denouncing what he sees as the faults of capitalism, big and small business, reward differentials and corruption. Yet in his own backyard it is said there are Vatican accounts and practices which might well raise the odd eyebrow in the secular business world. Worse, those he has appointed to investigate and reform such practices have not succeeded in doing so, thanks, it is said, to even more reprehensible practices. Some of the failed reformers have resigned. The Pope who was to clean up Rome has failed to so much as to fiddle with his own plank. In our own Church of England we find archbishops sounding off about bad business. His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has just added his voice to a report condemning Britain’s ‘broken economic model’. It is not, of course, a ‘model’ but let that be for the moment. The point is that his own ‘business’ is in obvious and long-term decline, a decline he and his predecessors have failed to stem, let alone reverse. Our archbishops sound off about low wages yet many, soon perhaps a majority of their clergy, are non-stipendiary; that is, they are not paid wages at any level at all. They urge sentimental leftish reform on politicians, but have failed even to try to cull the burgeoning ranks of their diocesan staff and the suffragan episcopate, which are becoming more and more disproportionate to the shrivelled church they dominate. There are, of course, other abuses, but I have refrained from including them because they are not of the same kind as the business sins. A less strict interpretation of the proverbs would include them too.

Return a moment to these proverbs. Notice that the glass house resident is reprimanded because he lives in a vulnerable dwelling. Were he to move and buy a castle with stone walls he could cheerfully throw stones without being an idiot. The man with a plank in his eye is not told to keep quiet about his brother’s condition, but first to improve himself so that he may more efficiently improve his brother’s condition. The church hierarchy is not required to avoid judging secular ambition, corruption and excess but to delay such judgement until it has reformed itself. So then, are the leaders of the western church, in the few matters discussed here and others not yet mentioned, sinners or idiots or both, hypocrites or fools? They know their failings are publicly noticed, yet they ignore criticism and are impatient to criticize others before reforming themselves: not only hypocrites or idiots but arrogant and impatient hypocrites or idiots. I am sure they would rather be thought sinners than fools. For some Christians, breast-beating is a pleasure or a rhetorical tactic: so is denouncing others. Like politicians launching foreign wars, it is a manoeuvre to detract attention from one’s domestic policy failure. So, idiots or sinners? While performing yet another palpably political manoeuvre someone else once said, ’Who am I to judge?’