The Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers song, “I won’t back down” is an appropriate paraphrase of the life of the man the Church celebrates today, Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Ken was in the unique position to tell a good number of princes and kings, and even a king’s mistress to take a hike. The list of people he publicly told off include: Prince William the Second of Orange, Charles the Second, Nell Gwyn, William the Third and James the Second. There’s even a rumor that he and Queen Anne got into it once, but something tells me that had that happened he may have quite literally lost his head.
Ken loved the Church of England passionately and was once one of seven bishops sent to the Tower for refusing to read King James’ Declaration of Indulgence which granted toleration to Protestant non-conformists and Roman Catholics. Ken didn’t feel it right that the king should lodge his official mistress with him when she was in town and sent her packing–later when the bishopric of Bath and Wells became vacant the king exclaimed, “Where is the good little man who refused lodging to poor Nell?”
Ken stood firm in what he believed in the face of kings, princes and situations where the outcome could very well have been imprisonment in the Tower of London, the potential loss of his job, the actual loss of his job (not once but twice), and even possible death. “Oh, but things were different then…it was a different time and people could get away with things like that,” I hear some folks saying in their minds. Well, no, it really wasn’t all that different, I’ll retort.
Perhaps we aren’t faced with such black and white decisions as some of the ones that Thomas Ken faced, but we DO know what is right and what is wrong. We have a voice, we have a vote, we have good reason, skill and a conscience. Every day we have choices we can make–places where we can stand up and point out where injustices are being done, or where sub-standard work is being passed off for meeting the grade. All around us we can see examples of where things just aren’t right. And we have a choice to make: let it go (and insert any one of a number of excuses as to why) or speak some truth to power.
Take a look this week at where you can make a stand and speak the truth to the powers that be in your life. Notice what’s not right, notice where your conscience tells you that what you see just doesn’t fly and make amends. Be courageous. Give ’em a little Thomas Ken.
In Christ’s name,
P.S. You know who else did that, and not just a little bit but most of his entire “professional” career? Jesus.