In defence of bishops

At the beginning of last week, Matthew Parris let go a broadside at the Church of England, and the way that some of its leaders were taken in by the abuser Peter Ball. He points to the culpability of those taken in by Peter Ball’s charm and charisma, particularly focussing on Prince Charles and Lord George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury. But he believes that George Carey is guilty of the greater sin, since he must have been privy to greater information that Prince Charles.

I am absolutely sure that the Prince of Wales neither knew nor suspected, and that he would have cared very much if he had…But the former archbishop is a different case. The most we can offer Lord Carey is a verdict of not-proven. Charles’s problem was that he knew too little. Lord Carey’s is that he knew too much. He had in his possession letters which, even if he had not believed a word of any of them, he should have known raised concerns of such gravity that he was duty bound to refer them on, arguably straight to the police.

But he then takes the argument on a stage further: this was ultimately the fault of Margaret Thatcher for choosing Carey as archbishop in preference to the much more intelligent John Habgood, having been incensed by Habgood’s left-leaning criticism of the Thatcher government. This reflection then leads him into a tributary to the main argument—but it is a substantial tributary, and one that is deep enough for Parris to wallow with all his feelings. (I include his argument at length for those who cannot get past the Times paywall.)

What has happened to the calibre of the upper echelons of the Church of England? No doubt it’s partly the terms and conditions: the money’s no good, most of the bishops’ palaces have gone, and the standing of churchmen in society has fallen. But I can’t help remarking that (with doubtless many exceptions) as the evangelicals have moved in, the average IQ has dropped.

How I miss the likes of my favourite bishop and the only great rationalist philosopher the Church of England ever produced: the 18th-century Joseph Butler. I cherish Butler’s remark to the evangelical John Wesley, forbidding him from preaching in Butler’s diocese: “Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing — a very horrid thing.”

But today we’re left, I’m afraid, with suckers for charisma and revelation. It is a well-attested truth that confidence tricksters fall more easily for others’ confidence tricks, and I’d argue that Charismatic Christians are the natural prey of theological quacks. Ball, with his Community of the Glorious Ascension and sessions of naked prayer and flagellation, may have established a hold on Carey.

Parris, who is usually an insightful commentator whom I enjoy reading, doesn’t appear to notice the incoherence of his own argument. He has already noted that Ball conned some very eminent people in public life:

I’ve never met Ball but when you look at the list of people in public life that he enlisted in his support (some of whom I do know, and think honest and well-meaning) you have to detect an extraordinary charisma about the man.

So it is hard to argue that it is the poor calibre of archbishops that led to this problem; if anything, a Church which was less engaged with the structures of the establishment might have been in a better place to ask the right questions. 


But Parris is also contradicting his own long-held view about the nature of the Church. As recently as 2015, in the light of the Irish referendum on gay marriage, he argued ‘As a gay atheist, I want to see the church oppose same-sex marriage’. Why is this? It is because Christian morality, if it means anything, is derived from the mind of God and not from the arithmetic of the pollsters. He heaps disdain on those who would seek to bend the teaching of the Church to fit popular opinion. 

Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? What has the Irish referendum shown us? It is that a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 do not agree with their church’s centuries-old doctrine that sexual relationships between two people of the same gender are a sin. Fine: we cannot doubt that finding. But can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do?

This is a view that Parris expressed with similar eloquence back in 2003:

Anglican evangelicals are right. Knowingly to appoint gay bishops robs Christianity of meaning. It is time that convinced Christians stopped trying to reconcile their spiritual beliefs with the modern age and understood that if one thing comes clearly through every account we have of Jesus’s teaching, it is that His followers are not urged to accommodate themselves to their age, but to the mind of God. Christianity is not supposed to be comfortable or feel “natural”. The mind of God, contemplating the behaviour of man, is not expected to be suffused with a spirit of “whatever”.

The Church can only really be the Church when it seeks to be true to itself, and true to its calling under God—and on that I think Parris is spot on. But why is seeking to fit in the establishment any better than conforming to public opinion? In both of his two recent pieces, he contrasts two leading figures in the Church from the past:

How I miss the likes of my favourite bishop and the only great rationalist philosopher the Church of England ever produced: the 18th-century Joseph Butler. I cherish Butler’s remark to the evangelical John Wesley, forbidding him from preaching in Butler’s diocese: “Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing — a very horrid thing.”

And here’s the thing: are there any churches singing hymns written by Butler? Does anyone talk of the Butlerian revival, which changed the course of the Church of England for 150 years? Are any churches called Butlerian Chapels? And in relation to the ‘horrid’ revelations and gifts of the Spirit, how do we account of the influence of the neo-Pentecostal movement, which led to the greatest growth of the church globally probably since the first three centuries, and with which around two-thirds of the Christians in the world today identify? 

And does Parris really want to see bishops appointed who are motivated by a love of money, attracted by the idea of living in a castle, and longing for the adulation of public status? If this is the calibre of bishops that Parris longs for, then his imagined Church is heading for serious trouble.


Unfortunately, Sarah Coakley, former Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity in Cambridge, waded in on this argument, agreeing with Parris in a subsequent letter published in The Times.

Sir, Matthew Parris (Comment, May 11, and letter, May 14) writes: “What has happened to the calibre of the upper echelons of the Church of England? . . . I can’t help remarking that . . . the average IQ has dropped.” He is absolutely right as far as the bench of bishops is concerned: for the first time in living memory there are no former theological academics among them.

This, and many other unintended consequences of the system for appointing diocesan bishops, were matters analysed by a committee established by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to report to Synod recently on the matter. I was glad to serve under its incisive chairman, Professor Oliver O’Donovan, who wrote of the need to reflect seriously on the “loss of intellectual depth and seriousness” in public theological debate in our country. What I was less glad about was that our committee was debarred by its rubric from commenting on the more sinister undercover reasons why “bishop-ready” lists now very rarely contain those of higher theological learning. In fact, most good-hearted members of the Church of England who long for better teaching and preaching remain completely unaware of these lists. Who better than Matthew Parris to investigate and comment further?

The first thing to note is that her claim is flat out wrong. At least two bishops (Coventry and Oxford) have PhDs and have been principals of college which have been part of prestigious universities—but presumably Coakley is here meaning holders of university chairs. She surely knows that what was possible in the past will never be possible in the future—since both the nature of episcopacy and the nature of university chairs have changed, the latter including such demands on administration and other academic demands that it seems impossible to think that serious ministry leadership can also be a part of it. A notable professor-turned-bishop was David Jenkins in Durham, and even all those years ago it was hardly a happy experience. Jenkins was popular in the region for his campaigning on behalf of miners, but I am not sure he was an effective leader in mission. I went to hear him give a lecture on the Lord’s Prayer at the University of Nottingham, and I thought it incoherent and offering little useful insight to me as an ordinand in training.

The other difficult thing with Coakley’s comment—a danger with any criticism of the way that bishops are appointed—is that it doesn’t sound like much more than personal criticism of the current bench of bishops, and Parris’ (supported by Coakley) is of a particularly snarky kind. 


The one thing I would agree on with Coakley (and possibly Parris) is the desire to bishops who model good preaching and teaching. The problem here is putting that alongside all the other demands that we make of them. They need to be good administrators (who wouldn’t want a quick reply to a request?); financial managers (how else will the diocese balance its budgets?); competent strategic thinkers (else who will lead us into growth?); concerned pastors (who else is looking out for the clergy?); effective in discipline (someone has got to keep everyone in line, even if that contradicts the previous concern); they must offer an effective voice in national debates (to raise the quality, as Parris argues)…and so on. As a recruitment consultant once commented, it is the multi-coloured unicorn brief! 

Perhaps the question is not so much ‘What do we look for in a bishop?’ but ‘What can we do without?’ or, better, ‘What can be delegated to other people?’ 

In mentioning ‘bishop-ready lists’, what Coakley does not point at is that at least now these kinds of concerns are being thought through and weighed up. We might want to ask some questions about the criteria and how they are applied (and I certainly do), but surely this kind of overt reflection is much better than asking whose face fits, who knows whom (or was at theological college with whom), and whom will the Prime Minister like—which have all been influential questions in past appointments. Bishops are now actually receiving training on things which help to make them competent in a way that has not happened previously, and the much-maligned future senior leaders training is encouraging potential future national church leaders to think through key issues ahead of time.


But one further thing we could do with noting as we temper our expectations of what bishops might do: ordination to any order of ministry does not confer spiritual authority; at its best it recognises the gift and call of God and releases and equips those gifted and called. When ordained, our bishops are certainly conferred with institutional authority, since the ministry of the bishop has a legal status in the Church of England as established by law. But if we think that this ordination confers spiritual authority that was not previously there, or wisdom that is not already present, then we will be disappointed and will set up both us and our bishops up for failure. That is not intended to be a criticism; it is intended to sound a note of realism. There are many in the Church who exercise a kind of episcopal ministry, and not all of them are ordained bishop.

As it is, with all our current expectations, it doesn’t seem to me that the job we ask of our bishops is actually doable. I am not sure of the best way out of this predicament—but it doesn’t look sustainable in its present form.


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51 thoughts on “In defence of bishops”

  1. The way out of the conundrum is to reform the Tudor model with which we are saddled. Stop pretending to have a role in government. Get back to the humility and effectiveness of the pre-Constantinian church. Exchange power (the delusion of power) for a real diakonia. Be prepared to abolish episcopacy if it won’t be reformed.

  2. It’s very easy to bash the Bishops, and I sympathise with Alan’s cynicism about abolishing the episcopal structure, but in reality I don’t think the alternatives are especially attractive.

    I’m certainly not convinced that the system of, say, Baptist ‘Area Ministers’, or Methodist ‘Superintendants’ is any better, or without it’s share of structural issues. Whatever you call your Bishops the problems are likely to be similar.

    • Whatever you call your Bishops the problems are likely to be similar.

      Even if you call them moderators, and elect a new one every year?

      Of course that has its own issues, with regards to institutional continuity etc, but they won’t be at all similar problems, they will at least be totally different problems.

  3. I think you will find that David Jenkins’s tenure at Durham was more popular than you imagine. My fiercely Protestant, Lancashire Low, charismatic, BCP-loving training incumbent thought very highly of him, and he was not alone among the evangelicals of that diocese.

    • How does one measure these things? A straw poll of one’s unrepresentative and comparatively few acquaintances?

      • We measure these things by Biblical criteria for leadership:
        “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9)
        Jenkins denied the faith as once delivered, communicated by obfuscating, sounded like some redundant Bultmaniac. Should never have been made a Bishop.

        I think Coakley’s point stands though – the Church has preferred middle managers over scholars and saints. Maybe we need to reconfigure the role. More administratively competent archdeacons like ops directors managing the business end and more men and women with primary spiritual, theological, missional & pastoral gifts as Bishops. I dont think the role requires PHD’s or former professors – Chartres didnt hold such but was an outstanding missional leader and pastor.

        • Indeed. Jenkins cast doubt on some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith and did it publicly. An absolute disgrace he was allowed to continue in office. As for PhDs and professors – perhaps they should be disqualifications for the job!

  4. In defence of Bishop Butler! The importance of his Analogy of Religion in confuting the Deist controversy was enormous. Its influence on several generations of theologians and clergy well into the 19c was significant not least as it was a set text at Oxford and Cambridge for over 100 yrs. His sermons at the Rolls Chapel are still part of university / seminary courses now. ( Indeed I sat in on one at Sewanee 2 yrs ago) .Gladstone regarded him as one of his 4 “Guides to Life” and wrote 2 books about him as did many others. Chris Cundliffe edited a collection of essays on him not that long ago. Rather more to him than the remark often quoted as an example of the Georgian Episcopate’s disdain for religious “enthusiasm”.

  5. David Jenkins used plain English which on the face of it talked about God and Jesus doing things. He was not immune from meaning something other than the plain meaning, without laying his cards on the table about that vital point. Like most of us he was not always able to rise above the fads of his era and culture.

  6. I am a bishop but faraway from England! (Christchurch, New Zealand).
    I agree with Ian on much of above and suggest his key question concerns delegation – something I am trying to learn to do (and to not take away when it is done)!

    One of the top sermons I ever heard in my life was by Bishop David Jenkins, at St Nick’s, Durham (Michael Wilcock was vicar then; George Carey, former vicar, was ABC), speaking on Ephesians 3:18 – God’s immeasurable love – brilliant! A million divine light years from controversy over the resurrection. Also heard in those years was Stephen Sykes, en route to taking up his theologian become episcopal post as Bishop of Ely; N.T. Wright the scholar later to become Tom Wright the Bishop of Durham … perhaps those days are gone … but then so are the days when bishops could sit (in hindsight, relatively) light to certain serious matters (cf. Ball, above, as example) … if we have more managerial tasks as bishops and we are more managers than teachers and scholars, it has – speaking from experience – a lot to do with the church taking seriously its understanding of the depth, breadth, height and width of sin – and thus bishops taking a better share in its duty of loving care of its vulnerable members. Perhaps that is a price worth paying for the loss of (nice to have?) scholarship on the episcopal bench?

    Nevertheless it is a duty of care for bishops to teach well, to uphold the doctrine of the church.
    Mind you, lately, I have been called an apostate for my pedagogical troubles … 🙂

    • “A million divine light years from controversy over the resurrection.” Bishop, respectfully, I disagree – the same man, same exegesis, same rejection of the faith as once delivered, same rejection of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures; how can this man who denied the virgin birth, denied the physical resurrection, indeed mocked it, be trusted to understand, define and invite us into God’s immeasurable love, predicated and demonstrated on the truths he denied.

  7. We need to be clear what the role of bishops is. At the moment it seems to be:
    1. CEO of the diocese
    2. Leader of specific events e.g. confirmations, ordinations
    3. Line manager of clergy
    4. Pastoral support for clergy
    5. Spokesman for the church
    6. Member of the House of Lords

    I think it is difficult for one person to do all of the above well and it is time to separate out the different functions. Perhaps 3 and 4 should be transferred to archdeacons/area deans, 5 could be done nationally and 6 ideally would be abolished, so that bishops could focus on 1 and 2?

  8. I’d like to offer a thought that, above all else, there are two essentials when choosing bishops; neither is optional.

    Firstly (and obviously) they must have an unshakable Christian faith which is built on a thorough knowledge of the Bible and buttressed by an experience of life which has, over time, encountered a wide variety of challenges and causes for questioning the validity of what they believe – an experience which will have confirmed at every turn the reliability and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer. Should we expect that a person equipped in such a way is likely to ‘speak with authority’? I’d argue that it must greatly raise the possibility even if it’s not a certain guarantor. And how could someone who is not equipped in such a way ever really speak with authority?

    Secondly bishops need an above average facility with language – use of words to present ideas clearly at every level of Christian understanding. And, yes, that must mean there’s no avoiding the need to feel comfortable at the more demanding end of theological discourse. But, more pertinently, such a facility will not only equip a bishop to lead his or her clergy theologically and pastorally, it will also be invaluable in terms of mission where one would hope that a bishop should be able to lead from the front (by example). And it hardly needs saying that such a facility (great writing and speaking skill) indicates the kind of clear thinking which should help a bishop to navigate those administrative and organisational aspects which Ian mentions.

    Perhaps, as an afterthought (or a third gift), a bishop also needs a heroic level of humility in terms of turning down all those enticing offers and requests to become involved with prestigious or otherwise exciting church and secular activities which compete for his or her focus, namely being a shepherd to the flock of clergy for which he / she has responsibility. In practice I’d suggest that a bishop’s greatest joy should be found in engagement with clergy and people at any of the parishes within his / her care – that’s what should most keenly motivate him / her to get out of bed in the morning. Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a diocese with such a bishop at its head!

    As for opposing views around grooming, hot housing, ‘bishop ready’ lists, picking winners, etc. I think they highlight the tension we have to admit which exists between the work of the Holy Spirit and the use of large organisations as the means we have arrived at for ourselves to be the Holy Spirit’s agents at this particular point in time and place. All I would say is that if we’ve decided our organisation (the C of E) is the way through which we can best serve God, then it’s sensible to try and run it as well as we can. But we must be aware of the danger of falling prey to groupthink, efficiency drives, and the like, which may actually act more as a block than a release for the Holy Spirit to work as he chooses.

  9. I wonder if there was some sort of prophetic impulse behind the timing of this article. Ian posted it on 23rd May and I included the following paragraph in my comment on 24th May:

    “Perhaps, as an afterthought (or a third gift), a bishop also needs a heroic level of humility in terms of turning down all those enticing offers and requests to become involved with prestigious or otherwise exciting church and secular activities which compete for his or her focus, namely being a shepherd to the flock of clergy for which he / she has responsibility. In practice I’d suggest that a bishop’s greatest joy should be found in engagement with clergy and people at any of the parishes within his / her care – that’s what should most keenly motivate him / her to get out of bed in the morning. Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a diocese with such a bishop at its head!”

    Then on 25th May the news broke (in the Mailonline) of Rev John Parker’s resignation from his Fordham church on account of the failure of his bishop (Chelmsford) to support his stand as a governor of the local C of E school against the ‘Mermaids’ trans group’s activities regarding a child’s transgendering. The terms on which the diocesan Director of Education dismissed John Parker’s intervention (John Parker studied biology at Oxford) were pure cultural Marxism.

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7070773/Vicar-resigns-schools-plan-eight-year-old-pupils-sex-change-secret-parents.html

    I don’t know if Matthew Parris would applaud the Bishop in this case or not. Parris is well capable of seeing inconsistency when it’s indefensible. Personally I’m appalled.

    • I agree Don, I was appalled. Appalled by John Parker’s breach of safeguarding, of his covert recording of the Mermaids training session and by his attempt to subvert the question time with his own dogmatic assertions, because ‘science’. He has a 30 year old biology degree. He has now outed the school and probably the child, who was socially transitioning with the support of their parents.
      Mermaids advises the CoE on safeguarding and trans ‘issues’.

      • You are right. Chromosomes just aren’t what they used to be, and anyone claiming that there are scientific ‘facts’ to be established is dressing up prejudice.

        • Don and Ian
          I am not surprised that you foreground the work of Transgender Trend, a pressure group which few clinicians in this area take seriously. Least of all their advocacy of conversion therapy.
          I think work on genetics has developed considerably in the last 30 years, though, do far as we know, this isn’t about genetics.
          You don’t appear to be shocked that Parker broke safeguarding guidelines which are there to protect the child, their parents and the school. He catastrophised a child socially transitioning with the support of their parents and the school. He resigned probably before he was pushed, and is now being defended by the Christian Legal Centre which says it all about his ideology. (If you don’t know how toxic and inept that body is, look up Alfie Evan’s.)

          • Penelope, I don’t think you’re engaging with the facts here – some are scientific, some are ethical, some social, some political, some legal, some concern the C of E’s actions generally and others concern the way the Bishop of Chelmsford has treated one of his clergy (which was my entry point for highlighting this story).

            Unsurprisingly perhaps, you would like the whole thing to have been hushed up, and you employ ‘safeguarding’ as your justification. I would agree that a child’s personal situation should not be a topic for public discussion but, so far as I have seen, the child in question was not identified at any stage. However, the action of his parents, the school and those providing the therapy would soon enough identify the child to his classmates and therefore to the wider community.

            If someone is vulnerable because he or she is of a tender age, how on earth can such a person be mature enough to decide about the radical (life changing) step of hormone blocking? Should parents (who may be ideologically driven) have total control in such a radical way over the child’s future? Who is really safeguarding on that child’s behalf? Surely John Parker was doing that in the only way open to him.

      • ‘Mermaids advises the CoE on safeguarding and trans ‘issues’.’

        Evidently so, Penelope. I wonder if you know how this came to happen, who decided ‘Mermaids’ should advise the C of E and what qualified them to make that choice and why did they pick on ‘Mermaids’?

        As Ian has succinctly pointed out, the first essential here is to get the science right. But it appears in this case that the C of E ‘doesn’t do science’ – at pain of losing an excellent vicar.

        • This ‘excellent’ vicar has now also outed the child and the school in his resignation letter published in Premier Christianity, against the wishes of the child, their parents and the school.
          Mermaids is a charity which has unsurpaased expertise in advocacy for trans children. This is why they are chosen to advise many groups and institutions, including the Church of England.
          There is no question of ‘hushing up’; the parents and teachers knew about the social transitioning. Outing people without their consent is a safeguarding issue. And this is about social transitioning, not puberty blockers or cross sex hormones, as you suggest.

          • This is why they are chosen to advise many groups and institutions, including the Church of England

            That doesn’t answer the question, though: who (which person or committee or group) chose them to advise the Church of England, what authority did they have to make the choice, and what reasoning did they give for their decision?

          • This ‘excellent’ vicar has now also outed the child and the school in his resignation letter published in Premier Christianity, against the wishes of the child, their parents and the school.
            Mermaids is a charity which has unsurpaased expertise in advocacy for trans children. This is why they are chosen to advise many groups and institutions, including the Church of England.
            There is no question of ‘hushing up’; the parents and teachers knew about the social transitioning. Outing people without their consent is a safeguarding issue. And this is about social transitioning, not puberty blockers or cross sex hormones, as you suggest.

          • Penelope, you’ve said:

            ‘This ‘excellent’ vicar has now also outed the child and the school in his resignation letter published in Premier Christianity, against the wishes of the child, their parents and the school.’

            The whole point of ‘social transitioning’ is to present yourself to other people (‘out’ yourself) according to your new gender preference. If, as you say, he’s not going to have any hormonal treatment, ‘social transitioning’ is the only thing he can do. Clearly the child (with his parents’ approval) intends other pupils at his school to know about his choice (that’s what it’s all about), whereupon he will obviously have no control over who is going to hear about what he’s up to far more widely than the confines of the classroom. If the child were mature enough to make this decision he would be mature enough to understand he will have no control over who gets to hear about it. So if the child makes that decision, and his parents encourage him, ‘outing’ and ‘safeguarding are irrelevant issues.

            But it sounds as if you are employing the accusation of ‘outing’ as a way to badmouth John Parker for daring to expose the misleading training of Mermaids, the school and the boy’s parents in going along with it, and the Bishop of Chelmsford for his appalling treatment of one of his clergy.

          • Don
            It is a safeguarding issue because, until Parker splashed his ‘concerns’ all over the media, only the school would have known about the child’s social transitioning (you have misgendered her by the way).
            I see from another article published today, or yesterday, (which also identified the school), that Parker is an opponent of both equal marriage and transgender affirmation services, so it is no surprise that he is a gender ideologue.
            The Bishop is no doubt aware that, after IICSA the Church needs to be very vigilant about safeguarding.

          • Penelope

            ‘I see from another article published today, or yesterday, (which also identified the school), that Parker is an opponent of both equal marriage and transgender affirmation services, so it is no surprise that he is a gender ideologue.’

            I have no idea what a ‘gender ideologue’ is but I’m guessing it’s a description you give someone who remains happy to go with the science rather than the psychobabble. In case you’re not familiar with psychobabble, it’s defined as ‘A form of speech or writing that uses psychological jargon, buzzwords, and esoteric language to create an impression of truth or plausibility.’

            John Parker’s position on marriage and ‘transgender affirmation services’ is mainstream Anglican, which itself is mainstream biblical. Since the Bible and science reflect the intentions and the design of the same Creator, it cannot be right that a Bishop refuses to support one of his own clergy who adheres to the Bible and takes seriously the implications of scientific knowledge.

          • Don
            Parker’s views are not mainstream Church of England. Synod and the HoB both approved the new transgender services. These are the mainstream.
            The bishop has not personally spoken to Parker and I have no idea what his views are. But I do know that he is concerned about the vulnerable child.

          • They may not be mainstream Church of England, but is that defined by formularies, scripture, Jesus, or headcount in a random era and culture?

            Jesus, Paul and all the apostles and saints would certainly be thrown out of the Church of England, just as surely as they are welcomed with open arms in the Church of God.

          • Penelope,

            I’m not trying to be clever here, but I did say John Parker’s position was ‘mainstream Anglican’ and not mainstream Church of England.

            The truth is that the Church of England, the ‘mother church’ of the Anglican Communion, has gone rogue – it has actually departed from the original position which it held in common with the Communion to which it once gave birth. Its Synod and its bishops no longer accept the doctrinal basis on which the Anglican Communion, and therefore their own church, is predicated. It’s a chaotic situation where the position ‘mainstream’ can no longer be taken as the same in both doctrinal and political terms. A particular flaw in the political position is that it has been pushing things in ways that are ill defined, or not defined at all, and that are plainly at odds with science and statistical evidence.

            ‘Incoherent’ is the word that springs to mind. And we all know the embarrassing mess the bishops got into over ‘transgender liturgy’ a few months ago – a situation which has not been satisfactorily resolved and which remains under discussion between the bishops involved and a somewhat wiser group which is seeking clarification.

            But the Chelmsford diocese case is particularly disturbing in that school governors (including John Parker) were brazenly ordered to shut up by the diocese when they asked questions about policy and plainly wrong science used to justify the policy. The bishop apparently kept silently aloof himself, thereby supporting actions which would potentially cause harm to children, parents and staff at the school. He was also clearly untroubled by losing one of the clergy in his care.

            I cannot think of any redeeming feature in this shocking example of how not to be a bishop in the Church of England.

          • Don
            So far as I am aware there is not a doctrinal position on transgender people which is held by the whole Anglican Communion. The Church of England has made its position clear in that, long before transgender affirming services, trans people have been ordained and have been married in church. That ship has sailed.
            The provision of a transgender liturgy has been satisfactorily resolved by both Synod and the House of Bishops. A letter and a delegation protesting against the authority of Bishops and Synod is unlikely to change that.
            The science is not ‘plainly wrong’ and the potential harm to the child, and to other children at the school, has been wrought by Parker, who has now broadcast all the details on YouTube, through Christian Concern and the mainstream media. It is fortunate for him that, with such breaches of safeguarding, he has resigned. It looks as though he has been seeking an opportunity for martyrdom and will, probably, be joining one of the little schismettes soon.
            His behaviour throughout has been appalling.

          • The Church of England has made its position clear in that, long before transgender affirming services, trans people have been ordained and have been married in church.

            The Church of England allows both male and female clergy, though, so ordaining someone doesn’t make any theological statement about what sex they are.

            And — correct me if I’m wrong — wasn’t the requirement to conduct marriage of people with a Gender Recognition Certificate in their assumed sex not actually a theological position but merely a side-effect of the Gender Recognition Act, combined with the Church of England’s unusual constitutional position?

            So neither of those is a precedent for saying that the Church of England has considered theologically the question of whether it is possible for someone to change sex, or for a male person to be born in a female body, or vice-versa, or that it has a settled doctrinal position on the matter.

            The ship has not, in fact, sailed; the discussion is still active and no conclusions have yet been officially reached.

      • The analysis of the facticity of the Mermaids’ statement here is fascinating and sobering:

        https://www.transgendertrend.com/analysis-mermaids-press-statement/

        It concludes:

        Although this exercise felt a bit like marking the paper of a very poor student – with mounting horror – the result (a resounding Fail) is not funny. Mermaids is the organisation awarded half a million pounds by the Big Lottery which they will use to set up ‘support groups’ for young children and their parents across the UK. The Department for Education gave them £35,000 to go into our children’s schools to deliver training to teaching staff, such as the session at the C of E school at the head of this piece.

        The care of gender dysphoric children must be based on robust medical evidence which can withstand scientific scrutiny. The press statement from Mermaids proves nothing they set out to prove. It does succeed, however, in exposing how ideological belief can overtake reality. This cannot ever be seen as an acceptable basis for the treatment and care of children and young people.

      • Penelope, for many years now people have tried to shut up those who have command or comparative command of the statistics and/or the science, even though typically they have almost none themselves, at least when it comes to statistics.

        If that is not an injustice and an instance of unjust control, what is?

        There is so much more going on. ‘Experts’ (usually not very well qualified academically) are invited in to talk to children they don’t know from Eve, or to ‘educate’ mature adults who may be wiser. Their talk is the main event – dissent is frowned on, if any time is given for questions at all. It is often less that what they say is always wrong than that there are massively important angles that they leave out.

        This in the context of education, where research and logical analysis, not dictation from above, ought to be privileged.

        • Christopher
          This was not the case in this instance. Mermaids was invited to deliver some training and invited questions. Parker tried to hijack the conversation with his ideology disguised as ‘science’, a 30 year old biology degree. As has since become apparent, his non acceptance of trans people is wholly ideological.
          Yes, there are pressure groups, like Transgender Trend, who advocate conversion therapy and deny the agency of trans children and trans people. They should never be invited into any situation where there might be vulnerable trans people.

          • Mermaids was invited to deliver some training and invited questions

            Is it appropriate for an ideological pressure group like ‘Mermaids’ to be invited into a school to give training?

          • I don’t know where to begin with your answer, Penny. I questioned the term trans before as (a) unclear -deliberately so? – and (b) prejudging the issue.

            There are several suffixes that can be appended to trans – is the idea to say that they are all the same?

            Is the idea that men who have been changed biologically in a female direction and vice versa are the same category of people as those who have had ideas put in their minds and now want to engage in some delicious rebellion with their peer group?

          • Christopher
            If your knowledge and experience of trans people is that they are engaging in ‘delicious rebellion’, then I am afraid that I can no longer engage on this thread.
            In any case, we have digressed from the qualities of Bishops.

          • In any case, we have digressed from the qualities of Bishops

            Should bishops have the authority to decide whether ideological pressure groups like Transgender Trend or Mermaids are allowed to give training in their dioceses?

            Or should such authority be vested at a higher or more local level, or should such decisions be made by a committee or committees rather than individuals?

          • My knowledge and experience of trans people is that they are engaging in delicious rebellion??

            My certain knowledge is that they are not all the same as each other. And cannot be lumped together as it looks like you are doing.

            If indeed ‘they’ constitute a coherent category at all.

            It is quite clear, as will be seen by all who scroll back, that those engaging in delicious rebellion was presented by me as a subcategory that could not be lumped together with those having had bits added or extracted. As indeed it can’t be.

            Please don’t stop engaging however, because less honest people are always saying ‘That does it’ as soon as the points made are potentially too strong for them (but to opt out is to concede), and you have not previously been that type.

          • In my experience the pattern which emerges larger than any other is that from so many different angles ‘born this way’ has no secure foundations to rest on. But one could understand why people would (without referring to research) hold to it ideologically.

            What I am intrigued by is:

            1. Do you believe in fluidity?

            2. Do you believe in the influence of culture, so that which messages and options children are presented with will greatly affect what they perceive the options to be?

            3. Do you believe in a sliding scale or are people just ‘trans’ (odd too-loosely-defined term) or born ‘trans’?

            4. Do you believe that people will be different at different developmental stages or have they one essential essence beyond time?

            5. Do you believe that children are when born more of a tabula rasa, and become less and less of a tabula rasa as time goes on – so that ‘who they really are inside’ cannot be defined in a vacuum separate from live experiences, which progressively proliferate?

            6. Why is the whole thing defined in terms of male and female poles when it is maleness and femaleness that is being questioned?

  10. Forgotten in this debate the survivors of clerical abuse. When the church listens walks with and gives space for justice including deposing and removing all who minimized ignored covered up denied and revictimised and re abused survivors then long winded debate about the nature of power and theological niceties becomevnot only irrelevant but dangerous. Those who cover up abuse should be deposed and jailed and until the survivors of Ball and myriad others exposed are treated with compassion dignity respect and true contrition then the institutional church is going to face oblivion. Richie Loud Fence Australia. Survivors and friends Foundation Australia spokesperson SNAP Oceania.

  11. Came back to this late. as I thought the tread had come to a close, but find it hugely unbalance to hear from Penelope that Mermaids:
    “Mermaids is a charity which has unsurpassed expertise in advocacy for trans children. This is why they are chosen to advise many groups and institutions, including the Church of England.”
    So it is an “advocacy group” to do what? Advocate “for” …”trans children”which is certainly not the same as “advise, many groups and institutions”. There is both a conflict of interest and category.
    And all this is put forward by Penelope, without any hint of self aware ideological advocacy promoted by her, yet at the same time seeking to denigrate others for what is equated to an ideological driven lack of integrity and on the wrong side of the history of the science of biology.
    Here is a video which contains some of Mermaids assertive advocacy staff training for teachers at a Primary school. Conclusions are to be readily drawn by any minimal standard of education or advocacy. Shocking really. Advocacy doesn’t involve taking control, taking over a life or institution:
    https://youtu.be/HQ57zai5Cpk
    No doubt Penelope will bounce back to disparage Christian Concern and to say the video isn’t balanced and is truncated. But it is advocacy! It gives some context which could open up into well argued advocacy on both sides.

    • Hi Geoff
      I’m sure Ian doesn’t want his thread derailed, but I’ll bounce back to point out that Mermaids, like Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, is a charity which therefore has to abide by follow the WPATH and EuropeanPATH guidelines and the extensive research published by these bodies.
      Transgender Trend is an unregulated pressure group trying to force their ideology (untested and discredited) on parents, teachers and children.
      The Christian Concern video does its subject no favours, th child nor her parents do,no t need the school’s nor the governors’ permission to transition. Nor is being trans a debate. Trans people exist and are part of society and of our churches. The video shows nothing amiss in the Mermaids Training of teachers. The petition at the end of the video is facilitated by CitizenGo, a crypto fascist organisation with some vary unsavoury global links.

      • Dear Penelope

        Please answer my questions.

        1. Is this thing ‘trans’ a uniform thing, or are there subcategories of it?

        2. Why are you sure that the subcategories together form a single thing?

        3. Do you believe in fluidity?

        4. Do you believe that people can go through developing stages that do not reflect the final ‘settled down’ maturity of age (say) 21-25?

        5. Do you believe that these things are a sliding scale, or are the proposed categories discrete and straightforward?

        6. Do you believe that ‘who we really are’ is something affected by life experiences, not separate from them?

        7. Do you believe that the number of children in this position will increase or stay the same if that is the message that adults are giving them?

      • Transgender Trend is an unregulated pressure group trying to force their ideology (untested and discredited) on parents, teachers and children.

        Surely exactly the same is true of Mermaids? It’s a pressure group trying to force its ideology (that male people can be born in female bodies, that sex is not binary, etc etc) on parents, teachers and children.

        So, who does have and who should have the authority to allow ideological pressure groups like transgender trend and mermaids into Church of England schools?

        • If the Equality Act is in force, only certain people will agree with the premises of the Equality Act. The protected identities will include some things that are acquired and culture-bound identities (in the same way as being a Goth).

          Therefore it is only secularists that will set up advisory bodies on such matters in the first place. Christians could advise on them, but all the advice given by Christians would be: check the coherence of your thinking and check your facts: why assume these controversial and questionable premises are accurate?

          No wonder any questioning of premises got swiftly shut down. (On what authority? Not academic – that is for sure.) I have been seeing this for years. Glad that people are waking up to the full awfulness of it.

        • No ‘S’ Mermaids is a regulated charity with the restrictions and responsibilities which that implies

          • No ‘S’ Mermaids is a regulated charity

            It is a registered charity, and it is also an ideological pressure group. The two are not incompatible.

            It has an ideology (which is just a posh word for ‘world-view’) which it pushes and lobbies for.

            How then could it not be described as an ideological pressure group? Just like transgender trend, which also has an ideology it pushes and lobbies for (and also like, say, every political party, which are probably the most well-known examples of ideological pressure groups).

        • But the law itself is inaccurate in lumping together non-inborn states with inborn. That is the context in which any regulation takes place.

          Plus – shutting people up when they don’t agree with you suggests they have something to hide, namely the lack of coherence in their position.

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