Should clergy expect deference?

My friend Richard Peers caused something of a stir at the weekend when he questioned whether ‘senior’ clergy should expect to be treated with deference. His reflections arose from noticing a comment made by Justin Welby at the IISCA enquiry into sexual abuse. After offering a robust critique of one aspect of Justin’s witness statement, he notes:

However, it is the Archbishop’s comments about deference that I want to reflect on in light of the wider context of his statements to be found in the transcript here.

The key statement from Justin that I will comment on is this:

“I’m quite baffled by how we tackle deference. I find it strange when I’m given deference.”

It is always good when leaders admit to weakness. I take Justin’s admission as an invitation to all of us to think about how we can end the culture of deference in the Church of England. So here are my thoughts.

I think Richard’s reflections are helpful—and not a little provocative—but I think he needs to go further!

First, Richard hints that he is baffled at Justin’s own bafflement, in that he can think of many ways to address the culture of deference. But there is a more basic puzzle here: is it really possible to have the titles ‘His Grace the Most Reverend and Right Honourable’, as well as a coat of arms, be a member of the House of Lords, live in (an apartment in) a palace, dress in gold on ceremonial occasions, and have real decision-making influence (despite Justin’s fair claim that ‘there are no easy levers of change that I can pull’)—and still be surprised by the deference that is shown? Despite the waning influence of the Church as institution, it still has a formal place in the structure of British society, and so anything the archbishop says will have enormous significance, if only because of intense media interest, which consistently focusses disproportionately (both in the secular as well as church press) on what bishops say, which is often reduced to ‘Church of England believes…’ Given the inherent power dynamics, it is no surprise at all that people treat archbishops with deference.

It has been repeatedly noted that the ‘culture of deference’ has been a highly destructive force which has suppressed proper reporting of abuse. But it also has an impact on another issue under discussion at the last meeting of General Synod, that of clergy well being. When parish clergy are experiencing difficulties and need support, there is quite a wide perception that the distance there is between them and their bishops makes resolving these issues much harder.

Richard’s first solution to the culture of deference relates to clerical dress.

Why do Anglican bishops wear purple shirts? This is a modern (probably twentieth century) invention. The theology is poor. There is only one ministerial priesthood which the bishop shares with her or his presbyters. To be identified as belonging to a separate ‘superior’ order is profoundly disturbing. Justin never, as far as I am aware, wears purple shirts. All our bishops should burn theirs immediately. Walking into a room in a purple clerical shirt is a power statement. It is not what Jesus would do.

Richard includes a correction from an online discussion that this is not only Anglican practice—but neither is it modern. The wearing of purple derives from Roman imperial practice, in which senators had purple edges to their togas and the emperor had an all-purple toga with gold edges. Its limitation was in part a reflection of the expense of this dye, which came from the crushed shells of the murex snail. Historical purists note that the correct colour is actually Tyrian purple, which is more like a shade of red than the cerise colour that most bishops wear today.

But we might extend this question in two other directions. First, there are other elements of clerical dress which also encourage deference. The code for which kind of cassock you can wear in the Catholic Church is boggling in its detail, including reference to different colours of piping and buttons, and this interest has been taken up in the Church of England over the last one hundred years. The effect of this is to create a separate class of those in the know in contrast with the ignorance of outsiders, a little like the different arrangements of buttons for the Guards at Buckingham Palace.

The same applies to Roman-style vestments worn in services and, of course, the thorny subject of bishops mitres. The different theories about mitres are mostly laughable; I was intrigued to discover that the Daily Mail reporting on my article two years ago included this comment from Christine Hardman, the bishop of Newcastle:

The staff and mitre are not seen as outdated trappings of office but as symbols of care and love.

That’s a very strange interpretation of something that, historically, was designed to emphasise the separateness of the person wearing it—and I think it continues to have that effect today.

The Synod debates about dispensing with clerical vestments were precisely around the effect that they have of separation, putting a distance between clergy and ordinary worshippers, especially those who have not been inducted into the culture of the institution of the Church, and this distance is surely something that contributes to deference.

Richard Peers then tackles bishops’ membership of London clubs (‘I have known holy, good men to be corrupted by [the Athenaeum] and associated institutions’) and the House of Lords (‘this most exclusive of London clubs’), before addressing the questions of housing and differential stipends.

The houses we live in are powerful signifiers. This is probably more true in England and perhaps the UK, than in most countries. Not just the number of rooms but the location. Even if a bishop lives in a small flat in a former bishop’s palace the reception rooms, study etc tend to be in the old grand rooms. These are designed to make ordinary folk feel intimidated. Grand furniture, high ceilings, ancient buildings. Imagine being a victim of child sexual abuse and being asked to wait in those circumstances…

Should bishops be paid a different stipend to parish clergy? I can see no reason why. The expenses should be significantly higher. Not the salary.

I think the question of housing and offices is more complex than Richard allows for here. Houses do not just have practical and symbolic importance; they are also historic assets, and I think many dioceses (and the Church centrally) has made a catastrophic mistake in shedding historic assets for the sake of supplementing short-term revenue (and some dioceses are continuing to do this at alarming rates). Capital assets, once lost, can never easily be regained.

The question of stipend differentials has been a thorny issue for some time—as has the question of clergy remuneration overall. I understand that the Anglican Church in Canada has differentials based on age alone (which raises other questions), but the practice of having differentials based on ‘seniority’ is widespread. The implicit question here is whether bishops do have a more ‘responsible’ job that, for example, parish clergy. If you are a bishop responsible for the oversight of, say, 150 clergy, is that more responsible than a vicar responsible for the oversight of, say, 300 members of a church? In practice, this is not the question that most people ask—because, tacitly or explicitly, our expectations of what bishops do has changed beyond what is reasonable. As I noted recently:

The problem here is putting [the expectation of good preaching and teaching] 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! 

If we want to undermine the culture of deference, it would help a good deal if we didn’t expect all our bishops to be Superman (or Wonder Woman).

Richard Peers then makes an interesting comment about who visits whom when meetings are arranged:

Being Director of Education is a pretty minor role in a diocese. In my three years in the role I have never asked a Head teacher to come and see me in the office. Far better to go and see them, what does it say to people to ask them to come to you? To waste their time in traffic? To have to be in your space not theirs? The time spent driving to meet people where they are is time well spent. Bishops should be pilgrims, peregrines, like Jesus, travellers on the road. Seeing people where they are.

I was very impressed when my diocesan bishop, in his first year of appointment, did just this, visiting every licensed minister in the diocese. But, noting the demands we have heaped upon our episcopal offices, I suspect that is just not practically possible for most. But the principle expresses good practice, as Richard says, and of course applies to parish clergy too; there is nothing that encourages people, especially men, than for their pastor to visit them in the place of their daily occupation.

Richard then makes a point about titles and forms of address—’My own preference is for christian name or Mother, or Father.’ I have reached the point in life where I cannot think of a reason for addressing a bishops as ‘Bishop X’, except that, if I don’t know them well, they appear to expect it. But I am now at the stage of life where I am as old as half the bishops in the Church, and have been around long enough to know many of them personally. Besides, none of them address me as Presbyter Ian, so why should I use their title in personal address to them if they won’t for me?! And I think Richard needs to reckon with the fact that ‘Father’ is in itself a term of deference (‘Do not call anyone on earth ‘father’…’ Matthew 23.9).

Titles and forms of address are another area, like dress codes, which create a difference between insiders and outsiders. I am on one mailing list which has me as ‘R D I B Paul’;  it took me a little while to reality that the first initials stood for ‘Revd Dr’. And I have regularly had slightly amusing conversations with my bank on the telephone, where I have to explain that I should not be addressed as ‘Revd Paul’ since ‘reverend’ is an adjective, whereas Mister (or Doctor) is a noun, so the correct way to address a clergyman is ‘Mr Paul’. It is usually a lot easier just to ask to pay a bill, or whatever.

But what is one to do when the archbishops address one another (possibly tongue in cheek) as ‘Your Grace’ in meetings? If they show one another deference, what of mere mortals?

Apart from addressing the specifics of deference as Richard Peers has done, I think it is also worth asking the question as to why this is an issue at all. There is clearly a question of historic legacy, which has a direct bearing on things like the use of titles, historic buildings, and even stipend differentials. But a key issue (which has a bearing on both issues around abuse and the question of clergy well being) is the question of power. Justin Welby is right in some respects when he says that he (and any bishop in his or her diocese) has few levers of power; bishops are not, as many imagine, CEOs of an organisation called ‘the diocese’ or ‘the Church of England’. Change must be brought about by careful thinking and the building of collaboration. But pressure for change is undoubtedly present, perhaps more than at any point in the last few decades, because of the perceived urgency of the need to reverse decline. This means that questions of power to effect change are in sharp focus—and there is no doubt that bishops exercise power over clergy, just as clergy do in fact exercise power in a range of ways over ordinary church members. No matter how cordial is my relationship with my own bishop, the fact of the matter is that I hold the bishop’s licence, and if I am planning to move, then I will need the goodwill of my bishop and any other whose diocese I might move to in order to continue to exercise my ministry.

But there is another key factor, which arises from a simply observation about the New Testament language here. Paul notes to Timothy:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. (1 Tim 5.17)

This is an interesting comment in several respects. First, if Paul was working in a hierarchical church, which includes the marks of deference we have noted here, then this comment would be superfluous; in other words, the need for this comment reinforces the sense in Paul that the early Christian communities were strikingly egalitarian. Secondly, there has been some debate about the term ‘honour’, since the Greek word time has the meaning ‘price’ or ‘value’ in modern Greek, and it might be that Paul is suggesting that they should be paid more—though this is not conclusive.

But the bigger issue is that of ‘honour’ or mutual respect. One commentator on social media noted that we shouldn’t treat bishops (or clergy) with deference, but we should treat them with respect. We are living in a culture which (in part because of the relational detachment afforded by online interaction) is singularly lacking in respect, and that has often infected discourse within the Church too. If leaders feel they are lacking respect, then the easier thing to reach for is deference—and the use of titles, clerical garb, and large offices are the easiest way to implement that.

We will have a better chance of eliminating the culture of deference if we all treat one another with a good deal more respect.

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44 thoughts on “Should clergy expect deference?”

  1. Thank you for a thought-provoking article, Ian.

    My bottom line is that the simplest, poorest parishioner may have more spirituality than an Archbishop because the touchstone of true spirituality is loving kindness. And, in line with the principle that ‘the first shall be last’, I believe that in the household of God, we are right to give equal respect to the poorest as well as the most powerful. Everybody counts and is worthy of respect and value and recognition.

    That said, I strongly believe in diverse and distinctive vocations, and for example my priest is so discernably called and empowered to carry our his role as priest in our church, that respect involves gratefully recognising that calling and its cost.

    That does not equal ‘deference’ but it affirms that role in our church community and gives thanks for it. With such a calling of priesthood in the way he is called, are implicit burdens, responsibilities, up front go-to identification for who he is. He carries out a role that no-one else among us is equipped and called to do, because it’s who he is, and who God called him to be. We love him for it.

    Thankfully he is humble-hearted and believes in ‘alongsideness’, which is I think something that characterised and characterises Jesus: our God who chooses to share and live alongside the most ordinary of us.

    Do I think there are dangers of clericalism in the Church. Yes. But that is more to do with the all-to-easy temptation to appropriate status or relevance or see oneself as a professional class. Truly, I think as Christians we are all called to live ‘alongside’ and learn from Christ. Status is not the power in the currency of Christ. Love is the power.

    In opening to the service of love, we may each find more of who we are. We each have vocation. Daily we continue to be called and created by God.

    My priest is indeed ‘Father’ to our flock, even though he’s half my age, and even though he always asked to be called straight by his first name. He is ‘Father’ because I believe God has called him to that role, to shepherd, to bless the bread and wine, to serve. Which he does, in countless little acts of unseen love.

    We serve one another. So did Jesus. Any deference came from the encounter with love, because love is sacred and holy, and that’s why the most frail and elderly, or the youngest teen, at church may deserve deference at points of insight and sacrifice. Love is the argument. Love is the calling. Love – the flooding in of God – is what gives a person spiritual status without asking for it. Because then we are being true to our selves and honouring God.

  2. Very interesting article, especially in regard to Bishops and Archbishop. They should only be admired for their servanthood and leadership qualities, not for the way they dress. In my experience much of the ‘garb’ worn is just covering many personal insecurities. Start with doing away with those silly hats they wear (mitres); it’s only a quite recent invitation anyway. Most import though, is to ask ourselves “how many people searching for Jesus have been put off by such nonsense?”.

  3. The Church of England made a big mistake when it didn’t get rid of bishops when it ought to have in the seventeenth century.

  4. How does deference here relate to the NT concept of submission, subjection or obedience to leaders? Eg Hebrews 13:17 and 1 Peter 5:5 (there the same word as James 4:7 – submit to God)?

    The NT seems quite keen on people submitting to one another (Eph 5:21) – Christians to leaders (Hebrews 13:17) and to ‘every human authority’ (1 Peter 2:13), younger to older (1 Peter 5:5), slaves to masters (Ephesians 6:5), children to parents (Ephesians 6:1), wives to husbands (Col 3:18). How did the egalitarian nature of the early church interact with these various commands apparently establishing asymmetric relationships?

    I was amused by the idea of a ‘leaver of power’ – Boris Johnson perhaps? :-).

    • The NT seems quite keen on people submitting to one another… “wives to husbands…”

      Cultural artefact… if we can’t recognise that the Bible has to be read and understood beyond the face value of its cultural filters… well, sorry, but in our society it simply won’t be taken seriously.

      There is NO way wives should be expected to submit to their husbands, except in the mutual exchange of love and submission to each other. Wives do not owe their husbands unilateral submission and ‘deference’ (to apply the term in question). That kind of masculine supremacy is over.

      In the same way, we should be carefully aware how much leadership needs and often deserves support: because we often don’t know all the plates a leader is having to keep spinning, and the conflicting demands beyond the ones we know about.

      Leadership often (not always) deserves support. However, in the context of church life, support and good will is a very different thing to submission.

      Leaders get things wrong. Just like husbands get things wrong. But we all have consciences, and sometimes we will (rightly) dissent.

      I basically think your well-made point about the Bible and its slants on submission to authorities needs to be handled judiciously and carefully: we are, after all, talking about attitudes and cultural values different to our own.

      No doubt in the class-framed and hierarchical Victorian era, this kind of language would have been appropriated as mandate for how things were: today, less so.

      You don’t tell a slave to obey his master in 2019. You set him free.

      I wish Justin well, I really do, and bless him for his faith and service and love of God: but as a lesbian Christian I wouldn’t say I defer to him. He’s really not going to get that from me, because I can’t cede him authority while gay ordinands get blocked from their vocation, gay hospital chaplains get hounded, and countless gay and lesbian couples remain locked out of matrimony in their churches.

      Rather than blanket deference, I’d say I wish him well as a person, with all the forgiveness that may involve, and the patience with his own human failings, and with all the desire I feel for him to flourish and grow as a follower of Christ.

      Rather than deference, I think that’s what we need: the heart and desire to support and encourage one another, and to follow Christ, alongside one another… as co-labourers, as members of household, as friends. In my church, even the least versed member ‘gets’ that inclusion is good, and that holds true right through our church, including our priest.

      If Justin can’t yet understand the extent of ‘radical inclusion’ then maybe my deference (or response in faith) is owed more to the elderly and unschooled lady in the pew behind me, because she has understood principles of love that many in church leadership have not been able to.

      We don’t defer. We value. And we co-exist. Each one of us has this amazing calling, to live and share for ever in God’s household: and there, we serve each other, and the least may be greater than the one in purple robes.

      Submission in the New Testament is a concept expressed in the terms of the authors who wrote the words, and whose ideas were culturally filtered with assumptions and what were then social norms.

      Telling a woman to submit to her husband today is risible and would justifiably earn any guy a rather decisive reaction which he might find uncomfortable.

      We live in different times. Deference can only be earned, and it does not come from social status. We should not let ourselves be infantilised. That said, I will gladly acknowledge a person’s vocation.

      • Not sure if you can put everything you dont like down to cultural differences. That doesnt seem to be Paul’s basis for his understanding. Slaves yes, but not husbands and wives. Of course his understanding may be wrong.

        ‘If Justin can’t yet understand the extent of ‘radical inclusion’ then maybe my deference (or response in faith) is owed more to the elderly and unschooled lady in the pew behind me, because she has understood principles of love that many in church leadership have not been able to.’

        – so rejecting gay sexual relationships as ‘good’ in God’s eyes shows a lack of understanding of love? Wow. Tell that to the vast majority of Jesus followers who have ever lived.

    • How did the egalitarian nature of the early church interact with these various commands apparently establishing asymmetric relationships?

      Perhaps the starting point for a discussion of ‘submit’ (hupotasso) should be Ephesians 5:21. Whatever the word means, Paul seems to put it into a mutual, symmetric context in this verse. ALthough, I gather some interpreters would alter ‘one another’ to mean more like ‘some to others’, perhaps not wanting to lose the sense of subordination in the verb. Perhaps it relates to the attitiude one should have to others in the church rather than organizational structures.

      The verb in Hebrews 13:17 is different, hupeiko. Unique in the NT, from sources I have found, this seems to have a sense of yielding to, giving way. In addition, a friend who teaches NT in Africa pointed out to me the start of this verse might be translated somewhat differently. The word ‘leaders’ actually translates a verbal phrase, perhaps ‘those who are leading’. So, maybe no office holders, but those with ideas and the oomph to do them. Then the verb translated ‘obey’ is actually a passive imperative of the verb ‘to persuade’. I might suggest a radical translation of “be persuaded by those who are getting on with things, go along with what they are doing.”

      There is an obvious issue in looking at 1Peter 5:5. Does presbuterois (with no definite article) refer to those apointed ‘elders’ or simply to older men (or even older men and women)? That it is ‘those who are younger’ who are being urged might suggest that it is age rather than office that is to be respected.

      I would add that in the ‘household codes’, particularly Ephesians, one should recognise that in each relationship commented on there is a third party: that Christ is present is the core reason for one’s attitude, not any inherent asymmetry. [I would also suggest that the word for ‘children’ in, for example Ephesians 6:1 is teknon which is basically ‘offspring’ rather than ‘not yet adult’. So it probably applies to adult children :-)]

  5. I think the Bishop of Newcastle’s comment is half right (and therefore half wrong!). A bishop’s staff might perfectly reasonably be seen as a symbol of pastoral care for the flock. But a mitre (which is surely some kind of crown) makes no sense at all, and inevitably distances people from the office (apart from the fact that it makes every bishop you’ve ever seen look absolutely ridiculous).

  6. I had missed this…

    “Christine Hardman, the bishop of Newcastle:.” The staff and mitre are not seen as outdated trappings of office but as symbols of care and love.”

    … and cannot understand how anyone can think it true. A pointy hat is for a pointy head… And is an utter contrast to a crown of thorns. Bare headed would be better, unadorned before God and each other.

    The whole thing is so the theatre of the upper-other. Its like the insistence that the Bishop at the back of a long clerical procession is demonstrating his/her humility. Perhaps we all need the Spirit of God to help us to see how others actually see us?

    • ‘Perhaps we all need the Spirit of God to help us to see how others actually see us?’

      That would be very eye-opening, for all of us! But the picture would be something of a mish-mash.

      • PC1… Absolutely!

        How far we are (and dress) from the servant king would be uncomfortable for all of us. Thank God for his grace and mercy.

        All having been said… Isn’t a mitre (and a cope) the visible opposite (and in opposition to) servanthood? To think that the world at large sees them as symbols of service is absurd.

        • Exactly so. It’s power-dressing, plain and simple. At least the Orthodox are more honest. Their bishops wear crowns. Perhaps because of the Roman imperial origin of their office or maybe they think they are the successors of Aaron, I don’t know.
          But the mitre is nothing but ridiculous, and doubly so in a Reformed church.
          But it’s a fact of theological liberalism that the less it believes, the more it dresses up (to compensate?), and the more liberals talk about inclusivity and equality, the less they practise these toward other clergy. What else is left to the in a post-Christian Britain that cares nothing for the Gospel and sees religion as a racial-tribal marker for non-white people? The liberal clergy have themselves bought into this mindset and have no interest or aptitude in bringing the Gospel to Muslims and Hindus.

  7. Many of the issues here are reflected in the secular world, particularly in work. Ive noticed a deference to those in senior positions but certainly not the other way around. It is no doubt partly down to the fact that those more senior to you can affect your work, or whether you even continue in it. That is also true in the church – bishops etc can have a lot of power over others, for good or bad. So I think deference is often shown for self-preservation reasons. Which is perfectly understandable.

  8. “I’m quite baffled by how we tackle deference. I find it strange when I’m given deference.”

    I wonder if we need to begin by appointing Bishops from among those who dont come from a patrician and privileged strata where receiving deference is the milieu they are weaned in from prep school, through public school, Oxbridge, fast tracked careers, fast tracked church preferment. Such upbringing may equip such clergy with a skill set and confidence for higher office, and may make pragmatic sense, but is not helpful in creating a culture where undue deference is not given, and indeed, often expected. I believe the consecration of more women Bishops will help change the culture.

    • I think it will deepen the problem. Whatever, you think of the theology of the matter, women bishops only intensify a liberal institutional hold on a shrining church. The feminisation of the Church of England is all but irreversible now with the added layer of sexual politics, and a clergyman who thinks his female bishop incompetent or a heretic will now seem horribly ungallant. ‘How could you say that about a woman?’ Anglican churches which have ordained women have accelerated in their liberal clericalism – this is undeniable in North America, Britain and New Zealand.

  9. Grammar, syntax and spelling mistakes – unfortunately for a Teacher – are quite vitally important elements on which to base the seriousness of one’s basic educational veracity. So that ‘leavers’, instead of ‘levers’ can (as shown above) give a different perspective to the argument being pursued. Anyway, one’s prospective qualifications for beging given a ‘pointy hat’ could well be adversely affected (‘effected’?)

    Apropos of ‘Pointy Hats’, the Canadian bishops have just disgraced themselves in their recent blocking of the attempt to alter (altar?) the Canon that would have allowed Equal Marriage in their Church. However, individual bishops have declared they will go ahead anyway, proving that bishops are an anachronism in that Church.

    • Come on Ron… When you’re in a hole stop digging! Ian (or more likely autospell) made a simple mistake. We all knew exactly what was meant… Apologies but you seem to be searching for a pointless fight. Else have another look in the mirror… what are the “qualifications for beging”… Whatever that is…

      So bishops are an anachronism if they don’t give you what you want? I’d say that they could be accused of upholding scripture in its eternal authority and not putting highly marketed sunglasses on. Looks cool but just shuts the light out.

      • Yes, he is definitely beging the question – in a four-pointy hat, no less!

        As for the Anglican Church of Canada: dead in ten years.

    • You clearly have a lot of time on your hands. I doubt Jesus would have cared about such trivialities and he was the ultimate Teacher.

      As for bishops ‘disgracing’ themselves, they have in fact done the opposite – Im sure you can suggest the correct word for that.


      • The New Zealand Anglican Church is now split as well over the Gadarene rush to bless what God forbids. About twelve parishes have left the NZ Anglican Church, especially in Christchurch diocese, and Gafcon is organising a new diocese under Bishop Behan – who won’t be wearing a pointy hat.

          • No, I didn’t see it – it sounded like fairly standard stuff from the BBC.
            What I might be interested in would be programme on gay Imams or a gay-affirming mosque. The chances of that?

        • No, I guess the new bishop of the new sect will not be wearing a pointy hat. However, I do remember the occasion in the Christchurch diocese when his father, Wally Behan, came into a pre-electoral synod wearing a purple shirt. Was he expecting preferment back in the day?

          When you speak of 12 parishes leaving ACANZP, this is not correct. The dissident clergy left behind substantial numbers of parishioners who disagreed with their schismatic leadership and have remained under a more stable leadership team currently being established.

          “Schism is a horrid thing”.

          • You should ask Wally Behan yourself. As for “substantial numbers”, what you mean is about 20 per parish. Certainly not enough to sustain a parish, including salaries and building costs. And all because New Zealand Anglicanism apostasised over the Bible’s and the Catholic teaching on sex and marriage. Well, you got what you wanted, Ron – a broken church and empty buildings and broken friendships. Not what I call the fruit of gospel faithfulness. You have decided to follow Tec and ACC over the cliff. We know why the Canadian Anglicans have refused to publish attendance statistics since 2001 – because they have lost about 70% of membership in one generation. New Zealand is doing the same. Great job!

          • And where do you think the money will be coming from for the schismatics? Sydney Dioceson coffers, the Gafcon Primates, or wealthy American Republicans (ACNA)? I’m pretty sure Mr. Trump woiuld love to fund them as they meet his standards of morality.

          • “Schism is a horrid thing”

            True – the schismatics are those who corrupt the faith and make virtuous what the Bible calls a sin

    • Hi Ron,
      So from your point of view it is OK for bishops to go against their collegiate decision in Canada, concerning same-sex marriage. Is it also OK from your point of view for the bishops in the USA to go against their collegiate decision regarding same-sex marriage? Or is the OK-ness dependent on whether the course of action is one you personally approve of or not?

      If bishops are an anachronism, then how should doctrine and practice be determined in a church? Popular vote? Look where that got us here in Britain.

      (Was the decision close? Did it need to go to a super-over?)

  10. I would be curious what Ian and other Christians on this blog expect of non-believers when it comes to their interactions with a priest, bishop, archbishop, (or pope). Do you believe that a non-believer (atheist, agnostic, deist, secularist, etc.) should address a priest as “Father” or “Mother” or just “Bob” and “Sue” as they would anyone else? If a non-believer were to meet the pope, should he or she address the pope as “His Holiness” out of respect for his office or simply Mr. _________ (whatever the pope’s real family name happens to be)?

    As an atheist, I struggle with this issue. On the one hand I don’t want to come across as if I am intentionally attempting to insult someone, but on the other hand I don’t want to show deference to a belief system I find abhorent. Would you as a Christian address an imam as “your holiness” or whatever the Muslim equivalent of that term would be? Would you address a medicine man in the deepest jungle with his tribe’s equivalent of “Father” or “your holiness”?

    • Personally I dont think Id address anyone as ‘your holiness’ and I have a problem calling anyone ‘Father’ except my own dad or heavenly Father. Though I am ‘god father’ to a nephew, which is probably doubly bad lol.

  11. Deference has a distant relation who occasionally appears: it is called Bullying, the subject of another wonderful post recently which I read with more than one lump in my throat. Thank you for highlighting both

  12. Out of the mouths of babes:
    When my grandchildren came to church they asked my son, “Will Grandad be wearing his dress today?”

    What do you call 50 shades of purple?
    A Synod.

    • Catholic bishops long gave up wearing purple, and I don’t think recent archbishops of Canterbury have worn it either. Time for the rest of Anglican bishops – if they really believe this equality stuff – to do likewise.
      Also time for Anglicans to get rid of those ridiculous mitres. They were historically never part of the reformed Church’s dress.

  13. The Scottish abandonment of Episcopacy as the most suitable form of Government for the Church after the Reformation could well be seen in Andrew Melville’s famous encounter in Falkland Palace. Known for referring to James VI as “God’s sillie vassal” he told him:-

    “Thair is twa Kings and twa Kingdomes in Scotland. Thair is Chryst Jesus the King, and his Kingdome the Kirk, whase subject King James the Saxt is, and of whose kingdome nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, bot a member!”

    but ecclesiastical feudalism lives on.

  14. I saw Richard Peers blog when it came out. My gut reaction was quite strongly against his views.
    It’s taken a rare bout of insomnia to get me to think about it a little more.
    Ian, your view is rather more measured than Richard’s polemic, but here’s my 2p.

    Deference is a culture, it needs a cultural response. Lots (not all) of the suggestions offered to change the culture are structural not cultural.
    I’d be happy to lose vestments and honorific titles, but the undermining of deference comes from the individual’s character and consequent actions. From my limited knowledge of Justin Welby, it may be that he can’t understand deference because he is a humble man. Deference seems bizarre to those who carry their positional authority as lightly as he seems to.
    Changing dress and titles, pay scales and housing makes no difference if the bishop walks into a room as if they own it. Every parish person knows who their Vicar is, every clergy person knows who their bishop is, too often the atmosphere in the room changes when they walk in, even if the are in jeans and a t-shirt.

    The stuff about going to people rather than inviting to them is good, but I enjoy going to Bishop Christopher’s house, I enjoy the space, peace and beauty of the surroundings and getting away from home to think differently. I like to call my bishop “Bishop Christopher” but that is about respect for his authority and not deference. I would have no qualms challenging him if I needed to. He is my father in Christ, but he’s also a fallible man.

    We need to acknowledge different callings and roles, this will always be done in part via titles and remuneration. I’ve long thought that bishops are paid very little for what they do (in a lecture at Cranmer in 2004 I was outnumbered 1 to 20 in thinking they were paid too little.)

    Whilst in my first incumbency as a pioneer leading a tiny congregation, I found it laughable that my friends, prayer partners and experienced colleagues, Steve and Ruth, received no extra remuneration or acknowledgement. Their skill and experience were superior to mine and the pressure and demands of their roles far more complex.
    Ruth is now (deservedly) a bishop, but Steve remains in the same role, taking a leading role in the city for the Kingdom, with no acknowledgement.

    The questions about deference come from the evil of abuse in our church. That abusers can thrive in our community is a comment on our culture, our history and our sinfulness. The answers are in holiness and accountability and remembering that sin crouches at every door. We are changing structures and safeguarding is good, but again, the culture of each church, each group of people, is as important as the safer recruitment and correct dbs checking.

    When the simple gospel is lived under the Lordship of Christ, cultures like deference are burned to a crisp and cultures like respect and honour for leaders and from leaders thrive.

  15. Obviously very late to this party, but recent calls to strip priest’s of their historic title “Reverend” has annoyed me, so when google brought me to this blog post I couldn’t help but reply. Honestly, I think this issue is overblown. To be sure, I can easily see how over deference can easily be a toxic problem, and I can well imagine how it could lead to all sorts of cover ups and blindness to mal practice and immorality, and where this happens it should be addressed in a substantative way. ‘Substantative’ here means something other than to sacrifice our particular traditions, and even the small c catholic understanding of the Church and the ordained per se, on the alter of “look at me, I don’t call myself Reverend or wear fancy clothes like those *other* priests, coz I’m not vain, like *they* are”, which is what all such name changes will amount to in practice. For; if over-deference is a function of our sinful response to hierarchy and dignities afforded to Offices, then, unless a simple clothes and title swap can make us significantly less sinful beings, our vice for social status will excersize itself in a new social setting, and new social signals will be competed for. Vanity will latch onto anything a social group cares about, and signalling “I’m not vain” is no exception.

    At least the formalised and depersonalised signifiers of the dignity and deference owed to the Offices of Priest and Bishop can be easily traced and called out. Directly by scripture even, for Aaron is shamed with a high priesthood he’s unworthy of, and the price of not trying to conform ones self to the honour of the office is displayed graphically and God kills his two sons for presuming to change the ceremonies they were charged with conducting. And in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly confers “Authority” to the first priests, the authority to cast of unclean spirits in His name, to forgive sins in His places.

    And the Church follows this example. Bishops have the authority to ordain priests, to have obedience from priests under them, to pass on authority to do excorcisms, among other things. And priests generally have the authority, ability, and duty to minister the sacraments themselves! Of course, this isn’t their own authority, it entirely subsists in the Authority of Jesus Christ, which they merely participate in. Given that the authority of the Offices they bear come from such Authority, I think deference to it is, while avoiding the absuses such deference might cause on the ground as far as we’re able, not only permissable but required.


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