Should IICSA change our theology?

I have been very hesitant to make any comment about the scrutiny of Chichester Diocese in the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) for many good reasons. The issue is so deeply painful and complex, and it touches on many interrelated issues in church and society—but that hasn’t prevented several people from giving their own opinion, and these have prompted some reflections of my own.

First up, as is often the case, was Martyn Percy, Dean of Christchurch Oxford. As usual, Percy’s piece was erudite and witty, and, also as usual, it offered a platform on which to play his well-worn record of bashing the Church of England and in particular its bishops and anyone ‘in the hierarchy’. After a considerable run-up, and an energetic hurling of the ball, which pitched up nicely, Percy then hit it for six by identifying the culprits at the heart of the problem—those with a different theological outlook from him, in the form of Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals, whose true nature has been uncovered by these cases of abuse.

It might be possible to set aside the manifest contradictions in Percy’s comments—such as complaining at those who treat the Church of England as a ‘homogeneous gloop’ when he has consistently treated it in entirely monolithic terms. It might also be possible to set aside the irony of someone in Percy’s position—as the highest paid clergy person in the Church who sits at the heart of a bastion of elitism and privilege—criticising the sense of hierarchy and privilege he sees in the Church. But I am sure that I wasn’t the only reader who found it deeply distasteful that he should use the suffering of others and the exposure of failure as a vehicle to push his own particular theological and personal agenda. And, even more distasteful, Percy’s argument read like a thinly veiled power-play. The idea that one particular theological tradition (his) can save us from the perils of the abuse of people and power is nothing much more than a mirror image of the catastrophic compliance we saw paraded in Chichester Diocese. Where in the past people would not question a priest, Percy now asks us not to question the liberal theological configuration he urges on us.

A second comment came from a friend of Percy’s, Linda Woodhead. Whereas Percy had disguised his theological agenda by deploying language of ‘strategy’, ‘competence’ and ‘culture’, Woodhead has the virtue of putting her theological cards on the table: ‘Forget culture. It’s a new theology we need‘—and of course the particular theology we need is Linda Woodhead’s. This is one where, as she has argued previously, the Church’s doctrine is not shaped by a process of reflection rooted in the Scriptures (since Scripture is hopelessly incoherent and contradictory), but where we sum together the theology of all the people who happen to attend the C of E—or even somehow identify with it—and take the average. The aspiration is to be like some of the Nordic churches, who are wonderfully inclusive, though just happen to have very few people who ever actually attend. But even in this vision there are manifest contradictions. On the one hand, the claim that ‘the scandals in Chichester and the wider Church were tied up with a crazy idealisation of the clergy’ is uttered by someone who recently commented:

Imagine, for a moment, that all regular Sunday worshippers disappeared overnight, leaving only the clergy. Obviously there would be a financial crisis, the current parochial system would have to be radically reformed, a great number of churches and vicarages would need to be sold off, and the Synod would have to cease or change.

But the Church would remain, and its most influential activities could continue…

On the other, like Percy, she blames two loci of theology—the Calvinist and the Catholic (nice to alliterate when pointing the finger)—but liberal theology of course has no such problems. The difficulty here is that she doesn’t offer a very convincing understanding of either, since caricatures will suit her argument best. But the theological difficulties here are illustrated well by an Easter comment by another ally, Rosie Harper, the Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, who suggests that we can talk about Easter and the cross by focussing only on ‘peace’ and not focussing on sin. Never mind that Zechariah looks forward to the coming of the Messiah by the proclamation of ‘the forgiveness of sin’ (Luke 1.77), or that the heart of Jesus’ proclamation was the invitation to ‘repent and believe’ (Mark 1.15), or that his ministry was not to the righteous but to ‘call sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5.32), or that Jesus’ declaration of resurrection peace immediately flowed into the forgiveness of sins (John 20.21–23), or that for Paul the reason we lacked peace was because we were enemies with God because of sin (Rom 5.10), and that sin rendered us spiritually dead but the cross and resurrection brought us life and peace (Eph 2.5). (No wonder that someone said to me, when I suggested engaging with this perspective, ‘What is the point, when Rosie’s piece has so little in common with any reasonable understanding of Christian faith?’) But what is truly astonishing is the idea that, at the same time that IICSA is exposing abuse and depravity where we might want least to find it, someone can suggest that we are focussing too much on sin. Perhaps we are not focussing on it enough.

Come to the book launch for my new commentary on the Book of Revelation on Thursday April 19th.

A more refreshing perspective was offering by theologian Miroslav Volf, in a paper offered last week to the Society for the Study of Theology meeting at the their annual conference on the campus of the University of Nottingham. Volf reaches precisely to the Reformed configuration of theology that Percy and Woodhead so denigrate to offer a better account of both human sin and God’s grace:

Among theologians, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther is famous for celebrating the utter gratuity of God’s love. Significantly, he affirmed the unconditionality of God’s love while insisting on the pervasiveness and indelibility of human stain. Short of the radically new life in the world to come, humans cannot achieve a better moral and existential condition than to remain always both sinners and just at the same time, and that in every aspect of their being. No matter how much we improve, every one of our deeds bears a stain, and every one of them inserts itself into a stained world where it always benefits from and effects both blessings and curses.

A person need not embrace Luther’s account of sin to affirm the indelibility and pervasiveness of human stain. A great 20th century Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner (1978), used a simple example to make the point. We cannot take a single bite into the soft flesh of a banana without being left with an aftertaste of the sin of the world, the sin of all the people that made that banana land half-peeled in our hand: the owners of the plantation and all those with whom the plantation owners jostle for space to make profit, the overworked and underpaid workers, the global traders and the transporters, the sales people, even those who made the clothes we wore and the car we drove as we went grocery shopping. It would be easy to give a more extensive and fine-grained description of the net of sin into which consuming a banana pulls us, but the point is clear. Over everything we do and enjoy hover sighs of suffering and the self-satisfied laughter of selfish indifference and oppression.

As the example of the banana suggests, human stain always bears the stamp of a given time and place, but the stain itself is universal because it is an aspect of the human condition, tangled up with the character of our materiality, temporality, sociality, self-transcendence, and freedom. Stained as we are, we can mend but we cannot save—neither the world nor ourselves. Salvation will either come from outside the world or it will not come at all.

It is worth noting here that Volf, a Protestant theologian, is offering an exposition of Luther’s position by drawing on a Catholic theologian. Good theology is not confined to one tradition, just as sin and abuse is not absent from any. Without such an integrated vision of human sin and divine forbearance, then we cannot address the hidden underside of the IICSA enquiries: what do we do with sex offenders who no longer offend? Next to Linda Woodhead’s piece in the Church Times was a most poignant reflection from an offender.

When there are so many ex-offenders who have turned their life around and become fruitful servants of the Church, and can be a great witness to Christ, why does the Church make special measures for sex offenders?

God calls all to holiness, even sex offenders. Yet we draw our own line. Why don’t we exclude those committed of fraud from doing the accounts; those guilty of drink driving from driving the minibus; those with alcohol and drug problems from serving at the bar during social events? Because that is not what the Church is about. Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

I look to examples such as Jesus calling St Paul, and how Jesus can make the vilest offender clean. This gives me hope, hope that is, sadly, continually removed by the Church.

Dispense with sin, it seems, and we also dispense with the possibilities of forgiveness. In order to make any sense of these issues, we need theological resources that hold together idea of the seriousness of sin, and the radical possibility of restitution—somewhere that will articulate the wrath we feel at abuse without losing sight of grace. Perhaps there are some resources to be found in the remarkable juxtaposition of imagery in Rev 20.11 of ‘books opened’ alongside ‘another book, which is the book of life’. The first ‘books’ are the records of all deeds done by human beings in their lives, but the other book is the list of those who have been saved by grace through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, the ‘lamb standing, as though slain’. Neither set of books obliterates the other, but they stand in an awkward tension, as though salvation truly matters, but only makes sense in the context of the awful reality of what humans are capable of. (A shame this is dismissed as an optional ‘blood-drenched apocalypse’ by Woodhead.)

There are two other issues here, one of which has received attention—but the other remains as yet unexplored.

The issue that has been highlighted is the ‘culture of deference’ which Justin Welby argues must end: ‘respect, yes, but deference, no.’ I confess that I have struggled to make sense of this, not least because ‘respect’ and ‘deference’ as terms have a very large semantic overlap. And I cannot make out what this might mean in practice. On the one hand, I increasingly find that, as a clergy person, I am not actually treated with very much deference. People don’t hold back from swearing in my presence on public transport; my views are as likely to be dismissed on social media as anyone’s, my social position notwithstanding; and deference has not led to the clergy stipend and pension being paid in line even with the Church’s own recommendation (in the report Generosity and Sacrifice). On the other, what should change? Should I no longer address the archbishops as ‘Most Reverend and Right Honourable‘? Should I desist from called bishops ‘Bishop [Name]’—after all, no-one ever calls me ‘Priest Ian’? Should we expect to see some dressing down—since apparel is the most tangible expression of ‘otherness’ and power, and most invites responses of deference? As I noted previously:

There is one final and serious objection to the wearing of mitres. I noted how important these things can be in our visual media age—and we need to reflect on what such clear visual signals communicate. To most, and I would suggest especially the young, the sight of bishops in mitres puts them in another world. It is world of the past, a world of nostalgia, a world of deference—and mostly a world which is quite disconnected from present experience and values. It confirms for many the impression of a church irrelevant to modern questions, contained in its own bubble of self reference. And in its hierarchical understanding of authority, it is a culture of which contemporary society is becoming less and less tolerant, possibly for good reason. In her damning report on the handling of the evidence relating to Peter Ball’s abuse of children, Dame Moira Gibb highlights the problems in the culture of the Church:

We were struck during this review by a manifest culture of deference both to authority figures in the Church, particularly bishops, and to individuals with distinctive religious reputations—or both. This deference had two negative consequences. Firstly, it discouraged people from “speaking truth to power.” Then, on the few occasions where people did speak out and were rebuffed by a bishop—the summit of the hierarchy—there was nowhere else to go.

Nothing symbolises the ‘culture of deference’ like the wearing of mitres. It is time for them to go.

But there is a final issue, which to my knowledge is one that no-one has yet mentioned, let alone explored: the question of the personal virtues of courage and honesty. One of the most striking, poignant and admirable virtues that has been made manifest in this whole sorry saga is the personal courage of victims of abuse, courage that has often had to sustain them through years of personal trauma and institutional neglect. It is courage that is required for others who become aware of abuse to blow their whistle rather than collude in silence. And it is courage that is often lacking when people try to pass the buck, blame others, or shift attention to other issues. Courage is most needed when those in positions of power are insecure, and have found their own security and self-esteem from their position within the hierarchy of the institution. This is where I think Martyn Percy’s analysis is most clearly at fault: the people who have been guilty of allowing abuse to go unchecked have not done so because they ‘love the Church’, but because they love themselves—because the downfall of the Church will also mean their own downfall, since their own sense of value and self-esteem is too heavily invested in their status in the institution. And to ask questions of people in such a situation demands courage, and (as I know from experience) asking too many questions can be costly.

There are many things that need to change is abuse is not to go unchecked—investment of resources, a change of culture, and quite possibly a farewell to ‘deference’. But above all we need a Church inhabited by people of virtue, who will be courageous enough to ask questions and pursue the good.

Come to the book launch for my new commentary on the Book of Revelation on Thursday April 19th.

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41 thoughts on “Should IICSA change our theology?”

  1. Great comment, Ian – really good to see someone pushing back against the smears of Percy et al.

    The idea that sexual abuse is caused by theology which stresses the avoidance of sin, including sexual sin (as the New Testament does), sounds absurd and would need some solid quantitative research to demonstrate such a link before anything was done to address such ‘troublesome theologies’. Given how central the avoidance of sexual sin is to the NT – the church was infamous in the ancient world for contending that men ought to be as chaste as their wives – if this was demonstrated it would be devastating for the moral theology of the NT.

    There was also Rowan Williams, who claimed in his contribution that the church’s teaching on homosexuality had led the hierarchy to over-compensate by being too lax in discipline on sexual matters. Another bizarre non sequitur, but notice how again it is conservative theology in the frame.

    Personally I’d expect more liberal approaches to sex to be more prone to encouraging abuse – as in Hollywood and the BBC, and in the 70s when the Church prepared a report arguing that: ‘It is clear that there is a class of child molester, who is typically attracted by young children (often of either sex) whom he wishes to fondle or whom he invites to touch or inspect his genitals. Such behaviour, more pathetic than immediately dangerous, is understandably greatly shocking to the parents of the child, and in some cases the child himself will be frightened and disturbed, though there may be no long-term ill effects.’ But I’d want there to be some rigorous research into the question, especially about theology, before any practical conclusions were drawn one way or the other.

  2. Two comments, Ian, with thanks, as ever, for your clear and courageous thinking.

    1. Anselm’s great statement in Cur Deus Homo? immediately came to mind: Nondum considerasti quanti ponderis peccatum sit (‘you have not yet considered how great is the weight of sin’]). H. R. Mackintosh, in The Christian Experience of Forgiveness, notes that ‘the words have repeated themselves ever since, judging facile theories.’ Thus, as the American scholar Fleming Rutledge points out in her magnificent The Crucifixion. Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, it is the superficial, naive, optimistic, ‘liberal’ views of human sin that are at fault. ‘[T]he crucifixion, in all its revolting detail, corresponds precisely to what Anselm so memorably called ponderis peccatum (the gravity/ weight of sin)’ (p. 392; cf. 157, 167, etc. (Bridge Chapter and ch. 4: ‘The Gravity of Sin’)).

    2. At a different, practical, level, I recalled Chris Blakeley and Sue Howard’s early book in the Grove Leadership series: The Inner Life of a Christian Leader (L2), with plenty of sober challenges; and Roger Preece’s Understanding and Using Power. Leadership without Corrupting Your Soul (L5).

  3. Hi Will,

    out of interest, is Rowan Williams’s contribution publicly available? From the sketch you’ve given I’m not sure that it’s quite the non sequitur you think, nor that it’s “conservative theology” as such that is “in the frame”…

    in friendship, Blair

  4. Hi Ian,

    …”the culprits at the heart of the problem—those with a different theological outlook from him….” – but isn’t that a problem on all sides of this debate, and especially of course the ‘debate’ on homosexuality? How tensely tribal we’ve become, and how few of us are willing to criticise our own faction or group, to take the beam out of our own eye… I note that both you (and Will, above) don’t really engage in any meaningful self-criticism / criticism of those who agree with you. Clearly, of course, nothing I have said applies to me… 😉
    Lord have mercy.

    in friendship, blair

    • Blair,

      I think, given that the cat’s now so obviously out of the bag on this issue, there’s no point at all in being anything other than completely honest about mistakes and failings, wherever and whoever has been involved. And we can be sure that those conducting the IICSA enquiry will feel no constraint about what they say (which is not itself a guarantee that they themselves are free from all agendas!).

      But surely it is the point of Ian’s article here that the agendas are already being publicly rehearsed within the church, that they are already questionable, and that it can only be people of integrity who are prepared to see right through to the truth, and accept it, who will turn around a situation of deep shame for us all. His final comment sums it up:

      ‘But above all we need a Church inhabited by people of virtue, who will be courageous enough to ask questions and pursue the good.’

    • Blair, I would agree with you that much debate has become intensely tribal—and I have tried to avoid doing that here. I don’t simply write off in a brush stroke all liberal theology, as Percy and Woodhead appear to do in the other direction. But I think the particular proposals they make are flawed, ideological and inadequate.

      The point of Volf’s quotation of Rahner is to highlight that truth, and good theology, can be found across the traditions—and I continue to be encouraged that the range of people reading and commenting here does not fall into simply tribal categories.

      I commonly criticise aspects of evangelical theology, on the specific issues of women’s ministry and atonement theories—but neither of those are pertinent here. ‘All have sinned…’

      • Hi Ian,

        think I owe you a bit of an apology – I read too hastily to notice your sentence, “Good theology is not confined to one tradition, just as sin and abuse is not absent from any”. Perhaps that could be a new strapline for your site 😉 …but I need to read more attentively.

        However, I would also venture that, more generally, you don’t do as much as you might to avoid being tribal and/or being dismissive of those who disagree with you. I think this is shown in your summary of Rosie Harper’s article. Having had a look I think it’s rather misleading to say she “suggests that we can talk about Easter and the cross by focussing only on ‘peace’ and not focussing on sin”. I don’t think she’s suggesting avoiding sin, but rather trying to argue that *solely* focussing on sin in a judgemental manner won’t help or engage. I note she says that “the cross speaks of breaking the cycle of violence” and comments, “It may be incredibly costly for some senior staff to look at how they have reacted, to apologise deeply and offer to rebuild relationships and make reparation. Peacemaking is hard”. I don’t see this as advocating avoidance of any talk of sin.
        in friendship, Blair

        • Blair

          What Christian tradition has ever ‘*solely* focussed on sin in a judgemental manner’ ??? Surely such a statement from Rosie seems like a pot shot at a straw man.

          • Hi simon,

            just to clarify briefly: ‘solely focussed on sin in a judgemental manner’ was my paraphrase, not a “statement from Rosie” – I do suggest reading her article in case I’ve done what I criticise Ian for, and not summarised justly what she says.

            More broadly, I’ve no doubt that there are people wounded by a moralistic focus on sin by some Christians…. although if I’m not careful I’ll end up self-righteously pointing a finger at others for their ‘self-righteousness’…

            in friendship, Blair

  5. Martyn Percy smears ‘Iwerne camps’ entirely inaccurately. There have been no allegations (or certainly no specific allegations) of abuse at Iwerne camps, only in Smyth’s own shed in a different part of England. This is a correction I have had to mail to probably 10 newspapers but they go on repeating it in hope.

    He and others thus inaccurately besmirch an organisation involving so many individual leaders who knew nothing of what was going on till it was too late. It is so unjust to taint them. Where is the basis for doing so? Need to remember (and even more so in the case of the poor victims) that these are people with feelings and families.

    In writing ‘e.g. John Smyth of Iwerne camps’, he makes Smyth sound entirely typical, even the tip of some imaginary iceberg. Quite the contrary. He was very atypical:

    (1) He was a lawyer among teachers and ordained men

    (2) He was Canada-schooled operating among products of English public schools

    (3) No other grown adult even knew what he was doing

    (4) No other grown adult was in league with him

    (5) No other grown adult approved what he was doing. So little did they approve it that they made him leave the country (and go nowhere near Winchester College again, etc.).

    (6) So what are these other Conservative Evangelical abuse cases? They are few and far between (thankfully, since they are perfectly horrible where they do occur).

    As for the idea of ‘successful spread’, in the case of Smyth I agree. He really had them brainwashed. He also had the advantage of being surrounded at Iwerne by notably godly co-workers. People get judged by the company they keep, and I am sure he was able to take advantage of that.

    The liberals (Boston diocese) were the worst in the RC American abuse. Look at some 1970s UK seminaries and you may find the same culture, swallowing the social/sexual revolution whole, with the inevitable sequelae. However, the main way that the liberals have been ”effective” in this regard is in implying that church is less of a big deal, with the result that their youth is less likely to attend and more likely to be in the nonChristian culture where any abuse (extramarital relationships, serial break-ups, transience, concomitant violence, broken families, etc.) will be at a higher average level than in a church setting.

  6. Difficult reading, but thank you for it.

    Honestly though, I think you are being too fair to Martin Percy. You say he veils what he means behind language of ‘strategy’, but it seems to me that his colours are pretty well nailed to the mast, as least as much as Woodhead’s.

    “This is because problems in safeguarding do not just stem from some poor professionalism and meagre managerialism. They are rooted in warped attitudes to gender and sexuality;”

    That’s pretty disgraceful if you ask me.

    • I’ll elaborate a little, as I’ve been silent in the comments for a while. It’s disgraceful on two counts.

      First, it’s simply not true. The ‘problems in safeguarding’ stem from a lack of courage, (not specific to any theological position) as well as no small amount of ignorance, which combined together in the apparent lack of desire to doggedly pursue anything; especially where it may have come at a personal cost in standing or influence.

      Second, it’s deliberately incendiary.

      Martin Percy is too clever to not know what he’s saying. He knows very well he’s conflating two issues as being causative, and he knows that this sort of thing has the dual effect of, A) rallying the pack of progressive activists behind him and B) making his theological ‘adversary’ sit permanently on the defensive.

      It’s exasperating enough for me, I can’t imagine what it must be like for actual clergy…

  7. Thank you for your article Ian.

    For my part I want to affirm that I need the voices of Martyn Percy and Linda Woodhead. At their best they are perceptive and pose provocative and important questions. I do not always agree with them but they help keep me informed and honest. But it is difficult to read them with the wearyingly loud noise of grinding axes in the background. I come away with several days of ecclesial tinnitus.

    Linda Woodhead’s article was particularly poor. She urges a ‘new theology’ but offers none, She points her finger at the Calvinist evangelical tradition and ‘the Catholic end (?).’ (Her own Liberal tradition has no mention. Are they getting it right then?). The irony of her two targets is that they have always treated the subject of human sin and forgiveness with great seriousness, often against the prevailing fashion. The claim that the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity leads to cheap forgiveness is bizarre. Anyone with pastoral experience of this tradition knows that the struggle is always to feel we have confessed enough. The Puritan’s anxious search was for ‘Assurance’. Taking sin lightly was not an option. To take Gordon Ridout as an example of cheap theology at work is likewise questionable and simply unproven. The quote offered about him from the enquiry transcript is someone else’s opinion of Ridout’s approach to forgiveness. But we have no knowledge of whether he ever spoke to anyone about his behaviour and what ministry he sought or received. He would not have gone to sacramental confession!

    A feature of the deep patterns of deceit and concealment in abusing behaviour is that abusers can actually hide the reality of their behaviour from themselves. They split off. The problem is not faulty theology but psychology.

    Finally can we please discuss Martyn Percy’s contributions without always referring to the size of his income and privileged position in the Establishment? It is not relevant. It sounds like envy. I do not know how he spends his money or orders his circumstances before the Christ he follows, as I do. Nor is it not my business. ‘What is that to you? You go and preach the gospel.’

    • David, thank you for your insightful comments. I had planned to say more about the question of Calvinist views of sin and evangelical expression of these ideas, but the article was long enough and I felt that Volf had done the work for me. But you are quite right: Reformed theologies are most often accused of making people feel too sinful, and now are accused by Woodhead of not making people feel sinful enough. They cannot be doing both!

      On the money and status question, there is no jealousy from me. I don’t have a lower stipend—because I have no stipend at all! I only mentioned the question because Percy presumes to accuse those ‘in the hierarchy’ of having too much power and privilege.

      In doing so, it seems to me that he is throwing his rhetorical stones from a position in the middle of a very plush Oxbridge glass house.

  8. Hi Ian

    I was just thinking of writing something about Martyn Percy and see that David R. has done so. I am a little concerned that you (and others) believe that his position and his privilege should prevent him from speaking out. I think exactly the opposite. Those with little ‘power’ and privilege speak out and are often not heard (hence the IICSA hearings); those with fairly unassailable power and privilege speak out all too infrequently.

    • Penny, I don’t have any problem with Martyn speaking out. I think what is difficult is that the way he speaks out in often very pointed and personal criticism of those whom he sees as protecting their own privilege—when that is exactly what he appears to be doing himself. There are many other ways to make valid points…

  9. Ian I wasn’t going to say more but – I just don’t see Percy ‘protecting his own privilege’ and simply don’t understand where you get that impression from or what evidence you find to back it up. I agree with Penelope as to impression your response tends to give when you focus on those personal details. It can end up just sounding defensive. I for one am much more interested in your critical engagement with his opinions – not with the preoccupation some evangelicals on fb and elsewhere have with the size of his house and bank balance.

  10. I know nothing of Percy, but found his article, self regarding and superior and tediously over elaborate and from who would not consider himself to be part of the problem in any way, as being part of any church heirarchy, who seemed a little agog at any idea that any semi legal process, tribunal, should engage in forensic examination and cross examination. That’s it’s function. It’s a statement of the obvious to anyone who is familar with Courts and Tribunals that it is a far cry from management meetings, Synods, church councils, blogs, twitter and opinion pieces. Percy’s opinion piece, itself, may not stand up well to probing detailed forensic cross examination.
    As for theology by consensus, by democratic vote, we would need to learn from the Jesus Seminar, we need to learn from from the science of management and leadership- try getting anything done in the NHS, with the competing, sometimes self interest, heirachical, with conflict of interest professions, all in the name of putting the patient first: likened to trying to herd cats.
    Putting a local preacher on spot after his sermon in a Methodist chapel, I asked : can leadership be taught? “The Americans think we can, but I don’t.” A short disseration indeed. He was a prof/Dean of Business Studies at a high ranking English Russel Group University, who I knew well. Leadership, as opposed to management was more to do with character, integrity, not mere competence, skills and ability, which can be learned. So we are back to human nature, pride, pomposity, humility, truth, lies, deceit, self -interest, preservation, promotion, the idolatry of sin.
    We blame systems, but they don’t operate in the abstract. It’s people, people, people.
    Ian P, please keep going. Yours is a voice that needs to be heard and is appreciated, as is that of Volf. Other protestant draw on Volf and on Catholic Charles Taylor’s work.

  11. Geoff Well Martyn Percy presses a lot of people’s buttons but I don’t really see what contribution your (wholly negative) personal character assessment of someone you freely admit knowing nothing about contributes to this discussion thread.

  12. David,
    It was an, my, assessment, opinion, of what he wrote, of his opinion piece, content and style on what is an exremely important subject, and, to me, didn’t carry a sense of gravitas and balance that Ian Paul’s piece did.
    Is not your comment to me, about me, rather than any content in my comment, not also wholly negative?
    Was your comment about Linda Woodhead not also wholly negative?
    Then again, I’m not part of any system, CoE hierarachy, culture/system/structure, with any influence at all.
    Perhaps, CS Lewis essay “Inner Ring” is apt, providing a corrective balance.

  13. Geoff My (negative) comment was specifically about what you wrote not about you personally. So no I don’t think so. It was actually a question. You had more to say about his style than his specific content.
    As to Linda Woodhead’s piece (and Percy’s actually) what I wrote was critical but I began by saying ‘I want to affirm that I need the voices of Martyn Percy and Linda Woodhead. At their best they are perceptive and pose provocative and important questions.’ I then engaged very directly with what she wrote. So no. And I did not make comments about her character. So no that wasn’t either.

  14. David,
    I thought I dealt indirectly with some of the substance (but didn’t find too much of direct substance – but an overwrought, rather than erudite or humourous metaphor) of Percy’s writing) when I mentioned systems, structure and more indirectly the cultural heirarchy, by referrence to the science of mangement and leadership and the NHS, leradership in general, points which also apply to management by consensus and/or theology by consensus. He quotes from Druker about “culture eating strategy for breakfast”, yet seems to seek to set himself apart from that culture, and seems to go on to set up a straw man comparison with the armed forces.
    No doubt, much more could be said about leadership in the C o E. But perish the thought that the Church should be led in the same way as secular bodies.
    To me the Percy article, in this instance,(culture with gender tagged on) and Woodhead(theology) are like two prongs of a disordant tuning fork.
    Indeed, Percy and Woodhead may have perceptive voices and pose provocative questions. Provocative questions are not always, in fact, rarely seem to be, forensic questions. Here, they seem to be doing so to provide their predetermined answers, with inappropriate haste and other reasons Ian P, admirably considers. You seem to have been slightly captious in responding to a part of Ian Paul’s comment on Percy status in the CoE, who, to an outsider, could appear to be part of the CoE influential elite.

  15. Geoff. Thank you for more thoughtfully outlining your thinking on these two pieces. I broadly agree with many of your concerns actually. As you your last sentence on ‘status’ though this is a bit of a preoccupation among critics of Percy, including Ian. Martyn Percy has had a very long and distinguished career in various roles in the CofE and has always been vigorous in his views. Referring to his present job as some kind of elite, privileged (wealthy) platform which he is exploiting to export his views is a silly and misleading mantra among his critics. Play the ball I say. In fact I would consider Ian Paul to be arguably part more part of a very powerful CofE elite as a member of the present Archbishop’s Council.

  16. Thanks David,
    I didn’t know any of that about Percy or Ian. I only consider what is written and hadn’t come across Percy, nor his writing, before this.
    Perhaps he’d appreciate that I’ve not shown too much deference.

  17. I don’t think the issue is respect or deference to those in authority. Actually the issue is respect and deference, yes, deference, to the little people, the weak people in this story. That’s the theology that matters here. Sexual abuse in the church goes on and a blind eye is turned to it because little, weak people have no voice in the Church. And sexual abuse is by no means the end of it. Lack of deference to those who are not ordained, healthy, middle class, middle-aged men runs through the whole warp and weft of the organisation. Think lay people whose gifts and experience lie unused and unrespected by clergy. Think women clergy who are expected to accept, uncomplaining, the fact that some male colleagues question their validity. Think clergy you know who have succumbed to depression from totally unrealistic expectations of them and are largely ignored by their seniors. Think of young people who have no voice in the church so are now largely absent from it. Think disabled people who have to wait until last for communion. Think the thousands of people who have been leaving the church because it doesn’t connect with them. The Church is truly excellent at shaming and ignoring these people. That is NOT the way of Jesus, and until that is recognised and repented of, nothing will really change.

    • Rebecca, I’m not sure I would accept that deference to those in authority is not the issue.

      Is it not the case that it is the duty of those who are not in authority to hold those who are to account? Is it not the failure to do this which gives those in authority the impression that they can get away with anything? And, it is that sense – that they have arrived at a position of power with impunity – which is so inherently corrupting and destructive of integrity amongst leaders, even Christian leaders.

      And then the problem is that people who have arrived at that state of mind can only maintain it by creating the kind of destructive atmosphere right across the church which you rightly abhor. Let us never forget that the tone and integrity of an organisation start at the top. If the top is rotten those underneath cannot avoid the consequences. And, whether in secular or church situations, I have no sense that things are on an upwardly improving trajectory! It seems as though we are doomed to unending battle in this regard.

      For us in the church this is a real cause for shame. Even this very day those who are attempting to call the church hierarchy to account are finding it a very tough and unpleasant task. It may / will take some exemplary dismissals or resignations before things truly change. If that’s the price, bring it on; we Christians do not serve our Lord and Master well by being a soft touch.

  18. Don – I don’t think we really disagree. I’m not saying that those at the top should not be called to account – of course they should. But those who have tried in the past to call to account, to tell their stories of abuse, have so frequently been ignored. Their calling to account has had no traction at all, because they are of too little status in the hierarchy. I am saying that there is a more fundamental issue of church culture here than simply dealing with individual cases of sexual abuse. I see too many clergy unable to get their bishops and archdeacons to listen to them about their housing, their need for support in realising their visions, their threatening mental health problems.Too many lay ministers unable to persuade their rectors to delegate to them properly. Too many lay people’s valuable experience and wisdom ignored.
    So yes, those in senior church leadership need to be called to account.. absolutely. But for a lot more than just for sexual abuse.


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