The employment tribunal concerning Jeremy Pemberton is over, but it is far from finished. As Jeremy himself comments on the previous post on this, final submissions will be offered in July and read in September, and the judgement will be made after that.
I had not realised that the tribunal would be taking place down the road, nor that it was open to the public, else I might perhaps have planned to attend and listen for myself. (The picture here is of Permberton’s legal team outside Nottingham Castle.) So I have had to rely on reports from others—though I think they have been reliable. For me, the low point came in reading the testimony of Richard Inwood yesterday. I need to exercise some caution here—until very recently Richard was my Acting Diocesan Bishop. My strong impression is that he has been put in a very difficult position, in effect the key player in the most pressing issue of the moment for the Church, on which national Church issues might hinge, but perhaps without the support from the centre that one might have expected. Even Alan Wilson comments (on his Facebook page):
It would never do to presume on the judgment of the tribunal. Nor to imagine matters must end in this court. Cross examination is a cruelly forensic business, of course, that probes deeper than synodical grandstanding and politics. That said, with all the resources, legally, for which any respondent could hope, all major heads of resistance crumbled out of their own witnesses’ mouths (as can be seen from many press comments). This was mostly from their arguments’ own internal incoherence and contradictions. I am very grateful to +Richard, who is a good and decent man, for his lack of guile and truthfulness about what was, IMHO, an HR Hell’s Kitchen, not entirely of his making.
We all need to take Alan’s first point very seriously; none of us can know the outcome until it is announced, and it is not clear exactly what difference it will make in the end. But a key turning point appeared to arise on the question of ‘harm’. The dialogue is reported in the The Guardian as follows, but there is no reason to question its reliability.
Inwood was asked by Sean Jones QC, acting for Pemberton, what harm he thought it would do the Church of England to have granted a licence to allow the 59-year-old to be appointed as chaplain. “We know that Canon Pemberton wanted to join. In your view he was perfectly capable, you had no reason to believe he wasn’t. He was the trust’s preferred candidate, and that when you refused the licence, at very least, the man responsible for making recommendations to the trust was anxious to get you to think again. We know the House of Bishops guidance did not require you not to grant. And you say you took the decision. What was it you feared would happen? What harm would arise if you gave Canon Pemberton the licence?”
Inwood replied: “It is not a matter of danger but by my own oath of honour and obedience, under authority, to maintain the doctrine of the church. It’s my own personal decision.”
Jones asked: “You weren’t anticipating any harm, whether to him, to you, or the trust? The bishop replied: “Certainly no harm to the trust or the church.”
The tribunal judge, Peter Britton, picking up on this answer, suggested it left him with a conundrum. He asked the bishop: “If it would be no harm to the church, and the doctrine is about protecting the beliefs of the church, then haven’t you got an innate conundrum? If it so fundamental to the doctrine, thus the breach would cause harm. But if you think it is of no harm to the church surely that means the reliance on this being fundamentally doctrinal, as to otherwise bring down harm on the church, is a busted flush isn’t it?”
I am not a lawyer, but I was once a Personnel Manager. I would imagine that the lack of harm had the appointment been made might well be a crucial one, since, along with the apparent lack of requirement from the House of Bishops (which is surely mistaken), it makes Inwood’s decision look arbitrary and therefore vindictive. (This cannot, of course, be an accurate description of the reasons why Inwood took the decision he did.)
But what strikes me more is the theological significance of this, something the tribunal will have had no interest in. Just look carefully at the claims being made here in this dialogue:
1. There would be ‘no harm’ done to the NHS Trust had he been appointed. And yet (as David Shepherd points out), the NHS’ own guidance comments: ‘Chaplains must abide by the requirements of their sponsoring faith or belief community, their contracting organisation, the Code of Conduct and all relevant NHS/NICE standards’. This is clearly not the case, so at some level the NHS must believe there is a problem here.
2. Inwood comments that is it ‘his own personal decision’ to uphold the doctrine of the Church. In fact, this is integral to the role of a bishop. The Ordinal expresses it thus:
Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission. Obedient to the call of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are to gather God’s people and celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenant.
It was surely a mistake for Inwood to suggest either that he had freedom in this, or that he did it merely out of personal decision. If the House of Bishops have issued a clear directive on this matter, how can any bishop have freedom to ignore this or fail to respond to breaches of it?
3. Inwood then goes on to suggest that ‘no harm’ would come of this breach of the clear instruction of the House of Bishops (who made a very clear statement as recently as February). This seems to me a very odd statement at two major levels.
First, if there is ‘no harm’ when clergy defy their bishops, then we are heading for a time of institutional chaos, when everyone ‘does what is right in his (her) own eyes’. As we move into a more clearly post-Christendom context, where residual loyalty to the institutional church is disappearing faster than the bath-water down a plughole, this is going to be a practical disaster.
But the underlying issue is (intriguingly) the one that the tribunal judge intervenes on. If doctrine has been breached, but no harm will come, what (he asks in effect) is the point of doctrine? If the bishops of the Church of England have lost confidence in the importance of right doctrine, and the danger of wrong doctrine, then we are all in deep trouble.
The moment I mention ‘doctrine’ I can see the rolling of eyes, in part because of the history of doctrinal dispute the has scarred European history for centuries, and in part because of a reaction against the kind of post-Enlightment rationalist approach that reduces doctrine to propositions. But, as Anthony Thiselton points out in The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, for the first Christians doctrine was about their fundamental disposition in life; the claims of the creeds and credal statements weren’t simply claims about facts, but what they based their life on. They really believed that ‘The truth will set you free’ (John 8.32). That is why doctrine matters, not least in this area of what it means to be created, male and female in the image of God, and the implications of that for sexual behaviour. If the bishops do not believe that wrong doctrine in this area is harmful, then now is the time to abandon any theology of marriage. In fact:
“Christianity is based on revealed doctrine, enabling individuals to live rightly before a Holy God as followers of Jesus Christ. He tells us how to live in all areas of life, including in areas of sexual behaviour. No denomination is at liberty to invent its own doctrine or to sacrifice revealed doctrine on the altars of contemporary fashion. We cannot be authentically Christian whilst simultaneously rejecting the teaching of the one we claim to follow.” (Rev Simon Austen, Rector of St Leonard’s Church, Exeter Diocese)
That is why the ministry of teaching is at the heart of Anglican understandings of what it means to be deacon, priest (presbyter) and bishop. That is why, in the Articles, preaching and the sacraments go hand in hand—teaching must lead to action, but action without teaching is like a ship without a rudder.
I sincerely hope that senior bishops in the Church will now speak up and correct the impression that has been given. Doctrine does underlie this issue; doctrine does matter; wrong doctrine causes harm. If they don’t speak now and publicly, I cannot see but that it will be the end of the Church of England as we know it.
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