[Updated again, with more reactions (scroll to end)]
Update 1:11PM ET: The Colin Slee memo is available.
Reactions to the Slee memo are mounting. The memo details how the Archbishops of Canterbury and York intimidated the members of crown nominations committee into taking off the table the preferred candidates for bishop of the south London diocese of Southwark after a meeting in the loo. It is presumed they washed their hands.
The Guardian’s Andrew Brown revealed the contents of the memo by the late dean of Southwark Cathedral in his article about a meeting of bishops this week about whether openly gay clergy should ever be eligible to be selected as bishops. The daughter of Dean Slee believes the archbishops’ behavior sped her father’s death from pancreatic cancer.
Commentators are focusing not just on the ban on gay bishops from the field, but the process by which bishops are selected, behind closed doors. The ABC launched into an inquiry some time ago into earlier reports of leaks about the meeting Slee’s memo describes. All this brings into stark relief the differences in polity between the C of E and The Episcopal Church. Of course Rowan Williams frowns on our polity. And he believes it contributes to the quality of our bishops (mediocre in his estimation).
The legal opinion justifying discrimination towards gay bishops is here.
Some of those reactions:
Secrecy and the election of bishops – Chris Hansen
Southwark is my diocese, the Cathedral is in the Deanery of which I am Lay Chair, and I work together in Diocesan Synod and Bishop’s Council with all the people from Southwark who were involved in this meeting.
If you read Brown’s article, you will get all the sordid details of the bullying of the members of the selection committee by the Archbishops, including a visit by the Archbishop of York and several other members of the committee to the men’s room, after which the voting patterns changed. I wonder what they were up to in there.
But all of this is background to my main thesis: the process for selection of Bishops of the Church of England should be changed, and soon. The current process (where representatives of General Synod, representatives selected by the Diocese in question, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, meet in secret, sworn to secrecy, and choose two names for the Prime Minister) only works if the secrecy part works. The machinations accompanying the appointment can thus be as pleasant as can be, or acrimonious and threatening, as no one who was not at the meeting will know about it. There is no requirement for give-and-take if pressure and lobbying from various factions is conducted in secrecy. I find it odd that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is so puzzled and troubled by the apparent secrecy of Freemasonry, takes advantage of secrecy to bully and threaten people to vote his way when a bishop is selected.
In Last Rites (Granta, 2006) I describe the process for appointing bishops, and the day in 2003 when “the peaceful privileged atmosphere of centuries was broken” and replaced by the vicious hostility that Slee so vividly describes: “In order to keep such political wrangling out of the public eye, the commission and its proceedings are obsessively secretive. For years even the dates and locations of its meetings were confidential. The commission has fallen into such disrepute that a recent internal church report on its operations spent more time worrying about who controls the paperwork and the flow of information than addressing such fundamental issues as the phenomenal power of this one small group over the entire national church. The commission invites no applications or expressions of interest and conducts no interviews. The secretaries of the archbishops and of the Prime Minister control all the paperwork. Six representatives from the diocese with the vacancy are now invited to attend, but they are out of their depth and outvoted in a commission that meets right at the point where the church disappears into the state. Everything continues much as it did before the commission was formally constituted. Favoured old boys from school and college days are lined up for dispatch to whichever vacancy arises next. Where there are rival lists of favoured old boys the rival parties are politely given one turn each.”
Bishops are not the focus of unity, Jesus is – Lesley’s Blog
Apparently a Bishop can only be appointed if they can be a “focus of unity” in the diocese. But how many objectors does it take to stop a bishop? And who decides? Are there any priests who could carry the whole of a diocese with them before appointment? And suppose a bishop loses the support of his diocese – should he then resign? (I can’t possibly imagine Rowan thinks that for one moment, not at present!)
“Focus for unity” may appear to be a reasonable phrase, but in fact it is meaningless; it allows the blocking of anyone as a bishop because someone doesn’t like the look of them, with no definition of who is and isn’t acceptable.
The hierarchy of the Church of England are corrupting Christian truth and faith and integrity by allowing themselves to be manipulated and controlled by conservative evangelical and catholic forces and opinions which, the longer they are not confronted, will tear the Anglican Communion apart, not over gay clergy, but because lives are being destroyed for the sake of false belief.
Unity in Diversity – Lowell Grisham
Pope Gregory gave Augustine great flexibility when dealing with the various traditions that he encountered when he arrived as “Archbishop of the English Nation.” Augustine was not charged with enforcing Roman customs on the indigenous Celtic churches, but rather he was to honor whatever he could “profitably learn from the various Churches.” People are more important than things.
I think these discussions and controversies are helpful guides for the present church and our own Archbishop of Canterbury. We are in a discussion in the Anglican Communion over the scruples of those whose consciences are troubled by the grace and fruitfulness that others have found in the faithful committed relationships of their gay brothers and sisters. “Let all be fully convinced in their own minds,” seems like good counsel from St. Paul.
In 603, he held a conference with the leaders of the already existing Christian congregations in Britain, but failed to reach an accomodation with them, largely due to his own tactlessness, and his insistence (contrary, it may be noted, to Gregory’s explicit advice) on imposing Roman customs on a church long accustomed to its own traditions of worship. It is said that the English bishops, before going to meet Augustine, consulted a hermit with a reputation for wisdom and holiness, asking him, “Shall we accept this man as our leader, or not?” The hermit replied, “If, at your meeting, he rises to greet you, then accept him, but if he remains seated, then he is arrogant and unfit to lead, and you ought to reject him.” Augustine, alas, remained seated. It took another sixty years before the breach was healed.
Mr Catolick has a word on the C of E ship of state.
It takes courage to be counter-cultural, but it is also going to take a brave archbishop to appoint an openly gay bishop and it’s hard to see who that will be. Until the Church does that, the row will continue to fester, with the risk that it will look increasingly out of touch with society – yet unable to offer an explanation for its stand, and stuck in a damaging and seemingly endless drift.
There’s nothing wrong with being counter-cultural, but the problem for the Church is that its stand, in truth, only reflects the significant, and wealthy, evangelical minority. It is not a stand that appears to come from a position of conviction and it is hard to think of more than a handful of diocesan bishops who would be prepared to defend it.