Sunday, 18 July 2010

Bishop John Broadhurst - Bishop of Fulham

Oh dear, oh dear... If the Radio 4 profile programme on John Broadhurst, the leader of Forward in Faith, was meant to elicit sympathy for the concerns of the Catholic wing of the church (following the vote last week to take the next step along the road that leads to women being ordained as Bishops) it failed.

Bishop John Broadhurst was described variously as talented, someone with a grass-roots connection, a parish priest at heart, and in the mould of an Old Testament Prophet, an affable pipe smoker who likes a drink and is politically astute - among many other plaudits.

Various women were interviewed about him, with Ruth Gledhill and Anne Williams giving particularly enthusastic references telling us that he is not a misogynist, that 'you feel he loves women, that he loves and respects you as a woman' and 'enjoys the company of women'.

A balancing view was put by Christina Rees who spoke of disconnection, and a man who can be patronising, and whose behaviour sometimes crosses the lines of common courtesy and can be 'deeply, deeply offensive' - although never to her.

Pleas were made that we 'seek to understand', which is what I tried to do as I listened. I think I do understand the FiF theological position even though I disagree with it, and I have some sympathy for people who interpret the history of the church in a different way to me. Yes, there are deeply held feelings. On both sides. If I believed what they do, I would be hurting right now. But there is always more than one angle to slice an orange, and more than one conclusion to draw from evidence especially when we seek to discern the will of God. There was no acknowledgement of other positions in the programme.

The problem for me, listening to this programme, was that, actually, I don't much care whether John Broadhurst is a prophet or a patronising misogynist. It is unlikely that we will ever meet, so his likeability is irrelevant to me. The bible is full of stories of deeply flawed individuals who are used to further God's will, and the more I see of my fellow clergy, the more flawed I think we all are. The problem for me, likewise, is not whether his wife and friends are concerned about being labelled misogynist.

The problem is that this man leads a group of people with an agenda that is very easily misunderstood (or is it?) as being predominantly misogynist, when they seek to argue based on theology.

One supporter of Bishop Broadhurst scored an 'own goal' when he said that the House of Clergy was supposed to represent 'working priests', but had been 'swamped' with part-time women clergy who represented 'ladies with time on their hands'. In other words, his views had become a minority and he does not respect the elected representatives of the clergy.

At that point, by descending into the very patronising, belittling and dismissive insults that the previous participants had been at pains to refute, the people putting forward those arguments lost my respect, my sympathy and my interest.

I don't know how this will all work through, but I do know that it is difficult to convince people of your right to be heard and to be treated with respect for your views if you are unwilling to offer that in return. When one is in a minority it would seem to make sense to be more rather than less careful about the way one expresses oneself so as to retain credibility. I wonder what they say when the microphone is turned off?

Maybe the church has suffered from a 'harvest of plagues'. Personally, I don't think it has. I think the church has moved to a position where we now find it easier to look at people as individuals, as building blocks in the body that is the church of Christ, rather than to pigeonhole them into specific roles based on our own preconceived ideas, whether that is based on gender, sexuality, or a particular reading of scripture or history.

Sadly I think this programme has served to reinforce all the sterotypes that it sought to disperse. It was a lost opportunity.


  1. I listened to it trying to be sympathetic, and can see +John is much loved by those who agree with him. But the constant patronising and insulting remarks from him and +Edwin Barnes and other followers, especially the one you picked out about women clergy on General Synod, and the one about 'proper women don't want to be priests' lost my sympathy entirely. There is provision in the Measure for opponents of women bishops to have their own episcopal oversight, but they keep saying there is nothing, because it is not exactly what they asked for, and that they are being 'driven out' when they will choose to go if they do. It seems an immature reaction to me.
    Anne. Hertfordshire.

  2. Thank you Anne for your comments. One of the earliest women to be ordained priest was telling me this lunchtime about her experiences, and when I related the above story she expressed sadness that the whole issue is being stirred up again. There was not a hint of triumphalism or rejection of those who disagree. I hope the FiF people will stay, and preferably with good grace.