by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Member of General Synod
I resigned from my Bishop’s Council this week.
The decision has been a long time coming – I’ve felt I’ve been hitting my head against a brick wall over our failure to prioritise the poor and disadvantaged, especially given we are such a rich diocese, for years. In fact, I’ve been banging the drum since I got onto Council five years ago. Interestingly, even though we constantly rated serving the poor in our diocese as a “the top priority” during our discussions, it rarely seemed to make the cut into any paperwork . In virtually every meeting I can remember I have had to remind those in authority of the commitments we had agreed as a Council.
I realised things would never change when after one Diocesan Synod meeting I was told, when the priority yet again failed to be mentioned to those gathered, that it was because it was too long to fit on the slide! All rather ironic given that we’d just had a report that emphasised the real issue in our diocese was that of “hidden poverty”!
In truth, I know I was as tired of banging my drum as Council members were of hearing it.
So, eventually, it got to the point where I felt that the best way for them to hear me was by my absence. You see, sometimes leaving is the only way left for people to be heard….
Since I resigned, I’ve been reflecting on why it is so difficult for those in the central Church or Diocesan structures to hear what those outside or on the fringes of the Church see as completely obvious. It came into sharp focus again this week with the IICSA report which stated what so many of us have been saying for some time now – that we need a completely independent safeguarding system in the Church in order for it to be fully functional.
I have decided that the real problem is that our boards and councils are populated by mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle class and mostly middle aged (and that’s being kind) people who all hold virtually the same world view – and who are incapable of recognising that there is legitimacy to any other view other than their own. Because they all end up endorsing each other, they confirm their own legitimacy, and nothing therefore ever changes.
That’s why we find it difficult to embrace those from other backgrounds – those that are different to the monochrome “norm” that the Church of England has built into the warp and weft of its very foundations. You just have to look at the make up of General Synod to see what I mean.
It is why we’ve an appalling record on nearly every measure of diversity – we are seen by those “on the outside and margins” as racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic. We are outrageously bad at dealing with people with differing abilities too. Although it’s “not good show” of course for us to admit this in public.
And what does this “monochrome” system result in? Well, I won’t be popular in saying this, but I believe this ultimately results in the single most critical problem for us as a Church. It’s the real root of most of our problems, which few are prepared to admit let alone publicly name – it is that we have a leadership structure that is, I’m afraid to say, deeply dysfunctional. It seems our House of Bishops operates like a boys public school, with prefects and head boys who whip the younger boys (and they are of course mostly boys!) into line. It may seem like the body that so many aspire to, but once you’re there you get sucked into colluding with a system that few feel able to break free from. Although thankfully, there are some brave individuals who do.
It is interesting to question why so few have called this out publicly over all these years?
Especially given that to many of us on the outside and fringes this dysfunction is plain to see. We have bishops leading double lives, which no one seems to bother about or challenge. We have bishops preaching one thing and practicing another, particularly when it comes to the way in which they treat LGBT+ clergy in their midst. We have bishops who lament safeguarding failures, but whose own record is pretty poor. It all leads to a postcode lottery, which everyone knows about but no one does anything about because they (we?) have all got too much to lose…or worse, that they don’t think that somehow anyone will notice.
But we do, and we all know. The charade was up a long time ago.
It’s just like my own experience with Bishop’s Council – no one can be bothered to bang the drum any more. We are resigned to letting it all continue, with no one rocking the boat.
But time is running out. Many are tiring of this game. And they’re leaving.
So much so that soon the primary problem won’t be the fear of people rocking the boat, but rather the fear of ensuring that there are still people who are prepared to sail in it!
So reform is needed – and it needs to start at the top.
The House of Bishops is about to release resources for the Church of England to engage with over sexuality. What they seem to have failed to see (again!) is that the vast majority of people in the pews made up their minds about LGBT issues long ago….what they’re waiting for is for the House of Bishops to finally do so themselves. And to do so in a way that has some credibility.
So it’s time the House of Bishops had an OFSTED inspection. They need to turn the mirror on themselves and take a long hard look at what they see. They need to be honest about their dysfunctionality, their divisions and their double standards.
Miracles can happen – and with God’s grace this might just be one of them. Goodness knows we need it!