Saturday, 9 June 2007

Wycliffe Hall: pressure is mounting

Jonathan Petre has an article in today’s Daily Telegraph headlined Dispute grows over ‘abrasive’ Oxford principal:

Pressure is mounting on Church of England authorities to take action against the principal of an Oxford theological college accused of alienating staff.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, is being urged to withdraw his support for the Rev Richard Turnbull, the principal of Wycliffe Hall, who has been criticised for his allegedly abrasive management style and conservative brand of Christianity.

Alister McGrath, a leading theologian and Wycliffe’s previous principal, has pulled out of delivering a prestigious lecture in Liverpool in protest at the lack of action by Bishop Jones, who is the chairman of the hall’s governing council….

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 8:57am BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

"One insider compared [Richard Turnbull's] comments to entryism, which the extreme Left-wing Militant group used to try to infiltrate Labour in the Eighties." That's a reference to you, Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), isn't it?

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 11:39am BST

Thomas Renz said;
"One insider compared [Richard Turnbull's] comments to entryism, which the extreme Left-wing Militant group used to try to infiltrate Labour in the Eighties." That's a reference to you, Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), isn't it?

I don't myself see why. It's an analysis at which I had arrived independently, and I can't believe that Dr. Worsfold and I are the only ones to make that observation. And Barton-upon-Humber (or more precisely New Holland) is a long way from Oxford, so I can't see that Adrian could count as an 'insider'.

If this analysis is from someone with a ringside seat, the entire evangelical movement should be thinking long and hard about its direction. Will Dr. Turnbull's covenant prove to be 'the longest suicide note in history'?

Back from holiday, spent in a four-person tent: is this the long term outlook for the CofE...?

Posted by: Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 12:58pm BST

Yes, it is, but I am not an insider. Is there a cheque in the post?

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 1:13pm BST

Does that make us all informants? ;-)

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 3:16pm BST

It does make us all informants.

Let's see. There is research. Then there is a blog from an insider. Then there is journalism. Then there is lazy journalism (eg watches TV news, reads others' blogs), then there are columnists, there there is opinion blogged and written, and finally royal reporters because they claim intimate friendships with the royals while making it all up. Occasionally in a blog there is a bit of analysis, taking several events together, or a bit of academic insight, which does add something extra to the reportage.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 6:05pm BST

Thomas is an excellent correspondent on this matter here.

But I think that even he will agree that this story seems to have a very long life for a little academic spat. Every time you think the story is dead another journalist or columnist chimes in.

I have a feeling that nothing but metaphorical blood is going to expiate/propitiate/atone for this poor man’s signature on that awful Covenant document.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 10 June 2007 at 1:20am BST

Dear Martin,

shades of 'it is fitting that one man die for the people' in your comment, n'est ce pas?

Dear Pluralist,

smiling over your journalism comment. For once we agree!

Regards,

JF.

Posted by: John Foxe on Sunday, 10 June 2007 at 2:53pm BST

From a great distance, all I can so far read are signs that differences and tensions exist among evangelicals. Does this really surprise us? Really?

Only in the face of legendary sound bite claims like RT's which claim to know just where everybody stands before God, far back in winding lines after his own cloned-cohort sort, naturally. Scripture, reason, tradition? No. Sola scriptura, penal theology, and policing with real teeth and real capture of strategic campaign fortresses.

It sounds a shot across the bows of all ships flying open evangelical colors, I would guess, for one thing. Odd isn't it, then? From outside the whole business: Next after the queer folks as special targets, come the open evangelicals.

And this is essentially Anglican to its heart? And always has been?

We indeed lost something in translation when the colonies got Anglican religion down the later centuries. Small wonder folks like RT cannot see us as brothers and sisters.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 10 June 2007 at 4:37pm BST

The issue at Wycliffe seems to be open evangelicals objecting to the appointment of conservative evangelicals. Its hard to reconcile with the perception that 'open evangelicals' favour tolerance and diversity.

Posted by: Erasmus on Monday, 11 June 2007 at 5:51pm BST

Erasmus, it is by no means a question of 'open' versus 'conservative' at Wycliffe. Those who have resigned their posts can hardly be described as woolly liberals. And, consequently, staff grievances are not about the appointment of conservatives, they are about the disastrously clumsy and heavy-handed leadership of RT.

Posted by: Alumna on Monday, 11 June 2007 at 10:48pm BST

Alumna, I know what you mean and you may well be right, even if "open evangelicals" are not "woolly liberals" (well, maybe except for one or two of them).

I am afraid "disastrously clumsy and heavy-handed leadership" in a theological college would not be nearly as interesting to our newspapers and blogs as allegations of growing homophobia and claims about internecine warfare among evangelicals. For this reason alone your hypothesis does not even deserve to be considered.

With a twinkle in my eye...

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Tuesday, 12 June 2007 at 8:15am BST

Let me begin by confessing to a brief flirtation with Militant back in the eighties. I have long severed any connection either with that professedly non-existent organization or with the Labour Party.

However, many comrades supporting Militant certainly perceived themselves not as infiltrators, but as trying to keep the Labour Party true to its socialist roots.

The real, and much more successful "entryists", I would suggest, are those who have turned the Labour Party into an openly pro-capitalist and dubiously ethical body, in which the payment of bribes to members of a corrupt feudal regime is only to be expected as a normal business practice.

Persons wishing to draw odious comparisons with ecclesiastical persons, organizations or events are at liberty to do so.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Tuesday, 12 June 2007 at 12:41pm BST

My point was as general one about entryism as a method.

What about the Labour Party and Militant, however? The problem was Militant was determined to impose its socialism under its own control, as a group within a group. In that Labour was drifting leftwards (before Kinnock and company) a split took place, with the SDP being formed.

Electorally you have to play to the centre and suggest competence, but memories of Labour up to 1979 and a worn out situation allowed in the Keith Joseph style economic liberalism that some Conservatives had only dreamed about. Labour realised it faced the necessity of making the SDP and its realignment of the moderate left unnecessary, and this is why it had to kick out the self-managing and entryist Militant. Social democracy in Scandinavia had long suggested a private economy with social welfarism, and then Australasia was showing a far more privatised approach by the once left. Plus the "socialist" system of undemocratic eastern Europe had gone.

Whilst a donkey would have won an election in 1997, Labour had so much gone for the centre and for economic competence in capitalism, that it was well into Conservative territory and left its normal voters with no other option. It sowed the seeds of its own future erosion, however, and the Liberal Democrats taking from the Conservatives started to take from Labour.

What parallel is there? There is no future in Conservative Evangelicalism in terms of relating to the larger population, and it won't be achieved by having a "strategic" approach to "capture" institutions under its control. If it does, there will be a sufficient of an SDP - whether split off or not - to force the issue. The Open Evangelicals fall between two stools here, and they are the ones who will have to decide. Theirs is the project under threat from all this. The need will be to have a clear, and I'd say, liberal-based identity.

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 13 June 2007 at 3:19am BST

Pluralist, you write: "Whilst a donkey would have won an election in 1997, Labour had so much gone for the centre and for economic competence in capitalism, that it was well into Conservative territory and left its normal voters with no other option." The problem is, I think, that people do have another option - not to vote at all. A small number of committed lefties like me might seek out a "left of the left" party, even though the candidate for whom we vote has no chance of winning, but there is plenty of evidence that seeking the centre ground causes a collapse in the number voting. If I remember correctly, the "no voting party" actually came second in the 2001 election, if we count registered voters who didn't cast a vote, and they may even have won if we take into account people who didn't even bother to register.

Parallel with the C of E? I don't know. But I must admit that I find the latest news of yet another African prelate setting up shop in the USA completely depressing. I'm not a natural sympathiser with American Piskies' aggressive theological liberalism and belief in the verbal and literal inspiration of their canons, which trump Scripture every time, but Akinolan queer-bashing is too much for me.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Wednesday, 13 June 2007 at 12:45pm BST

I do find Thomas Renz strangely incapable of recognizing that theological positions do not just address issues of doctrine or the bible. They are surely just as relevant to the way we relate to each other, work for justice and integrity or manage a college? To admit that you are intending to subvert the direction of a whole institution, throw your weight around with your colleagues then hide behind an evangelical Bishop who is going to carry on turning a blind eye hardly smacks of evangelical orthodoxy! It is profoundly unbiblical. Why does Renz seem to want to attack all those who expose this? The real integrity seems to be shown by Revd Professor Alister McGrath who has presumably given up a fat fee to take a stand for transparency and real biblical accountability

Posted by: bertie g on Wednesday, 13 June 2007 at 10:44pm BST

That is my point - that by lurching to the right the Labour Party started to lose its support by people in rented accommodation, low paid jobs and so on. The miniumum wage was important, but that is but one act, and that also ignores the huge underclass that is surviving or hardly on ever diminishing benefits. Watch when Gordon Brown comes in of the Protestant work ethic and indeed an enthusiastic privatiser as well as a deceiver at present of the number of jobs vanishing from pubic services. He is a boom and bust chancellor - a boom in public service jobs and now a bust.

Blair and Brown are both post-Thatcher.

Although I am myself theologically radical, right on the edge, I am actually an institutional moderate. The economy was crashed by Thatcher in the early 80s, and the economic boom later on was a lot of monetary froth. The economy became more flexible, but one does puzzle where a lot of the added value is - and if it is in public services then we are in for a shock very soon. It is far better to have a framework of institutional stability, if possible, so that changes can happen.

It is why, although I think it is coming, I don't call for a split in the Anglican Communion, or the Church of England, and suggest instead the loosest possible structures; why I think the Archbishop of Canterbury's unity policies have been and will be disastrous (or make things worse). As I realise, the Covenant has become a means to split in its preparation never mind any outcome. The Archbishop would be right to invite everyone (or nearly) to Lambeth, but nothing else - let those who want to walk, walk, but don't offer the precise means.

Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 14 June 2007 at 2:06am BST

In my first comment on the Wycliffe situation I wrote: “The situation at Wycliffe is obviously very serious and the main contribution of this article is to bring it to the attention of the wider public. The article documents the breakdown of trust and discontent among staff with Richard Turnbull’s way of leading and managing the college. But it is less clear that any of this relates to a change in theological direction.” (17 May)

I have been concerned then and now about the lack of distinction between facts, inferences and speculation. I observed that “The notion that this distressing situation is the result of a drive to make Wycliffe theologically "increasingly conservative" is not well documented” (18 May) and confessed my own ignorance as to whether “the theological culture at Wycliffe has changed” (19 May).

There have been discussions in threads dedicated to the latest on Wycliffe Hall on women’s ministry, on homophobia and on penal substitution - even inerrancy was raised! It was in this context that I suggested that if (sic!) this is about “a totally unconsultative executive management style” (citing Alumna, cf. the "source close to the college" in the CEN), then “Wycliffe staff members [have] been let down also by those who clouded the issue with spurious claims of a theological sea change” (3 June).

How does anything that I have written imply that I believe “theological positions” do “just address issues of doctrine or the bible”? What a load of nonsense! It is precisely because I deeply believe that justice and integrity matter that I kept pointing out that we need to distinguish between facts and inferences and speculation.

It is precisely because I believe that managing a college is a theological and ethical issue that I did not want this issue to be clouded by spurious claims to theological disagreements on a whole range of other issues.

Most of us know a lot less about the situation at Wycliffe than we would like to know - and many of us know a lot less than they think they do.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Thursday, 14 June 2007 at 7:49pm BST

I have been puzzled by the silence of the Bishop of Liverpool over the last few weeks. I apologise if he has commented on the situation but if he has made comment it has not appeared on the diocesan web site.

For some light relief I reread a speech he made in Oxford earlier this year on Women Bishops - available on the diocesan site. Now I am completely confused over his silence.

In his speech he reformulates the question of whether women 'can be ordained to the episcopate' to 'can a woman feed the church, the Body of Christ?'

Before he develops his answer to his own question further perhaps he needs to consider the effects of his silence on those in his own diocese and whether he is able to 'feed the church'?

Gordon Simm

Posted by: Gordon Simm on Thursday, 14 June 2007 at 8:36pm BST

Gordon - a good question for the Bishop. I do not presume to know the answer. We all know that sometimes silence is commendable, at other times culpable; sometimes it takes courage to speak out, sometimes it takes courage to remain silent.

Those who see in the Wycliffe Hall crisis simply a reflection of strife between "open evangelicals" and "conservative evangelicals" may want to ponder James Jones' enthusiasm for the priestly and episcopal ministry of women in the sermon you mentioned or his statement that "All those involved in the debate [on human sexuality] are genuine in their beliefs, and the talking and the praying must continue until a place of common understanding, the mind of the Church, can be established." (21 June 2003)

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Thursday, 14 June 2007 at 10:41pm BST

Thomas,

Thank you for your comments.
I do not envy the bishop at this time but perhaps I look to him to lead, at least those of us in his diocese, in our thinking, praying and sharing so that we may come to some common understanding. Silence is, I fear, the only option not available to him.

Posted by: Gordon Simm on Saturday, 16 June 2007 at 3:51pm BST
Post a comment









Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.