Thinking Anglicans

Wycliffe Hall: a former staff member speaks


The BBC radio programme Sunday carried an interview with Eeva John:

Wycliffe Hall staffing dispute
Elaine Storkey has left Oxford’s Wycliffe Hall theological college. Storkey, sometime presenter of Thought For The Day on Radio 4’s Today programme, is the latest in a long line of academic staff who have gone since the appointment of Richard Turnbull as principal two years ago.

Turnbull was brought in to improve management at the college. He has earned many critics and some have expressed fears that he is moving the college in a more theologically conservative direction.

Eeva John, Wycliffe’s former director of the diploma for Biblical and theological studies, resigned in August. She explained why she decided to go.
Listen (6m 18s)

Earlier report on this is here.

Further comment, by Eeva John herself, appears below among the comments.


  • Matthew Firth says:

    Yes, a former staff member has indeed spoken. Her two main points, if you listen to the recording via the link on this site are as follows:

    1. She left because she didn’t like the way that change was managed.
    2. The problem at Wycliffe has been misrepresented in the press as theological.

    She is entitled to her view in 1, and she is right about 2. So, will all those posters on here who want to make a theological battle out of this listen to the former member of staff who says the debate is not about theology? Well, of course you won’t, because you want something nice and juicy to gossip about.

  • Pluralist says:

    Now Matthew, I wonder why these comments are taking the direction that they are?

  • But Matthew, your own posting proves this is about theology.

    You see, how you treat souls’ emotions and listen to them (or not) is a manifestation of your theology. If your theology is oblivious or inconsiderate of the holy spark within each soul; then there is no problem with being rude, arrogant or accusatory. But if your theology recognizes that we are all here by God’s Will and that nothing can exist within the without containing a part of God, then you are aware of the need for hospitality to others.

    This is a fundamental pivot point about theology. Accusations, repression, tyranny and genocide attempts (human, animal or other) are acceptable if souls’ theology is based on a wrathful elitist God. Forgiveness, nurturing, freedom and healing are inevitable if your theology is based on a loving God who wants the best possible for all God’s children and wants to be in an active positive relationship.

    It is either choosing the theology of an autocratic father who dismisses his daughters as only worthwhile if they attract a good bride price and do not sully the family name. Whose sons are only worthwhile if they bring power and glory. Wives only worthwhile if they clean, give sex, breed and raise suitable children and further their husband’s social standing. Such souls reject “tainted” children and disinherit children who compromise their personal standing.

    The other father knows that perfection is not possible all the time, that his wife sometimes gets overwhelmed and that sometimes his kids will make stupid decisions and that bad things happen.

    The former only want God and godliness when it satisfies their selfish needs. The latter are like Job or David who sing God’s praises in the best and worst of times, and accept with stoicism whatever God’s will be.

    We embrace the principles Zechariah 3 and remind them of Matthew 5:43-48 and Matthew 23:1-25 See also Jeremiah 5, Isaiah 5:21 & 23, Proverbs 30:10-16

    Our repugnance of such conduct and arrogance is based on theology. If souls do not recognize that, that merely demonstrates how blind they have become. They are so blind they can not even recognize if there is a lamp in the room, let alone if it is turned on.

  • Slubgob says:

    Matthew, in commenting on Eeva John’s interview, you agree that ‘The problem at Wycliffe has been misrepresented in the press as theological’; OK, a) do you concede that there is a problem?, and b) how _would_ you characterise the debate? Personal? Ideological? Ethical? Eeva’s comment about the lack of consonance between the actions of the principal and the stated Christian ethos of the college is pretty damning.

  • Matthew Firth says:

    To reiterate, Eeva John has said that the issues at Wycliffe are not theological; an inconvenient truth for the many posters on here who would love to see Wycliffe weighed down by an internal theological disagreement. The reality is that all flavours of evangelical feel welcome here.

    Cheryl Clough – treating people with care, concern and respect is a practice which flows out of every type of Christian theology. However hard you try, you will not be able to make a sound case that Conservatives are nasty because they think God is a bully and Liberals are nice because they think God is warm and fluffy. Again, your post goes off on a wild and volatile tangent and has nothing to do with Wycliffe. To mention words like ‘repression, tyranny and genocide’ in this context is just plain wacky.

  • Matthew Firth says:

    Pluralist – these comments are taking the direction that they are because while people on this forum have been saying ‘Wycliffe is hosting a battle of Conservative evangelicals vs Open evangelicals’, Eeva John, a former staff member, has confirmed that the issues at Wycliffe are not theological! And yes, I have pointed this out too on the Fulcrum forums, as you point out.

  • The feature film ….. LOL! – Read the plot at link (I gave up on the books after the second)…… ROFLOL!

    A pleasant end to a long day, thank you Simon.

  • Christian says:

    Spot on Matthew. This is old news, and a pretty desperate attempt by some to create further divisions in the Church.

    On the upside, now that Stephen Bates has gone from the Guardian, I doubt that the new Muslim in charge is going to be terribly interested in the odd coming and going at Wycliffe.

    Stirring up misleading stereotypes of evangelicals does nothing to help the preaching of the Gospel, and only plays into the hands of enemies of the Church. With friends like this in the Anglican church, it is hardly surprising that the fastest growing religion in the UK is not Christianity.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    Christian – it is not old news, but rather new – and sad – news, that three members of staff have been ‘required to leave’. The fact that you regard it as ‘old’ actually supports the argument of those you disagree with, who would see this latest news as part of a pattern.

    The term ‘theological’ is ambiguous and is used differently by different people. I think some people are suggesting that actions at Wycliffe may not represent the best of authentic discipleship. Some people tend to think of theology (doctrine, scripture) as working in the realm of ideas. For others (Cheryl Clough above, for example) actions (discipleship, praxis) have an irreducible theological content.

    I offer these observations in the spirit of helping us all to become better ‘Thinking Anglicans’.

  • Matthew Firth says:

    Slubgob – Yes, there is a problem at Wycliffe: Some members of staff have not been happy with the way change has been carried out in the areas of college structure and the structure of some aspects of ministerial courses. This has caused quite a bit of friction amongst the staff, because of which some of them resigned. The Hall Council clearly felt that three others needed to be dismissed. So that is the problem Wycliffe faces, but in a sense it is a much more mundane problem than one would think if one only read the posts on this website. The debate is not theological, it is the perennial problem of Christian communities, it seems: you will never please all the people with how change is brought about, especially if that change is critical for the life of the community.

  • stephen bates says:

    I haven’t left the Guardian, Christian. And how striking that you refer to the “new Muslim” without deigning to name my colleague Riazat Butt, merely depersonalise and thus casually attempt to demean her.
    She is not new to the Guardian, or to journalism, by the way, and is an experienced national newspaper reporter.
    I think we probably will still keep an eye on the comings and, it seems, increasingly goings, at Wycliffe Hall.

  • Pluralist says:

    The declaration of theological war was made by the Principal of Wycliffe in his infamous video. He was the one who categorised “liberal evangelicals” as well as “the liberals”.

  • Matthew Firth says:

    Stephen Bates is of course one of the journalists who has been spinning stories about Wycliffe for the past few months. So he doesn’t need to ‘keep an eye on Wycliffe’. Why bother when he can just make something up?

  • stephen bates says:

    Nothing I have written about Wycliffe Hall has been made up, Matthew. Your remark is libellous and actionable and I expect an immediate apology from you.
    All my stories have been sourced from people inside or with good connections with Wycliffe Hall. None of them originated with me: I have no reason to create stories about an Oxford PPH. I have merely reported what are the active concerns of those intimately connected with the hall, several of them at a senior level.
    Are you suggesting that the principal’s speech to the Reform conference, the letter from the three former principals, the dismissals and resignations of staff and the Oxford PPHs report are all made up? These were all on the record and remain independently verifiable.

  • acb says:

    Stephen does not make things up. He is one of the best religious correspondents I have worked with. He goes out and talks to people — and listens to them too. Then he writes down what they say; then they hate him for it.

    If you accuse him of “making things up”, you merely demonstrate that you are yourself ignorant at best.

  • One of the bullying strategies that I expected to see, and God bless them, they keep serving it up is the attempt to discredit the voices of conscience who do not approve of their conduct e.g. in this thread about Bates and Butt.

    I spent yesterday contemplating the suggestion that this not about theology. I occurred to me that could well be true. How is that possible?

    If an institution and its leaders consider it to be just another human organisation and that it is reasonable to use whatever practices will ensure their vision is fulfilled. So it doesn’t matter if they have the ruthlessness of an organised crime network, the brutality of a vicious union movement, the cunning of a feral spy machine, the arrogance of a tyrannical regime, the indifference of a pandered whore, or the complacency of a selfish princess.

    However, and this is a big however, the questions to be asked are “Is this a house of God?” or “Is this a holy institution?” or “Does it really matter how we deport ourselves?” or “If we are being successful, doesn’t that prove we have a mandate from God?”

    Follow that line of reasoning and then the strategies of the El Quaeda become acceptable, it becomes acceptable to terrorise through flying planes into buildings or going to war with a nation based on deceit, and to use God’s name to justify such conduct.

    Such houses are no longer from God, they are of human contrivance and for human self-aggrandizement and imperialism. They have the rewards of this world, and we can all see what bitter fruits they are.

    They state there is no Daughter of Zion and she has no importance in their theology and thus is not found in their houses. That is true, she does not impose herself upon those who do not want her. Just as she does not impose herself upon Jesus. If he wants her, he can come look for her. If he doesn’t seek her out then he obviously doesn’t want her and she will continue her behind the scenes work drifting in and out of existence as and when required. She won’t trample on his toes so she won’t be found in his house.

  • Matthew Firth says:

    Stephen – I retract and apologise for my post of 6:16pm.

  • Matthew Firth says:

    I have decided not to post on this topic again. I have made the defence of Wycliffe Hall that I wanted to make.

  • stephen bates says:

    Thank you Matthew. I accept your apology and retraction. Be more careful what you allege of others in future.

  • Christian says:

    Stephen: thanks for replying to my comment. I did not question the integrity of your journalism, but implied that your angle on Christian affairs is a very particular one, as Andrew Carey argued in his review of ‘A Church Asunder’. To quote one of your pieces in the Guardian, if the Church of England is a band of ‘invertebrates led by a jellyfish’ your readers must be forgiven for believing that you do not hold a large portion of the church in high regard.

    I’m surprised that you think reference to Ms Butt’s faith is demeaning. The point I made was that she has different areas of interest to yours, something which she highlights on her profile page at the Guardian. I pointed out that she was newly in charge, which can hardly be called inaccurate, though if you can name any other religious affairs chief of a major daily who has only two years experience working for a national newspaper I would be interested. If Ms Butt is of a similar stripe to Dilpazier Aslam, I look forward to more sympathetic coverage in the Guardian of conservative religious perspectives.

  • Stephen B

    Well played

    You might like to refer your journalistic network to the experiences of Australia’s NSW government.

    A couple of scandalous corruptions led to a public outcry and the formation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). It had become clear that organisations had ways of systemically dealing with “whistle blowers” that were not pretty and sometimes down right illegal. There was a need to protect the whistle blowers, which is why the independent body was created.

    One case that ICAC exposed and resolved was in the morturaries. There were a layer of souls who were removing organs (e.g brains) from dead bodies without their families’ knowledge nor consent. The chilling thing is that the souls involved could not see what was wrong, it was a standard practice in their culture.

    Similarly, there are concerns when a college admits it has a clean bill of health but then is unconcerned that nearly two thirds of its staff leave in less than twelve months. It reminds me of Jeremiah 6:14. Apparently there is peace within some halls and the wounds of those who left are not serious…

  • Ford Elms says:

    “Stirring up misleading stereotypes of evangelicals does nothing to help the preaching of the Gospel, and only plays into the hands of enemies of the Church.”

    I speak as someone who has some very nasty stereotypes of Evangelicals that are very hard to fight against, though I do try, with limited success. I would suggest though that Evangelicals examine their own behaviour and, if necessary, stop living up to those stereotypes, since if such behaviour reinforces such stereotpyes in someone like myself who is trying to fight them, how much more effective must it be in those who are only too glad to believe anything bad about Christians? Those whose lives do NOT fit the stereotype might try exhorting their fellow Evangelicals to whom it DOES apply that they try changing their ways. God knows they won’t listen to an EHBL like me.

  • Matthew Firth wrote: “To reiterate, Eeva John has said that the issues at Wycliffe are not theological; an inconvenient truth for the many posters on here who would love to see Wycliffe weighed down by an internal theological disagreement. The reality is that all flavours of evangelical feel welcome here.”

    Obviously not.

    Matthew Firth wrote: “Cheryl Clough – treating people with care, concern and respect is a practice which flows out of every type of Christian theology.”

    It most certainly doesn’t.

    Matthew Firth wrote: “However hard you try, you will not be able to make a sound case that Conservatives are nasty because they think God is a bully and Liberals are nice because they think God is warm and fluffy.”

    Sorry, this is how it looks. And it Quacks too, if you need to be told.

    Matthew Firth wrote: “Again, your post goes off on a wild and volatile tangent and has nothing to do with Wycliffe. To mention words like ‘repression, tyranny and genocide’ in this context is just plain wacky.”

    And this is the proof.

  • Peter says:

    Mr Bates,

    What an extrraordinary and heavy handed way to deal with the suggestion from Matthew. Must I now prepare myself for a threat of court action from you also ?
    You really do need to take a little of the pressure you are more than happy to apply to others.


  • Ford Elms says:

    “extrraordinary and heavy handed way “

    It is a serious thing to tell someone who deals with truth that he is a liar and makes things up and calls it fact. Sorry, no, but this is not a disagreement between two people in which some hot words were said. The accusation was that someone who deals in fact actually does not report fact, but whatever he thinks or wants to say. This is a serious thing to do to a journalist, and I don’t think Steven was heavy handed at all.

  • poppy tupper says:

    Peter, it shows how far out of touch people have become that you can post your last comment. To accuse a religious correspondent of making things up is about as serious a charge against professional ethics as you can make. Stephen Bates was firm, but very charitable in his reply and his requirement of an apology. In my view, Matthew got off very lightly after all his shrill and dogmatic remarks.

  • Thanks Goran

    Ford wrote “…nasty stereotypes of Evangelicals that are very hard to fight against…”

    Priests, get thy houses in order. Put up with the voices that warn souls not to be naïve about priestly corruptions. Be warned, there are dioceses whose “clean face” of the church is so important that they collude to discredit individuals – even if that means destroying their careers and families or suicide. Yet when corruption and tyranny get out of hand God sends messengers to expose corruptions and heal the existing churches or make new ones. Effective ones like Jonah leave no church of their own because they have healed the existing.

    Jeremiah 6:15 “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all….”

    Malachi 1:6 It is you, O priests, who show contempt for God’s name.

    Ezekiel 18 Are God’s ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?”

    Zechariah 4 ” When you fasted and mourned… was it really for God that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? … they refused to pay attention… They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent…”

    Jeremiah 5:31 “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.”

    Obadiah 1:8-15 ““will I not destroy the wise men of Edom… Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame… You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people… in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble…”

    Isaiah 30:9-15 “These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’S instruction. They say to the seers,“ See no more visions !” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! … stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” Therefore… the Holy One of Israel says: “Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like pottery, shattered…””

  • stephen bates says:

    Peter: Your professional and personal reputation may not mean much to you – I don’t know – but it means a great deal to me. If I don’t have trust as a journalist, or if I gain a reputation, casually, for making things up, then my career is undermined. I simply could not allow Matthew’s sweeping allegation, seemingly so lightly made, to go unchallenged. Had I not challenged it, who knows what credibility it might have gained among some who have no charitable thoughts towards my work? It would have been seen as an acknowledgement that the charge had substance, or that I did not care whether it had or not. I am glad Matthew has thought again and withdrawn the insinuation publicly.

  • Simon Cawdell says:

    Eeva John has clarified her Radio 4 interview in detail on the Fulcrum forum.

  • Peter says:

    You might therefore like to moderate your own attacks on the reputation of Christians and their leaders, given your own expressed sensibilities.

    Your articles are heavy with condemnation for the personal and professional conduct of christians

  • Ford Elms says:

    “Christians and their leaders”

    Steven Bates not being a Christian and all! See how easy it is for people like me to hear “Evangelical Christian” whenever Evangelicals use the word “Christian”? It’s these little slips of the tongue that show that you DO actually think that only those like you are Christians and the rest of us are not. I have more respect for the Pentecostals of my youth who came right out and said it than I do for those Anglicans who don’t think I’m a Christian but pretend otherwise.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    This is a very instructive set of comments. The interaction with Stephen Bates has taught us something about how we interact with the press.

    Eeva John’s gracious decision to elaborate her comments on the Fulcrum forum gives us a chance to compare what she says with what has been said by her various interpreters.

    Applied to the interpretation of scripture, and developed into the key pastoral skill of listening (or whatever the blogging equivalent is – suggestions please), these lessons could usefully inform a whole generation of pastors and preachers.

    Thanks to Eeva and Stephen for their contributions. [NB this post does not necessarily mean I agree with what they say, just in case you thought it did].

  • Robert says:

    “If your theology is oblivious or inconsiderate of the holy spark within each soul; then there is no problem with being rude, arrogant or accusatory.”

    Does this include comparing the leadership of Wycliffe Hall to Nazi war criminals, Cheryl?

  • Matthew B says:

    Robert: if this is a reference to Elaine Storkey’s supposed comment it has already been acknowledged to be false. The damaging intervention and retraction of Jonathan Aitken, from where this orginated earlier in the summer, was nothing other than a disaster for those who shipped him in to write propaganda.

    I’m puzzled though why there should be disagreement between Anglican Mainstream staff and the Principal. Theologically they must be in agreement on the Covenant. On the Fulcrum site there are some interesting posts about the way in which politics has now come to dominate conservative evangelical practice: the male priests and lecturers who direct their agenda tend to meet behind closed doors, with very little consultation of the institutions or congregations they are supposed to represent. I can only imagine that the secrecy surrounding these departures is related to a potential tribunal involving the Fulcrum Three; as Eeva suggests, until the voices involved are heard it is very difficult to get a rounded story.

    Might it be too much to say that this has some roots in the botched process surrounding female ordination in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which politicised the Church of England in ways that are now becoming all too clear? Talk of ‘capturing the theological colleges’ and being aware of their ‘strategic nature’ in defeating your enemies is pretty unambigious political gaming, and would be the sort of approach one hoped to hear at Sandhurst rather than in the educational hierarchy of the C of E.

  • poppy tupper says:

    robert, i missed the post that compared the leadership of WH to nazi war criminals (if that is what it said), and, of course, the two are not the same. but you can’t get around the fact that the nazis persecuted gay people and denied them their human rights, and that the leadership of WH also judges gay people who live a fully realised sexual life, and it denies them equal rights with heterosexual people. now, there’s a long journey between the two positions, but there’s a real philosophical link. we need to be very careful to learn the lessons of history. there are more ways of persecuting people that putting them into death camps.

  • poppy tupper says:

    my last post on this has not been accepted, but i’m not going to give up, robert. you take exception to likening the leadership of WH to nazi war criminals. they are not, of course. but they are on a continuum. there is a link in this site to an article by giles fraser, who says:

    No: the struggle for the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the life of the church is a frontline battle in the war against global religious fascism. Robert Mugabe has called homosexuals “worse than dogs and pigs”. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government denies that gay people exist in Iran, and hangs the ones it finds. The Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria thinks homosexuality “evil” and “cancerous”. There can be no compromise with any of this, irrespective of whether it is backed up by dodgy readings of holy texts or not.

    the leadership of WH are not innocent of this charge.

  • Hi Robert

    This verse and voice came through from Sojourners the other day:

    “[Those] courageous in disposition and strong in will, live with the weak and share their lives in their desire to save them. And, to be sure, they are censured by people on the outside and mocked by those who see them spending their lives with people less disciplined. [Their behavior] is like the Lord’s for the Lord ate with tax collectors and sinners. Their attitude is characterized by brotherly love rather than self-love for they regard those who sin as houses on fire; giving no thought to their own interests, they apply their efforts to save what belongs to others…. Good people have placed their own possessions second to the salvation of others. This is the sign of genuine love. These people are the custodians of pure love.

    – Life of Syncletica
    Quoted in Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life by Hugh Feiss”

    Those who refuse to recognise the holy fire in others are more likely to justify repression and genocide attempts. Which theology refuses to acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice ending all curses? Or justifies the continuing accusations and repression against a whole gender group based on a mythical female’s possible actions? Or participates in censorship and cleansing to purify itself?

    A theology that does cling to curses, continues to vilify, censor and repress sounds more like what the Nazis would do than what, say Gandhi, would do?

    Is your theology about forgiveness, redemption, inclusiveness and unconditional love? Then the comments are irrelevant.

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