Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, has asked a “systemic question” on Facebook this morning in the context of the news that Peter Ball, former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, has been arrested on suspicion of child abuse. Bishop Alan wonders what contribution Reactionary Sexist Culture and Inequality expressing itself in a hierarchy that took itself too seriously makes to this terrible story?
I think there are many ingredients in the culture of church and society that create the conditions in which individuals abuse children. Sexual and emotional immaturity or damage from childhood is one factor and the abuser having been the victim of abuse is another. The culture of collusion, secrecy and denial of reality in the Church is another contributory factor.
Comments on the thread offer additional insights
One comment asks whether the ‘Father knows best’ attitude of (often gay) mysogynistic priests and the ‘headship of men’ attitudes towards women leads inexorably to a culture of impunity which allows power, including sexual power to be exercised over others?
Yes, I think it does. This is another contributing factor, especially in the diocese of Chichester, but generally in the Church of England. Archbishops have been known to try and manipulate General Synod over women in the episcopate and bishops tell me that Archbishops can be abusive and manipulative in the House of Bishops. Mysogynistic attitudes characterises some of those opposed to the ordination of women.
Another comment reminds us that Chichester was also found to be overlooking sexual abuse of disabled and vulnerable women, not just children and young people.
Bishop Alan asks what contribution reactionary sexist culture and inequality make. For all the good work that is done in parts of the Church of England, at Deanery and General Synod level I meet people, usually self-styled “traditionalists” from Forward in Faith, Reform, Anglican Mainstream, and other conservative lobby groups, who are arguing for values which are sexist, misogynistic, unequal, and reactionary. These attitudes are incorporated into the systemic culture of Church and they are too little examined.
Others have commented very defensively
A “traditionalist” says it would be a very, very cheap shot if Bishop Alan is seeking to suggest this has something to do with a traditionalist theological outlook. Well, I repeatedly encounter exactly these attitudes from those claiming the traditionalist label.
The “traditionalist” thinks that the whole gay culture within Anglicanism and especially Anglo Catholicism is the real issue. He says that often quite promiscuous and immoral behaviour is overlooked because a different standard exists for gay people than for straight people. It creates a space in which dealing with things is impossible because people pretended not to know things that most people did in fact know. Michael Arditti’s novel Easter deals with this sub-culture in the diocese of London.
In the news today are reports of abuse and wicked attitudes and behaviour by Christians, Christians who claim to hold to the unchanging truth and to occupy the moral high ground. I’m referring to the Christian support for the anti-gay marriage bill in Nigeria and the Bahati anti-gay bill in Uganda.
The culture of the world’s major religions in the second decade of the 21st century are still characterised by power, control, domination, violence, and outdated rites and rituals. The patriarchal way of dealing with reality still predominates, seeking to control from the top down.
Many of you reading this will be living into an experience of the multi-dimensional nature of creation, involving body and mind, perception and feeling, reason and emotion, intuitive, encountering the Creator in contemplative stillness. You will have a holistic awareness of the inner unity that holds our diversity in a life force which is forever revealing deep patterns of coherence.
It’s an entirely different awareness of the holiness of God from those Christians abusing vulnerable children and adults or pursuing a hate-filled vendetta against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda, Nigeria and elsewhere.
The ultimate answer to Bishop Alan’s questions about sexism and inequality and other systemic ingredients of the Church which allow abuse to occur is to work patiently and constructively for a radical movement in the Church into a more profound spiritual awareness and a more open, transparent culture immersed in the infinite love and goodness of God. There is no other way.