The Green Report and Episcopal Leadership

So the Green Report wasn’t discussed at General Synod.

I think this was a significant mistake.

It was also unfortunate that HSBC, and Lord Green, hit the news whilst synod met, forcing Archbishops Justin and John to issue a joint statement in which they stressed that the report stands on ‘its own merit’ with the efficacy of its analysis, and recommendations, being distinct from any issues surrounding Lord Green.

I have some sympathy with the separation principle (even if it was clearly manufactured in the light of events), although, I have always argued that the report does not ‘stand on its own merit.’  However uncomfortable it might make us feel it is theoretically possible for someone whose standards we might want to place under the lens of scrutiny to produce a credible piece of work.

Before proceeding I would like to make it clear, and I have repeatedly made this point prior to recent news headlines, that I strongly believe that the recommendations are a reflection of a system that values and delivers ‘alpha leaders’ and, that the recommendations are far too generic, simplistic and, likely to produce leaders ‘moulded in plastic,’ rather  than ‘tested in fire.’ I also believe that’our’ leadership is far too easily impressed by status and money; hence the choice of Lord Green as lead author.

Having said all this my current concern is that the bishops seem determined to impose the report on the Church of England come what may. Now it may be that the ‘myriad, myriad’, voices singing out in criticism of the report are wrong and that the Bishops are right in their analysis, however, this misses the point, for the nature of the debate has shifted.

Lord Green and his fellow authors were asked, on behalf of the House of Bishops, to consider how talent may best be identified and, subsequently trained. This they did (inappropriately in the opinion of many). Given the attitude of the bishops the question now facing the Church of England is how should episcopal authority be exercised?

This is a question for the entirety of the Church, not just the bishops. I can’t help but wonder whether the bishops handling of the Green Report shines a light into how the bishops currently believe they should exercise leadership, and authority, more generally.

The bishops’ line of argument is that because the selection and training of clergy is their prerogative the report does not need to come before synod. An adjunct to this line of reasoning is that the funds for clergy training come from a budget over which synod has no, direct, control. Both parts of the argument are technically and legally correct.

BUT!

But, this doesn’t mean that the bishops shouldn’t a) consult widely and, b) seek to secure the good will of the majority – even if the majority (i.e. the clergy and the laity) are wrong in their analysis.

In fact theChristian leadership tradition’ suggests that it is judicious to consult as widely as possible and, to gain the highest possible level of assent, especially when making decisions reserved for a particular set of post-holders. Christian logic is frequently counter intuitive (and this is why it won’t be taught it on the majority of MBA courses!)

Let’s have a look at the ‘Christian leadership tradition’ drawing on the Rule of Benedict and, the ordinal.

In chapter 3 of his rule Benedict acknowledges that some decisions can only be taken by the most senior member of the community. Accordingly he places two obligations on the abbot or abbess:

  • when any business of importance is to be considered in the monastery, the abbot or abbess should summon the whole community together and,
  • the community should be summoned for such consultation because it often happens that the Lord makes the best course clear to one of the younger members. Benedict endorses, and actively seeks out, the ‘wisdom of youth.’ Does the Church?

Benedict also tells his audience that it is only ‘when questions of lesser importance arise in the concerns of the monastery,that the abbot or abbess should consult with seniors alone.’ 

If we accept Benedict’s logic and apply it –   reasoning by analogy – to the ‘discussions’ around the Green Report we can only presume that the House of Bishops regard the identification and development of the next generation of leaders as a matter of ‘lesser importance!’ Matters to be discussed by the bishops alone.

The ordinal is a work of genius!

The Bishop asks two questions of absolute importance prior to exercising the episcopal prerogative to ordain:

The first is ‘have those whose duty it is to know these ordinands and examine them found them to be of godly life and sound learning?’ This can be viewed as the consultative question for it assumes that the ordinands vocation has been scrutinised by a wide body of opinion. Whose duty was it to scrutinise the Green Report on behalf of the bishops?

The second question – the question of assent – is addressed to the laity: ‘brothers and sisters (note the language of equality) you have heard how great is the charge that these ordinands are ready to undertake, and you have heard their declarations. Is it now your will that they should be ordained?’ 

Ordination presupposes consultation and assent; so why, reasoning by extension, shouldn’t other reserved powers, such as the development of those clerics identified for future senior leadership positions? Such decisions are too important to be taken in some form of episcopal vacuum.

The House of Bishops has the power to impose the Green Report on the Church of England. But, to do so would stand contrary to the Christian Leadership Tradition. 

If the Green Report is imposed leadership itself will be undermined and that would be deeply ironic given the report’s stated aims.

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