Referendum questions are interesting things! One of the peculiarities with referendums (is referendums the plural of referendum?) is that exact specification of the question isn’t established until fairly late in the day; first the issue, and then the question.
In today’s Church Times readers are asked to vote on the following question: ‘Has Bishop Dakin operated correctly?’ (Is this the first time that the actions of a bishop have been turned into a ‘referendum question?’ Am I alone in feeling quite uncomfortable with an online vote from the readership at large, the vast majority of whom have no connection with Winchester Diocese? Anyway……)
I won’t be voting, partly because I am not sure I understand the question; it is a bit vague, lacking in specification. I am not sure it would pass muster as a referendum question. My problem is that I don’t know what is meant by the term ‘correctly.’
Are voters being asked to assess whether Bishop Tim has acted ‘correctly’ from a techno-legal perspective. Or are readers being asked to decide on whether his actions are ethically sound? Maybe we are being asked to assess his ‘correctness’ in relation to how he exercises his leadership?
Let’s consider a few more issues in relation to the word ‘correct:’
Is ‘correct’ to be regarded as absolute term, or can ‘correctness’ be contextual and relative? If ‘correct’ is an absolute term then would it stand to reason, that any actions by another individual faced with the same, or a similar, situation, yet who came to a different decision were, de facto, ‘incorrect?’
Are ‘correctness’ and consistency overlapping terms? This is certainly what Ian Paul suggests (or at least the CT’s use of quotes from his blog infers).
‘If the action here involves hypocrisy, then the fault lies not with Tim Dakin in Winchester, but with the liberal Nick Holtam in Salisbury.’ Ian, as reported in the C.T., goes on to argue that ‘for the most part, whatever else their faults (and I would be intrigued to know the nature of ‘their faults’) evangelicals (presumably not all evangelicals for surely evangelicalism is not defined solely in relation to issues in human sexuality?) have been consistent in opposition to same-sex sexual relationships, in speech and action.’ The C.T. reports Ian as suggesting that a varied ‘piecemeal approach,’ was leading to ‘anarchy.’
I am not so convinced that ‘correctness’ and consistency are correlated. My own view is that it is entirely reasonable to argue that both +Tim and +Nick have ‘acted correctly.’ Hear me out!
Bishop Richard Inwood, under examination, conceded during the employment tribunal brought by Jeremy Pemberton that he had discretion to either grant, or not grant, a license to Jeremy Pemberton. He chose not to and the appeal confirmed that he was acting entirely within his rights.
Equally Bishop Tim is acting within his rights, and so is Bishop Nick, in their decisions to either grant, or refuse to grant, Permission to Officiate to Canon Jeremy Davies.
Looked at through the techno-legal lens ‘correct’ is not a binary issue. One bishops ‘correctness’ does not equate to another bishops ‘incorrectness.’ The fact that bishops have discretion also means that ‘correctness’ is not contingent on consistency.
Whether +Tim (and +Nick) are ‘correct’ from an ethical point of view also depends……it depends on the ethical decision making process. Both Bishops would presumably argue that they employ a theologically robust methodology, both would also, again presumably, take issue with the other’s approach.
Finally I would suggest that whether +Tim and +Nick are ‘correct’ depends on your view of (episcopal) leadership.
If the ‘job’ of a bishop is to lead a diocese where a varied an ‘piecemeal approach’ is to be avoided at all costs, lest it leads to ‘anarchy’ and, where the individual views of a particular bishop are of paramount importance then of course Bishop Tim is ‘correct.’
If, by contrast, leadership is diffused, the vast majority of decisions are taken at the lowest effective point, and the theological convictions of the bishop on a range of ‘second order’ issues are just one voice among many, then Bishop Tim is incorrect, and Bishop Nick is ‘correct.’
The principle of devolving decision making to the lowest effective point (subsidiarity) is one the Bishops called for in their pre-election pastoral letter: ‘Who is my Neighbour.’
The Bishops, in their analysis of the socio-political landscape, stressed that society is a ‘community of communities.’
Shouldn’t a diocese also be regarded a community of different communities, bound in unity through each community’s affirmation of the creed and, participation in the sacraments?
So is +Tim correct? I would answer both yes and no.
Yes, he has acted correctly from a techo-legal perspective (but so has +Nick). Is he ‘correct’ from an ethical perspective? Well, that depends on how you ‘do’ your Christian ethics. Is he ‘correct’ in his style of leadership? Again this depends on your model of leadership and acceptance of the principle of subsidiarity.
Perhaps one persons ‘anarchy’ is another persons ‘subsidiarity?’