So has Bishop Dakin acted correctly?

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?’ 













2 thoughts on “So has Bishop Dakin acted correctly?

  1. I’m not comfortable with either Decision of +Inwood or +Dakin.. Not because they should have taken a modernist, liberal viewpoint, but because they were made in the light of HoB teaching and doctrine, which is actively being openly discussed across the Church. Surely, instead of making it a No, they could have just pended their decision, until the outcome of the conversation process and a debate and vote at General Synod. That would perhaps have allowed some form of consensus to emerge on the issue of ministry of all LGBT Priests or Ministers, who wish to legalise their relationship through marriage.

    I won’t be voting on the CT’s referendum as I would prefer not to be judgmental on another’s actions, in good conscience – surely that judgment is reserved for a much higher authority than mine.

  2. I believe the system we actually have in the C of E allows for considerable life, growth and flourishing, partly because it is extremely light touch. Mission Creep beyond a very sparing application of power in a very constitutional way is usually, I have found, unwise.

    I don’t know all the interiorities of this particular decision (though at first sight a lot about it seems perverse) but I can be accountable to my colleagues about my own decision making with PTO’s.

    (1) I am not the Mikado, just a tradesman in Gd’s service with my colleagues

    (2) PTO is very basic. It is often maintained into extreme old age to cover minimal acts of service, but to sustain the recognition of ministry beyond the “doing” phase of life — think of Pope JP2. Among other things, PTO can only be exercised at the invitation of the person having cure of souls locally, so it is fairly drastic to withdraw or withhold it. I have done so on a very small number of occasions — about 3 come to mind out of some 1200 decisions I’ve made about this down the years. On all 3 occasions there was open scandal or safeguarding concern backed by professional judgment involved. I give PTO to all kinds of people who may have done things I personally disapprove of, or whose theology I strongly disagree with. As long as their convictions are genuine and within the range set by the Creeds, I grant PTO.

    (3) It is indeed entirely discretionary to the bishop, and the Old Adam in me says “You’ve got the power — use it! use it often!” The Mind of Christ, however, points out that there is no appeal from my decision short of Judicial review (because no employment is normally involved). Therefore I become less not more Freebooting about it. Would my decision stand up to judicial review? Could I be accountable to God through the body of christ, especially the clergy person concerned, about the grounds of my decision? I need a higher not a lower standard of proof for a decision about which there are precious few grounds of appeal. Therefore the benefit of the doubt must always go to the sister or brother concerned.

    I hope this all makes sense, and am always open to developing my awareness of what Im doing in ministry, including about the granting of PTO…

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