Saturday, 16 June 2007

Conservative Evangelicals publish diocesan scoreboard

Following the publication of the Furlong Table, ranking dioceses according to the number of women employed and the number of female 'senior clergy', the Benn Table has now been published ranking dioceses according to the number of their Conservative Evangelical bishops. The results are as follows:

1st: Chichester
Number of Conservative Evangelical Bishops: 1
Change in position since 2000: 0

2nd (equal): Oxford, St.Albans, Ely, Worcester, Leicester, Southwark, Ripon, Durham, Liverpool, Hereford, Peterborough, Salisbury, Wakefield, Truro, Sheffield, Southwell, Norwich, Derby, St.Edms & Ipswich, Chelmsford, Lincoln, Manchester, Gloucester, Bath & Wells, Canterbury, York, London, Newcastle, Coventry, Guildford, Bradford, Lichfield, Chester, Birmingham, Rochester, Carlisle, Exeter, Bristol, Portsmouth, Winchester, Sodor and Man, Blackburn
Number of Conservative Evangelical Bishops: 0
Change in position since 2000: 0

A further table is planned for comparison in 2012, though if Bishop Benn has retired by then it will make for a great improvement, since all the dioceses will move to first (equal).


David Hey said...

Very good but I am not sure how useful this is. Only Reform activists are recognised as conservative evangelicals and all other evangelicals are presumably liberal, open or conservative. This negates a common evangelical identity. It also excudes James Jones despite his support of Richard Turnbull. I wonder how you view Tony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood and former rector of Holy Trinity, Platt Fields, Manchester. The anaysis on the Church Society website is more comprehensive and Other mainline evangelicals include David Gillett at Bolton and David Atkinson at Thetford.

Revd John P Richardson said...

I'm not sure the Church Society website paints a more encouraging picture! I notice the breakdown of diocesan bishops says,

9% are traditional catholics (4).
27% are open or liberal evangelicals (a few are morally conservatives) (12).
39% are liberal catholic (a few morally conservative) (17).
14% are revisionists or radical liberals (6).
11% I don’t know enough about to form a judgement (5).

I based my (tongue-in-cheek) suggestion partly on the comments of two bishops: David Hawkins of Barking, who is an evangelical, and who has commented on the fact that, according to him, when the bishops meet as a group and want a Conservative Evangelical opinion they all turn to Wallace Benn, and Wallace Benn, who agrees with David Hawkins. So it isn't just a personal estimate!

These days, I think a Conservative Evangelical must be considered as one who 'conserves' the position stated in the 1977 NEAC Statement, that "Leadership in the church should be plural and mixed. Ultimate responsiblity should normally be singular and male." (J6)

Thus when David Gillett wrote an article in New Directions in December 2006 (, in which he argued for women's ordination basically from Gal 3:28, he was consciously departing from his own, earlier, view, which would have been that of the Nottingham Statement. This does not make him a bad man (though I don't personally think it was good exegesis), but on this critical issue he has moved away from Conservative Evangelicalism - a position which, incidentally, is still meant to be honoured within the Church of England.

As to the "common evangelical identity", I have an article somewhere by John Martin (erstwhile editor of the Church of England Newspaper) from years ago, questioning whether such a thing still existed. See also Graham Kings' Canal, River, Rapids article on the Fulcrum website.

Having said all that, I think there is probably room for another Evangelical 'brand' which is neither Conservative (on women's ordination) nor Open. I think someone like Michael Nazir-Ali might fit in there. I would also refer you to my 'Personal Perspective on Women Priests' on the Ugley Vicar blog.

Anonymous said...


John Foxe.

PS I think you've made the case against episcopacy for me!

Anonymous said...

Hasn't David Atkinason come out in favour of homosexual relations?


Revd John P Richardson said...

Specifically on the views of David Atkinson, the Bishop of Thetford, he wrote to David Banting in 2004 to question Reform's approach on the sexuality issue. David asked me to look at the letter and his reply. In that letter, inter alia, the Bishop wrote that, regarding 1 Corinthians 11, "It is therefore at least arguable that loving, faithful, stable, same-sex friendships which reflect something of the character of God are not within his [Paul's] sights here. In other words this is still very much a matter for prayerful and careful and respectful debate, not for closing down the issue."

He is also highly critical of Robert Gagnon's work and his conclusions.

He concludes, "You will, I trust, see why I cannot agree with you that 'the issue of homosexual relationships is fundamental'."

This, I think, would rule him out as a Conservative Evangelical.

Blair said...

Hello John,

would understand if you said you're sick of talking about this issue, but am wondering if you would be willing to expand a bit on David Atkinson's criticisms of Robert Gagnon? (I haven't forgotten that I said I'd write more about what I was calling 'reasonable doubts' around Dr Gagnon's work and maybe I will take the time to do so at some point.) It would also be interesting to hear how David Banting replied - but I'm incurably nosy and realise this is personal correspondence!

in friendship, Blair

Timothy said...

JR, you said:

These days, I think a Conservative Evangelical must be considered as one who 'conserves' the position stated in the 1977 NEAC Statement, that "Leadership in the church should be plural and mixed. Ultimate responsiblity should normally be singular and male." (J6)

That seems an odd place at which to draw the line - although I am not sure that I disagree. Someone who is not 'conserving' the historic teaching on gender roles and offices within the church has probably already sold off a fair amount of the family silver (although - thanks to God's preserving grace - people are wonderfully inconsistent), but it is hardly the most important part of the heritage to conserve.

Maybe then we need to think in slightly broader terms, and think in terms of, say "orthodox evangelicals" (I am sure that that term can be improved) which would be focused around holding to a couple of the fairly key points like: the entire truthfulness of Holy Scripture; the work of Christ on the cross understood in penal substitutionary terms, and the centrality of proclamation evangelism in the mission of the church.

(And then conservative evangelicalism would be a group within that - marked out by things like holding to the historic orthodox line on gender roles.)

I just worry that we are in danger of focusing ever more on who is in and who is out of 'our' group - which is not to see that we should not be concerned about right doctrine (I wish that we were more so) - instead of relating to people who are basically orthodox (but with whom we may disagree on certain issues) as family members with whom we are 'on the same side'.

Revd John P Richardson said...

I've suggested the line about 'Conservative Evangelical' and leadership in the Church because it does seem to be a bit of a watershed. It also seems to be a key factor in senior appointments - ie it seems nobody gets a senior appointment above Archdeacon who doesn't agree with women's ordination. (Even though this is strictly against the wording of the 1993 Act of Synod.)

However, I recognise the need for something between 'Conservative' and 'Open', not least because of the hostility mistrust that now exists between those who are avowedly in these camps. (Indeed, I would suggest 'hostility to Conservative Evangelicals' is pretty much part of what it means to be an 'Open Evangelical'.)

I think the term 'Mainstream Evangelical' would ring the right sort of bells. I would describe this as someone who is Evangelical in the 'usual places' but not an opponent of women's ordination/congregational leadership, and who recognizes a political affinity with Conservative Evangelicals over the issues currently dividing the Anglican Communion.

Please see this as a 'rule of thumb', not as an exhaustive description!

Revd John P Richardson said...

There was a request to see what David Atkinson said about Robert Gagnon. Given that this is pretty neutral staff (ie with no 'embarrassment potential' for anyone as far as I can tell) I've copied it below:

"You refer to Gagnon's major work on this question. The exegesis may be 'exhaustive' but the conclusions he draws from it go beyond exegesis in a number of very unsatisfactory ways, as various evangelical and other critics have pointed out. In summary, his argument is that there is clear, strong and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin, and there are no valid hermeneutical arguments for overriding the Bible's authority on this matter. Anatomical, sexual and procreative complementarity of male and female is, he says, clear and convincing proof of God's will for sexual unions. Same-sex intercourse constitutes an inexcusable rebellion against the intentional design of the created order. It degrades the participants when they
disregard nature's obvious clues, and results in destructive consequences for them as well as for society as a whole. It is the complementarity of male and female in material creation which, he claims, is a key argument in early Judeo-Christian opposition to same sex intercourse. Gagnon argues for the revelatory authority of the Bible on an issue of moral practice that the Bible strongly and consistently condemns as grounds for exclusion from the redeemed community of God; he points to the witness of nature in the complementarity of male and female sex organs as the most unambiguous clue people have of God's intent for gender pairing, apart from direct revelation from the Bible; he argues from experience, reason and science.

However, Gagnon's book leaves some major questions unanswered:

Does he not claim too much in his insistence that Paul is referring to the anatomical and procreative complementarity of male and female (p. 254). St Paul says nothing about anatomy at all: that is Gagnon reading into the text. If the sexual use of the male penis only belongs with the female vagina, then even within heterosexual marriage any manual, oral or anal sexual behaviour should be ruled out. Many Christians may well wish to say that it should be - but I have heard no one argue that such behaviour excludes such heterosexual people from the kingdom of God, nor is it grounds for dividing the church. Most people leave matters like this to private conscience. Likewise, anatomy makes clear that the female breast is for giving milk to a baby. But even within the Scriptures (Song of Songs) there is recognition that there is an acceptable 'sexual use' of the breast for pleasure. Gagnon does not seem to have much place for the use of the body for pleasure.

Further, does Gagnon claim far too much in his argument from Gen 1. 26 and 27 that 'the fullness of God's image comes together in the union of male and female in marriage'. This does not give much space for single people - nor for our unmarried Lord himself. Further, Gagnon wants to link being made in the divine image with 'procreative purpose' (p.58), (linking Gen 1 26 and 27 with Gen 1. 28) - but Jesus does not make any reference to Gen 1. 28 in his reference to 1. 26,27 in Mark 10 and Matt 19. There is something about the importance of being in the divine image, whether we are male or female, which cannot be reduced to procreative capacity. And there are important sexual dimensions to the celibate life to which Gagnon does not refer at all.

Gagnon's concentration on what he calls 'homosexual practice' gives no recognition to the fact that, to some extent at least, context determines the moral value of actions. (This is accepted in the heterosexual context: married sexual love is not the same as rape). He does not consider the whole debate between essentialism and constructivism in our understanding of sexuality, and the huge amount of responsible work done on social construct theories. He also seems often to use the emotionally weighted concept of 'revulsion' against homosexual practice, which - though many people may agree with him - is not part of the exegesis of any of the texts.

Gagnon moves from exegesis of texts referring to certain actions to the pastoral care of Christian people within the Church, without recognising that a large number of issues other than sexual behaviour are involved for Christian homosexual people in the contemporary context. Where is there any recognition of the very long tradition of same sex friendships - some celebrated within the church - which is documented for example in Alan Bray's recent major study.

In other words, I believe that to rely so heavily on Gagnon without taking note of serious biblical and theological criticism of his work weakens your position considerably

Anonymous said...

Thank you for update on Atkinson. He used to count as a conservative evangelical, but here he seems to echo the late, former evangelical then gay activist Michael Vasey.
I think some of his criticisms of Gagnon miss the mark. Gagnon's discussion is highly focused on exegesis. He is not concerned with the psychological dimensions of same-sex 'friendships' - while 'friendship' is a slippery term. After all, I have plenty of 'same-sex friends' but I don't have sex with them! A Roman Catholic, of course, would say that protestants get themselves into all kinds of problems when they start separating the unitive and procreative dimensions of sex (just as when we start eating for pleasure rather than nutrition).
Atkinson is thus disappointing here, and it seems that he has given into a modern psychological approach to mental health. I doubt he could give a reason now why a gay couple shouldn't be bringing up kids together.
I don't know if you read the US blog 'Titusonenine' but there is a US classics prof with the sobriquet 'I'd Rather Not Say' who has developed a very sophisticated argument that acceptance of WO almost inevitably leads to acceptance of gay relationships when function replaces the role of a given sex (gender) in the church.

Anonymous said...

Here's the piece from 'I'd Rather Not Say' on the relationship he discerns between WO and SSUs (on interchangability of sexes):


Blair said...

Hi John,

Thank you for putting in David Atkinson's views on Robert Gagnon's work - I appreciate it.

in friendship, Blair