Changing an organisation’s purpose: abuse of power by senior midwives and clerics
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
What is a midwife for? Not long ago, almost everyone would have said something like “to help women give birth to healthy living babies”. But the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, Cathy Warwick, insists that the priority for midwives is not the life of the baby but to help women achieve their life choices.
Of course it may be that the woman’s choice and the baby’s right to life coincide. But if they don’t, ie if the woman wants to abort her baby, even up to term, then according to the ideology behind Cathy Warwick’s statements, the woman’s choice trumps the baby’s right to life.
Assuming that there are many other midwives who share Ms Warwick’s views, we now have a situation where two groups of people in the same vital profession have completely opposite understandings of their vocation and purpose. For one group, the reason for their existence is to bring new life into the world. For others, their role is to facilitate the choices of adults even if it means destroying a new life.
So midwives can wear the same uniform and receive the same salary but be utterly divided from one another in terms of their philosophy of life, their worldview. One could see this as merely a problem of conflict management, of ensuring continued harmony within the organization, making sure that any rows between the pro life and pro choice factions are kept behind closed doors so as not to bring the NHS into disrepute. Or it could be seen as evidence of a crisis of self-understanding within the organization and indeed within wider culture. Can a civilization survive if it has at its heart such profoundly different understandings of what it means to be a human being, and about the nature and purpose of life itself? Of course to allow both views, the ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ equal value, is impossible. One must be dominant, and increasingly squeeze out the other.
The same thing is happening in the Christian church. Some hold to the traditional view of the church’s mission and purpose. It starts with God, his existence, his creative power, his ultimate authority. Human beings, though sinful and rebellious against God’s sovereignty, are graciously invited to share in the life of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and in doing so they develop communities of redemption and mission, proclaiming the Gospel message and working for the wellbeing of all.
Others believe that as (they think) the Bible is unreliable and its interpretation disputed, and experience and understanding of God appears to be subjective and variable, we cannot put these things at the heart of our faith. Rather we must start with human beings, (particularly healthy adults as they are more articulate and shout louder), their wants and needs, at the centre of the church’s focus and allow our understanding of God to emerge as we engage with the world and try to do what we think is right.
Of course there are times when the emphasis on the worship of God and proclamation of his word, and work for the good of humanity coincide. Those who put the revealed God of the Scriptures first, and those who put human self-determination first can say the same words in church services, have mutual respect and shared interests, and even work together on some projects. But just as in midwifery, the freedom of an adult to choose what appears beneficial and convenient at some point comes into direct conflict with the right of a child to live, so too in spiritual terms the freedom of human beings to live life in ways that they think will make them happy sometimes directly contradicts the right of the Lord of creation to ownership of our lives and our destinies. This is what the story of Genesis 3 is about.
Recent events in the Church of England are examples of these different worldviews manifesting themselves. In the Diocese of Oxford, the acting Bishop (soon to hand over to the new Bishop Stephen Croft) gave permission for a clergywoman to officiate at the celebration of a same sex marriage in South Africa. In response to many complaints. the reasoning was first, that the clergywoman was requested to carry out her role by the family. Second, because the House of Bishops’ statement of 15th February 2014 allows for
“more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple…”.
Many complaints to the Bishop have pointed out that the media reports showed the event as looking like a same sex marriage blessed by the Anglican Church, and that the same Bishops’ Statement goes on to say
any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided.
The response from the Diocese of Oxford has been to simply deny that the ceremony on Cape Town had anything to do with a wedding or blessing, and that though strong views on both sides are being expressed on both sides during the “Conversations” process, the important thing is the courtesy with which we disagree with one another. Like other Bishops in the C of E, the acting Bishop of Oxford sees his role as a referee, keeping the peace between the “pro-God’s authority” faction and the “pro human autonomy” group. It would perhaps be unfair to say that he, and others like him, have prioritized church unity over truth, and perhaps more accurate to say that for them, unity in the form of good relationships is truth, rather than what the Bible and/or official church doctrine may or may not say.
In Liverpool, Bishop Paul Bayes has not attempted to play the role of referee or mediator but is actively campaigning on the side of the revisionists. In the same way that Cathy Warwick has used her position of power to try to force her organization to become radically ‘pro-choice’, riding roughshod over the consciences of those who take an opposite, traditional view about the role of midwives, so Bayes is using his position as Bishop to promote the LGBT agenda, simply brushing off those who protest. In his sermon at the Eucharist for LGBTIQ Christians in Liverpool last June, he shows clearly what his understanding of mission to be. [Listen to audio here, read transcript here].
The rapid changes in attitudes to sex and marriage in the West are, according to Bayes, to be interpreted as God doing a new thing, and the church is “trying to work out how to respond to what God seems to be doing”. Traditional Christians want to respond with ‘hedges of righteousness’, but the example of ‘the welcome of Jesus’ shows that the church should be responding to the sexual revolution with ‘an open table’. The direction of mission, then, according to Bayes, should be from the world, where people are understanding God’s love expressed in sexual freedom, to the church where people are still wanting to have controls and restrictions. The agents of mission in this account are the LGBT community. To the group meeting for the Communion service Bayes says:
“the love that you share, and the openness that you manifest, give that as a gift to the wider church.”
He also speaks of the adopted child of a lesbian couple as representing an eschatological future: “a people where there are no fences, and of an open community where people are welcome”.
Bayes is still seen in some quarters as an ‘evangelical’. As a result he has been serving as the vice-chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Group on Evangelism and Mission for the Church of England. Meanwhile the Diocese of Liverpool has been developing strong links with the Diocese of Virginia (TEC); Bishop Susan Goff has been appointed as ‘visiting assistant Bishop’, to the dismay of orthodox groups in England, and Liverpool’s other link Diocese of Akure in Nigeria (who have recently broken off the link).
On Sunday 29th May, as Bayes was returning from a TEC and Canada-funded ‘continuing Indaba’ conference in Ghana, Canon Jeffrey John Dean of St Albans, well-known for his advocacy of a change to the church’s doctrine on sex and marriage, preached a sermon in Liverpool Cathedral in which, he claimed that Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant showed an endorsement of a gay relationship. Ian Paul has shown how John’s sermon is not just based on appalling exegesis but appears to be saying that the church should welcome and bless any sexual relationship even an exploitative, pederastic one.
Bishop Paul Bayes and Dean Jeffrey John are doing the same with the Church of England as Cathy Warwick is doing with the Royal College of Midwives. They insist that the primary purpose of the organization is to facilitate the choices of adults, without regard for the consciences of those who say it’s about God and babies, and who cannot accept the potentially destructive nature of these choices. They know that they are in positions of power and influence within their own institutions – they have control over policy, and the employment security of those who work in the profession. They also know that they are backed by a powerful ideology that has taken hold of the culture. They know that most people in their field came into it not to fight, but to help people, so they are less likely to create serious opposition; they have got on their side others in authority, tasked with protecting the values of the organization but who in practice see their role as mediating between different opinions.
What does a midwife opposed to abortion do now? What does a clergyman in Liverpool Diocese with an orthodox understanding of the Gospel do now? Given the trajectory set by the new vision of the leadership, major decisions need to be made in the near future about the balance between professional survival in an organization rapidly changing its basic self-understanding, and attending to conscience under God.