The Charles Gore Lecture 2006

Structures of Disdain and How they may Might be Redeemed

Lecturer: Bishop Peter Selby

Tuesday, 23rd May 2006 at 6.15 PM

It is a proper tribute to Charles Gore, Canon of Westminster, bishop successively of three dioceses, founder of the Community of the Resurrection and distinguished theologian, that a lecture should be named in his honour. Perhaps it was an even greater tribute that at the time of his appointment as Bishop of Worcester he was thought worthy to be prayed against! 'O Lord, open the eyes of this perjured priest before he becomes a bishop,'1 was the prayer enjoined by one newspaper of the time after Charles Gore's nomination as Bishop of Worcester. I am not aware that any such prayer was proposed in 1997, when my appointment to that office was announced, but whether it was or not, the result is before your eyes. As one of Gore's successors I am especially grateful to the Chapter for the honour of being invited to give this lecture (not least since as Bishop of three dioceses Gore collected quite a list of successors!). 2

I hope it honours Gore's memory for me to use this lecture to raise sharp questions about some decision-making processes in which I have recently been engaged. Inevitably that means I shall need to say enough about the incidents that I have in mind for the reflections to make sense. In different ways the two episodes to which I shall refer have raised intense clashes of values, and that in turn means that I shall be telling things from my point of view, and repeating matters that may already be known to some of you who are gathered here. I can only hope that the reflections which follow the telling justify your enduring whatever in the accounts themselves you find biased or already too well known.

In more than one way Gore's world is not as different from ours as we might suppose. For instance he opens his Belief in God published in 1921 and five years later as the first part of his trilogy, The Reconstruction of Belief3 with these words: 'The world in which we live today can only be described as chaotic in matters of religious belief.' He makes it clear that in his reference to chaos in religious matters he does not have in mind those who are unwilling to think seriously about religious matters or who lack the educational attainment to do so or who, in refuge from the uncertain-ties of the time look to attractive certainties. He is concerned rather to make the point that (in his words)

...wherever men and women are to be found who care about religion and feel its value, and who feel bound, as they say, 'to think for themselves', there we are apt to discover the prevailing note - not the only note, but the prevailing note - to be that of uncertainty and even bewilderment, coupled very often with a feeling of resentment against the Church or against organised religion on account of what is called its 'failure'.4

The words in which Gore describes his context offer a good warning against too ready assumptions that we face a radically new situation, and his attacks on the government because of the concentration camps established during the Boer War will have a similarly contemporary echo in the comments on the Iraq War or perhaps even more the very proper opposition of many in the churches to the treatment of asylum seekers, which formed the subject matter of the last Gore Lecture by Dr Nicholas Sagovsky. True, some of Gore's examples and language demonstrate changes in our context: we would doubtless not put forward Roman Catholicism, let alone Christian Science, as the escape routes chosen by those seeking certainty in an uncertain world; but the fact remains that he lived in a world of religious uncertainty and indeed religious conflict, determined as he was to engage with vigour in the defence of the faith in the uncertain world he had discerned.

Gore's words about his religious context come from the time when he had already resigned the see of Oxford, the third episcopal office he had held. By then he was well known as a person of passionate intellect, a staunch apologist of the Catholic movement within the Church of England, as well as of biblical criticism, against those who would have seen it as an attack on orthodox faith.

His prophetic stance occasioned much controversy and distress for him when, as a Canon of Westminster, he received in 1901 the news of his appointment as Bishop of Worcester. The formal confirmation of his election was challenged by some opposed to his views, and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, failed to give Gore the support that he felt was due to him. So distressed was Gore at the time that it is recorded that he was found kneeling on the hearthrug in his house here in Little Cloister 'sobbing in paroxysms'; I rather doubt that the Chapter of Westminster Abbey has preserved the hearthrug on which Gore wept - who knows whether it might have become a relic? In passing it is interesting, and perhaps amusing, to note that The Times of the day suggested that the ceremony of confirmation of election be abolished given that it had been shown in court that a bishop could be consecrated without it - and a century later the same proposal foundered before the conservatism of the Ecclesiastical Committee, so that this expensive relic of the legislation of Henry VIII persists. Again, the distance separating our world from Gore's is perhaps not as great as we might have supposed.

More seriously, however, this story raises an issue close to my main purpose; for it illustrates the point that legal structures, even ones conceived as a protection against corruption and incompetence, can themselves be an obstruction to the Church's organic life. What Gore experienced at that point, at the hands, in his case, of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, was a disdaining of his own conscientious position. From the standpoint of the Archbishop all that was taking place was his support of the legal structure within which the Church was working. A structure of legality had become, as Gore experienced it, a structure of disdain.

It has been two of my own recent experiences as part of the structure of the Church Commissioners, its Assets Committee and as a representative of that Committee on the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group, that have caused me to raise the same issue about the structures which were deployed in the making of those decisions, as well as to reflect on my own responses and the theological issues involved. At the outset I must stress that it is structures of disdain with which I am concerned; the attitudes of individuals are not in question here - I am clear that all concerned acted in good faith, and that the clashes of values which undoubtedly occurred were entirely about how best to serve the Church and its mission. But structures of disdain cannot continue for ever in existence without at some point bearing fruit in disdainful attitudes; the actions we are compelled to take as a result of the places we occupy within the structures eventually and inevitably mould our consciousness, affecting our attitudes and behaviour in the future. That is why structural issues are important: they change outcomes not only in the matter under examination but in the hearts and minds of those involved. The phrase ' institutional racism' that has come into the language since the Stephen Lawrence enquiry reflects precisely this insight, that if unchallenged, structures of disdain - of which institutional racism is a prominent example - make disdainful behaviour acceptable and inculcate the attitudes that go with it.

One final introductory point is needed before I embark on the specific stories I wish to examine. The events of which we shall speak concern money, the making of money, the guarding of money, the use of money, the spending of money and the investing of money. We are often misled into thinking that money is a commodity like any other, and that the fact that it is money that is the matter being handled is not itself particularly important. But money is without doubt a structural matter, connecting those who manage it to a whole system of exchange, interest, markets and regulation, both national and international. For reasons I shall need to mention, and which are examined in far more detail in the chapter on money in the recent Church of England Doctrine Commission Report, Being Human,5 money therefore structures us, our thinking and behaviour in ways that often elude our consciousness but are pervasive of our life as individuals and as ecclesial institutions. That these stories are about money is no accident; it is not just that we handle money; it moulds us by the structures to which it connects us.

The source of these reflections

The fact that, as you know from the advertisement for it, this lecture originated in events in which I was personally involved carries obvious dangers. My wish is to engage in theological reflection on these events, not to continue them, though for various and predictable reasons the events themselves continue to excite interest and controversy. The events in question were the decision of the Assets Committee to sell the Octavia Hill estates to the highest bidder rather than limiting possible buyers to registered social landlords, and the decision of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to refuse to recommend disinvestment in Caterpillar Inc., despite the wishes of campaigners, of the Anglican Church in Jerusalem, and despite in the end a resolution of the General Synod asking that the EIAG reconsider its decision. My own actions in these matters are a matter of public record: I was in the minority of members of the Assets Committee who voted against the sale that has since been effected. The decisions of the EIAG were unanimous; I was at the meeting and have continued as Deputy Chair of the Group to defend those decisions.

The issues were and remain deeply contentious. The processes surrounding the sale of the Octavia Hill estates were among the most difficult I have ever experienced, and the feelings engendered on both sides of the argument have been very intense, and to some extent remain so. Ill feeling has resulted towards the Assets Committee on the part of the tenants' representatives and the parishes and diocese in which most of the estates are to be found.

Equally, for those who disagree with the EIAG's decision not to recommend disinvestment from Caterpillar, the decision remains deeply unpopular, and on the other side of the argument the passage of the resolution at the General Synod occasioned serious breaches of relationship between the Jewish community and the Church of England which came to public attention through the very open and searing argument between the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

These are arguments carried on for the most part within the Church, though others, like the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish community, have strong interests also. Arguments within the Church may make attractive newspaper copy, but are not necessarily of continuing importance. In this case, however, the issues are profound and the passion with which they have been expressed, not least by myself, very powerful.

What makes the matters about which I wish to reflect this evening important is the fact that they raise ethical and theological questions that connect, as I hope to show, with other controversies of recent years, and that they have potential to arise on future occasions. What makes them continue to exercise my mind is the inconsistency of my own responses. In the Octavia Hill case, I frequently deployed the argument that we, the Assets Committee, were acting against the declared will of the local church and its perception of its mission; in the case of the Caterpillar decision I voted to advise the Assets Committee, and then to persist in advising it, to override the wishes expressed by the General Synod, and, more importantly, the wishes of the Palestinian Christians suffering by the misuse of the Caterpillar equipment, represented by the strong request for disinvestment presented to us by the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem. The discovery of inconsistency is always important as an indication of unresolved issues, and in this case, since I have not changed my opinions about either decision, the issues remain so, and the inconsistency - whether apparent or real - remains present.

Tidying up the debris of my cluttered mind could not possibly justify your time even if it could be valuable for me. But in the process of reflecting on this inconsistency and the powerful passions raised by both these issues, I believe I have detected some wider connections.

I am aware of some dangers in this exercise. It is bound to be the case that in reviewing matters in which I myself was closely involved there will be an element of self-justification, and likely to be some moments when it appears that I am indeed simply continuing arguments which were not resolved elsewhere. It is possible, though this I should greatly regret, that others who were also involved, some of whom are here this evening, will consider their views misrepresented or even caricatured. To the extent that these dangers materialise and obscure my aim I shall have failed in my endeavour as well as owing them an apology. But what I hope is that to the extent that there are implied criticisms of the past in what I propose for the future they will be heard as constructive and designed to improve the responses of all of us in tackling issues that are bound to recur from time to time.

Theological reflection is not about continuing arguments that have already been deployed, but about - as the etymology of 'reflection' suggests - a 'bending back' of the mind over certain events, arguments, passions and decisions with a view to discovering theological meaning within them and therefore the possibility of fruitful change in the future.

What the stories tell us

The two stories - the Octavia Hill story and the Caterpillar story - have marked differences. The Octavia Hill decision fell to be made by the Assets Committee, a body charged with the sole power and duty to manage the assets of the Church Commissioners; the second came to the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, a body whose function, as its name implies, is to give advice to the three Church of England Investing Bodies, in practice to the Assets Committee, the only one of the three investing bodies with holdings in Caterpillar; any decision whether to act on that advice or not is a matter for that Committee.

A second difference lay in the area of initiative: the Octavia Hill decision came at the initiative of the Assets Committee, while the EIAG came to consider the Caterpillar issue only because of pressure from outside, chiefly from campaigning bodies concerned to act in the Palestinian cause.

A third difference lay in the fact that the Octavia Hill decision was made primarily for asset management reasons: the Committee came to the view that their holdings in residential property were too large a proportion of their portfolio, and that it was not realistic to suppose that they would be able to invest enough in the properties to refurbish them and still make an appropriate return. In the case of the Caterpillar question no particular financial issues were ever raised: it was assumed without even being said that had the recommendation been to disinvest a holding would have been purchased with a similar return. As a result, although there was and remains strong criticism of the decision made by the Group, it has never been suggested that it was made for financial advantage. In the case of the Octavia Hill decision the price to be paid was the determining factor, a position justified by the Committee's interpretation of the Vice-Chancellor's judgment in the case of Harries v Church Commissioners, 'The Oxford Judgement', which in their minds offers the authoritative account of 'fiduciary duty', requiring, except in limited circumstances, the realising of the maximum financial return for the Church.

The Octavia Hill decision was therefore made on the basis of three structural realities: the statutory role of the Committee as sole guardian of the Church Commissioners' capital assets; the laws of property and tenancy which in general do not give the tenants any role in decisions to sell the freehold of their homes; the Oxford Judgment, which the majority of the Committee believed limited their options in selling the property to one determined in the last resort by the price to be realised; and what I have referred to as the structure of money itself.

In the case of the Caterpillar decision, there are similarly structural determinants of the Advisory Group's action. The autonomy of the different Anglican provinces means that the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem cannot exert a claim upon the Church of England to deploy its assets in any particular way. The EIAG is limited in the brief it has to giving advice on the ethical issues involved in investment, and functions within an ethical investment policy which has been agreed with those whom it advises; its task is principally to examine particular companies' actions, and particular sectors of the economy, to discern whether continued investment in those areas is according to the policy inimical to the Church's task. In that discernment it has a policy of not investing in companies manufacturing offensive military equipment; the argument was and is that Caterpillar equipment is being used for essentially military purposes, and in support of an illegal occupation; the counter-argument, endorsed by the EIAG, is that the company is not directly complicit in the end-use of the equipment it has sold, that there are no current or projected sales from which the Church is profiting, and that more can therefore be achieved by engagement with the company than by disinvestment.

All these structures as I have described them are, I would suggest, essentially 'disdainful'. That is to say they prescribe the views and issues which cannot be considered in the decision. In these two cases a vast variety of issues arise. In both cases, for instance, the matters in question concerned people's homes, in the one case the existing tenants and those who in the future would have need of the affordable housing which the Octavia Hill estates had provided for a century; in the other case the homes of Palestinian people which were being destroyed by the use of Caterpillar equipment. That could not be considered.

In both cases the matter concerned relations with the part of the Church most directly and immediately involved. In the case of the Caterpillar decision, it is well known that the Anglican Church in Jerusalem is strongly committed to demanding disinvestment, a stance given some support by the Anglican Consultative Council. In the case of the Octavia Hill estates, the parishes and the diocese of Southwark in which the majority of the estates are situated all strongly opposed the sale of the estates other than to a registered social landlord.

It is not that these considerations were unimportant in the minds of myself and my colleagues in the EIAG and on the Assets Committee. The point I am making is that there was a structurally imposed hierarchy of considerations in which the ones to which I have referred - the well being of present and future occupiers, the attitude of the local church - were effectively at the bottom end of the agenda. They were in practice bound to be objects of disdain in the structure of things.

Reflections on disdain: 'I have no need of you'

Like many organisations, the Church of England has lately engaged in much debate and re-organisation in the search for coherence. The title of the report which eventually emerged from the Turnbull Commission - Working as One Body6 - and which eventually led to the passing of the National Institutions Measure and the creation of an Archbishops' Council to give central direction to the national institutions of the Church of England, is more than just a title. It represents the harnessing of St Paul's metaphor of the body in I Corinthians 12 - no mere metaphor, but at least that - to commend that process of achieving enhanced coherence. The harnessing of that metaphor, and in the process that seminal biblical passage, to these ecclesiastical purposes has had in my view a most damaging effect. The key verses in the passage read:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body', that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body', that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.7

Although it is possible to draw a message of coherence from this passage, its main purpose is clearly something else. In the society of ancient Corinth, a society whose culture had, in the mind of the apostle, invaded the Church far too much, issues of status and greed had come to exercise a dominant role. The 'body' metaphor had a history within the ancient literature of being used precisely to support a demand for loyalty by those lower in society to those in established positions, supporting, we might say, an order of established disdain. Paul's words clearly stand this on its head, calling for the honouring precisely of those who occupy the most marginal and despised positions; honour and loyalty are to be deployed in precisely the reverse direction.

My pointing to the effects of the use of the 'body' metaphor in the title of the 1995 report is not so as to enter into a debate about the particular reforms it set in train, but to note the serious mis-education that has resulted from the appropriation of Paul's language in the service of the quest for coherence rather than of the challenging of disdain. Paul's message in this setting is clearly not so much about the importance of coherence and unity - though they were very important aspirations; the principal issue was the confronting of patterns of disdain: I have no need of you is what no part of the body may say to another.8 There is in any case no possibility of the kind of unity with which Paul is concerned unless patterns of disdain are brought to an end.

But the emergence of a hierarchy of responsibility always presents the possibility of disdain; it is possible that the lack of any sense of disdain, the belief that one holds other people in respect, can mislead one into ignoring the fact that the structural relationship declares, loud and clear, 'I have no need of you'. The Assets Committee's 'exclusive right and duty' to manage the Church's assets has already been referred to: and what does 'exclusive right and duty' mean if not the absence of any obligation to involve others in the decision? Individual members may have motives of charity and engagement as they go about their decision-making, and the Committee itself may believe that it has heard the concerns of others - I am questioning neither the motives nor the belief - but the structure is one in which consultation is a matter of their decision rather than of obligation. That is what makes it a structure of disdain in precisely the sense conveyed in Paul's account of the workings of the body: in the last resort the Committee had no need of the assent of others or even to show that it had heard them.

But structuring the end of disdain has to extend more widely than the relationships of different parts of the Church. It has also to be based on that other image of Church, in Matthew chapter 25, where the 'least of the brothers and sisters' become, as the parable unfolds, Christ himself. So far were the poor, the sick, the prisoners disdained that they were not even recognised as the form under which the Body of Christ presented itself. What has to be structured therefore is the end of disdain not just for other parts of the Church and individuals within it, but the weak, vulnerable and indeed 'disdained' wherever they are.

Again, the structures involved in the two decisions which form the basis of this reflection contrast sharply with this picture. In the case of the Caterpillar there was no obligation to consider the views of those personally suffering from the way in which the Israeli government uses the equipment. I say this having said quite clearly that within the structure we currently have I believed in the decision taken by the EIAG not to recommend disinvestment; had a different structure existed I should still have argued for what we decided. But that structure remains a structure of disdain. A different structure might well have produced a different decision, even if one against which I had personally argued.

In the case of the Octavia Hill decision, once again an 'I have no need of you' structure is what we have, and within that structure different of us came to different conclusions. For my own part, had the decision required the involvement of the local church, in parish and diocese, I am sure I would have taken the view I did at the time. My colleagues who decided for the sale might or might not have taken a different view in a different structural setting. I say that because were the structure different the Committee's

obligations would also be different, affecting the duties required of them and therefore their inner sense of their own task.

"I have no need of you" "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me" These are the contrasting texts of disdain and esteem, and, as I have indicated, it is patterns of esteem that require to be reflected in the structures we inhabit if they are also to shape our souls.

The Wider Context

My engagement with the structural issues surrounding two recent and painful episodes in which I have been involved has also turned my mind to the structures of autonomy and communion which have of late been dominant questions in the life of the Anglican Communion and in an ongoing way in our ecumenical relationships also. The Windsor Report9 reflects in a profound way about what happens when structures of autonomy are seen not just as the legal basis of our operations as provinces but as defining theological relationships - where they declare in all sorts of circumstances 'I have no need of you'. The call to 'autonomy in communion' is, like the other matters of which I have been speaking, a structural issue, one that cannot be tackled without the spiritual transformation of which St Paul also speaks, but a structural transformation nonetheless.

What is critical, however, is an accurate discernment of the kind of structural-cum-spiritual transformation that is required for the redemption of structures of disdain. Failure to diagnose accurately the nature of the problem will inevitably produce inappropriate solutions. We are dealing with disdain, and the remedy we seek is a remedy precisely for that. If we are to avoid replicating structures of disdain, then the character of such structures have to be accurately discerned.

At the heart of most structures of disdain is the suggestion that we need clarity and coherence in decision-making so that decisions can be taken with firmness and above all with the necessary speed. Among the pressures to eliminate alternative sources of power and further requirements of consultation is the sense that there needs to be a point of reference to which decisions can be put with the assurance of an authoritative response.

Without doubt that pressure operates increasingly in the society at large. Pressures to circumvent, abbreviate or even eliminate processes that lengthen the time it takes to reach decisions are everywhere to be seen. Government dislikes delay - unless it is itself in charge of the delay. Interference with the delaying or reviewing powers of the judiciary, or of the second chamber of Parliament is a constant feature of government at the present time. From urgency come structures of disdain.

Fear and Money as Sources of Structures of Disdain

There is not time here to survey all the pressures that are manifest in our society at the present to reduce the time - and therefore the processes - necessary for making decisions. The period since the 9/11 massacre has seen increasingly repressive measures against people seen as a danger, apparent particularly in the endless pressures on the rule of law in the interests either of the 'war' on terrorism or the 'fight' against crime - the pugnacious metaphors are not co-incidental. In his Atlee Foundation Lecture, Lord Steyn points to the dangerous erosion of the rule of law, a development not in any way prevented any longer by the practice of parliamentary democracy; after some frightening illustrations from the most repressive regimes of the twentieth century and their use of democratic structure to secure their way, he remarks

Here I pause to summarise why I regard these examples of some of the great tyrannies of the twentieth century as containing important lessons. They demonstrate that majority rule by itself, and legality on its own, are insufficient to guarantee a civil and just society. Even totalitarian states mostly act according to the laws of their countries. They demonstrate the dangers of uncontrolled executive power. They also show how it is impossible to maintain true judicial independence in the contaminated moral environment of an authoritarian state.10

The pressure in an environment of fear is not only to circumvent due process but, in a close parallel with decision-making processes in the Church's own life, to exclude especially the lives and voices of those deemed to be 'outside' - especially in the case of the government's current priorities, immigrants and asylum seekers. That represents precisely the encroachment of structures of disdain; the current obsession with deportation parallels discussions about expulsion from communion, as more and more are deemed people of whom we have no need: we have no need of youholding up our decisions, or even in our midst.

But the climate of fear is not all that engenders cultures and structures of disdain. I stated earlier that the money was itself a structure and not just a commodity. Part of the pressure to expedite decision-making, to enhance its clarity and authority and therefore to disdain what might interfere with that is the far greater volume of money at stake, and the vastly increased speed with which monetary movements are made because of technical advance and the processes of globalisation. There is a quantifiable cost to delay, with an accompanying suspicion of, and therefore disdain for, all that may slow things down. A high level of technical skill and under­standing is required; not to make use of it exposes those who hold money to the costs of delay and the potential for corruption and fraud. As someone who is regularly present at Assets Committee discussing matters far beyond my understanding, I can only marvel at the technical skill of those who do understand and the generosity and commitment with which that skill is freely offered for the benefit of the Church; of that motivation there should be no doubt.

Nonetheless money, its power, speed and technical complexity, have led to the creation of a structure of disdain for other considerations, ones which as individuals the members of the Committee can be just as committed but which as a Committee they are persuaded they have to exclude. Their commitment to doing the best they can to fund the Church's mission means that their place in that mission, the non-financial effects of their decision-making, have come to take very clearly a lower place. Financial detriment is a matter of profound concern; but what of other kinds of detriment that cannot have a figure put on them?

Justice delayed

Lest I should appear to be arguing for slowness as an end in itself, as though all things could be submitted to an endless filibuster, there is a more spiritually compelling reason for proceeding to decision with the maximum possible speed, and therefore the exercise of disdain towards what - or who - ever stands in the way. That is that there are urgent issues of injustice, urgent missionary requirements. Urgency is a biblical theme, and justice too long delayed is justice denied. There are issues to be faced in the life of church and society which engender a proper sense of urgency, a proper impatience and certainly an appropriate refusal to be deterred by processes, and indeed structures, that interpose themselves between the sickness and its remedy, the vision and its realisation. In some of the most controversial issues facing the Anglican Communion there is without doubt an impatience with the difficulty of change where change is what is needed to secure justice; that argument for speed needs surely to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Structures of Just Patience

Yet from all sides come reflections that in the search for a just and sustainable world patience will also have a necessary place. If we are to have I have need of you structures to replace those of disdain we shall have to allow time. We shall have to create authorities not to decideoutcomes - which they are likely to do with all the disdain of the authority structures they replace - but to decide processes of consultation and audit the voices that have been excluded from the discussion. There must be a structure of audited esteem that considers which are the voices that need to be heard in relation to any particular decision of significance, and checks whether they have been given proper weight. We require not some super authority in the Church of England or for that matter in the Anglican Communion that takes away autonomy, but one that can properly demand reconsideration, and above all inclusion in the process of discernment. It will, as processes of discernment often must, weigh risks and balance considerations.

The range of issues which we shall need to consider in the decisions we have to take grows larger all the time: sustainability and climate change, the relations between the generations and between homo sapiens and the other creatures that inhabit the earth, unity between the different parts of the Christian family, and proper consideration for those of other faiths. These and many more will come to seem naturally parts of any responsible moral decision-making, and cannot be included without patience and a constant revisiting of the question whether our structures communicate esteem or disdain. It was a source of limited encouragement that among at least the majority of those organisations who were disappointed with the decision of the EIAG was positive feedback about many aspects of the process: structures of esteem can be achieved. We need them badly in a situation where some considerations, notably monetary and security considerations, have come to outweigh all others, with all the structures of disdain that have resulted, to the point that in society at large the short-circuiting of due process has come to be equated with common sense.

Structures of esteem might have some equivalence to judicial review, though I am not proposing that kind of tribunal. Such structures will only emerge if there is recognition that what we have now condemns some voices to being disregarded, and therefore some issues to be ignored. There will be costs in changing that, but the costs of no change are considerable also. My guess is that if we could discuss the creation of structures of esteem based on powers of delay and review we might well achieve agreement more quickly than if we try to achieve new structures of decision. Certainly in society at large that is more than ever needed if the pressure for urgency is not to lead to the recapitulation of some of the most terrible excesses to which Lord Steyn referred and which there are still enough of us to remember.

From disdain to worship

Throughout this lecture I have illustrated rather than defined 'disdain'. I wish to draw these comments to a close by reflecting on that particular expression as it has emerged in these remarks, and why it is that St Paul is so clear that it represents a way of being that is fundamentally inimical to the life of discipleship and therefore ultimately to all human flourishing.

Disdain is etymologically linked to dignity and therefore to worth. I have no need of you represents the statement of your not having worth for me. As such the word resides at one end of a linguistic spectrum, at the other end of which is the declaration of worth which we call 'worship'. Where disdain denies, worship ascribes. When it comes to 'worth' the life of discipleship is about the movement from denial to ascription.

For St Paul this movement is rooted in the cross, the event in which Christ was declared to be the one of whom we had no need and so has become the one to whom ultimate worth is to be ascribed. In the terms which this lecture has attempted to address, the one who became the recipient of the decisions of others became thereby the one to whom all authority is now conveyed. By that process infinite worth was conveyed to humankind, and especially to the disdained among them.

The search for the redemption of structures of disdain, the redemption of the structures engendered by the unfettered rule of fear and money, is rooted in a fundamental conviction: that in Christ God conferred upon humankind not just the challenge but also the dignity, the worth, of his eternal 'I have need of you.' As a result we are not free - simply not free - to conduct our lives on any other basis than that of being those upon whom has been conferred a worth we did not have, set among fellow human beings who share that worth with us, and whose worth we therefore cannot deny; the guarding of that worth is our primary fiduciary duty, that with which God has entrusted us.

Gore put it trenchantly in the Bampton Lectures he delivered just two years before he became a Canon of Westminster; if disciples protest that they had lived by Christian faith...

... but of course in our business we did as every one else did: we sold in the dearest and bought in the cheapest market: we did not, of course we did not, any other consideration, when we were investing our money, except whether the investments were safe: we never imagined we could love our neighbours as ourselves in the competition of business...

they must expect to hear the rejoinder, 'Did I not bid thee seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness'. 11 Gore has no illusions about the radical nature of the change that is needed, but at the same time he is clear about the promise that awaits a Church that embraces it:

He will touch your sufferings and your labours with the glory of His sympathy; He will deepen your hopes for yourselves and others with the security of an eternal prospect. At the last He will purify and perfect and welcome you. Only do not make the fatal mistake of imagining that your life is Christian anyhow, or that it can be Christian by any other process than by your deliberate and courageous acceptance of the law of Christ, because you desire to be his disciple.12

Such is the promise to a Church which, being structured for worship, allows no part of its life to be structured for disdain.



G L Prestige, The Life of Charles Gore(Heinemann 1935), p. 229.


I am particularly grateful to Dr Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon of Westminster, for the initial conversation which enabled me to clarify the direction which this lecture could take, to Canon Peter Kerr, Theological Adviser to the Bishop of Worcester, Canon Dr Anthony Thiselton, and John Nicholson for conversations and suggestions in preparation for this lecture.


Charles Gore, The Reconstruction of Christian Belief (John Murray, 1926), p.1, originally in Belief in God, published in 1921




Being Human: Power, Money, Sex and Time, a Report of the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England (Church House Publishing, 2003), pp 55-73. See also my Grace and Mortgage: The Language of Faith and the Debt of the World (Darton Longman and Todd 1997)


Working as One Body (Church House Publishing 1995)


I Corinthians 12.12-26, New Revised Standard Version


On the exegesis of this passage see Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (Yale University Press 1995), pp. 87-103


The Windsor Report (Anglican Consultative Council 2004), esp. Section B, paras. 72-86


Lord Steyn, "Democracy, the Rule of Law and the Role of Judges", the Atlee Foundation Lecture, April 2006, p.2


Charles Gore, The Incarnation of the Son of God, the Bampton Lectures of 1891 (John Murray 1891), p.214


ibid. p.215