Wednesday, 17 June 2015

A Thought or Two about Bullying, and the Triumph of Mrs Cranmer

Most of us think of bullying as a childhood thing - perhaps that's when most of us experienced it, or saw it done, either at home or in the playground - but then we grow up and realise that we haven't left the playground far behind. Or rather, we don't realise it, because we were taught that adults stand up for themselves, and if they can't, they are pathetic. I spent nearly eleven years working for an institution - the Church of England - which is wedded to bullying as a means of hierarchical control, and the guarantee of preferment. I now work for the Department of Work and Pensions - as a dole scrounger - which seeks to bully us into meeting its targets with no real concern about the harm that might do to us (the dismal record of deaths by neglect, and the suicides committed since the hated Atos threw people off incapacity benefit and onto a "Job seeking" regime for which they were not ready tells its own grim story about that).

What's got me thinking about it today is the first case to go to an employment tribunal since gay people were allowed by law to be married, and the Church of England (by law established) said that their clergy were not. The extent of gay people, male and female, in "the clerical profession" has been an open secret in most church circles for generations. Bishops selected and ordained and promoted people they knew to be gay, and in many cases, knew to have a committed partner. In public, like the vicar of a church where I used to serve, they said "I've knowingly met a homosexual". I'd never knowingly met a homosexual in the town that Father Robert hadn't tried it on with. But somehow this would do. They knew, and we knew, and we each knew the other knew, but the deal was we kept our mouths shut and all would be well. Now, I think that's institutional bullying. It reminds me of the story I read somewhere - so long ago that I'd ask you not to rely on it as historical fact - of King Henry VIII saying to his married Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, "we don't approve of married clergy, do we, Thomas?" "No indeed, Your Majesty". Obviously, the tyrant Henry was capable of considerably more drastic bullying than some flyweight suffragan bishop, but that's scale, the quality of the mindset is the same.

There's an added moral corruption here because our archdeacons and bishops are supposed to be, above all, pastors to the clergy in their charge. All they do is done out of love. My eye. When I was small I remember annoying my father with endless "but why, but why?" questions, and his saying "Because I say so, and I'm bigger than you, so I'm in charge. And one day you'll be bigger than me, and you can be in charge". Somehow this felt entirely rational and fair. I did grow bigger than him, and picked my fights, and sometimes won, or found the freedom to move away to other pastures to fight with other people. But that's not happening in the Church of England. Their pronouncements on first the civil partnerships, and then the marriages, of their gay clergy are designed to weed us out. They tell would-be ordinands that they must affirm the church's "teaching" about sexuality and marriage which is enshrined in a small, rather tedious, and theologically incompetent, little pamphlet written in 1991 and since disavowed by two of its four authors. So there will be no more ordinands who are OK about their sexuality and about gay people entering the sort of committed relationships that everyone else can have (if they can find them). We are slowly being bullied out. We will never grow up and be in charge and call the shots - they are not going to let us, and precious few of us will be allowed even to stay where we are, as happened to me.

And there is the bullying behind the language. I've been told at the dole office not to call it that (still less the labour camp), and when I don't apply for a job not to say that I have the "wrong experience", even though the words are precisely accurate. The truth is what they say it is. In the same way, our bishops mouth the words of their implacable opposition to "homophobia" - not because it is a vilely mongrel word but because they believe in the image and likeness of God in all people, and the dignity of all God's children whatever their God-given sexuality. Except when it comes to selection, or employment. Or preferment. If they did this to black people - there are so few black clergy I don't know if a sample study would be big enough to test whether it actually happens to them too - anyone would say "institutional racism". But when you say "institutional homophobia" to a bishop, he goes red in the face and says he's not scared of gay people, and doesn't hate us at all. No, indeed, I don't suppose he does. But his church does. The church that says our relationships are grubby, and therefore not suitable for priests as leaders of their flock setting an example. "Oh but we didn't say that ...." Oh yes, but bishop, you did. And you continue to. "Unwholesome and sinful" one of your number said in court today. But you're not homophobic? If you believe that, you're not sane.

Sanity is perhaps at the heart of the problem. There is a kind of madness in the cruel dark heart of the bully. He will sacrifice anyone else to his own security, and will use any perceived weakness in his victim to bring them down. He will even welcome them with open arms - there was an area bishop in London who had something of a taste for "birds with a broken wing" - but the moment the victim's back is turned, he feels a knife in it and hears the whispered words "I'll take you on, no one else would, you owe me, don't let me down".

Madness, deceit, inadequacy and violence are all part of the make-up of the bully. But remember Henry VIII and Archbishop Thomas. "We don't approve of married clergy, do we, Thomas?" Are you married, bishop? Are you free like any other Christian man to marry at your own discretion according to the Articles of Religion, drawn up by Archbishop Cranmer?

Bullies always lose in the end. And we should strive to bring about that end as soon as possible.

Perhaps Mrs Cranmer should be our patron saint.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
June 2015

1 comment:

  1. When I saw on The Parliamentary Channel the PM introducing the Bill to the Commons, I noted that he said the Church would be banned from carrying out gay marriages. I wondered then how many clergy would decide to do them anyway, just as some of them remarry divorcees against the will of bishops. I somewhat cynically assumed that the purpose of the ban was to protect the Church from hassle and potential litigation.
    I don't know how many members of the worshipping public care about the sexuality of their clergy. I suspect a majority would still opt for the 60s sitcom version of a middle-aged man caring for one suburban parish with a community-serving wife and grown-up children. Most of the clergy I encountered while I was growing up were certainly like that.
    I knew nothing of the number of acknowledged homosexual clergy until you told me about it a few years ago. I had been shocked enough as a teenager to have been told by a deaconess of the male student at her theological college who'd got a local girl into trouble. If I'd been told at that age there had been even one practising homosexual priest in the country I'd have fainted away. (Such behaviour was illegal anyway ) I must have been naiive.
    Now I know there are so many of them, what beats me is why these blokes don't tell one another that if they show a helmet above the parapet in the CofE they'll get bullied, thus warning them off becoming part of it in the first place. Why would anyone who cares about his sexual fulfillment join an institution so hypocritical ?