There is no doubt that the governance structure of the Church of England is labyrinthine, convoluted, inefficient and opaque. It’s what comes of half a millennium of Catholic and Reformed Erastianism forged out of a millennium of Benedictine continental rule and papal interventions from Rome. With all the disparate committees, boards, chambers, panels, commissions, councils and trustees, there’s an awful lot of time-wasting bureaucracy, energy-sapping officialdom, and money-wasting duplication. If you were to establish an ecclesiology from scratch, it certainly isn’t the structure you would choose to reify the Great Commission in England.
So a Review Group has drawn up Recommendations for Church of England Governance Reform. The Chair of the Review Group, the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds, explains: “The whole point of this is to simplify and clarify to increase transparency, accountability and effectiveness within the Church, which was proposed 25 years ago but didn’t happen. There should be one central body that governs the Church. The ultimate aim is to provide more transparent and accountable governance for the Church at parish, diocesan and national level.”
There is something distinctly un-Anglican about ‘central bodies’ with powers of appointment. This may be an ecclesial weakness and perpetual source of theological frustration for some, but it has historically been a mechanism for ensuring organic diversity in the church, especially in political outlook and theological worldview: there has certainly never been a conclave to sift candidates to ensure conformity.
Enter the Review Group, with its proposed Nominations Committee, which is to tasked with establishing “a community of diverse, appropriately skilled and appropriately knowledgeable people from which panels would be convened to oversee appointments and ensure eligibility for election”.
Note “appropriately skilled”, “relevant knowledge”, “suitable to stand”, “talent pipeline”, and “appropriate.. behaviours”. It will fall to the Nominations Committee to ‘sift’ all applicants to all Church of England boards, committees and governing bodies. It will be for them to discern and define what is ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant’, who is ‘suitable’ and has ‘talent’, and whether or not they manifest appropriate ‘behaviours’.
That’s prophets, visionaries and risk-takers out for a start: all must be shepherds who manifest MBA-type behaviours.
Has it not occurred to the Review Group that this Nominations Committee will have the power to create a church in its own image, and that the Chair of the Nominations Committee will have more executive power than the Archbishop of Canterbury? Or perhaps that’s the idea. It isn’t clear, however, which committee will ‘sift’ nominations to the Nominations Committee, but you can be sure that the process will be the antithesis of transparency and accountability.
Clause 200 is designed to be the safety valve, the check or balance on the abuse of power, but it is a bit of verbal chicanery. In what sense is pre-election ‘rigorous sifting’ not a negation of of democracy? If candidates may not emerge organically and appeal to their electorates directly, but instead may be weeded out by the Anglican Conclave compliance committee to ensure theological conformity and gender/ethnicity diversity, then democracy is indeed removed. The proposal apes the process adopted by the Conservative Party under David Cameron and his ‘A-list‘ for candidates, which caused such outrage among Party members with its social engineering of removal of democracy that it was eventually abolished – but not really: it is still very much in place to ensure the ‘right’ candidates are nominated to the ‘right’ seats, and are seen to be. But the Conservative Party’s Candidates Committee doesn’t operate with transparency and accountability. If it did, it would be subject to democracy, and that would hinder the political objective.
The Church of England’s ‘sifting’ people for the ‘talent pipeline’ is also a mechanism for seeming: to ensure the ‘right’ women and ethnic minorities are appointed to the ‘right’ boards, committees and governing bodies of the Church of England, in order that they might in turn select the ‘right’ candidates from the list ‘sifted’ by the Nominations Committee, who, you can be sure, will sift some more than others.
What place for white, heterosexual man who believes ‘woman priest’ to be an ontological impossibility? ‘And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat..‘
Who will sift nominations to Chair the Nominations Committee? Who manifests the appropriate behaviours to be appointed MD of CofE plc?