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Safe Space Sarah: The box-ticking Bishopette of Londonistan

Safe Space Sarah: The box-ticking Bishopette of Londonistan

By Jules Gomes
December 19, 2017

'Wherever St Paul went, there was a riot. Wherever I go, they serve tea,' quips the scholar-bishop N T Wright, drolly stating the foremost qualification of a bishop in the Church of England.

The CofE has just monumentally outdone Bishop Wright's criterion for selecting bishops by appointing an über-bureaucrat to England's third-most important ecclesiastical throne. Wherever the new Bishopette of Londonistan goes, people will serve not only tea, but chunky slices of gooey chocolate cake swathed in the swaddling clothes of the icing of niceness. Dame Sarah Mullally might as well wear a tea cosy instead of a mitre!

The 55-year-old 'woman' (of that, she is certain) describes herself on Twitter as a 'poor potter'. Pottery is her hobby. She should describe herself as a 'poor theologian'. Theology is (allegedly) her profession. The most important word in the Christian vocabulary is 'gospel'. Mullally bafflingly cannot define 'gospel'.

In her depressingly bland maiden message telling us how 'surprised' she is to be Bishop of London (every bishop fakes 'surprise' when their appointment is made public) she waves two white flags of appeasement to the orthodoxies of 'safe spaces' and 'safeguarding'. She then proceeds confusingly to conflate 'church' with 'safe spaces' and claims that 'safeguarding is at the heart of the gospel'.

She parrots this mantra from an earlier blog, where she fires off a string of nebulous phrases and non-sequiturs. 'As the body of Christ we are called to reflect the nature of Christ, the nature of God and I believe that as churches, part of the body of Christ we are called to be places of safety, places in which people can take refuge. This is why I believe that safeguarding is at the heart of the gospel.' Huh? I always thought the death and resurrection of Jesus were at the heart of the gospel. Silly me!

A former senior civil servant in the Department of Health who became Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Sarah is fluent in her first language of NHS-speak, but stutters when it comes to her second language of biblical Christianity.

London has a bishop who doesn't have the foggiest idea about the biblical gospel. Her episcopal raison d'être is 'safeguarding', not the salvation of souls! ' . . . I will seek not only to exercise responsibility for safeguarding but I will continue to ensure a safe culture in which abuse has no place, and where those who have survived abuse can flourish,' she hollers. Nothing wrong with having a bishop prancing around with pom-poms and cheerleading the church's Safeguarding Stasi Team, I suppose, but isn't the CofE already infested to the rafters with safeguarding bureaucrats?

One of the cardinal qualifications of a bishop as laid down in the New Testament is that he should be 'an apt teacher' (1 Timothy 3:2). 'He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it' (Titus 1:9).

Looking for a meaty exposition of a biblical text by Bishop Mullally is like searching for the Loch Ness monster using an ultrasonic submarine detector and finding nothing. But, hey-ho, Mullally compensates for her inability to teach by her ability to tweet! She is known as the bishop who tweets the most among her peers in the exclusive mitred mafia club of the CofE. Despite joining Twitter just 18 months ago, she has sent almost 3,000 tweets, the liberal Left-leaning Premier Radio website breathlessly announces.

If you are a bishop in the CofE belief in God is 'an optional extra', Sir Humphrey Appleby tells Jim Hacker in the true-to-life British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister. But supporting a football club is a non-negotiable dogma of creedal faith. Acting Bishop of London Pete Broadbent (don't read too much into his surname!), who was suspended after making anti-royalist foot-in-the-mouth comments on social media, declares he is 'a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur FC'. Bishop of Sheffield Pete Wilcox wants us to know he is a big Newcastle United fan. The women bishops have yet to learn this trick of coming across as 'cool'.

But the best way to come across as 'cool' in the CofE is to be singularly skilled at box ticking and doffing your mitre to every single Corbynist cause -- here the bishopettes can teach the bishops a lesson. The First Epistle of Madame Mullally to the saints of Londinium makes Welby look like an amateur. Like elastic from old underwear she stretches herself to fit the entire spectrum of the 'diverse' Diocese of London.

Mullally says she believes that marriage is between a man and a woman (at least for now). That's a sop to wealthy St Helen's, Bishopsgate, who have threatened to sever ties with the CofE if the new bishop is not conservative on sexuality (Tick Box). By the same Houdini-esque attempt to reconcile irreconcilable opposites, she concedes that sexuality 'is a challenging issue not just for diocese of London'. That's a sop to the LGBTIQ alphabet soup lobby (Tick Box).

Mullally stacks up the hierarchy of intersectionality and smartly feeds each of their insatiable appetites for attention. She tell us the church needs more black and minority ethnic clergy (Tick Box) and better representation of disabled people (Tick Box), as well as women (Tick Box), in order to better represent the communities (Tick Box) it serves. She speaks of deprivation (Tick Box) and inequality (Tick Box) in London, where some people feel 'marginalised, voiceless and angry' (Tick Box--is that for Remainers?) Mullally will visit a food bank (Tick Box -- a visual demonstration against heartless Tory bastards) and will be introduced to leaders from the Tower Hamlets interfaith forum to discuss the challenges faced by London's faith communities (Tick Box -- a symbolic cuddle with Muslim Mayor of London Sadiq Khan).

Two tips for the Church of England. First, learn from bookies when appointing bishops. William Hill did not list Bishop Mullally among the top eight candidates. The bookies know the Bible better than Caroline Boddington, the master chess player manoeuvring her pawns and bishops, who has 'disproportionate power' over top CofE appointments. The bookies sincerely expected the Crown Nominations Commission to appoint a bishop who would in some measure meet some aspect of the job description of a real bishop.

Second, educate clergy on the basics of the gospel. Tell them the gospel is more important than safeguarding or moral grandstanding. St Paul's succinct summary might be a good place to begin: 'For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.' Simple, innit, Ms Mullally?

Not so simple, if you understand CofE politics. Eavesdrop on this conversation between Prime Minister Jim Hacker and Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby from the episode entitled The Bishop's Gambit. 'So, the ideal candidate [for a bishopric] from the Church of England's point of view would be a cross between a socialite and a socialist?' asks the puzzled Hacker. Sir Humphrey offers a one-word reply: 'Precisely.'

The Rev'd Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.


Transcript excerpt: Interview of the Bishop of London-elect, Dame Sarah Mullally, by BBC's Mishal Husain, Radio 4 Today Programme, 7.54am:

MH: How would you vote when Synod debates blessings for same sex relationships?

SM: Well, at that point I won't be in Synod, so I won't have a vote. But what we have to remember is...

MH: How would you vote?

SM: What we have to remember is that this is about people, and, um, the church seeks to demonstrate love to all, because it reflects the God of love, who loves everybody, and obviously this issue isn't just an issue for London, not just for us in the Church of England, but also the Anglican Community, um and at the moment the church is taking a period to reflect, there is work that is going on, er, and I'm involved in that, and, er, for me that is important that we take a time of reflection, whilst, you know, standing on the traditions of the Church of England...

MH: Would you bless a same sex marriage?

SM: At the moment there is no provision to do that

MH: Would you like there to be that provision?

SM: As I said there is a period of reflection that is going on at the moment, and I am part of that...

MH: Have you not decided how you feel about blessing a same sex marriage?

SM: I think that, what we have to recognize is a real diversity within the Church of England, and if we are going to take seriously the wish of the two Archbishops to take a period of reflection, then we need to allow that process to go ahead, and I have been very encouraged by those who wish to work with us on that. And at the same time we do have to recognize that this is a challenge for all people, and we do this as we have always done it in the past, we manage difference...

MH: [Interrupts] I recognize that this is difficult...a sensitive issue...[continues, then mentions] St Helen's Bishopsgate where the vicar has said he is looking to the new Bishop to condemn homosexual relationships as sinful, otherwise there will be some kind of break. [Deep breath]. Do you think homosexual relationships are sinful?

SM: Er, well, the comment came across in the press, and one the things I'm doing is meeting those people that reflect the whole diversity across the Church of England. And in a sense it's not avoiding the subject but it's recognizing that there is a difference, that the Church of England, um, is taking a period of reflection, and recognizing that it does involve people, so there is a sense in which you have to compassionately, um, deal with these issues, and, er, I am forever encouraged that the church across London is undertaking a whole series of things in communities, to be, er, welcoming to that diversity. And one of the wonderful things yesterday was being out in Hackney, and seeing, er, a church that is welcoming people...

Interviewer interrupts and asks about the possibility of a female Archbishop in her lifetime.

SM replies about focusing on the job in hand.


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