You would be forgiven if you had failed to note the recent news that the soon to be Bishop of Sheffield has decided to step down from the post before officially taking it up, writes the CoE’s director of Communications Arun Arora
The Rt. Revd. Philip North, the current Bishop of Burnley, announced last week that he had decided to withdraw his name because of the “highly individualised nature of the attacks” upon him.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of media coverage is that the attacks were not linked to any kind of scandal, but rather theology.
Despite this, the story still made in on to the BBC 10 o’clock news and was covered in three broadsheet papers the following day, as well featuring across a range of regional and local media.
The roots of the row were sowed in 2014 when the Church of England voted overwhelmingly to enable women to become Bishops in the Church of England.
Since that time the Church has appointed 10 women as bishops with women making up fewer than 10 per cent of the Church’s senior leadership within three years.
However, part of the deal meant that those who took a more theologically catholic view – reflecting the wider global church, that Bishops had to be men – were given assurances that they too would be able to flourish at a senior level within the church.
However some people didn’t get the memo about “mutual flourishing” and the announcement of Bishop North’s appointment led to a sustained campaign for him to be removed by those who felt the Church shouldn’t “promote” people with his views.
The campaign was largely fought in the digital space.
As this was the Church, the campaign retained some of our character, with social media linking to theological essays rather than 140-character witticisms.
Of course, within the original broad church that the Church of England represents, rows about theology are commonplace.
As the comedian Robin Williams wrote in his top ten list of why he loved the Episcopalian Church, at number one was “No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you”.
The comms challenges of such a set up are legion.
In an institution where having no central authority is viewed as a wholesome virtue, trying to enforce a “line to take” would take a miracle.
In his response to Bishop North’s announcement, the Archbishop of York called on the Church to remember what it is to “disagree Christianly” – that is to argue by all means, but to remember the person with whom you are arguing is as loved and valued by god as you are.
Within them too, the Divine spark dwells.
This is more than a plea for a restraint on the “should have been deleted” tweet.
It is rather an encouragement and reminder that whatever our disagreements, our challenge as the Church is to demonstrate that good disagreement is possible in a world of false news.
Or to quote Proverbs chapter 15, verse 1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
First published at PR Week.