Sarah Mullally channels Sir Humphrey Appleby in her first radio interview following appointment as Bishop of London
The first media outing for the newly appointed Bishop of London did not go well for the first woman appointed to the post. Speaking to Mishal Husain on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on 19 December 2017, the Rt. Rev. Sarah Mullally fumbled questions about human sexuality and same-sex marriage, lapsing into cliches and truisms in response to questions about her position on the issues.
Ms Husain asked Bishop Mullally how she would vote on the issue of blessing same-sex relationships at the forthcoming General Synod. She replied she will not have taken her seat yet “ so I won’t have a vote. But what we have to remember is…”.
Ms Husain then asked how she would vote if she were able to vote. To which the newly appointed bishop said.
“What we have to remember is that this is about people, and, [pause], 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, [pause] and at the moment the church is taking a period to reflect, there is work that is going on, [pause], and I’m involved in that, and, [pause], for me that is important that we take a time of reflection, whilst, you know, standing on the traditions of the Church of England…”.
The interviewer interrupted her at that point and asked whether she would bless a same-sex marriage. To which the new Bishop of London responded that “At the moment there is no provision to do that.”
The interviewer rephrased her question, asking if Bishop Mullally would welcome a change. “Would you like there to be that provision,” she asked.
Bishop Mullally declined to answer, stating: “As I said there is a period of reflection that is going on at the moment, and I am part of that…”.
Ms. Husain came back to the issue, asking a direct question of the bishop. “Have you not decided how you feel about blessing a same sex marriage?”
She again refused to be drawn and refused to answer the question. She said:
“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…”.
The Today Programme host interrupted her pater, conceding that this was a “difficult” and “sensitive” issue, noting that one prominent London parish, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, had publicly called upon whoever was appointed bishop to condemn same-sex church marriage. Ms. Husain then gave the issue one more go asking “Do you think homosexual relationships are sinful?”
Bishop Mullally paused and then noted Ms. Husain’s mention of St Helen’s saying “ well, the comment came across in the press” and ignored the question of the sinfulness, or lack thereof, of homosexual genital relations, choosing to speak instead about the challenges of running a divided diocese.
She stated: “[O]ne 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, [pause], is taking a period of reflection, and recognizing that it does involve people, so there is a sense in which you have to compassionately, [pause], deal with these issues, and, [pause], I am forever encouraged that the church across London is undertaking a whole series of things in communities, to be, [pause], welcoming to that diversity. And one of the wonderful things yesterday was being out in Hackney, and seeing, [pause], a church that is welcoming people…”
The exasperated interviewer broke into the bishop’s monologue to change topics, asking if she believed there would be a female archbishop during her lifetime, to which Bishop Mullally declined to answer, saying she wanted to focus on the job that lay ahead for her.
The interview ended and the weather forecast was offered to close out the hour.