Hypocrisy of Authoritarian Bishops

Hypocrisy of Authoritarian Bishops

By the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss

Part 1

Like many clergy, over the weekend I read GS2289, the response of Church of England bishops to Living in Love and Faith. Let me confess honestly, that in my personal lived experience I am experiencing this stuff from the bishops as a deeply hypocritical, flawed, insulting, and overtly manipulative attempt at institutional gaslighting.

The whole document feels to me personally like an insincere jargon-filled betrayal of the gospel and an abandonment of all I hold dear and love about Anglicanism. It gives me immense pain and sorrow. I feel profound personal grief. I am hurt, embarrassed, and humiliated that the leaders of my denomination could be so brazen in their rejection of the Bible and in their sneaky attempt to pretend that it is not a rejection of the teaching of Jesus as we have always received it. I am upset that I have been treated with intellectual and spiritual contempt by such a poorly argued, thinly veiled power grab. The emotional impact of GS2289 for me is akin to being mugged.


In the Church Times this week it is reported that Bishop Alan Smith of St Albans has attacked the government in the House of Lords. He accuses them of ruling by “executive edict” and abusing their delegated powers. Parliamentary scrutiny is, he says, “one of the core constitutional functions”. He rails: “If this becomes the norm, any government will take it for granted that they can ignore scrutiny by Parliament. As a minimum, we need policies that have the support of both Houses and all parties, and clear principles on what needs primary legislation and what can, in exceptional circumstances, be dealt with by delegated legislation.” And yet, the House of Bishops of the Church of England which he is a part of has decided to bring about the most revolutionary changes in Anglican doctrine since the Reformation by episcopal fiat, treating General Synod with contempt in the most dishonest and discourteous way.

Because it is clear that although there may be a discussion of the ways forward proposed by the bishops in GS2289, at February’s General Synod (on Wednesday 8th February), the bishops will be pressing ahead with their plans regardless of what Synod says. That is what they say in this document. Synod will not be voting on these changes. It will not be allowed to. It has come down on high from the bishops that the lower orders do not need to be consulted after all, and they themselves can just decide what is best. Synod don’t get to debate and vote, just to “welcome” the whole thing.

How can the bishops justify such audacious chutzpah on the biggest single issue to divide the Anglican Communion for the last 20 years? Although they have decided that gay sex is no longer a sin (against the consensus of the universal church in every place and every time), this is not actually a change in the Church’s doctrine of sex and marriage. Yes, you read that right: complete capitulation to the secular sexual revolution is such a small thing in their eyes that it does not even merit a vote at General Synod. The bishops can simply declare that it is not a change of doctrine, and apparently it is so. This is like the cabinet just deciding on Brexit without so much as a vote in Parliament (never mind a referendum).

The bishops may criticise Conservative Party politicians for not recognising when a work event with wine was actually a party which departed from coronavirus regulations. But they themselves have now collectively declared that blessing, celebrating, joyfully affirming, approving, praying for and giving thanks for same-sex marriages is not apparently a departure from Anglican doctrine, in any essential matter.

It is breathtaking. This is institutional gaslighting at its most egregious, a Jedi mind trick telling us all to look the other way “this is not the doctrinal change you were looking for”. It would be laughable, if it were not so lamentably serious. Come on bishops: admit your hypocrisy and pay attention to the abusive way you are attempting to use power. Like you tell the rest of us to.