Philip North. The Jeffrey John of the conservatives?

Philip North has withdrawn his acceptance of the offer to become the Diocesan Bishop of Sheffield. He seems universally liked, and widely proclaimed as a “good man”. But as a theological conservative he  does not recognise the validity of women in holy orders. There was something of a storm of protest from those who could not reconcile his ministry with those he was called to serve and as a result he has decided to withdraw.

I feel desperately sorry for him – his translation to Sheffield must have been soon. Mentally he would already have been there, his thoughts and prayers being occupied with his new challenge.His statement on withdrawing has indicated his hurt at what has been said about him:

“The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear. If, as Christians, we cannot relate to each other within the bounds of love, how can we possibly presume to transform a nation in the name of Christ? I hope though that this conversation can continue in the future without it being hung upon the shoulders of one individual.”

That indeed raises some very difficult issues for us as a church. A church which only consists of people who agree with me is not the sort of church I want to be a part of. Whilst I genuinely can’t understand his theological position, I have always wanted to find a way for them to stay not only part of the church but part of the conversation.

We are very bad at conversation in the church – so afraid of bad conflict that we refuse to exercise good conflict. When we do engage well, it is wonderful. When we don’t then the church slips into either boredom or acrimony.

What I find truly astonishing is that this scenario had not been thought through years ago and a plan devised. The strategic thinking of the C of E is breathtakingly bad sometimes. That I think is symptomatic of a church which does not talk to one another enough. Philip North is currently Bishop of Burnley, a suffrogan. That he is a suffrogan but not an assistant Bishop is significant. A suffrogan is a bishop under the juristiction of a Diocesan Bishop, but responsible for a specific area. Presumably in Burnley there were women priests, did anyone think to ask them how things had gone? The fact that, as far as I can see, North’s track record was good implies that they made it work somehow.

My own feeling is that I would feel very very uncomfortable working under a bishop who holds his views. I simply can’t see how my fellow clergy could manage it, male or female, to know that only half of our ministries are recognised – and of course for the women in his diocese that feeling would infinitely stronger. But could there have been anything done to make it work? The answer will always be yes – if there is the will to do it. Whether this was though a far more powerful assistant Bishop, or through alternative oversight, I’m sure a way could have been managed. In the church, the only things that are truly impossible are the things that we don’t want to happen.

I disagree with Philip North on most branches of theology and I fully accept that I am hardly in a position go be directly affected by his ministry. But if someone who seems to have been genuienly well regarded by everyone, cannot become a Bishop, then it does imply that there is a theological bar which is uncanonical and undoctrinal. Which is pretty much the complaint about how Jeffrey John was treated.

And let us not forget that the reason he has given for resignation is not the people of his diocese but the complaints and comments of those who opposed him online. This is a case where the more unpleasant tactics of my own theological community got their way. And that is not how I like it. I want to win the day with good theology, generous conduct and loving attentive listening. Not with anger and noise.

About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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7 Responses to Philip North. The Jeffrey John of the conservatives?

  1. Craig Lambert says:

    I’m the about the only person who reads your blog and bothers to reply. Unfortunately, you’re a typical man of the cloth – Assiduously pious in matters relating to the censorship of criticism of yourself and your twisted faith, whilst sniping about people who are supposed to be your spiritual brethren!

    The very reason the man you’re moaning about thinks women are underlings, is because he is following God’s word (aka reams and reams of words) contained in the Bible… Yes, women are unclean, they are property, they should not speak unless spoken to, the should NEVER become teachers (or priests), because God says they’re not up to the job. GOD DOES NOT RECOGNISE THE VALIDITY OF WOMEN IN HOLY ORDERS…. SO WHY SHOULD PHILLIP NORTH?

    This is the fact of your fiction. The morality you preach has nothing to do with the traditions of Christianity or the teachings of the Bible. Which is why you disassociate yourself from them and criticise the establishment for not rejecting God’s law! If you were an honest man, you’d be true to your God and support Mr North. And publish my post from yesterday.

    I find his beliefs repugnant too, but that’s because I’m an Atheistic Humanist. To me, the Bible is a book of ‘Christian Values’, but not in the way the Christian propaganda machine infers. It is founded entirely on sexism, subjugation, terror, control for the exclusive benefit of the MEN who wrote the books, wear the finery, pontificate at the pulpit and these days, write the blogs!

    It’s good to see the edifice crumbling. You’re trying to adapt 21st Century reality via 1st Century fiction and we no longer live in a world where people have respect for such idiotic behaviour, purely because you’re a man in a white gown. We no longer believe the lies of the past – The Devil, Hell, Eternal Damnation…nor Heaven…. It’s all bullshit which may have worked against ignorant closed communities of the past, but now good people all around the world can see what bad people are doing and have always done via their manipulative agendas….. Radical Islamists, Radical Christians? NO. These are the people who follow their scripture to the letter. And they’re evil people. You have no right to criticise them though, because you’re the one ignoring the very teachings which your God supposedly gave first hand to the world.

    I recall shortly after the Brexit vote you said that people need to be told uncomfortable truths, not easy lies (or words to that effect). Well, here we are Vicar and I’m telling you the same thing. You wouldn’t publish my selection of Biblical quotes for Women’s Day because you know they make you and your religion look utterly stupid and your God exposed as an utter maniac. He’s also exposed as an utter delusion, but that’s by the by in the context of the church as a power-construct. We come back to censorship and the hundreds of millions of sermons that have been preached over the centuries in which these tales are rarely mentioned (except when invoking God’s wrath in his 15th to 19th Century period). Yes, we learn about Noah at school, find out about some people supposedly living 100’s year and the first human was Adam and God made him something from the leftovers and they had an argument with a talking snake…. the loaves and fishes, the sensible stuff God said and Jesus said when they weren’t throwing women off buildings and feeding them to dogs….. All Things Bright And Beautiful we sang in morning assembly, then the headmaster would give us a little sermon about Jesus healing a beggar or something and we’d go merrily on our way believing he was telling us the whole story and Jesus is lovely. Then we grew up and most of us grew out of it, realising that there’s a lot more to God and Jesus than nice miracles. And then we found out about evolution and dinosaurs (long after we were taught ‘faith’) and that magic and miracles and supernatural entities cannot, have not and never will exist. And then some of us actually read the Bible!! They ought to call the whole thing ‘Revelation’, because it’s a direct route to Atheism and Anti-Theism for anyone with a functioning brain and no desire to live a life based on lies, deception and the overbearing influence of the wicked people who devised the whole scam.

    While you’re thinking about this, go and pray. Ask God why he’s sent an Atheist to berate and ridicule you and your faith. Is it a test of faith, or an encounter with the Devil, or simply a human being telling you that there is no message from God because there is no God to message?

    P.S. I know the answer, but I’m not telling because I’m stuck in pergaory ‘awaiting moderation’.


    • frpip says:

      Sorry Craig, but I can’t make head of tail of this. It’s a rant. The basic tenor of it seems to be “if you were honest/clever/undeluded you’d agree with me”. That’s not the point at which a conversation can take place. You don’t want to listen to a reply, you want to be heard. But it’s hard to hear someone when they have no care or thought about listening back. You want a fight. I want a conversation.

      • Craig says:

        I can’t converse with someone who doesn’t understand basic grammar and the meanings of words:

        Basic TENET, not tenor! *rolls eyes*

        Furthermore, I am replying to your original post, so there is the basis for a conversation because you’ve said something, I’ve explained why I disagree (using your own scripture to support my points), so then it’s your turn.

        You’ve made no attempt to counter my valid points about the hatred which spews from every page of the Old Testament, the murders, rape, genocide, the rampant mysogyny. It’s not a rant to express annoyance at the blatant contradictions between what you claim your invisible friend to be and the written evidence anyone can read in the book you claim he wrote. And if you bothered to read what I wrote rather than dismiss it for its tone, the points I made are very clear. How do you explain:

        The evil which God perpetrates in the Bible and the hatred he shows towards women?
        The way the Church and its people manipulate their teachings by only quoting the nice words in their sermons, as if the vile, murderous God is not the same God as the one in the new Testament?

        I’m happy to listen to any reply which counters my points effectively, but you’ve not engaged in anything beyond previous sarcasm, present ignorance and dull claims that you can’t understand what I’m saying. In summary: The Bible says God is hate far more often than God is love. But we only get one version in sermons and blog posts. Why do you ignore the many times, for example, when the Lord treats women like shit? Is it because, to follow these teachings, you’d have to start stoning women to death in the streets when they dare to voice an opinion? If Christians were true to the teachings of God there would be no women clergy ever, Because God says so. To adapt the Bible to decent modern SECULAR values, you have to airbrush God’s will out of this one, and whatever he says about homosexuality and even tattoos, which he expressly forbade in Leviticus. I met a Vicar at a funeral a few years ago. He was comparing his tattoos to my step-daugher’s. I told him to read Leviticus and got the impression he’d never been near that part of the Bible. In other words, the Bible is an irrelevance, even to you and everyone who believes in God. It has no integrity, because you have no integrity. IS are nasty people, but they have no less integrity in following scripture than you.

        By the way, as it’s Jesus’s death day today, I would like your thoughts on this:

        Matthew 27:51-53 tells us what happened right after Jesus Christ died: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

        What this is saying is that the ressurection of Jesus was nothing special, not even a first. A load of Zombies had already been brought back to life and left to wander the streets while Bejuzzuz was asleep in the batcave. What happened to those poor bastards? They must have been terrified to find themselves alive again, but maybe they settled down, got married, had kids… Or maybe they dropped dead again in the Holy City a few hours or days later once God’s party trick had served its purpose, then were carted back to the cemetery to be re-buried by befuddled townsfolk…. And I wonder whether they appeared as mouldering bodies, or full blown skeletons. And what the townsfolk thought when they saw that lot turn up. Why was the sight of one man aka Jesus turning up in good physical health three days after he died, more amazing to ‘many’ than the sight of dozens of rotten corpses and skeletons running wild on Easter Friday? Why weren’t they deemed to be the chosen ones? It all seems highly implausible to anyone with a functioning brain.

        What do you reckon Vicar? Can you shed even a tiny shard of the light of common sense on this ‘historical event’? For if I am to believe that Christ is risen and it’s really important to humanity, I need to know why the saints rose first, but were so quickly forgotten.

  2. 2aphoor2 says:

    As a woman who is also a priest, I must disagree with you – but I agree that the CoE has painted itself into a corner on this matter, and I don’t know how you resolve it. Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of the well-meaning insistence that “we must make room for all opinions”; I think this is fundamentally flawed. We can and should acknowledge when further truth is revealed, and move to make room for that in the church. We do not allow for differences of opinion on matters once considered controversial (such as slavery, though of course the parallels are imperfect), and I don’t see why the validity of women in holy orders is so fundamentally different.

    I would find it hard to serve under a bishop who did not believe I should be ordained. What kind of compromise is possible with someone who denies my vocation and through it my humanity? While this is an interesting academic problem for my male colleagues, for me it is only too real and too personal. As time marches on, the CoE’s attempt to “compromise” with those stuck it a regressive, outdated understanding of women will continue to harm its ministry.

    • frpip says:

      Thanks for this. I suppose it’s because no-one approves of slavery that it’s not an issue, but there are still some in the C of E who struggle with priests who are women.
      I agree (as I said in the post I think) I’m hardly the right gender to know what it would be like servinng under him – even as a man I can’t see how I could do it holding the theology I do. The reason North seems to have been chosen is because as far as I can work out, including reading from women clergy who have served under him as Bishop of Burnley, he seemed to be able to completely set aside his own personal theological convictions when it came to all matters pastoral and clerical, other than ordaining women. In a way, he was the best bet for Unity. I don’t mind if unity is impossibly, having tried it. But I do mind if unity fails becasue of the noise and vituperation of those who don’t value or care about being one church. Whether we stay togetehr as a church, or not, I want us to go through that process using the best arguments and being as mutually generous as possible. If it is still not possible, then fair enough – we grieve and move on. But I don’t want a church to split because of the worst arguments and a lack of love.

  3. J > “I want to win the day with good theology, generous conduct and loving attentive listening. Not with anger and noise.” In short with humility and hope that God’s will be revealed. Unfortunately there’s too many who’s hope is that, having a direct line to God, they have right, and the only thing to have hope in is that you will in time and without any ugliness yield to their views.

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