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Leader comment: Winchester

28 May 2021

WHEN part of an organisation malfunctions, where does the responsibility lie? The deceptions used by the reporter Martin Bashir to obtain an interview with the late Diana, Princess of Wales, described in Lord Dyson’s report last week, have triggered calls for the wholesale reform of the BBC. Mr Bashir’s exoneration in the 1996 internal review was the point at which the fault changed from an individual one to a corporate one. None the less, just as it is hard to draw with confidence a line between the BBC interview and the Princess’s death, so it requires a great deal of effort — which rival media outlets and hostile ministers seem to be willing to expend — to connect a bungled review with the corporation’s overall management 25 years later.

Not enough is known publicly about the situation in the diocese of Winchester to attempt to draw similar lines. The managerial style of the Bishop, Dr Tim Dakin, is clearly under scrutiny. What is less clear is how much justification there is for those who are making firm connections between the unhappiness in the diocese and the widespread Renewal and Reform programme espoused by Dr Dakin. The fact that Evangelicals are numbered among the Bishop’s critics indicates that the problem is more personal than merely a disagreement about the concentration of diocesan resources on new, less traditional church structures. What the House of Bishops will have to consider, however, is whether the situation in Winchester went unacknowledged and unaddressed for so long because it too easily resembled a caricature borrowed from commerce and politics: that of a principled reformer battling backwoods traditionalists. Such images are seldom accurate, and never fitting for a Church in which wisdom resides in its lowliest members. The Winchester experience exposes a fear that the Vision and Strategy programme currently in discussion will become a top-down approach to the Church’s challenges. Visions should inspire; they should not need bishops to enforce them.



ON THE issue of culpability, the return of the Book of Job in the lectionary this week brings to the fore again the perpetual puzzle of the origins of sin and misery. If proof were needed of the human contribution to misery and distress, a report last week by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre provides it. In 2020, 55 million people were uprooted from their homes, 48 million as a result of conflict and violence, seven million because of natural disasters. Put crudely, the humans-to-God proportion of blame is seven to one — tipped further against humanity by the fact that many of the disasters were caused by climate change. The unfairness of blaming God for the world’s evil is matched only by the wonder that God accepts the blame.

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