The Times drags a bishop into the gutter
A travesty of justice and disgrace of a front-page news story which portrays a well-intentioned, gracious and thoughtful bishop in the worst possible light.
The front page of Wednesday’s Times was in doubt about the ingredients of the story:
“Campaign for women bishops ‘is like 1939’ – Top cleric causes outrage with Nazi slur”.
The article continued: ‘A leading Church of England cleric has prompted outrage after he compared those who support the ordination of women bishops to the Nazis.’
Now many might think His Grace somewhat traditional, staid, fuddy-duddy and old fashioned in his views. But he makes no apology for his apparently outdated opinion that when there is a ‘story’ there should be some things called ‘facts’ – you know, words that have actually been ‘said’ or deeds that have actually been ‘done’ – a little corroborative evidence to support a contention.
So it is worth inquiring into what ‘facts’ The Times produced to support either the headline or their opening statement of their hysterical headline. Perhaps a quote from the Bishop saying: “Those who support the ordination of women bishops are like goose-stepping Nazis”? Or maybe: “That prominent woman cleric, Rev’d Joanna – you know what, if I’m honest, she’s always reminded me a bit of Goebbels”? Perhaps he likened women’s vestments to brown shirts in some way?
No, not a bit of it.
Because the Bishop in question, Wallace Benn, said no such things. The Times report alludes to what he had said at a recent Reform conference of traditionalist Anglicans.
As a statement from his office made clear: “The Bishop of Lewes never mentioned Hitler or the Nazis in his address at the Reform conference. He said that the situation in which we find ourselves in the Church feels like people probably felt as they viewed the year ahead in January 1939. There are storm clouds on the horizon and warfare around the corner. We all hope and pray that it won’t happen. He also said that the consecration of women bishops should not be a church dividing issue, and will not be, if proper provision is made for those who hold the traditional position, who are equally loyal Anglicans.”
In fact, you can watch and listen to what the Bishop actually said HERE.
And when you have done so, you will see that the Bishop is quite right. He said nothing about Hitler, nothing about the Nazis, nothing about the Holocaust, and at no point did he liken any opponent of women bishops, either by name or in general, to any 1930s Germans.
What he did say was that he feels there’s mighty conflict ahead in the Church of England – a bit like people felt in the run-up to war. And this eventuality, he feels, would be best avoided, if at all possible, by making continuing provision for traditionalist Anglicans. It was actually a plea for peace – ironically re-cast by The Times as a declaration of war.
This is not really a matter of theology: it doesn’t matter whether you agree with the Bishop’s stance against the ordination of women or not. What matters is the way an honourable man, with whose opinions The Times is apparently at odds, has been treated.
But, hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Why not phone up someone like the Chairman of the Holocaust Centre and see if you can get a response to your caricature of Bishop Benn’s comments and place it in the original story even before you have actually quoted from the Bishop himself?
Is that fair?
Is it good journalism?
Is it consistent with their Code of Practice?
And why not follow it up the next day by completely ignoring the Bishop’s clarification and refusing to publish his response?
And why not remain completely silent while the rest of the plagiarising and self-gorging mainstream media feed off the putrid carcase of the original article?
What is particularly disturbing is that the Bishop has explicitly spelt out and affirmed in the story that he did not have Hitler in his mind at all when he made his comments – except in the obvious historical sense that Churchill was facing Hitler at that point in time. He says: “I was thinking in Churchillian terms and not of Hitler at all, except in the sense that Hitler was the problem.”
It then takes one of his opponents, Christina Rees, of ‘Women and the Church’ (Watch) to read into his comments any link between Hitler and women bishops, which certainly suits the angle of the story, but is nowhere reflected in what the Bishop actually said. Conveniently, lest His Grace’s readers and communicants fail to see the line The Times wants to take, Ms Rees is brought in immediately to say: “The clear implication that, as Hitler was the problem then, so women bishops are the problem now, is mind-boggling.” But it’s not a clear implication at all – and anyone watching the Bishop’s original comments online can see the complete absence of such a link, or indeed any reference in these terms whatsoever.
And anyone who knows Wallace Benn knows that he would never, ever make such link. He is simply not that kind of man.
Sally Barnes, also of Watch, said: “I am really sorry that a man who is a Christian is talking in these terms because they do not seem very much in keeping with the Christian way of talking to each other.”
Seems, madam? Why do you not take your complaint to your brother in private and let him explain himself before tearing strips off him in the national media? For that, to His Grace at least, ‘does not seem much in keeping with the Christian way of talking to each other’.
It is apparent that a simple (if perhaps less than ideal) analogy about the potential dangers of out-of-control conflict then and now has been turned into an analogy between supporters of women bishops and Hitler. This is plainly not what the Bishop said or meant, as any clear-headed, neutral and honourable observer (or reporter) can see.
And so an affable, decent and honourable man of God has been portrayed as a schismatic incarnation of evil.
Some of the more recent comments on The Times website rightly protest:
“This is truly terrible journalism. I expect Sun journalists to make stories up, not Times correspondents. The Times should seriously consider whether or not they want to continue working with this woman. Also the Bishop in question should consider legal action.”Indeed.
“To say and report this as an individual's opinion is fair enough, bishop though he be (even if I do not share that view). But to associate that analogy - a distorted, ignorant and imperfectly developed parallel - with a 'Nazi slur' is just not acceptable in serious journalism. Especially not journalism that covers religious issues.”
“I have watched all of Wallace Benn's comments on the video and there is no place in which he ‘compared those who support the ordination of women bishops to the Nazis’ as you state in the first line of your story.”
“I was present at the Reform Conference when Bishop Benn made his remarks and absolutely no reference as made to the Nazis nor was any connection implied. What the Bishop was saying was that sadly it appears that the issue of Woman Bishops puts the church on the brink of warfare and he could have used any of many 'brink of war' situations as an illustration. He actually chose 1939 to indicate the seriousness of the situation as a war situation and to imply that this means that one side in the struggle over this issue can be likened to Nazism is absolutely wrong and pays no attention to the context in which the comment was made. Certainly the issue causes deep concern but to misinterpret a gracious Christian Bishop in this way is unjust, inexcusable and plain wrong.”
“Think about this rationally, the Rev made a pre-wartime analogy to the inevitable struggles of the CoE over the next 5 years. He based this on the mindset of the British people in Jan 1939 who knew that a fight was coming. NOT that women bishops were Hitler... ‘Bishop causes outrage with Nazi slur’ - Really!?”
But then, as they say, the first casualty of war is truth.