Bishop Wallace Benn apologises

Wallace Benn, the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes, has sent me an apology for his endorsement of a booklet the promotes the legalisation of rape within marriage and the criminalisation of same-sex relationships.

Along with several other bloggers, I drew attention two days ago to Bishop Benn’s endorsement of a booklet called Britain in Sin, written by Stephen Green of the fundamentalist group Christian Voice. The booklet opposes the welfare state, legislation guaranteeing equal pay to men and women, power-sharing in Northern Ireland and the UK’s membership of the United Nations.

The following morning (yesterday), I received an email from Wallace Benn’s office, saying that he wanted to “completely and absolutely disassociate” himself from the booklet. I blogged about this, saying that I very much appreciated the complete withdrawal of his endorsement but that I was disappointed by the lack of an apology.

This morning (26 January), Wallace Benn’s press officer sent me an email, saying that the bishop was responding to my blog post by issuing an addendum to his statement of yesterday. It reads as follows:

“I have asked Stephen Green of Christian Voice to immediately withdraw my apparent endorsement of his booklet. I apologise for any hurt caused or misunderstanding given”.

I am very grateful to the bishop for apologising, although he has still not explained how he came to endorse the booklet in the first place or which part of it (if any) he agrees with. The endorsement still appears on the Christian Voice website, though it seems that this is Stephen Green’s fault for not responding to Bishop Benn’s request to remove it.

In response to some comments I have received about my blog, I should emphasise that I have not any way been trying to whip up personal hostility to Wallace Benn. Nor would I want to. I believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. But this does not mean the issue should be ignored. If the bishop’s apology leads to fewer people trusting Green’s booklet, that will be a good thing.

I remain alarmed that a situation can arise in which a Church of England bishop can endorse a booklet that encourages rape, apparently without this being a major disciplinary offence or a big media controversy. In 2010, the Suffragan Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, criticised the monarchy and made some ill-judged personal comments about members of the Windsor family. Despite apologising, he was lambasted in the right-wing press and temporarily suspended from his job. Is it is worse to criticise the monarchy than to sanction rape?

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(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion. Last year, he walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia.

For links to more of his writing, please visit http://www.symonhill.wordpress.com.

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