The saga of Bishop Wallace Benn and the pro-rape booklet goes on and on. Having first withdrawn his endorsement of the booklet, then apologised, he has now offered what appears to be an attempt at an explanation.
Wallace Benn, the Suffragen Bishop of Lewes, recommended a booklet called Britain in Sin, written by Stephen Green of Christian Voice. The booklet supports the legalisation of rape within marriage and the criminalisation of same-sex relationships. It opposes the welfare state, equal pay for men and women, power-sharing in Northern Ireland and the UK’s membership of the United Nations.
On Tuesday (24 January 2012), I was one of several commentators who drew attention to the bishop’s endorsement, which was quoted on Green’s website. The next day, the Diocese of Chichester (in which Benn is a suffragan bishop) sent me a statement from him, disassociating himself from the booklet.
I wrote again, pleased that Bishop Benn had withdrawn his endorsement but saddened that he had not apologised. The next morning, his press officer sent me another statement, containing an apology.
I thought that might be the end of the matter, although I was frustrated that Bishop Benn had offered no explanation of how he came to endorse the booklet in the first place.
But yesterday (28 January) I received an email from an Anglican living in the Diocese of Chichester. He had written to John Hind, the Bishop of Chichester (Wallace Benn’s boss), to express his concern over Bishop Benn’s comments. He has now received an email from Wallace Benn in response. While my correspondent asks not to be named, he has kindly given me permission to quote the email.
In this email, Bishop Wallace Benn declared:
“My comment on the first publication of Britain in Sin in 1997 was ‘This makes interesting and disturbing reading. We desperately need to understand, as a nation, that our Creator knows what is best for us, and to return to His way as the best way to live’. It was never my intention to endorse particular contentions in the book, but to express concern about the need of our nation to follow the way of our Creator God. If my comment has given a different impression to some, it is regrettable, and I am deeply sorry.
“I was not aware that my name was still being used in any way in connection with the book and I have asked for any reference to it to be removed from the Christian Voice website. I am sure you are also aware of the Statement I have made disassociating myself from the book.”
It appears that he gave his endorsement when Green’s booklet was first published, in 1997. This was also the year in which Benn became a bishop. It’s not clear whether the endorsement came before or after his appointment. This date was before Green’s methods became an embarrassment to so many other conservative evangelicals, who began to distance themselves from him. But the contents of the booklet remain the same.
Nonetheless, Wallace Benn’s latest comment raises more questions than it answers. He says that it was never his intention “to endorse particular contentions in the book”. Of course, it is possible to endorse a book’s general approach without agreeing with every point that it makes. It is, however, difficult to read any part of Green’s booklet without encountering bigotry very, very quickly.
It may be that Wallace Benn merely wanted to go along with the general approach of those who argue that Britain must “return” to being a “Christian country”. This is popular with certain conservative groups who would nonetheless oppose Green’s positions on rape, the welfare state and so on. Ironically, Green’s booklet is a reminder that the “Christian country” to which they would return was a place in which men could easily beat and rape their wives.
The Anglican who sent me the email he received from Wallace Benn has pointed out that he originally raised the issue with John Hind, the Bishop of Chichester. John Hind merely forwarded on his email to Wallace Benn, without expressing any comment himself. I find it worrying that Bishop Hind did not feel the need to comment further, at least to express approval of Bishop Benn’s disassociation of himself from the booklet.
Again, let me emphasise that I do not in the least wish to encourage personal hostility to Bishop Wallace Benn or Bishop John Hind. We have all sinned and God offers us forgiveness. Rather, I want to draw attention to the surprisingly casual attitude towards misogyny and homophobia that appears to be displayed in parts of the Church of England.
(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 .