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‘Rebel priest’ Rev Jules Gomes: Safe Space Sarah, the box-ticking Bishopette of Londonistan


‘Wherever St Paul went, there was a riot. Wherever I go, they serve tea,’ quips the scholar-bishop N T Wright, drolly stating the foremost qualification of a bishop in the Church of England.

The CofE has just monumentally outdone Bishop Wright’s criterion for selecting bishops by appointing an über-bureaucrat to England’s third-most important ecclesiastical throne. Wherever the new Bishopette of Londonistan goes, people will serve not only tea, but chunky slices of gooey chocolate cake swathed in the swaddling clothes of the icing of niceness. Dame Sarah Mullally might as well wear a tea cosy instead of a mitre!

The 55-year-old ‘woman’ (of that, she is certain) describes herself on Twitter as a ‘poor potter’. Pottery is her hobby. She should describe herself as a ‘poor theologian’. Theology is (allegedly) her profession. The most important word in the Christian vocabulary is ‘gospel’. Mullally bafflingly cannot define ‘gospel’.

In her depressingly bland maiden message telling us how ‘surprised’ she is to be Bishop of London (every bishop fakes ‘surprise’ when their appointment is made public) she waves two white flags of appeasement to the orthodoxies of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘safeguarding’. She then proceeds confusingly to conflate ‘church’ with ‘safe spaces’ and claims that ‘safeguarding is at the heart of the gospel’.

She parrots this mantra from an earlier blog, where she fires off a string of nebulous phrases and non-sequiturs. ‘As the body of Christ we are called to reflect the nature of Christ, the nature of God and I believe that as churches, part of the body of Christ we are called to be places of safety, places in which people can take refuge. This is why I believe that safeguarding is at the heart of the gospel.’ Huh? I always thought the death and resurrection of Jesus were at the heart of the gospel. Silly me!

A former senior civil servant in the Department of Health who became Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Sarah is fluent in her first language of NHS-speak, but stutters when it comes to her second language of biblical Christianity.

London has a bishop who doesn’t have the foggiest idea about the biblical gospel. Her episcopal raison d’être is ‘safeguarding’, not the salvation of souls! ‘ . . . I will seek not only to exercise responsibility for safeguarding but I will continue to ensure a safe culture in which abuse has no place, and where those who have survived abuse can flourish,’ she hollers. Nothing wrong with having a bishop prancing around with pom-poms and cheerleading the church’s Safeguarding Stasi Team, I suppose, but isn’t the CofE already infested to the rafters with safeguarding bureaucrats?

One of the cardinal qualifications of a bishop as laid down in the New Testament is that he should be ‘an apt teacher’ (1 Timothy 3:2). ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9).

Looking for a meaty exposition of a biblical text by Bishop Mullally is like searching for the Loch Ness monster using an ultrasonic submarine detector and finding nothing. But, hey-ho, Mullally compensates for her inability to teach by her ability to tweet! She is known as the bishop who tweets the most among her peers in the exclusive mitred mafia club of the CofE. Despite joining Twitter just 18 months ago, she has sent almost 3,000 tweets, the liberal Left-leaning Premier Radio website breathlessly announces.

If you are a bishop in the CofE belief in God is ‘an optional extra’, Sir Humphrey Appleby tells Jim Hacker in the true-to-life British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister. But supporting a football club is a non-negotiable dogma of creedal faith. Acting Bishop of London Pete Broadbent (don’t read too much into his surname!), who was suspended after making anti-royalist foot-in-the-mouth comments on social media, declares he is ‘a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur FC’. Bishop of Sheffield Pete Wilcox wants us to know he is a big Newcastle United fan. The women bishops have yet to learn this trick of coming across as ‘cool’.

But the best way to come across as ‘cool’ in the CofE is to be singularly skilled at box ticking and doffing your mitre to every single Corbynist cause – here the bishopettes can teach the bishops a lesson. The First Epistle of Madame Mullally to the saints of Londinium makes Welby look like an amateur. Like elastic from old underwear she stretches herself to fit the entire spectrum of the ‘diverse’ Diocese of London.

Mullally says she believes that marriage is between a man and a woman (at least for now). That’s a sop to wealthy St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, who have threatened to sever ties with the CofE if the new bishop is not conservative on sexuality (Tick Box). By the same Houdini-esque attempt to reconcile irreconcilable opposites, she concedes that sexuality ‘is a challenging issue not just for diocese of London’. That’s a sop to the LGBTIQ alphabet soup lobby (Tick Box).

Mullally stacks up the hierarchy of intersectionality and smartly feeds each of their insatiable appetites for attention. She tell us the church needs more black and minority ethnic clergy (Tick Box) and better representation of disabled people (Tick Box), as well as women (Tick Box), in order to better represent the communities (Tick Box) it serves. She speaks of deprivation (Tick Box) and inequality (Tick Box) in London, where some people feel ‘marginalised, voiceless and angry’ (Tick Box—is that for Remainers?) Mullally will visit a food bank (Tick Box – a visual demonstration against heartless Tory bastards) and will be introduced to leaders from the Tower Hamlets interfaith forum to discuss the challenges faced by London’s faith communities (Tick Box – a symbolic cuddle with Muslim Mayor of London Sadiq Khan).

Two tips for the Church of England. First, learn from bookies when appointing bishops. William Hill did not list Bishop Mullally among the top eight candidates. The bookies know the Bible better than Caroline Boddington, the master chess player manoeuvring her pawns and bishops, who has ‘disproportionate power’ over top CofE appointments. The bookies sincerely expected the Crown Nominations Commission to appoint a bishop who would in some measure meet some aspect of the job description of a real bishop.

Second, educate clergy on the basics of the gospel. Tell them the gospel is more important than safeguarding or moral grandstanding. St Paul’s succinct summary might be a good place to begin: ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.’ Simple, innit, Ms Mullally?

Not so simple, if you understand CofE politics. Eavesdrop on this conversation between Prime Minister Jim Hacker and Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby from the episode entitled The Bishop’s Gambit. ‘So, the ideal candidate [for a bishopric] from the Church of England’s point of view would be a cross between a socialite and a socialist?’ asks the puzzled Hacker. Sir Humphrey offers a one-word reply: ‘Precisely.’

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‘Rebel Priest’ Rev Jules Gomes
‘Rebel Priest’ Rev Jules Gomes
The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

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