Here at davidould.net we take reporting on Anglican matters seriously. Because of that the last few days have been quite enlightening.
Back in March when the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia returned from their annual meeting we began the regular job of contacting sources to see what had happened. Year after year it has been a fruitful endeavour and we’ve shared with you the things that we thought you needed to know about the direction that our senior leaders were trying to take us. We also make decisions about what not to publish. That’s always the way with these things; the filing cabinets at davidould.net are far bigger than the website itself. Sometimes we’re not confident that we’ve got enough details on a story, sometimes we judge that it’s not helpful to publish. Often we’ll take soundings from others (even those involved in the stories) on whether it’s helpful.
That leads to frustration all around. Sometimes conservative readers will have a story and urge us to publish but we can’t proceed because it can’t be verified. Others are very upset when we do publish. We make a point of checking our stories and when complaints (or even lawyers’ letters) arrive we simply ask for clarity on what facts are incorrect. That’s usually the end of the dialogue.
But it doesn’t stop the complaints. Theological revisionism hates to be exposed. There are some glaring examples of a shocking lack of integrity around us in the Anglican Church of Australia; clergy who make promises at their ordination and even consecration and yet then act contrary to those promises. The standards we together ask our clergy to be held to are not arbitrary; they’re set out in the Ordinal and our Constitution as a national church, not to mention the Scriptures. At times the only consistency appears to be the ongoing willingness to bank the monthly stipend cheque.
So why write about the last few days?
When we started talking to sources about the March 2018 bishops’ meeting it quickly became apparent that there were two related topics of interest amongst the bishops; same-sex marriage and this website. A number of those who were there told us that the bishops’ agreement on how to proceed with the question of marriage was kept private (described by one attendee to us as “embargoed”) because of davidould.net. Some of those there did not want it published because it would be “used as a weapon against us”.
But what is actually meant by that? davidould.net suggests that “used as a weapon against us” is better understood as “means we’ll be held publicly accountable for what we’ve agreed to”. If agreements are made, agreements that uphold Biblical orthodoxy and promote a proper collegiality, then what’s the problem in having them out in the open? Only those bishops can answer for sure but here at davidould.net we recognise that the agreement places the more radical revisionists in a very difficult situation; conservatives have a clear standard they expect to be upheld and the activist liberals in the clergy and laity now see that the bishops that they thought would pursue their agenda appear, instead, to have capitulated on it. No wonder they didn’t want it published.
So why an editorial about the question of whether to publish? And why now?
As our readers would expect, once we knew that there was a “secret” bishops’ agreement we worked hard to get hold of a copy. Not everything we acquire is published but it all goes to help understanding. Some stories are supported by unpublished information.
Eventually a copy arrived in our inbox. Then we had to decide what to do.
Of course, the first response is to publish. This is big news: a robustly conservative agreement that puts the liberals on notice – the only way they can pursue their agenda is through General Synod, the same General Synod that just censured the Scottish Episcopal Church on the same issue.
But there are other considerations. This website was a major topic of conversation amongst the bishops at that meeting. Some members of the meeting appear to really not like it when we publicise their actions. They want to be able to do things, or allow others to do things, but they don’t want many people to know about it. So we publish. And sometimes we publish simply so that they know that we know. With that in mind there was a real desire here to publish the “secret” agreement.
On the other hand, this is a delicate time for the Australia bishops and there is what one might describe a “hard-won truce”. The liberals might not like the agreement but they agreed to it. Why mess that up? Why give them an excuse to walk away? Now, frankly, here at davidould.net we think that if you agree to something then you agree to it; you don’t go looking for excuses to get out of an agreement. Besides, if you really do agree and want to uphold Biblical truth then what’s the problem with people knowing about it? Aren’t these the bishops of the church; the most senior clergy in the land? What’s one small website compared to them? Why worry about the truth being told? What is there to fear?
And then on Monday we had the announcement of the new bishop of Gippsland, a man who has repeatedly argued in public for a position that is quite obviously diametrically opposed to the drive of the bishops’ agreement, an agreement that davidould.net had withheld publishing details of. However, the glaring disparity between Rev. Dr Treloar’s words and the words of the agreement were so obvious that something had to be said and so our piece on his appointment included a reference to the agreement, the first that we made in the almost 2 months since we became aware of it.
We took soundings on whether it was helpful to publish the actual document at this time and the sense from those we spoke was still that it was unhelpful, that it would rock the boat unnecessarily. We took the decision to hold back even though it was now clear that a juxtaposition of Treloar’s open letter advocating for same-sex marriage in the church and the bishops’ agreement would show just how unreliable his consecration vows would be and how many hands would have fingers crossed while the other hand was being used to consecrate him.
So imagine our surprise this morning to see almost the entirety of the bishops’ agreement published by the newspaper of the Diocese of Melbourne, the seat of the Primate of Australia. For weeks davidould.net had held back from doing exactly the same because we were told it would upset the liberals, that they would find it unhelpful and yet here it was on the front page.
Here at davidould.net we don’t mind being called names. We quite enjoy receiving the occasional bullying cease and desist letter (although we’ve never needed to comply with one since they tend to be vague unsubstantiated complaints). We also get used to being described as a trouble maker from time to time (because telling the truth will quite often get you into trouble). It all comes with the territory.
But it’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a surprising double-standard. For weeks we’ve held off reporting on this agreement because, apparently, it’s publication would be unhelpful. Liberal bishops made much of the damage and upset that could arise from such an action and expressed such clearly to their more conservative counterparts. The sentiment of those conservatives that I spoke to was that nothing should happen that might upset that delicate balance. We were told by conservatives that this was a “private” and “secret” document. And so we held back even though it would have been a great scoop to get the document out first.
So as we conclude, just 2 points need to be made (and not least for all those reading from the room with the best chair in all the diocesan offices around the country):
- It was the conservatives that worked hard to keep this agreement from being published. Every one that I’ve spoken to in the last 2 months was determined not to breach the trust that had been placed in them at the meeting. Sources who would normally gladly point me in the right direction dried up, such was their desire to uphold their part of the bargain. That needs to be said clearly.
- It’s going to be very hard now for davidould.net to be persuaded not to publish “secret” things in future. If the Primate can do it, why can’t we?
Besides, why are you all so afraid of the truth getting out? It will always come out anyway; don’t complain if we’re the channel by which that happens. If you don’t want people to find out about what you do, don’t do it. If you’re not willing to keep your ordination and consecration vows, resign. If you don’t want to uphold the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia, stop banking their cheques.
Most of all, stop blaming davidould.net for pointing to the fire when you lit the match.
To publish or not to publish? We think the answer is obvious.
image: See-ming Lee