A new leader begins

Feb 3rd, 2007 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

A young Nick Higham from the BBC was the speaker at a conference for Christians in local broadcasting back in 1991. His address on the way he thought broadcasting was going proved to be prophetic. Nick Higham foresaw a “dumbing down” of issues, an increasing focus on personalities, and a magnification of trivia into serious issues. Documentaries would no longer be about major world issues, but instead would be concerned with questions like people’s rights to keep dangerous dogs.

The phenomenon of Big Brother and the fact that it could make national news vindicates Higham’s arguments. But I wonder if even Nick Higham could have foreseen the extent to which spin and presentation have replaced serious discussion of issues. Mrs Thatcher had gone from power only the previous year; however much she may have been disliked, she did face people square on. There wasn’t the evasiveness that characterises the leadership now.

Serious debate has disappeared behind image and impression, and it has even permeated the church. Few clergy are now prepared to call things as they are; to do so, invites the criticism that outspokenness damages morale.

The Church of Ireland bishops elected a new Archbishop of Armagh on 9th January to succeed Archbishop Robin Eames. Bishop Harper of Connor became Archbishop Harper of Armagh yesterday and faces his first Sunday in office tomorrow. There will be temptations in his primacy to become a Blairite; to attempt to spin away inconvenient truths, to respond to issues by answering questions that no-one has asked; to ignore those who are annoying with their challenges about what he thinks and what he is going to do.

There will be the temptation to inhabit the world prophesied by Nick Higham and not to engage with awkward realities, better to pretend all is well and hope that something turns up, than to admit that there are serious problems. But such leadership leaves people in the wilderness, not knowing what to believe or where to go, much better to tell the truth, no matter how inconvenient.

Winston Churchill once said, “There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. People face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy. But they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise”.

Is it too much to hope for a Churchillian archbishop?

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