Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.
Stories of a broken trellis is a series of anonymous blogs showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt”. Glen’s article depicts favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are historic and specific, yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. Each account so far is from a different UK church network.
Nay Dawson has provided a helpful guide as to how to identify “Blokes Worth Watching”.
As she says, women, by definition do not qualify, but it caused me, unquestionably “a bloke”, to question whether I had ever also been one, “worth-watching” or perhaps not. I have a suspicion I’m not the only one who has had such a thought.
From this end of life’s telescope, I loathe the whole idea, but there was a time when that was certainly not the case- the lure of the (male) “inner ring”, even if the young me didn’t fully understand it that way, was very enticing. And if I’m honest, even now, to never have been and now never to be, a BWW gives rise to the same small sense of possible failure, of envy and stimulates my desire to “belong”. At the same time there is a modicum of guilt- was I something I should never have been and did I use such privilege, to the detriment of others? That is why Nay’s analysis made me feel so uncomfortable.
It is right to say too that I am still impacted by intrusive BWW thoughts. What (certain) others might (theoretically) think of me matters much more than it should because I haven’t succeeded in leaving all of BWW behind.
I think a few of my male contempories never had much doubt that they were a BWW – but they would be a minority of a minority. To hold a “full house” from among being: “converted”, boarding school educated, trained at the right camp, articulate, “sharp”, sporty, “sound”, wealthy, from a pukka Evangelical family and recipient of early patronage, is, after all statistically, surpassingly rare. But there are a handful of such golden boys and undergraduates with such a hand in each generation- the types who are known as “captain of everything”.
The justification for this is that if, “…not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”, that must of necessity mean that some, however small a minority, must, when called, be all those things. And that his how the little, but essential, elite inner ring of BWW’s is formed and supplemented.
The next issue is how proximate might a boy/bloke be to joining these core BWW’s at any given time in his development? Would holding three of a kind or two pairs do it? Can everything be trumped by one really strong card?
So, not being English might be a ‘no, no’, but holding the card of being an excellent rower could compensate. Cambridge as university is perhaps to hold a King. Attending the “right” theological college is a stronger card than one deemed not sound. Not being at the right camp might be mitigated by being from a very prestigious day school. Being overtly, even aggressively “complementarian” is a strong suit. Not now being in a rich/flagship urban (and therefore “successful”) church could be offset by having the card to play of once been a CU President or marrying the “right” (petite, “submissive”, rich, connected maternal) wife and so on.
This is the course the not yet BWW has to navigate from, at the latest being an undergraduate, but ideally since early teenagehood. It is a constant calibration and recalibration of schooling/ family/ university/ church/ patronage/ ministry status/ camp/ appearance/ dress/ athleticism/ accent.
A talent for giving or willingness to accept a clever put down can make-up for one’s parents not owning a gite. Admitting preferring football to “rugger” or badminton to tennis might be fatal to ministry-prospects- so better not to admit it. The language has to be learnt quickly- “camp” does not mean Boys Brigade, or any other camp, but the “right” camp, “reading with someone” is not assisting with adult literacy, knowing who “Revds Rupert”, “Conrad” and “Andrew” in the inner ring are, who is married to who’s sister and all their Evangelical lineage is show’s ones connections and an understanding of proper deference within the hierarchy.
It might all sound slightly absurd, in fact it is anything but. The stakes are high- succeeding as a BWW opens the way to desirable jobs in nice locations, excellent schools for the children (or well-off parishioners willing to help with school fees), prestigious platforms, high influence, more chance of access to the inner ring for the next generation and the one after, and a world of evangelical wealth where chalets, villas and holiday homes can be borrowed and so on.
Of course, if someone says things like these like this, or raises such questions they have automatically proved that they are “not quite the thing”, “chippy”,” disgruntled” or ”don’t get the culture” etc and therefore must accept responsibility for having disqualified themselves. For it to be said of someone, “I don’t think I know him” is to be damned- of course all the “right chaps” know all “the right chaps”- if you minister in a desperately poor area, can’t afford to go to the “our conferences”, are inarticulate, or simply feel unwanted by them- how can the chaps be expected to know you? My story as I have told it will be met with all sorts of nit-picking about details, “well it wasn’t quite lack that”/”he doesn’t really get it”, simply because that is how the BWW inner ring works- identifying who is in and who is out by tiny details and making sure they know it.
To conclude, like Nay did – why does this matter? It matters because a besetting sin and defining mark of this culture, especially, is to define itself by exclusion. Only 7% of English children ever go to a private school and yet we have kids’ camps that wouldn’t even admit all of that proportion. We have at least one church that runs Bible teaching weeks for those who do sufficiently well remunerated jobs. Organisations describe themselves as “churches” but do not resemble and do not want to resemble what the local New Testament church looked like in all its economic, social and other diversity.
And perhaps consider this- some of the BWW traits can be acquired or cultivated- not the core ones which come by virtue of birth- but the accent, intonation, dress, preaching/praying-style, relationships, all of which are arguably, trivial. But what is worrying is that wives, patronage and roles can be “acquired” too or certain “approved” theology “adopted” in order to have a few more cards from the pack and that has really worrying personal and pastoral implications. This stuff matters.
Nepotism, favouritism, lack of transparency, fear and preference for loyalty over merit distort leadership, deprive the church of the shepherds it needs and gives the church shepherds it doesn’t need and that matters.
It also matters because blokes like me need to undertake a season of painful reflection to see what harm this culture has done to us and how it affects how we do ministry but much so how we have enculturated it to the detriment of others.
If I ever was a BWW the Lord was immensely merciful to me. Put simply: while exclusive elitism prevails, the fullness of the gospel is denied and abuse in all its forms is enabled.
Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.
Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.