Re-Reading the Green Report 1: Suspicion, Retrieval and Repair

In December, the Green Report (more formally, the Report of the Lord Green Steering Group, or ‘Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach’) was leaked, to the accompaniment of a fountain of criticism (and a splash or two of defence) in blogs, comment pieces, and letters pages.  (It has also now been published as a Synod paper, with an introductory summary.)

(See the initial Church Times report; see also the various collections of responses gathered by the Thinking Anglicans blog.)

My aim in writing now, as a latecomer to this party, is not to try to get that debate flowing again.  Instead, I want to try something a little different.  Rather than setting out yet another critique, I want to try for retrieval and repair.  This first post will try to explain what I mean.  I plan a few more posts, over the next few days, to try and put this retrieval and repair into practice.


All sorts of criticisms were levelled at the report after it was leaked, but most prominent among them were those which saw in it the triumph of corporate language over theology, or of business culture over the culture of the church, or of managerialism over Christian wisdom.

It is not hard to see where this criticism comes from.  The corporate language starts on the title-page – indeed, in the first two words on the title page: ‘Talent Management’.*  And when readers whose critical senses have been alerted by that title turned to the Introduction, it is not hard to see how their suspicions might have deepened.  The first paragraph is confidently, if briefly, theological.  It quotes Justin Welby speaking about our being ‘Custodians of the gospel’ and ‘called by God’.  That initial theological note immediately vanishes, however.  From the next sentence on, we are in the realm of ‘leadership development’, ‘talent management initiatives’, and the engagement (to develop detailed proposals for these initiatives) of the former ‘Head of Talent and Learning at BP’.  It was therefore inevitable (and entirely predictable) that, by the time they reached §8, the report’s claim that its recommendations ‘mark a culture change for the leadership of the Church’, most readers will have seen the change in question precisely as a takeover of the church by the habits and language of the corporate world.

This opening actively invites a suspicious reading of the report.  In fact, it does more than invite, it all but demands it.  The choice of title; the way the introduction has been put together; the brusque transition from §1 to §2 – it all says, as Martyn Percy said in his critique in the Church Times, that what is ‘on offer is a dish of basic contemporary approaches to executive management, with a little theological garnish’.

By the time the reader reaches the body of the report, just over the page, the damage is already done.  That body contains strands of theological language and recognisably theological ideas woven in with strands of management language and borrowed corporate ideas.  Having reached it via the introduction, many readers will inevitably see the corporate strands as central, and see the theological strands as twisted around them – whether as decoration or disguise or inadequate amelioration.  In practice, that means that they will take the specific proposals (§§33–78) as bearing the main weight of the report, and see the discussion of ‘principles and context’ (§§10–29) as secondary – to be read, rather sceptically, in the light of the later proposals.

Retrieval and Repair

My claim is not that the suspicious reading is wrong. Much of the language and argument of the remainder of the report lends itself very well to being read in this suspicious way – and the suspicious reading is powerful, penetrating and worrying. I do not, however, think that the suspicious reading is the only thing that can be done with this report.  I have said that the report is woven from multiple strands, including ‘strands of theological language and recognisably theological ideas’.  I want, in my subsequent posts, to try the experiment of flipping the suspicious reading over, and seeing what happens when one takes the theological strands as central.  I’m not ignoring the critical readings – I have learnt a great deal from them – I am simply doing something different.  I am attempting a ‘retrieval’.

This retrieval also involves ‘repair’.  There are times, I will suggest, when the report resists being read around its theological strands.  There are indeed times when its managerial language pulls hard against the retrieval I am attempting.  There are moments when I am forced to say that if I want to re-read the report in the way I am suggesting, I will have to refuse some of the specific language it uses.  Just as the suspicious reading is forced to say of some of the theological material in the report that it is undermined or evacuated or denied by the corporate content, so I am forced to say from time to time that some of the corporate content is called seriously into question by the theological content.

I suggest, however, that this very task of repair is one that the report itself encourages.  Very close to the end, in §85 (far too late for the suspicious reading to take seriously), the report notes that it has used ‘corporate labels such as “talent management”, “leadership development programme”, “talent pool” and “alumni network”’, and acknowledges that ‘these should perhaps be replaced by terms meaningful to the Church’.

So, over the next several posts, in line with that last recommendation. I am going to attempt a retrieval and repair of the report.  I do not claim that, in so doing, I am identifying what the intentions of the reports’ authors really were, nor do I claim that I am running counter to their intentions.  I am simply not playing the kind of interpretive game that involves me in that task of excavating intentions.  I am, rather, exploring one way of receiving and responding to the report – a way of making something of it that I think it does make possible, even if it is not something that it demands.  So I don’t ask, ‘What were they really up to, the Lord Green Steering Group?  Rather I ask, ‘What should we be up to, now we have this report in front of us?  How can we best live with it?’

Full Disclosure

I’m on the Faith and Order Commission.  I’m therefore one of the co-authors of the report Senior Church Leadership: A Resource for Reflection, published in January, which tackles some of the same territory as Green, but from a very different angle and with a very different remit.  There was some discussion and consultation between members of the two groups, and the FAOC report is cited in the Green Report, but I wasn’t involved in the writing of the latter.  I’m not writing these thoughts on behalf of the Green group or anyone on it, nor on behalf of FAOC or anyone on it.  Of course, my thinking in this area has inevitably been shaped by the work we did in FAOC and the conversations we had with people involved in the Green group, but these are entirely my own personal ramblings, and nobody else bears responsibility for them.  You could however, plausibly take my proposal as an attempt to read the Green report in the light of the FAOC report.

* Of course, the word ‘talent’ travelled from referring to a particular weight of gold or silver, to meaning an divinely entrusted gift to be used wisely, and so to meaning a capacity for success in some sphere of endeavour, by way of Jesus’ parable in Mt 25:14–30.  In other words, we do owe the word ‘talent’ in the title of this report ultimately to the Bible.

2 Thoughts on “Re-Reading the Green Report 1: Suspicion, Retrieval and Repair

  1. Una Kroll on February 5, 2015 at 5:38 pm said:

    I like the notion of ‘retrieval’ of theological truths that may have been obscured by the language used in the Green report. Previously The FAOC has done a good job on finding language that can bring about a posit9ve attitude towards unity in diversity. In the last century It brought out some important theological truths about ecumenical issues that had been clouded by the emotional context of some words used by Churches for separation. So if it or others could do the same for the Green Report it might help the Church of England to find more unity than disunity in some of the changes envisaged in this jargon filled document.

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