There had to be a way of shoehorning Crystal Palace’s amazing 3-0 win over Arsenal on Monday evening into the blog this week. This may not mean much to those of you who are not football fans, but the way that the Palace players went for it from the start, and physically ‘put it about a bit’ showed that they were not overawed by a team higher up the league table looking to secure European Champions’ League participation next season. What Palace did not show was deference to Arsenal or ‘polite submission and respect’, as the dictionary defines it.
The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race last weekend also reminded me of times when, as a child, my father and I were kindly given tickets to attend the local rowing regatta. The donor was a local businessman who was also our landlord as I recall. I thoroughly enjoyed the event except for what I saw as the excruciating midpoint ritual of tracking the man down and literally (as schoolboys did in 1963) doffing my cap in appreciation of the gift. It’s one thing to be grateful and appreciative; another to be overly deferential and with hindsight, that is what it felt like.
In September 2021, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published a report concerning child abuse in religious communities. In identifying abuse of power by religious leaders as one barrier to reporting, the report stated, ‘children are often taught to show deference and respect to religious figures, who are typically regarded as innately trustworthy’ and ‘ this trust can be exploited to perpetrate abuse.’ This is not to say that showing respect is not appropriate, but the Past Cases Review findings and the current work of the Church’s safeguarding team are threaded through with case examples where undue deference got in the way of legitimate challenge and saying no, or prevented others asking the right questions about what they saw and heard.
Crystal Palace asked metaphorical questions of Arsenal’s ability, ambition and approach. As members of the safeguarding community of our Church, we should remind ourselves that asking questions of our leaders, politely, assertively and confidently is one of the best means of challenging poor practice or individual behaviour.