Mark Story: Forgiveness a gift, not a right

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UNLIKELY: The Rev'd Michael Godfrey's belief that he should not have been sacked as Dean of Napier after admitting infidelity, was aspirational only. PHOTO FILE
UNLIKELY: The Rev'd Michael Godfrey's belief that he should not have been sacked as Dean of Napier after admitting infidelity, was aspirational only. PHOTO FILE

UNTIL last week I'd not come across the biblical reference "feet of clay".

It's an intriguing expression and one that has sparked much debate in media during the past week.

Originating from the Book of Daniel - "his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay" - the quote suggests humanity's fallen, imperfect state. In a modern, secular context, it refers to a character flaw, especially in people of prominence.

The recently fallen-from-grace Reverend Michael Godfrey drew on the phrase when explaining his two historic acts of infidelity, which four days ago saw him stood down as dean of Napier Cathedral.
"What I have been is always upfront about my feet of clay."

His sacking and subsequent standoff with Anglican bosses made headlines throughout the country.

To contextualise the chain of events, the transgressions occurred 25 years ago.

Clearly ticked off at Bishop of Waiapu Andrew Hedge's decision to send him packing from Art Deco City, he responded that the bishop had "read these events through a prism very different to my own, and in dismissing me he has done what he thinks is right for the future of the church".

At first read, the dismissal presents as somewhat draconian.
Why?
His is not a criminal conviction, but a canonical one.
He fessed up early.
A quarter of a century has passed.
His honesty had cost him much already.
He worked for the same employer during and after the incidents - why take this long to turf him out?
He's a charismatic, intelligent man, whose virtues and talents are now lost to the Waiapu Diocese - and Hawke's Bay.

So, why did the bishop chastise the reverend?
For all the right reasons, of course.

This isn't analogous to Auckland Mayor Len Brown's flings.
What saved the mayor was that he wields only civic authority.
The reverend's acts robbed him of moral authority, of which he no doubt preaches to his flock.

And that's perhaps the point. Water under the bridge or not, somewhere in the past quarter century he's forgotten that those in positions of exemplary authority, like him, are there for others to aspire to - not sympathise with. For the bishop to have condoned and sanctioned his continued influence over the diocese, would have also robbed the church of its authority.

Let's not forget this was a gutsy step for the church.
While the reverend seems dismayed at his employer going public with the process (they dispute being the first to go to media) I congratulate them for doing so.
Not because he deserved the shame but because, while the church knew the publicity would inadvertently chip at its standing, it stuck to its guns.

No one needs reminding that transparency in today's clergy is paramount.

But let's not be too harsh: the church didn't dismiss a bad person - just someone who has lost the requisite credentials needed for the job.
There are no winners in this and personally I wish him all the best.

I hope he realises his response to the media fallout was perhaps his biggest faux pas. That is, in bandying about the notions of grace and how forgiveness should have been exercised by his bishop, he said: "I have a different opinion as to how a community of grace should work."

An aspirational ending, indeed. The good reverend has presumed such grace is a given, and forgotten it's a gift.
Admitting one's feet of clay does not excuse it.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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