Bishop compares fight over female bishops to World War II

November 3, 2010

LONDON (RNS) A leading bishop in the Church of England has triggered
fury in British religious circles by likening the debate over allowing
female bishops to the "serious threat" of warfare posed by the Nazis on
the eve of World War II.


Bishop of Lewes Wallace Benn told a conference of conservative
Anglicans in Hoddesdon, England that, with the conflict over women
bishops, "I feel very much increasingly that we're in January of 1939."


Benn, who's due to retire in two years, warned his audience that
"I'm about to use an analogy, and I use it quite deliberately and
carefully. And it slightly frightens me to use it, but I do think it's
where we are at."


What he meant, he said, was that "I feel very much increasingly that
we're in January of 1939. What we must not do is create a phony war, but
we need to be aware that there is real serious warfare just around the
corner."


The date marked a speech by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler that
predicted the "annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." Germany
invaded Poland eight months later.


His remarks infuriated James Smith, chairman of the Holocaust Center
in Britain, who told journalists that Benn downplayed "both the scale of
the suffering the Nazis caused and the scale of the moral challenge they
represented."


The bishop's office, in a statement, insisted that Benn "never
mentioned Hitler or the Nazis," claiming instead that "he said that the
situation in which we find ourselves in the church feels like people
probably felt as they viewed the year ahead in January 1939."


"There are storm clouds on the horizon and warfare around the
corner," the statement said.