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Breakfast with Frost Sunday, 7 July, 2002, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford
Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford
Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Now to York, where the general synod, the governing body of the Church of England is meeting this weekend. It's the last meeting of bishops with George Carey at the helm - he's stepping down in the autumn and his successor will be officially announced. Joining us from York is the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt. Rev. Richard Harries. Good morning.

RICHARD HARRIES: Good morning.

PETER SISSONS: Is it Rowan Williamson, the Bishop of Wales, who has got the job?

RICHARD HARRIES: Nobody knows yet but a lot of people hope that it is - we'll just have to see. I suspect the announcement will come, if not later this week, next week but there's certainly a huge amount of support for him.

PETER SISSONS: Whoever it is, are you all happy at the way he was chosen?

RICHARD HARRIES: Well we've got a debate - tomorrow in fact - about whether the present system is the best one. There are a good number of people who would like the appointment of bishops and archbishops to be entirely in the hands of the church, with the Prime Minister playing no part at all, and we've got a debate tomorrow on that subject and it will be very interesting to see which way the vote goes, what the mood of the church is at the moment.

PETER SISSONS: Because if it were in the hands of the church you could claim divine guidance, whereas as it is it can just be raw politics, can't it?

RICHARD HARRIES: Well I don't think I'd like to draw quite such a sharp distinction between divine guidance of the church, divine guidance over the life of the country as a whole and there's politics in the church as there is politics in society. I think a lot of people feel that the present system does have quite a lot to say for it and certainly those churches in the Anglican communion which elect their bishops do not find it very satisfactory - they don't like all the politicking that gets into the election of bishops.

PETER SISSONS: Well as you say, it comes with being the established church. George Carey says it will still be established in 25 years' time, do you agree?

RICHARD HARRIES: I do agree. I think it's important to realise that establishment is not just one thing, it's a cord made up of a number of different threads and it would be possible to weaken or cast some of those threads and still have the cord of establishment in place. For instance, it would be possible to get rid of bishops from the House of Lords and still have an established relationship. And it would actually be possible to have a different system of appointing bishops and still have the established - after all in Scotland, the Church of Scotland is the established church and they have very different ways of appointing their leaders and of course they don't have their leaders in the House of Lords.

PETER SISSONS: Well I gather you're all getting steamed up about bishops possibly being excluded from a reformed House of Lords, and you're, in a way, the sort of shop steward to that movement, aren't you?

RICHARD HARRIES: Well I'm sort of the convenor, low profile convenor of bishops in the House of Lords, yes. We were disappointed, and we think it's rather anomalous that there is no bishop upon the joint committee of the House of Commons and the House of Lords to look at the House of Lords reform, after all there was a bishop on the Royal Commission - it happened to be myself - I think that certainly the government believe that bishops should be involved, but the procedures for this committee are entirely with Parliament, House of Commons and House of Lords, and there was such pressure from Liberal Democrats crossbenchers that the bishops got pushed out on this occasion. But we, we made our point, we made our mark and we will be returning to this issue in the future.

PETER SISSONS: Yesterday there was a move by the Church of England to recruit other faiths, members of other faiths - couldn't that give offence? Isn't it a bit patronising to say to devout Muslims how about thinking about joining us?

RICHARD HARRIES: You're quite right Peter, there was a very important debate yesterday about proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to all people without any exception. Now I think that if that resolution had gone through unamended it might very well have created offence, but there was an important amendment - at least I think it was important because I put it forward myself - which said that we should also be willing to learn from and be enriched by people of other faiths. And certainly that's my experience, with both Jews and Muslims, that in a genuine relationship we have a very great deal to learn from people of other faiths. So the motion, as it went through, not only said we should proclaim the good news of God in Christ but also we should be willing to learn from other religions, and I hope very much that Muslims and Jews won't be offended by that.

PETER SISSONS: So you're saying to them this morning "we're not asking you to convert".

RICHARD HARRIES: All Christians have a duty to share what we believe is the love of good revealed in Christ with all people - that is, that is part of the Christian faith, it goes really back to our title deeds. And in exactly the same way as Muslims, I mean Muslims today are very, very keen in order to convert Christians to become Muslims. The fact of the matter is that both religions are missionary religions - that's part of their very essence and there's no good in pretending otherwise.

PETER SISSONS: Bishop, thank you very much for joining us this morning. Thank you.


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