The circumstances surrounding the appointment of the Rev. Roger Bowen as the new general secretary of Crosslinks have raised hackles and temperatures in the mission’s governing body and anxiety in many supporting parishes.
Formerly the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society which came out of CMS in 1922 on the issue of the inerrancy, trustworthiness and sufficiency of Scripture, Crosslinks has been the preferred mission agency for what we now call “conviction” or “classic” evangelicals. Hundreds of parishes in England and Ireland have supported it with passionate commitment, relying on it to take a lead both at home and overseas in upholding biblical truth and speaking out on current issues.
Roger Bowen, aged 61, formerly a BCMS missionary in Tanzania, has served on the councils of both Crosslinks and CMS. He presently lectures in mission and evangelism at St John’s College, Nottingham. Mr Bowen is chairman of the missions committee within the Crosslinks council and a member of the inner caucus knows as the General Advisory Group – GAG.
Mr Bowen did not respond to the initial advertisement for a new general secretary when a number of applicants were shortlisted. As well as advertising, Crosslinks was also head-hunting and was deeply disappointed when its first-choice candidate, a distinguished missiologist, refused the post on being offered it.
Preparations were then made to interview the other applicants, of whom none was considered suitable, but at that point Mr Bowen asked if he could be considered. He quickly rushed in his papers and nominated referees… and was selected for the job.
The council had earlier stipulated that if no candidate was found from the first tranche of applicants, the job should be readvertised. Their awareness of Mr Bowen’s applications came only when they received a letter from Council chairman, the Rev. Peter Thompson, inviting them to support Mr Bowen as the preferred choice for general secretary.
This produced the split vote which is the primary indication of uncertainty in the mission about Mr Bowen’s suitability and his method of appointment. The figures of 17 in favour, 5 against and 4 abstentions then provoked the unanimous vote against Mr Bowen in Crosslinks’ Ulster Council with 16 members present. The painful fact Crosslinks cannot ignore is that those who voted in London know Mr Bowen on a personal level as a friend and a faithful servant of the mission over many years, and yet nine of them cannot sustain confidence in him as chief executive.
Whatever the pros and cons of Mr Bowen’s views, and primarily his convictions about Scripture and the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ as God and only Saviour, the evidence of that lack of confidence is now out in the open and was bound to be from the moment the Ulster Council voted and, with its reputation for independence of thought and action, went public.
For those with longer memories, it smacks of the mishandling of the appointment of the first principal of Trinity College, Bristol in the ‘80s when Michael Baughen, now Bishop of Chester, was announced as the acceptable candidate and then had to withdraw in a welter of acrimony and division. Then also, there were allegations of administrative mismanagement and a failure to perceive the strongly held convictions of one element of the constituency.
The rueful comment of one Crosslinks council member that “you wouldn’t get away with choosing your church cleaner like this” was the product of irritation and dismay that would have surfaced when GAG met in emergency session and when the mission’s council convened on December 5 to attempt a salvage operation.
Crosslinks needs to move fast and decisively to restore confidence within its constituency. Those who say it is a grubby little storm in an evangelical teacup are quite wrong and shallow in their assessment: there are crucial Gospel issues at stake for a mission which carries out its mandate under the motto “For the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”