The Right Reverend Christine Hardman
How would you describe your personal religious faith?
A Christian who belongs to the Church of England.
Is this a tradition which you were brought up with? What made you decide to either retain or adopt this faith?
I wasn’t brought up in the tradition, my family were not church-going. But I was baptised as an infant in the Church of England, and when I came to explore faith as an adult, it was that Church to which I felt in some way I already belonged.
Would you say that in general terms, Great Britain was an equal and tolerant and society, especially when it comes to religion?
Yes, I think I would say it is tolerant in general terms.
How easy do you find it to live in accordance with your own personal religious beliefs? If you face any challenges, are they social, political or legal in nature?
I do find it easy to live in accordance with my own personal beliefs.
Do feel that the Human Rights Act, and an increased awareness of human rights has been a positive or a negative development for our society?
I think this is one of the most complex questions, actually. I think there are many ways in which the HRA has been very positive. There is a sense in which the dignity of every human being is recognised, and every human being has some rights which are to be respected. Where it has been less positive, is that human rights are not a straightforward question, because one person’s human right may impede another person’s human rights. And that hierarchy of rights is a much more complex question, and I think that some of the disputes around the area of human rights are in that arena.
How does your Anglican faith tradition regard human rights (HRs)? Do you think that it has contributed to the world’s understanding of human rights?
I rarely speak using the term ‘Anglican’. Because Anglican refers to those churches across the world, which regard the Church of England as a Mother Church in some sense and belonging to the Anglican Communion. Those churches are located in incredibly different legal contexts, so I would normally be talking about the Church of England. But I think that in general terms, Christianity has made a contribution to the notion of human rights, because the Christian faith sees every person as a unique and valuable son or daughter of God. So there is that theological undergirding. In terms of the Church of England, I think that because it is by law with Established, it has a very particular relationship with the law of the land. There are areas of that set up that do support the notion of human rights, so for example a parishioner in England has a right to request and receive pastoral care, has a right to be married or have a funeral service in church. So there is a sense in which the rights of a parishioner are linked into human rights. There are other ways in which there has clearly been some conflict between human rights and ecclesiastical law. So, it’s again quite a complex and mixed picture.
Do you think that living in a democracy is a positive thing? Would you prefer another system of government?
I do think that it is positive. It does have its problems, particularly for minorities who will never be a majority. Nevertheless, I personally don’t think there is any other system of government which is on balance preferable.
Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?
Yes I do, I believe that very strongly. I particularly think that as a female, when I look back to the work of the suffragettes who fought, and in some cases gave their lives so that we have this possibility, I do think that it is important that we exercise it. And I would go so far as to say that it is a Christian responsibility. As Christians we are called to have a care for the quality of our life together in community. Part of that responsibility is to try to engage with and take responsibility for voting in an election. We have to play our full part as members of the society which we live in.
Do you regard it as problematic that the House of Lords has a role in making/changing law, even though its members are not elected?
As a member of the House of Lords I have not neutral obviously, but I don’t think that my view on the House of Lords has changed since I became a member of it. I have always been a supporter of our House of Lords and Second Chamber system. I think that in the way that our Constitution has developed, in terms of how it is played out pragmatically, we have ended up with a Second Chamber with a number of people who are quite extraordinary. They bring a wide experience of all kinds of areas of life in our world. If you listen to debates in the House of Lords, the quality is extraordinarily high and informed. For example, as a body there is a great deal of expertise in discerning what the unforeseen consequences of a piece of legislation might be. I think that in the last few years, when we’ve been increasingly seeing a lot of discussion about cronyism and political rewards for friends of Prime Ministers, and also the increasing size of the House of Lords. I do think that we have to be careful that we don’t undermine something which has been working well, and ensure that appointments are fair and on merit. I’m not saying that there aren’t things which need careful watching, but I think that on balance our unelected chamber has made a very positive contribution to the governance of this country.
What is your view on the Lords Spiritual?
I’m a very enthusiastic member of the Church of England, I think that it is one of our strengths that we are called to serve and minister to the people of England, who wish to relate to us, we don’t impose our serving on people. But anybody in England has a right to ask for ministry from the Church of England. I think that we are based very much on the principle that Archbishop William Temple gave, that the Church of England exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. We are not there to concentrate on small gathered groups of people who come into our churches, we are there to serve the community. And if you are a parish priest you know that two thirds of your time will be spent relating to people and serving people who are not members of your congregation, but are parishioners because they live in your parish. I think that the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords takes that to the kind of national level. The bishops in the House of Lords are not there to further the interests of the Church of England, they are there to bring a particular, ethical, moral and faith perspective to that Second Chamber. And I think that because the Church of England is in its very nature there to serve the whole of society, I think that is one rationale and one which has worked for having bishops in the House of Lords.
What responsibilities do your faith teach come with power?
I think that the bottom line is that people who exercise power have to fully understand the tremendous burden on them to exercise it not for the benefit of themselves, or their own groupings, but to maximise the quality of life for people in society. They have to absolutely act for the benefit of others. They have a duty to have the highest standards of honesty, integrity and public service in its best tradition.
What duties to all citizens owe to society?
All citizens have a duty to be mindful……I suppose I would put it in a Christian sense, a duty to have a deep respect for themselves and others. And to engage fully not just in one own private domestic life, but in the life of the community. Engaging in wider life, not just looking to one’s own personal self interest.
Do you think that our political leaders are reflective of society as a whole, in terms of gender, race, sexuality, social class etc? If not, is there anything which we can or should do about it?
Without the statistics I can’t give an informed answer. My guess would be that our leaders don’t represent us in all of those characteristics. We tend to have an over representation of people who have been to Oxford and Cambridge, of men (that is changing in some spheres but not others) and of white people. I think that we ought to be troubled by that, and to think quite deeply about the choices we are making and why, and become more aware of our own prejudices and stereotypes. We will be better served by greater diversity, and more people with a greater understanding of what life is like for different groups.
Have you ever felt so strongly about a particular issue that you wanted to campaign to change it, and if so, what did you do?
I haven’t ever engaged in political life I don’t think, although I have felt quite strongly about some issues. I suppose that the issue in which I have been most personally involved, has been within the Church of England, and the inclusion of women within all Orders of ministry. In the early days I engaged in demonstrations and events to highlight the issue. Then more latterly, being part of groups working at producing legislation to do the job. And speaking in General Synod.
In your personal experience of dealing with public authorities, has there been an appropriate level of awareness and respect demonstrates towards your beliefs and any needs flowing from them?
I suppose I have been quite fortunate, in generally having been someone operating with a level of authority within the Church, and with a certain confidence. So I don’t think that I will have experienced some of the more difficult responses from institutions. I have generally been working at the level of institution to institution. But there have been occasions when I have felt that, particularly around hospitals, when I have felt that the complexity about being a neutral institution has been a problem. I think that were I taken into hospital and not well enough to state my request to see a priest that would not have been easy. The system is geared towards protecting patients and confidentiality, which I understand. But I think that there is not always an awareness on busy hospital wards of a person’s spiritual needs. I can think of a few occasions when as a parish priest I have had a parishioner taken into hospital as an emergency, where I have not been able to see them. And I know that if they are dying the one thing which they would want is anointing, and it is very difficult to do that when the hospital’s view their priority has been to try to resuscitate. Whereas I know what the person would have wanted would have been a priest to anoint. But I quite understand that at that point the hospital has no proof of that. So religious needs are seen as secondary by the hospital in a way they are not by the individual.
Is it important for you to always act within secular law?
I think in almost every circumstance it is important to act within the law. I can think of perhaps one exclusion which has never been tested in court, which is that if I were to have heard a confession, for which there is an absolute requirement of confidentiality which I think comes from the 1542 Canons. If a court were to order me to disclose what I had heard in a confession I suspect that would be an occasion when I would not feel able to obey. It is a topic which is a challenging one legally in the Church of England, there is a group now looking at that in relation to safeguarding. There may be a move to amend the canon and to remove the dilemma.
Do you beliefs require you to speak out for third parties, especially the weak and the vulnerable?
Yes. It’s an absolute requirement. That is part of what I would see as being at the heart of what I am called to be and to do. A bishop has a tremendous opportunity to be heard, and I consciously try to use my voice on behalf of those whose voices are not heard.
In your perception, is the Rule of Law applied equally to all citizens?
I think that the intention to treat people equally is firmly there. I think that in practice people who are blessed with personal resources in terms of education and money are more able to with confidence challenge legal rulings than others. There are some people who are very vulnerable and not able to fight injustices, and the changes to the legal aid system have made that worse.
How do you feel about the general trend in the last 15 years toward an increase in police powers?
It is very difficult to know, because by the nature of the thing we don’t know all of what goes on. My sense is that on the whole the extension of powers is probably justified. There is a balance between personal rights to privacy and the need to act in a way which is to the benefit of society. I think that the increase in powers has been necessary on balance.
Is there anything else which you would like to add?
I do think that the assumption now in our culture, which may or may not be backed up by law, is that religion is something which is tolerated but is essentially a private matter. I think that is quite a challenge to our communal life. I think that we have now moved to a position where the norm in our society is secular and that religion of whatever brand is to be allowed but…………….it is now seen as improper by some people that religion should have a place in public life. The debate on faith schools in the House of Lords was an example of this.
Christine Hardman became a Deaconess in 1984 and was ordained Deacon in 1987 (serving as Curate at St John the Baptist, Markyate Street in the Diocese of St Albans) and Priest in 1994. In 1996 she was appointed Vicar of Holy Trinity and Christ the King, Stevenage, and also Rural Dean of Stevenage in 1999. She served as Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich in the Diocese of Southwark (south London) from 2001 to 2012.
Christine holds a B.Sc (Econ) from the University of London and trained for ordination on the St Albans Ministerial Training Scheme. She later studied for a Master’s degree in Applied Theology from Westminster College, Oxford.
She took up the role of Tutor and Course Director on the St Albans Ministerial Training Scheme from 1988-1996. During this period the Scheme merged with the Oxford Ministry Course and she became its Director of Mission Studies.
In 2012 Bishop Christine became Assistant Priest at Southwark Cathedral and received the Bishop’s Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of St Albans where she was acting Warden of Readers.
As Bishop of Newcastle Christine is a Member of the House of Bishops in Church of England’s General Synod; previously she was an elected member of the House of Clergy from 1998 to 2015 (with one brief break when she moved from St Albans to Southwark Diocese) and served on many different committees including the Synod’s Eucharistic Prayers Revision Committee, the Dioceses and Pastoral Measures Review Group and the Ethical Investment Advisory Group. Her major area of work on General Synod was the legislation to allow women to be bishops. She was Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury in the Synod 2010-2015 and served on the Archbishop’s Council.
She is married to Roger and they have two daughters and four grandchildren. She is the seventh woman appointed Bishop in the Church of England; the second to lead a diocese and the second to take a seat in the House of Lords.