Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Fundamentalist Interpretations of the In Camera Debate

In the story of Jairus as recorded by Matthew it is simply said that when Jairus first met Jesus he told him that his daughter was dead (Matt. 9:18). According to Mark and Luke, however, the daughter was merely on the point of death at the beginning of the story and it was only later-after the incident of the woman with the haemorrhage-that Jairus and Jesus learned that she had actually died (Mark 5:3 f.; Luke 8:49 f.). There is a clear contradiction between the initial words of Jairus as recorded by Matthew and the other Evangelists. We can, of course, explain the contradiction quite easily and acceptably by saying that Matthew, whose generally policy was to tell stories about Jesus in fewer words than Mark, has abbreviated the story and given the general sense of what happened without going into details. But the fact still remains that Matthew has attributed to Jairus words which he did not actually say at the time stated. (I. Howard Marshall)

It has been wrongly assumed that when Andrew Lewis refers to a  "report" in the "in camera" debate that that he is referring to the interim report of the Metropolitan Police, which he told Brian Napier that he had not seen.

A careful examination of the precise words which uses reveals that his reference to a report is often either to the letter which he received from Mr. Ogley or to the letter which Mr. Warcup had written to Mr. Ogley or to both. Before a Minister makes a decision he will normally receive a report from a civil servant or other officer. This may take the form of a letter but will still be considered as a report. It would therefore be perfectly natural for him to refer to the documents which I have mentioned above as a report.

On face value, if the wording of his reply has to be assessed very careful to see that this is not the case, I think he has failed to be as clear - either intentionally or not - as he should have been. Lack of clarity is probably habitual with some States members. I think he should have been clearer.

I would be surprised if every States member present - or even most members - at the original "in camera" debate took such a nuanced reading of his words. Let's look at three statements in which he refers to the report, and note the very careful choice of words which we have in two of them:

(1) Members will be aware that an investigation has been carried out by the Metropolitan Police and I was presented with a preliminary report on the basis of that investigation

(2)  I have read an alarming report from the Metropolitan Police which led me to this decision in the first place. I can do no more.

(3) I am purely acting on information contained in a report that was about an investigation into an operation that was code-named Rectangle and that is what the report was about and that is where my concerns were.

In the first instance (1), that can be read as - as referring to the Warcup letter - in fact, it can refer to little else. He is very careful to maintain a "distance" between himself and the report.

But certainly later in the debate, he seems to actually state that he had read the report (2 above) - he doesn't say "a preliminary report" and there is no "distance" that he places between him and the Met report, not does he qualify his statement immediately before hand or  afterwards, but lets it stand.

Later he refers in (3) to the Warcup letter, but the fact that he stated he had read the report before in (2) must have muddied the waters considerably. If he has been unfairly treated, to some extent, he has only himself to blame.

It's rather like Matthew in the account of Jairus daughter. Mr Lewis attributes to himself a position which he does not make elsewhere - in (1) and (3) - and which he denied to Brian Napier. But the fact remains that he has told the States something which contradicts those. It may be an unintentional abbreviation, or narrative compression, but it says something quite different from what he says in other places in the debate. There really is no wriggle room.

I can't really see how the second statement made later on can in any kind of exegetical reading be made to state that he is referring to the Warcup letter.  It may well be that he was not careful enough, in the heat of debate, to make clear the subtle distinction which he had made earlier ("a preliminary report on the basis of that investigation"), and was carried away - but if perhaps he had been clearer about his original source, and that it was one remove from the Met Report, that would have not occurred.

Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he did  not intend to lie, with statement (2)  - strictly logically - he did. I cannot see that (2) preserves the distinction made in (1) and (3).  I doubt whether there is a historian in England who would look at the record dispassionately in any other way.

But - returning to the case of Matthew's gospel, the fundamentalist argument in its defence is that "Matthew's account is an inerrant summary of Jesus' raising of Jairus's daughter. Difficulties are encountered if the details of this summary are pressed in a way that Matthew never intended".

So I suspect the same kind of defense will be that Andrew Lewis words have been pressed in a way that he never intended. The contradiction can be ironed out and harmonised - provided we take a fundamentalist approach which assumes that he didn't - for whatever reason - mislead the States in statement (2).

The assumption of biblical inerrancy is an overriding hermeneutical ideology with the Jairus story for fundamentalists. As James Barr comments: "Inerrancy is maintained only by constantly altering the mode of interpretation, and in particular by abandoning the literal sense as soon as it would be an embarrassment to the view of inerrancy held." (Fundamentalism). 

In other words, when literal interpretations conflict with "established knowledge" , fundamentalists abandon them for nonliteral ones, often in ingenious, if highly implausible, ways. I think there is a strong fundamentalist mind-set in some States members which is tantamount to a refusal to take the record at face value with regard to Andrew Lewis utterance, and likewise comes up with ingenious solutions to explain it away. Questions relating to the plain inference of statement (2) are therefore eliminated from the interpretative process from the beginning.

James Barr frames the fundamentalist logic as follows: "The passage is inerrant: the only question is, which is the correct path to the necessarily inerrant meaning?" With respect to Andrew Lewis, we can see this in fundamentalists explanations which assume that he did not mislead the House.  It is taken for granted that he did not mislead the House, so the only question remaining is, which is the correct path to the understanding of his words in such a way that statement remains true. That outcome dominates the interpretative process entirely.

As I say, I think the most likely outcome, is that he was not as guarded in that moment as he should have been, and failed to preserve the distinction which he makes in (1) and (3).  The reason could have been the heat of the moment, or that he was intentionally trying to convey an impression of being closer to the Met Report than was the case to strengthen his hand,  which he succeeded in doing in (1) and (3) but failed in (2).

Now it may be that the leaked transcript has itself been amended (which obviously cannot be ruled out), but this highlights the problem which I see as the key - the inability to verify statements made in camera without referring to those statements.

I'm really just as concerned about that - in an earlier instance, an in camera debate on quite a different matter - the Waterfront - there were made various statements and comments about Pierre Horsfall, which he was unable to discover or address, although as with "in camera" debates, rumours abounded! He may well have been effectively defamed in a private session of the States with any means of redress. That is surely not in accordance with natural justice, especially as speakers in the States are protected by privilege anyway.

Guernsey manages quite well with very few in camera debates (three since the war), and it is perhaps about time that Jersey addressed that issue. It cannot be good for democratic government for it to take place in secret, unless there are compelling reasons such as national security. I'm not convinced that many Jersey debates fall into that category.


Anonymous said...

An interesting erudite and, as usual, dispassionate analysis!
The proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus, however, will surely not draw the same fine distinctions. The clear understanding that I have, based on the information available, is that Lewis misled the States. Perhaps he forgot his lines in the middle of his performance, which might have given the game away. Perhaps he was simply not sufficiently skillful to be able to maintain throughout the debate the fine distinctions to which you refer in order to protect the lie ...
Whatever the actual details were/are the clear intention of Lewis was to somehow justify what at the time was not justifiable - in my humble opinion!

Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret said...

Tony, another very insightful posting.

An observation; you say this:

"Now it may be that the leaked transcript has itself been amended (which obviously cannot be ruled out), but this highlights the problem which I see as the key - the inability to verify statements made in camera without referring to those statements."

I can confirm in this case - as one of the key participants in the in-camera debate in question - that the transcript has not been amended. It is accurate as published.

There is another relevant consideration; we are not only considering the words of Andrew Lewis as spoken in that in-camera debate - although that debate is, of course, centrally important. Lewis, Frank Walker, Ian Le Marquand etc, have all said very similar things to Lewis. Essentially, the repeated claim has been that the suspension of Graham Power was "justified" because of the Met report.

The truth is, the suspension of Graham Power was never justified - including and expressly, not justified by any Met report.


TonyTheProf said...

I'm pretty sure the transcript has not been amended, but I do have to take a historical distance.

Without access to the primary source myself, that possibility has to be considered.

Anonymous said...

If Lewis had not seen the Met Report, then he based his decision without the full facts.

Anonymous said...

Stuart wrote, "Lewis, Frank Walker, Ian Le Marquand etc, have all said very similar things to Lewis. Essentially, the repeated claim has been that the suspension of Graham Power was "justified" because of the Met report."

In any attempt to establish the most relevant truth, that fact overrides the concern over the precise wording of Mr lewis, does it not?


Anonymous said...

Stuart wrote, "Lewis, Frank Walker, Ian Le Marquand etc, have all said very similar things to Lewis. Essentially, the repeated claim has been that the suspension of Graham Power was "justified" because of the Met report."

In any attempt to address the larger issue, that fact overrides the importance of any precise wording used by Lewis. The consistent citing of the Met Report for the purpose of justifying the suspension of Mr Power was a tactic used by the government to commit a grave injustice.

Mr Lewis was not alone in not wanting his in camera inconsistency exposed. That seems to me to be the primary reason for the protectives stance taken by him and by others over the issue, and the reason for not addressing the "discrepancy" during further investigations.