Saturday, 22 September 2007

Stephen Bates bows out

Stephen Bates wrote his final column for the Church of England Newspaper recently. This column can now be found on Religious Intelligence and is titled Sketch: preparing for the Anglican summit.

Ah! New Orleans – the Big Easy, birthplace of the Blues and Louis Armstrong, city of Mardi Gras and Voodoo, the least Protestant town in the US: what better place to witness the latest stage in the break-up of the worldwide Anglican Communion? No prizes to be awarded – can you hear me, Bishop of Carlisle? – for the first one to pronounce God’s judgement if a hurricane hovers into view.

This week’s meeting between Rowan Williams and the American bishops will be my swan-song as a religious affairs correspondent, after eight years covering the subject for The Guardian. I’d have been less keen to attend had the venue been Detroit, but where better to end it? It is time to move on for me professionally, and probably for Anglicans too and this marks a suitable place to stop. There is also no doubting, personally, that writing this story has been too corrosive of what faith I had left: indeed watching the way the gay row has played out in the Anglican Communion has cost me my belief in the essential benignity of too many Christians.For the good of my soul, I need to do something else…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 8:36am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I shall miss Stephen Bates and wish him all the best. If his Muslim successor has only half the wisdom and compassion of Stephen, the Guardian will continue to do well. And some Christians might learn some things about loving that some evangelicals seem determined to hide behind their idolatry of the "ultimate" king, that edits away all religious texts but those that justify their fan club devotion, with no regard to what that fan club manifests or nurtures in this reality.

The Lord's Prayer includes a passage "May Your Will be done on earth as it is done in heaven". Those who deny that compassion, justice and mercy are required in this world have refuted a core Jesus' teaching. No wonder Bates moved on.

Posted by: ch on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 11:38am BST

It's not been unknown for me to disagree with Stephen Bates, but I must say that I found this an admirable article. And the prurience of the bishop (whom he charitably refrains from naming) about his wife and their marriage is outrageous.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 11:46am BST

Anyone who cares about the future of the Christian religion, whether in the UK, the US, or elsewhere, ought to read Stephen Bates's final column in a spirit of deep, prayerful reflection. Consider paragraphs like these, and ask yourselves what you think the future of your Church is going to be:

"I had no notion in 2000 that it would come to this: I had thought then that we were all pretty ecumenical these days. I was soon disabused of that. I had scarcely ever met a gay person, certainly not knowingly a gay Christian, and had not given homosexuality and the Church the most cursory thought, much less held an opinion on the matter. But watching and reporting the way gays were referred to, casually, smugly, hypocritically; the way men such as Jeffrey John (and indeed Rowan Williams when he was appointed archbishop) were treated and often lied about, offended my doubtless inadequate sense of justice and humanity.

"Why would any gay person wish to be a Christian? These are people condemned for who they are, not what they do, despite all the sanctimonious bleating to the contrary, men and women despised for wanting the sort of intimacy that heterosexual people take for granted and that the Church is only too happy to bless. Instead, in 2007, the Church of England and other denominations jump up and down to secure exclusive rights to continue discriminating against a minority of people it does not like. What a spectacle the Church has made of itself! What hope of proselytising in a country which has accepted civil partnerships entirely without rancour or bigotry?"

Posted by: Charlotte on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 3:24pm BST

It's a great shame we're losing Stephen. Guardian readers have been privileged to have enjoyed a long tradition of excellent religious affairs correspondents. Stephen's capacity to distill a story, to ferret beyond the obfuscation (for example on the Wycliffe Hall cover-up), and to call a spade a shovel, have made his columns a delight for all of us who like to see hypocrisy and double-standards exposed. He's also got a sharp eye for the issues, and a good theological brain. His successor will find him a hard act to follow.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 6:37pm BST

Many thanks in prayer for the work that SB has done these difficult years on assignment. Of course I find I am probably somewhat of a typical Guardian reader sort, so I do not count in so many new Anglican circles and communities, just as SB has noted.

Would I even feel comfortable in one of the newish mega-churches? I really doubt it, too out of scale - too like a gigantic New York disco on five floors drowning in loud music and drugs, way back in the day. Jesus, cooked properly in just the most careful balance with penal substitution atonement chemicals, is the newest street drug of all? Alas. Lord have mercy.

The leeway in the Anglican Communion used to help me feel welcome, if not even more deeply at home and safe than not. But now all that is changing, and so far as I can tell from observing the covenant processes and Windsor, these latest Great Anglican Ways Forward are supposed to be drafted deliberately so as to wittingly and unwittingly invite me to feel less and less at home as a modern, and over-educated citizen.

Gee, I work with queer folks (who are also often in my settings, people of color) in any number of small and large venues. After all. Queer folks are no longer the slightly threatening and edgy, glittery, exotic flora and fauna of some subterranean demimonde, created by all the foolish and self-serving traditional negatives we repeat about them, legally, institutionally, and religiously.

Careful Canterbury: Too many Anglican believers are preaching, exactly, various straights-only unintelligent readings of holy scripture. We listen.

I suspect I have little chance for repenting – in a pat, neat, conformed new Anglican manner – just almost everything I have sincerely thought as an adult citizen capable of study and critical inquiry.

This backwards call will not displace Jesus as Risen Lord from my life, though it might convince me finally that as SB notes, human health and spiritual survival compel me to move on from the Anglicans who now see their global neighbors as fair game targets for so many different kinds of pot-shot arms practices that I feel I have stumbled into a gun show by mistake, instead of a communion.

To realignment folks, by all means: Continue to lock and load. Surely you must bag whatever limit the new Anglican laws will allow. Ready. Take aim.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 6:54pm BST

Oh for the gift the giftie gie us; to see ourselves as others see us! Stephen has unfailingly and charitably held up a mirror to the various shenanigans on which he has reported, and deserves deep thanks for this. His most bitter and intemperate subjects appear to live in their own bubble, in the way that single issue fanatics often do - a place where they have absolutely no idea how their prejudices and passions come over to everybody else. The answer is not to suppress them, which only validates their rather paranoid world view, but to try and love and understand what is positive in their outlook, in the hope they can begin to relate the things they are so angry about to some basic Gospel values — a thankless task, one may feel, but one which needs to be done. All religions, of course, have their share of cranks and oddballs. The C of E just wears them on its sleeve.

Posted by: Alan Wilson on Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 11:02pm BST

Thank you all very much indeed for your kind comments. They have been matched by many similar messages from readers of the Church of England Newspaper (including some very eminent evangelicals) - proof, I suppose, that Andrew Carey's supposition that all evangelicals think like him are erroneous.
I am very grateful for your appreciation of my reporting - sometimes it has felt rather lonely to be writing as I have!
And, less charitably, strictly between ourselves, my family and I live in the diocese of Rochester.....

Posted by: stephen bates on Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 1:31am BST

How does that song go?

"Please don't go, Please don't go..."

Dear Stephen, thanks for being here in REALITY with us. It often IS a very ugly ride and I can see your unveiling of the not-so-underground discrimination and persecution at CHURCH has worn your spiritual life very thin...not to worry, injustice has always been a very exhausting, draining and painful element in the world around LGBT people and most people like me are strong souls (if they survive hate crimes, self-destructive tendencies and other self-loathing sponsored suicides)'ve been a Prince, Stephen, and I'll betcha there are a millions of emotionally/spiritually healthy readers who think so!

Bravo for a job well done...hip, hip, horrary for Prince Stephen!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 1:47am BST

Thanks for everything, Mr. Bates. Hope you'll be popping your head around the door from time to time.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 2:37pm BST

PS: an after-thought (and this is cheeky, so Simon may not put it up) but while I have your kind attention one last time, can I put in a shamelss plug for my new book: God's Own Country: Tales from the Bible Belt, which is about the story of American religiosity? Published by Hodder and Stoughton and available outside UK from Amazon? There, I said it. Goodbye and thanks again!

Posted by: stephen bates on Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 3:03pm BST

Your support for gay people has been most welcome. I had no idea whether you were married or not Stephen, but welcome the increasing involvement of many heterosexual people (from Ruth Gledhill's blog entry re 'secret meeting' at St. Peter's Eaton Square I see that 3 of the names mentioned - Papadopulos, Stanfliffe and Gladwin are all married) in supporting gay people.
And you are right to point out how ridiculous (I would say scandalously so, to use St. Paul's language) the Church looks in its discussions about, and treatment of, gay people. British society has moved on, and, quite properly, sexual orientation is no longer a matter of 'difference' to be remarked upon, but rather a matter of 'indifference'. That is a mature attitude. Though it would still be interesting to know how many of the most hard-line anti-gay commentators on this blog remain unmarried!

Posted by: Neil on Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 4:57pm BST

As a life-long Guardian reader,and as a liberal parish priest in your own Diocese of Rochester (a rare breed, I am starting to realise!)may I say how sorry I'll be to see you go, Stephen. I hope you don't end up feeling, like Elijah, that "I, only I am left". There are many who share your views, we are just sometimes so scattered, or battered, that we think we are alone out here!

Posted by: Anne Le Bas on Monday, 24 September 2007 at 10:07am BST

I looked at your church website, Anne (your link has four wwwws). I see you call yourself a liberal parish priest. I've had a number of conversations recently about what it is to be a "liberal" (and rather an imprecise definition). One of the by-products of all the recent international events is that this imprecise tag of identity is coming more to the fore, I suppose as an important defence of a set of values at least.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 24 September 2007 at 3:19pm BST

I'm rather honoured that Stephen uses his final column and probably one of his final posts to Thinking Anglicans to have a little swipe in my direction. It's been interesting getting to know Stephen a little bit and I wish him all the best. While I've rarely agreed with him, I genuinely admire his doggedness in pursuit of a story, and his considerable skills and talent as a journalist.

Posted by: Andrew Carey on Tuesday, 25 September 2007 at 12:39pm BST
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