Thursday, 18 December 2008

ABC interviewed in NS

The New Statesman has an interview, or rather a report on a series of interviews, with Rowan Williams in its latest issue.

See Interview: Rowan Williams by James Macintyre.

This interview has provoked quite a lot of comment in the Telegraph , The Times and the Guardian.

Telegraph Archbishop of Canterbury: Disestablishment would not be ‘end of the world’ by Martin Beckford.

The Times Archbishop: disestablishment of Church of England not ‘the end of the world by Ruth Gledhill and Archbishop of Canterbury: Not ‘end of world’ if Church disestablished on Ruth’s blog.

Guardian Riazat Butt Church and state could separate in UK, says Archbishop of Canterbury online yesterday afternoon, and Archbishop backs disestablishment (and the Muppets) in this morning’s newspaper. But today’s newspaper also has How Williams changed views on splitting church from state by Stephen Bates and Comment is free has Reading between Rowan’s lines by Giles Fraser.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 11:12am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

The garnudia's front page headline is now more accurate.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 12:16pm GMT

The tone of the comments from the public on these newspaper articles is very interesting. Right across the spectrum, from Guardian to Telegraph readers, there is an increasingly sharp and anti-CofE tone prevalent amongst the public.

This is a highly significant change in Britain, which was, in the past, spared the anti-clericalism of the Continent. It is a monumental change, because it means that church leaders can no longer amble along on the assumption that they incarnate English morality in some ex officio and effortless way.

I would suggest that this change, which heralds a very chill wind sweeping across a privileged church, has little to do with "secularism" per se, and very much to do with the recent staggeringly incompetent handling of the church's image by its leadership. Where we were previously seen as avuncular, kindly and intelligent, the Church's monumental cock-up of the gay issue has left people viewing us as a "nasty" religion. The gay issue may turn out to be the point at which English society definitively parted company with an ancien regime institution apparently not up to the task of presenting either a coherent moral philosophy or even a kind welcoming face.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 12:49pm GMT

Stephen Bates is probably quite right, as usual ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 1:18pm GMT

After Riazat Butt's excellent reporting of GAFCON and Lambeth, her article "Archbishop backs disestablishment (and the Muppets)" is really disappointing. I find it dishonest and tabloid.

Rowan did not back disestablishment. He was saying that although it had merit in certain respects, it was not acceptable presently because it would play into a (neo-)liberal strategy of consigning faith to the private sphere.

Why bring some lampoon about the 'muppets' into it at all? It's really disreputable.

Posted by: Chris Tyack on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 2:01pm GMT

I'm too Canadian! When I read the title, I thought, "When was the ABpofC in Nove Scotia?"

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 3:00pm GMT

Not that Canadian, though, since it should be Nova Scotia!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 3:36pm GMT

Fr. Mark, perhaps many people in England are not keen on their state church being a fundamentalist purity cult run by Nigerians.

Posted by: JPM on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 3:43pm GMT

"The gay issue may turn out to be the point at which English society definitively parted company with an ancien regime institution apparently not up to the task of presenting either a coherent moral philosophy or even a kind welcoming face."
Posted by Fr Mark

The scary irony of it is, though, that a disestablished CofE could then sign the Anglican Covenant, and become even MORE homophobic.

Sigh. Maybe it really is time to found a world-wide Episcopal Communion, w/ those Anglicans (parishes, dioceses, national churches) who want to *keep Anglicanism* w/ all its traditional charisms (see re The Quad!), instead of the Akinolist New Thing.

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 6:19pm GMT

As an American, whether or not the Church of England is disestablished is something I have no influence in and am not affected by. So I hope any Brits here pardon my indulging in commenting anyway.
I find the notion of a national church quaint. To me, it smacks of bygone eras where being a national church meant "believe our way, or you will be roasted to death (before 1600s) or denied job and political opportunities or any real involvement in community life (1700s, 1800s)". I know that's not true anymore, but that's only because, looking from the outside, the CofE seems on its way to irrelevance. Absolutely gorgeous cathedrals – with few pews filled. And, having a spectacularly fancy way of crowning new kings or queens (to impress the proletariat with?) or burying dead royalty is hardly a good excuse for establishment to continue.
As far as getting past the issues of sexuality and gender, the ABC did that at Lambeth by mostly ignoring them. He may have felt it was the only way to have open discussions on more pressing issues, but he mostly ignored them. That did not cause the de-camping bishops to camp back.
Thank you, JPM at 3:43. ABC Williams was liberal once. I know he’s the head of a church, and has to take all views into account, but I sure hope he finds his liberal voice again. Short of announcing that the CofE is resuming autos-da-fe for sexual miscreants and deviants (also known as GLBT people), he’s not going to make Nigerian-style conservatives happy anyway, so why not “to thine own self, be true”.

Posted by: peterpi on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 7:02pm GMT

Fr Mark, you are spot on. Whilst the catastrophe of the last few years may have given heart to conservative Anglicans and their allies from my own personal experience it has alienated most people I speak to outside the Church and bemused those who remain in it. I find this is especially so amongst the under 40's. One can feel the cooling of the atmosphere amongst none churchgoers when one discusses these issues with them. It has effectively made conveying the good news of the gospel to the people of England that much more difficult. Perhaps in a strange sort of way the only silver lining in all of this is the establishment of the Church. If a prescriptive covenant is envisaged that changes the nature of the English Church, invloving the need for legislation, then too it will have to come before Parliament and have a very big hurdle there to jump. If whole swathes of theological opinion and diversity are deemed no longer approriate in the Church then surely Parliament will want its say too. For be sure there appears to be not one Bishop who is willing to stand up and say aloud, 'Actually I value my gay and lesbian clergy and welcome an inclusive church' - not even here in London diocese which, without them, would fall apart tomorrow.

Posted by: AlaninLondon on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 7:04pm GMT

"Maybe it really is time to found a world-wide Episcopal Communion"

Not at all. We have survived the Exodus of the Uberpure several times before this. My God, the Puritans even crossed the ocean, so afraid were they of the taint of the unrighteous! This Exodus is a bit noisier, and perhaps a bit more numerous than previous ones, but what we'll be left with is the world-wide episcopal communion you describe, and one that can pay attention to the unimportant things like loving neighbour and God while the Uberpure tackle the really important issues, like who's boinking who, who wears what garb at worship, and which sins they will ignore while pretending that it's actually the wicked pagans, sorry, Anglicans, that are doing the ignoring, you know, the stuff God REALLY wants us to focus on. Don't forget, +Akinola Himself has said that human suffering doesn't matter. That should be as good as if it came from the lips of the Saviour Himself, surely. (do I need to say 'sarcasm alert'?)

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 7:39pm GMT

JPM: I think you could have hit the nail on the head there.

JCF: Quite. I'm up for being part of it.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 7:57pm GMT

How odd that establishment in these contexts has in passing become part of the challenged bulwark against evangelical and anglocatholic conservative religious trash talk with its targeting, its scapegoating of women or progressive believers or queer folks or nearly everybody who bothers to ask modern questions outside a close penal framework, and all the evangelical conservative realignment likes.

There is fire in the Elizabethan Settlement boilers after all. Though of late Rowan Williams has done a rather poor job of making clear that he offers anything but facile lip service to the queer communities, especially those of color and/or of other world religious faiths. Rowan wants to be loved for promising not to punch anybody in the face, though he will draw up his skirts in priestly sanctity while, say, Akinola and his sort threaten violence in the most obscene, tabloid hints.

Alas. Lord have mercy. Such an us is this global anglicanism.

We hear disavowals of violence, but no leadership towards peace across our global hot button differences. If Rowan will not even pick up the Chicago Lambeth Quad tools to wage disarmaments, what else can a new fangled covenant offer him? I think Rowan is put off by the global Anglican messiness, and his patience for the homophobic members of our global Anglican family constantly sends the queer folks to the back rooms, closets, and tables under the apple trees in somebody else's orchards. A distant service, then, amounting to an increasingly feeble and odd witness about the human rights let alone the fundamental values of queer family life and parenting; but at least establishment allows others of more fiery mind and heart to move the tables of the kingdom feast a bit closer towards the local parish church buildings.

Oh well, change is typically messy, not orderly.

Indeed neat and clean and ordered changes are the exceptions, historically. Perhaps the fact that at the moment disestablishment looks so tasty to realignment campaigners is a basis sufficient to delay, even to decline.

Posted by: drdanfee on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 8:41pm GMT

The sad aspect is that this Archbishop, of formidable intelligence, naively does his musings in public. The role of sharia law, and establishment of the Church are issues he should discuss privately with people of his own standing, not with journalists so it ends up in the tabloids. These half-baked ideas then become the punctuation marks of his reign, along with gay politics, women bishops, and others that have little to do with the message of and faith in Jesus Christ. He needs better political advisers so that he can use his talents as one of the chief pastors of the Christian world.

Posted by: Andrew on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 9:27pm GMT

Aren't questions in interviews like this part of the ritual of being the ABC?

Posted by: kieran crichton on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 10:32pm GMT

"Church of England churches are not religious clubs run for the benefit of members. We are – at best – a focus for the entire community. We serve religious and non-religious alike. We bury you or marry you, even if your faith is pretty hard to find. Those church groups that back disestablishment often do so because they want the church to take a more sectarian turn away from integration in the life of the community and towards a concentration on full-blooded evangelism and conversion." - Giles Fraser -

I think both Giles Fraser and JPM have it just about right in their comments on the latest press take oo the possible disestablishment of the Church of England. It should be obvious that the ABC did not explicitly (nor even notionally) agree that this was a good policy. There can be little doubt that the Archbishop's view may have been changed by his nearer proximity to the seat of the Church of England's governing body. But this does not mean, per se, that his current view is not valid.

Secondly, As Fr Giles points out, The Church of England's Church/State relationship was brought about in order to better serve the community, than just it's own institutional interests. Surely this is a reasonable way to ensure that the Gospel virtue of service is basic to the operation of the Church in the local Community?

Thirdly, it should now be pretty obvious that those Christian sectarian entities that are most vehement in their support of the separation of Church and State, are those which would then feel free to impose their own religious hegemony on the community - without necessarily embracing the pastoral and social obligations of the State Church as it now exists.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 10:45pm GMT

The sooner churches shake the dust of politicians off their shoes the sooner they will be able to teach the gospel in an unfettered free and clear fashion. Mingling religion and the state is foolhardy.

Posted by: ettu on Thursday, 18 December 2008 at 11:24pm GMT

"Modesty is one of his defining traits. Rowan Williams, whom both critics and allies agree is marked by a rare humility - and even that most elusive of qualities, "holiness" - is said by those who know him to be something of a reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, called to service by faith, not ambition". - James McIntyyre. N.S. -

Despite the reservation of many of our commenters on this blog, I feel compelled, like J. McIntyre, to defend the ABC against those who feel his leadership of the Co.of E. in particular, and the Anglican Communion in general is in any way inept or counter-productive of the Gospel values Jesus set out for his Church.

I was raised in the C. of E., but am now a reitred but active priest in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand. My Bishop in the Diocese of Christchurch, The Right Revd. Victoria Matthews, is a singularly capable and spiritual theologian and Pastor, who felt called by God to move from her homeland to follow her particular
vocation. The same, I think, is true of Rowan Williams. His translation - Wales to Canterbury - was something a lot of people like myself were ardently praying for at the time of his selection, and I feel he is God's gift to our Church in this day and age. One alternative was Bishop Nazir-Ali. That would have been a totally different story, as we all now know.

He reminds me, rather, of saintly Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey - a person of similar spirituality and integrity - with a similar *absent-minded-professorial* character, who was absolutely loved and respected by many in our Communion - simply because of who he was.

Give me a person of prayer, with a eucharistic understanding of Christ-with-us in the gathered community of the Church, rather than a prelate with the oratorical 'power of persuasion' that so impresses new converts with a gung-ho philosophy of "Come to ME (personally) all you who labour, and I will give you what you need".

Ambition can a a fearful attribute in the secular world. Let's not have it prized above humility in the Church.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 19 December 2008 at 9:00am GMT

ettu: "Mingling religion and the state is foolhardy."

In some ways, I agree with you here. The aspect of church-state cosiness which involves churchmen in thinking it is their right to exercise power or wield social influence is, I think, contrary to the values of the Gospel, and merely produces church leaders who are lower calibre than other social movers'n'shakers, who have to earn their place in public discourse.

However, there has always (for nigh on 1700 years with Christianity, and before that with the state-sanctioned cults of the Roman Empire) been a close relationship between religion and the state in Europe. Even in so-called secular states like post-Revolutionary France, the state still has a surprisingly proactive interest in religion. The state in France owns all the pre-1908 church property; the President exercises some of the traditional privileges of the King with regard to senior appointments (French cardinals receive their biretta, not from the Pope, but from the President); and the French state legislates to deal with the newly-arrived Islamic population (eg by outlawing the veil in schools). In pretty much all the European countries, there are more or less indirect forms of "establishment", from Belgian, Swiss, Alsatian, German or Danish citizens paying the clergy through their taxes to the labyrinthine subtleties of Vatican influence on Italian legislation.

Many of these church-state shenanigans make me wince, but some of it is no more than the expression of a long cultural history, or of the fact that Christians inhabit the same society as other citizens, and that the recently-found zeal of the European continent for respecting human rights must ultimately reach to all areas of society, even churches.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 19 December 2008 at 9:37am GMT

IN answer to Kieran Crichton: yes of course these questions are part of the job; and I thought that Rowan did quite a good job of producing answers which offered no newsline at all. Certainly, the idea that he was in favour of disestablishment was flat out untrue and wrong. He was about as clear as he can be that he wasn't.

Two problems then arise. Journalists need news lines; and ever since the sharia thing Rowan has been regarded by news editors as an idiot. So he was rolled over.

The trouble is that disestablishement sounds like a story and nothing else does.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Friday, 19 December 2008 at 9:48am GMT

But come on, folks, is there really anything worth discussing here? Every ABC has been asked about their views on establishment. To a man, all the ones that have answered publicly have come out in favour of the idea **but NOT the reality**. Then a stack of articles musing on what this might mean come out and the story dies in 10 minutes -- maybe a little longer in this blog-ridden age.

It's a ritual answer about establishment to what amounts to a ritual question about disestablishment. Perhaps it has a sharper focus in view of all the goings-on around the covenant, the origins of the current ABC and various geo-political sensitivities. But at the end of the day it's not really a consequential issue -- what PM in their right mind would clog up all that parliamentary time with no real possibility of an electoral-cycle-based 'delivery' date? Surely Gordon Brown has much bigger fish to fry right now.

It's really the biggest non-news story of our Rowan experience so far.

Posted by: kieran crichton on Friday, 19 December 2008 at 10:46am GMT

"gay politics, women bishops, and others that have little to do with the message of and faith in Jesus Christ"

I think the discernment of what constitutes sin as opposed to being a potentially holy state of life, the possible implications of that for our understanding of sacrament, and whether slightly more than half the population has a vocation in the Church that has been denied or whether that group of people is called in other ways to serve have a great deal to do with the message of and faith in Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 19 December 2008 at 11:40am GMT

Fr. Mark - As one who was a close student of Talleyrand at one point I am amused that the President of France presents clerical honors. The celebration of the first anniversary of the Revolution on the site near the present Eiffel Tower by Talleyrand as main celebrant and then the picture of his deathbed acceptance back into the RC Church were scenes of high drama and one can only imagine the reality. The fact that he was one of the prime movers of the state sequestering church property etc. -- all of which, to my mind, emphasize the risks of clerics becoming politicians and vice versa. regards.

Posted by: ettu on Friday, 19 December 2008 at 2:58pm GMT
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