Sunday, 20 December 2009

Good News in the CofE

Diarmaid MacCulloch writes in today’s Observer:

Why we should be thankful for Rowan Williams and his church of common sense

The Church of England has taken a pounding from critics, but Rowan Williams has reasons to be cheerful as Christmas approaches, says a leading Anglican historian and commentator.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 9:18am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

A pity the great historian writes from a post-Christian perspective.

Waylaid by a village atheist last night, I had to prove that the existence of Dinosaurs did not controvert Christian belief.

Amazing how people casually assume Xty has been refuted!

We need a good apologetic along the lines of Newman's Grammar of Assent -- do any of you have the time to compose it? Skirmishing with Dawkins is too shallow an activity and has not produced anything really impressive as far as I know.

Not of course that belief in God needs defending, but rather for the sake of those who deprive themselves of the blessings of faith due to the shallow prejudices prevailing.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 10:22am GMT

This is a first class letter from a clear thinking and (in his own words) 'candid friend' of Christianity. Diarmaid's analysis of the state of the Church in the west in the final part of his series 'The History of Christianity' was masterful and positive. Reading the letter in the Observer over breakfast and before our services at Exeter Cathedral this morning brought huge joy to me. I would be delighted to join any initiative in adding my own voice to the sentiments of this Christmas letter to Archbishop Rowan: he needs our support and prayers and this is a letter that does just that positively an imaginatively . I am so grateful to Diarmaid for putting in such clear terms what so many of us think and preach.

Posted by: Canon Andrew Godsall on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 12:38pm GMT

> Meanwhile, I hope that you may rejoice at Christmas in this multiform church over which you so graciously and thoughtfully preside

Graciously and thoughtfully? St Rowan the Queerbasher, who wants to see Sharia law established in Britain and seems quite content with the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda and Rwanda? I knew Diarmaid MacCulloch years ago and thought him a nice, sensible chap. But he must be talking about some Archbishop in a parallel universe.

Posted by: Robin on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 6:16pm GMT

Yes, I'd add my voice too, to this wonderful and, yes, imaginative letter reminding ++Rowan of the riches of the Anglicanism he no doubt wishes in his heart of hearts to guard, treasure, strengthen, and pass on. Perhaps he has momentarily forgotten what Anglicanism is, and needs Professor MacCulloch's accomplished example of Renaissance epideictic to remind him. Let's hope it jogs his memory.

Posted by: Charlotte on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 7:54pm GMT

Echoing Robin re "the multiform church over which you so graciously and thoughtfully preside."

Of the 3 reasons that MacCulloch advances "to be cheerful," one (Los Angeles) has nothing whatsoever to do with the Church of England. Indeed, the Los Angeles election went forward in disregard of the Church of England's wishes.

So thank goodness that Rowan Cantuar does _not_ "preside" over Los Angeles.

If he did, he and MacCulloch would have one less "reason to be cheerful."

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 8:46pm GMT

Oh dear. This Archbishop is definitely no Neil Kinnock in the face of Militant. Rowan Williams rolled over, even used them for his own Catholic centralisation project. Then he was churlish about women priests, that it was still something under experiment - and had to back pedal. And as for the election of a lesbian, he was soon into the media against that one while silent over Uganda.

The charming C of E of Diarmaid MacCulloch seems to be far away. Fortunately I don't even try to believe it or parallel it any more, rather like Diarmaid MacCulloch himself, but I think I have a better picture of the institution (which is quite surprising).

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 9:07pm GMT

Dear Robin, although some may agree with your harsh judgement of Archbishop Rowan, I have to assent to Diarmaid's thoughtful and charitable letter to the ABC - if only on the premise that he is in a very difficult situation as Primus-inter-pares of the whole Anglican Communion.

I cannot credit Rowan with the 'Queerbasher' title - despite the fact that he seems to be bowing to the fundamentalist outlook of certain African and other Primates of the Communion, who seem hell-bent on the extinction of the LGBT people who are baptised into Christ and fellow bearers of trhe Divine Image and Likeness.

My sadness is that Rowan, a great theologian and spiritual guide in our day and age, should feel unable to express his own understanding of what is required of the Church at this point in time - just to keep together the disparate parts of the Church that disagree on the humane message of the Gospel. All of this, just to maintain uniformity in a Body of Christians which has always prided itself on being open to reform and the inclusion of all people - irrespective of cultural and social difference.

It seems that the likely outcome will be that TEC, and other Churches which seek to further the cause of emancipation of women and gays within the Communion, will, on grounds of conscience, be forced to forego any invitation to join with those Provinces which persist in the persecution of gays and their rejection of the place of women in the leadership of the Church; in any form of collegial (Covenantal)fellowship. So much for the efforts of ARCIC, which have had to struggle for reoognisition of 'common ground' with another Church body. Why is the issue of gender and sexuality (human things), so much more important to Anglicanism than issues of the doctrine of Christ - which we all agree to?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 11:04pm GMT

Father Ron Smith says, "[H]e is in a very difficult situation as Primus-inter-pares of the whole Anglican Communion."

I must beg to differ here. The difficulties in the current situation are largely of Canterbury's own making.

Imagine if, back in 2003 and 2004, the Archbishop had told those who wish to enforce some worldwide uniformity in biblical interpretation: "Nice try, but we are not that kind of communion."

It was his failure then to show leadership, and to bear witness then to the historic diversity of Anglican thought, that has led the Anglican family to this pass.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks that it's difficult to get a worldwide family of independent churches to submit to some novel sort of curial star chamber, he might pause to ask himself not why it is difficult, but why it is necessary.

Jim Naughton has called this Archbishop of Canterbury a "Romanizing disaster." Too true, too true.

No Anglican Covenant!

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 20 December 2009 at 11:27pm GMT

Those of us who cannot accept that bishops, especially those entrusted with the primacy of their national churches or provinces, should not be "activists" should reconsider whether they should belong to churches having the historic episcopate. Bishops are not ideologues, but rather are called to keep the Christian faith alive in spite of the opposition of the "world," both left and right. They are isolating themselves from the millions who, while sometimes unhappy with their bishops, see in them something of the continuity of Christ's message, which has withstood every attempt to dilute it, and Christ's love, of which the same thing can be said.

The RC episcopacy has not collapsed even if some of its members have been known to shuffle around child abusers. The Orthodox episcopacy has not collapsed even if some of its number are truly, um, despotic in the pejorative sense of the word. And the Anglican episcopacy has not collapsed... well, we all know what the "even ifs" are. I believe this shows that God has a purpose for our bishops, which we have yet to see.

This is good news, and I would rather we pray for our bishops than hate them if they don't agree with our ideological stances. This Christmas, stop hating for a change.

Posted by: Ren Aguila on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 12:21am GMT

I must be the only one who read this letter as a spoof and reprimand to the Neville Chamberlain of the CofE - aka Rowan Williams.

Posted by: Neil on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 12:22am GMT

No, Neil, I read it that way, too, but as a serious spoof, meant to remind ++Rowan of his neglected duties. Very clever thing of MacCulloch to do.

Posted by: Charlotte on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 12:44am GMT

I too want to pray and like my bishops, not to mention to stop hating during this Advent and upcoming Christmastide, but the hurt goes deep at the perceived betrayal and deliberate past actions directed against +Robinson. I am finding it hard to forgive, and ++Canterbury isn't making it easy.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 1:30am GMT

No Neil, you are not the only one who interpreted MacCulloch's treatise as a spoof and reprimand. This is what I wrote today to a friend and seminary classmate who was enamored by the article.

"If the author of the article, whose books I have read with much interest, were truly sending it to Rowan Williams, then he would be rubbing salt in the wounds. Truth is that Rowan Williams is the one who has renigged on his earlier acceptance of ordained gays and lost no time in issuing a condemnation of LA's election, while continuing to hold his silence about Ugandan anti-gay bill replete with capital punishment. It was also Williams who railroaded the final version of the Anglican Covenant through on the weekend before Christmas with an urgent expectation for quick agreement, including acceptance of his new and utterly unheard of Standing Committee to sort out punishment to American and Canadian liberals. All in all he is a hopeless mess and needs to climb back into the academic cocoon where he belongs before he does any more damage.

So methinks Diarmaid MacCulloch is either rolling his tongue in cheek, or else ignoring Williams' tragic reign in Lambeth Palace - or both. I do agree that the British media has learned how to misuse and abuse him, but that is only part of the problem."

Posted by: Bob McCloskey on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 2:25am GMT

Is it a spoof. If the letter is a spoof then it is on the same lines that some think Rowan Williams is playing others at their game as a sort of long game for them to end up in a mess of their own making. On this reading, as the Covenant breaks down and Anglicanism of old reasserts itself, he pauses and says, "Job done."

The problem with these sophisticated readings is that they are too sophisticated. I don't doubt that Diarmaid MacCulloch is trying it on a bit, but he ends his letter as he ended his TV series and I think he really believes this is the character of Anglicanism and that Rowan Williams somehow represents it. Surely by now people can see that Rowan Williams is an innovator, creating something different that will impose upon what has been, and what has been capable of response and change.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 5:18am GMT

I wouldn't call it a spoof.

I would call it a reprimand hidden within some advice.

The advice is along the lines of, "If you're being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade."

Whether Cantuar will take this advice is, of course, another question.

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 12:34pm GMT

Perhaps focusing exclusively on gay issues is not the way to do justice to Abp Rowan. Generally he does indeed represent the Anglican wisdom MacCulloch loves. Perhaps the biographer of Cranmer has a more comprehensive outlook on Abp Rowan's career than most.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 2:34pm GMT

I have to agree with points raised by Jeremy and Pluralist. I will also say I read the letter as an exercise in pointed satire.

Although I do wish Rowan were playing a long game (and if he is hoping for reunion with Rome at the end it is a very long game indeed!), he has been consistent in his message of not wanting a "mere federation" but something more centralized. This message has been repeated often enough that we all have got the words down now. That the AC to this point (and even more now) has been and is manifestly even less well organized than a federation, Rowan appears to have jumped a step in the centralization agenda, and pressed it at a singularly inopportune moment -- trying to create a center when things are flying apart. One thinks of Canute holding back the waves -- whether attempting the impossible out of belief or as a demonstration of his own limitations. (That's where the counter-readings of Rowan's actions come in...)

I do think something will emerge when the dust has settled, but whether this is what Rowan wants or not is really of no importance whatsoever. What will be, will be. At present I see two primary possibilities: a complete divide of the AC, or everyone who can signing on to the TACC just so as to be able to file and forget. The TACC itself is far too inwardly incoherent to form the basis of any real new structure.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 4:15pm GMT

After a read and some pause for thought, my best reader guess is that MacCullough is giving Rowan Williams some very hard critical feedback in the most polished ironic terms possible.

Each of the three Advent gifts for which MacCullough says RW should be deeply thankful and celebratory is, in fact, a current area of great hot button conservative Anglican contention and campaigning. Each one an area in which RW has not so far; and seemingly will not or cannot yet lead us in any consistent Anglican big tent fashion. Modern Big tent religion leader examples are not that hard to find, after all. Nearly every time Britain's Chief Rabbi has spoken up publicly, the big tent call has been clear and clearly generous. Rowan Williams cannot seem to ever, ever, ever sing that song at all.

The only new tent Canterbury seems able to imagine and celebrate is in fact a mean and narrowed realm of lockstepped doctrines and police-ejection procedures; however plentiful its number and conformed members at any given point in time might be. While baldly denying police and punishment, the new covenant narrative begs to be good friends with a rough draft of some oddly shifted-coded nudge-nudge-wink-wink Anglican Newspeak, repleat with all the queer folks as the most obvious Unpersons. Will Rowan Williams ever, ever, ever speak as if queer folks were real people, not socially and religiously distant ciphers of flat earth theology systems?

In the face of all that is spin doctored now as essentially conservative-orthodox Anglican, MacCullough reads drenched in irony. Virtuosic and postmodern, though not necessarily post-Anglican in that alternative MacCullough sense. Somebody should kidnap Rowan Williams and tatoo it on his leg?

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 7:54pm GMT

I am not sure it is quite a spoof, but it does stick the knife in very cleverly. I agree, it is satire. It points out to Rowan Williams that all the things he and those in authority are agonising over and making "covenants" for are actually ...the positive things about the Church! Or as he says of TEC's decision,
"There's maturity for you"
Of course, he is so simply RIGHT! Who are the grown ups - TEC who have acted with courage and honesty, or the C of E, who are as riddled with hypocrisy and deceit over gay priests as it is possible to be? Who are the grown ups - those who will accept the ministry of women or those who say, "...but they...menstruate...and they're girls"!?

It makes Williams look silly, his response childish and his inability to see or nurture the goodness and potential in the Anglican Communion as tragically short sighted.

Posted by: Suem on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 8:33pm GMT

I liked the letter very much. It is so good that a major British intellectual is prepared to write a stonking defence of the C of E in an important national newspaper. As for its being a satire/spoof or not, I read it as a mixture of description of the good that is and of exhortation to conform the rest to that good. The only think I disliked was the implication that non-English Brits and non-British Irish were outside the golden pale - whereas of course it is we Celts who uphold the best traditions of Anglicanism.

Posted by: john on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 9:36pm GMT

I guess, with John on Monday, I am (or I want to be) a sort of New Zealand Celt - loving God, loving the Church, but sometimes tiring of it's contuing procrastination on justice issues.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 21 December 2009 at 11:32pm GMT

So, we shouldn't worry "that religion is a problem, an eccentricity practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities"? Maybe Rowan shouldn't worry that Christians have become a despised minority: he lives in a churchy world surrounded by his clerical retinue. In my profession only 14.6% of us are theists. If they find out you're a theist or, God forbid, a Christian they look at you funny. I know one guy who says that he's not going to "come out" on being a Christian until he gets tenure.

This isn't what I signed on for--to join a group in which membership was a source of shame. I've got enough to be embarrassed about. Even apart from such self-serving interests there's something to be said for Christianity as a shallow but broad culture-religion. Breadth makes for a wide tent.

Posted by: H. E. Baber on Tuesday, 22 December 2009 at 3:28am GMT
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