Comments: opinion

Archbishop Welby's "Tweeting and Touching" blog, mixes and stirs together things that ought to be separated out and clarified. He is likely correct if he is talking about inter-personal conflict, or what one might call church conflict that has become personal. Social media is an ineffective remedy likely to make things worse.

Welby gives the impression that folks become broken and dismembered as a result of social media. Sadly, it is also true that folks who have an inability to deal with conflict in person, often take to working their issues through using social media, much like the toxic office gossip who visits everyone in the workplace with their sad story, visiting everyone except, of course, the person or persons with whom he or she is in conflict.

However, if one is talking about genuine controversies in the church, the ones about which people are passionate, the ones which impact their faith in the institution, then let everyone take their soap box into the park. Surely the Archbishop is not suggesting that because public discourse is contentious and may put authority figures in the hot seat, that it ought to be set aside in favor of some quasi-therapeutic sensitivity session?

Welby asks about what a particular conflict may do to one's soul? There is another question i.e. what does shutting down the prophetic or philosophically minded among us do for the soul of society?

Besides, one would expect Archbishops would welcome the feisty exchange. How else to escape the morbid culture of sycophancy that comes with the job?

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 31 January 2015 at 5:35pm GMT

"that pernicious self-supporting symbiosis of church and state."

Spot on, Giles Fraser!
A few years back, I read a book called "Constantine's Sword". The book's title came from the legend that Constantine, after having his vision of the cross, had all of his troops baptized under a cross fashioned from a sword as the vertical bar and a piece of wood as a cross bar. The book itself is somewhat of a muddle, but the author seizes on that imagery. Merger of Church and State, Church blessing of the military power of the state. The State backing and upholding the Church.
How many churches in countries that were formerly colonies of European countries are held in some disrepute because that church was seen as backing and justifying the colonial power? How many of the native peoples heard something along the lines of "Don't worry about the poverty and suffering you experience now, your hardship has earned you reward in Heaven", thus justifying the poverty and suffering? There's a reason Karl Marx said religion is the opiate of the people.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 31 January 2015 at 7:50pm GMT

Justin Welby's post on "tweeting and touching" is mostly correct, I think. Conflict is always better resolved between the two (or more) people involved, in a face-to-face meeting. This method beats social media therapy any day. Having said that, social media is a way to communicate openly that is not always possible in a church setting. The hierarchies, committees, the 'usual suspects' who volunteer for everything, can crowd out those who are different. Keeping in mind the limitations of social media, and a sense of humour about it all, can save a few trips to the (real-life) therapist!

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 31 January 2015 at 9:52pm GMT

Three cheers (and more) for Angela Tilby. She's shot the fox of those deeply un-Anglican influences which are the preferred quick-fix solution of the men in suits. It's also about time some bishops followed her example and started putting their heads above the parapet. What on earth is the point of people like Graham James, John Inge, David Walker, Chris Chessun, Nick Holtam, Robert Atwell and Martin Warner etc if they are going to allow us to sleep-walk into this HTB-centred world of formulaic solutions and success in numbers? It really is quite myopic and mindless.

Posted by David Gibson at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 12:29pm GMT

"However, if one is talking about genuine controversies in the church, the ones about which people are passionate, the ones which impact their faith in the institution, then let everyone take their soap box into the park."

Precisely. And well put, Rod Gillis.

I too thought that the Archbishop's words could be read as a plea for less public criticism of himself. Which struck me as quite wrong, both for the Archbishop personally and for the institutions that he leads.

An Archbishop should welcome constructive criticism. Unless he tolerates dissent quite well, he might not receive much constructive criticism from his own paid staff. He will, however, receive it from other quarters. That kind of feedback, and paying careful attention to it, is essential to doing a public job well.

It is always interesting to me how people in powerful public positions often ask that if people disagree with them, they do so in private. Such a request seems a way to shut down disagreement, to create a lack of accountability, and, ultimately, to encourage groupthink and bad decision-making.

Such requests for public silence, rather than disagreement, are designed to create the public illusion of agreement. This illusion, in turn, can create a spiral of silence, in which members of the group who disagree are discouraged from doing so, because it looks as though no one else disagrees.

When misgivings are suppressed in this way, the result is that the group can make a decision that is actually supported by very few group members.

The internet has enormous power to break the spirals of silence that bad leadership thrives on. Good leaders should welcome this, because the internet lets them know what people are really thinking.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 12:35pm GMT

It stands to reason that those who comment regularly on websites like Thinking Anglicans will be people who are comfortable with social media communication, so we need to acknowledge we may have a built-in resistance to what Archbishop Welby is saying.

I did not read his remarks as saying that there should be no constructive criticism through social media. And I for one am very grateful for the way it makes communication and dissemination of news very easy.

It is, however, also potentially very dangerous. Most of us here have probably at one time or another gotten involved in online conflicts where people who hardly know us have accused us of all manner of outrageous things. Jesus tells us that on the day of judgement we will have to give account for every careless word we have spoken. It is far, far easier to speak a careless word on social media than face to face. I think that's what Archbishop Welby is getting at.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 2:52pm GMT

In church contexts I often find I wake up with unexpected bed-fellows. Thus here I think Ian Paul almost 100% right as against Linda Woodhead and I think Angela Tilby almost completely wrong in her biblical exegesis - and this from a Diocesan Canon of a major English cathedral. Has she never read 'Matthew'? Doesn't she know that we are all supposed to be apostles (end 'Acts')? It's deplorable.

Posted by John at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 4:16pm GMT

"Three cheers (and more) for Angela Tilby"?
Why? - in her article she seems more concerned with Anglicanism than the Great Commission from Jesus to go and make disciples - or am I attaching too much significance to his words?

Posted by Noel at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 5:45pm GMT

If the Archbishop was careless with language, and did not say in his blog what he really intended, then perhaps the shoe is on the other foot.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 1 February 2015 at 8:11pm GMT

What might just accord with Angela's problem with the term 'discipleship', is when it is not conducted in the ethos of the statement of Jesus as qualifier: "They will know you're my disciples by your love".
So often the motive behind inducement to become a disciple can perceived to be judgemental, rather than loving.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 2 February 2015 at 2:11am GMT

After several readings of Angela Tilby’s article I am left wondering what point she is really making about the word ‘discipleship’. It is not American influences that explain the word in Matthew 28. If the problem is that ‘evangelicals’ use it – well they use the Bible too and much else – just what lengths are we prepared to go to avoid being associated with them? If she and others would prefer another word, fine – what do they suggest? But if the argument is that the word is not Anglican the question is ‘why not’? And if true it might explain some of the serious challenges we are now facing.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 2 February 2015 at 7:01am GMT

On Tilby, I am of one mind with David Runcorn and he comes to a very thoughtful and challenging conclusion.

I read Ian Paul's stuff because I feel I must. I gave up on this piece when he raised the matter of Linda Woodhead's doctorate. There is something about that small group of Fulcrum scholars that....... well, if I were Ann Widdecombe talking about a prospective leader back in '97 .........

I enjoyed Giles' piece, I would have liked to have been there. I sometimes think that TA is a bit Downtonesque in the way it covers Church affairs!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 2 February 2015 at 11:26am GMT

Bravo Giles Fraser (and I don't say that very often)! I particularly liked the line 'This is the great heresy of an established church – it ends up forgetting who the boss is.'.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 2 February 2015 at 8:13pm GMT

After reading Angela Tilby's piece in the Church Times, I reached for my copy of Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness (OUP 2001) that monumental philokalia in which Geoffrey Rowell, Rowan Williams and Kenneth Stevenson brought together those key personalities and their writings which have shaped the Anglican character. Here reductionist puritans sit side-by-side with high church sacramentalists, sociologically-focussed liberals with conservative quietists. When I read the words of Evangelical divines like Nicholas Ridley, Robert Leighton and Edwin Sandys, Henry Venn and Charles Simeon, or Max Warren, John V Taylor and David Watson, not only could I not find anything which used the word 'discipleship'; I could not find anything (significantly so in Warren and Taylor, two former Directors of CMS) which could be seen to support the notion that the only authentic expression of Christian living is comparable to the 'discipleship' proposals in the papers prepared for next week's General Synod. The only Evangelical divine to use the expression is Frank Woods (d. 1992); and that was in a kenotic sense: (discipleship is call to let go and leave behind).

I think Angela Tilby is perfectly entitled to suggest that the current proposals come from forms of Evangelicalism with American roots, precisely because they don't come from forms of Evangelicalism with Anglican roots. And here is the problem. We have too many so-called Evangelicals in senior leadership (that's another word I don't like!) in the C of E who are simply unaware - and uninterested - in the Evangelical inheritance that has shaped them. If they drank more deeply of the well that gives them their identity, we might not be facing these rather shallow proposals which lack any sense of real rooting or demonstrate much engagement with the sweep of Anglican tradition. To be Anglican and Evangelical is much more than simply being 'Baptist with Bishops'! So, please, lets have less of the 'it says in Matthew chapter 28.'This is not a response which does justice to the notion of Scripture, Tradition and Reason - neither do the plans going before Synod next week.

Posted by Simon R at Monday, 2 February 2015 at 8:51pm GMT

It's not a particular mystery why Christendom traditions like Anglicanism (evangelical or otherwise) have not historically paid a lot of attention to discipleship: in Christendom, it was assumed that the culture would form disciples for you. Nowadays, we're slowly waking up to the fact that this idea doesn't work so well any more. But our tradition might not have much to offer us to address the deficiency, because of its Christendom DNA.

Also, evangelical or not, a lot of us are coming to the conclusion that the presence of a community of followers of Jesus who are doing their best to live by the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of the teaching of Jesus might not be a bad form of Christian witness in the modern world. Call that discipleship, or anything else you like, but I can't see what there is to object to about it.

Incidentally, my Canadian Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes at the end of the catechism a set of guidelines for forming a rule of life. One of them is 'Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into (our) everyday life'. Sounds like discipleship to me. That was published in 1962.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 2 February 2015 at 10:14pm GMT

Simon R Thank you for your Anglican word search. But the focus here does remain on what we are ‘not’ - evangelical, Americans, narrow, packaged etc. What if our response (and Angela Tilby’s) was to say at this point - we understand the word ‘discipleship’ but for a variety of thoughtful and theological reasons we don’t use it. We prefer the word ……. for these reasons ……. Can anyone fill in the blanks here?
What word do we claim to be authentically Anglican that sums up our calling to be a church being led and leading others into radical conversion of life, taking up your cross, faith, prayer and holiness, self denial and the service of others, following Jesus, loving enemies, peacemaking, justice, attentiveness to scripture, obedience to the divine will and being formed in the likeness of Christ?

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 6:59am GMT

@David Runcorn is entitled to dismiss my point as a word-search. But he fails to engage with the reality that the Evangelical divines I cite were steeped in the language and thought of the patristic period. The supreme example, I suppose, were the Wesley brothers. Radical conversion of life as exemplified by these (and other) personalities of Evangelical Anglicanism seem to suggest that they knew the rock from whence they were hewn.

But more vitally, if I have read Angela Tilby's piece correctly, she IS saying that the word has become hi-jacked to mean formulaic, American, narrow and packaged. The nuns with whom I shared Evening Prayer, last night, would not use the word; but is their discipleship ineffective as they speak the language of being 'formed in Christ' by their ministry of prayer and service? Are parishes like St Matthew's, Westminster, which attract large number of students, and simply offer the Church's liturgy and generous hospitality, not modelling discipleship? They would talk about being shaped by the Eucharist as a call to holiness of life (Wesley's 'Converting Ordinance')and hospitality as being the call to live generosity of God. But if you read the reports coming before Synod, these forms of 'discipleship' are given little recognition.

I restate my case: much of the thinking that permeates this report is un-Anglican in influence; and Angela Tilby's piece makes uncomfortable reading precisely because she has been prepared to say so. It surprises me, frankly, because Steve Croft has pedigree in this field; and he is aware of the catechumenate model and of wider, historical and theological contexts. I just wonder if he (and the group) was under pressure to tick the right (corporate)boxes?

Posted by Simon R at Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 10:03am GMT

Quite so @Simon R. What I read into the proposals for discipleship coming before GS is an attempt to make a virtue of a particular kind of Protestant activism, which has one eye on profit margins and market share; and another on seeing off the competition. This is also present, much more implicitly, in the formation for ministry report. This may be the last thing the authors of the report intended; but they've done well in convincing us that this is what they might mean. Anglicanism is much more rooted than this. It is refreshing to have some biblical exegesis from Angela Tilby (inevitably in short-hand given the length of her piece) which drives a coach and horses through previous lazy assumptions - even if @John and @Noel can't quite get the point.

I was left asking whether the 73 year-old woman who cleans up the litter and sweeps away the vomit from the steps of my local parish church every day, so that it offers a welcoming presence to the wider world, would qualify for the accolade of 'discipleship' (she certainly wouldn't be found on any nurture or Alpha courses); or the man who attends our 8am BCP, who slips quietly away, who never volunteers for anything (PCC, coffee rota, fair committee etc), but prays every day for a different prisoner of conscience and writes a letter three times a week to campaign for a release. Is that discipleship? Again, wild horses would not drag him to a 'discipleship' process.

This is too important a matter to be left in the hands of the few, and who represent the current 'orthodoxy'. If our Synod reps take up the challenge from Angela Tilby, and question the underlying assumptions of this report, I hope it will result in a less panic-driven and much richer outcome than what is being proposed at present. It can only be for the future health of the Church - and might even bring people with it!

Posted by William Richards at Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 12:37pm GMT

David, How about the word “Christian” as a description of what we are called to be? The problem with focusing on a more specific concept is that it narrows down all that “Christian” should embrace. I think Angela Tilby goes a bit far, but I can understand why she felt that she had to. By itself, “discipleship” describes only the model of teacher/follower. It conveys nothing of the freedom of being Christian – sharing in the divine life, being in Christ, life in the Spirit, standing where Christ’s stands (not just following), etc.

If “discipleship” is “made to do so much work” in these reports (as Linda Woodhead puts it) then one danger is a model of church defined by high commitment, hard boundaries and tight communities. It may be effective towards “numerical growth” but it will be less Christian if it loses the broad, generous, welcoming, inclusive characteristics of Anglicanism.

This unqualified statement by Ian Paul surprised me: “everyone I know believes that giving is a sign of spiritual commitment and maturity”. According to Wikipedia, Westboro Baptist Church is funded by its 39 members and spends $200,000 p.a. on travel expenses alone. That’s impressive giving, but is it a sign of spiritual commitment and maturity? An extreme example, maybe, but it proves the point, and is one end of a spectrum which reaches into the C of E. The more “discipleship” and “leadership” are made to be predominant, the more we can expect control and manipulation, not Christian freedom.

Posted by Mark Hart at Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 1:13pm GMT

Simon I was in no way was dismissing what you wrote. I am dismayed and puzzled you think I have. And I accept your findings just as I treasure the book itself. And thank you for filling out your concerns over the word in question. But my following question was completely genuine too and I would still invite you and others to try and answer it. We need to be defining our task as a positive - saying more than we are not like 'them'.
Names and labels can work for good or ill. I see no need to sweep this word away and actually firmly believe the Anglican tradition needs it - or something similar - and that the report is correct to identify this as a priority. And yes yes yes, William, to those you wish to name as disciples. I don't hear this word narrowly at all. In fact I think this word is being unhelpfully caricatured at this point. My own approach has been to take and try to flesh out the word for good rather than abandon it to others and then criticise them for what they make of it.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 7:50pm GMT

I do not associate anything manipulative in discipleship .... as to control, well, I have met some pretty controlling clergy and more than a few of them were bishops who assured me that this was their role!
The command to go and make disciples of all nations left a pretty firm impression on me as a teenager, and it has been a welcome friend and partner for four decades and more. In my own case the Holy Sonnets are something close to my discipleship journey and Batter my heart three person God touches most of the buttons!

BUT! I do now see how one might think discipleship has been hijacked by a narrow group and has become their buzz word for being made in their own image and likeness .....

But I am not dismayed! Just because some think that discipleship excludes the saints William Richard's cartoons for us should not frighten us from embracing discipleship in all its many forms and guises. For me the word gives an equality and value to all that our hierarchical community can often deny - in fact to the very souls highlighted by William Richards.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 3 February 2015 at 10:51pm GMT

Mark - is 'Christian' really any more problematic in practice? The more important the issues the more the words we have for them attract serious allergies. But we need more robust immune systems not quarantine.
And why go searching for a bad example of committed giving? Isn't Ian's point basically sound? Why not point up examples of the generous poor as Jesus did?

Meanwhile, I'm hitching my wagon to yours Martin!

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 4 February 2015 at 8:59am GMT

In all of these arguments about the word discipleship - and its connection with the go-go activism implicit in the upcoming G.S. discussion about evangelism - one wonders where the place of prayer, meditation and sacramental participation, might be placed within the program - when it seems that aggressive touting for scalps is preferred? To follow Christ means BOTH prayer and action - no more of one than the other.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 4 February 2015 at 10:08am GMT

Father Ron I simply don't accept that what the CofE is now proposing is so hopelessly and crudely one-sided and frenetic. I do not think faithful urgency is the same as activist.
The challenge might at least be issued both ways. I can think of of churches that are devout in prayer and the sacraments but which are inward looking, dwindling in size, lacking vision, impetus or confidence to take their faith into the community. How would you express the challenge to them?

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 4 February 2015 at 7:16pm GMT

'The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch' (Achs 11:26)

Sounds to me as if Christian is just another word for disciple.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 5 February 2015 at 2:04pm GMT
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