Thinking Anglicans

When Sin Has Done its Worst

As we come before the cross today, we inevitably ask “Why did Jesus have to die like this?” Yes, the incarnation, accepting human life, brought with it the inevitability of some kind of death. But did it have to be the kind of death portrayed all too vividly in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ?

Our founding myth tells of the first death, the murder of Abel, at the hands of his brother Cain, and its message is remarkable. Both brothers had offered sacrifices to God.

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

History, they say, is only told by the victors. They make excuses to prove their own goodness. They affirm the righteousness of their cause in destroying those who opposed them.

But the Bible starts on the other foot. There is, of course Cain’s excuse that his resentment has made him think that God regards his brother’s sacrifice more highly than his own. But it is clear in the telling that he is only trying to justify his own envy. God’s judgement is that he is called to overcome temptation and not yield to the sin he has in mind.

Scripture reveals that murderous envy is the founding sin of humanity. It is this which will bring about the death of God’s Son. It is so universal that it is central to every tragedy, from Greek myth to Italian opera. It has been present in every good night out at the theatre for millennia. And because the tale is so well told, it seduces us into believing that this is how life should be.

The tragedy opens with the introduction of a great hero. But quickly, the person most to be admired, the person everyone would like to be, becomes the person most envied. And the tragedy provides an outlet for the envy felt by the audience. We know that the hero will die. A fatal flaw is discovered in the hero’s character.

We could turn the biblical story into a classical tragedy, starting with the line

the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.

In a Greek drama we could explain the murder by playing on the capricious favouritism shown by the gods. But the Hebrew scripture, more faithfully to God’s eternal plan, simply reports the sin.

Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

In the universal human tragedy, the envious must have their revenge. Shakespeare’s famous line from Julius Caesar “et tu, Brute” reveals that the closest of friends shares in both the murderous envy and the violence.

As the Psalmist says

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

Once the sin of envy takes hold, everyone in the theatre, whether Greek, Shakespearean, the New York Met or the courtyard of Pilate’s house joins the mob baying for blood. They know how tragedy ends, and even the disciples cannot resist. The Roman governor who correctly deduces that Jesus has been handed over because of envy has to go along with the wishes of the mob, because their lust for blood is getting out of hand. If they are refused their victim, they might turn on Pilate himself. They have come to see a tragedy. Caiaphas the high priest had predicted “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

It still happens. In the wake of 9-11 the President of the United States found himself at the head of a nation demanding retribution. Like Pilate, he knew that he had to find a victim, or he would be driven out of office. His victim, the man he envied, was in Iraq. Saddam remained confidently in place years after George Bush senior had been consigned to history. Bush envied his long term hold on power, he envied the oil revenues, he envied the richness of this culture which so evidently despised the West and he envied the loyalty of the Iraqi army to their leader. As in all tragedies, Bush would start a lying rumour about the man he envied — links to terrorists, weapons of mass destruction — it didn’t matter what. So long as people would join him, then the victors would be able to write their own history afterwards, a history in which they would declare that God was on their side. Blair and Aznar were willing members of the cast of America’s tragedy.

But violence breeds more violence. Iraq has no government. It is on the verge of civil war. It has been bombed into third world status. The liberators have been revealed as persecutors. And for Bush, the impresario of the theatre of death, the only remedy is seen as inviting the world to watch another tragedy, this time with Iran as the envied hero who has to be murdered. Where will it end?

We should have learned from the tale of Cain and Abel. The writing was on the wall from the first murder in scriptural history. We should have learned that envious murder is a sin. Envious murder is not an art form to be celebrated, or a way for people and nations to relate to each other. The foundation of every tragedy is a lie. Surely, when we see what art is displayed in the cause of tragedy, Satan’s greatest victory is the lie that the mob is right in murdering the person they envy.

So the eternal Word of God, through whom all things came into being, came in person, in the hope that even though those who claimed to be his own people might reject him, some of them might actually perceive that there was a different way. Life, not tragic death, was its foundation.

Even his disciples couldn’t believe he was serious about the consequences of his mission. They couldn’t see that his goodness would arouse such envy. All too soon they found themselves sucked into it. But on the way they discovered just enough to be able to recognise a different way, and that when sin has done its worst, God’s plan of love and justice is ultimately accomplished for all humanity from Abel onwards, in the resurrection of the dead.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”


English church press reports on ECUSA

The church newspapers publish a day early this week, because of Good Friday. So today we have:

Church Times ECUSA commission backtracks on gays and the resolutions are republished here.

Church of England Newspaper ECUSA to slow liberal agenda by George Conger.


Feasting in God’s Kingdom

Maundy Thursday is a turning point.

Up to today Jesus’s ministry has continued — preaching and teaching, proclaiming the kingdom. But after today the pace quickens considerably, with his arrest, trial and death before another 24 hours have passed.

Maundy Thursday is a turning point too in the story of the relationship between God and humanity.

Throughout his ministry we see Jesus acting out the very message that he was proclaiming. He tells his listeners that the kingdom of God is at hand, that it is among them — and all the while he is doing the things he is talking about. He proclaims that in God’s kingdom the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the sick will be healed — and he goes around restoring sight, raising the paralysed, curing the sick; he proclaims that the kingdom is like a feast to which all will be invited — and he goes around eating and drinking with everyone, from members of the Council to the outcasts of society and the ritually impure, in their ones and twos and in their thousands.

Jesus is not just proclaiming the kingdom, he is also living it: he is inaugurating it and embodying it. And he draws his disciples and others into this realization of the kingdom, above all when they share a meal together.

And then in the last meal before his death, Jesus does something new.

Earlier in the week we saw Jesus’s challenge to the sale of sacrificial animals in the Temple, a challenge to the Temple cult and the covenant which underpinned it. The time of the old covenant is past, and now Jesus inaugurates a new covenant.

In the Temple a person would offer for sacrifice an animal with which they had virtually no connection.

Jesus, however, takes in his hands something which every household would have, a loaf of bread, the work of human hands. As he has eaten with his friends throughout his ministry, so they are to remember him when they break bread together. And it is not an animal that he will offer for sacrifice. This bread, he says, is the body which is his sacrifice. This cup of wine, he says, is the blood of his sacrifice. Jesus’s new covenant between God and humanity, a covenant of fellowship with God in his kingdom, is inaugurated.

Jesus has taken ordinary bread and ordinary wine and declared that these are the sacrificial objects which his friends can offer. This gathering of friends is the temple and this table is the altar for the sacrifice. Forgiveness is offered, and its acceptance is signified by fellowship with Jesus. There is no need any more for the Temple in Jerusalem with all its failings. And at the same time, this meal is itself an enactment, a part, of the feast in God’s kingdom.

And there is one more thing to come. 

Before another day has passed Jesus himself will be hanging from the cross, his broken body and out-poured blood now once and for all identified with the bread and the cup. To the remembrance of Jesus’s table-fellowship is added the remembrance of his cross and passion.

Together, identification and remembrance form a sacrament: in remembrance we make present the once-and-for-all actions of Christ at the Last Supper and on the cross; and in identification we can truly see the bread and wine as one with the body and blood of Christ hanging on that cross. In the sacrament the sins of the penitent are wiped clean. And together we proclaim and feast in the kingdom. Here, then, is the sacrament of Jesus’s new covenant.

And yet this is a sacrament that in our human failings manages to divide the followers of Christ. It divides us in our theology and understanding of the sacrament, and it divides us into groups that forbid sharing the sacrament with others or won’t accept it from others who are willing to share. So, our prayer today should echo some more words of Jesus on this day: May they all be one, that the world might believe (John 17.21).


LEAC petition

LEAC has launched a petition to bring presentment charges against Bishop Robinson and his consecrators.

You can read their press release about this at PRELATES WHO INSTALLED GAY BISHOP FACE PETITION TO INDICT UNDER CHURCH LAW and the petition itself is a PDF file available here.


Hercules in Holy Week

Handel’s Hercules, recently staged at the Barbican in London, was designed as an oratorio to be presented during Lent rather than an opera. After the great success of the Messiah, Handel had turned increasingly to serious religious works and away from opera.

The original story by Sophocles tells of Hercules’ tragic death after returning from successfully completing his twelve labours. In Greek myths great heroes are always envied. They become scapegoats who have to be sacrificed to restore harmony in the community. The envious mob, the audience at the drama, justifies the killing of the hero, by revealing his fatal weakness.

Hercules returns victorious from his labours with a captive princess, and his wife poisons him out of jealousy. In the Greek tragedy the hero has indeed been unfaithful to his wife, and this proves to be his undoing. His wife has a cloak which she thinks will restore the love of someone who has strayed, but in fact it is soaked in poison. So, according to Sophocles, the flawed hero gets his just deserts, and those who envied him feel justified in wishing him dead. The wife, who does not realise the cloak will kill Hercules, is found to be innocent.

Handel’s drama is retold as a moral tale suitable for Lent by a clergyman, the Revd Thomas Broughton. As in Messiah, the hero is portrayed as an innocent victim of envy who does not deserve to die. The jealousy of Hercules’ wife is without foundation. The story will reveal her sin as surely as scripture reveals the sin of those who crucified Jesus.

In Broughton’s story, Hercules is not unfaithful. He wants his son to marry the princess, and his dying wish is fulfilled when they accept each other. When Hercules dies he is welcomed into heaven by the immortal gods who know his innocence, whilst his jealous wife, realising the enormity of her sin, goes mad. The story has been rewritten with a Christ figure, and also a Judas.

Handel’s oratorio wasn’t popular. Perhaps the audience didn’t like the story Thomas Broughton was telling, because it points the finger at our murderous envy of heroes. His Lenten drama called the audience to the virtue of emulating our hero, rather than to the sin of envying him. And emulation, whether it is described as ‘taking up our cross’, or as ‘the imitation of Christ’, is our calling.


Lake Malawi: stoning

Updated Thursday 13 April

According to the Nation :

The enthronement of Leonard James Mwenda as Anglican Bishop of Lake Malawi Diocese at All Saints Church in Nkhotakota on Sunday was conducted under police guard as a group of some faithful resorted to stone-throwing to stop the Zambian from succeeding the late Bishop Peter Nyanja….

Read Anglicans stone new bishop.

And now, this also: Anglicans seek injunction against bishop.

Some members of the Anglican Diocese of Lake Malawi have dragged newly-enthroned Bishop Leonard Mwenda to court stopping him from conducting business until matters surrounding his election to replace Late Bishop Peter Nyanja are resolved.

Update Thursday
The Nation again: Court stops Anglican Bishop

The High Court in Lilongwe Wednesday granted some members of the Anglican Diocese of Lake Malawi an injunction restraining newly-enthroned Bishop Leonard Mwenda from conducting business, pending a meeting between the laity, the clergy and Archbishop Bernard Malango.
Justice Ivy Kamanga ordered that the two parties should meet within 21 days to sort out outstanding issues concerning the election of the Bishop of the Diocese of Lake Malawi.
Kamanga said Archbishop Malango should ensure that Mwenda does not proceed to carry out duties and functions of the office of the bishop of the diocese.
The injunction also restrains Bishop Mwenda from using the official residence, offices of the diocese and any other assets.

Background: here is the text of the resolutions passed at the December clergy conference of the diocese.

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doing Easter

Airline passengers arriving in Dublin will, as they leave the airport, pass a billboard poster advertising the Airbus A350 airplane. I have observed this several times and remain unsure of what it is there for. I don’t suppose we are being invited to consider purchasing one of these quality items. But maybe some bright spark at Airbus Industrie SA thought it would make a neat and rather exclusive gift; and in that case the decision to put up the poster around the Feast of the Epiphany (which is when it first appeared) made some sense.

Perhaps it is still possible to take the currents and rhythms of modern life and set them into the context of the church year. The Wise Men did not turn up in Bethlehem bearing the gift of an intercontinental jetliner, but even in our secular culture we have heard the references to gold, frankincense and myrrh enough to feel that what they did bring still has a contemporary resonance, and we can track the Christmas narrative into today’s world, including the world of commerce.

But is that true of the Passion and — if we can mention it gently during this week — the Resurrection? Dublin airport is still advertising the A350 today — so you have not missed your chance to take the special offer — and inside the terminal building the shops and other outlets are full of suggestions for gifts and delicacies ‘for this family season of giving’ (as one poster there suggests). I remember Dublin as recently as the mid-1980s, when you would in Holy Week hear only sombre music on the radio and see edifying black and white films on the television. Now all is changed, and Holy Week has become another great shopping opportunity, with Good Friday now one of the most lucrative days in retailing outside of the pre-Christmas season. Conversely Sunday and Monday will be rather quiet, and in Ireland there will only be a rather smaller number of people preparing for what for them is one of the absolute highlights of the year: the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.

As Anglicans, we believe that the Passion and the Resurrection are indispensable ingredients of the Christian narrative, and complete the story of the Incarnation. Is this a message we can no longer communicate to the wider world, leaving what is left of Christianity in the sentimental state to which it is consigned by the makers of Christmas cards?

In fact, religion as a Disney product doesn’t work. We understand the ups and downs of life, and the story of the Passion has its own resonances in today’s world of famine and terror and tyranny. The planes that brought you to exotic holidays also destroyed the World Trade Centre on 9/11. In Ireland specifically, Easter has a strong historical association with passion and redemption, from Easter 1916 to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. All these associations are still there, but the church has become bad at prompting them in the public mind.

I fear we have become bad at ‘doing Easter’, and sometimes are uncomfortable with the Passion. This Good Friday, as on every Good Friday, I shall find myself moved again as I approach the great Cross during the Liturgy of the Passion. Maybe I shall make just a bit more of an effort not to come to that alone. I don’t necessarily mean that I shall ask my secular friends to accompany me — though perhaps I should — but I shall bring into church with me just a little bit of the world of Easter eggs and special April gifts, and the world of all those travellers on the A350, and maybe I shall take back out with me just a little bit of the Cross, and the great gift of Him who hung thereon.


A Church Asunder

The New Yorker magazine this week has an article by Peter J Boyer entitled A Church Asunder The Episcopal tradition confronts a revolt. This article is not (so far) available online, but a related interview is:

Faith Matters
Issue of 2006-04-17
Posted 2006-04-10
This week in the magazine, Peter J. Boyer writes about how the election of a gay bishop has divided the Episcopal Church. Here, with Matt Dellinger, Boyer discusses the controversy and the changing face of religion in America.


in the Temple

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus visits the Temple.

His reaction is one of anger and violence. In the first three gospels, he upsets the tables of the money-changers and those selling doves. In John’s gospel (where this event is strategically positioned at the very start of Jesus’s ministry) he expels those selling cattle, sheep and doves, together with their animals.

It is hard to say if this is a minor skirmish or a major disturbance, but what is clear is that Jesus had issues with the way that the Temple was being run.

The Temple cult, with its associated priests and other officials, was the religious establishment of his day. The sacrifice of cattle, sheep and doves was at the heart of the covenant relationship between God and his people, the Jews. A Jew handed over one of his own animals for sacrifice as a sin-offering, or as a thank-offering for blessings received. In making a sacrifice of his own goods, the faithful and repentant Jew was freed from his sins.

Animals brought for sacrifice had themselves to be pure, free from any defect. Many people in an urban and agrarian setting were unable to provide such animals, and so they could buy them in the Temple forecourt. The purchaser laid their hands on the animal, symbolically taking ownership, before the animal was led away behind the scenes to be sacrificed by the priests.

The buyer thus had little contact with the beast or the sacrifice, despite the requirements of the covenant and the Law.

Jesus saw the relationship with God as being centred around the things that are important to us, everyday meals and deeds and friendships, frequently with the ritually impure. As the psalmist had sung ‘You have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise’ (Psalm 51.16, 17).

Jesus’s challenge to the establishment is clear, and that challenge echoes down to us too. Established opinion can be comfortable, and cosy, and we can justify to ourselves the decisions we make as being in line with the received view — whether that is the received view of society or the received view of our fellow believers.

Jesus’s action in the Temple makes a dramatic break with the past. We can see it as symbolic of the ending of the covenant, the covenant to which the Temple cult with its animal sacrifices bore witness. The old establishment, with its comfortable certainties, is no more. Its time is past, and a new covenant between God and all humanity will soon take its place — even the outward form of sacrifice will barely endure for another generation before its destruction by the fire of the Roman invaders. We shall see, later in the week, what Jesus puts in its place.


Nigerian updates

Updated 13 April

First, on the Davis MacIyalla story.
Since the last report, the recent comments made on TA include several by the principals in the case. This week the Church Times carried another article, Nigerian attitude is unchanged by Pat Ashworth. And then Changing Attitude issued another statement on Thursday, Colin Coward addresses the new attack made against Davis MacIyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria.

Update A further press release from CA dated 13 April can be found at Open letter to Canon Akintunde Popoola, Director of Communications, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

Second, on the matter of Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria.
This letter to the editor appeared last week in the Church Times: Important cultural difference in Nigeria.

Third, the World Organisation Against Torture has issued a press release New Bill Puts Human Rights Defenders of Sexual Rights at Risk (link via which calls on the Nigerian government to withdraw the proposed legislation.


The missing picture

Fancy some high-class works of art to enrich your Holy Week? Then pop along (as I and a dozen other Bishops on CME did last week) to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Almost every scene has been depicted. In loving detail the great Masters lay before us the Last Supper, Gethsemane, Jesus before the High Priest, and on through to a wonderful image of Christ rising from a sarcophagus clutching a flag of St. George – making him look like a rather dishevelled member of the Barmy Army after a particularly heavy Ashes victory. But something’s missing. And that thing is today – Palm Sunday. Liturgically it’s a major part of the Easter Drama, pictorially it has vanished off the radar.

I’m sure there must be some depictions of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem — and I expect the anoraks among aficionados of this web site to provide us all with hyperlinks — but by comparison with the other major events of Holy Week and Passiontide they are few in numbers. Why?

My suspicion is that Palm Sunday is uncomfortable for Christian art because it is too near the bone. Central to it are people who greet Jesus enthusiastically , scattering palms. And five days later, when he failed to conform to their expectations, they are ready to assent to his crucifixion. The betrayal of Jesus by the Jewish authorities, by Rome’s officers, by the Jerusalem mob and even by his immediate disciples is something we can distance ourselves from. But betrayal by those who cry “Hosanna” and welcome him into their lives as a Saviour, well that’s much harder to push away.

Today we’re forced to think about the equivocal nature of our welcome to Jesus. We let him into our lives and into our faith but on our terms. He mustn’t bring children or those with learning disabilities with him, as they might disturb the peace of our worship. He can help us say our prayers but mustn’t make any major demands on our money. He’s welcome to chide us gently about some of the minor sins we commit, but he must restrict his real challenge to other people’s temptations. And he must be prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the battle to save the church from those dreadful liberals, conservatives, homosexuals, misogynists, radicals, evangelicals, charismatics, Nigerians, Americans…

To paint the Jerusalem welcome is to depict ourselves, and to draw attention to the conditionality and ambivalence of our faith. No wonder many churches have moved the focus of their Palm Sunday Services to an overview of the whole Passion Narrative, we can lose ourselves among Peter and Judas, Caiaphas and Pilate.

St Francis of Assisi recognised that he would never fully welcome Jesus until he had embraced those he most feared and despised — lepers. He could then go on to welcome Lady Poverty and, in due course, Sister Death. Today you and I are given the opportunity to face a similar challenge. Or we could find some less threatening picture to look at.


ECUSA: the Sunday programme reports

This morning’s BBC radio programme Sunday interviewed the Bishop of Arizona, Kirk Smith, and also Stephen Bates of the Guardian.

You can hear the interview by opening this Real audio file, and going forward about 21.5 minutes. The segment lasts about 9 minutes. A better URL will be posted by the BBC on Monday.

Update the better URL is now here.

Reference is made in the second interview to one particular “unsubstantiated rumour” on titusonenine regarding actions that might happen at General Convention. I do think this kind of speculation should be treated with severe caution at this stage. However, this report from Fort Worth does also mention future consecrations by Archbishop Akinola in the USA. And there is this report.


opinions on Saturday

Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about how dreadful publishers are in using quotes from book reviews out of context. Read Now I know how theatre critics feel.

In The Times Jonathan Sacks writes about Next year in Jerusalem – teaching children the story of their people.

Bryan Appleyard wrote an article in the New Statesman entitled Religion: who needs it?

Lucy Winkett preached a sermon recently at St Mary Islington on Confession and Absolution.

The Guardian’s Face to Faith column is by Theo Hobson.

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ECUSA report: press coverage

Updated twice Monday 10 April

Ephraim Radner has a detailed analysis of the report on the ACI site.
Michael Watson has an analysis of the resolutions wording.
The Guardian has US church offers olive branch to Anglicans on gay clergy by Stephen Bates
The Witness has published A Personal Reflection on the Special Commission’s Report by Sarah Dylan Breuer

This report was issued too late on Friday for Saturday’s British newspapers.

Associated Press Rachel Zoll Episcopal Panel: Use Caution in Elections

Reuters Michael Conlon Episcopal Church gets a caution flag on gays

Religion News Service Episcopal Panel Advises Caution on Gay Bishops

The Living Church Windsor Report Resolutions Released

Somewhat surprisingly, neither the American Anglican Council nor the Anglican Communion Network has yet issued any press release. Other press releases have come from Integrity and from Oasis California.

Blog comments have come from Fr Jake and Mark Harris and Blog of Daniel.

British church press coverage, written prior to the release of the report:

Church Times Douglas LeBlanc ECUSA shows signs of bowing to pressure on gays

Church of England Newspaper George Conger Over half of US bishops regret gay consecration Note: this headline and the first paragraph of the report are somewhat misleading, as regular TA readers already know, nevertheless the report is referenced by Reuters at the end of the story linked above.


The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion

The awaited ECUSA report on Windsor has been published. You can download One Baptism, One Hope in God’s Call The Report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a 444k pdf file.

This, and other papers for General Convention 2006 can be downloaded from this page

The official press release is here.

An html copy of the wording of the resolutions (only) is here.

PDF files containing preliminary translations into Spanish and French of the summary, and the resolutions can be found here.


women bishops: FiF dissects TEA

Forward in Faith has published TEA – a further examination which contains the report of the Forward in Faith Legal Working Party on the Guildford Group report GS 1605. The report lists nine numbered paragraphs containing what the working party considers to be fundamental defects of TEA, and then continues with a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the report.

Earlier, FiF had published TEA – an interim commentary.


more on the ECUSA HoB meeting

updated Thursday

Jonathan Petre wrote a story for the Telegraph on Monday, which was headlined US bishops set for U-turn on gay ‘marriages’. Then today Wyatt Buchanan wrote a story for the San Francisco Chronicle Episcopal panel seeks slowdown on new gay leaders Church to be urged to repent for electing Gene Robinson.

This reporting depends heavily on an email sent by one bishop, Kirk Smith of Arizona, which can be read in full here but which was not intended for publication beyond an Arizona diocesan mailing list. He has subseqently commented further in an interview with the Living Church Bishop of Arizona Calls for Civil, ‘Religious’ Discourse.

Some comments have been published by other bishops who attended the meeting. See for example, Jeffrey Steenson of the Diocese of the Rio Grande and Charles G. vonRosenberg of East Tennessee. Also Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh made this comment.
Update See also these comments from John Howe of Central Florida and from Duncan Gray of Mississippi.

The special commission’s report which was discussed at the meeting was also referenced by Michael Langrish of Exeter, as previously noted. It has been finalised since the HoB meeting and will be published in full, along with many other pre-Convention documents on or around Monday 10 April. That’s about a week away.

Meanwhile, Jim Naughton’s opinions on what will happen may well be a better-informed estimate than other reports.


more on the Guardian interview

Updated Monday evening

The interview of Rowan Williams, conducted by Alan Rusbridger editor of the Guardian, was analysed in some detail in the Church Times last week, by Andrew Brown. The column was headlined Man not born to be king. Andrew wrote in part:

…If the interview had a theme, it was not the warnings and denunciations contained in the news story; it was a portrait of a man who doesn’t want to be a leader, and doesn’t believe that leadership is even possible in most situations.

It is enormously refreshing to find an Archbishop who doesn’t believe his own propaganda. But I think it’s wrong of an Archbishop not to take advantage, at least intermittently, of the fact that other people do believe his propaganda, and want to. Equally, there is a danger that a man who does not believe his own propaganda will find himself repeating the propaganda of others. How else is one to interpret this exchange:

Rusbridger: “The Archbishop of Nigeria recently told Nigerian Muslims, in the aftermath of the Muhammad cartoon furore, that they did not have a monopoly on violence and that Christians might strike back. Coincidentally or not, the remark was followed within days by a spate of attacks on Muslims by Christians which left 80 dead.”

Williams: “Hmmm, I think that what he – what he meant was, so to speak, an abstract warning – you know, ‘Don’t be provocative because in an unstable situation it’s as likely the Christians will resort to violence as Muslims will.’
“It was taken by some as open provocation, encouragement, a threat. I think I know him well enough to take his good faith on what he meant. He did not mean to stir up the violence that happened. He’s a man who will speak very directly and immediately into crises. I think he meant to issue a warning, which has been taken as a threat, to have meant a provocation. Others in the Nigerian Church have, I think, found other ways of saying that which have been more measured.”

Giles Fraser had a column in the Church Times headed The Church needs some sort of leadership. Part of that reads:

…We know the Communion is in critical trouble. We hear Chinese whispers of meetings and phone calls trying to broker deals. Last week, I phoned Lambeth with a worry about a rumour. “Trust us,” comes the reply. OK, I have to; we all have to. And what I am trusting in, as much as anything, is the Archbishop himself. He might not like this over-investment in him personally, but there it is.

I don’t want a fantasy archbishop on a white charger, a deus ex machina who appears to make everything well. But the mood among many ordinary Christians is one of apprehension: are we being sold out? After the Jeffrey John disaster, the worry is that the Archbishop allows himself to be bullied off the ball. Yet, despite all this, trust to keep on believing in this Church remains for many of us a trust in the Archbishop. It’s a trust that’s in need of a bit of help. And that, surely, is the essence of leadership.

In the original interview, there is this:

Rusbridger: And have you got a strategy for going forward as to how, given the media is always with us, what is your strategy for engaging with it in the future?

Williams: It’s a big question to ask really and I know that I’m not the world’s greatest strategist of thinking forward, but I think I need to take more advice on what makes sense or what sounds alright, a great temptation to try and do everything or be good at everything you can’t be.

A response to this is to be found today on the Guardian website (not in the paper edition) where Andrew Brown has written a letter of advice to the archbishop, in his regular Monday column. A fragment:

…So I think that the media strategy you need is plain. You need to explain to the rest of us, who believed you inhabited our moral universe, just why sharing a church with gay bishops is a matter of theological gravity comparable to sharing it with enthusiastic Nazis and in the end just as much incompatible with real Christianity. You need to explain just what the arguments were that persuaded you, after 30 years of standing up for the outcast, that God really is on the side of the big battalions in your church…


Nigerian developments

Updated Monday 3 April

Changing Attitude has just published three four press releases, resulting from a recent meeting in Geneva, where Colin Coward met Davis MacIyalla and held extended discussions with him. (The background to this was the ILGA Conference.)

Davis MacIyalla describes his work with Bishop Ugede in the Diocese of Otukpo

Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act introduced to House of Representatives

Davis MacIylla reports suspicions of Anglican Church involvement with new bill

In the first of these, it is reported that Davis MacIyalla is known personally to various senior church officials in Nigeria, including Archbishop and Mrs Akinola. The press release asks:

A further challenge to Canon Akintunde Popoola

In the press release issued on 28 December 2005 Canon Akintunde Popoola maintained that he had consulted over 6,000 clergy and none of them knew of Davis MacIyalla. We would now like to ask whether he contacted the people named by Davis in this report, including the Primate of All Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter J Akinola and his wife. Canon Popoola’s denial that Davis was a member of the Anglican Church is all the more remarkable given Davis’s deep involvement in the life of the Church of Nigeria from his earliest years and more recently in the Diocese of Otukpo.

In the third release the personal danger to individuals is discussed. Changing Attitude had also written its own open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury and others, concerning this matter last February.

A fourth release: Nigerian gay representatives meet officer at Nigerian Human Rights Commission. This makes further grim reading.


columns of comment

Apologies to anyone who noticed this weekly feature was omitted last Saturday when I was on holiday. The most significant article it would have contained was the Guardian Face to Faith written by Marilyn McCord Adams that carried this strap Liberal Anglicans should not sacrifice their beliefs in order to hold on to church unity at all costs.

During the week Madeleine Bunting wrote a Guardian column Why the intelligent design lobby thanks God for Richard Dawkins. Today, the Face to Faith column is written by Colin Sedgwick and is about why Trying to be hilarious by being hurtful to other people or by being crude is really no laughing matter.

Over at The Times Jonathan Romain wonders how Moses would have coped with the duplicity of the internet age in Electronic false prophets tell lies in His name. Geoffrey Rowell writes that Christian Communion celebrates love in the midst of Man’s betrayal.

Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about An elephant in the Tower.

The BBC Sunday radio programme had a splendid 5 minute piece by Diarmaid MacCulloch on the 450th anniversary of the death of Thomas Cranmer. Listen here (Real audio).