Tuesday, 12 February 2008

No... No... No...

Many in the UK can remember Margaret Thatcher's landmark speech in the UK not too long before she was toppled - when she said "No No No" regarding perceived European centralisation. It was a speech that had its meaning fused into its delivery. It pains me that this was my response in meaning and manner to reading Archbishop Rowan Williams's speech to the General Synod of the Church of England. This is not about the opening part to do with the Sharia law controversy, which is indeed secondary to the main business at hand; the No No No is about the coming Lambeth Conference and all that is supposed to come from it.

No - Number One

There are, of course, real disagreements in the Anglican Communion. These have led to some Churches pulling out, and at a minimum are Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Sydney. Three of these have bishops imported into the United States and have not been recognised by Rowan Williams himself, and Sydney is some sort of extreme Reformation sect. He says:

The decision of some to be absent not only shows the deep differences over theology and ethics that have so strained our connections; it also reflects, uncomfortably for us, some of the legacy of hurt that is felt by some of our provinces at what is experienced as patronising or manipulative or insensitive actions and attitudes on the part of many of the churches of the 'West' or 'North' – not only the Episcopal Church in the USA, but us as well. That's hard to hear, but we have to hear it and to offer apologies and seek for better understanding.

This is to get it all the wrong way around. Once again The Episcopal Church (oh and let's do some self-flagellation) is being blamed for a properly conducted difference, yes done but one that it is putting into Communion processes. It is ethical and above board. Not a word, however, about the manipulations and sheer religious Trotskyism about the treatment of Bishops in the Middle East, or the South East Asian theologian, or the behaviour of Archbishop Akinola or the globe-trotting of Canon Sugden, when it comes to those Churches who have left.

Then it gets worse.

No - Number Two

Archbishop Williams states:

Last year, he [Bishop Kunonga] announced his decision to separate from the Province of Central Africa, citing in support the 'liberalism' of that Province on issues of sexual morality. This at least simplified some issues; I had already indicated that I should not be happy to invite him to Lambeth while serious charges in the ecclesiastical courts were still unanswered, but his decision has left him isolated from the life of the Communion, and his episcopal acts cannot now be recognised as part of that life. But his preposterous charge against his province illustrates exactly something I noted last year in this Synod – the possibility of using conflicts in the Communion as an excuse to pursue self-seeking agendas in various contexts, and the great danger this poses in divided or fragile local churches. We saw it in Sudan, and now here it is in Central Africa; it underlines the need to find ways of resolving or containing disputes in the communion that do not leave quite so much room for opportunistic posturing of this kind.

Once again this is all the wrong way around. Again a real, important and probably unavoidable difference and dispute that has to be tackled is to partly blame for opportunistic types as in Zimbabwe - it gives them the excuse.

What is this like? Please, madam, do not wear fashion and celebrate your sexuality because it gives the excuse for assault....

It's all wrong, completely the wrong way around. What would be the solution: a false presentation of agreement across the board? Public relations? Closing ranks?

No - Number Three

Then he wants Lambeth to be countercultural in the sense of not like the electronic age. What does he say about the age where we lay folks and some clerical can read all the output Lambeth Palace puts on to the Internet and come to our own conclusions?

My point is that our mutuality in the Communion - and in communion itself - is not a matter of ecclesiastical housekeeping: it's also about helping one another to be the Church in any given place; that is, to be a community whose loyalties are to the Kingdom, not to any kind of cultural or political partisanship. It means hearing critical questions from elsewhere and not dismissing them as ignorant or irrelevant; it means challenging one another to act with integrity; but it also means a degree of care and hesitation about assuming at one that you know how things work in another context. Now our current style of electronic global communication is manifestly not designed to nurture these virtues, and it can have a toxic effect on all sorts of other areas of communicating with each other; and we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another at the best of times. My deepest hope and prayer for Lambeth is that it will be a decisively counter-cultural event.

The quotation is again longer than usual because, with Rowan Williams, it is easy to be accused of being inaccurate. Does he not think that electronic communication helps in the critical questions and not dismissing them as being ignorant and irrelevant? Are we not able to empathise with how matters work in different contexts? The electronic world, I'd suggest, is well able to further these values - far better than the generalisations of the journalistic world. Many people who blog read carefully and give length to what is taking place, but they have real opinions based on the material with which they deal. Of course it is tough when all this critical wording takes place, because it is fast and often furious - but this is adding to the liberal and democratic spirit.

What is the alternative? A nice holy huddle among bishops and people who understand each other? A keep it quiet? What about the values expressed in how the Lambeth 1998 resolution 1:10 came about? Just a question of course.

So I end up with a Thatcher-like No No No as a reaction to this Synod speech. No doubt those who heard it thought it a good speech. Once again, the interests of the religious bureaucracy take over from ethics.

The ethical argument is this: what sort of relationships add to emotional and social stability, and how can these relationships be nurtured? What adds to human value? The answer is those that are helped to develop and last. What can a Church do in this regard, pastorally? It can help people: help by blessing relationships that are acting towards the good, and show models for relationships in ministry. The Episcopal Church decided in part that it would be inclusive because it was part of the liberation of the individual, and of course other Anglican Churches have found this difficult to handle, because they have other cultural settings (still have gay people, and they are at risk). Yet what interests Rowan Williams is his request:

So please continue to pray for the Lambeth Conference - pray that it may find new ways forward that will restore and deepen confidence in our Communion and trust between us, and that it may help to open up reconciliation for those who have felt injured or marginalised in any setting; but pray even more that it will be a context where, by thinking and speaking together in the presence of God, all of us may be set free to be more fully the Church God calls us to be wherever we may find ourselves...

Yes, the Communion comes first, and trust between us, and pray even more about thinking and speaking in the presence of God...

This is a form of Christendom, but in the context of faith communities wanting their own worlds.

Which brings us back to the Sharia issue, raised first in his speech to the General Synod, apologising for "any unclarity" and "any misleading choice of words". I always wonder about such apologies. If there were no 'unclarities' and no misleading choices of words, then there is no apology. This is the kind of apology expected from a politician.

However, apparently, we all got it wrong about the Sharia Law controversy. Even the paper produced by the Bishop of Lincoln must have got it wrong because he did not argue for what we all thought he argued for. Did we?

To Synod he said his lecture to the legal establishment on February 7th posed the question:

whether attempts to accommodate aspects of Islamic law would create an area where the law of the land doesn't run. This, I said, would certainly be the case if any practice under Islamic law had the effect of removing from any individual the rights they were entitled to enjoy as a citizen of the UK; and I concluded that nothing should be recognised which had that effect. We are not talking about parallel jurisdictions; and I tried to make clear that there could be no 'blank cheques' in this regard, in particular as regards some of the sensitive questions about the status and liberties of women.

No (again), we did not get it wrong. We knew he said individuals could opt out of a community court and go to the main State court for the rights and liberties that a community and its law, like Sharia, might deny. We just said this is naive regarding individuals in communities. He did argue for the recognition in law for Sharia courts and the like. He even argued for a change in understanding the law so that such could happen. So this denial is a sleight of hand.

In a separate entry, I shall rewrite the lecture (I've already done it) and I'll make a presentation about what he said. Well, of course, it could be wrong - it was hard going.

It has got to the stage where both liberal and fundy have peculiarly become united against what this Archbishop represents. A while back when he produced the appalling Advent Letter (I read that too, and carefully) I thought he needs resisting. I wrote to people and one important reply said no, we have to face differences, and this Advent Letter is a means to an end to get as many in attendance as possible. No, it wasn't just that - he means it. Look at what he wants the Communion to do - to give less space regarding difference so that sanctimonious nutters and the plain evil in purple garb cannot exploit its differences so easily. This is not facing up to differences but closing them down.

Personally I think he should do Lambeth 2008, let the Covenant come to its inevitable contradictions, and then go and join George Carey.


MadPriest said...

I think you are spot on in your understanding of the ABC's attack on blogging. And it is primarily an attack on blogging rather than other media. My site is regularly viewed by someone at Lambeth Palace and by someone at The Vatican, and I am, by no means, the only blogger to receive such an honour.

I think this all ties in with your post on the ABC and postmodernism. But I would suggest that although he has an intellectual understanding of postmodernism he is, emotionally, very much a modernist. He seems to have both a need to control and a fear of variety that makes him singularly unable to contemplate a "many answers" solution in matters that actually effect his own status.

Contrary, to what people like the ABC assert, the blogosphere conducts itself in a far more realistic way than they do in the stuffy committee rooms of the powerful. The rough and tumble of blogging is no different to the honest rough and tumble of everyday life. It reminds me of my many years driving a truck for a living and that is why I love it so much. I understand an honest slanging match. The deceitful words and caring face of somebody, who is in reality a business administrator, pretending to be a pastor, I find very confusing.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yeah. Very good that.