Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Liberals and Wales

I'm asked to consider what would be the effect of Jeffrey John becoming Bishop of Bangor on liberals and indeed the middle roaders of Anglicanism. Would the liberals finally get it together?

The first effect would be to take some pressure off the United States and Canada, in that people there could point elsewhere that evidently a similar inclusive approach is happening, that someone partnered and who teaches that such partnered people can be blessed (and indeed be consecrated) is in the British Isles as well as the United States. Those who may be called liberal in North America may well come to be less defensive.

I have written of the diverse and many grouped nature of the Christian and religious humanist liberals. They exist on the margins of churches, in them and just outside of them, gathering in various groups and coming under different umbrellas, many of them self-constructed.

Much of this is not simply about social exclusion in the churches. Sometimes I look at liberal leaning Anglicans and apply a Unitarian test. Would that person be happy in the Unitarian setting, allowing for adjustments and a little de-formation and re-formation. If not, would they be happy as say Liberal Catholics, with less stress on magic and the esoteric and other stranger tendencies if such a group was available? Would they be Quakers and wish to say nothing. Are they sort of in between faiths... None of these will be galvanised by an openly gay and pro-gay talented man becoming a bishop. Some would scrap bishops, after all, or think they should be regarded more as functionaries.

All liberals would agree with inclusion, and that this obsession with the sexual act is a nonsense, and that what matters is people being open, honest and faithful with one another in their many relationships. Most liberals are marginal for more clearly ideological reasons: it is what they cannot and what they do believe. Some of these liberals who are active in churches go public, and some keep quiet until they meet someone who gives the funny handshake and is identified as one of them. I don't give funny handshakes: I wear a discrete badge that is easily readable at talking distance.

Some people who are in favour of inclusion are not even liberal, not really. They are dealers in the tradition (usually Anglo-Catholic), in its inheritance and spirituality and they remain wedded to that spirituality still forming them. Clearly they can work with the tradition in a critical fashion, but it is always the tradition as a whole. They are not liberal postmodernists or subjectivists, they are at best (or worst) conserving postmodernists and even then many probably have points of objectivity that means they are not postmodern. They might feel much more comfortable with the full inclusivity of gay and lesbian people and their relationships, but it will not alter their allegiances or practices.

So there is a kind of absence of effect here. One is the liberal ideological decision making for each individual that decides whether someone is in or out of the Church scene, on grounds of belief and the boundaries that are perceived to exist. The other type of people are those who are simply in, wrapped up in their practice.

Also unaffected is the middler attender, who has done so all their life, who turns up and is always local, and who carries on. Only when such people cannot put things they do not like at arms length do they start to protest. The English especially like their churches to be at arm's length, which is why many who might attend do not, and some who do have a lifetime of quiet devotion.

So who is affected? It is probably the person in the lesbian, gay and bisexual group itself, who are so fed up with their enforced marginalisation, that they in the end give up. They are always fighting and campaigning and a kind of exhaustion sets in, or if they don't campaign they take on board the frustration of inclusion. Such people would perhaps end up (maybe reluctantly) in the Metropolitan Community Church, which to all intents is orthodox but is gay inclusive. But these folks are themselves not necessarily liberal, it is just that institutional circumstance forces them into the liberal camp and its inclusive, open base. Many would leave that camp once the gay issue is settled.

Far more significant will be female bishops. This will bring in the boundaries in of the Church, as extreme Anglo-Catholics go elsewhere or fall into complete marginality (waiting for pensions, nowhere else to go, etc.) and one more reason is created for evangelicals to divide. But in a tighter Church, where liberals are not under the pressure they are now, they will themselves divide into moderates and radicals, and so the effect of success in this area is more of a negative ideological divide. Many radicals are frustrated with the do-nothing liberals and their forever compromises, and when liberals demand compromise in a narrower Church that includes accepted liberals, open evangelicals and inclusive Catholics, the radicals may not wish to tow the line but see an opportunity to press for more reform.

So little impact among liberals would come from openly gay men being bishops. However, if a lesbian with a partner were to be a bishop, the impact would already have been made.


Doorman-Priest said...

Helpful as ever. Thank you.

Erika Baker said...

So if JJ was to become bishop and the conservatives would increase their sabre rattling, the liberals and middle of the roaders would not galvanise and openly defend the inclusive, tolerant middle ground, but would disintegrate under the onslaught and quietly go somewhere else?

We almost deserve the church we're creating!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think the response would be as to Gene Robinson. Continued sniping, a fan club developing, and a lot of in between.

There is the attempt now to damp down such speculation, I notice.