Monday, 16 February 2009

Abel Sentamongyu on Jenny Cain

Now I am Abel Sentamongyu, tha Archbishop o'North, and my job spec here says I can be tha all round entertainer of your Anglican Church here in England, especially to give a bit of fun to the Church when my friend down south is deep in his books. You don't have to call me Archbeeshop, no, because I am really your happy, local, friend, tha friendly friend like tha local Building Societies round here were lad before they demutualised yes.

Now look. Where I cum from, wi' teeth to prove it, we have a huooooge growth in people believing in demons, spirits, all sorts of signs and wonders, and when they open they their Gospel, you know, it is not 'istory book nor science book but a book about the present day an' salvation is there from all these wibbly wobbly things we is frighten about down there.

Now we Africans think that we aff to bring faith back to where it came from, where it was first delivered from dee saints by de nationalised Post Office. And this is what I am doing, but I have gone native and now I look a little bit liberal from the perspective of my once background. My mother said, "Abel, lad, when in Rome do as dee Romans do," like I have said to my friend the other Archbishop, who thinks he's in Rome by some of them things he's doing.

So to compensate for my going native, what I have decided to do is jump out o' aeroplanes and not wear me collar while Mugabe is in power. I am told that gimmicks get you into the media, so I do as I am told.

And I am tha Abel man able to ask, "Why can't you recover your beliefs that tha used to aff, when England was all traditional and imperialist?" So I like to comment on cases I can get in t'press even though I'm fairly ignoorant about them.

I like being that, yes, immigrant of colour who 'ass leapt barrier and gets 'proval of the right wing press after all.

So I, Abel Sentamongyu, now make a comment for the press about Jenny Cain and her daughter. You see, we like to manipulate how our daughters and sons think, and in Africa we can take them to churches full of demons where they get exorcised, whereas in north of England we take ours to school full of food and hope they get exercised. But we still want to manipulate their minds along with the sweeties and processed food and all the snacks they love to eat. Now, that Mr Dawkins, who has been sent to irritate us: he says that we should not call children Christians but children of Christians, and no doubt the daughter repeats the outlook in this case of a certain Jenny Cain. Listen to the babble of a classroom and you always hear them sexist and racist attitudes that can only come from parents - yes? - and so it is with religion.

A little girl tells another she will go to hell. Now we really must uphold the right of freedom of speech so that little girls can make others cry. It's part of childhood after all. As you know, back where dee faith is strong we do diss as a first stage towards giving the children some exorcise in PE - Paranoid Exorcism it is yes. And then we can really get them all screeeming and yelling on the floor as a way of preventing parents themselves from exercising child abuse. So here we have a teacher preventing a natural process, almost forgotten here, of going towards church and having adult pastors screaming at terrified children. Though I understand some churches daan in Landan have now taken up dis vital ministry, according to some interfering social services people that the right wing press love to hate, though they luv me and though it has now altered public policy towards children called that there Every Child Matters - which must have been in the mind of the teacher when she told one child that the other child mattered.

Then of course we have a parent like Mrs Cain - I hope it's Mrs - who emails from home asking for her people to pray for her, her daughter, the school and the whole world like. Unfortunately there was one o' them Judases out there opening the inboxes. Is this just not the Gospel teaching I preach abaht? Somebody takes the thirty pieces of silver and goes t' Pilate, like I did when I checked he was high enough and then jumped aht a plane.

Now surely she should, Mrs Cain, as a staff member, be able to criticise what is going on, and I welcome the sweeping in o' yer newspapers and pressure groups to come in and add whatever chaff they can t' debate, just like I do.

And this is just another case, like that Dish case recently, where a nurse approached someone with a syringe and asked if she should pray for the patient. Now this happened to me tha sees: "Shall I pray for you before putting this in your arm," she said, and I said, "No I shall pray that you put it in me properly and do your job." Tha sees this, yes. I recovered to be t'Archbishop that I am, so my prayer clearly worked and all demons that day ran away from t'ospital.

I think we bishops, intervening in the public debate, have been doing a veary good job recently. There is somat about from where we stand, somewhat removed from the push 'n' pull of everyday life, that gives us the pearspeective that we need in order to make a contribution, and it is so impoortant that we keep religion in the public debate exactly as we do do do do do.


john said...


I live and work in the North, so I recognise that element in the language and thinking of this piece. On the other hand, I find the general tone of this piece patronising and racist.

Sentamu may have got his facts wrong - or been misinformed - in these cases. On the other hand:

(1) it is as a matter of fact true that Christians get less indulgence in British public space than Muslims and others (for obvious and perfectly understandable reasons).

(2) I am convinced that Sentamu is fundamentally a good egg and projects well (OK, relatively well - the competition isn't very hot) in public.

(3) OK, he's not very sophisticated. But I think it is a bad error for liberals such as yourself (and myself) to equate liberalism with practical goodness and conservatism with badness. In practice, all these categories are mixed up.

(4) I think it is a very good thing that the second highest Anglican (in the UK anyway) is a black man. We have far too many bishops, most of them come from privileged backgrounds, many make shoddy statements, some are stupid, some are certainly uncharitable. Sentamu is a sign of hope.

(5) I don't believe he is 'anti-gay'.

So there.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think he (the real person, Sentamu) is sophisticated, and he is trying a media game. He jumps in to issues to make a splash.

If there is racism in it it's that to do with so called British traditions being held up by the African expression that they can bring the faith as it was delivered to them back here. The faith, as delivered to them, was an imposed cultural and forceful product, which should never have been delivered and is not wanted back; and as for the supernaturalism and superstition of much popular African religion as it actually exists and relates to children, this has had clear harmful results in some congregations in London with pastors of that interpretation and led directly in one severe case to Every Child Matters.

I don't care about this whining from some Christians about Muslims: they are both being over indulged since Blair's approach (especially schools policy) and then the son of a manse replaced Blair.

Sentamu is obviously black, but being black in itself is neither here nor there: what matters is whether what he brings as a black person comes with something else positive. He thinks he can restore something of English traditional Christianity by pandering to the politics of the traditional right, and adding some African flavour in some of the style. He is more institutionally passive than activist, so he pops up at intervals while otherwise doing the ordered distant job.

He is mainly insignificant: a little bit of media pampering and showmanship.

Anyone runs the risk of being charged with racism when dishing out criticism of, essentially, insignificance, irrelevance and added ignorance, but the institution and the man together bring these along and, in an example like this media intervention, I'm going to add comment because of why a school will be sensitive about individual children.

I'm surprised I've not been accused of racist cartoons.

I'm sure too that he is a most pleasant individual. We know that Rowan Williams, for example, lost in his words, has a very good one to one pastoral touch. I don't know about Sentamu and perhaps if he was less of a showman we might get more of the real man.

john said...

'He jumps in to issues to make a splash.'

Perhaps he does. Perhaps he is a show-man. The issue is: is he ONLY that? I think I detect more consistency in the kinds of interventions he makes. In any event, his public interventions are surely far superior to those of Williams, Wright, Rochester, Chartres, et al. (I reiterate: 'the competition isn't great'). Also, people whose opinions I respect have liked the ways in which Sentamu conducts services.

'If there is racism in it it's that to do with so called British traditions ... ', etc.

This no doubt does involve racism, but I'm still bothered by other aspects.

'I don't care about this whining from some Christians about Muslims: they are both being over indulged ...'

I agree. 'Whining' is exactly right. I'm all in favour of a secular state (which is what, effectively, we have). But I think, actually, Sentamu doesn't 'whine': he's making a plea against 'excessive' secularism. Such a plea may have merit, irrespective of the (disputed) facts of these cases.

'Sentamu is obviously black, but being black in itself is neither here nor there':

I don't agree at all. I think it is a great thing that the C of E with all its fuddy-duddy-ness and pomp and silliness can elevate a black man to number 2 position. Perhaps there is some hope that it will actually make good its claims to pluralism and comprehensiveness. Cf. Obama.

'pandering to the politics of the traditional right'

I don't see this at all. On ASYLUM??

'He is mainly insignificant'

Well, aren't we all? This seems to me very harsh.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I agree the competition isn't very good, and it must have something to do with the institution.

My own view is let him organise and conduct the services, and let his character and personality show through. That would be far better.

Don't agree that it is against excessive secularism. He is picking the wrong targets, and falling into some well signposted traps. I'll agree with you about asylum, and I'd suggest that asylum is a topic with a clear Christian foundation (it's a part of the gospel storytelling).

I wouldn't want to make comparison's with Obama, other than to say as I did it depends what he comes with.

Unfortunately it is institutions and experience that give significance. For example, yesterday on C4 Digby Jones made some very strong and clear criticisms of government policy regarding unemployment now. He was able to do so because of his former position and because of his own personality. Compared with this, Sentamu is marginal.

john said...

This contention that 'significance' depends on 'institution' (of course, a very sociological perspective) requires scrutiny.

(a) It is obviously true that people's institutional background conditions, and may circumscribe, their contributions to wider debates.

(b) Church people's contributions to such contexts may be stupid/crass/partisan.

(c) As regards the present economic crisis, Church people's contributions may be highly debatable (e.g. the claim that the reduction in VAT adds fuel to the fire). This is a case where area competence kicks in.

(d) On the other hand, it may be entirely reasonable for such people to articulate general moral principles, e.g. that the present situation results from everyone's greed.

(e) it is obviously the case that outstanding individuals may transcend their rather narrow affiliations. Example: Desmond Tutu.

On Obama: although the most important question is whether he has the competence/experience/qualities etc. to improve the overall crisis situation, it still remains true - incredibly, obviously, true - that is a good thing that a black person should get where he has. Exactly the same with Sentamu.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I adapted my presentation on Reinhold Niebuhr to comment on greed, and systemic greed rather than 'everyone'.

Well I'll meet you half way regarding Obama and the achievement of a black person in office, but what really makes his achievement is his political skill at building an electoral movement and fundraising, and having a programme to tackle economic necessity. So some achievement that this stuff C of E can make a Bishop of Birmingham and then Archbishop, but he doesn't come with a comparative programme other than something, I'd suggest, more trivial. The comparison may be awkward anyway, but what he might have brought isn't that wanted anyway.

My focus was less on him (via a character) than a juxtaposition of values and trivial methods on the issue of freedom to speak, on not upsetting the other, about marginal beliefs in the public space, on Every Child Matters, about African spirituality (that gave rise in part to Every Child Matters), and the populist media.

john said...

I do see him as bringing things of value:

a certain attractive populism

a visible and practical demonstration that the C of E isn't irretrievably stuffy and white middle class

a certain moral intensity

a real concern with the fractured-ness of British society (he's never going to say anything as silly and offensive as Chartres recently)

an ability, from his own relatively conservative Evangelical perspective, to get on with other church perspectives (he's far less aggressive, power-crazed, and 'impositional' than Tom Wright). I think I'm much more committed to the C of E than you are (no criticism implied) and I think Sentamu is someone one can do deals with, and that ability - to do deals - is what the C of E currently needs more than anything else.