Saturday, 27 February 2010

An Institution Let Down

I'm not so foolish to think that the developments at Fulcrum - and I include here not simply about some posters but also the conservatism shown by the likes of Andrew Goddard, for example - represent the whole of Christianity. What in the end has cut the rope for me is the silence of the other side. I live in the Lincoln diocese, and a 'policy' of mine has been not to 'shit in my own backyard', for example. But though I have met him, and he is very personable (which matters) and has said some significant thinks in local conversation (which matters), I see nothing but imbalance when it comes to wider comment by Church of England leaders - so that the increasingly conservative like Williams and Wright are like road blockages and foghorns, and then you have the more extreme noises making hay, whereas there is no balance from the other side unless they are retired or nearly retired. It constantly gives the argument over to those who emphasise rules, laws and imagined international authority.

The whole episcopal thing is stifling, suffocating and promotes a delusion. And down the line, those of a more liberal or radical view simply fail to come out. They would be noticed if they did, on a man bites dog media basis, if for no other reason, but they stay in their kennels as the evangelical dogs roam around looking for their next meat.

One reason religion is in such crisis in this country is because it has become this closed and deceptive book. People are not fooled by institutional double think and by institutional hiding. There is a sort of intellectual corruption - seen in Rowan Williams when he addresses institutional matters - that simply corrodes the institutional source of the misleading conversation.

The reason, recently, that some academics, retired and nearly retired, spoke out on this gay issue was because at root they don't want that corrosion to be spread beyond the vehicle that has it all over its body. The Anglicans must choose to discriminate within themselves and follow their own frustrated logic, including those who would have it otherwise.

I sometimes wonder (indeed I have recently): What if back in 1985 I'd pursued ordination with the Church of England (no one asked me to leave) and then they might have seen me as part of the mix. I can't imagine where I'd be now, perhaps on some liberal Catholic semi-delusion: but likely occupying some corner, somewhere, quiet as a mouse as the 'promises' were insisted upon by some bishop or his staff, or by sheer pressure, or by employment insecurity, while the other side were running around and making all the noise. The whole body would frustrate me as increasingly sectarian and cut off from the general population, never mind academic thought.

It wasn't that long ago that I thought of this yet again, as a kind of hangover, that survived the mildest of testing, but now the institution cannot be viewed other than sadly, at a distance, by a friend - but only if it can find again some sense of public breadth. It has been let down by its leaders and other significant people; very few now will, for example, go on TV like Colin Coward did (surely the very opposite of his surname) and say he wants a broad institution and find the public around him surprised at how narrow his Church has become by the expression of his opponents. For a healthy religious life, you just have to be elsewhere, if you can find it, even if it can never be frustration free. You have to be creative, expressive, and coherent: it has to reflect how you otherwise think, and what you are trying to be even when that is difficult. It has to be pro-humanity, flexible, and not about a set of rules, and whilst it should enchant as religion it also ought not to be any other form of the fantastical or self-deceptive.


Erika Baker said...

Institutions attract institutionalists and end up being run by them.
I would like to know if there has ever been any institution that has remained free thinking and liberal and genuinely happy to have different kinds of people for its members.
Has there every been a group of people running an institution that has not succumbed to political power games and control freakery?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Probably not, but if you take the Unitarians then at congregational level it varies, so that you do get cliques in control but there are other times when openness, at least in terms of beliefs and variety, is seen as welcoming and bringing in results (that is people welcomed). The problem becomes how easy a strategy that worked then becomes a fixture of the gathered. If that happens in those congregations that have recovered then all it will do is send them down again as self-defined minorities complain about being hard done by.

Erika Baker said...

So the answer is to devolve power to the grassroots because then you never have a rigid hierarchy that hangs on to control, but you have a constant cycle of rigidity and recovery in the individual local groups.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Erika, The Quakers, Unitarians, and Reform Judaism all will be moving forward and celebrating civil partnerships within church/synagogue now that the House of Lords has finally voted, over the objections of some stupid C of E bishops, to allow civil partnerships to be celebrated in church and religious language to be used for the celebrations. The Church of England can no longer force discrimination against LGBTs on other traditions.

Adrian, I agree with you that it is frustrating to watch liberal Anglican clergy/bishops hiding in the closet about their liberalism. Waiting until one is retired is no answer.


Erika Baker said...

I am delighted that the amendment was supported and I agree with you that the behaviour of Anglican liberal clergy/bishops is frustrating. I'd go further and call it shameful.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The House of Commons has to agree first, but yes the objectors have shown themselves to be the actual minority that they are.

Anonymous said...

Verification word - sudcosie

too good to miss !

oh sorry !