Monday, 7 July 2008

Tom Wright Calls Another Bishop "Wicked"

This just gets worse, as everyone descends into the gutter of Anglican politics. Tom Wright, the author of Surprised by Hope, is clearly surprised by fear and enemies as he starts punching his weight in all sorts of directions.

I thought, is he being ironic? No:

And now to discover that our great Jim Packer is being persecuted by a wicked liberal bishop in Canada – well, clearly it’s time to man the barricades! Why can’t the Anglican Communion do something to help this wonderful man?

That is the very question I have asked myself – not only in relation to Jim Packer faced with the Diocese of New Westminster (i.e. Vancouver), but in relation to many of my close friends in various dire situations in the United States and in other parts of Canada as well.

This is just diatribe. Jim Packer and company took it upon themselves to dismiss their own bishop, on the basis of their own opinion that same-sex blessings are a first order denial of essential Christian doctrine. Not only that but they left the Church and joined another one. Then the so called wicked bishop (what shocking language of one bishop to use of another) decided that as they'd gone he'd like his church back, and made sure that they had gone.

As foot meets other shoe, let's see what Tom Wright gets up to when the FOCAs decide to do the same in his neck of the woods.

He talks about his own importance:

...nothing I have said takes away at all from my strong and consistent support for them, my prayers for them, my desire that a solution be found to the appalling situation that so many have faced, AND (please note) a lot of hard work, necessarily behind the scenes, on their behalf.

He wants to stop muscling into matters where he is making assumption after assumption (rather like his latest book) and generally annoying everyone. Amongst his capital letters shouting in this latest rant of an article, the simple reply is that the difference between the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Brazil, Hong Kong... are matters of degrees. England has seen same-sex blessings and prayers, and has gay bishops with shades of hiddenness and duplicity.

We have just heard an English bishop who said that Jesus Christ is the way of salvation for himself but would not want to impose it on anyone else. That hardly meets the GAFCON test. Such a statement is only a difference of degree (and probably less "orthodox") than the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. So what? What does any of this prove?

Tom Wright has at last caught up with the point made for so long now by loyal liberals that the New Puritans, a tiny number of extreme evangelicals, are using the Africans to advance their own agenda: what ABWON failed to do at all GAFCON intends to do. He should not be surprised by these enemies.

To justify the argument that England is different, he tells us that:

Many of the theological teachers in our universities now occupy what one might call a ‘generous orthodox’ position. Our theological colleges are not dominated by the liberal agenda – some may be to some degree, but there is a wonderful doctrinal and practical health, indeed exuberance, about many of our colleges and training courses.

He surely knows that much of theology taught is that which comes from the United States and Germany, that theology has never had such a range. There is hardly any difference between English and American universities on this, except (if anything) that England has a more parochial liberalism in terms of its own little history of controversies starting with Essays and Reviews (1860) and coming all the way through to the 1960s, 1980s and after. Plus this is not really about universities but about churches, particularly those suburban drive-to ones that want to divert their monies to their like-minded. They will define liberalism very tightly.

It is not that Tom Wright and company are expected otherwise to sign up to the liberal agenda: it is the FOCAs, if they act, that will split evangelicalism, so that the likes of Fulcrum and close by will have to decide with whom to keep company. They might have to sign up to the FOCAs but no liberal expects any signing up.

This split among evangelicals has begun already. Simon Morden at Fulcrum has written this about leaving his church signed up to GAFCON:

Peter Jensen was absolutely right when he urged the All Souls meeting to choose, in or out. We followed his advice and chose to stand with those who GAFCON don't think are good enough.

The holiness or faithfulness of Rowan Williams is not in question, though he has jumped through a few unpleasant hoops since he took up "the job". He has exposed the weakness of the Instruments of Communion, simply because they are inappropriate for too many Anglican actual Churches. Pete Broadbent himself has commented on Fulcrum boards that the Covenant has not exactly had a happy time, and of course the GAFCON Final Statement ignored the Covenant. If it is pointless from their point of view, it is definitely pointless now - but it always was an impossible task. Too strong and it would be rejected, too weak and it has no point.

The GAFCON people have not just got an interest in Lambeth failing, they have scuppered it. They have done so because authority will now run in at least two directions: the "better bishops" route of organic unity (one understanding I've just read rejected by Hanson and Hanson in their classic, Reasonable Belief, Oxford University Press, as unAnglican- this Archbishop has tried to impose on Anglicanism something foreign to its spirit) cannot now function because it relied on a a Communion unity. In any case, the Indaba method with its head cut off did mean that Lambeth could achieve very little.

He attacks The Episcopal Church with venom and then says:

I ask those who have jumped to the wrong conclusions about what I wrote...

I think we know perfectly well what he wrote, and it is as clear now. He is locking horns with the FOCAs, and it is a battle. He is even more so attacking the North American Churches. It is a descent into the gutter of faction fighting, of one set of evangelicals against another. And it will go on after Lambeth too, and after Lambeth churches in his diocese may well sign up to alternative oversight - forcing him to do as that "wicked" Bishop of New Westminster has done.

How disgraceful.


I've been challenged by Pete Hobson that the use of "wicked" by Tom Wright was sarcastic and that I've misunderstood the use. I did think at first that Tom Wright was being ironic. I've looked at his two uses of wicked again, and I think there is irony there but also agreement. I don't know about sarcasm and I don't think it makes any difference. The context is this (use 1):

It was a shrewd move by the organisers to get him there: for many older English evangelicals, with long memories of listening to John Stott and Jim Packer in conferences at All Souls, it will have stirred recollections of happier days. And now to discover that our great Jim Packer is being persecuted by a wicked liberal bishop in Canada – well, clearly it’s time to man the barricades! Why can’t the Anglican Communion do something to help this wonderful man?

That is the very question I have asked myself – not only in relation to Jim Packer faced with the Diocese of New Westminster (i.e. Vancouver), but in relation to many of my close friends in various dire situations in the United States and in other parts of Canada as well.

The point is it can be ironic and sarcastic, but he is in agreement because Tom Wright has close friends in dire situations - and dire situations is not ironic and not sarcastic. In this context wicked is like them saying it but Tom Wright agrees and leaves it in. It becomes neutral use, and therefore an accusation, because bishops in US and Canada are doing what English bishops are not doing. If not, then what sarcasm is being expressed about Jim Packer as a "wonderful man"? Presumably Tom Wright does think Jim Packer is a wonderful man, just as he thinks the Bishop of New Westminster has been wicked.

The second use of wicked is more general, but again although the context is the logic of GAFCON, again Tom Wright clearly believes that bishops in the US and Canada are in a special position and the word does apply (use 2):

The rhetoric of this policy has not changed since then. It was advanced in the so-called and abortive ‘Covenant for the Church of England’ put out in December 2006. It basically consists of three moves: (a) liberalism has taken over the Church of England/the Anglican Communion; (b) the present structures (Lambeth, Archbishop of Canterbury, etc.) are powerless and/or spineless and it’s no good looking to them for help; therefore (c) here is a new movement which offers protection to those persecuted by wicked bishops, and which will enable us to advance the gospel.

This analysis is hopelessly inaccurate as regards England...

Whether Tom Wright has lost his cool or something, and never meant to imply another bishop is wicked, he is nevertheless descending into the gutter in order to swing punches at both GAFCON and North America. Thus I do not agree with Pete Hobson when he says:

It seems to me abundantly clear from the context, these are not the chosen words or thoughts of Tom Wright, but the line of thinking he attributes, no doubt correctly, to those who issued the invitation.

The word "wicked" is Tom Wright's, for effect, and it is something he agrees with, after all there is a "dire" situation by the bishops in North America about which Tom Wright strongly disapproves, including bishops apparently persecuting those who leave a Church and yet want to carry on inside the same building. Even if I am wrong about this, as a specific label attached to the Canadian Bishop, it is still very grubby and unbecoming.

This is another view at Fulcrum discussion:

He is clearly intending to be partially ironic in his reference to "wicked" bishops who have gone for Jim Packer. For a man of such learning and scholarship it is a surprising lapse of language, but we all stumble from time to time.

This is a difficult time for Tom Wright and whilst I wish he would scale back his assault on GAFCON/FOCA, he remains one of our finest Christian leaders.

Peter H

My reading has support at Thinking Anglicans, and I did not post there until later.

Malcolm+ you have said everything I was thinking. Apart from adding that Bishop Tom ought to apologize immediately to Bishop Michael for such insultingly worded and ludicrously inaccurate accusations.

Posted by: Ellen on Monday, 7 July 2008 at 10:54pm BST


Doorman-Priest said...

And its going to get worse!

Fr Craig said...

I am endlessly baffled by the notion of some being persecuted by the 'TEC' - it just doesn't happen. Wright - and many others in England - simply do not understand the polity of TEC. There is no 'gang' of bishops somewhere who decide our theology. The PB is on her own (I admire her greatly) but she does not represent (officially) the church on anything, she has no authority over any other bishop in America. those who are claiming persecution are the rankest kind of hypocrites - they deny the right of our General Convention (your synod) to decide the policies of the TEC (eg, women priests) and then claim that they are being persecuted for attempting to leave the church taking all their buildings and silver with them. I don't recognize the church NT Wright describes. I graduated from Virginia Seminary 7 years ago - I suspect it is now considered a 'liberal' seminary. I am very liberal but thought that the education I received there was extremely balanced. I suspect that two of our seminaries (EDS and CDSP) are more liberal than even I am, but the rest are moderate to conservative. Thanks, Pluralist, for letting me vent!