Thursday 7 August 2008

Duplicity, Duplicity, We're All Duped Explicitly

We know about the faith leader having (had?) diametrically opposed views to those promoted, views that build a "This is the Catholic Church!" upon excluding a marginalised social group.

We know. Yet, after the Lambeth Conference comes the hatchet job.

This is how it works. You're a journalist and you're in a dirty business. You know a person is operating by public beliefs contrary to the private ones held. You let the person operate those public beliefs, and watch, and report - mainly from behind a fence.

When everyone goes away happy with the form - whilst the content is more than still open to question - you dig into the records and you plunge in the knife.

It's like the old Carry On joke: "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me."

What allows this to happen, however, is the sheer level of duplicity that has been operated in a key role of leadership. We all know that Anglicans are fairly competent at appearing to believe what they don't actually believe - I have become guilty of this too, though I do tell anyone what I think. There are, though, many crossed fingers in Anglican land. At least if we are supposed to be literalist (and in this Rowan Williams has colluded). With the issue of homophobia the matter gets particularly serious, because it involves threats to real people, and gives excuses to those who would repress.

This is why Rowan Williams, for all his talents, and now being subjected to a deliberate hatchet job of selecting correspondence from 2001, fails to draw much sympathy, because of what he has been doing - because he has allied his fantasy of a Catholic Church built on to Anglicanism with the worst fundamentalist biblical literalism. He has appeased those who will actually do him down. He has sacrificed others, not for himself, but for his project: at one level holding a show together, at another promoting a Church over a Communion.

But this is a savage, personally aimed attack here, and it looks like classic gutter journalism. It is done because it is possible, and it has a purpose too - to undermine and demolish his project, probably to support the moneyed right wing theological madheads over in GAFCONland.

Here is the essence of the key report:

He draws a distinction between his own beliefs as a theologian, which are liberal, and his position as a church leader for which he must take account of the traditionalist view of the majority of Anglicans. He has stuck to this position ever since. "If I’m asked for my views, as a theologian rather than a church leader, I have to be honest and admit that they are as I’ve said," he writes. The letters, written in the autumn of 2000 and 2001, were exchanged with Dr Deborah Pitt, a psychiatrist and evangelical Christian, who lives within his former archdiocese in south Wales and wrote challenging him on the issue.

It goes on:

In reply, Dr Williams describes how his view changed from that of opposing to gay relationships when, in 1980, his mind became "unsettled" by contact as university teacher with Christian students who believed the Bible forbade promiscuity not gay sex.


He writes that by the end of the 1980s he had "definitely come to the conclusion" that the Bible did not denounce faithful relationships between people who happened to be gay. He cites two academics as also pivotal in influencing his view, one of whom ironically is Dr Jeffrey John, the celibate homosexual whom he later forced to withdraw as Bishop of Reading after an outcry from conservative evangelicals.


Asked for a response, Lambeth Palace yesterday quoted a recent interview the Archbishop told the Church of England Newspaper: "When I teach as a bishop I teach what the Church teaches. In controverted areas it is my responsibility to teach what the Church has said and why."

This is such a slimy defence from his staff, and that's his problem. They cannot get away with it. But he still pursues his line, and did enthusiastically in the University of Canterbury - and not only does he do so but he really does believe in the Catholic Church. He is building the Catholic Church, as he calls it, on the basis of excluding a social group.

Here is more from "Your Writer" Ruth Gledhill: a fascinating insight into his theological journey regarding homosexuality. He tells her how he started out firmly on the traditionalist wing, and was persuaded in the 1980s to adopt a liberal view. Then he describes how he holds this in tandem with his role as a church leader, a figure of unity. We'll post pdfs of the correspondence online shortly.

Fascinating insight! I bet The Times will publish. It is juicy stuff: out to destroy. The Fourth Estate then, not just in government, but organised religion too.

Not only does Ruth Gledhill do her dart throwing job - remember that Dave Walker cartoon? - but in comes another, Mary Ann Sieghart, to add to the hatchet job.

Her argument actually backfires. She says:

"We were elected as new Labour and we will govern as new Labour," was Tony Blair's oft-incanted phrase whenever party activists put pressure on him to give in to their more left-wing demands.

"I was elected as a liberal and will govern as a liberal," should be Dr Williams's mantra too. Members of the Anglican Communion knew what they were getting. They expected him to be liberal in office.

Well they were mistaken if they thought so: his upbringing was Catholic, his theology has been detailed narrative - the story in backward and forward detail - and if you have him, you get his project. He's had to sacrifice one aspect of his views for the other aspect of his views, for the bigger goal as he sees it - and so religious bureaucracy comes before people, and that is what is so wrong.

The better analogy is with Gorbachev. He was pro-Lenin (understood far too favourably) and anti-Stalin, pro-criticism and reform and wanted a Communism that could handle criticism for the sake of its efficiency and maintenance. Just before the coup, under the stress of a system that could not take it, and struggling to get an All-Union agreement, he sided with the right wingers, but they knifed him in the back and exiled him. Then the pissed off liberals rescued the situation, and brought him back. He praised the liberals, and found himself out of a job.

This is how Rowan Williams will end up in so far as the Communion has had it.


Anonymous said...

There is an incredible disconnect from this report and what American bishops are reporting. They all report the wonderful spiritual experience of connecting with their brother/"sister" bishops. None of them are reporting the slight of hand tricks of the ABC. Given the political nature of the USA, this is even worse. Sigh!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Regarding your point, we must distinguish between form and content. The form was fine - meeting the other, encounters and the like. The content remains as far apart.

As for this journalism, it is the same practice as with a politician who does something in public that is different from private, when the journalists have a dossier of old files on the individual. They then publish the stuff. In Rowan Wiliams's case we knew what his views were. This correspondence is sharper regarding those views, but nothing different. The timing, the focus, are for hatchet job material.

I would be out of communion with Rowan Williams and what he stands for! But this is still a hatchet job, grubby journalism. It should not affect anyone's viewpoint.

Debbie P said...

Hi. I decided to send copies of Dr. Williams'letters to journalists as I had come to believe they might be worth publishing. Many agree and, as I suspected, were unaware of the strength of Dr. Williams' views. I sent the info ordinary mail, but Ruthe Gledhill did not get it till she returned from Lambeth. If you like to access my letter to the Times of 15th August you will get more info and if you like I will email you a copy of the letter I sent to Bishop Tom Wright and his fellow bishops.
Best wishes Deborah Pitt

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Please do so. I think your posting is so important, and this entry now so far down the chain of entries, that I have highlighted your posting separately.

Much of what you have written was well known; the issue is the timing and then Ruth Gledhill's handling of the material.