Friday 9 October 2009

An Exocet - At Last

The report in the Church Times by Simon Sarmiento is quite mild regarding Bishop Peter Selby's criticism of Rowan Williams. Let's not beat about the bush: at last a bishop has broken cover and this material - a lecture at the Inclusive Church conference (7 October) - is direct. There is the no doubt original and read out version in PDF format that carries all the formatting and indented text. Mark Harris carries the text. I'm going to be selective to serve my focus.

Of course Peter Selby is retired, so has a bishop really broken cover? How free they become when they retire! This stranglehold of the collegiality of bishops is yet one more reason why apostolic succession is a byword for dishonesty. It is a dishonesty that goes right down to the priest in the pulpit and all those credal promises made for whom, the individual bishop, they represent.

Rowan Williams has both hands on a steering wheel driving Anglicanism to disaster, based on the lowest Protestant common denominator of biblical interpretation of how to recognise one Anglican Church by another, and equally based on a fantasy of Catholic bishops in dioceses up to himself. A mix that once created space is now turned into a choking action. And nobody is standing up to him among the known and more reasonable bishops. Such is my point of view, and here below are extracts from Peter Selby's.

First of all, this is the level to which the Archbishop of Canterbury has stooped:

we live in times of increasing fear, and out of that come desperate measures, for example, to control immigration – which means of course controlling immigrants, at whatever cost to their physical and mental health. But it also means trying to shore up the defences of our communion against the incoming tides that threaten; some of the things that are said about TEC lead me to think it has acquired in some minds some of the characteristics of a virus...

He says that so far a "hygienic church" proposed is so far only to:

...find ways to make it clear who the proper members are and who may speak for us or in our name.

And he says:

The Covenant proposal if accepted – I should perhaps say ‘when accepted’ since people tend to go to what they have been told is the only show in town if they are told that often enough – will have that effect even if not everyone who supports it has that intention.

Well when is someone in diocesan office going to have the balls to come out and say stop? You don't have to be railroaded into something that changes the nature of Anglicanism forever!

Peter Selby had a book out in 1991, called BeLonging: Challenge to a Tribal Church, London: SPCK, but now he feels it is necessary to restate what that was about (when it was not a response to these later events, obviously). The points need sharper statement, he states, especially since the Archbishop's Reflections on General Convention meeting and the follow-up foghorn (my word) writing of the present Bishop of Durham (in collaboration with the Anglican Communion Institute and Fulcrum).

He asserts that the Archbishop has personal sincerity that no one can doubt in his statements against homophobia, but that the Archbishop should take some responsibility in what he has done, including stopping Jeffrey John being a bishop and regarding his later statements:

In particular, when the Archbishop says that there must be no questioning of LGBT people’s human or civil rights or of their membership of the Body of Christ, it needs to be said that what he is questioning has serious implications for both...

Peter Selby basically goes on to say that Rowan Williams is dancing on the ground set up by particular traditionalists for their issue of resistance, because homosexuality draws "visceral responses" and "energies" unlike some other matters. And he says:

the Archbishop’s personal opposition to homophobia does not exempt him from complicity in the way that energy is being used.

Absolutely right. Then Peter Selby gets on to the foghorn writing of Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham. He shows such lack of empathy for The Episcopal Church and its methods of expressing faith that what is written is hardly likely to be received positively. It projects division into the Anglican Communion.

Then Peter Selby is back to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his:

what can only be called a massive lack of cultural self-awareness.

This is that English bishops speak as the Queen's bishops, which has successes but also met cultural opposition to:

centuries of European monarchical history - and of course that history has conditioned many of the assumptions behind dialogue with Rome too, something that has a very high priority in these times.

Then he turns specifically to the Archbishop's paper. Regarding recognition of one Anglcian Church by another, he asks:

...whether the history of Anglicanism supports requiring that way of undertaking and then sanctioning developments. ...Is it not rather the case that quite controversial decisions have been taken because they seemed to be right, and it has taken time for it to become clear whether they were legitimate developments or not?

Referring to Bonhoeffer, Stringfellow and Moltmann, who he knows are important to Rowan Williams, and in reference to Mattew 25, he states that:

recognisability seems to depend rather little on working in accordance with procedures of the kind the Archbishop now has in mind.


There is no doubt that the decisions and actions of numerous provinces other than TEC - the bullying, the threats, the withdrawal of communion, the unilateral invasions of others' territories - have made Anglicanism quite unrecognisable to a significant number of people.

And therefore, reading what the Bishop says, Peter Selby implies that the Archbishop has reinforced this by his posture. It all gives:

far too much weight to those issues that people happen to get worked up about, whether or not their anxiety is justified.

The Church of England has made several decisions on issues once thought to be first order questions:

we made these decisions, and have historically made many such, because the need for recognisability cuts in more than one direction. It would be good if Anglican provinces could agree, and it would be good if people did not do things which led other provinces to declare them unrecognisable. But more often we are in a tension between what will make us recognisable as Church to one group and what will make us recognisable as such to another.

Christians have simply often disagreed, and 'recognition by all' (in the foghorn paper) is actually recognition only by selected insiders.

Then another criticism of Rowan Williams:

What he says is that it would be seriously incongruous for a person who has a 'lifestyle' (I fear the choice of that word to describe gay partnerships is something of a giveaway)...

Indeed it is a giveaway. It shows how much the Archbishop now participates in the rhetoric of the hard right.

The argument about who represented the Church was once made around divorce - why divorced people were put out to industrial missions and were not parish priests. To cut out individuals as representative is, he says, means a more general statement is made. Thus:

Protestations of our opposition to homophobia will count for little in an environment where our representative actions speak far louder than our words.

So here comes, really, the clincher:

There is no doubt that if the Covenant becomes the governing text of the Anglican communion and if, as is surely intended, membership of the communion (or of 'track A' in the communion) will in some way be made dependent on conformity to that text, a message about recognisability and congruity will be sent, and it may not be the one the Archbishop may be wanting to send.

I wonder about that last point.

The retired bishop recalls a service of blessing for a gay couple where they were allowed spontaneously by the congregation to take communion together and first - such behaviour learned from a wedding ceremony. He says, again directed at the Archbishop:

Might not this event in the distribution of the Sacrament have been a picture of what at an earlier time the Archbishop would have called 'The Body's Grace', the mediation of truth through the liturgical actions of the people, while the official Church was still struggling to avoid an affirmation it was unwilling to make.

As hierarchies struggle to "maintain rigidities" something else is going on among the people, says Peter Selby. Yes, and it may be why Rowan Williams in his obsession with bishops and himself never considers what ordinary people may think or do. Peter Selby sees it so differently from the Archbishop:

That will not be (as the Archbishop quite wrongly suggests) because the Church will have ended up conforming to social mores rather than critiqued them; it will be because truth has been discovered precisely in the context of biblical and theological reflection and acted out in worship...

I do not think I am overstating the directness of this piece from Peter Selby! He goes on:

Among the most sinister implications of the Archbishop's paper is the suggestion that ecumenical discussions will on the Anglican side only have participants who are 'signed up' to the Covenant and whose provinces adhere to its provisions. If that kind of provision is implemented we shall have to take steps to notify ecumenical partners that 'Anglicanism' is not represented by the Anglicans they meet. We shall have to find ways, that is to say, of saying as some of us have had to say about other, political, decisions, 'not in my name'.

This is a statement wholly rejecting what the Archbishop is trying to force through, and saying then 'not in my name'. And, moreso:

we do not recognise those members of our churches who are nominated to such commissions as Anglicans; we leave such excluding to the official church. But we do need to find ways of making clear that an Anglican representation that excludes those who have come to different conclusions about sexuality is not fully Anglican and does not represent us.

The Covenant will not just have its intended positive impact on representing Anglicanism (as, for example, as I would repeat, to the Pope) but, far worse, he says:

an Anglican representation filtered by its conformity to the criteria of the Covenant will greatly impoverish ecumenical conversation, to the detriment of all participants.

The disaster comes rapidly. So what about some bishops in office speaking up? I'm so fed up with Anglicanism that I have moved to the side and gone elsewhere. The other week a bishop visited who might say something, but doesn't. The once expressed notion that the Archbishop of Canterbury says the things he does just to get people to turn up at the Lambeth Conference is long gone. And still they say nothing. What is the effect of this? Dishonesty at the top, and forced constraint as the forghorns continue to blow. Peter Selby says:

Having attended Bishops’ Meetings of various kinds over more than twenty years I have to say that recent years have brought more mistrust and less openness than at any previous time I can remember. We shall need to speak of these things, because if we are silent what the CofE says will have about it a ring of falsity...

Peter Selby's conclusion to his lecture is distressing to him. No doubt it is, to 'come out' and have to say all this. It is this idea that Rowan Williams believes it falls to him as Archbishop of Canterbury to make two particular points. Why so?

What is happening to the role and person of the Archbishop is a question that cannot be avoided and is far from being just his responsibility. It has been pointed out that his paper is addressed to 'the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion', a form of address very familiar to readers of papal encyclicals...

Peter Selby asks why the Archbishop has to deny (again) that this is centralisation: this Archbishop who treats the issue of sexuality as an ecclesiastical problem and sets up for such a solution. The reduction of this issue to such a 'solution'has been wholly disappointing:

I did hope that his giftedness in connecting with people and issues out of a deep and prayerful theological mind might assist all of us, whichever 'side' we were on, to move to a larger perception of this complex reality, and that from that movement might eventually come a new paradigm of thinking which would change us all - and hopefully unite us all - in ways we cannot now see, and would certainly help us to find ways of speaking that do not cause so much hurt to those over whose bodies and lives we are arguing.

He can introduce fresh thinking on a whole variety of topics pressing on the world, and yet here it is:

an exclusive concern with finding ecclesio-political answers to the current panic.

We lose his skills of insight because he has accepted a role pressed on to him. But it is not just pressure:

there is also an element of personal choice in it.

Allowing this to happen, to accept the constraints of office and to condition his own thought within those alone:

that way lies the false consciousness where it seems he has arrived.

Peter Selby goes on to suggest ways for conversation and dialogue to go on that effect change:

The Archbishop's constant insistence that this matter cannot be resolved by creating 'facts on the ground' is simply not realistic about this or any other dispute...

At last someone has spoken up. At last someone has put together perhaps the best case against what the Archbishop is doing, and has done it well. In the end people are being sleepwalked into this radical change to Anglicanism and one that matches this Archbishop's hierarchical fantasies. When will the silent pathetic bunch in purple, that he recognises as important, going to speak up? It is time he was stopped.

1 comment:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Mark Harris - your possible comment for this was placed on 'Cheating Rabbit'.