Tuesday 16 February 2010

Big Questions Much Heat

I watched The Big Questions for last Sunday by iplayer (series 3, programme 7) from some 42 minutes on (the link as underlined will have a very limited life).

It was one of those more heat than light type discussion programmes, the kind made infamous by the likes of Kilroy. Also, whenever I see any programme with Anne Atkins in it, I desperately want to switch off, as she is one of the usual wheeled-in rent-a-quotes who has built her career from the beginning with an anti-gay rant on Radio 4 and thus became notorious. From what I watched much was missed that might have gone into more depth by an across the table format.

Nevertheless the programme gave a snapshot of the current Anglican wars in its final section. Jonathan Clatworthy got excited, but perhaps he was in the right place for that excitement. Colin Coward I thought gave the whole thing more anchoring. And what became clear was just how purist are the evangelical extremists - and they showed themselves as extremists - and how motivated is Lorna Ashworth (Atkins therefore about to receive some competition: imagine Ashworth as a repeating television face).

The consensus seemed to be, better to split, but the public present would sympathise with the more generous Church proposed by Clatworthy and Coward. Also, what about Charles Raven there, because when inhibited by his then bishop Peter Selby he split away in any case. He made his decision and he is talking about the Anglican Communion from the outside.

The fact is that the C of E General Synod kicked Lorna Ashworth's intentions into touch. Many have commented, but whilst the motion eventually passed wasn't the first obvious wrecking amendment of the Bishop of Bristol, it did say nothing of any worth - a looks like something but actually is nothing other than a nearly meaningless long grass job.

I suppose I would like it if liberals who really do not believe the creeds in totality came to a denomination where they are freer to develop their beliefs (no one has to believe the Thirty-nine Articles now other than a head nod: that's what undermines the evangelicals like the shaven-faced lawyer who expressed some infantile views about "going to heaven"). However, the fact is that historically the liberals are not the ones who leave en masse. It's the other end. For example, the Puritans were kicked out after making their position impossible regarding the Prayer Book; the Methodists were kicked out after setting up parallel bodies and becoming culturally other. The fact is that the far right evangelicals, beginning to set up parallel bodies, will be the ones to leave, just as the inheritors of the Oxford Movement pure and simple are now on their way out.

The issue is this: are the evangelicals planning to so arrange themselves that they can set up institutions that can remove the socially inclusive and/ or theological liberals? The intention of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) is to remove the liberals: it goes back to the explanation in the Richard Turnbull of Wycliffe College Reform Lecture in 2006 in which the first target should be the blockage provided by Open Evangelicals and then the target becomes the Liberals.

The reality, more like, as demonstrated by General Synod last week, is that an evangelical like the Bishop of Bristol will produce a wrecking motion, that others do the same, that the business of ACNA and FCA and all that is distanced, and so the FCA most likely - if it has any success at all - will be in removing its own evangelicals. In a State Church where they cannot even pretend to take the property, the evangelicals will either have to become thoroughly disobedient and self-isolating, including against Open Evangelical bishops, or will have to rent or buy new plant and machinery and do a Charles Raven.

All Colin Coward and Jonathan Clatworthy have to do is sit. They go nowhere. There is a sense in which the boundaries have been coming inwards for some time, but if you don't budge and you show some bravery the boundaries stop coming inwards.

This is, though, also a weakness. It is that the conservatives, thanks to the efforts of Rowan Williams, can introduce and manipulate a Covenant that can be the means by which evangelicals start to remove those who are unacceptable. One strategy would be for the more liberal minded to join the Covenant and frustrate it into meaninglessness, as with the treatment given to Lorna Ashworth motion: the Covenant appears to be something but actually is nothing. It's a highly dangerous approach, because it still gives the means for having the tools to remove others. And there is no doubt that if this becomes effective at a high level it will penetrate into definitions and actions and restrictions at a lower level. If will set norms. That's why, in the end, the rightist evangelicals (and sufficient sympathisers) would use it, whilst keeping their parallel institutions. They want the Cof E on their side of the fence, whilst still penetrating it.

Clearly if the thing is passed by provinces then the liberal minded will have to frustrate it, and make it into the means of an endless talking shop, as Williams most lately suggests it will be, while actions get taken one way and another on the ground towards inclusivity. But it is better if it is not allowed into the ring. We know that New Zealand cannot sign up, nor Hong Kong, but others are holding fire: but they are not likely to sign with a good sniff that the Covenant is about excluding. Mouneer Anis's tactics about changing the Standing Committee make it less likely to pass.

I take the view that Colin Coward and company are a little bit optimistic, and quite self-sacrificial. However, he is right in one respect. By sitting where he is, he remains in the same Church as the extremists, where he wants to be, and then it is up to them to save their own self-assessed purity. After all, it is their purity at stake. Again, historically, the purists are the ones that depart from the apparent polluted. Personally I think we can go where we are better suited: otherwise the argument becomes a reason to be a Roman Catholic.

Bad news for the Unitarians, perhaps, that liberals stay put, but then the Unitarians as a mixed bag take in individuals from all over, and interesting just how wide that spectrum can be, for people who want to think for themselves and present their ideas into the pot. One day Unitarians and Quakers might receive many people at once - as I've hinted, there might have to be liberal-end Anglican-Catholic ordinariates (!), should history be different, but history has a habit of repeating itself.


June Butler said...

...imagine Ashworth as a repeating television face).

Is it all right if I say no?

I take the view that Colin Coward and company are a little bit optimistic, and quite self-sacrificial.

Perhaps optimistic. Definitely self-sacrificing, but maybe with a wee sense of, "We'll stick it to you by staying." I'm leaning more and more in the direction of thinking that Colin & Co.'s way is the right way for Anglicans/Episcopalians.

Erika Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika Baker said...

If you really believe in the church and your place in it, it would be impossibly self sacrificial for you to leave.
You would make that sacrifice if you believed it helped the church. But as the church can only survive in a meaningful way if it learns to be inclusive and to reach out, the best thing you can do is to stay and take the flak.

At least you have the satisfaction that it upsets your opponents more than you will ever know.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I wondered why you posted twice, and I see the original that you removed said (still comes by email prompt) 'stay and take the flat'. Interesting concept; something to talk about (in the US, they leave and take the flat).