Rant Number 314 5 August 2008 Tale of Two Archbishops
Rant Number 314 5 August 2008
Tale of Two Archbishops
‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ raged Henry II, King of England. Four of his Norman knights complied. Inside Canterbury Cathedral, they slaughtered the troublesome man of God, Archbishop Thomas Beckett. One sword blow was so violent that it sliced off the crown of Thomas’ head and shattered the tip of the blade on the stone pavement, striking sparks.
I wonder how the holy martyr, looking down from Heaven on our vale of tears, judges the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams is only troubling crusty Anglican traditionalists – folks against unbiblical and schismatic innovations in the Church – but they are unlikely to lop off his pate. Conversely, many liberal Christians – those rooting for openly gay bishops, bishopessess, same-sex blessings and the like – adore him. They hail his Lambeth Conference leadership as a success. The traditionalist bishops chose to stay away and that gave Williams a break. True, the Archbishop of Sudan warned that his flock are abused, even threatened by their Muslim neighbours over the condoning of the sin against nature. Alas, the culprits, the US & Canadian Anglicans, turned a deaf ear. (So did the stunt-loving Ugandan Archbishop of York, Sentamu.) They care about third world debt but less so about black Christians at the coalface. Bit of double standards, eh?
An aside. The priest is putting own his head on the chopping block but, as an aesthete he has to say it. Something’s odd. Anglicans are always wrangling over sexual matters. Why then are their leaders so desperately, utterly unsexy? So plainly aged and ugly, to boot? Poor Rowan, increasingly a Worzel Gummidge look-alike, has all the sex appeal of an old broomstick. The gay US bishop, Gene whatever, reminds me of my neighbourhood grocer. The Lambeth Fathers on the whole looked distinctly ill-favoured. The American bishopessess…no that would be ungallant. Stately matrons, perhaps, yes. Sexy…no way. Where are the handsome ones, the Rock Hudson, the Tony Perkins, the Martina Navratilova of bent Anglicanism? Nowhere to be seen. Huh!
Actually, the only good-looking Anglicans today are in the ranks. Mainly in straight, orthodox evangelical churches. Last time I took my godson to London’s Holy Trinity Brompton, the sight of pretty young things in the congregations could be distracting at times. Of course, sex for that lot is strictly within heterosexual marriage. It would therefore seem that chastity is aesthetically rewarding: interesting!
Closing the Conference, the Welsh wizard conjured up the Anglican Communion as ‘a global church of interdependent communities’. That made me sit up. Forget Eros. ‘Global’ is the operative word. Williams aligns himself with globalisation. Rowan, you have given the game away! That takes us to the heart of the matter.
The present world order comprises sundry disparate forces that overarch old state boundaries and limits. Amongst them are non-governmental organisations, like Amnesty International, Oxfam, Greenpeace and so on. Theoretically independent from states, they claim to bear key ethical mandates. As Toni Negri and Thomas Hardt argue in Empire, today’s secular NGO’s play roles similar to those occupied in the past by the great Catholic religious orders, such as the Dominicans and the Jesuits. Namely, they ‘strive to identify universal human needs and defend human rights…they first define the enemy as privation…and then recognise the enemy as sin.’ A thoroughly secularised, anthropocentric and immanent conception of sin, of course, but nonetheless a very powerful stick with which to beat the new ‘sinners’ about the head. So to bully them into submission.
Truth is, the rise, the influence and the interference of many NGOs on the public arena, the market place, politics, trade, religion, the lot, have eroded the powers and autonomies of the old nations states. They have also affected the Christian churches – and indeed now Islam. Human Rights NGO’s now demand that religious bodies should not ‘discriminate’ on grounds of sex and sexual orientation. That entails hitherto unsuspected consequences, posits novel, dizzying scores of do’s and don’ts. Ranging from who can adopt whom, to what a preacher can say from the pulpit – staggering stuff. NGOs activists expect church, mosque, synagogue and temple to conform to their notions of right and wrong, good and evil. Either that or…worse.
I suspect Rowan Williams believes that Anglican churches should follow the lead of secular NGOs. Not only that. He seems to want to turn Anglicanism into another NGO! An offshoot and an agent of globalisation. That will not do.
The Christian Church is not just another pressure group, one point of view amongst many. She operates immanently, in this world, yes, but she is rooted in transcendence. In the divine. In God’s eternal will. Jesus Christ founded his Church while he was still on earth. So she has a message to proclaim. That message – the Gospel – will always include a stern critique of human societies, states, cultures and individuals. Whatever the cost, as the example of St Thomas Beckett, and a host of other innumerable witnesses and martyrs indicate. But far more insidious than old-style tyrants today are the lures, the traps of a soulless post-modernity, of consumerism, of the free market, of beguiling, mendacious media – the whole caboodle of globalisation. Christianity must be vigilant against all that. That is why she must never allow the sublime standards of the Gospel to be measured by faulty human concepts. Human values, transitory, relative and impermanent, are subordinate to God’s eternal, unchanging Word, not the other way around.
The Church of England is the national church. It is her duty to stand for the truth of the Bible to the English people. Sporadically, she has lived up to that. Indeed, in effective symbolism the Bible – ‘the most valuable thing the world affords’ - is handed to the monarch during the Coronation Service. But leaders of the national church like Rowan have lost the plot. What is to be done?
Next week, on pilgrimage, the priest will be praying by the shrine of St Thomas Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral. Maybe meditation on the holy martyr will inspire an answer.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli