A crisis of character at the top of the Anglican Communion

 

A crisis of character at the top of the Anglican Communion

Author: 

Gavin Ashenden

 

“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

Deut 22.5.


It would not take a very developed theological intellect to recognise that we are in the middle of a serious culture war.

Nor would you have to be especially well-informed to note that the culture war involved serious antagonism towards Judaeo-Christian ethics and values.

In the Bible, believers discover they have an insight into the mind of God through the voices of the prophets and the gift of the Law in the books of the first covenant.

A mystery we could not solve for ourselves unfolds. We learn about the mutuality and the interdependence of the two sexes and the invitation to share in co-creation with the Creator, who is our Father.

We learn that leitmotif of the journey on which the people of Israel were led was one of ritual, social and ethical purity.  We learn through the presence and teaching of Jesus that it is His intention that this purity deepens and enters the human heart, through the New Covenant.

We learn too that all kinds of forces that are characterised by their rejection of the Holy Trinity set out to disrupt the patterns and given-ness that we encounter in revelation.

These form the normal narrative of orthodox Christianity.

One does not have to be an astute theologian to perceive in the secular movement of feminism an attempt to rekindle antagonism between men and women. One does not have to be very sophisticated to see you that the recasting of the mutuality between men and women in terms of power relations  is a sign of this assault on the mind of God and his purposes for us.

Nor to see that the movement for gay marriage is an attempt to break the causal link between sex, love and heterosexual parents with their children.

One does not have to be very bright to see at the movement for transgenderism is at its root an attempt to recast the reality of our circumstances in the humanistic contours of our own narcissistic imagination. No longer even "Cogito ergo sum". Now it is becoming “Ego sum quidquid velim  esse”.  (I am whatever I might wish to be). Cross dressing and gender dysphoria are not so much about gender or cross dressing as they are the attempt to make reality in the shape of our own distorted and wounded imaginations. In a sex and gender obsessed society, this takes the form of manipulating sex and gender into whatever shapes please our disordered psyche and dispositions most.

The present Archbishop, Justin Welby, was chosen for his business credentials rather than a reputation for a well-developed grasp of theological issues. There is a growing fear that he may prove to be, if one may say so without intending too much offence, a one trick pony. He does mediation and reconciliation. His ambitions do not appear to stretch him much beyond this repertoire.

In fact, if one was of a slightly conspiratorial cast of mind, one might consider for a moment the possibility that he was plucked out of obscurity, and chosen by the semi-visible centres of influence who run the Church of England’s appointments system, precisely because he did not show much propensity for theological analysis or spiritual discernment. There was so much  less risk that such a man might deviate from the (pre-prepared) programme.

He had the great advantage that having been connected with HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton) and learned the patois of the hugely successful Alpha course. He would be assumed to have gained, by osmosis of nothing else, the confidence of all successful evangelicals everywhere.

If the powers that be that were working to make the C of E reflect their soft socialist and fuzzy feminist preferences, and were looking for the equivalent of a ecclesiastical drug mule to continue the programme, Justin Welby might have appeared to be a very promising candidate.

He did not have much theology and even less parochial experience. After finding his professional feet in a multi-national energy company, he made the transfer to C of E plc with some ease. He achieved some rather exciting reconciliations as a minor canon in the specialised atmosphere of Coventry Cathedral, and then had a meteoric rise through the system, until rather breathlessly he bounced from the briefest of stays in Durham to arrive as Archbishop of Canterbury.

He is clearly a very nice man, if initially a trifle taken aback and surprised by the rapidity of his own journey. He had leapt from lower mid-management to ‘Managing Director’ and ‘Chairman of the Board’, leapfrogging innumerably better qualified candidates, in the twinkling of an ecclesiastical eye.

On this speedy journey there was little evidence that the wider cultural and theological issues that were creating seismic shifts in a deeply contested moment of history caused him much disturbance. With each tremor of the ground beneath him he would reach for his metier of the moment -- this practice of Coventry-style reconciliation and mediation, and with a certain gritty enthusiasm, try to help people to, well, get along a little better.

One of the universal experiences of those in the public eye however, is that reality sets out to test our mettle with regularity.

During a rather serious interview on LBC (originally the London Broadcast Company), Archbishop Welby was asked what his reaction was to a six year old boy being sent into a Church of England school, dressed as and identifying as ‘a girl’ to the serious disturbance of the other children and some of their parents.

The parents of one child, practicing Christians at school in the Diocese of Portsmouth, complained. They discussed the matter with school and Diocesan authorities and were rebuffed by a diocese which claimed its prior responsibility was to a very narrow interpretation of the Equalities Act 2010. So they sued the school in order to establish that the Church school had misunderstood and misapplied the law.

The Archbishop was asked for his views on the matter on the radio last week. As the interviewer, Nick Ferrari posed the question, Archbishop  Welby held his head in his hands as if facing a problem of herculaean proportions. He admitted he found the case ‘difficult’.

He told Ferrari, and the listening world:

I would say to them I don’t think that’s a problem.

For the other family are making up their own minds. The other child is making up its own mind.

Talk to your child. Help them to understand. Help them to see what’s going on and to be faithful to their own convictions.

The question and the issue go to the heart of the struggle that Christians in general and the Church of England in particular are struggling to define and overcome.

Archbishop Welby chose not to address the dilemma of the Church schools and the interpretation of the equality act.

He chose not to address the admonitions in the Scriptures about cross dressing.

He chose not to address the willingness of the parents to pursue this matter of spiritual principle when the Diocese had rejected their concerns.

He chose not to examine the issues that lay behind the contesting of gender identity and the difficulties of mental illness, or allowing the mentally discomforted to impose their agenda on everyone else.

He reached for the tool he knew best – mediation and reconciliation, and suggested that the Christian parents learn to respect other peoples’ convictions.

He didn’t find it necessary to make a distinction between the ‘convictions’ of a six year old child (“the other child is making up its own mind”) and those of its parents.

He didn’t question if their parental and adult responsibility might be in question as they abrogated their own judgement to that of their 6 year old child. There are very few occasions where one would let a 6 year old make up its own mind ‘contra mundum’.  They include the time it goes to bed, what it eats and drinks, and how it learns manners and cooperative social behaviour. But in this case of gender identity, no small issue, the Archbishop was at ease with himself as he insisted such a child “had made up its own mind… and was “faithful to its own convictions.”

What can one say in defence of such a Church that has such an Archbishop. There seems little point in asking the obvious and wondering if he has an idea as to where the faithfulness to one’s own convictions begins and ends in the light of other ethical priorities. Presumably he would exempt paedophiles and fascists, bullies and racists, polyamorists and the incestuous. Or would he? We don’t know.

Has he just swallowed whole the secular agenda of relativism in all things cultural ? Or is he just incapable of thinking seriously about ethical problems in relation to the Bible during a live radio interview?

The Bible has a lot to say about gender and the theology of gender. So does Christian tradition. But when faced with the search to find criteria to solve a contemporary ethical dilemma, the Archbishop does not. He reached for the rather clumsy instrument of lowest common denominator mediation, and the impoverished, anti-Christian rhetoric of unthinking relativism. He wanted above all else to affirm the sanctity of the confused six year old and the probity of the child’s  “deeply held convictions”.

What can the Anglican Communion expect from such a Church leader, biblical scholar and theologian as it faces the stresses and strains of a secular assault on its integrity and attempts to live out the biblical virtues of revelation in the face of seditious secularism?

Probably not much more than “respecting each party for the strength of their convictions.”

In the face of a fire breaking out in a large theatre this is not much more helpful than advice that any direction that takes your fancy might be a good direction to take if you really have made up your mind to leave the theatre and escape,- so long as you really feel good about whatever direction you have chosen.

Faced by the uncompromising force of a renewed Islam, the poison of cultural Marxism and the toxicity of selfish secularism, the Christians in the Church of England might have hoped for leadership that would inspire, defend and articulate the historic faith for them, with the Bible in one hand and the cross in the other.

One is reminded instead of St Paul warning Christians away from those who live and teach  “holding to the form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3.5)

The power comes not from an accommodation with the surrounding culture, nor from the approbation of well-meaning fellow travellers. It comes only from a deep commitment to Jesus as we meet Him in the Gospels and a profound and unconditional repentance when we fall, ask to be forgiven and are raised up again.

In this present Archbishop we have yet to see much understanding of the theological and spiritual issues that the Church faces in a relativistic and increasingly anti-Christian society.  We have yet to see an ability to distinguish between the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist and the Holy Spirit. We have yet to see a commitment to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels; yet to see a profound repentance for preferring the secular to the sacred; yet to see the power of the Spirit of purity over the patter of spiritual patois.

If the Church of England is to survive, let alone be raised up, it will require an Archbishop, (and a college of bishops), who are able to both understand these things and put them into practice.

There is no sign of either yet.

 
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