Tag Archives: Rowan Williams

Media Hysteria

The top story on the news this morning is still the story about the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that Sharia law in the UK is ‘unavoidable’. Needless to say you actually need read beyond the hysterical headlines as what Rowan Williams is saying is a lot more complicated, and a lot less cut and dry than some of the news reports may imply.

For a start, you have to bear in mind that his audience was an audience of lawyers, so it’s not exactly pitched for the man on the street. Also the idea that religions have their own legal courts in the UK is not new – an Orthodox Jewish Beth Din (meaning House of Judgement) is based in London and can be used for legal matters relating to the Jewish faith.

Bishop Alan has produced a good overview under the title Abdul the Bogeyman, which first off highlights that as with most events, this isn’t the first time it has happened. Back in 1829 the English had much the same hysteria over whether Catholics could live under English law, and that the English are great at getting worked up into an unfounded massive hysteria. Bishop Alan highlights the hysteria in 2000 when paediatricians were hounded from their homes by vigilantes who didn’t understand the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile.

Recently, Ekklesia ran a thought provoking article discussing how people can often be distracted from the shortcomings in their modern societies by quick-fix solutions that target particularly easy to define groups – you need look no further than this weeks headline grabbing attack on people in social housing who don’t work, which fails to address the real, and much more complex long-term issues highlighted by Shelter in their response. Indeed I highlighted the spectacular difference between the perception and the reality of youth crime in the UK earlier in the week – it doesn’t take much to realise the effect that these perceptions have in demonising large numbers of our young people.

The Muslim takeover hysteria has been around for a while, indeed I’ve had arguments with people at Church who at times seem convinced that it’s only a matter of weeks before Muslims turn up wanting to turn the Church into a mosque. The reality of course is somewhat different, and moving past the hysteria, as with so many things the facts really don’t match up to the hype.

Bishop Alan finishes up with a great statement, that really about sums it all up:

Hysteria about Bogeymen is a great British Tradition. It gets people talking. But when they do, historically, they usually talk rubbish.

Crunch Point

In all the recent goings on in the Anglican Communion, the obvious crunch point has always been the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Every ten years all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion from all over the world get together, ironically not in Lambeth but at the University of Kent in Canterbury. However who attends is entirely down to who the Archbishop of Canterbury, so there has been much speculation and discussion as to who will be invited, particularly with reference to the Episcopal Church.

Yesterday, the months of speculation were ended by the announcement that the invitations had been issued. Reading the letter of invitation, those worried that the whole of the Episcopal Church will have been sidelined had their minds put at rest. Rowan Williams said the following:

An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.

and also this:

I have said, and repeat here, that coming to the Conference does not commit you to accepting every position held by other bishops as equally legitimate or true. But I hope it does commit us all to striving together for a more effective and coherent worldwide body, working for God’s glory and Christ’s Kingdom. The Instruments of Communion have offered for this purpose a set of resources and processes, focused on the Windsor Report and the Covenant proposals. My hope is that as we gather we can trust that your acceptance of the invitation carries a willingness to work with these tools to shape our future. I urge you all most strongly to strive during the intervening period to strengthen confidence and understanding between our provinces and not to undermine it.

However, then comes the following:

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.

Although they are not mentioned by name, neither the Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, nor Martyn Minns, recently consecrated by Peter Akinola against the wishes of Rowan Williams have been invited.

The reasons for the exclusions though are rather different. Minns isn’t invited, fundamentally because Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), although being regarded as part of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is not recognised as part of the wider Anglican Communion.

The exclusion of Gene Robinson is for no other reason than the fact his is gay and is being honest about it. All of the sixty or so Bishops who supported him and were involved in his consecration are invited, it is only Robinson who is being denied an invite. However, the communiqué issued by the February 2005 Primates meeting said the following:

The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.

Not surprisingly this has provoked a good deal of outrage from across the communion, there is a good roundup on Episcopal Cafe. Interestingly both sides of the debate are not happy with the decision, for differing reasons, as detailed by Andrew Plus:

So far the blogs seem to go like this. The blogs on the right are disappointed because invitation to Lambeth was seen as test of orthodoxy. They assumed that only orthodox Anglicans would be invited, and Archbishop Akinola has said that if +Gene or the Episocpal Church was included he and the Global South would gather in Alexandria or someplace else and have their Lambeth conference.

The bloggers on the left are disappointed because of the active and deliberate exclusion of Bishop Robinson, once again placing the burden of division on the back of one man–the open, affirming and partnered gay man. This once again smacks of condescension and avoidance–talking about people instead of to people–and so this solution seems to be a capitulation to conservative pressure. The words in his letter about the limits of inclusivity seem to reinforce this.

Andrew’s position is much the same as mine – everybody should have been invited, and then it should have been left to the individual Bishops as to whether they would attend. Mark Harris on PRELUDIUM says much the same. By excluding Minns and Robinson from the invite list it seems to please no-one, indeed Peter Akinola is already threatening to have the entire Anglican Church in Nigeria boycott the meeting over Minns not being invited. Minns himself doesn’t seem quite so bothered. Gene Robinson’s statement describes him being excluded as an affront to the whole Episcopal Church. Certainly it will be interesting to see how many of the Episcopal Church choose not to attend in protest.

However, there is a possibility that Robinson will still attend the conference. A number of reports including USA Today and Ruth Gledhill suggest that Robinson may well be invited as a guest – perhaps the irony of that is that as a guest he may well have more visibility than if he was within the conference.

Anyway, if all of this is totally depressing, thanks to Dave Walker for his spin on why the two Bishops weren’t invited…

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Church Politics – Don’t You Just Love It…

Reading through Cartoon Church today, I came across this cartoon produced in response to the news that Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has been blocked from speaking in Bangor Cathedral by the Dean. Officially the reason given is that the Dean believes that Carey is being disloyal to Rowan Williams the current Archbishop, although much discussion has focused in on his beliefs. Not surprisingly it is being seen as being another liberal/conservative spat, expanded further by Ruth Gledhill in her post on the subject.

It’s also not the first time somebody prominent has been banned, in practice via the official methods of resolutions A, B and C churches can effectively ban a significant proportion of the clergy in the Church of England from their services, however this will be seen as a much more significant and public move.

It’s also not as if the disloyalty is anything new, it is well known that Carey is not keen on Williams, indeed as mentioned in this Observer article from 2002, Carey actually blocked Williams as a candidate for Bishop of Southwark when he was Archbishop. The prominence of Andrew Carey doesn’t help matters either, as quite often the former Archbishop doesn’t have to say anything at all, comments from Andrew are associated back purely because they are father and son.

In reality I see the whole move as generally pointless. It’s not going to stop Carey speaking his mind, nor making his speech. If anything it will make people more likely to listen to him when he goes to Bangor. All it has done is generated a load of poor publicity and given some more material for the factional arguments. Really the Dean would have done a lot better to have politely welcomed Carey and been done with it.

Having said that it has given an opportunity for Dave to produce a topical cartoon, which even Ruth Gledhill has picked up… Can’t be all bad then… 🙂

The Picture Everybody Wants?

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It will be interesting to look at the press over the next few days. Today is the annual St Albans Festival Pilgrimage, marking the martyrdom of St Alban, the first Christian Martyr in Britain, so as in previous years there is a grand procession in the city, led as usual by the Dean of the abbey, currently the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John. What is notable this year is that the guest preacher at Evensong, and the president at the Eucharist this morning, is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who was instrumental in forcing Jeffrey John to withdraw as Bishop of Reading back in 2003. As such, with the current situation there is a good deal of speculation in some circles about what effect Williams appearing at St Albans will bring.

Having said that, there possibly won’t be too much to worry about. Quite apart from the fact that attention is now firmly focused on the other side of the pond, it seems many people don’t actually know what Jeffrey John looks like. One of the amusing comments in his recent interview in the Church Times was that after he was appointed to St Albans but before he took up the post, he attended a service at the cathedral, and was asked at the end to sign a petition against himself by one of the people outside who had come up to the abbey from a big evangelical Church in London. It is worth highlighting at this point that there was little opposition within St Albans to his appointment – certainly nobody from the congregation at the cathedral signed the petition, and on the day of his installation only a lone protester appeared. Subsequent to that, Philip Lovegrove, Chairman of the diocesan board of finance resigned his post, and two or three parishes in the diocese are withholding their parish share. In terms of his work at St Albans, under his leadership the congregations are growing, with regular worshipers numbering about 1400. But as I said, I think with the big events in the USA, I doubt anyone will notice.