Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Collected Scoldings of Bishop I'm-All-Wright-Jack of Durham

The Bishop of Durham has issued several scolding addresses on the recent GAFCON resolutions. In his first sally, he took the role of Job's Comforter, enthusiastically recounting all the things wrong with GAFCOM, and why it's stupid even to try to make it work.
"The coalition of Gafcon is a very odd combination of hard-line evangelicals, who would never use incense in a communion service, who would never wear Eucharistic vestments, along with Anglo-Catholics from America for whom those things are absolutely de rigeur.

"You've also got people who are totally and passionately opposed to the ordination of women, and others who are not only happy with it, but promoting it. That's not a coalition that's going to last very long, to be honest.

He's not entirely wrong, of course. But part of the problem with GAFCON is that it may have some people like him in it - unimaginative and superficial, thinking that they've got all the deep thinkers on their side. Anyone who supposes that anglo-catholicism is just a matter of props - incense and vestments - is not very well-equipped to deal with the conflicts to come. Of course, Wright doesn't then draw the obvious conclusion, which is 'How are such disparate groups to stay within the Anglican Church?' There, the difficulty of conflicting groups is only aggravated by throwing a few more factions into the mix, and yet the status quo is considered unalterable.
"For me this is particularly frustrating. I spend 90 to 100 hours a week doing the work of the gospel and the kingdom of God in my diocese and around the place.

"And to be told that I now need to be authorised or validated by a group of primates somewhere else who come in and tell me which doctrines I should sign up to is not only ridiculous it's deeply offensive.

"The idea that they have a monopoly on Biblical truth simply won't do and we must stand up to this, it's a kind of bullying. 'We're the true gospel people, therefore you must listen to us'."

This is the "Do You Know Who I Am??" argument, in its first, but far from last, appearance in the Bishop's discourse. He has all the offended dignity of a sophomore being carded at a nightclub, as he contemplates this supposed challenge to his credentials.

After he'd had a chance to think about it a little, he wrote out a more detailed response. This one provided a few more pats on the woolly polls of those who were in Jerusalem, nodding benignly at their enthusiasm and loud hymn-singing. This message wasn't quite as shirty as the BBC interview, but it did go to a lot of trouble setting up strawmen to be knocked down.
What authority will it have, and how will that work? Who is to 'police' the boundaries of this new body - not least to declare which Anglicans are 'upholding orthodox faith and practice' (Article 11 of the 'Jerusalem Declaration'), and who have denied it (Article 13)? Who will be able to decide (as in Article 12) which matters are 'secondary' and which are primary, and by what means? (What, for instance, about Eucharistic vestments and practices? What about women priests and bishops?) Who will elucidate the relationship between the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, on the one hand, and the 14 Articles of GAFCON on the other, and by what means? It is precisely questions like these, within the larger Anglican world, which have proved so problematic in the last five years, and the 'Declaration' is actually a strange document which doesn't help us address them.
Actually very few of these things have been problematic in the past 5 years. Have any priests been inhibited for wearing poorly-designed vestments recently? How many parishes have been seized in a bitter struggle between the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles? These issues may be all in a whirl in the Bishop's brain, but people who are dealing with bishops who are whoring after the gods of Islam and Hinduism, and are wallowing in the filthiest fashions of the ancient pagan world, have had their minds remarkably concentrated. They really aren't too worried about all the "strange" and "odd" details that so vex the Bishop. Having laid down a few basic rules of membership right at the beginning - only Bible-believing, committed Protestant Christians, if you please, and no weakling Windsorite sellouts allowed - the rest comes together with remarkably little trouble.

By the last message, Wright's patience is clearly at an end. There's a lot of repetition in all these messages, but this one is noted by its frequent use of capital letters, and not just for acronyms. The main point of this one is that there is no place for GAFCON in the enchanted isle of England, because however badly the colonials may have botched things out there, HERE things are just fine.
It is to say, rather, that the GAFCON proposals are not only not needed in England but are positively harmful and indeed offensive. This was more or less what I said on the radio last Thursday, where I distinguished carefully between the American and English situations. AS FAR AS ENGLAND IS CONCERNED, it is damaging, arrogant and irrelevant for GAFCON leaders to say, as they are now doing, ‘choose you this day whom you will serve’, with the implication that there are now only two parties in the church, the orthodox and the liberals, and that to refuse to sign up to GAFCON is to decide for the liberals. Things are just not like that. Certainly not here in England.
This is, once again, the 'Do you know who I am?' argument - Wright seems most offended at the challenge to his own authority, and indignant that someone, somewhere, might have the temerity to evaluate HIS work and find it wanting.

As if in unconscious response to the unspoken question, he pulls out his credentials again. While other Anglicans, many of them his dear friends have been falling under the wheels of the revolution, what has HE been doing? Well, he tells us, he has
been involved
shared frustration
given a lot of time and energy

And as if that weren't enough, he
has asked himself questions
assured his friends
desired a solution
done a lot of hard work behind the scenes
stood shoulder to shoulder
agreed that the situation in the U.S. is appalling
And yet they aren't satisfied. Some people are just greedy, I guess.

Wright's main point is that GAFCON may be good enough for the nobodies in the colonies, but certainly not for the English. I'm sure I wasn't the first one to see his resemblance to Iraq's Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, AKA 'Comical Ali', Saddam Hussein's hapless propaganda minister. Wright didn't have tanks parading behind his back, but his fulminations were almost as preposterous as they coincided with the conclusion of his own Synod in a frenzy of conservative-crushing as they stampeded to award mitres to women and club down the objectors. Maybe TODAY England isn't as debauched and debased as America, but aren't "leaders" supposed to be looking ahead? Wright seems to think that planning for emergencies is somehow un-English, and they should wait until matters are as desperate as they are in North America, and then, in the classically breezy manner of the English gentleman, improvise a solution. Since all the attempts to save the conservative position at Synod relied on this haphazard method of improvisation, I would say that the system is a little deficient in producing reliable returns.
The response to my radio interview shows exactly what I mean: ‘here is someone questioning GAFCON: well, he has “chosen this day whom he will serve”, and it’s clearly the liberal agenda!’ The proper, technical term for this kind of behaviour is ‘bullying’: ‘we know what’s best, sign here or we’ll declare you to be beyond the pale’.
No, "bullying" is NOT the proper technical term for such a statement. It is a prima facie, a usage commonly used in debate as well as law - since England is the Mother of Parliaments as well as the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, I'd expect him to be a little more steeled to the buffets of argument.
Or perhaps it’s a protection racket: ‘we will look after you; just keep paying the subscription.’
Racket; let's stick with that word, shall we, Bishop? Since you were the one who introduced it. If there's anything that reminds me of a racket in all this, it's the behaviour of yourself. You have all the shifty touchiness of a fatcat in a long-running racket who's suddenly confronted with some upstart competition who threatens your comfy perks and privileges. To start huffing about mafioso tricks and tactics to people who have had their churches ripped away from them and been marched through the courts by insulated grandees is obscene. I hope you get the meaningless, bankrupted title of Archbishop of Canterbury after the present incompetent has finished ruining it.


Anonymous Christopher Johnson said...

NICELY done. Way better than my two.

I wonder if Tom realizes the irony of prattling on about the English "context." For that is exactly the argument the Americans used(or the one they stuck with the longest anyway) to justify Gene Robinson.

Or maybe it's the prospect of the English actually having to take orders from Africans. Tom can pat Henry Orombi on the head metaphorically but having to treat the Ugandan Primate as a [shudder] equal is proving to be quite the challenge for my gracious lord of Durham.

The term for that used to be "uppity."

11:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You've also got people who are totally and passionately opposed to the ordination of women, and others who are not only happy with it, but promoting it. That's not a coalition that's going to last very long, to be honest."

Hello? I believe it's called ANGLICANISM, and has lasted for several hundred years now.

Ellie M.

10:53 am  
Anonymous Toral said...

+Wright should have spent all the time he spect fulminating about GAFCON in the last two weeks using whatever influence and persuasive ability he has to persuade evangelicals and others who might listen to him to vote for the "super bishop" provisions for Anglo-Catholics. He doesn't seem to realize, as the Anglo-Catholics are loaded into the tumbrils, that the cart, once emptied at its destination, will be heading back for another load.

And suddenly the differences between the TEC/ACoC and the C of E look a lot smaller.

Quite fitting was +Wright's act of leadership as the end of the debate approached at GS: a motion to adjourn which failed. Seems the liberals are not so willing to put things off till tomorrow.

10:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, should have included the whole statement:

"The coalition of Gafcon is a very odd combination of hard-line evangelicals, who would never use incense in a communion service, who would never wear Eucharistic vestments, along with Anglo-Catholics from America for whom those things are absolutely de rigeur."

This state of affairs has in fact lasted for centuries in the wider church.

Ellie M.

10:59 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Quite right, Ellie. Now, it's a separate question whether it was a good thing to yoke these particular horses together, or if a division was inevitable, or if too many compromises were required over the years to keep them together. The fact is, anglo-catholics and evangelicals HAVE BEEN together in the same church for centuries. So it's absurd for Wright to start tut-tutting about this "odd" combination in GAFCON, when it's old and familiar in the Anglican Church. And it's even more absurd for him to say that this combination simply won't work in GAFCON, but it is healthy and happy when you find it in the CoE. If it won't work, it won't work in the CoE either, and he should be facing that reality instead of pretending that everything is fine in his backyard.

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to say it, I was literally thinking "right on!" throughout the article. My first time reading your blog, I will be back. :)


4:23 pm  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dr. Mabuse,

You kicked Bishop NT Wright's fat arse up and down the block. And a well-deserved arse-whupping, it was!

Jolly good show. Carry on lass!

6:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

having to treat the Ugandan Primate as a [shudder] equal

Nope. Wright is not the equal of Orombi, Akinola, or Jensen.

And Wright is quite right to understand that that is precisely what the Jerusalem statement means: his ministry has been weighted in the balance by Orombi, Akinola, Venables, and Jensen; he has already been found wanting (or else, like the flying bishops & Rochester, he would have been invited to GAFCON)

his ministry has not been authorised by GAFCON and his diocese has been declared vacant!


4:51 am  
Anonymous Sibyl said...

Did you use your new fodder chopper/grinder for this piece?

Do you hire out to do 'dressing downs' by the hour, line, or word?

'Insulated grandees' - indeed - what splendid work, great fun.

10:31 pm  
Anonymous Sibyl said...

oops - that's 'dressings down'

10:43 am  

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