Friday, 16 April 2010

Running for the shallows?

It's that time of year again! Contemporary Anglicanism has to be  the most noisily talkative of Christian traditions. Where would we be without our committees and assemblies to debate this issue or try to resove that problem? So, here we are again, the time of year when we do our level best to rob Eastertide of its joy and hope by gathering together to produce climate-changing amounts of hot air at our Synods, Governing Bodies and Annual Meetings - necessary accountability and consultation aside, an aspect of our more recent patrimony which can perhaps be safely left behind when the time comes.
So, with the predictability of migrant birds arriving in the spring sunshine, out pop our ecclesiastical leaders with their finely honed public statements, addressing the needs of the church and the  world.
Now, its all too easy to find fault with those in leadership positions at a time of change and crisis. To be the Primate of any western Anglican province at this period in our history can't be exactly a bed of roses. In fact, I'm always amazed there are so many who seem to want the job. To give credit where credit is due, the one thing of which we can't accuse the present Archbishop of Wales, is not giving a clear lead. He has many admirable qualities in a leader (even if, to us, they are sadly misdirected in an increasingly heterodox direction.) Unlike so many bishops he says what he thinks, and he is quite single-minded and, some might say, even ruthless in the way he seeks to secure his aims - as traditionalists, outmanoevred at every turn in the savagely polarised ecclesial world we now inhabit, have discovered to our cost. But to describe the innate caution (although in the end by no means enough caution) over the years of Welsh Anglicans, particularly in respect of innovations to the apostolic ministry, as displaying a tendency "to run for the shallows," is a bit rich, to say the least. and deserves a certain critical attention.
We are all guilty of caricaturing our opponents from time to time, we love to indulge in polemics and controversy, even the occasional ad hominem attack, yet it does seem to be a characteristic of liberal Anglicans (I won't speak of those of other traditions) to assume that their more conservative opponents don't have the good fortune to share their superior intellectual abilities and the unique insight that gives them into the problems of the modern church.
That is certainly the underlying assumption behind the more outrageously aggrandizing statements of Katharine Jefferts Shori, the Archbishop of Wales' closest ally among the Anglican primates, and behind such self-regarding epithets as Thinking Anglicans, the unpleasant implication being, "unlike you poor proles who don't."  In contrast, the description, "orthodox," while not being totally beyond dispute, is at least to a large extent doctrinally and historically verifiable.
Yet so often we see Catholics, conservative evangelicals, Prayer Book traditionalists, or even some of those  who would describe themselves in that endearingly comfortable Anglican phrase, "middle of the road," being branded as stupid or uncharitably judgemental or both. I suppose liberals can always console themselves that they are not like those pharisees over there!
The Archbishop's Presidential address  this year could have been written in the main by any revisionist Anglican leader in what Dr Rowan Williams tellingly refers to as 'the North Atlantic world.' That's merely a description, not a criticism. But to describe anyone who is reluctant to embrace wholeheartedly the current programme of liberal eco-politics, celtic nationalism, radical sacramental uncertainty, ethical experimention and the evisceration of the mystery at the heart of the Gospel, as "running for the shallows" is, as I said, a bit rich. Although, when the waters are dangerously shark-infested, if one can't find a rock, the shallows may be one of the safest places to be.

My thanks to Petros at   for providing this link to Archbishop Barry Morgan's Governing Body address

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