1914 revisited

The Church of England today, following the General Synod's broad acceptance of the ordination of women bishops, reminds me of Europe in the summer of 1914.

Recall the sequence of events that led to the First World War: a Serbian student assassinates an Austrian Archduke; Austria declares war on Serbia in retaliation; Russia mobilizes in support of Serbia against Austria; Germany declares war on Russia in support of Austria; Germany declares war on France for not undertaking to withhold support from Russia; Britain declares war on Germany because of Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality, in support of France, and the threat to the Royal Navy if the German Fleet were to occupy Antwerp and France's Channel ports.

Each move appeared logical to the mover in a very local context yet the end result was one that few would have wished.

Suppose an angel had appeared to the great powers in 1919 and announced that a time warp existed to enable Europe to revert to, say, June 1914. With the possible exception of the USSR, would any of them have turned down the opportunity?

The liberals appear to assume that they have now won and that their opponents will fold their tents, creep silently into the night, and leave the Church of England to them. I think that we would be wrong to pursue such a strategy: rather we should resist every step of the way.

Instead of leaving the Church of England to undergo an essential change, retaining only the name and other accidents, we should seek to retain our presence in the Church of England.

Our inspiration should be Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, rather than Hamlet. In Hamlet, the two title characters of Stoppard's play come on stage from time to time, perform their small roles and then leave, whereas in Stoppard's play, the title characters remain on stage all the time and everyone else leaves.

An important part of this strategy is to make our approach clear to our opponents in the hope that they see that their interests lie in an accommodation that we would find acceptable: in this way we would try and avoid the mistakes made by the great powers in 1914.

J. Alan Smith

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