SYNOD INSIDER

LOUDER THAN WORDS

SOMETIMES A PICTURE says it all. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and that is surely true. However well an event is described, a picture is the next best thing to being there. Having said that, one has to be careful nowadays. Once you put a digitised photograph on a computer screen, there’s no limit to what you can do with it. There’s even a company in America (where else?) that offers a service of remodelling wedding photographs so that the face of one’s ex- can be discreetly removed. Memories are remade of this.

Just recently there was a picture in the national press that did say it all. It was a picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the gardens of Lambeth Palace, the occasion being a photocall for sixteen Primates from around the world. None of the Primates are to be seen in the photograph since the event was hi-jacked by protesters who had climbed over the wall and hidden in bushes, before making their carefully orchestrated appearance before the ranks of press photographers.

Apparently Dr. Carey told the leader of the group that his manner was offensive and asked him to leave. But he grabbed the Archbishop’s arm and had to be restrained by Lambeth staff. The picture shows His Grace looking resolutely past the protesters, refusing to be drawn into eye-contact with the uninvited intruders who carried placards which suggested that sodomy should be an acceptable pastime for the clergy.

Perhaps this is but a harbinger of things to come. What should we expect from these protesters and their friends at York in July when sexuality is again on the Synod agenda? There would be little chance of excluding them from the campus of the University of York which has an extensive perimeter and the irresistible lure of a media presence. Synod may simply have to resign itself to more student rag-week stunts.

But what is the point of such boorish behaviour? Single issue pressure groups like this one do not indulge in the kind of amateur bumbledom so beloved of the Church of England. Their strategy and tactics are carefully calculated to achieve maximum publicity and to garner support for their cause. They appear to be intelligent and highly articulate and one assumes that they must have weighed up the pros and cons of each little demonstration and come to the conclusion that it is likely overall to be beneficial to their cause. If they felt that, on balance, a particular activity would repel potential supporters or make it less likely that they could achieve their ultimate aims, then presumably they would not do it.

This is not the first single-issue campaign to have targeted leaders in the Church of England and it will probably not be the last. But sadly each campaign that succeeds inevitably encourages supporters of other causes to try to apply the same techniques to their own ends. Will we ever be able to enter Church House again without running the gauntlet of protesters? It may seem a somewhat naive notion, but I thought Christians were supposed to listen to God’s word and take their cue from Jesus. Do we really think that the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church are so inadequate that God’s chosen channel of revelation to us is now through demonstrations? If civilised debate fails to convince Synod members that a particular course of action is consonant with God’s will, why should we allow ourselves to be influenced by placard waving protesters performing for the paparazzi?

There are times when Synod members have to take hard decisions which will not meet with universal acclaim. Life is more pleasant when we are liked and taking a seemingly hard line on an issue can be uncomfortable, particularly when other people disagree strongly with us. However when Biblical principles are at stake we may find we are left with little option.

During his recent sabbatical in the United States, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Virginia Theological Seminary, which had acquired a certain notoriety after the seminary’s board of trustees voted 31-3 to allow enrolment of homosexual or cohabiting students if their sponsoring bishops accepted their life-styles.

In the past, some may have doubted George Carey’s willingness to take a firm stand on doctrinal issues, but in his parting sermon at the Seminary he proved a resolute defender of orthodoxy. “I do not find any justification, from the Bible or the entire Christian tradition, for sexual activity outside marriage,” he said. “Thus, same-sex relationships in my view cannot be on a par with marriage and the church should resist any diminishing of the fundamental ‘sacramentum’ of marriage.” He went on to urge that “clergy especially must model relationships that commend the faith of Christ.”

Part of the price for fidelity to the Gospel may be that we are labelled reactionary, extremist, fundamentalist or mindless and dismissed as a dying breed. We may have to suffer discrimination by our colleagues, criticism from former Bishops, or harassment by demonstrators. The Archbishop has shown himself willing to pay that price, but we will have to see whether the rest of us would follow his example if we were to be put to the test.

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.

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