Towards the end of last month the Church of England published what one of its spokesmen called “its most important teaching document on marriage in this generation.”
Contrary to the advice of Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, chairman of the reporting body, the spin doctors had decided to have two bites at the cherry. The first was supposed to reassure the church and the nation that Anglicans were absolutely sound on marriage, its value, its permanence, etc.
Later on (if advisable, and under cover of darkness) the bit about the remarrying of divorcees could be casually dropped in the public arena - old news scarcely worth reporting.
Bishop Scott-Joynt’s instinct to be absolutely honest was the right one. The spin doctors got it wrong and most papers recognised the larger agenda. Indeed, so suspicious were they of the subterfuge, that they assumed the “suppressed” part of Scott-Joynt’s report to be far more liberal than is likely to prove the case. That was the first own goal. The second was, in many ways, more serious.
The first knowledge that the front line troops in this pastoral disaster area had was reports in the press. Ordinary parish priests and parishioners were once again left to explain, justify or apologise for what might, or might not be, official church policy, in the days to come, without sight of the actual report itself.
Since the Report is clearly a major piece of work on possibly the most serious pastoral issue of a generation, everyone (we would have thought) had a vested interest in getting it right.
It was discourteous to the press to “spin” it in this way; and it was profoundly unhelpful to those who will, eventually, have to implement any conclusions.
To go or not to go? That was the question. There are those on the traditionalist side who would criticize Dr Moses Tay's decision to boycott, quite so noisily, the ACC meeting in Dundee.
They are people who know the workings of the Anglican oleocracy from the inside, and have experienced its formidable ability charmingly to belittle those who take a stand on a matter of principle. Better to go and face it out, they say, than to permit the clubbing of potential allies in that corrosive atmosphere of ecclesiastical bonhomie.
But there is another and opposite case to be made.
The name of the revisionist game is 'inclusivity'. 'Come and see', says Presiding Bishop Griswold - and some do; and are caught (or bought).
'We need to be listening to each other in the one inclusive church', says the appropriately named Richard Holloway. And, of course, to listen to him is to give to his opinions a status, in the common discourse, equivalent to that of Christian truth.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (in his capacity as a 'focus of unity' for the Communion) is particularly vulnerable to this tactic. He can say anything he likes (within reason); so long as he does not act upon it. And, of course, he must be seen to pay as much public attention to his enemies as to his friends.
'While Archbishop Carey was very direct in his address', concludes an official report of his presidential speech in Dundee, 'it was received in the spirit of openness that is characterising this meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. Archbishop Carey and Bishop Holloway were observed warmly greeting each other after the presidential address concluded.'
It is time, we believe, to cock a snook at all that.
The chief weapon of the revisionists (from Baker through Carnley to Righter and Spong) has always been the fait accompli: 'we have done it, and we dare you to kick us out!' Now is the time to call the bluff of these self-styled 'inclusivists'. Now is the time for another series of faits accomplis: free provinces, roving episcopates, alternative institutions.
The worst consequence is that they could throw us out. Which, they do not have the clout to do; and which, considering the company we are presently obliged to keep, is hardly a threat.
Those are facts of which, we take it, the Archbishop of Singapore is fully aware.
The many readers of New Directions who have, over the past few years, cancelled their subscriptions to The Church Times on the eminently plausible grounds that it is no more than a mouthpiece of the Anglican establishment may care to reflect on recent events, and recalibrate their perceptions (as they say in the Anglican Consultative Council).
Naughty Andrew Brown (formerly of The Independent and now of no fixed abode) - who co-incidentally writes the liveliest column in the CT - recently contributed a swingeing attack on George-and-Eileen in The Daily Mail.
Brown had the temerity openly to ask the question which was on every lip, after a more than usually dire interview on Radio Four. 'Is he the worst Archbishop ever?'
Eileen Carey (who obviously shares the views of many of our readers on the independence of The Church Times as a journal of comment) wrote immediately to Paul Handley to reprimand his failure to discipline Brown; and to cancel the family subscription. With a Carey in effective control of one church newspaper, she was obviously disappointed not to be retaining a stranglehold on the other. What has transpired vis-a-vis the Lambeth Palace subscription to The Daily Mail is yet to emerge.
Meanwhile, in The Daily Telegraph, one Craig Brown (is this a conspiracy? - we should be told) has outstripped his namesake with 'A Day in the Life of Dr George Carey' [Saturday, September 25]. Its satirical humour makes our own Thirty Days seem like an extract from Good Housekeeping.
Not long ago representatives of New Directions were hauled before the Star Chamber (in its present reincarnation as the Blackburn Commission) to be informed, in ripe pedagogical fashion, that our 'tone' left a great deal to be desired. Who, we wonder, will have the unenviable task of hauling in Charles Moore?
The Conservative MP and former Cabinet Minister Sir Brian Mawhinney has recently published a book of his time in politics. Mawhinney, an Ulsterman and a devout Christian, complains with some vehemence about the attitude of the bishops of the Church of England to the government of which he was a part.
It is true that Mrs. Thatcher inherited a less than impressive Episcopal bench in 1979; but the sad truth is that, during seventeen years of Conservative rule, the number of doctrinal and moral conservatives (never mind political) appointed to the bench could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Her most notable interference was to block the arch doctrinal liberal and labour sympathiser Jim Thompson and replace him with the less high profile doctrinal liberal and labour party canvasser Mark Santer as Bishop of Birmingham.
As both of these were members of Bob Runcie’s private cell group, this was scarcely a radical decision.
The Tories' despair at the choices presented to the Iron Lady is their own fault for not scrapping the Callaghan compromise which put the power of appointment into the hands of the bench. Thereafter any independent thinking or criticism of the club became an automatic bar to preferment. Ambitious clergy (a depressingly sizeable number) duly took note.
Thus we now have the present awfulness, where bishops can privately admit that they have not (and never intend to) put an orthodox name on their list for preferment - and acknowledge that, even if they did, such names would not survive the malpractice that calls itself the Crown Appointments Commission.
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