APRIL 2000

Comment

The eyes of the whole world have recently been fixed on an old man making the journey of a lifetime. And the whole world has concurred that the Pope's pilgrimage was a triumph for him personally and for the Church.

It was a journey of reconciliation and love to a war-torn country and a divided city, It was the journey of a man wearied by the constant care of all the churches to the well-springs of salvation and eternal life. It was transparently the last great journey of a man to whom no one (whatever his religious tradition) begrudges the title 'Your Holiness'.

John Paul II has made more saints than any other Pope in history. And now, by this and other gestures, he is preparing himself to join them. It is a preparation undertaken, even in the frailty of old age, with his characteristic titanic energy. We have seen a great man make a great Pope. His enemies within the Church (and they are not few) seem puny beside him. It will be a wise successor who climbs onto his shoulders.

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the government has expended considerable political capital and electoral goodwill on the, so far, futile attempt to repeal Section 28. Quite why the Church of England has been so keen to do the same is a mystery. For government ministers, Section 28 was a Thatcherite shibboleth that had to be torn down as an article of faith. For bishops in the House of Lords it was a well-marked elephant trap.

The origin of Section 28 was not an unprovoked outbreak of Conservative "homophobia" (long before this nonsense word was marketed as a useful term of abuse to stifle debate).

It came about as a direct response to extremist local authorities starting to push Tatchellite propaganda into the hands of young children. it infuriated the professional "gay" lobby but was of miniscule consequence to the vast majority of decent, homosexual citizens. It prevented the active "promotion" of their minority lifestyles. it did not prevent education, nor, quite clearly, has it prevented the widespread and growing tolerance of homosexual lifestyle in a secular society.

The Church of England could, with a clear conscience and a biblical mandate, evinced by the overwhelming majority of its bishops at the Lambeth conference, have opposed the government, shown solidarity with its own laity and common moral cause with Muslim and Jewish neighbours alike.

Instead, for reasons that can only be understood by those attending policy-making meetings of the House of Bishops, it chose to do otherwise.

A Conservative figurehead, in the shape of Alan Chesters, Bishop of Blackburn, was wheeled out to broker an inelegant and legally unworkable compromise with the government to ease its passage in the Lords with promises of favourable treatment for heterosexual marriage in education.

To put it charitably, the policy of the bishops was shockingly naive. That it was the policy of the House of Bishops was underlined by the Archbishop of Canterbury's strong vocal support. That it was a political mistake was underlined by the Bishop of Winchester's sobering and shrewd dissent from this collegiality.

Had this Measure been passed, the parents of school children throughout the land would have justly or unjustly, pointed the finger at the Church of England every time some new enormity of the sexual lobbyists found its way into schools and hit the headlines.

In defeat the Church has simply been made to look culpably foolish, theologically inconsistent and politically inept. thought considerable, it may be the lesser price to pay in the short term.

The "poor bloody infantry", priests and people, will have to explain and explain away, with an almost complete lack of conviction, why their leaders have so signally failed in their appointed task. The inescapable question arises: why has it been left, yet again, to the laity and the traditionalist clergy to do the bishops' job?

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Events in the Episcopal Church of the United States are always bewildering, and recent claims and counter-claims about a crisis in that church have done nothing to help the perplexed English to grasp the situation. To each emerging American predicament the English response has been an incredulous (and inaccurate) 'it couldn't happen here'. Each time it has!

That there is a crisis, no one can doubt. The journey from Pike to Spong has been long, eventful and irreversible. Three pieces in this month's New Directions seek to map out that journey for those who are unfamiliar with the terrain. Quentin Mallow [pp 12-14], in a sermon preached in February, strives to define the crisis pastorally and theologically. Peter Toon [Letter from America, p. 24] identifies the roots of the present crisis in the wholesale abandonment of marital discipline. Geoffrey Kirk [pp. 6-7] relates the crisis to the attendant breakdown in Anglican identity.

So strong is the influence - stranglehold, rather - which the American Church has on the institutions of the Anglican Communion that a crisis in ECUSA is a crisis for us all. Many leading voices in world Anglicanism (especially the past and present ascendancy in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa) have been trained in America, in American ways, with American money. The principal officers of the Anglican Communion are Americans. And like the United Nations, the world-wide Communion could not function without American cash.

It is now clear that the writ of the Lambeth Conference does not run Stateside, and that nothing the rest of the Communion could or will do will deflect the American Church from its present course. That course is suicidal. Unless it changes, the Episcopal Church will either cease to be a Christian Church or simply cease to be. It has already passed in the course of one generation from the building of vast gothic cathedrals to the systematic rubbishing of ancient creeds. There is no foretelling its future velocity.

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With this issue already at the printers, news has reached us of an appointment to the Northern Province. The new Bishop of Beverley (the Northern Provincial Episcopal Visitor) is to be the Bishop of Burnley, the Right Reverend Martyn Jarrett.

We offer Bishop Jarrett our congratulations and are sure that the whole Constituency will hold him in their prayers.

We hope to be able to publish an in-depth interview with him in the near future.

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