APRIL 2001

COMMENT

 

We have engaged in honest conversation and prayerful reflection together. We have spoken of what it means to become a communion, recognizing that we are on the way. We are in the process of growing up in Christ, and in our Communion one with another. This meeting has been one step in an on-going journey. And this journey - and indeed this week - has been a time of deep joy and discovery. We are being led to the foot of the cross, and through the cross into the transforming life of the resurrection. In some sense it has been a humbling experience. As stories were shared from around the Communion, I became deeply aware of how we are purified through suffering. We have seen the utter transparency of faith and commitment manifested by so many who minister in the poorest and most beleaguered parts of the world.'

So wrote Frank Tracey Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, at the end of the recent Primate's Meeting in Kanuga, North Carolina.

All reasonable people will feel an instinctive revulsion from that unctuous sanctimony. It is shocking when a bishop maintains that black is white, and even more shocking when he calls the most sacred doctrines of the faith to his assistance in doing so.

Anglicans are not, in fact, growing into deeper Communion, they are busy fracturing the fragile communion they already enjoy. And the province over which Frank himself presides is the foremost agent in that schismatic process. From Pike to Spong, the Episcopal Church has shown no appetite for disciplining its apostates. From the ordination of women to the blessing of same-sex marriages it has shown no inclination whatever to listen to the voice of other provinces, or of the Lambeth Conference.

It is now in the process of rendering the first innovation compulsory. It will no doubt invoke similar sanctions, in due course, against those who resist the second.

So much for 'honest conversation'.

But it is not only Frank's radical untruthfulness which offends, it is that most Anglican of all things, his tone.

Listening to Frank talking about 'communion' is like hearing the emollient parlance of the marriage counsellor on the lips of a multiple adulterer. The desktop cleric who seeks to appropriate to his own cause the heroic sufferings of others is little short of a charlatan. An educated man who lapses so frequently and consistently into cliché‚ is a one who has no remorse and a lot to cover up.

So the clichés abound. See how they run: 'honest conversation and prayerful reflection'; 'growing up in Christ'; 'one step in an on-going journey'; 'deep joy '; 'humbling experience'; 'stories were shared'. And so on...

But never, never, be it noted, the slightest glimmer of regret or apology. As the Episcopal Church transforms itself into La Cage aux Folles it becomes clear what anthem Frank has adopted:

'I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.'

Expect further revelations.

 

Resignations, of themselves, rarely undermine institutions. However, there are some which have more serious implications than others. As Margaret Thatcher discovered, one may comfortably survive, over a long period, the attacks of philosophical opponents who are out of power. But when allies and former colleagues begin to depart the game is very nearly up.

While Dr Carey was warming up for the solemn retreat, in the face of defiant American theological liberal imperialism, at Kanuga, a small news item appeared in the Church press. The Rector of Chorley, Dr. John Fenwick, has resigned under the Women Priests Measure conscience clause. Fenwick joins the 500+ clergy who have left since General Synod, at Dr. Carey's exhortation, set out on its schismatic path of biblical disobedience. Like all of those who remain, Fenwick has struggled to fulfil his calling in a Church which is increasingly characterised by the abandonment of orthodoxy on almost every front, and whose Catholic credentials have all but evaporated.

Fenwick was cautious but precise in his explanation. He had noted the reception given by General Synod to the Blackburn Report (on the working of the Act of Synod). He may have felt like a senior Catholic bishop who emerged from that appalling debate saying, " I didn't realise how much they hated us".

Fenwick noted, with restraint, "The process of reception has not been entirely open and.... those of the traditional integrity are increasingly marginalised". It is the common experience that those who screamed most loudly, in 1992, for justice have behaved most unjustly ever since.

The cause of Christian unity had, he reflected, been "immeasurably damaged". Serious Ecumenists recognise that the dialogue with the Rome and Orthodoxy is effectively dead - a liberal pan-protestantism is the only option left to the establishment.

Dr. Fenwick is not a member of Forward in Faith or, as far as we know, a member any other recalcitrant body. Indeed, he has tried to make the system work, loyally serving on diocesan bodies and committees. He concludes simply, "I've given it my best shot, which is what we were asked to do when the legislation went through. But I feel the position is becoming increasingly untenable".

Why should the resignation of one more parish priest seem somehow of enhanced significance?

Fenwick is in many ways an Anglican's Anglican. Even the smartest Lambeth's spin doctor could not caricature him as an extremist. He is, by tradition, an evangelical. Fenwick is also an expert on the Orthodox Church. But he is best known as a long standing colleague of Dr. Carey, first as a lecturer at Trinity College, Bristol and then as Assistant Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs to both Runcie and Carey.

Dr. John Fenwick's departure is an eloquent epitaph to the failure of Dr. Carey's great experiment and all the more poignant for its personal proximity and its testimony to the personal trust that has been so persistently and fatally undermined.

A recent survey conducted by the indefatigable Professor Leslie Francis has shown that eighty-two per cent of young Anglicans reject life-long marriage and think that divorce is acceptable. Eighty-five per cent of teenage Roman Catholics believe that sex before marriage is not a sin.

No one will be surprised by these statistics. The youthwork agencies of the mainstream churches have for two generations been given over to theological liberals and moral libertarians. Liberalism is the theology of superannnuated adolescence; it has unerringly found its way home.

But before elderly ecclesiastics draw the conclusions they are wont to draw from figures like these - that yet more virgins must be sacrificed to the dragon of modernity - they would do well to reflect on the tendency of the young to react against prevailing moral norms (even those they themselves have helped to create).

Yoof is fickle. And the heroine of 'Absolutely Fabulous' is the virtuous Saffra.

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