There were those (where are they now?) who denied that the ordination of women to the priesthood would inevitably lead to a relaxation of discipline about homosexuality. As is apparent, they were wrong; wrong not only in the event, but in the analysis. They had failed to see that the new-fangled 'lite' hermeneutic, which allowed women's ordination, would in consequence allow almost anything else besides.
In ECUSA (and more quietly in New Zealand) the agenda has moved on. It is now apparent that it threatens the very fabric of the Communion (which, of course, it always did). Two emerging factors will be viewed by intelligent observers as remarkable, perhaps even bizarre.
The first is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s view of the Denver consecrations. That the man who did not disinvite Jack Spong to Lambeth 1998 – despite the latter's obvious, persistent and deliberate provocations – should now take a definitive attitude about the nature of communion and the validity of consecrations, is extraordinary, if not schizophrenic. What are bishops for, if not to defend, by the authority given them, the Apostolic deposit of faith? And how can they do that if they will not freely associate with those how uphold it – and reluctantly dissociate themselves from those who emphatically do not?
One can see that George is gently coasting down the retirement slope, and that he does not want anything explosive to have happened on his watch. But if he lives long enough, he will have lived to regret his own present inaction. And the tragedy is (the tenure of Archbishops of Canterbury being so brief – only a Lambeth Conference apiece) that his successor may well find himself in the same predicament.
The second factor is the distinct possibility that the new Archbishop of Sydney will approve lay celebration (as his predecessor did not). In the Anglican Church of Australia (whose eccentric ecclesiology allows diocesan autonomy on almost every matter, including the reciprocity of orders) it is not surprising that such an issue should eventually surface. After all, the current Primate of Australia (Peter Carnley, Archbishop of Perth), took advantage of this eccentric ecclesiology to ordain women to the priesthood, in advance of a decision of the National Church. He knew then that significant numbers of Australian Anglicans would thereby conclude that he (and not the Archbishop of Sydney) had inaugurated lay celebration.
But Dr Carnley was characteristically pleased, with himself; and supposed (quite erroneously) that he had got away with it. Dr Jensen is proving him wrong. Dr Carey issued not a word of reproof to Dr Carnley. He has now gone on record in the Sydney journal Southern Cross as adamantly and emotionally opposed to an equal and equivalent unilateral action by the diocese of Sydney.
In his letter to Archbishops Yong and Kolini, Dr Carey spoke of 'our Anglican ecclesiology'. He now needs to spell out precisely what he means – for he is in serious danger (as Anglicans always are) of appearing to be making it up on the hoof.
The BBC has appointed its new head of religion and ethics. It is Alan Bookbinder. He is an agnostic. To many this will simply be confirmation, if confirmation were needed, of the arrogance of the liberal elite who run our state broadcasting body. It is a body which virtually every household in the kingdom is taxed to maintain but is answerable to none of its patrons. A viewer of cable or satellite television can operate a simple sanction against displeasing products by cancelling his subscription. No such luxury is available to us with the BBC. If it were we may have seen a more responsive body.
One can imagine, in a voluntary society, few conservative voters subscribing to such a uniformly hostile media as the BBC's political coverage over the last 20 years. How many parents would have withdrawn their support when the children's department was given to a childless pop guru best known for her private life and foul mouth? How many real women would have cheerfully stumped up for the relentless feminist propaganda of Woman's Hour over the years?
So, we have been awarded, for all our protests about the quality of BBC religious programming, with an agnostic. There is no appeal. Mr Bookbinder claims that ‘ being without faith makes me more energetic and enthusiastic in my endeavour. Unlike someone with faith I am still questioning and I'm equally interested in versions of truth offered by all faiths.’
The statement captures, in a nutshell, the culture of arrogance and ignorance for which the BBC is becoming famous. As a modern linguist and historian, Mr Bookbinder was executive producer for science. Presumably, he had no difficulty in believing in the reality of natural science. An agnostic is not similarly placed with matters of faith and his statements about believers show that he knows little or nothing about us. The prospects are not good.
For traditionalists, orthodox and doctrinal conservatives, this will be nothing new. The dreary liberal hegemony that previously dominated BBC religion and successfully excluded Orthodox teachers and preachers could not have got much worse. If Bookbinder is serious about his intentions he will impartially allow full rein to orthodoxy in the media marketplace. But he will need to surround himself with a whole new team. If he can produce something other than bland worship, liberal critical documentaries, social attitudinising and biased ethical debates he will be an improvement. If he can allow the faith to speak through the mouths of Orthodox believers rather than failed revisionists, he will be welcomed. Until then the jury is out.
Another volume has appeared from the educated end of the editorial board table! Fr Arthur Middleton has published an important new work entitled Fathers and Anglicans – The Limits of Orthodoxy (Gracewing £17.99 pp341). Its subject matter could not be more germane to the current crisis in worldwide Anglicanism and demonstrates why Arthur is in such demand as a speaker ‘across the pond’. A fulsome foreword by the Bishop of London sets the scene for a powerful and weighty book and we are delighted to commend it to you.
And finally, on Saturday 15 September at 11:00am in St Alban's Abbey is the great Mass of celebration and thanksgiving for Bishop Edwin and Jane as they prepare to retire. Their courageous, loving and faithful ministry has been an inspiration to all of us. Let's all be there and give them a great send off.
Further details: Fr James Cope (01923 236174)
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