CAN EVEN GOD SAVE ARCHBISHOP WILLIAMS?
No, the question is valid; I mean it. Rowan Williams doesn’t even believe God can save the planet, so why himself? To announce, as the Archbishop of Canterbury did last month, that the environmental fate of the world is entirely in our own hands and we may destroy ourselves without God intervening marks a flat denial, not the Archbishop’s first, of the Bible and tradition he’s supposed to represent. A prophetic statement like Revelation’s: “O Lord God, sovereign over all, you are and you were…..now is the time to destroy those who would destroy the earth” (Rev 11: 17, 18. REB) involves the idea there will be a time when the planet is threatened and the same God who gave the earth in stewardship to humanity will not permit its destruction to occur.
But no, the Archbishop either hasn’t heard it, doesn’t believe it or isn’t interested. When did you last hear him preaching anything remotely apocalyptic and in any case Rowan William’s skeptical, democratic generosity to most or all positions except the orthodox is such he believes even atheism should be taught as part of religion in schools with the help of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels. He has also proposed that some Sharia Law could be introduced to England to help the Muslims, none of whom, like the Archbishop himself, ever seems to have the will to object how Christians don’t even have the basic right to worship in Islam’s centre, Saudi, while under Sharia Law in Pakistan countless women are in jail because they dare to protest their rape under a system which allows such protest only if (improbably!) four men can stand witness to their claims! (Whether the Archbishop’s sympathy for Sharia bears connection to known sympathies with Islam of Prince Charles, rumoured to be privately a convert to Sufism, I have no idea).
What sort of appeasing, retreating, gutless un or anti-evangelical Christianity is this? Indeed what creedal elements of the religious denomination he leads does the basically rationalist Archbishop (inbetween an incongruous cult of icons and the Mary he wants to pray along with) really believe? Certainly he doesn’t believe in the Magi – he spoiled a good few people’s Christmas and possibly faith in ‘07 insisting the Magi probably never existed and the gospel Christmas narratives can be taken as myth accordingly. This itself was nonsense even if one entertained doubts about details of the narrative. Travelling oriental/Persian Magi (astrologers) were such a long-standing, half feared feature of the ancient world the Emperor Constantine banned them in 321 in what was a questionable move the churches have never quite recovered from against the astrology that features in Christ’s birth and we ought to be aware of.
As it happens a Welsh priest of my acquaintance in Australia who had on and off communicated with Williams in the past, recommended and sent through a book of mine dealing with discoveries regarding the astrology of Christ’s birth. Whether from Williams himself or his office, the courtesy of a reply was never received and the world was given the gift of Williams’ skepticism instead. He might at least have acknowledged other lines of thought exist on the magi but prelates don’t seem to think like that. One could say they mostly favour a “fair” skepticism….but rather dogmatically and dismissively!
CAN RICHARD HOLLOWAY BELIEVE ANYTHING AT ALL?
A good example of this corrosive "fairness" is Richard Holloway, former Archbishop or Bishop Primus (it amounts to the same thing) of Edinburgh of the Scottish branch of Anglicanism. His religion is in effect a spirituality of honesty in not believing or claiming anything specifically Christian at all. According to a suitably uninspiring Easter weekend feature in The Australian which influences my comments, Holloway admits to being “completely allergic to people who say that they know the ultimate, absolute truth”. He believes in “the virtue of uncertainty” and “If you know the mind of the mystery you call God, it makes you do terrible things”.
“Terrible things”? This is libel! Are we to suppose that, say, Christian doctors and nurses who are helping people and happen orthodoxly to believe that Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” and hence some kind of ultimate mystery, are actual or potential world destroyers like biblically illiterate, or just plain illiterate, medieval Crusaders on rampage overseas? But for this Archbishop such believers wouldn’t need to be pushing any of their beliefs in Christ anyway, even nicely, because “Evangelism is an abuse of power”. It’s even nothing but a fear based threat and the Church just a power structure. And it seems there would be nothing and nobody to evangelize anyway because the first of the Archbishop’s 26 published books was Beyond Belief: Godless Morality, (1981) which made the point there is effectively no Christian morality because atheists can be good – which doubtless they can be just as they can be evil. But is this the point and is it worth cutting down trees to make paper to publish it? Indeed, what publishers are complicit with promoting this religion of skepticism 26 times over when so much in religion can’t get published? What Holloway represents is an “abuse” of influence by an Archbishop who admits to have changed his mind so many times he is not sure what he believes but is ready to call himself "The Church in Exile". The Church in Auto-Destruct mode might be more appropriate!
As one priest remarked to me, people like this may be brilliant scholars (Williams is a linguist fluent in perhaps ten languages) but they would be better in academic posts where they would be free to change ideas and perspectives by the week rather than leading whole churches. I would agree their role is now so negative it belongs with Miltonics like “the hungry flock look up and are not fed”, or, more darkly and cynically if one were to cite Baudelaire, “It’s the Devil who holds the strings that make us dance”. In 2002 Richard Holloway did actually resign his post as was appropriate. Today he oddly describes the real beginning of his disillusion as being the 1998 Lambeth Conference with its fireworks over the subject of homosexuality. Gays and their cause seems to be the one of the few things the Archbishop can feel able to barrack for with any conviction. Admittedly Lambeth ‘98 seems to have been a conference to end all conferences…...
I attended a party a few years ago and not realizing I was talking to a bishop told him, when he asked me, about my doctoral studies which were in gay spirituality. This prompted him to inform me just how horrific the Lambeth Conference had been. So bad he said he never wished to attend anything like it again in his life. The atmosphere had apparently been electric with venom and potential and actual aggressive behaviour unworthy of Christians. But if such was the case the party chiefly guilty for stirring the pot was another unworthy Archbishop, Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, of whom there were tales about trying to throw a gay delegate on the floor – possibly in attempts to exorcize him since he apparently believes gays are mostly demon possessed. From the under-belief of prelates western style we pass to over-belief African style.
CAN THE FANATIC ARCHBISHOP AKINOLA JUST SHUT UP?
I shall pass over whatever Akinola may have said and done since ‘98 (which includes hysterically calling all homosexuals "lower than the beasts",trying to split the entire Anglican Communion over homosexuality and make himself alternative head of some split off group) to quote him only in the very recent past. In recent attempts by the Nigerian government to move legally against gays (who get assaulted and generally persecuted in Nigeria as in other African countries like Uganda and aided and abetted by the churches) Akinola has made representations to a parliamentary committee. He has proposed gay marriages should be entirely illegal with anyone involved in such being jailed for 5 years and even anyone attending such marriages jailed for a year. He regards homosexuality as “capable of engendering moral and social holocaust” (i.e. the condition is catching if gay unions were permitted the population rate would either decline or be wiped out by AIDS!).
According to Akinola (as cited in Blaze Gay Magazine for South Australia, March 25th) “Same sex marriage apart from being ungodly is unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, un-cultural, un-African and un-Nigerian. Homosexuality is capable of existinctating (sic) mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria…”
Well, of course same sex marriage is unscriptural because the chiefly relevant biblical society (Israel’s) like most ancient societies didn’t envisage it - though it virtually does in the peculiar covenant union of David and Jonathan. One wonders what the Archbishop would think if we reminded him that Archbishops themselves are unscriptural, no such individuals are ever mentioned in the Bible. And heaven knows few Archbishops have done the churches much good. However, this angry and meddlesome Archbishop who doesn't wish to be in the same room as a homosexual and certainly won't take communion with them, is either grossly ignorant or else a gross liar if he contends that homosexuality is “un-African”. Lock this troublemaker up for 5 years and force him to read anthropological studies like Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities (eds) Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe, a couple of anthropologists….! A biology text wouldn't hurt either as this prelate remains under the pre-scientific illusion that homosexuality is not found in nature as amusingly in the case of Ninio the elephant in the Warsaw zoo and the penguins in Berlin's.
AND COULD ARCHBISHOP AKINOLA READ THE BIBLE?
…..But if he won't confront anthropology and biology at least make Akinola study the Bible. There are a few things Archbishop Akinola needs to know including about the Bible. One of them concerns what and who according to the Sermon on the Mount risks the hell fires. The very symbol used for the anger which is the root of violence and murder is the attitude which exclaims “Racah, you fool” (Matt 5:22). In the Aramaic it means something like abusing someone as an “effeminate pervert” or cursing someone as a faggot. Accordingly something like an ancient form of homophobia is used here as symbolic of the root mentality behind discriminating hatreds against outsider minorities of all kinds, social and racial, that can prompt bashings or even murder. Under the old Law, to the extent what probably referred there to sacred prostitution can even be applied to “homosexuality” as we now understand it, capital punishment was involved. But by rejecting hatred of marginal people as a potentially murderous attitude unacceptable to God, Jesus is tacitly rejecting whatever laws of his time might penalize same sex relations because under the old Law, angry attitudes like Akinola’s that justified discrimination and even execution would be acceptable.
Even if you don’t agree with this particular reading of the text, there are other hints in the gospels that Jesus did not regard what today we call “homosexuality” as the evil and unmentionable subject clerics like Akinola have made it over the centuries and we may affirm that point no matter what St Paul may or may not have thought and taught in this area. The Pauline position is something which for modern scholarship is anyway a contentious issue, far less clear than Christian conservatives care to acknowledge…..
Once again, as it happens, I somewhat addressed this issue in the mentioned book, reception of which the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t acknowledge. I had more to say in my A Special Illumination, based on a world first doctorate from a religious studies dept and assessing the varieties of gay theology and spiritualities. It also happens that an acquaintance of the Archbishop (Rev.Canon Martyn Percy of Cambridge) described what I’d written as probably the best treatment of gay theologies ever done. Yet although the Archbishop has complained the church lacks guidance and knowledge in dealing theologically and otherwise with the gay theme, again, no recommendation of my work has had any effect. What might have helped clerics and committees debating gay issues to have more facts and a broader critical overview has not been cited or used. But since on most subjects those Anglican attitudes which count are still too often just snobbishly or cliquishly determined by the old boy network “no good thing comes out of Australia” may well have played its part. (I don’t just speak for my own work. For example it’s hard to see how a useful, magisterial study on the interpretation of the Sodom story across history from another Australian scholar - Michael Carden’s Sodom - could have been quite so ignored).
HOMOSEXUALITY BECOMING THE MAIN SUBJECT FOR BAD ARCHBISHOPS
There is something that unifies my bad Archbishops story and could extend it (since I haven’t explored Archbishop Jensen of Sydney, an ally and advocate of the infernal Akinola) and it’s the subject of homosexuality which is coming to outdo all other theoretically more important issues for Christianity from creedal orthodoxy to actual cure and care of souls.
Again the wavering Rowan Williams seems much to blame. He has giddied back and forth on the subject of homosexuality in a theological incertitude which like so much in Anglicanism has owed something to mere politics. (Anglicanism itself is a state church whose archbishops are selected by the Prime Minister who may care nothing for religion so that a lot of what spirituality and theology should be regulating can become a matter for social compromises and the supposed needs of national consensus rather than the church itself). When the economically powerful evangelical block was threatening withdrawal of funds over issues of gay ordinations and unions Williams became more conservative though enraging conservatives by unannounced attending a Eucharist with gay Christians as though to appease and apologize to them.
I believe that the blessing of same sex unions is and was a more vital pastoral issue than whether or not in the interests of simple equality there should be gay bishops in our generation. But had Williams taken a firm line in harmony with his original stated beliefs and purposes and ordained as first gay bishop, Canon Jeffrey John who was no longer in gay relationship he could well have forestalled other more serious controversies and schisms. These broke out over the unilateral decision of American Episcopalians, determined to have some gay bishop since Williams wouldn’t act as expected, to instead make a divorced bishop in a relationship (and as it turned out had alcoholic problems too) flag bearer for the new protest line. This poor piece of PR was then the trigger to the debates and politicking which brought out Akinola and his poison in full force.
Yet Akinola is really more political than almost anyone engaged in Anglicanism’s wrecking ball gay debate. Anglicanism’s own Robert Mugabe, Akinola is excused enormities and not described as a thoroughly despicable person largely, I think, because he is black and we don’t wish to be charged with racism. His macho pursuit of gays is exacerbating problems for gays and gay Christians throughout Africa where it has sent some to into depression and suicide and made them vulnerable even to death threats. (See reports from such as “Other Sheep” a gay religious organization which reports on what is going on in African churches). The macho patriotism of Akinola’s protests disguises the extent to which in fact he is weakly appeasing Muslim forces in Nigeria which would attack the church if it showed certain kinds of human rights concerns. Akinola also appears to have had certain ambitions to dominate a separate, schismatic church, so that in no way can his attitudes to homosexuality be considered the disinterested, biblically conservative position that allies like Archbishop Jensen of Sydney will make it out to be.
THREATS TO RELIGIOUS FREE SPEECH AND SPITTING OUT TRUTH'
Akinola-speak encourages nothing but a hate Christ attitude among secular gays internationally. It is the sort of phenomenon which moreover fuels the new hardline approach of the secular society in its opposition to Christianity and religion generally and which (opportunistically one suspects) raising the spectre of homophobia, drastically changes laws to confine abuse but in ways that threaten free speech itself.
Only this past week a worker for England’s St James Community that assists the homeless was dismissed from his post for the crime under new laws of having expressed his view to a co-worker that as a Christian he didn’t believe in same sex relations and gay marriage. Who could and should care that he doesn’t believe in such things as long as he’s not insulting gays or denying them assistance in line with his job? To everyone their beliefs. And who was the Judas of a co-worker friend who went off to report him as politically incorrect? But such is the unfortunate legacy to society that results from the fanatical homophobia historically and still today of clerics of Akinola’s kind and which not even modern western prelates like Jensen have hastened to condemn as they should. So the world will now legally defend people against it, and, because clerics have not troubled to express themselves within bounds of the generous or sensible it will now decide how people in religion will express themselves.
In almost nothing have the Archbishops of our time truly helped us. They are not defenders or proclaimers of the faith nor of human rights in suitable ways. They seem little short of a disaster. One could well wonder how might God see them. I don’t think simply because they probably mean well it would be correct to repeat, mantra-like, clichéd phrases like “God loves them very much”. Frankly, one suspects the inveterate confusion represented might be more liable to obtain something like the unsettling judgment on the indifferent Laodicean church - “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:17).