It seems to have been the kind of sermon which an Archbishop would only dare to preach at a memorial service, and one which only at such an event he would have had the opportunity to preach to this kind of congregation. The Queen and much of the Royal Family, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair were among the congregation in St Paul’s Cathedral as, in Ruth Gledhill’s words in The Times (see also her blog post on the same subject, and the BBC report of the event) Archbishop Rowan Williams
condemned policymakers for failing to consider the cost of the Iraq war as he led a memorial service today for the 179 British personnel who died in the conflict.
It was in the second reading at the service, from Ephesians 6, that these sentiments were expressed:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Ephesians 6:12 (KJV, as quoted by Ruth Gledhill)
Now I’m sure Her Majesty, Blair and Brown are all biblically literate enough to understand that these words “the rulers of the darkness of this world … spiritual wickedness in high places” refer not human leaders like themselves, but to the devil and his minions. Maybe not all of the congregation would have understood this so clearly. So it is good that, according to the words from this verse which Rowan Williams quoted, the reading actually seems to have come from NRSV, which makes the enemy unambiguously other-worldly:
For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
So Ruth Gledhill was being somewhat naughty to quote the potentially misleading KJV rendering of this verse, rather than the clearer version read out at the service. In NRSV the reading was clearly not referring to anyone in the congregation, and the archiepiscopal sermon was not directly so either. Instead, it contained something even more shocking to some.
We have come to expect bishops to abuse worship by condemning political leaders in their sermons. But we no longer expect them to preach about the devil or any other evil spiritual forces. Somehow it is not considered politically correct within the liberal establishment. Now even this morning the Archbishop was apparently politically correct enough not to use the words “evil” or “devil”. But he did speak of the “invisible enemy”, and in the context the meaning of that phrase was clear.
So what exactly did Archbishop Rowan attribute to this “invisible enemy”? Apparently it, or he,
may be hiding in the temptation to look for short cuts in the search for justice — letting ends justify means, letting others rather than oneself carry the cost, denying the difficulties or the failures so as to present a good public face.
The implication behind these words seems to be that during the Iraq conflict short cuts were taken, indeed perhaps that the whole western invasion of Iraq was a short cut and “letting ends justify means”. So the Archbishop was suggesting that Satan tempted our political leaders, in the UK context primarily Tony Blair but with Gordon Brown then his right hand man, into launching this invasion, and the leaders gave in to this temptation.
This is not so much Blair the Antichrist as Blair the devil’s dupe. Perhaps the Archbishop’s sermon was after all an indirect criticism of the leaders who sat in front of him. So no wonder that
Mr Blair looked solemn as he listened intently to the Archbishop’s address.