Rabbis act over swine flu – and not like Archbishops!

The BBC reports that

A group of rabbis and Jewish mystics have taken to the skies over Israel, praying and blowing ceremonial horns in a plane to ward off swine flu.

About 50 religious leaders circled over the country on Monday, chanting prayers and blowing horns, called shofars.

The flight’s aim was “to stop the pandemic so people will stop dying from it,” Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri was quoted as saying in Yedioth Aharanot newspaper. …

“We are certain that, thanks to the prayer, the danger is already behind us,” added Mr Batzri …

There is even a short video of this, taken during the flight.

I’m not sure that I would endorse this way of tackling the swine flu problem. Why did they take to the air for their prayers, rather than pray on the ground where the problem actually is? (If anyone knows an answer to that question, please put it in a comment.) But at least they are doing what religious leaders should: praying and doing religious ceremonial actions. And it is not really for me, as a Christian, to criticise how religious Jews conduct themselves, except to long that they recognise their true Messiah.

By contrast, the Archbishops of the Church of England have hit the news not for how they have prayed for the swine flu danger to pass, nor for how they have urged their clergy and church members to pray, but for their panicked reaction and abandonment of biblical and traditional Christian practice.

Is swine flu more powerful than God, so that the blood of Jesus Christ is not able to protect us from its effects? That is the implication of the Archbishops’ advice. Or is God Lord over swine flu and every other kind of evil? The rabbis who took to the air clearly believe that. Would that the leaders of the Church of England also believed it!

Archbishops' communion advice contradicts the Thirty-Nine Articles

It is not just the Presiding Bishop of TEC who is compromising the Gospel message in what she says. Now, as reported with approval by Anglican vicar David Keen, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are offering official advice to the Bishops of the Church of England which directly contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, as well as Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine Articles:

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

1 Corinthians 11:25-29 (TNIV), emphasis added

30. Of both Kinds.
The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord’s Sacrament, by Christ’s ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

(I presume that “men” here is intended in the older gender generic sense.) But today I read:

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have today written to Bishops in the Church of England recommending the suspension of the sharing of the chalice at communion.

On what authority have these Archbishops taken it upon themselves to recommend their bishops and clergy to go against the teaching of Jesus and Paul and disobey the clear instructions in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England? Doug Chaplin has recently suggested that these articles might be consigned to the scrapheap. But if so, this needs to be done by an official decision of the church authorities and after wide consultation, not through unilateral advice from the Archbishops. And I trust no one is suggesting that the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles is similarly destined for the scrapheap.

Note that this is a theologically important issue because the mediaeval western church, and the Roman Catholic Church until recently, withheld the communion cup from lay people. The Reformers insisted on communion in both kinds because this was clearly taught by Jesus and Paul, as quoted above, and was the practice of the worldwide church up to the 13th century.

So the Archbishops, through the advice they have issued, are attempting to reverse one of the key advances made in the English Church at the Reformation, ironically one which the Roman Catholic Church has also made since Vatican II. By changing this practice, they are also, by the fundamental Anglican principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (explained by Doug Chaplin as “”The rule of praying is the rule of believing”, or, more colloquially, “If you want to know what we believe, look at how we pray””), changing the doctrine of the Church of England.

The Archbishops have recommended as an alternative “personal intinction by the presiding minister”. This is also an ancient alternative, having been used in the mediaeval western church before being condemned by a Council. It is not explicitly condemned in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but does seem to go against their teaching, and that of Jesus and Paul, about drinking from a cup. It also clearly goes against the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, also one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England: in the rubrics (instructions) for The Communion in the BCP there are separate words for two separate distributions of the bread and the wine to the people:

And, when he delivereth the Bread to any one, he shall say …

And the Minister that delivereth the Cup to anyone shall say…

The Archbishops justify intinction as “a practice widely observed in Anglican churches throughout Africa”. But since when does the practice of other Anglican churches take precedence over the Book of Common Prayer?

At this point at last I need to mention the excuse which is being used for this attempt to change the practice of the Church of England: a slightly variant form of a fairly mild disease which is currently doing the rounds in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Yes, you’ve guessed it: swine flu. For the vast majority of those who get it, it means a few days of a nasty headache, not pleasant (see this personal story in The Times) but really only a minor inconvenience. Yes, a few people, almost all with other health complications, will die from swine flu. But it seems no more deadly, or severe in any other way, than the regular flu which has always been “pandemic” and which kills tens of thousands in the UK most winters.

If swine flu is a reason to withhold the communion cup, then why hasn’t the same action been taken long before, in response to regular flu, and all kinds of other infectious diseases? It has long been recognised that shared communion cups are a potential health hazard. So, if action is justified, why has it been taken only now?

If Church of England members are not prepared to take a possibly slightly increased risk of a few days’ headache so that they can obey Jesus’ teaching, then what is the chance of them remaining faithful when real persecution for their faith comes?

So, let me return to a question which I didn’t answer: On what authority have these Archbishops taken it upon themselves to recommend their bishops and clergy to disobey the teaching of Jesus and clear instructions in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England? They refer to “advice from the Department of Health not to share “common vessels” for food or drink”. But surely this has always been good health advice! So what’s new?

I can’t help thinking that the Archbishops are overreacting to panic stirred up by the media, and in doing so are putting at risk the doctrine and practice of the Church they head. Instead they should be taking a lead in reassuring the public that swine flu is not a big deal and will not be allowed to disrupt the work, let alone the doctrine, of the Church.

I call upon the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England, and their equivalents in any other denominations who might follow their lead, to withdraw the advice they have just issued and uphold the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that the Communion is to be given to all as bread and in a cup. Instead they might like to advise that those who prefer this because they consider themselves at particular risk from swine flu should voluntarily abstain from the cup. They might also consider suggesting use of separate cups, as used in many non-Anglican Protestant churches, which avoid the health risks. But they must uphold the priority of the “historic formularies” of the Church and, above them, of the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.

Meanwhile perhaps the Archbishops ought to put a bit more emphasis on this part of the government’s health advice:

To help to prevent the spread of the virus, churches need to ensure that bins for the disposal of tissues are available at all public gatherings, that surfaces are frequently cleaned and that hand-washing facilities, including disposable towels, are well maintained.  Churches should also consider supplying tissues at services and other meetings as well as providing hand-washing gel.

What am I supposed to think if I go into a church which is withholding the cup but has not even provided visible “bins for the disposal of tissues”? Perhaps someone’s priorities have got mixed up.

Reimagining Church: Review, part 1

A few weeks ago Ben Witherington III (BW3) posted a multi-part review of Frank Viola’s book Reimagining Church, which was followed by a conversation between Viola and BW3 about the issues raised. I offered my own response to part 1 of BW3’s review, and later reported on the ongoing debate. I was also sent my own copy of the book. I have now read part 1 of the book, “Community and Gatherings”, representing almost exactly half of the book. Here I am offering a review of this part, or perhaps more precisely my general reflections on it. I intend to continue reading part 2, “Leadership and Accountability”, which promises to be more controversial, and I will share my thoughts on that here in due course.

I must say that I was a little disappointed by the first half of this book. The strength of BW3’s criticism had led me to expect something far more novel and controversial! What in fact I found, at least in part 1, is mostly material to which I reacted “Well, of course! Doesn’t everyone believe this?” It turns out that most of the issues on which BW3 disagrees with Viola, apart from the one of hierarchy which I will come back to in another post, are peripheral matters in Viola’s argument, or places where he has allowed himself to be carried away by hyperbole. Sure, there are places where Viola’s exegesis is not as strong as it might be, but, for example, he is following a common evangelical understanding in seeing the “Let us make …” in Genesis 1:26 as reflecting the Trinity.

Now I wonder if my reaction is so different from BW3’s because of differences between the British and North American church scenes. I have heard it said that the North American church is five years ahead of the British, in every trend whether good or bad. But on this matter I can’t help wondering if the British church is ahead, and by about 25 years. Viola is basically promoting the vision of a house church movement which he has been involved in for 20 years but is presenting as something novel to his primarily North American audience. Maybe this really is new to most North American Christians, or maybe they just have short memories. But my memories, based on over 30 years as an evangelical Christian, go back to a British house church movement which probably started in the 1960s and was certainly influential into the 70s and 80s. I was never personally involved in such a group, but had close contacts with some who were, and heard a lot of teaching from that direction, mostly in the early 80s.

Specifically here in Chelmsford but relating also to national trends, that was a time when many Christians who had been touched by the charismatic movement were re-examining what it meant to be church, and contrasting what they found with their experience in rather traditional churches. Many, some of whom were and still are my friends, left to set up and join what started out as house churches. These churches soon outgrew the homes they met in and started to meet in hired halls, but they kept many if not all of their house church distinctives as well as a generally charismatic approach. And in practice these are many of the same things which Viola is now teaching in America, 25 years later.

In other ways some of these house churches took a very different direction from what Viola teaches in terms of leadership and authority. To a greater or lesser extent they became involved in the shepherding movement, of which one of the leaders was Derek Prince but from which, as I mentioned in passing recently, he later dissociated himself. One of the groups I had close contacts with in fact put themselves under the leadership of the infamous Bishop Michael Reid, whose teaching on authority must be the complete antithesis of Viola’s. But I will come back to this issue. At least one other Chelmsford house church group from that time is still in existence, as Chelmsford Community Church which identifies itself as

born out of the house-church movement, around 30 years ago.

Personally, in the 1980s I didn’t join one of these house churches, but in 1985 I did move from a traditional evangelical Anglican church to my current church which although officially Anglican was, and still is now, very much focused on church as community rather than institution. I can’t claim that we put into practice every part of Viola’s teaching, but, except concerning leadership, we acknowledge the principles Viola teaches while making allowances for the more traditional preferences of some of our members, and for what we are required to be and do as Anglicans.

But perhaps I am wrong to claim that the house church movement is a British invention. I just retrieved from my bookshelves a book which I have kept since the early 1980s, although mostly unopened: The Community of the King by Howard A. Snyder, published in 1977 by IVP in the USA. This book is referred to and quoted by Frank Viola, and indeed much of what he writes, at least in part 1 of Reimagining Church, is very similar to what Snyder was teaching 30 years ago – although perhaps Snyder is more cautious than Viola in recognising that even new forms of church are still institutions with structures. That Viola is dependent on Snyder and others of his generation doesn’t make his teaching wrong, but it does explain why there is little in it which is new to me.

It is also worth noting that Snyder’s book, which includes explicit positive teaching about the gifts of the Spirit, would probably have been accepted in its day only by charismatics; whereas Viola deliberately avoids suggesting that charismatic manifestations are of the essence of his house churches.

So, to return to Viola’s book: he starts by asking his readers to reimagine the church as an organism rather than an organisation, as a community modelled on the Trinity as a community of three. While he rejects “Biblical Blueprintism”, he is strongly opposed to the religious tradition which has shaped so many of our churches. He recognises that the “DNA” of the church will produce different forms in different environments, but accuses traditional churches of violating this “DNA” by forcing the church into unnatural forms.

Viola continues by reimagining church meetings. Here I think BW3 is right to criticise his classification of four kinds of church meetings, at least if he intends rigid distinctions between them rather than different emphases. But he is right to insist that regular gatherings of the church should primarily be for “Mutual Edification”, allowing every member participation. He notes how the Reformation embraced the principle of the priesthood of all believers but did not allow this to be worked out in practice in the church.

Perhaps the most revolutionary part of Viola’s teaching is on the Lord’s Supper. He rejects the idea of distributing token pieces of bread and drink in favour of sharing full meals, “The Lord’s Banquet”. It would be very hard for traditional churches to fully embrace this teaching. But in practice churches like mine have regular potluck style meals very much like what Viola proposes, as well as celebrating the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist in a more traditional way.

The next sacred cow Viola tries to slay is that of the church building. He makes a good point that the early church generally met in homes, although BW3 is surely right to object that there were exceptions to this. And Viola makes a good case for why this is right and proper, including pointing out (p.89) the scandal that in the USA alone

Christians give between $9 and $11 billion a year on church buildings. How much freer would their hands be to support the poor and needy as well as to spread the gospel if they didn’t have to bear such a heavy burden?

Archbishop John Sentamu noted last week (thanks to David Keen for the link):

It would cost $5 billion to save six million children’s lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they now tell us that action for the poorest on the planet is too expensive?

But if the church just in the USA can find twice that $5 billion for its own buildings, shouldn’t the Archbishop also be calling for some of that money to be spent instead on saving children’s lives?

But a problem Viola doesn’t address in detail is the one which the 1980’s house churches here in Britain quickly faced: what happens when a congregation grows too large for a home? Perhaps this is not such a problem in Viola’s central Florida. But here in Chelmsford there are few homes which can comfortably house meetings of more than about 20 people; gardens are often no larger and the weather can never be relied on. Viola writes (p.85):

What did the church do when it grew too large to assemble in a single home? It certainly didn’t erect a building. It simply multiplied and met in several other homes, following the “house to house” principle (Acts 2:46; 20:20).

But if a group of about 20 divides, or multiplies, because it has filled a home, it becomes two groups of only ten, each not really large enough to be a viable independent church or provide a broad base of fellowship for its members. In fact they become the spiritual equivalent of nuclear families, rather than the extended family model which is more appropriate for the church. Also if each group needs several leaders, it can be very hard to find an adequate number of people who have the necessary gifts and maturity to lead even a very small church.

It is for reasons like that that many churches like mine have adopted a home group or “cell church” model, offering a combination of small group meetings in homes with larger central meetings. But of course the central meetings require a building, owned or hired by what is then necessarily some kind of officially organised church. Viola does allow for large group gatherings but apparently only on special occasions, not regular ones which might encourage ordinary Christians to find their sense of belonging in a larger group.

Viola is right to point out that the chief New Testament model for the church is the family. But it is not the modern American or British nuclear family. It is really not at all clear what kind of size of church Viola has in mind, although his final example implies an “organic church” of more than a dozen or so. He is indeed right that many people today are looking for the kind of close community offered by this family model of the church. But churches like mine work very hard on offering community like this without going all the way with the house church model. And the very visibility of a church building at the geographical heart of a community draws into the family people who might never be reached through home based fellowships.

On church unity, Viola makes some good points, and a historically debatable link between sectarianism and the clergy/laity divide. He is right to look for unity primarily not through doctrine but through “organism”. But he goes too far, in my opinion, in expecting Christians from very different traditions to join together in the same house church. Indeed in his example he notes that “the sparks began to fly” and there was a messy split before a new consensus emerged among the survivors. In practice, and especially if we are talking about quite small groups, house churches of the kind he recommends will work best if the members take rather similar positions on basic issues which divide evangelicals. Each house church should of course also accept the validity of other positions, and not allow any barriers to fellowship with groups taking different positions. It is somewhat ironic that Viola comes on strong about things that fragment the body of Christ but doesn’t recognise that for house churches the walls of a house necessarily do this. He rightly considers inadequate the kind of ecumenism in which only church leaders meet together. But his readers are left in the dark about what unity should mean in practice, in a city where there are more Christians than can fit into one home.

Viola sums up this part of the book by studying how church practice links with God’s eternal purpose. Although some of the details are exegetically debatable, he certainly makes a good point that the mission of God is far more than to save individuals, it is to build a new community.

I can see why Viola’s book annoyed a good scholar like BW3. If I look at it as an academic monograph I can find significant weaknesses. There is exegesis which is not fully justified in the text, and perhaps not all of it is justifiable. There are generalisations and flights of hyperbole which would not be expected from a careful scholar. Contrary opinions are dismissed without proper analysis. And there are conclusions reached without being fully explained.

But Viola does not intend his book to be an academic monograph. I’m sure he would have written very differently if he had intended it as such. It is written not for scholars, not even for theologically educated church leaders, but “To every Christian who has reimagined church”. It is written to make ordinary Christians think, to react, and to discuss the issues raised. Indeed each chapter closes with questions for reflection and discussion. A judicious use of provocative hyperbole helps to make a book fit for such purposes.

Well, I have written over 2,000 words on this already, nothing like BW3’s 26,000 in four parts but still quite a lot. So I will leave this review here for now, and read on into the more controversial part about leadership and accountability.

Updated 1st October to add some links, also to clarify what Viola had to say about multiplying groups and to add the sentence starting “Viola does allow for large group gatherings …”

Which bishops want women to join them?

Ruth Gledhill digresses from her Lambeth Diary to give the low-down on which bishops at last week’s General Synod voted for and against the motion on women bishops. This includes some minor surprises. I won’t repeat all the details, but I will give the votes of those bishops in the Church of England who I have been mentioning on this blog.

On “the Bishop of Winchester’s motion, including the reaffirmation of the Lambeth 1998 resolution that both sides in the argument on women priests and bishops are ‘loyal Anglicans’”, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, otherwise so far apart, were together among the 14 bishops who voted in favour. Among the 31 against this motion were Archbishop John Sentamu of York and bishops John Gladwin of Chelmsford, NT Wright of Durham and Pete Broadbent of Willesden. Ruth writes mischievously that

those who hold traditional views on ministry, men and women who believe implicitly in the Catholic faith contained in creeds and scripture, are now apparently not regarded as loyal Anglicans by two-thirds of the diocesan bishops of the Church of England present and voting at the Synod

– including Sentamu, Gladwin and Wright, also Broadbent who is not in fact “diocesan” but was included in this reckoning. So will Pete Broadbent, despite staying away from the Lambeth Conference, now be rejected by the conservatives? It will be interesting to see.

On the final motion, which I reported here, it seems that Archbishop Sentamu and bishops Gladwin and Broadbent were among 28 voting in favour, whereas 12 bishops including Nazir-Ali and Wright voted against, and Archbishop Williams abstained, alone – although at least four bishops seem to have absented themselves as 45 voted on several of the amendments. Well, at least I can agree with my own diocesan bishop on something. But there is surely something symbolically significant in the one who is supposed to be leading the Church of England choosing to abstain.

The Archbishop, the Pope, and the Holy Grail

From the latest edition of Clare News, the magazine for alumni of my Cambridge college:

When the Archbishop of York met Pope Benedict XVI in Rome recently, he gave him an unusual gift …: a special, one-off beer called ‘Holy Grail’ …

Holy Grail beer bottle

For a fuller version of this story see this page on the brewery’s website, which also has a picture of the beer bottle, and its full name:

MONTY PYTHON’S HOLY GRAIL Tempered with burning witches

– with the “GR” crossed out.

Clare College has a strong theological tradition, numbering among its past members Prof Charlie Moule and Archbishop Rowan Williams. But in this case the link with the college is not the Archbishop, nor the Pope, but the head brewer.

Wright and right on shifting the balance of power in the Anglican Communion

John Richardson quotes Bishop NT Wright criticising those who are calling for a boycott of the Lambeth Conference. Wright sympathises with the plight of orthodox Anglicans in North America who are

vilified, attacked and undermined by ecclesiastical authority figures who seem to have lost all grip on the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be eager only for lawsuits and property squabbles.

But he goes on to say that

these situations have been exploited by those who have long wanted to shift the balance of power in the Anglican Communion and who have used this awful situation as an opportunity to do so.

I have great respect for Wright as a theologian. But, as I pointed out in a previous post, he is a man of his time and background who seems to have a blind spot, along with many of his fellows in high positions in the Anglican Communion, about recognising that African and Asian bishops have an equal right with British and North American bishops to a share in authority within the Communion. Perhaps they have even more right, in fact, as on average they each represent a larger number of committed Anglicans. Yes, they want to shift the balance of power, but in a completely right way, away from those who are illegitimately hanging on to it as a relic of colonialism and racism towards being more representative of the Anglican churches as a whole.

I read on a blog somewhere recently (and not just at Doug’s April Fool – don’t take my comment there seriously) that Rowan Williams should be replaced as Archbishop of Canterbury by Wright, because he would be best placed to hold the Anglican Communion together. Sadly he would not be, because if he tries to lead it with this attitude he will never be able to reconcile the Africans and Asians with the North Americans.

Meanwhile, as John Richardson and Babyblue report, Bishop Wright in the same talk mentioned some letters which Archbishop Williams has sent to certain bishops. Apparently Williams is trying to persuade bishops who don’t support the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant, that is, the least conservative bishops, not to attend the Lambeth Conference. Wright said about this

I am well aware that many will say this is far too little, far too late.

Well, on this point he is a prophet: I for one do indeed say that Williams’ letter is far too little, far too late. The only way of sorting out this mess now is for Williams to go, and to be replaced not by Wright but by someone like Archbishop Sentamu of York who has a chance of gaining the respect of the African and Asian majority in the Anglican Communion.

Archbishops at prayer and at play

Maggi Dawn continues her series on her discussions with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York with some observations on them at prayer – and at play. This human story shows that Rowan Williams is not just a leader and an academic, but is also a man of genuine spirituality:

Informal, made-up-on-the-spot prayers are part of their habit of life too. There was a moment when Archbishop Sentamu was about to address a large audience, but had a really sore throat. Archbishop Rowan came to find us, and immediately knelt down beside Archbishop Sentamu to pray. Not in five-syllable words or liturgical language, mind you. He just prays to Jesus, like you and me.

As for play, they don’t have much time for it, but Maggi got this reply from Sentamu to her question “What do you do to relax?”:

“I go to the gym every day,” he replied. “Every day?” I said. “When I’m in York, every day,” he replied. “It’s important. You have to look after yourself.”

There was a brief pause while he looked at me intently. He has this way of looking at you that makes you feel at once scrutinised with great honesty, and yet deeply met with God’s love.

“But what about you?” he asked. “What do you do to relax? I hope you are looking after yourself?”

Good question, Archbishop, for Maggi, for me, and for my readers.

The Archbishops on blogging

Maggi Dawn, a college chaplain in Cambridge, recently met the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and had the opportunity to discuss blogging with them. Thanks to Dave Walker at the Church Times blog for the tip, and a great cartoon to go with it. Here is the part about blogging of Maggi’s conversation with Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu:

I began by asking them how much they knew about the blog-world, and what kind of effect – positive or negative – they thought blogging, facebook and similar media are having on Church life and spiritual concerns.

“They are clearly part of the whole knowledge economy”, said Archbishop Rowan. “They have encouraged people not to take in passively what’s produced – it has opened up a more interactive environment for the sharing of knowledge – a democratisation of knowledge. And clearly that is bound to affect the Church at every level.”

Is the democratisation of knowledge always a good thing, though, I asked him? Does it flatten a desirable level of expertise?

“It can certainly flatten expertise,” he replied. “But perhaps the more worrying issue is that in can in some ways encourage unreflective expression – it’s possible simply to think it, and say it, without any thought. When that happens in personal conversation, there is a humanising effect. But on the screen, it’s less human.”

Then the Archbishop of York chipped in: “On the other hand, people have found real friendships through blogs, who would never have otherwise met each other – it’s a worldwide connection, people really do “meet” you on your blog. When I cut up my collar the response online was enormous – that’s when I realised just how many boundaries can be crossed with blogs.”

He thought for a minute, and then added, “But you know, when people write without thinking, it can get very difficult; it can be offensive and troublesome. The best of what’s there on the blogs is from those who take a little time to reflect before they publish. But there is no choice about whether we engage with this new media. It’s the world we are in – the Church has to engage with it!”

Well, considering how negatively the blog world, including myself, reacted to Archbishop Rowan’s comments about sharia law, I might have expected him to have a less positive attitude. It is good that he welcomes, if with some reservations, the democratisation of knowledge, thereby distancing himself from the intellectual arrogance he has been accused of. But both Archbishops are right that there is a tendency for bloggers, including myself, to write without thinking first.

Yes, indeed the Church of England has to engage with these new media, if it is not to fade away into irrelevance, even more than arguably it already has. But, practically, in what ways will it engage? There are some great Christian initiatives in this area, but they tend to be from individuals or small groups rather than being sponsored by the Church of England in any formal way. In some ways this is the nature of these new media. But the central and diocesan authorities need to engage with them as well. And first they need to understand them, in ways that judging by the sharia law controversy they have failed to understand the more traditional media.

Maggi promises more from her chat with the Archbishops tomorrow. I will be watching out for it – although I may not have time to post more for a few days.

The wisest fool in Christendom

According to Jeremy Paxman on the BBC programme Newsnight last night (Friday) (click “Watch Now” on this page, but probably only until Monday), King James I was called “the wisest fool in Christendom”,

because he never said a foolish thing or did a wise one.

But Paxman suggested that Archbishop Rowan Williams has inherited this mantle.

I was privileged to meet this morning (Saturday), for the first time, one of Paxman’s guests, John Richardson, who blogs at The Ugley Vicar and Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream. We met only hours after Paxman interviewed Richardson, at the meeting where I also heard Bishop Pete Broadbent speak. Richardson drew my attention to another wonderful quote from Paxman on the programme:

How do you solve a problem like sharia?

You need to get the pronunciation right for this: rhyme with “Maria”.

The Archbishop’s comments on sharia law have apparently generated easily the biggest response the BBC has had to any story – 17,000 comments in 24 hours, the great majority critical of Williams. Continue reading

Archbishop doesn't like the political bits

Ruth Gledhill has a short post whose significance is in its title rather than its content: Rowan: ‘I like my job – except the political bits.’ For the evidence for this title she links to her article today in The Times, about how the Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed by three teenagers for a youth magazine. She reports that

he enjoys his job – “at least the non-political side of things.” This is because he is passionate about the environment and likes meeting people.

But I was encouraged by these words of Archbishop Williams, in the same interview:

I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible, gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practicing [sic, even in The Times] homosexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.

Well said, Your Grace. But if that is really what you believe, Continue reading