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Justin Welby And Social Media

Bishop Welby’s elevation to Canterbury was announced by Downing Street on Twitter:

In his press conference, the ABC-designate said, “I intend -if I am not stopped – to go on tweeting.” (Currently he tweets here, but that will change.)

If these are early signs that the incoming Archbishop understands the communications world in which we now live, that is a good sign.

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Advice For The New Archbishop Of Canterbury

If it is true that Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is to be the new ABC, then I wonder whether he will heed the advice that Rowan Williams is offering his successor (as reported in the same article):

Speaking in Auckland yesterday, at what aides said would be his final press conference, he was asked for advice for his successor.

Quoting the theologian Karl Barth, he said that the new Archbishop should preach “with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other”.

He said that it was vital that whoever is named must be able to make his message relevant to modern life and “like” reading newspapers.

“You have to be cross-referencing all the time and saying, ‘How does the vision of humanity and community in the Bible map onto these issues of poverty, privation, violence and conflict?’

“And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions that you put to the Bible: ‘Where is this going to help me?’

“So I think somebody who likes reading the Bible and likes reading newspapers would be a good start.”

Valuable as this is, I just wonder whether ‘newspaper’ ought to be augmented with ‘social media’. The new Archbishop enters a world where communications are faster than ever, and social media reporting and campaigning (whatever the doubts about accuracy) has such a rapid effect upon events, that he will need to be strongly aware of that, too. Perhaps the ABC needs not only a press office but a rapid response social media office.

That said, who am I to advise? And perhaps it would be good to heed the thoughts of Adrian Chatfield on Twitter, who tweeted,

The Archbishop’s Sermon At The Diamond Jubilee Service …

was online within moments of the service ending.

Now, I’d disestablish the C of E tomorrow were that feasible, because  I believe the church is meant to be a radical counter-cultural kingdom community. The consorting with power leaves me uncomfortable. All the pragmatic arguments about privilege leading to visibility don’t chime with the Gospel for me. (Besides, what kind of publicity does the Church of England get? You can’t tell me the reporting of Synods, debates and arguments advances the kingdom.)

But I rather liked the way the ABC used that in a subversive way in his sermon. Whatever the Queen’s wealth and privilege, I think ‘dedication’ is a decent word for her. Whatever happens to my pension, I don’t want still to be working at the age of eighty-six.

Then, after all the effusive words, he aims, fires and hits the target in the final two paragraphs:

This year has already seen a variety of Jubilee creations and projects. But its most lasting memorial would be the rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.

Listen again for a moment toSt Paul. ‘We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us … the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness … Outdo one another in showing honour … extend hospitality to strangers … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another … take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’ Dedication to the health and well-being of a community is all this and more. May we be given the grace to rediscover this as we give thanks today for Her Majesty’s sixty years of utterly demanding yet deeply joyful service.

At last, someone who understands that Jubilee goes beyond red, white and blue. Dr Williams, I never thought I’d say this when you took up office, but I’m going to miss you when you step down.

What Would Jesus Do?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written a thoughtful piece in the Christmas double issue of Radio Times (some of which is reproduced here on his own site) where he takes on the way the Occupy movement has taken up the popular evangelical slogan, ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD). Dr Williams points out that Jesus is often more about asking people questions than giving them answers, and when religion is like that, it is often at its most constructive. There is further background on the BBC website in a piece by Stephen Tomkins of Ship Of Fools.

What do you think? How easy, possible or desirable is it to answer the WWJD question?

The Media: Public Interest and Common Good

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech yesterday of the above title has certainly put the cat among the pigeons. Here are one or two thoughts I had on it:

The Archbishop (or henceforth the ABC) probes the issue of journalism and secrecy. He quotes the question that has sometimes been attributed rightly or wrongly to Jeremy Paxman, “Why is this bastard lying to me?”. But he points out that not all secrecy is sinister. We wouldn’t want certain things about ourselves that are rightly kept private made public. So he wants a more sensitive approach to the old ‘public interest’ defence that journalists employ.

Well, quite right, too, and as a minister I know only too well the issue of confidences that must be kept. I only wish that Rowan Williams had at this point applied his ‘brain the size of a planet’ to the question of why we have got into this situation. What about examining the postmodern ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ at this point, the whole difficulty in pomo thinking about truth and power? That would have illuminated a very worthwhile speech.

Also suffering too much from brevity is the section on weblogs. He notes the positive use of blogs to provide quick and necessary rebuttals but sees them as purely ephemeral with no notion of posterity, and often full of wild, unchecked comments and bigotry. Well, there is some truth in this, of course. But the issue of the ephemeral is contentious: are not we bloggers typing our online journals? The Christian spiritual tradition knows much about ‘journalling’, and it is often a very positive reflective process. Granted, in the blogosphere we have to contend with ‘information overload’, but blogging could be the place where the reflective approach begins in our media.

Which neatly brings me on to something else the ABC says. He has a very useful section in the speech where he bewails the contemporary media emphasis on ‘urgency’ with its concomitant features of ‘breaking news’ and ‘instant comments’. He notes how this can marginalise religion, which does not always display ‘urgent’ qualities. So it was difficult for 24-hour news channels to cope with the last days of Pope John Paul II’s life. I would just add that ‘urgency’ has other dangers, too, not least with the phenomenon of ‘instant comments’. Do we not more often need considered reflection? In which case we come back to my argument above about the reflective use of blogs, but it is not limited to blogging.

Having said all that, go read the speech. It’s excellent. In summary I think I’m just saying I wish he had taken his thoughts further and deeper.

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