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Backing Off From Controversy? Contrasting Christianity Magazine’s Interviews With Mark Driscoll And Richard Chartres

It’s been a month since it all kicked off. I know that, because my subscription copy of Christianity magazine belly-flopped onto the welcome mat today. Last month it was that interview of Mark Driscoll by Justin Brierley in which Driscoll accused British preachers of being cowards.
This month, their main interview is with Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. He’s a worthy subject for the in-depth treatment. He’s known to be close to the royal family, and hence preached at William and Kate’s wedding last year. My post citing his sermon led to the busiest day on this blog ever. He’s been part of defusing the stresses between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp. These topics and others are covered.

But there’s one dimension missing. I’m surprised and disappointed. Why does the interview not cover Chartres’ decision last year to suspend one of his area bishops, Pete Broadbent, over his controversial remarks in social media about the chances of William and Kate’s marriage lasting the distance? What exactly is the working relationship between royalist Chartres and socialist republican Broadbent?
As I see it, either party – Chartres or the magazine – could have nixed the subject. Chartres might have made it a condition of being interviewed that the question were not asked. Or Christianity magazine itself might have had reasons not to go there, because Broadbent is one of their consulting editors. Surely its omission is not accidental. That would suggest an incompetent journalist, and I don’t believe that.

But either way, when I saw the front cover, my natural inclination was to go straight to the interview and see whether that issue was covered. But no, it isn’t even publicly disallowed, say, by the bishop saying, “I’m sorry, that touches on areas of confidentiality and so I can’t discuss that.”

So can someone offer an explanation of this strange hole in the interview? Was it ruled out by Chartres? Did Broadbent ask the magazine not to raise it? Or did the magazine want to step back from controversy after last month? I’d be surprised if it were that last reason, because I think they came out of the Driscoll feature with great credit.

Whatever the reason, this loyal subscriber would be keen to know. And I imagine I’m not the only one.

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More On Royalty And Republicanism From One Christian Perspective

Following my last post, and especially the initial comment by Phil Ritchie, I thought I would write a little more, especially as Phil asked about a Methodist perspective. What follows is entirely my own views.

I nearly became an Anglican. I had grown up in Methodism, and sensed God calling me to something – I didn’t know what – and to explore that I ended up studying Theology as an independent student at Trinity College, Bristol, an evangelical Anglican theological college.

While I was there, my calling crystallised. It was the ordained ministry. However, did I stay in my native Methodism or follow the highly attractive advertisement I was seeing for Anglicanism at Trinity?

Many factors came into play in making my decision, some pro- and some anti- both traditions. For the purposes of this discussion, there were two that I found decisive in feeling  I could not go over to the Church of England. One was knowing that if I changed, I would have to be confirmed by a bishop in the so-called ‘historic succession’ as if I had never been a Christian before. That seemed – and still seems – to be a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life prior to any such time. That was the most fundamental objection I had.

The second reason was that I couldn’t come to terms with the idea of an Established Church. Tying the church to the structures of government was to risk seduction by privilege, wealth and power. I didn’t regard it as being as insurmountable, but I cringed every time I saw an ordinand kneel (or even prostrate themselves) before a bishop and take the Oath of Allegiance.

The reason I don’t see the Oath of Allegiance as an insurmountable objection (although I’m uncomfortable with it) is because Article 37 of the C of E’s Thirty-Nine Articles, ‘Of the Civil Magistrates’, can be read simply to affirm that Christians respect those in civil authority. It just happens to be with the monarch in this country:

The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify; but only that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.

That it should be used by bloggers such as Cranmer to accuse Pete Broadbent of not believing the Church of England’s doctrine by virtue of being a republican seems to push the language too far. It depends what import you put on the phrase ‘godly Princes’. Does that and must that merely invoke royal rulers? Romans 13 is more general about authority, even if it is written under the Roman Empire.

Those who fervently defend the connection of the Church of England to the monarchy should remember how equivocal (to put it mildly) Scripture is about royalty, something that Article 37 potentially overlooks. When Israel demands a king from Samuel, the Lord says it is a sign they have rejected him. They want a fashion accessory, and kings come with a record of oppression, was the reply. And in the New Testament, where there is no option but to live under Caesar, while his rule is respected, his claim to lordship is emphatically denied.

Royalists may counter that a republic brings all sorts of ugly notions, and until a few years ago they raised the spectre of Cherie Blair as First Lady. Yes, all forms of power and authority come with risk. The quasi-messianism of some who campaigned for Barack Obama should make us queasy, too.

But insofar as I understand these things, a biblical approach to authority includes the following:

1. Respect those who are called to rule;

2. Do not exalt them beyond their status as human sinners;

3. Be prepared to call them to account.

4. Pray for them.

Can a constitutional monarchy fit this description? Can Christians put their names to it. Can a republic? The calling to account seems to be the issue for me. How is an institution called to account when the eldest son automatically succeeds to the throne? And for a republic or democracy, does calling to account become corrupted to a desire merely for what the people fancy?

Maybe I am neither a royalist nor a republican.

Bishop Pete Broadbent And Republicanism

So Bishop Pete Broadbent has been allowed to return to work. I, for one, am pleased.

Let’s leave behind some of the questions when he first mocked the forthcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Was his language intemperate? Yes. But most of us – me included – are guilty of that at times. Did it stink that his boss, the Bishop of London, allegedly a ‘close personal friend’ of the Royal Family, suspended him, despite his fulsome apology? Oh yes, indeedy: blood must be spilled.

But it’s this question that puzzles me: is there really an incompatibility between Anglican clergy and bishops taking the oath of allegiance to the Queen and holding republican views? If it is, then it seems that the Church of England makes this her defining doctrinal stance. Other church leaders have publicly set forth views far from orthodoxy, but have not been disciplined. But the moment someone lampoons our apparently untouchable royal family, then it’s off with his head, despite his orthodox theology.

Furthermore, the clerical oath of allegiance is just about word for word the same as the oath of allegiance that Members of Parliament have to take. We all know that for decades there have been openly republican MPs. Maybe they cross their fingers behind their backs when they take the oath. Maybe the Sinn Fein MPs had more integrity by not taking their seats. But it seems to me it’s perfectly OK to work within a system as it is, while campaigning for change. To my mind, that’s what the bish has done, and is doing. There are certain things I don’t like within Methodism. However, every year at the ministerial synod, I renew my promise to accept and administer the church’s discipline, and I work for change within the denomination for change. I’m not convinced Pete has done anything different.

Methodists And Social Media: The Methodist Council Decision

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Posts are starting to fly in on yesterday’s Methodist Council decision. Pete Phillips and Dave Warnock (both members of the Council) have blogged the result in some details, and Richard Hall has offered a brief comment with an appeal for grace.

Broadly speaking, the report was accepted, but with two qualifications. Firstly, Council has sensibly removed the words ‘after the meeting’ from the discussion of the Chatham House Rule, for otherwise people would have been prevented from discussing non-confidential matters together before a meeting. That would have been absurd, and conspiracy theorists would have eaten that for breakfast.

Secondly, this resolution was passed:

The Council adopts the guidelines (sc. sections 5 to 10 of the main paper) for use in the bodies and situations over which it has jurisdiction, and recommends them to the Conference for adoption in other parts of the Methodist Church. The Council further invites the Team to keep these guidelines under open review. The Council also directs the Team to produce a summary version of them similar to the Civil Service guidelines.

I find this hopeful, too. We shall see how Conference debates this in the summer. I might have preferred more than an ‘invitation’ to the Connexional Team to keep the guidelines under review, but I trust there will be people in the Team and on the Council who will take sufficient active interest in the matter to ensure this is not forgotten. I also think the summary will be a good move – so long as that concentrates on values, not legislation.

I’d like to echo Richard’s call for gracious participation by bloggers in monitoring and discussing this. There is no reason why that cannot be so. Indeed, it should be so for us as Christians. I know there are times when I’ve flown off the handle about something and clicked ‘publish’ or ‘send’ too quickly, but a Christian approach would involve consideration before publication. That needn’t mean a lack of debate, as I see it. We don’t need to become like the Chinese public looking over their shoulders at the secret police when weighing their words for the western media. Methodism can have authoritarian tendencies at times (and we inherit that from our founder!), but I don’t think we’re that bad.

How might we debate? Here’s how I see it as a minister: every year, I have to attend the Ministerial Synod, where I renew my promises to uphold the doctrines and discipline of our denomination. If I can’t make that affirmation, I have to resign – and rightly. I will be candid and say there are things in our practices I don’t like, and I wish to see changed. I can freely campaign for change, just so long as I continue to believe our doctrines and operate our discipline. I have to ask whether the things I dislike are life-and-death issues. If they did become matters of absolute principle, then resignation would be the only option. Thankfully, it has never come to that. I hope it never will. However, you never know. SoI could start a debate on one of my pet issues without fear, so long as I do not do so in a manner that means I am actively rejecting our beliefs and ways of doing things.

And in passing, for those of us who are ‘card-carrying evangelicals’. who have sometimes been upset by certain ‘liberal’ decisions in Methodism, let me just quote something I found helpful a few years ago from the evangelical Anglican bishop Pete Broadbent. He said, ‘Look to the title deeds of your church. Have the core doctrines been changed?’

Beyond that, I think we just need to stop and wonder what led us to this (at times) painful debate over the last few days. One major issue is about a breakdown of trust between local Methodists and the Connexion. It is a separate and big question about how we address that. Those who have a more positive relationship with Connexion have approached this and other issues differently.Without coming over all ‘hello trees, hello flowers’, we need to address and heal our relationships.

It is also about how Methodism moves into the new ways of communication. How well do we understand them and work within them? It’s about more than Marshall McLuhan‘s 1960s truism, ‘the medium is the message’, it’s more like Rex Miller‘s aphorism, ‘the medium is the worldview’. Internet values of transparency and openness (not all of which should be adopted uncritically – witness the storm when Facebook changed every user’s privacy settings recently) change the way we debate confidentiality and privacy. The libertarianism in major areas of the Internet (which again shouldn’t be accepted unthinkingly) affects how we handle laws, values, censorship, restrictions and all manner of things.

David Hallam’s angry tirades on this subject and others make both these points (in rather extreme ways, in my opinion). I checked his blog before completing this post. At the time of writing he has not yet written about the Methodist Council decision, but he has posted another item in his ‘Blogger Beware!’ series. I thoroughly dislike his jibes at other Methodist bloggers in that piece and others, and I do not like his immodest conclusion,

On Wednesday 25 April 2007 this blog changed British Methodism forever

but threads in his writing underline my comments. David, perhaps more than any other British Methodist blogger, distrusts the Connexion, and sometimes he has a right to do so. He is also acutely aware that the openness of the Internet democratises debate to a considerable extent, and Methodism must get used to that.I just fear his tone will give ammunition to those who do not understand or who dislike the world of social media and its ramifications.

If we could get on with discussing the values behind David’s writing but without the tone, we could make progress with this debate.

The BNP And The European Elections

I detest the policies of the BNP. ‘Scum’ might just about be the word. Believing in a God who loves all peoples, who sent his Son to bring redemption to all, a Son in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek nor any other distinction, I have no doubt that the BNP’s message is fundamentally anti-Christian. Just when I didn’t think they could be any worse, they had the gall to identify themselves with Jesus as unfair recipients of persecution in recent advertising.

So you can imagine I was as horrified as many others yesterday to read that they had won two seats in the European Parliament. It has to be one of the worst days in modern British public life. And I understand why thousands, if not millions, have raised their voices, sharing a similar horror at this outcome.

But I am worried, too, by the patronising tone of some criticism. There is a decidedly middle class lecturing slant to some of it. We presume to tell those who voted for this evil party what they should and should not do. And one thing we ought to know by now is that lecturing is an unwelcome stance in British politics. You want to harden an opponent in their beliefs? Go ahead and lecture them. Don’t bother to examine their fears, however unfounded you might consider them to be. Because unless you deal with the fears in some way, they will take upon themselves the ‘persecuted’ label that the BNP sought for itself in its propaganda.

I think I saw my anxieties best described by Bishop Pete Broadbent in this quote on Twitter:

What happens with protest votes is that they go to the most likely opponent. Working class whites do BNP; others do Green/UKIP

What can we do to listen to the fears of working class people who have been driven into the arms of the BNP by mainstream parties whom they clearly feel do not represent them? The middle classes will doubtless argue it is not fair to compare their fleeting affairs with UKIP or the Greens with the BNP, because they are more ‘moral’ parties. Is there a touch of superiority complex going on?

You certainly notice smugness in other comments on yesterday’s results. I’ve lost touch of how many Labour Party representatives put the drastic collapse in their vote just down to their supporters staying at home. Of course, they couldn’t imagine voting for anyone else, could they?

Can we set an agenda in response to yesterday that adopts a tone of humility? Is there still any chance of that in British politics? I know Gordon Brown admitted to some mistakes when he spoke to the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday evening, but even then you have to wonder whether those were the words of a master political fighter pulling every trick to hang onto his job.

Or are things less bad than I think? What say you?