The Mid-Atlantic Blog

February 08, 2006

The Church And The World

What is the role of the Church in the world? Not a small topic... but two particular decisions of the General Synod of the Church of England make it one worth discussing. Both appear on the surface to be signs of the general state of beardiness of the current Church - a wholly owned wing of the liberal intelligentsia. I don't think they both are: one is much better than it appears, the other much worse.

I'll start with the bad.

As you can see in the story mentioned at the bottom of this, and in the articles you can find on the very useful Thinking Anglicans, the Church has decided to take a political stand on the Israel-Palestine question, by divesting from Caterpillar. There has been an ongoing discussion about this, and many members of the Church (me for one), have been worried that this type of action was inevitable. Like all such steps it sends a signal that is far blunter than the message that people of goodwill would be wanting to send... but one fears that some of the supporters of the motion (at least in the country, if not the Synod) may in fact have supported it because they want to send a blunter (and deeply ugly) message.

The reaction is fascinating. George Cary (not my favourite Archbishop, but a clearly a good man) says he is ashamed to be an Anglican. Ruth Gledhill, the Religion correspondent from the Times writes a long blog entry, which attracts so much comment that she's just posted another defending her ability to be objective. And the great Oliver Kamm has just written a piece holding the line against this faulty decision with great fortitude.

It's particularly sad that the current Archbishop of Canterbury supported the motion. His theological writing is deeply interesting, and he has the capacity to add a huge amount to the mission of the Church. The occasional spasms of political correctness like this turn off huge swathes of people who will never delve further into his writing - a great loss to them, and caused by only a small number of statements which are (to this poor layman) as ill-judged as they are well-meant.

The other decision, however, gives me an odd form of comfort: the decision today to apologise for the slave trade. Now, this bears all the hallmarks of the usual PC nonsense, and in many ways it is. Worse, I come at this with the usual nonsense calls for reparations from the US ringing in the ears. Despite this I'm heartened.

Why? In part because the decision reflects the reality of the situation. The Church did have sins, committed in the past maybe, but never apologised for. Abolition brought an end to the crime, but didn't undo it. More important, however, the decision emphasises the continuity of the Church - that the Church of today IS the Church of yesterday... and that of tomorrow. There is a continuity there that often seems lacking from decisions in the Church of England, a recognition of a greater degree of continuity than is often obvious in the day to day nonsenses of changing liturgy, attitudes towards social issues, and reinterpretative hoo-hah. This continuity is important for the Church, and for the country, where an established Church is one of the unseen fibers of society that can hold us all together (even where many are non-believers, or believers in other faiths).

Most important, though, it allows the role of Christianity in the abolition of the slave trade to be emphasised over the next few years without a backward look. Christianity, and in particular British Christianity, has a lot to be proud of in that achievement, and the name William Wilberforce is one that should be known and celebrated by all. If this decision allows that conversation to begin with a clear conscience on the part of the Church it will be well worth it.

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