Saturday, 15 November 2003

Saturday opinions

First, an interesting critique of three church websites appeared in yesterday’s Financial Times, but this requires a subscription to link to. Someone else has ignored any legalities and reproduced a large part of it here. After admiring the Church of Nigeria (though not realising the site comes from Texas) and criticising (deservedly) the ECUSA site, he goes on:

Back to base, the Church of England. The site is looking tired, with a heavy blue and purple design, ostentatious use of “frame” navigation (very 1998) and a cringe-making “Welcome to the Church of England!” greeting on the home page. But, like the good old C of E itself, it is relentlessly practical and pragmatic. The first item in the house newsletter, the Gazette, is on “the Church campaign for VAT reform” and there are useful data on church attendances. A section headed “The Church’s view on . . .” covers everything from Sunday trading to child benefit. There is a section on Homosexuality, too. “Page not found” the message reads. The symbolism of the broken link: discuss….

Three very different articles in The Times this week (apologies to those who cannot read these without subscription, I will include extracts here):
Ruth Gledhill writes about the recent LGCM service in Manchester in the regular At Your Service column, which concludes:

Afterwards, as we were leaving, a clergyman whose youth, clean-cut blue cassock shirt and crystal white collar marked him out immediately as an evangelical, came over to chat. “I assume you are here to pray for them,” I said. “No,” he replied. He was there in solidarity, to show his support. He was upset by what has emerged from some sections of the Church in recent months. So all is not lost. Maybe there is hope for the Anglican Communion yet.

The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes ‘Arguments for the sake of Heaven’ demand a culture of civility in the regular Credo column. Resonance here for Anglicans:

Disagreement is essential to the life of any group. But there is a theology of disagreement. Judaism has a lovely ancient phrase, “arguments for the sake of Heaven”. A civilisation is a conversation scored for many voices.
But that means an active commitment to preserve the protocols of public debate. It means not shutting out the voices of those with whom you disagree. It means modernists not calling their opponents fundamentalists, and conservatives thinking twice before calling the other side heretics.
This is not a call for politeness. It is the recognition that in a world larger and more complex than our imagination can compass, humility is more than a virtue. It is an imperative. It doesn’t make headlines. It isn’t even fun. Unless we can create, within each of our faiths, a culture of civility and respect, we will fail the challenge God is setting us now.

And as a measure of our British secular context, in which the church must operate, see Jeannette Winterson’s There never has been a Pink Plot … and at last we can join the family earlier in the week, in which she says:

The dismay that has greeted the determination of the African Church to shatter the Anglican Communion over the ordination of gay bishops is a measure of most people’s tolerance towards gay people. We simply do not share the savage outrage of those men of God who are anally fixated on what the clergy do in bed.
The Church almost shipwrecked itself over the ordination of women priests; now it is reckless enough to risk centuries of unity and faith over an issue relevant to none but a minority of Bible-thumping evangelicals.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 15 November 2003 at 11:04 AM GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

You say Ms. Winterson is secular? I hope so, because the excerpt you printed (for which this Times-bereft Yank thanks you) makes me cringe.

The fact that she has “African Church” and “savage outrage” in succeeding sentences, is just the sort of fodder conservatives need (and will use) to call all pro-LGBT folk (religious or secular) a bunch of racists (the “anal fixation” part, though likely true psychologically, is just impolitic in the mass media). More importantly, it misses the point: African Church outrage may have indigenous antecedents, but the extent to which it has been fomented, directed, and financially sponsored by non-Africans (e.g. Americans) cannot be underestimated.

Be that as it may, it is equally incorrect to say that this (the role of LGBTs in the Church) is an “issue relevant to none but a minority of Bible-thumping evangelicals,” for several reasons. On the most obvious level, no one can pretend that opposition to LGBTs in the worldwide AC isn’t a majority opinion (if not held as passionately as a loud minority would suggest). Moreover, I would argue that this issue has universal relevance for Christians: treatment of LGBTs—- especially in the Two-Thirds World—-is a test case for Christ’s command to serve “the least of these.” While we may resent the chaos and conflict that have come to the AC, it has been a necessary crisis: the breakdown that leads to break through .

[Just curious, Simon: what do you dislike about ECUSA’s website? I’ve always found it useful enough.]

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher at November 16, 2003 05:18 AM