“ ’Play Nicely on Twitter’-
Advice from the Last Archbishop of Canterbury?”
Schisms and Anathemas
In 1054, the way you expressed the deepest disapproval for a theological opponent was to slap a bull of excommunication on his altar.
Humbert of Mourmoutiers, never known for his patience or meekness, lost his temper and initiated the schism with the Orthodox East. In return, Michael the 1st , the Patriarch of Constantinople anathematised Humbert and the Papal Legates. The Great schism was set in the concrete of mutual pride. Twitter seems mild by comparison.
Except of course that it is not. Twitter can achieve in a matter of seconds a circulation of enormous proportions. We may not have the authority to deliver bulls of excommunication or anathematise our opponents, but theological and personal arguments continue unabated in the life of the Church.
Reconciliation and Restraint
Justin Welby has a reputation as a reconciler. It’s one of the elements on his resume that he brought to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury; so it won’t be a surprise to anyone that he should offer his expertise on how to avoid falling out with one another.
In a recent blog, he makes some sensible points. If you really do have to have an argument with someone, do it in person. Face to face, tone of voice can be better modulated and expressed; body language can temper vocabulary.
But this homesey piece of common sense is out of proportion to the issues involved. Of course Archbishop Justin is right that it is always better to speak to someone you disagree with face to face, rather than send them a curt message.
Of course he is right that there are times when one is exasperated or a bit twitchy in an impatient way, when it would be better not to fire off a riposte. So many political and media careers have been wrecked by the intemperate tweet that it would take a very undeveloped level of common sense not to realise that tweeting disapproval can be a double edged sword. As we know from the Gospels, those who live by the sword will die by the sword. The same thing applies to tweets
So since so far what he offers us archiepiscopally, is common sense, what should we make of his good advice in the context it was given?
Where Principle and Process conflict
The aim of this present archiepiscopate is to help the Church live with “good disagreement” over the different points of view that its members espouse.
The difficulty with this position is that built into it, is a relativism that colours everything else it touches. Its concern is with process rather than principle. Process is always important. Process can and should be a vehicle for love and respect. But there are some principles that cannot co-exist with other principles. There can be no good disagreement between good and evil, between truth and untruth, between heaven and hell.
This is an old argument that has form. William Blake looked for good disagreement when he penned the Marriage of Heaven and Hell in 1793. It promoted a generous pre-Jungian synthesis of moral and theological principle. C.S. Lewis was so disturbed, not just by Blake but by the direction of travel he was endorsing, that he responded with The Great Divorce. The divorce here is that between heaven and hell. There is no good disagreement in Lewis, only the invitation to turn round when you have travelled in the wrong direction. Lewis would often use the example of a maths problem. When you have made a mistake, you cannot continue towards a solution from that place, you have to go back, find the mistake, put it right and then proceed.
In Welby’s theological world, beyond the politics of poverty, is there any wrong direction, or only principled process?
Yet to be a Christian outside Welby’s world has been to be saved from hell for heaven; to be engaged with a life or death conflict with evil, aligning with the Good. Principle matters more than process. Of course we should honour both; but not when process obscures the importance of principle.
How Heresy and Untruth Matter
Athanasius gave himself to a life of conflict because the Arian Jesus, created not begotten, could not save us from our sins, and could not deify us. It didn’t matter how ‘nice’ an Arian one was.
The conceptual mistake that Welby and so many ‘bien pensants’ of the Church of England make today, is that issues of gender are of no great consequence. Those who hold the view the Church has always held are dismissed as being behind the times, below the curve, prejudiced rather than liberally enlightened, regressive instead of progressive, – sometimes, even stupid.
When Athanasius fought for the true representation of Christ in the understanding of the Church, he did so because to get it wrong imperilled the whole narrative of the way salvation was taught, expressed and lived.
The same is true today. At the heart of the argument over gay marriage and women priests lies a misrepresentation of Jesus and who he is.
This time it is still to do with ontology; but not the ontology of ‘begotten not made’, but that of gender. Does God have a gender? Does the priest as His sacramental representative have a gender? Is marriage defined by gender? What happens to the Way the Truth and the Life, if we get this wrong?
The Progressive liberal view is that we are reaching a cultural eschaton – a summit of Enlightenment. From this lofty perch of cultural development we know better than our predecessors. It may be that we are indeed standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, but the progressive Church appears to be looking in the opposite direction.
Jahweh broke into history and revealed Himself through Jesus as Father. Not ‘like father’ – this is neither metaphor nor projection.
The Church where it has been orthodox, has always understood that there is a relationship between masculinity, transcendence and revelation.
God’s revelation of Himself was not bound by the variations and exigencies of culture when He disclosed Himself in the Incarnation. The Jews were not a cultural variant that might have become the Persians a few centuries later. The Son would not have been a Daughter 2 millennia later. The dynamic of revelation is that God interrupts on His own terms from the outside. The essentials of revelation and the incarnation have a universal value, irrespective of the flow and flux of social cultures, which come and go.
Gender and the Trajectory of Revelation.
This revelation is not one against many; it is utterly unique. All other religions contain the feminine in the forms of goddesses, priestesses and hermaphrodite deities, and are made up or constructed from the inside; human experience imposed on theology. The Judaeo Christian experience of the Holy Trinity did not emerge from the existential primal chemistry of the artistic unconscious; it was given- until TEC and the C of E decided it should be otherwise- by revelation; and then guarded by the Apostolic Church as they had been formed by the company of Christ.
It is no accident that new life comes to womanhood through interruption from the outside in the form of the masculine. So many of the gods that emerge from immanence, from the human instinct, either model male and female together as a pantheon of heroes, or embody the fertility of the feminine; the God who is transcendent, upon whom creation is contingent, reveals himself as the Father, as He – and becomes incarnate, not as the daughter, but as the Son of the Father. There is a mutuality, from the Godhead as masculine towards the human as feminine. St Paul and the book of Revelation describe the Church as feminine, relating to the masculinity of the Father; and the Son, relating to the Church as bridegroom to Bride.
Bishops and priests have imaged the presence of Christ, who imaged the Father, sacramentally from the moment the Apostles implemented the sacramental nature of the Church. The Bishop and the priest become the ‘father in God’ – to the faithful.
Equality as the New Metanarrative
In the face of this TEC and the C of E have privileged a piece of cultural Marxism, the notion of ‘equality’ and filtered the sacramental life of the Church through it. (Galatians 3 is about reconciliation not equality).
The role of priest has been turned around to ‘represent’ the congregation to God, which is a politicisation of the relationship, rather like a spiritual Trade Union leader, replacing the sacramental role of the Priest representing Christ “this is my body,” at the Eucharist.
We were all promised that once this gender balancing act had taken place in the name of equality, it would not affect the orthodoxy of the Church.
In fact, it ushered in an era of preferencing the relative over the objective.
If equality was the touchstone, the pressure soon emerged not to preference the revelation of Christ over other “spiritual” ways.
Under the dead weight of the hand of equality, salvation and revelation were down graded as only one way amongst others.
In a survey amongst Church of England clergy a few years ago, women clergy were markedly more heterodox in their beliefs than the male priests. They were especially weak on Jesus. 33% believed in the Virgin birth; 39 % trusted Christ as the only way to salvation, and only 53% believed in the bodily resurrection. Equality diluted the faith, not strengthened it.
It has come as no surprise that the new god of egalitarianism wants to reformat marriage.
Gay Marriage and the Reconfiguration of Social Identity
Where woman priests and bishops were the first step in the drive for illusory equality, the second is homosexual marriage, which is of course no marriage at all. Marriage has the potential to produce the miracle of life. This is a biologically sterile arresting of romantic and sexualised attraction amongst the identical. Where there is no heterosexual marriage, there is no life. Where there is no husband and wife, there is only romanticised and erotic self sufficiency, and self reference. In the homosexual dynamic, reverence of the other becomes reverence of the same. No wonder St Paul linked it to idolatry in Romans 1.
As with women priests, there are consequences attached to breaking God’s patterns and ignoring the authority and authenticity of Scripture and revelation. Now that the definition of marriage has mutated, if two lesbians can marry, why can’t three? How can you possibly justify outlawing polygamy or polyandry?
And what of the ‘designer children’? Where are the rights of the children of the lesbian couple who are fathered by an anonymous donor whose fatherhood is junked, remains secret and to whom they have no access? Where is the mother whose womb was rented by two gay men and then dispensed with and hidden in anonymity?
What should one say to a Church that decides it is going to redefine the Fatherhood of God as Jesus both taught and embodied it, relativize the particularity of revelation, and exchange the call to be holy for the call to be equal?
For those who continue to be unable to join the dots between the devotion to the false god ‘equality in the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, and the aberration of gay marriage, the first ten women expected to be made C of E bishops all support gay marriage. Of course they do. There has long been an alliance in England between the Movement for the Ordination of Women and the gay activists. They recognise that they are both driven by the placing the politics of equality above the priority of faithfulness to the Scriptures.
Welby, the new breed of bishops and the egalitarians seem unable to scent the revulsion of the Holy Spirit in response to our turning the patterns and commandments of our Holy God upside down; nor do they seem to have any expertise in the exercising the charism of discernment of spirits. Welby waxes eloquently on the virtues of gay relationships in his speeches in the House or Lords. If he is courting secular approval to bolster the C of E’s privileged place in the body politic, he will find it backfires. What begins with the political adoption of the permissive for gay culture, will very soon become prescriptive. Soon the Church that begged for the right to say it may marry homosexuals, will discover that the State will turn its may into a must. If you want to be the State Church in preference to being the Apostolic Church, you will have to obey the State as it punishes those who dissent from its developing equalities legislation.
Beyond the House of Lords in the USA we see the next step as the State ramps up control over educational institutions, refusing them validation unless they conform to LGBT campaigning strategies. What begins to look like the emergence of cultural fascism imposes itself on the orthodox voice of the Church. It begins with the adoption of equality. It will end with the persecution and suppression of the Gospel and those who live by it. It will come to be seen as both ironic and tragic that this new emerging fascism was aided and abetted at its birth by Synods, Archbishops and bishops adoring equality rather than the Trinity.
The theology of nice, grafted onto the new idol of egalitarianism is set to remove the sacramental foundations of the Church, to fragment and wound its unity ever more deeply, and sacrifice its safety to the new intolerant zeitgeist. The Church of England has drunk deeply of this zeitgeist, and poisoned herself. She is set to die within the next decade as the demographics of attendance and the supply of giving are smothered by her devotion to the superficialities of the ‘egalitarian nice’. For behind the egalitarian nice lies the intolerant oppressive power of a different spirit.
How should the revulsion, the holy anger and the prophetic voice of the Holy Apostolic Church of the saints and the martyrs down the ages be expressed at this self poisoning of the Church today?
Welby is half right; beware of anger. But St Paul moves from half truth to something more salvific when he advises “speak the truth to our neighbours for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin” in Ephesians 4.25.
The truth should be spoken; it must be spoken. To do so is to honour the love of God who gave himself to bring us into the truth. How we speak the truth matters also. ‘Ad hominem’ or personal abuse, should be avoided at all costs. Words should be written with the purpose of evoking repentance. Our own sins and shortcomings should be held before our own eyes, as we call out others on theirs.
Crisis in Greek also connotes ‘judgment’. The tweet on the phone may have replaced the bull on the altar, but the crisis is just as real, and the future of the Church of England and Christian witness in the dying West is at stake. Tweets should be prophetic not polemic.