The background to this article begins with a survey by the BBC which claimed that many Christians did not believe in the Resurrection. I responded by writing a letter to the Times suggesting that it was a sine qua non for Christians.
Two days later – Michael Gove penned an article in praise of the C of E’s liberalism (see bottom of this page for his text.) – apparently in response to the issue:-
Cranmer has hosted my response:-
One of the first rules for mental health is not to believe in conspiracy theories. So perhaps there is no connection between the letter that the Times published suggesting that a belief in the Resurrection was a prerequisite for calling oneself Christian, and Michael Gove’s subsequent article defending Anglicanism against those who “mock it as insipid”.
But the article nonetheless was unworthy of a clever man, an honourable public servant and a kind Christian.
It contained some poor arguments and poor analysis.
Why does it matter in particular if Michael Gove got things wrong?
FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICLE – PRESS LINK BELOW:-
MICHAEL GOVE’S ORIGINAL ARTICLE
The great Whig historian GM Trevelyan was once asked if he was a pillar of the Church of England. “No,” he replied, “I am more of a flying buttress — I support it from the outside.”
I know how he felt. Brought up as a Presbyterian, confirmed in the Church of Scotland and schooled every childhood Sunday in its doctrines and practices, I am an outsider in the Anglican communion. And as a wilful, wayward and far too often selfish human being I am in a poor position to pass judgment on any religious issue.
But just as migrants can see virtues in their country of adoption that natives have either taken for granted or forgotten, and new arrivals can be enthusiastic about customs, ceremonies and habits that the born and bred feel faintly embarrassed by, so I feel an admiration, a respect, even a love for the Church of England that perhaps only a non-Anglican can freely confess to. Because there is a gentleness and grace, a habit of listening and an ethic of understanding to Anglicanism which makes enthusiasm almost anathema. The C of E is the Church Moderate not Militant and it is rare that anyone is fierce in defence of gentleness.
More than that, the spirit of Anglicanism, the attempt to accommodate doctrinal difference, to keep open as many paths to grace as possible, can easily be caricatured and mocked as insipidity mixed with pusillanimity, an attempt to conjure up a vague aroma of goodness without any strong meat of conviction to give the broth body.
And, to be sure, the Anglican communion has laid itself open to criticism with the way in which some questions, most notably homosexuality, have been handled in recent years. Neither biblical literalists nor modern liberals can be at all happy with the church’s complex and convoluted attempts to accommodate difference. And very few of us can consider it a good use of the church’s time and its leadership’s energy to spend so many hours agonising over the details of how people choose to love each other when there is a crying need to confront pain, loneliness, greed, addiction, despair and hatred — all the dark energy unloosed in this world and driven by the absence of love.
But it is precisely the painstaking way in which leaders of the Anglican communion try to respect different views and honour the sincerity with which they’re held that makes me admire them. It’s the willingness to believe the best in others, and hope that through imagination and empathy an agreement can be reached to serve the greater good, which is the special joy and treasure of the Church of England.
Anglican clergy are not there simply to minister to the faithful but to serve every soul in the parish
Despite the criticism directed at it — or perhaps worse, the indifference that so many show towards it — the church continues to attract men and women of outstanding talent and humanity. Both our present archbishops, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, are brave and thoughtful leaders. Any institution would be blessed to have them at the helm. Contemporary political debate is enriched by the church’s range of voices, public intellectuals such as Giles Fraser and Nigel Biggar and bishops in the House of Lords such as Steven Croft and Christine Hardman.
Perhaps the church’s greatest gift to the nation is the commitment and service of its parish priests and ministers. Because of its peculiar history and nature as a national church, Anglican clergy are not there simply to minister to the faithful. They are there to serve every soul in the parish. That is why a knock on their door never goes unanswered.
And none of us knows when we will be the ones to knock. Reflecting on the inexpressibly moving scenes this week when PC Keith Palmer was laid to rest, I thought how fragile our sources of happiness are and how, when evil erupts into our lives, we need somewhere to seek refuge and solace. Which is what the church will always provide. In the stillness of its precincts and the ceremonies that speak of first thoughts and last things, we are given the chance to seek peace.
And at a time when religious faith is increasingly associated with sectarianism or segregation, the insistence that the threshold of every Anglican church is always open to anyone who wishes to cross it seems particularly precious.
In one church very dear to me, the vicar makes a point of welcoming agnostic visitors who happen to like the music, or who find in the poetry of the Bible a comforting echo of childhood certainties, or who attend as a family in the hope that their own children might embrace a faith that has become faint to the point almost of invisibility in their own lives. And it is that willingness to reserve judgment on others, while still holding fast to your own faith, that I admire so much in Anglicanism.
It stands in pleasing opposition to the temper of our times. Our political conversations are increasingly dominated by ad hominem attacks in which the motives of participants are impugned rather than their arguments respectfully countered. On social media platforms such as Twitter there is a willingness to find fault, condemn and excommunicate which is positively medieval.
Against this tide, the Church of England, undemonstrative and kind, inclusive and forgiving, offers a model of conviction that is altogether more attractive. There is nothing irresolute or insipid about declining to join the crowd, refusing to stigmatise, asking for empathy. It is, rather, commendably brave and resolute and, in so far as I can know it, true to Jesus’s example.
For those of us all too conscious of our errors, aware that we are weak and selfish, who hesitate sometimes to call ourselves Christian for fear that we appear to be making some sort of claim to superior virtue, the Church of England offers a welcome this Easter. And I for one am glad.