A very English coup — and the end of our national church

On the eve of the General Synod and the Lambeth Conference, Theo Hobson says that the sleeping giant of evangelical and orthodox Anglicanism has been awoken by liberal agitation and Rowan Williams’s failed leadership. The church is damaged beyond repair

2 July 2008

On the eve of the General Synod and the Lambeth Conference, Theo Hobson says that the sleeping giant of evangelical and orthodox Anglicanism has been awoken by liberal agitation and Rowan Williams’s failed leadership. The church is damaged beyond repair

Some years ago a vicar gave a sermon in which he tried to explain the latest developments in the Anglican Communion to his congregation. Afterwards an old lady came up to him, a bit bemused. ‘How does all this stuff about Anglicans affect us?’, she asked. ‘Well,’ he replied, smiling warmly at the old biddy, ‘we’re all part of the global Anglican Communion, aren’t we?’ She looked still more bemused: ‘I thought we were Church of England.’

She had a point. Over the last few decades, the Church of England has increasingly presented itself as one part of the global Anglican Communion. This seemed a way of reinventing itself, of edging away from the embarrassment of being a state church. But the move has turned out to be disastrous. It has been the undoing of the C of E and has led what was once a pacific, tolerant church to its present state of exhausted collapse. On the eve of the Lambeth Conference (it begins on 16 July) we are witnessing the End Times of the C of E. The bickering factions in the worldwide Anglican Communion have simply pulled our church apart.

Every day, in the run-up to Lambeth, there’s a new crisis for poor Rowan Williams. On Monday, 1,333 ‘traditionalist’ clergy threatened to defect to Rome in protest against women bishops. The same day, 2,300 clergy in favour of women bishops signed a statement protesting against the protesters. On Friday this week the General Synod will discuss the two separate, but equally intractable breakaway groups — the English traditionalists (whose beef is with women) and the worldwide evangelicals (who complain most of all about homosexuality).

Our well-meaning, tolerant Archbishop should have put the C of E first, and taken ‘the Anglican Communion’ with a pinch of salt. Instead, excited by the thought of a worldwide church, he has allowed his hands to be tied and — whatever happens next — the heart and soul of our national church to be damaged beyond repair.

When historians look back at the rise and fall of Anglicanism — from the Reformation to the 2008 Lambeth conference perhaps — they will note that the meltdown of the Anglican Communion in general, and the Church of England in particular, began with what is best described as an attempted coup.

Last week a new Anglican movement emerged, at a conference called Gafcon (Global Anglican Futures Conference) in Jerusalem. The new movement calls itself the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (‘Foca’ — no sniggering, please). It accuses the official leadership of failing to keep liberalism at bay. It has 300 bishops and archbishops, and claims to represent roughly half of global Anglicanism: that’s 40 million people worldwide. Most of these bishops, including a few English ones, are boycotting this month’s Lambeth Conference, on the grounds that the Archbishop of Canterbury is too tolerant of the gay-friendly American and Canadian churches.

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One of the rebel English bishops is the controversy-loving Michael Nazir-Ali, the bishop of Rochester. He told last week’s conference: ‘You are the beginnings — the miraculous beginnings, you could even say — of an ecclesial movement for the sake of the gospel and the renewal of Christ’s Church.’ It seems unlikely that he cleared this with his boss. Foca’s launch statement directly challenges Williams’s authority: ‘We do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.’ Its location — Jerusalem — was another obvious slap in the face for England.

A couple of days after this declaration, Williams responded with weary bluntness, like a professor receiving a slightly mad script: ‘The Gafcon proposals for the way ahead are problematic in all sorts of ways and I urge those who have outlined these to think very carefully about the risks involved.’ He went on to say that a separate organisation for conservative Anglicans ‘will not pass the test of legitimacy’.

His words fall on deaf ears. The breakaway group knows it has the power to re-make the Communion. For it has already done so. Over the past five years the people behind Foca have changed the nature of Anglicanism, routing the liberals. They now want to go further, and launch a take-over. Talk of an imminent split, or schism, is for them a journalistic category error. Why would they want to form a new, breakaway church when the entire Communion seems within their grasp? They no more want to split from the main Church than New Labour wanted to split from the Labour party in the mid-1990s. They want to run it.

The seeds of this coup were sown ten years ago, at the last Lambeth Conference. A resolution was passed condemning homosexuality, and specifically forbidding the ordination of homosexuals. This was disastrous for the Church of England, for it was crucially important for it to stay on the fence on this issue. A significant proportion of its clergy was gay, and its expanding evangelical wing was strongly anti-gay. Most of its leaders hoped for a gradual diffusion of liberalism, taking the sting out of the issue. Despite the Lambeth resolution they trusted that the reactionaries would come round, that God and progress would defeat homophobia. Many bishops (including Rowan Williams) simply ignored the ruling, and kept on ordaining gay clergy. They believed that in time, love and tolerance would conquer all.

For the evangelicals, the Lambeth resolution was a Godsend. It gradually transformed their identity, from a puritanical awkward squad to the true defenders of Anglican orthodoxy. They started expressing this new self-image in 2003, when they forced the freshly enthroned Williams to retract Jeffrey John’s appointment to be Bishop of Reading, due to his enthusiasm for the ordination of gays. The authority and structure of Anglicanism was shaken, for the Archbishop of Canterbury was very obviously bowing to a massive pressure-group. This was the beginning of the end.

Then, later in 2003, the Anglicans of New Hampshire chose the openly gay Gene Robinson as their bishop. Last week one of Foca’s leaders, Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, called this the turning-point of recent Anglican history. In ‘an extraordinary strategic blunder’, he said, the liberals roused ‘the sleeping giant that is evangelical Anglicanism and orthodox Anglicanism’. In fact, this giant was not so much woken up as newly concocted from an alliance of American conservatives with the ‘global South’, led by the rather scary Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola.

Williams was still hoping that the Anglican Communion would simply agree to differ on homosexuality, with some provinces more liberal than others — as is the case with women priests. But now things were different. The roused giant was stomping around, insisting that no province should be allowed to innovate in this way. So Williams felt obliged to condemn the liberalism of New Hampshire, and to create new rules forbidding gay-friendly reforms, and even new structures for the enforcing of these rules — a new, global Act of Uniformity.

Williams’s job was made particularly tricky because in recent decades the old alliance between Church and culture has crumbled. In the past, there was a huge constituency of cultural Anglicans who went to church for love of C of E traditions whatever the actual state of their beliefs. Catering for them kept the Church on a pragmatically liberal course. But about 50 years ago these old-school Anglicans started staying in bed, the lazy sods, and soon the Church’s cultural centra
lity was more of a memory than a reality. Without the support of decent, tolerant agnostics, Anglicanism became a liberal tradition that half-hates its own liberalism. And to complicate things, it has two ways of half-hating its own liberalism: an evangelical way and a Catholic way. Holding this all together is about as easy as being Amy Winehouse’s shrink.

This is why evangelicals have been able to enjoy the most astonishing success over the last five years, which is a very short time in church politics. They have vim and direction and they have changed the nature of the Communion, from a loose federation of autonomous provinces, united by its respect for Canterbury, to a global ideology, united by its rejection of homosexuality.

So does this movement represent the future of Anglicanism? Can it renew the tradition, as Nazir-Ali thinks? Can it even revive the Church of England? The short answer is no — or not in any way that leaves our church recognisable. Though it’s a popular movement, though there are millions of young Christian evangelicals and the Alpha movement is the only big success story the Church of England can boast in a generation, a Focafied C of E is nonetheless unimaginable.

The important point to remember about the Church of England is that it was part and parcel of the world’s first and greatest liberal culture. No other church in history has been so firmly tied to political liberalism. It has always been explicitly subject to the will of Parliament. As an established Church, it had to adapt to the unfolding of the national character. To retain its centrality it had to be flexible, to go with the cultural flow.

Of course this produced theological tensions. Are we really putting the Gospel first, earnest young clerics wondered, or have we sold out to liberalism? In the 18th century the Methodists broke with Anglican liberalism. In the next century it was the turn of the Anglo-Catholics to get all soul-searching and stroppy. Instead of leaving, they determined to change the Church’s self-understanding, and half-succeeded. But if Rowan Williams had just focused on the Church of England without kowtowing to the rest of the worldwide Communion, he might have kept these tensions from destroying our national church.

But he didn’t, because Rowan Williams never believed in the established Church, to which he didn’t belong until he moved to Canterbury (the Church in Wales is not a state church). He has always believed in the international Communion. In a sense, the events of the last five years have not been entirely negative, from his perspective. For the body in which he has always believed has got itself noticed. The Anglican Communion is fast eclipsing the old image of the English established Church. This is so close to what he has always wanted — and yet so far. The problem is that the new Anglicanism runs counter to the logic of Anglican tradition, which aimed to diffuse Christianity through a liberal culture.

It must be amazingly frustrating for the Archbishop of Canterbury to see the Anglican Communion gradually coming into its own at last, this body capable of being a more enlightened version of Catholicism, of pursuing Christian orthodoxy in a spirit of freedom and honesty, and then to see it taken over by a conspiracy of bigots, wide-eyed fundamentalist righteousness and sub-Calvinist sloganising. It will be no consolation to him to realise that this new alliance will very soon be as irreparably schismatic as the old one.

Theo Hobson’s book, Milton’s Vision, is published by Continuum later this year.

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Show comments
  • Frank Pulley

    “A very English coup — and the end of our national church”

    Rest In Pieces.

  • Roy

    To a good many of us the hierarchy of the Anglican church means very little. Not once in my childhood did we ever have a visit from the local vicar, and this is war time. In those early days if you were of meagre means, the church was indifferent to you, later on when you became better off … the church had changed its stance … and more interested in a new breed of people … the minority groups. Why then, should I for one, have the faintest sympathy in the ball play of the present day Church of England?

  • Michael

    To open, two quotes;
    ‘This was disastrous for the Church of England, for it was crucially important for it to stay on the fence on this issue.’
    ‘To retain its centrality it had to be flexible, to go with the cultural flow.’
    I think these two statements sum up the vulnerability of the Church of England in twenty-first century culture. Having abandoned any attempt to positively define itself through the beliefs and practices that make it specifically Christian (as opposed to any other of the myriad religions now available for purchase in modern society), the CofE, now understood, is inherently allied with the social and political status-quo, uniting its members not by the radicality of its message, but by the sanitisation of its message, in the bizarre belief that positive statements regarding faith and practice might somehow be opposed to a gospel of Love. Orthodox political and social thought seems to be drifting toward the belief that modern multi-cultural Britain suffers from a chronic lack of identity, of belonging, of participation in something greater than the individual; the CofE needs to decide quite how its chronic neutrality might fill this identity-hole.
    The ‘evangelical’ schism is clearly a step in the wrong direction, and opposition to the homosexual act (as opposed to ‘homosexuality’ – which demonstrates a naive inability to distinguish sin from sinner) is perhaps given disproportionate attention, but it signals a bigger problem, that being quite where to draw the line in the sand for Christian identity, and to stand up against an encroaching liberalisation that pelts half-truths, smears, ridicule and demonization at anyone who might be opposed to its advance. As much as this article, and the article of figures such as George Pitcher, would seek to ignore it, those who deem to refer to themselves as ‘liberals’ must also take responsibility for the current difficulties, and stop subliminally promoting their cause as synonymous with the Gospel, thereby depicting any opposition to it as synonymous with bigotry. This claims orthodoxy by evading the important point and refusing to explicitly debate it; what is the genuinely Christian stance toward the homosexual act? In this sense one can feel a little sympathy for the African Church. They were converted by an incoming culture with a Christian gospel that preached that the homosexual act is wrong. 150 years later the position seems, to all intents and purposes, to have been reversed, and for upholding it (if sometimes a little too confrontationally) they have all manner of insults thrown their way. Is it any wonder confusion abounds?

  • Ray

    “(The evangelicals) have vim and direction and they have changed the nature of the Communion, from a loose federation of autonomous provinces, united by its respect for Canterbury, to a global ideology, united by its rejection of homosexuality.”
    Wrong. They are united instead by a desire to be faithful to the whole gospel of Christ. Like other evangelical denominations, it is by being faithful to the Holy Spirit (rather than to the spirit of the age) that the ‘evangelicals’ have been able to draw in disciples and buck the trend of declining congregations that has been the lot of those of their fellow Anglicans who prefer to simply tell our modern secularised society what it wants to hear rather than what it actually needs to hear.

  • Scott

    What a load of horrible nonsense! I would rather have an honest Church, loyal to its creeds and traditions, than a Church that merely wishes to please the regnant liberal orthodoxy – which is governed by nothing permanent, and changes daily according to appetite or whim.

    I’m glad the GAFCON etc dismays Theo Hobson. He is exactly right that the Church is not for people like him, but for believers. It was ever so.

  • Guy Gibson

    Never forget that Rowan Williams was appointed by a man who is now a Catholic. How Tony blair must be chuckling now.

  • Carroll

    I note that “Scott” is the typical intolerant, devoid of compassion, uncharitable, “ugly” evangelical. Scott, a church that is “loyal to creeds and traditions” is a museum, not a church. And that is what you will have if the Gaf-con artist take over. Try reading (and doing) the Bible, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount. Evangelicals like you — in your eagerness to condemn — miss the gift that each person brings to the worldwide Anglican Communion. Is there any way that you can focus on something positive (other than getting your way in all things)?

  • Aaron

    What an appalling caricature. At least the writer does not even try to pretend even handedness in his article.

    As for Carroll. Dear oh dear. Scott an “ugly” Evangelical. Come now Carroll, your intolerance is starting to show. Astonishingly you, who takes up a liberal position advocates that Scott, from the evangelical position try reading (and doing) the Bible.

    But that surely is the broad point that evangelicals are making. That those taking the liberal position on issues such as homosexuality are in fact running contrary to what Scripture says on such issues in order to make themselves culturally relevant.

    Surely it is the defection from Scriptural principles on key issues by those of the liberal position that the evangelicals cannot tolerate.

    Put another way. They cannot tolerate the hypocrisy of those who are happy to be identified by the Christian faith but then deny the very teachings that give those in that faith their identity in order to become culturally relevant.

    I find it interesting that you who appeals to Scripture appeals to a place – namely the sermon on the mount – that bears no direct relevance to reolving the question of issues such as homosexuality from a Biblical perspective. Perhaps Scott is not the only one who needs to try reading his Bible a little more.

  • Carol L. Douglas

    As a dissenting American Episcopalian, I am saddened beyond words.

    I wish the Communion had simply excommunicated the American church. That would have left the faithful American remnant to regroup as a legitimate province rather than be forced to choose between leaving, organizing under the Africans, or holding our noses in order to receive the sacraments.

    The root of the American church’s problem lies in the 1974 irregular ordination of the “Philadelphia Eleven.” The irregular ordinations were hardly necessary, since the next General Convention approved women’s ordination. Their unintended consequence was to demonstrate that church canons were non-binding. It is thus no wonder that the American church doesn’t feel constrained by the Communion, or that the renegade conservatives here think it is fine to regroup under African bishops.

    How sadly fitting, then, if one casualty of the dissolution is the ordination of women. Yet, to toss away that evangelical tool in a misogynistic world is a pity beyond measure.

    Not that Katharine Jefferts Schori is much of an advertisement for women priests. I would expect the primate of my church to be, at the minimum, an unabashed follower of Jesus. But she has been quoted as saying this puts God “in an awfully small box.”

    As for me, I went to a breakaway church for a year. I had hated the wooly-headed political sermons of my old bishop; I hated the militant sermons of the new bishop even more. I cannot abide this new church’s gender role-playing, which is based on an almost hysterical sense of women as a weaker vessel and confines legitimate theological discussion to men’s groups.

    I consider myself an evangelical Christian, but for now I am not even going to church. There’s more pain in that than you can ever know.

  • Water

    “Britain suffers from a chronic lack of identity, of belonging, of participation in something greater than the individual” with the exception of money (unfortunately) I absolutely agree Michael, I’ve been saying this with regards to England only for a while now, I am glad you mentioned this.

    As an Agnostic, with a deep respect for Church of England I’m very hesitant about commenting on this matter but “she [certainly] had a point”, their place is central to English identity, shift that and that is that and I certainly hope it never completely comes to that.

  • A.C.R.Bull (subsriber)

    Interesting article but the original break away of the CofE was illegitimate and now 400 years later the chicken are coming home to roost

  • Joe Camel

    Theo Hobson, as long as you’re keeping to objective facts of what has been going on, there’s a lot of truth in what you say and I find I understand the conflict better now than I did before reading your article. But your concluding paragraph lets you down badly. It’s the Bishop Gene Whatsisname gang – the Angaylicans, as I saw them called on another board – who have been pulling too hard, to the point of pulling themselves loose altogether.

    I don’t know whether the C of E or the Anglican Communion still has excommunication in its rules and regulations. Even the Roman Catholic Church apparently doesn’t excommunicate people any more. Instead, it simply declares, from time to time, that so-and-so, by his words or deeds, “has excommunicated himself.”

    The whole Angaylican bid to stage a New Labour-style takeover – now that it has clearly failed to achieve its ambitious aim – might very well qualify as an act of self-excommunication.

    On the other hand, Rowan Williams is a very able man and I wouldn’t put it past him to pull a last-minute rabbit out of his mitre at the Lambeth Conference. At last year’s meeting in Tanzania there was a lot of muttering about imminent schism but Williams found a diplomatic formula to save the day. He may very well do it again this time, too.

  • Joe Camel

    This is one of the best Spectator cover illustrations I remember seeing. A splendid caricature. Congratulations.

    Are we allowed to know the artist’s name? And could someone kindly provide a translation of the Greek lettering for the benefit of non-classicists such as Joe Camel?

  • Corin Keiler-Lloyd

    This article is historical nonsense. A cursory reading of the 39 articles and the Book of Common prayer, then comparing with, for example, the Westminster Confession will show that the Chirch of England was essentially, Protestant, Reformed and, what we now call, Evangelical in its original nature. However, it has always had problems with the Catholics and the Broad Church. The intellectual version of the this latter is what is known as Liberal. This last division has erded the Faith beyond recognition. They are the ones attemting a take-over and accusing the Evangelical of being schismatics and power hungry etc. They are the ones who use secular law to deprive good ministers of the churches and their livings (see ECUSA). If ECUSA had been excommunicated and a new province set up GAFCON would not exist and the Anglican Communion would not be in danger of splitting. The ArchDruid of Canterbury has brought this upon us by failing to deal with the Liberal heretics. The Catholics see a chance to regain England. Why do you think Blair appointed Roawn Williams and has since gone over to Rome? Integration into Europe under Rome. One faith; one State.One Pope; one President. Our only hope is to return to Biblical Christianity and the Anglican Communion must return to its Protestant, reformed and Evangelical roots to do that.

  • Jenny

    Christ did not speak of mere tolerance, he spoke of love and understanding. Encouraging people to think and consider.

    The hatred, bigotry and divisiveness that exists is coming from those who label themselves liberal, and I state that as a woman who is liberal politically. I have been dismayed by the slander, the hypocrisies, the very real heresy on the part of TEC (I’m an American, living in the US), Bishop Schiori and Bishop Robinson and others like them. Reading Schiori’s comments last week, on how she would rather see a church deconsecrated and sold to a private entity, than to allow it to remain with the congregation who are the ones who paid to build and maintain it (TEC has never spent a penny on our churches), and their clergy.

    I find it rather amusing that the ABofC rails against those who attended GAFCon, accusing them of “radicalism”, and heretical actions, yet he hasn’t said word one against the hierarchy of TEC, when they actually lied to him, and went behind his back to do what he had told them not to do. It seems to me that Williams has violated his own authority, and betrayed Christ and his faith by going down on his knees to Schiori and her minions.

    I have spoken with Bishop Schiori, and it seems to me that she doesn’t even believe in the faith she claims to profess, rather, I’m of the opinion that she and others like her are wolves in sheeps clothing, seeking to take down the church from within.

  • johanna wippet the slow

    The letters don’t seem that legible Mr Camel, you must have better eyes then me, good one anyway.

  • Water

    Jenny I am an agnostic as you have probably gathered but a couple of questions none the less:

    You stated that “it seems to me that she doesn’t even believe in the faith she claims to profess, rather, I’m of the opinion that she and others like her are wolves in sheeps clothing, seeking to take down the church from within” if a person were to adopt this stance that you put forth I can see why she would be construed a liberalist wolf, would be interesting to get opinion of the Bishop on this, to be quite frank it’s not something I would say myself.

    Though Jenny, how would you interpret this quotation from the Anglican journal which states Schori as saying that she “plans to build relationships with her fellow primates (national bishops), some of whom do not ordain women and believe homosexuality to be contrary to Scripture”, now I say this because this could merely be interpreted as a neo-liberalist point of view that advocates encourages integration (which, within in this context would be contrary to the teachings as detailed) without the ‘intent’ to destroy what is traditionally upheld, though it may indeed be doing so, not that I either agree or disagree with this point of view, though its certainly an interpretation which would mean she is hardly trying to destroy the church from within.


    Theo Hobson is a complete idiot!
    The Bible in the book of Leviticus chptr 18 ,in the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans chapter 1 and in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter 6 explicitly condemns homosexuality and to say otherwise is either to be completely dishonest intellectually or to perform intellectual sommersaults in saying things like “these things were written almost 2 thousand years ago (or earlier in the case of the Old Testament) and do not apply to our modern world as they may have in the past!” But then Anglicanism’s foundation is Henry the Eighth’s desire for a divorce (hardly a firm foundation),there is no central dogma of the faith,so everything is up for discussion ,hence we have vicars who do not believe in God ,the ressurection etc.and by their disobedience in breaking away from Rome they are disobedient to Christ Himself and His words in the Gospel : ” Your are Peter ,the Rock on which I will build my Church and the Gates of Hell will never prevail over it.I give you the authority that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven!”I REST MY CASE!

  • Andrew Teal

    The wording isn’t Greek, but I think it’s meant to say if you read it across (not right first and then left, as is the norm in icons) “Completely shattered” (though the last word seems to be spelt “shitered” – for Joe Camel’s question, above.

    I think this article is one of the most pertinent and observant of any I have read on the present state of the Church of England / Anglican Communion. The latter is a convenient and none too convincing construct after what was, after all, the Church of the British Empire. Thank you, Theo (aptly so-called) for not collapsing this into a silly reactionary vs radical slanging match (despite some of the comments here) but keeping it sharp and straight (no pun intended).
    Can I have a copy of the icon as a screen saver, please?

  • Gary

    It would perhaps be easier to feel more respect for the evangelical anti-gay stance if there were more consistency in evidence with regard to their literalist interpretation of scripture. Richard Holloway, in ‘Godless Morality’, makes the interesting point that there are far more warnings in the New Testament about the sin of wealth than about sexual ‘misconduct’. I wonder how many of those Christians who cast judgement on homosexuals have donated their worldly goods to charity, and live a life of poverty. Is the time and energy expended on campaigning against homosexuality matched by urgent pleas for wealthy Christians to sell their large, detached houses and expensive cars, for the sake of the salvation of their eternal souls? Do they really join St Paul and Mugabe in the belief that anyone in state authority has been put there by God? In Ephesians, slaves are even told to obey their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. It seems to me that many evangelicals are willing to selectively apply more enlightened exegesis to the bits of the Bible they don’t like, and particularly to reinterpret the inconvenient strictures about wealth, but reject any such licence when it conflicts with their professed sexual mores; and there is yet to be the kind of campaign against appointing bishops who own financial means beyond their needs that matches the enthusiasm currently invested in preventing gay priests from becoming bishops. Bertrand Russell said that the good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. I have no doubt about the kindness and compassion of many evangelical Christians, but I do have doubts about their knowledge and insight, including awareness of scriptural consistency, and awareness of the psychological harm that homophobia causes to young gay and lesbian people in their isolated and often guilt-ridden adolescence, that is so frequently carried as depression and anxiety into adult life.

  • Jennifer Moorcroft

    I think English Catholics living between the reign of Henry V111 and the Act of Settlement in 1829 (I think this is the exact date) when Catholics were permitted a certain freedom of worship, instead of their priests being hung drawn and quartered, their laity subjected to punitive fines if they refused to go to an Anglican Service, forbidden to go to University, forbidden to live within ten miles of London, barred from the Professions, for example, might quibble at the description being tolerant and liberal

  • Clodia Felix

    Scott neatly shows the problem. I really don’t care what the homophobes get up to, they can stick to whatever outdated fairy-tales they wish to shore up their sexual problems with (and they must have a lot to spend so much time worrying what goes on in other peoples’ bedrooms). the problem is, and Williams seems to have forgotten this is that the C of E is established, and as such can only survive if it is “middle of the road”.

    Scott and his friends need to reflect that this church does not “belong” to him. It belongs to all of us. If it wishes to break away, that’s fine by me, but it will be dis-established. I am culturally C of E, and I will never leave our national church to the misogynists and the homophobes. And I suspect I’m in the majority.

  • johanna wippet the slow

    Andrew Teal what ever it is, you have good eyes for it’s virtually incomprehensible at this size online, though lets hope it helps the hump quell.

    “Thank you, Theo (aptly so-called) for not collapsing this into a silly reactionary vs radical” I couldn’t say what you class as radical but abiding that the reactions are correct I must say I have no issue with such things. One thing is for sure, the matters here have been dealt with in an articulate fashion (and the absence of certain responses speaks volumes). Whether this was the work of Theo or not I couldn’t say (though he may have been doing his part in the filtering process), most probably it was the work of cogent mature responses such as that of the reply to Jenny’s spate by Water (which I must admit was very much calm in the face of that which could be construed as silly), hence the beauty of such forums even when we have that which could so easily be labelled silly. So thank you for instigating the talks and actually having heart enough to let others comments, which openly berate you, go through in a spirit of all things fair, even if people don’t agree with your article at least they can take solace in your candid nature.

  • Dane Clouston

    As far as I am concerned there is clearly no god other than as an idea in the minds of people who think that there is. The bible was written by such men in an earlier age. Intolerance of gays, often by repressed men, and the refusal by men to allow women equal status are deplorable in any organisation.

    The churches, however, are part of the spritiual heritage of all of us as we have come to understand more of cosmology and evolution over the centuries, against the constant opposition of the religiosi.

    How are we going to make best use of these national assets, our churches, in a way that will help us all to see the value of the golden rule and an appreciation of the universe around us without divisive and dangerous ideas and mutually exclusive myths of a god creator of the universe that is in the very least concerned with our collective and indivicual affairs? Somehow, instead of disestablishment, we have to take them over for the good of all – to be used, amongst other things, for “moral think tanks”, as Bishop Trevor Huddlestone once said to me.

    It is no use building a sense of national community on a lie.

  • Kat Huddersfield

    “I will never leave our national church to the misogynists and the homophobes. And I suspect I’m in the majority” I’m not the only one out there.

  • Kiffa

    I have never really understood the selfishness of the gay liberal wing of the Anglican church – that somehow demanding acceptance in the wider community is a christian duty of them to impose. So the Anglican church is subordinated to gay rights, why was this not resisted?
    I think the gay community really do have to accept and come to terms with the facts that that their fellow men have a visceral repulsion to the thought of homosexuality. It doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate or hurt, but the repulsion is there and that is that. As a woman I don’t; and don’t see what the problem is and why it even concerns men, but scratch even the most decent chap after a few drinks, and the disgust surfaces.
    Sorry to mention such a difficult thing, but I do believe that Gene and his buddies are being utterly selfish because however wonderful homosexuals are as human beings, they are doomed to fail because they are trying to change a reality of the world, and they won’t.

  • Neil

    I was waiting for somebody to say there is no such thing as God, though it doesn’t help in such a scenario where people evidently think its anything other then a lie. Next, if we are still in the mental ground of the predictable, emerges the cries for evidence of the existence of God anyway I’m not getting involved with this.

    All the same I must agree with all those out there we shouldn’t have people discriminated against (within a religious scope or not) for possessing (or lacking) certain bodily appenditures or for being homosexuals.

  • Jon

    …though there are millions of young Christian evangelicals and the Alpha movement is the only big success story the Church of England can boast in a generation, a Focafied C of E is nonetheless unimaginable.

    Hobson seems to suffer from a lack of imagination. Future realities may have a way of helping to expand his thinking.

    No other church in history has been so firmly tied to political liberalism.

    He is also severely confused about true liberalism. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that transforms one to have a truly liberated, imaginative and appropriately open mind. Only Jesus can make one a “liberal” with any true virtue.

    Sadly Hobson champions a counterfeit liberalism that is actually a self-righteous, man-made, enslaving legalism.

    However, the Gospel according to the Creator offers us all a Hobson’s choice (ironic, no?):

    No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.



  • Water

    Kiffa you stated “Gene and his buddies are being utterly selfish because however wonderful homosexuals are as human beings, they are doomed to fail because they are trying to change a reality of the world, and they won’t” the question of selfishness aside, I have to admit, and I say this as a straight man, reality as it may now be (and has been) is subject to change, as we have seen the emergence of racial equality, for there were times when people had a “visceral repulsion” to certain skin tones and they still do. But none the less this has improved to a degree through out the ages (through cultural programming or whatever you want to call it I’m no psychologist), in places, very much within the confines of reality, it’s just a sign of changing times so I doubt they are doomed to failure, but as you rightly say some people will be hesitant and that will be that just as certain people will be hesitant about people of other skin tones. Though I’m glad the Anglican Church is very welcoming to people of all skin tones. All the same I appreciate that the scenarios are not the same but my usage is simply for referential purposes.

  • joanna wippet the slow



    Feel free to pelt insults if you want but that is just rude (not something that needs to be explained quite frankly) and I don’t mean the word shalom.

  • Gary

    Kiffa says, without condoning the attitudes she imputes to men, “I think the gay community really do have to accept and come to terms with the facts that that their fellow men have a visceral repulsion to the thought of homosexuality,” and “scratch even the most decent chap after a few drinks, and the disgust surfaces.” I am not convinced that this visceral male homophobic disgust is so universal, and indeed, after the ‘few drinks’ to which Kiffa refers, the homoerotic impulses of many ‘heterosexual’ men can become all too visible – a fact to which I am sure many gay and lesbian people will attest. If there is disgust about homoeroticism around, then I believe it stems from some men’s self-hatred for their own natural homoerotic impulses that have been so ruthlessly stigmatised and denigrated by society: a self-hatred that is then projected onto others who dare to identify themselves as gay. Some of the greatest winners from a more accepting and enlightened attitude towards homosexuality will be those mostly heterosexual people, and indeed mainly men, who are then given permission to have the homoerotic feelings and fantasies that they privately have, and don’t have to keep parading what in some cases is a false, awkward and aggressive locker-room masculinity, infused with the anxiety that they are only faking the masculinity that they assume other men experience as natural. I am very mindful at the moment of the appalling frequency of violent crime among our young adolescent males, and aware that, in my experience in education, youth work and counselling, gay males (with exceptions) tend to be less aggressive and confrontational than many of their heterosexual counterparts. The continued socialisation of young males into the kind of masculine gender roles we see today not only fosters self-hatred and hampers boys’ natural emotional development; it also stigmatises the development of the kind of emotional intelligence that is inconsistent with antisocial and self-destructive behaviour.

  • Bill Fraser

    No wonder our churches are empty and the faithful have deserted the Church. What a wonderful coup! About time they cleansed the stables. Hooray! Hooray! Cried the voice from above. Send Williams and his perverts out to pasture.

  • Anticipation Of A New Lover’s Arrival, The

    Hooray! It’s about time.

  • Gary

    “Send Williams and his perverts out to pasture,” says Bill Fraser, above. And Bill, if so, I am sure you are the best person to supply the manure.

  • Water

    Gary well said though a few points;

    “If there is disgust about homoeroticism around, then I believe it stems from some men’s self-hatred for their own natural homoerotic impulses that have been so ruthlessly stigmatised and denigrated by society: a self-hatred that is then projected onto others who dare to identify themselves as gay.” I agree there is this and a general wanting just not to adapt.

    “Some of the greatest winners from a more accepting and enlightened attitude towards homosexuality will be those mostly heterosexual people, and indeed mainly men, who are then given permission to have the homoerotic feelings and fantasies that they privately have” this is true but would they truly be heterosexuals in the first place if they harboured such feelings?

    “The continued socialisation of young males into the kind of masculine gender roles we see today not only fosters self-hatred and hampers boys’ natural emotional development” more often then not yes, but not to make a sweeping generalization for certain males will always have the ability to fathom the chaos around them, hence an almost new age hunter gatherer mentality, though as you rightly say this isn’t an environment that should be advocated under the existence of such cases.

  • Aquinas of Suffolk

    Why is everyone so beastly to the ‘homophobes’? If homosexuals are born that way and should not be discriminated against, treated with respect etc. Then why doesn’t this apply to those old fossils that find same sex acts, even the mere thought of it, repulsive? Has it never crossed anyone’s mind that they might also be born that way?

  • Water

    I wouldn’t say everyone, I certainly wasn’t, beastly, then again I don’t know what you would class as beastly chap. I merely gave an account of the times and such people, or “old fossils” as you put it, should quite rightly be left to their own devices when it doesn’t affect others. But a medium would need to be struck to ensure survival with regards to the subject matter at hand, so sometimes contact as regards such issues is unavoidable because it does affect others.

  • Gary

    Thanks, Water. I agree that, thank goodness, there have always been some males (and females), probably a good number, who have managed to emerge fairly emotionally unscathed from social attempts to define their gender roles. I also think that, on the question of those heterosexuals who cannot accept their own homoerotic feelings, it is perhaps still a reasonable use of language that they be defined as heterosexual, if their starkly predominant orientation is heterosexual. I would imagine few people have never experienced at least a moment’s frisson about a member of the sex to which they are not normally attracted, even if only in a dream … Aquinas of Suffolk’s post is interesting … maybe we should be tolerant of homophobic states of mind in those unfortunate enough to have them, but intolerant of homophobic actions, which harm other people: similar to hating the (homophobic) sin, but loving the sinner…

  • clare coffey

    Glad to see that anti Catholicism is still alive and well in 21st century Britain. Anglicanism more enlightened than Catholicism.. I don’t think so.

  • Carol L. Douglas

    It strikes me as odd that professed non-believers inject themselves into this argument, no matter how much they treasure the CofE as a cultural institution. The church is not a social club or a social justice organization. In fact, it is diminished when it apes them. There is simply no way a non-believer can have an informed opinion on this matter; it is one for prayer, study and reflection, not political analysis.

  • James Forsyth

    Test again

  • David Short

    Michael, no one will have read your post. Too long and not para-ed.

    Perhaps the Speccie can restrict the number of characters allowed in a post.

    2,000 should be more than enough.

  • Michael

    Mr. Short,

    I apologise if my post is a little long – though I think the comments offered by ‘Water’ demonstrate that at least one person read it through. Nonetheless, for the sake of fluidity, I will try and restrict character-usage in future.

  • Roy

    Choose how divided the church appears to be, through its vast spread, modern sexual interpretations of it’s flock, along with the gender problem. There is no doubt that the formation of the church by Henry Vlll was a master stroke. Henry will be for ever a hero in my eyes. He told the pope where to go with his Catholicism and set about having as many wives as he wished. Good old Henry. No monarch since has had the gall or the audacity to tell the overbearing church authority or any other authority for that matter to go jump in the Tiber! Least of all the Irish (leaders of rebellion) choosed to stay shackled down and subjugated to this distant Rome. More intensely chained down mind and body than any Church of England John Bull would ever be.

  • celtic fire

    Roy; a true Anglo bigot in the flesh. Had to bring up the Irish! Yeah, the Irish are really suffering uh? Their economy is one of the strongest in the world, the people are happy, their culture flourishing, and they are subjugated by no one and nothing. I suggest that you look at the CoE for what it is:
    a tool that a corrupt monarch (btw, was/is there any other kind of monarch?) created for his own personal purposes, not for any “religious” enlightenment.
    Henry VIII was many things, pious was not one of them. And how about all the torture, maiming, expulsions and killings of English Catholics and other non-CoE churches (e.g., the Puritans) done in the name of this Church of England? My, how ‘LIBERAL’ it truly is.
    The chickens are indeed coming home to roost, ye of little faith.

  • angelica of sydney

    “Poor Rowan Williams”!!?? He has been our chief tormentor of late, prolonging our agony. Thank God, thank God the excruciating fence-sitting is over at last. Is Cantaur merely paralysed with fright the church will come apart on his watch (not an historical legacy to be envied admittedly), or does he really believe this will all blow over in the end, so keeps frantically extending the end?

    I agree with Theo’s analysis (if not his decent, tolerant agnosticism). ECUSA has irretrievably disturbed the balance of the three wings of our broad church. Rowan Williams should have dumped the church in North America long ago & that he didn’t is testimony to his pride & folly. In pursuit of a status to rival a pontiff (a worldwide church) he has allowed the Communion to split.

    On a personal note, call me bitter, or perhaps in a state of “exhausted collapse”, but I’m glad the church is damaged beyond repair. I’d rather see it dead than in the hands of those like Gene Robinson & Katherine Schiori – so self-righteous, self-satisfied, proud, heedless of the pain of others, sure the future belongs to them. They have caused me much private grief this last thirty years.

    To Gary, Water, Carroll, & johanna wippet the slow – scratch a liberal, find a striking snake I see. Dane Clouston & Clodia Felix – it was the faithful who built those “national assets”, not the state. So there will be no “taking over” by or on behalf of atheists (as Dane proclaims him/herself to be) thank you very much.

  • Simangaliso Magudulela

    I am living in South Africa and being an Anglican means so much for me. Means that I’m in a Church which stands for justice and fighting government of all the policies which denounces the poor peoples right to economic participation. In the world in general the Anglican church has played a crucial role in engaging with the powers of this world. Thus, I mean that we as the Anglican church have much bigger things to accomplish together than in division. We are so powerful beyond any single church.

    I pray that we don’t split over these gender and sexual issues rather be united to fight for the poor.

    An ethic in deversity is needed now rather than permanent division.

  • Adrian Cooke

    It’s absolutely right that the Anglcan Church and it’s Evangelicals should stick to the canon of Holy Scripture, _ the Bible. The Bibe was written for all time and not to be re-written to please small minorities of society.
    Homosexuality is banned In the Old Testament of the Bible, (Leviticus) and the new Testament, Paul speaking with warnings of dire consequences.
    It is generally accepted that these writers doing so at God’s behest.
    Therefore how can we accept a homosexua person of any rank in the Church leading the “Flock”, let alone a Bishop.
    Should this cause a split in the Church of England, which I don’t believe it would, so be it.
    A stronger, more pure Church would I’m sure grow out of a stand for truth.

  • Peter R

    Dr Williams is the enemy within, the great dissembler, a wolf in sheeps clothing and will be remembered for one thing; destroying the Church of England. His latest act of foolhardy irrelevence? An official apology to Charles Darwin! This guy is as cynical as you can get about the existance of God. But then the English have had the government they deserve for decades and will end up a case study of what happens when Liberalism is embraced en masse: to quote one of their poets when Britain was great: ‘The hole of a shithouse’.

  • Dane Clouston

    ‘Angelica of Sydney’

    Yes, the churches were built by the ‘faithful’, when nearly everyone in the country was faithful in the sense of believing in the existence of a god.

    But times have moved on.

    The theory of evolution, corroborated by evidence in all sorts of different ways, explains how we and all other living species have come to be here in all our wonderful diversity.

    Scientific theories, corroborated by all sorts of evidence in different ways, explains all sorts of other things that contradict the beliefs at the times the churches were built.

    Instead of the world being flat, it is round.

    Instead of the sun going round the earth, it is the other way round!

    Instead of the stars being holes in the dark dome of the sky through to the heavenly bliss above, they are some of the hundreds of thousands of millions of other suns or some of the hundreds of thousands of millions of galaxies each containing similarly vast numbers of suns.

    The likelihood of any creator of all that being in the very least concerned with our collective and individual human affairs is ludicrously remote. It is just ridiculous human conceit to imagine that.

    And if he, she or it existed AND were concerned with us, then who or what created her, him or it, and so ad infinitum.

    Reading about schizophrenia in Human Traces, which I am only part way through, and the way that people hear voices because the left side of the brain cannot distinguish between stimuli coming from the right side of the brain and those from the voices of other people, I suppose the absolute certainty with which people declare that they have heard the word of god is a kind of schizophrenia.

    “Only 600 of the 32,000 [historically significant] wrecks around UK waters are protected by English Heritage. Despite the high cost of working underwater they receive a total of only £450,000 a year. By comparison, Britain’s 14,500 listed places of worship get more than £8 million (on top of the £15 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund).”
    (Frank Pope, The Times)

    We should support the churches, which are part of the historical and spritual heritage of all of us. However, whereas everyone used to believe in a god, now a large proportion of people do not. It is people who matter, not gods. The churches should now be open to the people, for both religious and non-religious purposes in every local parish community in the country.

  • David Chorley

    I think that this churchy bickering misses one important point: If Christianity is true, then all the different opinions in the end have to be weighed against scripture, and the philosophy that what a person does in the privacy of his or her bedroom is their own business is ultimately false. If Christianity is false, in the end we are all dead, and the various interests, gay rights, women’s rights evangelicals and orthodox are just social clubs and there’s nothing to stop them from breaking off their own societies, forming their own jolly clubs and being happy. One would expect a professedly Christian church to actually believe in its source document, otherwise one would end up with what is termed cognitive dissonance: an internal contradiction which would ultimately destroy the institution. It’s sort of like having a Victorian Lancashire mill owner who oppresses the workers during the week and writes the Communist Party Manifesto on the weekend.

  • egh

    They always did say marxism and Christianity have much in common. Judging from the nastiness on this blog, marxism and deconstruction clearly have the edge for now; however, I’m not counting God out.

    Thank you, CoE (yes, even our ‘Enery) – for 500 years of freedom from euroland; for encouraging the development of the most beautiful language and literature; and for letting me know that it was all right to follow my natural instincts and rebuff lezzos.

    Among the things I don’t like about Anglicans (excepting they’re not British)- they’ve brought back crucifixes [affective piety – like happy-clappy]; and they’ve slipped transubstantiation back into the liturgy; they discourage English music.

    Presumably Theo is commie-euro – like so many at the downgraded Speccie. Very sad.

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