Wednesday, 1 September 2010

H is for honesty?

I have not written anything about the All African Bishops' Conference in Entebbe, partly because I have been busy with other things, partly because the pronouncement of individuals such as Orombi , the various statements that will be issued , and the calls for Williams to take hardline punitive action (when he neither can nor will do this) are depressingly predictable. This is not to say that there is not a comic element to the conflict in the Anglican communion, but it takes a dark humour to appreciate it, especially (for me) when I think of the ongoing difficulty and danger faced by many LGBT Africans.

Nevertheless, some light relief was provided in this communique in which the UK is identified as a place of worrying liberal developments! The report refers to the consecration of Mary Glasspool, and then writes of,
" similar progressive developments in Canada and the UK." (!)
Obviously the African bishops know something I don't! I really haven't noticed any (0penly) gay people being consecrated as bishops, or any official endorsement of same sex blessings. Might it possibly be a reference to the fact that Jeffrey John's name was purportedly forwarded for Southwark - and then rejected?

Obviously it is ludicrous to claim that anything that has happened in the UK is "similar" to the consecration of Glasspool, and it indicates the level of ranting hysteria among some present at this event. It is true that there is some freedom of opinion and expression in the UK, many of our bishops, for example James Jones and Michael Perham, have been brave enough to speak their minds about the need to embrace a diversity of views. Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that the new bishop of Ely is the Right Rev Stephen Conway , a member of Affirming Catholicism. I think it is healthy that there is a broad range of attitude and approach in our church and a tolerance of people's right to hold different opinions.
A gulf exists between what the Church of England officially is and does and what it really is and does, and that saddens me. There will increasingly be more grassroots tolerance, but not necessarily more honesty higher up. I do not see how this is tenable in terms of basic integrity; our "H" issue is not so much about homosexuality, but more about whether to choose honesty or hypocrisy.

3 comments:

  1. You always write complete sense.

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  2. I think, somewhere in my blog – or a previous blog – I have told the story of my friend, an Anglican priest, with Evangelical sympathies, with a onetime love affair with African Christianity. In the late 80s he noted the strength of Biblical orthodoxy in many sub-Saharan Anglican churches and how we, here in the wishy-washy Church of England could learn a lesson or two from its witness. Indeed, so much was his admiration that he and his wife (plus children) applied and were accepted by CMS and posted to an African Bible college, where they became lecturers.

    By one of those odd coincidences that dog my life I bumped into my friends the day before they were to leave for Africa, as our paths crossed at King’s Cross station. They were palpably excited and looking forward to what they implicitly suggested was a more truthful expression of Christianity. They were set for a five year placement and before we parted I said that I looked forward to visiting them – which I hoped to do (I always keep in with friends overseas!!). Around nine months later they returned home, with somewhat less fanfare than their exit. At the time, I knew it would be several years before I got the full story from them, so waited – the official line was problems with the children’s schooling and problems with elderly relatives in the UK. I knew this was rubbish as they are devout Christians and in the main, devout Christians are quite good at making up pious excuses for avoiding family commitments!

    We jump five years forward, my friend is now in a fairly high-flying post in the CofE – a post that meant journeys aboard. He and I are eating at an Indian restaurant off Gower Street and I know it is time to ask about Africa. For one he had just returned from a visit to Nigeria and was still in shock at a senior Nigerian Anglican trying to bribe my friend to sway an IT contract to favour his brother’s business in London. My friend stated that the only place he felt any sense of righteousness in Nigeria was in the Muslim north. He then told me of his time within CMS and working at the Bible College (in another African country) and of how the Christianity he found there was dripping with hypocrisy. Lying, cheating, corruption and adultery - in addition to racism in the shape of tribal and ethnic difference – were common and yet there was a concerted effort to present a strong, outwardly, orthodox and conservative Christianity. My friend, a person of considerable integrity, left Africa and CMS disheartened.

    I came to work in London in the mid-90s, working as a manager for a charity that provides care for disabled adults. Although, stating it was a ‘Christian’ organisation, the majority of ‘frontline’ staff were not practicing Christians. The ones that were tended to be African immigrants. Like my friend, I believed African Christians were more likely to earnest, orthodox Christians and not infected with wishy-washy CofE liberalism. There were one or two exemplary examples of this trait, but in the main they were, almost each and every one of them, adept liars and cheats and much more trouble to manage than my non-Christian staff. My own bubble had been burst.

    Perhaps, with hindsight, I should not have been surprised – as I note in my blog from evidence in the field in Africa (and Asia) (see: http://problemwithrelgion.blogspot.com/2010/07/conference-religion-development.html) that it seems the more overtly religious a country the greater its level of corruption. Hence, in the light of the present African Anglicans pronouncements, Rowan Williams should not be the passive creature he is painted to be (he’s not anyway!) and suggest that our Anglican brethren in Africa get their own houses in order before playing the ‘cheap morality’ card of queer bashing. Personally, I think the Africans have a point, but that point is overshadowed by the lack of integrity evident in many African churches.

    Your move, Dr Williams!

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  3. "It seems the more overtly religious a country the greater its level of corruption."

    I agree that this is likely to be the case. Jesus was never very keen on the overtly religious.

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