Sunday, 24 March 2013

Brick walls

Giles Fraser, who only recently announced he was giving up anger and moving on, has now managed to upset a lot of people with an article about banging his head against a brick wall over "Cheesus Christians" which shows a level of evango-phobia which unfortunately doesn't seem to be tongue in cheek or satirical. I have to say that I do think the offence Fraser has caused is justified in this instance, he does peddle some appalling stereotypes about evangelicals, describing them as, "patronising, superior and faux caring all at the same time." Perhaps even more toe-curlingly, Fraser makes some apallingly sweeping statements about what he refers to as the theological illteracy of evangelicals, saying that their theology has no capacity to address suffering and pain.
 I suspect that Fraser fully intended his readers to understand that he is talking about a certain type of evangelical or a tendency that can sometimes be found in some strains of evangelical thought. If so, he doesn't make it clear, he just seems to lump the whole evangelical world - which is a very broad spectrum anyway-together as Cheesus lovers. I also didn't feel that Fraser's observations were particularly theologically literate themselves. He criticises evangelicals because  "the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph", and not, as Fraser describes it, as failure and crisis, without pausing to take breath and consider whether the work of the cross, a work that involves embracing the failure and despair of humanity, is not the paradoxical strength-in-vulnerability that lies behind the power of the Resurrection. Seeing the cross as a work of triumph is not necessarily theologically illiterate.
But leaving aside the fact that the theological comment might have been more nuanced and astute, what that really made me want to  bash my head against the wall is that Fraser is president of Inclusive Church - and God loves and uses all sorts of people, not only men and women, black and white, gay and straight, but also liberals and conservatives. Also most people really do defy labels. Most people who might be described as "liberal" (such as myself) don't like to be characterised as not-beliving- in-the-bible, anything-goes-types any more than most evangelicals like to be characterised as either ranting -bible-basher or cheesy-fake-and-shallow.We have to get beyond the sort of "them and us" labels that can cause us to fail to see and relate to others, because that way we might just have a chance of bringing down the walls that can divide us rather than just bruising our heads on them.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Sue. I agree totally and was horrified and disappointed by what i thought was one of the worst things I've ever read by Giles Fraser. Like you I'm on the liberal wing of the spectrum, but have a great deal of respect for the evangelicals I know, who do not deserve to be misrepresented so unpleasantly and shallowly.

    As for dismissing the idea of the cross as a work of triumph, has he never heard of Christus Victor - one of the oldest and most profound understandings of the atonement?

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  2. Very disappointing stuff from Fraser. I hope he apologises.

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  3. What does he think Christ's final word from the cross, 'It is accomplished', means, I wonder? I've always believed, and been taught, that it was a cry of triumph - He'd fulfilled the Father's purpose of reconciliation. I'm not, and haven't been for some time, impressed with GF - except for one or two of his columns in the Church Times - he seems to be as prejudiced as he accuses others of being! But he really has excelled himself this time, in print. His comments at Archbishop Justin's installation weren't awfully helpful at times, either - a bit dismissive, I thought (but, of course, JW is at root an Evangelical, so GF wouldn't be too enthusiastic!!)

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  4. Giles Fraser is having a rant, no more no less. In many ways his vehemence is no different to that of conservative evangelicals or reactionary Roman Catholics; at the end of the day, what each seem to be saying, is that they can’t have it their own way. As I said elsewhere, commenting on this blog, Jesus becomes different things to different people – perhaps that is part of the reason for the success of Christianity. The social scientist in me sees this multiplicity of identities as merely evidence for the manner in which the abstract – the person of Jesus – becomes transmuted into whatever ideological symbol of our political and social desires.

    Therefore we can find in various conservative evangelical and Catholic blogs, a species of Christianity that has the markings and habits of reactionary Conservatism. However this is sold to us as what the Bible or the Church has always been about... The fact that this Conservatism tends to focus on a few well chosen subjects of opprobrium – often those least costly and challenging to those bleating on about them – is what makes it so suspect as a ‘true’ example of Christian orthodoxy. Moreover this type of Christianity tends to be self-congratulatory and self magnifying: ABC Welby’s enthronement sermon certainly sank to this level, with several whoppers thrown in concerning Christianity’s influence in the past government of England. While it is true some Christians were at the forefront of social reform in the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, these were often nonconformists who worked with humanists to get reforming legislation through an often indifferent, though mainly churchgoing, Parliament. Yes there were the likes of Wilberforce within the Anglican fold, but the question is rarely asked that if there is something intrinsically good about organised Christianity in a society, then why did we need reform in the first place, at a time when the majority of the population attended church, and Christian belief, worldview and thinking dominated society?

    Welby also irritated in his appeal to the story of Ruth; who apparently came from Moab to Israel because she could see it was a better governed and more wholesome society – as it was a God-centred society! The fact Boaz is recorded as having to tell his men not to molest Ruth, suggests that poor women gleaning in the fields of Israel were seen as easy pickings for a bit of rumpy-pumpy... (aka rape). So much for the for inference of the ‘wholesomeness’ of a God centred society...

    But are some of our Christian liberal chums any better than the sour-faced Christian conservatives or cheesy-smiling Evangelicals – what often seems fairer, is often most foul..? To my little brain, they all seem to be doing the same thing – thinking they know best and that they have a right (nay are better placed) to tell us lesser mortals what to think and how to believe. The liberals do this by an appeal to reason (in truth saying they are clever than the rest of us) and the conservatives do this by assuming the reflected authority of ‘Scripture’ (tho’ of course highly selective in their choice of verses...) or – in the case of Roman Catholics – ‘tradition’ and the ‘wisdom’ of clerical authority and dogma – often ignoring the hypocrisy and violence of the Church’s past.

    I just long for the time when I can read on Anglicanmainstream or Catholic Voices or some liberal blog, that what we should be doing is loving each other and washing each other’s feet. But this is personally costly stuff, so better stick to name calling and apportioning blame elsewhere for the fact that neither conservatives nor liberals have the social and political power they see as theirs by right... What we have to remember is that there are Evangelicals and Catholics – conservative in their theology – who do not fall foul of this partisanship and hate-mongering found on both the Left and the Right of the Church – they are, thankfully, the majority – which is something to rejoice about and bear in mind when our more vocal brethren are at each other’s throats...

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  5. Well, I suppose I'm just as guilty as Giles of Evangelaphobic remarks too ....In my case I'd like to think it is a reaction to studying at an Evangelical theology college and my past attendance of a Liberal Evangelical church but I think Fraser is playing to the gallery, most readers of the Gruniad think Christians in general are reactionary imbeciles - not just Evangelicals.(When Fraser wrote recently about the church he said he would be ashamed of being a member of a church that had a particular ethical stance, I can't remember which stace it was, but one of the most "liked" comments was "I'd be ashamed to member of any church!") However if Fraser had said all Christians used language & rhetoric he disapprovres of his diocese may have rather very unhappy with him! It isn't a very nuanced piece but it isn't Giles' strong point. Fraser is a media tart & we're discussing him - so mission accomplished! His actual arguments are actually very old, he & some other thinkers wrote a riposte to Mel Gibson's anti-semitic "The Lashing of The Christ" that often attacked penal sub. atonement theory but I think there is more to the piece than meets the eye. Holy Trinity Brompton has created its first Archbishop so some liberals have concerns about the rise of Evangelicalism. Some of those concerns in my opinion are genuine & some a wee bit hysterical. For example, Evangelicals often preach "kenotic Christ" & actually side with the rich & powerful.(Steve Chalke is now loved by liberals for his pro- equal marriage stance but my wife attended a speech of his many, many moons ago where he was anything but pro-Gay! He is tying to get more of his "Oasis" business ventures into workfare programs with lashings of tax payers cash & writes of the UK being in a "post-Welfare State world". Scary stuff. Very Christlike. Praise the Lord!) Fraser is seen as a radical, even though when he rose in media profile due the St Paul's controversy he was a Canon of a church that had many slash & burn capitalists in prominent lay roles & still emerge as the Lefty's favourite "eccentric" vicar. We must remember his Guardian profile says he wears jeans ... sometimes, wow ... COOL! But ironically Fraser came out for "OilWellsby" in the race to replace Rowan the Bearded at a VERY early stage - so be rest assured: "cheps" support "cheps" not matter their theological stripe! I'm not really concened as judging by the broadcast media, the Beeb in paticular, Easter has been cancelled this year.

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  6. Media tarts sums it up nicely! As you say, not very Christlike- I seem to remember he was always telling people not to tell anyone and annoying the rich and powerful. :)

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