Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Summer Holiday.

The Bishop of Willesden.

The Bishop of Lewes.

The Bishop of Rochester.

The main reason for GAFCON.

The Archbishop of Nigeria consecrating Bishops for his almost-schismatic, apparently worldwide, Diocese.

It must be a difficult time to be Bishop of Rochester, almost as difficult as being a Priest or Layperson in Rochester Diocese. Let me bring you up to speed, just in case you do not know what has been happening. The Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, has convened a meeting of Bishops of the Anglican Communion who are dissatisfied with the direction which the Church is taking, the Global Anglican Futures Convention (GAFCON). This meeting should have been in the Jordan but Akinola was allegedly turned back after four hours questioning at the border for activities undertaken by his 'thugs' in attacking Muslims some short while ago. They settled on Jerusalem for the venue eventually and the Bishop of Jerusalem surfaced to say what a disaster this meeting would be for the Church. So far so bad, you might think. Now many of these Bishops in attendance will not be going to the ten yearly Lambeth conference of all the Bishops in the Anglican Communion, including, apparently, six from the Church of England, although only Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, Pete Broadbent of Willesdon and the Bishop of Lewes have so far consented to put their names down on the list of shame. How their respective priests and people will feel about being represented in this way is not yet widely known, although there have been a number of senior figures in the Church expressing disapproval.

At the heart of the debate is the seemingly increasing liberality of the Church and the concurrent decline in 'traditional' values which have in the last two hundred years been given the sub heading of 'Christian Values' , often quite erroneously. It seems that a handful of Western Bishops seem to believe that by taking leadership from Africa, the developments of the last two hundred years can be staved off, at least for their lifetime, allowing them to live in a safe bubble of colonial Christianity. Of course, Africa is about to face the modern world face on and what will happen then is up for debate.
Very little, in my opinion, ever changes, it is just that people talk about certain things more and the increasing 'global village' culture makes all things accessible to all people (hence you are reading my private thoughts). This has spawned problems of it's own, but nothing new, simply a new way of accessing old vices. Do we really think that paedophilia began with the tabloids? Or did the tabloids just drive it deeper underground? Did prostitution begin with the Internet, or did the Internet just make it easier? Nothing changes. Did militant Islam begin with the publication of the Satanic Verses or did militant Christianity begin with the Crusades? The changing world merely changes our perception of the same thing, the same problems evolve with the world into a different appearance.
However, as I have said, the GAFCON Bishops clearly think that they can stop the inexorable movement of the planet by going to Jerusalem and not going to Lambeth. So be it. When they come back, they may well find that their Dioceses have begun to learn to evolve without them as well, for I hear no roar of approval from Rochester, in fact I hear a tide of disapproval. But wait, what are they really so bothered about, these people with so little, it would seem, in common? Islam. Islam is at the heart of their concern. Nigeria is becoming overrun with militant Islam, as are other parts of Africa (which is where the vast, vast majority of these Bishops are from and, oh, never mind about Zimbabwe, they seem able to ignore that) and they are scared for the future of Christianity, a view shared by the Western Bishops who are also attending, noticeably the Bishop of Rochester, who memorably said yesterday that he wanted to explain Christianity to Muslims but to great laughter he added: "That's not the only thing I want to do to them." Helpful rhetoric for a time of trial in relations between two dominant faiths.
So fear, in my opinion, fear of Islam and fear of the erosion of comfortable, long held views are at the heart of this council and rather than facing the future with courage and faith in Christ, there is a desire to form a break away party from the Church which can enjoy maybe thirty years of insularity before facing the same problems again. Along with whatever happens in the next thirty years, of course. By then all these men will be dead or retired and I wonder who would want to take up the baton in a world which will be radically different to the one we are in now.
Nazir-Ali proceeded, in his ill fated speech, to blame parents for the erosion of values in society, ''don't blame anyone else," he said. He continued saying “Many of society’s problems particularly in young people are related to the fact that so many have not experienced a stable family life. So many have grown up without a recognisable father figure” . Presumably this makes them un Christian no hopers, then. What exactly is causing a schism (which he claims, hysterically, not to be doing) in Jerusalem, going to solve? Well, I shall let the good Bishop have the last word, "(we) are the miraculous beginning of a movement for the renewal of the church."