You are currently browsing the daily archive for March 29, 2012.

On March 15, 2012, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was formally elected to the post of Master of Magdalene (pron. ‘Maudlin’) College, Cambridge.  (Magdalene is one of the colleges which comprise the University of Cambridge.)

The Telegraph reported:

Michael Carpenter, Magdalene’s president, said: “It is a wonderful thing for the college. We always want to get a distinguished academic and we consider ourselves very, very fortunate to get him in the role.”

In his new role, Dr Williams will lead a four-strong leadership team comprising: the president – who is responsible for the fellows of the college; the bursar; the senior tutor; and the development director.

Professor Carpenter said the Master would also engage with undergraduates “looking after them, being involved in their lives, entertaining them and so on” as well as “developing the college in various ways – raising funds, dealing with alumni”.

Dr Williams will remain Archbishop of Canterbury until the end of the year, after which point his successor is expected to begin his tenure soon thereafter. More on the selection process and possible candidates in a separate post.

Dr Williams had these words of advice for his successor:

“I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really.

“But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration.”

Weddings, christenings, funerals, crises and Christmas, then, it would seem.

He speaks of it as an institution, not the body of believers in Christ and not the place for the corporate worship of Christ, whereby we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is part of the problem.

I might say the same of my bank (need) or my family (crisis). However, the Church — the Bride of Christ — deserves more profundity.

In this interview, also conducted this month, he said (emphases mine):

“There is also a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity, which sometimes clouds the discussion, he said.

“What I think slightly shadows the whole thing is this sense that there are an awful lot of people now of a certain generation who don’t really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular, and that leads to confusions, sensitivities in the wrong areas – ‘does wearing a cross offend people who have no faith or non-Christians?’ well I don’t think it does.”


“We have to earn our right to speak more than perhaps was once the case but that is probably good for us.”

Yet, when the Government said earlier this month that Christians had no right to wear a cross to work, the Archbishop said:

it had become something “which religious people make and hang on to” as a substitute for true faith.

“I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory,” he said.

“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”

Wow. Try telling that to the faithful who have been at employment tribunals for wearing discreet crosses or who were defending the faith by refusing to engage in unbiblical activities in their jobs: Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Colin Atkinson, Lillian Ladele or Gary McFarlane.

Meanwhile, we have men and women from other world faiths insisting on headcoverings of various descriptions at work in the UK. They are not necessary for religious practice, either. However, the Police Service even has special uniforms for them, which the taxpayer is financing. The taxpayer also funds downscaled hygiene in the NHS, which has made special allowances for a certain religious group.

The Revd Dr Peter Mullen, the recently retired Rector of St Michael, Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London, commented:

He sees the cross as part of that “religion factory”. It is an infelicitous phrase, for a factory is where objects are merely churned out, as from a production line. Is that what the cross, the supreme Christian symbol, has become?

It is important to understand what is implied by this: it removes rights from a practitioner of the Christian faith which has shaped European civilisation for 2000 years and redistributes these rights to its aggressive secular opponents whose stated aim is to obliterate Christianity from the public realm.

I am reminded of T E Hulme’s saying: “An institution is only finally overthrown when it has taken into itself the ideas of its opponents.” This seems to me to be a good description of the response of the Church of England to the pernicious assaults of militant secularism. The Church has been thoroughly penetrated by the mindset of its enemies.

Returning to Dr Williams’s aforementioned lament that no one understands Christianity anymore, what did he do to contribute to this situation one way or another?

I do not recall that he really explained the purpose of the Church, evangelised in an inviting way or spoke much about the role of faith, hope and charity in his life and those of other Christians.

This has created the following confusion, which came to light on March 19:

Dr Rowan Williams said Christians are being viewed with growing suspicion and treated as “surrogates” for some extremist branches of Islam in the minds of “anxious secularists”.

He also accused the Government of assuming all vicars were “imams in dog collars” while imams were “vicars in turbans”.

His outspoken comments came during his first public service since the announcement of his decision to stand down as Archbishop at the end of this year.

They come amid signals that intends to use his final months in office to speak out forcefully on issues which on which he feels passionate …

He made his comments during a Sunday service at Springfield Church, an alternative Anglican congregation which meets in a school hall rather than a traditional church building, in Wallington, Surrey.

Revd [Will] Cookson asked him about the recent debate over secularism adding: “Do you think that the real issue for them isn’t necessarily Christianity but actually radical Islam, that it is more of a reaction to radical Islam and we are the surrogate for that.”

Dr Williams said: “I think there is a lot of truth in [that]. It is the last decade that has seen the great rise in anxious secularism, a real suspicion of religion in public.”

Well, really, only Christianity. The more secularised the UK becomes, the more other faiths are placed on a pedestal whilst the cross is increasingly feared — and denormalised.

Many conservative and traditional Anglicans believe that the Archbishop has played a role in this.

Now, if he had said more often over the past decade what he did at Springfield Church several days ago, we would not have had this problem:

“[They assume] that there is one way of being religious – either you are a sort of committed fanatic who wants to subvert the whole to your agenda or you are a sort of woolly liberal who can be persuaded to go along with whatever is happening in society.

The Church isn’t either of those things, it is the assembly of Christ’s friends with good news to share.”

Okay, that’s a simplistic explanation, however, the unchurched may find it helpful.

In closing, let’s not forget the kerfuffle over his comments about sharia law in February 2008:

In a statement on his website, the Archbishop said he made no proposals for sharia but was simply “exploring ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience” …

Friends of the Archbishop have said he was “completely overwhelmed” by the hostility of the response and in a “state of shock” at the barrage of criticism …

Lord Carey, Dr William’s predecessor, and the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, were among those to challenge the Archbishop’s comments.

Lord Carey said Dr Williams was wrong to believe that sharia could be accommodated into the English system because there were so many conflicting versions of it, many of which discriminated against women. Bishop Nazir-Ali said sharia would be “in tension” with fundamental aspects of our current legal system, such as the rights of women.

Even the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Tom Butler, said that he would need to be convinced by Dr Williams’ arguments.

One of those calling for the Archbishop’s resignation, Colonel Edward Armitstead, a Synod member from the diocese of Bath and Wells, said: “I don’t think he is the man for the job. One wants to be charitable, but I sense that he would be far happier in a university where he can kick around these sorts of ideas.”

And, lo, nearly five years later — in January 2013 — this is where he will be.

It should have come much sooner.

I know I will have disappointed those who wanted to see a mention of gay marriage in church but, for me, it’s the future of the Church of England’s leadership and the UK’s relationship with adherents of other world faiths which seem more pressing at this time. Once that is taken care of, the alternative marriage issue will resolve itself.

More to come on the selection process after Easter.

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