The Swing of the Sea

I was probably rather intemperate in my rant regarding Mrs Dorries yesterday. Rudeness always undermines reason and let’s face it Nadine is something of an easy target. Upon reflection I realised that I had failed to highlight the glaring irony in her diatribe about the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her identification of the spiritual needs of Christians encapsulates the values of the Catholic Church:

 church goers across the country scream out for guidance. A church to lead and one they can follow. They want and need continuity and conformity, basic tenants upon which the church is based.

What could be more explicit than a written set of rules such as we have in the Catechism? Continuity and Conformity are indeed the very precepts of the Roman Catholic Church which follows the traditions handed down from Christ and the apostles. When Nadine stated that church-goers wanted to know Dr Williams’ views on abortion and euthanasia, that they were screaming out for guidance, she was advocating for a strict line on these issues; the Catholic Church is well-known and often criticised for its dogma regarding the sanctity of human life.

The irony is that Nadine Dorries was calling for leadership, for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be explicit in his views, but as I pointed out, his views are simply that, Anglicans must come to their own conclusions on these matters, not being bound by any formal teachings. Dr Williams has spoken out  with regards to how far society has deviated from the spirit of the 1967 Abortion Act, he has not however come down on any side of the debate, not even supporting Dorries’ bid for the reduction in the time limit for abortion, but  instead stated that “clear principles are not going to get you off the hook”.

So the answers and leadership that Nadine seeks from the Established Church in terms of life issues will not be found. I share her frustration, it is incomprehensible that the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to be politically contentious, willing to upset his flock and give a clear indication and lead on matters of political ideology, but will not state his position when it comes to the lives of the most vulnerable. That is nothing short of tragic.

It puts me in mind of an early poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Heaven-Haven, written in 1864, prior to his conversion to Catholicism in 1866 and one of the few poems which survives the holocaust of his early work which he burnt upon entering the Jesuit order as it was “not belonging to my profession”.

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea. 

Though the poem is ostensibly about a nun taking the veil, it is also read as an Anglo-Catholic poem. The images of nature lyrically and sensuously evoke that which must be renounced, namely the beauty of Anglican patrimony; Catholicism the place of tranquility by contrast to the ‘swing of the sea’ that is Anglicanism which shifts and changes with the tides.

I was right in my original assessment. Behind the emotive rhetoric, Nadine Dorries hit upon an element of truth, although I don’t see her becoming a nun at any time in the near future. To quote another poem of Hopkins on a similar theme, The Habit of Perfection; whilst she is in politics her lips cannot remain ‘lovely-dumb’.

Mad as a box of frogs

Nadine Dorries added her voice to the chorus condemning the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury on her blog. Very often I have some sympathy with Mrs Dorries, she is the UK’s answer to Sarah Palin, the politician that everyone loves to deride, her personal reputation meaning that her detractors often don’t take the time to see beyond the muddled, emotive rhetoric, designed for maximum impact, but often with minimum thought or nuance. Today’s blog is a perfect example, with Dorries taking issue on both the content of the Archbishop’s remarks and also that he dared to speak on the ‘wrong’ topic.

She starts by trying to call the Primate of the Church of England’s Christian faith into doubt:

only weeks ago he proclaimed how uncomfortable he had been with the shooting of the mass murderer and most wanted man in the world, Osama Bin Laden. In 2008 we had Sharia Gate. A speech given by the Archbishop which must have deeply offended every practicing Christian in the UK.

Many people were uncomfortable with the execution of Bin Laden. The fifth commandment states “thou shalt not kill” which is why, as Dorries should undoubtedly be aware, many Christians don’t condone either abortion or the death penalty. Dorries certainly seems to support the latter. In any event being uncomfortable with the death of an unarmed man, is not indicative of a lack of Christian faith. Dorries seems to be rather un-subtly implying that Dr Williams is more concerned with Islam than he is his own religion by rather unfairly linking Sharia Gate (when Dr Williams made some equally ill-judged comments stating that Sharia would become unavoidable in this country) with his concern regarding the execution of Bin Laden. The Roman Catholic Church also stated that the death of a man was no cause for celebration.

(His article) was a derogation of his responsibility to lead and unite his flock

Calm down dear. He guest edited a magazine and made some political comments, that is all. It is the role of the Church to offer moral comment on government policy, no matter how unpalatable that may be to those who are of a different political persuasion.

and the most transparent expose yet of the fact that at the top, the Church of England is almost wholly infiltrated and run by people who would regard The New Statesman as their own particular gospel.

Watch out, there’s a communist in every cassock! This is ridiculous paranoia and untrue to boot. The Labour party have somehow managed to infiltrate the Church of England by sending party activists off to theological college and then ordination and then managed to get them elected onto the Synod. That takes some doing. Clergymen are more concerned with the New Statesmen than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? They are all hypocrites and liars, who don’t put the Gospel at the centre of their lives? Rightyho. Whatever you say dear…

There are areas of policy where politics and the church overlap, where debate should be robust and where the church and its Archbishops could speak with authority and have real influence and effect.

Such as those which might involve the poor and disenfranchised. But here’s the nub of the issue. Dr Williams did not speak about those issues which Nadine Dorries would have endorsed and supported her agenda. That’s hardly surprising, Dorries already mentioned the readership of the New Statesmen, so all the Archbishop of Canterbury was trying to do was reach and engage with the readership who would not be inclined to purchase an issue with a heavy pro-life agenda.

MPs and congregations want to know, what does Rowan Williams think of our over sexualised society, or the teaching of abstinence in schools?

Do they? Is that the most pressing issue on the minds of congregations when it comes to what Rowan Williams thinks? Are congregations actually that concerned about what Rowan Williams thinks? With the greatest of respect, church-goers will obviously pay attention to his remarks, but as they aren’t doctrine, they are simply his opinion, there to be noted and thought about, but not infallible pronouncements. I would argue that most people don’t really care about what Rowan Williams thinks about our over-sexualised society, having already come to their own conclusions. Same with abstinence, and in fact never mind most congregations, most members of the population seem to have focussed on the most negative interpretation as to how abstinence may be taught and thus don’t really care what the Archbishop thinks. Are most MPs most concerned about abstinence and the over sexualisation of society? If only.

What words does he have for his congregations on abortion or assisted suicide? What does he have to say about the screening of the documentary to be shown which next week which will shows us a man’s dying moments at a Dignistas clinic in Switzerland? What does he think of embryology research? Silence. Nothing, nada, not a word.

OK I get this and understand the point she’s making. The Church of England’s teaching on abortion and euthanasia is clear, they are pretty much against these practices, although with some room for interpretative hand-wringing. The Church leaders do need to speak more loudly and more frequently against these practices. It is nothing short of a tragedy that the leaders of Christ’s Church remain silent on the issues that affect the most vulnerable in our society. In some ways this is something of a veiled advert for the Catholic Church, although we would like our priests, bishops and archbishops to be more vocal in their defence of the elderly and unborn, often shying away from these uncomfortable topics, at least we have the authority of the magisterium, which is crystal clear on these issues.

Abstinence, abortion and euthanasia are issues that dovetail perfectly with Christian teaching, which is what Dorries is getting at. These issues are however, entirely logical stances to support, which do not require a belief in God. The support of the Church is vital, but the problem is that by linking them with the Church, Dorries makes clear her agenda is predominantly a Christian one, which gives fuel to the idea that abstinence teaching in schools is motivated purely by Christian morality, as opposed to being a good idea in itself. Abstinence makes sense and does not need to be taught within a Christian framework, as might be inferred. If Dorries is serious about getting a decent SRE programme in place, she needs to appeal to more than just the Christian vote or agenda. All these issues are rational ones, reinforced by religious faith, but not necessitating it.

I wonder if Nadine Dorries is interested in the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury on adultery? I know of some who are screaming out for guidance on this issue also.

the retreat of the church from our communities into its own ivory alters, is what has left a void within communities.

Rambling hyperbole. How precisely has the church withdrawn from communities?

A void the Big Society initiative is trying desperately to fill. The coalition, Archbishop, is trying to do the job in which your church has failed and is that maybe what has irked? That the Big Society policy has shone a light over the lazy failings of a rather wealthy established church?

Offensive piffle. How has the Church failed? Is it the Church’s job to prop up the government’s economic policies, to provide social care if the government won’t? Actually the Church provides an enormous amount of community support, from volunteers who visit the elderly and sick, to fund-raising for local causes such as hospices. David Cameron wants to emulate and build upon the model of community support that churches provide, recognising that this is all organised at a local level. The Church of England does not work from the top down; though it is governed by a mixture of episcopal, synodical and also parliamentary authority, it is also highly congregational, in short a unique structure that is very different to that of the Catholic Church. To state that the Church of England has somehow failed, without defining how, is erroneous and to call it lazy, is deeply offensive to all the members of the congregations and clergy that comprise the Church of England. What have these lazy priests, many of whom work longer hours and for considerably less pay, despite being easily as qualified as a city executive, failed to do? What else should the members of the Church of England be doing, other than what they are doing already? The only laziness here is Dorries’ statement of wealth of the Church of England. The Church of England is not some centralised organisation sitting on piles of cash, far from it. Churches cost thousands a week in upkeep, clergy salaries, pensions and houses need to be provided and maintained, not to mention the church schools. Many parishes are desperately struggling financially. To accuse the Church of England of lazily sitting back and doing nothing to tackle the problems of social exclusion whilst wallowing in money is the statement that surely must offend very single member. I’m not one, but I am offended nonetheless, having seen firsthand the selfless dedication and generosity of members of church communities.

church goers across the country scream out for guidance.

Why? How very patronising. They don’t know what to think and need the Archbishop of Canterbury to direct his scattered flock? Is the Bible and the guidance of their local priests and clergy not enough for them?

A church to lead and one they can follow. They want and need continuity and conformity, basic tenants upon which the church is based. That’s why they attend church because otherwise, they may as well stay at home and pray in isolation.

People attend Church because they want an encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, which is not available at home. They want to share in the fellowship of Christ as he commanded.

They want their church leader to reflect the teaching of Jesus and to spread his word into the wider community. To influence policy in the way Jesus would do if he were here today. What people don’t want is an Archbishop hijacking their church as a platform for his own Sharia friendly, socialist, personal political views.

Ah nice, another smear on Dr Williams’ agenda. I’m always wary of the “what would Jesus do” debates. What we do know is that Jesus Christ was the most revolutionary radical person ever to walk this planet. In terms of policy he would amongst other things demand that individuals, corporations and governments do everything possible to ensure that the poor have access to nutritious food, clean water and sanitation, decent housing, good schools, adequate employment and health care. So Dr Williams was well within his remit.

Their Church? The one that is lazy and wealthy? How can the Archbishop of Canterbury “hijack” something that he is already in charge of? Isn’t this something of a contradiction in terms? Which is it, thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury the church is failing, lazy and wealthy and now he’s taking it over? Surely if the former is true, perhaps his sudden hijack might improve matters? Is every member of the Church of England right-wing? Bit of a sweeping statement. I thought the Church of England had been infiltrated and was being run by socialists already according to her opening statements. Presumably they are very happy to see Dr Williams use it as a platform for his socialist views. In any event anything that any Archbishop of Canterbury says will always be his personal views. He is not a direct sovereign of the Church, he word is not binding law.

The buzz word around Westminster is ‘Who will rid us of this troublesome priest’. The answer is ultimately his flock, as they stay at home week after week. The Archbishop is feeling the effect of true democracy as they let him know what they think of his ridiculous uttering’s, with their feet.

If congregations are down, it is for reasons far more prosaic than folk disagree with Rowan Williams. Most genuine Christians, would not let a leader with whom they may have divergences of opinion, affect their encounter with the divine. Just because one might have some personal disagreement with the political views of a bishop or archbishop, will not affect our desire to deepen in spirituality. Another nonsense banality.

The last time “who will rid us of this turbulent priest was uttered” it resulted in sainthood. Dorries should think on.

I have been loathe to write this because Dorries is one of the few pro-life MPs who we have in Parliament. There is a glimmer of sense and rationality behind some of the rhetoric, once you manage to unpick it. When she comes out with tripe like this, you just want to put your head in your hands and groan. Surely we can do better – we have to. The thought that she is the sole voice of the unborn, terminally ill and elderly in Parliament is profoundly depressing.