The Church of England is holding its General Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a presidential address in which he continues to try to keep his religion together, with the result that he gets flack from both the progressives and the fundamentalists. He addresses most of the usual issues on which conventional religion is foundering: ordained women, homosexuality, and a strong opposition to the notion that the Church should follow secular human rights. The synod has been widely reported in the English press.
Williams is a nuanced, highly spiritual, and intelligent man, struggling to cope with an impossible situation. The problem is that the fundamentalist agenda – anti-gay, anti-human rights, anti-equality – is more or less the default setting of most religions. If you say change will only happen if the fundamentalists are happy, they’ve won – forever. They can can simply continue to say, ‘We’re not happy with this change’, and the liberals, for whom being reasonable to unreasonable people is the highest precept, will wring their hands in agony and never ever do anything.
The Archbishop calls eloquently for all participants in the debate to treat each other as persons with ‘3 dimensions’:
“Seeing something in three dimensions is seeing that I can’t see everything at once: what’s in front of me is not just the surface I see in this particular moment. So seeing in three dimensions requires us to take time with what we see. It may help us look more critically at solutions that seek to do much all at once; and perhaps to search for structures that will keep open the ability to learn from each other.”
Which is of course wonderful as a mode of dialogue; but it founders like a magnificent Titanic against the reality of the fundamentalist mind – it’s simply not three dimensional. From Savitri Hensman in the Guardian:
But on the same day that Archbishop Williams was addressing Synod, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda was issuing a statement that underlined the strong refusal of some hardliners to listen to fellow-Anglicans, scholars or indeed God. International Anglican gatherings have repeatedly endorsed the importance of human rights for all and “deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality” drawing on scientific research as well as the Bible. This was in keeping not only with Anglican traditions but also Jesus’ call to love one’s neighbour as oneself. On 9 February, however, Archbishop Orombi proclaimed support for most of the principles behind a draconian anti-homosexuality bill, while urging “proportionality” in sentencing and confidentiality for clergy and counsellors. This would criminalise not only lesbians and gays but also those seeking to promote mutual listening and sharing of knowledge on sexuality.
While liberals like Rowan Williams call ever more plaintively for us to recognize the humanity in each other, fundamentalists are busy getting dehumanizing bills passed through parliament. I wonder which will be most effective?
A major statement from Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination protests that they are not ‘anti-woman’, but simply that they do not ‘agree that women should have the overall leadership of a church’. Someone needs to explain to them that sexism is precisely not being ‘anti-woman’, but being ‘pro – women in their place’, i.e. underneath men. The all-too-familiar rhetoric has it that women are no less valuable than men, but they have a separate role (which just happens to be a lesser role). The Church should not bow to the pressure of society and make women equal – where have I heard that before?
Meanwhile, a teacher in the US has been sacked for teaching Creationism – and possibly worse – in school. And a Singaporean pastor has made a humble apology following his silly attempts to ridicule Buddhism in public. The matter is reported on the Buddhist Channel, which also posts the original talks – this is in rather poor taste, since Pastor Tan has apologized and asked for the videos to be no longer circulated.