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The Civil War still rages on

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Those who think the English Civil War ended in the 17th century ought to take a look at the General Synod. There’s definitely a Ph.D. thesis in it for someone. Casting my eye around Synod this year, it struck me that the reasons different factions rub each other up the wrong way might still be best described in terms of Roundheads and Cavaliers.

We can all think of bishops who act like Charles I and have an allergy to synodical government, just as we can immediately recognise all those earnest, soberly dressed lay people up from Huntingdon on an important moral mission.

Roundheads and Cavaliers don’t just disagree: they have a deep and visceral dislike of each other’s way of being. According to Cavaliers, Roundheads are grim, joyless, prudish, unfunny, provincial, unsophisticated, unsympathetic, cold-hearted, and cruel. According to Roundheads, Cavaliers are self-centred pleasure-seekers, egotistical show-offs, cultural snobs, indifferent to morality, insincere, and obsessed with sex and parties and position.

On top of this basic division, ideology divides yet further. There are left-wing Roundheads (the early Labour Party, Keir Hardie, Rowan Williams), and right-wing Roundheads (Reform, the UK Independence Party, the diocese of Sydney); there are right-wing Cavaliers (parts of Forward in Faith, Alan Clark), and left-wing Cavaliers (champagne socialists, Bill Clinton, me). Forgive the generalisations, but this is only a short column.

The Church of England was expressly set up in order to provide a Church where Roundheads and Cavaliers could co-exist without beating each other up. How do we do the same today, and put a stop to the construction of scaffolds?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for dialogue between those who disagree. I wonder whether some typology such as the above could serve as a sort of Myers-Briggs for churchmanship. At its best, Myers-Briggs can help squabbling couples recognise that the origins of their mutual bad-temperedness lie in something other than the desire to irritate intentionally.

Another suggestion: perhaps it is best to start a dialogue with those with whom you share at least an ideological or a temperamental affinity. It may be too difficult to start with a double difference. This may be why, for example, I am able to have a delightful lunch with the Principal of Pusey House, as I did last week, but I would think of a visit to the diocese of Sydney as a trip to Mordor. Whatever the difficulties, the motto is simple: it’s good to talk.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.

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