Door is closing on Church’s foot, says Williams

09 September 2009

by Ed Beavan

Had he got news for him? Ian Hislop and Dr Williams in conversation in Canterbury, on Friday evening PAT MILNE

Had he got news for him? Ian Hislop and Dr Williams in conversation in Canterbury, on Friday evening PAT MILNE

“THE FOOT is still in the door, even if it is being squashed very painfully,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said last weekend when he was asked about the Church’s participation in public debate. He did not think that the Church had yet “dropped off the radar”.

Dr Williams was in dialogue with Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and panellist on the BBC’s Have I Got News for You, at an event during “The Gathering”, a series of activities for all ages at Canterbury Cathedral.

Mr Hislop described the difficulty that Dr Williams faced with the media when people called for a moral lead from the Church. “When the Archbishop of Canterbury says anything, they say, ‘Shut up,’” he suggested.

Dr Williams responded that “the leadership thing is a problem.” It was “a matter of trying to remember that when you’re speaking from the Church you’re trying to give some sort of critical perspective to try and show some­thing”. The Archbishop admitted that he was “not brilliant at sound-bites”.

There was scepticism towards the media, Dr Williams said, and “people do know there are other places to go” to get information. “When I go to the theatre, I’m glad theatres are full, and there are ways of opening up the world that don’t depend on news.”

The media wanted simple stories, and “the way that news is handled is not neutral.” Dr Williams warned that “the consolidation of the media into big business does pose a problem to independence, truth, fullness, and re­flection,” a situation that he described as “con­cerning”.

Mr Hislop said there was a lack of analysis and history in today’s media. Questions were asked, but there was “no time to digest”.

Dr Williams suggested that Britain had lost a “large amount of cultural awareness of Christianity” because of “shifting patterns of education and society”, and described an experience of going into a school in a deprived area of London where none of the children knew the parable of the Good Samaritan.

“Telling somebody these parables for the first time is an extraordinary thing, as you see how it changes people’s frame of reference. I hope there’s some way we can make some capital value out of that.”

Mr Hislop said that it seemed that today’s society had overcompensated in concessions to other religions: his children seemed to know more about Ramadan than about other religious events. He believed that religious education should contain a “fairly substantial whack of Christianity”.

Both Dr Williams and Mr Hislop lamented the loss of the culture of voluntary work in society.

When asked why God allows suffering, Dr Williams said: “Nobody has ever given a nice, neat theory in 2000 years” on the subject. He frequently thought through the issue, he said, but, even then, “The very best theory about God and suffering doesn’t help.” He took strength from people he had met who had lived through suffering.

When asked what constituted success for the Church, he spoke of Jesus’s death on the cross, and the persecution of the Early Church. “God left us with a very troubling model of success. I think success for the Church has to be something measured by the degree to which the compelling radiance of God comes through.”

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