Press: There are no rewards for honesty

29 September 2010

by Andrew Brown

The long Ginny Dougary interview with Dr Williams in The Times was interesting for almost everything but the headline. “Gay Bishops are all right by me, says Archbishop” was no more than averagely misleading by headline standards. But was it really front-page news, as the standfirst claimed, that celibate homosexuals are acceptable bishops in the Church of England?

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has declared that he has ‘no problem’ with homo­sexuals being bishops, in his first explicit statement on the subject since taking office.”

I thought the most explicit statement in the interview was his response when asked about his personal preferences: “Pass.” It was also, surely, news that he is planning to retire before he reaches 70.

But the most instructive feature may be the sort of questions that she had prepared. She is a very good interviewer, which means that she can sometimes sketch a vivid and lasting picture of the personality in front of her. It is an extraordinarily difficult skill because essentially there is no reward for either party in being honest and playing fair — at least compared with the rewards for cheating and dishonesty. Real candour is unlikely to advance either of their careers.

As a general rule, the interviewee is trying to sell a book, while the interviewer is trying to sell themselves. This can work perfectly well when both parties understand the transaction as showbiz. But, of course, what the public demands, or thinks it demands, is something that doesn’t feel like showbiz at all. Consider the extraordinary convention in magazine headlines where the sleb of the week “opens her heart” to the readers.

So we look at the list of questions asked in the interview, and some are the kind of thing that no one in their right mind would answer intimately, except to an intimate friend. “Does he ever swear?” “Has he suffered from depres­sion when doing this job?” “Does he ever feel his intellect is a handicap — getting in the way of his heart or further obscuring rather than demystifying complex matters?” And “Are you an intellectual snob?”


Hardly surprising that when she makes a joke: “You have to worry about us poor thickies out here,” he replies: “Oh, I worry all the time.”

Yet there was one new and revealing thing that he said about the whole gay bishops business. “When I mention the statements that have been made about civil liberties and so forth, I think it’s important. It does mean that any local church that supports illegal discrimination or persecution of homosexuals is actually going against the Anglican Com­munion, and I have said that publicly.” One does wonder who is supposed to hear this, and who is supposed to believe it.

Still, when given a question that is actually possible to answer truthfully to a stranger, he plays it beautifully: “What is the point of prayer, I had asked him earlier: ‘Um, the point of praying is to open yourself up to God so God can do what he wants with you. You come with empty hands, as silent as you can be and say, “Over to you.” So you could say the function was to make you the person God wants you to be — in the full awareness that that might not be quite the person you think you want to be.’”

The New York Times had a remarkable quote from the Rt Revd John Broadhurst in its piece about the after­math of the Pope’s visit: “The trouble with the Anglican Church is that it has adopted a parliament­ary model and one that presumes change and pre­sumes everyone can have a say. . . I think it’s be­come a kind of fascist democracy.”

And if it’s not too fascist, it’s too liberal: the next paragraph quotes the Revd Geoffrey Kirk as saying that he and his parish “hoped to move to the Catholic Church for rea­sons ‘related to the ordina­tion of women to the priesthood and epis­copate’, but also out of ‘a sense that the Church of England is moving in a direction of liberal theo­logy in all sorts of areas that we think is unfaithful to the Gospel basically’.”

At least, then, there is one person who does not seem to suppose that the Evan­gelical influ­ence on the Church of England has been growing for the past 20 years.

I may be a gnarled old conspiracy theorist, but I would be very surprised if the original schemes for the Ordinariate had not envisaged a whole phalanx of Forward in Faith priests praying with their congregations at the Newman beatification. It appears that the leaders of the movement fooled themselves quite as much as they fooled whoever was listening to them in Rome.

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