Andrew Brown: Slalom skiing in Kensington and Moscow

01 December 2017

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Engaged: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, on Monday, after their engagement was announced

Engaged: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, on Monday, after their engagement was announced

SOMETIMES, I think that the job of an arch­bishop is something like a slalom skier’s. If it’s done right, no one notices the skill required to dodge the obstacles which come one after another with terrifying speed.

The line on sexuality is particularly difficult to hold at the moment, of course, and the decision of Prince Harry to marry a divorced woman with whom he has been openly, exuberantly cohabiting, would have produced tremendous difficulties only 20 years ago. Now, no one gives a stuff.

The nearest to an objection was an extra­ordinary piece by Melanie McDonagh on The Spectator website which said that, because Meghan Markle was divorced, and Harry’s grandmother was the Queen, the couple should not get married.

This was a horrible misstep for an opinion writer, because it would have been unexamined common sense 30 or 40 years ago. That is exactly the sort of prejudice that readers want to see excoriated. Not the stuff they now believe, which is, of course, the pinnacle of the develop­ment of Western thought, but those ludicrous, ridiculous things that they all believed in one or two marriages ago.

 

ON ANOTHER pole of the slalom, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury managed to weave through his visit to Moscow (News, 24 November) without anyone noticing just how far out of line with his hosts he was on sexuality. Patriarch Kirill had just delivered a speech which anyone familiar with the code of Orthodox rhetoric would understand was a denunciation of gay people.

“Today is not the time to rock the boat of human passions,” the Patriarch said, according to agency reports. “The Church, art, culture, our writers, scientists — all those people who love the Motherland — should come together because we are entering a critical period in human civilisation.” Otherwise we will “slip into the abyss at the end of civilisation”.

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Compare this with the Mail’s report of the Archbishop’s speech: “He threw his support behind the idea that different forms of families can provide a stable home, adding: ‘The family, however it is experienced, is the place where we can be at our strongest and most secure. . . It is easy to define what makes up the family very narrowly,’ he said. ‘It is also easy to base ideas and ideals about the family on one’s own experience.’”

So far as I can see, everyone else treated this as a dispatch from the university of the bleeding obvious. But the Mail had to phone Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, for a quote: “There is an opportunity for the Church to stand up for marriage and not to surrender to popular culture. All the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and father.”

But this is weak stuff. The Mail’s readers are themselves part of the culture that its editor rails against, and the Archbishop is not sur­rendering to popular culture so much as acknowledging its reality, which the editors of mass-market papers need to do, even if synodical politicians do not.

 

BUT Ms Williams is several rungs up the rentaquote ladder from Dr Jules Gomes, formerly the Vicar of St Columba’s, Arbory, and Castletown, who was last year found guilty of conduct unbecoming a clerk in Holy Orders, and is now the pastor of an “independent Anglican” church. Dr Gomes was used by the Mail to attack the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who had made some mild criticisms of the Budget in the House of Lords.

”I do not think the Church needs to be so closely identified with the policies of a single political party,” Dr Gomes was quoted as saying. “The C of E should keep its nose out of politics and economics because it approaches economics exclusively from the Left wing. It has almost entirely bought into the socialist ideology of equal distribution of wealth.”

This sits rather oddly with the thrust of the rest of the piece, which is that Bishop Urquhart is a posh rich man who lives in a palace, and that the C of E should be using its own money to solve the homeless problem. Steve Doughty, who wrote the piece, is miffed that I teased him about using Dr Gomes earlier.(Also, he quite correctly pointed out that there was an element of “good disagreement” in the blurb accom­panying last month’s instructions about transgender children.)

 

AND so to the trickiest slalom of all: the Pope’s visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh. This is a case where the usual left/right polarities are reversed. It is the Left that wants simple sloganeering solutions, and the Right that wants to pay attention to the difficult facts of the case.

The Pope has not hesitated to denounce the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, and, by im­­plication, the silence of Aung San Suu Kyi on the matter, while in Rome. But the Financial Times reported that he had been urged by his own Church not even to use their name while he was in the country: “‘There are so many problems in Myanmar; if you pinpoint only one, it will be very divisive,’ said Win Tun Kyi, national director of Myanmar’s biggest Catholic charity. ‘Everyone is suffering, and as the father of all the people on the planet, 7bn people are his children.’”

As I finish the column, it is reported that the Pope managed not to use the “R” word in his meeting with Ms Suu Kyi.

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