Press: Revolutionary autocrat meets Saudi prince    

16 March 2018

LAMBETH PALACE

AS A part-time student of diplomatic language, I admire the communiqué put out by Lambeth Palace after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s meeting with Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday of last week. The discussions, it said, had been “cordial and honest”.

Are such discussions better than “full and frank” ones? I imagine so. “Cordial” means that no one lost their temper; “honest” that both sides let it be known that the other was wrong.

The two men, as unlikely as it may seem, do, after all, have something in common: one is a revolutionary autocrat determined to improve the position of women and in a hurry to reform a corrupt institution that has been living off inherited wealth; the other is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Also, if you are to believe the letters page of The Daily Telegraph, both of them favour the persecution of Bible-believing Christians.

The letter in question, signed by Bishop and Mrs Michael Nazir-Ali, Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream, and others, claims that the condemnation of Lord Carey for his actions and failures to act in the case of Peter Ball, a former Bishop of Gloucester, were motivated by hostility to “biblically faithful Christianity”. “An attack on him is an attack on us all,” it concludes.

This is a silly and, in fact, rather a shaming position for the signatories to take up. It will look worse as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) proceeds, and the behaviour of some “biblically faithful Christians” — i.e. conservative Evangelicals — in Chichester diocese is lifted into the light.

Apart from anything else, the signatories assume that anyone outside the Church of England knows or cares about Lord Carey’s theology and how this might distinguish him from any other Christian. If it is biblically faithful Christianity to fail to pass on to the police letters detailing abuse carried out by a bishop in your province, so much the worse for the Bible.

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But it isn’t, of course. The phrase “biblically faithful” has shrunk to become a party label to denote people who are reliably beastly to gays and who cannot understand why society now looks down on them for it.

The case against the C of E emerged very clearly from The Guardian’s report of the opening of IICSA’s Anglican inquiry: “Speaking on the first day of three weeks of hearings into the C of E’s handling of abuse cases stretching back decades, the specialist abuse lawyer Richard Scorer said survivors had faced years of institutional cover-up and denial.

“The C of E could not be trusted to put its own house in order, said Scorer. ‘As the established church, [it] claims to offer moral guidance and moral leadership to the country. Yet clerical sex abuse cases and the scandals associated with them powerfully undermine that claim.’

“Survivors need the inquiry ‘to step in and do what only you can do, which is to make the church properly accountable externally for these appalling scandals’.

“An independent body should be set up to investigate allegations of abuse and was capable of overriding bishops ‘unwilling to comply with their responsibilities’, said Scorer. Mandatory reporting of disclosures of abuse should be introduced, he added. ‘The C of E cannot be allowed to carry on marking its own homework’.”

That is how the outside world regards the behaviour of Lord Carey. He was caught marking his own homework. It has nothing whatever to do with his position in church party-politics.

 

NONE of this will have made much impression on the popular press, compared with the baptism of Meghan Markle. The Sun had a wonderful account of the theological background: “Meghan, like her yoga-instructor mum, Doria Ragland, is a Protestant. But her father Thomas is a member of the Episcopal Church of the United States and is an Episcopalian, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“Meghan, who divorced film producer Trevor Engelson in 2013, will be allowed to marry in a church after the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the couple his blessing. Meghan and Prince Harry will have a full church wedding and not a civil ceremony followed by a blessing, like divorcees Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.”

It will be astonishing if this carefully stage-managed ceremony does not result in an uprush of baptisms, and a corresponding surge in incidents where Evangelicals refuse to baptise babies whose parents are felt to be insufficiently Bible-believing.

 

IF PEOPLE are confused about marriage, that is as nothing compared with the confusions about motherhood. A ComRes poll discovered that most people in England considered that Diana, Princess of Wales, was a better mother than their own, who was in turn considered better at the job than the childless and, indeed, celibate St Teresa of Calcutta.

That will come as a relief to mothers everywhere who are aware that they can hardly hope to compete with a demigoddess, but might at least prefer to be in competition with other women who had actually raised children.

The Virgin Mary came in eighth, which is surprisingly high when you think of it, and Marge Simpson only tenth, which is shockingly low when you consider the character of her son, Bart. Surely it is easier to be a perfect mother when your child is the perfect man.

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