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The Rebel Christ by Michael Coren

14 April 2023

David Chillingworth on the challenge posed by an ex-conservative

MICHAEL COREN is an Anglican priest — English by birth and now living in Canada. His story is interesting and unusual. He was a successful journalist and author — and a Roman Catholic. He describes himself as having been until 2013 “a champion of orthodox Catholicism”. He says that, to his shame, he was rather good at it. His book Why Catholics are Right sold nearly 50,000 copies.

But then things began to change, particularly when he encountered Ugandan homophobia. Beyond that, he met a “fetish of reactionary ideas around gender, sex, power, relationships and personal choice”.

Faced with this, Coren says, “I stopped speaking and started listening, entered into belief as a dialogue, opened my eyes rather than folded my arms. Yes, I met the rebel Christ.”

This is a brave book. The forces of rampant conservatism which Coren is taking on — forces that he describes as “triumphalist, proud and sectarian” — are not to be underestimated in their power. In his view, ranged against that “cult of the bunker” is the supreme paradox that is Christianity. That paradox claims that “in defeat is victory and in death is life.”

In the background of this book, one senses the constant presence of the “almost parallel version of the faith” which has been developed by American Evangelical conservatives: religious freedom, gun rights, support for Israel, resistance to LGBTQ2 equality (the “2” refers to “two-spirited” in Native American culture), and objection to abortion.

Facing that right-wing agenda, Coren explores the question how the Bible is to be read and understood. He courageously addresses the questions of gay rights and gay marriage, abortion, capital punishment, and slavery. Always, one senses that he is attempting to make his picture of the Rebel Christ as compelling as the alternative and conservative pictures are to so many. He says, “We are thinking, questioning men and women trying to find paths of goodness.”

There is one aspect of his subject which Coren does not address. It is the question — which others have referred to as “deep underlying concepts” — why some people take up what are in general liberal and flexible positions while others become deeply and defensively conservative in their attitudes. Not only would it be interesting and important to know why people are as they are: it might also provide a key to the deep changes in attitude for which Coren and many others yearn.

The Rt Revd David Chillingworth is a former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.


The Rebel Christ
Michael Coren
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.39


Listen to an interview with Michael Coren here

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