Talking of ++Justin: legality, honesty and rising above contempt.

Archbishop Justin is ashamed of the Church of England.

That’s a sobering, perhaps chilling, thought as we enter Holy Week. Of course we should always enter into the spirit of Holy Week with a sense of shame and sorrow. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday should always stop us short and burst the bubble of our hubris. Holy Week is not supposed to be an easy week. In Bonhoeffer’s terms to go straight to Easter Sunday without entering into the shame of Good Friday is to take for ourselves ‘cheap grace,’ at the expense of ‘costly discipleship.’ 

Archbishop Justin wasn’t, however, talking about how we should approach Holy Week, but was, instead, giving his response to how he feels about the Church of England, following the appalling revelations at the IICSA hearings. I am glad that ++Justin feels ashamed, and there can be little doubt that his feelings run deep. In giving voice to the shame he feels he demonstrated real leadership.

Justin was also correct to talk about tribalism and clericalism. Clericalism is one of the church’s greatest ills, and it cuts across all traditions. Clericalism is indiffernt to ecclesiology. It is as happy in chinos and chasubles. It doesn’t mind whether its mantra is ‘fathers says’, or ‘the leadership has decided.’ Clericalism always leads to in groups and out groups, it always seeks to protect its own, it is always theologically competitive and, it has scant regard for free thinking, difference and, disagreement. Clericalism is authoritarian.

++Justin was impressive this week. He has been quietly impressive over the last few weeks. His interview in the Church Times and his book (Reimagining Britain) both make it clear that he accepts and values difference and, has a profound belief in ‘disagreeing well.’   To the chagrin of the clerical class – whether they are chino or chasuble wearers (and to be clear I gladly wear a chasuble when I preside at the Eucharist) it is abundantly clear, despite his background and pilgrimage to Canterbury, that ++Justin is no conservative-authoritarian.

In the chapter on the family Justin writes: ‘The nature of shifts in the content of tradition, of their development and alteration, is of change working when it retains a recognizable sense of where it has come from. Tradition that is static dies. Tradition that abandons the past in a paradigm shift loses its stability. The same applies to traditions of values, and thus the importance of embedding our reimagining in what we have been, as well as what we will be. Thus, for example, same-sex marriage builds on the presumption that marriage is stable and lifelong (the rootedness of the tradition), while also responding to the massive shift in cultural acceptance with regard to the understanding of human nature and sexual orientation.’ 

Now  I am not arguing that Justin has gone all progressive, but it does appear that he is laying the ground for a plurality of theological integrities, for earlier in the same chapter he also writes: ‘A liberalism of approach that rejects all other approaches that are not equally liberal is stifling, unenforceable and contradictory. A one size fits all approach, whether originating from the state, secular view or faith groups – even those whose tradition is deeply embedded in the culture – will be overthrown by numerous contradictions.’ 

At the IICSA hearings Justin referred to the lack of trust between the different ecclesial tribes. I don’t think trust is quite the right word. Those at the extreme of each tribe do, in a sense, trust each other in that they know where they are coming from. The motives of the most ardent conservative and the most progressive liberal are hardly shrouded in darkness. The issue for me isn’t trust its something far worse: contempt. As we we approach Good Friday we need to be clear that the ardent conservative and uber progressive alike both believe that the other is betraying the faith. I am beginning to wonder what on earth Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer that ‘that they all may be one,’ might mean for a denomination whose members are so viscerally not as one.

What is becoming clear to me is that ++Justin’s three great archepiscopal challenges are these: legality, honesty, and eroding the contempt that clearly, and manifestly, exists between those who hold different integrities as they relate to sexuality and gender.  His predecessors, it now seems, were either unwilling or  unable to rise to these challenges. The mantle has been passed to ++Justin. His job is to lead the Church of England through shame to redemption. He needs, and deserves, our support, for there will be enormous pain on the way. Some will decide that they are no longer prepared to journey together. Some, perhaps many, will treat Justin with contempt. He has a heavy load to bear.

But, bear it he will.


One thought on “Talking of ++Justin: legality, honesty and rising above contempt.

  1. I think there are elements of “contempt” around, but it is not always that strong. I can think of several conservatives that I am able to experience “Good disagreement” with, without contempt, but I suspect that there is indeed contempt between the two extremes, eg between Reform and those with the most liberal views.

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