Thursday, 25 September 2008

Now they tell us!

The condemnation by the two Archbishops of how the money markets work has ruffled my non-believer feathers. Their late arrival on the world of reality really brings into question what purpose do they serve? I have gathered together a few of the things I do know about their positions, role and responsibility. The Church of England is the established or state church in England. It is divided into two provinces - Canterbury in the South of England and York in the North. Each province has a head or Primate - the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The Church of England is the established church, meaning, amongst other things:

* the Monarch is the the Supreme Governor of the church (theologically Jesus is the head),
* the Church performs a number of official functions,
* Church and State are linked

The Church of England also has a law-making role in Britain. Twenty-six bishops (including the two Archbishops) sit in the House of Lords and are known as the Lords Spiritual. They are thought to bring a religious ethos to the secular process of law. The Church of England fulfils a civic responsibility too. Its bishops and priests are responsible for performing state weddings and funerals, acts of remembrances, memorial services as well as grand occasions like the coronation. After events like the Gulf War or major disasters, the country 'comes together' to mourn under the spiritual guidance of the Church of England. It is a broad church, representing a wide spectrum of theological thought and practice. They are:

* a belief that the Bible contains the core of all Christian faith and thought
* a loyalty to a way of worship and life that was first set out in the Book of Common Prayer
* celebration of the sacraments ordained by Jesus - that of Baptism and Eucharist or Holy Communion
* a system of Church order that stems from ancient times and is focused in the ordained ministry of Bishop, Priest and Deacon
* a firm commitment to the ministry of the whole people of God, lay and ordained together
* a way of Christian thinking that involves Scripture, Tradition and Reason held together in creative tension.

Right - that is enough of that. I see it as summarising that an Archbishop is not expected or required to have any especial knowledge of how things work in the real world. His duties are all connected with religion. They may get near the concerns and morals of the common man by way of their Lords Spiritual connection but it will have come from briefs or position papers prepared for them by others of like mind. I cannot think of any process where Archbishops and laity come together for a face to face exchange of ideas. Their current Crusade about payment of bonus, how hedge funds make their money and the 'Greed is Good' world of Gordon Gekko as portrayed in film comes very late in the day. The perception of iniquities where many bonus arrangements seem so unfair to the average employee is not new and has not been sheltered from debate.

So, where have the Archies been all this time? They have been very vocal and proactive on homosexuality and opportunities for women. Or have they? Their concern was very limited - In 1992 when General Synod passed a vote to ordain woman not everyone in the Church of England was in agreement. In 1993 it passed the Act of Synod setting up an official structure to enable parishes to refuse women's ministry. Many of the headlines regarding the Church of England since 2002 have regarded the rights of homosexual priests. The Church of England allows for the ordination of gay priests as long as they are celibate. Alongside issues of homosexual clergy, the wider Anglican Communion has been wrestling with whether to sanction same-sex blessings. Both these issues could cause divisions within the Anglican Communion with the provinces of the global south (Nigeria, South East Asia, South America among many others) threatening to split permanently from those sanctioning the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy - mainly in North America. A commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury and headed by Dr Robin Eames, Primate of Ireland made recommendations on the matter in autumn 2004. So - here again, their contact with the wider world was limited and filtered through a dog/clergy collar.

My lack of belief questions the entire realm of "the Church" and its place in my life so I should not be surprised at the apparent ignorance of my Lords Westminster and York. If not ignorance, the late coming to condemnation. It is not as if they lacked inspiration or example. I think of "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away" The modern decision making tool of "What would Jesus do...?" does not come into it. Evicting money changers anyone?

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