As some of you know from my occasional contributions to Neo’s blog (what do you mean you haven’t read it! Golly, here’s the link, though those of a liberal frame of mind may need a trigger warning, but more of that in a moment) I am by way of being an Americanophile. I spent a year in the mid-West when I was ten, and fell in love with small-town America. There were no fewer than ten churches in a town of about ten thousand people, and I loved the Episcopal Church at which we worshipped. But there is one aspect of American culture which I wish we had not imported – the so-called “culture wars.”
I suppose I come at this from what I’d call a Church of England direction. I was brought up to believe that the Church of England has a mission to the whole country. As I grew up I came to value that side of things more and more. Regardless of creed, class or colour, the doors of our churches are open to all who want to go there (well, okay, they were, but don’t start me on Mr Johnson and his government). I don’t take the view that religion has no place in public life, and I value the role that the Church plays in this country. It is not just (although it is also) the work done selflessly and quietly locally through foodbanks, or through hospital and university chaplains, it is that local presence.
As a politcal näif, it came to me but slowly that there were “parties” in the church. At university I went along to some Christian Union meetings, but soon retreated to the calm of the College Chapel. I’ve never been one for jumping up and down and proclaiming my thanks for my salvation. C 451 tells a story of a politican who, on being asked by a Street Preacher whether he was saved, said “yes”, only to be asked “why are you not proclaiming it?” To that he responded as I would: “It was a close shave so I don’t like to shout about it.”
College chapel was like home – Alternative Service Book, decent sermon, seemly and, well, for me, a bit boring. Being an inveterate church hopper, I found one which was not boring. The Blessed Sacrament was reserved, there was incense, and the Book of Common Prayer was used. It wasn’t long before I’d bought my first mantilla and Rosary, and I asked Father to bless the latter – and he blessed the former too. I found a spiritual calm there which neither the College Christian Union, nor the Chapel gave me. But it never occurred to me to think that my preference was somehow “better”; it was different, and difference was, I thought, and still think, good.
Some at the Church I attended would refer to what had happened at the time when the Church of England had ordained women in the way that you might refer to a great disaster. As I came to know more, I realised that my Church was part of a group called “Forward in Faith“. There was considerable hostility among some of my fellow worshippers to those who, in their view, had “betrayed” the Church by agreeing to the ordination of women. Meanwhile, talking to friends at College, where I still attended early morning prayers in the Chapel, I encountered a similar hostility to the “dinosaurs” who opposed the ordination of women. As a woman, I was expected by my peers to share that view, and I was asked more than once “how I could bear” to “worship with those people?” I had a very good (male) friend in another College who was a keen Evangelical, and he used to ask me how I “could bear to worship in Laodicea”; he never darkened the door of the College Chapel.
It may just that I am a wishy-washy liberal sort of woman (guilty as charged by the way, and proud of it), but I did not see then, nor do I now, why they could not all “live and let live.” My other half (who only takes an interest in these things insofar as living with me requires it) asked me last night why I ran a “conservative blog” if I favoured the ordination of women and thought that LGBTI+ Christians should always be made welcome in church. I tried to explain that my Catholic views on the sacraments and the nature of the Church were not “conservative” to me, and constituted no bar to an inclusive view of that Church. I am not sure they were any the wiser, or even better informed.
On both sides of the Atlantic we seem to be living in sharply divided political cultures where the traditionally intolerant attitude by conservatives to things like gay rights are reciprocated on the left by a “cancel culture” to anyone with non-progressive views. This does seem to be an import, and it exacerbates existing divisions. In my own church it can seem, sometimes, as though those taking a traditional view of marriage and other social issues, are being marginalised. I was struck, as I thought and prayed about this, puzzled as to what a Church which has a national mission should do, by what Canon Angela Tilby has written in the latest Church Times: “we can take on that protective task only if we resist a too-easy identification of progressive causes with the values of “the Kingdom”.
It is a timely reminder that balance is one of the great virtues of Anglicanism, and so I leave you this Saturday, with her wise words:
We should nourish more diversity of thought, a wider theological intelligence. Scriptural truth, after all, is multi-layered. We misread our mission if we think that it is all about us and our personal preferences. In the same spirit, we should ensure that the conservative-minded among us are not driven to the edges, not only because this could encourage animosity, but because they retain insights that we need. We will engage effectively with secular society only if we know where our roots lie
Enjoy your Saturday!