Saturday, March 23, 2013


I was in Kent Thursday afternoon, but not (alas) in Canterbury. So I am watching the installation of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury a day late.

It's a terrifically Anglican event.

The liturgy, the colours, the music, the way the congregation is entering into it with such restraint - glorious.

And then Justin.

Unlike Rowan, whose bearing and voice poured poetry upon us in words we often admired without full comprehension, Justin finds the more direct route. To be fair, Rowan's Celtic heart wasn't English anyway. Justin's prose is more prosaic, but his message comes with a savage directness: no Christ, no point.

Really, I'm sure that's what he just said.

We can't be fully human without Jesus, and society built without him therefore will fail. So - take courage and respond to the One who says - fear not, it is I.

It's OK to fail; Jesus' love is stronger than failure. Fear stops us being human - Jesus' love conquers that.  This was gloriously direct stuff. Of all that happened (and I am including the obligatory African drumming) this was the least expected moment. It seems our new Archbishop has been watching the Queen's "How To Evangelise The Nation" videos which she has been sneaking out for a couple of Christmasses now...

So it's slightly churlish of me to pick a fight so early in #ABC105's tenure, but he allowed a mis-step on the radio earlier in the day. It was, I hope, simply a mis-step.

Pressed (inevitably) on his attitude to the gay question, he spoke warmly of the depth of some gay relationships he knows - and then added that these things were not the same as heterosexual relationships and shouldn't be confused. He went on to say something of the order of, equality is problematic, because not everything is equal. Some things are different and we should rejoice in complimentarity.

This for me was the mis-step.

I think I am becoming a Justin fan. So forgive me for picking this up. Equality & Complimentarity are not alternative qualities. Indeed, when they are allowed to be presented as such, we are always going to hit problems. In terms of gender issues, I think that way of looking at life pretty much went out with the Ark. In employment law now - and in most church life too! - we accept and enjoy differences between men and women. But only in the context of making all equal.

Which of these statements is unacceptable:
* A woman's place is in the wrong.
* A woman's place is in the kitchen.
* A woman's place is in the boardroom, but on less pay than her less talented male colleague.
Answer - all of them, without exception. Obviously!

Yet when women enter leadership they often do so in a very different way to men. Stereotypes exist because there is within them some truth. Those differences are absolutely fine to work through - even enjoy - but only when we have got rid of the inequalities of the insults above and ensured prejudice and sexism have been dealt with.

So too with sexuality issues. Gay people and straight are not the same - that's fair, though (again) we must be careful of stereotypes. But 'difference' only works as a concept in public life if underlying that is a sense of equality. Otherwise, it almost inevitably leads to prejudice and disadvantage. I would very fairly say that I have often been made to feel different, and I'm talking about life in the Church here; I have not often felt equal. A concept of complimentarity without equality can be scary. The church needs to be a place that banishes such fear, as Justin said in his installation sermon, because Jesus is with us, arms stretched out, saying - I'm here, so it's OK. He loves everyone. He makes us equal. Equally loved. Equally human. Different in a hundred ways, but these things must always go together.

Equality is a fundamentally Christian concern. The only people who don't think so are those who already have enough of it.

And Christians should never have enough of it. We should always want to ensure that more and more people are more and more equal. People that we find hard. Just because they are people. Jews & Gentiles. Slave & free. Sinners and saints.

The mistake is to think that when we say people are Equal we say they have no needs, no cause to turn to Christ. That's a confusion: if everyone is equal, everyone stands on a level playing field before Calvary, the cross towering over all of us in exactly the same way. And on it - one Lord, one Judge, one Saviour.

We may be different. But we are equal there. These are not antithetical ideas, and the real dignity of people often depends upon us so melding these concepts together now that come the Day when we stand together before Christ,  we will do so as good and faithful servants surrounded by a cloud of other good and faithful witnesses.

Enough - I said earlier that I think I am a fan of #ABC105 & I meant it.

As Justin said, it's OK to fail. The service, the sermon - huge success; the radio interview - perhaps less so. An archbishop gets a honeymoon period where no-one notices the mis-steps for a while. Mercifully! We should pray that the man who is so impressive in the grand moments & the prepared set-pieces becomes equally brilliant at the off-the-cuff reply.

Equally brilliant. In a different setting...

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