I enjoyed Chalcedon’s post on the theologically semi-literate comments of Giles Fraser. They remind me of the theory that it is a little known part of our unwritten constitution that the Anglican Church has to provide a barmpot to keep the newspapers in sales in slack times. The first one I recall in my lifetime was the ‘Red Dean’ of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson, a man who never found a genocidal left-wing dictator he couldn’t worship, moving from Stalin, via Mao to Castro – all of whom received his unalloyed praise; he kept his scorn for his own Government and that of the USA. He may even have had views on Jesus, but beyond thinking him an early version of Mao, they weren’t very pronounced – or indeed often pronounced at all. I’m old enough to recall the old loon, living in a palace, and with a good private income, and lecturing the rest of us on redistribution of wealth; he could have started with his own, but somehow never got round to that. At least his successor, ‘honest to God’ John Robinson actually had views on religion, as did his successor in the ‘nutty Anglican’ succession – David Jenkins, one time Bishop of Durham – ‘the bishop who doesn’t believe’ – notorious for thinking that the resurrection was a ‘conjuring trick with bones’. Young Fraser’s a reversion to the Red Dean line, and like Johnson, spends more time opining modish lefty views than writing about his day job – but then the Guardian wouldn’t be paying for that I suppose?
Judas, having sold his master for 30 pieces of silver, had the decency to feel shame and to hang himself; times have change. If he’d been around now he could have made a living from writing for the media: ‘Why I had to hand Jesus over’, explaining that he’d gone all mystical and betrayed the ‘social gospel’. One can imagine the quotations: ‘It was all very well saying turn the other cheek, but the capitalists would have hit us there too, so revolution was the only answer.’ No doubt Judas should have quoted in aid the old-fashioned social views of Our Lord: “That marriage and one man, one woman stuff, showed just how conservative Jesus was. I once said in frustration “You should join the Tories” – so it’s no wonder I did what I did.’
It is generations of ‘shepherds’ like Jenkins and Fraser who have helped reduce the once-mighty Anglican Church to a bad joke. Fraser has recently written about the need to get rid of many church buildings as they ‘get in the way’ of the ‘wider social and religious mission’ – the ordering of the words is significant. I hate to tell him, but there is already a whole network of churches who behave the way he wants his church to behave – nonconformist chapels like my own have been doing this a long time – much to the disgust and distrust of many of Fraser’s predecessors. I can give him a tip. having been at this for a lot longer than him, if you don’t believe what the Creed says, people won’t come. If they want a social worker, they will phone for one. The church needs to be ‘meaner’, no more ‘Mr Nice Guy’. He thinks the C of E has concentrated too much on its pastoral role – well, not in these parts or others with which I am familiar – it make be different in London. He is right that people will come to worship – but who is it Fraser worships – the God of Scripture or the God of his own devising. Men and women have always come to the first – but when the trumpet gives off a discordant squeak, the go elsewhere.
Before offering a solution to the C of E’s many problems, Fraser needs to identify them – he could begin by looking in the mirror.