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+Rowan and +Benedict

I was moved as I watched the Pope and Archbishop together, both at Lambeth Palace and then in the Abbey. In the sense it was their vulnerability which affected me: two brilliant, shy men drawn from their studies into the ruthless glare of cynicism both in society and church, offering themselves in Christ for the life of God’s world.

Neither can win at least in a worldly sense. Benedict speaks from power, the power invested in his job description. For that he is derided and made personally responsible for the breakdown of priestly morality certainly encouraged by the breakdown of public morality in the Western world beginning in the sixties. This is neither excuse nor absolution. Abusing children is a frightful deed. Its root is neither in heterosexuality nor homosexuality but simply in perversion which probably would not have evaporated were RC priests permitted to marry. The question remains as to what drew men with such a perverse attraction into priesthood? Mind you, hovering in the background is another question. Does vocation to priesthood inevitably include a vocation to celibacy? Enough said.

The Pope is assailed for his use of perceived power. His assertion of a consistent religious moral standard, using “moral” in its precise sense, offends not only church haters, who obviously have their own problems, but all convinced that everyone has a right to their own opinion and their own way.

The Archbishop has no power. He is assailed for not using a power he doesn’t possess. He is blamed for tolerating sections of Anglicanism who mistake the spirit of the age for the Holy Spirit and never “test the spirits” safe in the conviction that God blesses their causes and anoints them as prophets. +Rowan is assailed by others for tolerating the tepid face of Anglicanism, worldly-wise, moderate and reluctant to confront wickedness. +Rowan is assailed by those who in temperament and conviction although not in affiliation are Roman Catholics of a rather dated vintage, or Evangelical Protestants of a stridently sectarian brand.

Yet God has called both men to serve the church at a time, in the West, where its path seems to lead to Calvary again, to rejection and suffering. Their willingness to face this journey with quiet determination should be an inspiration. The only power left to us is the power of the Crucified’s presence in hope of resurrection for the church and the world and society into which God places his Church.


One of the bemusing aspects of American political life for a mere Brit is the attachment of the working class and poor to the party of the “bosses”.  It would be as if in England those who vote Labour, suddenly became Conservative. My maternal grandfather, a coal miner in Yorkshire made such a change. When asked why he voted for the Tories  he replied, “If I am to be robbed, I’ll be robbed by a gentleman.”

As I see it, the Democrats, once the party of the dispossessed, are more and more hostage to the causes of an intellectual elite. Whether these causes are just or not isn’t the point. The point is that a gulf is growing in understanding and empathy between “progressives” and the people whose causes they once advanced. It is for this reason, among others, that independents and working class Republicans, not to mention the Tea Party crowd feel more at home with those who oppose the measures which have elevated the poor, health care, pensions, a minimum wage, than they do with those who fought to create a safety net.

I write this not to champion a particular political party. I can’t vote anyway and find myself uncomfortable with party politics and politicians as a breed. I suppose I am apolitical! It seems to me that something strikingly similar has happened in TEC.  Those who champion “progressive” causes have little empathy or even contact with the working poor. As those championed by theological “liberals” have become more and more conservative in their voting pattern, they have seemed less and less attractive as prospective Episcopalians. One may still give money to causes, campaign for health care, run soup kitchens and volunteer in commendable causes, but a divide has emerged as significant as that which obtained when women, and a few men, of wealth rolled up their sleeves and worked among the poor in Victorian England, only to return to the family estate at nightfall to  dress for dinner.

There’s a lovely story of a young curate assigned to a slum parish presided over by an austere, aristocratic Anglo Catholic priest. One morning the curate was late for Mass. Afterwards the vicar chided the young man for his lateness. The curate explained that his alarm clock failed to ring to which the vicar replied, “and where was your valet?”

I do not believe for a moment that Anglicanism is merely a church for the elite. Some suggest that it is our liturgical tradition which creates a barrier for “ordinary people”.  Why then does the Roman Catholic Church retain its pastoral association with working people? All right, most people work, but you know what I mean. The Lutherans do better than we do in bonding with the poor.

Anglicanism as a separate face in Christendom began as a church for and in the whole community. That it became a church for the Squire and the gentry, and the villagers, was natural. Perhaps the Industrial Revolution divorced ordinary people from the church? But in the past few decades I sense that we have become so enamored with the trendy causes of the intelligentsia that we have placed stumbling blocks between the whole Gospel we proclaim and those for whom we proclaim it.  Ironically we have substituted the old aristocratic, wealthy class for a new elitist “progressive” class as the object of our attention and in the process their introverted obsessions have become our own.