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Letter: In Praise of the Archbishop’s Nimble Mind

Letter to the Editor

In Praise of the Archbishop’s Nimble Mind

Dear Editor,

Picture the scene: it is a typical morning in Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop of Canterbury prepares himself for the day with a quick glance at The Guardian. Another headline about the Government’s immigration policy. That is surely immoral, he decides, I must speak against this publicly. My staff can find something suitable from the Bible to back up what I say. If all else fails that old standby, the verse in Galatians about ‘neither Jew nor Greek’, will suffice. It has done faithful service so many times in the past.

Sadly, the busy Archbishop doesn’t have time to reflect on other aspects of this contentious issue that might also be called ‘immoral’: the refusal of French authorities to rescue those travelling in unseaworthy vessels whilst still in French waters, or that those arriving in the UK by such means can then leapfrog ahead of women and children seeking asylum through the established legal channels.

He now glances at recently-received letters from certain African Archbishops, refusing his gracious request to attend the Lambeth Conference. How unbiblical of them, he pronounces, while struggling to think of any Bible passages that mention the Lambeth Conference, or indeed Archbishops. His colleague Josiah will know, he concludes. He’ll find suitable words in composing a response, maybe with an allusion to John 17 thrown in.

It’s surely plain to anyone that unless they are present at the Conference, their voices cannot be heard. This simple insight blinds the Archbishop to the question of why their calls for effective meaningful sanctions against revisionist Anglican provinces have not been heard in over two decades. Especially by those preparing the Lambeth invitation list.

Time for Morning Devotions in the Chapel. The arch-episcopal brow furrows as verses from the Epistle are read, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who lie with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

The Archbishop closes his eyes in reflective agony. Why is that text still appointed to be read publicly? Was the Common Lectionary not revised for this very reason, to exclude such readings lest they confuse the laity? Is it time for a further revision? 

And what an ambiguous text it is! It is not at all clear what Paul meant by ‘men who lie with men’. That’s why we need ever-rotating cycles of dialogue, discussion and discernment. Why, a passage like this, shorn of any nuance, could simply be used as a proof text in the mouths of unsophisticated church members. Sustained listening and reflection are needed before one could ever speak clearly on issues of sexual morality; it’s much more complex than merely quoting a verse or two from the Bible.

Alas, I have no true insight into the Archbishop’s daily routine. The above paragraphs are drawn purely from imagination. However, I do wish to express admiration at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s nimbleness of mind. How remarkably clear the Bible is to him when he is marshalling a text or two in support of his favoured positions on immigration and on the Lambeth Conference, yet it appears so ambiguous on matters he’d rather not address, eg. human sexuality. How can he so swiftly condemn non-attendance at Lambeth as unbiblical without a series of consultations, a specially-commissioned study guide and a full-blown listening process? How is he able to pronounce on some issues at the drop of a press release, yet the matter of sexual behaviour requires much ecclesiastical hand wringing?

Truly a nimble mind indeed!


EM Brown