C of E "fit only for bigots and hypocrites"?

Nick Cohen of the Guardian is not so keen on the Church of England, and neither are the headline writers who called this piece "A church fit only for bigots and hypocrites." It includes this bit:

The African bishops played on Williams's white man's guilt. Decent treatment for homosexuals was an imperialist assertion of western values, they implied. Williams folded and forced John, who was once his friend, to stand down. He admitted that among his motives was his desire to appease the "resentment toward the United States and England in some former colonial areas".

The fault of anti-imperialist politics in either its left or liberal forms is its inability to see distinctions among the formerly colonised. Williams's retreat has mollified the Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, who says: "Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible." Williams has kept him on board. Held the Anglican communion together.

But how can Anglicans oppose the Ugandan government's attempts to mandate death sentences or life sentences for homosexuals? Can Anglicans expect anyone to believe them when they say there is no connection between theological justifications for homophobia and the terror the Ugandan state and the Ugandan Anglican church wish to direct against homosexuals?

The language of "communion" and "engagement" sounds kind and woozy. There is nothing kind about the prison cells that await gay men in Kampala – nor grace behind their bars.

In Archbishop William's defense, words that don't come easily to my fingertips, I think he believes--mistakenly--that the Anglican Communion's ability to work among the poor in some of its member provinces depends heavily on the quality of the relationships between the province and the leading donor provinces--the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. For him, this hasn't been entirely about theological abstractions.

And about the headline: We are all hypocrites, so no church can avoid having hypocrites for members. However, the institutionalization of hypocrisy as policy, which I believe is what Cohen objects to, is harder to excuse.

Comments (2)

To re-post what I posted earlier today on a facebook thread, since 2004, Rowan Williams has flown to Washington DC three times to chair sessions of the "Building Bridges" conference. The bridges referred to are between the Christian and Muslim faiths, however, and all three sessions were convened under the auspices of the Jesuit Georgetown University.

In 2007 the archbishop spent a couple of months in DC, doing research for his biography of Dostoevsky. He made a studied point during his visit of avoiding any contact with the Episcopal Church, to the extent, one was given to understand, of not even setting foot in a TEC church building.

Great article, especially the highlighting of white man's guilt!

I would contest the idea that Rowan was ever liberal on homosexuality. The author approvingly cites The Body's Grace, but in that text Rowan's argument about desire undermines itself. On the one hand he says desire is about risk. But on the other hand, he implies there is a genuine kind of desire to which one could return. The two can never coincide. Desire, if it is about risk, cannot be captured by any hermeneutical machine and made to mean something. He uses words when none will do if one is to approach risk.

Rowan says, in this text: "All this means, crucially, that in sexual relation I am no longer in charge of what I am. Any genuine experience of desire leaves me in something like this position: I cannot of myself satisfy my wants without distorting or trivialising them."

The early Rowan's totalizing hermeneutic phrase "all this means" cannot be spoken if it is to communicate the risk of desire. It can only simulate desire and, therefore, can never be genuine, especially where he invokes the genuine. (The genuine, in any case, needs the possibility of the fake.)

In addition to his failed invocation of authenticity, there is also his less than satisfying paraphrasing of the anti-pornography feminist Susan Griffin. This is all very dogmatic.

I would argue that the Rowan we see today who is trying to rein in the Anglican Communion is the same one who, while seemingly celebrating risk, betrayed it with a totalizing rhetoric of meaning.

Risk can never be contained by "all this means." The "genuine experience" of which he speaks cannot even be an experience in the traditional sense of something that can be experienced by a fully conscious human subject. This would be more an experience of limits and the failure of experience in the traditional sense, more like the German Erfahrung rather than the lived, interpreted experience of the Erlebnis. This is more like a traumatic hole which interpretation fails to fill.

Paraphrase will not do but must fail.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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