Friday, 10 June 2011

Will no one rid me of this pestilent priest?

Dissident divines have been a problem for rulers in England for centuries. I haven't read what the Archbishop of Canterbury has said in the The New Statesman in detail but from the extracts I have seen it seems a bit pious, other worldly and cerebal which is exactly what I would expect from the current incumbent.

It is, of course, all reminiscent of the 1980s when the Church of England and the House of Lords constituted Mrs Thatcher's most effective opponents. This culminated in the publication of Faith in the City in 1985 which was denounced by one of her ministers as 'Marxist theology'.

One of my recollections of this period is going to a dinner at Cambridge University where there were a number of Japanese guests. A junior minister was the speaker and tore up his speech and launched into an attack on the Church of England. A puzzled Japanese guest asked me why the minister was attacking the bishops at a conference on government-industry relations.

The current fuss is all a bit awkward for David Cameron after a rather tricky week which has been characterised as a 'wobble'. David Cameron is, of course, a communicant member of the Church of England. But he gave as good as he got to the Archbishop.

For some Conservatives it will affect the debate about the future of bishops in the House of Lords, although that is a rather narrow take on things. As an Erastian, I have no objection to the Archbishop pronouncing on public issues, but I would be more impressed if the hand wringing was accompanied by a constructive alternative.

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