How Christians love each other
Andrew Brown for Ian Jack.
It was a sunny day for a schism, and the television cameras were present too. Outside the sports hall of the University of Kent, a couple of decrepit white bishops who had finally managed to come out after enduring ó while their wives were alive ólifetimes of episcopal respectability, were holding up a banner demanding an "inclusive church". About thirty yards from them the Bishop of Enugu was shouting at the general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement:
"God himself has condemned homosexuality in the Scriptures; and the scriptures is the base for the faith of Christians. So if you are a Christian, why not go to what does the Scripture say about gay" ó he mashed out the vowel of the word like a savoury curse ó "and about homosexuality?"
"This issue was in the early church before and it was addressed in First Corinthian chapter six, verses9-10." The Bishop held his floppy black-eared bible in front of his chest, pushing stubby fingers across the page. "Romans chapter one, verse 27 says even those who support homosexuals and those who are involved in it ó in lustful carnality of man with man ó will be punished!"
By now there was a ring of spectators around them. A television crew had pushed to the front and both men raised their voices to be heard more clearly by the reporters at the back.
"Look at the Old Testament! There in Leviticus it says those boys should be stoned to death. And also ó Genesis, chapter two ó"
"Would you be prepared to stone us to death?" It didnít sound wholly rhetorical question in the treacly heat.
"Would you be prepared to stone us to death?" Kirker asked again.
The Bishop pushed on with undiminished force: "Because of the grace of Christ, you would be counselled; you would be prayed for." His manner left no doubt that the justice of God demanded stoning, even if His mercy prescribed no more than exorcism: " Ö and you would be delivered out of your homosexuality. And Iím going to lay my hands on you and deliver you to become a total and dedicated Christian.
He reached forward to touch Kirkerís sandy, neatly bristled hair. "I lay my hands on you in the name of the Lord! Father., in the name of Jesus, I lay my hand on him!" His wife, paler, shorter, with her hair in long braids, began a steady melodic chant of alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, which continued for a while underneath the hoarser shouting of the contending men.
"Father, I tell you in the name of JESUS, deliver him"
Kirker tried pushing his hand away. The Bishop pressed it down and shouted louder. "I can deliver you! God wants to deliver you! in the name of JESUS! Father, I pray that you deliver him from homosexuality in the name of JESUS! Father, I deliver him out of homosexuality, out of gay,! That he become a Christian! A genuine Christian! a devoted Christian! In the name of Jesus! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia"
His wife panted along with him, "alleluias alleluia" as they came down from the climax of their ritual. There is always something deeply sexual about Pentecostal religion even at its most fraudulent: the effort, the ecstasy, the concentration. Think of James Brown as the preacher in the Blues Brothers. The bishop was nearly as intense and fiercely sweating. He had the Pentecostal way of crying JESUS! which turns the word into the invocation of a deity, a great breath-emptying shout with equal weight on both halves and the jaw falling like a trap door at the end so that the last syllable is not swallowed and slurred politely but delivered with a shout to rhyme with "bus".
But this was Pentecostalism without the props. There was no organ making whooshy space noises, such as any self-respecting preacher has to imitate the action of the Holy Spirit. There was no darkness from which the audience could gaze at a lit stage. There was no one present who was patient, poor or humble, waiting for a miracle. Instead, there was a ring of journalists, and some of them started to giggle.
Partly this was because of the tall and unfeasibly handsome blond from a television company who kept trying to get a story he could understand. He pushed his microphone between the two men and asked "Gentlemen, do you think there is any room for compromise on this issue?" Both men ignored him and continued to address the other.
Part of the reason for the giggling was Kirkerís counterattack which rapidly moved the conversation into areas beyond exorcism. First he confessed to a failed heterosexual relationship. "I want Jesus to change you!" cried the Bishop. "You said you tried to be ó to marry. You couldnít sustain it. Why donít you try again?"
Then Kirker announced that he had been born and grown up in Nigeria, quite close to Enugu. For a flicker of a moment there seemed to be some possibility of human contact. The Bishop stopped looking at him as if he were a bird-headed demon, fouling the ground he stood on. But at that moment Kirker pecked. "And I had my first sexual experience with a Nigerian boy!"
The bishop shouted as if he had been struck in the eye. "No!". Kirker put his head on one side and pecked again. "That proves it is nonsense to say there is no homosexuality in Africa."
Shouting like Samson in agony., the Bishop cried "You brought it with you!" ó and brought the house down. Hours later, the spectators were still laughing at the memory.
This was unfair Bishop Emmanuel Chukwama was as close as one would care to get to a real fundamentalist bigot. But he was not accusing Kirker personally of bringing homosexuality to Nigeria, which is what many of the laughing spectators believed. He was accusing the whites of doing so: the Europeans and the British specifically; and in this cry of anguish was the whole drama of one of the great historical splits in Christianity. For the Europeans had brought Africa the Bible with its fierce legalistic cruelties. Now they were bringing the unbiblical, and calling it Christianity too. They had brought both sin and the consciousness of sin, both writing and literary criticism.
The schism between East and West, which formed the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity took place about a thousand years. Like all divorces it was a process as much as it was a succession of dateable facts. But it is not misleading to date it at around 1000AD. In the three weeks that the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury lasted, I came to believe that we were watching a split of equal moment, this time between North and South. Like the first great schism ó and like the Reformation 500 years later ó this one involves authority and sex; and it ends up with flatly incompatible creeds.
"I am an African. I donít believe in this stuff." Chukwama shouted at Kirker and the encircling press and stalked off. Later that afternoon he girded himself once more with his sandwich board to a confrontation with the tall, bespectacled bishop of Johannesburg, David Buchanan, which broke up in confusion when Buchanan explained that he was a happily married grandfather with no sexual interest in men at all.
That evening Chukwama and Kirker were taken to London in separate limousines to repeat their argument in three different television studios and with that, the Lambeth Conference effectively ended. The earthquake that is breaking Christianity apart had smashed it like a skyscraper. This wasnít what I had expected to find. The tradition of Anglicanism is to survive earthquakes with resilience and reliance on basic materials, like a Japanese house of lath and paper which can ride out shocks that bring a modern city down. But after three weeks in Canterbury I found that I no longer believed the idea of a basic Christianity made any sense at all, and that its practice was consistently revolting.
It was the first time I had felt so completely repelled in twelve yearsí writing about the Church of England. At the previous Lambeth Conference, in 1988, I had a moment when I almost became a Christian. It was a eucharist in the Cathedral: the high windows glowed as if the glass were turned to emeralds and pale rubies. Within, the candlelight, the white stoles and the golden embroidery all refulged; and it seemed, as I watched the stately gestures at the altar, that the light that filled the cathedral was coming from inside, from the sun-like disk of pale bread that the Archbishop Runcie held up. "On the night that he was betrayed, he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it and gave it to his disciples, saying Take, eat, this is my Body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me."
In the stately rhythm of the ancient words, Runcie, the icon of Christ at that moment, looked as if he could dance with the world lifted in his hands, shining. I felt a terrible ache to come into that circle of light from where I waited in the cool stone shadows with a notebook in my hand. I didnít believe: but the sacrifice of Jesus was in that moment as plain and tangible as the massive cathedral around us. It was noble as well as beautiful that a man should die like that and leave to his friends a command to turn the memory of torture into love. I wanted to be part of that. Belief would have been an impertinence in the circumstances.
But I stayed where I was. I knew the rules; and they said you had to be confirmed to take communion. Still, the moment gave me sympathy, which I wanted far more than belief, and that was. Just as a hunter must enter a kind of communion with his prey, if he is to see the world that matters to it, so must a journalist see the world through the eyes of the people he writes about, as much as through the readersí. I had known that Christians could be loveable and admirable ó Iím married to one ó but I had never till that moment seen what they loved and admired; and for years afterwards, I felt as if I shared a secret even with the crowd of jostling shits and placemen on the synod floor. These people too had seen beauty cracking into the world like a shaft of light, and had heard a voice saying to them "Come up and love: the world is suffused with goodness."
Iíve never come closer than that in the years that have followed. There have been other experiences: a Franciscan priest in Bosnia, working at the site of some of the worst Catholic atrocities of the Second World War, once zapped my with the Holy Spirit, and I felt for two hours a bubble of slippery joy enclosing all my dealings with the universe. So I know that not all Charismatics are fraudulent. But I had also heard his Franciscan colleagues assuring soldiers that they must fight the Moslems (or ĎTurksí) and assuring them that only pagans should fear death. I wonít sign up.
Runcie retired two years after that service. He was the last Archbishop, I think, to whom the establishment of the Church of England was an important reality. For most priests now the establishment is a terrible hindrance. They are in the position of some once grand Anglo-Irish family, squatting in the remains of their own familyís mansion while the rain pours through the roof and goats eat the Louis Quinze chairs. They long to move into a proper house, with no more bedrooms than they need, and maybe even central heating. But Runcie came up ó from a very humble background ó when the great house was still at the centre of the surrounding countryside. He was the last Archbishop whom a Government would think it necessary and worthwhile to squash. "The great thing about being an Archbishop of Canterbury," he once said to me, "is that you mustnít believe your own propaganda." This might sound like wimpish liberalism; but it itís not. Itís a faith that the church offers more than propaganda.
The institution that he presided over still had the memory of the times when the Church of England was at the heart of the definition of Englishness. Until 1828, England, though not a theocracy, was a nation defined by Anglicanism. If you were not a practising Anglican, you were excluded from the governing classes: you could neither vote nor attend a university. Throughout the century these fences were torn down, mostly by other Christians, until it is only the Royal Family who are still confined by them. The Monarch and her heirs must, by law, be Anglicans and marry Anglicans. At her coronation, Queen Elizabeth promised that she would "To the utmost of [her] power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law Ö maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof , as by law established in England Ö And Ö preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them"
Her son, when crowned, will say something very similar; somewhere in the background Mrs Parker Bowles will cross her fingers and grin encouragingly. It is harder and harder to believe that this ceremony is the defining affirmation of Englishness as it has been for nearly 1500 years. It looks more and more like the mutual despairing affirmation of two institutions drifting away to the margins of power.
When I wrote about religion for a living, much of my work consisted in listening to Christians tell lies about each other; I suppose they believe that Jesus would not have approved of their behaviour but I canít see what difference his opinion would make. Christianity is not whatever Jesus had dreamed and hoped. It is what Christians have made it; and often I feel that they share more with me, an outsider, than they do with each other.
How could Kirker and Chukwama possibly both be worshipping the same God? As they stood there in the sun, slinging accusations of heresy and blasphemy at each other, they were certainly standing in a central Christian tradition. Both Jesus and St Paul had left plenty of texts to quote for anyone who wants to damn their enemies to hell. But none of these anathemata are closely associated with the Church of England, which is supposed to be the least dogmatic Christianity possible: a form of the religion pared down to the essentials that any reasonable person can believe in. What I saw this summer in Canterbury was the final collapse of this idea, a decree absolute between faith and reason or even between faith and decency.
The breakdown of the link between reason and Christianity is terrible news for both and especially in England. Christianity once articulated the common moral sense of this country. Now it does not; in fact it doesnít do that job anywhere in the developed North. But the consequences of this failure are most painful and ridiculous in established churches: establishment is the public recognition that the church has a part to play in the life of the nation when the truth is that it does not. Until formal disestablishment comes, this truth will remain the central, dominating inadmissible fact in the life of the Church of England.
It is what Cardinal Newman would have called National infidelity. The change of meaning from Victorian times, from infidelity meaning lack of faith in God, to infidelity meaning a betrayal of trust in a person, illustrates part of the problem: our moral vocabulary no longer uses Christian concepts even when the words are the same. But there is a dreadful fitness in the new sense, too. The cheerfulness of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and his staff, has a whiff of that pathological optimism you sometimes find in the wives of alcoholics or philanderers. In doomed organisations, this is called leadership. One of Dr Careyís staff said to me before the conference: "All those who take part are going to say, one way or another, ĎArchbishop, this has been the most incredible experience of my life!í" I must have looked doubtful even down the telephone, for after a pause she explained "But the experience will be in their souls and psyches. It wonít come out of the documents. People in outward ways will be crucified."
She didnít mention that it would be bishops who hammered the nails in
They didnít look like a lynch mob as they hurried around the university. It is set on a hill above the town: a collection of grey blocky concrete buildings which seem to have dropped rough-cast from the architectís hands into a campus full of mown lawns and bushes, like a golf course without the point. It gave me the depressing sense that there is not a tree growing which was not originally planned on the drawings. It also made the bishops who wore cassocks, whether black or red, look as if they were wearing fancy dress, in a way that in church they do not. It would not co-operate in their drama.
The Lambeth Conference, which brought together Richard Kirker, his attempted exorcist Emmanuel Chukwama, and 800 other bishops at the University of Kent, is ó after the British coronation ceremony ó the grandest assertion of the importance of the Church of England in the world. It is held every ten years, and for the thirteenth of these jamborees, Dr Carey, had invited every Anglican bishop he could find, 800 in all, along with 600 bishopsí wives and five bishopsí husbands. He is a man who has no doubt of the importance of his role. "I want to put it to you that the World-wide Anglican Communion ó which numbers over 70 million people and is growing fast ó has very great potential as a player on the international scene" he told the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1995.
Since then, the churchgoing population of England had continued to shrink. One of Dr Careyís first acts on coming to office in 1990 had been to proclaim a "Decade of Evangelism", in which the Church would stop trying merely to defend its crumbling positions in society and move out aggressively to make new converts. In the decade so far, the number of regular church attenders has dropped by about 25%. We donít know the exact figure because the General Synod , as part of Careyís professionalisation of the Churchís image, refuses to publish its statistics, convinced that they must be misleading because they are so dreadful: the natural suspicion is that regular Sunday attendance has finally dropped below the magic figure of one million. This is not a purely Anglican problem, but one which affects every church that mattered fifty years ago. The Roman Catholics have lost even more members, and the Methodists are so reduced that they are once more considering a merger with the Church of England.
Despite this, the official information of the Anglican Communion still claims that there are 26m members of the Church of England in England. this ignores the fact that about 25m of these were carried out of church dripping and screaming, after their christenings, and have never been back since.
On the other hand, the claim that there are 17m Anglicans in Nigeria, or 8m in Uganda, seems perfectly believable; and these churches are growing fast along with the populations they serve. This is part of a huge shift of power and influence throughout world Christianity, from the North down to the South. The North is a spiritual designation rather than a geographical one. It consists of Western Europe and what were once the white dominions of the British Empire ó Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some portions of the USA. The churches there places are all broadly liberal in theological terms; all sympathetic to feminism, and all shrinking in importance, along with the countries which have nourished them. The South is where the churches are growing.
If you were to plot where Christians are today on a map, the effect would be something like the island of Santorini., where once Atlantis stood: there is a crescent shape around a hollow centre. There are millions of Christians in Korea, China, India, Pakistan, and all through sub-Saharan Africa, in South America. and the former Russian Empire. In the USA the situation is more complicated, but it is still unthinkable than a declared atheist or agnostic should be elected president. Only in the part of Europe that had once been Christendom, has the faith disappeared.. Here, where Christianity produced some of the most wonderful things that human beings have ever done, it has dwindled into folklore. Writing an article about the resurrection, one Good Friday some years back, I was asked by the then features editor of the Independent to explain high up what the resurrection was, so that the readers would know what the peg for the piece was.
The North-South divide runs right through the USA, and this fact has defined the questions on which the conference manoeuvres through a schism. In 1988 everything had been dominated by the issue of women priests and bishops. The liberal or Northern parts of the American church had ordained several hundred women priests were clearly gong to ordain one as a bishop whatever anyone else thought. The male bishops brought numerous women priests in their entourage, though women were forbidden to celebrate in England. since this is an established church, the prohibition had the force of law, so that the women priests had to celebrate the Eucharist in private rooms off campus.
In 1998, eleven women bishops had arrived at the conference: Barbara Harris, the first to be consecrated, was pushing herself around campus in a wheelchair: a small black woman with grizzled hair and a heavy cigarette habit. From this low perspective on the conference she was heard to say "If assholes could fly this place would be an airport."
I fount the opponents of women almost exactly where there enemies had been ten years ago: practising their religion on the fringes, in a building just outside the campus boundary.. The hard core, who would not recognise Harris as a bishop, nor any woman as a priest, had the use of the Roman Catholic chaplaincy in Canterbury because the chaplain was a former Anglican who had taken the last step from which they shrank and become a Catholic priest in protest against the ordination of women; and there every lunchtime about fifteen people, mostly men, would gather for lunch, gossip, and the spiritual refreshment of a Mass conducted in the a small upstairs chapel with a slatted pine door by a Holy Water stoup about the size of an ashtray.
We are so used to ritual being special or dramatic in some way that it is always shocking to come across the businesslike quality of Anglo-Catholic worship. Their differing accents ó Australian, American, English, formed strange chords as they prayed together. They were musical, fluent, and much more comfortable with drama than the rather self-conscious groups who prayed in the open air for women bishops, but not without bathos: "Using form B, let us proclaim the mystery of faith."
For most, this was a ritual they had performed every single day of their adult lives: the axle that carried their lives along. If women, or men who were not real priests, performed this act, the axle would turn to wax and everything would be wrecked. Without the silences upstairs, none of the noisy bonhomie downstairs would be possible.
After the mass, they would lounge on sofas, drink, and conspire into mobile phones. A large, shrewd Australian did Edna Everage imitations perfectly. It was a place to come to talk to grown-ups. Here I could safely say that genocide was far more biblical than buggery, a thought which weighed on me increasingly as the conference continued.
Like women bishops, traditionalists tend to smoke heavily; a mainstream white male bishop would no more smoke than he would christen his daughter Kayleigh. Their best politician, John Broadhurst, the bishop of Fulham, has a pipe going everywhere it is not actively forbidden. Blue-eyed, large-jawed, handsome, he has an unusual talent for obscene invective. Women are either charmed by him or repelled. They do not take him neutrally. I like him a great deal, not just for his clear-eyed genial contempt for the people who run the Church of England but for the deep disillusionment this springs from.
The "Anglo-Catholic" opponents of women priests believed that Anglicanism, in its sense of a minimal, sensible Christianity, was not really different from Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, just more English. It made no impression on them that the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics thought they were ridiculous. From an Anglo-Catholic perspective, this refusal was just the little eccentricity of one or two billion Christians.
The ordination of women shattered that world. Some of the Anglo-Catholics believed that women could never be priests, largely because Jesus was a man; others only that it was wrong and divisive to make the priests against the wishes of the Pope and the Orthodox. When successive Anglican churches decided they could and should make women priests, and that the Pope should learn from their example, both these central Anglo-Catholic beliefs about the church they were members of were shown to be false. It was a moment like a divorce: something that changes the past as much as the future.
Of course, the Anglo-Catholics had never really considered themselves married to the Church of England. They knew all along that their heart was with Rome, so after the Church of England voted to ordain women, they decided to annul their earlier belonging, and set up house with the Scarlet woman of Rome. But it turned out that Rome did not want them either. They were welcome to convert as individuals, and some might even be reordained as Catholic priests. But they would not be admitted as a group.
The dispute here was ostensibly over whether they were sacramental priests in the Roman Catholic sense: whether, when they celebrated the Eucharist, they really were making flesh and reality out of Christís promises of salvation. In 1896, Pope Leo XII had solemnly pronounced that Anglican claims to be priests in that sense were "utterly null and void" but Anglo-Catholics showed an almost Roman Catholic ability to ignore those papal pronouncements they found inconvenient. It seemed under more recent popes anyway that there would be no real obstacle to recognising the Anglicans who wanted to be Romans as having been priests all along. Indeed there wasnít. The obstacle turned out to be quit different, and insurmountable: the Roman Catholic authorities were not prepared to accept these priests as leaders of their congregations. It was not their spiritual status that was unacceptable, but their political existence, as an organisation of self-conscious, bolshy priests to whom their congregation owed allegiance personally.
While he was still just an Anglican priest, but the most able politician of his faction, Broadhurst had bargained and intrigued with Cardinal Hume for nearly two years trying to find a way around the resistance of the Catholic bishops to accepting him and his men as leaders with their own followers and loyalties. Finally he despaired and accepted the post of Anglican bishop of Fulham, officially just an assistant to the bishop of London. The Cardinal was apparently furious; but as Bishop of Fulham, Broadhurst has finally got what his followers wanted all along: a church of their own, loosely affiliated to the rest of the Church of England. He appoints the priests in those 50 or 60 London parishes that do not accept women. Though other bishops opposed to the ordination of women are more senior, he is the only one who does not even have to pretend to take into consideration those who disagree with him.
"I donít mind you describing me as critical" he said to me one evening at the pub which Forward in Faith had colonised. "But I donít want to appear destructive."
"But, John," I said, "You are trying to destroy the whole thing."
No, he replied: "If I ask you for bread because my wife and children are starving, and you tell me I canít have any, and I ask you again, and you repeat your refusal; does that mean I want to break to your house and steal it, even if thatís what I end up doing? All I want is a loaf of bread for my starving children."
There didnít seem any answer to this. For all he was saying was that he would only be destructive if he felt compelled to it. But then itís all a divorcing party can honestly say.
As we sat in the pub that afternoon he pulled from his briefcase a copy of the Lambeth Pravda, a glossy colour-printed newsletter whose official title was the Lambeth Daily. It was the sort of corporate communication which is supposed to reassure shareholders that they are getting value for money. At Lambeth, it was put together to reassure the liberal North of the American church, which paid most of the £2.2m it all costs, so it was full of pictures of women bishops
Broadhurst poked at it with broad pipe-yellowed fingers. He found a delicate language of contempt and assertion concealed in all the lace and scarlet of the bishopís dresses. He and his allies would not dress for the group photographs in their full liturgical gowns and scarves. They wore cassocks instead, because "cassocks are clothes"; and to have turned up for the official conference photographs in the sacred vestments proper to a bishop would have implied that everyone else there was a real bishop. It used to be the case that you could tell a traditionalist by the way they crossed themselves: now their most important liturgical gesture is to cross their fingers.
The women in all these official photographs were of course dressed in rochet, chimere, and everything else that might suggest they were properly ordained. Broadhurst was convinced that this was the result of prearrangement with the conference authorities and pointed out every single photograph of a woman bishop he could find in the copy of the Pravda and suddenly cheered up: "Thereís only one real question. Is there any one of these you wouldnĎt kick out of bed?"
Broadhurstís loathing of gays is complicated by the fact that so many of his followers themselves fall in love with men more easily than women. The diocese of London has been a sanctuary for gay clergy, almost all of them Anglo-Catholic, for the last thirty years at least; and the diocese of Southwark, which is London south of the river, is very similar. It was in Southwark Cathedral that the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement was able to celebrate its twentieth anniversary ó an event which led several Southwark parishes to approach Broadhurst to be their bishop. Itís hard to get figures if you are not part of that subculture yourself, but a member of the staff of the last bishop of London suggested to me once that about 200 of the 900 priests in the diocese were known to the bishop as actively gay. The great majority would be opponents of women priests, which is one reason for the Cardinalís caution.
This fact ó widely known but completely inadmissible, like so much else about the Church of England ó lent a peculiar bitterness to the arguments over women priests, for it meant that both sides privately, but with unusual sincerity, accused their opponents of being driven by homosexual neuroses. So when Brian Masters, the bishop of Edmonton died, who had been the most implacable opponent of women priests on the bench of bishops, the last paragraph of his sympathetic obituary in the Times read simply: "He remained celibate" since none of his opponents would have believed this. The charge against the traditionalists was obvious, that they didnít want women wearing their dresses; but Broadhurst dismisses the programme of the "Affirming Catholics", who believe in Catholic ritual and women priests, as "Girls at the altar and boys in the bed."
One of the leader of the Affirming Catholics, Richard Holloway, the bishop of Edinburgh, was an object of peculiar hatred for having described the opponents of women as "mean-minded sods Ömiserable buggers." This is so exactly what many of them are that it was unforgivable. The Forward in Faith newsletter devoted considerable ingenuity to working into as many articles as possible the phrase "Dick, head of the church of Scotland".
Such subtlety was quite beyond the Americans who occupied the basement of the Catholic chaplaincy. This was where the Southern attack on liberalism was run from. There were endless overlapping groups The Association for Apostolic Ministry, The Episcopal Synod of America, The American Anglican Council, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Episcopalians United: there were nearly as many varieties of orthodoxy as of Trotskyism. But they were based around Texan money. The English traditionalists regarded them as pompous barbarians. "Have we shown you the bunker?" I was asked when they showed me the American headquarters and when I asked what they were doing in this galere, Stephen Parkinson, the director of Forward in Faith, replied "the money, dear boy, the money."
They had organisation as well as money. The central Anglican organisation was unable even to produce a comprehensive list of names and addresses of the bishops attending the conference. The Southerners produced and published a glossy directory with details and where possible photographs of every single bishop. They had prepared for Lambeth by organising two preliminary conferences in the immediately preceding years for Third world bishops, one in Kuala Lumpur, and one in Dallas. For some of the attendees, this was the first time they had ever been out of Africa. They certainly did not adopt homophobic opinions to please the Southerners who were bankrolling these meetings: their detestation of homosexuality and liberalism was absolutely sincere. But the conferences allowed for the preparation of agreed statements, or manifestos denouncing homosexuality and other Northern vices, which were introduced into all four sections of the Lambeth conference, not just the one that was meant to be dealing with the topic.
Before the conference began, the Archbishop of the Southern Cone ó a dignitary who is in charge of the Anglican churches of Argentina and Chile ó had toured the Southern parts of the Episcopal Church of the USA explaining what would happen. He and his allies, the archbishops of Singapore, Rwanda., and the bishop of Sydney, had formulated three resolutions that would change the Anglican Communion forever. The first would bind it to an evangelical interpretation of scripture. The second would condemn homosexuality utterly; and the third would give and Archbishop of Canterbury powers to discipline erring liberal provinces. All these resolutions passed in one form or another, though only the one on homosexuality had its full rigour. In a series of amendments ó which Dr Carey voted for ó all of the liberal equivocations were stripped away. Even a reference condemning homophobia was deleted. Instead of "homophobia", the conference condemned "Unreasonable fear of homosexuals". This is the hate that dares not speak its name.
However important sex may be, it does not really define the difference between North and South. That comes out best in a joke which is ecumenically Jewish: a foreign correspondent moves to Jerusalem and is placed in an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. Every morning he sees an old man come to the wall, place a few slips of paper in it and pray for an hour; every afternoon the man returns and does the same. Finally, after three weeks, the journalist, sniffing a story, approaches the old man as he leaves the wall. What are you praying for? World peace, an end to hunger, and justice for everyone, he replies. He doesnít look insane, so the journalist presses on. How long have you been doing this for? Twenty five years, and I havenít missed a day. I come every morning for an hour and every afternoon for another hour to pray. The journalist considers this. Looking around the world, he says, there doesnít seem to be much result from your prayers: can you really be sure that God is listening? I know what you mean, says the old man: some days itís like talking to a wall.
The central feature of prayer in the North is that itís like talking to a wall. You donít expect a reply. In the South, they hear echoes even when no one has spoken.
Consider their varying attitudes to genocide. The North is haunted by the knowledge of unanswered prayers. It is a truism here that in the century of Auschwitz God is no longer credible as intervening; like most truisms, it is false in important ways: the truth is that faith in a benevolent god can survive the most appalling atrocities, especially when they are committed by your own people, and this was most clearly show by the Rwandan bishops who were at the centre of the conflict at Lambeth. The tribal divides in Rwanda and Burundi are mirrored denominationally: broadly speaking, Hutus are Anglican and Tutsis Roman Catholic.
Churches were the scene of some of the worst massacres in Rwanda. The only time I have ever seen Dr Carey seem less than certain of his opinions was when he came back from a visit to Rwanda after the massacres, when he had also visited the exiled archbishop and tried to persuade him to resign. With his wife, he had visited a former Catholic church where the bodies of 5000 people hacked to death had been left unburied as a memorial and sank unaffectedly to the occasion. "Christianity can only have been skin deep here" he said.
Prudence Ngarambe is one of the four bishops appointed in 1995 to replace men, among them the Archbishop of Rwanda, who are still sheltering in exile, accused of complicity in the genocide. The first time he went to the West it was to the Dallas conference organised in 1997 to mobilise and drill the southern forces. Though Lambeth was only his second visit to the West he already knew what our societies needed. It was Biblical morality. "We are not the ones who are active in homosexuality. It is the concern of the whole conference." He said.
"Because we are preoccupied without our own problems, we cannot shy off from international problems. We are not isolated from what is happening around."
I was having a little difficulty in this conversation, because I could not see any immediate moral equivalence between homosexuality and genocide. The use of Rwandan bishops as shock troops against homosexuality was one of the most surreal things I have ever seen as a religious correspondent. Nothing brought home more clearly the extent to which homosexuals were the chosen scapegoats of the South than the attempted secession of a parish in Little Rock, Arkansas, the town where the National Guard had to be called out to integrate the schools in 1962. They tried to leave the diocese of Arkansas because the bishop there was pro-gay, and put themselves under the protection of John Rucyahane, another Rwandan bishop, who had served ten years in America (which preserved him from any taint of complicity in the genocide.) I wonder would a German bishop in, say 1947, have been quite so ready to dispense moral advice halfway round the world. It seemed to me that a Rwandan bishop could hardly have any moral indignation left over for the rest of the world.
As we talked, though, I began to realise that moral indignation was not the quality on offer here. We were in the lobby of the business school, where the press were supposed to stay. Low, plain sofas surrounded coffee tables. In one corner a huge television relayed soundlessly the debates from the sports hall where the conference was meeting. His manner was catechetical, bureaucratic. He spoke with headings and subheadings all in place, advancing his argument in overlapping phrases like chain stitch; and as the stitches of argument advanced it became clear where he thought the blame for the massacres lay.
"The church has embarked on conciliation. When we talk of conciliation here we are talking about actually educating thousands of people: educating people to understand that what happened was because leaders manipulated peopleís ignorance. We are trying to get things right by showing people that ethnically we have equal share in the life of the country. Education should be for all without discrimination. No region should be superior to any other. All provinces should be the same."
This, he said, was work for the future. From the past there were other problems: "Many people have been traumatised. We have widows, orphans, and men who are traumatised, but it seems men conceal their trauma. Women and children tend to show it up. So we have started a program training the trauma counsellors.
"We have people who have lost almost everyone in their families, and they maybe feel that God has forsaken them so we are trying to bring God into their lives for them. We are asking why did God spare you? He spared you for a purpose. Counselling such people is not easy. It is not something you can do overnight."
What Prudence Ngarambe seemed to be upholding was the need for rules. Hannah Arendtís phrase about the banality of evil is well known; but listening to his careful bureaucratic prose, I began to see the potential for a banality of the good. But to impose that sort of order on the world, you need a rule book. I began to see also the way in which the Bible might serve as a yardstick, reducing the unimaginable tasks of reconstruction to manageable lengths.
Against this yardstick, even evil could be reduced to a force external to Christians. "We bring God into their lives for them and tell them thatís where you understand the source of evil.
"The source of evil:" he repeated, as a sub-heading, "thatís when you get back to the creation story. God created the man and gave him choice between good and evil: in the genocide man chose to do evil instead of good. It was not God who told them to do evil; it was their choice. Now God is saving the remnants."
This is not the God of Job, who cannot be blamed because he is omnipotent. It is closer to the God of the earliest Genesis story, who walks in the garden with Adam and Eve, and who takes part in the world: powerful, but tribal, not omnipotent, and unable always to protect his people from their enemies. Religion of this sort will always flourish where there is misery, because it reduces anxiety. It is only in the largely secure environments of the North that we can see what is worrying about it.
Yet the wickedness that Bishop Ngarambe detected In Rwanda, their enemies had come from the North. It was the colonial powers, he said, who had divided the country between Hutu and Tutsi.
"Rwanda is a monocultural country. Even though we have three tribes we also have one culture. The anthropologists would not understand how the country can be called three tribes when the culture is one and the language is one. So we are trying to correct what was wrongly introduced. And we believe that when people understand what went wrong and how it came about reconciliation will be possible."
The root cause, however, he would only tell me when the laptop was switched off and we were sitting in my car, before I drove him back across campus to the college where he was staying. It was democracy with more than one party. If you start a political party in Africa, he said, the only thing people would ask was which tribe the founder belonged to, and everything else, including the nature and constituents of the opposition parties, followed from that. Without democracy there would have been no massacres in Rwanda.
Itís hard to think of anything which more offends against the pieties of the North. Christianity and democracy are not the same and for most of their history have in fact been considered antithetical. Itís hard for us to see this because in America they are consubstantial and because democracy is linked, if less tightly, with freedom and Protestantism in the English imagination. But the Bible, though it may imply democracy, is not a democratic document; and the emerging undemocracies of the South can find plenty in it to justify themselves.
This is not just an African attitude. The third element in the Southern alliance against Northern liberal pieties, after the Southern USA and most of Africa, is Asia. It is no coincidence that one of the ante-Lambeth conferences, to rally the southern forces before the battle, was held in Kuala Lumpur. An Asian Christianity, deriving its model of authority from managers in disciplined bureaucracies, is one of the fastest growing religious phenomena in the world today. In Korea there is Presbyterian church with a congregation of three quarters of a million.
But there is a curious timelessness about their belief in prophecy, which divides South from North almost as clearly as miracles do. I saw this first at Evensong, early in the conference, when a Pakistani bishop, SK Dass, laid out the biblical line on sexuality. "I personally believe that Sodom and Gomorrah didnít exist 4000 years ago only, but these cities and these men are still having their existence in our world today. We, as bishops and as the torchbearers of the future of generations must raise our voice against lesbianism, gayism and homosexualism. And this is the heart of the bishops attending the Lambeth Conference."
Some of his audience must have looked doubtful at this, for he raised his voice and added, for the benefit of the North Americans, "If we remain silent at this time, belief will come from another place, but you, along with your fathers in evil will perish."
He talked as if Sodom and Gomorrah were cities of the Punjab, just down the plain from him; and as if fire and brimstone waited in heaven to judge us all. Now this is an attitude which has not been seen in earnest in English Christianity since about 1700. This distance from the Bible is not really a consequence of the rise of science, but of the rise of history: the sense that many thousands of years have passed since the stories of Genesis, which is shared even by those who believe them. I know the Bible is a book of stories, but it is also a deeply ahistorical document, and not just because so few of the stories are true. It is extraordinarily hard to plug it into any kind of chronology. It was written in the margins of bureaucratic empires, among the powerless to whom the demarcation of time can bring no profit since the only time they wait for is the hour of deliverance.
We tried, we really did try, to find things for the conference to discuss that were not homosexuality. The best place for this was outside the Gymnasium where the debates were held, around the pond which ten years ago had been a place of full of variegated reflections and tranquillity where chubby little carp jostled under the surface and ducks busied themselves in the margins. This time the pond was suburbanised and almost completely overgrown in bulrushes, so much so that I didnít see the water at all it at all when first I walked past it. But the oak trees around were still there, and I could still stand beneath them with a theologian and talk. Rowan Williams, the bishop of Monmouth, is liked by almost everyone in the Church of England, an affection only partially reciprocated: he declined the offer of the diocese of Southwark because he did not want to get drawn into the civil war there.
"Wittgenstein said that the most important thing a philosopher can say to another is Ďgive yourself timeí. The question is whether we can in some sense bear to keep talking to each other" he said to me as we stood beneath the trees. He cultivates a slightly shamanic look: sweeping black eyebrows sheltering deep eyes that have green glints in them like the marble you find on the island of Iona, and an intermittently exuberant beard. He is one of the few bishops who had an interesting failure at the conference: he gave a keynote talk on making moral decisions. It was a lecture of considerable subtlety and some substance which, for all the effect it had, he might as well have delivered in a motorway food court. The argument demanded concentration even in the temperate quiet of the television room in the press centre. His audience can have made little of it in the sweaty echoing heat of the converted gymnasium where the plenary session was held, especially as English was for many of them a second language.
The dominant temper of the conference was not interested in how people reach moral decisions. The method and mannerisms of an Oxford philosophy lecture were as alien to the bishops of the South as they were to the news agencies. The missionary Christianity that came back from the south no more wanted to know how Northerners reached moral decisions than the missionaries of the last century had wanted to know how the religions of the South worked. Yet without some kind of common understanding of what it is to be a human being, any attempt at a global religion is doomed. The philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote an important and wonderful essay in the 1970s called "What is it like to be a bat?" in which he concluded that as human could never know this; but it is a strange thing for Christians to conclude that it is not worth answering or even asking the question "what is it like to be another Christian".
When he asked me what I made of the conference I said ó for I was still fairly optimistic then ó than it seemed to be a geological catastrophe. All the ages of Christianity were piled up here like beds of rock pushed into mountains. There were Copts from the fifth century, Romans from the fourteenth, Calvinists from the sixteenth, Latitudinarians, Arminians, Nineteenth Century fundamentalists, Twentieth century liberals, Pentecostalists, Anglo-Catholics of several generations ó and all of these people were calling themselves.
He liked this. But, he said, itís important not to think of them all as being the same as they once were. Each style of Christianity has changed or weathered since it first appeared in the rock. I thought this made the analogy more biological: that what we had was a family tree, all descending with different modifications from the original stock of Christianity ó and now, of course, we get distinct species, and, I rushed on into the analogy, populations that canít interbreed. He winced, and asked me not to mention breeding. Instead, he talked about an American poet and Benedictine oblate, who had written about rediscovering meaning in traditionally religious language; and about the way in which theology could not be understood as a set of propositions. You had to act on it to understand it, and each fresh act of obedience brought new understandings. We were silent for a moment. He smiled. "But still I wonder sometimes why I donít just give up and become an Orthodox."
Itís possible that the thing would have been different had it been Dr Carey who lectured them on moral philosophy. But he couldnít. and in a managerial style, he shouldnít either. His job is leadership, not metaphysics. The churches have always drawn their models of organisation from the world; the chanceries of the Vatican bureaucracy are still known as "dicasteries", the name of their equivalents at the court of Constantine. The traditional titles and structures of the Church of England were more nearly feudal than anything else left in the British constitution: until 1832 the bishops of Durham kept their own armies to keep out the Scots; and the constitution of Lincoln Cathedral has resisted reform since the fifteenth century..
In his rush to get away from all this, Dr Carey has attempted to remodel the church as a modern, well-managed corporation: GodCo, perhaps, something "which has very great potential as a player on the international scene." This is the language in which soap or software can be marketed. It demands "logos", "mission statements", "evangelists": terms which, once specifically Christian, now refer to any sort of salesmanship. All they have lost in this evolution is any suggestion that they are concerned with truth. Above all, GodCo demands "Communications": for in the language of power you are never wrong, you have simply failed to get your message over effectively. It was a nice illustration of this that the stage setting of the conference was done by Creative Realisations, a firm which also does the Labour Party Conferences.
The benign incompetence which usually distinguishes the press operations of the Church of England had been replaced for this occasions by a busy malevolence, mostly directed at other press officers. Dr Careyís communications team, his personal press secretary Lesley Perry, and the "director of communications" for the Church of England, an American named Bill Beaver, briefed assiduously against the nominal head of the operation, an elderly, self-important American named Jim Rosenthal. "Mostly celibate" was how one of them described him to me. At the meeting of the Church of Englandís General Synod a month before the Lambeth Conference, they told the press that they had taken over all the press relations. When I printed this story, Rosenthal was on the phone shouting at me within 24 hours. That may not seem like a lightning rebuttal but it was the only time his office had ever returned any call of mine on any subject at all.
Once the conference got under way, there turned out to be 50 "communications officers" whose duties were divided between lecturing the bishops that the press were not to be trusted and telling the press that they were here to help us. It canít have been an easy job: the journalists at the conference were quite extraordinarily bad-tempered and miserable, almost as if they had been bitten by a passing theologian. Some of the press were happily rabid themselves. Of the eighty or so journalists registered with the conference, only around eight were full time professionals, while 35 or so were lobbyists for one side or another in the civil war. Most of these were auxiliaries of the Southern forces: the Lambeth Directory, for example, which was a book that had been published before the conference even opened, had seven staff accredited. On the list of registered press I counted 25 full-time lobbyists for the South registered as journalists, opposed by eight professional gays also there as journalists, including a couple of retired bishops who hung around the press centre looking mangy.
There were press conferences at ten oíclock every morning, held in the lecture theatre of the business school. Beaver had been a reserve officer in the American army, and these, with their atmosphere of fervent unreality bore a resemblance to "five oíclock follies": the daily press conferences that the Americans held in Vietnam. Instead of statistics of hamlets pacified, and VietCong killed, there were announcements that the press department had received 180 or 243 requests for information. These stopped after someone asked how many had resulted in any information emerging or interviews being granted.
Beaver would open each dayís proceedings with a callisthenic untruth, as if limbering up for greater ones to follow: "Good morning. I am Dr Bill Beaver, working under the supervision of Canon Jim Rosenthal". He stood at a lectern directing proceedings ; Rosenthal sat in the front row, occasionally able to fetch a glass of water for the bishops on the podium. When I wrote about this during the conference, Beaver approached me and said "I really like your column. Really funny. But thereís one thing I donít understand. Why do you say that the communications team are briefing against each other."
I didnít quite know what to say. I tried "Bill, have you noticed the things that you and Lesley have been saying about Jimbo?"
He looked at me with bulging eyes. "Oh that", he said, waving one outstretched arm like an agitated triffid as if to flap the whole thing away. "Oh thaaaaaaat. Thatís nothing." He beckoned me over to a corner and came close: "And besides; have you noticed whoís actually running the show here?"
This would be trivial except that it was so completely typical of the conference in its mixture of vanity and dishonesty and in its preference for power over truth; and also in the minute amount of power that he was squabbling over.
Once or twice people would come to us to talk honestly. The day after the debate on homosexuality, it was the turn of Richard Holloway, wearing a pale blue windcheater, and slacks. His face glistened with fatigue. He flopped on a chair and talked as if he really wanted to be understood about what it had been like stifling on the floor in the debate: "I canít forget hearing the hissing and the laughing and the sheer sense of rage. It was a supreme exercise of unbridled, unintelligent male power."
"I felt lynched yesterday," he said. We could hardly believe our luck. By this time there were five or six journalists around him, hardly needing to ask questions, he was so eager to speak. What he really wanted to talk about was not sex but the Bible. He felt he had been mugged by fundamentalists. Earlier in the conference, he had been careful to call them "Biblical literalists" but by this time he had forgotten his manners: "Of course fundamentalism is attractive. But so was fascism.
"We have seen a new prevailing attitude to scriptural interpretation which I do not recognise as historically Anglican. Bible verses say any number of things. We should have been debating and having a running seminar on how we interpret scripture."
This was supposed to have been the point of the Bible Studies with which the conference spent its morning. But none of the bishops who talked to me about them seemed to have learnt anything about the Bible from them. There were memorable personal stories: one American bishop told his group that he had had to turn his own son over to the police for drug dealing; a Sudanese, that his wife had been shot dead by his son-in-law. He found this bearable because he was convinced that the Lord would soon return. But none of this sharing of anguish led to any meeting of minds, as the liberals had supposed that it would.
Someone asked Holloway what he thought of Dr Careyís speech at the end of the homosexuality debate, in which he announced his support for the evangelical motion. He ungangled himself from the low armcahir and leant forward: "I thought it was pathetic. I understand he was trying to add a kind of nice fluffy epilogue but I think it would have been better if he had said nothing."
The next morning the press department handed out xeroxes of a hand-written apology for these remarks to anyone moving at less than a full run.
On the last evening there was a reception of sorts on the ground floor of the business school. Wooden Bowls of crisps were laid out in the television lounge along with white china saucers with salted peanuts with a slightly greasy shine. Several of the communicators manned a table fortified with wine: glasses appeared, bottles of plonk, and cartons of orange juice. At last, completing the scene, the Careys walked in, accompanied only by a chaplain and a press secretary. They had not been expected so early, so, for a while, the Archbishop stood in a corner by himself, radiating confidence quietly while Lesley Perry bustled in front of him.
I had wanted to ask him a question at the morningís closing press conference about divorce. Two of his children are divorced and remarried. One of these, Andrew, is a journalist who was present throughout the conference, and I had wanted to ask whether, when Andrew announced he was getting divorced, it would have been a bigger shock if he had announced he were gay. The reasoning behind this was scriptural. Jesus condemned divorce unequivocally and never said a word about homosexuality. On a biblical basis itís not obvious why homosexuals should be cast out and divorcees remarried in church except that many Christians today are divorced and few are gay. But at the last moment, I drew back, and asked something else. Perhaps this was cowardice, but it felt more like disgust. To have returned to the subject would have been like kicking dogshit.
So when I approached him in the lounge, it was with a different, more thoughtful question. I wanted to know how it was possible to unite so many different ways of reading the Bible. How could the Christians for whom it all happened yesterday, and might just as well happen tomorrow, ever be taught to talk with the Christians for whom this was a collection of very ancient documents, written for people long dead. He didnít answer this question at first because he didnít hear it. In the best traditions of Communications, he has learned to give the answer he wants to hear rather than one which has any relevance to the question. So he told me how balanced the resolution on homosexuality had been, and how it had united the Communion.
I asked again how he could possibly unite the different ways of reading the bible around the world to the point where people could talk to each other about it. This time he heard. I have been thinking a lot about theological education as I travelled around Africa, he said: I see a new generation of Christian leaders rising there. He was calm, benevolent, completely at peace with himself. His pale blue eyes shone at the thought of all those leaders. The party was highly successful: over the next forty five minutes . I watched him work slowly towards the door, talking to thirty or forty people, his eyes always apparently fixed on that future full of Christian leaders: a manager on the move, Christian enough to be totally confident.