Sentamu pitches for Canterbury
Secure in the knowledge that Dr Rowan Williams will be vacating the See of Canterbury at some point this year, it stands to reason that the frontrunners will be increasingly making themselves heard over the celebrity chatter and what passes for political analysis in much of the MSM. And Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, really doesn’t have to do much to attract an audience: he is one of the Church of England’s great showmen, baptising believers outside York Minister as a public witness; cutting up his dog collar in protest against Robert Mugabe; and calling for a re-discovery of English pride and cultural identity. When he speaks, he incarnates the sound-bite in ways Dr Williams has never quite grasped.
Two articles about Dr Sentamu might have been written by the same journalist, and published on the same day in the same newspaper, but a story about the CofE and homosexuality will always attract more froth and bubble than a discussion about the CofE and the middle class, despite the latter being by far the most important.
One of the Church of England’s fundamental weaknesses, in common with many churches in Europe, is its tendency to demand that people do not merely acknowledge the Lordship of Christ but also abandon their former way of life in favour of that of a peculiar middle-class sub-culture. Notwithstanding some of the excellent work going on in some of the most impoverished parishes in the country, the public perception of the Church of England remains one of middle-class privilege and an élitism which has little relevance to a modern, pluralist, multi-ethnic society. While this may be a misconception, it is undoubtedly exacerbated by the nature of establishment and the fusion of the Church with secular government.
Now to the froth and bubble...
The very moment the ‘gay marriage’ article was tweeted by (the excellent) Martin Beckford, the Twittersphere was alive with conjecture that with this proclamation Dr Sentamu had just blown his chances of succeeding Dr Rowan Williams to the See of Canterbury.
People appear to have forgotten Gordon Brown’s 2007 reforms, which is forgivable, for just about all of what Gordon Brown achieved is eminently forgettable. But the Prime Minister no longer possesses Royal Prerogative power to sift the names of prospective bishops or archbishops and submit God’s choice to the Supreme Governor. The whole process is now in the hands of the Crown Nominations Committee – a kind of 15-strong college of cardinals who meet in secret to elect a single candidate. And when the white smoke appears, the Prime Minister simply wafts it in the Queen's general direction. And the CNC might quite like a bishop who’s prepared to tell a Tory PM where he can stick his proposal for ‘gay marriage’.
The Committee will be acutely aware that it remains one of the Church’s primary functions to hold government and political parties to account and highlight the inadequacies of the political system, in order that people’s welfare may be improved. Whatever the outcome of discussions and debates, the CNC will be unanimous in their desire to see the public realm remain an arena in which the Church’s moral and ethical mission continues to be exercised. Perhaps it is only the Establishment Church that, in contemporary society, possesses the status to permit it to fight for representation of a slighted electorate in the face of an increasingly abstract political élite. And some of these forays concern themselves with issues which are of primary concern to the majority of the electorate. The Archbishop of York observed of New Labour in 2008:
“Our current Government is in danger of sacrificing Liberty in favour of an abused form of equality – not a meaningful equality that enables the excluded to be brought into society, but rather an equality based on diktat and bureaucracy, which overreaches into the realm of personal conscience.”And here he is in 2012 voicing the same concerns about a Tory/LibDem coalition. By alluding to David Cameron the ‘dictator’, Dr Sentamu reminds us of Parliament’s omnipotence in our Erastian Settlement. Or is it its impotence in the face of the inexorable metaphysical quest to subvert the created order and eliminate sexual inequality?