MR NICE AND MR NASTY
EASTER IS ABOUT amnesty. God offers a free pardon to rebels against His Son’s kingly rule, if they will lay down their weapons and join His army. The events of Good Friday are the price of the pardon – the events of Easter Day the proof of its authenticity. Easter is above all else a time for us to look away from ourselves and rejoice at God’s graciousness, love and mercy to rebels such as us. Indeed every time we come to communion during the year there is the poignant reminder that our salvation was procured at very great cost.
The secular press was full of another amnesty in the run up to Easter. Senator George Mitchell’s deadline of Maundy Thursday for agreeing the details of the Ulster peace agreement powerfully concentrated many minds both inside and outside the conference hall – even if agreement was not finally hammered out until well into Good Friday. We have grown used to Mr Nices (on both sides) appearing on TV after each latest atrocity, occasioned no doubt by the discharge of weapons or the detonation of explosives by the hands of their henchmen, and giving a nauseating and hypocritical performance laying the blame at everybody’s door except their own. In any event, they seem to find it easy to justify maiming, murder and much other criminal activity on the grounds that it is in pursuit of some political objective. It is hard for conventional Christians to imagine how their words could be consonant with being disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the background, however, lurk the Mr Nastys. They are shadowy figures, the godfathers of the violence, who are often only identified at their own funerals. But it seems to be necessary, while they go about their deplorable business, to have Mr Nice as a front man on the media, trying his darnedest to persuade us that he deplores the killing even more than we do – and of course that it is entirely our fault.
So back to Easter morning when the Archbishop of Canterbury found himself sharing his pulpit with an unauthorised, unordained and uninvited guest. This particular Mr Nasty had made a previous appearance as a trespasser in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, disrupting a photo call for Anglican primates a few months ago, and his manners, such as they are, seem not to have improved.
It would seem bad enough that Mr Nasty and six of his friends saw fit to storm the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral, interrupting the Archbishop’s sermon. Sadly though such juvenile antics, which would have earned two detentions for Jones minor of the Lower Fourth, were not ignored and treated with the contempt they deserved. Far from it: that once-respected journal, The Church Times, devoted a full half page to the incident and dignified the antics of five of the protesters with a three column wide photograph of them occupying the Cathedral’s pulpit with a glum-faced Dr Carey (one marvels at his patience). It makes you wonder just what the photographer, Jeff Gilbert, was doing in Canterbury Cathedral during the Eucharist with his camera at the ready, doesn’t it? It really is disappointing when we find the Church Times apparently subscribing to the same code of ethics as its fellow-tabloid The Sun.
The Church of England Newspaper also gave the protest more prominence than its news value merited, but resisted the temptation to indulge in photojournalism. It did however cover the subject of the Archbishop’s sermon – probably of much greater eternal significance – which The Church Times, to its shame, failed to do.
The Church Times managed to quote Mr Nice (the secretary of the LGCM), who is a charming person. Well, he’s always been charming when I’ve met him in a radio studio, even if he does make it difficult for me to get a word in edgeways. He was attempting to seize the moral high ground saying, “We do not ‘out’ individuals, nor do we disrupt church services.” I suspect that is being just a little economical with the truth. Outrage and LGCM may be separate organisations, but I wonder how many members of Outrage are also members, or supporters, of LGCM.
The readership were then treated to Mr Nasty’s disingenuous arguments like, “We’ve tried to engage in dialogue with Dr Carey ever since he became Archbishop, but he refuses to listen (cave in and agree with us). We are left with no option (there is no higher profile wheeze that we can think of) but to confront him (shout down an Archbishop preaching God’s word in a consecrated building). Our disruption of the cathedral service is insignificant (excellent free publicity in the media) by comparison with Dr Carey’s cruel endorsement of anti-gay discrimination (faithful attempt to refute our heresy and uphold the orthodox faith of 2000 years – and more).” A more responsible Church press would deny these fringe eccentrics the oxygen of publicity – well they would if the editors thought their publications had even half the gravitas of a fairly average school magazine.
The Archbishop has been standing his ground against all-comers on the issue of homosexuality in the run-up to Lambeth and he has had to fend off ripostes from a number of Mr Nices and Mr Nastys. He is obviously on the right lines and he is obviously making headway; if he wasn’t, he would surely not have provoked the attention of Mr Nasty on Easter morning. He certainly needs our continuing prayers because the gloves are off, and in fact they have been off for some considerable time.
We have moved well beyond the intellectual enquiry into the exact meanings of particular biblical texts. We are now faced with well organised and well financed single issue pressure groups who not only fail to accept the biblical verdict on what is wrong and what is right, they demand that we accept their complete metamorphosis of the biblical revelation. In the words of Paul to the Romans, “they not only continue to do these very things (which scripture proscribes), but also approve of those who practise them.”
Mr Nice is an essential part of the game plan, since heresy is always made more plausible when it flows from the lips of such charming people. Let’s face it, if you were Screwtape trying to throw the Church off-course, what more diabolical plan could you devise than to send your agents out dressed in dog-collars and even purple shirts. As the drama unfolds and Synod is increasingly sidelined, some of my friends back in the parish feel justified in their view that Synod is plain irrelevant. But there are 550 of us and we have a powerful weapon in our hands. Brothers and sisters, let us pray. No lesser response will do.
Gerry O’Brien is a member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.