TINKER, TAILOR, BAKER, SAILOR
WHEN ANY INNOVATION is proposed in the life of the Church there is one thing of which you can be certain: that any connection between it and any other proposed innovation will be strenuously denied (even though both are supported by substantially the same people, and upon the same or related biblical exegesis, or lack of it).
When some of us claimed that women’s ordination was part of a rolling agenda which naturally and inevitably took in inclusive language and the blanket approval of same sex relationships there was no shortage of saponaceous denials. Scorn, like oil on troubled waters, was poured by the proponents on any notion of liberal agendas and slippery slopes.
Like Mrs. Thatcher (TINA – There is No Alternative) and by-pass protesters (NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard) they shouted so hard they created an acronym: TINC – There Is No Connection. And those of us who saw the connection only too clearly employed it as a sort of private shorthand. ‘Oh,’ we would say to each other, in a matter of fact way, of an article in a newspaper or an interview in the media, ‘s/he’s just TINC-ering again’.
But the vain pretence could not forever be maintained, and now, when the Kairos is come, and the secrets of all hearts can be more or less revealed, there has stepped forward a slalom champion of the slippery slopes, an Arch-TINC-er, as you might say: one J. A. Baker, Esq.., formerly of Corpus Christi Coll. Oxon. and Sarum in the county of Wilts.
Baker’s, by any standards, has been no mean career as a TINC-er. There is on record advice of his, from those distant antediluvian days, to concerned clergy of the diocese of Salisbury on the subject of women deacons. He then opined that support for women in the diaconate did not involve or imply their ordination to the priesthood. Then on September 17 1991 he was quoted in The Times
‘I recognize that this is a painfully divisive issue…’ the bishop had apparently written in the Sarum Link. ‘It will in my view be a tragedy if such a measure goes through by a tight majority – say with only 67 or 68 per cent support. As most of you know, I personally long with all my heart for the day when women can be ordained to the priesthood and I believe it will come. But I would rather see it postponed for years than see it introduced into a church where three members out of every ten believed to be wrong.’
A matter of months later, when a majority in excess of 68% had clearly not been achieved, the bishop was interviewed by BBC television on the lawn of his home. The ordination of women, he then told viewers, ought to preclude the ordination to the priesthood of those who remained opposed and who would in conscience be unable to receive their orders.
The rapidity with which J.A.B. had tobogganed down the glacier of liberal opinion from a position not unlike that of Dr. Graham Leonard to one considerably to the left of the Swedish House of Bishops and the notorious Bishop of Nova Scotia is breath-taking. But it is a mere beginning.
Having TINC-ered his way through one issue in human sexuality Bishop Baker, quite illogically and unconnectedly (as we are exhorted to conclude) moved on to another. He is acknowledged as the principal contributor to – if not the only begetter of – the now-notorious House of Bishops Report. ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’, let the reader understand, was a response and rejoinder to the 1987 Synod debate, when a pre-Toronto-ed Tony Higton had secured a vote so definitive that the liberal establishment were feeling their room for manoeuvre severely cramped.
What is always thought to be needed, in such difficult circumstances, is a Moderating Influence, and this the Baker report provided. It plotted – or could be made to seem to plot – that much desired Anglican middle course between ‘too much stiffness in refusing and too much easiness in admitting’. In brief it proclaimed to the world that same sex relations between laypersons were perfectly permissible; but that clergypersons ought to know better.
That this unprincipled and incoherent attack on traditional biblical morality could not long endure as the considered opinion of a great national church was apparent to all but the Bishops who had adopted it. I suppose it is to their credit, however, that most of them remained faithful, quoted the Report as an authority, and erected it as a shibboleth.
How cruel, then, their disappointment and disillusion, when the ex-bishop of Salisbury, to the delight of the Revd Richard Kirker, sailed gaily past them down the slippery slope, at his customary velocity, leaving compromise and mediation far behind. It was a performance which did much to confirm the common man in his understandable prejudice that Anglican Bishops speak what they take to be the truth only after their retirement.
How entertaining, too, for the casual observer (who increasingly views the Church of England, like the Tory party, as an humane substitute for blood sports) that Bishop Baker had also left the Bishop of Oxford (now the accredited episcopal spokesman on same sex concerns) floundering like a beached whale before the painfully acute questions of Mr. James Naughtie of the Today Programme.
Richard Harries, the Great Communicator (formerly of ‘Thought for the Day’; recently voted the member of the General Synod most spectacularly unlike his brother Esau) treated Naughtie to a bout of confused, muddled and for the most part monosyllabic evasion, which, even in the prelude to a General Election must have sounded to his interlocutor like music to the ears.
It was all a sorry but predictable tale, happily concluded with a front page photograph in the quality dailies, which said it all: the Archbishop of Canterbury standing firmly, but unwillingly, hand-in-hand with Peter Tatchell.
If he were not mouldering in the basement of a deconsecrated Parisian church, but rather looking down from some atheistic and pantisocratic version of Heaven, Jean-Jacques would be proud of them all. For these are the antics, not of the successors of the apostles, but of Rousseau’s children. The pale Galilean may have defeated Julian the Apostate in the end; but he has a much harder task with the Church of England.
Geoffrey Kirk is the Vicar of St. Stephen’s Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark.