Usage and ab-usage in the language of contemporary Anglicanism

The recent exchanges between Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, New Jersey and the Archbishop of Canterbury make entertaining reading.

Spong is a champion of all things new and radical – in this instance the wholehearted acceptance of homosexual relationships. Dr Carey, as the ‘focus of unity’ of an International Impairment of Communion threatened with further impairment on the issue, speaks with the voice of reasoned conservatism. ‘You feel passionately about this,’ writes the Archbishop, ‘and…you have the support of a significant number of bishops. However, I ask you in turn to recognise that a very large number of bishops from all over the world disagrees with you with equal passion’. He describes Spong’s tone as ‘hectoring and intemperate’.

What is amusing, of course, is Dr. Carey’s unselfconscious exercise in role reversal. It is not long since he was the one who was hectoring, intemperate and in a minority among bishops of the communion. But the fact that ‘a very large number of bishops from all over the world’ disagreed with him did not restrain him from proclaiming to the Reader’s Digest and to the world that they all were heretics.

As Jack Spong must surely see, the Archbishop is hardly one, at his late stage, to complain about the tone of the debate.