Richard Oakley sounds a warning about the nature of liberalism

Some readers of New Directions may be familiar with the fable of the scorpion and the frog. I admit to being hazy about the details, but this is how I remember it. The scorpion wished to cross the river and, being unable to swim, asked the frog to carry it across. The frog was obviously afraid of that deadly tail, but the scorpion said, ‘Trust me, for if I sting you I will drown as well as you.’ Reassured, the frog allowed the scorpion to climb on its back and they began the journey across the river. But when they reached the middle the scorpion began to sting the frog. As both sank beneath the water the frog asked, ‘Why? Now we’re both dead.’ The scorpion replied, ‘Why? Because it’s my nature.’

For some strange reason (perhaps because I was in Crete at the time) that fable came to mind as I contemplated the voting in General Synod. It led me to ask questions about the nature of liberalism. Can liberalism in an ecclesiastical context exist by itself or does it need to ‘ride on the back’ of the existing holy, catholic and apostolic Body of Christ that is the Church?

For surely, without that institution, it will inevitably be subsumed into the secular and ephemeral ethos of the world around, where it will drown. Does it need the institution to give it some sort of form and substance? How often is the term ‘liberal’ used as a hyphenated appendage to traditional titles such as Catholic and Evangelical, perhaps revealing this very thing? The result is, of course, an oxymoron.

Is it also the ‘nature’ of liberalism to seek the destruction of that upon which it relies? Is not its very aim to change the eternal Church of God into that world of secular values? Were that to happen, both would drown. This is all too evident at the present time where, not only the Church of England, but the whole Anglican Communion, is being split asunder because of that agenda.

I would however give a warning to those who supported the vote for women bishops but who on other issues are traditionalists. Beware, for you will inevitably be next for the sting. Those other issues will be, indeed already are, under attack and you with them. (Perhaps the shocked response from many in this position, who wished to treat us with generosity, shows a dawning realization of this truth.)

The other element in the fable is that of trust. The frog took at face value the word of the scorpion. We are now being told to trust! Even though we had already been ‘stung’ by that vote in General Synod we are being told, ‘Trust us, we give our word, we will not sting you in the future.’ I do not know if this is said with irony, ignorance or hypocrisy. For in that very vote, the Church of England broke its word. We were assured, by statute, of a place within the church and the Act of Synod gave us a place within that Church without time limit. If I cannot trust my church to keep its word on this, I am certainly not going to trust a worthless Code of Conduct.

Whatever the truths that fables are meant to reveal, they do have their limitations. Many will no doubt think that I have stretched this particular fable way beyond those limits! There is one obvious way in which the fable parts company with reality. General Synod may seem to have left us, like the frog, drowning and finished. We know that the Church is God’s Church. His will cannot be defeated by the self-seeking and self-indulgent machinations of human beings and not even by a vote in General Synod!

Our trust is not in that all too breakable word of the Church of England, but in that promise given by Our Lord to St Peter at Caesarea Philippi. History has proven the truth of that promise. The Church Catholic has triumphed over threats far worse than the present ‘parochial’ situation. If we remain true to that Catholic faith, it will not be us who go under, for we shall continue that journey which countless saints have made before us.