Very occasionally — even in contemporary Britain — some good news arrives. No single piece of news has been more invigorating than the discovery that a member of the clergy of the Church of England has found a vertebra.
In recent years, the British public have become used to a steady succession of bad-news stories from the purveyors of the Good News. This has taken every imaginable form, from the former Bishop of Oxford suggesting in the House of Lords that the Quran could be recited at the next coronation service, to the former Archbishop of Canterbury — Rowan Williams — notoriously suggesting that a place should be found for Islamic sharia in the law of the land.
So the place in the British national comedy reserved for the type of vicar unwilling to take the side of his own faith in any argument has darkly morphed. The failure of the Church of England to defend its own beliefs or its own followers when they are facing persecution around the world, has become an unamusing stain on the reputation of the church. Its representatives increasingly look as though they are willing to defend anything — including the most intolerant expressions of the world’s most intolerant religions — rather than argue for their own faith or the faith of their own congregants.
One example that emerged earlier this month appeared to epitomise the trend. At a service in the Cathedral of St Mary in Glasgow to mark the Feast of the Epiphany, the Cathedral thought it wise to invite a Muslim student to read from the Quran. The aim — according to the leader of the Scottish Anglican church, Bishop David Chillingworth — was to try to improve relations between Muslims and Christians in the city. If that were indeed the intention, it was singularly ill-advised. And as though the decision were not already poorly enough thought through, the section of the Quran the Muslim student recited at the service was the section of the Quran about Jesus. The section in question points out the Islamic belief that Jesus was not the Son of God. Even in today’s Britain, this does not seem quite the view that leaders of the national church are supposed to propagate.
There was a small rumpus when this story broke. During it, the ray of hope came in the form of a letter in The Times of London. Written by the Reverend Gavin Ashenden, it pointed out that:
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