Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The evangelicals are already here

Alan Wilson (Bishop of Buckingham) had a piece in the Guardian's Comment is Free yesterday. I've never encountered Bishop Alan in the non-digital world, but I have a lot of respect for his online persona, especially what he says on his blog. But this time I have to say he's hit a wrong note.

Alan's theme is the future of evangelicalism, inspired by last's week's Lausanne Conference in Cape Town (see the previous post). As we'd expect, there's good stuff there, and some useful critical questions to challenge any thinking evangelical. But the piece is still horribly generic, adopting a tone too familiar to anyone of my background who follows Anglican affairs in the media: "those funny evangelicals".

In the space of a short article, Bishop Alan suggests that evangelicals are culturally uptight, they don't like gay people very much (although they could if they tried hard enough), and although he is careful to say that he doesn't really think all evangelicals believe in a crude caricature of God, he kind of says it anyway (because some of them do). Of course it must be admitted that there are many who fit these stereotypes, and a little bit of leg-pulling does no harm. Regular followers will know that Always Hope is often quite rude about evangelicals. But then, reader, I am one (and not ashamed), and therein lies the difference.

For many in the Church of England, evangelicals have become an object at which they can cheerfully lob all sorts of bombs, ranging from the gentle curiosity of Alan Wilson to the frankly vicious smears of some commentators who are otherwise quite thoughtful and ought to know better. And frankly, for a Bishop like Alan, who must have dozens of evangelical parishes under his care in Buckinghamshire, to talk of evangelicals in the language of "them and us" is a bit disappointing too.

Evangelicals are not some odd sect on the fringe of things who can be safely patronised. J. I. Packer famously said that evangelicalism was normative Anglicanism, and while not all of us would want to push that so far as to say that everyone should be evangelical, we would like to be acknowledged as a part of the fabric, rather than a strange extremity. Evangelicalism within the Church of England is hugely important now, not least in numerical terms, and to be honest, has given birth to many of the best things that the Church has done in recent decades. It's also a richly diverse movement, undeserving of being caricatured in the way that it so often is (read the Church Times almost every week for examples). Evangelicals don't need to be brought into the Anglican fold, because they're already there. Some people just need to get used to the idea.

5 comments:

Fr David Cloake said...

Charlie, thanks for this - enjoyed reading it. +Alan is my own Bishop and a decent fellow, though I would disagree with him from another perspective to yours or his:

From my perspective as a 'modern catholic' Anglican, or in other words sacramentally minded with a higher view of priesthood (quite aside from my my meagre place in it) I have to challenge any view that suggests evangelical are on any fringe or in need of being brought into any fold! I tend to agree with Packer that to be Anglican implies by statistical averages being an evangelical. It is us who are now the fringe - though I accept that the opposite may well be the case in your diocese. In the Buckingham See, we catholics are the mere minority. In west Chichester in the Lewes See it is even worse - the balance is gone completely!

I fear a failure of balance. Money talks and evanglical churches are richer - so can pay for more curates, buy up de-commissioned churches to put them into - and if market forces are justification, then so be it. I am a ridiculed minority in my peer group of curates (yes, verbally ridiculed) because I deign to wear a collar and my flock refer to me as Father.

However, I am saddened that you feel this way as an evangelical as I feel it as a catholic - so perhaps a wider issue exists where we are perhaps both recipients of something unpleasant - I just don't know what it is. The best you or I can do is to remian committed to our views, solid in our ecclesial foundations, and for my part, you have my respect (even if I am tongue-in-cheek from tme to time)!

Charlie said...

Thanks David. To clarify - I don't think evangelicals are marginalised - as you say, the opposite is true. But there seems to be a semi-official rhetoric that wants to give the impression that they are a small and marginal group, barely part of the Church of England at all.

Fr Hugh Jass said...

"Anglican Mainstream","Reform",Charles Raven's "SPREAD", the "Anglican Church League". These are just four evangelical groups which provide us with hoots of laughter. They hardly need to be caricatured as they are too funny for words.

Charlie said...

Thank you Father, for your witty comment. I've published it in the interests of free speech and because it nicely illustrates my point. I'm not a member of any of the groups that you mention, but don't let that prevent you from using them to create an Aunt Sally for your brickbats.

MisterDavid said...

Personally, I think that when Alan Wilson says 'evangelical', he is actually thinking of classic media stereotype of American conservative Christianity.

But that's what labels do - we hide behind them, or hide other people behind them, and the 'us and them' thing pointlessly develops.