I caught some of ABofC Justin Welby’s interview on the radio this morning – in particular the bit where Anne Widdicombe asked him about gay marriage.
It puts me in mind of a time about fifteen years ago or more when I spent a night with Anne Widdicombe.
Not all of the night, obviously. More “very late into the evening” really. And all we did was talk. Honestly. The occasion was her brother’s sixtieth birthday party, at a certain “Pip and Jay’s” church in Bristol, which for reasons I won’t bore you with, I was staying at for a week on a sort of placement.
Pip and Jays was conservative evangelical and at that stage in my Anglican career I didn’t really know what that meant. Later I was to learn that People Like Me should be suspicious of People Like Them. Unfortunately, no-one told me this so I really liked them, and enjoyed myself there by accident.
This was a time when Anne Widdicombe had fairly recently converted to Catholicism, I had gone the other way, and after the meal, when a reasonable amount of wine had been consumed by all, the two of us got chatting, for many hours.
I was pleasantly surprised, I have to say, for someone whose politics I had never agreed with, and who came across on TV as shrill and aggressive. She wasn’t at all, and what emerged was a genuine but cordial difference of opinion.
She wanted from her church what she wanted on the radio from Justin Welby – a “clear lead”. She wanted teaching, which was not only clear and distinct, but unchanging. She accused the Anglican church of swaying in the wind, not teaching the immortal and unchangeable rules of God.
The reason I changed to be an Anglican was precisely because I didn’t want that. I didn’t want a church which could not change its mind, a church which could not say it was wrong, which could not see God doing new things at new times. I wanted the room to have differences of opinion and to be able to think for myself, learning from others’ wisdom, but making up my own mind and heart, rather than being told what to think by others.
I don’t really think that the catholic church has much truck with that sort of unthinking obedience either. The catechism says the opposite, and so does Pope Francis. But I think there’s certainly more room in the catholic church for that sort of obedience, whereas in the Anglican church we’ve more or less burnt our boats on that one.
And for my mind a jolly good thing too. Too long have people been infantilised into putting their trust in authority which comes, not from God, but from the desire to not have to think about stuff.The world is rich and strange, and if you see morality as black and white, you are likely to see the rest of the world in a boring monochrome, missing the confusing and perplexing beauty of the diversity of the world.
In a changing world, God can tell us new things. And the world is changing much faster than Anne Widdicombe thinks. The argument over gay marriage is already won in may opinion. The only question is how long it will take the church to catch up.
Still, it was a very pleasant evening. And she hated Michael Howard.