UPDATED: ABC race hots up, a little punt, and a question for Fulcrum

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Andrew Brown over at the Guardian thinks he has a grasp on how it’s all looking,

Next Wednesday, four women and 15 men on the Crown Nominations Commission will gather for two days of prayer and horsetrading to replace Rowan Williams as archbishop of Canterbury. We know who they are, and when they will meet – but not where, so they can’t be doorstepped.

This time last year the two main candidates were John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, and Richard Chartres, the bishop of London. Neither filled the church with much enthusiasm. Sentamu wanted the job too obviously. Chartres has refused to ordain women. Both men are in their 60s, and Sentamu is not in perfect health. This matters because if one of the jobs of the archbishop is to run the Anglican communion – well, to head it, since it is not a body coherent enough to run – he must be in shape for the next Lambeth Conference in 2018, when most of the Anglican bishops of the world will come together.

Beyond them, candidates are less obvious. Among the younger bishops the bookies early anointed Christopher Cocksworth, bishop of Coventry, as favourite. He is an evangelical, ran a theological college, and he hasn’t offended any powerful lobbies. But reports from his diocese suggest that he hasn’t offended anyone only because he can’t take decisions. Sentiment has quietly but decisively swung away from him.

James Jones, the bishop of Liverpool, who has just chaired the Hillsborough inquiry, is another possible caretaker choice. Although he has a firm evangelical background, he is sympathetic to gay clergy and an enthusiastic green. He had heart surgery last year, and though a fluent speaker, he lacks the star quality possessed in their different ways by both Sentamu and Chartres.

Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, is favourite everywhere of the steady-as-she-goes party. He is widely experienced – he worked in Lambeth Palace under the previous archbishop, Lord Carey – and widely trusted, as well as scholarly. But critics say he has the charisma of a tea cosy and exemplifies the benevolent but out-of-touch quality of a church cut off from the mainstream of English life.

Outsiders include Nick Baines, the newly appointed bishop of Bradford. He is active on Twitter, where journalists notice him, and he is both interested in the media and largely unafraid of it. He is an evangelical, which ticks one important box, but youth (he’s 51) and inexperience should tell against him.

Another possible is John Inge, bishop of Worcester, a former public schoolmaster favoured by some centrist evangelicals. He is the author of an unlikely work of theology, Living Love, which takes as its starting point the detective novels of Alexander McCall Smith.

Liberals make wistful noises about Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford. He was the man with briefly the worst job in the church – brought in as the unimpeachably heterosexual bishop of Reading after Williams lost his nerve in the face of a concerted and international evangelical campaign and forced his old friend Jeffrey John, a celibate gay man, to withdraw from the post. That was in many ways the defining catastrophe of Williams’s term in office, and his surrender ensured that bitter infighting over gay clergy would continue for the foreseeable future.

All fascinating stuff. I wouldn’t want to have to predict who it will be but one thing I can predict is this – it won’t be someone with the solid convictions and courage required to sort out the mess in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. At least ten more years of the same slow disintegration are what we’re going to get.

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However, if you were a betting man then I think this is a lousy market because, let’s face it, I don’t think the bookmakers are well clued up on the ins and outs and so they’re going to close out their risks. Oddschecker have a comparison chart showing all the favourites with fairly short odds. Take your pick but Christopher Cocksworth looks very short odds. Mind you, he’s the man that Brown suggests “hasn’t offended anyone only because he can’t take decisions”. Well that would make a change from the past ten years of Williams offending everyone by not taking decisions.

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And one last note of interest. Back to Brown’s piece.

“The next man has got to be able to hold together the Anglican communion, and to stare down the loony left and the loony right on sexual questions,” says Stephen Kuhrt, a south London vicar who represents centrist evangelical opinion. “There are those who want a split as soon as possible, but the vast majority of Anglicans want a working compromise on sexuality. We need someone who can communicate a bit more on a popular level than Rowan, and is a bit tougher.”

“Loony left” and “loony right” – helpful labels from the chair of Fulcrum Anglican. Whoever and whatever can he mean?

Why don’t we find out?

22 September 2012

Dear Stephen,

I hope this finds you well. I’m writing as a contributor to the website Stand Firm (www.standfirminfaith.com) to ask for some clarification on the views you expressed in Andrew Brown’s article in yesterday’s Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/20/archbishop-of-canterbury-succession-rowan-williams).

Specifically you are quoted as saying “The next man has got to be able to hold together the Anglican communion, and to stare down the loony left and the loony right on sexual questions”

Could you please clarify for our readers if you made that statement? If so, could you please specify who – whether individuals or organisations – you had in mind when you referred to a “loony left” and “loony right” and why you refer to them as “loony”?

With thanks

David Ould

(copy sent via church website contact form, Facebook and Fulcrum website)

I’ll let you know if we get a response. Should be interesting.


and it was! Stephen wrote promptly and with a very full and helpful response.

Dear David,

By the loony right and loony left I mean both those extremes on the issue of homosexuality who essentially refuse to engage with any perspective other than their own. On both extremes there are those who seem to regard any opposition or even questioning of their position on this issue as totally evil meaning that they see both dialogue and staying together in one church as pointless. I speak as someone who is conservative on the issue of homosexuality but who also believes the path towards resolution on this issue is not by ‘the pure’ separating off from ‘the evil’ (whichever way this is understood) but by those who claim to follow the God revealed in Jesus Christ staying together committed to loving, listening and learning from one another in the faith and hope that God will open our eyes to where all of us need to change and guide us to where the church needs to be. In the meantime we need clarity over what provinces/dioceses/churches should or shouldn’t just go ahead and do (however strongly they might feel they are right) which is why I remain such a supporter of the covenant. What I am saying is that the extreme voices on either poles, seemingly determined to wreck this process, shouldn’t be allowed to by the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He must hold his nerve and encourage the Anglican Communion and the vast majority who believe they do not have a monopoly on the truth to stay together, express our perspectives with complete frankness and honesty whilst listening carefully to different ones in the firm belief that God really can pull off the miracle of bringing the church to resolution on this issue.

The reason I used the term loony is because I believe there are some who have become so obsessed by the issue of homosexuality that it has almost possessed them. It is possible to make any good thing into an idol and once we do this it starts controlling us and making us less fully human and sadly this comes over all too clearly when you read the comments and statements on those on both extremes of this issue. I don’t think it would be helpful to name individuals or organisations here but ask that those on both extremes of this debate look at some of the statements they have made and consider whether they are in danger of falling into this trap.

Best Wishes

Stephen Kuhrt

One may or may not agree with Stephen’s assessment but it’s a very thorough response. Nevertheless, he has made some pretty serious charges and I don’t think it’s hard to see where he intended them to fall. So I’ve asked one more set of questions to clarify:

Stephen, many thanks for your prompt reply and for the detail of it which I know our readers will appreciate.

I understand that you are reluctant to name names but it seems to me you very clearly intend to label a number of organisations such as,

Anglican Mission in England
Church Society
Anglican Mainstream
Inclusive Church

For clarity would you confirm if you had these specific bodies in mind as “loony” and “extreme”?

If not, then could you more generally help our readers understand which groups seeking influence might be considered more “right” or “left” of them, even if you would not label them “loony” or “extreme”?

Best wishes


and one more response from Stephen,

Like all bodies those listed include some who are far more interested in dialogue and holding the Anglican Communion together than others. It would be foolhardy of me to stereotype entire organisations when they all contain considerable diversity. But the problem is that it tends to be the extreme voices within them that are heard.

Just to clarify, I am on ‘the right’ on this issue but believe that those on the non extreme ‘left’ also have perspectives that I need to learn from. This is not least because I am increasingly convinced that the ‘right’ and ‘left’ on this issue are probably asking rather different questions from one another in regard to homosexuality and that if we can clarify these different questions and starting points through dialogue and continued relationship, there is the very real chance of progress. But time for the moment prevents me from opening this up further.

Below is the link to an article that I recently wrote which, I believe, has some relevance here.


Stephen’s linked article is interesting. It likens the ability of these many and varied groups to work together to a game of cricket where the pace of the game, slow as it is, enables us to listen more carefully and, well, work together.

And this is, ultimately, the flaw in Stephen’s and Fulcrum’s approach. It genuinely thinks we’re all on the same team. So when, in an earlier response, he writes,

…those who claim to follow the God revealed in Jesus Christ staying together committed to loving, listening and learning from one another in the faith and hope that God will open our eyes to where all of us need to change and guide us to where the church needs to be…

he/they assume that theological liberals who consistently deny basic tenets of the faith, let alone plough a strange furrow on human sexuality, are somehow followers of God in Christ. Now we note the careful language “claim to follow” but the basic principle is the basic mistake – they’re not Christian and that’s the whole problem. Again, in his Cricket article we read,

…a team comprising clergy who in numerous ways seemed poles apart were able to work together brilliantly, and to show consistently how a united body can be much greater than the sum of its parts.

At the heart of the gospel is God’s making one, united people, marked out by faith in Jesus, and by love for one another, using their different gifts and insights to work for him together.

on the assumption that those who deny the gospel and the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures (let alone the surety of that Scriptural revelation in general) and still part of the team and we just need to learn to play together better. It’s nonsense. There’s actually a far better cricketing analogy that can be used and has already been used to great effect.

It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

Let’s be under no illusions, friends. In Kuhrt’s own diocese of Southwark the captain is bad enough, but for us to put up with bat-breaking leadership of the sort we’ve had with Williams from the next person to sit on Augustine’s Chair – well, decide for yourself who it is that’s loony.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Richardson

    Shouldn’t the looney left (in Stephen’s terms) also include Changing Attitude?

  2. David Ould

    hi John. Yes, I think they should. But we all need to stop and think hard whether it’s looney of us to expect more of the next ABC.

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