Just in case we had been lulled into a false sense of security by the Covid-19 decline, up pops the soon-to-be Archbishop of York, the Rev Stephen Cottrell. Currently lying in wait in Chelmsford, he is about to be unleashed on us via York, this coming Thursday. By Zoom, no less. In The Sunday Times today, we are blessed with an interview from him, on the eve of his ascension to greater power.
Are you wondering what his enthronement is going to bring to the Church as it stumbles headlong into the post-Covid world? Are you anxious to see what gems of faith and hope we can expect to drop down from on high from Thursday onwards? Well wonder no more, friends. Let’s see what he told The Sunday Times. (I’d sit down with a stiff drink at this point, if I were you).
Before we go any further, you will be delighted to know that Jesus actually got a mention. But before you throw your stiff drink into the air in delight as you shout to your wife/husband/relation/friend/cat in the kitchen, just remember that this is the chap who recently banned his priests from visiting the sick in London’s hospitals in case they got in the way of the NHS.
Jesus was a black man and he was born into a persecuted group in an occupied country.
Yep. You read that correctly. Jesus, who I am pretty sure was a Jewish man from what was then Judea, was a black man. Hmm. Now why might our Archmuppet-Designate be saying that? It also appears that he doesn’t realise that the population of Judea at that time was not persecuted – like all client kingdoms, it got on with life pretty much as it had prior to the arrival of the Romans. Any persecution at that time tended to emanate from the Jewish leadership or from the Jewish king. Real persecution didn’t begin until after Jesus’ death. But hey, that would spoil the ‘narrative’.
[Cottrell] wants to stand alongside and celebrate Black Lives Matter and is in no doubt that Jesus would have joined in with their protests.
Right. That’ll be the protests of a political group that declares it wants to defund the police, condemn all historical and current figures who held/hold ideas they don’t agree with, disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement, foster a queer‐affirming network, wants to free itself from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege, amongst other worthy goals, would it?
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: Have you actually read up on any of the BLM aims, objectives and pro-revolutionary stances? How do you explain Jesus’ apparent support of aims that contradict Christian values and beliefs?
On racial issues and the Church:
It isn’t about me, but it [a white man replacing a black man as the Archbishop of York] does put the church in an awkward place. One of the failings the church has made has been a form of tokenism without addressing the deep systemic issues of exclusion and prejudice.
The leadership of the Church of England is still too white, and I hope under my watch we’ll see further changes on that. The Church of England has not been good at reimagining what its ministry of leadership should look like.
Right. So installing a white man once a black man has held a post, is now ‘awkward’. Well that’s a racist statement for starters. Are we to assume that once a black man has held a post, no white person can hold it thereafter?
And what about the leadership is ‘too white’, given that we live in a majority white country? We’ve just had many years of a black archbishop, for heaven’s sake. Why should we seek to address the leadership’s colour at all? Who cares if the best people are black, brown or white? Most of us just want leaders who believe in God, the Bible and the values of our Christian heritage – we couldn’t care less what colour the leaders are if they meet these criteria.
And as for the Church not having been good at ‘reimagining what its ministry of leadership should look like’, I would argue that it has been too good at this. It is in trying to ‘reimagine’ its ministry that the Enlightened Ones have overseen the mass exodus of believers from the parish pews over the last few decades.
And anyway, what’s to ‘reimagine’? I was always under the impression that ministry was based on teaching the Word, pastoring the sick, the poor, the confused, the sad, the bereaved, the unloved and the dying, and being a beacon of faith, constancy and belief in God as He is represented to us in the New Testament. What has changed in human society to require any change to this?
Wait – of course – silly me – we now have to include all those people who want ‘in’ on the Church on their own terms, don’t we? We have to ‘reimagine’ our traditions, beliefs and practices so as to accommodate all those people who want to belong to our club but don’t like the rules. Hence, we need to change the rules because they are ‘damaging’ people.
So that’s what ‘reimagining’ is. Right. Thanks for clearing that up for us, Archbishop. All of this waffle from him is, of course, aligned nicely with the progressive agenda in which you use words cleverly to do two things:
1. To placate the people who you disagree with, by lulling them into a false sense of security; you do this by using words that mean one thing to them, so they assume the words mean the same to you;
2. To keep onside with all your ‘allies’ because you and they know that you don’t mean those same words in exactly the same way that the first group of people understand them.
On racism in the Church:
The interviewer asked Cottrell if racism in the Church is institutional.
Yeah. It’s more about our structures and our shape. Sadly I’m sure there are one or two individuals who would still have racist attitudes, but it’s not that, it is about how we’re structured. … The inclusion of women in leadership has made such a difference and I’m determined to continue that with the BAME community.
Ah, yes, that old faithful, structural racism. I have yet to hear or read any precise definition of this wondrous entity. It seems to float about in the ether somewhere, ready to be called upon as and when progressives can’t think of any concrete examples to actually back up their claims of racism in action. Whenever I have asked anyone to give me an example of structural racism in the real ‘lived experience’, I get one of two responses:
1. Silence and a furious look;
2. An account of a specific racist incident perpetrated by an individual or perhaps a group.
Well I hate to break it to those who believe in structural racism, but accounts of individual racist incidents (of which there are, sadly, plenty) do not illustrate or give credence to the notion of structural racism. They illustrate racism. Period. For structural racism to occur in society and in the Church, we would need to see purposely racist laws, racist canon law, racist social organisation, racist policies, racist terms and conditions, racist procedures, racist services, racist technology, racist beliefs, racist language officially sanctioned and racist economics driving the Church. To date, I am not aware that any of these exist. If anyone knows any real examples, please share them with us.
If by structural racism, the Archbishop-to-be means that some black people don’t get to the top of the Church, or don’t get the appointments they want, or otherwise feel aggrieved about something, then they would have to show that similar outcomes do not also happen to white people in the Church. Unless something concrete affects black folks specifically, it isn’t racism.
A recent case emerged in the UK last month that illustrates this. A black candidate for a curacy post in the south of England was told that he was not a good match with the parish as it was “monochrome white working class, where you might feel uncomfortable.” This does, of course, beggar belief. The Church duly apologised, but the damage was done. However, this was not structural racism. It was simply racism on the part of the idiot that wrote it (even if he meant well) – a person who needs his or her head examined. Of course, this is a good example of what we may call ‘casual’ racism – unthinking racism. But that does not make it structural. There is no law, policy or procedure that prevents the appointment of black clergy to white parishes. I worship in a white majority parish where we have been blessed by the most wonderful black curate for the past four years. Nobody cares a jot about his skin colour. He’s a brilliant priest.
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: can you please point us to the specific structural entities that enforce, facilitate or promote racism in the Church? If not, please do us a favour and shut up about it. We have enough on with trying to stamp out any real racism that occurs due to ignorance, without having non-existent layers piled up on us to increase our white guilt.
On his own life-chances:
He has talked before about feeling “a little bit exposed because I think I didn’t have the education opportunities” of some of his fellow bishops.
What? As far as I am aware, here in Britain we all have access to a full, free education, both at school and in our age group (the Archbishop is just four years older than I am), university. What’s to complain about?
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: are you saying that you think privately educated bishops have had a better deal than you? Did you not get into your chosen university? So what? Most people don’t.
“I do have imposter syndrome,” he admits, “but I think I’ve learnt over the years that imposter syndrome is much, much better than the alternative. The alternative is entitlement syndrome … and that is really ugly.”
Readers may wish to form their own conclusions from this statement.
On women’s rights and safeguarding:
Notwithstanding his claim to the ‘positive’ changes in the Church – “the inclusion of women in leadership has made such a difference” – last week, a significant safeguarding issue raised its ugly head. Apparently, just before he moved from Reading to Chelmsford, about ten years ago, Cottrell was alerted to a case of domestic violence. One of his priests was being violent to his wife.
In a statement issued last Monday, Cottrell said he met the wife and spoke to colleagues about further actions, but did not ensure that these were properly documented and he failed to alert the diocesan safeguarding officer or the police.
“Now that I have discovered that this incident was not followed up as it should have been, I am deeply distressed and extremely sorry,” Cottrell said.
These ‘failings’ were ‘accepted’ by the Church’s National Safeguarding Team and explained away as being due to “a lack of training and understanding”. However, the bishop had shown “insight and humility”.
Dear Lord. Since when did a priest, bishop or any other decent man, need ‘training’ to grasp the seriousness of a man bashing his wife about? Even worse than that, it is the mention of his lack of ‘understanding’ that beats me. What’s to understand? A man of the cloth was dealing violently with his wife. This incident is being held up as an example of ‘pre-awareness practice’, but this was only around 2010, for goodness’ sake. Are we seriously to believe that in 2010 a bishop did not ‘understand’ the severity of this situation because he had not had ‘training’?
Readers may wish to reflect on the Archbishop-Designate’s views on the safety of women. And on his levels of ‘understanding’.
The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement in support of Cottrell, saying: “I pray that this experience will strengthen his commitment to safeguarding and ministry as the Archbishop of York.”
So that’s ok, then.
On his leadership plans for York:
The progressive kind. ‘Inclusivity’ is his message.
He is a vocal supporter, for example, of same-sex relationships. Earlier this year bishops issued pastoral guidance stating that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage, and that sex in gay or straight civil partnerships “falls short of God’s purpose for human beings”. The archbishops of Canterbury and York later apologised for the wording.
“I think it could have been worded more carefully,” Cottrell says.
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: How, exactly? Please share with us just how you would have worded that statement without changing the beliefs of the Church for the past 2000 years. Do you really mean that you wish it had not been written? That you disagree with the views in it? With the beliefs and standards expressed in it? Later in the same interview, you said “Openness, transparency and accountability seem to me to be three important characteristics that we should expect from leaders in all walks of life.” In view of this, can you please clarify for us (in plain English with no fluffy words or PC jargon) your exact views on same-sex marriage, same-sex sex and all variations thereof?
There are people with strongly held traditional views that I understand and respect, and I want them to be part of the church. But at the same time I’m thinking of LGBTQ+ Christians and their experience; I don’t want them to be disenfranchised or excluded, so we’re going to have to find a way of living together with disagreement.
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: Can you please tell us how exactly we are going to find a way of ‘living together with disagreement’ without changing the traditional teachings and beliefs of the Church on sex and marriage? Do you mean that you aim to change the Church’s teachings and beliefs to accommodate the LGBTQ+ community? And why do you feel it necessary to tell the traditionalists that you want them to be part of the church? Could it be because they pay in all the money?
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: sorry, but here’s another quick one…. You say that you understand and respect people with strongly held traditional views and that you want them to be part of the church. How very generous. Given that most of these people have been part of the church for decades, in many cases for a lifetime, and have, amongst other things, been paying your way, can you please tell us exactly how you are going to demonstrate this ‘understanding and respect’ of them and their beliefs? And why do you refer to their beliefs as ‘views’?
On the role of the Church in public life:
Where the church has to do work is to show that values don’t exist in a vacuum, that values arise from beliefs and narratives that shape your life…..What I long for are leaders who can be brave enough to have a big vision, about the whole way that we inhabit life.
Don’t you just love postmodern fluffy words? Narrative. Inhabiting life. Big vision. Structural racism. Reimagining ministry. Lived experience.
When I was an academic, training PhD students how to conduct research, I was engaged in an endless battle against postmodern jargon. This stuff exists for three reasons:
1. To dazzle normal people, who generally think it sounds terribly clever;
2. To blind the gullible to the essential lack of knowledge and understanding of the idiot spouting it;
3. To cover the cracks in the speaker’s capabilities in the real world.
Basically, all anyone needs to do is spout a lot of generic jargon, with no specifics, and he sounds like he knows what he is doing. In reality, he is using the fluffy words to cover up the fact that he probably hasn’t a clue what he is doing. To get to the nitty gritty, simply look at this way. When you see the Archbishop, or any other jargon-using pretender, sitting in his office at work, or preaching from the pulpit or whatever, just ask him what he is actually doing. If all he can say is that he is ‘reimagining ministry’ or ‘having a big vision’ or ‘overcoming the male hegemony’, this will tell you all you need to know. He’s waffling.
On his vision about what he will be as Archbishop:
I’ve been listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and they’re really interesting because you start with a basic musical line, and then it’s almost like endless variation, and I suspect that’s all I’m going to do. I will play new variations on the basic theme.
Ah, right. Bach. Thanks for sharing that with us. Very informative.
Question for Archbishop Cottrell: What exactly are the ‘new variations’ on the basic theme? Wouldn’t happen to involve changing the teachings of the Church, would they?
I haven’t got a new vision, but I do think what I’ve seen in Jesus Christ, which has changed my life, could help change the world for the better.
Oh, I think you do have a new vision, Archbishop. I suspect that you just don’t want to share it with us yet. And given that you think Jesus was a black man, I’m not quite sure how you may manage to change the world for the better…
We need to inhabit the world differently.
I refer readers to my comments above on postmodern jargon.
Now…where’s that stiff drink? I think I need a lie down.