The Learned Wooliness of Archbishops

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In Matthew Henry’s Method for Prayer, he says this:

“For our own land and nation, the happy islands of Great Britain and Ireland, which we ought in a special manner to see the welfare of, that in the peace thereof we may have peace . . . Lord, thou hast dealt favourably with our land; we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have told us, what work thou didst for us in their days, and in the times of old”

This seemed an appropriate beginning to this post, which hopes to be a more detailed response to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his take on Sharia law. This is just an initial response — the subject is enormous, and so I trust there will be more to follow.

Rowan Williams made his comments while we were over in the UK, and so we were there for the furor. What I knew about it, I knew from the media spasm that followed his comments. Some of his defenders (evangelical and otherwise) have since said that the media was creating a controversy out of nothing in much the same way they misrepresented him around Christmas time on thaat three wise men business.

I have now had the occasion to read the entirety of his speech, which can be found here, and am in a position to compare what I think he said to what he was reported in the media to have said, and as far as I can make out, they were pretty much the same thing. The issue does not appear to be a differing interpretation of what he said, so much as radically different views on the ramifications of what he said. From the media reports, I understood him to be arguing that some kind of accommodation needed to be made with certain aspects of Sharia law, and in part we needed to do this in order to guard against other unacceptable aspects of Sharia law becoming de facto law in certain parts of Great Britain. And, reading his speech, what he was reported to have said was basically what he said.

But N.T. Wright has come to the archbishop’s defense, and characterized the media response as an “astonishing misrepresentation.” I don’t think this is right, and was astonished in my own turn by some of the things that Wright said in the archbishop’s defense. Those comments can be found here.

What I want to do here take an initial look at the big picture, which was touched on in one of Wright’s responses, and which I believe reveals a massive contradiction between this and what Wright has been arguing for in some of this other books. He said:

“Second, the fundamental issue he was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.”

Part of this is quite right. If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all. But this means that Jesus is the Lord of whether or not Muslim men get to have four wives, and the answer is that they don’t. Jesus is the Lord of whether or not the British government has the right to grant health benefits to the multiple wives of Muslim men, and the answer is that they don’t get to. They don’t get to because Jesus is the king of Great Britain, and Allah is not. They don’t get to because Jesus is the king of Great Britain, and Enlightenment pluralism is not.

Wright is saying here, among other things, that the religious consciences of the citizenry should not be exiled from the public square. So far I am with him completely. But when all our religious consciences come out of hiding, and we all walk back into the public square — the one that used to naked and secular — we discover that our religious consciences differ in ways that cannot be reconciled. We then need to have a religious debate, and we then have to make decisions. The import of such decision-making will be that certain religious convictions are exiled and excluded from having any basis in the law of the land. How many wives? Does it take two women to equal the testimony of one man in a court of law?

You cannot say that Jesus is Lord over all, as Wright has shown elsewhere, but then go on to say that certain Enlightened and secular “universal truths” will be what really govern us, smoothing out the relatively minor differences between Christians and Westernized Muslims. Why on earth should Westernized Muslims get the preferential treatment? Why does the archbishop reject the primitivist Muslims? In whose name? By what authority?

And unless the immigration authorities in Great Britain are prepared to deport all “primitivist” Muslims, somebody over there needs to figure out a theology of the relationship of the public square to the true religion. We don’t want or need a theology of the public square to generic “religions” and “religious consciences.” Unless the public square is rightly related to Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, all the episcopal waffling and noodling in the world is nothing more than warmed over secular liberalism. Bah. We tried that. Unless we submit to the lordship of Jesus, we will continue on in our frightful muddle, as epitomized by the learned wooliness of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I understand why many evangelicals gave the archbishop the benefit of the doubt on this one — it is because they do not have a theology that can answer the questions raised by massive Muslim immigration. They do not have a theology of the public square. But Wright does have one, and it is astonishing to me that he blinked.

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