I know nothing about Deborah Orr.

But, I expect she is a pretty smart lady. After all, the Guardian in England describes her as ” one of Britain’s leading social and political commentators” and she does write a weekly column in the Guardian. So, it is a pretty safe bet that Deborah Orr is rather clever.

In her column last week commenting on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s attempts to find a way for the various church communities of the worldwide Anglican Communion to stay in relationship while at the same time agreeing to disagree, Deborah Orr’s cleverness is on full display.

Orr makes a number of interesting points. But her interesting points lead to a number of dubious conclusions.

Interesting point:

#1 – The Anglican church has always been a political organisation first and a spiritual one second. (Its worldwide communion, of course, is a consequence of nothing more spiritual than colonialism.)

Certainly, history bears out Orr’s contention that the existence of the Anglican church is attributable more to political machinations than Divine Providence. It is hard to argue that God called the Anglican church into existence or mandated the existence of the community of churches that is now known as the worldwide Anglican communion.

But, this historical fact leads Orr to an odd conclusion.

Dubious conclusion:

#1 – The Anglican communion is no different to any other organised religion, whose earthly purpose is always the downward control of human attitudes and behaviour. Handily, if there’s a possibility that people can’t see any logic in the rules their leaders propound, religious organisations can simply shrug their shoulders and say that it’s what God wants.

Having shared in ministry as part of the Anglican communion for the past 35 years, I know that there have been times when I have encountered, and perhaps even been guilty of, the attempt to exercise, “downard control of human attitudes and behaviour.” But to say that “downward control of human attitudes and behaviour” is the “earthly purpose” of the entire Anglican church throughout its history and everywhere it is embodied is nonsense.

The Anglican church as I have experienced it has frequently aimed at empowering people to explore their true calling as people created in the image of God and to trust the voice of truth as they experience that truth authentically speaking in their own lives.

Interesting point:

#2 – Welby is doing something interesting. He’s admitting that it’s become impossible for Anglicans to agree on what God wants, but that it’s also important for Anglicans to carry on squabbling about it.

This has always been a hallmark of Anglicanism. We  stay together and talk. We do not demand absolute conformity of belief or practice. We aim at openness, inclusivity, diversity, and respectful conversation. The ability “to carry on squabbling” while at the same time remaining in relationship, is a profound gift much needed in the world today.

Dubious conclusion:

# 2 – The trouble is that this is as liberal as religion can get…. the Anglican church has lost its ability to be authoritarian (since this would have thrown it out of step with the liberal democracy it wants to remain an established part of in Britain).

The Anglican church has not “lost its ability to be authoritarian” because authoritarianism is “out of step with liberal democracy.” The Anglican church has intentionally and consciously thrown out “its ability to be authoritarian” because we have come to understand that any kind of authoritarian governance runs directly contrary to the teaching of Jesus who instructed his followers to

call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. (Matthew 23:9)

Interesting point:

#3 – Religious conservatives are in the game precisely because they want certainty. They don’t want to sit around discussing the meaning of life, pondering what a good life might look like and considering what humans can do to foster their own progress. They want such matters to be off the table, because nothing should be allowed to disturb their delusion that they’ve got it all right and everyone who disagrees with them has got it all wrong.

Ironically, the great attraction of such a position is that once you assume it, you can justify the most awful behaviour because you believe your rectitude is beyond question, whatever vile things you’re actually doing.

I am not sure what qualifies Deborah Orr to speak on behalf of “religious conservatives.” But I do know that there was a time in my church career when I longed for “certainty” and felt contempt for those who were willing to “sit around discussing the meaning of life.” I also know that this attitude did at times lead me to violence in word or deed against those who dared to disagree with my crystal clear grasp of the “Truth.”

Dubious conclusion:

#3 – People are fond of saying that religion causes wars. It’s self-righteousness that causes wars, and religion is a marvellous tool for the self-righteous.

No doubt religion can be “a marvellous tool for the self-righteous.” But whenever religion falls prey to the virus of self-righteousness, it has departed from one of the central teachings of Jesus for whom self-righteousness was a most heinous crime. (see: Luke 18:9-14) Jesus promoted peace, compassion, and love for all humanity. These may appear to be soft “liberal” values; they are none-the-less the heart of Jesus’ teaching. They do not require political power to be sustained. And in my life I have come to believe that they are only even remotely possible when I submit to a power that is greater, wiser, and more loving than my own cleverness and self-will.