Wednesday, July 23, 2008

BBC Documentary on Anglicanism

I just finished watching the BBC Documentary on the state of the Anglican Communion (available on BBC iPlayer this week, only if you’re based in the UK). For the most part I thought that the BBC journalist tried his best to be fair-minded and to accurately characterise views on both sides, but I think that ultimately, he just found it too difficult to penetrate the worldview of the “conservative” side. You could tell that from some of his facial expressions in his interview with Archbishop Akinola and from the concluding voiceover statements (which I’m assuming is him).

Indeed, the difference in outlook is huge between all those involved, the “conservative” side, the “liberal” side, and the supposedly “objective” BBC journalist, and really shows up the limitations of the medium of the media. For example, after we get Akinola insisting on the primacy of the Bible, we then get the journalist looking up Leviticus 18:22, musing over why, if the Bible is so clear, there is such an uproar in the Anglican Communion. This is followed by a soundbite from the liberal Dean of Southwark Cathedral, who decries this prooftexting method as being disrespectful to Scripture. I actually agreed with what the Dean said here, but the implicit conclusion we are to draw from this was that all conservatives all read the Bible this way. Now I have no idea how the Nigerian Archbishop supports his conclusions exegetically, but I’m doubtful that his reading habits are as crass as that. But a discussion on hermeneutics isn’t going to make for riveting TV is it? There were some good soundbites from the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen as well, on individualism and community in Western society, but he couldn’t unpack his statements nor address both his own presuppositions and that of others, allowing the narrator to wonder that for all Jensen’s comments on community, surely he was excluding at least one group: homosexual people? That’s a good and legitimate question to ask, but the question is left hanging – I would hope that off-camera, Jensen and the journalist had a more substantial discussion! But from the perspective of the television viewer, the implication is again, that of hypocrisy.

There are moments like this throughout the documentary, and again I had to think of the gap that lay between the worldview of your average African Christian and that of your average secular Westerner: what would the latter have made of the language of spiritual warfare, I wonder? Also, while I believe that culture should never displace Scripture at the centre, I did think that some of the misunderstandings are cross-cultural at heart. The way Akinola preaches for example, I think, is shaped by his African roots and could be off-putting to some, although I think the content of what he preaches, of course, transcends cultures. (Perhaps 1 Peter 3:15-16 is a challenge to him?) And I think because Africans don’t have to deal as much with the legacy of the Enlightenment and of postmodernism, there is a sense in which they perhaps might not realise how some people are really grappling with difficult questions. The same goes the other way, of course. The Africans are clearly passionate about mission, and in a place where death and demons rule, it is no wonder they want to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and there is hope of life beyond the grave.

This is still a pretty good documentary for more background information on the Anglican Communion, which btw, is the largest Protestant denomination in the world! We hear often about the global spread of Pentecostalism but there are millions of Anglicans in Africa and Latin American and Asia as well. The story of Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Jos is worth hearing. Tom Wright had pretty harsh words for his own side. It was nice to hear somebody in sympathy with liberal views be charitable to the conservative side (another British journalist who was addressing a gay pride rally, in contrast to the Bishop of Washington who decried conservatives as demonic). And the documentary accurately highlights the true division: the authority of Scripture and what role it should play. For the liberals, it is generosity that should be the ultimate value: one couple opined that some believers are against the gay lifestyle, some are for, and well, that’s fine, they should worship side by side. John Stott, though, in a different context, captures the ideal conservative attitude with characteristic brevity:

"We need to distinguish between the tolerant mind and the tolerant spirit. Tolerant in spirit a Christian should always be, loving, understanding, forgiving and forbearing others, making allowances for them, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, for true love ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ [1 Cor. 13:7]. But how can we be tolerant in mind of what God has plainly revealed to be either evil or erroneous?” (Christ the Controversialist, pub. 1970).
The debate, of course, is over the phrase “plainly revealed”. That is where the battle for the Bible lies today.

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Blogger Cany said...

Well, drat. I sure wish we could see the video somehow... I am WAY outside the UK.

8:42 pm  

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