I watched the film 'The Queen' last week. I really enjoyed it. It was about the events following Diana's death on 31st August 1997 and how the newly elected Tony Blair was trying to rescue the Royals from themselves. In particular, trying to get them to agree to a public ceremonial funeral for Diana, to return to London from Balmoral, to put the flag at Buckingham Palace at half mast and to get the Queen to address the people.
The Queen seems quite bamboozled by the reaction of the people, expecting them to get over it and to act with the stiff upper lip and dignity that she expects. But the flowers keep piling up and the papers keep demanding that the Queen dances to a different tune. The pivotal moment for me in the film is when the Queen is talking to her mother:
"Something's happened. There's been a change, some shift in values. When you no longer understand your people, mummy, maybe it is time to hand it over to the next generation."
Of course it is a work of fiction. Who knows how much of it is actually true. But the Queen did break protocols and bow to the public pressure. The Royal Family returned to London, the Union flag was flown at half mast on the day of Diana's funeral, Diana did have a ceremonial funeral and the Queen did a live broadcast speaking of the grief that we all shared.
I believe there has indeed been a massive shift in values, a new worldview. There is another person who I think seems bamboozled in the light of the shift in values, and that is Rowan Williams. I must admit that these days, when Rowan interacts with the Press I feel like hiding under my bed or locking myself in the bathroom with my hands over my ears singing 'rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb' in a loud voice. The last occasion resulted in this headline in the Telegraph:
"Archbishop says the Church will resist Government moves on gay marriage..and the rest of us went 'huh, since when was that decided?' The last time we heard Rowan Williams talk about the issue of homosexuality was at the General Synod Presidential Address where he offered the Synod the opportunity to discuss the subject over the next five years, albeit grudgingly:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has vowed to defend the Church’s traditional stance on marriage against Government moves to introduce homosexual weddings in churches."
"I'm told fairly often that the lack of advance in nurturing this debate [on homosexuality] properly is a serious failure in the leadership of the Church and the Communion. I am bound to accept my share of reproach; but I would want to invite you all to help me do better by working with me to create the ambience where better understanding may happen."
Clayboy reported on the subject at the time and concluded that:
"It seems we can be reasonably certain of several things. First, Archbishop Williams said the Church was not going to allow same-sex blessings to be conducted in Church, even if the law is changed to permit religious ceremonies to be used in civil partnerships. Then he said that the Church would continue to hold and teach that marriage was between a man and a woman."
Like in the film 'The Queen', I think Rowan has misjudged this, for the following reasons:
1. We are synodically governed. Have the Archbishops of Canterbury always acted in such a papal style? Maybe so, but it can't be like that any more. The truth is there are synods that debate these things and make the laws, and that is a good thing. People do not like the idea of top down autocratic institutions. His answer can only be that it is for the synods to debate and decide on.
2. Lambeth Palace need to relate to the Press better. It isn't rocket science that the Press would want to speak to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the issue of gay weddings being held in church buildings given that it was a proposal to go through parliament. A statement should have gone out properly to the Press, not a half-botched something or other in a 'private' Question and Answer sesssion. (Facepalm appropriate at this point)
3. Openness and accountability are required. Everyone knows that Rowan William's theology gave hope to gay and lesbian people. He now looks like he is being disingenuous, which is the greatest sin in the postmodern world, which values authenticity above all else. We need him to say something like, 'Theologically I see no reason why gay marriages can go ahead, but it is not up to me to decide and many in the church remain very unconvinced'. Bishop Alan Wilson said that:
"The Social Media revolution means that we are expected to be more open and accountable, and the Gospel thrives in that environment"Rowan, something's happened. There's been a change, some shift in values. You need to change with it. If the Queen can manage, so can you.