Friday, 24 February 2012


This first appeared on VirtueOnline:

George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, has come out all guns blazing in the battle against same-sex marriage in the UK. In this, he bears some resemblance to the Robert Vaughan character in The Magnificent Seven. VOL readers may recall the demoralised gunslinger cowering behind a wall in the heat of the battle for the oppressed Mexican village but then finding his courage and gunning down a group of bandits, before expiring heroically.

God willing, Lord Carey will be totting his spiritual and moral six-gun for a while yet from his mount in the House of Lords and the Daily Mail. UK Christianity certainly needs his new-found outspokenness. He is the most prominent public figure behind the new Coalition for Marriage, backed by evangelical groups such as the Christian Institute, Christian Concern and the Evangelical Alliance.

C4M has been formed to defend the current UK legal definition of marriage as 'the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others' against Prime Minister David Cameron's bid to redefine this wonderful God-created institution.

Lord Carey was the classic product of the post-1960s Anglican evangelical inside strategy. Back in the glam rock days of the 1970s, younger Anglican evangelicals were being encouraged by their leaders to engage with the denominational structures of the Church of England and gain positions of influence in the hierarchy. George Carey was one of them, becoming Bishop of Bath and Wells in the 1980s before being the surprise choice as Archbishop of Canterbury by the then Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher in 1990.

It may be an over-statement to describe him as cowering behind a wall but his time as Archbishop was not especially marked by bold outspokenness for orthodox Anglican truth against liberal revisionism. The issue he spoke most passionately in favour of at the beginning of his tenure was the ordination of women, a liberal preoccupation.

The Anglican grouping that seemed to irk him most was Reform, whom he accused of bully-boy tactics over quota-capping (that is the witholding of the parish share paid by local churches to dioceses).

He was supportive of the orthodox Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 over the passing of Resolution 1.10, so was arguably beginning to find his form towards the end of his time as Archbishop of Canterbury.

But no conservative evangelical diocesan bishop was appointed during his time whilst some most unfortunate liberal appointments were made. He refused to provide conservative evangelical opponents of women priests with their own flying bishops but was happy to allow Anglo-Catholics theirs.

Far from transforming the institutional Church of England as an evangelical, George Carey seemed to have been transformed by the institution.

He seemed to be the personification of the failure of the Anglican evangelical inside strategy.

But then he retired as Archbishop just as New Labour was enacting a slew of politically correct legislation in the Noughties. Freed from the burden of office in a theologically mixed denomination, Lord Carey has spoken up boldly both in Parliament and in the popular press in favour of traditional marriage and family life and, most effectively, for Christian freedom of expression in the UK.

It is not an over-statement to say that without Lord Carey's bold parliamentary advocacy a 'religious hatred' law could well have been passed under New Labour in 2006 severely impeding Christians from proclaiming the supremacy and uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ against other worldviews, particularly Islam.

Whilst the institution Lord Carey once led has been less than prophetic against political correctness, he has been.

And therein lies the rub - it is the former Archbishop of Canterbury who is standing up for Christianity in the UK against political correctness. However, if he had not pursued the inside strategy and become Archbishop of Canterbury, then he would not have the platform he currently has to speak up for Christian truth on the national stage.

Isn't that illustrative of the dilemma around the inside strategy for Anglican evangelicals in the Church of England?

This piece about the new Coalition for Marriage appeared on Christian Today.


  1. I think, if I understood correctly, in a TV interview, Lord Carey denied he believes homosexuality is immoral, citing the law on civil partnerships. As if a legislative act of Parliament changes God's Word on a matter. (However presumably it depends on whether "homosexuality" means the temptation, or behaviour.) And I would guess his stance on the ordination of women would be the same now as when he was ABC.

    But yes we must be thankful for Lord Carey's leadership in defending marriage, and in speaking up for the freedom of expression of Christianity. Since retiring as ABC, he does seem to be acting now more like an ABC would be expected to act!

  2. The problem is that the ABC's role is primarily that of a United Nations peacemaker, trying to stop opposing factions from fighting. There's evangelicals (divided over women so by no means a homogenous group), anglo-catholics, and liberals, all with their different priorities and agendas. Strong leadership is impossible and the job is very political. Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that Carey, sadly, wasn't able to cope with this. I guess it's completely different to parish or diocesan ministry.

    It's good that he's become more forthright in recent years.

  3. Just one other point - you talk about the "failure of the Anglican evangelical inside strategy". I think it's a bit more nuanced than this.

    Since Stott made his call in the 1960s for evangelicals to stay in the CofE, it's fair to say that, at parish level, anglican evangelicalism has enjoyed huge growth. Fifty years ago, would we have been seen as one of the main traditions in the CofE? I don't think so. But we definitely are now. Where I live maybe 50-75% of the parishes are evangelical. The gospel is being preached and people are coming to faith.

    Yes, evangelicals are probably not that well represented in the hierarchy, and I'd be interested to hear some thoughts as to why that is.

    But let's not be too negative about our achievements to date.

  4. As one who has written on the topic of strategy, I would say a significant part of the trouble in the postwar years is that Anglican evangelicals looked to their place in the institution, not the institution's responsibility to evangelize.

    To secure a place, you have to fit in. To evangelize you have to have a gospel and preach it. But if you are part of an institution that operates 'border controls', you cannot settle for non-evangelism in any part of the institution.

    George, and the other post-Keele evangelical bishops, did not seem to understand this (or if they understood it, I certainly can't follow the policy measures they adopted to put it into effect).

    Our strategy for changing the denomination must be, first and foremost, to change it into a body that evangelizes - which, as was recognized in 1945, means understanding and proclaiming the gospel aimed at the conversion of individual people.

  5. George was fairly disappointing as archbishop, too much in awe of the assumed social superiority of liberals, and inexcusably unfair to the conservative evangelicalism in which he was nurtured - you could be sure that if he took a potshot at anyone in those days, it would be a conservative. Was this to establish his bona fides with liberals and catholics? He certainly championed in ministry at theological college, and made Trinity College Bristol in some ways post-evangelical, as catholic and liberal students came and the worship got increasingly ceremonial. Even before he was a bishop he was distancing himself from evangelicals, saying "how much he had learnt form catholics and liberals", as he put in CEN articles. He was never a deep thinker and I doubt he understood catholic sacramentalism. Late in the day (Lambeth 1998) he tried to stem the tide but the ordination of women created a virtually unstoppable liberal block in the clergy.
    In retirement he has spoken with greater conviction on Islam and a host of other issues. I think he has grasped just how pagan Britain has become and the failure of his earlier strategy.


  6. But how would Archbishop Carey have felt in the 1990s if his predecessor had been outspoken and controversial? There is some wisdom in the unwritten rule that ex- archbishops maintain a low public profile and don't make life difficult for their successors.

  7. And what wisdom would that be, Historian? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question, but I am just wondering how an institution is worse off if there is a culture of challenging assumptions and leaders, as opposed to a culture of 'not rocking the boat'?

    1. My point, Michael, was not to suggest that a culture of 'not rocking the boat' is a good thing - far from it - merely to suggest that ex-Archbishops should leave that to others and return the courtesy that was afforded to them and keep a low profile now that they have left office rather than becoming a regular rent-a-quote in the tabloid media.

    2. Okay... I hadn't realised that Lord Carey accepted money for comments - or does "rent-a-quote" mean something else?

      In any case, isn't Lord Carey just following the precedent set by Lord Runcie in 1996 when Reuters reported him as saying that the Church of England's stand on homosexual priests was "ludicrous" and an "unsatisfactory compromise"?

      I seem to recall that Lord Runcie's biography also contained some very pointed comments about how he had knowingly ordained homosexual ordinands during his tenure and didn't see any importance in CofE rules on the issue. Is this what you mean by 'keeping a low profile' and 'leaving rocking the boat to others'?

  8. Ian Smith wrote:

    "[As ABC] Strong leadership is impossible and the job is very political."

    Why does that make strong leadership impossible, I wonder? In particular, why shouldn't an ABC be expected to stand strongly for the formularies of the Church of England in their plain meaning? Sure, one would have to acknowledge that there is some difference, e.g. between anglo-catholics and evangelicals, about a few (and it really is only a very few) points in the Articles of Religion. But that is something that a good leader can take in his stride.

    Instead, your current ABC appears to be mainly preoccupied with pandering to a quite small number of liberals, and with cementing their position in the CofE hierarchy (even though their number of supporting parishioners appears to be tiny).

  9. Every time George Carey open his mouth he makes the likelihood of gay marriage more certain.

    1. So, you would necourage him to keep speaking out, I assume?

  10. The C4M petition which Lord Carey helped launch has now attracted more than 53,000 signatures and climbing.

  11. "Every time George Carey open his mouth he makes the likelihood of gay marriage more certain."

    Er... why?


  12. @ Anonymous (Feb 26 comment) - has the ordination of women really "created a virtually unstoppable liberal block in the clergy" ? As an evangelical, I know there are loads of ordained ladies from our camp.

    @ MichaelA - you ask why the ABC can't be a strong leader. Because his power is limited and he needs to please all the people all the time. Synod is so divided that every measure has to have cross-party support. The CofE approach is to be a broad church and the culture is to compromise in order to accommodate everyone. Look what's happening now with women bishops - interminable arguments about how to keep the dissenters happy. The ABC could make a stand for orthodox views on sexuality, but there's plenty of people (including Bishops and Clergy) who don't share these in theory or practice. And as for evangelism - only the evangelicals really believe in this and have the Biblical gospel. It means somsthing quite different for liberals (social gospel) and anglo-catholics (sacramental gospel).

    I sometimes wonder why I stay in! But at local church level, evangelicals are preaching the gospel and people are coming to faith. So we just get on with that and hope that the institution will eventually sort itself out. Perhaps we're just plain crazy and Martin Lloyd-Jones was right.

    1. "Because his power is limited and he needs to please all the people all the time. Synod is so divided that every measure has to have cross-party support."

      Westminster-style governments regularly work with minority governments and still get things done.

      "Look what's happening now with women bishops - interminable arguments about how to keep the dissenters happy."

      But is that because of a 'culture' of compromise, or because the CofE hierarchy has a very specific fear that this time they will lose those dissenters? After all, the dissenters may not include many bishops, but they include a lot of active tithe-paying parishioners and a lot of parish clergy. The experience of ACNA in North America has shown that dissenters CAN leave AND survive quite well, and that even a small loss of income can badly hurt the church left behind.

      "The ABC could make a stand for orthodox views on sexuality, but there's plenty of people (including Bishops and Clergy) who don't share these in theory or practice."

      Why would that stop him taking a stand? He can say what he thinks and many people looking for leadership may gladly follow him. And sure, those who don't share his theory or practice won't go along with him, but they weren't going to anyway, so what harm has been done? ;o)

  13. "But at local church level, evangelicals are preaching the gospel and people are coming to faith. So we just get on with that and hope that the institution will eventually sort itself out."

    Yes, we'd hope so - but sadly it's unrealistic to hope it! The current negotiations in Synod are crucial to ensuring that significant numbers of gospel-preaching evangelicals aren't forced out of the CoE - which is why all evangelicals, regardless of what they think of the WB issue, need to get this right. Otherwise all will ultimately suffer.