You may, for better or for worse, be aware of a recent toxic outpouring from the quill of erstwhile boxing mogul Sir Bob Jones.(1) In it he does his best to satirize Wellington’s Bishop Justin Duckworth and the entire Anglican tradition in one fell swoop. Jones is not Shakespeare, Einstein, nor even Lange or Muldoon, so his vitriolic tirade failed to excite any except those who are already convinced that every Anglican is either dead or a paedophile. It is therefore probably a good thing I failed to give him oxygen, having missed the brain explosion at the time and therefore failed to engage with the good pugilist. I doubt much would have been achieved by rational debate. The narrative of Jones’ history, if I recall correctly from the ancient depths of my memory, is not renowned for subtle or intellectual discourse.
Amongst the suggestions made in Jones’ tirade, apart from ad hominem attacks on Duckworth’s sartorial standards, were 1) that clearly Duckworth was misguided because God did not send a thunderbolt of penal reform during his sojourn in the cathedral precinct, and 2) that Anglicans almost all engage in sexual libertinism every time they gather, so that synods boost the coffers of the sex-worker industry exponentially. Or something like that. Sadly I have to say that in 30 years of synod attendances around Australia and New Zealand I appear to have missed this recreational side-line, but Sir Bob would undoubtedly know the scene more comprehensively than I do.
In the last decade or two I have been suggesting that credible Christianity in the West is undergoing a form of persecution by exclusion and/or ridicule. Somehow I don’t think Sir Bob’s un-nuanced rampage quite fits the bill of “persecution.” Rowan Williams has been fairly outspoken in his attacks on comfortable western Christians who think they are being persecuted: “When you’ve had contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely”, he warned, back in August.(2) Nevertheless, while he has a point, it is worth recalling that the greatest pogrom in history began with ridicule of the Jews. The fact that Jones can have his brain explosion published without censure by editors may point to the great values of free speech, but I suspect any similar attack on an Ayatollah, a roshi, a lama or a kaumatua would result in a media meltdown. Bishops are fair game.
There are many ways we have brought this on ourselves. For too long we viewed society with a degree of supercilious superiority. The days of that uncharitable self-satisfaction and sometimes outright hypocrisy are long gone in most quarters. We the Christbearers of the 21st century are beholden to ensure we speak and act with integrity, as Duckworth has. No thunderbolts will ensue, but we might one day and by the grace of God once more earn the exclamation “see how those Christians love one another”.