Giles Fraser is the Rector of St. Mary’s Putney. He has lectured at Wadham College, Oxford, since 1998 and been chair of Inclusive Church. He is a columnist for The Guardian and Church Times and a regular contributor to Radio 4 Thought for Today. In February of this year his book Christianity with Attitude was published by Canterbury Press.
Giles Fraser is one of the most challenging, outspoken and characterful figures in the Church of England. Passionate and direct about issues that matter to him and scourge of narrow exclusivism, he is living proof that being liberal is anything but wishy-washy."The conservatives have decided that they can exploit the deep homophobia of many African Christians in order to stage a coup for the soul of the church. Suddenly, we are once again fighting the unresolved battles of the Reformation, with narrow-minded puritans seeking to impose their joyless and claustrophobic world-view on the rest of the church. The newly formed Federation of Confessing Anglicans (Foca) is seeking bridgeheads in wealthy evangelical parishes and the English ecclesiological peace treaty lies in tatters. All eyes now turn to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Is there anything he can do about these Focas?
His track record isn't all that encouraging. Since this crisis began, Dr Williams has been bending over backwards to accommodate evangelical demands. Despite his progressive instincts, he reversed his support for the gay cleric Jeffrey John becoming a bishop and then decided that he would not invite Bishop Gene Robinson to the forthcoming Lambeth conference. Time and again, the Archbishop has given in to conservative ultimatums in the search for unity. And all that happens is that they come back for more.
A traditionally inclusive church like the C of E is especially vulnerable to infiltration by extremists. For the whole point of being inclusive is that all are welcome. It's a natural openness that is currently being exploited by those who have no love in their heart for the very inclusivity that allows them in in the first place. Even more so than the Labour Party in the 1970s, the English church is vulnerable to entryism. If fundamentalist Christianity were allowed to take over the Church of England, it would gain unprecedented access to national government through its role as the established church. The prospect of a state church, determined to convert Muslims, should set off huge flashing red lights in every corridor of power. In America, the separation of church and state creates a firewall between fundamentalist religion and state power. We have no such protection.
Rowan Williams is a good and holy man with an impossible job. He has a deep care for the worldwide church, especially in the poorer parts of Africa. But the current crisis needs him to care more about the condition of the Church of England. The open space that is the traditional mark of the English church is being undermined by a determined minority of well-funded extremists. It is time for him to fight back.
Reverend Dr Giles Fraser is vicar of Putney and I would imagine he could quite easily be good friends with my outrageous friend the Reverend David Heron.