When Archbishop Rowan Williams came to me a few days ago, panicking because he had no idea of what to say in his forthcoming Presidential Address to the Church of England’s General Synod, I began by telling the dear young man to calm down. “Really,” I said, patting him comfortingly on the shoulder as a distraction while Bishop Quinine filched a few blank letterheads from His Grace’s briefcase, “After all these years of going around looking like that fellow who played the flute in Jethro Tull it’s a bit late now to start worrying about what people think of you.” After which I gave him similar advice to that which I give all inexperienced Clergy who ask for my assistance in handling some sticky situation not easily resolved with rubber gloves and a box of tissues.
Firstly: ramble on. It doesn’t matter what you say, just say it for as long as possible. Meander. Drone. Waffle. People only ever really hear what they want to, and let’s face it, when you’ve got the pointiest hat in the whole Communion they all – even if they won’t publically admit it – want to believe you think they’re right. So just keep talking until their eyes glaze over and they’ve tuned out: that way they’ll remember nothing more than the snippets they mistakenly think justify their own position. Because there’s nothing a Cleric ramped up on the heady brew of testosterone and dogma found only at synodic gatherings enjoys as much as a frisson of self-justification, you can be sure they’ll leave thinking more highly of you than when they arrived.
Secondly: obfuscate. Even simple issues, such as the fact that if God loves, forgives, and calls two people to be as one, or creates in someone’s heart an aching insatiable yearning to serve in ordained ministry, then we’ve got absolutely no right to shoot our mouths off insisting otherwise – let alone to persecute such people until they’re driven from God’s church, can be rendered complex if one is just prepared to make sufficient effort. Don’t talk of plain common justice – speak of “three-dimensionality” while pushing a stupid idea which “specifically encourages and envisages protracted engagement and scrutiny and listening in situations of tension”. If the straightforward language of children had any place in the Church Jesus would have said something about us needing to be as they are. Instead a Biblical Minister should use big words, convoluted parenthetical sentences, and abstract metaphors on the Dali side of surreal. The flock will say they love it, even if they won’t be caught dead admitting they can’t understand a single word.
Lastly, remember that there's no such thing as a non sequitur too outlandish to use. Draw a connection between the people of New Hampshire democratically electing – under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit – the person called to lead them as their Bishop, and mindless sectarian violence in Malaysia. Don’t ever mention that if Islamofundies want to bash a few unfortunate local Christians the fact that butchers in Rome sell pork sausages is just as effectively an excuse. Or suggest that it’s wrong to “caricature” a society demanding the death penalty for people expressing their love and nature as God has blessed them to be – in a mutually consenting and empowering relationship – as “passionately homophobic and obsessed with narrow Biblicism” because a tiny minority of Anglicans in that society are working to rehabilitate child soldiers, or to care for people with HIV/AIDS. Then quickly move on before anyone stops and asks if the first person killed under such a law will understand that their execution isn’t really an act of mindless homophobia because a few people (who apparently also support this law) do something compassionate with kids who never went to school because they were being ordered to shoot people – but whom are obviously smart (or scared) enough to keep quiet about any rumpy-pumpy they might have enjoyed back at the barracks.
It was obvious when he left that ++Rowan’s little chat with me had greatly soothed his troubled heart. Admittedly his limbs were beginning to twitch spasmodically, but that might just have been some pills Brother Richthofen’s Friends from Seminary slipped him to see if he’d stand on one leg and start singing Thick as a Brick.
Stil, one look at the transcript of ++Cantaur’s speech shows that when it became time to address the his subjects in the dear old C of E he did indeed follow my advice to the letter. Now if only I can during his next visit do something about those eyebrows…
I’m Father Christian and I teach the Bible.