It is now fifteen days, nineteen hours, fifty four minutes and fifty seconds until the General Synod of the Church of England votes on the Measure to introduce women bishops.
How do I know? Because there is a new blog, YES 2 women bishops, which tells me so. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter thread.
It is surely a ‘sign of the times’ that the decision whether or not to introduce a theological innovation of profound significance (whichever way you interpret that) is being conducted via social media in an atmosphere curiously parallel to the last-minute campaigning in the US presidential election. It is also tempting to make negative comparisons with the Council at Jerusalem in Acts perhaps, or even Vatican II, but that was then and this is now.
Perhaps more in keeping with the present world of mass interaction is that the campaign has been set up, and is being coordinated, by a blogger who chooses to remain anonymous, going under the nom de clavier of ‘the Churchmouse’.
Internet anonymity is, of course, part of the landscape, going back to the days when cyberspace (as it was known in the early eighties) was the domain of the slightly nerdy loner, seeking significance in fantasy worlds and fantasy relationships. (Chorus: ‘No change there, then’.) One suspects that was a world much-populated by Gandalfs and Hobbit109’s.
Anonymity performed the same function as the ‘avatar’ — it allowed you to be someone else, or at least someone slightly different who was a bit more interesting than just you. It also made room for self-expression. Some kind of reasoning about themselves must lie behind choosing the titles Lord_Wistful or antoncheckout — two names I picked almost at random from this morning’s newspaper comments sections.
Unfortunately, anonymity is also the bane of intelligent online discussion, representing as it does the precise opposite of ‘relationship’.
Even today, the phrase ‘an anonymous letter’ sends something of a shiver down the spine. It also suggests the kind of thing one should instantly consign to the bin or keep for evidence in court. If you write to your local newspaper, you cannot expect to be published unless you provide your name and address. And the fact that this will often be withheld at your request is an indication not that this information doesn’t matter, but that both you and the editors have maintained a basic honesty.
Online anonymity, however, seems to be the norm. And it is no coincidence (in my view) that it has gone hand in hand with an appalling standard of social interaction. Any journalist will tell you of the vitriol that comes into their email inbox. But you only have to read the comments sections of our online broadsheets to know there is something wrong in the way we interact when we are anonymous. The bile and nonsense you read there would never have made its way into the letters columns of The Times when those were real letters.
Thus, as Lord_Wistful, it is relatively easy to write in response to another contributor on the subject of teaching the arts in schools, “And that crap basically exemplifies the wasters that are the art world.” It is risking rather more to speak like that when you have to put, ‘Eric Smith, Woking’, next to what you have said.
Hiding behind anonymity has a certain schoolboyish feel to it: ‘Tee hee! Lord_Wistful really showed her!’ But it is destructive of real relationships and therefore ultimately risks being destructive of the individual. Indeed Jesus seems to warn against imagining we can cultivate a ‘hidden’ side to our character: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.’ (Lk 121-2) Perhaps Lord_Wistful might like to think about that next time he posts (though I doubt that he will).
Of course, there are situations where anonymity is necessary. Martyn Marprelate (a made up name of glaring obviousness) was understandably cautious in his sixteenth-century attacks on English bishops. That sort of thing could get you killed by the Church of England (whose historical ‘broadness’ is, of course, a self-serving myth). But this is the twenty-first century and, frankly, who cares? In any case, names and addresses can still be supplied and withheld, even on the internet.
So I am left with an uncomfortable feeling about a campaign being driven by someone whose identity is unknown. Should Synod members pay attention to Yes2 women bishops? Perhaps, if the arguments are any good. But imagine the conversation if it succeeds: ‘Of course, that campaign had a lot to do with it, but we’ll probably never know who was really behind it.’
Hardly the stuff on which the edification of the Church is built, is it?Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: