Thursday, May 30, 2013
Dull and Boring Clerics
I have just listened to a very dull podcast by the Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali entitled, British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why? The title is exciting the content, not at all. Tim Stanley begins by presenting some rather impressive statistics and asks some rather good questions, Damian Thompson makes a few sharp observations, such as he can't think of a single thing either the present Archbishop of Westminster or the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he remembers. I am afraid the dullness comes not from Tim or Damian but from the Bishop, whose responses to their questions are both predictable and vague.
British Christianity dies while Islam thrives. Why? The answer could be Nazir-Ali unwittingly provided the answer himself, we bore people and have nothing memorable to say.
Nazir-Ali is certainly not superficial but here he is decidedly dull. Unlike his interviewers Tim and Damian, he is not a natural or shilled communicator, it is not his fault, unfortunately most clergy are not unlike him. Perhaps the problem with clergy is we are all too used to speaking to an audience that is reasonably deferential and hears us in an uncritical way, that is until it is too late and they are no longer there the following Sunday. I felt the Bishop wasn't really listening to the rather interesting questions put to him, which is another problem we clergy fail to address. Damian suggested that Islam is comparatively simple in its theology in comparison to Christianity, that it gives simple directives on how to live, and rather interestingly he raised the issue of how Islam seems to give a focus to anger, none of which received any considered response, just an answer most Christian clerics would give.
It is a shame that those commissioned with proclaiming the "Good News" all seem such bad and unconvincing communicators, we need to learn to use the sound-bite, we need to learn to focus our message, we need to learn to answer the question people have rather than pursuing our own interests. It is intersting that in a visual age our liturgy has become so visually dull.
Pope Francis in his daily Mass sermons or at least in the commentaries really does communicate well, lots of sound-bites and catch phrases that are often amusing and ideas that resonnate with modern anxieties such as the economy and unemployment, and that rather evocatively, if vague, "the poor". This really does resonnate in a world where youth unemployment is over 50% in many cities.
Aidan Nichols OP is at pains to point out that Apostle are sent out to "preach to the nations" an English bishop reportedly said that his colleagues did not engage in battles they could not win, which certainly seems to make a mockery of any martyrs struggle, though in most cases "war" is not called for, just a lack of ambiguity and clear teaching. Their failure seems to be that by not engaging in a any struggle they can so often appear to have nothing to say to anyone, even those who listen to them carefully, their own people. It is worth considering how the French bishops have gained considerable respect by actively becoming involved in the marriage debate, even the Irish bishops have earned a some credibility in their teaching on abortion. Pope Francis hasn't yet engaged in "war" but he has offered sharp and focussed criticism of the ills of contemporary society, often by contrasting the minds of politicians with simple clear and unambiguous Gospel imperatives.
Perhaps what we clergy need most, and in fact the Church in general, is some help in teaching us to communicate, perhaps Islam scores because it simply says "believe this", "do that", as Christ does and Catholics once did, before we got into, like the CofE, "on the one hand, but on the other hand, whilst on the third and forth hand ..."
Perhaps Tim and Damian should be invited to teach Bishops how to communicate but on the other hand... and then ... whilst it could be said... and despite... and yet... and then... And then there are more important things like global warming, feedback from Mgr Stock on the ACTA meeting, getting in with Stonewall etc.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake