The Rev. Gavin Ashenden is the Church of England priest who was forced to resigned as Chaplain to the Queen after he protested against the reading of the Koran at an Epiphany service. That passage from the Koran explicitly denied the divinity of Christ — which the Feast of the Epiphany marks. In this interview, Fr. Ashenden pulls no punches about the future of the Church of England. Excerpts:
Jules: Monsignor Carlo Liberati, Archbishop Emeritus of Pompeii, said last week: ‘In 10 years we will all be Muslims because of our stupidity…per nostra stupidità.’ Do you agree with him?
Gavin: Yes. The whole of North Africa and the Middle East was Christian once. All the indications are that Muslims are more committed and less willing to compromise than Christians. When that combines with terrorism, which undoes secularists who want a comfortable and easy life, cowardice and compromise will open the way to Islamic domination. Michel Houellebecq’s new novel Submission charts how he sees it happening in France in about ten years’ time. It’s a terrifying vision, and astonishingly, quite politically possible; some would say—likely. I want my children to have the opportunity to worship Jesus, avoid female circumcision and sharia beatings.
Jules: How should ordinary Christians who seek to be faithful to the gospel of Christ respond to liberal clergy who preach and practice heresy?
Gavin: Leave their Church and look for one that has kept as much of the historic, apostolic and biblical values as possible.
Jules: Have you had any support from bishops in the Church of England following your resignation as Queen’s Chaplain?
Gavin: I have had hundreds, perhaps thousands of emails in the last week from Christians across the world pledging their support and their prayers. But not a single one from a serving C of E bishop!
Jules: How do you see your future in the Church of England and the future of the Church of England?
Gavin: It isn’t a matter of how I see it. Demographically and financially it is dying. Spiritually it appears to be on its last legs too. I’m not sure I see much point in a church that just wants to be accepted as a sort of not too irritating chaplain to a secular and hedonistic culture, which is what it seems to be becoming. I want to remain a faithful Anglican, but increasingly it looks like that is only possible outside the C of E. It has opted for a kind of spiritualised socialism and feminism in opposition to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You get new life when you repent. But there is no sign that it is ready to take that path.
Read the whole thing. At the recent C of E Synod, gay-rights proponents and traditionalists joined forces to prevent the center from pretending that the issue of sex and sexuality is one on which good Anglicans can disagree. Both sides strongly disagree with each other, of course, but both agree that the issue is too important for there to be a muddy via media. Ashenden explains why from his side here. The progressive, pro-gay Baptist David Gushee was right when he wrote a couple of years ago:
It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.
Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.
Let Father Ashenden’s words from the interview be a lesson to all small-o orthodox Christians: there is no point to a church that just wants to be accepted as chaplain to a secular and hedonistic culture. If you want to stay engaged with mainstream culture as a Christian, then you are going to have to be part of a church community that is far more into countercultural discipleship than many are today. If you want to train spiritually for the Dark Age upon us, you had better find another church or another parish. It really is that important. That parish had better be one where you can find a significant number of people, even though they may be a minority within the parish, who are dedicated to living out a holistic, committed, countercultural Christian life. As I write in The Benedict Option, using the culture war metaphor:
“America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War,” [Notre Dame sociologist Christian] Smith told me in an interview. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”
The data from Smith and other researchers make clear what so many of us are desperate to deny: the flood is rising to the rafters in the American church. Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised so much with the world that it has been compromised in its faithfulness. Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?
Nobody but the most deluded of the old-school Religious Right believes that this cultural revolution can be turned back. The wave cannot be stopped, only ridden. With a few exceptions, conservative Christian political activists are as ineffective as White Russian exiles, drinking tea from samovars in their Paris drawing rooms, plotting the restoration of the monarchy. One wishes them well but knows deep down that they are not the future.
Americans cannot stand to contemplate defeat or to accept limits of any kind. But American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.
Could it be that the best way to fight the flood is to . . . stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again? Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.
The Benedict Option will be published tomorrow, Tuesday March 14 — the Feast of St. Benedict on the Orthodox New Calendar.