Alice in Wonderland has a new sequel. The two new settings for Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece in the genre of literary nonsense are Canterbury and Rome. Like Alice, Justin “Wobbly” Welby and Pope “Pancho” Francis have fallen through the rabbit hole. They inhabit a fantasy world populated by pixies and elves called spin doctors and ecclesiastical managers, who communicate with the odd neologisms of wobblisms and bergoglismos.
The most recent episode of this fairytale is set in the Vatican. Here Wobbly and Pancho discuss the White Queen’s six impossible things before breakfast. In the original novel, Alice laughs and says to the White Queen, ‘There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ replies the Queen. In this episode at the Vatican, the plotline has moved on. Wobbly and Pancho have had plenty of practice believing impossible things.
Captain Wobbly believes he can plug the hole in the sinking Church of Titanic Anglicanism with facilitated conversations and good disagreement. Papa Pancho thinks he can fight Islamic terrorism by equating it to punch-ups in Italian pubs. Papa Pancho also believes he can kick-start a new age of global peace by inviting British-Muslim footballer Kashif Siddiqui to a Muslim versus Catholic “Peace Match”in St Peter’s Square. Wobbly and Pancho both believe that the greatest evil polluting the rabbit hole of planet Earth is not moral degradation but carbon emissions.
Now in their most recent meeting earlier this month, Wobbly and Pancho discuss a seventh impossible thing—unity between the Church of Rome and the Church of England. They have had so much practice believing impossible things! Do they really think unity between Rome and Canterbury is possible? Or is the plot of the fairytale thickening with the pixie spin doctors huddled over pipettes and test tubes with potions and powders cooking up thick and foggy clouds of public relations smoke for the media, the Twitterati and the Blogosphere?
Captain Wobbly believes he can plug the hole in the sinking Church of Titanic Anglicanism with facilitated conversations and good disagreement.
Puff! A huge cloud of smoke belches forth from the Vatican. Guided by Wobbly’s pixies, it drifts towards Egypt where a historic meeting is taking place in Cairo. Gathered together are 150 Anglican leaders including archbishops from 24 provinces of the Global South. They have come from Asia and Africa and represent more than half of the 80 million Anglicans worldwide.
Led by Archbishop Mouneer Anis they denounce the ‘fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage.’ Justin Wobbly has been invited but has rejected the invitation preferring to dive into the rabbit hole with Papa Pancho. The pixie spin doctors have succeeded in creating a “weapon of mass distraction.” The fog of smoke has so blinded the mass media that they have ignored the Cairo gathering which discussed real possibilities for the future of Anglicanism in favour of a smoke and mirrors meeting at the Vatican, which focused on the seventh impossible thing before breakfast—unity between Canterbury and Rome.
If one can read the signs of the times from the holy tweets of Papa Pancho, Cantaur does not figure high on the list of the Pontiff’s priorities. Wobbly does not even feature in a tweet. But Wobbly’s Twitter feed splutters enthusiastically with ‘moving and beautiful to share vespers with @Pontifex at San Gregorio in Rome this evening’ and a heap of Pope-kissing tweet-shots.
Now the Wobbly-Pancho team of pixie spin doctors inebriated by the success of their high-powered smoke grenade join hands in an imitation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They are cooking up a special new recipe for chocolate fudge called Common Declaration Anglo-Roman Fudge. It is not really a new recipe. Another group of pixies and elves called ARCIC (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) have been stirring the pot and cooking this fudge for the last 50 years.
But even they haven’t been able to resolve the sticking points between Catholics and Anglicans. For example, most Anglicans just won’t swallow the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. This is because Article VI of the 39 Articles of Faith states that ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.’
The problem is the theologically challenged duo would not know how to talk theology if you served it to them on a pizza platter with pepperoni.
Ah! No wonder the Tablet—a Catholic journal for liberal Anglicans—that supports a motherhood and apple pie definition of unity praises Wobbly and Pancho as ‘conflict resolvers who prefer to roll up their sleeves rather than talk theology.’ The problem is the theologically challenged duo would not know how to talk theology if you served it to them on a pizza platter with pepperoni.
Conflict resolver? Wobbly cannot hold the Anglican Communion together, let alone seek unity with Rome! He is facing a rebel army of Cromwellian Protestants who shudder at the sight of candles, cringe when someone says “altar” and not “table,” and suffers asphyxia at the slightest smell of incense from the horrible thurible of fellow Anglicans who happen to be Anglo-Catholic.
So Common Fudge talks about how ‘differences we have named cannot prevent us from recognising one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism.’ What is new about this? Churches of all denominations have always recognised a common baptism provided it is administered in the name of the Holy Trinity! Did Wobbly have to go to Rome to tell us that?
Buried deep in the fudge and covered with lots of icing are the most obvious differences—apart from some of the more serious doctrinal divisions—women priestesses and bishop-esses and the celebration of pansexuality within much of western Anglicanism. Wobbly and Pancho can, of course, work together on the new gospel of environmentalism, ‘a sustainable and integral development for the good of all,’ and other wobblisms and bergoglismos like ‘the dignity of all people,’ ‘societal sin,’ ‘walls of estrangement,’ ‘a culture of hate,’ ‘violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief,’ (Sssh! Don’t say the “I” word. Don’t mention Islam!), education, healthcare, food, clean water, shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace.
Wobbly and Pancho emerge from the rabbit hole—blinking and rubbing their eyes. It is the real world. It is time to go home, but before they go they would like to thank their pixies and elves. They have invited Dire Straits for a closing night gala concert. The theme song at the concert is… yes, you’ve guessed it: We are the sultans, we are the sultans of spin.
(Originally published in The Conservative Woman)