Britain's Controversial New Cleric
George Leonard Carey's outspoken views have ruffled feathers in the Church of England. INTERVIEW ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
LONDON — GEORGE LEONARD CAREY, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, is an energetic, modern-minded Christian leader with a natural instinct to expound his beliefs passionately. But even before his enthronement last month as spiritual head of the Church of England - and its 70 million Anglican adherents worldwide - he was learning the hard way that forthrightness can be a mixed blessing in a church used to the leadership of cautious clerics skilled in the art of compromise.
Clifford Longley, a widely respected commentator on religious affairs for the London Times, says: ``No Archbishop of Canterbury of the modern era has faced quite the struggle Dr. Carey now faces to have his leadership of the church generally accepted. It seems the church is wary of Carey.''
In the run-up to his enthronement at Canterbury's ancient cathedral, instead of glossing over points of doctrine and trying to appear all things to all people, Carey put his views squarely on the line. He vigorously supported the claims of women to be priests - an issue which in the past decade has deeply divided Anglicans, and still does. He opposes the ordination of homosexual men as priests.
An attempt to underline the need to ``modernize'' the Church of England also landed him in hot water. When he compared the Church to ``an old lady muttering platitudes through toothless gums,'' a stream of angry letters began piling up at Lambeth Palace, London headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Then the 55-year-old prelate, who had been a bishop for only four years before being chosen for Canterbury, revealed that he has much sympathy for the charismatic approach to Christianity and prefers revivalist gospel songs to traditional hymns.
Such views, says Longley, have put him ``off side'' with many thousands of Anglicans.
The Archbishop's appointment last year by Queen Elizabeth in her role as ``Defender of the Faith'' (a title inherited from the age of Henry VIII) initially drew praise from many Anglicans. Now he has hit back at critics of his views: ``If you want a wishy-washy Archbishop who is just a flag blowing in the wind,'' he said, ``then it's not me.''
Carey's immediate predecessor at Canterbury was Robert Runcie, a donnish cleric with a quiet manner who headed his church for ten years. A friend of both men said: ``Runcie always looked as though he was in a university common room. Carey has probably never been in a university common room.''
Speaking to the Monitor after his enthronement, Dr. Carey said his approach to his work sprang from the reality that the Christian religion is a missionary faith.
``We are under an apostolic mandate to preach the Good News to all people,'' he said. ``If we are to share our life and beliefs, we must understand other faiths, their culture and philosophies, and we must share the faith in action.
``In its relations with other religions, the Church should not proselytize,'' he continued. ``It must, though, be able to account for the hope that lies at its heart.''
The man who now holds the post first occupied by St. Augustine in 597 AD is the broad-shouldered, balding, pink-cheeked, bespectacled son of working-class parents. He was born within the sound of Bow Bells in London's East End and left school at 15, without academic honors.
A dedicated supporter of soccer football, he astonished members of the congregation at his enthronement by remarking in his sermon: ``Football isn't a matter of life and death. It is more important than that - and so is Christianity.''
RICHARD HARRIES, Bishop of Oxford, whom some believed would be chosen for the see of Canterbury, comments: ``George Carey has an independent outlook. He is capable of making up his own mind, and he will surprise some people.''
``Shock'' might be a better word. In a Reader's Digest interview published last February, Carey said: ``The idea that only a male can represent Christ at the altar is a most serious heresy.''
A storm immediately broke over his head, with Dr. Graham Leonard, Bishop of London and a leading opponent of the ordination of women, reportedly furious. To help the storm subside, Carey publicly withdrew the word ``heresy'' and substituted ``theological error.''
His opposition to the ordination of homosexual men as priests drew a rebuke from an organization of gay clergy. He later backed off, saying that he was ``still wrestling'' with the issue.
Explaining the furor created by such remarks, Clifford Longley noted that the Church of England is a ``broad church'' consisting of three main wings: Anglo-Catholics, liberals, and evangelicals.
``Dr. Carey is very definitely an evangelical, with a leaning toward the charismatic approach. That places him more in the open, American style of Christianity, where the message `Jesus loves you' is often conveyed. Many Anglicans are uncomfortable with that approach,'' Longley said.
Evangelical by conviction and charismatic by temperament or not, Carey is well aware that he must gather into his hands the several strands of Anglicanism and see his church in an international context.
He told the Monitor: ``The traditions within the Church of England are coterminous with the breadth of the Christian church worldwide. One of our strengths is to encompass all traditions. I look forward to playing my part in consolidating what we have gained in our discussions with other churches and in moving things further forward.''
In a further sign of his refusal to go along with an orthodox, old-fashioned approach to Christianity, Carey asked for changes to the two-hour enthronement ceremony at Canterbury. All his predecessors were installed to the sounds of traditional organ music and hymns. Carey insisted on a sequence in the service in which guitars, a synthesizer, and modern revivalist songs displaced conventional church music.
His preferences provoked a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists to say: ``Much of the idiom of popular music has unsavory associations with drugs and unbridled sex.''
Carey deadpanned: ``He obviously doesn't know much about drugs and unbridled sex.''
The day after his enthronement, the Archbishop invited hundreds of young people to join him in a televised sing-along in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral - another first.
The new occupant of the See of Canterbury may need all the revivalism he can muster as he assumes leadership of a church whose congregations have been dwindling in recent years.
Regular churchgoers in England account for only 9 percent of the population. There are more practicing Anglicans in Nigeria than in Britain and the United States combined.
Attempting to put his evangelism in context, Carey told the Monitor: ``There is a deep longing for spiritual realities. We must show that the Christian faith is intellectually respectable and calls people to a way of life that is cogent, compelling, and worthwhile.''