>Public theology is a funny expression suggesting that there is a choice between private and public theologies, or rather between bad theology (theology that remains private is not Christian theology) and good theology.
Public theology is what is happening when Archbishops etc make their reflections public and relevant. How difficult it is though – and that was illustrated at a meeting of clergy today. A neighbouring clergybod said how she felt she didn’t know enough to comment on various bits of church news when people ask her – in so saying, she was doing a bit of public theology by making her concerns public. She was jumped on by someone with the “right” answer. (Heaven preserve us from those who’ve got the last word!) I reckon theology to be a process to be undertaken publicly as the church through collaboration. Theologies develop through interaction with others and through prayer – never the finished article because there is always an OTHER to be heard from somewhere.
It is very difficult being Christian in public and doing theology in public. There are always those ready to twist what is said and done – whether it is my friend Jane, Rowan or Jesus – and the public aren’t always very interested in finding out what we really meant. Jesus did not try “that’s not what I meant”. He just suffered the consequences of public theology.
And this isn’t public theology – I don’t think – but it’s Spike Milligan.
> The width of the gap between what we say and what gets reported depends on what the reporters of a conversation want to make of it in grabbing a story. Happens all the time, even to the most local conversation. We hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see.
It’s particularly true of our leaders as their comments are continually (mis)construed. Apparently Archbishop Rowan was acknowledging “as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law” – he wasn’t proposing a parallel system of law, but was instead exploring ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience. The issue affects everyone with a conascience – he raised the example of the Christian doctor who would like to assert his/her right not to conduct abortions in the context of a secular legal system which permits abortion. Orthodox Jews already have their own system of Beth Din over, for example, dietary laws, divorce and tenancy disputes.
The media has portrayed Rowan as “gone barmy”. In fact, his comments were part of a lecture given to over 1000 people at a lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice chaired by the Lord Chief Justice. Presumably amongs this 1000 there are some pretty good judges (!) who would presumably have been protesting more loudly if they thought it was all barmy.
Maybe the Archbishop was articulating what is a real challenge to our society. If he was to keep silent he would be abdicating his leadership. Here’s what he actually said. And here’s what Bishop Alan has to say about Abdul the Bogeyman.