For God's Sake

2 March 2008

Elizabeth Davis

It can hardly have escaped anyone’s notice that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have spent the week in and around Cambridge. In the final talk they hosted on Friday, at Great St Mary’s Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams quipped that their week had been nothing if not varied: encompassing, for example, visits to a detention centre, a chaplaincy and a sixth form.

But there was one glaring gap in their seemingly comprehensive tour: neither representative of the Christian Anglican church spoke to the biggest Christian Union here in Cambridge; CICCU were not only conspicuously absent, they were uncharacteristically (some might say refreshingly) silent.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, the head of the Church of England, is not “liked” by many members of CICCU. Strange though this sounds at first, after listening to Archbishop Williams’s talk on Friday, some reasons began to present themselves as to why there may be such a rift.

It became clear that, despite sharing the same God and the same scriptures, Dr. Williams was not in agreement with CICCU on an issue close to its heart: namely, evangelism.

Archbishop Williams shaped a section of his talk around the words “Come and see”, the second thing that Jesus says in the Gospel of John. Stressing the choice inherent in this statement, the Archbishop also posited the view that one of the most important aspects of being Christian is to recognise that many cannot yet understand their belief, whether they want to or not.

Many people cannot see what they, as Christians, claim to see: cannot, as yet, understand what it is that they mean when they speak of their faith. Archbishop Williams was not preaching a doctrine of hopelessness but rather one of patience: people cannot be rushed, pushed or bribed into believing, “God creates the converted”, he said and Christians should respect his timing.

This could not be further from the reputation that CICCU has. I hesitate to say “further from the beliefs of CICCU” simply because the beliefs of this organisation, which exists solely to convert others, are staggeringly unclear.

Archbishop Williams criticised the belief that faith was immediate: like a switch which could be turned on suddenly and yet this is exactly the stance that CICCU take. Once you’re converted, job done: who’s next? There is no concept of faith developing slowly, or of it being a long and difficult process.

Archbishop Williams claimed that the capacity to believe lies in all of us but how long it takes to reach a point of belief “varies as much as one person varies from another”; whether you believe or not depends on how much time you, personally, are willing to devote to it.

With their perpetual lunchtime talks, annual events and sheer quantity of posters, CICCU are nothing if not persistent. However, as individuals they do not, I think, realise how much pain and antagonism they give rise to across the university because of their patronising and unshakeable belief that they, and they alone, are right.

Subtlety is banished and with it, individualism: CICCU ask you to be one of a homogenous mass, unquestioningly swallowing the dogma with your free lunch.

Patronising as well as offensive, it is unsurprising that this Christian organisation is so at odds with the intelligent, erudite and accepting leader of the Church of England.

The subtlety present in the Archbishop’s view of faith is entirely absent from that of CICCU: Archbishops Sentamu and Williams freely acknowledged their human fallibility and the fear inherent in faith – As Williams put it, “Faith is knowing that you don’t know”. CICCU would never admit to such a thing, but wouldn’t it be refreshing if they did?

Liz Davis studies 2nd year English.