Archbishop in weary war of words: 'Modest prophet' tests Dr Carey's tolerance. Andrew Brown reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
'IT IS a constant surprise and disappointment to me that so many people write to the Archbishop of Canterbury assuming that it is his duty to comply with what they believe to be a clear mandate from almighty God,' a weary cleric wrote last month.

The author knows what he is talking about: he is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. He had lost patience with the Rev Tony Higton, the Church of England's self-appointed scourge of heretics, Hindus and homosexuals.

Mr Higton, the Rector of Hawkswell in Essex, had upbraided Dr Carey for 'sharing in the wicked work' of heresies supposedly propounded by the Bishop of Durham. He had accused him of a liberal attitude to homosexuals. And he had told him that it was 'a very serious error' to have refused the patronage of a missionary society that works among Jews.

In fact, he told the Archbishop these things at least three times. The first was at Lambeth Palace on 12 October last year. The second was in a letter, posted in early December, and written, it would appear, for the benefit of Mr Higton's followers in an Evangelical organisation called 'Abwon', since he explained that he wanted a reply on the record.

'Dear George,' he started, 'You will be aware that I am very concerned about the current situation within the Church of England. I feel it is important for me to share with you directly the way I understand it.

'I believe that the only hope for the Church of England is for the House of Bishops publicly to repent of the above failings.'

It was to this letter that Dr Carey replied: 'I greatly valued our discussion . . . but it puzzles me that your letter does not add anything to what you said . . .

'I think that where we disagree is about our theology of the Church. You seem to want a 'pure' Church in which all 'erroneous' views are cleared away. The New Testament church was not like that and all subsequent attempts to 'purify' the church have been unsuccessful if not actually disastrous.

'Just as your integrity is important to you, so I expect you to accept and respect mine equally . . . While I respect your ministry . . . I cannot say that your ministry is any more blessed or authoritative than that of any other faithful priest.

'In particular, I do not recognise that you have a right to sit in judgement on the House of Bishops.' Dr Carey continued.

Mr Higton remained proudly unsquelched. He wrote another long letter back to the Archbishop, repeating all his earlier criticisms and adding a claim that 'God has called me to make a modest prophetic witness'.

Mr Higton then published the whole exchange in the newsletter of his Abwon group with the modesty becoming a prophet.