For those of you who don’t know, Cranmer is the name of a blog which comments on religious and political issues. He describes himself as “Bishop of the Blogosphere, Pastor of the World Wide Web and Chaplain to the Digital Archdiocese”.
Cranmer has won a large following by expressing right-wing, traditionalist perspectives on both religion and politics with idiosyncratic wit and clever prose. You can read a long list of commendations (and criticisms) from well-known figures which he proudly shares on the home page of his site.
Recently, Cranmer has got into a heated twitter-based argument with the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, and his Chaplain, Canon Rosie Harper, over his criticism of her views on the Assisted Dying Bill.
I am not going to get into their disagreement on the issue itself – as can be seen by the differences between George Carey and Justin Welby, even Archbishops disagree strongly on this issue. But sadly the argument descended in the way twitter rows often do, with the Bishop accusing Cranmer of ‘trolling’ Rosie Harper and Cranmer reacting furiously, and pompously, in his own defence.
Cloak of anonymity
The key problem this row again highlights, is that Cranmer writes under a cloak of anonymity. This lack of openness about who it actually is expressing these opinions adds further toxicity to the frequently poisonous nature of online debate. That it comes from an avowedly Christian perspective makes it even more incongruous.
It means that his arguments with real people – people with friends, family, followers and reputations – are not fair fights. Cranmer writes drawing on knowledge that he has gathered in his real identity and mixes it freely with his fictional, pseudo-historical persona. Take this example from his recent post on his row:
“To be so accused by a bishop is a serious matter, especially when that bishop is one’s own temporal overseer whom one has met half-a-dozen times over the years…His Grace has also met the Bishop’s Chaplain twice. Not, of course, that either would have been aware.”
His views can run free, shared with thousands, harming or delighting people, without being anchored in the accountability which honesty and openness bring.
I don’t pretend to be a blogger in the same league as Cranmer, but my experience over the last few years has shown me the dangers of this medium. R&R has had almost half a million views since it started. As the numbers of readers increase, the need for accountability also rises. Power corrupts.
What I write needs to be open to challenge when it does not connect to the life I live. What I do at work, in my community and in my church needs to correspond to what I write. Otherwise there is too much danger of hypocrisy. How easily online personas become white-washed tombs full of old bones and corruption.
Anonymous blogging is understandable if you are living in an oppressive regime, or if you are whistle-blowing on major wrong-doing. But neither of these categories are relevant in this case. Cranmer’s anonymity gives a licence to say what he wants. It is a freedom that is easily misused.
So however popular, I think Cranmer’s blog has something toxic at its heart. It creates more problems than it helps resolve, generates more darkness than light. And this is a theological issue – because it is not possible to stand for Christian truth through being deceptive. We can only bear witness to truth by acting truthfully. As Paul puts it ‘Let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light’ (Romans 13:12)
A good example of intelligent and faithful debate on faith and politics is the God and Politics in the UK blog authored by Gillan Scott. Here is a blogger who manages to write passionately and powerfully and generates a large readership. But Gillan is open and humble about who he is. And its telling that he never goes in for spiteful remarks or cheap jibes.
Whoever is writing under the guise of this 16th century Archbishop should take note: ‘His Grace’ should add truth to his list of attributes. Open the curtains and let the light in, share who you are and shed the cloak of anonymity. Ultimately the truth will set you free.