|Radical Compassion: The Life and Times of Archbishop Ted Scott by Hugh McCullum, ABC Publishing, 2004, 544 pages|
"Liberalism was, in origin, criticism of the old established order. Today, it is the voice of the establishment." - George Grant
The time has come, gratefully so, when the rich and varied life of Archbishop Ted Scott has been told in all its fullness, complexity, allure and limitations. The telling of this compelling tale has been artfully told by Hugh McCullum in Radical Compassion: The Life and Times of Archbishop Ted Scott.
The biography of Scott, who died in an automobile accident in Ontario on June 21 at age 85, is not only a narrative and story of his life, thoughts and many activities, but it is also a well-told drama of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada in the post-WW II ethos and setting. Archbishop Ted Scott was an important actor on the stage of Canadian, Anglican and international issues in the last half of the 20th century.
Radical Compassion avoids the two extremes, when unravelling the life of a front stage person, of hagiography and excessive criticism. McCallum is quite willing to ask the hard questions about the limitations of Scott's life, thinking and activities, but he is just as quick and keen to see the good in Scott. There is a careful weighing of the oral and written evidence, and in the final act of the drama we see a man who did the best he could with who he was.
Radical Compassion is neatly divided into four distinct yet overlapping chronological periods in Scott's life: The Formation of a Primate (1919-1971), Restless Times: The Tenth Primate (1971-1986), A Man for the World and Retirement (1986—).
In "The Formation of a Primate" we learn much about Scott's life and the times that shaped him between WW I and WW II. The great depression and the tragedies of the wars did much to forge and form a tender and delicate social conscience. Scott's work with the Student Christian Movement and his role as the bishop of the experimental Kootenay diocese (1966-1971) is told in graphic and telling detail. Comments and reflections about Scott are abundant.
"Restless Times" brings us front and centre into the main and major issues that none could avoid in the 1960s-70s-80s. The Anglican Church of Canada was being challenged to the core, centre and foundation. There was hardly an issue that did not come to the fore. Christian education, an increased role for the laity, revised liturgy, First Nations concerns, feminism, global justice, ecumenism and the fate of the earth and world politics pressed in from all sides. Scott tried, as best he could, in the spirit of compassion, consensus, tolerance, collegiality, ecumenism and a grass roots approach to deal with a church in transition.
There were those who were with Scott, and there were those who opposed him. Scott tried to befriend one and all. His deep seated personal and pastoral touch attempted to settle and resolve profound and serious differences, but this approach did have its limitations. Some thought Scott was too political. There were others who thought he was not political enough.
"A Man for the World" focuses on the harvest-bearing years of Scott's active life. This third part of the biography deals, in some depth and detail, with Scott's role as moderator of the World Council of Churches and his struggle for South Africa. This phase and season of Scott's life was thick with controversy and a hectic and busy life. McCullum, throughout Radical Compassion, returns, again and again, to the way the Scott family and the Anglican Church handled such a frenetic, unpredictable yet ever compassionate life.
"Retirement" brings the circle full round. The waning and twilight years of Scott's life were still busy, but with the death of his wife and the more weighty demands of a Primate off his shoulders, a certain loneliness, predictably so, set in. Scott did the best he could with the changes that must and do come with aging and being marginalized from all the hurly burly of being on front stage in life's drama.
Radical Compassion is a sound, solid and substantive telling of the life of Ted Scott. There are a few questions, though, as I finished the read, I would like to have seen dealt with in more depth and detail.
There is no doubt Scott was a social liberal. He was part of the liberal guardian class. His interpretation, reading and reflections on the struggles of the times were fed through the grid of a social liberal perspective. Scott said all the right things, and took all the predictable positions. Scott's social liberal allies like Gregory Baum, Remi De Roo, Lois Wilson, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Robert Smith did much to define and shape the Christian social vision in a language and activist way that pleased the liberal family compact and guardian class.
There was a problem with this, though, on a variety of levels. Social liberals can be either moderate or radical. Much hinges on how the problem of structural injustice is interpreted and analysed, and, equally important, how such injustices are to be opposed and challenged. Scott was a moderate social liberal, and his more radical social liberal comrades found him wanting many times. Scott would just not go too far down the radical path. There is a point where the moderates and radicals part company, and this parting of the ways cannot be bridged by either a pastoral or relational approach. It would have been helpful if Hugh McCullum had probed this dilemma much more than he did.
Scott dipped his theological and political bucket deep into the waters of the liberal creed and dogma for much of his social vision. It is one thing for McCullum to argue that Scott was really not a theologian or intellectual. He was a pastoral activist the argument often goes. However, this approach does not really deal with the problem.
The Anglican Church of Canada, in the last fifty years, has bought uncritically into the liberal agenda. Much good has come from this, but there are problems at the very heart and core of liberalism. It is too bad that Scott could and did not rise above such tribalism. It is most illiberal of liberals not to be able to see the flaws, shadow side and dark places of liberalism. Scott tended to ride the liberal horse well without asking about how this aging horse might have a limited life expectancy.
There is a sense that Scott, in some ways, prepared the way for the culture wars in the Anglican Church of Canada today. Scott lacked the ability to see the limitations of ideological liberalism. The conservative response to liberalism in society and the church has much good to it, but liberals often only see the negative side of conservatism while idealizing liberalism - an approach that is neither deeply ecumenical nor fully Anglican. Much of Radical Compassion accepts the dominance and victory of the liberal way without asking serious questions about the limitations of liberalism.
We might ask this simple question: how would Scott deal with the Essentials Movement in the Anglican Church today? McCullum does not ask the question. Would Scott have been able to deal with it given his liberal prejudices and presuppositions?
Scott was a driven activist, and this was his appeal and limitation. The activist might accomplish much, but there are often depths in the human soul and spirit that political activists shy away from facing. There was, in short, a lack of contemplative depth in Scott, and in an age that has a pronounced interest in the contemplative and mystical depths within religious traditions, Scott offered little leadership or guidance.
In sum, I think it might be legitimate to suggest that Scott was compassionate but not necessarily radical. The radical social liberals found him too tame and moderate and the more substantive conservatives like George Grant found him paper thin. Radical means cutting to the roots at a theological, mystical, intellectual and political level. Scott did none of these. There was no doubt Scott was a compassionate man, but each and all must ask serious questions about the nature of compassion when it is disconnected from something deeper and more grounded.
The language of compassion, like the language of mercy, pluralism and inclusiveness can pander to narcissism and sentimentality if there is lacking a deeper transformative and moral vision. Compassion, like faithfulness, can become playthings of a trendy and fashionable liberal agenda if not thought through at a more demanding level both in the soul and society. It would have been helpful if McCullum had taken some of these issues to a deeper and more probing level. The biography would have been stronger for it.
Radical Compassion is a finely written book that tells much about the fascinating life of Archbishop Ted Scott. It is a "must read" for those who want to understand where the Anglican Church of Canada today is and why. Some of the harder questions that face the Anglican Church today are not dealt with (or they are but from within the prejudices of liberalism). This is a worrisome flaw in an otherwise well written and engaging book.