Former Anglican Bishop Gavin Ashenden: Fighting the ‘Anti-Christian Program’
In an interview with Raymond Arroyo, host of the World Over on EWTN, former Anglican bishop speaks about what compelled him to Catholicism and what threats Christianity faces today.
Editor’s Note: Raymond Arroyo, host of The World Over on EWTN spoke exclusively with Gavin Ashenden on December 20, 2019. It is reprinted with permission.
Host of The World Over on EWTN, Raymond Arroyo spoke during his Thursday broadcast with Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the queen of England about his conversion to Catholicism. Ashenden spoke candidly to Arroyo about the factors that led to his conversion, the true threat of Christianity in the West, and the impact St. John Henry Newman has had on his life and faith.
Below is a full transcript of the interview.
Gavin, thank you for being here.
Now you were ordained an Anglican bishop in 1980 and rose to become a bishop. You served as a member of the general synod of the church in England for 20 years. In 2008, you were appointed an honorary chaplain to the Queen. Now this Sunday, you’ll be received into the Church. Was there one big thing that drove your conversion or compelled you to this decision to leave Anglicanism?
Well there were a whole load of small but significant things and one final factor. The final factor is easy to describe and it’s simply my local Roman Catholic bishop saying: ‘Well look you know you’re coming over sometime... Don’t delay! Come now, we need you.’ And so, because there’d been a large number of factors that had prepared me on a path of convergence to Catholicism, this was the final element that drew me across in response to his very kind request.
So it was that invitation, a personal invitation that sort of tipped the scale. Now in 2017, you resigned from the royal household and relinquished your chaplaincy after a passage from the Koran denying Christ’s divinity was read at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow. What was it about that moment that made you resign and relinquish your chaplaincy?
Well two reasons, one has to do with content and the other with process. The content was that it is abominable, it is a blasphemy to have a piece of the Koran read out in Christian worship, in particular, at the Feast of the Epiphany, which denies that Jesus, this is who he says he is. So that was a terrible thing to happen and I was surprised that very few people seemed to mind very much or wanted to protest as I did. But the way in which the Queen monarchy manages its position in England is to stay out of politics. And so because there was a deception that actually I was speaking on behalf of the Queen and she shared my views…If I was not to create some constitutional crisis, I either needed to shut up, or else needed to resign. It was very clear what choice I wanted to make. I wasn’t prepared to be quiet on matters that had to do with our Lord’s dignity and the integrity of the church. So I offered my resignation so that I could continue to speak out to fight in these culture wars because in the West, there’s an enormous struggle to dilute Christianity, to defeat it, to silence it. And so it requires all of us to throw ourselves even more energetically into the defense of our faith. So in order to do that, I had to resign from the royal household.
In a forthcoming edition of the Catholic Herald, you write the following: ‘I watched as Anglicanism suffered a collapse of inner integrity as it swallowed wholesale secular society’s descent into a post-Christian culture.’ Tell me, were there other factors that drove you from Anglicanism. It seems you engage the fight and you were trying to pull the faith back from the brink.
Yes, I have been for some time. 25 years as a professor at a radical university, lecturing on psychology and religion, so I had a very good sense of what was coming to our culture, and what the struggle was going to be like. And one of the things I was coming to realize was that this wasn’t just a matter of progressive culture or a slow-rising secularism, but actually there was really a very coherent anti-Christian program a number of people have called ‘cultural Marxism’. Most people understand it in terms of political correctness, but behind political correctness, there is in fact a grand strategy; there’s a real dangerous one. It’s the attempt to undermine and undo the whole of Judeo-Christian culture—all of the values that spring out of our Bible and our Christian tradition. And having got a sense of what that strategy was, I watched slowly as it came through society, through all the institutions, through education, through law, through the police, and the church should’ve said, ‘we see what’s going on, we’re going to resist it.’ But instead the Anglican church in particular, just swallowed it wholesale. And after a while, it seems to me, there was no hope at all for people to wake up. It would rather be accepted and part of an apostate society than be marginalized, in order to stand up for Jesus and the faith.
Gavin, I’ve only got two minutes, I wish I had two hours. You’re going to have to come back on the show. Is there any concern you have because as I hear you speak, I’m thinking Catholicism is grappling with some of the same waves and currents that you describe in Anglicanism. What would be your answer to someone who would say, wait a minute, you might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire?
Well I am jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. People are saying, you know the grass isn’t greener. There was a day when I got some emails from two groups of people. One was from Anglicans because I have a lot of people looking at my website. One was from Anglicans saying thank you for speaking out—you make it easier to be Christians. The other was from a group of Roman Catholics who said the same thing, but they said: you do realize that as you fight this struggle in Anglicanism, Anglicanism is going to go down, it won’t survive. But the church in Rome built upon Peter, it will survive. So why don’t you come and help us. It’s the same struggle—and you’ll win it in Catholicism… But you’ll lose it in Anglicanism. Now that struck me almost as a word from the Holy Spirit and I thought that’s true. I need to give it some thought.
What does it mean to come to Catholicism the year of St. John Henry Newman’s canonization, a man whom I know had a huge influence on you, this decision, and your decision to convert to Catholicism?
Well it’s embarrassing because I identify with him very strongly. He was a giant and I’m a pygmy. But our journeys have been really similar in terms of the narrative. So for me, he’s charted the journey and I think back 30 years ago, I knew I’d have to take this journey sometime. I’m very grateful to him for making clear to me and to others what the issues are. For trailblazing a root back to Rome where we belong—the one true Church—where the fullness of faith is celebrated and the power of Christ is truly revealed.
Gavin, thank you for your articulate defense of the faith and your intelligence—it is needed, as those email correspondents said to you. Welcome home December 22, as you come into the Church. What a great Christmas gift not only for you, but for us all. Merry Christmas.
Especially for me, thank you very much. Happy Christmas.
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