Monday, October 21, 2019

So, you be the judge ... of many links and what they say (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Thinking Anglicans has superb set of links to many articles and reflections, including an especially pertinent one about "state of the play" in the Melbourne Diocese. HERE.

ORIGINAL Within the last week we obsessives in Anglicanland who follow this or that news service, and may or may not scout about the obscure corners of that land, likely will have come across the following matters relating to recent synods and to an ordination which took place here in Christchurch on Saturday. The links to these matters are placed here with minimal comment.

If they serve no other purpose, they may help me at a future point in time to quickly re-find a link. Discussion is welcomed - on the issues, not ad hominem. One particular question I have is this: does the last week represent a turning point in the tide of Anglican Communion affairs? To change metaphors, is the parting of the Anglican ways beyond reversing?

(In no particular order of importance/significance)

The ordination on Saturday

The Archbishop of Sydney's recent Presidential Address (as reported)

The Archbishop of Sydney's Presidential Address (as defended)

The full text of the above address

A couple of supporting blogposts for the address, here and here.

Syndey also passed a motion re marriage, here, which places the Diocese in a state of impaired communion with ACANZP and with the Diocese of Christchurch ... and with me.

For an interesting take on the address in respect of what freedom of belief means, inside the church and inside the nation, see here.

But it is not all about Sydney. The Diocese of Melbourne had its Synod late last week. One report is here.

Archbishop Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne, rightly says the church is in a crisis.

Unfortunately the Melbourne Synod joined the Sydney synod in sending greetings to the ordination service on Saturday (i.e. a recognition of the new Anglican church here). I do not have a link for that, but I can confirm it. I first saw mention of it in this tweet from Archbishop Davies:

Within that photo are serving bishops of the Anglican Communion.

Within some of the links above are signs of an Australian Anglican church in crisis.

I can see no way to avoid the crisis becoming a schism unless a spirit of Anglican compromise prevails over episcopal and synodical minds and hearts.

Our experience in our church, however, more than suggests that even when a great compromise is offered, there is a mode of Anglican theology which will reject it.

If Australia splits, I think the Communion as a formal body expressing a global intent to be a unified polity of and for Anglicans is #goneburger.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bonus post: who are Marsden’s true heirs?

Thoughts on ++Davies assessment of Marsden’s authentically Anglican heirs, as articulated here?

Monday, October 14, 2019

John Henry Newman and the shape of Down Under Anglicanism in the 21st century (Possibly part 1 of several)

We'll get to JH Newman in a paragraph or two but first a note on a few perambulations recently.

The weekend before the one just past we were in Hokitika for a prayer mission. It was very cool to arrive (a first day after the first events had taken place) to enter into All Saints church to find this:

Yes, pews removed to a corner of the building, fairy lights added, and worship band in the centre of the gathering. We had a lovely weekend, praying for Hokitika and South Westland, singing the Lord's songs, aided by a dynamic group of younger and older adults who had travelled from the other side of the Southern Alps. Very encouraging.

Then this weekend just past. A quick trip to Wellington on Saturday to join the last event in that Diocese's Ministry Conference, shared with NZCMS and the Anglican Mission Board: the ordination of Rosie Fyfe, new National Director of NZCMS, to the diaconate. Many young adult ministry leaders were present, representing the journey in renewal that Diocese is experiencing.

Yesterday, a service at St John's Woolston, celebrating their 162nd year as a parish with acknowledgement that it is nearly one year since a significant disaffiliation from that parish took place. A small group of dedicated lay leaders have worked hard with clergy leaders to continue the life of this parish. It was a joy yesterday to see new people in the congregation - signs of hope.

I enjoy very much these signs of hope, and they may or may not in the future be recognised as a turning point against the tide of secularization (per last week's post). But whatever they betoken against the larger narrative of declining allegiance to Christianity, they remind us that there are things of value within our parishes here Down Under.

Thus the shape of Anglicanism Down Under is developing, pressed by tectonic forces into new shapes and sizes. Always raising, I suggest, the question, What does it mean to be an Anglican Christian?

That question sits with other news from this weekend, news of the canonization of John Henry Newman.

I am not much of a man for canonizations and what have you - mark me down as Protestantly Protestant on that score. But whatever you or I think about such a canonization, it does reflect the simple fact that many people around the globe to this day admire, revere and respect the Catholic prelate and theologian who was once an Anglican priest, not least because his ideas about many theological matters through to "the idea of a university" remain extraordinarily influential.

A couple of articles I have come across in the past 24 hours underscore the mana of the man: here and here.

Clearly, in the end, being an Anglican Christian was not a situation Newman valued. He disaffiliated from us!

By implication the many friends and colleagues who did not cross the Tiber with Newman thought he was wrong; as do we today who keep our swimming togs in our lockers.

But what is right about remaining Anglican? I think I might explore that for a bit in succeeding weeks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A turning point in Kiwi religious stats

A few weeks ago, in our local media, we read reports of how the 2018 NZ Census revealed that for the first time, respondents stating they affiliated with Christianity were fewer than respondents stating they did not affiliate with Christianity (e.g. here, here and here).

Around that time our local newspaper, The Press, offered a considered Editorial on this news, which is here.

I felt that it was a moment when it is reasonable for a church leader to also make public comment and I wrote and submitted an op-ed to The Press. So far it has not been published so I will publish it here.

This is what I submitted:

"“Has Godzone turned Godless?” is the right question for The Press Editorial (27 September 2019) to ask in response to recently released statistics about religious affiliation in New Zealand. The 2018 Census is the statistical point in our history ‘when “no religion” eclipsed Christianity as the leading religious affiliation’ in our nation.

For most churchgoing Christians this news will not be new. For decades now we have known that there is a huge gulf between the number of citizens willing to declare themselves Christian in the census and actual attendance in churches. Another way of understanding the figures the editorial discusses could be to say that 2018 is the year when we decided to change our conversation from talk of the decline of the number of Christians to talk of the growth in the number of post-Christians. The editorial, after all, rightly notes that we are a nation in which “A sense of being spiritual replaces the idea of being religious,” and that “Philosophers such as John Gray have persuasively argued that even as ‘secular liberals dismiss Christianity as a fairy tale, their values and view of history remain essentially Christian’.”

I think we could develop the last observation. As we respond to climate change, to tragedies such as the shootings on 15 March 2019, and to poverty, to name but a few issues of our day, we see virtues such as compassion, mercy, and grace motivating the vast majority of our nation to act selflessly, to love our neighbours as ourselves. In other words the no longer Christian nation by stated religious affiliation remains still a Christian nation in respect of attitudes and actions.

We are not, however, united as a nation around these values. If compassion and generosity, for instance, were to the forefront of responses to 15 March 2019, we have also been painfully aware that racism continues to be a feature and not a bug in our post-colonial society. That raises the question, What will sustain Christian values in a post-Christian nation? Can a nation with declining allegiance to Christianity be sure to remain admirably Christian through a long post-Christian future? The 2018 census figures offer no guidance as to what kind of nation we might become in the long term as an increasing majority jettison affiliation to Christianity.

Potential good news is that while affiliation to Christianity measured by successive censuses has dropped dramatically, churchgoing remains reasonably steady in New Zealand, at about 9% of the population. Some churches are experiencing decline but others experience increase, especially through migration which brings Christians from Asia and Polynesia to New Zealand. In uncertain religious times ahead of us, we can be sure that churchgoing Christians will continue to promote Christian values and to resist their demise. Among the diverse voices which will seek to shape our future society, a strong Christian voice will speak up for compassion, mercy and grace."

Ron Hay, a Diocese of Christchurch cleric and writer has a probing, percipient blogpost here, also in response to the Press Editorial on the census figures.

Monday, September 30, 2019


(1) In many ways following up last week's post and comments thereon, I draw your attention to Issue 2 of Theology Magazine, which focuses on the nature of the church. Here is the Mag's own byline for the edition (my bold):

"Exploring ecclesiology doesn’t begin with church government, nor does it ponder church programs and music preferences. No, exploring ecclesiology takes on a much more sacred task, that is, the exploration of our union with the risen Christ. In our second issue of Theology Magazine we do just that, we explore what it means to be united to Christ."

(H/T Bryden Black)

(2) I was struck last week by an interesting parallel between Greta Thunberg's now famous UN summit speech and a DEL reading for Thursday, Haggai 1:1-8 (but stretched here to verse 11).

The parallel depends on making an imaginative equation between the house of the Lord and planet Earth ... which is plausible if we think of Genesis 1, according to some scholars, as setting out the creation of the world as though the world is God's temple.

Here is part of Greta's speech:

"My message is that we'll be watching you.
"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
"You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.""For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight."
Here is Haggai 1:1-11
"In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak,[a] the high priest:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands."
In other words, while we may argue (or not) with the scientific underpinnings to Greta Thunberg's speech (not cited above) and for which I have seen debate which suggests science is on her side, there is a case for thinking of Greta as a prophet in Old Testament style!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Two roads diverged in the the wood and I, I didn't know which one to take ...

Here is a series of recent posts or news items about division in the churches of the world ...

Eastern Orthodox in Western Europe.

Western European Roman Catholicism.

Within American Catholicism.

On the possibility of schism within Roman Catholicism; also here (but most of article behind paywall), though see embedded Tweet below.

Within The Episcopal Church.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Then, across the Ditch, the most recent posts by David Ould highlight an emerging crisis for the Australian Anglican church which - it is not rocket science to wonder about this aloud - could become an emerging division (hasten an already emerging division?).

Of course here in the Blessed Isles, there is a bit of Anglican division also.

No wonder David Ison writes here about "An Anglican Communion at a Crossroads?" (with H/T to Ron Smith who republished this article on his blog). This article is a very helpful review of a book about the Anglican Communion at a Crossroads, by Brittain and McKinnon, with perceptive comments from Ison. In the book, as relayed through this article, and in the article itself, there are both key observations about how all major strategies for uniting Anglicans are failing (and why), as well as a recipe for a way forward. Spoiler alert: centre on Jesus and focus on what we agree on and not what we disagree on!

The following Tweet highlights something Pope Francis has said about the possibility of a Roman schism:

It would be an intriguing Anglican theological essay, methinks, to respond to the task:

"A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine." DISCUSS.

Not least the interest in the essay would be the fact that much talk by those who leave the Anglican Communion over the past decades has described the leaving as a response to elitist control of (e.g.) TEC, CofE ... such control driven by ideology and not by doctrine ... and, indeed, separation is precisely to maintain doctrine.

Yet, Francis has a point, I suggest. There is an "elitism" which proposes that the few know better than the many. And when doctrine necessarily always includes ecclesiology and genuine ecclesiology always upholds unity, it is a strange commitment to "doctrine" which breaks unity rather than remains within the church to continue to contend for truth. Further, when there are many things wrong with the church, with churches plural (and if the links above mean anything at all, they mean that in churches around the globe, members think there are severe faults within their churches), it is always striking when one and only one fault/"fault" is focused on as a catalyst for schism. It is not "doctrine" (as a whole) which drives such schism, but a fixation on one idea - an ideology which drives division.

Though, to return to Ison's perceptive article, current Anglican divisions are complex and not simple!

While I am personally committed to the Anglican Communion in communion with Canterbury (so not taking the GAFCON road), I am also committed to attending Lambeth 2020 which, noting a TEC link above, not all non-GAFCON bishops are committed to doing. Normally I am committed to the road marked "church discipline" but find myself deeply out of sympathy with the canonical pursuit of Bishop Love (see also link) above ... too many forks in the road in the one Anglican wood???

But if the Anglican woodland has some complexes forks in the road to negotiate, the links given at the beginning of the post make a very simple point: other woodlands have their complexities also. Some Anglicans may be tempted to jump out of our woodland to another - a longstanding option exercised by many through the centuries. But in the 21st century, a century in which there is instant and widely available communication about each and every fork in the road, no matter how great or small, those woodlands should not be entered into with some kind of ecclesial naievity about (change of metaphor) how green the grass is on the other side of the fence!

Monday, September 16, 2019

So, how did we get to be religious, Charles Darwin?

Before we get to this week's main fare, a couple of important articles to link to:

(1) Last Thursday Teresa and I had the extraordinary privilege of attending the ordination of Waitohiariki Quayle, the second Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika, first female Maori bishop and first Aotearoa NZ born woman as bishop in our church. Taonga has an excellent article here with lovely photos.

(2) Do we ignore Pentecostalism Down Under style at our peril? This article explores "How Hillsong and other Pentecostal megachurches are redefining religion in Australia." But as pretty much every Christian in NZ knows, Hillsong is hugely influential in NZ also! Lots to ponder for Anglicans used to small congregation: we can get (to put church growth crudely) bums on seats if we define the gospel in terms of God's plan for your successful life. That is not something Anglicans (and most other denominations want to do) ... but in the meantime is Christianity in the perception of society around us being redefined? What if Pentecostalism a la Hillsong is perceived to be normal Christianity and Anglicanism a weird little sect?

So to the main fare.

Inter alia at our recent Synod there was a challenge in terms of evolution: when do we hear the bishops of our church asserting their belief in evolution? Does believing in evolution define (or not) whether we are "conservative" or "progressive"? Does not believing in evolution make Christians very weird in the marketplace of ideas?

 The latest Church Times has a very interesting article here by Mark Vernon.

It begins by setting out the issue of explaining the development of religious consciousness in terms of evolutionary biology:

"EXPLANATIONS for the origins of human religiosity have not escaped the immense fecundity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many proposals address why people have believed in gods and other worlds as far back as archaeologists can see. To date, two ideas have tended to dominate.
One is that Homo sapiens needed “big gods” to survive. These deities threatened to punish people for their wrongs, with the upshot that large groups worked better together. It sounds plausible, except that our ancestors lived in large groups long before punishing big gods emerged; so the proposal nowadays is widely criticised.A second idea is that early humans were superstitious: they were readily inclined to interpret a rustle of leaves, say, as the movement of a spirit. They were wrong, it is presumed, but that doesn’t matter, because, every so often, a rustle of leaves had a real cause: it signalled the presence of predators. Evolution, therefore, selected for the superstitious because they survived."

But these two ideas have weaknesses, so:

"IN SHORT, the field is ready for a new hypothesis, and another is now gaining ground. Moreover, this hypothesis appeals not only to evolutionary biologists but also to sociologists and theologians. It feels less reductive than its predecessors, and may well cast light on human religiosity today, as well as in times gone by.Leading its development is the Oxford evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar. A recent meeting of the International Society for Science and Religion brought together experts in science and theology as well as archaeology and psychology. It made for a fascinating few days.The proposal might be called “the trance hypothesis”. In the middle palaeolithic period, perhaps 200,000 years ago, humans started to realise that they could induce altered states of consciousness. It marked a step change from the capacity to experience awe and wonder, which is something that we probably share with our primate cousins and other animals. The control of ecstatic states meant that what was revealed could be intentionally explored."

I will leave you to read on to get the further detail needed to complete the explanation of this new hypothesis. Moreover, Mark Vernon offers some striking thoughts about the difference between "spiritual/spirituality" and "religious/religion" worth noting in our age when we are concerned with how we reach people with the gospel or (so to speak) reach the gospel embedded in people already.

My question goes something like this (remembering that I am a bear of small brain and questions about how our faith developed in respect of the prophet Charles Darwin are at the edge of my linguistic, philosophical and theological competency):

If we accept that some such hypothesis as introduced above explains how, along the way of our biological development as homo sapiens, we reached a state in which we could consciously articulate religious thoughts and insights, on what grounds do we then discern that at least some of those thoughts and insights are "not our own" but come to us from outside of ourselves as a newly emerging community of religiously conscious people?

That is, how do we as evolving animals determine that we have received revelation, that God/gods are not our invention?