Monday, November 23, 2020

Living in Love and Faith: what will its reception history be?

Very recently the Church of England has published a book (and associated resources) called Living in Love and Faith. The website associated with this project and thus with lots of links is here. From that website we read:

"What is the purpose of the Living in Love and Faith resources?

The hope is for people in Church of England churches across the country to use the LLF resources to study and pray together. The resources are designed to encourage and enable engagement and learning in a variety of settings. This church-wide learning together, listening to one another, and listening to God is part of discerning a way forward for the Church of England in relation to matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. The purpose of the resources is to enable the Church of England churches across the country to participate in a process of learning and praying together as part of discerning a way forward in relation to matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.

The Church of England is keenly aware that issues of gender and sexuality are intrinsic to people’s experience; their sense of identity; their lives and the loving relationships that shape and sustain them. We also know that the life and mission of our Church – and of the worldwide Anglican Communion – are affected by the deep, and sometimes painful, disagreements among us which have been debated and discussed on many occasions over the years.

These divisions have come into sharper focus because of society’s changing perspectives and practices, especially in relation to lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and intersex people. The Church wants to understand what it means to follow Christ in love and faith given the questions about human identity and the variety of patterns of relationship emerging in our society, including marriage, civil partnership, cohabitation, celibacy and friendship.

The LLF resources explore these matters by studying what the Bible, theology, history and the social and biological sciences have to say, and by telling the real-life stories of followers of Christ with diverse experiences and convictions. Find out more about what the learning outcomes of the resources are.

We hope that people in worshipping communities across the country will get involved and use the resources to learn together. That is why there is a range of resources in a variety of formats.

We believe that the Holy Spirit will be active among us as we pray, study and deliberate together to discover Christ’s call to the Church today. We do this with a deep sense of hopefulness for a future in which Christians can follow Christ together joyfully, fruitfully and with integrity."

My post today is primarily to inform Down Under readers of this development and to point yourselves and myself to the website and its resources, though for me personally I have no time at the present to digest them.

Secondarily, I am also pointing readers to some responses:

Ian Paul writes at Psephizo on "(How) should we engage with Living in Faith and Love?"

Paul Handley at Church Times offers a "quick guide" to the Living in Faith and Love book.

Prof Diamid MacCulloch, writing in 'critical review mode' at Modern Church about Living in faith and Love, offers this "drawing the reader in, to read the next sentence" opening sentence:

"The end-result of the Living in Love and Faith process, all 482 pages of it (hereafter LLF), is a good deal better than it might have been."

Thereafter he offers many thoughts on marriage and such like, not all of which are agreeable (it would seem - me having Tweeted this article the other day and receiving some critical responses, not least to what he says on 1 Samuel 20:41).

Comment as you will but to attempt to be clear, I am not myself offering these links to argue anything, one way or another. Perhaps at a later point in time I will have time to offer my own thoughts on Living in Faith and Love.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Across the Tasman, an Appellate Tribunal Decision

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Australian Bishops have offered a response to the Appellate Tribunal's decision - a model of Anglican balance!! Also note this report from the Diocese of Sydney.

ORIGINAL POST: A few days ago, an Anglican Church of Australia Appellate Tribunal published an opinion (this is the official term) on the matter of a blessing of same-sex marriages proposed by the Diocese of Wangaratta.

The opinion (more precisely, two: 5 for a majority opinion, 1 for a minority opinion) is published here. (Spoiler Alert: it is a lot of reading!)

For a quicker read, here is Muriel Porter's Church Times article, and here is Julia Baird's SMH article.

This is Julia's summary of the decision:

"The issue was a legal one, fundamentally about where the authority lies to make a decision of the kind that would allow a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples married under Australian law. Who gets to decide – the individual dioceses, of which there are 23 in Australia – or the national church at its General Synod? The tribunal ruled it was the diocese, because this liturgy was “not inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles” of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia."

Dr Mark Thompson, Moore College, offers his "disappointed" response here. He writes,

"This opinion, if acted upon, may indeed have devastating consequences for the Anglican Church of Australia, as similar decisions have done elsewhere in the world, but it cannot change the revealed will of God. The opinion is deeply wrong because it opens the door for the blessing of behaviour which the Bible clearly says will exclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). As the Board of Assessors and the House of Bishops made clear, the prohibition of this behaviour is not limited to an isolated passage in the New Testament but is consistent through the entire Bible. God does not change his mind. He does not need to. He has always known the end from the beginning.

Since its release, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Geoff Smith, has described the decision of the Tribunal as ‘an important contribution to the ongoing conversation within the church’. He clearly does not see it as the final word. It is important that only Scripture occupies that place."

There are some points of ecclesiastical frisson here. 

For instance, on the matter of blessings, not that long ago the Australian Bishops (two of whom were on the Tribunal) unanimously ruled against blessings. 

Further, the Australian General Synod when it met a couple of years back censured the Episcopal Church of Scotland for legislating for same-sex marriages.

That is, the opinion of the Tribunal that the Wangaratta decision is not inconsistent with the Constitution is itself not consistent with the Bishops nor with the General Synod.

In other words, as a matter of debate and decision-making for our Across the Tasman Anglican cousins, it looks very much like clarity needs to occur at the General Synod level. That is, clarity over whether or not the opinion about "not inconsistent" with the Constitution becomes canonical fact or not, as applied to the whole of ACA, not only to the Diocese of Wangaratta.

For Kiwi readers, it may be important to note that ACA is not the same as ACANZP constitutionally (for example the former’s constitution gives more power to each diocese than the latter’s constitution does).

My opinion on the formal opinion of the Appellate Tribunal:

1. The majority opinion works very hard, with admirable detail in analysis and reflection on changes through history, on how an Anglican church generally and how the Australian Anglican church specifically, can respond to changes in civil legislation concerning marriage.

2. The minority opinion works very clearly and carefully on a biblical theology of sex and marriage which yields the conclusion that changes to civil legislation on marriage does not overturn a universal ban on same-sex sexual relationships.

3. In important ways, both positions are "honourable." It is appropriate to follow the Bible - Romans 13 and all that - in making accommodation between church and state. It is also appropriate to follow the Bible - Revelation 13 and all that - in resisting the temptation to accommodate changing culture.

4. Thus an obvious challenge for ACA, as it has been for ACANZP, is whether and how both honourable positions might be held within the one church.

5. And, sadly, a salutary warning from the recent history of ACANZP with disaffiliations leading to the formation of CCAANZ, is that (4) may not have a straightforward resolution.

6. There is, nevertheless, a pastoral dimension to the Appellate Tribunal's reports, beyond questions of civil legislation and social change becoming a cultural tide washing over the church. When two Christians of the same sex determine that they wish to live their lives together in a bond of marriage, may the church formally permit freedom for its ministers to follow a pastoral instinct to pray for them?

7. The genius of the Anglican church has been that it has found many ways to permit freedom for its ministers to follow a pastoral instinct!

To all commenters: this post is NOT an opportunity to once again rehearse for/against arguments about homosexuality or same-sex blessings or same-sex marriages. I may not publish your comment if your comment offers such rehearsal. Comments should focus on matters relating to Anglicanism Down Under with special reference to the Anglican Church of Australia - its constitution, its polity, its decision-making, etc.

UPDATE

GAFCON Australia have published a first response to the Appellate opinion, here.

I think the challenging paragraph here is this:

"The teaching of Scripture is that while marriage is not necessary for salvation nor for the experience of life to the full, obedience to God’s Word is.  The Lord brings about in us what he commands, whatever our marital status or sexuality. The gift of marriage, in accordance with the doctrine of Christ as it is clearly taught in Scripture and expressed in the Book of Common Prayer is ‘an honourable estate’ given for the union of one man to one woman for, among other purposes, the raising of children.  Likewise, those who are not married, through their union with Christ, are holy and called to lives of chastity and fruitful, joyful service of the Lord."

A challenge is that this statement simply avoids tackling the otherwise "clear" (but seemingly difficult to actually follow) teaching of Scripture on divorce and remarriage (especially our Lord's own teaching). 

Thus a further challenge is that this paragraph assumes that Scripture teaches "clearly" on matters that, in fact, churches find less than clear when it comes to engagement with the circumstances of real life.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Quietly Fades the Don?

In Australasia the most famous Donald is not Donald Trump. It is Donald Bradman, cricket’s greatest ever batsmen and Australia’s greatest ever cricketer.

In 1949 Jack Fingleton, himself a very good batsman, but by then cricket writer, wrote a book about Don Bradman’s final Australian XI tour to England in 1948. Wittily he called it Brightly Fades the Don. That title was a spoof of the title of Mikhail Sholokhov’s four volume novel Quietly Flows the Don (1928-40) - also known as And Quiet Flows the Don. 

The former book charts the final pathway towards Don Bradman’s retirement (at the age of 40 - still a remarkable age to be playing international cricket). The latter book is the story of the Don Cossocks - Cossacks who live along the Don River - during the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War.

As I write, victory has been declared for Joe Biden in the US Presidential Election and thus defeat for Donald Trump. Unfortunately Donald Trump is not currently accepting defeat let alone admitting it. But the flow of the river of popular acclamation of Biden and his victory is against Trump.

Whether Trump goes quietly from the White House or not, I think we can see that over the next year or two he will quietly fade away from our consciousness.

"Trumpism" may or may not be a political thing (I see some saying it is and others that it is not) but Trump is finished. Why? Simply, there are only so many lies a body of people can stomach. He has told many lies and the past few days of egregious claims of electoral fraud are among the worst of them.

Even in defeat he cannot face let alone tell the truth.

The irony is that Trump has in fact received a record number of votes (but Biden has received even more). With a smidgeon more effort against Coronavirus, a tad more empathy for suffering humanity (especially in his own country) and a few less lies, Trump could have succeeded in garnering the Electoral College votes he needed to remain President.

He is the living embodiment of tragedy - so close to success, so unnecessarily falling into failure, and all through personal choice to take the moral low ground when the high ground was easily in reach.

So far so Greek drama!

And it may get worse for him as his family appears divided over whether to support his claims of the election being rigged or not.

What is Trump in biblical terms?

It is hard to get past thinking of him in terms of Israel's kings - the ones in the line of Saul who manage to stuff things up, principally by disobeying God and often coming to a bad end.

I wonder if those US pastors - e.g. Paula White - who have so vigorously and publicly supported Trump as God's anointed ruler will open their Bibles to review their support and find a better biblical understanding of what kind of "king" he has in fact been?

My suspicion, perhaps yours too, is that such public but erroneous support for such an immoral king will quietly fade away, never to be referred to again!

PS For those keen on literature and its relevance to life in actuality, read Maureen Dowd's last sentence in this article.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Biding with Biden or Trumped by Trump? This is THE week! Also, Sacks on Genesis.

So, this post might get extended later in the week, if the US election results are worth commenting about in some kind of Anglicanly way ... we can otherwise expect lots and lots of commentary, whatever happens.

Meanwhile, in Anglicanland, Ian Paul at Psephizo continues to post always-worth-reading material and a recent post (mostly a book review by Philip Seddon) alerts us to an excellent looking commentary on Genesis - actually,  to a set of commentaries on the Torah called Covenant and Conversation  - by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

The blurb from the Genesis volume says:

"In this first volume of a five-volume collection of parashat hashavua commentaries, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks explores these intersections as they relate to universal concerns of freedom, love, responsibility, identity, and destiny. He fuses Jewish tradition, Western philosophy, and literature to present a highly developed understanding of the human condition under Gods sovereignty. Erudite and eloquent, Covenant & Conversation allows us to experience Chief Rabbi Sacks’ sophisticated approach to life lived in an ongoing dialogue with the Torah."

Naturally I encourage you to read the whole of Philip Seddon's review, and even better, obtain the commentary or the whole series for yourself (as I am now aiming to do). But for today, and as a follow up to last week's post, here is one observation Seddon makes, about an distinctive feature of Sacks' writing which impressed him:

" The unbroken line of rabbinic tradition of what we could call ‘Rabbinic scriptural reasoning’, the single story of interpretation, by contrast with the divided and hardened competing histories of interpretation in Eastern Orthodoxy, Western Catholicism and Western Reformation Christianity. Unlike a former generation’s mockery of endless conflicting rabbinic authorities, there is deep respect for the prayer and thought of generations of ’the wise’. In a Christian context, this would be the approach of a Christopher Seitz, Brevard Childs, Ephraim Radner or Hans Boersma, of Ressourcement—returning to the original sources and foundations with a grasp of the full tradition."

That last sentence in large part is a point I was trying to make last week. That if to be "evangelical" is to read Scripture and then to re-read Scripture and then to re-re-read Scripture to find its meaning for today (as, indeed, rabbis have done through the centuries), then one way to do such reading and re-reading is to do so with an eye on how the "full tradition" of reading has taken place.

And noting Sacks' point, that the way to understand "conflicting ... authorities" (rabbinic and/or Christian), is not to mock the contradictions, let alone the authorities, but to dig deeper for the wisdom that may be found beyond the contradictions.

Which may be something for Anglicans to ponder, when so often in our history we have wanted to resolve all contradictions rather than live with (into?) them.

Monday, October 26, 2020

A Moabitess set loose in the House of Israel, contrary to the Law?

 Two weeks ago I posted about a quirk in the Book of Ruth - a quirk which highlights that what we call "Scripture" or "the Bible" is complicated. In this case the complication is the difference between how even the original text (Hebrew) is written and how it has been read (by Hebrew speaking Jewish scholars who compiled the standard Hebrew manuscripts used in our English translations. I noted that how one word is written in Ruth 4:5 is reflected in a recent translation (REB) but how it has been read is reflected in most other translations I have to hand on my shelves.

This kind of complication is not the only complication in Scripture when we dig into it and the Book of Ruth illustrates another kind. My guide in this post continues to be the JPS Bible Commentary Ruth by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky (Philadelphia, 2011). The complication discussed here is change to our understanding of the Law of Moses within the pages of Scripture itself.

Ruth was a Moabitess who had married an Israelite (Ruth 1:1-5). The Moabites were descended from an incestuous liaison between Lot and his older daughtet. Numbers 21-22 tells the story of the king of Moab seeking to destroy Israel in the wilderness. Numbers 25:1 reports that Israelite men profaned themselves on the eve of entering the promised land with Moabite women. Thus in Deuteronomy 23:4-7 the Moabites are denounced in no uncertain terms: they are specifically excluded from the community of Israel. Further, Deuteronomy 23:8-9 follows up the immediately prior exclusion of Moabites but affirming that Edomite and Egyptian offspring of Israelite spouses are able to be included in the third generation. 

How can Ruth become an ancestor of David when neither she nor her offspring should have existence within the community of Israel according to unambiguous Law of Moses?

In the Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky commentary it is pointed out that rabbinic commentators were alive to this difficulty, for instance, arguing that the Deuteronomic passage applyed solely to men and/or that Ruth converted to the faith of Israel (as a possibility pertaining to Moabite women but not to Moabite men) (pp. xlv - xlvii).

But Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky observe that within Scripture there are "competing traditions" about Moabites:

"Interestingly, Deuteronomy also preserves a different tradition about the Moabites in which the Moabites welcome the Israelites during their wilderness trek (Deut. 2:26-29). The coexistence of competing traditions suggests that the debate about Moabite status was already embedded within Deuteronomy and reflects different hands or changes in attitudes over time." (pp. xlvii-xlviii)

That is, the deeper we dig into what Scripture says, the more we have to ponder about how the "one" Scripture nevertheless includes "more than one" perspective on matters of importance.

The Book of Ruth also figures, in respect of competing traditions about intermarriage.

It is well-known, for instance, that biblical accounts in Ezra-Nehemiah strongly oppose intermarriage between Israelites and people of other nations. On the one hand this "post Exilic" writing reflects the vulnerability of Israel as it is reconstituted in its own land. On the other hand it is not the only postExilic voice which reflects on Israel among the nations. Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky note that, in contrast to the exclusivity of Ezra-Nehemiah,

"Isa. 56:3-7 (also likely from the fifth or fourth century B.C.E.) promises the foreigner a venerable place in God's house." (p. xli)

In respect of Ruth, our commentators observe that,

"her story functions as a counterpoint to the negative attitude toward Moabite and other foreign women in the biblical accounts in Ezra-Nehemiah. In its own biblical context, then, the Book of Ruth exemplifies a way that a Moabite woman can marry a Judean and join the community, despite what we read in Deut. 23. Rabbinic sources will seek a basis for reconciling the tension between Ruth's place in the Jewish community and Deut. 23:4-7 regarding Moabites." (p. xlv)

In other words, on the questions of (i) intermarriage between Israel and other nations, and (ii) exclusion or otherwise of Moabites from existence within Israel, the Scripture of Israel (the Christian Old Testament) do not speak with one voice.

It is not so much that we then conclude the Old Testament contradicts itself as that we observe that within the Old Testament there are signs of lively debate on matters critical to Israel's identity as God's people.

Within the New Testament we also see signs of lively debate - not all of which is resolved neatly (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 11:16 on a particular, but relatively small matter; and Romans/Galatians and James on a relatively large matter concerning salvation via faith and/or works, with considerable importance for major difference within Western Christianity, between Protestants and Roman Catholics).

One of the questions for the church in the world today, which all too often seems to want to present binary solutions for discussion with a disposition to choosing (or imposing) but one option for permanent solution, is whether "faithfulness to Scripture" is understood, or not, as openness to lively and continuing debate.

Monday, October 19, 2020

True Christianity marches through the institutions, including the church?

My attention has been drawn to an article which sets out the history of the recent schism in our church (here). The article is well researched and well written and interviews some of our key religious, academic commentators. Not sure about the headline the sub-editor has given it!

Now, this post is NOT about the schism and I may or may not publish your comment if you are going to comment about the schism.

In the course of the article it quotes Peter Lineham, arguably the most well informed observer of our Kiwi religious landscape.

"That’s led to uncertainty about organised religion’s future. “The whole idea that religion can be held together through institutional structures could just be wrong,” mulled Lineham. “A lot of religiosity today is not neatly confined within traditional frameworks, as [it] used to be. And issues like [homosexuality or transgender rights], which institutions make such heavy weather of, most individuals navigate around much more easily.”"

Now, again, for clarity and for deterrance of possible comments, this post is not about issues like homosexuality or transgender rights, nor about whether institutions are making heavy weather of them compared to individuals.

The question here, the point Peter Lineham makes, which seems worth pondering (albeit at risk of making me positionally redundant) is that of whether institutions [churches in the case of Christianity] are needed to "hold religion together"?

Of course, as a simple statement of fact it is true, "A lot of religiosity today is not neatly confined within traditional frameworks, as it used to be."

It is also true that there is a way of reading the story of Jesus of Nazareth and then of his apostle, Paul of Tarsus, as the story of the breaking down of the "institution" of Judaism (as then experienced) and as the story of a religiosity - the dynamics of the Christian experience in the First Century - which could not be confined in frameworks as traditioned in the consciousness of those who became the first Christians.

What do you think?

For myself, I can see that the church is often an institution (and, on many matters, not only those most controversial, makes heavy weather of things).

But the church reads the gospel. It always has a shot at being what it is meant to be!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

I just love it when ...

... I discover something new in the pages of Scripture, especially when it is a little bit quirky.

So, if you would like a post on the profundity of Anglicanism, please read or reread last week's post on "Participation". 

If you would like some biblical quirkiness then read on.

It begins a little while ago when the Dean of Dunedin, Tony Curtis, gave an illuminating talk on the Book of Ruth. It got me realising that my commentary shelves are a bit light on Ruth and, natch, I ordered a new commentary.

It is the JPS Bible Commentary Ruth by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky (Philadelphia, 2011).

So far I am making my way each night before lights out a few paragraphs at a time through the Introduction - some 70+ pages of erudition, beautifully written.

Yes, yes, I know, normal people read romantic novels and not commentaries on romantic novels!

Anyway, anyhoo.

A vexed question or three in respect of the lovely and flourishing romance between Ruth and Boaz concerns the nature of the law or lore or custom concerning the contracting of a marriage in ancient Israel between people with some kind of kinship tie.

For instance, is the marriage between Ruth and Boaz a "levirate marriage" - a marriage between a man and a childless widow of the man's deceased relative, contracted with the intention of producing a child who will continue the deceased relative's name.

This is discussed in the above commentary from page xxxii to xxxviii and concludes,

"But if levirate marriage does not serve as the rationale for the union between Boaz and Ruth, why does Boaz marry Ruth? And why does he go about it in the complicated, confusing manner described in the book?" (xxxviii)

The next discussion in the Introduction sets out to answer these questions.

Along the way of the levirate discussion my interest was piqued by its discussion of Ruth 4:5 which raises the question whether Boaz says to the nearer "redeemer" on the question of acquiring some land held in the name of Ruth's deceased husband, that, simultaneously, "I will acquire Ruth" or "You will acquire Ruth."

It happens that the Bible I keep at hand by my bed is the Revised English Bible, which I looked up. It reads,

"Boaz continued: 'On the day you take over the field from Naomi, I take over the widow, Ruth the Moabite, so as to perpetuate the name of the dead man on his holding'."

There is no footnote indicating an alternative reading. Something in my memory suggested this was an unusual reading.

Indeed.

The NRSV has,

"Then Boaz said, 'The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance."

Although there is a footnote indicating a variation in the Old Latin, Vulgate text, it is not a variation which concerns us here re "I acquire" or "You acquire".

Following the NRSV are the CEB, GNB, NEB, NJB, and NIV.

Is the REB an outlier? If one major translation can differ from others, why not mutually informative footnotes re the viability of the two possible readings?

Back to Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky. Their explanation of the possibility of two different translations is this:

"it is uncertain whether the unnamed redeemer is told that he has acquired Ruth - or will acquire her, when he redeems the land - or whether Boaz himself is acquiring Ruth. The interpretation depends upon whether one follows the written consonantal text (ketiv), kaniti, which seems to mean, "I will acquire" (namely I, Boaz) or whether one follows the Masoretic reading instructions (kerey), kanita, which means "you will acquire" (i.e. the other man). The latter would mean that the redeemers, as a redeeemer, is obligated to take the widow, an expectation not connected with any biblical law of redemption. Because redemption, not levirate marriage, has been the only subject discussed by Ruth (3:9) and Boaz (3:10-13 and 4:3-5), and because nothing indicates either the other redeemer or Boaz is a levir, Boaz's statement stands in tension with all known biblical laws." (page xxxvi)

That is, for those unfamiliar with how Jewish reading and interpretation of the text of the books we Christians call the Old Testament works, sometimes what is written in the text (usually meaning the Masoretic Text) is deemed to be not right and an alternative reading is offered in the margin of the text, a writing down of a spoken or recited tradition in respect of the text. The latter is the kerey. The former is the ketiv.

Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky observe, on p. 76, 

"As a rule, the Masoretes and Rabbinic halakhah consider the kerey the preferred reading of the text."

So, the NRSV etc (indeed, Eskenazi and Frymer-Nkensky themselves) follow the kerey. The REB is a bit of an outlier, following the ketiv.

There you go!

Isn't that more interesting than an ordinary romantic novel?

But, wait, there is more. Next week, or soon after, I will come back to some other points of great and relevant interest in the Book of Ruth.

Maybe our reflection till then could be, 

"What is the actual text of Scripture, from which we seek a "literal" translation?"