Friday, February 27, 2015

How to pray when the odds are stacked against us?

Commenting on yesterday's post, Nick writes,

" I personally would be interested in some discussion on how we might usefully pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria. I find this quite a challenge."

So would I!

Yesterday we learned that c. 200 Assyrian Christians have been captured by ISIS. At best they might be used as some kind of bargaining chips; at worst ... well, it does not bear thinking about, especially the women and children.

Whatever the world makes of ISIS or Boko Haram, we Christians have a special concern for the violence being perpetrated by these murderous groups against fellow believers. In some cases the church is effectively being eradicated from regions, despite a previous history going back to the days of the apostles or their immediate successors.

How then should we pray?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

My last post?

There is not much point to being an Anglican if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, since being Anglican is simply a way of being Christian.

But whatever we make of Jesus rising from the dead, there is not much point to being excited by it if the Jesus who rose from the dead was not the one in whom God was reconciling the world to himself.

All the excitement of being Anglican dissipates if there is no God.* Well, no God except Richard Dawkins. If Richard Dawkins is right about the non-existence of God then this blog may as well cease, save for the odd hymn of praise to Richard.

"You, O Great Evolutionist, were right after all" and that sort of psalm could be penned :)

It seems that Richard Dawkins is getting a kind of spiritual renewal in excitement by the prospect of there being no God because, as the headline says, "New theory could prove how life began and disprove God." (To save time I append the key paragraphs below)

On the other hand, perhaps this is not going to be my last post here on the presupposition that God exists. There is a slight problem with the headline!

Theories by themselves do not 'prove' anything. A theory that unicorns exist is only proved when we find a unicorn. It is not disproved when we do not find a unicorn because there is the possibility that we have not looked hard enough for the mysterious creature.

A theory that life began because a series of inanimate objects under the right conditions exposed to enough sunlight necessarily become animate begs the question how the 'right conditions' came about.

If we accept that a (rather large) unicorn could have assisted Earth to be in the 'right' kind of orbit around the sun (compared to, say, Venus and Mars which, notoriously, yield little evidence to date of the magical effects of the sun on their inanimate rocks), then possibly a God of the creating kind could turn out to be the assisting force rather than a unicorn.

If the best the theory can do is prove that God does not need to be invoked to explain the miracle of life, is that novel? I thought the 'God of the gaps' approach to proving the existence of God was already passe.

There is also the question of where the rocks and the sun came from. Their existence does not necessitate God's existence (that would be back to the God of the gaps approach) but does beg the question whether through science alone we can explain the mystery that there is something rather than nothing, that being exists rather than non-being.

I think I'll keep on posting. Any psalms published here will be praising God and not eminent biologists.

Cited from the article linked to above:

"The problem for scientists attempting to understand how life began is understanding how living beings – which tend to be far better at taking energy from the environment and dissipating it as heat – could come about from non-living ones.
But a new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT and first reported in Quanta Magazine, proposes that when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy. The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct.
“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.
Paul Rosenberg, writing this week on Richard Dawkins’ site, said that the theory could make things “a whole lot worse for creationists”.
As Rosenberg notes, the idea that life could have evolved from non-living things is one that has been held for some time, and was described by the pre-Socratic philosophers. But England’s theory marks the first time that has been convincingly proposed since Darwin, and is backed by mathematical research and a proposal that can be put to the test."

*A few weeks ago while visiting a nameless city in our fair land, the local newspaper published an article on a notable local person who proudly declared herself to be a church warden of one of our parishes while not being a believer. Yes, I accept, one can be an Anglican and not a Christian!!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Motion 30: resources which may assist your parish

On Sunday, responding to a request from a local parish, I gave a presentation on Motion 30 - the motion which sets in train a working group to bring to our church recommendations which (it is hoped) will both give expression to change to our status quo regarding the blessing of same sex partnerships while offering a way forward for our church to remain together.

As a possible assistance to you as an individual reader, or to your parish, I offer the three documents which we worked with on the day.

The obvious shortcoming with offering the documents alone is that I was able to speak to the slides on the Powerpoint presentation and amplify sections of the Word document regarding biblical texts. Along the way we were able to discuss specific questions and engage together through a lunch break.

It is important to understand that a specific brief from the parish concerned was that I offer some insight as to why those seeking change to the status quo understand the (most discussed) biblical texts in the way they do. The Word document below seemed to do that. It is deliberately concise where a tome of 'one the one hand, on the other' could be offered if the brief was, say, tell us every exegetical and hermeneutical detail of these verses.

The text of Motion 30 is here.

These were the Powerpoint slides:

The following document, re six biblical texts relates to slide six:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Interesting distinction between legally right and morally wrong, with 21st century shame thrown in

Nothing changes!

In the age old debate between what is right and what is wrong, the point is often made that something can be legally right but morally wrong. A good example is coming up.

Then sometimes the question is asked, who decides what is morally wrong and morally right? In other words the spectre of 'moral authority' rises over stories in which legality and morality are distinguished. However in the example coming up you won't find any questions being asked about who or what is the moral authority behind people's outrage.

Of course we live in the modern age, the 21st century, so we in the West have moved a long way from publicly shaming people as a punishment. Why, we scarcely believe in punishment any more. Also, in the modern age, the 21st century, freedom of choice is everyone's right. Individuals have the power to do their own thing so long as other people are not hurt. But wait, in the example coming up shame plays a huge role. So much shaming applies that an apology is given. An apology for doing something which is legal, popular with many and a matter of exercising free choice as an individual. But, no individualism is not quite as significant as we may have lulled ourselves into thinking.

Here is the example, courtesy SMH.

Hero does something legally right and few people discuss much as a possible moral wrong.
Years later there is an accidental alert to the action.
Social media places hero in the metaphorical stocks and Twitter supplies the rotten eggs and tomatoes.
Hero bows to the pressure from self-appointed moral crusaders (who never name by what authority they act).
Suddenly a past time giving pleasure to many - hunting - is ruled out of possibilities for individual choice to be exercised.

Never underestimate the power of the collective!

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Monday 23 February 2015

From a UK colleague ...

1. When only the deepest reality will do - Os Guinness - St Ebbe's Audio [Exodus 33:7-23]

2. Oxford's Questions on Science and Faith - Alister McGrath - St Ebbe's Audio

3. Beautiful Feet - Bishop Ken Clark - St Philip's Charleston Audio [Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15]

4. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

5. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

6. Continue Read the New Testament in a year with Rev Andrew Goddard

7. The bells of St. Paul's Cathedral - BBC Radio 4

8. Choral Evensong from St John's College, Cambridge - BBC Radio 3

9. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

10. Choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

Please pray for the Church of England, for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Syria and Iraq including refugees facing winter and hunger; for the persecuted church and in particular in Nigeria and neighboring countries, Egypt, Sudan, Iran and China; for peace in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

11. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Prayers for the Church of England from Lent and Beyond
Iraq: Report from Diocese of Egypt and Prayer Request
Egypt: Statement on the Murder of 21 Egyptian Christians and Prayer Request - Archbishop Mouneer Anis
Shooting of witness threatens trial of Coptic Christians' murderers - WWM
Sudan: Fears growing for two South Sudan pastors held by Sudan intelligence - WWM
Iran: Authorities raid homes of three Christians, pastor Irani refused conditional release - CSW
China: Hong Kong Christians demand information about imprisoned bishop - CSW
South Carolina: Prayers from Lent and Beyond

12. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
13. Not Your Typical Ash Wednesday - Josh Patrick
A vital resource that can help all new Christians in their faith - CEN

14. Greater Love - John Ireland - Somerville Choir [adjust quality with cogwheel lower right]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I disagree with the Archbishop but I respect his right to exercise free speech

In a Taonga article Archbishop Philip Richardson recommends we have a national debate about freedom of expression and its limits, triggered by a controversial t-shirt on display in Canterbury Museum.

The article gives you the links - if you choose - to explore just how utterly distasteful the t-shirt is, and offensive to Jesus. It fails both the "Would your mother like you in this t-shirt?" test as well as the "Would you like your mother or father to be the figures depicted in this T-shirt?" test.

But here's the thing, we do not need a debate about freedom of expression. We are free to express ourselves, we are a democracy and it would be just about impossible to conclude such a debate with an effective law defining where freedom of expression ended and respect for people and their faiths begin.

I propose a different test on freedom of expression.

Is the Canterbury Museum prepared to display the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that have been offensive to Muslims?

If it is, fair enough, it is a fair and equal opportunity offender of religions.

If it is not, then it has failed the justice test on freedom of expression. If an institution or individual is unwilling to offend one religion then none should be offended. If an institution or individual is willing to offend one religion then let all be offended without exception. That is basic justice within a secular democracy.

End of debate.

Over to you Canterbury Museum ...

PS For clerical commenters from other dioceses: do your licences permit you to publicly disagree with your bishop? If they do not (and I hear that at least one diocese has a clause prohibiting such disagreement) then what does that mean for freedom of speech IN OUR OWN CHURCH?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

This will SPLIT TEC from the Communion, finally

I am really pushed for time this week so this post is mostly a series of links (H/T to various correspondents or blogs I follow).

In the last couple of weeks material has been published ahead of the forthcoming General Convention charting proposed changes to the canon on marriage. The first link is the official church based set of material. The next two links are responses to this material.

If TEC makes its marriage canon gender-free (or gender-neutral) then it will be the final nail in the coffin of its relationship with the wider Communion. I can only see Canada possibly following TEC in such a direction. I cannot think of any other member church going that far anytime this century. Can you?

The fourth and fifth links take you to some CofE material about shared conversations on sexuality. Responses?

The sixth link takes you to a review of an interesting book. Thoughts?

Finally, below, I cite information in a Latimer Fellowship (NZ) newsletter re a legal challenge being mounted against a clause in Motion 30.

As time permits in the next few pressured weeks I may come back to any or all of the matters below. I welcome your comments. I remind you to publish at least your first name. I may not have time to respond to your comment no matter how inviting you make it to take discussion further ...

TEC files re proposed changes to canon on marriage

Anglican Communion Institute (Ephraim Radner)

The Living Church

Church of England Resources for Shared Conversations

Grace and Disagreement resource booklet links

Scripture and the plausibility of teaching on sexuality

Here in ACANZP, news of the legal challenge being mounted against clause 4 of Motion 30:

(From Latimer Online newsletter)

"Dear all,

Since the last General Synod a group of people have been working quietly on a legal challenge to the constitutionality of Clause 4 of Motion 30 which allowed for the recognition of formalised same sex relationships. The applicants to the Judicial Committee are aware of the high level of distress Motion 30 clause 4 caused and the likely level of interest in this case.

Information Regarding a Submission to the Judicial Committee Regarding the Constitutionality of Clause 4 of Motion 30.
At the 62nd assembly of General Synod Motion 30 was passed establishing a working group. Its' purpose is to bring to the next General Synod recommendations about process and structure whereby those who hold contrasting views on the voice of scripture, doctrine and the church formularies on the validity of the blessing of same gender relationships may be able to maintain their position with integrity within the church. It did not propose or set in train any change in the Constitution or the parameters in which General Synod is required to work. The motion in its preamble states clearly that the church upholds the traditional understanding of marriage and further notes the potential of the working group’s task to impact on the Church’s theology of marriage and ordination thereby acknowledging that the status quo does not allow for the blessing of same gender relationships nor the ordination of those in such relationships.

The motion, however, also included a  fourth clause which allowed for clerical discretion in the recognition in public worship of a same-gender civil union or state marriage of members of their faith community but only with the permission of their licensing Bishop and vestry.

The passing of motion 30 and in particular clause 4 has caused widespread distress across the Province including two priests leaving the church. While many would acknowledge there is value in discussing processes and structures whereby people can maintain their integrity there is deep concern that this fourth clause is not only unconstitutional but it also pre-empts the work of the working group and potentially signals the direction the working group may head in. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary to recognise something is to “accept that something is true or important” and that it has “legal or official authority.” The New Oxford Dictionary of English has the following meanings  :  “acknowledge the existence, validity or legality of..”, “officially regard as valid or proper” or “show official appreciation of, reward formally.”          

Given the meaning of “recognise” and that same gender marriages and civil unions are not recognised by our formularies as they stand any recognition of such unions in any manner is unconstitutional and no Bishop, Priest or vestry having signed an allegiance to General Synod may sanction such a recognition, (CONSTITUTION OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AOTEAROA, NEW ZEALAND AND POLYNESIA Part C, Clause 14. “No doctrines which are repugnant to the Doctrines and Sacraments of Christ as held and maintained by this Church shall be advocated or inculcated by any person acknowledging the authority of General Synod / te Hinota Whanui...”)

Given the above line of reasoning an application has been made to the Provincial Judicial Committee submitting that General Synod was also in error in passing clause 4 as it proposes unconstitutional action. On that basis the applicants are asking the Judicial Committee to rule accordingly on clause 4, noting also that the clause is secondary to the main task of motion 30 anyway.

The applicants are the Ven. Tim Mora, Rev. Chris Tims and Chris Barfoot, with legal assistance from Don Mathieson and others, and the Submission will be presented to the Judicial Committee on the 2nd of March for consideration.

The applicants acknowledging the importance of this matter for the future of the church sincerely request your prayer support.
If you wish to read the submission being made to the committee you can email Don Mathieson at and request a copy."