Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reaching out to a community, dealing to introspection (and PS re Iran)

The last few days have been an interesting kaleidoscope of events and speech acts in the life of our Diocese.

On Saturday 27th September 1858 Queen Victoria signed the Letters Patent which authorised Edmund Hobhouse to be the first Bishop of Nelson, with his Cathedral in Nelson town, and thus Nelson simultaneously was declared to be a City (even though its population was just 5000 people)! So our annual Synod held a few days ago anticipated yesterday's 150th anniversary celebrations; and yesterday's celebrations highlighted some of our deliberations at the Synod.

The celebrations themselves included a street party at the footsteps to our cathedral, replete with band, drama, giant birthday cake and 150 candles held by 150 children; all followed by a superb service in a packed cathedral. After that some representatives of the Diocese, City Council, and local iwi (Maori tribes) socialised together.

The celebrations highlighted the engagement of the church in the life of the community and reminded the church of the value community leaders place on that engagement. It was a day for appreciating the power of the church when it faces outwards and reaches out from its internal life to touch the lives of people who may or may not share faith in Christ. But that same appreciation highlighted for me the need for the church to offer points of access to its life.

Locked doors to a church prevent people from physically entering. But even when the doors are open people can be prevented from engagement with the church: when our worshipping life is introspective (meaning focused on me, me and God, and what God does for me) it’s hard for the irregular, inactive believer, let alone the searching agnostic to make comfortable connections. Harder still, of course, if the ‘introspectiveness’ of our worshipping life is represented in behaviour which is odd in the world’s eyes (clue: take a look around at church during a ‘worship time’, observe the way others act, and ask the question, ‘what would an outsider make of this?’). But our introspectiveness as this time is not confined to how we worship.

Our Synod a few days beforehand, which was wonderful in atmosphere, lit up by a brilliant Charge from our bishop, produced a series of motions which were wholly concerned with our life as a diocese (including some “financial problems”) or the life (i.e. “crisis”) of the Anglican Communion. These days we do not have motions about “public issues” – motions which would still get a pretty good hearing in our local papers. In short: we are introspective in what consumes our time together. There are internal problems and difficulties we need to debate. But is there an “and” here where we also make the effort to debate external situations in the world? (I am, by the way, speaking just as much to myself as to any other member of our Synod; as to the members of other Synods, since we all seem to be afflicted by ‘introspection’, or so I am reliably informed)

There is much more to be said about introspection in the life of the church in general, as well as in the life of our Diocese in particular, but in the midst of the gratitude and sheer joy of the last few days, I have a new resolve to wage war on introspection in the church!

PS Just a quiet reminder about the importance of keeping our eyes and ears open to the reality of the external world outside the church courtesy The Australian:

"But the report provides overwhelming evidence for pessimism.

For a start, it states quite plainly that no approach can work on Iran that is not much, much tougher on the economic sanctions front, so that the cost to Iran of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons becomes too great, while the incentives of normalisation would become correspondingly more attractive to Tehran. But the report makes it clear that tougher sanctions cannot possibly work without the full co-operation and enthusiastic implementation by not only the US but the European Union, Russia, China and the other Persian Gulf states.

In what is a spectacular understatement, the report drily notes that recent events in Georgia may make Russian co-operation more difficult to achieve.

In our discussion, Rubin told me he thought the Russians might feel themselves to be in a win-win situation.

If they continue to sell the Iranians nuclear technology, they make a lot of money and frustrate the Americans. If the US or Israel ultimately strikes at Iran's nuclear facilities, it will do two things that will please Russia. It will cause great international discomfort for the US, thus lessening any US pressure on Russia over human rights, its treatment of Georgia or other such issues. And it will drive up energy prices when Russia is a huge exporter of energy, thus making Russia evenricher.

Long-term, enlightened self-interest would see the Russians recognise the dangers they too would ultimately face from a nuclear-armed Iran, but so far that long-term, enlightened self-interest has been notably lacking in the Russian governing class."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nelson Diocese and Lambeth Conference 2008

From the 2008 Synod session of the Diocese of Nelson in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia:

That this Synod, noting the holding of the decennial Lambeth Conference in July/August 2008 and the presence of Bishop Richard and Hilary Ellena at the Conference:

(a) welcomes Bishop Richard and Hilary back to the Diocese, and expresses its gratitude for their participation in the conference
(b) encourages Bishop Richard and Hilary to report on the conference in a variety of ways to the parishes of the Diocese
(c) receives the following statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the course of his Final Presidential Address to the Lambeth Conference:

“The Resolution of Lambeth '98 was an attempt to say both 'We need understanding and shared discernment on a hugely complex topic,' and 'We as the bishops in council together are not persuaded that the new thoughts offered to us can be reconciled with our shared loyalty to Scripture.' Perhaps we should read that Resolution — forgetting for a moment the bitterness and confusion around the debate and acknowledging that it remains where our Communion as a global community stands — as an attempt to define what a healthy Church might need — space for study and free discussion without pressure, pastoral patience and respect, unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from Scripture and tradition. And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding.”

Nelson Diocese and GAFCON

From the 2008 Synod session of the Diocese of Nelson in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia:

That this Synod, acknowledging continuing developments in the Anglican
Communion in response to issues on biblical orthodoxy:

(a) notes the holding of the Global Anglican Future Conference in
Jerusalem in June 2008

(b) receives the final statement of the conference which includes
within it the Jerusalem Declaration (appended to the motion)

(c) commends the statement to the Diocese for general study and reflection

(d) confirms the Diocese of Nelson upholds the orthodox faith and practice of the Anglican Church as represented in the Jerusalem Declaration and continues to look for ways to be in relationship with those represented at GAFCON

Nelson Diocese Supports Bishop Bob Duncan

From the 2008 Synod session of the Diocese of Nelson in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia this morning:

That this Synod:

(1) the deposition of Bishop Bob Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church, by the assembled bishops of that church, on 18 September 2008;
(2) the good standing and high reputation Bishop Bob Duncan has as an orthodox Anglican bishop, as represented by statements of support being expressed in recent days by the Archbishops of Sydney, Nigeria, Rwanda, Southern Cone, West Indies, Kenya, Jerusalem and the Middle East, Singapore, numerous bishops within The Episcopal Church itself, and the Bishops of Winchester, Rochester, Chester, Exeter, Blackburn and Chichester;
(3) various developments in The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada in recent years which place increasing pressure on faithful orthodox Anglicans to conform to changes in theology, liturgy and ethics rather than to uphold and maintain the 2000 year old teaching of the church;

offers its support to Bishop Bob Duncan, to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and to all bishops and dioceses in The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Church of Canada as they seek to find a way forward which embodies the true spirit of orthodox Anglicanism.

Plain speaking from the Nelson Synod

Our church through its General Synod is seeking agreement from the Diocesan Synods for alternative eucharistic prayers to those currently embedded in our 1989 prayer book.

In some instances the changes are to be applauded because they standardise versicles and responses in the eucharistic prayers making it easier for the congregation to participate from memory rather than with heads buried in books.

But there is a discernible trend through the alternatives to downplay talk of sin, sacrifice and redemption in our eucharistic prayers.

The nadir (of this feature of these alternatives) is what is proposed to the prayer known as Celebrating the Grace of God (p. 436), widely appreciated in our church as a eucharistic prayer in close harmony with Anglican evangelical theology. In the proposed alternative the following 'key' phrases are omitted:

'not for any merit of our own'

'We were bound in sin but in your compassion you redeemed us, reconciling us to yourself with the precious blood of Christ.'

The nadir of the prayers as a whole are the introduction of two prayers 'for use with children'. The first of these offers banal repetition and address of God "... you, God", barely offers a theology of salvation, and scandalously leads children to think that at the Last Supper Jesus said, 'Do this and know that I am with you.'

Yes, there is debate about what Jesus said, because there are variations in the way the gospels and 1 Corinthians 11 hand down the institution narrative to us. But Jesus did not say those words, and to enshrine such licence in a formulary of the church is to open the doors to a rather large wedge in which the church presumes to rewrite Scripture as it sees fit.

Anyway our Synod has booted these prayers to touch. Hopefully a majority of other Synods will do likewise!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Synod of the Diocese of Nelson (1858-2008)

This year we celebrate 150 years as a Diocese, beginning this Saturday 27th September, when we celebrate the twin promulgation of Queen Victoria announcing that we were to be a Diocese with a Bishop, Edmund Hobhouse, and thus Nelson, his See, was a City (though having then less people than Wasilla, Alaska).

Our annual Synod began last night with a lovely service in Nelson Cathedral with Bishop Richard Ellena, the 10th Bishop of Nelson preaching.

Today we get cracking on the business of Synod.

Four motions I have a particular interest in are:

- a supportive reception of GAFCON and its final declaration
- support for Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh
- welcome back for Bishop Richard and Hilary Ellena from Lambeth, with reception of the statement of ++Rowan in his last address at that Conference about the onus of proof being on innovators
- a motion from our General Synod approving some alternative eucharistic prayers, a couple of which a truly terrible, so I shall be arguing for rejection of GS's decision.

Will let you know progress! (Though not during the Synod sessions themselves - my laptop has been requisitioned for Powerpoint duties)!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What does this say about TEC's character?

Here is a really really nice website, promoting St Brendan's (Anglican) Church in Washington DC.

Okay, so its a daughter church of Falls Church, Truro (i.e. a CANA-now, former-TEC church).

The local episcopalian bishop (the Bishop of Washington) could understandably be unhappy about the presence of this church. Granted.

Its services are held in the Central Union Mission at 5 pm each Sunday.

The Bishop of Washington is one of the parties seeking to sue the local District of Columbia government because they want to help the Central Union Mission with a new location, as reported by Baby Blue.

One hopes that there is no mixing of motives here! That the Bishop of Washington is suing a mission devoted to the needs of homeless people purely and simply because the upholding of the principle of separation of state and religion is an important principle. It may seem incredible that this principle is so important for an episcopalian bishop that its pursuit through the courts is more important than letting charitable gospel actions benefit.

One also trusts, of course, that the hospitality being offered by the Mission to St Brendan's is of no relevance in this episcopal pursuit of constitutional propriety.

Something here seems about a long way from the indaba-ing spirit of Lambeth 2008.

Down here at the end of the Anglican world we need to keep our eyes and ears open to these developments. Some among us laud and praise TEC. But if it comes to taking sides, I hope we understand the true "see you in court" character of this strange ecclesial phenomenon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thanks TEC for clarifying just what kind of 'church' you are

In recent days TEC, led by PB Schori, has deposed Bishop Bob Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh. Essentially it has judged him to have left the church before he has left the church so its as good an expression of Bushist pre-emptive strike capability as anything else!

Sarah Hey points out the inanity of it all - here is an excerpt:

"All around TEC right now, there are many moderates waking up to forwarded emails and phone calls from their conservative friends detailing what happened yesterday -- the frank lawlessness and violation of the canons, the enactment of an Episcopal Bush Doctrine and penalties for thought and speech crimes, and the violation, once again, of the progressive Episcopalians much-vaunted and loudly trumpeted values of "justice" and "inclusion." Try as they might, moderates simply aren't going to be able to defend that behavior, particularly with the well-armed conservative friends having memorized so much of the applicable canons and with the excellent work of Mark McCall and A S Haley pointing out the violations.

Beyond that is the international scene. Barely two months after lots of indabaing with 617 fellow Anglican Communion bishops . . . The Episcopal Church looks like nothing more than the Wild West, with the progressive bishops and the Presiding Bishop serving in the role of the feared and loathed gunslinging criminals who have taken over a town, prior to the deputized sherriff's men restoring order.

A better metaphor than that for the 88 bishops who voted to attempt to depose is that of a pack of hyenas circling an older, weaker hyena -- in essence, mob rule, animal style."

Deposition, by the way, is the ecclesiastical equivalent of execution for an ordained person, deeming them to be no longer an ordained person.

But, in a way, we can be grateful for this awful action, for it shows us what TEC thinks is 'Christianity': pursuit of an agenda without regard for actual doctrine. In this case the doctrine of the church would teach us the importance of seeking reconciliation before imposing discipline (a doctrine enshrined in ACANZP's canons, incidentally).

Go TEC! Keep clarifying your true character!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is evolution the biggest challenge Christian theology faces?

In recent posts I have touched on the question of evolution. The other day I happened - as one does - when listening randomly to the radio while travelling, to hit on an interview with a scientist who was talking about interesting things about the history of the earth. That is, interesting things about what happened millions, billions and zillions of years ago, when the dinosaurs died, hot lava covered the earth, the atmosphere consisted of nitrogen, and so forth - ok, those details are slightly made up, but here's the point: when the earth is recognised as very very old, and as having housed various phases of life forms, of which humanity is the zenith of just the latest phase, it makes me think!

I think, for example, of what all this means about who God is and how God works. Was the phase with the dinosaurs, for example, an experimental phase, a necessary next step on the way to the culmination in which humanity finally represents God's image satisfactorily? In pottery terms, as Jeremiah might say, the hundreds of millions of years which went before Adam and Eve represent a whole lot of clay shapes on the wheel which get thrown and rethrown until the perfect pot is formed. Thinking like this is very uncomfortable for well-formed biblical theologians because Genesis 1 sets out God's stall as the perfect creator who creates 'good' things at the beginning of creation, and not towards its end.

Or, was God more subtle than being a frustrated, but slowly improving potter? Did God set out on a creational journey in which at the beginning ("big bang") God knew what the "end" (humanity made in God's image) would be, but allowed for variation and flexibility in the process, delighting in things turning up in an unpredictable manner (the platypus, for example)! Here God is like a cook who knows just what kind of master dish is going to be produced but cannot help playing around with the ingredients on the way, creating side dishes and dainty treats, and having fun rather than frustration in the process. This kind of imagery for who God is and how God has created is more coherent with Genesis 1 and 2.

Now, rather than a very long post continually refining coherency between Genesis and the science of evolution and ancient geology and cosmology, I will just make a few observations to wrap up.

(1) Evolution really does challenge the biblical account, not just of 'creation' but of 'the Creator'.

(2) No wonder 'creationists' (in the sense of six-day earth creationists) work very hard to uphold a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2. If they succeed they have met the challenge. End of story.

(3) Those of us who are not creationists in that sense (but are creationists in the sense of believing that God is the Creator, did created the world, and has imbued the world with purpose and meaning) have an ongoing challenge to reshape our reading of Genesis with each new development in the scientific picture of the history of the universe and life within it.

(4) Since the whole of theology flows out of our understanding of the 'genesis' of life, including its 'fall' as well as its 'creation', the alternative account provided by science (especially when that account is told by Dawkins and his ilk, "this is the science, it means there is no god, gods, or God") is a very big challenge. These days I wonder if it's immensity is only just being recognised - like an iceberg whose visible peak above the sea's surface entrances us and lulls us so that only late in the piece do we wake up to its actual size.

(5) All of which just might, but might not put into perspective the challenge we think we face within the Anglican Communion.

POSTSCRIPT: for proof of evolution, consider the case of the blind salamanders, as put by Christopher Hitchens.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We are all creationists so do not let Dawkinsians have the final say

This week's Post of the Week is, again, by John Richardson. Its on a current media row over creationism, and highlights the fascist tendencies of some anti-creationists to deny Christians having a voice in public affairs and even in bringing up their own children. Chilling stuff!

Ezra, Calvin, and the spirit of legalism within the Communion

Parallel teaching of Old Testament and Church History this year at Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson, is opening my eyes to dimensions of the situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in during these days of conservative//liberal wars of and within religions.

A post below makes comment on the rise of new Calvinist church ministries, especially in the States. Arguably this rise is propelled by the slipperiness of post-modernist liberal Western culture: the certainties of the Calvinist way, allied with the large vision it offers for theology and God's purpose in the world provides an attractive antitype to what the world offers. But something similar can be said about the popularity of any conservative religious movement in the world today, including conservative movements within the Communion.

The challenge in this kind of season is to take care not to go with any fashion, whether of the world or of the church, but to steadfastly follow Christ, understanding both who Christ is, and the his calling to discipleship in terms of the whole counsel of God, that is, according to all of Scripture, acknowledging the importance of understanding Scripture with reason and tradition as assistants.

Tonight's Old Testament class tackles Ezra and the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian exile. Ezra in certain ways is a prototype of the scholarly Reformers, even of Calvin himself. On one matter of the application of the law Ezra drove forward an initiative whereby Jews who had married foreign women had their marriages broken up in order to maintain the purity of Israel's faith. (Given where the impurity of Israel's faith had taken the Jews through successive exiles one must have some sympathy for Ezra even as one wonders what pain he caused). Ezra was, shall we say, severe, and that does remind me of Calvin!

But the severity of Ezra' law driven governance of Israel is a part of Scripture, not the whole of it. Thus my uneasiness with the 'new Calvinism' and of any movement within the life of the church which is, literally or effectively, 'law driven governance' (thus I am also concerned by the propensity of TEC's hierarchy to apply its laws in a severe manner) is an uneasiness around its faithfulness to the whole of Scripture. Ezra's example is counterbalanced by the approach Jesus himself took to the law - an approach, I suggest, which could allow for some fuzziness in application of the law to the messiness of life.

Some talk within our Communion, e.g. rejection of the Covenant, goes to an opposite extreme, whereby any talk of 'law' and its ilk is dismissed as unAnglican. But that talk, apart from being silly as a shallow understanding of Anglican canon law, is itself unfaithful to Scripture which does include the example of Ezra.

Charting the appropriate course between law and grace, punishment and mercy, freedom and licentiousness is never easy - but is that not part of the cost of discipleship?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The evolution of Darwin?

Thanks to Cranmer for these two photos, posted in connection with an apology the C of E has issued to Darwin. Yes, really. Silly, isn't it. UPDATE: A comment from Doug Chaplin points out that 'C of E apology to Darwin' is media spin from a throwaway line in an article by a C of E employee.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is Calvinism the New Thing to Drag Us out of the Mirey Clay of Declining Attendance?

Bought a book for the library, by Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008). It's a good and a quick read, introducing both five point or TULIP* Calvinism and the up and coming ministers of US churches who are finding that solid systematic Calvinistic preaching is drawing large numbers of people to many churches. Hansen himself also finds that the new Calvinists are drawing a bit of controversy too - especially where ministers do a bit of 'entryism' - not quite declaring their Calvinism when they are appointed to a position.

Personally I cannot get too excited by the new Calvinism - it has no fresh solution to offer on the matter of its painting God into a dark corner through double predestination (not only are the elect destined for salvation, the non-elect are destined for hell), it seems resolutely complementarian (women may not teach mixed gender congregations, husband is head of submissive wife), and confused on the relationship between evangelism and divine sovereignty (why bother with the former if the latter is tuliptically true?). What I appreciate about Calvinism is the moderate amount the Anglican church absorbed into its 39 Articles - an amount which leaves alive the 'both-and' paradoxes of Paul's teaching on evangelism, election, predestination and salvation.

A general critique of TULIP Calvinism is its flawed understanding of Christ: (i) it exalts the teaching of Paul over the teaching of Christ rather than holding the two in dynamic tension; (ii) by centring its teaching on the TULIP scheme it dangerously verges on diminishing the status of Christ from the Son of God to the servant of God who ensures that the TULIP scheme works; (iii) it champions the ideal Christian as one who understands the TULIP scheme (i.e. is an exponent of systematic theology) rather than as one who follows Jesus Christ.

But the bigger question to me is not the growth of new Calvinism, but the question of whether there is another formulation of Christian teaching which has a wider reach into the world of 2008. It is good that people are crowding into churches to hear the Word of God preached tuliptically, but what about the greater number of people who are not drawn in by Calvinism (nor by its similarly growing-in-popularity Catholic counterpart, the Latin Mass)? We can celebrate that which is good within Calvinism - I suggest - while also wondering whether there is an expression of the gospel which is even better suited to the world today!

Similar questions have arisen in the past when the Hansens of their day wrote up the charismatic renewal in the 1970s, Wimberism in the 1980s and the Toronto Blessing in the 1990s!

*TULIP stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. The most difficult of these doctrines (IMHO) is Limited atonement which teaches that Christ died on the cross only for the elect. The narrowness of the vision of the God Who Is Love implied by this doctrine is in stark contrast with the largeness of the Calvinist vision of the sovereign power of God. Thus a weakness of TULIP Calvinism is its asymmetric logic between the love and the power of God.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Orderly Separation reflections

I want to come back to Ephraim Radner's paper on Orderly Separation, noted a few posts back. Here are some noteworthy paragraphs in the concluding part of the essay, with some emboldening on my part of the crucial propositions:

"But what shall we say of “orderly separation”? Such a separation of parties – leaving aside its shape — may be necessary, if the integrity of language, practice, formation and witness is to be maintained, even with clarity of concepts and categories restored. That separation is not to be prayed for as an end in itself; but the means needs to be soberly formulated and allowed to be used so that the firm embrace of asymmetrical logics can find its resolution in coherent lives that no longer threaten common dissolution. In fact, it could be argued that any church needs to have as part of its ecclesial polity some means within it either to resolve such asymmetrical logics or to disentangle them from its common life.

It may be that separation is not to be desired; it may be that it is not inevitable, in the sense that nothing determines its integral imposition upon the Communion, except finally individual and collective desire. But it now looks as if separation is simply necessary, not historically so much as logically and morally. A more adequate vocabulary that takes the place of “moratoria,” “reception”, “listening”, and so on makes this logical necessity plain by showing the conditions of coherence. And the survival of catholic Christianity makes plain the moral necessity of such orderly separation by demonstrating the demands of one logic over the other. It is separation that preserves Anglicanism as a Catholic form of Christianity.

Some have suggested that the Covenant and the process leading to its adoption would, of itself, if not deliberately at least as a matter of course, provide the “orderliness” by which a separation, if needed, could indeed unfold. If it is to be the Covenant and its process, this indicates that we must not fear the kind of clarity and accessible steps of implementation that would allow for such differentiation if that is indeed the end towards which the present logics turn out to be moving. This is a key realization: for if such fears drive the Covenant process, the destructive dynamics of the present situation will surely prevail. A Covenant that makes clear that diversity has its limits and attaches consequences for violation of those limits preserves Communion while holding open the possibility of reconciliation."

If I understand Radner correctly then he argues that the conversation seeking to retain as broad a Communion as possible, centred on the Archbishop of Canterbury, open to all reasonable possibilities for agreeing to disagree on the meaning of Scripture in the light of Tradition, may be drawing to a close, because the conversation now reveals an 'asymmetric logic' in which some moves within the Communion are irreversible (or, at least, reverse cannot be envisaged in our lifetimes). In summary terms, the tendency, most visible within TEC and ACCan to embed through ordination and blessing that Scripture is wrong on same sex partnerships, is irreversible; by contrast the tendency in response of un-canonical episcopal interventions is reversible, so the logic of the situation is unequal. That conversation drawing to a close means that an orderly separation must be on the agenda of Communion leadership if the catholicity of the Communion is to be preserved. I think Radner is saying that it would be good for the catholicity of both sides of the equation if separation can be ordered. Sadly we know that some marriages reach a state where an orderly separation is necessary, yet does not necessitate divorce as the next stage, since separation may reveal the path by which reconciliation can be achieved.

If all this is fair reflection, either on what Radner has articulated or simply on the state of the Communion, then some questions remain!

In a marriage there are two people so separation means division by two. But is the situation in the Communion that simple? Might orderly separation mean a division into more than two parts?

Who would be separating into what? In the North American context we see separation taking place already, so can envisage the sense in which orderly separation of a larger, more formally negotiated kind might look like. But is that the only separation we are envisaging? Would/could separation take place in the (quite differently legislated) Church of England? And elsewhere?

(As I noticed in a comment elsewhere, so this is not an original thought) is there not something quite attractive about the GAFCON/FCA vision for a 'church within a church' rather than an orderly separation? (Or, practically, is there no real difference between the two possibilities?)

Must go - more thoughts soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trying to understand the USA, TEC, and all that

They say the USA is not a country but an idea. But if its an idea then some of us - okay, maybe it's just me - struggle to understand what the 'idea' is. Here is Cintra Wilson coming to terms (not) with Sarah Palin's outstanding popularity:

"Sarah Palin and her virtual burqa have me and my friends retching into our handbags. She’s such a power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty, it’s easy to write her off and make fun of her. But in reality I feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism.

She is dangerous. She is not just pro-life, she’s anti-life. She is the suppression of human feeling and instinct. She is a slave to the compromises dictated by her own desire for power and control. Sarah Palin is untethered from her own needs and those of her family, which is in crisis, with a pregnant daughter, a son on the way to Iraq and a special-needs infant."

Okay, so someone is either unhappy or not taking their prescription. But one gets the impression that political life in the USA has some extreme edges to it ... and we also get a similar impression of aspects of church life there.

Here is another slice of American life, this time specifically drawn from the life of Anglicanism in the USA, courtesy of a post by David Virtue, in which he posts correspondence between two bishops of one of the (non-TEC) Anglican variants, following indication from one of the bishops that he is leading his congregations to join another variant:

"In a series of letters obtained by VirtueOnline, Bishop Boyce announced this week that he was taking his diocese out of the APA and formally bringing it into the Reformed Episcopal Church, a move that angered the Presiding Bishop of the APA, the Most. Rev. Walter Grundorf, who promptly relieved Boyce of his position as Bishop and appointed the Very Rev. Douglas King as interim administrator of the DOW.

"You are no longer the Diocesan Bishop of the DOW of the APA as of September 5. I have named the Very Rev. Douglas King as interim administrator." Grundorf then said that all DOW priests and parishes wishing to leave the APA must send a letter of their intention to him and request Letters Dismissory. He then said that until he hears from them, they remain in good standing and has his and the APA's full support.

He concluded his letter saying that the letters would provide for an "orderly transition" to the REC. "We have made such orderly transfers in the past between REC/APA and I hope and pray that this will be no exception."

Boyce responded from his parish in Seattle, saying that Grundorf's understanding of the meaning of the word "jurisdiction" was a misconception on his part.

"I have not resigned my jurisdiction nor has coadjutor Bishop Winfield Mott. We have only requested the REC to receive the Diocese of the West (DOW) which has not been acted upon.

"I would remind you that the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) has similar beliefs, traditions and practices on the Sacraments and Holy Orders particularly as they pertain to women's ordination.

"The DOW is a jurisdiction. I would refer you to Article 2., Sect. 6 of the Constitution of the Anglican Province of America (APA), and Canon 16, Sect. (a) and (e) which refer to the Bishop's jurisdiction. If you recall since the third century tradition has said that "Where the Bishop is, there is the Church, where the Church is there is the Bishop". Boyce went on to say that the Anglican Communion has stated through the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the basic unit of the Church is the Diocese, and you do consider yourself as Anglican."

Boyce said that no one is required by the Constitution or the Canons to send the Presiding Bishop a letter of resignation when leaving the APA. A letter Dismissory is from Diocesan Bishop to Diocesan Bishop.

Boyce blasted Grundorf saying that provincial protocol was a recent invention, "as I do not find it stated anywhere in APA documents. You, as Presiding Bishops have authority only to conduct the meetings of the House of Bishops (HOB) and to take orders for the consecration of Bishops."

"As a result of this restriction you have no authority to declare that I am no longer the Diocesan Bishop of the DOW." "

I find this exchange (it gets no better by reading the whole post) uncanny. It sounds interchangeable with a correspondence between Presiding Bishop Schori and one of the TEC bishops desiring to leave TEC. (In fact one has to think a little as to whether David Virtue has come across a spoof rather than the real thing!!). That makes me wonder how much the current imbroglios of TEC are culture driven. Is there something about the feistiness of American political life, outrageously represented in Cintra Wilson's writing, which influences American Anglicanism as much as genuine theological difference?

Just as America as an idea rather than a country intrigues, fascinates, and confuses me; so I feel strangely drawn to Anglicanism in the USA, but also confused by what it really is, and where it thinks it is going!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Heartland Anglicanism and Sarah Palin's Media Slave

In her Press column this week, "I am Sarah Palin's Media Slave", Rosemary McLeod connects the phenomenon of Sarah Palin with NZ life, and our own approaching election:

"I know I should be hooked on brown-skinned Barack Obama, and that he and his family would - probably will - look great in the White House, but Obama just doesn't look so sexy any more. Obama couldn't fell a charging moose with one shot, bear a baby and sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, all simultaneously while standing on one leg - and now he looks dull. I've always thought he'd be heavy going if you were stuck with him at a cocktail party, anyway. Earnestness is such a bore.

What gets me about Palin is that she unashamedly strikes a chord where no New Zealand politician seriously ventures - in the heartland they talk about, but wish wasn't there.

There is a New Zealand outside our cities still, believe it or not; small towns and farms, people who go to church, even a few lonely patriots in search of a flag to wave. We act like we're ashamed of them, but they're where I came from, and you can always win me over with the smell of smoking fireplaces on winter nights, and tended flower gardens - for a while, anyway.

You could call this the heart of conservatism, but it's also the heart of this country still, not university corridors. If you're scared of it, you're scared of who we are."

Something similar can be said about the Anglican church in Aotearoa NZ. In our smaller cities, country towns, and rural areas, the Anglican church has a different flavour - heartland - to many of our city parishes. Conservative in theology and morals, laissez-faire in liturgy and ritual, ecumenical in churchmanship (indeed, many country churches are interdenominational). The Nelson Diocese is heartland Anglicanism in this sense. We have no large cities. We have few liberals. We have a lot of isolated congregations, and our ministers sometimes get a bit lonely in their ministry.

Both Obama and Palin connect with people - two exciting, attractive people drawing huge crowds to themselves. Each has a vision of the American dream which they are articulating in a way which connects with American hearts. The US election will turn on how large the connection is made between the people and Obama/Biden or McCain/Palin and their respective dreams. In the future of the Anglican Communion, global and local, much is going to depend on how our leadership connects with 'ordinary' Anglicans. Yet this is not a time in which we appear to have an over abundance of exciting, attractive leaders cast in the Obama/Palin mould. And some of the visions being cast around the future resolution of troubling issues are not connecting with Anglican hearts.

(Here's an example of Anglican leadership which does absolutely nothing for me - hopefully its a worst case scenario!!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Unquitting love and orderly separation

Ephraim Radner has posted a major essay on 'where things are at', called Truthful Love and Orderly Separation - hat-tip to Bryden Black.

I include just this excerpt:

"it is not clear how traditional Christian ecclesiology has a future that can be logically linked to inclusivist ecclesial existence within a pluralistic democracy. Inclusivists, from their side, have shown little interest in trying to explain to traditionalists how this might be possible. Within the Anglican Communion, this failure has proven, perhaps more than anything, to be the basis for the practical and profound mistrust that traditionalists hold for inclusivists."

Radner's article, in sum, notes the difficulty, if not contradiction between the logics of 'inclusivism' and 'tradition/Scripture', and raises the question whether the recent call by Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt for work to begin on 'orderly separation' is, in fact, the correct one. But please read the sensitive, comprehensive whole article and do not rely on my bare summary.

I recognise that the unquitting love to which I believe Romans 13-14 and 1 Corinthians 13 call us (see posts below) may need working out in 'orderly separation', as some marriages require. Yet I note that Radner's essay calls for love to permeate our Anglican conversation, and a significant part of his essay is a challenge to notions such as the 'listening process' and 'reception' as to whether they foster a spirit of love or, however unintentionally, enhance combativeness in debate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Anglican WOTY and Romans 14

A further note about Anglican angst and Romans 14 came to me during a special occasion on Saturday. Teresa and I were present in Greymouth (our most south-western parish, 3.5 hours drive from Nelson) for the wedding of Marge Tefft and Robin Kingston. Their wedding was a fabulous occasion, and is a serious candidate for Anglican Wedding of the Year in 2008. As the bride marched up the aisle the packed church burst into spontaneous applause.

Behind that applause lies a remarkable tale of Robin a confirmed bachelor in his sixties welcoming Marge from the States to the parish in 2004 for a short placement at the end of her Fuller degree. Some remarkable chemistry between them resulted in the 'crazy' idea that Marge should be come Robin's successor as Vicar of Greymouth and Kumara. The idea was crazy because Marge was a US citizen, not yet committed to becoming an Anglican clergyperson anywhere, and unknown to our Diocesan discernment process. However it was a very good idea. (Even I thought that at the beginning, especially when I saw Marge fitting in so well with parishioners engaged in some full-on servanthood during our Synod, held in the parish that year). The chemistry, by the way, also led curiously minded people - I was one of them - to wonder if there was some romance going on. No, not at all, we were assured.

Anyway time passed by, Marge, after much prayer for guidance, returned to the Diocese, became the curate in Greymouth and Kumara, and then, this year in February, became the Vicar of Greymouth and Kumara. Something about being retired seemed to clarify Robin's mind, and in May, in front of the congregation at Holy Trinity, he proposed to Marge! The news that Robin, now 66, former vicar, and Marge, now 50, current vicar, each of whom had never married, were to marry made some news waves around NZ and the world.

We have had the lousiest of winters here in NZ, and our West Coast on which Greymouth lies is known for good reason as the Wet Coast. But Saturday was a picture perfect peach of a day. The wedding went off spendidly, and the photo here (by Pauline Tisch) shows the joy of the happy couple!

Naturally we had the reading from 1 Corinthians 13. If the actual words 'love never gives up' were not read, that phrase certainly entered my mind. I thought about my sermon the next day, and the Anglican Communion's crisis which I wanted to touch on. If we love one another, in line with the injunction of Romans 13:8-14 , and in the spirit of Romans 14, if we seek to work out this complex crisis with and through love, then 1 Corinthians defines that love as a love which never gives up.

How great is God's love for us. It never gives up. How great is our love for each other?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Brilliant Post of the Week

John Richardson on Mark 13!

Read it here.

I am printing it off and putting it in my Mark folder for future sermon reference.

Thanks John!

Anglican angst and Romans 14

Yesterday the final version of my sermon on Romans 13:8-14 drifted over into Romans 14! I realised that in posing the question for the sermon 'what is the right thing to do?' I needed to acknowledge two kinds of answer that Paul gives to the question. The 'simple' answer is in Romans 13:8-14 where Paul brilliantly recasts the law of apparently many rules as the law of love, the love that does no harm to a neighbour. In many instances in life the question will this bring good or bad, help or harm quickly resolves the answer to the question 'what is the right thing to do?' (And, almost as a PS in the passage, Paul offers a simple answer to certain sensual behaviours which today's world moralises as okay provided no one is harmed. "No!!")

But the pithiness of Romans 13:8-14 should be compared with Romans 14. In the latter Paul does not throw 'love your neighbour as yourself' at the intractable problem of sharp and deep division over eating of certain foods. Rather, he painstakingly, considerately, and sensitively works his way through the conundrum. Here is a complex answer to a complex problem - the complexity of the problem being a lack of clarity as to which side should give way to which.

In the sermon I mentioned the ongoing Anglican Communion crisis as an example of a complex situation. Many already have noted the possibilities of engaging this situation with Romans 14 - I have not done so in any depth before now.

I also noted in the sermon that running through the detail of Paul's argument in Romans 14 is the theme of love. Paul is loving in the way he responds. He urges a loving solution, one in which the principle of doing no harm beats at its heart: the harm to avoid here being damage to another's faith.

There was another point made which God had alerted me to, and that involves telling a story. Till tomorrow!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Love and the law of God

Tomorrow I am preaching on Romans 13:8-14, with particular emphasis on 'love is the fulfilling of the law'. I think this is one of the more profound statements in the Bible, and it takes more than a sermon or two to explore its depths. I like the simplicity of Paul's teaching here: no great list of laws to remember, just one principle. Yet in preparation my eyes have wandered across the page to Romans 14. Here Paul is far from simple. Effectively he tackles the recurring problem in the life of the church of what happens when two parties cannot agree on something which is offensive to the other, or even when both are offensive to each other. No one principle emerges. Yes, there is a strong principle urging restraint: if you know you are offending the other, desist for the sake of their relationship with Christ. But that principle does not clarify which side should restrain when each is offensive to the other.

These are 'quick' thoughts on Romans 14. I shall return to it. It might hold the key to present Anglican troubles. That is not an original thought per se, but I have at least one idea about Romans 14 which I have not yet come across.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Grace of God

I need not feel embarrassed about never having heard of Sarah Palin before this week. I do not think too many others had either, unless they lived in Alaska. But I have followed her story, and I found reading her speech to the Republican Convention a very moving experience. But there has been something entrancing about her story of becoming a vice-presidential candidate which I am trying to put my finger on. I think it has to do with the elements of unexpected blessing. Someone with experience as mayor of a very small town (even by New Zealand standards!!), and governor of a state with a tiny population does not expect to be within cooee of being a heartbeat from the presidency of the United States of America. A family subject to harsh media exposure and criticism does not expect to find warm support from millions of fellow citizens who decide not to join as usual in the stone throwing but to say, ‘Hey, stop picking on them, they are just like us’. But perhaps the greatest element of unexpected blessing is the particular context of this presidential contest.

For many gruelling months Hilary Clinton slogged it out with Barack Obama in an attempt to become the first woman presidential candidate with the added bonus that at the end of eight years of Bushism this must surely hand the presidency to her. Whatever we think about Hilary Clinton – I loved a comment in an article recently that, should Obama become President, dealing with Putin will be no problem because he has stood up to the Clintons – we recognise that no one worked harder to achieve her goal, except perhaps Obama himself! What irony, then, to find that from seemingly nowhere, with no effort at all on her part, Sarah Palin is on a presidential ticket with the added bonus that McCain being an older guy, cancer survivor, etc, she could be the first woman president. Grace has succeeded where works were in vain! The blessing has fallen unexpectedly on the undeserving one.

In our Anglican contests, working hard to secure whatever outcome we are working towards by way of a better church than the one we see today, it’s easy to neglect the extraordinary possibilities of grace. Sarah Palin’s story encourages us to look afresh to the God of grace who is Lord of the church.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Let's trim our sails and ride out this storm

News is coming in from a variety of sources that the Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John, is a nominee for the Electoral College of the Diocese of Bangor in the Church of Wales. Ruth Gledhill is now back from holiday so her column is a good source for the sources and reactive comments - Jeffrey John being gay, and previously offered and then not offered the bishopric of Reading.

This is worth a comment from Down Under because we are as interested in the New Hampshires, New Westminsters, and now, possibly, Bangors, as anyone in the Anglican world. The signs are manifesting of another 'perfect Anglican storm' brewing (just as the rain outside my windows, as I write, are of a storm which is depositing twice as much rain in South Westland, NZ as has been falling on the levees of New Orleans!!).

But I think we should trim our sails and ride out this storm!

In the dust up over Jeffrey John nearly becoming the Bishop of Reading (actually a suffragan post within the Diocese of Oxford) it emerged (and you can read it in Ruth Gledhill's column) that Jeffrey John has a permanent relationship with a man but the relationship is not expressed sexually. In short, Jeffrey John has a companion and not a lover; he is celibate, and lives by the guidelines of the Church of England on human sexuality (which, in sum, sets a higher standard for clergy than for laity).

In other words, Jeffrey John's life appears to conform well to conservative theological thinking when conservatives say that we think "homosex" contravenes the abiding law of God, but we understand and support (non-sexualised) friendship, companionship, and close human relationships between men and between women, noting, after all, that such relationships are found on numerous occasions in the Bible (Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David, Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, to say nothing of Paul always travelling on many occasions with close male companions in the gospel task).

So, there are grounds for trimming our sails and riding out the (seemingly inevitable) storm which is arising around this possibility for Bangor (bearing in mind, of course, that we are talking about an election and not an appointment, so it may become a damp squib)!

Yet, in the same breathe, it can also be observed that not all conservatives are happy. Ruth Gledhill writes,

"But in a joint statement, Canon Chris Sugden and Philip Giddings, of Anglican Mainstream, the conservative lobby set up in response to Dr John’s appointment to Reading, said: “If he is being nominated to a Welsh episcopate, the obstacles remain the same as to his previous candidacies for senior appointments.” "

I cannot find the whole of this joint statement but I presume they are talking about the fact that as a teacher in the church, Jeffrey John has taught a liberal approach to gay and lesbian sexuality, and has never retracted that teaching. But if this objection is so, on the larger canvas of 'what people believe who get to become Anglican bishops' this is not reason itself to ramp up the storm of controversy! Not that that will hold the media back from doing their bit.

Will we be patient, fair, and gracious?

Peter Ould carefully, and wisely makes these comments:

"It’s vitally important that Conservatives, if they oppose this promotion (if it indeed happens), get their response absolutely water-tight. There is a huge danger that incorrect use of language or argument will damage the orthodox position. In particular we need to be aware of what the general public will perceive from the language we use.

Let me give you a good example. Any reference to Jeffrey John being "the gay Dean" or a potential new "gay Bishop" reinforces in the public’s mind that the issue is Dr John’s sexuality. The truth of the matter is that his sexual orientation shouldn’t in any way disbar him from the highest office. It is sexual practice that is the key, not sexual orientation.

Any objection on the case of him being in a Civil Partnership also needs to be clearly thought through. Is a celibate Civil Partnership what the Lambeth Conference proposed moratorium on consecrating those in a same-sex union intended to cover? If so, does that make the Church of England’s stance on the permissibility of celibate Civil Partnerships untenable in the light of the Lambeth moratoria?

Any objection to him being consecrated on the basis of his teaching also needs to be carefully weighed. Is it fair to single out Dr John’s "Permanent, Stable, Faithful" when Rowan Williams’ "The Body’s Grace" might amount to the same stance? What about "heterosexual" bishops who teach the same thing as Dr John on same-sex unions?"

Nevertheless Peter Ould in the same posting makes the point worth pondering that there is an objection to Jeffrey John being made a bishop. What do you think?

Incidentally, it is the same objection, whatever appointment an unrepentant sinner holds in the life of the church.

Postscript: Jeffrey John, in part, is famous for writing a book 'Permanent, Faithful, Stable': Christian Same-Sex Partnerships. As books go on making Scripture compatible with same-sex partnerships its difficult to praise this one. This review by John Richardson points out why. (I have read the book - it sits on my desk as I write. But John has written a handy review, so I refer you to it, rather than do my own).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A tentative proposal

Here is a tentative proposal for improving clause 2 of the Jerusalem Document. The word 'tentative' should be underlined, twice!

"The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading, and attentive to sound principles of interpretation consistent with the Thirty-Nine Articles."

I am trying here to say something about the fact that 'interpretation' is required when we read the Bible, while acknowledging, in as few as words as possible ("sound principles"), the vast field of possibilities the subject of 'interpretation' introduces. That the sound principles of interpretation utilised might be consistent with the Thirty Nine Articles is on the one hand unremarkably Anglican and on the other hand fairly conservative, noting that the Thirty Nine Articles particularly emphasise an approach to the Bible in which one part is not expounded 'repugnant' to another.

Any thoughts from readers?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Historic and consensual

I have highlighted some important questions concerning the use of the word 'canonical' in the Jerusalem Declaration. There are also some important questions about the use of another 'c' word, 'consensual'. First let's restate the sentence:

"The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading."

What the sentence is trying to say (IMHO) is that the church's interpretation of the Scriptures has often involved settled, widely agreed (consensual) readings which have stood the test of time (historic). Examples include understanding that ceremonial laws within the Mosaic law no longer apply to Christians, and understanding what the New Testament teaches about Jesus Christ as Son of God and Son of Man, in relationship to the Father and to the Spirit, yields the doctrines of incarnation and Trinity. Thus, as we read Scripture afresh in every generation our reading should be respectful of such understanding rather than (say) undermining of it.

But there are a number of readings of Scripture that have not gained wide consent, even among conservative evangelicals. The sharp differences, for example, between Calvinist and Arminian schools of theology, have not yielded a consensual reading on matters of salvation. Ever since Darwin's Origins of the Species, there has been debate about the compatibility of evolutionary biology and Genesis. In this case the readings of Genesis can scarcely be described as 'historic' for the debate is less than 150 years old, and there is no 'consensus', though one might venture to suggest that a strong majority of conservative evangelicals read for compatibility rather than against it.

I cannot help feeling that the sentence cited above involves some wishful thinking that it will not be too closely examined! The fact is that the sentence describes what happens most of the time when most of us read the Bible. But the issue of interpretation is not an issue about most of the readings of the Bible, it is precisely the issue of the relatively few, but greatly troubling readings of the Bible in which there is disagreement. My mind is working slowly - and not yet fruitfully - on a suggestion for a better sentence or two for the JD in respect of biblical interpretation!