Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thank goodness we do not have to collude with half-truth any longer

A couple of weeks ago I posted about a story in one of our papers concerning one of our bishops separating from his wife (here). For reasons of delicacy, and possible litigation, what I couldn't say then was what I and a significant number of people in the Diocese of Wellington and, seemingly, a large number of my clerical colleagues up and down the land knew. We knew, and not just on the basis of tittle-tattle, but reliably, that the story was worse than that, involving a "third person" and another broken marriage. Whatever our thoughts are about such things, it was not pleasant to find that the story as revealed previously meant the bishop had placed many people in the position of reluctantly going along with a half-truth being told as though it were the full truth. 

Fortunately with the publication of the fuller story (here) the process by which many people were forced to act and speak as though the whole story had been told ends. People can choose, if they wish, to talk about the whole unfortunate mess rather than the half-version. Protestations about giving the poor bishop space to work out his own stuff, and congratulations on his integrity about handing in his licence in and the like can now be made on the basis of the full facts. But you won't find me making those protestations or congratulations.

Incidentally, there is an observation made in the story about when the relationship began. Any pastoral minister worth half a grain of salt knows something about transference, about our capacity to begin relational bonding long before some external sign of "beginning" occurs. So when a close friend of the family begins a sentence in the article with "unequivocably" the second half of Tui beer ads springs to mind. 

While it is not pleasant for our church to face this story, at least we now face the whole story and not the half-true version.


Andrei said...

Lord have mercy

That lurid headline will bring great joy to the enemies of Christ and his Church.

And deep pain to the innocent parties named within the text, no doubt. Further wounds upon their souls.

There is always a price to be paid for sin, often heavy.

carl jacobs said...

Where are the statements by the deserted wife? Is she allowed no voice?

A close friend of the Brown family said: "Unequivocally, the relationship began only after he [Brown] left his wife."

I wasn't born yesterday. Neither did I just fall off the turnip truck. I flat out don't believe this. I would be willing to bet there is some sleazy equivocation being used that makes this statement just true enough to be technically true.

Even so. Does that make it better? This is an application of a modern (and decidedly un-Christian) view of morality. "The new relationship is ethical so long as the old relationship is severed first." This equates adultery with a form of deception and not a sexual sin that violates an unbreakable covenant.

btw, Peter. I am not sensing any undertones of 'generous response' in your post, and I guess I am wondering why? Shouldn't we be examining the 'difficult circumstances' that might have precipitated this event?

I told you your position was unsustainable. The fact that he resigned is of no account. He is still a visible leader in the church, and he will not receive any discipline. You are now trapped into a hopeless argument as to whether the bishop's excuses amount to 'significant difficulties.' About such things reasonable minds will disagree. You can't win the argument because you have already burned your authority to ashes. All you can do is live with the consequences of scandal. Eventually someone will come to you to receive justification for divorce, and you will not want to give it. And he will say to you "Well, the bishop did it." You will say "The bishop was wrong." And he will respond "Then why wasn't he punished? In any case, many in the church disagree. What makes you right and them wrong?"

What then will you say?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl,
Life maybe complex often times, but that does not mean that no simple situations present themselves. I see nothing in the situation here which is non-simple about two marriages breaking up, licences being given up appropriately, distance being made between diocese and its previous bishop, and so forth. Whether further discipline of the church should apply is rather up to the Diocese concerned. But I would encourage that Diocese to think on the possibility as this situation is, on the face of it, a dereliction of clerical standards on a number of counts.

As for my own position re complicated and simple situations, I do not shy away from some measure of ad hoc decision-making on a case by case basis being the way we face issues, difficult though that is. I rather think that is required of us as Christians as we work on the application of the royal law of this morning's reading from James 1:10.

For what it is worth I cannot personally imagine the circumstances under which I would agree to marry a couple whose relationship began out of the ashes of two broken marriages. I suspect the late Cardinal Montini would be of a similar mind.

Father Ron Smith said...

I'm sorry, Peter, but I find the extension of this sad and sorry situation to be of little real help. What it seems to do is offer people another opportunity to 'pour oil of troubled waters'. I'm not sure that's a true Gospel initiative.

Just one more subject for our so-ready judgementalists to perform at their pernicious and dangerous best'. "Whatsoever things are pure - good" - etc., "Think on these things".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I think it important that we reckon with the truth: if we want to be merciful and compassionate, to be merciful and compassionate about the truth (not the half-truth); if we want to be judgemental, or to call for the church's discipline to be applied, or wonder at how we could have trusted this or that leader with the responsibility of disciplining us, then let us do that with the truth (and not the half-truth).

Michael Reddell said...

Even accepting that the Church is more than its, inevitably flawed, leaders, this episode further erodes any confidence one might have had in the Anglican hierarchy and its ability to lead counterculturally.

We have two families wrecked, by two priests (one a long-serving bishop). And no apparent sign of regret, repentance, or return.

We have families in an Anglican school - many probably with little prior exposure to the gospel - seeing how the school chaplain treats marriage and commitment.

And further grist to the mill of those who argue that the church can't be heard credibly on gay "marriage" when marriage and divorce itself is treated so lightly in the church.

Ultimately, individuals will make their own choices. But the church reveals its character in how it responds. Here in Wellington the approved message, to fob off the concerned, appears to be that each of us should work on our own relationships. True, of course, but hardly the point in the face of such conscious scandalous betrayal of leadership.

But then perhaps we have sold our birthright. Seemingly unconscious of the newspaper headlines, the preacher in our evangelical parish yesterday solemnly told us that "each of us is best placed to read and interpret the Bible for ourselves". At one level, that captures something important, but at a deeper level seems to sell out to the cultural imperative in which everyone must do what he, or she, feels is right. And regardless of the consequences for others - church,community, or the individuals to whom people made lifelong vows before God.

Peter Carrell said...

I could not agree more with you, Michael. Thank you!

Zane Elliott said...

More half-truth in the media today Peter. early this morning (before and real news surfaced?) Stuff was running this article on their front page -

The Ven Val Riches is spot on when she says 'Jesus was often found alongside those on the margin' what she fails to point out is that he did so with clear intentions to proclaim 'the Kingdom of God is near, repent and be baptised!' When are we going to start considering the whole picture? has the concept of sin been washed away because it is distasteful?

carl jacobs said...

Zane Elliott

Has the concept of sin been washed away because it is distasteful?

No, it has been collectivized. Modern man defines himself by his autonomy. Sin is now defined as collective action intended to constrain the autonomy of the individual. That's why adultery gets a scoff but resisting either women bishops or homosexual marriage earns fast condemnation. It's all about "justice" now, where "justice" is defined as "enabling people to pursue their autonomous desires as they see fit."

Plus, there is stuff like building Trident missile submarines. That's sinful, too. But that "personal conduct" stuff." Who would focus on that but a judgmental self-righteous puritan?


Anonymous said...

Thank you Peter and Michael for bringing some consistency to this. Carl's point is still strong. It's not difficult to imagine church reaction if Mr Brown had run off with Mr X rather than Mrs X, and Zane shows how quickly one can attempt to shift the point from heterosexual sin back to homosexual issues.


Father Ron Smith said...

"Who would focus on that but a judgmental self-righteous puritan?"

"Out of the mouths......"

Father Ron Smith said...

" has the concept of sin been washed away because it is distasteful?"
- Zane Elliot -

Spoken like a priest with a life-times experience?

The problem is, Zane, we are all sinners. Who can afford to cast the first stone? Not me! How about you?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I suggest we need to get beyond worrying about who is and isn't self-righteous here and face the enormity of this scandal.

One of our bishops has not only left his marriage, and not only for another woman, but he has left his marriage and taken up with (a) one of his priests, (b) colluded with her leaving her husband, and (c) the husband was another of his priests. As priests we commit ourselves in obedience and trust to a relationship with our bishop. We might reasonably be able to expect that the trust would not be betrayed. I do not see that the issues around "trust" alter because one's bishop has become "retired." A retired bishop should remain a trusted figure in the life of our church.

There is much more going on here than (so to speak) an ordinary set of sins. You and I are expected as priests to not only obey our Lord Jesus Christ as his disciples, but also follow the professional standards of our vocation.

I don't want to throw stones at anyone for falling into sin, I am a sinner too. But I try jolly hard to live up to the requirements laid on me by the rules of our church re professional conduct, and I do so because it is right and proper that the church expects high standards of its visible and set apart-through-ordination leaders. Consequently, if I were to fall below par, I expect the church to robustly respond so all are clear as to the seriousness with which the church takes its own rules. (As I expect the medical profession to police doctors sleeping with patients, and the teaching profession to police teachers forming relationships with students).

It concerns me that some responses in our church seem to be shying away from engaging with the seriousness of this scandal for fear of being seen as self-righteous. What we need to ask ourselves is whether our standards for ministry conduct are important or just words on paper.

Anonymous said...

We also need to get beyond the claim of who has the most life experience. In and of itself it proves nothing.

As Carl rightly points out self-righteous judgementalism is not the preserve of any one part of the Church or any particular theology. The pro-gay wing of the Church often strikes me as every bit as self-righteous and judgmental as the worst of the Pharisees. The truth is that these sins are human sins, and all humans are prone to them. It is self-righteous to accuse only conservative or Evangelical Christians of being self-righteous.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the Puritans were probably more aware of their own sinfulness than most. The stereotype of Puritans as self-righteous and judgmental is inaccurate to say the least.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi All,
As moderator I think the points have been made now re self-righteousness and life experience. No more comments on these matters: we seem agreed that any one of us may be self-righteous. We may be disagreed about what constitutes life experience, but life experience counts for little when we face some bizarre situations. Has anyone here, for instance, had the experience of leaving their spouse after 47 years? Has anyone here given up their ministerial licence and then made a significant life change likely to engender the disapprobation of ones peers, friends and family?

See, no one is able to comment on that one because no one has had the experience!

Father Ron Smith said...

"It concerns me that some responses in our church seem to be shying away from engaging with the seriousness of this scandal for fear of being seen as self-righteous" - Peter Carrell -

Ptere, with all respect to your argument, I really believe there is a difference between acknowledging sins committed by servants of the Church, and seeming to revel in the problems it cause us and the Church.

My own feeling is that, when a brother or sister sins, that sin should be acknowledged and dealt with as if it were our own - not as if it were committed by some nether agency. In that way, we cannot be seen to 'rejoice in others' sins'.
My last word on this, I promise.

Peter Carrell said...

I agree, Ron, with distinguishing between 'acknowledging' and 'revelling.' A question for us all to consider is how would we know that we have engaged appropriately as a church when serious scandal takes place if we resolutely avoid public discussion.

On a positive note, yesterday I had more discussions about the cathedral (non-)news in the Star Times than about the other story.