Friday, March 30, 2012

Is this false teaching?

It is less than a week out from Maundy Thursday. Check. That's quite close to Easter. Check. Must be a new billboard up at St Matthew's-in-the-City. Check.

It is a bit hard to read, so here it is in words: Jesus hanging on the cross, a picture on a Facebook page with a "Judas Iscariot likes this" tag.

News reports and St Matt's own page here, here and here.

Actually as St Matt's billboards go, this is probably the least provocative of them all. If there is any poor taste here it is the disrespect shown to Judas, who clearly had other things on his mind than checking out Facebook just before he committed suicide.

But what is a genuine worry in these days of upholding Anglican identity and all of us saying how fine a theological statement the first three sections of the Covenant make and all, is what Glynn Cardy, Vicar of St Matthew's says to justify the message they want to promote through the billboard.

In Anglican Taonga we read this,

"In explaining the billboard, Mr Cardy says Jesus’ death caused his followers to blame each other and themselves, and Judas was particularly vilified across the ages – symptomatic of the human desire to hold someone responsible for tragic events.
“Jesus did not die for our sins. He died because he peeved a bunch of powerful people off,” he says.

“He lived and preached a message of radical inclusion that threatened the status quo [and] the authorities killed him for it.

“The ‘dying for sins’ business was a spin the church applied at a later date.” "
Where does one begin in disappointment if not anger that one of our leading clerics believes and teaches these things about our Lord and Saviour and the meaning of his death on the cross?

The consistent witness of the New Testament is that Jesus did die for our sins. That Bible which Glynn is required to read Sunday by Sunday (and to have his congregation say "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church" or "This is the Gospel of Christ") includes these verses Matthew 26:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 24:45-47; John 1:29; Acts 5:30-31; Romans 3:22-26; 5:8-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Galatians 2:17-21; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 3:7-11; Colossians 2:6-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 5:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 2:14-18; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:7; 2:2; Revelation 1:5.

So, problem #1, How does Glynn know that Jesus didn't die for our sins? The New Testament which tells him about Jesus (including, yes, that he peeved a bunch of people in authority) also tells him that Jesus died for our sins.

Glynn gives an explanation, but really this is problem #2, "The ‘dying for sins’ business was a spin the church applied at a later date." A spin? This is a licensed cleric of our church and he calls the gospel message preached  by the apostles "a spin".

Spin? It was the preaching of the gospel that Jesus Christ died for our sins which began the parting of the ways of Christianity from Judaism, for the former no longer believed that the key to the forgiveness of sins lay in the sacrificial system centred on the Temple. It was the preaching of the gospel that Jesus Christ died for our sins which spread Christianity throughout the Mediterranean and over to the British Islands. It was the preaching of the gospel that Jesus Christ died for our sins which impelled Samuel Marsden to first preach the gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand on Christmas Day in 1814, which led the Williams brothers and other missionaries to these islands and which drew Selwyn to become our first bishop.

If that is 'spin' then Christianity is one gigantic mistake. Worse, it is one gigantic mistake which was perpetrated by 'the church'. Which brings us to problem #3.

'The church' here is made to sound like a cancer on the body of Christianity. There was Jesus, pure, simple, innocent man with a clear message about power and authority which got up people's noses. Along came the church and misinterpreted Jesus right from the beginning by teaching the wrong things about Jesus. If we know the truth about Jesus, the real truth, not the spin by the nasty church, why would we want to have anything to do with the church?

But Glynn is an ordained, licensed clergyperson sworn to uphold the teaching of the church, to further its aims and goals, and to contribute to it bringing glory to God. He belongs to the church which was founded on the preaching of Christ as Lord and Saviour. It stretches credibility that one can be part of 'the church' in such an integral way and call the foundational message of the church 'spin.'

Does this approach to Jesus dying for our sins constitute 'false teaching'? The width of Anglican tolerance means we explain 'died for our sins' in a variety of ways. But it does not mean we are free to describe it as 'spin'!

Deepening the bonds of affection

 The Archbishop of Capetown has written to the Archbishop of York (the two dioceses are in a companion relationship). From quite a long letter engaging with all that is good about Communion life and all the greater good which the Covenant offers to that life, I excerpt one paragraph which is particularly in tune with some themes in recent posts here:

"Allowing secular legal norms to define us in our separate identities, without counterbalancing commitments of mutual interdependence, and the drifting apart that has followed, are, it seems to me, what have particularly allowed such sharp bitterness in handling our differences. The disunity over sexuality merely reflects this deeper malaise within our common life. As I have said elsewhere, I feel we have failed to take seriously the commitments to ‘Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ’ made at the 1963 Toronto Congress. We said then ‘our unity in Christ, expressed in our full communion, is the most profound bond among us, in all our political and racial and cultural diversity’ and in consequence, ‘our need is … to understand how God has led us, through the sometimes painful history of our time, to see the gifts of freedom and communion in their great terms, and to live up to them.’ The Congress warned ‘if we are not responsible stewards of what Christ has given us, we will lose even what we have.’ But it appears we have not been responsible, taking one another for granted, being content to do our own thing, allowing ourselves to be preoccupied with our own concerns, so that when differences arose we had lost our ability to connect and work through them in love together."

The whole letter is here.

More and more I feel I am in a Western bloc of the Communion which loves the thought of "living together" and fights like anything not to take the next step of entering into marriage. An odd position to be in for those who claim to be Christian!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The only game in town

"Bishop Michael Nazir Ali said that "I am disappointed that the Anglican Communion Covenant, even in its watered down version,has failed to gain the support of the Church of England. This now means that the Jerusalem Statement (2008) is now 'The only game in town.'" "

With H/T to Thinking Anglicans, this comment by +Nazir-Ali on Anglican Mainstream goes too far (there are other games being played) but that should not obscure the point that if the opposition to the Covenant in the C of E is interpreted as complete defeat for the Covenant around the globe then it is a pyrrhic victory in respect of the organisation of Anglicans around the globe. It may not be the 'only game' but GAFCON/FCA with the Jerusalem Declaration as its binding scrum will be the main game in Anglican town if it proves that the Covenant is globally dead in the water.

Think about it for a few moments. Anglican 'nature' abhors an organisational 'vacuum': we love our vestries, synods, General Synods, local, diocesan, provincial and international meetings. Something binds us together at those meetings. Partly its our history and our relationships but substantially it is, in fact, what we believe, what makes us distinctively Anglican rather than, say, Presbyterian ('cause we believe in bishops) or Baptists ('cause we believe in infant baptism) or Roman Catholics ('cause we don't believe in bending knee to the papacy).

So, if, in the end, the C of E vote signifies the end of the Covenant (at least for a decade or so) what will speak to Anglicans around the globe about the means and method of our organising ourselves? Who and what is set up to draw Anglicans together in meaningful ways, including motivation to be missionally-engaged with the challenges of the 21st century? Well, it is already in place: organisationally (GAFCON/FCA) and doctrinally (Jerusalem Declaration). In a few weeks we will see reports of a gathering of 200 hundred Anglican leaders from 30 member churches. Could the liberal/progressive opponents of the Covenant organise a similar gathering from 30 member churches of the Communion?

In celebrating the English defeat of the Covenant as a centrist, moderate, and mild proposal for the future life of the 38 member church Communion, liberal/progressive Anglicans around the globe seem quite unaware of the fact that they are colluding with conservative opposition to the Covenant, opposition which paves the way for the strongest part of globally organised Anglicanism to be  strongly doctrinal and confessional in character, the very antithesis of what liberals/progressives are fighting for!

Thus the most fatuous remark about the English synodical voting against the Covenant has been made by Diarmaid MacCulloch when he writes, "Now Anglicans can start listening afresh". What will happen is the opposite of what he means: Anglicans will start listening afresh to a new and rising conservative leadership which is primely positioned to move into the vacuum created by the lack of global support for the Covenant as the key to a moderate, centrist Communion for the 21st century.

The second most fatuous remark is made by Pluralist (Adrian Worsfield) when he writes, "In terms of the Anglican Communion, the balkanisation that was taking place will now obviously continue". Er, no. The balkanisation will stop. GAFCON/FCA and the Jerusalem Declaration will sweep up those tempted to become Croatia and Serbia and draw them together into a united band. (There may be some balkanisation within the Church of England because the bishops there who do not want to lose their largest parishes and those largest parishes who do not want to see liberals/progressives triumph further have a mighty challenge before them which may lead to some separations).

I suggest that, if in the end, the defeat of the Covenant presages a global defeat for the Covenant, history will judge this to have been a pyrrhic victory for progressive/liberal Anglicans. They do not have the numbers in the Western Anglican churches to prop up for much longer the institutions they have sought to control. In particular they do not have the numbers to control the direction of global Anglicanism for much longer. .

Monday, March 26, 2012

NZ similar to England re voting on Covenant?

Alan Perry offers an analysis of voting for/against the Covenant in the C of E synods (to date) which is on Thinking Anglicans.

Interestingly, the "overall" voting works out like this:

"Overall: 48.1% for, 47.2% against, 4.7% abstentions

Overall (clergy and laity only): 47.3% for, 48.1% against, 4.7% abstentions"

The general overall voting includes an overwhelming "for" vote by bishops. Either way the voting is close, so the  Covenant has not been defeated there by a large margin when counting individual votes. (Yes, it has been defeated overwhelmingly on diocesan votes - I am not trying to pretend there is some hidden victory here). In other words, the Covenant has sufficient strength in its case to draw significant support in England, but also significant weakness in its case to draw significant opposition.

Interestingly, the diocesan vote in NZ's Pakeha dioceses (the ones closest to England in make up ... indeed we have many ex-English residents among our clergy and laity) is 3-3 to date (with Christchurch's vote to come on 21 April 2012). However  cannot I give the votes in NZ re individuals in each house in each Synod.

The Anglican Association and the Anglican Communion

POSTSCRIPT: if you want a slightly different alternative to what I have written below, read Andrew Goddard's 'post Covenant rejection by CofE' essay at Fulcrum.

Ideas have their time and some ideas find their time does not come according to their supporters timetable. The Anglican Covenant may prove to be such an idea as a proposal for the Anglican Communion. (It has clearly proved in the last few days to be an idea whose time has not yet come for the Church of England). As the Living Church editorial I pointed to yesterday says, we can look back to 1963 and the Toronto Congress to see that the notion of mutual responsibility and interdependence has charted the evolution of the Communion for nearly fifty years:

"The [No Anglican Covenant] coalition’s opposition to the Covenant has principally centered on a sustained disinterest in global Communion structures, funded by an unhappy amnesia (at best, ignorance at worst) regarding the modern evolution of the Anglican Communion. Among other things, prescribed reading for all members of the NACC, and those tempted to follow them, would include the report from the 1963 Anglican Congress in Toronto, Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, which charted the course for inter-Anglican conversation of the last half century in a visionary, missionary mode."
Will future historians look back and see that the Anglican Covenant's rejection by sufficient member churches to prevent its effective implementation was just a hiccup on the way to fulfilment of the Toronto vision? Were that to be so then the next period of Communion life will likely show signs of the situation being a hiccup rather than a dead end. Here is how our global life might play out over the next few decades.

(1) Synods and General Synods/Conventions will continue to make their responses to the Covenant through the next year or so. In the end a majority of member churches will support the Covenant because it is a good idea to bind together our talk of 'mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ' into a plan for action (i.e. a willingness to accept that there are consequences to failing to live up to mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ). A sound communion ecclesiology is on the side of all those supporting the Covenant.

(2) Parts of the present Communion will engage with each other and with Covenant-minded members in an "association" manner: meeting, talking, tolerating, doing absolutely nothing about any disagreements. This will be pleasant for all concerned but within this association mode Anglican diversity will diversify further and "Anglican" will increasingly mean "AnythingGoes." Slowly but surely this "association" will fade away because it is largely supported by declining Western Anglican churches.

(3) A strong part of the present Communion, currently found across movements and meetings associated with GAFCON//the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and the Global South, will act as a "communion": a fellowship of Anglicans bound together in common cause, willing to hold each other accountable as those who are interdependent in the body of Christ. This version of the Anglican Communion will be supported by a good number of member churches with their full commitment, as well as by leaders from other member churches (and by ACNA). It will be the dominant expression of dynamic, growing Anglican Christianity for years to come.

(4) From within declining Western Anglican churches the dynamic, growing parishes and dioceses will send their leaders to join with the dominant expression of "Anglican Communion" in (3) above. When the GAFCON site tells us that some 200 leaders from 30 member churches are gathering in London in late April for a leadership conference (itself a preface to another GAFCON in 2013), we can be sure that the dominant expression of Anglican Christianity is stronger than the liberal/progessive expression which has fought against the Covenant. Even from within ACANZP, which is likely to reject the Covenant, we will have leaders, including bishops, at this April, 2012 event. Even more will go to GAFCON 2013.

(5) Effectively, that is, the present Anglican Communion of 38 member churches will work out its life as an Anglican Association of about 10-12 member churches and an Anglican Communion (or Fellowship) of about 26-28 member churches.

(6) Eventually the penny will drop, the idea of the Covenant will have its time: those within the Anglican Association who are tired of being part of an Anglicanism going nowhere and lacking common doctrinal accord will join with the (effective) Anglican Communion in a revised form of the (official) Anglican Communion which will have Instruments of Unity which work, a covenant which binds, and conferences which all member churches attend. However by that stage the 'covenant which binds' will have more in common doctrinally with the Jerusalem Declaration than with the Covenant doing the synodical rounds today.

(7) This means that the next ABC from a Communion perspective should be someone capable of seeing into the far future of the Communion, able to relate well to the leaders GAFCON/FCA while also connecting with the leaders of the Anglican Association, and, of course, competent to lead the C of E but not given to being anxious about the course of Communion life during the decade or so they will be in the ABC role.

Understandably ++Rowan has been anxious about the Communion, and that anxiety has served him well in pushing for the Covenant while not serving him well in respect of TEC: he was too anxious to please TEC!

The next ABC could be more relaxed about the Association and the Communion. My personal recommendation for "Lambeth 2018" would be to run twin events for the Association and for the Communion with a joint picnic on the lawns of the University of Kent for those from each who would like to break bread together (a la the 5000 rather than the Lord's Supper).

By 2028 we could see a Covenant-bonded Communion fully represented at the Lambeth Conference of that year. But 2038 would do.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Keep calm and carry on

Overnight news, first spotted here by Bosco Peters at Liturgy, is that three English dioceses have voted against the Covenant. With another three voting for, the tally is 15 - 23 (out of 44) meaning that a majority cannot be reached in this GS period (closing 2015) to bring the Covenant to GS for consideration.

Naturally one may be tempted make wild statements so it is important to hear the voice of the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion who has made a sensible 'keep calm and carry on' statement.

Two quick points before heading off for morning service:

- there is no reason at all for my own diocese not to proceed to its own consideration of the Covenant on 21 April and to make a determination whether as an episcopal unit of the church of God we believe the Covenant is a good thing re being part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church or not.

- without the C of E being part of the Covenant process the Covenant is "dead in the water" but that does not mean that supporters should stop believing in its resurrection! Yes, if sufficient other churches join the C of E and reduce possible support below the 80% of the Communion mark I think it is going to be ineffective and unresurrectable. But suppose it turned out that the Cof E, TEC and ACANZP were the only churches rejecting it ... wouldn't these churches in due course reconsider?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two Covenant articles

The Living Church has generally taken a pro Covenant stance. A couple of recent items (from today) are worth noting:

Andrew Goddard, Section 4: Commitment in Word and Deed

Editorial: Getting to Yes

Note on Covenant ... note on next ABC

The Lead this morning gives an example of a matter which the Covenant is geared up to assist the Communion in working out the ongoing meaning of being Anglican. A motion is being proposed for the General Convention to consider,

"The Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon is forwarding an Open Table resolution to General Convention that would change the rubrics and practice of The Book of Common Prayer to invite all to Holy Communion, "regardless of age, denomination or baptism.”

Adopted unanimously by delegates to the 2010 Diocesan Convention, the resolution recently was ratified by Diocesan Councl for submission to General Convention. It would delete from the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church Canon 1.17.7, which says "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this church.""
Now "communion without baptism" is practised thereabouts and hereabouts in the Anglican world, but, as far as I am aware, no formal Anglican canon anywhere endorses or legalises this practice. Were the GC to agree to the resolution it would be a change or innovation to millennia old Christian practice, received and continued by the Reformed Church of England. It would also be a change which could reasonably be considered as affecting the definition of Anglicanism because it involves our understanding of sacramental ministry. One related concern would be whether it impinged on our ongoing ecumenical conversations.
In short: here is a change which looks like an internal matter for a member church but can reasonably be raised as an external matter for all member churches to consider. In terms of the Covenant and Section 4, it is a matter for consideration by the process set out there.
The next Archbishop of Canterbury
With H/T to Ron Smith, I notice that the Church Times (no less!) has put out an article in the public domain about the bishops it considers to be "a few to watch." A few posts ago I said I was watching out for my own "Dark Horse" candidate to be named on such a list. Well, he is on it. But I shall keep my counsel for a bit longer ...

UPDATE: CEN has its own version of candidates to ponder, in which my "Dark Horse" does not appear, but Ron Smith's preferred candidate does appear!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Will moral pressure affect debate on Covenant at our General Synod?

"The Executive Council resolution *was* mentioned by Bishop Douglas. It was thought by him and his two co-sponsors (whose identities I forget at the moment) to place TEC's presence at the next meeting of the ACC at risk, hence that "not No" options."

That is a comment by Bishop Daniel Martins in response to Mark Harris at Preludium drawing attention to two different high level motions about the Covenant being drafted up ahead of the TEC General Convention coming up in July. The ACC meeting referred to is the meeting occurring in November here in Auckland, New Zealand. The "Executive Council resolution", if agreed, would reject the Covenant in toto. The (let's call it) Douglas motion (+Ian Douglas is on ACC), if agreed, would not reject the Covenant entirely, hence the "not No" description in the comment above.

So far, so TEC's own business.

But here is the thing about our church, ACANZP: if our GS rejects the Covenant, as many pundits believe should be the case, because of episcopal unit voting to date, then it is going to be a tad embarrassing to be hosting the ACC as a member church which has rejected the Covenant circulated around the Communion by the ACC.

So, will some moral pressure be brought to bear in our GS debate not to reject the Covenant completely. Easy to do: "refer for further study" ... "await the outcome of debates in partner churches in Oceania" ... "assure the ACC of our great love of Sections 1-3 and plead with ACC to reconsider the possibility of revising Section 4."

Sir Humphrey Appleton, where are you when we need you.

Point of clarity: my own view is that we should make our decision with reference to the content and purpose of the Covenant, not to whether any embarrassment attends whatever decision we make. I would be very concerned to learn that any moral pressure was brought to bear on the course of the debate at GS.

The big picture

You have got to hand it to the Roman Catholics in the USA. Despite all the well publicised faults of this church, it remains the largest church in the USA by a whopping four to one margin over the second largest church. It takes about 15 Protestant churches to make up an equivalent number to the Romans. The following figures come from the National Council of Churches.

"Top 25 U.S. churches reported in the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches:

The Catholic Church 68,202,492, ranked 1 [ranked 1 in 2011], down 0.44 percent.

Southern Baptist Convention 16,136,044, ranked 2 [ranked 2 in 2011], down 0.15 percent.

The United Methodist Church 7,679,850, ranked 3 [ranked 3 in 2011], down 1.22 percent.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 6,157,238, ranked 4 [ranked 4 in 2011], up 1.62 percent.

The Church of God in Christ 5,499,875, ranked 5 [ranked 5 in 2011], no update reported.

National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. 5,197,512, ranked 6 [ranked 6 in 2011], up 3.95 percent.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4,274,855, ranked 7 [ranked 7 in 2011], down 5.90 percent.

National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. 3,500,000, ranked 8 [ranked 8 in 2011], no update reported.

Assemblies of God 3,030,944, ranked 9 [ranked 9 in 2011], up 3.99 percent.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2,675,873, ranked 10 [ranked 10 in 2011], down 3.42 percent.

African Methodist Episcopal Church 2,500,000, ranked 11 [ranked 11 in 2011], no update reported.

National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 2,500,000, ranked 11 [ranked 11 in 2011], no update reported.

The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2,278,586, ranked 13 [ranked 13 in 2011], down 1.45 percent.

The Episcopal Church 1,951,907, ranked 14 [ranked 14 in 2011], down 2.71 percent.

Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. 1,800,000, ranked 15 [ranked 17 in 2011], up 20 percent.

Churches of Christ 1,639,495, ranked 16 [ranked 15 in 2011], no update reported.

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 1,500,000 , ranked 17 [ranked 16 in 2011], no update reported.

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 1,400,000, ranked 18 [ranked 18 in 2011], no update reported.

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. 1,308,054, ranked 19 [ranked 19 in 2011], down 0.19 percent.

Jehovah’s Witnesses 1,184,249, ranked 20 [ranked 20 in 2011], up 1.85 percent.

Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 1,074,047, ranked 21 [ranked 22 in 2011], down 0.21 percent.

Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 1,071,616, ranked 22 [ranked 23 in 2011], no update reported.

Seventh-day Adventist Church 1,060,386, ranked 23 [ranked 24 in 2011], up 1.61 percent.

United Church of Christ 1,058,423, ranked 24 [ranked 21 in 2011], down 2.02 percent.

Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000, ranked 25 [ranked 25 in 2011], no update reported.

Total membership in top 25 churches: 145,691,446, down 1.15 percent."
Of course the Baptist stats would be much more impressive if they weren't divided - about 26 million all up. Ah, unity!

That is our Protestant achilles heel. It is also an Anglican achilles heel. Unified Roman Catholics 68 - Divided Protestants best competitor 16. Game over!

Seriously, it is interesting here on ADU to raise questions about the lack of unity in the Communion and to receive answers such as 'unity is not about institutional unity' or 'unity is not more valuable than truth' or 'unity shouldn't trump justice.' These are Protestant responses. I cannot imagine a Catholic theologian saying, 'If we have to divide the church we will do so in order to secure social justice.' Rather, the point of catholic theology is to work out the application of the gospel through a church in mission which does not divide, not even in its institutional framework.

To an extent we Anglicans 'get' some of this because we have, at least, given the Covenant serious consideration. Even in TEC there is an interesting development in the run up to the GC whereby one proposed motion re the Covenant (essentially to reject it in toto) is being rivalled by another motion which tries to accept as much of the Covenant as possible (head to Preludium to follow this). Could we Anglicans go a bit further on unity, actually could we go a lot further?

Speaking yesterday with a colleague I was gratified to find that he supported the Covenant precisely because he values church unity and sees the Covenant as building unity among Anglicans. Reflecting on that, and also another conversation earlier in the week with a colleague who stressed the role of the Covenant in building our church into the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church' of God, I offer the following thoughts.

Our Anglican crisis which presents as a crisis in our relationships ('division', 'schism', 'impaired Communion') is a crisis of truth. On  certain matters we do not agree what the truth is, or in other words, what God's will for the church is. Unity is never disconnected from truth and the repair of disunity must involve the finding of truth, an achieving of concurrence on God's will for the church. The 'one' church of God is always the 'holy, catholic and apostolic' church of God, and each of the three qualifiers, holy, catholic and apostolic relate to the matter of truth (what is the right way to live, what do Christians believe together, what did the apostles teach): unity and truth, truth and unity, the church cannot escape the pairing.

The Covenant both affirms what we believe as Anglicans and provides a means for discernment of truth, especially in relation to claims of innovation. Many claims of innovation provoke no question of universal concern about what God's will for the church is. Some claims do. The Covenant offers a way to agree together on an innovation of significance.

[I have changed this paragraph slightly] Is the negativity across significant parts of the Communion betraying a lack of confidence in knowing the truth? If so, this lack of confidence is contiguous with developments in human life through which the spirit of post-modernism, pluralism, and individualism blows. In today's world, as this spirit blows, the surest truth we have is the truth we see with our own eyes, or with the eyes of our tribe or 'tribe' (i.e. a smallish group to which we belong). The possibility of truth for everyone is too big a challenge (it would appear), so people back away from it. Are we Anglicans backing away from the Covenant because we have this wind swirling through us too? I recognise that there are a variety of reasons for opposing the Covenant and some opposers would not in any way agree with this analysis!

In the process Anglicans may be becoming very confused. On the matter of homosexuality, for instance, we want truth to be both contextual (our national church has the right to decide its response to this matter) and universal (no one anywhere on the planet should be subject to bigotry). If there is no God and no divine will for the church, we may live with such confusion. But to be the church is to make a claim that God exists and has a will for the church: in the end either the confusion dies or the church dies.

The tragedy of the Covenant, if it should be lost from us, is that it will have been lost because of a loss of vision for the truth of God as truth for everyone. Out of that loss of vision flows a host of concerns about the Covenant. Some of these concerns are about hypothetical effects and many such concerns are about those effects effecting me, or my tribe or 'tribe'. But the great matter of the Covenant is whether we wish to be Anglican churches in an Anglican Communion which is being drawn ever deeper into the fullness of one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, that is, the church for everyone.

But that betokens agreement on the truth and we appear to be disinterested in securing that agreement no matter how painful and how long that might take. Easier to settle for continuing to having the right to pursue the truth as I and my group understand it.

To ++Rowan's credit, he has tried these ten years to work for a Communion in which together we might continue to engage in the search for God's truth for everyone. I hope history is kind to him and makes its judgement against those who colluded in working for a lesser Communion, one engaged in upholding the right for each church to do what it thinks best in the light of the truth it has seen for itself.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Loose association with the loose association

Adrian Worsfield who blogs at Pluralist strikes me as an odd sort of commentator. He is involved in the Unitarian Church but continues not only to comment on the Church of England and the Anglican Communion but to critique them, tell them what to do and what not to do. Anglicanism is resolutely Trinitarian in its creedal foundations and in its prayer book formulations which continue to build on those foundations, so Worsfield's interest in the Anglican church is touching, given his loose association with Anglicanism. In an resolutely damning essay about ++Rowan Williams' leadership - a piece of writing which sits alongside the comments of the Archbishops of Nigeria and Sydney as unfailingly bleak in their assessment - Worsfield offers the following paragraph:

"The fundamental problem is that the Anglican Communion is too broad, ranging from something like premodern magical belief combined with charismatic Protestantism to something that approaches the consumerist New Age. Such a spread can only be a loose association at best. Even the Church of England is too broad and is going through a trim. Traditionalist Catholics are being sidelined by change. Its most radical of liberals are shearing off, but it leaves others more exposed. The entryism of some evangelicals of the FCA kind may turn into separatism (as in North America). So the broad Church in an age of speciality is moving towards a lesser spread, just as The Episcopal Church is seeking its own clearer identity (and inevitable smaller size)." [my italics]

In his own way Worsfield makes a point close to one of my points about the Covenant. If we do not sign to the Covenant as a Communion (i.e. 80%+, better, 90%+ members sign) then we are making  a statement about our unwillingness to commit to being a Communion which grows in its union by signifying our willingness to be accountable to one another. In turn that means we should drop the name "Communion" and use a name which is truer to our actual life together. In the past I have offered 'federation' and in the more recent past I have offered 'association' as a better name. So here, when Adrian Worsfield writes that effectively the Communion 'can only be a loose association at best' I am in accord with him about which reality may emerge at the end of the Covenant process.

If (as appears likely) the Covenant is not signed up to in sufficient numbers, there will be no such reality as an 'unCovenanted Anglican Communion'. Just an unCovenanted Anglican Global Association.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Liberal Catholicism?

A friend posted me a link to an interview of a Catholic theologian, James Alison, with whose work I am unfamiliar. The overall point of the interview being drawn to my attention is that Alison is gay and the interview draws out his theology of sexuality anchored as it is within the context of Catholicism. To the extent that Alison is both for acceptance of gay partnerships, alive to difference between such partnerships and marriage, and committed to Catholicism (i.e. as a project of orthodox theology), this interview stands comparison with the essay by John Milbank which I drew attention to here a few days ago, the importance of which I am cogitating. To give but one example of the subtlety of Alison's thinking:

"Likewise, should it indeed turn out that marriage between two baptized persons of the same sex is not sacramental in exactly the same sense as opposite-sex marriage, then whatever form of sacramentality does turn out to be proper to same-sex couples would certainly not be “second best” to the sacrament of marriage. God’s summons to flourishing involves people being called in tailor-made ways, not forced to endure invidious comparisons. There are many mansions in God’s house, and he invites each of us to discover what is his plan for each one of us—we are called by name, not by category." 

Now I must cogitate the importance of Alison's words. In both cases, Milbank and Alison, we are a world away from the diatribes and vilifications by those with a liberal Protestant disposition (even if clothed in Anglican robes) when denouncing those of us who carefully seek to articulate the church's teaching on marriage through the ages.

I find Alison quite moving in his account of being gay, seeking to overturn the Catholic official teaching that this is a "disordered" condition, and generally working out a style of theological living (teaching, writing, reflecting) on the edges of church life. I find his arguments for changing his church's teaching unpersuasive, not least because he wilfully races through chunks of Catholic apostolicity, that is, the processes by which Catholic teaching builds on what bishops teach which in turn is teaching what they have been taught, seeking to be ever faithful to their traditional understanding of Scripture, safeguarded as it has been through the ages by ... bishops. In the following paragraph I find his words to be indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism which appeals to a Jesus removed from the reality of knowing him through Scripture (evangelicalism) or through Scripture and tradition (Anglo- or Roman or Eastern catholicism):

"The real question for me, as a Catholic trying to think toward the future, is this: we know that we have only one Magister, the Incarnate Word of God, and that the authentic teaching office in the church is not above, but serves, this Living Word. Furthermore, this Living Word has chosen to address us at a level of fraternal equality, making of us his brothers and sisters who have only one Father, God, and are not to call anyone else our father. So, how do we hold fast to the experience of Jesus teaching us in and as church as we become aware of how often the bishops, those who have been consecrated sacramental signs, seem to allow the richness of the faith to become secondary to culture-war imperatives, institutional self-interest, and the search for corporate approval? I think that reimagining the ecclesial shape of Christ teaching in our midst, exploring the sort of act of communication genuine divine teaching is, and understanding better the relationship between the Teacher, those taught, and those charged to be signs of truthfulness is going to be one of the real challenges of the next generation."
Milbank is more persuasive for me (and I shall try to explain how soon). But Alison remains of great interest. Further on in the interview he posits the hope (or fantasy?) that Pope Benedict himself is laying out the ground for change in Catholic teaching:

"Salkeld: You have expressed the belief that Pope Benedict is slowly preparing the way for change in this area. What do you expect such change would look like?

Alison: Let me have a shot at explaining why I take the view you mention. And let me start by saying I have never met Benedict in person and have no privileged information about him. It is as a longtime reader of his books and a distant outsider to the inner counsels of those involved in the governance of our church that I attempt to understand what’s happening, from a mixture of prayer, hope, and gut. I’m moved in these by the conviction that since the church is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and since everything that is true, whatever its apparent source, comes from the Holy Spirit, therefore there must be a way the church can find its way into truthfulness in this area.

There is a personal element to this. Since I first read it, many years ago, something from the CDF’s document Donum veritatis has resonated deeply with me.

It can also happen that at the conclusion of a serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium’s teaching without hesitation, the theologian’s difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him. Faced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.

For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.
I take it that Ratzinger was the author, and, if you will forgive the perhaps delusional subjectivity, I have always felt since then, as I have tried wrestling with the gay issue in the church, that I was somehow in spiritual communion with him by remembering this formulation."
Alison is taking a bold punt there. And Ratzinger is a very clever man. Watch this space?

Either way, I like the words cited above about the patience and prayer of a theologian.

Before I get to Milbank there is a very interesting and slightly nasty essay on ++Williams by Adrian Worsfield to consider.

Also I have to get my head around now being the mover of our Diocese's motion on the Covenant at our Synod on 21 April!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If you were the next ABC, what would you do?

This is what I would do ... in respect of the Communion side of things.

(1) I would see the Covenant process through to the point where it was clear whether we were going to have a Covenanted Communion or not (though that process may come to an end before the end of this year should the C of E itself decline to accept the Covenant). On the presumption that the Communion is not going to be a Covenanted Communion I would make clear my determination that this meant that the autonomy of local churches reigned supreme in Anglican thinking in respect of global fellowship, responding to Christ's ut unim sunt prayer, and working on matters of common life.

(2) I would then declare that no Lambeth Conference or Primates Meeting would be called by me until 90% or more of the bishops and primates signalled in writing that were such meetings to be called, they would join in eucharistic fellowship together.

(4) As far as possible the word 'Communion' would drop out of my vocabulary and I would talk about the 'Anglican global association' (Aga) instead.

(3) The point would be made that the Covenant process had revealed at least three significant theological groupings in the Communion,
- those who saw a Covenanted Aga as having a deficit of justice,
- those who saw a Covenanted Aga as having a deficit of truth, and
- those who saw an unCovenanted Aga as having a deficit of unity.

I would invite each of those groups to forge their own corporate Anglican identity via any means they saw fit. I would be available to attend any conferences or other meetings these groups decided upon. I would communicate my hopes for the future of the Anglican global association, that one day it would be united in following one of these three models for AnglicanLifeInternational.

(4) ACC would be allowed to continue to meet because it is unlikely to stop meeting even if I asked it to cease, what with it being an Anglican committee with a constitution and not being ruled by the ABC's fiat.

(5) I would take no part in any ARCIC deliberations until such time as the conditions for the Lambeth Conference and Primates' Meetings in (2) above were met. I would personally explain to the Pope that integrity required me not to pretend that some kind of common Anglican mind was being engaged through ARCIC with the common mind of the Roman church.

(6) Whenever I met a primate or bishop I would remind them of (2) above and ask whether the Anglican global association grouping they belonged to had any proposal to bring for renewing the eucharistic fellowship of the global association.

(7) I would write a magnum opus on communio ecclesiology. It might not be a very good book but it would be quite large because its opening chapter would need to be quite a long account of why the Anglican global association had become what it is. There would also be another long chapter in which I bewailed the folly of those bishops who harped on about the deficiencies of the Covenant while having nothing useful to say about how the corporate life of the Anglican global fellowship could be improved (example here).

By the way, this is not a candidacy speech. Apparently since the ABC is one of the Lords Spiritual sitting in the upper chamber of the British parliament, certain citizen requirements must be met, none of which I qualify for being a Kiwi without British parent or grandparent to secure me useful bits of paper!

PS What would I do if I were the ABC, in respect of the C of E part of the role?

I would appoint Tom Wright and John Milbank as my theological advisors. That should get the chattering classes chattering :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making sense of 'gay marriage' in a post-Christendom West

If Damian Thompson is to be believed, and I think he makes sense, 'gay marriage' is on the British political agenda because, well, there are votes in it. Not lots of Christian votes (though there will be some) but secularist, atheist post-modern young adults' votes, of which there are an increasing number and to which David Cameron's antennae are tuned. Accordingly, key political figures are lining up with key cultural figures in a kind of trans-Westminster/media/cultural elite 'three line whip' to ensure it happens. Woe betide the church (Anglican or Catholic) standing in the way of this change.

Something similar is at work in parts of the States, including a bit of a push at federal level, but the States is a little more complicated (e.g. because such changes get worked on at both state and federal level). It is also emerging in Oz, but not here in NZ (yet).

This political bulldozer threatens to flatten theological questions which push up from the legislative roadway (see reflection here at Catholicity and Covenant, and follow through to link to a provocative Milbank essay. I hope to come back to this soon at ADU).

At the very least Christians have a challenging path to walk in responding to this kind of political agenda.

It is quite correct and appropriate for Christians to ask for space (the same space Muslims seek re 'gay marriage') within our 'liberal' and 'multi-cultural' Western societies  to explore in teaching and in practice our commitment to gender difference in marriage as foundational in our traditio-biblical understanding of marriage. However I do not put it past the confusion in the minds of leaders of Western societies in the 21st century to pick on Christians and give Muslims a free pass on this particular matter. (I have no idea whether, one day, a free pass might be given re polygamy in the West). To an extent that confusion is understandable when some Christians within our midst (e.g. the Giles Frasers in Britain) have so readily given up on the traditio-biblical understanding of marriage having gender difference at is foundation.

Conversely, it is inappropriate for Christians to act and speak as though in a post-Christendom world it nevertheless retains control of legal definition of marriage. Some speech of this kind (in my view) all too easily transmutes in the media's reporting to "Look, the church is opposed to gay people" which, frankly, is not a good look since we do not generally engage in conduct "opposed to [full in the space] people".

Nevertheless if we walk this pathway well, I wonder if we are going to be unable to avoid some conflict. One problem which I do not think is being aired in the promotion of 'gay marriage' is that inevitably a lack of gender distinction in law about marriage must change the climate in which marriage may be publicly spoken about. Speaking about marriage in a presumptive way that a 'husband' and a 'wife' might be constitutive of it - a natural way for Christians to speak - could incur a day in court because of public demonstration of prejudice against 'gay marriages'. One line in the promotion of 'gay marriage' is that it is a nonsense to say that it will further the breakdown of marriage. What is not being discussed is that the promotion of 'gay marriage' will inhibit the way we discuss marriage because there will be no legal protection for those who wish in such discussions to make a distinction between marriages between men and women and marriages between people of the same gender.

Actually, so far, even the advocates of 'gay marriage' have not been able to avoid the use of the phrase 'gay marriage' which is a sign that, in fact, Christians are right: marriage between a man and a woman' is not the same as 'marriage' between two men or between two women.

I wrote most of the above in draft form before having a read of Milbank's essay. In my view, albeit with different analysis and critique, Milbank's essay underscores what I am saying here: in Christian perspective gender difference is intrinsic to Christian understanding of marriage. What may be important about his essay as we reflect on it and discuss it (and I hope there is wide discussion of it) is that it models how Christians might publicly talk about marriage in a manner which is not against gay people.

POSTSCRIPT: Austen Ivereigh has a lovely, irenic essay, also posted on ABC.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reporters and bookies looking for the wrong next ABC?

I am not much of one for believing in reincarnation but if the present ABC is correct then it is possible that his successor was one of the oxen lowing at the birth of Jesus :)

No, seriously, ++Rowan says his successor will need the constitution of an ox . Scouting about the net I see that already the pundits are lining up names for betting on ++Rowan's successor. On the one hand ++John Sentamu gets mentioned and then more or less dismissed ... which is a mistake surely because among his estimable qualities he does seem to have the constitution of an ox.

On the other hand in respect of +Dark Horse being appointed, I haven't see any mention of my +Dark Horse, nor, indeed, any mention of another one voiced to me by someone whose inside track on these things I have a great deal of respect for.

I suggest that the key thing to look for is not the person who has a CV full of qualities for the post but someone who has human qualities for the post which will be recognised by the Communion at large when they are appointed.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Magdalene appoints master of Hegelian theology

A while back a little rumour swept that Anglican news world to the effect that the ABC would step down at the end of 2012 (after the next ACC meeting which, as it happens, takes place here in NZ) and take up a Cambridge college master's role. Then all went quiet. Even last week, talking to an English cleric-who-knows-++Rowan-well staying with us, the thought was that he would not go until after the Covenant was sorted. But, in fact, the rumour was correct and Magdalene College, Cambridge has announced who its next master will be.

Inevitably speculation has already mounted about who the next ABC will be. I suggest it will be one of two people. Candidate number one is a well-known English bishop with good credentials in the Communion who could readily move into the Canterbury role without having to go through a lot of "who's he?" getting to know you stuff. That is, ++John Sentamu. Candidate number two is someone we have hardly heard anything about. That is, +Dark Horse.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Is the Jerusalem Declaration a plausible alternative to the Covenant?

I don't think so. Here's why. The JD (full text below) offers several difficult clauses:

(a) when so much of current Anglican debates turns on the interpretation of Scripture the following sentence in Clause 2 (C2) of the JD is an inadequate statement of what Anglicans might agree together about the interpretation of Scripture:

"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 does 'plain and canonical sense' mean? What is 'the church's historic and consensual reading?' Given that the JD brought together both anglo-catholic's and evangelicals, this is a surprising sentence because what is 'plain' to evangelicals and 'plain' to anglo-catholics are quite different understandings of the eucharist. 'Canonical' sense to anglo-catholics includes giving more weight to the Apocrypha than evangelicals give (and thus greater anglo-catholic openness to praying for the dead)' As for 'historic' reading, how far back does history reach? The English Reformers understood the Bible differently to (say) St Augustine and St Anselm of Canterbury. 'Consensual' begs a lot of questions, including why evangelicals do not read the Bible 'consensually' with Roman Catholics (who have a strong argument in favour of their readings being the oldest and most widely subscribed to in the history of Christianity). Better by far are the careful and more elaborate statements about Scripture and its interpretation in the Anglican Covenant (S1).

(b) when a number of those involved in forming the JD were also involved in episcopal cross-territory administration in North America it is quite shocking that the JD would include this sentence (C3):

"We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church."

Those four Ecumenical Council include the Council of Nicea and one of its canons specifically forbids more than one bishop per territory. That is the JD upholds something some of its adherents disregard. Integrity calls for a different relationship to the first four Ecumenical Councils than expressed here. (Incidentally, such upholding of the four Ecumenical Councils goes well beyond what the 39A themselves say about the Ecumenical Councils!)

(c) the statement (C4) on the Thirty Nine Articles (39A) is implausible:

"We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today."

First, again referring to the involvement of Anglo-Catholics in the formulation of the JD, this is a surprising statement given the great difficulties Anglo-Catholics have had in agreeing to the 39A jot and tittle, including some specific disagreements with the notion of the church tied up in the word 'congregation' in A19.

Secondly, the 39A are regularly disregarded by all Anglicans, of all hues and stripes. A35 requires ministers of the Church of England to read the homilies in the first and second Books of Homilies to their congregations. Anyone doing this?

Thirdly, the 39A includes articles which are now irrelevant to the life of the church (and the life of the churches of the Communion). A21 forbids the calling of a General Council of the church except with the concurrence of 'Princes'. But we have moved a long way in the Communion (and even in the C of E) from being beholden to 'Princes' when we wish to meet together. GAFCON itself invoked no princely or magisterial authority in coming into being and we don't expect the ABC to seek permission of either the British Prime Minister nor the Queen before calling the next Lambeth Conference. Such a clause is not authoritative for our life today.

Again, the Anglican Covenant has a better considered, relevant way of speaking about the role of the 39A in the life of Anglican churches today (S1.1).

(d) No definition of 'orthodox' is given in relation to C13,

"We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord."

One might presume that 'orthodox' has to do with treating the 39A as authoritative (which rules out a lot of people not prepared to do that because not all the Articles are relevant to today), with upholding the four Ecumenical Councils (which rules out the North American, African and South American bishops who do not do this), with reading the Scriptures according to their plain and canonical meaning etc (which only begs questions of definition), and, noting C6, upholding the 1662 BCP as the authoritative standard of worship (which rules out a lot of Anglicans who otherwise are creedally orthodox) but do not hold the BCP as 'the' authoritative standard of worship, not least because they have been party to considerable liturgical revision within their own Anglican churches.

There is much that is agreeable in the JD and many of its clauses offer clear and concise statements of beliefs that all Anglicans, if true to their heritage in the Church of England as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, should welcome. But there are problems in its wording, the most important difficulties, in my view, being noted here. It is not yet a statement to bind Anglicans together en masse.


"In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, have met in the land of Jesus’ birth. We express our loyalty as disciples to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus. We joyfully embrace his command to proclaim the reality of his kingdom which he first announced in this land. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.

1.We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

2.We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. 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.

3.We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

4.We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

5.We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

6.We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

7.We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

8.We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

9.We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.

10.We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

11.We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.

12.We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.

13.We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.

14.We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Conservatives shouldn't support the Covenant if a conservatives-only Communion is sought

I am quite unrepentant about urging conservatives to support the Covenant even though a number of important criticisms have come back to me in comments on yesterday's post.

I quite agree that in a number of ways the Communion and its current arrangements (and my own church ACANZP and its current arrangements) have not served conservative Anglicans well, at least in the sense of often appearing to curry favour with the agressive progressive elements in our life, rather than being firm and disciplinarian with those elements.

But Anglican life is not simply divisible into "conservatives" and "progressives". There is a great middle ground in which people have a mix of conservative and progressive views, attitudes and commitments. It is unlikely that a proposal such as the Anglican Covenant will garner much support if it is solely satisfying to only one set of views. If conservative Anglicans would be happy with a Covenant whose text and whose application sorted the Communion out in a conservative manner, what proportion of the Communion would sign up? Just before replying that the vast majority of individual Anglicans are conservatives (true!), we should recall that we are talking about a proposal for member churches to sign to. Again, one could rightly say that the majority of member churches of the Communion are conservative. But in saying that one could and should acknowledge that a substantial minority of member churches are not conservative in outlook but rather a 'mixed bag'. In this category I place (at least) the churches of Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Southern Africa, Canada, the USA and related places, Japan, Brazil and Mexico. None of these churches would sign to a conservatives-are-happy-with-it Covenant. We know that, in fact, several of the above churches are likely not to sign the Covenant because it is more conservative than they want to be a signatory to.

In short, if we want something like the present Communion to sign up to something which is a marker in the ground about doctrine and practice and mutual accountability, it is going to be the Covenant or something like it. But if we conservatives are happy to have a Communion shorn of most of the above named countries then by all means (a) do not sign the Covenant (b) work on other arrangements more satisfying to conservatives.

I for one as a conservative am interested in Anglican arrangements which keep my moderate, progressive and progressive-and-conservative colleagues and friends on board (as far as possible - some progressives are liable to fall outside the limits to diversity!). I say this not because I think opposing points of view can all be true but because I have learnt much from those who are not like me and do not think like me.

One of those things I have learned is that I may be wrong, that not all conservatism is as faithful to the gospel as it thinks it is, or as 'biblical' as it claims to be. It is humbling to realise that one may have been wrong, that one has lots to learn, and that people one thought had jettisoned the Bible in fact have kept reading it, but that has been my experience as a conservative moving in the mixed economy of local and global Anglicanism.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why conservatives throughout the Communion should vote for the Covenant

A commenter here draws attention to John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar posting on why he would vote 'no' to the Covenant.

I argue the opposite. Conservative Anglicans concerned about both truth and unity, about speaking up for the truth and against false teaching, should vote for the Covenant. Here are my reasons:

(1) Without the Covenant the Communion will remain in its current state, divided, diversifying, and dying (as a fellowship of churches which are not in fellowship with each other). The Covenant offers a way out of the mess not as some argue because it is, in itself, a recipe or mechanism for unity and communion but because member churches saying 'yes' to the Covenant would be member churches re-finding and renewing their intention to work on division, limit diversity in belief and practice, and give new life to being a 'Communion.' All Anglicans, including all conservative Anglicans should support the Covenant for this reason alone.

(2) We are at an extraordinary cross-road in the life of the Communion. If this were an ordinary cross-road, if the Covenant was (so to speak) just another bright proposal from the bureaucracy of the Communion thought up on an otherwise rainy, dull day in London, we might feel it was unhelpful to the cause we believe in (as many progressives and many conservatives do feel, and provide arguments against it, as John Richardson does). Voting it down would then be a vote against bureaucrats having bright thoughts on dull days about unnecessary additions to the panoply of Communion life. But at this extraordinary cross-road, brought on by progressive Anglicanism pushing the boundaries of Anglican diversity, the Covenant is a means of saying to ourselves that there are limits to Anglican diversity around the globe, than 'Anglican' has specific content in doctrine and in practice which can be held up as something to which member churches are accountable.  For conservatives to vote against the Covenant is to vote for unlimited diversity in future Anglicanism. Is this the direction conservatives want to go in?

(3) The Covenant will not stifle member churches from speaking up (a specific objection of John Richardson's).

Conservatives should vote for the Covenant, even with reservations, in order to draw a line in the sand in respect of progressive power to control the character of future global Anglicanism.

I am not prepared as a conservative to collude with progressives in furthering their very clear agenda in voting the Covenant down.

Postscript: to put all this in another way ...

The Covenant by itself will not make the Communion all that conservatives would like the Communion to be. Conservative reservations about the Covenant are understandable and worth stating on the public record. Yet conservatives should support the Covenant because the Communion without the Covenant will be all the progressives want the Communion to be and that will be worse in the long-run for conservatives.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Irish close no doors

The Church of Ireland has had a conference on human sexuality and its bishops have issued a joint statement. Here's an excerpt:

"The format included a range of facilitated seminars on themes as diverse as the welcome provided to gay people in church to recent changes in legislation to whether or not there can be ‘agreeable disagreement’ over gay clergy. It further involved listening to the direct experience of gay Christians and to parents of gay children. There was a clear appreciation of the integrity and principled positions of those expressing different views. It has become clear that there is a breadth of opinion in the Church of Ireland on these matters but also a strong sense of the cohesiveness of the Church. While it is acknowledged that there are still difficult issues for us as a Church, there is not an atmosphere of division.

The intention of the conference was one of enabling open discussion, rather than one of articulating policy or making decisions. We observed a common desire to welcome all people to participate in the life of the Church, whilst accepting that there are no easy answers to difficult questions. In response to the Holy Spirit, the Church seeks to witness to society – with humility – rather than simply reflect current popular opinion. The conference comes at a time when there are live cultural and political debates relating to ‘same-sex marriage’. Within this context, the Church’s position on marriage as being the union of one man and one woman remains constant."
What a great model for the rest of the Communion: cohesiveness, willingness to explore issues in respectful conversation and a constant position on marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

UPDATE: for a different view of proceedings, read here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Will someone with real intellectual stature step up for the No Covenant Coalition?

Don't be fooled, ever, by titles such as "bishop" or "professor" or "doctor" let alone "reverend" when it comes to doing good theology. What counts is substance in argument and facility in logic. The No Covenant Coalition has attracted a few titled people to its ranks as patrons and other titled people are putting their names to arguments against the Covenant. So what? They need some good arguments. The No Covenant movement - both the Coalition and others - needs some substantive arguments. Are there any actually out there. Thinking Anglicans currently has a few links to people lining up to take a potshot against the Covenant. Vacuous stuff. No, really it is. Read all these kinds of pieces and ask these simple questions:

(1) Does it foster the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ (the greatest theologian) who prayed that his followers might be one?

(2a) What is the substantial difference between the Anglican Covenant for the Communion and the combination of constitution and canons (including disciplinary canons) for each member church?

(2b) If you cannot find a substantive difference, then ask what is unAnglican, unprecedented, or unbecoming to Anglican life about the Covenant?

(2c) Special question for ACANZP objectors to the Covenant on grounds of a Covenant being unAnglican etc: what is the substantial difference between the Covenant as a covenant between peoples and the Treaty of Waitangi as a covenant between peoples?

(3) Does the argument amount to a preference on the part of the author, as in "I would prefer not to have the Anglican Covenant because it appears to cut against my preference to permit [name preference to be indulged such as preferring not to be told what to do, not to be accountable, ...]"?

(4) Do the fine words amount to an unwillingness to be accountable for decisions made which cut against the grain of the Scriptures and received tradition of the church?

(5) Does the piece you are reading include special pleading about hypothetical circumstances? (This is fairly easily spotted with lines such as "If we had had the Covenant then we would be still waiting to ordain women?")

(6a) Is there a presumption to special knowledge not given to all Anglicans such as "I and/or my member church has received a word from the Holy Spirit about X, Y or Z"?

(6b) On what basis do we know that the claimed word in 6a is true?

If what you read passes these test questions then, fair enough, we might be on our way to a substantive case against the Covenant.

There are intellectually vacuous arguments for the Covenant. The other day here I mentioned one: we must be loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury. That is nuts. The Covenant is an idea which rests on the importance of gospel truth, shared commitment to that truth, recognition of the seriousness of teaching falsely, and the importance of deepening our love for one another with real content because we understand true Christian love to involve (not exclude) mutual accountability. Loyalty to the truth, to Jesus Christ and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is the only loyalty the Covenant involves.

When are we going to see some real intellectual stature in the arguments against the Covenant instead of the vacuity served up in the guise of eloquent statements of personal preference?

Mind you my request here might be somewhat vacuous itself: if the CofE synods do not reach the number required (22) to send the Covenant legislation back to its GS then the Covenant is dead in the water, substantive arguments or not.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cordial Covenant

Good speech here, by Simon Cawdell, to the Diocese of Hereford Synod. This excerpt deals with the main criticisms directed against the Covenant:

"Thus far there is little or nothing that is not descriptive of the life we already live, and is therefore wholly uncontroversial. Section 4 turns to those moments when, being human, and therefore part of a human institution we disagree. Very often we can agree to differ, bearing in mind the contexts of our mission, but just occasionally an issue arises of such import that it threatens the fabric of the Communion. The last decade has been an object lesson in how not to deal with these, and section 4 proposes a means of enabling an exploration of differences that is Biblical, and careful. It does not lay down restrictions, nor does it impose anything. Indeed it recognises the right of autonomous provinces to carry on regardless if they so wish.

It does envisage a situation in which a church might be asked to delay a decision whilst it is thought through. It recognises that sadly there may be times when a church presses ahead with a change that others cannot accept, and at that point it places upon the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the ACC a requirement to spell out what the relational consequences of such a decision might be. It absolutely does not, anywhere suggest that it can prevent anything. As to the relational consequences, this is nothing new. We have seen relational consequences of unilateral action over the last ten years, and the Covenant merely seeks to bring about some order in discussion where previously there has been chaos.

Think of another Covenant relationship, that of a marriage, where neither party is in fact prevented from any action or decision, but they may hopefully choose to regard the wellbeing of the other before they proceed. If they do not there may be relational consequences varying from the dog eating dinner, to divorce. There is nothing novel in this, but a tidying of how we resolve matters. In essence we are moving to the model of Matthew 18 when we speak with one another, then before witnesses, and only then lay the matter before the church. In marriage preparation it is always my custom to exhort a couple that if they find themselves at an impasse, to seek a mediated conversation. This is healthy, and mirrors real life to us.

I have heard this is the language of pre nuptial agreements. I demur. That refers to contracts, this is a Covenant. Yes it may have moral force, but it is not legally binding. If you doubt it we have the word of the Legal Officers as well as the Archbishop to reassure us.

I have heard it argued that this will cause many unnecessary delays. Let me put it in context. The average life of a Measure’s progress through Synod is three years. In the case of a change thought by some (but not me) to be controversial like Women Bishops it has taken twenty years. The truth is that our own processes are so tortuous that any delay requested from elsewhere will easily be incorporated within the normal progress of our own proceedings. I don’t anticipate many in any case.

I have heard that it is judgemental, and punitive. That is wholly inaccurate. It provides a means of mediated conversation, and in extremis outlines the issues that may arise if, after careful conversation churches decide to walk apart. That merely defines fact existing now, when some provinces members are already excluded from representative functions because of the stance of their sponsoring church. It does however provide a rather less messy route than happens today, allowing for patient conversation and quiet diplomacy.

I have heard people call it unAnglican, which is a strange criticism indeed as it encapsulates our much loved heritage, it sets up no additional structure, but utilises present ones, and has been drawn together in many drafts by careful consultation across the globe, including a substantial contribution from our own church, and the strong endorsement of our own Archbishop."
The whole speech is at Fulcrum.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The insidious corruption of the media

I like reading the daily newspaper. I enjoy trawling across the internet to get a 'fix' of international news via the sites of SMH, NYT, DT, RCP. I am grateful for what is given by the media by way of news and opinion. Most of the time I am a voyeur on the world around me, connected to that world by the communication threads spun by the media. But sometimes the reality of my world and the depiction of that world clash and I am confronted by the discordant pain of reality being misrepresented. Mention that to friends and the uniform response is "they have to sell their newspapers" (i.e., "they (TV) have to sell their advertising slots").

But is not earning money via mischief, deception and manipulation a form of corruption? And when some organisation always makes its money by that means, is it not an insidiousness at work in the heart of the community?

The current furore over the decision of the diocesan authorities to bring the cathedral down to safe levels (an effective demolition) brings home to those of us who cherish our diocese, our bishop, our people's safety, as well as the cathedral, the insidious corruption of the media. The media is playing the conflict up for all it is worth, but are not telling us that the conflict is between a few voicing unreasonable thoughts (we can rebuild it cheaply, we ought to save it whatever the cost, the City Council can do the job) and the many sane and sensible Anglicans and non-Anglicans of Christchurch who see the cathedral for what it now is, terminally ill and tragically dying.

This article makes an excellent point (yes, it is a media article - the media is not a complete basket case) that two different current affairs programmes on Wednesday nights made two opposing points about the state of mind of the population. How could they?! There is only one population here.

Even though one show got the state of mind of the population correct (bring the cathedral down for safety reasons), it was a bitter sweet programme because it gave most air time to an engineer who said the most absurd things: fixing it would only cost $20m but might take ten years. Yeah, right. Showing some quake damaged palace in Haiti as a potentially fixable building told us what? Oh, that's right, if we turned our country into one of the most corrupt places on earth, kept people living in tents for decades, we too could fix the cathedral. Yeah, right.

There is one and only one honest line of investigation the media need to take on the cathedral: show us the money. The cathedral is obviously fixable and restorable: it was made by human hands from accessible materials and it could be remade by humans hands and accessible materials.* It would just take a colossal sum of money, of the sort only the Prime Minister and government, or a consortium of wildly rich people can provide. Our journalists only need to make two or three phone calls to determine whether the Diocese should have made a different decision: to John Key or to our few really, really rich people and ask whether they are stumping up.

Every indication so far is that they are not. A government minister went on one show to confirm the diocese has made the right decision. A golden opportunity for him to tell the nation about an open cheque being given to fund the restoration. Noticeably he did not take that opportunity.

Meanwhile, in the real world of no money (relative to the government rightly assisting as best it can the whole nation, and to really rich people funding sport - the true universal religion of New Zealand), the media are making their bucks at the church's expense. And at the expense of all the people and organisations and realities they consistly misrepresent.

Ouch. That makes me part of the corruption every time I pay my newspaper sub and buy advertised products!

*Admittedly the genius of carver Frederick Guernsey might be hard to replace.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Now for something completely different

Let's give the Covenant a rest for a few moments (though it is hard to resist a note when the No Anglican Covenant Coalition announces new patrons including NZ's own +Jim White and Australia's Muriel "I write against Sydney, lots" Porter ... I wonder if Sydney might contemplate supporting the Covenant! Some of us may not like being likened to toothpaste, but there you go, we cannot always have the metaphors we would wish on ourselves.) Instead, with H/T to Joshua Bovis, I draw your attention to Sydney Bishop Rob Forsyth satirising worship services in the Sydney Diocese. Here is the beginning:

"Here’s a Contemporary Sunday liturgy that has not been included in Common Prayer: Resources for gospel-shaped gatherings.

It is only in draft form and I am sure can be improved. I would welcome suggestions.

A Contemporary Sunday Service outline (aka An Agenda for Sunday Meetings)


1. Begin late with chatty longwinded opening. It’s best to mention current affairs, the latest cricket results or football, anything to take people’s minds away from any focus on God and particularly if anyone had been praying beforehand."

Read the rest here. It is good humour to an Adrian Plass standard!

My serious point here is not to join Bishop Forsyth in criticisng what happens in his own diocese but to note that a number of the things he draws attention to feature in Kiwi services (in my experience). To take the first item cited above as one instance: I find it seriously disturbing how often a service begins with acclamation of ourselves, who we are,  and what is happening in our lives without explicitly acclaiming our purpose in gathering, to worship the living God having drawn aside from our ordinary human living to engage in the extraordinary experience of communion with the angels and archangels and all the saints as we jointly acclaim God and the Lamb who was slain for us.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Same sex partnership supporter votes for Covenant

Some interesting words emerging about the Covenant in the past two days. ++Rowan has videoed - link and comment at Catholicity and Covenant.

Thinking Anglicans links to several items. One of these includes this,
"I am firmly committed to the belief that suitable candidates who are in a faithful and committed same-sex partnership should be eligible for appointment or election as bishops in the same way as anybody else. This I believe to be a matter of faithful interpretation of Scripture rather than simply adoption of current ideas of permissive freedom. I also believe that it is not a matter which affects salvation and that there is therefore legitimate diversity on this matter. That said, however, I am also aware that many will, and do, disagree with me profoundly on good and solidly Anglican grounds: it is a matter of fact that the regulation of human conduct and relationships solely in monogamous marriage between male and female or celibacy is regarded by most Christians (including most Anglicans) as a central and unchangeable aspect of the deposit of faith.

That being the case, there will inevitably be disputes over first-order matters between (and within) different churches. Conflict over what is necessary to salvation is part of what it is to be a catholic Christian. The local needs therefore to relate to the universal. Catholicity cannot be limited purely to one’s own context (Intro. §4 and sect. 3). My brother or sister who disagrees with me in Lagos is still my brother or sister and a member of one and the same catholic Church; and, provided that they are operating using the methods accepted as constitutive of catholicity, I have to take them seriously and they too have to take me seriously, provided that I too am adopting these methods. For Anglicans the universal is nothing less than all other Anglicans (and more widely all those who call themselves Christians). It is for this reason that I would acknowledge the possibility that the current Covenant proposal, which is very circumspect and which encourages dispute resolution and listening before legal recourse, may be better than the current situation of unregulated disagreement and schism, or leaving everything up to the Archbishop of Canterbury."
The author is Mark Chapman, Vice-Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford (not exactly a bastion of my kind of evangelical conservatism!) and writes this and the remainder of the essay at The Living Church.

Within the excerpt cited above, Chapman makes a couple of points I am trying to make through this blog (in a haphazard and often unclear way!):

First, a point about commitment to being in relationship with ALL Anglicans:

"My brother or sister who disagrees with me in Lagos is still my brother or sister and a member of one and the same catholic Church; and, provided that they are operating using the methods accepted as constitutive of catholicity, I have to take them seriously and they too have to take me seriously, provided that I too am adopting these methods. For Anglicans the universal is nothing less than all other Anglicans (and more widely all those who call themselves Christians). "

At risk of being critical of i-friends here and local friends and colleagues, I find arguments against the Covenant to be insufficiently committed to building a Communion of all Anglicans, not just of the Anglicans who agree with me.

Secondly, a point about the non-draconian nature of the Covenant and the lack of a better alternative to the present situation despite what many say:

"It is for this reason that I would acknowledge the possibility that the current Covenant proposal, which is very circumspect and which encourages dispute resolution and listening before legal recourse, may be better than the current situation of unregulated disagreement and schism, or leaving everything up to the Archbishop of Canterbury."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Can a government redefine the meaning of marriage?

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's most senior Catholic, has written a stirring article against the British government's intention to change the definition of marriage there. Here is an excerpt:

"Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time marriage would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.

Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.

Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense.

But can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?

Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.

Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.

As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government. It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them. Instead, recognising the innumerable benefits which marriage brings to society, they should act to protect and uphold marriage, not attack or dismantle it.

This is a point of view that would have been endorsed and accepted only a few years ago, yet today advancing a traditional understanding of marriage risks one being labelled an intolerant bigot. "

I think he could have gone further. If marriage as a relationship between any two people of any gender is enshrined in law, does it not expose the church as an agent in marriages and as a teaching institution to the persecution of the state?

First, all ministers of religion who wish to serve by the age old standard that marriage is between a man and a woman, would face the charge of discrimination (i.e. as a social fact, highlighted by media and/or as a legal fact, depending on applications of legislation regarding rights) if the sole grounds for refusing a request to "marry" was that the requesting couple did not consist of a man and a woman.

Secondly, all teachers of the Christian faith who taught what the church has taught all its life, that marriage is between a man and a woman, would be teaching against the current generated by state change to marriage laws and potentially liable to a reaction from the state. (The analogy here could be the situation regarding different races in society: a minister teaching that one race is superior to another would incur the wrath of society in countries such as Britain).

Thirdly, all Christian teachers who wished to express the view that children have the right to a mother and a father will probably face constraint on such teaching as the redefinition of marriage in law to permit marriage between two persons of the same gender automatically confers the right of such arrangements to bring up children without further ado.

I suggest that Christians tempted to side with the British government on this matter should hit the 'pause' button.

It is one thing to support the rights of same sex couples to legal protection around matters to do with property, next-of-kin, and the like. Christian motivation here draws on Christian teaching about mercy, grace, and human dignity.

It is another thing to support the redefinition of marriage. Christians should consider the implications of redefinition for the future practice and teaching of the Christian faith. I can think of no Christian motivation under mercy, grace and human dignity which requires or demands of us that we redefine marriage as a relationship other than between a man and a woman.

PS I will not post any comments here which invoke the Catholic church's appalling record re priests and pedophilia. The record is appalling but reminding us of that is not an argument against Cardinal O'Brien's substantive points. There are plenty of other sites running commentary on this article, make your comments there.