Monday, January 14, 2013

I can see clearly now!

A few weeks' break from blogging has done me a world of good. Whether readers think so is, of course, another matter. Here goes for 2013.

Bit by bit life is changing around us. Here in Christchurch/Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand we are experiencing a scorcher of a summer, with many days in the high 20s Celsius and a few days in the 30s. This is nothing compared to our neighbours across the Ditch (Tasman Sea) where temperatures have been in the high 40s in some places with deadly consequences. There have been heat waves before but the graphs are telling us that the world is unusually warm these days and for those with eyes to see, there is a human element contributing to the spike in temperatures and in rising sea levels.

The heat is rising in the Anglican Whatsit these days too. While I have self-imposed my blogging break, other Anglicans have been restless. Rumbles continue over the C of E GS non-approval of women bishops (see now an erudite case for why the Chair of the House of Laity must go - the initial case was, IMHO, poorly thought through. nevertheless it involves a form of posturing: the issue is women bishops, not who the chair of this or that house is).

Simultaneously the Anglican Whatsit has been rumbling over another development in the C of E, the ground-breaking news that celibate priests who intend to remain celibate can be bishops. Scan through Thinking Anglicans and other sites to get the gist of the rumblings, the latest of which is a Global South Primates letter.

Frankly, I think, even as a conservative, that conservative Anglican Primates could do better than what they offer. Seeking a global Anglican consultation/consensus on decisions such as the C of E has made would have integrity if all decisions about homosexuality had consensus. But I don't see the Church in Uganda consulting with the wider Whatsit or asking for a consensus about their support for draconian civil legislation against gays and lesbians ... a consensus I could not be part of. Could you?

I wouldn't want to be part of the C of E these days. Let's face it, I could be in a diocese where (1) a bishop is imposed on me (there not being synodical elections of bishops), (2) that bishop is in a civil partnership with a same sex partner (I may or may not think, without prejudice, that is a propitious circumstance), (3) thus I am asked to accept the prospective bishop's word that he is celibate, placing me in the invidious position of accepting that word on trust (which, as a priest, I should be inclined to do) while (almost certainly) having a host of parishioners and colleagues around me questioning whether that word can be accepted. Not least that questioning would arise because that silly man Giles Fraser has publicly argued that about-to-be-bishops-in-a-civil-partnership should lie under these circumstances  thus setting up the perfect argument for mistrusting people who are in partnerships and say they are celibate (the famous example being Jeffrey John).

If that last paragraph is a bit long, let me say more succinctly: I am glad to be in the church I am in Down Under! (For what it is worth, I do take Jeffrey John at his word, thus his being turned down for a bishopric was always about whether he adhered to the C of E's teaching or not. I personally do not have a problem with celibate clergy in a same sex civil partnership (some have protested about this as it 'looks like marriage'). My point is that celibacy is not a confinement to singleness in the sense of living alone: celibate monasticism has always been about people living together in a mutually supportive society. Why should celibate clergy be also required to have no companionship in life?)

What do I see clearly now?

When we dismiss to the sidelines the silly posturing and stupid 'Fraserian' propositions circling the Anglican globe, we are left with an Anglican Whatsit in which the following are, I suggest indisputable propositions:

(1) Given the options to leave global Anglicanism (e.g. the Ordinariate), the lack of interest in leaving combined with the interest in belonging (e.g. ACNA) amounts to a lot of Anglicans wishing to belong together in a framework of some kind (currently mis-known as 'the Anglican Communion.')

(2) Within the vast throng of Anglicans wishing to belong together we clearly see (i.e. beyond the posturing and silliness) a set of polarities, specifically, those in favour of ordaining women as priests and bishops and those not [WO] and those in favour of same sex partnerships as a blessed possibility and those not [SSM].

(3) There is no time soon, no foreseeable tomorrow in which we are going to resolve these issues.

(4) There is a reason for the lack of foreseeable resolution: there are (I suggest, trying my darndest to rid myself of all pre-judging of and lack of charity towards the arguments of others) plausible arguments for/against WO and SSM (on the latter, see a nicely judged essay here).

Yes, here at ADU and elsewhere we have had some good ding-dong arguments about these matters, and amongst us some think very poorly of the arguments of others. But there is a certain plausibility on each side of the debate: after all, against WO, there is the plausibility of the vast host of Romans and Eastern Orthodox arguing so; in favour of SSM, there is the plausibility of the vast host of Westerners, in country after country pushing for it to be so (which is, acknowledging that sheer numbers do not affect 'the truth' per se, the plausibility of seeking legal and social support for couples expressing deep love for each other, again, see the essay referred to above). Etc, for other sides of the matters. (With these few remarks, I am not trying in any way shape or form to settle anything in the ongoing debates, nor am I arguing for 'equal' plausibility on each side. Further, I am oversimplifying, causa brevitatis, the way these matters are debated. On SSM, for instance, I detect among friends and colleagues at least three approaches: same sex marriage is cool; same sex partnerships are okay but do not make them marriages, neither same sex partnerships or same sex marriages are okay).

So, what I am seeing clearly now is this: what has been known as the Anglican Communion, a circle of love in Christ symbolised by the Compass Rose, should be renamed the Anglican Ellipse. An ellipse, we may recall, is a continuous squashed circle with two foci (contrasting with the one foci of a circle). Thus,

That is, we Anglicans who cannot dislodge ourselves from the prospect of belonging together could make 2013 the year in which we acknowledge the polarities among us are what they are. If we are not going to divide into two (or more) circles/Communions then we need to have the decency to identify what we have become, a squashed circle (yes, think squashed hopes and dreams) that is, an ellipse.

The usefulness of thinking in this way is that we could welcome the leadership both of the new ABC and of (say) the Global South Primates. We could acknowledge we are an ellipse of love in Christ in which some celebrate the ordination of women as bishops and some do not, some celebrate the marriage of people of the same gender and some think this is a theological impossibility as the core requirement for marriage is a man and a woman being coupled together.

Three final thoughts (at least for today).

First, all said here is taking a global view of being Anglican and what our life looks like and how we might remain a global organisation with significant differences. I do not (never have, really) see clearly how we can work out (say) what it means to be an Anglican church in which pro-SSM and anti-SSM exists (as we will be exploring in ACANZP in 2013 and 2014 with a degree of urgency).

Secondly, I think it well worth continuing to work on being the Anglican Ellipse: Anglican schism would never change the fact that the global church of God presents to the world a divided Christianity on various matters. An Anglican Ellipse always has before it the possibility of demonstrating, albeit painfully and slowly, how Christians lives with huge difference.

Thirdly, I remain of the view that God is one and God's truth is one. That is, while humanly we are stuck in our divides between plausible views, and we argue furiously over which is correct because on one side of the debate we think we have more plausibility etc, it is not - cannot - be the case that God is divided on the truth. God is not both in favour of WO and against it, ditto SSM. The quest to seek the single mind of God on these matters should be pursued. An Anglican Ellipse is a provisional way of being while the quest is pursued.

I will not be posting regularly here at ADU for a while. This post likely will be the only post for the next ten days or so. I will try to publish comments as able.

There is a theme song for this post!


Pageantmaster said...

My eyes are dim I cannot see,
I have not brought my specs with me

Rosemary Behan said...

My eyes are dim too, and I cannot see clearly .. because we're seeing through a glass darkly.

Bryden Black said...

This is a bold attempt, Peter, to try to see more clearly. Yet ... and yet ...

I think your twin focus elipse to be misplaced. For we have not two centres but more; well, we could have a really squishy shape, constructed by one of those clever plastic geometry sets, with multiple loops - but I desist!

Crucially, to link but WO & SSM is not necessary; and so it is not the case we have an elipse, with two foci. There are a good few of us who are adamantly in favour of the first and implacably against the second. Your link from “Thinking Christian” is brilliant - and vital. For example, only a few months back I sense I shocked Ronnie when I said “marriage” was not based on a “commitment between two people”. Rather, when Cathy and I married each other we entered into an Estate, a social phenomenon with a complex set of traits and an equally complex history - let alone a symbolic/sacramental dimension within the Church.

For “marriage” is not only “future oriented”; it is necessarily socially oriented: in fact, these two implicate each other totally! In addition, the very Church has about it these two facets in spades: it too is a communal/social reality and it is profoundly temporally, not to say eschatologically marked. That is one reason the symbolic/sacramental aspect of marriage is what it is!

A last comment. Your use of the word “plausible” in your post is a helpful way into a necessary line of discussion, that re “plausibility structures”, or as Paul Ricoeur terms it, “the available believable”. Once more, your link to the Thinking Christian is helpful here too. For he accentuates the “unthinkable”. That is to say, humans ‘naturally and obviously’ ‘swim’ in certain kinds of cultural ponds that determine to a very large extent what is ‘deemed’ possible/plausible/thinkable/doable. One of the very points of the Gospel however is to engage the mind of humanity in ways that reform precisely all such stuff. What we are witnessing today, IMHO, is vast retreat from gains offered humanity by means of the Gospel’s engagement with a particular culture over centuries. That is, the collapse of Christendom, even with all its ambiguities, has precipitated not just the lauded gains of e.g. Liberal Christianity but also numerous losses, notably those engendered by the rebirth of a neo-paganism. And this does not assist one to see clearly at all; it throws us back into a curious dark age once more ...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
Yes, our global life is more complex than describable by "Ellipse". Yet "Ellipse" stops us thinking that "Communion" is a nice simple circle of love with one centre!

On marriage, I am increasingly "seeing clearly" that a lot re "plausibility" hinges on definition. Define marriage as "commitment between two lovers" and change galore is possible. Define marriage as (say) "commitment to establish family with a mum and a dad at its head" and we have reason to defend marriage as universally received in human society.

Father Ron Smith said...

I was going to refrain from commenting on your blog for a while Peter (I can hear your sigh of relief), but I found this remark by Bryden just too much to bear, because, patently it is not true:

Quote "For “marriage” is not only “future oriented”; it is necessarily socially oriented: in fact, these two implicate each other totally! In addition, the very Church has about it these two facets in spades: it too is a communal/social reality and it is profoundly temporally, not to say eschatologically marked. That is one reason the symbolic/sacramental aspect of marriage is what it is!" - unquote - Bryden Black -

There is no 'eschatological mark to heterosexual Marriage - as wtiness this Biblical injunction:

"For “marriage” is not only “future oriented”; it is necessarily socially oriented: in fact, these two implicate each other totally! In addition, the very Church has about it these two facets in spades: it too is a communal/social reality and it is profoundly temporally, not to say eschatologically marked. That is one reason the symbolic/sacramental aspect of marriage is what it is!

There is no eschatological 'mark' on heterosexual marriage - as witness this Biblical injunction:

Matthew 22:30 ESV

"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."

In Heaven, neither heterosexual nor same-sex earthly relationshops have any significance. The new Marriage is 'to the Lamb'.

Bryden Black said...

Er; Ron. We are in heated agreement mate - at least, on what you say re the nature of the eschatological marking of "marriage". I left that out seeing it is so obvious! That's the trouble - one of the troubles - with blogging often: we rush our writing and even our reading, without the fulsome qualifying clauses that wld avoid such mis-readings... ciao ciao!

Rosemary Behan said...

I wish you would both start your suppositions with the premise .. which is NEVER not correct .. that there is for us, only ONE centre or focus .. Christ.

Peter says .. “Yet "Ellipse" stops us thinking that "Communion" is a nice simple circle of love with one centre!”


This may very well be some esoteric conversation which I don’t understand, but please talk about what we have as ‘unity’ .. Christ .. rather than our relationships with each other, which of course brings us back to submission to the focus.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,

Our union is with Jesus Christ the one centre of our communion together.

It seems to me, however, that Anglicans who love the Lord Jesus and wish to have him as our one centre of communion find ourselves in a difficult position in which our divisions set up different foci because we have created different "Christs". A Christ who supports gay marriage, for instance, and a Christ who does not.

In that sense (at least) I find our fellowship across global Anglicans far from being a simple circle of love and thus better (but tragically) represented by an ellipse (or, even, if we follow Bryden, a more complicated squishy thing).

My long-term goal on this blog is to contribute to shaping the ellipse back into a circle!

Rosemary Behan said...

I’ll post this where it was originally posted. I do understand that you are trying to address more than one issue, but I think it behooves us to continually make the Gospel clear because many more ‘read’ than ‘write’ to blogs. [I speak as one who has read and edited blogs professionally for years, and who therefore knows the figures, as I’m sure you do.]

1. Yes, the communion is all but divided, and one of the most distressing things to me personally is that it is hanging on by a thread as far as you and I are concerned Peter. Or, so that it doesn’t become so personal perhaps, between myself and all others who are pro WO. LOL .. I suspect ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is the least of it!!!

2. However I disagree that we should describe it EVER as elliptical, because that gives credence to an authority other than Jesus Christ. I agree completely, that BECAUSE there can only ever be one focus, then yes, we must always be searching for the Truth with a capital T. The Christ who was part of making us in His image. We must never stop .. ever .. even when we’re convinced we have understood that truth. You said as much in your most recent post did you not? [continued]

Rosemary Behan said...

3. "Did (the one and only, biblical) Christ form a movement with a definitive order and structure in respect of the officers who are to lead that movement through the generations? (Or, was the order flexible and lacking definition regarding the role women might play in leadership)"
Yes He did. He’s not the author of confusion. Also, He loves women .. a lot, or as I said to Janice .. to bits. As I believe did Peter and Paul, even though cries of misogynist are made against the latter. From Genesis right through the New Testament, including Peter and Paul’s writings, the message is the same despite all your discussions to the contrary, and it is in my humble opinion, NOT loving to teach women otherwise, it doesn’t help them to be what Jesus [God the Father, Apostles Peter and Paul] want them to be. That is the Good News as I see it, and I can assure you that for years I struggled with it, as I know you have. We must both have a care I suspect for the original sin. Did God REALLY say????? Did God REALLY mean???? That always applies doesn’t it?

So I don’t accept certain roles as being ‘best’ for women. Far from it. I do agree that if you’re going to give an evangelistic message at a meeting of non believers, it is unwise to begin with the difficult truth that women have a definitive role to play in God’s Will. [But not my will Father, yours!!!] That would be .. to say the least .. counter cultural. A big pill to swallow. But then neither ought you to go to said meeting with a text demonstrating that SSM is not God’s Will either. However the MOST counter cultural Truth is the Gospel, that Jesus Christ was sent to this earth to save us. That HIS is the power and the authority. That we don’t deserve saving, that we are as filthy rags .. when we DO understand that, even a glimpse, we’re on our way to understanding various ‘family’ secrets like predestination and the role of women!!!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,

I am rethinking "Ellipse". You are making an excellent critique. Thank you.

I am aware that the question 'Did God really say that?' has a long, tragic history which should forewarn me (and all Christians) as we read the Bible not to subvert its message.

However it is not the only question we bring to the Bible. We also bring the question, "What is God saying through the Bible?" This question drives along profound theological discussions on matters such as predestination, the church, the Trinity, the last days and the like. On such matters which have led to endless discussion and great division among Christians, I do not thunk of God as sowing confusion but as testing our grace towards one another. On some such matters I also think we have freedom to think differently (e.g. a-millennial, pre-millenial, post-millenial, pan-millenial).

In my reading of the Bible re WO I am not trying to ask whether God really did say X, but to ask what has God said.