Friday, February 8, 2013

Who are the weak?

If you were, or indeed are a member of the Church of England, engaging with the question of women bishops, who are the 'weak' as we reflect on the application of Romans 14-15 to the process of making a decision? Are the 'weak' those women who feel powerless in the face of a bunch of men having the upper-hand in the process, a process which could yield a decision to maintain the house of bishops as a male only preserve? Are the 'weak' those parish priests and congregations who know that when women become bishops they will be a small minority quite possibly without power to self-determine that only male bishops will minister to them? Perspective matters!

Interestingly, 'perspective matters' has a bearing on most great human divisions. Consider the bitter battle in the USA over the future course of its economy, a matter of interest to all the world, not least NZ whose economy is so small it is easily battered by the big players getting things wrong (in our perspective). Today I see Paul Krugman has posted about this amazing graph:

The Krugman perspective is that John Boehner is wrong to say that since he entered Congress in the early 1990s government debt has been a problem no one has seriously addressed. And Krugman, on that matter, is correct. The Clinton years were an amazing period in which federal debt reduced dramatically. Note, incidentally, how much that debt grew in the St Ronald Reagan years! But isn't the graph revealing? The growth in debt through the last part of the second Bush era and now the Obama years is astronomical. A fight over controlling that growth is worth having. Essentially Krugman's great point is that this debt doesn't matter. But is he right? Should his perspective be focused on the right hand end of the graph and not on whether Boehner misspoke about a part in the middle?

Analogously, on matters of sexuality and the church in the 21st century, we have similar points being made in argument. "It's a major problem (and getting worse)." "No, it isn't. We are making a major fuss over a minor aspect of life." "This has gone on for years. It's about time we solved it once and for all." Also, analogously, we could observe that both Boehner and Krugman have 'weak' hands to play. The former with his House republicans is battling President, Senate and public opinion. The latter, as the graph reveals, is battling the unseen reality of spiralling debt - the facts are not on Krugman's side.

In our ACANZP debate, represented by the recent Hui, who are the weak?

Perhaps the answer does not matter. When Paul writes, 'Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions' (14:1) should we understand this to mean that when we think we are the strong ones, our attitude to those who (by contrast) are the weak ones is clear? Welcome them, Paul is saying, do not refuse them a place in the life of the church, and do not welcome them solely for the purpose of arguing with them.

Quite a lot is at stake in this approach. Some very sobering words are written by Paul in 14:20:

'Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.'

Within the Anglican Communion in the past decade or so, we have seen a lot of destruction of the work of God: churches divided, churches leaving national churches, individuals and congregations leaving churches, damage to reputation of churches as our debates have been played out in the media which, arguably, is damage to the gospel and our mission of proclamation. Has this damage been for the sake of the equivalent of 'food' or has it been for a higher cause than that?


Bryden Black said...

"Has this damage been for the sake of the equivalent of 'food' or has it been for a higher cause than that?"

Re your closing comment Peter: aye; there lies the rub!

And I am not convinced Rom 14 etc on its own can answer this necessary question.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden,
While reserving the right to change my mind as I dig deeper into Romans 14, I agree with you so far that Romans 14 does not define what the 'food' of Paul's day equates to in the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

One thing that could be noted is that Paul is dealing with food. This would be consistent with the teaching of Jesus regarding matters of food, that what a person eats does not make them clean or unclean, but what is in their hearts.

I don't think his teaching on this point can be stretched much beyond that, and certainly not to issues such as homosexuality.

Anonymous said...

"Essentially Krugman's great point is that this debt doesn't matter. But is he right?"

No. But when it comes to economics Krugman never is.

Nor is this a matter of perception, it is a matter of economic law, which is completely uninterested in opinions, as the current crisis shows.

So as far as facts and reality go, Krugman is, once again, badly, badly wrong on this issue.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn
You make an excellent point about the connection between Jesus and Paul re food.

On the face of it, 'food' does not extend analogously to 'sex'; but (provisionally, at this stage of reflection) I see tie ups between R14/15 and today re 'convictions' on which Christians differ.

Anonymous said...

Well argued, rational and fact-based destruction of pro-same sex marriage claims.

"Same-sex attraction is a sexual attraction. It is not just about feelings of love. The debate said a lot about love and commitment. What did it say about sex?

Same-sex attraction is based on sexual disorientation. It is not a sexual orientation. In same-sex sexual activity, the instinct for reproduction and the sexual organs involved do not find their proper focus or use.

Non-fertile marriages are therefore not an argument for same-sex marriages, because even in non-fertile marriages the sexual instinct and the sexual organs follow their natural use.

Infertility in marriage is usually the result of a debilitating issue, such as the effects of old age or illness. Same-sex marriages, even at their most healthy, will always be ‘infertile’ by definition. They therefore are not ‘equal’ marriages.

Bisexuality is generally included in the list of alternative ‘sexualities’, along with gay, lesbian and transgendered (hence LGBT). But if marriage is an exclusive sexual relationship, and is only for two people, how does this grant ‘equality’ to bisexuals? On the other hand, if ‘equality’ is the reason for changing our concept of marriage, ought this not to allow either non-fidelity within a marriage of two people or marriages that include more than two people?

Same-sex marriage is unnecessary, given the provisions afforded by civil partnerships. The motivation for redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships is so that these relationships can be treated as essentially ‘the same as’ heterosexual relationships (hence ‘equal marriage’).

The deliberate effect of this legislation is effectively to impose a doctrinaire view of same-sex attraction and relationships which does not square with the facts of nature.

The doctrinaire approach being taken to same-sex relationships, reinforced by the introduction of same-sex marriage, will severely impact the liberties of those who taken a contrary view. Inevitably it will be deemed an ‘offence’ to question the rightness of same-sex acts if they are just what happens in a same-sex marriage. The freedom to take a ‘common sense’ view will ultimately be lost.

For Christian believers, marriage is an institution which enshrines God’s intention for a man and a woman, in an exclusive, faithful and mutually supportive relationship, to express their sexuality and to bear and nurture children. Ultimately, it is a ‘holy mystery’ reflecting the relationship between Christ and the Church. Same-sex marriage confounds that model and rejects God’s pattern."

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Let's not get into a discussion regarding food and sex. This may entail some of us peering through our fingers at the computer screen in horror! And I have just had breakfast. ;)

Peter Carrell said...

Besides which, the average telly evening's viewing in NZ these days consists of food voyeurism. Is food the new sex? :)

Andrei said...

Besides which, the average telly evening's viewing in NZ these days consists of food voyeurism. Is food the new sex?

The sexual revolution doing its thing Peter.

The median age in New Zealand is now approaching 37, this being lowered by the Maori and Pacific young. In the general population the median age is much higher

But 40 years of contraception and abortion mean now that a large and growing percentage of the population are entering the comfortable armchair phase of life and the pursuit of the opposite sex as a prime interest is declining in favour of more homely pastimes in these people, cooking being one of them.

This is not unrealted to the spiraling debt, noted in your post, nor to the bankruptcy of Greece, median age 42.

Never mind I'm sure gay marriage will fix all

Peter Carrell said...

The signs of the times are there to be read by those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Andrei!

Anonymous said...

Andrei is right - and the proliferation of TV programs about food and cooking is found throughout the western world - as is obesity.
Which raises an interesting point: is obesity natural and innate or the result of choices and social pressures which we are too weak (!) to resist? I know a growing (!) number of differently-sized people (unkindly called 'overweight'), and each morning on the bathroom scales I wonder if I am ineluctably joining those ranks. Then I hear harsh, unloving, judgmental people making sizeist comments and condemning the innate, God-given desire and capacity to consume 3000 calories per day as somehow 'wrong' and 'sinful'! What are we coming to when a people are told to resist their natural desire for bodily pleasure in the interest of 'health'?

Martinus Trimalchio

Kurt said...

As Dr Krugman, Dean Baker and others have pointed out:

The US has large deficits because the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 sank the American economy.

Second, if Americans had smaller deficits the main result would slower growth and higher unemployment.

Third, large projected long-term deficits are the result of our broken for-profit health care system, not reckless government “entitlement programs.”

Kurt Hill
Waiting for the blizzard coming to
Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

I thought New Zealanders were proud of the fact that they weren't religious?
If not being Baptist or Pentecostal (obviously White Pentecostal or Baptists, 'cuz we know that we can only approach Black or Hispanic churches with a prior Mainline Protestant/Progressive dispensation, lest we offend the least of these) is a point of pride, why don't you send missionaries to the US South to wean the heathen from their culturally and religiously inferior ways?
Or do you think that simply sneering and sighing and lifting your eyes heavenward will do anything more than make you feel superior?

Anonymous said...

The blizzard isn't just coming to Brooklyn, it's coming to all of America. The deficits are not due to the housing bubble burst to but the politically-driven unsustainable growth of US government while the economy collapsed and the dependence on Chinese imports grew - all funded by borrowing from the Chinese. Meanwhile, wages are kept down through illegal immigration, which also provided the pool of support for Obama. In other words, the coming generation is saddled with the debts and the loss of freedom. This isn't political genius (other than in the Machiavellian sense) - it's living as if there's no tomorrow.

Peter Carrell said...

Krugman's confidence rests on low interest rates continuing ad infinitum. That's precarious!

Daniel Weir said...

Krugman's position is NOT that debt doesn't matter. It is that it is not something that needs to be addressed now by drastic austerity measures. Over the short term, with interest rates low, government austerity will only hurt the economy recovery. The deficit scolds have been shown to be wrong during the past four years, while Krugman was right.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Daniel,
Yes, Krugman has been vigorous in pointing out the unnecessary fear of the deficit scolds. That does not change the fact that a modest rise in interest rates will have drastic effects on either the government's ability to provide social security etc or on savings for retirement as they are destroyed by inflation (or both). 'Drastic austerity' is not the answer (I agree with Krugman on that) but some modest adjustments to what the government pays out would go a long way to easing the rate at which the debt is climbing. Neither Krugman nor Obama seems willing to entertain that.

In the bigger picture the whole Western if not world economy (i.e. including my own part of the world) is not connecting with the imbalance between the needs of long living older folk and the ability of the younger generation workers to provide for them.

Anonymous said...


there have been NO "austerity measures". NONE.

Not a single country has advocated or put into action any serious cuts in government spending. Most have advocated a mix of tax rises and, if any, minimal reductions in yearly spending which do not even begin to address national debt levels.

The Lefts constant claims of "austerity measures" are a myth deliberately created to resist any reduction in the size and power of the Liberal State.

Now, on to basic economics 101: The Boom-Bust Cycle.

The housing crisis was not the cause of the latest bust, but a symptom of it. The housing crisis in the US was created in part by government regulation which forced private banks to lend to those with bad credit ratings, on the basis that it was discriminatory to refuse them.

The Boom-Bust cycle is created by central state banks (in the US the Fed) expanding the money supply, or in other words, printing money. Combined with artificially low interest rates, this leads to a misallocation of capital, also known as malinvestment, by private business and banks. This inflationary injection of bank credit, made possible by government policy, leads to a market correction of the waste and distortions of the boom, thus creating a bust.

If the market distortion and waste is significant enough, the bust part of the cycle becomes a depression.

In order to counter the bust, governments order central banks to increase the money supply (as both Bush and Obama did), creating what looks like a recovery, but is in fact just the start of the Boom-Bust cycle all over again.

This Boom-Bust cycle has been accurately identified and predicted only by the Austrian School economists.

Classical economists on both the Left (Keynes and his disciples) and the Right (Milton Friedman and his disciples) have refused to acknowledge its reality, which is why the current "debate" between the mainstream right and left is a travesty. Both are advocating a continuation of the underlying cause of the cycle. Both are advocating continued inflationary deficit spending.

This has resulted in the unsustainable situation we are now in in which governments which are already in debt to one another, are borrowing more money off one another. This cannot go on forever, and if it has not already, it will create a collapse of the global financial situation that will make our current woes pale in comparison.

Moreover, all forms of government intervention in the market can and do fuel the Boom-Bust cycle, including welfare spending.

The only way to end the Boom-Bust Cycle is to remove the State from the economy in total.

Central Banks must be shut down, and the ability of the State to print money ended once and for all.

The dollar must be founded once again on real value, on hard coinage, preferably the Gold Standard, to prevent artificial devaluation.

The State must end all deficit spending, all debt, and all artificial interventions in the market, including State welfare.

Anonymous said...

For those interested: Economics 101.

Free pdf books made avaliable by the Ludwig von Mises Institute:

An Introduction to Economic Reasoning by David Gordon:

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt:

Economics for Real People by Gene Callahan.

An Introduction to Austrian Economics by Thomas C. Taylor:

"The global economic meltdown that began in 2007 has brought suffering to countless millions. We have all witnessed—and in many cases experienced—the devastation.

But it didn’t have to be this way. This kind of financial devastation has been predicted again and again—decade after decade—by proponents of the Austrian School of economics. Ludwig von Mises, one of the most prominent Austrian economists, summed up the perennial crisis in the title of one of his many books, Planned Chaos (1947). Mises, especially in The Theory of Money and Credit (1912) and Human Action (1949), maintained that the boom-and-bust cycle that has afflicted modern economies is both unnatural and unnecessary. It worsens living conditions for just about everyone. Since the publication of his books, abundant scholarly studies have validated the Austrian view."

MichaelA said...

Peter wrote:

"While reserving the right to change my mind as I dig deeper into Romans 14, I agree with you so far that Romans 14 does not define what the 'food' of Paul's day equates to in the 21st century."

This ia a very good point. I venture to suggest, the fundamental point.

On my reading, both issues discussed by Paul in Romans 14-15 (food and keeping holy days) were ones on which the Lord and his apostles had given no clear command. Hence Paul in Romans 14 exhorts Christians to consider the dictates of conscience.

But Paul doesn't suggest that the principles he sets out provide an excuse to depart from clear teaching.

Christ also alerts us in Matthew 15:4-6 to the danger of using a principle taught in scripture as an excuse to ignore a clear scriptural command about something else.

So the first thing we need to consider is, does the Bible teach something clearly about x issue? If it does, then Romans 14 may not be applicable at all.