Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Communion should split

"They are creating a nasty, divided, prejudiced church which looks totally un-Christian to those on the outside (and to many of us within the church).

The Church of England knows it has a crisis on its hands. It thinks the crisis might be solved by gently persuading enough conservatives to overcome their convictions and vote yes for women bishops. I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable. I believe in a God of love. They believe in a nasty, rule-bound, vindictive God who despite everything they say, hates gays. Until they overcome their prejudice, they will continue to drive the church towards a precipice."

John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar draws attention to the article from which this citation comes. These words are written by Colin Coward of Changing Attitudes as he reflects on the course of the recent C of E General Synod. Of course the 'they' here are people who could be labelled 'conservative' though I suggest a more accurate label would be 'Anglicans who disagree with Colin Coward.' Where, however, there could be a point of agreement with Colin is here,

"I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable."

If this is true for sufficient numbers then I think the C of E and consequentially the Anglican Communion should split or, if you like, continue its splitting.

But is this true for sufficient numbers? If Colin Coward's god and the god believed by the rest of the church are dramatically different then that is not quite grounds for splitting the church. I think we could forbear for Colin to remain in the church.

But the whole of Colin's article effectively claims that he speaks for the majority of the church. That is, there are sufficient numbers supporting his understanding of god for a split to be considered because it is mighty hard to maintain two dramatically different understandings of god inside one religious entity which claims itself to be a church of the one God.

I myself, however, am slightly less than convinced by the line Colin takes. My own experience of being an Anglican is that there is a diverse range of views among us including our understanding of God. But the key word is 'range'. I do not see that we fall into neatly divided camps: you lot with your understanding of god pitch your tent over there, my lot will pitch our tents over here. Sure, I can think of fellow Anglicans who when they speak of God speak of a god I do not feel I know (and presumably vice versa) but I cannot count those Anglicans up to be a sufficient number to warrant splitting away from them.

But Colin says some things which are perfectly dreadful inasmuch as they represent a view of fellow Christians which is as nasty as the allegations he makes. To say of people who disagree with him, "They believe in a nasty, rule-bound, vindictive God who despite everything they say, hates gays" is extraordinary in its understanding of fellow believers. Extraordinary because it is not true. People who believe in such a god just don't get elected to Synod! Or selected for ordination :)

However a point lurks uneasily in these words. If one part of an Anglican church or of the Communion is running round thinking another part is 'nasty' and links that to believing in a 'vindictive God' and not believing in a God of love, then there is little hope of reconciliation, of truly partaking of communion together in which one bread is broken as the body of the one Christ. Even fellowship over a cup of tea is going to be difficult.

16 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

"I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable."

- Colin Coward -

"If this is true for sufficient numbers then I think the C of E and consequentially the Anglican Communion should split or, if you like, continue its splitting."

__________________________________

Peter, being at present resident in England, in the scorching heat of a post G.S. Summer, I have not detected in my wanderings among some country congregation (in one of which I was invited to preside at a Eucharist recently) any sign of dismay at the fact that women may shortly be ordained bishops in the Church of England.

In my conversation with members of the Church here, I have found there are people who regret the fact that the Church has not got on with the business of accepting women and gays as worthy candidates for ministry. It may have been that I only spoke with those who were of this persuasion. However, I found no-one who would contend that either women or gays were unfit to either belong to or minister in the Church.

Most country churches in England are considered to be fairly conservative; but I feel, with Colin, that most congregations have moved forward on these issues and are impatient with how the Church still seems to be lagging behind public opinion.

Jethro Day said...

Ron, why is public opinion so important in all this? Surely if we went with public opinion for our theology and practice we would have to give up belief in the Trinity, God as creator, Christ as Saviour among most other aspects of our faith?

Just because we believe that someone is doing something wrong does not mean we hate them? Is that not a scandal of the gospel, that even though we are sinners God did not reject us but came to meet us in his Son? Christ looks on us and loves us and asks for repentance.

Quite often I think that much of these debates and divisions have nothing to do with theology or justice, and everything to do with not being embarrassed in front of our friends, family and acquaintances, in front of the public.

Once upon a time Christians were the mainstream. It may have been embarrassing not to be a Christian. But now that is not the case. Being part of the church no longer comes with privilege and status, but funny looks, especially in NZ and the UK when you tell people your 25, going to be ordained, don't think people should have sex outside of marriage, think that abortion is wrong, and believe that God made the world!

How much of these debates and divisions are about truth or just about wanting to be part of the mainstream again, so we don't have to be embarrassed about our faith at parties?

Maybe that is just the struggle of a 25 year old Christian wanting to be hip around his non Christian mates though.

Anonymous said...

Mr Coward's comment reminds me just how far the inclusive brigage goes in their inclusivity. While their embrace includes non-Christians, Atheists and Wiccans, it stops short at 'socially conservative' Christians.

If this whining style is typical of 'Changing Attitudes' ( = 'Changing Christian sexual ethics'), perhaps the extraordinary statement of + Justin of Canterbury in asking the assistance of the gay rights group, Stonewall, to
assist C of E schools on the issue of same-sex attraction and youth suicide, isn't so strange after all...(or perhaps it still is).

PS: While in the UK, Ron, why don't you check out some of the large, urban Evangelical parishes before you come to any hasty decision on the mind of the C of E on those two topics.

Stephen

Anonymous said...

"I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable

E B Pusey said almost the same thing about F D Maurice

Perry

Father Ron Smith said...

"Jethro Day said...
Ron, why is public opinion so important in all this? Surely if we went with public opinion for our theology and practice we would have to give up belief in the Trinity, God as creator, Christ as Saviour among most other aspects of our faith?"

Jethro, if you look carefully at what I actually said - I was speaking of Church congregations, not the general public! Presumably you accept that ordinary people in the pew do have some understanding of basic theology. After all, 'of such is the kingdom of heaven'.

Father Ron Smith said...

"PS: While in the UK, Ron, why don't you check out some of the large, urban Evangelical parishes before you come to any hasty decision on the mind of the C of E on those two topics." - Stephen -

Possibly, Stephen, because my time in England is mostly with clerical relatives whose parishes are mostly country parishes with the usual complement of 'ordinary' Christians who are the heart and soul of English Anglicanism.

Besides, my preference is for a Eucharistic Celebration, where Christ - The Word-made-flesh - is primarily worshipped - in tune with the scriptures that major on the redemption that Christ has wrought for all - through his sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection.

Worship that is primarily centred around the pulpit & the preacher has limited appeal for me. Also, the triumphalism of some modern charismatic worship, nowadays, is not conducive of reflection upon the humility of Christ in the gospel. So, I have concentrated on worshipping where I can best feel at home - with God-in-Christ as the focus of attention.

Jethro Day said...

Sorry to misunderstand you Ron. Perhaps you would like to remark upon my other comments?

rogerharper said...

Colin Coward accuses Conservatives of teaching a false gospel - a different understanding of God! How these extremists on both sides exaggerate to vilify...

Let's challenge both sides. Not being able to accept a development of the understanding of Christian marriage is not teaching a different God.

The Church does not need to split. The Church does need to hear other voices than only the extremists.

As a resident in England, I hear most Church people saying 'Yes' to women bishops and most people saying 'I don't know' to gay marriage. Fewer are against gay marriage than before, but that does not mean that at the moment they are all for it.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Being part of the church no longer comes with privilege and status, but funny looks, especially in NZ and the UK when you tell people your 25, going to be ordained, don't think people should have sex outside of marriage, think that abortion is wrong, and believe that God made the world!" - Jethro -

Certainly, Jethro, if one were actually looking for privilege and status in today's world, the Church is perhaps the least likely vocation for you.

However, if you were 25 (or 50)and seeking to follow the will of God in the world today, you would be advised to be 'open to the world', as Jesus was; listening to its cries for peace and justice - regardless of past traditions that denied such benefits to ordinary people.

As for the 'embarrassment' of obeying God's call to justice and freedom for all - regardless of status, ethnic background, gender, or sexual orientation - there will be criticism, mostly from conservative church-people; but that was so in Jesus' own day, to the point where he was crucified for being liberally different from the 'norm' of his time.

Bryden Black said...

Roger: “Let’s challenge both sides. Not being able to accept a development of the understanding of Christian marriage is not teaching a different God.”

As we both know Roger from my simple attempt at delineating a “sacramental ontology” in Some Theses, it might just be that any such “development” would be reflective of “a different god” ... a tragically diminished one from the full blown eternal Trinity, whose economy redeems his creation and notably human creatures in the divine Image.

I’ve often suggested our era is akin in so many ways to living in the mid 4th C, when it was touch and go as to which ‘camp’ would win out re ‘God-talk’, such was the great spectrum of options from proto-Nicenes through to rabid Arians, with “homoiousian” varieties in between. For in the context of the day, the Cappadocians and Athanasius were pretty extreme! Meanwhile ...

Andrei said...

....but I feel, with Colin, that most congregations have moved forward on these issues and are impatient with how the Church still seems to be lagging behind public opinion.

I always thought the Church was led by the Holy Spirit rather than "public opinion".

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
I suggest we allow the possibility that the Holy Spirit sometimes speaks through public opinion. Whether the Holy Spirit is doing that on homosexuality remains to be seen but I suggest that the Holy Spirit has spoken through public opinion to some churches sometimes (e.g. churches caught up in falsely justified racism; bias against women* and (once upon a time) pro slavery.

*Whether a church agrees to the ordination of women or not, it likely has shifted on attitudes to female members and the way in which they are respected as participating members in keeping with public opinion rather than out of step with it.

Chris Spark said...

Only one thing - Jethro, that is definitely not only an issue for 25yo Christians - it is definitely an issue for 33 year old clergy too. And a bunch of others I know well enough to know what they think about this sort of thing.
And from what I can see of the letters of the New Testament, a very similar issue (at some similar parties too!) was there for a lot of Christians in the first century too.

Rosemary Behan said...

I wonder you share such thoughts in public Peter. Surely the shame that the church hasn’t LED such things rather than being awakened by public concern should be considered to the detriment of the church. The church has known since Jesus was here and taught us so, that women are completely and utterly equal to men, but the church has been more than remiss in not teaching that and must repent of it. So it is the entity known as the church that is at fault .. that has not been ‘led by the Spirit.’

In the case of homosexuals, there is again, no doubt whatsoever that the teaching of the church is at fault once again. As I pointed out once before, while Jesus appointed no female Apostles, He may have appointed someone with a homosexual orientation

Anonymous said...

Rosemary. "In the case of homosexuals, there is again, no doubt whatsoever that the teaching of the church is at fault once again."

Is it the 1950's? Does the church really have that significant a role in the formation of sexual mores in contemporary society that we can say it's 'at fault' for anything? Do teenagers wondering what to do about big issues in their lives scour Anglicans online for the latest musings from some 'human relationships working group'?

If anyone can become 'offended' by the Anglican church's stance on any issue relating to human sexuality, they deserve full marks for finding that stance in the first place and for finding it in a sufficiently coherent form in order to become offended!

The Anglican church in NZ rarely makes pronouncements on this or any other moral issue lest it offend someone. On sexual ethics, its views are barely distinguishable from 'public opinion'. So maybe it's the public and its opinion that's 'at fault'.

My experience is that those churches which still maintain the traditional teaching of Scripture on sexual ethics are quietly being 'shut down' in polite discourse lest they offend those who cannot seem to handle the fact that not everyone can give a moral tick to their lifestyle choice.

Stephen

Shawn Herles said...

The Holy Spirit never speaks through public opinion, as unregenerate and/or unsaved persons do not have the Spirit in the first place.

God has spoken in the one Word of Christ/Scripture. The Word alone is our only guide.