Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tradition is not what it is cracked up to be

To read some comments here one is well excused for thinking that when God inspired the sacred writings that have become our Holy Scripture and when the church turned its understanding of Scripture into T/tradition, absolutely everything was set down as immutable utterances for which no change of application can be envisaged.

Two (perennial) issues have triggered such comments: women in ministry and homosexuals in relationships.

On the possibility of women being ordained as presbyters and bishops (if not deacons as well) a line advanced has been that 2000 years of tradition has witnessed to God's  clear revelation that women may not lead the church. An evangelical such as myself, questioning whether the tradition is quite so immutable on the matter, has apparently crossed a line.

Yet this argument about immutability in respect of ministry is oddly at odds with the witness of Scripture itself about ministry in the church. Consider that whatever Jesus intended about the order of the church by appointing twelve apostles:
- the early church had to discover for itself through trial and error that the apostles needed serving-at-table assistants (Acts 6)
- the terms 'episcopos' and 'presbyter' appeared to be interchangeable, as testified by 1 Timothy where the ministries of episcopoi and diakonoi are laid out in chapter 3, with no mention of presbuteroi, yet the role of episcopos there seems very presbuteros-like.

In short, the early church was flexible and evolving in its understanding of ministry offices, adapting that understanding according to the circumstances of churches as the gospel took root in different contexts. To coin a phrase (not), Scripture's own theology of ministry is contextual!

I was reminded of this yesterday while being involved in an ecumenical theological consultation concerning the future of Christchurch. One of our contributors noted the incarnation as the great distinctive of Christianity: God has become one of us, God has contextualised himself in our midst.

(My mind reflected on the non-controversy over contextual theology versus systematic theology. Theology - true Christian, Christ in us theology is both contextual and systematic. We are always interpreting the gospel for our time and location while always bearing witness to the immutable truths of the gospel (the Incarnation being one of those).)

So when we survey the context of our world today, we live in a different world to the world of the New Testament. The changing context is leading to a changing understanding of ministry in respect of gender. Women  are in a different place in relation to men compared to former times. A simple example of this difference is attested to by our forthcoming General Election (20 September 2014): once no one voted, then men voted without thought that women might also vote, indeed women had to protest in order to gain the vote but now we live in a society in which we make changes which include men and women as equals (and any exceptions are immediately contested). Further, we are restless about other societies which maintain inequality (for example, recently Obama has spoken out against female genital mutilation).

Responsible theology, working from the incarnation and noting the mutability of ministry in the New Testament asks whether 2000 years of practice that women may not be presbyters or bishops (may be even not deacons) is due to an immutable revelation from God or to an assumption which made sense in a different context and which is mutable in our context today.

So, to my critics who have advanced arguments here along the lines of 'God doesn't change his mind,' I say,

'Do we know that God has made up his mind about how the church should live in today's different world?' And,

'Why should we presume that we know the mind of God for ministry in changing circumstances any better than the church in Acts 5?' (By Acts 6, it had changed its understanding of what God willed for ministry!)

Oh, yes, and the context re homosexuality has changed too! More anon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It was solemn

Yesterday was focused on Lynda Patterson's funeral, held at 1 pm in the Transitional Cathedral, Christchurch. A one word description which springs to my mind is 'solemn.' Yes, we were gathered in the hope of the resurrection, and we had much to be thankful for as we reflected together on the gift from God that Lynda has been to us, personally and collectively as a diocese and as the church of these islands. But as on all occasions when a funeral is held for one who died 'too young', we were sorrowful for the loss we have experienced, as well as for the shock of her dying suddenly.

That is enough from me. Taonga conveys to us Bishop Victoria's sermon (i.e. the eulogy integrated into the ministry of the Word), a general report of the occasion, a report from the morning before the service including some poignant words of Bishop Victoria, and a tribute from the previous Bishop of Christchurch, David Coles.

Now, also, a lovely post from +Kelvin at Available Light.

And this, pure gold.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NZ can do better

Child poverty is an issue in NZ but like most issues to do with children it is likely to slip under the political radar as we adults head to an election worried about dirty rivers, house prices, economic stability and world peace.

Obviously our 'adult' priorities are deeply connected to child poverty but there is a specific issue being worked on by the Diocese of Christchurch's Social Justice Unit, the issue of whether we might have a national (i.e. cross-party) strategy on reducing if not eliminating child poverty.

They have produced a neat video making a great point in the campaign here. (All the adults are friends of mine but will they remember me when they are famous in Hollywood?)

Please consider signing the petition which is part of the page the link takes you to!

Of all times to leave our church, now is not the time

Picking up a very good question asked in a comment responding to my post of a few days ago, If To Lose One Vicar is Careless, To Lose Two is What?, I offer my response as a separate post here (slightly redacted to shift genre from 'comment' to 'post'):

The question asked is this:

"If a majority of the Church decided to adopt Arianism in place of Trinitarianism;would you be happy to accept that stance?"

No, I would not be happy, is my general response to the question.

But my points of reflection if that were the majority wish would be: 
(1) Am I required to adhere to Arianism as a licensed clergyperson? 
(2) Is the will of the majority of the current church able to override the fundamentals of the constitution? 
(3) Am I called as a Trinitarian to remain in this changed-and-changing church to bear witness to Arian Anglicans?

On analogy with Motion 30 I suggest that questions 1 and 2 are currently unanswered; and question 3 is a matter for continuing personal prayer.

But the vital 4th question, analogously speaking is this: 

(4) Is a divide over the blessing of same sex partnerships a matter with the same clarity as the divide between Arianism and Trinitarianism? 

As Bosco Peters points out [here], "It is unhelpful and erroneous to state, without qualification, that the Bible is clear that all same-sex relationships are sinful. The concept of homosexual orientation as exclusive, permanent, and unchosen, for example, is a relatively new understanding."

As long as a majority of Anglicans in our church do not see an analogy re clarity between Arianism/Trinitarianism and clarity between blessing SSP/not blessing SSP, then constant reference to the constitution of ACANZP and the 1928 Empowering Act as prohibiting Motion 30's charting of a series of possible ways forward for a divided church is undermined.

(Added note to original comment: My presupposition, incidentally, is that a majority in our church would not see the clarity that some critics of Motion 30 see, namely that the Scripture and tradition of our church prohibit blessing of, even praying for couples in lifelong, faithful, loving same sex partnerships. That is, our church could be categorised into those who are clearly for and clearly against such prayerful support and those who are uncertain and wish to not shut down ongoing reflection on this matter).

It might be more helpful to ask how our church, in keeping with its constitution and the 1928 Act is going to be inclusive of diverse commitments re responses to people in same sex partnerships. 

The overwhelming approach of our church over decades now has been to find a way to stay together rather than to divide. Repeated suggestions that those on the liberal end of the diversity should leave to form a new church with a constitution which reflects their viewpoints is a bold challenge which will cut no ice with any legal tribunal opponents of Motion 30 care to take these matters to.

More constructive is to find a way forward. That, of course, is precisely what Motion 30 seeks to do.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Politics of Jesus - Monday 28 July 2014

This week a different voice, that of Jacques Ellul: I have emboldened the words which challenge all politically interested Christians ...

"The first truth which must be remembered is that for Christians there is no dissociation between the end and the means. It is a Greek ethical idea which has caused this division. The point from which we ought to start is that in the work of God the end and the means are identical. Thus when Jesus Christ is present the Kingdom has “come upon” us. This formula expresses very precisely the relation between the end and the means. Jesus Christ in his incarnation appears as God’s means, for the salvation of man and for the establishment of the Kingdom of God, but where Jesus Christ is, there also is this salvation and this Kingdom.

Only this situation is the exact opposite of that which we have described as being ours today: while our civilization absorbs the end into the means, in the action of God, the means only appear as the realized presence of the end. The end, this Kingdom, which will “come” at the end of time, is already present when the divine means (the only, unique, Mediator) is present. The whole action of God consists in realizing through his means the end, which is his work. Whether this be the Covenant, or the Law, or the Prophets, or the history or the wisdom of Israel, it is always the same act of God which manifests this unity of end and means. 

But it should be the same in all Christian life; for the Christian also the end and the means are united in the same way; thus he is irrevocably committed to fight with all his might against our present enslavement to means. Above all he must have a different attitude. It is not his primary task to think out plans, programs, methods of action and achievement. When Christians do this (and there is an epidemic of this behavior at the present time in the church) it is simply an imitation of the world, which is doomed to defeat. What we can do is of no importance unless we can offer it with a “good conscience toward God.”

In this situation it is not our instruments and our institutions which count, but ourselves, for it is ourselves who are God’s instruments; so far as the church and all its members are God’s “means” they ought to constitute that presence of the “end” which is characteristic of the Kingdom. Thus we never have to look for an objective outside ourselves, which we try to attain by very great effort (all efforts are accomplished in Jesus Christ), but we, within ourselves, have to carry the objective for which the world has been created by God. Whether we will or not, whether this be regarded as pride or not, Christians are not in the same situation as others with regard to the end: they have received this end in themselves by the grace of God. They have to represent before the world this unity between ends and means, authorized by Jesus Christ. For it is not man who establishes this end, as such, and achieves it; it is God who orders and arranges it and then brings it to pass. This completely reverses the attitude (so usual when one has finished a piece of work) of those who add, as a sort of precaution, that “of course it is for God to make it fruitful,” or “do what you ought to do and let what will happen,” or “man proposes and God disposes,” etc.: all this is merely popular human wisdom, which tries to bring God in somewhere. In this attitude as a whole there is, in reality, a dissociation between the work of man and the work of God, between the means and the end. Such a view of life is radically anti-Christian, when it incites men to carry on his affairs, and then adds “God” out of a sense of “decency” belonging to another age. In reality, the opposite is true: we see that God establishes his end and that it is this which is represented by our means. The direction is reversed, and this is a fact of extraordinary practical importance – it is not an intellectual game.

It means, for instance, that we do not have to strive and struggle in order that righteousness may reign upon the earth. We have to be “just” or “righteous” ourselves, bearers of righteousness. The Bible tells us that where there is a just man justice prevails. It is, of course, understood that here the word “just” means being “justified” by Christ, and that is why justice prevails where there is a just man. This is because the just man lives by the justice of Christ. This justice is present, for it is this which makes him just. Thus justice is not a goal to attain, or a balance to be acquired, but it is the gift of God, free and inexplicable, which exists in our life so that our means are not intended to “bring in” justice, but to “manifest” it. Likewise we have not to force ourselves, with great effort and intelligence, to bring peace upon the earth – we have ourselves to be peaceful, for where there are peacemakers, peace reigns. And it is always the same idea which prevails: this creation by God of good aims, like peace – a living creation in Jesus Christ – which can openly by translated through our means.

Thus the principle of the Christian ethic begins here. We must search the Scriptures for the way in which we ought to live, in order that the end, willed by God, should be present among men. The whole object of ethics is not to attain an end (and we know very well that for a genuine Christian ethic there is no such thing as a striving for holiness), but to manifest the gift which has been given us, the gift of grace and peace, of love and the Holy Spirit: that is, the very end pursued by God and miraculously present within us. Henceforth our human idea of means is absolutely overturned; its root of pride and of power has been cut away. The means is no longer called to “achieve” anything. It is delivered from its uncertainty about the way to follow, and the success to be expected. We can easily give up the obsession with means, from which our time is suffering, and, in the church, we must learn that it is not our possibilities which control our action, but it is God’s end, present within us.
-Jacques Ellul in The Presence of the Kingdom, p. 64-67."

Parting pains

A further update re the separation of Michael and Kimberley Hewat and around 100 members of their (now former) parish from the Anglican church is reported on Stuff.

Whatever we make of the principles and politics involved, for some of us observing on the sidelines this is painful. Michael and Kimberley, ++Philip and +Helen-Ann are Anglicans I respect immensely and I would always go out of my way at a gathering to meet and greet any of them.

UPDATE A commenter below has pointed out that an important sermon by Michael Hewat re the journey he and many of his parishioners are on is available here. Incidentally, everything in the sermon is contextual (!! cf. 'cutting' comment made in the comment below) ... your feedback here is welcome.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Are TEC's litigation garments going through the rinse cycle?

Anglican Curmudgeon is worth keeping up with these days, as TEC's litigation against the Diocese of Quincy gets rinsed and its litigation against South Carolina unravels.

If to lose one vicar is careless, to lose two is what?

In my view, being up front at the start, I do not think anyone should leave our church because of Motion 30 approved at our recent General Synod. But some are leaving. I can imagine some are leaving because Motion 30 does not go far enough towards blessing of same sex partnerships, but I have no specific evidence of that. Some are leaving because Motion 30 goes too far towards blessings and appears to presage a future line our church will cross.

A few weeks ago Charlie Hughes, then Vicar of Henderson, left. This past week Michael Hewat, until yesterday Vicar of West Hamilton, and a sizeable number of his congregation have left. By Sunday they will be worshipping in a new location. You can read the NZ Herald report here.

Rather than discuss why someone shouldn't leave at this time, here are my present reasons for staying:

- we have not crossed the line where we have changed either our constitution or canons in an unacceptable manner,
- the grace of inclusion of viewpoints at GS in Motion 30 requires a reciprocal obligation for holders of various viewpoints to remain engaged with the process of the next few years,
- the evangelical witness within the Anglican church historically has been a witness against the tide of majority viewpoint and the current tide is flowing no more strongly than in past times,
- if our church does not wish to retain an evangelical witness within its midst, the church should be honest about that and drive that witness out through expulsion rather than have that job done for it by resignations and departures,
- speaking personally, I have gay friends in the church whom I would like to remain in conversation with as a fellow Anglican rather than as a former Anglican.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Funeral Details

Lynda Patterson's Christchurch funeral will be at the Transitional Cathedral at 1 pm this Tuesday 29 July 2014. A day or so later her body will be flown to Northern Ireland, accompanied by Bishop Victoria Matthews, where there will be a funeral in Dromore Cathedral.

With Dromore in mind, and H/T Taonga, here is a lovely tribute to Lynda which all who knew her in NZ will endorse:

"“She was our Head Girl and our brightest star - the warmest, smartest and funniest individual one could hope to meet. Everyone in Dromore was very proud of what she achieved and the positive impact she has had on people both at home and in New Zealand. This is such sad news and my thoughts are with Lynda’s friends and family."

This is the full text of Bishop Victoria's letter to the Diocese a few minutes ago:

"Dear Friends,

As you are aware the Very Reverend Lynda Jayne Patterson died of natural causes at home this past weekend.  She was just forty years old.
Her New Zealand funeral will be at one o’clock (1pm) on Tuesday 29 July 2014 at the Transitional Cathedral.  There will be seating for approximately 700.  Following the service afternoon tea will be served. 

Clergy are invited to vest in an alb and white stole.  The vested clergy will form an honour guard for Lynda at the end of the service.  Due to the very limited space at the Transitional Cathedral, the Diocese requests that clergy vest at their cars and walk to the Cathedral in alb (or cassock and surplice) and white stole. The service will be a Requiem.

The casket will arrive at the Cathedral by 10 am on the 29th July and people are invited to come early to pray.
It is anticipated many of the Cathedral Deans and some Bishops of the Province will be in attendance plus numerous out of town friends and family.

Lynda’s Northern Ireland funeral and burial in the family plot will take place in Dromore Cathedral, later in the week.  I will accompany the body to Northern Ireland and will assist with the funeral there.

Thank you so much for your prayers at this difficult time.  Lynda was a friend of so many of us and the preacher, teacher and writer that regularly inspired our ministries.  Her extraordinary and delightful  intelligence always invited us to be our best selves and encouraged us to grow into the people God created us to be.  May her memory be honoured by our continuing to grow into the image of Christ.

“When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this immortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
Death has been swallowed up in victory”.  1 Corinthians 15.54

In the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ,

All manner of things shall not be well

One of the naffest things said amongst Christians - even by myself from time to time - is Julian of Norwich's "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well".

When we continue to read of the situation in Mosul for Christians and possible implications for rising Islamism in the world, for instance in this and this First Things articles, can we say "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well?"

Christianity's success in bearing brave witness has been where Christians have not been expelled or exterminated. The bravery of Christian witness in North Africa, for instance, got the church nowhere as Islam's sweep across that region in its first centuries swept Christians before it with the sword. To this day the church has only a little toehold, certainly not a foothold in North Africa (Egypt excepted).

Yet the chilling thing about ISIS' caliphate is not only that it is putting Christians to the sword but also any who oppose it's advance. So this morning I read in our Press of three Sunni clerics in Mosul killed by the footsoldiers of ISIS. Their crime was to oppose the advance of ISIS' peculiar Sunni-ism.

On a brighter note I have just had a most enjoyable few days at St John's College, Auckland. My primary reason for being there was to do some teaching on the Book of Revelation for a B.Theol. course but a stay either side of the classroom hours provided excellent opportunities to meet with Christchurch students and College staff. All manner of things are well at the College!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Don't worry folks, all religions are the same and their many ways all lead to the same God

I can think of no other way to explain this news out of Mosul than to say it is simply an expression of the plurality of religions which, at root, are just the same as the other.

No one religion has a monopoly on the truth.

It's all just happy families, this one great family of God's children.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Imago dei and the politics of Jesus - Monday 21 July 2014

Life is rushed this week, and there is the emotional upheaval engendered by the death of a colleague (see post below) holding a pivotal position in diocesan life.

So, this week, I will let someone else do the talking, here. What do you think of what Gary Ferngren has to say?

A final, brief thought: in the light of the terrible evil manifest in the world this week past, our election is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the many blessings we enjoy here.

We have lost a friend

The Diocese of Christchurch and many Christian brothers and sisters beyond the Diocese, throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, Northern Ireland and England (especially Oxford) are mourning the loss of our Dean, Lynda Patterson who died today of natural causes.

Taonga and Stuff report her death and briefly summarise her life and ministry.

This news is a shock to many of us who enjoyed friendship and collegiality with her. For myself I enjoyed both friendship and the special collegiality of co-authoring two Lenten studies together. We were in the process of composing the third in the series when she died.

As further news comes to hand I will endeavour to post it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Muriel Porter complains about representative democracy in the Australian Anglican church

Notwithstanding my support for women being ordained priests and bishops as well as deacons, I can see a silly complaint when I see one.

Muriel Porter, doyen of all things liberal in Oz Anglicanism, is now grizzling at the most liberal step any church can take, to allow itself to have representative democracy!

If only our ACANZP General Synod has similar representative democracy I wonder how voting on the likes of Motion 30 would go!?

Radner on women bishops or, Why I am an evangelical!

Ephraim Radner offers a few thoughts at First Things on the ecumenical implication of the ordination of women bishops in the CofE. Mostly it is a standard canvassing of familiar issues: this is a nail in the coffin of formal unity between Rome and Canterbury, but not the only nail and in any case the body inside is "null and void". There is a sideways glance at Anglicans not agreeing to such ordination, including a prognostication re ACNA resiling from the ordinations it currently accommodates. The article ends with this:

"Without knowing how it will be parsed out, I can say that there is much of this acknowledgement, truth-facing, examination, and confession still to come among Anglicans and their brethren on the matter of women’s ordination and consecration to the episcopate. As on much else. Our work now is to determine how this will happen."
I think this means that Anglicans, Romans and Eastern Orthodox might one day speak honestly and/or change their minds (one way or t'other) and/or repent of what they have or haven't done re ordaining women. (But I am not sure ... your help in comments appreciated!)

My own take on these kinds of thoughts is "This is why I am an evangelical!"

An evangelical is a Bible-reading (so far so most Christians), Bible-respecting (so far not as many Christians as those who read the Bible), Reformation-influenced (so far every Protestant and Anglican), Reformation-keen (not all Anglicans, in my experience) believer who is for ever questioning things passed on as "tradition" or "reason" in the light of the Bible and who poses those questions with Reformation theology as a frame for the questions and as a lens for inspecting the putative answers, with a particular twist which asks "What the gospel of new life in Christ means for this generation?"

That last question, incidentally, brings out the 'evangelical' (i.e. gospel-orientation) in many Christians, as (to take a famous instance) we see happening in the current Pope.

So, I am not that keen on seeing doom and gloom, or simply yet further confusion on the ecumenical front as some are doing.

My keenness is on finding our what the gospel means today. If that means as we read the Bible we are overturning 1 year or 10 years or 1500 years or even 2014 years of tradition, or critiquing received or perceived reason, then so be it. As we find out the meaning of the gospel we should be finding it out as Christians. We should be, as the subtitle to Radner's article says, be 'Facing Truth Together.'

On the ordination of women, why think and write as though Anglicans are misreading the gospel? Our question to Romans and Eastern Orthodox (and to some of ourselves) is, Why do you persist in misreading the gospel?

Ecumenism is a global reading of Scripture together. But such reading comes from 'Facing Truth Together' rather than from (say) 'Presuming Tradition is True' or 'We will be "Together" Facing Truth when you agree with us'

An evangelical never presumes that a majority reading is right simply because it is a majority nor that the traditional or rational reading is right because it is traditional or because it is rational.

Some evangelicals might part company with me when I also say, conversely, that an evangelical ought not to dismiss a majority reading out of hand (the majority might be the church on the way to universal agreement; opposition to the majority might be over-emphasis on individualism), nor a traditional reading (since for the most part tradition is about the accumulation of universal readings of Scripture) nor a rational reading (since our ability to reason is part of God's gift of humanity).

What is important for an evangelical is that the truth of the gospel is found. Whether it is through affirmation of tradition or deconstruction of tradition matters little.

What matters is being faithful to Jesus, what he taught and what he did, upholding and proclaiming the news which he announced through word and deed. This is a whole Bible matter, not just a concern for the four gospels, because the law and the prophets enable us to understand what Jesus meant and the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles chart the way for  faithful understanding of the meaning of the gospel.

So, Yes, Ephraim, "acknowledgement, truth-facing, examination, and confession". But let it be a renewal of ecumenical relationships through a renewed reading of Scripture together, an evangelical ecumenism.

My own understanding of 'honest' (i.e. what people really think deep down) Roman thinking on ordination is that many Catholics are open to the ordination of women.

It might be that Anglican decisions are God speaking again to fellow Christians about what the gospel means for the ordering of our life together in the one - there is only one - body of Christ.

SINCE WRITING the above I have come across these two responses to the decision: English and Welsh Catholic and Russian Orthodox.

Friday, July 18, 2014

It would be head in sand to be naive about Trojan horses


A commenter here thinks I have written a deplorable post (even after removing a few words from the original wording that I had not realised invoked a spectre I would not ever wish to invoke).

To aid you in judging whether it is deplorable and how deplorable it might be in your eyes, it may be worth reading the following articles from the Guardian newspaper re the matter sparking this post. For clarification, let me reiterate, this is the Guardian newspaper, not the Daily Mail, Sun, Telegraph even the Times).

In no particular order:

One article

Another article

Further article

Finally, this article.


Here in NZ we might be slightly pleased with ourselves that we have a settled state of affairs about women in public life, including life as bishops, compared with our counterparts in England.

But from England we can still learn a lesson or two. One lesson is to not be naive about Islam and a particular lesson is in this Guardian report.

That the vast majority of Muslim immigrants are peaceful, law abiding prospective citizens intent on a better life in a (perceived) better land should not lull any receiving country into thinking that no potential then exists for a Trojan horse of separatist, fundamentalist, women-deprecating Islamism to enter the body politic of the immigrant community and seek to influence the wider Muslim community with a version of Islam which seeks to transform the receiving country back to seventh century Arabia.

The Birmingham story is a sharp reminder of the possibility of growth in that influence to the point where the city council of a major city feels constrained to ignore the growth of that influence to the point where there is a 'head in the sand' approach to the development of an approach to education which is at variance with the overall and general shared values of a multi-cultural society such as Britain.

There are already a few signs appearing in our media of 'radical' preachers in our mosques beginning this Trojan work.

The fundamental naivety a Western country such as ours is likely to have is that Islam's core DNA about community and family life is integrateable into other non-Islamic communities. Within that DNA is a streak which is both separatist relative to surrounding communities and totalitarian in ambition, aiming to ultimately control the whole community, but as a closed rather than open society.

The misreading of the West is always that Islam is just like Christianity which has shown (mostly) in its DNA a capacity to go with the flow of surrounding culture, make adroit accommodations and generally work towards an open society.

Islam is not a non-identical twin of Christianity.

POSTSCRIPT: That some NZers are willing to join and work with Al-Quaeda is noted here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Good disagreement via discipline of non-demonization?

In the wake of the decision of the CofE GS to permit bishops to be drawn from the ranks of men and women (which, incidentally, over there means, 'the ranks of archdeacons, deans, seminary principals'), the seven spirits of God roaming over all the earth - I am up to my ears teaching Revelation at the moment :) - see some unsavoury things being said on the internet. (There are also some perceptive, careful and often challenging things being said in comments here ... thank you).

The 'unsavoury things' are descriptions of 'the other side' which at best make the other look bad and at worst make the other look demonic. In short, I am reading things which unfairly characterise what that other side to the Tweeter/blogger/punditocrat is saying. It is not ecclesiastical rocket science to recognise that ++Justin Welby's strategy of working with 'good disagreement' (on which, see Bosco Peters) will not work if we cannot accurately and fairly represent other people's views.

One of the things which particularly concerns me is a kind of snide attitude towards the CofE retaining and supporting that wing which does not support the ordination of women, let alone women being ordained as bishops. "How can the church maintain 'patriarchal authoritarianism' within it?" some are grizzling into their latte cups.

Put like that, how can it?! There is nothing more awful for men as well as women to have authoritarian patriarchs running amok!

But what if we discipline ourselves to speak justly of one another, to render each other's views accurately and to engage empathetically with the general view of the church being espoused? Might we then find that we do not have authoritarian patriarchs running around let alone running amok?

A case in point is a sermon preached just before the GS by Cranmer's Curate. It is as good and clear a statement of a sincerely held belief that women ought not to be ordained priests or bishops as you will find around Anglican blogs today.

As I have reflected on the sermon over the past couple of non-blogging-because-travelling days I find what is fair and true about the sermon and what is promoted within it is a view about the way God orders the church and the world. In this ordering of the world, the sun rises every day, if I step off a cliff I fall to the ground below, men teach mix congregations and women do not, and the All Blacks win nearly every game they play. An associated point is that the Bible is particularly clear on the one point which is not necessarily obvious from observations about the ordering of the world re nature and athletic supremacy.

Our appreciation of this point of view lies in recognising that what is being advanced is not authoritarian patriarchalism but an understanding of God's plan for the world. The commitment to advancing this understanding is fuelled by a desire to honour God. That is why both women and men support this teaching. And, if Anglicanism is not duplicitous, if it is honest and has integrity when it says we are inclusive of diversity, then a way should be found to allow this understanding of God's ordering of the world since it is an understanding with a history in our tradition as we have read Scripture. (To be clear, in some speech by Anglicans, some similar sentiments are expressed which sound for all the world like a rubbishy, misogynistic, authoritarian patriarchalism ... nothing said here is appreciating or supporting such deprecation of women as part of our diversity).

But the converse is true in respect of Anglican diversity. Holders of views expressed along the lines of Cranmer's Curate should be able to appreciate alternative views which teach a different understanding of the ordering of the world and of the church, also fuelled by a desire to honour God. In this understanding the world is not quite so rigidly ordered in each dimension. The sun rises everyday and jumping off cliffs is not advised but the weather is not so ordered and the All Blacks lose more knock out games at World Cups than general statistics would predict. In particular, the ordering of the church along gender lines is not a clear teaching from New Testament scriptures which offer a fluid picture of leadership development in the context of a new appreciation of humanity 'in Christ' in a 'new creation' called into being by the undoing of the reign of sin through the cross.

Of course there is an unfortunate smattering of talk in support of women bishops which seems to owe more to United Nations' charters or postmodern social democratic chatter about glass ceilings than to Scripture. But we should be no more put off affirming the decision made by the CofE as part of Anglican diversity than we would expect people to be put off the views of Cranmer's Curate by reading rubbishy patriarchalism elsewhere in the blogosphere.

(As an aside, further, the association of the decision with the 'agenda' to foster further change down the line re homosexuality is not a reason to resist women bishops. It has always seemed unfortunate to me that the affirmation of women in leadership might be imperilled by concerns about what men do together.)

Can we avoid demonizing each other as we explore what 'good disagreement' might mean?

As a postscript, another concern in these debates can be our relationship as Anglicans with Rome. Writing about the CofE decision, Damian Thompson makes an astute point about the response of Pope Francis in his own acerbic, take-no-prisoners way:

"How will Pope Francis react? Some Anglicans suspect that he’s secretly pleased: they see him as a fellow liberal who would be open to ordaining women if only John Paul II hadn’t declared it to be a theological impossibility. They’re wrong. Francis talks about expanding the ‘ministry’ of women, but when he’s pressed on the subject he makes jokes about bossy priests’ housekeepers and Adam’s rib. There’s definitely a streak of old-fashioned Latin American misogyny in the Holy Father. 
On the other hand, the Pope won’t lose any sleep over this, since he doesn’t believe that Catholics and Protestants should waste time debating irreconcilable doctrinal differences. His message to the CofE’s new women bishops will be: join me in spreading the Gospel." (my bold)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

We cannot let this news go unnoticed

The dear old CofE is now the CofE with new leaderships faces (soon) as it has been agreed by the General Synod meeting in York that women may be appointed as bishops.

NZers should remember that bishops are appointed in the CofE, not elected, so as day follows night, there will be women bishops in that church within six to twelve months. No need to await the vagaries of elections etc.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Experience ain't what some crack it up to be

It is most unfortunate that someone I generally admire, Lord Carey has in recent days made what could be called a 'schoolboy error' re weighing into a UK debate over assisting death on the basis of 'experience.' The error is not least because it exposes all the many matters on which Lord Carey's theological commitments are not determined by experience!

Nevertheless there are plenty of people, to his left and right, excoriating, or at least showing a lack of support for Lord Carey, so no need for me to say anymore. But what is worth drawing attention to is a Psephizo post on the matter which brilliantly and simply lays out the folly of relying on experience as a premise for an argument.

Living Wage and the Politics of Jesus

A note about the launch of the Maori Party's campaign caught my attention. Speaking of its policy, Stuff reports,

"The party revealed it would campaign on policies including lifting the minimum wage to the living wage of $18.80, extending free doctors visits to children up to 18 and free public transport for all low income whānau, children aged 18 years and under, and students."

I am not going to pause on bus fares, or even doctor's visits (good ways of assisting the betterment of society as they are). The particular note which caught my attention was a policy to lift the minimum wage to the living wage of $18.80.

It caught my attention because as I have discussed the concept of the living wage with promoters of the living wage, in my own obtuse way I have felt I have heard arguments for a 'minimum wage' as much as I have heard conceptual reasons for a wage to help people to 'live.' So I am inclined to be favourable to this approach!

Nevertheless I also recognise that there are some very tricky arguments to consider for and against concepts such as minimum wage, living wage and equivalence between the two.

Robert Reich, for instance, recently gave seven reasons for the minimum wage in the States being raised. To which Tim Worstall replied by saying what 'terrible' reasons they are! Buried within each case are two important points (IMHO): higher wages is potentially a great way to enlarge workers' share of the overall cake, especially in the face of increasing inequality; increased taxes and greater benefit payments might be a more precise measure to deliver more to those with less.

What does the politics of Jesus say to the concept of the living wage?

(1) In Jesus' kingdom people get to live with dignity and food on the table. The healing miracles and the food miracles were expressions of the quality of life intended for kingdom people: brought from the margins to the centre of society, sat down at tables with food to eat and some to spare. Any measure which increases wages to a level people can 'live' on and any measure which provides benefits to help those who cannot work or cannot find work to 'live' are worth supporting and promoting. There is no kingdom measure by which we celebrate economic 'success' because lots of entrepreneurs make more money than they know what to do with. (There is no kingdom mandate for punishing such people either! But a strong plea is made to give away what one has to benefit the poor).

(2) All gospel talk of the kingdom of God is predicated on Old Testament talk of the world God sought Israel to work for, one in which justice rolls down like a river, the poor and aliens are provided for, and forgiveness of debts (at least periodically) is encouraged. To the extent that striking a level for a minimum wage or for a living wage are mechanisms for rectifying economic injustice (however difficult it is to define what that is), Christians should be working for rather than against that.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Why the CofE needs two jurisdictions to avoid schism

Have a read of this post on Thinking Anglicans.

The gist of it is this:

(1) a male clergyman working as a chaplain, married according to British law to a man, is in danger of not proceeding to a new chaplaincy position because the relevant bishop won't license him because he is living in a relationship outside of the teaching of the CofE;

(2) an appeal for support is being made by his partner which is based (in my words) on the conviction that a marriage is a marriage and thus should fall within, not outside, the teaching of the CofE.

Now, for the purpose of this post and any comments you might care to make, let's set aside any need to argue whether the CofE teaching is currently true or false and whether the basis for the appeal - that the teaching ought to teach marriage is between any two people who contract a marriage - is true or false.

Let's accept that within the CofE there are large swathes of thoroughly Anglican Anglicans who divide according to their convictions of when a marriage is a marriage (and thus whether a bishop should or shouldn't license the Rev Man or the Rev Woman when married according to law to another Man or Woman respectively).

Let's also accept that no time soon are these convictions going to change - one swathe is not going to suddenly throw in their lot with the other swathe.

Finally, let's accept that while there may be a few on either side of the divide who might feel they have other reasons for departing from the CofE (e.g. where it is poised to go re women bishops), a large majority across both swathes at this time have no other reason to depart the church.

What is the CofE to do?

Is it (as per this post) to continue fighting a battle every time a clergyperson in a same sex marriage applies for a position, a battle in which the rejected prospective licensee highlights (say) how silly the church looks to the rest of society, how awkward and inconsistent it looks to the world about it, how homophobic it appears and so on and so forth?

Does it run the risk that eventually current safeguards re its teaching viz a viz 'human rights' and 'discrimination in the workplace' will be worn down under a future parliament?

Does it engage with these battles recognising that a vast swathe of its members do not agree with its teaching?

(Conversely) does the CofE change its teaching because society has changed and parliament has agreed in law with that change? Does it give way on the principle of authority undergirding its teaching so that its teaching steps aside from the authority of Scripture understood according to tradition and reason and yields to the authority of parliament? Does the CofE, in a few words, cease to be a church standing on the Word of God as it understands it?

The dear Church of England is between a rock and a hard place.

Can anything be done to avoid schism, to avoid breaking into (at least) two parts, in one part of which marriage is between a man and a woman, and in another part, marriage is according to the current law of the land?

Just before readers race ahead of me and conclude that schism is inevitable, the only option, etc, let's remember that the CofE as an established church is a little different to the Typical Protestant Church Which Has Split Several Times Since The Reformation. Sure a few congregations can peel off here and there to form some kind of New Expression of Being Anglican (as had happened in the past with (e.g.) the Free Church of England, and as is happening now with (e.g.) various congregations coming under the oversight of the English branch of AMiA), but suppose half the CofE wants to go in one direction and half in another? If one half kindly leaves without attempting to take any property with them, does the other half wish to maintain and use the property remaining?

Is there another option?

Is it possible that the CofE could develop a 'two jurisdictions' church? One jurisdiction for those adhering to marriage being between a man and a woman; one jurisdiction adhering to marriage defined by the law of the land? That is, all remain in their properties, all are licensed within the one CofE, but the battles over licensing fall away?

I expect comments to say I am barking mad, it's impossible, forget it because Look What Happened Over Woman Priests and Flying Bishops. However I am talking about something different to flying bishops ...

And, if you do want to say I am barking mad, or just barking up the wrong tree, please also say whether you think there is any other way to avoid schism.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist reading here if you are a Kiwi Anglican to understand the way in which the CofE at this point is a canary flying ahead of us as we journey through our mineshaft.

POSTSCRIPT: This clear, incisive comment on the (im)possibility of 'good disagreement' is worth reading (H/T to two correspondents).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Messy Church just got messier

It's been a while, but I think we could be allowed a peep over yonder where the green grass grows (legal now, I am told, in Colorado) and the wild wind blows. Yes, ++Katharine Jefferts Schori has caught my attention with this sentence in a Church Times interview:

"Some people argue for the primacy of scripture, and won't accept that there are other sources of authority."

Other sources of authority?! There is one God, one authoritative divine voice. God does not speak with a forked tongue. How we hear that voice is our challenge, through Scripture, aided by tradition and reason. But let's not speak of 'sources'.

While in the States, Curmudgeon draws attention to a 'you must follow the canons, you need not follow the canons' mess. (Incidentally, while still in the States, Preludium has a very interesting analysis of what can only be called 'manoeuvres' in the process leading to the election of the next PB).

Closer to home, the Australian Anglican church has created something which is messy, at least as it is being digested around the Anglican world. At its General Synod it has decided on a policy which permits priests, in certain circumstances, to break the 'seal of the confessional.' Bosco Peters has a judicious, careful response here. Conciliar Anglican highlights a response by George Conger and suggests it is confused about our 'confessional' theology. But isn't the confusion around this decision also a reflection of our Anglican messiness in refusing to make such matters the subject of a global search for Anglican solutions to problems we face as churches in the modern world?

Meanwhile, at home, all has gone quiet around the working out of Motion 30. I presume the working group is getting cracking on with its task. The sands of time are moving through the hourglass. How we work our way through the mess of being a church with a constitution and an empowering act of parliament while trying to do something (arguably) inconsistent with it could be, well, messy. Ditto our work on liturgical change. Diocesan synods coming up will likely be grappling with Bill 4. Time for clear heads, sound thinking, tidy minds, clarity of purpose.

ACANZP could be a global leader in de-messifying Anglicanism!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Poverty and the Politics of Jesus - Monday 7 July 2014

There is a lovely and heartwarming biographical piece in the NZ Herald on David Cunliffe, the Leader of the Opposition and the potential alternative Prime Minister to John Key. For some further reading, in the New York Times Paul Krugman - Nobel Prize winning economist - sets out in very simple terms the American economic problem and solution. What do David, John and Paul have in common despite their political differences? Also, and apart from having first names drawn from the Bible ... and apart from their liking for President Obama?

I suggest all three have in common their desire to see the respective economies of NZ and the USA perform better. All three know there is poverty, sometimes appalling poverty within the two economies and they all want to see people freed from poverty. Differences between the three concern 'how' people will move from poverty to plenty.

The politics of Jesus offers some intriguing as well as challenging things to say about poverty and its relief. Within the political statements (in word and in deed) made by Jesus is a 'bias to the poor': they are blessed, he feeds them when hungry, he approves reaching across cultural and racial barriers to mend their wounds, he heals those on the margins of society and restores them to the centre, and he instructs a rich person to sell everything and give it to the poor.

Further, the general ethos of the kingdom of God is utterly egalitarian. Whether we go to the Epistle of James with its critique of congregations who offer better seats for the rich, or to the first chapters of Acts and see the early church living out a communist vision for community life, we see in the New Testament that Jesus' words and example impacted his followers deeply and transformatively.

Yet Jesus also said something which is arresting in its profoundness and in its continuing relevance. "You will always have the poor among you." By saying that at the point of receiving an extravagant gift, Jesus opened the way - followed by Christians ever since as justification for building extravagant churches - for a bifurcation on the use of wealth by his followers. But a profound sociological insight has been left to us: there will always be poor people. Whether we are strictly capitalist or communist, pursue some kind of pure Christian or Islamist vision for society, work miracle through social democracy and the welfare state, there will always be poor people. This is both depressing (is it forlorn to attempt to eradicate poverty?) and realistic (we should do our best to help the poor but not under the pretence that we have the power to eradicate poverty).

Fast forwarding to our Down Under society and its politics, there is something profoundly depressing about stories of poverty, regularly wheeled out on the pages of our papers. I cannot recall one such story where there was not a responsibility factor on the part of the poor person or family. That is, no matter how appallingly they may have been treated by a landlord or employer, or ignored by a government agency charged with finding housing and paying benefits, there was a factor in which they themselves played a role (e.g. committed a crime, spent money unwisely, mistreated a house in which they were tenants, unwisely moving from one part of the city to another). In other words, a factor (and stressing the word 'a') in NZ poverty is the question of acting wisely or foolishly (about which the Bible also has more than a few things to say). The reality of life today is that whether we had a government with more money to pay out more to the poor, there seems to be an inordinate capacity on the part of some to nevertheless make choices which lead to deeper poverty rather than to escape from poverty. Jesus' insight captures this phenomenon.

Acknowledging these matters does not let followers of Jesus off the hook in regard to social responsibility. Society through parliament has many opportunities to make decisions for the betterment of people, even if some potential beneficiaries will not make use of the opportunities given them. If there is any one matter confronting us this election, it concerns housing.

Speaking anecdotally, after four and a half years back in Christchurch, this winter I have personally encountered homeless people in the context of the outer suburbs for the first time. A tiny sign of a larger iceberg of need in our city which is particularly short of affordable housing post the quakes.

One part of the politics of Jesus is the manner in which Jesus instructs his followers to recognise that we all share in responsibility for the needs of others. Affordable housing is easy to declare to be a government problem. But it is something we all share in. If you want an affordable house in NZ today it is measurably more possible at the stroke of a pen as more land is made available by councils and government to build houses on; but the quid pro quo is that the value of my house might decline as a result. Am I willing to pay the price for your assistance into better housing? There is also the small matter of whether I  am prepared to pay more tax in order for you to have a better accommodation benefit.

And, as Paul Krugman might say, if the government gets involved in building more houses, there will be more opportunities for people to be gainfully employed!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Denisovans and Genesis 1-2

There has been some flurry of comment here recently about evolution. One of the reasons I believe that my largely non-scientific knowledge should respect science that says evolution has taken place is that details in our DNA are well explained by evolution. In this article (and similar around the web this week) the point is made that we have explanations for successful adaptation of life today via DNA details which tell us about life before homo sapiens.

By contrast, renewing the importance of telling our Christian story of creation in a world stuck on evolution, two nights ago I was at a performance of 'haka theatre' celebrating Matariki (Maori new year). In the story which was told through dance, song and acting, the beginning was a retelling of creation in Maori terms, as the primal couple Ranginui (sky) and Papatuanuku (earth) through tight embrace produce many children forced to live in darkness between them before Tane (god of forest and birds) prises them apart.

It struck me as this scene unfolded that for many of us who avoid schooling in biology, some story such as this forms (or will form) our worldview of the beginning of life. Christians should proudly and politely tell the story we have received with its anthropology of human dignity through our creation as the image of God and theology of God as single Creator. For everything we believe about the love of God for the world and the world's specific need for that love through redemption flows from Genesis 1-3.

In part theology as a discipline of the Christian mind is an exercise in holding the whole story of the world, creation, evolution and redemption together in a single narrative worthy of the one Creator.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

There is no eternal subordination, now get on and enjoy mutuality

Bishop Tim Harris offers part 2 of his latest posts on women in the church.

We need to understand the Trinity properly!