Friday, July 10, 2015

It's a Greek kind of crisis the Communion faces! (Updated x 3)

This morning I am a little bit confused which won't surprise regular readers here who know I am a bear with a small brain.

On Monday I thought I read in the news that Greece had overwhelmingly voted No in Sunday's referendum to further austerity. But today I read in the news that a new deal involving 'harsh austerity' is close to conclusion.

The problem with being a small brained bear as that my brain can't cope with tension and near contradictions in vast conceptual matters like economics and politics. Imagine if I tried to be an Anglican and had a go at being theological in the context of the Anglican Communion :)

Speaking of which things, two posts have caught my eye this week while travelling in paradise - sunny Westland with snow capped mountains catching the eye - one is by Ian Paul with the title What is at stake for the church and same-sex marriage? and one is by Trevor Morrison entitled I'll Trust God's Mercy and Grace.

I may add a para or two about the posts later today. In the meantime I encourage you to read them. My own question is this, When we read, digest and inwardly mark such erudition, are we coming closer to a convergence as to the Way Forward?

A deal, if you like, of a Greek kind, in which Sunday's No becomes Friday's Yes.

Added Later:

Ian Paul's Post's Notable Point

Divergency of views in the Cof E about the status of Scripture itself, captured in this cited paragraph from a post by John McGinley describing his experience as a participant in one of the formal shared conversations on sexuality which the CofE is organising through this period:

"I returned with great concern that the majority of the participants had lost any clear understanding of the Bible as authoritative in their lives. The approaches were shocking to me, and, as a result, my approach was shocking to them. This confirmed that we are already two churches, one which sees the Bible as a helpful collection of writings from which to draw inspiration but which can be used to say whatever we want it to, or simply be ignored. The other seeks to submit to Scripture as we interpret it and apply it to our lives and trust in its goodness as God’s word to us, even when it is painful and challenging. The result of this is that there were many moments of incredulity expressed by people from different positions as they realised others in the room held a belief so far from their own."
Trevor Morrison's Post's Notable Points

Something I am looking for, from a conservative perspective, is language which opens a way forward for our church which conservatives can connect with, empathise with, engage with and even agree with. While I do not think Morrison's overall argument through his post is convincing that we have now reached a different period of time and challenge for the kingdom of God and so previous restrictions can be relaxed, I do think he offers some language worth pausing on.

The argument is not convincing in my view because it does not nail down why we could think, from Scripture, that its prohibitions were limited to certain prevailing circumstances which could then be relaxed when those circumstances changed. It is one thing for us to reason to ourselves 'the prohibitions were because of such and such reasons, concerning Israel and its surrounding nations, concerning the church and its surrounding Hellenistic culture', it is another to draw the conclusion that Scripture intends the prohibitions to no longer apply in a different time and cultural space. (Incidentally I am in agreement with Morrison on a number of points he makes along the way, including the reservation of marriage itself to 'a man and a woman.'. See now, also, this.)

But that is not the end of the post and its contribution to our debate (especially not when Morrison writes from within the Anglican church of these islands). When Morrison writes this paragraph he speaks to me:

"I have now read many stories from people whose testimony of Christian faith resonates as credible with me (see, e.g., John Shore, “UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question”), yet who testify of an overwhelming longing for same-gender relationships and inability to form deep heterosexual ones. When I read those stories, I do not hear the voices of people who are trying to stir up our sympathy so they can maintain a way of life they secretly know is sinful. In fact, I do not hear the voices of sinners at all, except in the general way that all of us are sinners. I do not see people who culpably chose to foster longings for kinds of relationships that prima facie belong in the set that God calls abominations. I hear the voices of people who are in distress."
The strongest argument for blessing same sex partnerships lies in this paragraph. It is essentially a pragmatic, pastoral argument. In today's world, where many aspects of kinship, domestic life, and socialization are different to the households and communities of the world of the Bible, might the church find a way to support those who long for relationship, not in order to sin but in order to love, not in order to rebel against God but in order to form a partnership for mutual society and support in their walk with God?

My personal argument through this series of posts, against the backdrop of Motion 30 discussion in our church, is that those of us who are unconvinced that same sex partnerships should be blessed (let alone that we should move to embrace equal marriage) could or even should consider whether our church might be inclusive and accommodating of those who are persuaded that such partnerships might be blessed in the context of church.

From this perspective, Ian Paul's post warns against being a church which pushes itself to an either/or decision, to the exclusion of a possible middle way. Trevor Morrison's post opens up a possible way forward towards blessing of same sex partnerships which might, just might receive agreement in our church if we saw our way to a pragmatic, pastoral approach.


Trevor Morrison has now posted a follow up post The Just Justifier.

After a statement of his doctrine of Scripture, Morrison proposes:

"On the basis of those beliefs, I believe that the time has come when the Church can:
  • Heed the testimonies of LGBT believers who tell us that their orientation dates from earliest childhood and that it was not wilfully chosen, and that supposed re-orientation therapies do not work for them, no matter how whole-heartedly they engage with them.
  • Heed their testimony that they are not able to form a meaningful, soul-satisfying heterosexual relationship, yet feel barred by the Church from entering a relationship with someone of their own orientation.
  • Hear their anguish at this state of affairs.
  • Recognise that a faithful same-sex union is not a threat to the Kingdom of God if it is welcomed and guarded with the same pastoral care as a heterosexual union.
  • And therefore declare that, while same-sex unions were not part of God’s pre-Fall design for humankind, faithful unions of that kind are covered by the grace of Christ in his redemptive plan and can be accepted and blessed within the Church."
At the conclusion of his post he appeals:

"Dear faithful, conservative pastor-teachers, I appeal to you. Please lift your eyes from your systematic theologies and look unblinkingly at the God whom your studies should have revealed to you. Engage both your heart and your brain. Cease selling God’s love short by trying to make his judgment triumph over his mercy when you deal with LGBT people, by demanding of them what, after all, God does not. Recognise instead that, as Cranmer put it in his great Eucharistic prayer, God is “the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.” Be imitators of him, your Saviour."

Post Postscript

My attention has been drawn to an article by David Runcorn in a recent CEN. As an evangelical in the CofE, associated with the recent Pilling Report, Runcorn asks himself and fellow evangelicals the question, 'How would we know when we have got it wrong?'

Runcorn powerfully makes the point that for decades evangelical South Africans did not realise they had 'got it wrong' on apartheid, thinking that the Bible supported that foul social doctrine. He asks, through a series of reflections and questions, how evangelicals reading the Bible today might know when they have 'got it wrong' on homosexuality.

It is worth a read.


Anonymous said...

The links to your two posts both lead to Ian Paul's blog.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim
Now fixed!

Stephen Jacobi said...

With due respect I think the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Leicester, mis-represents the divide in the church today - one which is common to most mainline denominations: that divide is between those who believe sincerely that God's word is to be received and those who believe equally sincerely that God's word is to be discovered. Progressives are no less convinced than conservatives of the transcendent nature of God's goodness and love. It's just that when it comes to the place of LGBT people in the church (and society) some of us faithfully believe that justice and compassion trump the law and the understandings of today's religious authorities. That's something we confidently believe Jesus would approve.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Well I don't see too much contradiction in the Greek situation, 'bullying' perhaps. We know you don't want to but we will let you go into political and social chaos unless you agree to.... the IMF's lovely structural adjustment policies to pay your debt by reducing social services which is a great solution for economic recovery - never got my head around that one. What ever happened to the biblical year of Jubilee?

Back on topic:
Both interesting articles. Morrison's opinion re why the ban on homosexual behaviour was necessary in Hebrew culture and the NT period but not now seems a bit like personal speculation rather than comprehensive research to me. However, I found his musings on how committed christian same sex couples would find themselves choosing to walk in a way different from the LGBT community at large (as the church differs from secular culture in its ethics) a new addition to what I have encountered so far on this topic, including LGTB people choosing their identity in Christ above sexual orientation.

Ian Paul's comments regarding people who hold to christian marriage as being heterosexual being 'restrained' from voicing their opinion in talks on the topic, alongside the lack of conversations that engage with theological hermenueitcs rather than unsubstantial conclusions, pertinent to where the church is at now.

I still just don't know re blessings etc. I do agree Jesus emphasised love and mercy, but the question remains what is the application of His love in this situation? For sometimes love can be a no or it's not such a good idea, as all of us who have an association with children know.

I definitely do not think forgiveness is with-held from couples in same sex relationships. Most of the biblical examples of forgiveness change a person rather than requiring a person to change - a subtle difference.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
Just on the Greek crisis: if their debts were forgiven without changes then the debts would start to accumulate again!

Jean said...

Totally true Peter. Though perhaps measures to ensure governmental transparency and a public education campaign for the people of Greece helping them to understand that paying taxes is 'safe' and 'necessary' would be more effective than cutting pension payouts. Considering of course first the Ottomans landed the Christian Greeks with extreme taxation leading to poverty including a child tax (as in give a child), then two generations later during WWII they were heavily taxed by the Nazi's to pay for the Nazi's occupation of their country - you can kind of see why the people's reluctance to pay tax may be a hereditary mistrust that may be more effective tackled in a strategically social rather than purely economic sense. Not to mention Germany who is the biggest lender has kinda swept under the carpet that they owe Greece a little for the WWII tax (because with re-uniting with East Berlin they had enough internal issues and costs) and I am all for forgiveness and that being history - but one must do unto others......

Jean said...

Ha, ha Peter just another thought on your 8.05 pm comment, it would be an interesting premise for a sermon...

Father Ron Smith said...

"...we are already two churches, one which sees the Bible as a helpful collection of writings from which to draw inspiration but which can be used to say whatever we want it to, or simply be ignored. The other seeks to submit to Scripture as we interpret it and apply it to our lives and trust in its goodness as God’s word to us, even when it is painful and challenging."
- Ian Paul -

I think, Peter. that Ian Paul is being a little over-dramatic here. We who read the Scriptures daily, at the Eucharist, as well as in our private devotions, but who are aware of the need to up-date their relevance in a very different world from that in which they were conceived and approved;are not seeking to 'use Scripture to say whatever we want it to, or simply ignore it'

What we ARE doing, is to try to understanding the teachings of Jesus, in the context from which he was speaking and acting, to inform our attitudes and actions in today's context, that is very different from 2 millennia ago. After all, is this not what Jesus himself was doing in his disputation with the Scribes and Pharisees. He sometimes overturned the actual instructions of the Jewish Scriptures, when, for instance, he sent away the leaders who were going to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery - when, by authority of scripture, they intended to0 carry out the due penalty.

The outrageous love of God-in-Christ was demonstrated, on occasions, to overcome the demands of Scripture for revenge against the breaking of the Law. The real problem with arguments like those of Ian Paul, and Reform, is that they do not account for the innumerable acts of God's forgiveness and mercy that Jesus brought into the arena of Book-based religion.

If the Church has been divided by the appearance of justice movements in an unjust society; then I know which side I choose to support. It is not that of the 'status quo' on matters of justice and equity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
There is something to reflect on re God's forgiveness of our debts and expectations of change!

The history of Greece in the past few centuries is very sad, and they have endured a lot from foreign rulers and local rulers. Tsipras himself recently accepted that previous Greek governments since WW2 have not served their people well. Then there is the question of banks lending money to nations who can't pay it back ...

But, in the end, the Nazis are not responsible for the age at which Greeks can currently receive the pension!

I hope a gracious solution can be found at this hour of great need.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
The problem with saying that there are problems is that there might be problems with the reasoning we give for saying that there are problems.

So, yes, we can examine Ian Paul, Reform etc and ask searching questions about how Scripture is used, whether it has become a new version of the old Law which Jesus came to both uphold and yet transcend etc.

But when we move to where you go at the end of your comment, we are entitled to ask, 'Whose justice?' and 'How do we know what justice is? In particular, is God's justice on these matters limited to the possibility of blessing same sex partnerships or does it extend to extending the definition of marriage itself?

I would be interested in your scriptural case for what God's justice means on these matters. But, be warned, I will be checking that your case does not itself contravene wht Scripture already says about marriage, blessings, etc!

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, just a brief response to your last challenge:

Justice and Justified presumably have a common root of meaning - even in Scripture.

Therefore, we might ponder on the significance of the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee; where the Publican, alone, is said by Jesus to have been 'justified'. We are all sinners.

It would seem from this parable that Jesus was excluding from justification (by God's forgiveness) the 'righteous man', who was drawing attention to his own righteousness and criticising the sins of others. Surely, that renders our overt criticism of those different from ourselves as being less than laudable, and less deserving of forgiveness, than the sins of those we are prone to criticise? The point I am making is that mores may be subject to a different set of values from that described in some part of Scripture.

Jean said...

Hi Peter

And yes definitely something to reflect on re forgiveness and God's expectations of change my sentence(s) might be - smile;
Does Christ's forgiveness require change or cause it?
What does it mean to forgive 70 x 7?
Does forgiveness free us from responsibility for our past actions?
Are we to place conditions on forgiving others?

No the German people aren't responsible for the Nazi's actions which left Greece poorer and contributed to fiscal distrust, or the inability of the Greek government to pay debts which lead to the IMF offer of a bailout requiring a change to the Pension Greeks receive. Neither am I as a European decendent responsible for the actions of my forebearer's countrymen and the now disproportionate numbers of Maori in prison. But I do have the understanding that the end result is partially due to historical injustices, alongside an empathy for those most affected, and I willingly support any tax I pay being used to help change the trend through social or economic initiatives.

Yes lets pray for a gracious and a sustainable solution!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I quite agree that the way we treat one another, as one human to another, as one sinner to another, is subject to justice more than to specific rules in the sense that some rules (once justly formed) over time can become a means of injustice.

Nevertheless my point or question remains, if we are setting up a new rule (whether in the sense of a canon or a rite), how would we know what was just and what was not?

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter; would it not be judged by the charity with which the rule or canon is brought into being - taking into account the moral discerment newly available by which to make the judgement. After all, this seemed to be the parameter used by Jesus? Off to church now (Evangelical St. Nicholas' in Newberry, Berks.)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Yes, charity would come into the equation.
'Evangelical' sounds, well, sound!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, Peter; for 'Newberry', please read 'Newbury'. the locals would not be pleased!

The service this morning at St. Nick's was a Family Service, with lots of guitar-accompanied songs and a bit of rock and roll. However, the content quite acceptable (to me, at least). In that context - with some young families present - the demonstration of bread-making, with audience participation, led up to a well-thought out sermon on the place of yeast in the mixture; just 1% of the whole and yet energising for the total structure. Good stuff!

The simple Eucharistic rite, conducted by the Vicar, in a suit with clerical collar - not my preferred style - with just a Gospel reading - completed the worship ritual. The Lord was Present in the Bread of the morning's baking backstage, so all was well!

The congregation were encouraged to have their individual photos taken for publication on the parish web-site. I'm glad to say that the young new mother in our family party was moved to participate. All in all, reminded me somewhat of the charismatic days at Saint Paul's, Symonds Street, Auckland, in the late 1960s.

Peter Carrell said...

Lovely to hear all that, Ron!

Jean said...

So I am totally off topic and on the Greece crisis bandwagon but there are some very interesting articles appearing lately in the economic world which have an astounding amount of opinions based on concepts with which Christians will be very familiar:

Jean said...

An interesting observation:

The Anglican Church in SA didn't change it's position, it always considered Apartheid to be heresy. All the same the, how do we know when we are wrong, is a good question to ask!

Peter Carrell said...

Perhaps, Jean, combining your last two comments, we should appoint an Anglican to sort the Greek crisis?

(Though in the news about now is the claim that it is all sorted!)

Jean said...

Hi Peter

What a good idea! What are you doing when you retire in 2020? : )

All I can say about the possible new deal is God help those offerring it if they ever find themselves in a similar position. For whoever shows mercy shall also receive it. He who cannot forgive breaks a bridge over which one day he might have to pass himself.

Those in Christchurch might find today's BBC article about the city interesting:

Enjoy chilly Sth Canty.

Janice said...

Can the Anglican Church be inclusive of 'real vampires', do you think, since “[u]nlike lifestyle vampires, real vampires believe that they do not choose their vampiric condition; they are born with it, somewhat akin to sexual orientation”.

Or is this just an example of identity politics taken too far?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
It might be ... :)

TrevDev said...

I have now posted some thoughts on my own blog concerning the use of the word "pragmatism".

I plan to add another post soon that attempts to do better on the matter of "nailing down" "why we could think, from Scripture, that its prohibitions were limited to certain prevailing circumstances which could then be relaxed when those circumstances changed." In that post I will also reflect on Kevin DeYoung's excellent book, "What the Bible Really Teaches about Homosexuality".

Warm regards

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Trevor!