Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Scottish Way Forward for Our Church in 2016?

Dean Martyn Percy in his essay bursting onto the Anglo-Blogosphere this week - see previous post - does not offer a way forward for the Communion as the Primates gather in January 2016 (IMHO) but he does say some important things along the way. In churches such as my own, wrestling our way towards General Synod, May 2016, with questions dividing us about how we remain faithful to the gospel as a message of God's welcoming love as well as of kingdom living according to God's Holy Word, Percy has a point to ponder. The simplest way to get the point to you is to cite a longish section from the essay (accessed from Modern Church's home page here). My comments are italicised.

First, what is arguably the most workable compromise in a church in which people of opposing views wish to find a way to stay together and live with those opposing views:

"Yet other churches have faced the divisive issue of sexuality with a bit more nuance. The Church of Scotland, for example, deemed that same-sex relationships were a ‘matter of liberty of conscience, guaranteed by the Church, on matters that do not enter into the substance of faith’. Here, the question of same-sex relationships was left to the liberty of conscience of individuals, congregations and their ministers."

The advantage of this way forward is mutual respect and affirmation of "the other":

"Thus, a few might say that they cannot support same-sex relationships, and never will. But a quieter majority of others might think otherwise, and therefore affirm such relationships. The liberty of conscience applied here is still a matter of beliefs and practice, but not one that ultimately divides members of the church, who are all mutually affirmed as still ascribing to the core substance of Christian faith."

Percy is not satisfied with what happened in the final decision making of the Church of Scotland. I would part company with him on this criticism. I think it too much to expect churches not to reaffirm "the 'traditionalist' line ... as the normative-default position." I think ACANZP would divide badly - with an "unholy row" if we went the Percy way rather than the Scottish way:

"That carefully worded phrase, which was supposed to bring peace to the Church of Scotland, almost succeeded. Almost. The intention in the drafting of the ‘liberty of conscience’ clause was to accommodate revisionists and traditionalists alike, liberals and conservatives. In many ways, it aped that beloved Anglican ideal – an ‘ecclesial DNA’ of inclusive dynamic conservatism that characterises the polity of the church.

Unfortunately for the Kirk, however, when the debate on sexuality took place at the General Assembly in 2014, the ‘traditionalist’ line was reaffirmed as the normative-default position. Although the Kirk subsequently permitted congregations and ministers to opt out if they wanted to affirm civil partnerships. This was done to ‘keep the peace of the church’, of course – and avoid an unholy row."

That was a pity, because there are two problems with this compromise, and they are ones that the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Primates, would do well to avoid next month. First, the concession maintains discrimination and perpetuates an injustice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and so runs contrary to the spirit of the 2010 Equality Act in the UK. Second, and despite initial appearances, the two interpretations of ‘liberty of conscience’ are not in fact symmetrical. They appear to be chiral, so to speak; but there is one crucial difference to note."

Percy offers the following allegory to support his position on the importance of symmetry rather than asymmetry in churches inclusion of same sex partnerships. Does it work? Does it help the argument he is making?

"And here, an allegory may be helpful. There is a world of difference between going to an ordinary restaurant and requesting a vegetarian option, and going to a vegetarian restaurant and asking for a steak, medium-rare. The first scenario is fine and has sense – no decent restaurant menu is without vegetarian options. But we would rightly regard the second scenario as nonsense. Indeed, potentially rather offensive to vegetarians – and entirely against the spirit of the restaurant.

Yet by making heterosexual relationships the exclusive and traditional default position, the Kirk effectively chose this second scenario. The relatively small numbers of traditionalists and conservatives who reject same-sex unions and gay marriage in churches, are, in effect, dictating the menu for everyone else.

In this allegory gay people are fully part of the mainstream of the population. The majority are usually quite happy to eat vegetarian food; just not all the time. But that same majority would not think of insisting vegetarians occasionally ate meat. That would be non-sense."

The next paragraphs are particularly aimed at the situation in the CofE, with regard to its role as "national church", a role no other Anglican church has in the Communion. But there are sentences which pertain to life in ACANZP. I have underlined those:

"Living with Diversity: 

One key ecclesial question flows simply from this allegory: how might churches manage to live well with constrained differences and minorities? Moreover, in a way that does not stigmatise minorities, and caters for them in a nondiscriminatory way?

Is this a recipe for diversity of practice that inexorably leads to irreparable disunity? Not really. The Church of England already knows how to live with this kind of reality. Some of the more catholic-inclined clergy and congregations already exercise their liberty of conscience on women priests and women bishops. They’ve opted out, and reasonable (some would say overly generous) provision is made for them. Some of the more evangelically inclined clergy and congregations don’t always hold services that technically conform to stricter interpretations of canon law on robing or liturgy; they also exercise a liberty of conscience.

In neither case are these clergy or congregations cast out. They are catered for; or even permitted to self-cater. And although both these groups might claim to hold more firmly to the truth than others, no-one is asked to dine elsewhere, so to speak. No established church can afford to de-nationalise itself on an issue that is now treated as a matter of equality and justice by the state. Civil partnerships and same-sex marriages, and those entering into these unions, enjoy the full protection of the law, and majority affirmation by the population as a whole. For any national church to turn its face away from those who are full and equal citizens, and have their unions and marriages recognised as such, effectively augments a process of de-nationalisation and privatisation. It is a route-march towards a tribal church.

The church becomes, in effect, a sad and unwelcoming restaurant with a rationed menu, where the diners who tried to order a meat dish were made to feel terribly guilty. Or more likely, quietly asked by the sullen owner, or embarrassed waiter, to take their custom elsewhere. The diners duly leave. In effect, this is the adopted position of the Church of England by the current Archbishop. But a national church must cater for the whole palate of the population. That is what a broad church does."

Whether we Kiwis think we have become or are becoming a "tribal church" is a moot point!


Anonymous said...

Is the Church of Scotland flourishing under the "Scottish option"?


Father Ron Smith said...

"Living with Diversity:

One key ecclesial question flows simply from this allegory: how might churches manage to live well with constrained differences and minorities? Moreover, in a way that does not stigmatise minorities, and caters for them in a nondiscriminatory way?" - Dr. Peter Collier -

I guess, Peter, a lot might depend on who prcisely is in 'the minority' here? How would it suit your argument if the protesters asgainst gay relationship were in the minority in the Church? Would it make any real difference?

I appreciate Dean Percy reference to the Church of England being likened to an exclusively vegetarian restaurant - if it chooses to serve only vegetarian (non-gay) people. That would presume that gay people would not be provided for in the restuarant. They would have to look for their nourishment elsewhere - Not Inclusive, then!

Is that what we want for ACANZP? Not me, personally.

The other way, of course, is to treat this matter (same-sexuality) as the Church of England currently treats divorce: Mostly welcoming of its habitues! Why, even some bishops are divorced and re-married - without prejudice - even though the 'doctrine of marriage' remains the same-old ttaditional! If we can accommodate this difference for Marriage, why not for Same-Sex Relationships?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
To clarify:
(1) I am not Dr Peter Collier (who no doubt is a fine person).
(2) The words you attribute to "Dr Peter Collier" are words I cite from Dean Martyn Percy.

Anonymous said...

Peter, since I commented on this problem a few months ago, my note here will be brief.

(0) In order of descending importance, the topics of interest are-- (a) Teaching about sexuality and rites for marriage that are true to God's self-revelation; (b) General support for the civil order; (c) Accommodation of hard cases (childless couples, divorced persons, same sex partnerships recognised by law, etc); (d) Pastoral latitude for clergy and local churches with dissenting views. For convenience, we might call (a) and (b) "the Dog" and (c) and (d) "the Tail."

Pragmatically, the Dog should wag the Tail. Whatever the merits of Martyn Percy's allegory, a church that firms up (c) and (d) before settling its policy on (a) and (b) is letting the Tail wag the Dog.

(1) On the first topic, three understandings of marriage with scriptural support have been common in Anglican churches: (i) Marriage is the divinely instituted setting for procreation (Genesis 1:28) and companionship (Genesis 2:18); (ii) Marriage is Christ reconciling man and woman, and signifying the reconciliation of other binaries-- Christ and the Church (Song of Songs, Ephesians 5), heaven and earth (Revelations 21), etc; (iii) Marriage as a contract of intimacy between two parties (again Genesis 2:18) is naturally analogous to God's covenant with his people. Martyn Percy's contrast between traditional marriage and unisex marriage does not capture the richness of the Church's actual teaching. To be faithful to God's self-revelation, general teaching on sexuality and rites for marriage should reflect all three themes.

(2) By Romans 13:1-6, Christians generally recognise the God-given authority of the state to order their societies in ways that promote peace, justice, and the common good. For this reason, it has been customary that, in the absence of a compelling theological reason, church practise with respect to marriage will accommodate the civil law. Refusals to do so, if any, should be carefully warranted, especially in the special case of same sex partnerships registered by the state as marriages.

(3) Proposals to celebrate same sex partnerships as marriages (SSM) understand them as marriage (iii) above. So that the Dog wags the Tail rather than vice versa, it is best for churches to explicitly affirm (i, ii, iii) before debating SSM.

(4) As there is a duty to teach all that has been revealed by God, and as no scripturally warranted teaching can be forbidden by the church to foster a false peace, it follows that accommodation for consciences must be defined, not only for practise, but also for teaching.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

Oh Dear, Peter; too much going on for an 86 year-old. I don't mean to misrepresent either you or Peter Collier, but I gues you realised I meant you, because he aint a 'Doctor' is he? This is symptomatic of my all-too-readiness to comment - perhaps I should ease up!!! And, of course, you're right about the ascription. Only the first line was your comment. The rest is, indeed, that of Professor Martyn Percy.

Marana tha!

Anonymous said...

Warm congratulations, Father Ron, on your ripe old age!

Personally, my only regret about your comments here is that you tell us so few stories. It's not your fault; even though we all know that stories are more persuasive than arguments, the blogosphere as a whole is driven too much by conflict and too little by memory and imagination, let alone anamnesis. Reading your first comment on the approaching meeting of primates, it was pleasant to imagine you recalling several years of dinners and drinks in Canterbury.

What I have liked best about your comments has been your steadfast witness to the divine Love. Of course it often enlivens your comments on That Topic, but it also graces your occasional comments on prayer and the liturgy, eg on St Luke's infancy narrative. In the Father's house there are many rooms, and you have taken residence in one with a fine view.

An old acclamation for the emperors of Byzantium (cf God Save The Queen) is still sung in the Divine Liturgy today for many occasions including birthdays and anniversaries. A few daring priests recite it at the end of the prayers of the people, most at the conclusion of the service before the distribution of the antidoron. Under the great dome from which Christ in his icon looks down on every sacrament, the Romanians I mentioned yesterday would sing it for your birthday in words that could be englished like this--

*In the center of the church, the celebrant shall make the sign of the cross over the servant of God three times singing--

Celebrant: Almighty and merciful God, bless the work of your servant Ron's hands, bestow upon him the fullness of your blessings-- health, happiness, peace, and length of days-- and grant him many years.

People: God grant you many years! God grant you many years! God grant you many, many, many years!*

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Bowman re Dog, Tail and wagging. Well put and helpful!

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bowman. Thanks for your special blessing. I sit under it with the distinct realisation that ALL blessings are a blessing from God. Agape!

Anonymous said...


A gathering of old classmates who came of age in the same quite liberal suburb left me surprised at how conservative our cohort had turned out to be. Our dear elders were so determined to break the mold of 1950s social conformity that had stifled them, that they left the generation after them groping in the ruins for understandings that were once thought to be commonplaces. I think I detected some rage.

Now every generation does fight its own battles, of course. This is why one can look silly fighting battles for another generation with other concerns. But caution still seems in order.

Martyn Percy is largely correct that most millennials do not understand the Church's resistance to the mainstreaming of homosexuality. They often view that revolution as their own proud mark on the history of the world.

However, the pendulum swings both ways. The minds that reject discrimination against same sex partnerships today may be disenchanted tomorrow by a religious leaders and commuities that have nothing coherent to say about their own sexuality. If they do not feel this way, their children may.

This is not an argument against accommodating the 3% in whatever way is the right way; it is an argument against doing so with a theology of sexuality and marriage in which the sexual differentiation and procreation of the 97% are meaningless. Given a choice between a religion that ignores central realities of your life and development and another to which they are important in themselves and even rich with cosmic significance, which would any of us choose?

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman.
Spot on!

Father Ron Smith said...

Majority Rule, then?

Anonymous said...

No, Father Ron, there is no institutional manufacturing of the objects of faith. Full stop. The Church belongs to the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Spirit to the Church. Only discernment of the self-disclosure of God is possible to those who believe in the Trinity. As you imply, neither crude vote-counting majoritarianism nor secular rights-logic can substitute in for this discernment in the Church.

Bowman Walton

carl jacobs said...


a theology of sexuality and marriage in which the sexual differentiation and procreation of the 97% are meaningless.

That will be a neat trick considering that the sexual revolution in general (and the normalization of homosexuality in particular) has been built precisely by establishing sexual morality upon consent at the expense of sexual differentiation and procreation. The structural boundaries to sexual behavior have been demolished. You can't say those boundaries matter except when they don't. You can't assert that fathers contribute something essential to the upbringing of children even as you say that a child raised by a Lesbian couple is not disadvantaged. One of those two statements must be false. You can't claim that procreation is an obligation of a sexual life while simultaneously asserting that the only binding obligation of sex is personal gratification. One of those two claims must be false. And, yes, the claim that the penultimate purpose of sex is personal gratification is the primary claim of post-modern sexual morality. It considers every other purpose to be optional.

You are correct that this is going to change. The existential fear driven by demographic decline is going to drive it. Too many people are opting out of parenthood, and the willing "breeders" are not making up the difference. That is a direct consequence of post-modern sexuality. It must be changed or the civilization dies.

Anonymous said...

Carl, until SSM was enacted in England, there was an interesting movement there to open civil partnerships to heterosexual couples who believed in them rather than marriage. That and your comment bring to mind an experience that we may both have had in the village of Fulcrum: proponents of same sex marriage in that online forum have tended to be-- proponents of marriage (iii) above, opponents of marriage (i), and bewildered by marriage (ii).

It seems that the main line that divides northern Anglicans on sexuality runs, not between the 97% (some of whom are feminists who view marriage as oppression of women) and the 3% (some of whom are profoundly traditionalist), but within the 97% itself. At its extreme, one side despises (iii) as patently secular, boring, and sinful, even for heterosexuals, but does recognise (i) and usually (ii) as authentic Christian faith. At the opposing extreme, others find (i) to be oppressive to women, (ii) to be "strange... too religious," and (iii) to be pleasingly compliant with secular mores, yet with just a hint of religious uplift. True Love v Free Love.

If this is the actual division of opinion, then it is clear why partisans for the two sides of Anglican dialogues on SSM get nowhere. They disagree on marriage at least as much as they disagree on homosexuality. This is why I have suggested that churches just stop trying to settle the question of same sex marriage. States will decide what is just to all and good for the community; that is what states are for (Romans 13). Churches should concern themselves with the authentic spiritual meaning for believers of the states of life of their members. That is, they should work for better all around understanding of (i), (ii), and (iii) before venturing further.

When Martyn Percy says that a non-inclusive church is an "evangelistic dead duck," he is right to the extent that people expect churches to be places of exceptional love and acceptance. As you know, I have scolded both conevos and liberals for doing so little about the rate of teen suicide, especially high among teens with same sex attraction.

But actual believers also expect churches to be places that add a vertical dimension of meaning to their lives that is not accessible to them through sports, shopping, politics, pop music, etc. Liberal justice talk that just echoes that of the secular world does not do this. Churches with nothing to give to persons for whom masculinity, femininity, the mystery of union, the miracle of birth, the seasons of life, and the succession of generations are at the centre of life's meaning will be sold at auction to the congregations of those who do.

Bowman Walton

carl jacobs said...


When I originally read your description of (i) (ii) and (iii), my thought was that it represented a good synopsis of the Christian view of marriage. I don't see those three concepts as three competing narratives but as three orthogonal views of the same narrative. They are all simultaneously true and each must be maintained at all times. This explains why SSM is an impossible contradiction to Christian marriage. Views (i) and (ii) cannot be maintained because SSM is not procreative and SM represents the union of two "likes." Those two likes cannot represent the complementarity of Christ and the Church. View (iii) must therefore supplant (i) and (ii) for SSM to have any coherence. A three-dimensional concept is projected into one dimension for the sake of establishing autonomous choice as the determining narrative. This is why you find supporters of SSM to be "proponents of marriage (iii) above, opponents of marriage (i), and bewildered by marriage (ii)." They are of necessity imposing a narrative of human autonomy onto Christian marriage. Doing otherwise would demolish the very concept they seek to defend.

So I don't agree that the division runs through sexuality at all. I think rather that the division finds its fault line between the concept of human autonomy and divine limits on the same. The modern western world has made a religion out of human autonomy. Liberal religion is little more than a veneer of divine sanction slathered on top of authentic human desire. This is why the division is intractable and so deep. One side is asserting divine boundaries that restrict the reach of authentic desire. The other side is saying that authentic desire pushes out to establish the divine boundaries. Sex is simply the means by which this difference is made manifest.

I also agree with you that churches should stop trying to find a way to solve the problem of SSM. There is no way to solve it because the root of the problem is a competition between two very different religions that are related only by a common set of words. Those two religions cannot coexist as TEC had proven in spades. One must supplant the other. Indeed, both sides consider their opponents to be not just wrong but purveyors of moral evil. That kind of instability cannot be sustained over time. There can be only one functional doctrine in a church. If those who hold to functional doctrine A consider alternate position B to be evil, then alternate position B will eventually be expunged - prior agreements to "good disagreement" notwithstanding. The only coherent solution is for those who hold to alternate position B to strike their sandals against the door frame on the way out of the door.

-- end of part 1

carl jacobs said...

Bowman (part 2)

What this means is that there is no way to synthesize liberal and conservative understandings into a coherent whole. There is no doctrine that can integrate liberal notions of autonomy with the idea that "masculinity, femininity, the mystery of union, the miracle of birth, the seasons of life, and the succession of generations are at the centre of life's meaning." Those things were removed precisely so that human autonomy could be placed at the center of life's meaning. And there can only be one center.

Martyn Percy thinks the church is an "evangelistic dead duck" if it doesn't conform to the world in this way. He is wrong in this sense. There is no salvation in conformity. The secular world is never going to beat a path into Liberal religion. It won't find any value in a church that affirms the primacy of personal autonomy. That's the cardinal dogma of the secular world. Why does it need a church to affirm what it already believes? The secular world is instead primarily interested in getting the church to shut up. It wants only to silence the witness.

If the church becomes a clone of secular society, then the secular world will have achieved its objective, and it will consign liberal churches to those few people who "need that sort of thing." It is Liberal churches that are "evangelistic dead ducks." They offer nothing to the unbelieving world except the plaintive mewl of "Me, too!" Inside 15 years, half of TECs parishes are going to cease to exist. How long before TEC is a church of 100,000 ASA located in the NE plus a few outposts in university towns? That's the future of all liberal religion.

And who will weep for it?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Carl, (i), (ii), and (iii) are all compatible, if not interdependent. They are mainly pitted against each other at the extremes of polarised opinion. Rigid complementarians see nothing in (iii) that is not already in (ii); extreme advocates for SSM insist that (i) is oppression of women, (ii) is not modern, and (iii) is the dream of justice itself. In principle, I like all three.

On the ground, the kind of liberalism that is withering is the modernist sort that assumes the incredibility of traditional faith and at least suspects, and maybe hopes for, the invincibility of total secularisation. This sort of religion is like house paint: people have a duty to paint their houses and an inner need to believe that they have chosen their colours, but consciously or not, their criterion is the palette of their neighbours, and the pastor's job is to sell religious yet conforming paint. Academic historians of religious liberalism seem to agree that as postmodernity increases the neighbourhood's tolerance of pluralism, nobody needs the paint anymore. A world in which the political left defends Muslims in the West, despite seeing their religion as hopelessly premodern and inspiring a few to do immense harm, is a world becoming too comfortable with religious pluralism to worry about a few non-conforming Christians. Perhaps the most significant sign of the change in the US is the steady migration of Jews here from Reform to Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and even Haredi Orthodox practise.

But liberalism as a whole is probably not finished. As you say, there are enclaves of late modernity in which the old modernist liberalism, and hence TEC, still matter. And as we have discussed in the village, some recent currents in evangelicalism (eg Progressive Evangelicalism, Emerging, Emergent, etc) are similar, deeply or superficially, to liberalism.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

A somewhat interesting forum for a refreshed North American conversation! Menawhile, life goes on in the Communion.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father Ron, for your patience with Anglicans up yonder. Frankly, I would love to hear much more about just how "life goes on" among Anglicans down under. From here it appears that you have-- evangelicals with different inner tensions, a different mix of the schools of churchmanship, much less polarisation, more attention to currents in the CoE, and a political culture that is more accommodating and consensus-seeking. Then again, Peter could simply have very reasonable friends ;-)

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Bowman, the big test of our unity will come when the outcome of our Cathdral in the Square's disposition is known tommorow (Wed.) In the meantime, we can only continue in prayer for a good resolution that draws us all together - en Christo!