Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Way Forward: Section 3: A Critical Review (2)

[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]

What follows is very critical of the section under consideration. I am risking offending some or all of the working party, a number of whom are friends as well as colleagues. But what is at stake for our church is too high to not address an inadequately thought through section of the report, the more so because this section sets out to be the theological underpinnings of the rest of the report.

Section 3 is titled "The dynamic nature of doctrine, the path of unity"

First part, p. 5, rightly sets the theological underpinnings of the report in our quest for fullness and contentedness of life as only fulfilled in union with God. Consequently, in respect of the particular matter at hand, the report says,

"There is a critical and present mission aspect to our discussions on the matter of same-sex relationships."

The report then turns to three "critical questions of theological import":
- What does it mean to be human in the now? (pp. 5-6)
- When we speak of 'two integrities' how can we also speak of the unity of the Church? (pp. 6-7)
- What do we mean by saying that Doctrine is dynamic? (pp. 7-8)

Frankly, I am not sure what the report is trying to say as its "key point" in response to the first question, and I am worried about what is not said.

On the one hand, I have no idea why statements are made such as "We must be open to how fresh insights may lead to change and dynamism." Why? Who says we must? Is this God's will for the church or the wishful thinking of the report writer(s)?

Then, I cannot make sense of this sentence, "Tradition is dynamic (as is discussed further below) and, as we seek to maintain our fundamental identity, this may be attained only by examining our context and its development over time." What may be attained? If it is our "fundamental identity" then surely that is already attained because we are the people of God? Or, is something different meant by "fundamental identity", and what is that?

On the other hand, it is beyond my imagination trying to understand why a section answering a question such as what it means to be human in the now says nothing about being created in God's image, redeemed by Christ through his death on the cross, enlivened by the Spirit in order to share in Christ's risen life, nor about being a disciple of Christ and finding our humanity through taking up our cross.

In other words, beyond a general recognition that "To be human in the now, is first and foremost to be in relationship with God our creator," there is no specific recognition that what it means to be human, for the Christian person, is to understand ourselves theologically. That understanding is (I suggest) more than a general recognition of relationship with God as creator. It involves a specific shaping of our identity in terms of who God is, being made in that God's image, being loved redemptively by God in Christ, and called into a consecrated life as a Spirit-filled follower of the risen Christ.

But, wait, intriguingly, when we get to the next question, about two integrities, pp. 6-7, suddenly we are presented with the foundational thought that "We believe that human beings are made in the image of God." But what then follows, "The Old Testament expressly forbids ... a weakness that has potential always to be reformed" is, well, difficult to follow. (Which, I hasten to add, may say more about me and my lack of comprehension ability, than about the report). However the question at the end of the first paragraph following the second question on p. 6 is very clear and worth asking:

"What would it be like if we as a Church committed to respect one another's difference, held with integrity, in a harmonious way?"

(Personally, I would get to that question by a different route, by talking about the church being composed of people with differences, including differences in ways of thinking and evaluating what Scripture says, what it means and what its applicability to each generation might involve, and then reminding that each member of the church has dignity as God's created and redeemed child. The question could then follow.)

The next paragraph, at the foot of p. 6 makes (in my view) two points, and each is worth making.

First, that in the cultures of these islands kaupapa [particular way of doing things] may and does differ, and (generally speaking) as we move from marae to marae, from context to context, we accept these differences and do not try to change them by forcing "them" to do things "our way." Here, contextually and culturally, is laid out precedent for our church, should it choose, to have two integrities on the matter of blessing of same sex relationships. There would be much to discuss when we discuss making that choice, such as whether the church is analogous to a series of differing contexts, no one of which rules over another, but the possibility can be discussed and considered.

Secondly, the point is made that the differing kaupapa are "second order" relative to the "first order" matter of offering manaakitanga (respectful hospitality). What matters, that is, is that guests are warmly and generously welcomed onto the marae (first order). What doesn't matter is whether, during the welcome, say, women do or do not speak as part of the powhiri (formal welcome): customs on these matters vary from marae to marae (second order). It is quite right and proper to propose this distinction between first and second order matters as a possible way forward for our church: if we can agree that blessings of same sex relationships are "second order" matters, not affecting the "first order" matters which bind us together as one church, then all should be well.

Naturally some associated questions arise! Not least we could ask whether we are agreed on what are the first order matters and what are the second order matters. With respect to same sex blessings the report may be implying at this point that they should be seen as a second order matter, but if so, is that something our church is agreed on? Was the working group itself agreed on the wording of that paragraph and the implication it appears to be making? In the end, I see no serious attempt to argue that blessing of same sex relationships is a second order issue rather than a first order issue.

The first paragraph on the next page also makes a vital point, re remaining in conversation and goes on in the second paragraph on p. 7 to develop what this conversation might mean when "two distinct views" are held "in integrity."

The third paragraph on p. 7 is a bit trickier. Making the claim that "There has never been a unity of the church that has been lost" needs, in my view, more unpacking than is given here. Yes, the church has always been diverse from the beginning, so there was, at the beginning "diversity in unity". But the church was clearly worried about breaking unity in Acts 15 yet, and this is the point of Acts 15, it did not break unity because it forged a way forward which was agreeable to the church and to the Holy Spirit. And, while we could say that the church by the end of the first century AD remained in both organic and formal unity, there were some serious breaks in unity in subsequent centuries, beginning with the dislocation between Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity in the second and third centuries. So, I am left wondering what the report means by, "There has never been a unity of the church that has been lost." If the report means that the church was never unified, even at the beginning, then this is a clear and distinct contradiction of the first few chapters of Acts and a superficial description of the work the church did in both Acts 6 and Acts 15 to maintain unity in the face of diversity threatening to become division. If the report means that the unity of the church has always been its character and thus it has never been lost, then this belies the historical character of the church which has suffered multiple breaks in unity.

Nevertheless, at this point in the report, one clear point is made about church unity, on which I agree wholeheartedly, "Unity is God's destiny for the church and the world."

The next paragraph also contains important thoughts about unity and its fullness in God. But it does not address the question whether "two integrities" can be counted as part of this growth or could be lamented as a sign that growth in unity has stopped for the time being.

Finally, we come to the third question, at the foot of page 7, "What do we mean by saying that Doctrine is dynamic?" I find (and others, in conversation with me, are finding) that there is a tragic irony about citing Hebrews 1:1-3a at the head of this section! Those verses speak about a form of dynamic doctrinal development (i.e. the unfolding of God's revelation through "the prophets") but that development ends with the final divine word, "in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." The remainder of Hebrews is an exposition of what it means that the Son has come and spoken that final word, a word which transcends what God formerly spoke through Moses, David and the prophets, and fulfils what that former speaking had looked forward to. The past was shadows, the present age of the Son is final reality.

Now, it is true, and the report recognises this in the first paragraph on p. 8, that "the church has developed a deeper and richer understanding of faith". Development of doctrine in this sense, of deepening understanding of what has been spoken to us by a Son, has taken place and continues to take place. And the next paragraph offers a good account of how theology may do this particular kind of development work. But the final paragraph, at the foot of the page then, in my view, muddies the waters of the "deep pool" of development by deepening understanding.

In that final paragraph on p. 8 a series of statements are made, none of which in themselves are disagreeable, but, as a whole paragraph, I am not sure what is being said with respect to the present issue. First, note that this paragraph does not clarify what development of doctrine might mean for the doctrine of the Trinity. No one disputes that the doctrine of the Trinity might be "deepened" in the sense that as we discuss this impenetrable mystery we might learn more about (say) the communion between the Three Persons and thus deepen our understanding of what communion means for us. What is very disputable is whether development of the doctrine of the Trinity means that one day the church might add a fourth divine Person to the Godhead.

Secondly, by not clarifying that the former is possible and the latter is impossible, an impression is created that when, by analogy, we come to discuss the doctrine of marriage or the doctrine of blessing, we can "deepen" our understanding of marriage by changing it to include the never before included possibility that marriage can be between two people of the same gender, or we can "deepen" our understanding of blessing by enlarging that understanding to include blessing what is never blessed in Scripture, a sexual relationship between two people of the same gender. By not clarifying what "deepening" can mean in respect of the dynamics of doctrine, the report in this section fails in to offer a convincing argument that "deepening" our doctrinal understanding can include "changing" our understanding.

By focusing the dynamics of doctrine on "active conversation," the report offers no guidance as to what might give the church the authority to authorise the certainty of definition which is implied by producing formularies for blessings of same sex relationships. "Active conversation" as the means of evolving doctrine does not cut it at that point. Formularies state what we believe, not what the state of the conversation between divided parts of the church is.

When the church first determined the creeds it determined them in unity, not in two integrities, and that was because the church made a conciliar decision that the conversation could now stop and the doctrine be taught and recited. When later the Western church introduced the filioque clause to the Nicene Creed it set in motion a division that was not contained by two integrities but by two (still unreconciled) churches. The report, on my reading of this section, is over confident that what will be proposed in subsequent sections on the underpinnings of this section can be contained within "two integrities." I am arguing that a more careful reading of the history of theological discourse would lead to less confidence about "two integrities" and more concern at the prospect of schism - a schism that would be underpinned not merely by a few differences in theological outlook but by a canyon of difference in theological method.

Conclusion

In Christchurch prior to 22 February 2011 we had tens of thousands of homes which we presumed were built on adequate foundations. The earthquake that day put paid to that notion. On the one hand thousands of homes had to be demolished afterwards and on the other hand new standards for foundations emerged. I suggest this section of the report is simply inadequate for the task of laying down the theological foundations for the momentous direction the rest of the report offers to our church as a way forward. One option General Synod has in May 2016 is to request a higher standard of theological foundation for any proposal that we shift into two integrities and develop a formulary for the blessing of a same sex relationship.

Postscript

What about a constructive alternative in the light of the critical review above? Is there another way forward by way of theologically underpinning the blessing of same sex relationships? I suggest there is a potential route, but it lies in exploring theology of friendship and companionship. And I don't expect more than 1 in 100 readers here to agree with me!




27 comments:

Anonymous said...

About your comment:
"What doesn't matter is whether, during the welcome, say, women do or do not speak as part of the powhiri (formal welcome): customs on these matters vary from marae to marae (second order)."

What if, as a woman, I do not agree that being forbidden to speak is of "second order"? What if I believe this undermines my worth?

I think even agreeing on whether same sex blessings and marriages are first or second order (using your descriptors) is part of the problem. For some going against their reading of the explicit and repeated teaching of scripture IS a first order issue.

Mary

Peter Carrell said...

Exactly, Mary!
I think the report is deficient on this question, and I assume that that deficiency is why Bishop Victoria has taken the step of addressing it in my Diocese (see post about that, below this post).

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, your summation of what you see as the errors or inconsistencies of part 3 of the Way Forwad Report, might perhaps be clarified by our invited Visiting Theologian, Professor Chris Marshall. He may be able to give us a clearer vision (and understanding?) of what might be a credible case for same-sex relationships being of a 'second Order' importance in the Doctrine of Christ - which doctrine is is basic to the Church.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Well, I hope his talk is distributed and made available to members of General Synod!

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

Through the marvels of that modern invention, the World Wide Web, I was able, this week, to view both the live cross-examination of George, Cardinal Pell, in Rome, and the live broadcast of the 2016 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from Sydney. The unempathetic performance of George, Cardinal Pell, has been best characterised by the line "Heard no Evil! Saw no Evil! Evil's not of much interest to Me!", whereas the Same-Sex Couples marching happily with their children raised the loudest of cheers from the hundreds of thousands lining the streets to celebrate the March.

It was the stark contrast between the dank, chill miasma, welling up from the Crypt of S. Mary's and the joy that sparkled like the light dancing on Summer Sydney Harbour that stuck in my mind.

Having lived in Sydney through the repressive, depressing days of the antediluvian duo of Pell and Jensen. I remember now why so many of my friends and colleagues took the decision to walk away from the Church and to embrace the Light of the Now.

Afterall, the Light in Sydney is always so lively and contemporary and the Church in Sydney so .....

However here we are, discussing the dynamic nature of doctrine, the path of Anglican unity and its possible relevance, in modern 21st Century New Zealand, to the question of the blessing same-sex relationships.

And behold, the Filioque Controversy is trotted out to show that a Church Divided cannot Stand. Now I haven't been in Christchurch long, but I hadn't realised that niceties of "from the Son" were an active topic of discussion at my local New World checkout.

Next thing you know we will all be identifying either as iconodules or as iconoclasts and separating out like an unshaken vinaigrette in a poorly constructed salad.

I was going to comment about the relevance of the example to 21st Century New Zealand, but, if the only time that George, Cardinal Pell can wax passionate, is on the topic of the inheritance of Imperial Roman Law by the Church, who am I to cast nasturtiums.

A cleric, of my acquaintance, described, hopefully frivolously, debauchery in contemporary New Zealand as being the propensity of the populace to attend the Malls on Sunday mornings rather than attending Church.

And all these years I have been doing it wrong!

Can I suggest that unless this debate begins talking more about real lives and real problems in modern New Zealand and talks less about the First Council of Constantinople in the fourth century ME, there is going to be a rapid increase in debauchery and even fewer bums in pews.

Seriously, given the choice, who would not rather be dancing in the Enlightenment of the streets, than staying down in the Crypt with George?

Regards

Michael Primrose

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
Yes, our church needs to engage with real lives lived today.
But it is a "church" so questions of belief and how we make decisions comes into play.
If we stick to believing that we are a church which believes what it prays and prays what it believes, then a big question concerns what the "we" think when we claim that "we" believe this or that as expressed in our formularies.
For that "we" to agree (even, with "two integrities" in view, to agree to disagree) we need some sound reasoning as well as sensitive sentiments, otherwise one of two things will happen: there will be no change at all or there will be a sharp split in our ranks.
I am sure you do not want the former.
I would like to avoid the latter.
Hence engagement with the report, on its own terms, including its invocation of Trinitarian debates as an exemplar from history, in order that we might as a church find a way forward together.

Brian Kelly said...

I am genuinely sorry for children who are deprived of the opportunity to live with both their birth parents and who face many negative factors in their lives, as Marks' major study showed:

http://www.frc.org/issuebrief/new-study-on-homosexual-parents-tops-all-previous-research

These are 'real lives and real problems' and pretending otherwise is just evasion. Yes, the light is stronger in Sydney. So is the sadness in these materialistic lives, once the party is over and the crystal meth has worn off.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brian (and other readers re the comment immediately above)
The last words of your comment "and the crystal meth has worn off" are not necessary to make your general point re materialism as the god of many Western lives. They have only just sneaked through moderation and I ask you not to offer such flippant observation again. It is not conceivable that everyone enjoying the Sydney Mardi Gras was on drugs.

Brian Kelly said...

I wasn't really referring to the Sydney Mardi Gras - and there is plenty of drug-taking, mainly of the alcoholic kind, among heterosexual hedonists. You would find the same at any pop concert. I was speaking more generally about a post-Christian society and its preferences and addictions. But you must know in any case that great numbers of modern pagans fully approve of drug-taking and in libertarian terms it is hard to object. The legalisation of marijuana in secular-minded Colorado is a case in point.
As for moderation (which is entirely your right): Michael Primrose thinks the Anglican and Catholic Churches in Sydney as being wrapped in 'dank, chill miasma', compared to the 'joy' of the Mardi Gras.
Each to his own, I suppose, and I don't know what he actually believes in terms of religion. All I can say is that divine joy (chara) is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not the product of music, dancing or stimulants. There was plenty of 'joy' in the corybantic rites of ancient Corinth but they didn't last either.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for response Brian.
We could have a debate over the particularity of reference re "these" in your 11.24am comment ... but I take your point that "joy" in the Western world generally (which these days certainly include both legal and illegal tolerance for drug taking) is not to be confused with "joy" in the Lord.

Brian Kelly said...

Fair comment, Peter. I should have said 'in materialistic lives, once the alcohol and drugs have worn off'. Crystal meth is of course especially associated with gay men, associated with a desire for intense sensual experience. This is an interesting fact in itself. What do gay activists make of this? As for 'Mardi Gras' (a long way from Shrove Tuesday and nothing to do with Lent as far as I can see), I personally don't understand why the general public would want to watch floats of virtually naked men or men in drag, or have I completely misunderstood the concept? It looks to me like a vapid act of self-deception, piggybacking on and intentionally mocking a Christian season of penitence.
No doubt the post-Christians in the Light of the Now understand this better than we antediluvians 'wrapt in the old miasmal mist' (T.S. Eliot, 'The Hippopotamus').
And what did the Bishop say in 'The Great Divorce'? 'If only Jesus hadn't died so young, he would have embraced the higher truth' - or Enlightenment as they call it in Sydney.

Michael Primrose said...

Hi Peter,

Pagans

Pagans?

Pagans!

Well I can see that terminology laying them in the aisles of the New World. Telling a Sunday shopper that they are a pagan is likely to get you called a "God Botherer", if the shopper happens to be polite.

I will admit to a certain sense of loss and regret, if my Sunday mornings spent supporting the local organic farmers at the market, are indeed a pagan rite. The Romans, pre Constantine, seem to have had a much more raucous time at theirs, but then again this is New Zealand.

If we are going to be serious about getting our concerns across to general public then perhaps we could look at updating, if not modernising the language we use.

I take your point that it is not conceivable that everyone enjoying the Mardi Gras Parade was on drugs. A case of damning the function with faint praise, I think.

Given that the current Prime Minister of Australia, and his wife, was in the crowd watching the Parade and that the Leader of the Opposition , with his wife, the daughter of the previous Governor General of Australia, and their son, were having a fabulous time actually marching in the Parade, I'm sure you were suggesting that they were full of the joys of the moment, without the aid of those crutches of modern Western Materialism.

The LGBTQI contingents of the Australian Army, Navy, Air Force, Federal and State Police, Emergency Services, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance Service, Hospitals, Olympians, Sports People, Politicians, Clergy and Laity, Public Servants from various Federal and State Departments, Teachers, QANTAS, CEO's of Private Companies and assorted others, who were marching and having a great deal of fun were full of the joys of the moment.

Are we suggesting that they were all under the influence of other substances, or is that not conceivable?

Perhaps it was just the populace, the poor deluded hoi poloi, who needed the assistance of man made substances to enjoy the spectacle of the night and to enable them to laugh and to dance and to sing. Cut off from the real joy of "chara" they took part in their unintelligent way in the sybaritic Sydney scene with whatever opiates the masses could afford.

What a chill, dank, miasmic world we conjure when the only "joy" sanctioned by our betters is the contemplation of the mysterious movements of the Trinity.

All one can really say is:

"Who let the wowsers out!"

Regards

Michael Primrose

Peter Carrell said...

When you put it like that, Michael, I can conceive that no one was taking drugs anywhere near or within the Mardi Gras. It must have been a quiet night for Sydney's Finest!

I wonder if Turnbull and Shorten had a quiet hot chocolate before retiring for the night, both pleased with the relative merits of their respective political approaches to the event?

:)

Michael Primrose said...

"Crystal meth is of course especially associated with gay men, associated with a desire for intense sensual experience." Brian Kelly

One could, of course, read the harrowing statistics on ice use, as discussed in the following article in The Australian Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/07/number-of-australian-teenagers-taking-methamphetamine-doubles-over-five-years

However, one should never let the facts get in the way of ones prejudices, especially when one is verballing a community.

As for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras I would have to say that you have indeed completely missed the point!

Regards

Michael Primrose

Anonymous said...

Peter, Bryden, and Brian,

Speaking of real lives lived today, behold--

http://tinyurl.com/gqqmcat

Bowman Walton



Brian Kelly said...

"However, one should never let the facts get in the way of ones prejudices, especially when one is verballing a community"

- yes, I couldn't put it better myself (except to add an apostrophe to 'ones') in reply to the Enlightened, post-Christian denouncers of the chill, dank, miasmic Church - or as you would call it, 'verballing a community'. Honestly, Michael, there is nothing new about people abandoning Christianity for the world - it has happened since the days of the Apostles. And each time they do it, they congratulate themselves as being the True Light that has come into the world, compared to that first-century phony. 'Sapere aude!' - wise in your own eyes, that is.
And Christian joy is not about 'contemplating the mysterious movements of the Trinity': it is the wonder of knowing that the Son of God loved this sinner and gave his life for me, and that my name is now written in the Book of Life. Truth or lies?
'Who let the wowsers out?' snarls the unbeliever. 'Open another bottle!'
As for teenagers using drugs, this is something I'm aware of every day in my work, and I've attended the funerals of two former pupils who died from drug abuse. The sadness among many teenagers, even in sunny places like Sydney, is a reminder that we don't find real joy in a bottle or a crystal - or in 'hooking up'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael and Brian
Could we please get back to the report?
Good!
Thanks,
Peter

Anonymous said...


Peter, my initial assessment of this section was that it is "a tract for liberalism" that is too one-sided and prescriptive to be considered Anglican. That is, in synods that distinguish between voting to receive a report and voting to accept, approve, or adopt a report, I would vote *no* on reception, and *yes* to dismissing the authors and appointing a new panel prepared to think with the whole Church. On two further readings, my opinion is unchanged.

To be clear, I find the TEC's report from the Task Force for the Study of Ministry (TFSM) to be less one-sided and arrogant than this one. Yes, of course the TFSM was also quite liberal and reached a slightly more edgy conclusion than this one does, but its long substantive discussions of scripture and tradition implicitly engage the concerns of those who care about God's Word and the continuity of tradition. And the TFSM report has far less of a certain hauteur that is a bit too ready to tell the Frumpleys what they ought to think. A report that does not persuade anyone who was not already convinced of its conclusion is a waste; a report that does will engage alternate views with respect and present substantive knowledge that justifies having a task force in the first place.

A bishop now with the Lord once made the point that a report can either retrieve and restate the Church's teaching, or, on the basis of received and stable teaching, it can explore a policy proposal with all its canonical and pastoral implications, but it if it tries to do both, it will end by doing neither. And that is the case here. The doctrinal section looks like it was reverse engineered to justify the conclusion with the bare minimum of theological reflection, so no reasonable person can believe that it has the independence of a true search for God's truth. And as Bosco and others have pointed out, the policy component of the report is vague in ways that no proposal this momentous should be vague.

Bowman Walton



Anonymous said...

Peter, for comparison-- http://tinyurl.com/l3np3q9

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

"What about a constructive alternative in the light of the critical review above? Is there another way forward by way of theologically underpinning the blessing of same sex relationships? I suggest there is a potential route, but it lies in exploring theology of friendship and companionship. And I don't expect more than 1 in 100 readers here to agree with me!"

Answer #1

No. "Forward" is a trap. It has been tacitly defined as giving LG members some ceremonial equivalent to an MFM civil wedding that happens in church but lacks distinctive religious content. When church task forces try to duplicate that thin civilian understanding of marriage for same sex couples the inevitable result is a proposal for androgynous marriage in the Church, which crosses the Red Line. Bad.

Answer #2

Maybe, Peter, is this what you mean by friendship and companionship?

http://tinyurl.com/l3np3q9

Right or wrong, the SSB propaganda from the LG alliance Claim the Blessing is already more constructive than the ACANZP report. Its theology of blessing is clearer, it does not cross the Red Line by tinkering with the traditional theology of marriage, and it does not address the reader as a peasant who must be enlightened.

Answer #3

Yes, if "Forward" is redefined so that LG folk and Communion centrists both win things that they value. That is the simple formula for peace: pair gains for any side with gains for all the others. If churches are going to have parliaments and pressure groups like the state, then they might as well have horsetrading too. And if there is no deal, then there is no deal. No angst, just reality.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
There is a lot of food for thought in what you say and in the articles you link to!

Anonymous said...

Peter, continuing our discussion of "lived lives of today," what part does the social profile of ACANZP play in its debates about SSB?

Here up yonder it is not hard to see a very rough correlation between increasing liberalisation in mainline churches and diminished appeal to the bottom two thirds of the US population. That mirrors a well-measured relationship between income and political polarisation: at lower levels of income, Democrats and Republicans tend to agree on most public policy, but as income rises both their policy interests and their policy positions diverge, and the most wealthy are the farthest apart. That has stimulated the hypothesis that what has caused white conservative churches (eg Southern Baptist Convention) to grow and liberal churches (eg The Episcopal Church) to shrink is leadership oriented to the least and most wealthy, respectively.

As it happens, in "lived lives of today," marriage matters differently to the poor and the rich, at least in the US. Where incomes are low, the neighbours are still living the sexual revolution as though it were 1972, the texture of everyday life is torn by the consequences, and religion remains the strongest force for marriage, so that the policy concerns of 1662 have only become more urgent. Where the tie that binds couples is, not religion, but a well-planned financial future dependent on two professional incomes, the difference between the proposed blessings and their actual weddings at favourite museums or stately homes is not obvious.

This difference places scare quotes around the phrase "way forward." We have tended to talk about our dissensus as a clash of moral sensibilities that has inexplicably arisen about a human universal. When we do that, we think of the "way forward" as some adjustment to our consciences that will enable agreement. It is a very different matter if all of our consciences are just fine, but disagree because they were shaped by and for life in two different class milieux. We might then ask whether the effects of change are equitable at each social stratum. Which is a very New Testament thing to do.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Class (and in the US race) is a mighty divider on Sunday morning, and the sort of (self-)righteousness one hears about sex depends on where in the society one is. Well-schooled couples with two professional incomes but no immediate plans for children have been the most keen on the absolute moral imperative of SSM now now now. They do not think that they are rich because they know so many who have so much more, but they are in fact in the top 1% of US household income. Accumulating assets at a rapid clip, they are actuarially unlikely to jeopardise their wealth with divorce, less because of what Jesus says than because of what their financial planner says. Those in these couples can be impressively devout, but in the nature of things, it does not shape their personal world very much. Church is a place for sharing a lightly ethical and heavily aesthetic experience with likeminded people, some of whom are gay or lesbian couples. Where finance rather than religion is the tie that binds, a task force proposing androgynous blessings for marriage sounds like a solemn recommendation that water run down hill.

In contrast, many humbler couples who were parents soon after their wedding roll their eyes at the whole idea. The problems of the 3% may be met compassionately in the individual case, but otherwise they could not possibly be a lower priority for working class parents, which creates a climate conducive to homophobia. Those who support children and pets with work that is not especially lucrative or interesting cannot afford to ignore evolution's imprint on the ways of women and men with each other. In their world, single mothers and single divorced men paying them child support are commonplace. Infidelity is not a communications challenge for a couple to work through with a therapist; it is a hole ripped in several lives that will never be mended. Thus coaching each sex to live a little less in the now, and respect the other's nature and boundaries is a big part of what the police, social workers, educators, and pastors informally do. For couples in this world, church is a refuge in which higher ideals for their challenging lives are affirmed and the enticements to abandon them are exposed and condemned. Where religion is still the strongest force for marriage and family, the authority of the scriptures in moral matters is its chief tool, and their doctrine is decidedly not dynamic. Androgynous blessings are unreal in this landscape.

Those who want to give any sort of help to the young who struggle with the worst homophobia have to find a way into the milieu of poor working families, but their doors will close on anyone with an ideology too closely adapted to the sensibilities of married investment bankers. Those who want to plant new congregations among these same people will need the freedom to teach the scriptures with authentic conviction and without hindrance.

In principle, there is a basis here for a grand bargain, even what Cicero called a *concordia ordinum*. If wealthier liberals stop trying to cram androgyny down the throats of less prosperous people like the Frumpleys, it will be easier for evangelicals to plant new churches that serve them. If evangelicals actually succeed in steady growth, then the church will be able to reach the most vulnerable of sexual minorities and better secure its institutional future.

But does this sound anything like New Zealand?

Bowman Walton

Jonathan said...

"Does this sound anything like New Zealand?"
From the Church Life Survey 2011 (Results: Anglican, NZ // Census 2006 (all NZers who responded)
Highest qualification:
Post graduate degree or diploma:24%//5%
Bachelors degree from a university or equivalent institution 22%//11%
NZQA recognised tertiary diploma or equivalent: 12%//6%
NZQA recognised trade certificate or equivalent: 5%//14%
Sixth form certificate/ University entrance, Bursary or Scholarship awarded, NCEA level 2 or 3. 10%//26%
School certificate/ NCEA level 1: 10%//14%
Some secondary school: 13%//22%
Primary school 1%//3%


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jonathan. Your interpretation?

Bowman Walton

Jonathan said...

In the absence of data about which Anglicans belong to which social "class" I would guess data about educational status will be a crude approximation. 46% of NZ Anglicans (at least in churches who took part in the survey) with a bachelor's degree or higher?! In part I think the current church debate on SSB/M is a reflection of the views of the wider more academically educated portion of society (which I think you were suggesting though using the "class" concept). "In part" because presumably Anglicans in different dioceses here and elsewhere in the world vary in their proportion of those of lower/higher educational attainments, and "in part" also because this debate will/has taken place across most denominations which will vary in their composition. Why this over/under representation is so here is a mystery to me but deserves some effort and attention.

Father Ron Smith said...

Just goes to show, dunnit? Education can be a fearful thing. Readin' all them books. And so difficult to remember all them wonderful quotes?

"I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing all the learning of the learned" - 1 Corinthians 1: 19