Thursday, December 27, 2007

Global Anglican Future Conference

For months, if not years, there has been a murmuring about an 'alternative' to the Lambeth Conference 2008. The murmuring, however, has lacked clarity. Would the alternative be held alongside Lambeth (thus focusing attention on the bishops attending the one and not the other), or would it be held just beforehand (thus stealing thunder from Lambeth)? The announcement has now been made, and many things are clear. From 15 - 22 June the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) will be held in the Holy Land. Full details, including some expected FAQs, can be found on the GAFCON website. The plan has a certain amount of kindness in it for Archbishop Rowan Williams: it will be done and dusted about a month before Lambeth is due to open; and it will not be held in England (or in a storm centre of Communion controversy such as Nigeria or Sydney). Nevertheless one can imagine that Archbishop Rowan Williams will not be thrilled by this announcement.

Time will tell what the import of this conference will be. Some prognosticators on the internet are gleefully announcing it is the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it, and so on. I think that is premature. The challenge for bishops likely to be invited to GAFCON as well as to Lambeth is to weigh up what will build greatest cohesion among Anglicans. Today (27th December 2007) I suggest any bishop invited to both events should attend both!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas 2007

I have two opportunities to communicate via preaching this Christmas. Sunday morning 23rd December - Advent 4. I want to talk then about God's purpose (Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25) and our part in response. A particular theme I will explore is 'family'. God placed Jesus in a family which nurtured him in his growth towards fulfilling God's purpose. At Christmas time 'family' is under examination; so why not do some reflecting on the course our family life is taking? The second opportunity is Christmas morning itself (Luke 2:1-14) when my theme will be 'Meeting Jesus for the first time'. The shepherds and others met Jesus for the first time. Have we met Jesus for the first time? Do we need to refresh our relationship with Jesus? One of the great insights of the Lukan nativity is that we can meet Jesus for the first time at anytime. The shepherds met Jesus in the middle of the night; Simeon met Jesus for the first time at the end of his life!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cultural Amnesia and the Anglican Conflicts

I have begun reading a wonderful book, Cultural Amnesia by Clive James, an England-domiciled, Australian-raised intellectual. It consists of a multitude of essays on an array of contributors to Western culture in the 20th century. Apart from the quality of its writing, it’s a wonderful book because its one of those books I can pick up at any spare moment in the day to dip into it, imbibe a little of its heady atmosphere, and then tackle the next task of ordinary life. Tucked into the middle of the book (literally, its essays are organised alphabetically) is a piece on Montesquieu. To this I will return shortly.

The conflicts in the Anglican Communion continue to flare up, not unlike the conflicts in Iraq, now in this city, then in another far away, with no one sure whether the overall trend is towards peace or complete fragmentation. Latest developments include several dioceses within The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA signalling their intention to leave TEC and to belong to another member church of the Anglican Communion. By contrast in recent days a significant meeting between leaders of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches has taken place in Ravenna, a meeting which suggests a strong motivation on the part of Benedict XVI to undo the Great Schism between the churches of the West and the East. It is the dream of many Anglicans that one day the worldwide church might be reunited in accordance with Jesus’ prayer for unity among his disciples (ut unum sint, John 17:11). But precisely when that day seems just a little bit closer for Catholics and Orthodox, it appears further away for Anglicans!

It is sometimes said that truth is the first casualty of war; and that is the case in respect of current Anglican strife. I note in my reading on the internet that (for example) repeatedly the perspective of conservatives is characterized as ‘anti-gay’, and the strife itself is cast as ‘all about the gay issue’. If the day of Anglican internal unity, let alone the day of external unity with other churches is ever to dawn, we need to do some hard work on truthful description of the issues which divide us.

What divides us is our understanding of authority in the Anglican Church in relation to these issues. Those who are moving the church towards acceptance of blessings of same sex partnerships and of the ordination of people living in same sex partnerships believe the church itself, by majority vote in synods, may authorise such actions. Those who are either resisting such movement or refraining from promoting such change do not believe the church has authority to authorise such actions. In the first case there is an associated belief that Scripture has not spoken authoritatively on these matters in respect of the situation in which we find ourselves today. In the second case there is an associated belief that Scripture has spoken authoritatively on these matters for today. The distinction between these two associated beliefs is important, because one of the untruths bandied about by some Anglicans is that other Anglicans disregard the ‘authority of Scripture’ or believe that synods can override the authority of Scripture.

One question I see little addressed is the question of the grounds for certainty in the minds of Anglicans. A synod which moves to make change on the basis that Scripture has not spoken authoritatively on these matters presumes some certainty in their interpretation of Scripture. Certainty, that is, that despite Scripture speaking for marriage or celibacy as divinely approved Christian lifestyles, and despite Scripture when it does explicitly address homosexuality speaking disapprovingly of same sex sexual intercourse, the church may nevertheless authorise blessings/ordinations because today’s situation is beyond the address of Scripture. It is quite proper for Anglicans to reason that the church cannot be so certain that it can authorise what is both contrary to the positive (for marriage or celibacy) and negative (Leviticus 18:22 etc) teaching of Scripture. Even if it be doubted – as some Anglicans do - that Scripture is neither so positive nor so negative, a point overlooked is that doubt that something is true does not equate to certainty that its opposite is true.

There are a couple of alternative lines of argument which need response in this kind of reflection. The first is the line which emphasises justice: to deny blessings of same sex couples and to refrain from ordaining people living in same sex partnerships is to treat people unequally, that is, gay and lesbian people disadvantageously compared with heterosexual people. The appeal to justice here is an appeal to Scripture: let justice roll down like a river, etc. But it involves an associated evaluation of Scripture that it involves internal contestation of truth, such as ‘justice’ versus ‘morality’ or ‘grace’ versus ‘law’. At once we see from the perspective of ‘authority’ the difficulty this approach throws up: who has authority to determine which part of Scripture trumps another part? Deep in our Anglican tradition we have the influence of Article XX Of the Authority of the Church ‘neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ For some Anglicans this is sufficient unto our day: the church does not have authority to determine which part of Scripture trumps another. For other Anglicans not so minded a question must be sharply posed: if today one part of Scripture is expounded repugnant to another, by what means tomorrow will you prevent some less congenial exposition? The appeal to justice has great power emotionally, but has less power as an argument within the logic of Anglican polity. When the church blesses and ordains it does so in the name of God and not for the sake of justice, so it must ask whether it is authorised by God to so bless and to so ordain. This brings us back to our first concern: in our discernment of Scripture do we have sufficient confidence, including a shared confidence across the body of Christ that the church may authorise what Scripture appears to forbid?

A second line of argument invokes the question of justice with a different emphasis: has the church treated issues such as slavery and the role of women in ministry in one way while addressing the issue of homosexuality in another way? In terms of ‘authority’ this line of argument might be expressed like this: the church has prohibited the keeping and trading of slaves and it has authorised the ordination of women (seemingly overriding the authority of Scripture on these matters) thus it may also authorise blessings of same sex couples and the ordination of people in same sex partnerships. This argument is a little more subtle than acknowledged by some Anglicans who dismiss it. The subtlety lies in the recognition that at points in the past the church has seemed very sure of things it now believes the opposite of: sure, for instance, that slavery was unobjectionable. Might we save ourselves the embarrassment of acknowledging 100 years hence that we have been wrong about homosexuality? Certainly these observations about the past and about the possible future are grounds for the greatest of caution in arguing that homosexuality might be a different issue from slavery and the ordination of women, but they do not constitute grounds for making no distinction and thus moving efficiently to the authorisation of blessings and ordinations.

Our first consideration is that there is a trajectory in Scripture towards freedom from slavery which implies that the church recognising its false teaching on slavery and working actively against slavery (for we must recognise that slavery continues to exist) is in harmony with Scripture rather than an overriding of the authority of Scripture. Our second consideration is that Scripture offers important depictions of women exercising leadership in Israel and in the church (think, for instance, of Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Euodia, and Syntyche). When it is widely agreed that the New Testament lays down no one blueprint for the ordering of ministry (Anglican justification of the threefold ordering of ministry has never been that it is required by Scripture; always that it is a most ancient tradition consistent with Scripture), the church has authorised the ordination of women on the grounds that doing so is consistent with these examples. This authorisation has been contested on grounds such as the ordained minister is representative of Jesus in a manner impaired if the maleness of Jesus is not reproduced in the minister or some apostolic rulings forbid women to exercise leadership or teaching (notably 1 Timothy 2:12). Here there is certainly lively debate, not least because our two largest potential partners in a great ecumenical rapprochement continue to entertain no official doubts that women may not be ordained. Those who object to my point above about the wisdom of the church not proceeding to bless same sex couples or ordain people in a same sex partnership because it cannot be certain it is authorised to do so have some encouragement in making their objection!

There is, of course, a crucial difference between the two cases. What Scripture has to say about same sex sexual behaviour is closely associated with issues of salvation and of judgement. The church which authorises the blessing of same sex couples and the ordination of people in same sex partnerships is simultaneously making two declarations: that God both blesses/ordains the person and approves same sex partnerships, not counting as an immoral action that which was formerly taught to be one. Can the church be so sure that it is right on both counts? By contrast, the ordination of women does not involve a reversal of judgement about what constitutes an immoral action.

But arguing in this way leads to a line of argument in favour of blessing/ordination in which another ‘like for like’ case is invoked. Surely, the argument might be expressed, if moral/immoral reversal considerations are brought to the table for discussion, then we must consider what the church is doing when it remarries divorced persons or accepts for ordination or continues to license for ministry people who are divorced and remarried. For, the argument could continue, is not the trajectory through the teaching of Jesus and of Paul on divorce towards the conclusion that a divorced disciple may not remarry? At this point (which demands a fuller canvas than now available for this column) we can recognise weaknesses on both sides of the argument. On the one hand the church which remarries divorced people at best has a difficult argument to develop if it maintains an objection to the blessing of same sex couples, and at worst is inconsistent. On the other hand the church which blesses same sex couples on the basis of an (arguably) shaky analogy with the remarriage of divorced people is scarcely in a position to loudly trumpet God’s backing for such blessings! And we can also recognise a pathway out of the dilemma which may not be attractive. Thus the church could cease to remarry divorced persons (cf. the continuing refusal of the Roman Catholic church to do so) in order to more consistently live under the authority of Scripture.

For my money, the church has to engage in a review of its approach to the remarriage of divorced persons, asking again on what basis it might (or might not) authorise the remarriage of divorced persons in a manner consistent not only with the authority of Scripture over the life of the church, but also with its approach to the blessing of same sex couples. Ditto, in all these considerations, the ordination of divorced-and-remarried persons, and of people in same sex partnerships.

The continuing theme through the discussion above is the importance of the church understanding ‘authority’ in the ordering of its life. There is no necessary connection between homophobia (or divorce-phobia or misogyny) and the church soberly considering the question of authority. Nor for that matter is it necessarily ‘liberal’ or ‘heterodox’ to engage these issues from the perspective of justice earthed in Scripture. Could name calling in current debates cease? It is unhelpful in the pursuit of truth!

Now what has Clive James on Montesquieu have to say to all this (if amnesia concerning my introduction has not set in)? Montesquieu (1689-1755) in his famous book The Spirit of the Laws more or less invented the concept of multiculturalism. James comments, ‘In allowing the suggestion that all cultures might be equally valuable, room had been left for supposing that they might be equally virtuous. To guard against this, he advanced the further proposition-buttressing his argument with reference to the British constitution he had studied at first hand-that beneath cultural variety there were, or should be, values that did not change. In modern terms, he was concerned that a legitimate delight in the multiplicity of cultures should not develop into an ideology, multiculturalism: an ideology that would entail the abandonment of any fixed concept of justice. Seemingly in the face of his own cultural relativism, Montesquieu declared that justice was eternal. … Proposing, at least by implication, a liberalism dependent on a hard core of principles, and not just on tolerance, Montesquieu thus made a decisive pre-emptive intervention into the debate that we are now having.’ (Clive James, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of my Time (London: Picador, 2007), p. 502).

There is much to ponder here on a variety of fronts; but here my concern is the situation of the Anglican Communion. I understand Montesquieu, through James, to teach us that it is an illusion that a multiplicity of values can co-exist in one human group. In the end, there are eternal values. Montesquieu names ‘justice’, if that does not also imply truth is an eternal value then I humbly submit that it is so. When we know within the life of the Communion what is God’s truth and God’s justice then we know what the church may authorise. We should then also be able to recognise that we cannot disagree about the authority with which the church acts, for that authority can be nothing other than the authority of God.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Partings of the Ways

Recently I have just had a review published of

Dunn, James D. G.

The Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for
the Character of Christianity

2nd edition, London: SCM, 2006.
Pp. xxxvi + 410. Paper. $26.99. ISBN 0334029996.

This book makes a great contribution to our understanding of Christian in relation to Judaism.

Click on the title of the post to read the review.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bishop Brian Carrell on the Anglican Communion

The spectre of a disintegrating Anglican Communion
An Address Given at Theology House, Christchurch, New Zealand,
30 October 2007

First, some terms and abbreviations we may need to have in mind.
Global South = the Anglican Provinces of Africa and Asia, excluding Australia & NZ
The North = Anglican Churches of the British Isles and North America.
TEC = The Episcopal Church (USA)
TWR = The Windsor Report (the initial attempt to explain & respond to the crisis)
ACC = the Anglican Consultative Council
JSC = the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC
IDC = the Inter Diocesan Conference (Tikanga Pakeha, NZ)
Second, a time-line to keep before you as we trace the complexity of this past decade.
Third, the need to ask the basic questions that this lecture is built upon:
 Is there really a threat of the Anglican Communion disintegrating?
 What evidence is there for this?
 How aware is the average ‘Anglican in the pew’ of a crisis in our world-wide Anglican Church that has been steadily escalating over the past decade?

The crucible for any crisis is The Episcopal Church in the USA. There the elements of schism are most heated. Last month 51 bishops met in Pittsburgh, representing American Anglicans who describe themselves as a ‘Common Cause’, discontented with the course TEC is taking in several different areas. They did not just meet to grumble - they met to plan for the creation over the next 15 months of an alternative Anglican structure in the USA. Several of those present were current diocesan bishops. Between them they represent over 600 Anglican congregations in the USA. Similar, though less widespread, unease exists in Canada.

The Church Times (Sept.) reports that by this January the Primates of Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria will have consecrated a total of 13 bishops specifically to minister to disaffected Anglican congregations in North America that have sought out episcopal oversight from other parts of the Anglican Communion because of their discontent. 250 US-based congregations are now directly affiliated with Global South Provinces, while the Southern Cone (basically, the Anglican Province in South America) has a further 45 parishes affiliated to one or other of its dioceses.

These protesting Anglicans are not by any means rabid, reactionary or rebellious malcontents. Among them, for example, is the Parish of Christ Church, Georgia, founded in 1733 with the establishment of the British colony of Georgia. This is Georgia’s oldest continuous Christian congregation, predating the establishment of The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Diocese of Georgia. Of even greater significance, at least three whole dioceses have indicated the distinct likelihood of their withdrawal from The Episcopal Church and their consideration of allying themselves with an overseas Province.

All this has repercussions elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. Just in the last few weeks the Nigerian House of Bishops has asked the ABC to postpone the Lambeth Conference next July-August because of the acrimonious spirit that has been generated by the current crisis. Earlier this month the Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) made a similar request to the ABC.

So crisis there is. ‘There’s trouble down at the mill’!

This lecture will attempt to explain the causes that have given rise to this crisis, the steps that are being taken to avert schism, the documents and decisions that are crucial to the developing troubles, and how different parts of the Anglican Communion view the situation.

What has brought this about?
Over a period of a decade or more there has been the convergence of a number of factors that have led to this crisis in unity.
1. The precipitating issue – the deep and seemingly irresolvable differences within the Anglican Church over what as a Church are to be considered acceptable standards of human sexuality. By many these are deemed to be matters of principle that Anglicans around the world need to agree upon. Others see these questions as adiaphora – matters of indifference that can be decided locally and over which disagreement can be allowed.
2. The emergence of the Global South as a confident and numerically growing body of Anglicans who are no longer content to be subservient to the Church in the declining traditional Anglican homelands of Europe and North America, or silent in the face of what they discern as the increasing infiltration of the American Church by the values and morals of Western secular culture. Numerically, both in Church membership and number of Bishops, the Global South greatly outvotes the ‘North’.
3. Confusion over what today identifies a church as ‘Anglican’. There is a call from all sides of the debate for a fresh understanding as to what is the essence of ‘being Anglican’. Is it an undifferentiated ‘inclusiveness’ that readily embraces contemporary culture, and accepts all and everything without distinction? Or is it adherence to a particular tradition of faith and worship, both catholic and reformed, that we have received from the past, a tradition in which Scripture critiques culture rather than in which culture interprets Scripture? Or is it something in between? The authority and understanding of the Bible is a core issue.
4. The need to determine how the Church manages diversity in a post-modern world – not simply in moral matters, but also its social, ethnic and cultural diversity. In the world as we know it today ancient boundaries mean much less (such as preserving a uniformity of people’s language, faith or culture through expression in nation states). It is a much more multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic world. In such a world centuries-old church structures also may no longer be relevant (such as insistence on the territorial organisation of the church in parish, diocesan and provincial units, a concept directly taken over from the Roman Empire.) In a letter to the Anglican Primates the ABC describes the dilemma in these words:
What our Communion lacks is a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety. The tacit conventions between us need spelling out – not for the sake of some central mechanism of control but so we have ways of being sure we are still talking the same language, aware of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ.
5. A resurgence of conservative Christianity across Christian denominations within the West and as the dominant feature of expanding Christianity in Africa, Asia and South America. In part this has been a response to the perceived inadequacies of theological liberalism in the Western Church.

Bring all these factors together and then put to them the lighted match-stick of human sexuality and you have the makings of a conflagration. A crisis of unity. A spectre of disintegration.

Lambeth ’98 provided the stake in the ground.
Dissension and rumblings over widening differences of principle and practice within the Anglican Communion concerning human sexuality had been gathering momentum well before the Lambeth Conference of 1998 took place. The focus of this concern were the steps taken by North American Anglicans, in both the USA and Canada, increasingly to accept and approve
(1) the ordination of men or women in an open homosexual relationship, and
(2) the blessing in a rite of the Church of those entering into a same-sex marriage or union.

In our own Church in this country, prior to Lambeth ‘98, a Sexuality Commission had been established by Tikanga Pakeha to deliberate on this whole area. The Report of this NZ Commission seemed to be heading in the same direction North American Anglicans had taken. But, probably unaware of the limitations they were placing upon themselves, the NZ Sexuality Commission included an optimistic recommendation to the Inter Diocesan Council that received this Report. This read:
That the IDC continue to monitor the debate on sexuality following the Lambeth Conference … to ensure ongoing dialogue in the light of the Lambeth Conference response.
In other words: ‘We want to keep in step with the wider Anglican Communion.’ This recommendation was endorsed first by the IDC and then later by General Synod. So there was another stake in the ground. As a Church in this part of the world, we would move with the wider Anglican Communion as its mind was expressed through the Lambeth Conference. Bizarre as it now appears, it seems that the members of the NZ Sexuality Commission were as mistakenly confident of Lambeth approving a more relaxed attitude to questions of human sexuality as the RFU were of the All Blacks winning the World Cup!

As it turned out, the Bishops at Lambeth caught the Anglican world by surprise. Many in the older Anglican Churches had not done their homework well enough – or kept closely enough in touch with the newly matured and unexpectedly confident Anglicans of Africa and Asia - to discern the strength in conviction or the strength in numbers that these younger Churches would bring with them to Lambeth. Earlier this month Gerard Mpango, the Bishop of Western Tanganyika, was in Christchurch. He mentioned in passing that he confirmed between 8 -10,000 candidates each year. Many of these were newly baptised converts from Islam. When I visited his diocese thirty years ago there was only one bishop and a handful of scattered parishes. Now there are over 260 parishes and two assistant bishops, with a third about to be consecrated. We in the West have little idea of the growth and vigour of the Anglican Church in many parts of the Global South.

The Lambeth Resolution on human sexuality (I:10), after amendment and heated debate, was finally passed by a staggering 526 votes FOR to 70 AGAINST (with just 45 who declined to vote one way or the other). Two of the crucial clauses of the final resolution read:
This Conference, …
(b) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believe abstinence is right for those not called to marriage;
(e) cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those living in same gender unions.

This same resolution concluded by noting the importance of the resolutions of an earlier Global South conference of churches, set out in what is known as ‘The Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality’. This Statement had been approved by delegates to that Conference in 1997, a full year before Lambeth met or our own Human Sexuality Commission presented its Report. Those delegates to Kuala Lumpur represented in total over 80% of all Anglican Church members in the world.

A warning bell should have sounded to the rest of the Anglican Communion as to where the voices and votes of the Global South bishops would be directed when they met in Canterbury for Lambeth ’98. Included in that Kuala Lumpur Statement were these clauses:
3. … we express our profound concern about recent developments relating to Church discipline and moral teaching in some provinces in the North – specifically, the ordination of practising homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
10. We are deeply concerned that the setting aside of biblical teaching in such actions as the ordination of practising homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions calls into question the authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is totally unacceptable to us.
11. This leads us to express concern about mutual accountability and interdependence within our Anglican Communion. As provinces and dioceses we need to learn how to seek each other’s counsel and wisdom in a spirit of true unity, and to reach a common mind before embarking on radical changes to Church discipline and moral teaching.
12. We live in a global village and must be more aware that the way we act in one part of the world can radically affect the mission and witness of the Church in another.
In the light of these resolutions from the Global South, adopted twelve months in advance of Lambeth ’98 and a decade ahead of the threatening crisis that is now troubling the Church as I speak, should anyone be surprised at the stance currently being taken by these same Global South provinces today. (But more of that later.)

Reflecting on both Lambeth Resolution I:10 and the KL Statement, the discerning eye can see the foundations for what would later lead to the Windsor Report of 2004, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s commendation of the concept of an Anglican Covenant (also in 2004), and the Primates endorsement of this proposal at Dromantine in 2005. The shape of things to come were becoming more apparent as the decade unfolded.

To move on in our grasp of what has led to the possibility of the Anglican Communion disintegrating, we need to understand the nature and role in the Anglican Church of what are familiarly known as …

The four ‘Instruments of Unity’
Over the last 150 years the island-bound Church of England has metamorphosed into the world-wide Anglican Communion. This in turn over time has led to the emergence of four ‘instruments of unity’ to hold together this increasingly complex and disparate organism – the ABC, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Meeting of Primates.

From the beginning there has been the Archbishop of Canterbury whose Primacy to Anglicans anywhere in the world has always been acknowledged and respected. His very mana, together with the personal skills, spirituality and wisdom that successive ABCs have brought to the office, up until now has served the Anglican Communion well and helped enormously to preserve its unity.

In 1867 the first Lambeth Conference was called, enabling the elected and appointed bishops of the wider Communion to reflect together on the Church, its mission, its challenges, its relationship to a changing world. Our own Bishop Harper was a participant in this first Lambeth Conference. This body of bishops has never set out to be a legislating body, but an occasion for the episcopal leadership of the Church to develop a common mind and strengthen the unity of the Communion as a whole. As Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has recently written:
Lambeth has a moral authority which is different to legal authority but not less;
it’s the authority of the common mind of Christ manifested in his Church.
So, resolutions of successive Lambeth Conferences have this moral authority to contribute to the unity of the Communion.

Then there is the Anglican Consultative Council. This is a body that brings together a bishop (preferable the Primate), and a priest and lay person elected by each of the 38 Anglican provinces. Its chair is our own Bishop John Paterson. This provides the Communion with a forum where a manageable group of the ordained and laity can meet together on an equal footing to work for the unity and community of the Church. Later we will hear how a ‘Joint Standing Committee’ of the Primates and the ACC have had a crucial role to play in first receiving a response from the House of Bishops of TEC and then providing a report to the ABC and Primates on this response.

But there was another Lambeth Resolution in 1998 that bears on the situation as we have it today. This resolution highlighted the role of the Primates in the anticipated rough waters that lay ahead before the next Lambeth Conference. This Resolution (III.6) encouraged a greater collegial role for the Primates’ Meeting, working with the ABC to (quote) ‘exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’.
It also specifically included (again I quote)
… intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.

This is important to understand as the Primates (as we shall shortly see) have had to play a leading role in dealing with the growing crisis facing the Communion. Some however, including notable Anglicans in this country, have vilified the Primates for the initiatives they have taken, claiming that they have overstepped their authority and that they have acted improperly, setting themselves up as a kind of Anglican curia with the demands they have placed upon the American Episcopal Church. But it is hard to justify this criticism in light of the resolution I have referred to – unless one also diminishes the importance and moral authority of the Lambeth Conference as well. If that is done, then one is left not with an Anglican Communion but an Anglican Confederation in which each Province is a law unto itself, and independence is advanced at the expense of interdependence.

Similar to a democracy, the four ‘instruments of unity’ offer an interconnection of checks and balances, where to work well each must have the goodwill of the others, and no one can act contrary to the mind of the others. Not an Anglican curia, but an Anglican common mind.

The Challenge to Lambeth
The 1998 Lambeth Conference had expressed its mind clearly and strongly. This was the ‘stake in the ground’ that any Anglican Province around the world needed to respect and take its reference from when making decisions that involved issues of human sexuality.

However, both the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church in the USA strongly challenged the stance Lambeth ’98 had taken. The Canadian Church through its continuing widespread support for the legitimising and blessing of same-sex unions, and by the pressure some of its bishops then put on their parishes and diocesan clergy who would not cooperate with this policy. The Episcopal Church not only in its support at its General Convention for the practice of same-sex blessings, but in one further dramatic action that flew directly in the face of the resolution of Lambeth.

This was the confirmation by General Convention in 2003 of the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Gene Robinson had been a married man, but before his election had parted from his wife to form a public partnership with another man in a same-sex union. It was the acceptance of his election by General Convention that really precipitated the current crisis, raising it to the level of a threat to the unity of the whole Anglican Communion and creating the distinct possibility of schism. This same Convention also noted with approval that (to quote):
local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.

Even within The Episcopal Church these decisions presented a problem to a number of parishes who in all good conscience and conviction of faith could not accept such a policy. They believed General Convention had both flouted the advice of Lambeth and defied traditional Anglican faith and practice. Some of these parishes determined as a consequence to look beyond TEC to the wider Anglican Communion for their episcopal oversight and accountability. In some situations, the dioceses of which they were part instituted heavy-handed and punitive legal action against them. As we have earlier noted, overseas provinces immediately began responding to these requests for pastoral care, much to the annoyance of most in TEC and, to be fair, to the disapproval of many in the wider Anglican world. It was these two sets of actions that led to …

The Lambeth Commission and The Windsor Report
In response to these acts of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, the Anglican Primates met in an emergency session at Lambeth later in 2003 and warned of the consequences of proceeding with the consecration of Gene Robinson. They requested the ABC to create a Lambeth Commission on Communion to recommend ways that would strengthen the ‘bonds of affection’ of global Anglicanism (as they are called), especially where differences threatened disunity and even schism. This Commission was to take as its base position the resolutions of Lambeth ’88 and ’98, and subsequent communiqués issued by the Primates.

In 2004 the Commission published its findings in ‘The Windsor Report’ . This took the form of a lengthy analysis of the crisis facing the Communion with recommendations to overcome this crisis for the various provinces to consider and respond to. The Report made it quite clear that if the challenge its proposals presented were not taken seriously, and its recommendations were not implemented, it was doubtful if the Anglican Communion in its present form could survive. It made three specific requests of the North American Church:
1. That there be an expression of regret for its action in ordaining Gene Robinson;
2. That there be better pastoral protection of parishes opposed to GC’s actions;
3. That there be a moratorium on same-sex blessings and further election and consecration of same-sex partnered bishops.

But at the heart of the Commission’s recommendations was the proposal that a ‘Covenant’ be created to which member Churches would be invited to enter. This would serve as a mark of their willingness to recognise that essential to an ‘Anglican Communion’ there needed to be the acceptance of a shared ground of faith and practice that was common to all and equally honoured by all. The Covenant would therefore serve in effect as a fifth and new ‘Instrument of Unity’, governing relationships between the various provinces of the world-wide Church.

The members of the Lambeth Commission were under no illusions as to the critical need for this Covenant. In TWR they wrote:
This Commission believes that the case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant is overwhelming: The Anglican Communion cannot again afford, in every sense, the crippling prospect of repeated worldwide inter-Anglican conflict such as that
engendered by the current crisis. Given the imperfections of our communion and human nature, doubtless there will be more disagreements. It is our shared responsibility to have in place an agreed mechanism to enable and maintain life in communion, and to prevent and manage communion disputes.

In an Advent Letter of November 2004, the concept of a ‘Covenant’ suggested in The Windsor Report was further commended to the Primates by the ABC. In the words of Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies, addressing the Church of England General Synod, the Covenant was intended
to identify the fundamentals that we share in common, and to state the common basis on which our mutual trust can be rebuilt.

The Primates met in February 2005 at Dromantine, Ireland,
where they received The Windsor Report and its recommendations. They added their weight to the proposal of a Covenant to rebuild trust and identity as an Anglican Communion, and asked for its careful consideration by the 38 Anglican Provinces around the globe as a lead-in to further deliberation at the Lambeth Conference next year. They also endorsed the three requests made in the Lambeth Report.

One of the principle criticisms of TWR (and later, of the draft Covenant) is that to implement its recommendations would require an Anglican bureaucracy (possibly of Primates) that would take away from dioceses and diocesan bishops their independence and some of their authority, that is, it would set in train a move towards ‘centrism’, with eventually the emergence of an Anglican ‘curia’ or ‘collective papacy’. But TWR is quite adamant on this point. To quote:
We do not favour the accumulation of formal power by the Instruments of Unity, or the establishment of any kind of central ‘curia’ for the Communion. However, we do believe that there are several ways in which the nature of the moral authority of the Instruments of Unity could be more clearly articulated.

The Draft Covenant
Later in 2006 the ABC advised the Primates of the appointment of a ‘Covenant Design Group’ under the chairmanship of Archbishop Gomez. In January this year a draft Covenant was published for discussion and debate in all the provinces. In its Introduction, the nature of the Covenant is described as
not the invention of a new way of being Anglican, but a fresh restatement and assertion of the faith which we as Anglicans have received, and a commitment to interdependent life such as always in theory at least has been given recognition.

The draft Covenant has three main sections: first, a description of our common Anglican inheritance – that is, what is the historic basis of Anglicanism; second, a description of our common Anglican mission – that is, what is our vocation as Anglican Christians, using the familiar Five Marks of Mission; and third, a description of our Communion life, what holds us together as an Anglican Communion – including the four ‘instruments of unity’ (here called ‘instruments of Communion’) that have been developed over the years.

Based on these three affirmations there follow three sets of commitments that we as Anglican Churches are each asked to make. First, to live out our faith with mutual respect and awareness of our interdependence. Second, to engage in our mission together. Third, to value the ‘instruments of communion’ and the leadership they provide in preserving and strengthening our unity.

(The current status of this draft Covenant is that it is being considered as a proposal to which each province will respond, with a view to a fuller consideration at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.)

The Primates’ Meeting, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, February 2007
By the beginning of this year the Primates of our Church were deeply aware of the seriousness of the situation the Communion was facing. The Communiqué issued from this meeting spoke of
the reality of increased tension in the life of the Anglican Communion – tension so deep that the fabric of our common life together has been torn.
Yet again this gathering reaffirmed the 1998 Lambeth Resolution I:10 as ‘the standard of teaching’ from which they, together with the Windsor Report, have worked, and the proposed Covenant as the way for for the Church in its several parts to agree upon.

This Tanzania meeting also acknowledged gratefully the consideration given by TEC in its General Convention to the recommendations of TWR. But it felt that the response of TEC showed that ‘there remains a lack of clarity on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions.’ The Primates were crystal clear in the reservations they expressed, stating
It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
Some of the Primates went further and indicated that to their minds the response of the General Convention does not in fact give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report. As a whole body, therefore, were persuaded that they were not yet
in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships.

The Primates reported in this Communiqué that they had become aware that a number of Episcopal dioceses were no longer able to accept the primacy of the Presiding Bishop and had asked the ABC to arrange some alternative primatial ministry. The Communiqué recognised the difficulties created by ‘interventionists’, that is, bishops from outside TEC taking discontented parishes under their pastoral wing, but the Primates recognised that
for interventions to cease, what is required in their view is a robust scheme of pastoral oversight to provide individuals and congregations alienated from The Episcopal Church with adequate space to flourish.
Their proposal was to establish an outside ‘Pastoral Council’ to supplement the oversight from within TEC.

Two further specific requests were made to TEC, requiring a response by 30 September this year:
1. That the House Of Bishops of TEC (General Convention not due to meet by that date) make an unequivocal commitment that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention.
2. That a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.
If these requests were not complied with, it was indicated that the invitations to TEC bishops to attend Lambeth ’08 would be in jeopardy. This could well be the first step towards the withdrawal of TEC from membership of the Anglican Communion!

The Invitations to Lambeth ‘08
Four months later, while Episcopalians were considering the ultimatum of the Primates’ Meeting, with its deadline of 30 September, the invitations to attend the next year’s Lambeth Conference were sent out. The Global South was dismayed to learn that while none of the bishops some of their Primates had consecrated for ministry to congregations in North America had received invitations, all the Episcopalian bishops had been invited – with the one exception of Gene Robinson.

The Global South Steering Committee issued a statement deploring this decision and signalling their inability
to take part in an event from which a number of our own bishops have been arbitrarily excluded while those whose actions have precipitated our current crisis are included.
After 30 September this was to become even more forthright.

The response from TEC House of Bishops.
TEC bishops met in New Orleans and formulated their response to the ABC and Primates just five days before the deadline of 30 September, expressing the hope that this reply would ‘mend the tear in the fabric’ of Anglican unity.

In effect, the HOB said Yes, No, and No. Yes – that they would not sanction the episcopal ordination of ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons’. No – while prepared to not authorise public liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions, some of their bishops would continue to allow private blessings as a local pastoral option for their clergy. No – they did not accept the Dar es Salaam proposal for a measure of external pastoral oversight of dissident parishes, but would make their own arrangements for this, thank you all the same.

Interestingly, what received no mention at all in the HOB reply was their response to the proposal for a Covenant to which all Anglican provinces would be invited to subscribe! So this crucial measure to strengthen the unity and identity of the Anglican Communion remains hanging in the air so far as the American Church is concerned.

Attending this meeting in New Orleans as observers was the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. After the meeting concluded, the reply of the HOB was handed to the JSC and incorporated into their own report of the occasion to the ABC and Primates. On the whole, the JSC has welcomed this reply from TEC and given it a positive spin. Their judgment is that the New Orleans statement of the HOB meets the request of the Windsor Report on the issues of episcopal ordinations and rites of blessing, but they express dismay at both the continuing use of law courts by TEC in property disputes with dissident episcopal parishes, and in the continuing intervention activities in TEC by certain other Anglican Primates and Provinces.

However, the optimism of the JSC’s favourable commendation of the HOB reply is significantly undercut by a letter from one of their number, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, who had to leave the meeting early because of commitments with the ABC in Syria and Lebanon, and who was not given an opportunity to contribute to the JSC assessment of the HOB reply. In an open letter to The Times he expressed his view that TEC response was no more than a superficial shift and did not signal any real change in its position since 2003. He disagreed with the JSC assessment that
The Episcopal Church has clarified all outstanding questions relating to their response to the questions directed explicitly to them, and on which clarifications were sought by the 30th September, and given the necessary assurance sought of them.
He gives his detailed reasons for this conclusion. He indicated that he was ‘incredibly disappointed and grieved’.

So some significant Anglican leaders as of now do not believe the threat of disintegration has at all been averted by the response of TEC HOB.

How has the rest of the Communion responded to this?
 In September the Nigerian HOB wrote to the ABC asking for this Lambeth Conference to be cancelled.
 Several prominent bishops of the C of E, including the Bishops of Liverpool, Winchester and Rochester are doubtful as to how many will in all good conscience feel able to participate in the Lambeth Conference while such a state of distrust
exists. The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, has claimed that more than half of the English bishops are now considering whether to attend.
 The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, said he would find it difficult to attend the Lambeth Conference alongside those who consecrated or approved the appointment of Gene Robinson. He is also reported in the Daily Telegraph this month as saying that the sort of divisions tearing the Anglican Church apart in the United States, where whole dioceses are preparing to break away, could not be ruled out in England.
 The Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa meeting in Mauritius earlier this month issued a Communiqué indicating that they find the report of the JSC ‘unsatisfactory’ and the assurances offered by TEC ‘without credibility’. (CAPA then calls for a postponement of the Lambeth Conference, and the completion and acceptance of the Covenant as the condition on which fresh invitations to a later Conference will be issued.)
 Replies to the Lambeth invitations at this moment are reported to be ‘very thin’ as other bishops, not just the more conservative, now weigh up their options.
 Reports coming in now from the USA suggest that between three and five dioceses in the near future will attempt to split off from TEC and come under the jurisdiction of one or other African province.
 But what complicates matters even further is that three of these Episcopal Dioceses are principally animated by another and entirely different cause of dissatisfaction with their parent body, TEC. Within this past week The UK Church Times has reported a presentation one of their bishops, the Revd Jack Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth, has just made to the National Assembly of the Forward in Faith movement in the UK.
His claim was that his diocese and the dioceses of Quincy and San Joaquin were well advanced in negotiations to affiliate with another Province of the Communion, one that he describes as ‘orthodox’. By this he means not simply ‘Windsor compliant’ but holding to the policy of not ordaining women to the priesthood. Bp Iker told the Assembly, ‘it is our contention that the Episcopal Church has decided to walk away from the Anglican Communion, and our Forward in Faith dioceses will walk with the Anglican Communion.’ He added that these three dioceses, their bishops, clergy and laity, were aware of what would follow. In his words: TEC “would declare those sees vacant, depose the bishops, and call a convention to reconstitute what it called ‘continuing dioceses’.”

And in this regard a striking new option has also emerged over the past two weeks. Following the meeting of TEC HOB at the end of September, John Howe, the Bishop of Central Florida, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury and indicated that a number of his clergy and parishes, if not the diocese itself, were considering withdrawing from TEC and associating with an overseas Province. The ABC immediately replied and suggested another option – that of a diocese looking direct to Canterbury rather than to another outside Province. The heart of his letter, dated 14 October, read:
I would repeat what I’ve said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing - which is why I continue to hope and pray for the strengthening of the bonds of mutual support among those Episcopal Church Bishops who want to be clearly loyal to Windsor.

Where will all this lead? Is disintegration inevitable?
Who knows what will come next. Personally I believe neither that disintegration will be the certain outcome of the present crisis, nor that postponement or cancellation of next year’s Lambeth Conference will occur. I hope I am correct!

But the price for this optimism will certainly be the completion and embracing of an Anglican Covenant such as has already been provided in draft form, and the acceptance of the reality that each part of the present Anglican Communion must then decide whether or not it signs up to this Covenant. Clarifying our identity as Anglicans in a post-modern social and ecclesiastical climate, and accepting that interdependence may at times mean curbing some of our local preferences and practices, are likely to be the price attached to a continuing Communion. Those who accept this will be ‘in’; those who do not are likely to be ‘out’.

In our own Church in this part of the world this issue has still to be settled. But it is already clear that there are those here in New Zealand who are strongly sympathetic to the position taken by TEC, believing that ‘wherever America is today, we will be tomorrow’, and that there are those whose sympathies lie with the Windsor Report, its recommendations, and the proposal of the adoption of a Covenant to clarify what it means to be an Anglican Church and part of an Anglican Communion of Churches today.

In the end it comes down to whether the future of Anglicanism is to be an Anglican Communion, where a family of autonomous Churches are interdependent and act together, or an Anglican Confederation, where each Church that calls itself Anglican has the liberty to take independent courses of action, without regard for the rest. I was interested in the comments of our city’s new mayor, Bob Parker, last week when receiving the chains of office. He is reported as calling for unity on the council and for the ‘desire of the individual to be given over to the collective decision-making process’. He could have been speaking to the world-wide Anglican Church concerning its future.

Decisions taken at our General Synod in May next year, before the Lambeth Conference is due to meet, may well reveal in which direction this Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia will be heading.

+Brian Carrell, 30.x.’07.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Hitchens Dawkins Axis of Anti Religion

Religion: poison or life-giving, false or true?

(Update: For another view on current promotion of atheism see a column by Theodore Dalrymple. Hat tip to Ron Ashford).

Alongside The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins as a pot-stirrer in the world of religion is a book called God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens. Richard Dawkins himself reviews the latter in the Times Literary Supplement in a review entitled ‘Bible Belter’ (accessible from Powell's Reviews).

Before taking up some challenges posed by Dawkins in the review, let me briefly introduce Christopher Hitchens to readers unfamiliar with him. Hitchens is a brilliant writer of columns, articles, and books; British in origin, currently domiciled in the States, and becoming widely known as a maker and shaper of opinions. Some of those opinions are sharply divided about the philosophical integrity of the man as he was once perceived to be unambiguously ‘left-wing’ but now, post-9/11 leading to Hitchen’s support for Bush’s militant response via Afghanistan and Iraq, he is often criticised by former colleagues on the left, even as he vigorously asserts that his present convictions are contiguous with those he has always held! Anyway, back to the Dawkins review:

Challenge One: attacks on theism are not rebutted by suggesting atheism requires as much faith as theism.

“Peter Hitchens begins his negative review in the Daily Mail quite well ("Am I my brother's reviewer?"), but the substance of his complaint seems to be that Christopher is as confident in his disbelief as any fundamentalist is confident in his belief. The answer to the familiar accusation of atheist fundamentalism is plain enough. The onus is not on the atheist to demonstrate the non-existence of the invisible unicorn in the room, and we cannot be accused of undue confidence in our disbelief. The devout churchgoer recites the Nicene Creed weekly, enumerating a detailed and precise list of things he positively believes, with no more evidence than supports the unicorn. Now that's overconfidence. By contrast, the atheist says the humble thing: of all the millions of possible entities that one might imagine, I believe only in those for which
there is evidence -- trombones, pelicans and electrons, say, but not unicorns or leprechauns, not Thor with his hammer, not Ganesh the elephant god, not the Holy Ghost.”

Response: setting aside the fact that Dawkins under-rates the ‘case for God’ which underlines the Nicene Creed, I suggest he also under-rates the many things people believe in without evidence such as life having a purpose, the concept of beauty having meaning, and so on. But he has a point: if being a Christian (to name the particular religious preference I identify with among all possible religious choices in the world) is accepted by Christians themselves as involving faith which goes beyond bounds of reason and evidence (‘we live by faith not by sight’), it is a bit rich of us to respond to an atheist whose worldview is consistently materialist and rationalist by saying, ‘you have as much faith in what you believe as we do.’

Challenge Two: attacks on religion are not negated by suggesting that there is a difference between bad religion and good religion and its only bad religion which is the problem.

“The second commonest complaint from reviewers is that Christopher Hitchens attacks bad religion. Real religion (the religion the reviewer subscribes to) is immune to such criticism. Here is the theologian Stephen Prothero in the Washington Post:

"To read this oddly innocent book as gospel is to believe that ordinary Catholics are proud of the Inquisition...and that ordinary Jews cheer when a renegade Orthodox rebbe sucks the blood off a freshly circumcised penis."

This complaint, too, is familiar, and the answer (even when the point is not exaggerated, as it is by Prothero) is obvious. If only all religions were as humane and as nuanced as yours, gentle theologian, all would be well, and Hitchens would not have needed to write this book. But come down to earth in the real world: in Islamabad, say, in Jerusalem, or in Hitchens's home town, Washington DC, where the President of the most powerful nation on earth takes his marching orders directly from God. Channel-hop your television in any American hotel room, look aghast at the huge sums of money subscribed to build megachurches, at museums depicting dinosaurs walking with men, and see what I mean.”

Response: I think Dawkins is right and wrong here. He is right that even when a religion is being true to itself and acting in the best possible way according to its core values and beliefs, it is not thereby immune to criticism. Further, he is right to raise the question why religions seem to struggle to be ‘good’ rather than ‘bad’. But he is wrong to imply, as he does by the way he characterises Christianity solely in terms of Bush, money-grabbing churches, and creationism, that each religion has no merit or is incapable of exhibiting merit. There are great swathes of Christianity, for example, which (accepting for a moment Dawkins critical measurements) do not support Bush, building mega-churches, or promoting creationism AND which contribute to the development of the world through building great Christian lives, assisting the poor, and caring for the needy. (Picking up on Hitchen’s subtitle) many Christians (and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists) do NOT experience the practice of their faith as poisonous and are baffled by how religions have, in some places, at some times, become so horrible. To speak from a openly Christian position, it is difficult to understand how a grace-filled, love-your-enemies as well as love-your-neighbours, caring for the poor Christ-like manner of life is necessarily poisonous.

Challenge Three: The lifestyle and values of the messenger do not negate the message.

“Finally, there are those critics who can't resist the ad hominem blow: "Don't you know Christopher Hitchens supported the invasion of Iraq?" But so what? I'm not reviewing his politics, I'm reviewing his book. And what a splendid, boisterously virile broadside of a book it is.”

Response: this is the easiest challenge to respond to. We can agree with Richard Dawkins. Ad hominem attacks are exciting in the bear pit of a debating arena, but valueless as ideas. Occasionally the lifestyle and values of a proponent undermine the case they are trying to make (e.g. a serial murderer trying to tell us we should not resort to violence), but Hitchen’s views on Iraq have nothing to do with the case he brings against religion.

In sum, Christians in the face of the Hitchens/Dawkins onslaught need to take care: poor reactive arguments will be ravaged! We would also do well to humbly accept fair criticism and make changes when repentance is required. Ditto, standing back when sacred cows are being slaughtered (which of course does not require an atheist to be the throat-cutter; Luther and co were pretty sharp in this area)! But Dawkins/Hitchens have not made the case that religions, Christianity in particular, are completely, utterly, and permanently wrong.

A final thought, perhaps we need to prove Dawkins and Hitchens wrong by our deeds and not by our words.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Who is deluded: God or Dawkins?

The God Delusion

To many people Richard Dawkins needs no introduction. He’s that scientist chappy who promotes evolution, and denigrates religion with equal fervour in books with snappy titles such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. I confess to never having read any of his books, despite hearing much about him from atheist friends, and thus recognising that at some point I should engage with his arguments. On a recent visit to a bookshop I handed over $40 to purchase his latest (2006) book The God Delusion. I am pleased to report that his book is easy to read and I have read it; which actually says something good about Dawkins’ style because I read very few books these days in toto. Let me confess something else. I read such books with a little bit of trepidation – what if the argument of the book is compelling and I find myself persuaded to give up believing in God? I suppose if I became an atheist like Dawkins then I should be pleased to move from being a ‘minister of religion’ to being an ex-minister. But life is not that simple; and I have made an emotional investment in a way of life, just as I have in a marriage and in a family, and I cannot imagine giving any of the three up without the gravest of difficulty. So I am not an impartial reader of Dawkins’ attempt to persuade me (and every one of his readers) of the folly and danger of believing in God. Dawkins is, by the way, an ‘evangelist’ for atheism: religion is bad news in all its forms, moderate and extreme, but salvation both for the individual and for humanity lies in leaving religion behind and disavowing belief in God. He is very clear that he is delighted when he hears that he has influenced someone away from belief.

In the end, however, I think Dawkins makes it easy for someone like me. He has no compelling argument to give up belief in God even as he does provide compelling arguments for the comprehensive explanatory power of Darwinian evolution and does, I suggest, provide a compelling case for an atheist not to become a theist. In coming to this conclusion I may not be an impartial reader, but an internet trawl – not only of Christian reviewers – suggests I am not wrong either! To expand my conclusions in reverse order: Dawkins pulls out all stops as he makes the case that religion is nonsense, malevolent, and a curse on humankind. After reading The God Delusion no atheist would be tempted to think ‘but perhaps there is something to commend religion after all.’ There is just nothing, Dawkins argues, since religion is not true and thus even its putative consolatory value is fraudulent. Better by far to embrace life as it is – at least Dawkins is not pessimist and life as it is, without God, is not bleak, since we have the possibility of making as much of life as we want.

I am not much of a biologist and have largely left the ‘creationism versus evolutionism’ arguments alone until recently. But Dawkins is compelling as he handles that which he knows well: the variety of life we find on earth is well-explained by natural selection, and nothing about the development of life requires another explanation. However, far from thinking this made God unnecessary (as Dawkins argues) I found myself wondering whether God is incredibly smart. Silly me, of course God is – God is omniscient (according to theism, as Dawkins frequently reminds the reader before he points out some logical folly of such belief) – but what I wondered was this: it’s a lot of mental work (say) to invent flowers which reward bees with nectar in return for bees taking pollen to another flower, while keeping a restrictive eye on the potential for unwanted cross-pollination, and then having the nifty thought that perhaps nectar could both feed bees and humans … multiply all that kind of ‘design’ by a trillion times and you start to have an idea of what God had to do to both create and develop life on a non-Darwinian model (‘creationism’ if you will); but what if God was ‘smart’ more than ‘omniscient’ and decided to simply create energy and let it all happen (‘the big bang’ which Dawkins is inclined to accept, along with the associated theory that the universe is expanding rather than in a cycle of ‘bang-expand-contract-bang’)? That way the apparent design of life was accomplished on Earth by God’s masterstroke idea of ‘natural selection’ (maybe God had a wee hand in aligning Earth’s orbit so that life could begin and develop here in a way that almost certainly has not happened on the other planets of our solar system). The brilliance of ‘natural selection’ is not only that it ‘designs’ particular organisms, but it enables them to all live together in beneficial ways (though the lion might be more inclined than the antelope to agree with that description of the inter-connectedness of life). Dawkins would find my musing here highly disagreeable: his point is that ‘natural selection’ undoes the one possible – in his view - argument for the existence of God – the so called argument from design. My response invokes a God who is not necessary and that is irrational.

Except that my musings are not purely a response to Dawkins masterly account of the power of ‘natural selection’. Along the way Dawkins necessarily has to say something about how life began, for ‘natural selection’ can only apply to the development of life and not to its beginning. Here Dawkins leads me towards God and not away from God, hence my musings about the Creator God who saves mental effort when planning the development of life (is such a creator God ‘more perfect’ than the ‘creationist’ God?). For Dawkins recognises that the Earth is in a remarkably propitious position for life to begin and to develop (neither too close nor too far away from the sun; in a solar system with just one sun; etc). Are we stupendously lucky, or what? But then that’s the point: maybe we are in this perfect place because it was made just so, not is just so. Dawkins won’t agree but his problem is that many do agree and in one form of religion or another express their belief in the theistic God who made our world. Thus God is less disposable from the world than Dawkins reckons not least because he (i.e. Dawkins) has such a lovely description of the wonder of the world that, for this reader at least, I find myself seeing God at work in the world, not least in setting it up as the best of all possible nurseries for life to begin.

Finally, why has Dawkins not provided a compelling argument for a theist to turn atheist? Essentially Dawkins loses by exaggerating the evils, faults and pitfalls of religion to the point where what he says is ‘religion’ is unrecognisable as the ‘typical’ experience of the ‘mainstream’ religionist. If Christianity – even the conservative Christianity I have experienced all my life – were Dawkinish in character then let me out of here. No doubt it is in some of its fringes – experienced by Dawkins in various ways, including some terrible hate mail he has received – but it just ain’t so in its ‘average’ reality. (Similarly, I suggest, for Muslims experience of Islam, Buddhists experience of Buddhism, etc). Even in Dawkins’ attack on Scripture, he misses the bus. Every terrible act of ethnic cleansing, barbaric punishment, and extreme religiosity (e.g. God asking Abraham to kill his only son) is heavily underlined by Dawkins. But by failing to find any sign of God’s grace in Scripture, he effectively asks his Christian readers to reject a caricature of Scripture and not Scripture itself. There is a case against the truth of Christianity (and against each of the other religions) which can be made, but Dawkins has yet to discover it. However, he is a scientist, so perhaps one day he will find it!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Book Review

John Spong Jesus for the non religious: recovering the divine at the heart of the human New York: HarperCollins, 2007. ISBN 13: 978 0 73228495 4.

This is an odd book by John Spong, retired bishop of The Episcopal Church and prolific author of books urging change to Christianity. For starters the title is wrong. This book is not about ‘Jesus for the non religious’ but about ‘a non religious Jesus for the religious’. Then there is the question of what the book seeks to achieve. Is Spong saving Christianity from irrelevancy, from an inevitable death if it does not change its mode of believing (p. xiii), or articulating an alternative to ‘the Christianity that is now emerging in America and in the Third World … with which I do not choose to be identified’ (p. 7)? Christianity cannot both be dying and already renewed in its life! This is not an idle jab at a trivial piece of inconsistency. The hectoring tone in the book – most Christians past and present are hysterical, insecure, and defensive – presumes the urgency of Spong’s rescue. But Christianity is alive and well. If we accept this fact which Spong himself recognises however briefly, we may wonder if the hectoring tone means Spong is actually the hysterical one as he kicks against that which he does not like.

Certainly Spong goes to extreme lengths to distance himself from normative Christian understanding of Jesus as he strips him of traditional beliefs in order to reveal the attractive and inspiring essence of Jesus. Off go the nativity stories, Joseph and Mary and her virginity, the Twelve Disciples, all the miracle stories, the crucifixion narrative (‘liturgy masquerading as history’) and (of course) the resurrection in respect of any thought of its literalness, physical reality, or basis in an empty tomb. Revealed is the wonder of Jesus the person in whom the divine is perfectly and completely at one with his humanity. Thus encountered, Jesus beyond death transformed the outlook of the disciples (the true resurrection) and inspired the gospels and epistles, along with the development of the Christian movement. For Spong, this essential Jesus, is what all humanity, religious and non-religious needs to (re)discover in order that we might be transformed beyond the racism, chauvinism, homophobia, etc which restrict our experience of the ‘abundant life’ promised by Jesus. Certainly Spong arrives via this route at a very attractive Jesus. The odd thing is that he appears to have no ability to understand that Christianity full of the beliefs he strips away is just as able to arrive at the same conclusion.

In fact Spong repeatedly demonstrates his inability to acknowledge that there are other possibilities to consider at each significant point in his argument. Thus the reader, through Spong’s undoubted cleverness in logic and clarity of writing, is easily led to think that Christianity is clueless and irrational. How can miracles have happened since, if they have taken place, then God is exposed to the charge of evil neglect of all the sick people who are not healed? Stupid traditional Christianity! But it is Spong who is neglectful, failing to widen his discussion to present the reader with the possibility that miracles are intended as signs confirming the truth of God’s message rather than as arbitrary acts of an ultimately cruel God. Or, we might consider Spong’s theory of the composition of the gospels as largely driven by the needs of the early church to create an annual cycle of readings and thus prone to invent stories to fill the gaps. Here Spong relies heavily on the work of Michael Goulder, a brilliant British scholar, available to the world of scholarship for over thirty years. But the reader receives no inkling of the fact that Goulder has not persuaded the majority of scholars, and thus that other explanations should be considered.

But the deepest flaw is Spong’s approach to the role of ‘theism’ in the development of both Scripture and the history of Christianity. Theism is the notion that God exists beyond humanity, independently of any projection of human need for ‘a god’, yet is involved in human life. For Spong, theism originated from the fear of primeval humanity which projected the existence of a god with power to overcome human insecurity. At precisely this point of positing projection as its origin Spong begins to falsely characterize theism, so that before long theism is responsible for all kinds of evil in humanity such as racism, chauvinism and homophobia. Thus Spong defines ‘theism’ with no acknowledgement that other definitions might be less susceptible to his withering scorn. Then Spong argues that the essence of Jesus is the unity of the human and the (non-theistic) divine (cf. the second half of the title, ‘recovering the divine at the heart of the human’). On Spong’s presupposition this Jesus quickly got overlaid with theistic miracle stories in order to express his divinity, and the Christian movement which followed became bedevilled with theistic theology. Only now (with a bit of help from theological predecessors such as Schleiermacher and Tillich) is the true ‘God-in-Christ’ revealed through Spong’s scholarly investigations.

The rich ironies here seem totally lost on Spong. How pathetic is the Spongian God that (s)he should have been lost for such a long time? Given his acknowledgement of the greater power of secularism than Christianity in overcoming (in large measure) evils such as racism, chauvinism, and homophobia (p. 229), why does he remain a Christian (let alone a bishop of a Christian church)? If Spong is correct, and virtually all of Christianity, past and present is wrong, is he not himself a great and wonderful saviour, not only of Christianity but of the world himself?

But beyond humour when reflecting on these ironies is this serious issue: does Spong’s God exist beyond the bounds of humanity? It seems from this book that ‘God’ is indistinguishable from the perfection of human life and has no existence other than the projection of human desire. If this is so, then Spong’s stripped down Jesus is troublingly inconsistent with his new apostle’s devotion, for the unstrippable characteristic of Jesus is that he served, spoke for and prayed to a theistic ‘God’. Further questions arise. Why Jesus? When such hard work is required to penetrate through the theistic forest to the pure essence of Jesus, the reader is entitled to wonder whether better examples of the divine encountered in the human could be adduced (St Francis, Buddha, Ghandi, Mother Teresa?). Which Jesus? In common with many others who have sought some version of the real Jesus lying behind the Jesus of Scripture (apparently always a false Jesus!), the discovered Jesus bears uncanny resemblance to its discoverer! The reality of Jesus, however, has always been that he has been an uncomfortable figure, challenging all who attempt to adjust the picture of him to better fit some version of current reality. In the end Spong’s reading of Jesus is a failure because he predetermines that Jesus will be coherent with Spong’s vision of how the world should be. The real Jesus always asks people to follow him and not the other way round!

A lecture given in 2005

Anglican Evangelicals: Mainstream or Taliban?
By: The Revd Dr Peter Carrell
Latimer Fellowship of New Zealand
Annual General Meeting– 20 September 2005

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Anyone for women bishops?

The arguments for and against women being ordained to the office of deacon, priest, and bishop in the Anglican Church do not receive much discussion in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia. This is because the state of the play is fairly settled, with the usual suspects in arguments against such ordinations in the wider Anglican Communion (evangelicals, anglo-catholics) generally in our Kiwi context being unconvinced that God is against such ordinations. However a couple of events have prompted me to review my own thinking on the matter in recent days.

First, we hosted Rev. Professor Gerald Bray in our Diocese. Gerald is Editor of The Churchman (among other roles), and some of my reading of his editorials alerted me to the importance he attaches to the decision to ordain women to the priesthood in the Church of England (early 1990s) and to the current debate in that church over the possibility of approval being given to the ordination of women as bishops. This importance concerns the role of Scripture in the process of making decisions in the church, with a clear sight on the continuing debate over the ordination of partnered gay men and lesbian women, and the authorisation of blessings of same sex couples. One aspect of Gerald Bray’s thinking on these matters is that conservative evangelicals do not have consistent Scripture-based arguments for ordination of women and against ordination of partnered gays and lesbians.

Secondly, I notice that an important decision within the Anglican Church of Australia has been published (late September, 2007), whereby a tribunal with high authority on such matters has said that no legal impediment exists to proceeding to ordain women as diocesan bishops. That is, no rules need to be changed, which is a sigh of relief to those Australian Anglicans who wish to see women become bishops as they realise they would be unlikely to succeed with a change of rules given the opposition of the Diocese of Sydney to such ordinations (which also extends to opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood). Thus a conservative evangelical such as myself has been reminded that I am in disagreement with conservative evangelicals such as Gerald Bray and Archbishop Peter Jensen whom I respect immensely and with whom I understand myself to share many cherished theological beliefs. The reason why I am in disagreement begins with a piece of autobiography!

More years ago than I care to remember, when I was a student at Canterbury University involved in the Christian Union (i.e. conservative evangelical student group), we had a constitution which forbade women from becoming President of the Christian Union. Women could take up any other role on the executive committee (except for Men’s Vice-President; men could take up any role except for Women’s Vice-President). The Canterbury University Students’ Association discovered this clause and asked us to change it – it may have been more of a threat, actually: change or else leave the Association (and the use of the CUSA building). Naturally we had a meeting about this and I recall being to the forefront of arguments to change our constitution. I do not recall any great profound theological contribution on my part. But what I do recall, both from that occasion, and from other interactions in the world of Christian Union activity, at Canterbury, at Otago, and nationally through Tertiary Student Christian Fellowship conferences and councils, is developing the conviction that where we find women who are gifted, able leaders, then gender discrimination should not prevent them exercising leadership at the highest level of church or other Christian organisation. I have known some remarkable women leaders. I have never observed failure in an organisation or parish where these leaders were in charge. (Of course, I have also known some unsatisfactory leaders and observed sad results from their leadership, but here is the thing: they have been both male and female!)

Naturally the question arises in the mind of a conservative evangelical, what about Scripture and its widely-understood prohibition of women at the highest levels of leadership in the life of the church? In my own thinking about this question I find myself drawn first to the experience of the early church and also before that to the experience of Israel. In Scripture we find that at certain times and places women rise up to positions of leadership which are all the more striking because of our recognition that the societies of ancient Israel and the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean world were patriarchal. Deborah (Judges 4-5), Abigail (1 Samuel 25) and Huldah (2 Kings 22) stand out from the Old Testament and stand alongside Prisca, Phoebe, Junia (Romans 16), and Euodia and Syntyche from the New Testament. (I am particularly intrigued by the latter two whom Paul describes as having ‘laboured side by side with me in the gospel’ (Philippians 4:3); not, ‘laboured subordinate to me in the gospel.’) The sense I get from the history of the earliest church as conveyed in the New Testament is that there was no universal rule applying on a timeless basis which prohibited women participating in the leadership of the church. The way in which references are made to women such as those mentioned above, and others (especially in Romans 16) without comment about any rules which were kept or broken by their example suggests we are wrong to respond to their examples, as some do, by saying ‘well, Prisca always taught with her husband by her side, and Phoebe was not a leader over anyone, she served and supplied the funds for the church to operate, and so on, so they all kept within the rules.’ That there was no universal, timeless rule applying is not surprising when we recognise that a hallmark of the Christian movement was freedom, in particular a freedom to be flexible about shape and structure of the movement as it took root in different places and in different cultures. Generally the early Christians, following the example of Jesus, dispensed with rules rather than made rules.

With this background in mind, the most discussed passage in respect of women in leadership, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (addressed to the church in Ephesus), seems more than a little curious. First, a very clear rule is laid down, ‘Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness’ (v. 11). Then a personal ruling is given, ‘I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent’ (v. 12). The mood here seems a long way from Paul’s affectionate respect and collegial concern for Phoebe, Prisca, Junia and company. It’s also some distance from Paul’s baptismal inclusiveness in Galatians 3.28. I suggest we are entitled to wonder if some circumstance – a difficult and demanding one at that – has provoked the rules of 2:11-12.

A further hint of this difficulty is found in 1 Timothy 2:15. Here a very long exegetical story must be cut short for our present purpose, but we begin by observing that in complete contradiction of Pauline teaching on salvation through faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross, this verse implies that women will be saved by a work of their own, bearing children. Surely this verse does not mean what it appears to say. My own suggestion, taking a cue from 1 Timothy 4:3 with its concern about false teachers in the Ephesian church who ‘forbid marriage’, is that what 1 Timothy 2:15 means is ‘Contrary to those false teachers who argue that marriage imperils one’s salvation, woman will not lose their salvation through bearing children, rather they will be saved even though they bear children, providing (as with all Christian men and women) they persevere in faith, love, holiness, with modesty.’ But whether this particular suggestion carries conviction or not, 1 Timothy 2:15 certainly invites us to ponder the peculiar circumstances of the Ephesian church addressed by Paul through Timothy. As a matter of fact, so does 2:12 which uses a rare Greek word, authentein, translated above as ‘to have authority over’. Why use this rare word? Again, is it possible (as some commentators think) that Paul was not addressing the ordinary situation of one person being in authority over others but the situation in which one person (here, one or more Ephesian women) exercises an unhealthy domination over others (here, men in the congregation). In turn, in respect of 1 Timothy 2:13-14, is Paul challenging the process by which women have become dominators of men: like Eve of old they have first been deceived (by the false teachers) and then they have led their husbands astray?

Again, let’s be clear that a very long exegetical account is required here to work through the many issues these verses raise – a small book’s worth and not a few paragraphs in a web column! But the gist of the argument is discernible: there are grounds for contemplating that 1 Timothy 2:11-12, much quoted by conservative evangelicals in support of refusing the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate, involves rulings relating to extraordinary circumstances (which, to be sure, could arise in any generation and in any culture) and not to the ordinary situation of the church.

If this argument be accepted then much of the Scripture-based opposition from conservative evangelicals to the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate collapses. This in turn allows conservative evangelicals to embrace the spirit of the New Testament which is remarkably open to the involvement of women in every aspect of church leadership. This spirit is, of course, demonstrated in Jesus’ own ministry and mission, where we find women disciples (e.g. Luke 8:2-3), and women associated with the key salvific events of the cross and the resurrection as primary witnesses. In our present context in which boards and committees of human persons sit in evaluative judgement of people as they seek acceptance for ordination and apply for appointments, we can ourselves demonstrate this spirit of openness by considering each applicant on the basis of the calling discerned within their lives and the gifts and abilities recognised in their service of the gospel, without regard for whether they are male or female!

This argument, as already indicated, requires a more detailed exposition if it is to carry weight. In brief, I would see it needing extension through consideration of passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:2-18 (where one point to be made is that male ‘headship’ pertains to marriage and not to church leadership) and 14:33-36 (which is similar in sentiment to 1 Timothy 2:11); supported by consideration of the ‘tendency’ within the New Testament to affirm and advance the equality of men and women in the kingdom of God; and strengthened by considering the achievement of the cross in effecting transformation of fallen humanity, including the implication of 1 Timothy 2: 14 that women are prone to being ‘deceived’. But I offer this argument as a demonstration that conservative evangelicals can support the possibility of women being priests and bishops in the Anglican Church without diminution of commitment to upholding and honouring the authority of Scripture.

Communion or Community of Communions?

At risk of over simplification, I suggest two movements within the Anglican Communion are driving the current crisis forward to its eschaton. One movement could be described as ‘Jude 3’ since it understands ‘the faith’ as that which ‘was once for all delivered to the saints.’ In this movement there is complete conviction that our theology and our ethics were more or less settled with the final writings of the New Testament at the close of the first century A.D. When proposals come forward which appear novel, such as endorsing faithful same sex partnerships through blessing or ordination, or softening the exclusivity of Jesus from ‘the way’ to ‘a way’ to God, this movement is unmoved. What has been delivered once for all does not permit such endorsement or such softening. To be sure this movement is not completely united on some matters such as the ordination of women which is novel and unacceptable to some in the movement but is a flowering of that seeded in the apostolic age and thus acceptable to others.

The other movement could be described as ‘John 16:13’ since it works on the basis that ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’ In other words ‘the faith’ was delivered to the saints but the saints did not receive all the truth. In this movement there is complete conviction that our theology and our ethics are not yet, perhaps never will be settled. Novel proposals tend to be welcomed rather than rejected; the Spirit guiding into all truth, after all, is to be expected to catalyse such possibilities.

Whether either or both these two movements are legitimate developments of any preceding stage in Anglicanism need not detain us. These movements are entrenched in the reality of Anglicanism in the twenty-first century. Neither is going to be ruled out by denying its validity as an ‘Anglican’ phenomenon because it is (say) lacking coherency with Hooker or repugnant to the Thirty Nine Articles. Either, even both movements (‘a plague on both your houses’) might be dispossessed of membership of the Anglican Communion but that would not stop vigorous assertion of claims by each movement to be truly and thoroughly ‘Anglican’. Thus the question which will not readily go away is whether the Anglican Communion can find a way to live with both movements or whether it cannot contain what Anglicanism has become.

Between John 16:13 and Jude 3 lies Philippians 2:2, ‘complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (with acknowledgement to Ephraim Radner’s recent emphasis on this verse in relation to Anglican Communion troubles). What joy it would be if Anglican koinonia can be refreshed! Currently there are several strategies in the air concerning the goal of a common mind for the Anglican Communion. One strategy is the pursuit of a common mind through change of mind: those reluctant to embrace the Windsor Report, for example, are urged (even demanded) to commit to it; or, those seemingly unable to envisage communing at the same table of fellowship as the Bishop of New Hampshire are encouraged to enlarge their vision of the divergencies which Anglican comprehensiveness can include. Another strategy is similar but with a different focus and involves reaching a common mind through a process of agreement which probably (if not certainly) involves some change, though not necessarily a change of mind. Thus the proposed Anglican Covenant is envisaged as focusing the minds of current member churches of the Anglican Communion in respect of the issues contributing to the current crisis: might some change of mind be involved before signing? Might some lack of change of mind lead to not signing the Covenant and thus concomitantly to some new relationship with the signers of the Covenant (e.g. associate membership rather than full membership of the Anglican Communion)? Might signing the Covenant lead to some consequential discipline of a signing church? Another strategy seeks a common mind by calling together those of a common mind. In its own way the Lambeth 2008 invitation does this by stressing the importance of commitment to the Windsor Report and to the idea of an Anglican Covenant.

Without intention of preferring any one of the strategies outlined above (or any other strategy) we offer here some reflection on whether there is any hope for the wish of Philippians 2:2 to be fulfilled in our Communion troubled as it is by the movements of ‘John 16:13’ and ‘Jude 3’. One observation is that there is real distance between the two movements. Intrinsic to the ‘Jude 3’ movement is an intensity of conviction developed through 2000 years of contending for the doctrine of the church, both in external and internal contexts. With specific respect to issues of human sexuality, the ‘Jude 3’ movement’s conviction is intensified through the weight of history: for centuries before Christ and for twenty centuries since the people of God have known only one standard, monogamous marriage or celibacy, however many deviations from the standard may have occurred in the history of Israel (polygamy in particular). Conversely, the ‘John 16:13’ movement feels no such weight and feeds from a different reading of 2000 years of history. In that reading the highlights are the points of change in attitude by the church – to slavery, to women, to people of colour, and now to gay and lesbian people. A second, related observation is that each movement faces issues of the late modern and post-modern eras as different challenges. For ‘Jude 3’ the possibility of acceptance of same sex partnerships is revolutionary, for ‘John 16:13’ it is evolutionary. For the former a move towards Jesus as ‘a saviour’ rather than ‘the saviour’ is a denial of truth written with the blood of martyrs; for the latter it is an affirmation of truth consequential on dialogue with other world religions. Already we can begin to see that finding grounds for hope of Philippians 2:2 being fulfilled in the Anglican Communion may ultimately be elusive!

Yet it can also be observed that there is much to be lost by thinking we are justified in being party to the Communion fracturing. A first consideration is the question whether there is such difference that warrants a parting of the ways. Speaking personally, I have noticed over the years some considerable difference in theology between myself and brothers and sisters in Christ who otherwise inhabit the world of ‘conservative evangelicalism’, yet I have not broken fellowship with them. Sorely tempted though I may be in this present crisis, have I grounds for walking apart? A second consideration is the question what would be achieved in respect of (a) ‘ordinary parishioners’ and (b) ‘census Anglicans’? Someone recently observed to me that the current battles are largely between the ‘elites’ in our church! It is possible that the consciences of theologically-sensitized leaders will be salved by separation but the thinking of ‘ordinary parishioners’ become confused. Further, do we not run the risk that many ‘census Anglicans’ will be even less motivated to become active Anglicans, convinced that a church divided over sex is completely out of touch with society? A third consideration concerns whether there would be unity in any one part of a divided Communion? Let’s put this another way: having framed description of difference in the Communion in terms of two competing movements, as we have done here, there is a certain attraction in thinking of two new dynamic entities arising from the ashes of the old Communion, each fervently proclaiming the gospel of Christ, albeit with different content. This might not be a disaster … we could reasonably hope! But the fact is that, at least on the day of writing these words, there are grounds for believing that the Communion will not be neatly divided but fractured into several parts, if not splintered into many pieces!

In the end, taking a cue from a recent piece of Archbishop Peter Jensen’s thinking, we may find that the – inevitable – compromise is that the Anglican Communion can no longer be a Communion in the sense of one people gathered round one table with one mind but will develop different arrangements. Might we become an Anglican Community of Communions, a set of Anglican tables around each of which people of one mind unite, with the common mind of this Community based on shared appreciation for our heritage and not on shared approach to Scripture and theology?