Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Where there is a will, there is a way

News from England of an historic deal which paves the way for women bishops in the C of E seems to overlook the 'Down Under' source of the paving! The idea that the church might not divide over women bishops because those who wish access to a male bishop will be able to do so originated in the recent Australian Anglican bishops' decision to accept women bishops providing each diocese with a female bishop also had a male bishop. Not to worry: we in the colonies are nothing if not humble!!

The relevance of this news to ACANZP is that we are reminded that on a good day, Anglicans can muster the will to find the way to honour diverse theological integrities. Much as I personally am unconvinced by arguments against women becoming presbyters and bishops, there is theological integrity to some such arguments.* The deals in Australia and in England (though still subject to the agreement of its General Synod) is recognition of that integrity. Whether differences within our church over the ordination of women are of such magnitude that we should seek a similar deal to the C of E is a matter for reflection - our history on the matter is different to Australia and England. But the issue in our church on which, at some point, we will need to muster the will to find a way forward, concerns homosexuality: currently we are in a limbo land. The potential in 2009 is for schismatic cracks elsewhere in the Communion to confront our church with a 'choose this day' scenario re international allegiances which concomitantly wrenches us out of limbo on homosexuality.

*By 'integrity' I mean arguments that incorporate Scripture, reason, and tradition coherently and are properly grounded in Anglican theological presuppositions, whether of an anglo-catholic or evangelical kind; by 'some' I do mean to imply that while some arguments have theological integrity, there are other arguments against women becoming presbyters and bishops which lack integrity, e.g. those which are a thin cover for the preservation of male power, and those which begin with a dodgy understanding of subordination within the Godhead ... the latter running the particularly grave risk of renewing the power of Arianism in the church.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Announcing the Formation of the Anglican Bridge Communion

Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times, but writing in the Guardian (hat-tip to Thinking Anglicans), has a brilliantly written analysis of the recent history of the Anglican Communion, channelled into a scary prophecy that 2009 is the year of the great bust up (or 'schism' in ecclesially correct language).

But he seems to envisage just two Anglican Communions by the end of 2009, more or less a 'liberal' one and a 'conservative' one, except the Archbishop of Canterbury will be leading the former and Nigeria will be dominant in the leadership of the latter. On the face of it people like me are going to be very unhappy, should Paul turn out to be Jeremiah, that is people who would like to be in a conservative Communion but with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the helm (naming just a couple of matters from the reality of quite a few other issues about forging the character of the ideal Anglican Communion in the face of intense internal conflict). One of those issues, incidentally, is the distinct possibility that neither Communion would be talking to the other in 2010.

So, I am getting in on the act quickly, before the Year of the Great Bust Up even begins:

I announce the formation of the Anglican Bridge Communion (ABC), with the Archbishop of Canterbury as patron, primate inter pares, and pastor-in-chief - a Communion geared for Anglicans unhappy about a binary schism, who want to be sure their Communion will be in respectful conversation with all other Anglican Communions, yet do not accept the dominant theological tendencies of TEC and ACCan should hold sway in any global Anglican Communion. The ABC's formal motto will be 'Ut Unum Sint'; it's informal motto will be, 'Schism and heresy are both bad boys'. The ABC will only begin formally if the Great Bust Up takes place, and it will only exist for as long as necessary.

Happy New Year!

Final Thoughts towards Anglican of the Year 2008

Various bishops have sprung to mind, with the Bishop of Rochester impressing lately. (They say first impressions count, but an exception is 'of the Year' competitions when late impressions make a considerable impact). An exceptional priest in Oregon was proposed by one commenter. I also noted a lay woman in the Diocese of Tennessee who wrote a wonderful letter explaining why after some 70 years in TEC she is leaving. I thought the Queen, possibly in her last years as Supreme Governor (noting gathering debate in the C of E/English press and parliament re disestablishment), made an excellent 'Christ commending' Christmas Message. Any final suggestions from readers?

Monday, December 29, 2008

The argument that dare not speak its name

It used to be that homosexuality was 'the love that dared not speak its name' but those days seem far distant when we see the kind of excoriation heaped on Barack Obama and Rick Warren because the former invited the latter to lead the inauguration prayer scheduled for late January 2009. The latter being publicly associated with California's Proposition 8 campaign and therefore, by today's standard's of vilification is 'anti-gay'. Almost simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking up for marriage and against 'gender theory', has also been excoriated for anti-gayness. (No official text of his address to the Curia has been released as far as I know). Giles Fraser, a very smart vicar and writer of no mean ability, tackles Pope Benedict here.

I find this line of Gilesian thinking makes me think again about the Bible and homosexuality:

"This is the great obsession of much of the early history of the people of Israel. From this perspective, fertile women are politically valuable, and infertile women, homosexuals and eunuchs considered almost traitorous. Thus, for instance, the rather bizarre stuff you get in Deuteronomy that "no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord".

But there's a twist here. For when it comes to the book of Isaiah, Jesus's favourite book of the Hebrew scriptures, this more enlightened biblical author realises that the obsession with children has warped the moral values of his culture. In direct opposition to the theology of Deuteronomy, Isaiah writes that "to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name that is better than sons and daughters". Note: better than sons and daughters. And what is true for eunuchs is true, by direct analogy, for people who are gay. Inclusion is not a piece of trendy modern theory. It is a biblical imperative.

Those who take the Bible as if it were a reference book cannot mentally accommodate the idea that the story being told is about the developing consciousness of the people of Israel, of how they got it wrong and how they are led to a new understanding by God. For Christians especially this new understanding is that God is there for all; that, as St Paul is very keen to insist, you don't even need to be a Jew for God to be there for you. Which returns us to the message of the angel: that Christ is good news to all. This is the ultimate communication of religious inclusion."

I note, however, that Paul on human sexuality (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 5-7) does not seem to be unduly driven by negativity about infertile sexual behaviour.

Giles Fraser goes on to make this very interesting observation about evangelicals and gender theory:

"The broader theme of the pope's address concerns gender theory. His idea is that trendy philosophy has obscured the distinctiveness of male and female, which ought to be regarded as rooted in the order of creation. As it happens, evangelical Christians are often incredibly suspicious of this sort of line. They are afraid that it endorses the argument that, because homosexuality is actually prevalent in nature, and because people seem to be "born gay", natural law ethics could be won round to regard homosexuality as natural and thus good.

In light of this, conservative evangelicals have begun to take an interest in precisely the sort of gender theory that the pope excoriates. It seems bizarre to me that evangelicals have started to read postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault with approval, but what they argue is that because our sexual inclinations are not stubbornly rooted in nature, they are more plastic and thus they are capable of being changed. In this way they can argue that gay people are not gay because of intransigent nature but because of wilful disobedience. Foucault would turn in his grave."

I think Giles Fraser makes a fair point here, and misses a fair point too! Its a fair point that homosexuality is embedded in nature in (at least) the sense that some men and some women cannot find in reflection on their past or present any sense of meaningful desire for the opposite sex. For such people homosexuality is experienced as their 'natural' condition and is neither a 'chosen' condition nor a humanly 'imposed' condition (e.g. through sexual abuse). For evangelicals, and the Pope this means (at least) the need for great care in the use of language concerning 'nature/natural', and 'order of creation' ... greater care, arguably, than the Pope took, but we must await official publication of his talk before making definitive judgement. But I think Fraser misses a fair point - a point I presume Pope Benedict was making - namely that there is talk around gender ('gender theory') which is neutral about preference where preference is possible. A bisexual woman (for example) is under no particular compulsion to constrain desire towards a man: yet the 'order of creation' within the Bible is not neutral about the constraint of desire. Christians working from a base in the Bible are reasonable in saying of a bisexual person, 'you appear to have a choice; this is the direction you should choose.' Fraser rightly draws attention to evangelicals foolishly questing to make the case that some people have choices about their sexual preference when they do not. But I wonder whether Fraser would counsel someone who did have a choice to fall in line with 'the order of creation' in the Bible?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Advantage, Christianity

One of the best things about a blog powered by (due acknowledgement coming up) Google's software is the "My Bloglist" on the right-hand side of the blog. At a glance I can see if any of my favourite blogistas have made a new posting. This morning, waking up Down Under to a perfect summer's day, two brilliant columns appear from the far side of the world. In one John Richardson, joining an ongoing, bubbling debate about the disestablishment of the Church of England, shares the luminous wisdom of T. S. Eliot. In the other, noted by Bishop Alan's Blog, and long enough for just a taster to be given here, Matthew Parris, Times columnist and confirmed atheist, gives as near perfect an apologia for 'the difference Jesus makes' as any Christian could! In tennis parlance (the Australian Open is not far away), 'Advantage, Christianity'!

John Richardson, The Ugley Vicar:

Why now would be a very bad time for disestablishment

The disestablishment of the Church of England makes very good theological sense. At the same time, I firmly believe that now would be a very bad time for it, since those who advocate it the loudest do so, I suspect, not for the effect it would have on the Church of England but for the effect it would have on our society. And what they intend, I'm sure, would would be very bad:

"It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have —until recently — been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche [both unbelievers]. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. ... If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it."

(T S Eliot, ‘Notes Towards the Definition of Culture’, 1948, in Christianity and Culture, p200)

Matthew Parris, As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

... Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing. ...

Parris ends his column in this striking set of paragraphs:

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thought for Boxing Day

The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God – from the time of Adam – saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now – this God who has become a child says to us – you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.

From The Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the 2008 Christmas Midnight Mass (Hat-tip to Titus One Nine)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Message

The great question of Christmas is, 'Who is God?' The post below this reminds us that the answer to this question is hotly contested, even within the church. May this Christmas bring true enlightenment to the people who claim to know who God is!

Merry Christmas!!!!!!!!

Here's to you Bishop Robinson, you speak more truth than you perhaps know

(With Hat-tip to Titus One Nine and the commenters there who draw attention to the last sentence below)

“I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” Bishop Robinson said, “but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rochester in late run for Anglican of the Year

Ruth Gledhill must be on top of her Christmas preparation as she has taken time to post this lovely interview with +Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester. A taster below, read it all here:

"Q (Laughs). You’ve been labelled over the years a conservative Evangelical – I don’t know whether you approve of that or not. But your belief is in living a ‘biblical’ life.
A Yes, I call myself a Catholic Evangelical, because Evangelical means someone who’s loyal to the Gospel. That is what it means, and I hope I am – at least I try to be. And Catholic means someone who believes in the Church, and I try to.

Q So that we have a, a core of your belief – the core beliefs of the creed. I mean the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Christ, er the resurrection of the body, life after death, life everlasting – an interventionist God, is that right?
A I think the Bible gives us a framework for believing and knowing. That is not this text or that, but it gives us what I call er, a comprehensive anthropology, a way of understanding the human condition and the world in which we find ourselves. Now of course, that understanding and that framework has to be brought into relation to the world in which we live, to knowledge, and indeed to new knowledge. And if you believe in the biblical world view that doesn’t excuse you from relating to change in the world.

Q How does the biblical tradition interpret homosexuality then? Because there’s certainly a great deal of evidence recently of the nature of sexuality and er homosexual bonds and many theories about it of course. But you are rather rigorously disapproving – am I right?
A Mm, I’m not disapproving of anything. I g…I, again, I would go back to the anthropology of the Bible, which is that human beings have been made in God’s image. But being in God’s image also has implications for how we behave. And er, we have all sorts of inclinations for all sorts of reasons. Nevertheless, practising giving as it were, in to our inclinations er is not always according to God’s purpose or for human flourishing, or indeed for social flourishing.

Q And in that sense in biblical terms, homosexuals are not eligible for revocation to the priesthood?
A It’s not to do with who people think they are, or their inclinations, but what their behaviour should be. And that is also true of heterosexual people of course, that the Church demands the highest standards of belief, but of behaviour, from people and yes there are certain requirements for ordination for example.

Q Let’s talk about GAFCON, which is the Global Anglican Futures Conference. You took part in it. Is this an insurrection within the Anglican communion?
A No not at all – I mean I, I wasn’t there for the whole of it - I could only go for three days. I did discover a tremendous spiritual atmosphere. That was partly because it was in Jerusalem, of course, and that creates its own sort of evocativeness. But I found people who were from an Anglican Catholic background, charismatics em, Evangelicals, from all over the world – Africa, America, Asia, Australia and from this country – all with a sort of singleness of purpose, which I wish sometimes we could say about the whole of the Church.

Q And what was that single purpose?
A To reaffirm traditional, Christian belief as the Anglican Church had received it."

Nobody is perfect; I notice +Michael fails to mention New Zealand!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

GAFCON, Lambeth and the North American Province in retrospect

In life there are margins of tolerance. One chocolate will not cause obesity. A politician can survive a couple of faux-pas. A well-built house can survive a strong wind or a small earthquake. But life always involves consequences when margins of tolerance are exceeded. An earthquake over 8 on the Richter scale will topple even the strongest of buildings. In 2003 the election, confirmation and consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and, to a lesser extent, the promulgation of the blessing of same sex partnerships in the Diocese of new Westminster exceeded margins of tolerance in the Anglican Communion. Five years later we have seen the consequences in three significant developments.

GAFCON in June was, on reflection, a singular achievement: an agreed theological statement was produced by a large group of quite diverse Anglicans gathered in one place. The contrast with Lambeth in July could not be greater: the bishops of the Communion gathered in one place could not - even without certain conservative bishops present - even conceive of attempting to come to an agreed conclusion to their deliberations. The consequence from 2003 is that the Anglican Communion as a whole is no longer a communion in the Christian sense of that word, a union of people bound by common truth; at best it can muster a reasonably large communion (i.e. GAFCON) from within its ranks, and a smaller communion (i.e. TEC and its supporters). But, as a world communion it is finished unless TEC and GAFCON reach a compromise. But precisely at this point of wondering when such a compromise might be reached the third development of the year answers our question: the new North American Province demonstrates both that no effort is being made to reach a compromise and that the limits to diversity within TEC were breached in 2003. The only practical way to contain the diversity in North American Anglicanism/Episcopalianism is for two provinces to exist side by side (in each of Canada and the USA).

It is time for the Anglican Communion Instruments of Unity to wake up to the reality of the situation and to stop all wishful thinking that the situation might be otherwise. Let 2009 be the Anglican Year of Reality with the goal of changing our self-identification from 'Communion' to 'Federation'!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some further notes on Anglican evangelical identity

I begin with my thoughts, but feel free to skip those to get to the last part of the post where William Abraham has an interesting observation!

Perhaps we would make more progress if we recognised and delineated different forms of evangelicalism in our midst, and addressed how these differences affect the very process of trying to find some common ‘core’ or ‘centre’ around which we (might, hopefully will) unite.

Consider, for example, ‘Reformed evangelicalism’ (represented today in the Diocese of Sydney, in the Reform movement in England, and in the Church of England in South Africa) which not only draws on the Reformation (obviously) but leans heavily towards the theological commitments in the Reformation which led to the formation of ‘Reformed’ churches, distinguished on the European continent from Lutheran churches, and represented in Great Britain in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and in the Puritan wing of the Church of England. Reformed evangelicalism is one form of conservative evangelicalism, but I do not think it is the only form of it. Another form of it sits more comfortably with Hooker’s critique of Puritanism, and with the historical development of Anglicanism which has re-embraced its Catholic (or, if you prefer, ‘catholic’ with a small ‘c’) heritage (that is, a re-formed-Catholic heritage). I am not sure if there is any particular label already applied to this form of evangelicalism (here I will call it Hookerian evangelicalism)*, but it is an important form since when we find dispute within the ranks of conservative evangelicals then the dispute is often between these two forms, probably to the bewilderment of participants who have not thought much about the significance of these differences. Another dispute within these ranks can arise between conservative evangelicals open to charismatic theology and practice and those critical of such theology and practice (here Hookerian evangelicals and Reformed evangelicals often find common cause).

Now, we can extend this line of thinking to name various other forms of Anglican evangelicalism and describe their points of difference. Causa brevitatis I will simply make an observation about Reformed and Hookerian evangelicalism (RE and HE respectively) – an observation, incidentally, which I am attempting to make as far as possible without endorsing who is right and who is wrong, because here I am interested in clarity (if possible) in understanding the road-blocks on the way to Anglican evangelical unity. Both forms of evangelicalism would emphasise their commitment to the authority of Scripture but in the context of the Anglican church, that is, current Anglican life historically grounded in the Reformation, RE understands the authority of Scripture (IMHO) in a way significantly different to HE. For RE ‘the authority of Scripture’ is a (or, the) supreme theological value so that everything is subject to critique by Scripture, including everything in the Anglican church. Effectively, nothing is sacred and nothing is immutable in the RE view of life, except for Scripture, its reading and its proclamation. The outstanding 2008 expression of this approach is the Diocese of Sydney agreeing to a resolution that means deacons may preside at the eucharist: Anglican orders, in the light of Scripture, are not immutable. By contrast HE understands the authority of Scripture in the historical context of the Anglican church: some matters of order and practice are immutable, their coherence with Scripture having been settled in the past. Clearly HE can be subject to sharp criticism from RE since HE decides on a case by case basis which matters are settled and which are not. “How come,” RE can say to HE, “priestly presidency is an immutable matter, but male priesthood is not”; for HE by and large has accepted female priests. Yet RE is not beyond criticism by HE: “How come RE wishes to remain Anglican while holding so few Anglican distinctives as immutable?” Not only is this significant difference, but it can be played up into a larger difference than it actually is, characterised in terms that appear to have a chasm between them: “Scripture” versus “Anglican”.

The reality is that both RE and HE are Scriptural and Anglican but the key to mutuality is understanding the special way in which RE is Anglican (through understanding that part of the English Reformation into which it is rooted and its deliberate distance from aspects of subsequent historical development of the Anglican church) and the special way in which HE is Scriptural (through understanding that changes it endorses (such as women’s ordination) are based on Scripture, and recognition that HE deliberately refrains from new Scriptural critique of various Anglican matters, on the basis that these are already established as coherent with Scripture.

All of which is to say, there is no substitute in any part of Anglicanism for respectful conversation: patiently exploring each other’s presuppositions, lovingly appreciating each other’s perspectives, carefully making proposals, and courageously receiving responses to those proposals.

[*'Hookerian evangelicalism' may seem a strange term, but we need something other than 'conservative evangelicalism' since, relative to Reformed evangelicalism, that term is imprecise, since RE is a form of conservative evangelicalism. 'Classical evangelicalism' is inappropriate since the current debate, in part, is a debate about whether RE or another is the true heir today to classical evangelicalism from the past; ditto 'mainstream evangelicalism'. A tempting contrast is 'Fulcrum or centrist or open evangelicalism', but Fulcrum in relation to its website is an interesting amalgam of conservative evangelicals, liberal evangelicals, open evangelicals, etc; 'centrist' in this context is much controverted, and 'open' appears to include evangelicals who can scarcely be described as 'conservative'].

William Abraham, in an essay 'Canonical Theism and Evangelicalism' in Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church (Eerdmans, 2008), after recalling the distinctive differences between the likes of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, and Henry notes:

"evangelicalism is marked by an inner contrast and rivalry to bring to birth the heart of the Christian faith theologically and spiritually. Within the one family, the members have their own way of articulating its treasures and resources. This accounts for the internal tensions, the polemical edge, and the genuine differences of tone, practice, and content that are visible to the serious student."


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The True [Anglican] / [Episcopalian] Communion in the USA

I had the pleasure of meeting Jordan Hylden at a conference last year on the Anglican Covenant. He is a very bright young man and, I think, very wise. He's written quite a few essays for First Things (a generally Catholic site). Here's a taster from his latest - it's worth reading the whole lot to get a wide 'perspective' on Anglican // Episcopalian developments in the USA:

"Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations—to be genuinely Episcopalian, they believe, means to be in fellowship with the Anglican communion, and to be authentically Anglican is to be part of a global communion of catholic Christians united by creedal orthodoxy and a commitment to read Scripture, pray, and worship together in the historic Anglican tradition. But although this sounds wonderful in theory, it is simply not what has happened, by and large, in the American context. Because of what’s taken place over the past five years, Episcopalian is now understood to be a term set in opposition to Anglican, and Anglican refers not to a global catholic communion but rather to an American-African evangelical phenomenon. Whether we think the words ought to bear these meanings is not the point—my point is that this is what the words actually do mean, in newspapers and conversations and pulpits across the country.

Take, for instance, the widely publicized formation just this month of a new conservative Anglican province—the so-called Anglican Church in North America, with Robert Duncan as its new archbishop and primate. By taking the name Anglican for themselves, the clear implication is that the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church are not in fact authentically Anglican, since they need to be completely replaced. In this, they are only following the practice of previous breakaway groups, such as the Nigerian-based CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) and the Rwandan-based AMiA (Anglican Mission in America). The commonplace notion that Anglican means “not Episcopalian” is no coincidence; this is precisely the conclusion that the average church-going American would reasonably draw from following the news.

Moreover, the vision of Anglicanism here in play clearly gives very little weight to catholic order and global communion. The new Anglican church was created, as it were, by fiat— Duncan’s forthcoming elevation as archbishop, and the new group’s status as an Anglican province, are thus far only self-declared realities. And although Duncan’s group and his supporters have asked for approval from the global Anglican instruments of communion, they have also made it clear that they do not consider such approval to be necessary. Duncan and his allies enjoy the support of five evangelical Anglican primates, mostly African and all associated with the confessional GAFCON movement. This is, forthrightly, all the approval that the new church supposes itself to need; apart from this, Duncan’s group considers itself authorized to go it on its own. If ordinary Americans are expected to suppose that Anglican means something other than a conservative evangelical movement with liturgy and bishops, it cannot be from reading the daily headlines.

Episcopalians, for their part, genuinely do see themselves first and foremost as an autonomous, liberal American denomination. Their election of Gene Robinson as the church’s first openly gay bishop, of course, along with their practice (in many dioceses) of liturgically blessing same-sex unions, has led to a great deal of turmoil. But despite being asked many times by the Anglican instruments of communion to reverse course for the sake of Anglican unity, Episcopalians show little sign of doing so. By and large, Episcopalians like Bishop Robinson; as one friend of mine remarked, the thing about Robinson isn’t that he’s theologically unique as an Episcopalian, it’s that he’s so typical. Most Episcopalians are very content with their church’s position on homosexuality, as well as with the church’s general doctrinal haziness; such things are not about to change anytime soon. Even though holding to such positions may well mean walking apart from other Anglicans, the majority of the church views this as an unfortunate but acceptable necessity. In short, it seems clear that for most Episcopalians, the core of their identity lies elsewhere than their status as Anglicans.

All in all, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the commonplace definitions of Anglican and Episcopalian in the American public lexicon have their roots not simply in confusion or misunderstanding, but in what has actually happened on the ground. Many may view these realities as unfortunate, but that does not change the fact that they have indeed become realities. If these words are to change in their popular meaning, they will have to change also in fact. And to do so will mean fighting an uphill battle against the forces that have given them their current definitions."

FOOTNOTE: Damian Thompson in his Daily Telegraph blog has also sighted and responded to Jordan Hylden's article. Among his comments are these, with a memorable image at the end!

"Conservative Anglicans in America are busy building an autonomous province, the Anglican Church in North America, headed by the Most Rev Robert Duncan, who was until recently Bishop of Pittsburgh and is a completely kosher (as it were) Anglican bishop within the jurisdiction of the Province of the Southern Cone. Whether he will be an authentic archbishop of a new province is doubtful, shall we say - but, then, whether The Episcopal Church (TEC) can remain part of the Anglican Communion is also doubtful. Don't be fooled by those fancy chasubles: in many respects it's already an independent, DIY denomination whose modus operandi is closer in style to that of Unitarian Universalism than to apostolic Catholic/Orthodox Christianity.

What we're witnessing, in other words, is a multi-vehicle pile-up on the Anglican freeway. So much for the breathing space that Rowan is supposed to have created at his triumphant Lambeth Conference."

The freeway image could be taken in another way: ++Rowan has created the opportunity for the road to fork so that no crash occurs ... and the question is whether both roads are included in the Anglican roading system, or just one of them! But I like Damian Thompson's description of TEC: "in many respects it's already an independent, DIY denomination whose modus operandi is closer in style to that of Unitarian Universalism than to apostolic Catholic/Orthodox Christianity". Spot on!

Williams' Wisdom

The story of ++Rowan being interviewed by the New Statesman is doing the rounds. Intriguing what kind of news mountain can be made out of a molehill of a comment. Always best to read the whole interview - a taste of which is here, reminding us that, above all else ++Rowan is a wise man:

"If the Archbishop is exercised about social and political issues, he is relaxed about the wave of fashionably atheistic books from writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that have become bestsellers. The Archbishop, who was in New York on 11 September 2001, and got caught up in its horrors (at one point, in an incident he did not publicise, becoming trapped in the stairwell of a building he was meant to be speaking in), partly attributes this latest trend to the events of that day.

'Dawkins certainly wrote a very sharply worded piece immediately after 9/11, and I think he's still in some way trading on that capital. People say that the public needs mythical figures in every generation - the famous atheist, the loony bishop, the womanising politician. Well, Richard Dawkins has gleefully stepped into the role of famous atheist, and does it with tremendous panache.'

However, he is inclined to agree with those Christians concerned about a wave of 'secular fundamentalism' spreading across western Europe. 'There's a very wide assumption among commentators that the secular position is obvious, the default setting of the human mind. I'm very wary of any philosophy that says, 'The default setting is clear, and if you don't find it you're slightly odd', like in the Soviet Union, where if you disagreed with the system, then you were off to a psychiatric hospital.

'We're not there, but there is this little edge sometimes that says, 'This is the natural human position and if you don't hold this position then we've got a problem with you.' It systematically ignores the constructive role of religion in art, politics, imagination. I would say to myself and other believers, don't panic about the rise of these things. Engage, as sensibly and carefully as you can, until the argument is made.' "

This keeps the ABC in the running for Anglican of the Year (as judged by this blog). But I thank a commenter recently who presented the name of a good keen man in the States; and I think the woman writing to the Bishop of Tennessee (see post below) are worthy names on the shortlist ... which can be added to by you!

Friday, December 19, 2008

What should evangelicals believe and how should we relate to one another?

Catalysed by a series of columns on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' site, an interesting series of discussion threads have burst into life concerning what evangelicals believe, despite the busyness of the pre-Christmas season: here, here, and there (that I am aware of).

Its always interesting as an evangelical Anglican to follow these kinds of threads. Constructively the debates can remind us of what the key characteristics of evangelical belief are. But the debates can also alert us to some characteristics of evangelicals which are unhelpful.

Why, for example, are some of us so keen to (a) define who we are, and (b) define those who are not true evangelicals? Some sense of definition is important for any group of people but when the process of definition leads to, or fosters a spirit of division, is that a useful process? When our definition of evangelical belief leads to a side-lining of the Alpha Course, or declaring the Archbishop of Canterbury to be a false teacher, have we contributed constructively to the church and its role in the mission of God? Do we understand the nature of power within group dynamics: in particular the way a rigorous, closed definition of the group's beliefs leads to intimidation of members of the group who no longer feel able to raise legitimate questions and issues for fear of being cast out?

The picture I get from some of these discussion threads is this: I go to an evangelical party. First I meet Bob and Bill who immediately tell us that they cannot understand why James and Gerry are at the party, because James is soft on homosexuality and Gerry says the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is no longer central to evangelical theology. When I drift across the room and talk with James and Gerry they tell me that its a pity Bob and Bill are at the party because it surely represents a sign that they want to take over the key roles in the organising committee for future events, which would be a great pity because they are very conservative evangelicals and only about 30% of those present would be invited to the next party, and none of those would be the women present tonight. I note that James and Gerry drop their voices when speaking to me about this. Why, I wonder? After a few other conversations like this I compare notes with a friend as we leave ... and agree that its a pretty strange group of people who want to party together while distrusting and disputing with each other.

But there is an alternative picture of what an evangelical party could be like! On entering the party my friend and I are warmly welcomed and one person takes us around the whole group and makes a point of introducing us to each person present. The introductions go like this: 'This is James. He's one of the more interesting evangelicals here because he thinks a faithful, stable same-sex partnership is commensurate with Scripture. In fact he's probably the only evangelical here who believes that. ... Meet Gerry. Perhaps more than anyone here he makes us think about what Scripture is really saying about priority in evangelical belief. He's particularly well known for arguing that the centre of evangelical belief is not penal substitutionary atonement. ... Now, finally, say "hello" to Bill and Bob. They are notable for arguing a very conservative approach to evangelical belief. If you want to learn some theology in a hurry, eavesdrop on one of their debates with Gerry and James. They are the best of friends despite their sharp disagreement on some points of theology.' With these introductions I realise that here is a party which expresses one of the great characteristics of the New Testament: unity-in-diversity. In fact my conversations through the evening move me profoundly as I recognise the deep love each evangelical has for the other, a strong loyalty to the group which is also worked out in dynamic support from one individual member to another, and a determined willingness to work out differences of viewpoint for the greater good not just of the party, but also of the whole world.

At this point I am talking about the possibility for better relationships among evangelicals as a broad community of people have some points of common theological conviction while also having points of theological difference. I recognise that certain 'working' relationships are harder to conform to my second picture. It would be difficult, for example, to have Bob, Bill, Gerry and James on the same parish staff team.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Episcopal Epiphany

As a follow up to the post below, Ephraim's Epiphany, I reproduce a letter published on Stand Firm. It speaks for itself. (Note: Tennessee and its bishop is described as a Windsor diocese and bishop ... so somewhere in range of sympathy with Ephraim Radner and the Anglican Communion Institute, not particularly in sympathy with the New American Province, and not necessarily agreeing with PB Schori and co).

The Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt
Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee
50 Vantage Way, Suite 107
Nashville, TN 37228

Dear Bishop Bauerschmidt,

My name is Juanita Barry and I am from the area near Sewanee called the Midway community. I was baptized in 1935 as a new Christian at a mission station of the Diocese of Tennessee which became St. James Mission Church in 1957. As a young girl the message of the Gospels was set forth to us by some of the best minds of the Church. The Rev. Haskell DuBose, son of The Rev. William DuBose, was the founder of this mission and named it Summit Mission in 1935. DuBose was assisted by energetic students from the School of Theology such as George M. Alexander, later Bishop of Upper South Carolina, and many, many others. The "theologs" taught us Sunday School, arranged for the Eucharist to be celebrated, taught us altar guild ministry, constructed a movable altar, played softball, had "box suppers" to raise money for a church, and served as models of Christian life as we met for services in the school house on Sundays. The Bishops of Tennessee sent forth into this mission field many who became leaders in the Episcopal Church. The Very Rev. David Collins, The Rt. Rev. Alex Dickson, The Rt. Rev. C. Fitzsimmons Allison are still among those living and contributing in retirement to the ongoing work of the Church. They and many others at different times preached and celebrated the Eucharist for this fledgling mission. The Very Rev. Fleming James was our preacher at times when he was Dean of the School of Theology and thrilled us with his wonderful accounts of his trip to the Holy Land. He had been appointed to work on the Revised Version of the Bible published in 1951. We have been richly endowed with these and many, many others.

I am a founding member of St. James Mission and was among the group of laypeople who petitioned for the admission of St. James as a full-fledged mission. I note that very few are left at St. James who signed that charter which was accepted by the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee in January of 1958. My years at St. James were filled with going to church with my husband and our four children and their coming to Christ in baptism and confirmation. My husband and I were members who did all we could to support the growth of St. James. Throughout the years we served as mission council members serving many times as senior warden, junior warden, treasurer, altar guild director, and as delegates to the conventions of the diocese. I was blessed with the honor of being a delegate to convention during your recent election as Bishop of Tennessee.

In 2003 the Episcopal Church began actions at General Convention that I found alarming. I then undertook the task of informing myself by reading, studying, following the various media outlets, networking with other orthodox Episcopalians, and attending Bible studies that solidly reaffirmed the Gospel message in the Anglican tradition. As you suggested, I attended forums on Communion Matters. In 2006 nothing changed at General Convention. Since then there has been more denial and betrayal of the 2000-year-old Gospel as practiced in the Anglican tradition in the Episcopal Church of the United States. These innovations include questioning the uniqueness of Christ and the continuing undermining of the authority of the Scriptures. As a result the Episcopal Church has elevated man above God in a gospel of social reform and humanism and established a new religion. The world wide Lambeth Conference of 2008 did nothing to discipline The Episcopal Church. Indeed, the prevailing opinion from Canterbury is not to discipline The Episcopal Church, and by default to bless these new actions that are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

As I continued to inform myself, the facts that were, for me, hazy to say the least, became focused. Many laypeople delude themselves into thinking that the innovations in The Episcopal Church do not affect the local work of the church. This congregationalism is not part of the “polity” of The Episcopal Church. What happens in New Hampshire or in California does affect the mission of the church in the Diocese of Tennessee, even when we designate ourselves as a “Windsor Diocese.”

I have come to see that the prevailing mindset of the majority of Bishops and Deputies to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is to agree with the new religion. The canons have been misapplied in order in order to advance the agenda of the new religion. Many laypeople are uninformed while others are struggling to understand these "changes". We have been remiss in not asking what these changes are and standing up and fighting these destructive changes. We will repent of these sins of omission for the rest of our lives and answer for them as we are eventually judged in God's time.
The years from 2003 until 2008 were filled for me at first with alarm and then with grief. As I have already stated, I have studied and prayed for guidance. Finally, after 73 years at St. James, as of August 31, 2008 I made the very difficult decision to leave the Episcopal Church. Therefore, by this letter I request that my name be removed from the membership rolls of St. James Mission Church, and that my letter of membership be sent to Christ the King Anglican Church, P.O. Box 296, 1211 Dinah Shore Boulevard, Winchester, TN 37398. Christ the King Anglican Church (CANA) has given me refuge to heal and grow in God's grace in the beloved Anglican tradition in the hope of the Jerusalem Declaration of 2008.

My prayers are always for the people of St. James, the Diocese of Tennessee, and the Episcopal Church for God has given me so much and taught me how to truly love in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour. In His love and peace I hold all of you. Recalling the words of my childhood baptismal and confirmation vows, may His love guide us in this very real battle against the world, the devil and the flesh.

Peace in Jesus Christ,

Juanita Barry

818 Old C.C.C. Rd.
Sewanee, TN 37375

Copy to: St. James Episcopal Church
The Rev. Linda Hutton
P.O. Box 336
Sewanee, TN 37375

Ephraim's Epiphany: life is complicated!

Ephraim Radner has written an insightful piece entitled 'What I have learned these past five years: reflections in Advent 2008'.

Here is a taster:

"How does one navigate this time as an Anglican Christian? I have a number of friends and colleagues who have decided simply that it is not possible to do so. For various reasons, they have left Anglicanism altogether – becoming Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (less common), non-denominational evangelical Christians (often) or finally (most frequently) “church drop-outs” altogether. A common theme among these persons has been a sense of exhaustion and spiritual depletion, even as they have discerned elements of doctrine and ecclesial life that they believe, in different ways, are best embodied in other Christian traditions. The ache of inner ailment has stirred up a theological ferment whose outcome has opened up the press for a new direction altogether.

Some of these friends wonder when the same will happen for me. “You cannot keep it up”, they suggest, noting that the efforts expended in working for Anglicanism’s integral witness in the face of its internal and external weaknesses and conflicts have not garnered renewing results. There have been moments, to be sure, when I have wondered this myself. Yet, in fact, I have grown less and not more anxious over the past year or so; more, and not less hopeful in the usefulness of this work; less, and not more impatient over its eventual fruit. This change has happened, not without pain to be sure; but precisely through the continuing process of seeing some things afresh, of letting go of ill-founded assumptions, of being wrenched from selfishness.

What, then, have I learned? A good bit of it falls within the scope of traditional Advent concerns – attentiveness, penitence, hope, eagerness, waiting, and finally receiving from God."

But the words which I like best were these (with one sentence emboldened by me):

"Recognizing that one’s own way turns out not to be so obvious to lots of other people, even if you think you are faithful and knowledgeable, and sufficiently upstanding so as to be trusted, allows one to accept the even more obvious fact (often ignored in my own self-certainties) that we live, as Christians, in non-uniform communities. Big news!, one might respond. But it is news, when it comes to actual decision-making and comportment within the Church in times of struggle. One thing that conservatives have had to learn, just as much as liberals, is that their parishes, which they thought were all so “orthodox” (according, of course, to one’s own self-image), are made up of people whose views, virtues, and emotions are actually quite varied. One may well believe strongly that TEC’s decisions and discipline are deeply flawed and requiring of rejection and drastic reformation, without believing that the “right thing” is to engage in a fight with the local bishop. One may believe the opposite. Some people are “activists”, some people are steadfast servants in a place. There are manifold variations in how people understand “good strategy” or “demanded witness”. And, even more fundamentally, there are many people in churches of every sort, who in fact are in different places when it comes to interpreting the center of the Gospel and the Scripture’s application."

As in North America, so down under, in respect of the emboldened sentence int he above paragraph. Some of us down here would like a more decisive response to the general Anglican situation of this time in which toleration of TEC's stance on human sexuality continues. But the reality of a synodical church is that we vote on matters relating to the formal structure of our life. An 'orthodox' vicar in an 'orthodox' parish or an 'orthodox' bishop in an 'orthodox' diocese does not mean 100% support in the parish or the diocese for the apparently 'orthodox' strategy of response X or response Y which the leadership wishes to pursue. It is notable at this time, for example, that the secession of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is not the secession of the whole of the Diocese but the secession of a majority of the Diocese. However helpful and advantageous it is for that majority in Pittsburgh to have followed the path they have taken, it is a resolution which creates another problem, especially for the outsider: why are there two Anglican/Episcopalian dioceses of Pittsburgh, which one is better/truer than the other (better or truer by what measure?), would it be better to belong to neither and join another denomination? But, since those are questions for people in Pittsburgh inclined towards Anglicanism, the pressing issue for those of us far away is (say) this: if we pressed for a more decisive course of action than 'watching and waiting' would we find ourselves in a similar place of confusion for the mission of God?

But, to underline the messiness of it all, no matter which way one turns - the recognition of which lies at the core of Ephraim's Epiphany - the mission of God is also confused by 'watching and waiting' since that involves the presentation of a structurally united Anglican church bitterly divided in its theology of sexuality.

What is our most fervent prayer at this time? Maranatha or save us from ourselves?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Preliminary search for Anglican of the Year

Its been a big year for the Anglican Communion, what with GAFCON, Lambeth, and the new province. If one Anglican stands out from other Anglicans, head and shoulders above the rest, or stooping low in meekness and selfless humility, who might that be?

Obvious candidates are episcopal figures: Williams, Sentamu, Duncan, Jefferts Schori, Akinola, Jensen, and co. Even Desmond Tutu, ostensibly on the 'retired' list continues to contribute much.

But some keen and key influential figures have not been bishops (slight bias to internet contributors in what follows): Mark Harris, Kendal Harmon, and Graham Kings spring to mind. But the figures at the Anglican Communion Institute, Ephraim Radner, Christopher Seitz, and Philip Turner have also contributed, especially to the possibility - increasingly remote as it seems - that conservative Anglicans cannot not only safely sail in the good ship TEC, but even turn her course around! But this triumverate is well matched by three significant figures on the Stand Firm site, Matt Kennedy, Sarah Hey, and Greg Griffiths.

But one can always overestimate the power of the media, or of one medium within it. Perhaps the Anglican of the Year in 2008 should be someone less well known. Someone who exhibits in their ministry and mission quintessential Anglican qualities. It could be your home group leader or parish visitor. Or someone quite anonymous, one who follows our Lord's instructions in respect of secret prayer.

Any thoughts from readers?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Do Anglicans have to be muddled thinkers to be Anglican?

Its hard to know where to begin with this piece on salvation by the Dean of Perth (Down Under - most Western branch!!), John Shepherd, published in The Times of London (why there?). A starting point in response could be to ask about the standards of logic and content applied to what The Times sees fit to publish? But inevitably one questions standards of theology in churches not one's own and wonders about the diplomatic protocols of critiquing clerics in neighbouring countries!! Here is the heart of the piece:

"At least three things stand out. The first is that this salvation is experienced corporately, not individually. The Old Testament writers speak in terms of a community in which the presence of God could be experienced within a fellowship bound together by devotion to God. For the writers of the New Testament, Jesus was never to be thought of as a personal saviour, as though He were our personal toothbrush.

We are not saved individually, as though by some private act of divine indulgence. It is within the community that we can find forgiveness for the past, and hope for a way of beginning again.

Second, there is no evidence to suggest that what is required for salvation is an intellectual assent, a signing-off, which would effect a once-for-all change in us, whereby salvation is instantaneous, and we are passive recipients of its benefits.

It would be wrong to imagine that salvation occurs in a single act of religious fervour. The most usually quoted example of such an apparently swift transformation is Paul’s conversion. Yet, according to the account in Acts (ix, 1-19), it was not suddenly on the Damascus road, but only after the laying-on of hands by Ananias in the context of the care of the house of Judas, and after the scales had fallen from his eyes, and his sight was restored, that Paul was baptised, and his strength returned.

Salvation cannot be confined to one cataclysmic event; it requires engagement with a process in the context of a community — the Church. The transformation of human life that salvation suggests takes time, and needs to embrace many aspects of Christian insight and understanding.

Third, salvation is not about who is in or who is out — who are sheep or who are goats.

Can we really imagine the God of all creation, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, being fussed by the status of everyone’s individual belief? Salvation is concerned with the transformation of life. All life. Barriers to the flourishing of all human beings are to be overcome, whatever stage people are at in the awareness of this life-giving dynamic. What matters is that we have all been freed to be all there is in us to be. Otherwise Christ has died in vain."

Why 'corporately, not individually' and not 'corporately and individually'? Shepherd is quick to cite part of the Old Testament while overlooking Ezekiel 18 which discloses God's recognition that individuals are responsible for their own wrong-doing and not for that of their ancestors.

Does anyone who thinks of Jesus as their 'personal Saviour' think of him in terms commensurate with their 'personal toothbrush'? The latter concerns the toothbrush belonging to me and carrying my own germs which you probably do not want to share with me. The former concerns the Saviour who relates to me as one person to another. In that sense the New Testament writers most certainly understood Jesus to be their personal Saviour!

We can agree that salvation is not confined to one cataclysmic event, though personal life-changing encounters with the risen Lord Jesus have not been confined through the centuries to just Paul's Damascus Road experience. But salvation is about 'who is in or who is out'. At the least that is the implication of many of Jesus' parables, including the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.31-46. If salvation is not about who is in or who is out then its difficult to understand why anyone should bother to respond to the gospel, engage with the corporate life of the church, or sacrificially work to flourish the lives of others in the name of Christ. For, if salvation is not a question of who is in or who is out then either it is a question of everyone being out (i.e. the gospel hope of salvation is not true in any sense) or of everyone being in (i.e. the choices we make matter little in the eternal scheme of things because God will save everyone in the end).

More can be said; suffice to conclude for now that this is very muddled thinking by the Dean of Perth. Such thinking is neither new nor surprising in Anglican Land. I wonder if to be 'in' the Anglican church one needs to be a muddled thinker ... clear thinking belonging 'outside', to Baptists and Catholics!!!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The True Anglican Communion is here

No need to worry about new provinces, Communion or Federation, Anglican Covenant, the orthodoxy of Rowan Williams, the heresy of the Presiding Bishop, or any Anglican issue. Its all sorted in the True Anglican Communion!

Hat-tip to Bosco Peters

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why the Communion should accept the new North American Province

Close on the heels of the announcement of the formation of the new North American Anglican Province is the decisions of the Diocese of California to embed the blessing of same sex relationships into its statutes. Included in the announcement of policy around these decisions is this statement:

"The Prayer Book also provides an option for an alternative Rite. We recommend the supplemental Rite attached to this policy to be used for the blessing of all covenants whether between men and women or same-sex couples as a means of demonstrating our solidarity with our brothers and sisters currently denied the right of civil marriage, and as a means of having one Rite appropriate to all such Blessings." (page 3 of the document).

Here, surely, is the future of TEC following its General Convention in 2009: complete flexibility in respect of ceremonies, blurring distinction between marriage (man and woman) and a same sex partnership.

Viewed against the history of the universal church and its understanding of Scripture on marriage, this is a major change to core belief and practice of the church in respect of the fundamental relationship of human society.

Without deciding whether California is right or wrong on this matter, this is, I suggest, a difference in doctrine sufficient to warrant a clear distinction between those Anglican bishops, priests, and laity who wish to belong to an Anglican polity supporting California's policy, and those who wish to belong to an Anglican polity not supporting California's policy.

The Anglican Communion should get off its collective posterior and offer warm recognition to the new province. Our diversity as Anglicans warrants no less a response.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

World, panic, now!

Jonathan Porritt is a well-known British environmentalist. Naturally he appears on Anglican Down Under because his great-grandfather was once Vicar of Kaikoura in our Diocese!! But every blog site in the world should be concerned about the world and its future health. Posting in the Guardian Jonathan Porritt makes these observations in respect of a major conference coming up at Poznan:

"And that's the problem. A lot has been going on out there in the natural world since 2005. There is three years' worth of published peer-reviewed evidence, a lot of it from the frontline of the eco-systems most directly affected by climate change. Those whose job it is to take account of all that new evidence (universities, thinktanks, government departments and so on) have a common message to pass on: the vast majority of those studies tell us incontrovertibly that the impact of climate change is more severe and materialising much more rapidly than anything reflected in the fourth assessment report. It's much worse out there, and it's getting even worse even faster.

This presents a paradoxical challenge for national delegations in Poznan. Even if they wanted to draw on that new evidence base to justify more progressive policy positions, they would technically be out of order.

This is particularly surreal in terms of all the evidence coming in from the Arctic, which has seen a 4°C rise in average temperatures over the past few decades. Arctic sea ice reached an all-time low in 2007, the Greenland ice cap is undergoing accelerated melting, and there are growing worries about the melting of the Siberian permafrost, which has the potential to release huge volumes of extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It's this kind of evidence that has persuaded Nick Stern that his own 2006 report on the economics of climate change got it wrong ("We underestimated the damage associated with temperature increases, and we underestimated the probability of temperature increases"), and has led Jim Hansen, the US's pre-eminent climatologist, to warn that the current target for stabilisation of CO2 at 450 parts per million in the atmosphere is woefully inadequate. There is a growing school of thought that 350ppm represents a far more realistic safe upper limit - which is more than a little problematic, given that the concentration is already 384ppm."

One does not need to be an expert in climate change to understand the implications.

World, panic, NOW!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Still haven't found what I am looking for

I am open to a good biblical and theological argument in support of the blessing of same sex partnerships, and in support of naming such partnerships as 'marriages'. I have yet to find such an argument. I certainly do not find it in the cover story of Newsweek this week where Lisa Miller proffers a religious argument in favour of gay marriage - the background story being the recent decision of the people of California to reject a decision of the judiciary of California to legalise gay marriage. (I appreciate, by the way, the wisdom of our NZ parliament a few years ago when legislating for gay and lesbian partnerships: it provided for 'civil unions' and distinguished these from 'marriages')

I mention this in part because I find Lisa Miller's method of argument quite unpersuasive. She parodies the Bible on marriage, mocking its ability to prescribe for 'modern' marriage by citing the usual suspects of polygamy, wives treated as submissive chattels, and Pauline reluctance to endorse marriage save as a remedy for lust. Of Jesus at the wedding at Cana, the high view of marriage in association with Christ's relationship to the church in Ephesians 5, and the high view of marriage in Jesus' teaching against divorce you will not find a mention in Miller's apparition of an argument. If Lisa Miller (and Newsweek) wishes to persuade the conservative Christian community to think again on homosexuality then a better starting point would be respect for the Bible on marriage rather than mocking it. As it is her argument is effectively a chorus line for the already converted.

In another part of the article Miller takes a tack which I also find unpersuasive, notwithstanding the fact that it is almost endlessly replicated by those attacking the Bible on homosexuality: an attempt is made to undermine the significance of the key Levitical text (18:22) by contrasting it with various other Levitical prohibitions which today look weird and wacky. What Miller and many others do not do is to consider carefully the distinction the church has made ever since Jesus between 'moral' and 'ceremonial' and 'civil' laws in Leviticus, which helps locate Leviticus 18:22 among the 'moral' laws and constrain appropriate comparison to other moral laws, rather than to seemingly weird and wacky, or just plain redundant prescriptions around ceremonial or civil matters. Nor does the tack she takes consider Leviticus 18:22 in the important context of Leviticus 18 itself - a chapter with a list of rules regarding sexual behaviour most if not all of which are honoured to this day in nearly all, indeed if not all societies around the world. (For those with a Bible not handy the rules include prohibition of incest and bestiality - generally illegal, and of adultery - generally not illegal but still regarded as immoral).*

I am open to the possibility that Leviticus 18:22 is accepted by the church as no longer applicable to society today. But the arguments which will persuade me (let alone the whole of the universal church) will need to be of a different calibre to what Miller offers.

*I make this observation not to imply that a loving sexual act between two consenting adults is directly comparable to bestiality (to ward off an obvious protest which might be made about my post) but simply to make the point that Leviticus 18 offers a comprehensive ethic for human sexuality which has relevance to modern society in a manner unsurprising to those who have actually read the whole of the chapter but surprising to those who read articles which imply (however inadvertently) that the Levitical prohibition on homosexual sexual acts is sandwiched between rules forbidding the eating of shellfish and the cooking of milk and meat together and prescribing how slaves and wives are to be bought and sold.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women teaching men

Philip Payne in an article published in New Testament Studies in April 2008* tackles the technical question of whether the negative used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 implies one or two prohibitions in the verse. This is his conclusion:

"Consequently this oude construction makes best sense as a single prohibition of women teaching with self-assumed authority over a man.

This understanding fits the text and its context lexically, syntactically, grammatically, stylistically, and theologically. This single specific restriction perfectly fits the danger of false teaching by women in Ephesus. It does not contradict Paul's and the Pastoral Epistles' affirmations of women teaching nor does it prohibit women such as Priscilla (who instructed Apollos in Ephesus according to Acts 18:24-8 and later was evidently still in Ephesus) from teaching men, as long as their authority is properly delegated, not self-assumed. It simply prohibits women from assuming for themselves authority to teach men."


(* 1 Tim 2.12 and the use of oude to combine two elements to express a single idea, NTS 54 (2008) pp. 235-253 - Hat-tip to Evangelical Textual Criticism).

Monday, December 8, 2008

The heart of Romans: justification by faith

The other day a colleague proffered the view that ‘justification by faith’ is not the heart of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. That and an opportunity to read a paper on some related matters got me thinking about the so-called “New Perspective” on Paul. In this new perspective - as I understand it – Paul’s gospel message is primarily that Gentiles as well as Jews are saved. Theologically this involved Paul arguing with Jewish Christians reluctant to fully accept Gentile Christians that the works of the law cannot save them, only faith (see especially Romans, Galatians). Exegetically the new perspective proposes that ‘works of the law’ mostly mean ‘badges of Jewish identity’ such as circumcision, and that ‘faith’ primarily means ‘the faith, or faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ rather than ‘(my personal, individual decision to have) faith in Jesus Christ’. In this perspective the gospel message is not understood - pace Luther and the Reformation - as primarily a message of salvation from sin, where sin includes attempts to please God through obedience to the law of Moses, and salvation is accessible through faith in Jesus Christ. In a phrase, justification by faith is no longer the heart of Romans. A possible alternative phrasing of the heart of Romans would be: God’s grace extends to the Gentiles.

There are some strengths to the New Perspective which I appreciate: it makes good sense of Romans 9-11, for example, as a reassurance to Jews that God has extended his grace, not transferred his grace to the Gentiles. Arguably this is better than the Lutheran approach to Romans in which chapters 9-11 seem at best an appendix and at worst a backtracking on Paul’s part from his main thesis of ‘justification by faith’.

But my reflections this past week have been against rather than for the New Perspective. Now I think there is an exegetical case against the New Perspective, especially through (a) reading Romans 1-3 slowly and seeing the problem stated to which ‘justification by faith’ is the solution; the problem being every person’s rebellion against God (‘sin’) and not over confident Jewish identity; and (b) reading Romans and Galatians in the context of the Old Testament, including passages such as the Old Testament reading for yesterday, Isaiah 40:1-11, where sin is disobedience to the detail of the law and not just the badge of identity stuff! But my recent reflections have flowed from two fascinating books I have been reading: Richard Swinburne’s Was Jesus God? and Andrew Shanks’ Against Innocence: Gillian Rose’s Reception and Gift of Faith [the late Gillian Rose was a leading British philosopher who was baptised a Christian on her deathbed – Andrew Shanks explains her ‘dense’ writing for lesser mortals]. Each of these books makes the philosophic case for Christianity, and it’s from that perspective that I see weakness in the New Perspective.

From a philosophic perspective the point of Christianity is that it offers a unique interpretation of life. Gillian Rose, for example, though a Jew, converted to Christianity because she understood that it told the truth about life in the way that neither Judaism nor … anything else did. I suggest that uniqueness is the resolution of the problem created by sin – that is the problem of broken relationship between God and humanity, between humans, and within each human being. In no other faith or philosophy does God take up human life in order to mend the brokenness of sin, nor is God wounded and killed in those other ways in order that we might be healed and live. The weakness of the New Perspective is that, intentionally or unintentionally, it casts the problem of humanity in a narrow framework of racial division. But the problem of humanity is much bigger than that, and is foremost a problem of division between God and humanity. This division needs more than the mere faithfulness of Jesus Christ as a wonderful example to overcome it: it requires a propitiatory and/or expiatory act (Romans 3:25 – translations use both ‘–iatory’ words).

Without this act of atonement has Christianity anything to offer not already available in Judaism, or later available in Islam? Without such an act of atonement has any religion a plausible solution to human sin not also available to morally well-intentioned atheists? The New Perspective rightly corrects a number of imbalances in our understanding of ancient Judaism, and challenges some presumptive prejudices in Christian thinking about modern Judaism. But pressed too far the New Perspective has potential to constrain Jesus and his interpreter Paul to a gospel which is indistinct from Judaism, with the later distinctiveness between Judaism and Christianity itself a resort to racial stereotype: Jews and Gentiles do not mix!

So, I think that ‘justification by faith’ (Romans 5) is indeed the heart of Romans. For each human to be included in the family of God there needs first to be a justification by God, declaring us to be righteous. Our response to this can be refusal. Or it can be acceptance (i.e. ‘faith’).

This approach is, naturally, very Anglican for we understand the importance of personal faith only too well: without faith in each participant at the eucharist there is no real presence of Christ. The ‘faith of Christ’ is not all that matters: ‘feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving’.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Advent of the New Anglican Province

The announcements have been made. So have initial responses. (Check out, e.g. Titus One Nine for posts, and many comments from supporters and detractors). Much of the story of the new Anglican province for North America lies in the future. Two important questions to be answered in the future are these:

(i) numbers matter: will the province grow significantly beyond its estimated 100 000 members? AND will TEC continue its estimated decline of a 1000 members a week from an estimated 2.4 million members?

If TEC stops haemorrhaging and the new province does not significantly grow TEC 'wins', but if TEC continues to decline and the new province grows, then one day the latter's aim to replace TEC will be achieved.

(ii) how will this body which has honestly declared itself to be an ecclesial community of many prayer books, ordination policies, and approaches to orthodoxy (i.e. Anglo-Catholic, evangelical, charismatic) resolve internal disagreement?

Obviously there is huge goodwill at present, and a remarkable unity of purpose given some previous disunity between 'non-TEC' Anglican groupings in North America. But in 2028 or 2048 will the same goodwill exist?

My humble suggestion is that significant theological, structural and constitutional work within the new province begins now in order to meet the inevitable challenges of the future.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New Anglican Province

Am going to be away from my online connection for the next few days when meetings in Chicago announce the new North American province and then the GAFCON Primates meet with the ABC in Lambeth (presumably to ask the ABC to recognise the new province).

I am intrigued by the thought of a new province based on 'theology'. Ostensibly this gladdens the heart of an Anglican evangelical. But in an Anglican setting the question has to be asked, 'what theology?' and 'who rules over this theology?' Theology always involves difference of view - including in the New Testament itself. Theology requires judgement: is this theology acceptable? compatible with that theology? able to co-exist alongside another theology? The role of the church is to make that judgement. The question for any ecclesial body is who makes that judgement and how? I am simply unclear how the new province will proceed as a 'theological' province.

I am aghast at a comment reported from one of the new province leaders along the lines of 'if the ABC recognises us he will incur the wrath of TEC; if he does not recognise us he will incur the wrath of others'. What kind of language is this to use of the Archbishop of Canterbury? Why is he envisaged as being constrained to one and only one binary choice?

I am watching TEC closely, particularly through Mark Harris' Preludium blog (accessible off the sidebar here). It seems to me very clear that TEC is taking a hardline stance: good-bye not au revoir to the dioceses and parishes seceding from it; and, looking forward to General Convention 2009 when we can cement a few things in place (e.g. clarification of the role of the Presiding Bishop; commitment to GLBT matters). Ironically one of my questions re 'theology' as the foundation of an Anglican church is whether TEC is 'anti-theological' relative to the new province's 'theological' approach. (See note below).

Advice for the ABC: either recognise the new province alongside TEC and ACCan or suspend recognition of all North American Anglican/Episcopal churches until after GC 2009!!

PS Mark Harris is very observant and makes the point - to be noted by those who think the ABC should just recognise the new province and be done with it - that the new province incorporates an amalgam of Anglican entities and episcopal figures not all of which and whom are as well 'ordered' as others!

TEC's 'anti-theological' approach:

Here is a motion to the forthcoming convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles looking ahead to the General Convention (Hat-tip to Titus One Nine):

"Resolution regarding the 2006 General Convention Resolution B033
Resolved, that the One Hundred Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles call upon the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church to abide by the canons of The Episcopal Church; to respect the responsibility of each diocese to discern prayerfully the will of God in calling leaders; to refrain from restricting the potential field of candidates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation; and thus to retract General Convention 2006 Resolution B033.
Submitted by: Mr. Jim White
Chair, Diocesan Deputation to General Convention
All Saints’ Church, Pasadena
In 2006 the 75th General Convention concurred in the adoption of Resolution B033, which “call[ed] upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” The language of the resolution was widely understood to refer to gay and lesbian persons with same sex domestic partners. Several considerations compel the retraction of General Convention 2006 Resolution B033:
1. In modeling Jesus Christ, as a Church and as Christians, we do not discriminate. “God is not one to show partiality.” (Acts 10:34-35) The gifts for ministry are given by God’s grace to all members of Christ’s body. (Romans 12:4-8, Ephesians: 4:4-16).
2. Because we are baptized in Christ, our gifts are the result of God’s grace given to us as members of Christ’s body, independent of other distinctions.
3. The Canons of General Convention (Title III, Canon 1, Section 2) prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation: “No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons.” General Convention 2006 Resolution B033, if interpreted to mean that a person living in a same-sex partnership should be excluded from consecration, stands in conflict with Title III, Canon 1, Section 2."

The 'anti-theology' here is the appeal to egregious error ("In modeling Jesus Christ, as a Church and as Christians, we do not discriminate" - yet Jesus discriminated, e.g. between disciples and would-be disciples, between those who believed in him and those who did not, between 'the Twelve' and the larger group of disciples); the absence of engagement with the possibility that holiness of life might also be determinative alongside consideration of 'gifts'; and the appeal to law (the Canons of General Convention) ahead of appeal to the whole of Scripture).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do not give ACC a Covenant role

The Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream site is carrying notes from a recent talk given by Christina Baxter, Principal of St John's Nottingham and general luminary in the C of E. In the course of these notes we find the following telling paragraph:

"ACC meets and makes progress reports, does work for Anglican Communion. Most presiding bishops don’t go. ABC is always there as he calls and chairs it. Generally others are not there.

You might be the one person who has gone from your part of the world, eg as a layperson from Japan, and you alone speak for your Province at the ACC. You are struggling to understand. You are a senior layperson, but your Province may not have Synods as frequently as we do, you may not be familiar with your own Province’s personnel or policy. But this is the group which, under proposals of the Covenant, would have to make difficult decisions. It is not fit for purpose."

I have long wondered about the viability of ACC as a comprehensively representative body of the churches of the Anglican Communion. If we are to have a body which implements and applies the Covenant (here I am deliberately choosing not to use words like 'impose and police'), then it needs to be a body in which has the confidence of the whole Communion for the task given to it.

Perhaps we need a new body (e.g. a joint meeting of Primates and ACC) or a new formation of the ACC?