Monday, July 13, 2009

Contextual spiritual conscience

Jenny Te Paa uses the phrase which I have made the title of this post in the course of her speech to the Anaheim convention (full text available here). Her speech is interesting in certain ways.

First, it has been noticed and has attracted approbation and criticism

Secondly, Jenny rightly draws attention to the gifts to world Anglicanism through which TEC has supported the working of the Communion, and offered opportunity for development of ministry and mission through theological education opportunities and the like.

Thirdly, Jenny offers a strong critique of the Convention on one point, it's appropriation of 'ubuntu' from a culture not indigenous to America:

"And so I come to what I trust will be received as a word of loving advice from your indigenous sister.

I come from a cultural context characterized still by the absolute urgency of cultural, linguistic, artistic, traditional survival. We indigenous peoples are in many ways understandably very protective of our culturally unique traditions, we are very conscious of the ways in which aspects of our traditions have become such beacons of light and hope in a world increasingly bereft of strong kinship networks, of strong familial identity, of meaningful spiritual regard for all of God’s creation. We have seen how attractive indigenous spirituality; in fact indigenous tradition in its many forms has suddenly assumed a level of contemporary interests and attractiveness. We have in all of this become desperately afraid of cultural appropriation and so as this intensely beautiful and endlessly complex concept of ‘ubuntu’ is uttered and claimed, explained and proclaimed I cannot help but wonder if all the necessary precautions against even unwitting appropriation have been taken?"

But, to return to my opening sentence, the 'contextual spiritual conscience' by which one seeks to live is, on closer examination, a fraught idea. According to what context are we to be shaped? Much of the Communion is saying to TEC, your 'context' is the global context of the Communion, not the local context of the USA? TEC's response largely seems to be, 'No, local context, in the end, is more important than global context'. The inadequacy of 'contextual spiritual conscience' as an idea is actually highlighted by Jenny's speech because in her critique of this convention she draws attention to the ability of TEC to draw from the global context when it wishes ('ubuntu') and to deny it when it wishes. Would it be more accurate to talk about 'spiritual conscience' leaving context out?

In our church I do not believe we live by 'contextual spiritual conscience' because we constantly play one context against another, our three tikanga life meaning that we always take account of the larger picture, the life of the other tikanga. What Jenny's speech does not offer from our church to TEC are possible analogies to how TEC and ACNA might live together on one continent!


Howard Pilgrim said...

"What Jenny's speech does not offer from our church to TEC are possible analogies to how TEC and ACNA might live together on one continent!"
Come on, Peter, you know better than that! Your implication that there is an analogy between our ACANZP three-tikanga relationships and those between TEC and its new competitor breaks down at one key point - Our tikanga relationships take place within a constitutional framework negotiated with mutual respect between consenting partners. Those who initiated this change, our Maori partners, did so with the utmost patience, appealing to a historical convenant, the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840, and to scriptural principles of justice accepted by all parties. Can we say they left with our blessing? No, actually no-one left anything, we just all grew up into a new set of adult relationships.
Remember that? We were both there.
Now perhaps you could draw out some of the parallels you see between our experience here in NZ and what has just happened in the USA with the formation of ACNA. Until you do, I don't think there is anything more you can expect Jenny to have said on that matter.

Concerning her rather effusive expression of widespread support for TEC among Anglicans in this province, I am deeply moved that she was there to speak in our name at this crucial juncture. Words of consolation are a great spiritual gift, when the time is right, although I suppose some of your readers may want to dismiss Jenny's contribution as political rather than spiritual. I must say that I found the "approbation" link you provided more weighty than the "criticism", but that reflects a very personal hermeneutic.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
One question re Jenny Te Paa's contribution to TEC is, 'was she appointed to speak in our name?' The fact is that not everyone in our church would want to cheer TEC on at precisely this point, but of that fact, not much was betrayed in Jenny's speech! (However I fully understand that she was invited in her own right as a person of standing in the Communion as well as in our church, but not as a representative elected by our church).

The point of comparison between our three tikanga arrangements and the unfolding situation in North America is this: it is possible, under one constitution, to allow three different ways of being church, including some great differences in theology, to be both gathered together and released to pursue differing agenda. Is it too late for TEC and ACNA (and ACNA and ACCan) to do some dialoguing together on how under one constitution Anglicanism in North America (or one constitution in Canada and one in the USA) might be unified to a degree, even as it is diversified? I would hope not. I think such a conversation might have something to learn from ACANZP.

Of course such a conversation would be something of a miracle because ACNA and TEC (in particular, I am not quite so familiar with ACCan's "attitude") have said things about each other which are more akin to 'I will see you in hell before I will see you at the altar' than 'how might we walk together'?

But were my view sought - the invitations do seem to go to just one member of our church :) - I would be saying something like that, pleading with each expression of Anglicanism to eat a decent portion of humble pie!

In short, I think Jenny could have said more from our church to TEC than she did, but I congratulate her on her willingness to critique TEC. Might we agree that in doing so she was being both political and spiritual?

Anonymous said...

Wow, Peter, you were part of the General Synod that voted to revise your church’s constitution into three Tikanga!

“Primates’ Meetings do not normally pass formally worded resolutions. The only recorded one came a number of years ago …stating that [the development of a three Tikanga church] was not consistent with good Anglican order and discipline.” Primate John Paterson 2002. “Many of you may not realize that my Province is the only one to ever have been officially censured by the Anglican Consultative Council. It was recent and was to do with our 1992 decision to revise our Constitution along what our critics claimed were ‘dangerously unprecedented racially prescriptive lines’!” Jenny Te Paa 2009.

As one who again and again on this site advocates obedience to the Anglican “instruments of communion,” I would love to hear how strongly you argued against the three Tikanga move at that General Synod and advocated for obeying the instruments of communion, how you voted against it, and where this is recorded? Or is your position on this principle only one you apply to TEC and not to your own province?

Fascinatingly you now argue your province is a model for Anglicanism in North America!

Finally your own then Primate did not agree with the assessment of your province’s unity: “The three equal heads model for me would be a loss of confidence in our robust and pioneering three-Tikanga Church and its Constitution, because it would be an admission that we are in fact three separate Anglican Churches.” ++John Paterson 2002

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Although a supporter in general terms of our three tikanga church as a provisional way of being, appropriate to our history and our cultures, I was not a member of our General Synod until 1996, so I did not vote for or against the changes in 1990 and 1992. (For the record, I am not currently a member of our General Synod).

To an extent the Primates are right: our arrangements do go against classic Anglican order. But I hope they might, if they considered the matter again, acknowledge some pragmatic virtues to our arrangements.

These arrangements are unusual. Precisely for that reason they might offer some guidance to the Anglicans and Episcopalians of North America, for, however else we might describe their arrangements at this time, they also seem to be unusual!

As for obeying the instruments of the Communion, the difference between our 'disobedience' and TEC's is this: our action has not threatened the unity of the Communion, but TEC's has. Further, at the root of our action is no principle that contradicts Scripture; whereas at the root of TEC's action is a principle of denying what the Bible calls a sin.