Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ecclesiological Faultlines

Tim Harris, writing at Hikanos, offers a reflection on earthquakes in the Anglican landscape:

"Yet an earthquake has struck the Anglican Communion, with its epicentre in a relative backwater region of New Hampshire in 2003. But the actual quake was much deeper, and the rolling series of aftershocks continue to be experienced. We are now well on the other side of the crisis event, but the enduring damage and realignment of the landscape is still with us."

His whole post is here.

David Virtue reports on an address given by an Orthodox metropolitan in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Included in the reported remarks of Metropolitan Hilarion are these:

""All current versions of Christianity can be very conditionally divided into two major groups - traditional and liberal. The abyss that exists today divides not so much the Orthodox from the Catholics or the Catholics from the Protestants as it does the 'traditionalists' from the 'liberals'.

"Some Christian leaders, for example, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way of building a Christian family: there are other models and the Church should become appropriately 'inclusive' to recognize alternative behavioral standards and give them official blessing. Some try to persuade us that human life is no longer an absolute value; that it can be terminated in a mother's womb or that one can terminate one's life at will. Christian 'traditionalists' are being asked to reconsider their views under the slogan of keeping abreast with modernity.

"Among the vivid indications of disagreement within the Anglican Community (I am reluctant to say 'schism') is the fact that almost 200 Anglican bishops refused to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference. I was there as an observer from the Russian Orthodox Church and could see various manifestations of deep and painful differences among the Anglicans."

Heresy absent

"Today the notion of heresy, while present in church vocabulary, is manifestly absent from the vocabulary of contemporary politically-correct theology - a theology that prefers to refer to "pluralism" and to speak of admissible and legitimate differences," he opined.

"Indeed, St Paul himself wrote that 'there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval' (1 Cor. 11:19). But what kind of differences was he referring to? Certainly not those which concerned the essence of faith, church order or Christian morals. For, in these matters, there is only one truth and any deviation from it is none other than heresy." "

In other words, on analogy with earthquakes and fautlines, historic faultlines (Orthodox, Roman, Protestant) mingle with modern faultlines (traditionalist, liberal) and a post-modern view that there are no faultlines as such ('the notion of heresy ... is manifestly absent from the vocabulary of contemporary politically-correct theology'). Earthquakes may erupt at faultlines at any time, and as Tim Harris rightly observes, 2003 was such an occasion. Its rippling effects spread to fautlines between Anglican and Roman, and Anglican and Orthodox churches.

There is something else I notice here in the Metropolitan's reported remarks. I suggest he is touching on some other faultlines when he says,

"Some Christian leaders, for example, tell us that marriage between a man and a woman is no longer the only way of building a Christian family: there are other models and the Church should become appropriately 'inclusive' to recognize alternative behavioral standards and give them official blessing."

It is comparatively easy, at least within Anglican circles, to focus attention on 2003 in a binary manner: either you are for or against affirmation of gay Anglicans. One unfortunate consequence of this approach is the constant invoking of the term 'homophobia' to characterise those perceived to be 'against' affirmation of gay Anglicans. But the Metropolitan's remarks remind us that several faultlines are present in respect of human sexuality issues in our Communion.

I suggest these faultlines:

(i) The manner of welcome, inclusion and incorporation of Anglicans self-identifying as gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual.

(ii) The character of Anglican understanding of marriage and family: what might be fixed elements (e.g. the desirability that a family consists of a father and mother and children) and what might be flexible elements in that understanding, and, may that understanding be counted as 'doctrine' to be universally adhered to by Anglicans?

(iii) The ordering of our orders of ministry: should the traditional understanding that ordained ministers of the church are either celibate or married remain in place in every part of the Anglican world, notwithstanding significant societal differences in respect of singleness, marriage, and other 'marriage-like' partnerships?

Would it be helpful to observe these faultlines and then to see what bridges might be built across them, rather than to assume the faultline is of a different character?

It would be my hope that we could be united in overcoming the faultline around (i). I acknowledge that the divisions among us around (ii) and (iii) are of considerable width. The Metropolitan is correct when he implies that around (ii) and (iii) some Anglicans are closer to Romans and the Orthodox than to fellow Anglicans.


Andy S said...

Metropolitan Hilarion is an important figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, very high profile and often used as a "firefighter".

IMHO the problems besetting the Church are a lack of focus on the basics - Prayer, the Gospels, the Sacraments and worship.

The Church is "inclusive" though I hate the word as it has come to mean acceptance of Gay theology. But it is inclusive. When I go to Church I want to worship without the distractions of progressive political agendas and "points being proved".

And not everybody is called to the Priesthood or to be elevated to the ranks of Bishops.

Literally a glass ceiling does exist and ordaining people based on identity politics rather than spiritual virtue is where things have come unstuck and come unstuck in a big way.

Howard Pilgrim said...

It is good to see that you are able to avert your gaze from geophysical rifts to spiritual ones, Peter! I agree with you that we can distinguish three different rifts between conservatives and liberals. However, I disagree with your belief that the first may be easier to fix than the other two. What sort of "welcome, inclusion and incorporation" can we propose for LGBT Anglicans that is disconnected from what we believe about their ethical status and potential for leadership?

Further, you seem to give plenty away by calling them Anglicans already. If they are Anglicans, are they not also brothers and sisters in Christ, or is that provisional in some way not applied to straights like us? And if brothers and sisters, then what follows from our being already related? Are their relationships not sanctified by their faith? Are their spiritual gifts not acceptable? May they not be people-gifts, leaders, and so ...?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
You get to the nub of the issue: is there an ethical issue or not when people engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage?

You and I both know that if there is an ethical issue then it does not really matter what gifts, abilities and attributes may otherwise belong to the person concerned, the church in the long run (i.e. acknowledging times and places in which unethical lifestyles have been tolerated such as those popes whose dad was also pope!) has not agreed that ordination and licensing should proceed where such an issue does exist.

Metropolitan Hilarion clearly focuses attention on this point.

My (i) is about accepting people into the Anglican church as we are when we come in; it is not intended to imply that the way we are when we come to Christ is the way we will necessarily remain in respect of ethical issues.

Clearly if one part of the church says X is an ethical issue and another part says it is not then we have a significant disagreement.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Andy S for your comment.

What would you say to someone such as Bishop Gene Robinson who I am confident would say that he and his church are focused on precisely those basics?

Brother David said...

I do not care what folks such as the Pope, or the Metropolitan have to say about us. Like it really makes a difference Peter. As far as either of them are concerned, you Peter, are a layman, just as I am. Until we have gotten beyond that point, none of the rest of it matters because it is play by their rules only. Whatever you and I might believe is inconsequential when we are not even considered to be part of a real church anyway.

Stop kissing up to these guys like they are important or something.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
Both the Pope and the Metropolitan, and you, and the person I sat next to at a eucharist yesterday are brothers and sisters in Christ. In respect of unity in Christ all matter.

While the Pope and the Metropolitan are no more important to Anglican decision-making than the local Methodist superintendent or Presbyterian moderator, it is not unimportant for Anglican decision-making to take account of what builds unity in the whole body of Christ.

Brother David said...

it is not unimportant for Anglican decision-making to take account of what builds unity in the whole body of Christ.

I think that it is unimportant when I have read and know just exactly what these two, the Pope and the Metropolitan, would require in order to be in union with them. Their requirement for union is to abandon all that we have had and currently have and admit that it was all a sham, a pseudo church without apostolic succession or valid sacraments, that your ordinations were meaningless jokes, and submit to them.

And yet they are not in union with one another even after recognizing that they are both of valid churches. The reason being that the orthodox churches are not willing to submit to the Pope as the vicar of Christ, the supreme head of the earthly church.

And if you are willing to do that to be in unity with them, then kindly close the door behind you as you quietly leave. Also, please leave the silver and the buildings behind.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I am rather hopeful that the Pope and the Metropolitan would put their differences behind them and agree to the ordination of women. Then we could begin the next stage in conversation about building Christian unity ... how we might keep conversation alive, and not completely kill it seems to be a reasonable thing to consider as Anglicans when we make our decisions. That does not necessarily mean that we will be the ones making changes in order to agree with Rome and Moscow, nor that any silver or buildings needs to be disputed.

Andy S said...

What would you say to someone such as Bishop Gene Robinson

Nothing - I have seen the man interviewed and he is more interested in talking than listening - it would be a waste of time, dialog with progressives means you get listen to their sophistry and are shouted down if you try and respond. Its a one way street.

Nor do i think they are interested in Christian unity, certainly not compromise.

Exhibit - a billboard calculated to offend the vast majority of Christendom raised outside a Church at Christmas time. Why? Is this what passes for dialog? This hurts, causes pain to the vast majority of believers and delight to those hostile to the Church

There is only one thing to do and that is to stick with the Faith as handed down to us by the Fathers.

I don't think they got it wrong

And put aside all worldly concerns when worshiping in Church. Church is for prayer not for advancing worldly agendas

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Andy - I think the emphasis on 'faith handed down' is important as some who adhere to sacraments etc may fall short at that point!

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
It is interesting to note that some of the same faultlines in the Anglican / Coptic Orthodox relationship (in my diocese) are also found in the Anglican / Russian Orthodox relationship. But because of Bishop Mounir's involvement with the Global South and his actions to oppose the TEC/ACoC actions, he has been able to get that relationship back on track. Perhaps because the ABC's position has been more nuanced, it will be more difficult for him to repair the Russian Orthodox relationship.
It was also interesting that removing TEC from the ecumenical dialogue wasn't enough for the Russian Orthodox. They want to see a wholesale change from the liberal direction of the entire Communion.
By the way, if my wife and I have another child and it's a boy, he'll be called Hilarion :)

Peter Carrell said...

Happy thought, Andrew!

Anonymous said...

In terms of ecclesiological fault lines your neglecting underscoring the breaching of the at-least-17-century agreement not to cross episcopal boundaries is (possibly not?) surprising. This, of course, occurred prior to your 2003 quake. Did the recent meeting of African bishops repent of their involvement in this?

Not all hold to your clericalist position that a different ethical standard be required of the order of bishops than of the order of laity. That is reminiscent of Nigerian Anglicans, where polygamy is not condemned amongst the laity.

I agree with David.

And I think you are only agreeing with the Pope and the Metropolitan on gays. That is your constant refrain. You think that they will change to your beliefs on women! Vain hope. What about their other beliefs mentioned here? Start advocating for their position on abortion, or divorce, or contraception, or celibacy of bishops,… Why is it only their position on gays that you proclaim? Why not on liturgy, sacraments, vestments, Mary, invalidity of your orders, audacity to call your group a “church”, etc.? Maybe then there might be some consistency and integrity in your call for listening to and acting on the teachings of these significant church leaders.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
Responding to your points!
(a) there are other faultlines, and one within the Communion concerns 'border crossing;' there have been other earthquakes (I suggest consideration of the failure to grasp the Spongian nettle by TEC as contributory to pre 2003 border crossing).
(b)the New Testament teaches the same ethics for all Christians - the realities of the life of the church is that some forms of discipline within the body of Christ only take effect where the church has opportunity to consider matters, such as whether to ordain, appoint or licence a minister.
(c) there are many things conservative Anglicans agree with the likes of Benedict and Hilarion on, not just sexual ethics. One of these would be the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. There are many things on which conservative Anglicans disagree with them on (as you point out). I am not quite sure of your point here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

a) Did conservatives in TEC bring an orthodoxy case against Spong and what was the result?
b) What about the discipline of barring from communion?
c) there are many things conservative Anglicans agree with Spong on. There are many things on which conservative Anglicans disagree with Spong. I am not quite sure of your point here.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
It would have been good if Spong's "orthodoxy" had been tested in ecclesial court. That might have saved a lot of anguish on all sides of ensuing divisions in the Communion.

Yes, barring from communion is a possible disciplinary measure to apply to laity. It would be interesting to know how much it is practised: it could be more widespread than I generally suppose.

I cannot think of much at all on which conservatives might agree with Spong.

I guess your point is that I am guilty of 'selectivity' re Roman 'orthodoxy' and Eastern 'orthodoxy': cheering when their leaders agree with me, and ignoring them when they do not. That is a fair point of criticism.

But another way of looking at this might be less susceptible to your criticism. As I understand it, all Anglicans agree that innovation characterises the moves TEC and others have been making re acceptance of same sex partnerships. Typically Christians pause when on the verge of innovation: is it in accordance with Scripture? Is there something in our tradition which means this is not actually a new thing? Careful consideration is taken. At such a point I suggest it is worth seeing what the wider global church has to say. We may subsequently ignore their advice and insight. But we are also free to accept their guidance.

Anonymous said...

So why, Peter, if conservative Anglicans regard Spong as a quake and source of an ecclesiological fault line have you (plural) not brought such a case? It reminds me of the so-many-other cases where there is all this noise – but no action by conservatives, yourself included. Except on gays.

So when we see you (plural) conservative Anglicans consistently barring from communion those known to be sexually active outside of marriage, there may be a bit more integrity when you make sexual activity outside of marriage your argument against gays.

You must be having a slow day, Peter. On my list above Spong and you would mostly agree – against the pope: calling your group a “church”, Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity, and Glorious Assumption of Mary, validity of your orders, contraception, celibacy of bishops,…

As for listening to “the wider global church” (ie. in this thread – the pope) on gays and innovations – don’t forget the pope’s ruling is that men (sic.) with homosexual orientation, even though they have every intention of being celibate, cannot be ordained. And you’ve written you don’t agree with the pope on that. Talk about cherry-picking his teachings on sex and sexuality! Even on homosexuality!


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
I suppose conservatives within TEC may have assessed their chances of obtaining a conviction of Spong for heresy as very low, and thus not bothered ... but other readers could comment on that, perhaps.

Spong and I probably agree that it is nice to drink coffee and smell roses. But I am concerned with sustantive matters of core theology - not Mary's Immaculate conception etc - and on those I still think Benedict and I would share much more in common than Spong and I.

Yes, on some of the finer points of Rome's pronouncements re matters of human dignity I would disagree. But there still remain substantive agreements. To take another instance, I find much to admire and agree with Rome on its resolute anti-abortion teaching, but I think there are instances in which abortions take place where I would not be so quick to protest. Maybe I am guilty of cherry-picking there also.

Anonymous said...

With respect, Peter, the pope and you wouldn’t even be able to agree on what are substantive matters of core theology, especially if you already so quickly toss aside Mary’s Immaculate Conception as not being part of that. Because, of course, by tossing that aside you are discarding papal infallibility – I’m not as quick as you to think that Benedict XVI doesn’t think that substantive. You don’t mind that you don’t belong to a church, that your Eucharist is just play-acting with bread and wine in funny clothes, not to get onto your idea of the place of the Bible, nor to mention the 39 articles...

I don’t regard the ruling that celibate men of homosexual orientation cannot be ordained a “finer point”!

With New Zealand being one of the highest aborting countries in the world, your bringing that up only strengthens my point. If that is a matter of human life, when did you, and you (plural) ever raise this in the form of a synod motion?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison

We may have to agree to disagree. I think I should get on just fine with Benedict, based on his writings I have read, and my general experience of working with and worshipping with his flock.

There are ways other than motions in Synods to be 'pro life'.

Andy S said...

With respect Alison, Metropolitan Hilarion who features in this post would not subscribe to the Immaculate Conception nor Papal Infallibility.

This however does not preclude him from desiring to work with Pope Benedict in restoring Europe to the Christian Faith

Anonymous said...

Are we moving several blocks away from this thread now, Andy? Happy to go there – but the primary point was: why make a big deal about agreeing with these about gays when there’s disagreement in so many other areas (including ordaining celibate gays)? The agreement is accidental.

Of course the Metropolitan doesn’t subscribe to the Immaculate Conception, because he doesn’t hold to the Western position on Original Sin. Just another “finer point” where he and Peter disagree? Or might that lead to the acknowledgement that the Metropolitan may make little sense of the gospel Peter has been trying (but not yet succeeding?) to formulate in an earlier set of posts. Is Original Sin a “substantive matter of core theology”? I promise you the pope would think so.


Peter Carrell said...

You may have been quite helpful here, Alison!

It is not in fact "accidental" that Benedict and Hilarion and many conservative Anglicans share a similar approach to Christian ethics of sexuality.

Yes, we have many differences, and you have highlighted a number of those. But you keep highlighting the differences without attending to the great swathes of agreement between us. One of those agreements is to continue to read Scripture in the light of Christian tradition. Sometimes our readings differ (again, as you consistently highlight), but mostly they coincide: on christology, Trinitarian theology, many aspects of ethics, on the importance of human life, and on the importance of marriage.

Here is something else to ponder: even the differences between us may be the occasion for drawing close together in serious theological discussion (see some engagements on the filioque clause, on the nature of salvation (yes, dialoguing about original sin, theosis, etc). But what does not happen is that one side dismisses the other side's arguments as a matter of prejudice. Nor is it likely that point of agreement will be tagged as "accidental". They are, I suggest, likely to be recognised as likely to occur given our shared common foundation in Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I have no trouble whatsoever focusing on what binds Christians together. It is you not me (or have you forgotten?!), in this post, who have been talking about earthquakes and fault lines between Christians. I have been following your logic attempting to show you its flaws and self-contradictions. Now you are suggesting that it is I who cannot recognise unity!

Following your logic of listening to the pope, you seem to regard it of little consequence that your ordination and your Eucharists are invalid, and that you are not a member of a church (talk about an ecclesiological fault line!).

Not only do RCs have a hermeneutic of scripture quite different to your description here, but your understanding of marriage, which you include in similarities, can just as easily be shown to be significantly different. Try the simple question: is a person you marry who was previously married and is now divorced, actually married?

Part of dialogue is the realization that saying the same words may actually mean quite different things. The RC, Orthodox, and Anglican understanding of “reverence for marriage” may use the same words – but dig a bit deeper and you will find three different concepts.


Brother David said...

The RC, Orthodox, and Anglican understanding of “reverence for marriage” may use the same words – but dig a bit deeper and you will find three different concepts.

Such as -
Is the marriage between a man with no penis and a woman a Sacramental Marriage recognized by the Roman Church?

Is the marriage between a man and a woman given a hysterectomy at age 12 a Sacramental Marriage recognized by the Roman Church?

Is the marriage of a sexually ambiguous XY child given a female sex change soon after birth and a man a Sacramental Marriage recognized by the Roman or Orthodox churches?

This however does not preclude him from desiring to work with Pope Benedict in restoring Europe to the Christian Faith.

Yea, sure, you betcha, as long as BenE16 sticks to his own territory and does not invade the territory of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison and David,
There are all sorts of points of difference between churches. If we choose to major on them then there is no point in dreaming of Christian unity let alone working towards it.

My experience of working with Roman Catholics "on the ground" in various aspects of ministry and of life in general is that, yes, differences matter (I am not going to be asked to fill in for the local priest at mass if he falls ill!), but not that much. Catholic and Anglican churches work cooperatively in many ways as though we are churches, not as though one is a church and the other a group.

I take heart from Benedict's ecumenical remarks to Scotland (as posted above).

Anonymous said...

Thanks, David, not to mention – can a quadriplegic get married? Is the marriage in which a couple intend to have no children a Sacramental Marriage recognized by the Roman Church?

Catholic and Anglican churches work cooperatively in many ways as though we are churches.

Catholic teaching, recent and consistent, is that Anglicans are not a church. If you think you are working together as though you are churches, maybe that says more about your understanding of what it means to be church.

I take heart from Benedict's ecumenical remarks to Scotland (as posted above).

Can you point to something specifically in that speech that indicates even the minutest positive ecumenical shift from standard Vatican teaching that encourages you.

If we choose to major on them then there is no point in dreaming of Christian unity let alone working towards it.

Is not majoring on the difference of attitudes to homosexuality within a church that does allow you to “fill in for the local priest at mass if he falls ill” precisely what dominates this blog site?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,
I am interested that when Benedict could have mentioned no other church by name, he did mention the 'Scottish Episcopal Church'; and when he could have ignored the recent Edinburgh mission conference, he specifically singled it out. Of course that does not betoken a shift in standard teaching, but it does betoken a continued openness to ecumenical engagement which Rome does not have to engage in.

I think you are arguing that I minimise differences with Rome and Moscow and maximise differences between Anglicans over homosexuality. That may be a fair charge! In my defence I simply offer this thought: my wish for Christian unity does include the Anglican Communion as well as world Christianity. Yet, as this thread highlights, there is an irony that some of the divisions within Anglicanism remind me and other conservatives of the agreements we do have with other churches.

Brother David said...

I think you are arguing that I minimise differences with Rome and Moscow and maximise differences between Anglicans over homosexuality.

Yes, that is very much your hobby. You sound this way all of the time, especially when you visit Father Harris' blog. You have very little of good to say about your Anglican brothers and sisters who do not wish to separate from you just because you feel differently about human sexuality, but with whom you share much more in common and with very little baggage.

For example, you are a bit more conservative theologically than I am, but aside from human sexuality and the Anglican Covenant, I doubt that we differ all that much.

Oh, and the writings of Bishop Spong do not upset me the way they do you. (But he was my teacher for a summer at Vancouver School of Theology, so I know him personally. He is a very humble and honest man, truly devoted to the Gospel and to Christ.)

Anonymous said...

"He is a very humble and honest man, truly devoted to the Gospel and to Christ."

Ay caramba! Has comido anoche demasiados tacos, mi hermanito!

Alberto Minores

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
You are the first person I have ever seen or heard write that John Spong is a humble man.

His devotion to the gospel and to Christ is undoubted. What many doubt is that Spong's gospel and the Spongian Christ bears much resemblance to the gospel as handed down to us through the ages via the apostles and teachers of the faith.

Brother David said...

Alberto, I ate Fettuccine Alfredo con pollo last night.

The shrink in me wants to assure you that there is a difference in having good self esteem and humility. One can have both.