Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stay or go?

UPDATE: NZ Herald is on the case. COMING here soon. The case for staying whatever is made of these motions. ONE PERSON not going away anytime soon is our latest bishop, +Justin Duckworth of Wellington.

We are edging day by day closer to our General Synod in which three motions (20, 21 and 23) will be proposed for consideration. The text of these motions are as follows:

GS Motions Re Same Sex Relationships

For some, an approval by GS of these motions could be a signal to "go" (albeit, with discussion as to whether it is ACANZP rather than those who disengage from the institution which is the one "going" away from being a true Anglican church).

For others, an approval of these motions could be, well, difficult: stay or go?

Then there is the possibility that there will be a "kick for touch": let these motions lie on the table and let the Commission of Eminent Persons do its work and report back to the next GS.

What do you think?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Holy Rock Star

For a long time now I have wondered if there is something rotten in the state of Denmark The Episcopal Church. I have had to quieten my wonderings over the years on this blog because people take umbrage at people criticising from a distance. Besides which, it has been craftily pointed out that certain things are rotten in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. True. But one thing which is not rotten is the state of relationships between our leading bishops and our leading committees. Methinks they actually listen to one another and respect one another. But this may not be the case in TEC. Not because I say so, but because, with H/T to Episcopal Cafe, Katie Sherrod says so. Check out this post in which she lays out the extraordinary twists and turns in the story of bringing a budget to the forthcoming General Convention. Whose budget will be passed?

Of course, because so many people over the years have condemned me for questioning her leadership, often praising her to the heavens in the process, I am intrigued by the role of the Holy Rock Star in this imbroglio. By the way, that's Katie's description of her. Not mine.

For the cracked record: the reason ADU takes great interest in TEC is twofold: (a) it is a pioneer in a new style Anglicanism, full of novelties;* (b) some key leaders in our church seem bent on taking ACANZP down the same path that TEC has pioneered. If things are not working out too good for TEC, then ACANZP needs to know. Before it is too late.

*True, as has been pointed out to me, in our own modest way, ACANZP is also a pioneer of this and that. Are there as many 'novelties' in our own church? Are our novelties as influential as the novelties in TEC? Do our novelties include making decisions knowing that significant parishes even dioceses of the church will leave it? I suggest not.

POSTSCRIPT There is an apt observation in a comment below (Malcolm) which draws attention to the difference between 'subsidiarity' and 'centralism'. That has got me thinking about opposition/support re the Covenant. One argument against the Covenant is that it is 'centralising': is that argument coming from Anglicans who belong to churches with centralising tendencies? One argument (including by me) for the Covenant is that it is not centralising because it is coherent with subsidiarity: is that argument easier to make when one belongs, as I think I do, to a church which has more subsidiarity than centralization? Of course we have strong opponents to the Covenant in ACANZP, so my thesis looks weak. BUT! But is there opposition here which arises from fear of centralization which stems from origins other than our own non-experience of centralization here?  

The perfect storm

Some years ago we went on a family camping trip to a remote beach in the Marlborough Sounds, called Titirangi. It is an extraordinarily beautiful spot with steep hills running down to one of the few sandy beaches in the Sounds. Unfortunately we arrived as strong nor' west winds were starting up (as predicted in the weather forecast which yours truly overlooked). Through a long night our tents were buffeted endlessly, there was little sleep, and my many prayers for the wind to stop went unanswered. As the winds continued through the day some of our tent poles succumbed and after three or so were broken we packed up and returned to base and the camping repair shop.

Such experiences highlight the fact that yesterday's gospel reading, Mark 4:35-41, The Stilling of the Storm, is not in the Bible to encourage us to believe that all annoying high speed winds will be abated when we ask for that to happen. It is recorded for other reasons. One is to inform us about Jesus. The original experience was permitted in order that the disciples eyes were opened wider to who the real Jesus was. More than an extraordinary man, he was God in human form. We read about this experience so that our eyes also might be opened to who Jesus was and is. And it is not just any ordinary 'god' in human form: the God we meet in Jesus is awesome and mighty. That is something we are prone to forget in Western Christianity these days when we are intent on talking about the love of God in such a way that the God of Jesus Christ becomes our best buddy. He is but he is more than that.

A second reason we have the story of the Stilling of the Storm is because of the boat. The boat is not the Carrell family on a camping trip. The boat, according to a very old understanding of the story, is the church. This understanding goes back to Matthew himself who, writing his gospel with Mark's version in front of him, adjusts a small detail in retelling it. Instead of Mark's "they took him with them in the boat" (NRSV), Matthew has "And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him" (8:23 NRSV). Matthew's is the "churchy" gospel, the only gospel that uses ekklesia (twice). Here he uses the same Greek word, akoloutheo, used elsewhere when the talk is of disciples "following" Jesus. So the story is not just a miracle of the stilling of a storm at sea, it is also a parable of the church in history: it will face storms, but Jesus our Lord and Master is with us in the boat and we will come through them.

All of which is pertinent to the universal church in the 21st century in which storms of persecution and opposition (to say nothing of indifference and complacency) bear down on us, to say nothing of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia which has a storm no bigger than the hand of a man appearing on the horizon, just over Fiji, where our General Synod will grapple with 'gay marriage' and related motions, or of the regional Anglican church in Canterbury facing a storm relating to our buildings.

Why is God permitting these storms? I suggest it is because God (to employ other images from nature) winnows and prunes the church from time to time. No doubt God also wants us to be ruled by Jesus Christ and not by our buildings and their issues.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Are opponents of gay marriage the New Pharisees?

Diving deep, deep down into hidden depths of possible permutations in arguments for and against extending (or transforming) our understanding of marriage to allow that this divine institution does not, in fact, require a man and a woman at its core yields at least one interesting thought: to oppose such change in definition is to be a 21st century version of the Pharisees who opposed Jesus in the first century. I draw this conclusion from a recent comment in a very long thread of responses to a post below. In that comment the following is said (about me),

"I thought I'd made it clear that I accept the clarity of Scripture on the rightness of sexual relations within marriage -- you say here I think the opposite!

What I am suggesting is that it is because of this that the institution of marriage should be extended to include same-sex couples.

Your position, which I do not regard as conservative but rather fundamentalist, is that the fact that Scripture only cites mixed-sex marriage that this is the only form of marriage possible. This is a position that runs counter to the principles laid out in the Articles of Religion. You are free to hold it, of course, but others are free to reject it.

In the long run, I do not think you are doing hermeneutics, or exegesis, but eisegesis -- you are reading into Scripture limitations that are not in the text, but imported and generalized.

Your words about accountability before God, and the day of judgment, are well stated. I am glad that you show willingness to apply them to yourself, and to see if you are standing with Jesus, or with those who found fault with him, on their reading of Scripture, and faith to their traditions. The mercy of God is unending, but is most generous towards those who seek to show charity and mercy to others, rather than engaging in judgment as to what is right or wrong in them or their lives."
With the italicised (by me) words I think we have a reasonable description of the methodology of Pharisaism as portrayed in the gospels. The Pharisees, according to the gospels, misunderstood Jesus, interpreted Scripture 'fundamentalistically' when it suited, and not when it didn't, instead importing traditions and interpretations to justify their conclusions which often were the opposite of a plain reading of Scripture. Further the Pharisees were quick to pronounce when people were wrong, especially in their sexual behaviour. (To be clear, the commenter is not throwing the charge of Pharisaism or neo-Pharisaism at me. But in gospel terms, among those opposed to Jesus are the Pharisees, and their type of opposition is invoked in the description above).

Well, if the cap fits etc. But just before I put the cap on, might we have a moment or two to consider the extraordinary state the argument above thinks it has achieved:

(1) We might doubt that marriage is limited to a gender differentiated state.

(2) Actually, we might be sure that marriage is not limited to a gender differentiated state.

(3) Indeed, we can be so sure of (2) that we can move beyond this being a matter of adiaphora (agreeing to disagree among Christians) to it being a matter in which those not on the side of gay marriage are both not on the side of Jesus and for wont of good arguments to be counted among his opponents as the New Pharisees.

Of course, I might be the only one who thinks this to be extraordinary and I ought not to be given any reprieve from wearing a cap with "NP" inscribed on it.

I have a bit more sympathy for the Pharisees. Dimwits that they were in seeking to uphold the status quo!

Friday, June 22, 2012

What was Luke up to?

All joking about Luke being a proto-Anglican aside, what was Luke up to when he wrote his two part narrative of the mission of Jesus?

Consider the sense in which by Acts 28 the mission of Jesus has made it to Rome, the seat of imperial power, yet one of the powerful motivations highlighted by Luke which pushes the mission forward in the days of Jesus himself is concern for the poor. Is Luke a communist or a charitable conservative?

But the same Luke is the original Pentecostal. No other gospel writer has the same sense that the power at work in and through Jesus is the Holy Spirit. Nor that the same Holy Spirit is the continuity in the mission of Jesus between the days of the earthly Jesus and the days of the ascended Jesus. Miracles, speaking in tongues, prophecies, dreams, words of knowledge, Luke knows all the gifts of the Spirit.

Yet the politically radical Luke is not confined to concern for the poor ... (to be continued tomorrow morning).

... picking up from last night, Luke is intriguing about the role of women in the history of the mission of Jesus. Whereas Matthew tells us about the birth of Jesus from Joseph's perspective (with Mary, more or less, merely being the woman who bears and gives birth to the Saviour), Luke develops a strong Marian perspective (to say nothing of an Elizabethan input). Only Luke of the gospel writers tells us as much as he does about the supportive role of leading women as disciples behind the disciples of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3). Acts features women in leading roles in the life of the fledgling church (Mary the mother of Jesus, Tabitha, Mary the mother of John Mark, Lydia, Priscilla, Philip's four unmarried daughters with the gift of prophecy), albeit a church with strong male leadership. Nevertheless Acts flows with the Spirit of Pentecost whom Joel had predicted would be poured out on men and women.

In other words, the Lukan interest in women following Jesus in his gospel is a continuing interest in the history of the ancient church.

But these interests, a bias (to remint a now familiar phrase) towards the poor, towards women, is also a bias towards Gentiles: the point of the burgeoning story of the mission of Jesus is that it radiates outwards, geographically from Judea to Italy, but also sociologically, from the rich to the poor, from men to women, from Jew to Gentile. What is Luke up to? Luke is telling Jesus' story for the world in a manner which consciously speaks to certain people groups (the poor, women, Gentiles). The other gospel writers have a keen interest in the gospel for the whole world, but they take little trouble to connect with specific groups which might hear the gospel as an inclusive gospel but wonder if that really means them. But to do what Luke does is to open up the possibilities of a new world when people are converted to Christ: in this world the poor will be loved (in such a way that they will no longer be poor because, e.g., the Zacchaeus' of the old world will have shared their wealth), women will be heard and Gentiles will be included in table fellowship. This new world is a subversion of the old world, not just the old world populated by people converted to Christianity.

What is Luke up to? Precisely what Christians are accused of in Thessalonica:

"These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also." (Acts 17:6)
PS I have typed part of this post using a loaned MacBook Air. The ideal blogging tool when on the road. I am sure Luke, were he telling his stories today, would be using one!

Who was Luke?

In some ways Luke was a proto-Anglican. Cultured, learned, keen on breaking bread, upholding the authority of the apostles and their episcopal authority centralised in Jerusalem, Luke developed a nice line through Acts which saw the faith enter the capital of the empire, thus opening up the close connection between state and ecclesial power that Anglicans have never eschewed. Even in the US, Episcopalians have never been embarrassed by the number of Presidents who have come from their ranks.

My task next semester is, however, to teach on Luke's Gospel in a non-denominational setting (Laidlaw College) so I need to reserve all such Anglican admirations for Luke, and focus on the real Luke of the ancient and primitive church. Recently I came across this lovely description of a significant shift in Lukan studies in the last century (when Hans Conzelmann published Die Mitte der Zeit: Studien zur Theologie des Lukas in 1954; English Translation 1961 as The Theology of St. Luke):

"Before this, Luke was thought of as a homely old Hellenist: doctor, author, friend of Paul. He was seen as a man of wide sympathies but no great theological depth ... [after Conzelmann] Luke is a man with a theological axe to grind. He is picture as one who has systematically manipulated and recast his sources down to the smallest detail, in order to squeeze them into his overall theological framework."*
The first part sounds like Anglicans of the older days when none of our number produced anything like the works of Calvin or Barth. The second sounds like blogging Anglicans of today!

*Wilson, S. G., 'Lukan Eschatology', New Testament Studies 16 (1969-70), 330, cited in Thiselton, Anthony C., " 'Reading Luke ' as Interpretation, Reflection, and Formation', 3, in Bartholomew, Craig G., Green, Joel B., & Thiselton, Anthony C. (eds.), Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation, Milton Keynes: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, (2005).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dumbing Down Our Worship?

Interesting observations here at the SMH re participation in a service which, as far as I can tell, could have been just about anywhere in Australasia. (H/T Noble Wolf). Incidentally we need to make as much use as we can of the free access to the SMH which is about to go behind a paywall!

Not every service which begins casually is necessarily a "dumbed down" service. But there are some big questions facing churches Down Under as we work out what it means to prepare and perform services of worship in a culture which celebrates casualness, in churches which, for one reason or another, have absorbed deep presuppositions which are antagonistic to the former way of doing things, and in an atmosphere of fear that we will die if we do not capture the next generations for the cause of Christ. In such a context it is (in my view) too easy to 'throw the bathwater out with the baby', to change, for instance, every aspect of worship services, rather than, say, just the music.

In terms of the article, we have a challenge to think more carefully, and prayerfully, about form, structure and content for worship services in the 21st century. The 'feel' of them must be different to, say, the 1950s. But what in form, structure or content contributes to the right 'feel'?

One final observation re this article: I think we have gotten to where we are in many instances re the character of our services because we have adjusted them to suit the congregation as it gathers (which is often an eclectic mix of backgrounds in several denomination) but in doing so have lost sight of what constitutes an accessible service for the stranger, newcomer, or returner. There is always a missional edge to whatever we do in the church.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rowan Channelling Dostoevsky to Bloggers

Lovely interview with ++Rowan in the Evening Standard.

This catches my eye. It sounds a pertinent warning to bloggers, as much as any other communicators.

"Certainly, it’s hard to imagine any successor providing a Dostoevskian reading of the Leveson Inquiry (he once told David Cameron he should read more of the great Russian novelist). “Dostoevsky is an amazing analyst of cliché, of the half-thought, and the half-feeling of politics, Right and Left. But what Dostoevsky is pushing at us all the time is that you are responsible for a great deal more than you know. You are answerable for the people you want to ignore. That cuts both ways. You may find that the words you used innocently are actually responsible for pushing someone else into despair or violence.” "

Wake Up Australia Before Its Too Late

Headline in the NZ Herald online this morning:

"Legalising of gay marriage doomed unless Abbott allows conscious vote"

Essentially life is tough for Kiwi consciences. We want to think well of our cousins across the ditch. But so many temptations to think badly of them come our way. I wonder if the Ozzie parliament is comatose, drunk or asleep?

Or maybe our journalists in Auckland just can't spell.


PS For some brilliant writing by one of the world's best journalists, catch up on the folly of European machinations re Greece and the Euro, arguably the one current trouble in the world to overshadow them all ...

"Life seems impossible without [wheelie suitcases], and soon they will no doubt be joined by so many other improvements – acne cures, electric cars, electric suitcases – that we will be strengthened in our superstition that history is a one-way ratchet, an endless click click click forwards to a nirvana of liberal democratic free-market brotherhood of man. Isn’t that what history teaches us, that humanity is engaged in a remorseless ascent?

On the contrary: history teaches us that the tide can suddenly and inexplicably go out, and that things can lurch backwards into darkness and squalor and appalling violence. The Romans gave us roads and aqueducts and glass and sanitation and all the other benefits famously listed by Monty Python; indeed, they were probably on the verge of discovering the wheely-suitcase when they went into decline and fall in the fifth century AD.

Whichever way you look at it, this was a catastrophe for the human race. People in Britain could no longer read or write. Life-expectancy plummeted to about 32, and the population fell. The very cattle shrunk at the withers."

The whole of Boris Johnson's article is here. Boris is also the Mayor of London.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Insuring against catastrophe

I have been doing some thinking lately about our current plight in the Diocese of Christchurch about buildings. Some of the thinking has been around submitting a motion for our next Synod in September (cited below, with explanation). Some has been around the particular circumstances of the damaged building at St Aidan's Bryndwr where I am interim Priest in Charge. Some has been in relation to other parishes working out what they are going to do about their situations. In this post I am raising the question, Do we need to insure against earthquakes?

The question is worth raising because (a) the premiums for insurance this year are huge (a 530% increase on last year's premiums), (b) currently the excess on the collective insurance we have is $15 million (which means that in a minor earthquake there might be no payout despite the huge pay in of premiums, and (c) it appears that other churches are not required to have earthquake insurance, a notable example being the Anglican cathedral of Wellington which I am told has not had earthquake insurance for many years. It seems to me that the insurance the Anglican Insurance Board has procured for us is insurance for catastrophic earthquakes, not for (comparatively) minor earthquakes. In terms of our earthquake experiences in Canterbury, it is insurance for 22 February 2011 and not 4 September 2010. But it is the best they can do in a market somewhat loathe to provide insurance!

Of course it sounds simple and neat to not have insurance for a catastrophic earthquake, but we do need some provision for paying for the demolition of buildings, and there are considerations about public liability and such things which I do not understand well.

What are your views?

My submission re our Synod:
"That this Synod,

Notes changes to our Title F Canon 3 Clause 14 (on insurance of church buildings) at our recent General Synod (July, 2012), the effect of these changes being to clarify that church trustees are not required to ensure insurance for earthquake damage as part of their prudential duties,*

Notes other dioceses and other denominations in Aotearoa New Zealand are permitting buildings not to be insured for earthquake damage,**

Notes that our own Financial Regulations (2007) Section 13 Clause 13.2 states, “All buildings and other improvements will have material damage insurance cover for replacement value unless specifically agreed otherwise with the Church Property Trustees”,

Notes that current premiums for earthquake insurance are potentially either unaffordable by some parishes or inhibiting of continuation of current provision for stipended ministry,

And therefore,

Agrees to the principle that parish buildings in the Diocese of Christchurch for the time being need not be insured for earthquake risks; and

Recommends to the Church Property Trustees the principle that parish buildings in the Diocese of Christchurch for the time being need not be insured for earthquake risks, and

Asks the Diocesan Manager to convey this resolution to the Church Property Trustees on the close of this session of Synod.

Mover: Peter Carrell

Explanation: It is clear to the mover, both from conversations with clerical and lay synod members, and from participation in a seminar at St Timothy’s Burnside on Saturday 26 May, 2012 led by the Anglican Insurance Board, that there is (a) considerable concern about the affordability of insurance premiums re earthquake cover, (b) questioning whether earthquake cover is necessary for the time-being, with such questions being more urgently raised when it is realised that the Diocese of Wellington, at least in relation to Wellington city, is not requiring insurance for earthquake cover.

It is also the understanding of the mover that some buildings in the Diocese of Nelson are not being insured for earthquake cover; as well, some Presbyterian buildings are likewise not being insured, a notable and historic example being Knox Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.

Whether this motion is the best form of words to address this matter is open to question but the mover feels strongly that the parishes of the Diocese of Christchurch should not be bound to pay what they do not need to pay, and thus there should be a debate in Synod on this matter.

*A proposal is going to General Synod for such change. Obviously we need to receive the actual change (if any) which General Synod agrees to. The proposal to General Synod is in a PDF attached in the email this document is being sent by.

**To the mover’s knowledge this includes the Diocese of Wellington and the Diocese of Nelson, as well as the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand." Cited from the submission I made on 1 June 2012.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Jesus and Paul command a gender free marriage rite

It has been interesting discussing the question of whether marriage requires a man and a woman or not with Tobias Haller (see posts below with many comments, here and there). Not least the interest comes as our forthcoming General Synod distributes the motions proposed to it to GS members (but not, yet, to the church at large, see below), and as our Commission of Eminent Persons is announced and commissioned. Among the motions are some pertaining to same sex partnerships. In respect of the Commission, Bosco Peters has already published an open letter to it about the blessing of same sex relationships.

Now I imagine that among those pushing for Anglican churches here and there to adopt rites for the blessing of same sex relationships are those who see it as (effectively) a concession: same sex couples ought to have a rite available to them, but not something which changes existing marriage rites (one motion to our GS lies in this area of 'progress'). But others are going to be bolder and push for change to marriage rites, whether investing a same sex blessing rite as a marriage service alongside others as a formulary, or even pushing for marriage services to be gender free so as not to discriminate between kinds of couples (another motion to our GS lies in this area of 'progress'). Incidentally, Bishop Dan Martins of TEC canvases such streams of thinking about rites re the forthcoming GC in this post.

Back to Tobias Haller's comments here. If I understand him correctly then this is what Christians ought to understand to be going on in respect of the Bible and marriage:

a. The essence of marriage is in heart and mind values concerning mutuality, faithfulness, love, etc.
b. Complementary sexuality is not essential to marriage, despite possible appearances otherwise in Genesis 1 and 2, and in the teaching of Jesus and Paul. That is, the evolution of Jesus and Paul's teaching on divorce, marriage and remarriage leads to the conclusion that God is indifferent to the kind of couple making up a marriage.
c. Sexual difference is accidental to humanity, the substance of which is what Christ assumed in the incarnation and died for on the cross, with the consequence that attempts to argue for the limitation of marriage to a man and a woman are not only contrary to the consequences of Jesus and Paul's teaching but also a movement away from orthodox Christian theology.

Now, Tobias has not yet said the following here, but I wonder if consistency in logic requires the following "d." and "e.":

d. It is a matter of (mature after 2000 years theological reflection) obedience to the teaching of Jesus and of Paul, and of consistency with Trinitarian orthodoxy to make no distinction when talking of marriage between marriages which involve complementary gender and those which do not (because such distinction has no bearing on a biblical understanding of the essence of marriage).

e. Thus no marriage rite in a church faithful to Scripture and proclaiming of its orthodoxy should distinguish between the kinds of couples who make up a marriage. That is, Jesus would have us promulgate a gender free marriage rite (if the logic of Tobias Haller is free from error).

What do you think?

It is the inevitability that the church which progresses to having rites for the blessing of same sex relationships must progress to calling those blessed relationships 'marriages' and then must progress to making no distinction between allegedly different kinds of marriages, which troubles some of us.

(Postscript: I am passionately in favour of the understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman. The complementariness which makes marriage the special, indeed sacred relationship which it is, is not purely about sexual differentiation, it is about gender (Men from Mars, Women from Venus) differentiation being bound together into "one flesh" as a physical-and-hearts-and-mind union. So here and below I am arguing for marriage to be what it is intended to be by God. I acknowledge that do so comes very close to arguing against the significance of same sex relationships being acknowledged in the life of the church as relationships in which love, mutuality, commitment and so forth are affirmable characteristics. But it is not my intention to make that negative argument. However I think it worth the risk because it troubles me that the church might not know what it is doing in respect of its theology of marriage if it lets go of its foundation in the coupling of a man and a woman.)

ADDITIONAL NOTE: With H/T to David Ould,  go the SMH to read an article by Archbishop Peter Jensen on same sex 'marriage' and to Sydney Anglicans for a pastoral letter on the same matter by ++Peter. With H/T to Taonga, a further article re the Oz situation.

If the mother church can do it, couldn't we follow suit?

Thinking Anglicans alerts us to the first batch of C of E General Synod July papers appearing online. You will struggle to find the papers of our General Synod (which also meets in July) online. For example, not yet here on our official GS webpage.

Can we do it? Yes, we can. Take a scanner (most printers these days do this), a Scribd account, and, hey presto, it is possible. There is probably another route relying on professional web developers $blah$ $blah$.

If only I could find someone who has scanned some of the GS papers and has a Scribd account.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Can you kick an egg because it is shaped like a rugby ball?

Yesterday I published this:

""The argument that the physical embodiment of the sexes is morally determinative for marriage is identical in form and substance to the argument that the physical embodiment of the races is morally determinative for slavery." Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction

What do you think? Is this the epitome of Anglican incarnational theology, the cornerstone of all reasonable arguments for the malleability of marriage? Or? "
Thanks for the responses so far, thanks also to the correspondent who pointed me to this comment in the first place, and who made the observation that this is gnostic thinking.

To my mind Tobias Haller highlights the subtlety at work in theological arguments being made for change to understanding Christian marriage, or, if you prefer, to Christians understanding marriage. The subtlety is in clever phrasing which offers seemingly seamless transition from 'traditional' understanding of marriage to (what I will call here) 'new' understanding of marriage.

In the traditional understanding of marriage, the core relationship in marriage is the relationship between a man and a woman. Difficult questions arising from this core relationship have concerned number (might one have more than one wife or more than one husband?) and frequency (might one be married more than once?), to say nothing about method (how do I sustain the relationship I have entered into with my wife/husband? How do we together grow and develop our marriage?). Until recently such questions have rarely, if ever, in any culture, concerned gender: might I marry someone of the same gender as me?) There have also been questions about the economics of marriage (dowry, inheritance, joint ownership or otherwise of property) which themselves tie into questions about fruitfulness of marriage in respect of bearing and raising children. For Christians, the answers about number and frequency have been shaped by a commitment to monogamy. There should be just one husband and one wife in any marriage. There should be a permanence to marriage which is broken only by death of one party to it. Divorce is tragic. That some churches permit remarriage of divorcees is a facing of that tragedy. Divorce is a diminuation from the ideal. Remarriage is a form of remedy, but theologically it is not a derogation of the ideal.

In the new understanding of marriage, there is no core relationship, only the character of the marriage relationship (is it faithful, permanent, stable, loving?). Haller's argument appears to sweep away all previous assumptions about the core relationship constituting marriage being between a man and a woman.

One question to consider here is whether the church is authorised to make (or to agree to) a change to the understanding of marriage as a complementary relationship between a man and a woman. The setting of marriage in the first chapters of Genesis, to which our Lord refers back in his own teaching on marriage, sets out a divine authorisation for marriage as the exclusive and lifelong conjugation of a man and a woman. It is Adam and Eve, 'man' and 'woman', not Adam and Steve or Phoebe and Eve, who are placed together in this first marriage, purposed both for fruitfulness (Genesis 1) and companionable help (Genesis 2). This template is referred to again and again in Scripture, these multiple references undergirding the church's teaching on marriage since the days of the apostles. Even if Haller's neat syllogism above is logically correct, it does not, in itself, provide divine authorisation for a change in understanding of the core relationship for marriage. (I acknowledge here Bryden Black's influence on my thinking. He consistently, both in comments on this site, and in other conversations has raised this question of authorisation).

There is a question whether the syllogism even works. The argument that "the physical embodiment of the sexes is morally determinative for marriage" assumes that a marriage is moral when it is a partnership of a man and a woman and immoral when it is a partnership of two men or two women. But the point at issue is not the morality of marriage but what is marriage. Haller seems to have problem with the simple definition that marriage consists of a man and a woman and not of a man and a man or a woman and a woman. In a subsequent post, responding to a very recent C of E statement on the UK government's proposals re gay "marriage", he writes,

"The Church of England has issued a statement in response to the British Government proposal to recognize same-sex marriage. The document is a particularly disappointing rehash of the same defective anthropology and circular reasoning to which we have become accustomed on this issue. For example, the paper asserts:

Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history. Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.
The authors hammer away on the alleged "complementarity" of the sexes as a necessary component of marriage without apparently recognizing either the circular nature of that argument or the dangerous tendency towards Christological heresy inherent in its anthropology. The circular nature of the argument is: “Marriage can only take place between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman are of different sexes.” This is, of course, merely restating the premise."
On the contrary, the nature of the argument is necessarily circular because we are talking about the definition of marriage. Marriage can only take place between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman can make a marriage. A question might then be, What is distinctive about marriage between a man and a woman in comparison with any other marriage-like relationship between two men or two women? The answer is then the real (not alleged) complementarity of the sexes: marriage is the bringing together of the two embodiments of humanity, male and female. Whether we focus on the complementarity of the sexes for the purposes of procreation, which biblically, historically, and contemporaneously is one of the primary reasons for marrying (notwithstanding Haller's consistent attempts to downplay procreation's importance), or on the particular companionship which is the companionship of complementary sexes becoming 'one flesh', the distinction of marriage over all other relationships rests on the complementarity at its core.

To suggest that complementarity is not a necessary component of marriage begs the question what is it about the biblical or historical account of marriage, let alone the importance of marriage in the ongoing generation of human society, which obscures this foundational truth.

In the citation immediately above, Haller offers another criticism of defenders of complementarity: "the dangerous tendency towards Christological heresy inherent in its anthropology." He goes on to explain this criticism,

"The more dangerous, and heretical, trend of this argument lies in the suggestion that the sex difference implies a different order of being for men and women. This is known as sexism, and it undercuts the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation."

I find this to be unconvincing. The sex difference between men and women does imply a different order of being for men and women, and precisely so in the context of marriage and family. We are not talking here about the right and ability of men and women to (say) vote or own a house or take a job as an accountant. In such contexts there is only one order of humanity: voting, ownership, employment are matters indifferent to the sexes. Actually, in employment, matters might not be so simple. Precisely because of sexuality we are often not indifferent to the question of a man being responsible for small children in (say) a childcare facility, or a woman seeing a male doctor without another person being present. But in marriage and family contexts there are different orders of humanity: only a woman may be a mother, only a man may be a father, and, dare I say it, only a woman can be a wife and a man a husband. No matter how nurturing and mother-like I may be as a father to my children, I am not (and never will be, even if my wife died) their mother. Not least because in the complementarity of the sexes, I did not conceive, carry and give birth to them, to say nothing of continuing in relationship to them as that one who carries for all this life the experience of bearing them into the world, a relationship which in all sorts of ways is necessarily different to my relationship to them as their father. To call this differentiation "sexism" is very odd, and does not in the least undercut the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation.

All wives and husbands, all mothers and fathers are one order (with all non-wives, non-husbands, non-mothers, non-fathers) of sinners in need of the redemptive work of God the Son who became flesh that we might be healed. In short, there is a "both/and" aspect to the ordering of humanity which Haller bypasses when arguing that marriage understood as having complementarity at its core undercuts the doctrine of the incarnation. (Does anyone here think that Jesus, Paul, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther or Calvin would agree with Haller re marriage and the incarnation?)

Of course to reflect in this way is to explain that the physical embodiment of the sexes is intrinsic to marriage, though not to its moral determination but to its definition. If someone wants to argue the moral superiority of any relationship to marriage, that argument may proceed. But if the moral determinacy of marriage does not rest on its complementarity then loading in a comparative statement about slavery is neither here nor there to the question of complementarity as a core component of marriage. It is. (Or, if you like, it just is so).

We can kick an egg because it is shaped like a rugby ball, but the egg will not perform like a rugby ball. Though its form is the same, its substance is different.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anglican incarnational theology boils down to this?

"The argument that the physical embodiment of the sexes is morally determinative for marriage is identical in form and substance to the argument that the physical embodiment of the races is morally determinative for slavery." Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction

What do you think? Is this the epitome of Anglican incarnational theology, the cornerstone of all reasonable arguments for the malleability of marriage? Or?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Commission: have met, will meet, will listen, will achieve ... something, I hope

Yes, things can actually come to pass in our church. The appointing of a commission of eminent persons was announced. Then we heard that some eminent persons were not saying Yes to their invitations. Seemingly the commission was not coming into being. But it was. It has had its first meeting. We even know the names of the commission! Report here in Taonga.

The commission is:

"Sir Anand Satyanand, who was a lawyer, judge and ombudsman before he was chosen as New Zealand’s 19th Governor General;
Ms Mele Tuilotolava, a Tongan New Zealander lawyer who is also involved in a wide range of health, legal and Pacific Island advocacy work;

Professor Paul Trebilco, head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Otago;

Judge Judith Potter, a High Court judge, and former president of both the Auckland District and New Zealand Law Societies; and

Sir Tamati Reedy, an educationalist who was the founding Professor of the University of Waikato’s School of Maori and Pacific Development, and who has also served as the head of the Maori Affairs Department."
They are eminent enough that I have heard of three of them. I personally only know one of them. Of course the announcement that it consists of "eminent" persons begs a few questions about the absence of the truly eminent among us, say,  Richie McCaw or Sir Brian Lochore :)

The description of Professor Paul Trebilco does not give an important and relevant detail, namely, that Paul's academic speciality is New Testament studies. He made a great contribution as a consultant biblical scholar to our last Hermeneutical Hui (Auckland, 2010).

The terms of reference for the commission are here.

Let us pray for their work.

Indaba: we met, we listened, we achieved nothing

There is a view beginning to do the rounds of some bloggers that the way forward for the unCovenanted Communion is Indaba, the process brought to the fore at Lambeth 2008, which I understand to mean, Meet, Talk, Listen, Talk, Listen, Talk ...

But Indaba is already here. I think some Communion commission is already fostering its greater and wider presence in the life of the Communion. It seems to have been part of a joint meeting of North American and African bishops whose communique has just been published.

You can read it here.

This is my summary of the communique: we met, we listened, we achieved nothing.

Listening is a vital centre to the communique. Here is its paragraph on mission:

"We affirm that mission is a meeting-place with God and with others. Mission isn’t something we do to another, but a way of being together in the presence of God as God transforms and reconciles the world to himself. To be in mission is to assume a listening stance – listening for how God is at work in the world, for how others are responding to and participating in that work, and for how we might offer ourselves and our gifts into partnership in that work."
This is all well and good as far as it goes. But it misses the (dare I use the word) biblical aspect of mission in which Christ calls us to proclaim (i.e. talk, speak, enunciate with audible words) the gospel.

The great question of mission in the 21st century is not whether the church is listening to God, the world, or the dawn chorus. It is whether anyone is listening to the church.

Thankfully in some places the world is listening.

But if Indaba is the future of the unCovenanted Communion, count me out. Not least because I couldn't sleep at night for knowing that the jet plane I travelled in to get to the place of Achieving Nothing had contributed to the warming of the world.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Is the future for Covenant-less Anglican Communion more or less bleak than future of Roman Catholic church?

One of the oddest features of the arguments against the Anglican Covenant is their distinctly unAnglican character if we meaure that character against the idea of the "via media." It is worth thinking about this for a moment as we take in the news that Scotland has voted No to the Covenant (now there is a surprise), and absorb the impact this might be having on TEC a few weeks out from its General Convention, where no less than seven resolutions are on the table currently, to say nothing of its impact on our own ACANZP's General Synod debate on the Covenant in Fiji in the same month.

So a number of arguments against the Covenant invoke a fear of Romanization of the Anglican Communion ("We don't want a pope!", "There will be a curia if we have this darn Covenant"). Now, if the Communion were to be Romanized, it would be quite fair to fear. Take this blogpost in the Tablet (no less) which reminds us of the intricacies of Roman canon law as it responds to divorce and remarriage, both finding a way to prevent reception of the eucharistic elements for remarried divorcees (no matter how contrite) while offering the possibility of redefining (in some cases, at least) a real divorce of a proper marriage as an "annulment." [H/T Fr Ron Smith]. That's the stuff of Roman Catholic legal culture that is disagreeable for many Protestants, indeed even for Anglicans who vigorously deny that they are Protestants. Does any Anglican want to go down that route as the future of our church? All right, you do. But how many of your friends want to join you?

But does the Covenant take us to this Romanized Anglicanism? I assert what I have argued here many times before that the answer is "No." To try to summarise those arguments: the Covenant does not institute a Curia, a Magisterium, let alone a Pope, but it does inaugurate a means for resolving differences between member churches on matters one such church cares enough about to make a complaint, and it does so on the basis of some agreement together on what we hold in common.

Where are we left if we do not agree to the Covenant? Again, recalling some past posts here, it is my view that the Covenant is ineffective if we have some 6-8 or more member churches formally refusing to adopt it. With Scotland's No we are getting closer to that, so this question is lively. What is left? Not much in my view. We are left with a Communion which will have refused to grow closer together, thus reasserting the paramount value of individual autonomy for member churches, and, despite pleasant talk about wanting to do more things together and talk more, no means to establish what our common life is. nor to demur when that common life is undermined by yet another stage in the diversification of Anglicanism.

I suggest the Roman Catholic church has a somewhat bleak future to it if it cannot engage better with life as we find it rather than life as we wish it to be - an engagement as the blogger James Robert reminds us which should be driven more by the question of What Jesus would do than the question of what canon law means.

But I wonder if the Anglican Communion has an even bleaker future if it cannot engage better with what the 'common' bit of Communion means.

At least James Robert, as he engages with his own church's peculiar logic, can mount an argument for change because there is a wrong to be righted. In a Covenant-less Communion the best we can do as we look around us is to observe that what another church is doing is interesting. None dare call wrong what another's General Synod has called right.

On this analysis, I suggest that the Covenant is actually the via media between the tight unification with associated casuistry of canonical law represented by Rome and the unchecked diversification of of an unCovenanted Communion.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sad or exciting news out of Dunedin?

A week ago I was alerted to the existence of a "doomsday" letter from +Kelvin Wright, the Bishop of Dunedin, to his Diocese. That letter is now available +Kelvin's blog, Available Light. The contents confirm what has been talked about for many years now, that the Diocese of Dunedin (i.e. the provinces of Otago and Southland), arguably less well heeled with trust income than any other pakeha diocese, and experiencing continuing loss in attendance numbers, is in a decline re "diocesan structure" which may be terminal. Indeed there were rumours, prior to the election of +Kelvin, that the Diocese might have to be amalgamated into the Diocese of Christchurch (which, on a moment's thought is a pretty nutty idea: the vast regions of Otago and Southland would require some kind of full-time archdiaconal if not episcopal position as part of an enlarged diocese and the Christchurch Diocese's reasonable expectation would be that financial support for that would come from Otago and Southland, ergo, no actual financial savings through amalgamation).

+Kelvin has also published a post entitled Responses which sets out some of the creative possibilities beginning to emerge as this situation is responded to now that it has emerged from the shadowy world of rumours and teacup prognostications.

Noting a comment on Facebook last night, that this is actually really exciting news (in the sense that the old clapped out institutional Anglican church has to die in order for the really great and flipping marvellous non-institutional church to emerge with all the freedom and zaniness of a butterfly in flight), I feel I must offer a considered title to this post which acknowledges all possible futures for the Diocese of Dunedin!

However, in my view, since I think all corporate bodies "institutionalise" themselves (and all butterflies have a comparatively short lifespan), I see this news as only exciting if certain changes are made while the body corporate is alive.

In New Zealand we should remember that the resurrected Anglican church in respect of bits and pieces of it which have died is not a new Anglican church but the church of other names, betokening pentecostal, baptist, and other forms of Christianity. A point which impressed itself on me during this past week when I went to a mayoral prayer breakfast for about 100 church leaders, of whom only half a dozen were Anglican - for all the fuss over the cathedral in our city, we could bulldoze it, turn it into a green space, close up all the Anglican churches and leave Christianity in Christchurch alive and very well. But I digress. Back to Dunedin.

What could change in Dunedin Diocese?

On the one hand, some things there do not need to change. As +Kelvin's letter points out, there are several very healthy congregations in the Diocese. It is not as though the Diocese has no current experience of lively, growing churches. It does. There is always the possibility of asking what has led to this life and growth and what might be replicated from it in other places.

On the other hand, some things which could change need a very long, wide and hard look. Recently +Kelvin spoke at a clergy conference in my diocese. I was shocked to hear from him that the decline of the Anglican churches in Southland (which I had known about) is more or less matched by decline in Presbyterian (effectively the "established" church of Otago and Southland), Catholic and Methodist churches. That suggests that in Southland, there is something going on in the fabric of society which is inimical to the progress of the gospel: whatever needs changing down there is not simply about change to the Anglican way of being and doing church. Incidentally, at one level the "hard" part of this possible change concerns a challenge to rural churches which I have not seen or heard being successfully met in any part of NZ: how do we get dairy farmers, sharemilkers and dairy farm workers to church? They work hard, long hours, seven days a week ...

I am sure there are other changes that will come from within the Diocese itself as it gets a radical review going. It is not without hope of changes which will make the Diocese function well, albeit in different ways. One thing I would urge consideration of (and would urge it on any parish or diocese in NZ experiencing financial difficulties) is thinking about how assets could be put to better use. It strikes me that a lot of our "doom and gloom" talk is about how little cash we have, but never about selling some of our assets to improve the cashflow. Take a parish which sits on a million dollars worth of assets which are hardly used timewise while wondering how to pay the stipend and the power bill with a declining congregation. We tend to write the termination of appointment letter before thinking about putting a For Sale sign up! Many of those flourishing pentecostal congregations  around NZ rent school halls for the their Sunday services ...

Also, and again, this is a comment for our whole church, reflecting on some conversations going on in our diocese as we get to grips with re-shaping it, we do need to think about our theology.

It is pretty obvious to me that some theologies pay their way (putting it crudely) better than other theologies. Are we being serious as we review our life in these islands if we do not also review what theologies we should be committed to and what theologies we should give a dignified funeral to?

Friday, June 8, 2012

The growing Anglican Church in North America

There are three churches in North America offering to the people of North America the gospel of Christ with an Anglican flavour to the discipleship of Christ consequent on receiving that gospel. One of those churches is meeting at the moment in assembly of representatives. According it the presidential address to that assembly, it is a growing church, planting congregations. It is also a developing church, resolving various hiccups. It will be interesting to see as this year unfolds whether the other two churches offer similar signals of growth and development. One of the two, for instance, meets in its general assembly in July. That meeting will be fascinating as it reckons with a declining budget which is being vigorously discussed online.

Here is an excerpt from Archbishop Bob Duncan's address,

"Anglican 1000

Church planting is now understood as the central work of our Province. If we are to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ, we will do it through the agency of the local congregation. The Constitution of the Anglican Church in North America wisely recognizes the local congregation as the fundamental mission agency of our Church. It also recognizes the people of God as the fundamental agents of that mission.

The Provincial Assembly that opens tomorrow opens under the banner of "captivating disciples, multiplying congregations and transforming communities." That work is the work of the local congregation. The call to plant 1,000 new congregations, given three years ago at our Inaugural Assembly, has, in Canon Dave Roseberry's words, "changed the subject in this Church." We have long ago stopped talking about where we came from and long since focused on what God has called us to do. If we are to reach America, we must plant churches.

More than 200 new congregations have been planted. This in itself is remarkable. We have a long way to go. Will we plant another 800 in the next two years? It is a challenge way beyond us, but not too big for our God. Anglican 1000 was launched and guided from Christ Church Plano. For the first two and one half years Dave Roseberry was Chairman and Daniel Adkinson Executive Director. Had it not been for them we would not be where we are today. But it became clear to the Chairman early in this year that the next phase of Anglican 1000 needed to be centered in the Provincial office, at the Province's heart - if the next phase of what had to be done was to be done. We launched a global search. Tomorrow, I will announce its result. We are thrilled with the outcome. To those who know him well, the Vicar for Anglican 1000 is described as the Barnabas ("Son of Encouragement") and the catalytic leader required for the next phase of our signature initiative, for us to go quite literally from strength to strength. One thousand remains our aim and our endeavor. To God be the glory."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Possibly the most boring theologian in the world

This was put together for Society of Salt and Light's June meetings on the theme of Hell.

I didn't realise I could be so dry and dull. But then there must have been a reason for the cameraman falling asleep.

You too can write theology and get rich

I am nothing if not generous. Also I am unable to keep a secret where money is concerned. So here, with some unexpected blogging time because my flight to Wellington is cancelled due to the weather (snowed yesterday, ice on the runway today), is my generous revelation of a secret way to write theological books and make money. My own personal experience of writing theological books and articles, till now, has been singularly unenriching in the monetary sense. But no longer. The secret I wish to share with you is this:

Stop writing Protestant theology. It is not a money spinner.*

Start writing Roman Catholic theology. But with a twist. Include a few things which are not Roman Catholic theology (here is where starting out as a Protestant, especially a liberal Protestant, offers some advantages).

Then be patient. This is the secret which many post-modernists find hard to take, but it is essential. Success is not guaranteed in under six years. Be patient. Wait.

What for?

For the Vatican to find you out.

Then pray. Pray that you will be publicly dressed down, even banned. Yes, banning is good for aspiring theologians seeking some cash.

Finally, keep an eye on your Amazon sales. Expect your sales rankings to increase dramatically, say, from 142,982th least seller to 16th best seller.

Ring your bank manager.

This secret is given away freely. But if you care to share your new found riches with me, I can supply my bank details. It's the Lagos branch ...


*That, unfortunately, is an unintended consequence of having no Protestant magisterium.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One cathedral to rule over them all

Our intrepid cathedral journeyers are now posting their photos and reflections on the internet.

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco [I have added this, 8 June 2012, a second link was emailed to the Diocese today but I cannot get that to work. I really don't like the Jubilee church. Too stark. Our current cathedral has some warmth to it. Plus, I think more and more, having been prompted recently about this, if we are to have a new cathedral then, we must have one which is anchored into the South Pacific, not into Europe or America.]

These reflections are excellent - posing great questions.

My reaction from afar: neither of the first two cathedrals is the cathedral for Christchurch, but aspects of each could be incorporated into ours.

We are looking for one cathedral to rule over them all.

Perhaps we will only find it when we build it!

But I need to add a postscript, the movement to save the current cathedral in Christchurch continues apace, including a thoughtful and fairly irenic article in this morning's Press. An interesting shift seems to be going on in the focus of the arguments: no longer blaming Bishop Victoria and the Diocese for the loss of the cathedral, but appealing instead to the government to save the cathedral in the 'national' interest.

But, in a later postscript, I note that the Queen herself is not going to be able to persuade the PM to change his mind.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Health & Wealth

I am delighted to promote this book, written by one of our priests in the Diocese of Christchurch.

It can be purchased through Amazon, the Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, or Westbrow Press.

Gerard describes the book in this way:

"a newly published scholarly but accessible book about the pursuit and acquisition of health and wealth. There is a chapter that discusses Chinese Religions as it engages Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in a secular context. More importantly it discusses how a Chinese religious worldview may influence Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity that continues to fuel its goals and aims. This book also gives insight to modern Chinese cultural practices and why Chinese people are driven to work hard because of their religious worldview to secure health and well-being. If you are doing ministry among other ethnic groups or wish to reach out to Chinese people, this book will aid in that understanding."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Death of a civilization enveloped by moral fog?

Okay it is a form of grandstanding to make pronouncements about the death of Western civilization. But maybe these pronouncements should be made, because our civilization is in its last gasps of life. It is not as if we are not staring down the barrels of a Western economic "total emergency" as now not only Greece threatens to go belly up, but so does Spain. Nor is it the case that we are living in an era of inspiring leaders whom we may follow with confidence into the turbulent headwinds of the future. Why, even Maureen Dowd has taken on the role of declaring that the emperor has no clothes. When some say that only in the German Chancellor does a smidgeon of hope lie for the future, we are clearly living in interesting times!

We are staring down the barrels of an economic recession to end all recessions because we have grown lazy as thinkers. Western civilization is a product of thinking. Greek philosophy x Christian theology x Roman statecraft spawned Western civilization. Our civilization developed in leaps and bounds (with occasional regressions between) as the beauty and truth of Greek and Roman culture were reappropiated and rediscovered (Augustinianism, Thomism, the Renaissance) and combined with Christian reappropriation of its gospel roots (Franciscanism, Reformation), with a Saturn 5 rocket booster pushing us forward through the Enlightenment into a long era of scientific discovery, all aided by careful clear thinking which sought to evade inconsistency in order to find coherency in politics, ethics and business.

A singular Christian contribution to the development of Western civilization has been compassion so that the excesses of capitalism and of communism have been beaten back by regard for the worth of human beings. That clarity of theological insight about the worth of people as made in the image of God has driven forward, consciously or unconsciously the progress of Western civilization in overcoming inequalities of (say) slavery and oppression of women.

But have we entered into an era in which our thinking has moved from the clarity of the Enlightenment to the fog of Post-Modern Multi-Cultural Pluralism? On the economic front, it appears that we are in the mess we are in because we have confused entitlement to basic human rights for food, shelter and medical care with entitlement to a complex system of benefits which, effectively, involve a disregard for both the straight dollar cost of these benefits and the amount of labour required to earn those dollars. We also seemed to have confused ourselves about the cost of reproductive choices in the West: I belong to a generation in which, routinely, my friends growing up came from families with four, five or six children. But we ourselves in our marriages are routinely producing none to four children. There should be no confusion in our minds that our expected long retirements can be adequately funded by our children. But there is confusion!

This week, however, I have come across a very opaque fog in Western thinking. Across in the USA some legislators are trying to outlaw "sex-selection abortions" (i.e. abortions for the reason of not wanting a girl baby). One might reasonably expect that the outcome of all that Greek philosophy, Christian theology, Enlightenment rights thinking would be a unanimous vote for outlawing this dreadful determination that girls are lesser humans than boys. But no. As pointed out here (drawing on here, here, here and here), US legislators cannot agree that the right of women to be treated equally with men trumps the right to make a choice to abort on the basis of sex-selection. (In a savage irony, the legislators trying to ban such abortions are Republicans and the legislators resisting are the Democrats who have recently taken to savaging Republicans as having declared "War on Women". There is no more vicious war on women than the killing of babies because they are girls.)

I think we in the West are going to go on this way for quite a while. Bit by bit we are undermining ourselves. The civilization that grew on the back of clear thinking will die under the weight of foggy thought. Unless we can -as we have done before - reappropriate the treasures of the past.

There is no guarantee that this will happen.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What is a diocese?

Whether we are sorting out property disputes in North America, or working out whether two dioceses out of forty-four in England not agreeing to women bishops is worth bothering about, or live in Australia where (it seems to me) whatever is happening in Sydney is important to all other dioceses, or perhaps live in Uruguay which recently nominated a bishop the Province of the Southern Cone declined to confirm, the question "What is a diocese?" might be on our minds. It might also be useful to ask this question in the Diocese of Christchurch where we face overwhelming questions about the viability of many of our parish buildings, questions whose answers depend not only on the parishes themselves, but also on diocesan bodies such as Synod, Standing Committee and the Church Property Trustees (i.e. our diocesan trust board).

Sometimes we say in Anglican conversations that the basic ministry unit of Anglican churches is 'the diocese'. Theologically I understand this to mean that the key office(r) of the church is 'the bishop', so the church in its fullness is found where Christians gather in communion around their bishop. That is, the diocese is the church in its fullness, no smaller unit of ministry (on this theology) is the church in its fullness.

Clearly this is not all there is to say, because bishops do not arrive in a diocese solely by means of the diocese, which means that the notion that the diocese is the church in its fullness is up for discussion. That is, it is arguable that the diocese is not the church represented in its full fullness because a bishop is appointed to a diocese with the say so of other bishops (e.g. minimum of three to ordain a bishop), and, indeed, in some Anglican jurisdiction, with the say so of others (e.g. in ACANZP, a majority of the members of General Synod). Nevertheless, once a bishop is in place, a diocese stands alone if it desires: it can ordain its own clergy, train its own clergy. Well, maybe not all so simple: clergy implies regulations and over the years dioceses in our church and others have felt more secure having common regulations for ministry, to say nothing of common prayer books arrived at by more wisdom than resides in a diocese. Then there are arguments about the 'congregation' being the basic form of the church ...

Actually, cutting to the chase, I am doubtful (but open to arguments in comments) that the diocese is the basic ministry unit of the church. I suggest that in a Anglican framing of the church as an interdependent set of bodies, there is no one simple, discrete unit of the church. Rather there are units plural which in their complex relationships make up the church. There are parishes, but they can only operate so far without recourse to their diocese. There are dioceses, but they can only operate so far without recourse to the whole province/member church of the Communion to which they belong. There are provinces/member churches which can operate for a very long time and on a wide range of matters without recourse to the Communion, but recourse there is because something burns in the heart of the true church member which wants to be part of something larger. And the Communion itself keeps talking about re-union with Rome, Constantinople, and Geneva.

So, a diocese is not the church in its fullness. Bit of a negative answer to our question! What about a positive answer? I suggest, keeping the idea of interdependence in mind, that a diocese is both a corporation and a co-operative. It is a corporation in the sense that various bits of civil and ecclesial law talk about 'the Diocese of X' as a legal entity that can do this, own that, and even pass statutes and resolutions of its own. But it is also a co-operative in that 'the diocese' is hard to define without its bishop (elected as the local synod and (say) the General Synod co-operate), its synod and committees (which mostly do not exist without the co-operation of parishes as they come together to meet, to elect and to appoint), and its trust board(s) (whose members often are appointed by ... synod).

I haven't even talked about money, but here, also, the idea of corporation and co-operative are important. As a corporation a diocese owns property and receives monies, including bequests. As a co-operative a diocese finances aspects of its ministry and mission by contributions from its ministry units, those contributions ultimately being voluntary contributions in the sense that synod agrees to whatever system for collecting money is required to make things work (again, as synod agrees). The diocese which has large trust funds at its disposal is less dependent on the co-operation of synod for its workings than the diocese which has large dependency on parish contributions.

In ACANZP an often forgotten fact about diocesan life is that significant parts of what we do as 'dioceses' is dependent on a third source of funding, the annual grants from the St John's College Trust Board. I know of no episcopal unit in our church which could survive without immense pain and loss to its education and training if it suffered a sudden cessation of that funding. The good thing about that dependency is that it helps dioceses to meet together at General Synod and other forums because we go there to make sure that funding source is healthy and well governed. And don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

What happens when a diocese gets to a point where it cannot sustain what it thinks of as being the essense of 'diocesan' life? We will watch the next 12 - 24 months of the life of the Diocese of Dunedin, the clergy of which have just received a sobering letter from its bishop, Kelvin Wright, about the pressing financial situation it faces.

Back to corporation and co-operative. I suggest a diocese is an entity within the ecclesial community of Anglicans which lives as both a corporation and a co-operative. Either/or is not an option.

Perhaps my question here, "What is a diocese?" is miscast. The better question might be, "Is a diocese what we think a diocese is?"