Friday, August 31, 2012

Neutral on gay adoption?

Possible changes to aspects and elements of our NZ adoption law(s) re same sex couples adopting children look a bit complex for me to restate here, so I refer you to this NZ Herald article which tells us of two strands of reform coming our way.

I wonder if Christians should be neutral re proposed changes to the relevant laws for two reasons. One, as noted in the article, is that 'gay adoption' is already with us. Secondly, one can conceive of situations where one might not want to prohibit such adoptions, even if one was not in favour of them in principle. One example would be Fred and Mary have three children, marriage breaks up when Fred 'comes out' and enters a relationship with Steve, then Mary dies, and Fred falls ill, so Fred and Steve want Steve to adopt the children so if Fred dies, there is clarity about the continuing parenting. I am sure you can think of other possibilities in the complex array of human life.

What Christians need not be neutral about is the principle that every child should have as a primary possibility in life that they have two parents, one a mother and the other a father. Somewhere in the argumentation for change to the law we have an earnest entreaty that two parents of the same gender are as good as two parents of opposite genders, with the back up argument, citing a recent headline, of how dangerous a mum and a dad are for some abused children. That there are bad parents in reality is not, of course, an argument for or against any particular kind of parenting being favoured. Bad parenting arises out of a number of factors, none of which any group of parents can entirely escape. Say poverty is one of those factors (as it seems to be here in NZ). Whether we want to group parents into categories such as 'Maori' or 'Pakeha' or 'Polynesian' ... or 'gay', poverty affects all such groups. Anger management? I know of no group in society that is free of problems with anger. So let's talk principle and not undermine it with statistics.

When we read our Bibles, especially those first chapters in Genesis which are rich in treasures of wisdom and knowledge about God's purposes for our lives, we are inescapably impressed with the fertility of man and woman coming together as one flesh for the pro-generation of life. In this leaving and cleaving permanent relationship lies the origins of man and woman becoming father and mother, as well as the distinctions between men and women being cherished and celebrated. In parenting a father and a mother can 'parent' equally well (in modern terms, each can support their children on the sports field, ensure they are well fed, sent to school, and brought up with good manners and a sense of civic responsibility, all in a supportive and loving environment called 'home'). But only to a certain degree. A mother can never be 'father' to her children, and a father can never be 'mother' to his children. The lack of a father or a mother in someone's life is tragic and the tragedy is not averted by providing two parents of the same gender, no matter how wonderful those parents may be at aspects of parenting that can be done well irrespective of the gender of the parents. I suggest that we do not need to be neutral on the principle that every child should have a mother and a father as a primary possibility in life.

SIDETRACK: If this article is an accurate report of one Christian family's weekend, then two parents and one child must have had some very interesting conversations in the last few days!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Speaking accurately

In the least surprising news out of our parliament for some time, last night it passed the Louisa Wall marriage amendment bill at its first reading. We should be in no doubt that a huge sentiment is sweeping the country on this matter and that sentiment will drive the bill through its second and third readings. Unless your name is Canute, I wouldn't bother too much resisting the tide on this one.

Nevertheless we are a democracy and it is appropriate to make a few notes while we have freedom to speak about such tidal matters:

(1) I observe that at least one gay MP actually voted against the bill. I wonder why? Whatever the answer, it would be good to tone down thoughts that opposition to the bill is homophobic and bigoted. It wouldn't be fair to that particular MP!

(2) Somewhat plaintively might I appeal for accurate speech when we speak about such matters? Two instances in the past twenty-four hours of inaccurate speaking are these:

(a) Into our Inboxes yesterday popped our weekly diocesan e-news. This included a promotion for Glynn Cardy and St Matthew's-in-the-City billboard in favour of the bill with the following mentioned:

"St Matthew’s looks forward to a time when the barrier of sexual orientation will be removed from the requirement for a church wedding.  “Such prejudice”, says Vicar Glynn Cardy, “is contrary to the good news of Jesus Christ.” "

Accurate speech here would be this: "In my opinion as one individual in the church, and without any official support from any statement of any resolution of General Synod, actually, without even a declaration from the bishops of my church, let alone a 'mind of God' statement from my bishop, I  - Glynn Cardy - declare, simply on my own authority, such prejudice is contrary to the good news of Jesus Christ, even though there is not one statement in the gospels of Jesus Christ which suggests or implies that he would have conceived that marriage was possible for two men or two women." [See Addendum below].

(b) Louisa Wall herself, as cited in the article linked to above, spoke thus:

"‘‘Today is the time to open the institution of marriage to all people who are eligible,’’ Ms Wall told Parliament last night.

‘‘There is no reasonable ground on which the state should deny any citizen the right to enter the institution of marriage if he or she chooses. That is not the process of inclusion.’’


But she said it was ‘‘not the state’s role to sanction heterosexuality or homosexuality.’’
‘‘Nor is it the State’s role to judge the marriages of its citizens.’’"

I find this incredibly sad as an example of reasonable argument within our parliament.

It is logical nonsense to speak of opening the institution of marriage to all people who are 'eligible'. Parliament determines who are eligible for marriage (e.g. the minimum age at which one can marry, the degrees of consanguinity within which one may not marry). No one is 'eligible' to marry without parliament's legislation! Accurate speech here would be 'Today is the time to change the legislation regarding marriage and to broaden the criteria by which we deem people to be eligible to marry, but not so broad that we allow 'all people' to marry, because today we are not going to change the age of eligibility nor the degrees of consanguinity nor the requirement that marriage is monogamous.'

The nonsense continues in the next sentence! There are reasonable grounds on which the state should deny any citizen the right to enter the institution of marriage if he or she wished to make such choice! The state should deny children the right to marry, it should deny brothers the right to marry sisters, and it should deny more than two people the right to marry each other. As I understand parliament's action last night, it was not changing its mind that it is unreasonable to permit children, brothers/sisters, and more than two people the right to marry.

Well, I hardly need go on to the final statements in the citation above. Determining who is and who is not eligible to marry has nothing to do with sanctioning heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is the role of the state to judge it's citizens marriages. Indeed, get married in the wrong way overseas to a non-citizen of NZ and you will find the state is precisely and often immovably judgemental about such marriages should you wish to bring your non-citizen spouse back to these islands. Marry more than one person, or, as we had recent experience here in Canterbury, take a wedding illegally, and you will find the state has quite a bit to say about its citizens marriages!

Just in case readers here think nothing worth saying in favour of the bill can be said and said accurately, I suggest this is accurate speaking:

"National’s Nikki Kaye said the bill would give ‘‘dignity and acceptance’’ to a group in society who had only recently been criminalised for the people they loved."

It is entirely proper for parliament to have a say in the ways laws frame notions of dignity and acceptance of various groups in society. Whether changing the law about marriage is a necessary condition for enhancing dignity and acceptance of gays and lesbians is at the heart of the debate. Whether parliament should stop offering dignity and acceptance via amendments to the marriage law by not going on to provide for those who wish to marry their sisters or marry more than one person is also at the heart of the debate. 

What is not at the heart of the debate is opening the institution of marriage to 'all people' who are eligible etc: that is logical nonsense in the argument from the bill's own promoter which ill-befits our parliament as the highest and most powerful determiner of what is reasonable.

ADDENDUM: Re the St Matt's billboard. At last the Auckland bishops have spoken out against their outspoken cleric/church! As reported at Taonga,

"The Anglican Bishops in Auckland believe a St Matthew-in-the-City billboard about gay marriage leaves a confusing message and does not effectively communicate what good relationships are about.
The billboard shows two bride dolls kissing on top of a wedding cake. The caption reads: "We don't care who's on top."
The Auckland Bishops say the Anglican Church cares about good relationships and so does care about ‘who is on top’ in a relationship.
Bishop Jim White says that oddly the billboard does not convey clearly what St Matthew’s claims are the key foundations of a relationship – mutuality, fidelity and love.
"The billboard is a confusing message trading on clichés that I don’t think St Matthew's actually stands for," he says. 
Bishop Ross Bay is disappointed by the billboard but says he is not surprised because St Matthew’s stance on gay marriage is well known.
He says it adds nothing new to a good understanding of the issue. "This is a time for listening to one another and for careful conversations about a sensitive issue. Those conversations are getting under way in Parliament and wider society and in the church." 
The Bishops say the billboard opinion is that of the St Matthew’s congregation and does not represent the Auckland Diocese or the wider Anglican Church.
The Bishops are encouraging the church and the wider community to have respectful conversations that lead to a greater understanding of the issue currently before Parliament."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rightly handling the Word of God

Today our Parliament gets to debate the first reading of proposed changes to our law on marriage. Around the world, and our country, debate over the theology of marriage rumbles on. One challenge for Christians on such a matter (as on any matter) is how we read Scripture as we do theology. Paul challenges Timothy to rightly handle the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).

One thing quite noticeable in the i-world of Anglican discussion is an approach which cuts, slices and dices Scripture on marriage. In some ways I am not quite sure to what purpose. At a minimum this approach highlights the challenge of elucidating a biblical theology of marriage. But, at risk of making a hasty judgement, this approach does raise the question of whether it is pressing at a maximum for the impossibility of saying anything sensible, let alone authoritative about the use of Scripture in expressing a theology of marriage.

A recent example of such an approach (at least regarding the challenge of developing a biblical theology) is near here Down Under on Bosco Peters' Liturgy site (which should be read in conjunction with an earlier post on the Bible here). Interestingly my figuring in the comments following has led to the charge that I am "cherrypicking." I am contemplating exploring that charge in a future post here. But, in the meantime, I want to commend John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar for offering a different approach to Scripture than cut, slice and dice. In three posts Richardson offers a classical evangelical exposition of Scripture in respect of Genesis 1-3. Whether we agree with his conclusions or not, we might consider whether his approach has merit. Post One, Two and Three.

Or, is he just a sophisticated cherrypicker?

If so, I am glad to keep company with him!

ADDENDUM: I'm with Ms Domingues. In a church of many biblical theologies of marriage (and don't you dare cherry pick which is the plum), and in a society cheerfully making up what it means by 'family' as life goes along, I cannot see any objection at all to a three person marriage. Can you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do I have to marry you or host your wedding if I do not want to?

What to think? To marry or not to marry? To host a wedding or not to host? To go to jail or not to go to jail? Hmm.

Stretching the truth Down Under

I know we Kiwis are meant to love our neighbours as ourselves. Which means Aussies, as they are basically our only neighbours to one side or the other of us. (There are other neighbours to the north, and penguins to the south). But have you ever tried loving someone who tells porkies? It is quite difficult loving someone who just stretches the truth. So, this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald, we read this (please, fellow Kiwis, swallow your cornflakes before reading the next sentence):

"For the past 18 months or so, Lydia Ko was Australia and New Zealand's little secret. Now, however, the eyes of the golfing world have been opened to her phenomenal talent after her victory in the Canadian Women's Open at the weekend."

?????? "Australia and New Zealand" ??????

She's ours mate! Ko is Kiwi, pure, simple and exclusively. Stick to claiming Pavlova as yours as well as ours. Have a love in for Robbie Deans, yours and ours rugby coach. But do not claim Ko as yours when she is not!

ADU will resume comment on Anglican matters when some basic matters of injustice are put to rights!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sydney submittedness out of control?

If what Julia Baird says here is true about Sydney teaching on women submitting to male headship in every context, inside and outside the church, are things not getting just a teensy-weensy bit out of hand?

LATER: I note and acknowledge here a response in The Briefing. I am not sure that point 4 works that well. Newspaper publishes nonsense one day does not mean that next day's post is ignorable. Not is point 5 up to much: 'nuances' to help society understand what the church stands for? Can't recall Jesus dealing in 'nuances' and expecting people to patiently wait while he worked through them! Point 6 is a good point. So how come the headlines aren't about a service in which the man vows to live and love his wife sacrificially?

In general I think we are missing the most obvious point about Ephesians 5:21-6:9 on husbands/wives, parents/children, masters/slaves. The headline is, BE SUBJECT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST (5:21). From this headline flows the mutuality of the three sets of relationships, each of which starts out with the 'norm' of the day: 'Wives, be subject to your husbands ... Children, obey your parents ... Slaves, obey your earthly masters ...; only for the responsive requirement to tilt the potential imbalance of one side of the relationship being dominated by the other. 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... fathers, do not provoke your children to anger ... masters, do the same i.e. good] to them. Stop threatening them ...'

Further, there is a subtle modifier of 'subject' in 5:22 when the mirror and closing verse of the passage reiterates the beginning with 'Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband' (5:33). 'Submit' is such a loaded word today, with a bad history through the ways in which we men have 'subjected' our wives to various ills, including dumping them for a younger woman (my current hobby horse, brothers!). But 'respect' I can live with that. Is there any woman committed to her marriage who does not want to respect her husband?

STILL LATER: Notwithstanding my qualms about the Sydney service, I think a great case is made for it by ++Peter Jensen himself.

Whatsoever you bind on earth

Last week the Anglican and Catholic Dioceses of Christchurch hosted Prof. Paul Murray (Durham, UK, (RC) member of ARCIC) who gave a lecture on 'Receptive Ecumenism'. Paul Murray very kindly gave me a copy of one the key books on Receptive Ecumenism for placing in the Theology House library, Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism (edited by Paul D. Murray, Oxford: OUP, 2008). It consists of papers delivered at an international colloquium at Ushaw, Durham, held in honour of Cardinal Walter Kasper in 2006. Actually there are 32 papers in all - a busy colloquium! The papers are mostly presented within the 'branch' triangle of Anglican, Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches, but some also take up Methodist ecumenism (and rightly so, Durham is a Methodist stronghold).

Receptive Ecumenism is a kind of 'third way' for ecumenism once we have realised that nothing is going to change in the short term between churches insistent that they are in the right. This new direction for ecumenism is to shift the paradigm from 'teaching' to 'learning.' When we think we are in the right then we are liable to approach ecumenical dialogue with the attitude that we have something to teach the other partner or partners. Receptive Ecumenism encourages the idea that we might enter such dialogues ready to learn from the other, no matter how much we might think the other has wrong-headed ideas or ecclesial deficits. I gather Receptive Ecumenism is now important to the direction the ARCIC III conversations are going in.

Just browsing through the papers yesterday I noticed an interesting paper by Nicholas Sagovsky. With a surname like that people as prone to rushing to judgement like me might think it was an Eastern Orthodox contribution but, no, Sagovsky is an Anglican and the paper is entitled, 'Anglicanism and the Conditions for Communion - A Response to Cardinal Kasper' (pp. 373-384). He takes up a searching question of Kasper to Anglicans:

"How is it possible to designate Scripture and the Apostles' and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds as normative in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, but to disregard the binding force of the subsequent living tradition?"

Sagovsky's reply has both a certain intellectual neatness and a modelling of receptive ecumenism. For time and space's sake I pass over an important argument Sagovsky makes concerning Anglican 'comprehensiveness' (which Kasper concomitantly takes up in relation to the question) and head to this paragraph (p.380):

"A distinct concern for Anglicans to put to Roman Catholics is the way in which definitions that have taken place after the division of the West and the East have for them constrained the depevelopment of 'living tradition' within the understanding of one particular historic epoch. One such case would be the definition of transubtantiation (1215); another would be the definition of the Immaculate Conception (1854); another the bodily Assumption of Mary (1950). In each case the Orthodox have refrained from making similar definitions. The Orthodox would undoubtedly press the question of the role of the Bishop of Rome in doctrinal definitions such as those of 1854 and 1950, neither of which was made in the conciliar context but only after consultation within the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the Roman Catholic faithful are bound to accept such definitions. Kasper's question to Anglicans about their failure to accept 'the binding power of the living tradition' becomes in reverse a question to Roman Catholics about the premature binding of the living tradition." [my italics]

Tomorrow I will take up a point Sagovsky makes about tradition and communion within Anglicanism. It is one thing to neatly offer a rejoinder to Kasper's searching question, it is another thing to work out the manner in which tradition binds Anglicans and the means by which Anglicans themselves avoid premature binding of tradition!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How conservative are you?

OK. A test with the US election coming up of how conservative, or not, you are. An American test from here. This is me:


I think I am a bit 'soft' on economics because I think government can help people and we should help the environment with some regulations.

I think I am a bit extreme here because of my views on abortion and on another issue ...

I am a bit worried about the left-wing drift of the USA overall - here in NZ I always think of myself as slightly right of centre and use my two votes at General Elections to reflect that. But apparently in the States I would be a Tea Partier!!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lambeth Stakes: Dark Horse placing fourth (currently)

The Lead helpfully keeps us up to date with the 'race' to Lambeth. From there we can go to a very handy table of what the various English bookies think is going to happen. On this table my 'dark horse' candidate is coming fourth. The frontrunner is Christopher Cocksworth. This shows that the bookies know people I know who think similarly (or know people who know people who I know think similarly)!

There is at least one point of interest about this table. Some English bishops are just a little bit 'out there' when it comes to controversy. Nick Baines and Tom Wright spring to mind. Yet they figure quite highly on the table, 10th and 12th respectively. Either the bookies are nuts, or clever (taking peoples' bets!), or there are some backers for these bishops, and the bookies are onto that fact.

We shall see!

St Paul v Thomas Cranmer?

Speaking of marriage, life across the ditch is taking an interesting turn liturgically speaking. The Diocese of Sydney is introducing an (optional) marriage rite which includes the following, as described in the SMH (H/T Taonga):

"It requires the minister to ask of the bride: ''Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?'' and for her to pledge ''to love and submit'' to her husband."

Even more interesting is the following observation by Bishop Robert Forsyth:

"The panel chairman, the Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, said ''submit'' was a deeply biblical word.

''The Bible never said women must obey their husbands but Paul and Peter did say submit, which I think is a much more responsive, nuanced word.'' "

But isn't that a trumping of the English Reformation with We Know Better in 2012? Once the axe is taken to the root of Protestant Anglicanism who knows where the tree will fall! :)

Private life? What private life?

[UPDATE (Tuesday 28 August): An excellent sermon by the outgoing Dean of Wellington, Frank Nelson, touching on the story below, is available here, courtesy of Taonga.]
"I have a private life and I'm endeavouring to get on with that to deal with the difficulty of separating from my wife. 
"I love the church . . . and I have no intention of turning around and walking away from the church."
So speaks Tom Brown, former Bishop of Wellington, i.e. predecessor of current Bishop Justin Duckworth.
As clergy, do we have a 'private life' if by that is meant something other than when and how we perform our morning ablutions? Have we not been enjoined to a particular discipleship through ordination in which our lives are called to be exemplary in all respects, transparent to the world which sees us as representatives of God through preaching, presiding and pastoring? Are we permitted to draw a distinction between 'private' and 'public' lives? I once challenged a priest who thought he could do one form of ministry in his 'private life' which he was not permitted to perform in his 'public life'! 
Which brings me to the second sentence, "I love the church." What do you think? 

Here is my thought: To use the phrase "love the church" when one surrenders one's licence five minutes after laying down one's crozier is, well, striking. As the rest of the article makes clear, an entirely predictable thing has happened. Everyone Lots of people in the Diocese of Wellington is are upset and aghast at this news. And rightly so. Let's remember just one role of a bishop: it is to stand at the head of the whole system of licensing for ministry, including the system of maintaining those licences through education in appropriate ministry according to the standards of our church, to say nothing of being the 'chief judge' should infringements of those standards lead to a need for 'determination'. To find that within months of laying down the crozier one's bishop has felt a need to hand in his licence must indeed be disturbing for the people of the Diocese of Wellington.  
Some big questions are raised by the very publication of this article. One of course is whether it is true and accurate in all respects, but one can have a degree of trust in our media when they use actual comments made within quotation marks, and we may trust the judgement of eminent Wellington clergyman Sir Des Britten in his observations.
Episcopacy is not a job one stops doing once one ceases to be paid a stipend for it. It is a calling into a role in which great trust and faith is placed by clergy and laypersons. The remarks cited above are troubling when placed alongside that calling.
POSTSCRIPT: Do we need some urgent discussion about the nature of our licensing system, the underlying legislation beneath it (Title D), and the processes by which education and training are conducted in order that we live well by that legislation. I wonder what this situation means for the education and training sessions we are compelled to attend. At the very least we need to ask the question whether these sessions are beneficial to the trainees (i.e. licensed ministers)? Here we have a bishop of our church feeling compelled to hand his licence in. There is merit and integrity in making that decision. But has something broken down about our education and training re licensed ministry and its obligations that we can end up with such an outcome? Can we hope that our church collectively will ask and discuss such questions?  I do not know! We do not always seem to be at our best re discussion and engagement of the issues at hand when faced with the awkwardness of  the reality of our lives clashing with the expectations of our parishioners, our colleagues and our canonical standards.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Say after me, "is" is not a simple word

Fascinatingly, discussion on a recent post re "Messy Anglican Church" has taken a turn towards eucharistic theology, discussing transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorials and related matters. Here I will not attempt to offer a complete reflection on eucharistic theology, rather just offer a few observations.

(1) "Is" is not a simple word. If I am away from my wife, meeting with some folk, and pull a photo of her out of my wallet and say, "This is my wife," everyone understands that "is" is at least about representation (The photo offers a representation of her) and yet may be about something more, because the photo is a likeness of her (not just a symbol of her) and in some sense conveys the reality of her, indeed, for me at least, in her absence, the photo helps to convey her 'real presence' with me. It all gets a bit more complicated (I suggest) if such a display of a photo took place after the death of the person in the photo: the 'real presence' of the deceased would have a memorialising aspect which would not be the case if, in the instance of the event above, it occurred a couple of hours after I left my wife at home, alive and well.

But, think of a different context. Suppose I went to a wedding dance but my wife could not come. Not to worry, I take out her photo and hold it while I dance. Someone asks what I am doing,  and I say, "This is my wife. I am dancing with her." Quite rightly, the questioner would think I was nuts! It is not the case that in every context I can say "This is my wife" while holding her photo and the sentence makes sense. (In the context of the eucharist, one of the mistakes the church has made (I venture with trepidation to suggest) is to propose that "This is the body of Christ" is true in all contexts. Frankly, I am not convinced that leftover wafers in a box in a room off the side of the church, several days removed from a communion service can have the statement "This is the body of Christ" sensibly said of them: the right context for such a statement to make sense is when disciples are gathered with intention to remember with thanksgiving etc.)

(2) In my understanding, in the original Aramaic, a separate and distinct word for "is" was not used by Jesus. This does not necessarily make much difference to the debate, but it should give us pause before we invest too much significance into the later supply of the verb to be in Greek then Latin then English.

(3) What does our NZ Prayer Book convey to us about understandings of the nature of the bread and the wine as prayed over in a communion service? We have within the book some six possibilities in English (I won't even attempt to work through all legal possibilities for eucharistic prayers in our church, nor through our eucharistic prayers in Maori and other languages recognised in this church).

p. 423: "Send your Holy Spirit that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive may be to us the body and blood of Christ, and that we, filled with the Spirit's grace and power, may be renewed for the service of your kingdom."

p. 438 "As we eat this bread and drink this wine, through the power of your Holy Spirit feed us with your heavenly food, renew us in your service, unite us in Christ and bring us to your everlasting kingdom."

p. 469-70 (which makes two statements I think need to be cited to express the theology of bread/body and wine/blood within this particular service):

"We lift up the cup of salvation and call upon your name. Here and now, with this bread and wine, we celebrate your great acts of liberation ...Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit, feed us with your life, fire us with your love, confront us with your justice, and make us one in the body of Christ with all who share your gifts of love."

p. 487 "Send your Holy Spirit, that we who receive Christ's body may indeed be the body of Christ, and we who share his cup draw strength from the one true vine."

p. 513 "Send your Holy Spirit upon us and our celebration, that we may be fed with the body and blood of your Son and be filled with your life and goodness."

p. 520 (from "A Service of the Word with Holy Communion", i.e. a service for use with reserved sacrament in order to extend communion from one congregation to another) "God, creator of time and space, may the love and faith which makes this bread the body of Christ this wine his blood enfold us now ... May Christ's Holy Spirit bring to us in the sacrament the strength we need ..."

p. 733 = p. 423.

Multiply through the book we also have the seminal words for Anglican eucharistic theology, intended to be a blending of theologies jostling for space in post-Reformational Anglicanism,

"Draw near and receive the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in remembrance that he died for us. Let us feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving."

I suggest our church with its prayer book has catered for a range of eucharistic theologies cherished by Anglicans through the centuries without endorsing any one of them as 'majority' or 'mainstream'.

I also suggest that our church with its clear linkage to the work of the Holy Spirit as agent of transformation, while also emphasising the words "Draw near ... with thanksgiving" offers a clear distinction from those theologies which place weight on substantive transformation of the bread and the wine: within our range of Anglican theologies, we are united in emphasising the outcome of praying over the bread and the wine as the transformation of those who receive.

"Is" is not a simple word and our church's prayer book, in its own way, acknowledges that!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bonhoeffer on Marriage

Bonhoeffer is a bit of a hero to folks hereabouts. He was heroic in the role he took on as a German who disputed that Hitler was fulfilling a divine appointment as Fuehrer, and he paid with his life for that heroism. As a theologian he has been a bit tantalising with his writings. Some of what he wrote is capable of bearing different readings, so varying theological factions claim him as their own. Personally I have not read much of what he wrote but as a teenage I read The Cost of Discipleship and that made a huge impact on me as Bonhoeffer dug away the soil of moderation around Jesus' teaching in order to expose the its radical demands.

On marriage Bonhoeffer had a few things to say. Not all of them would cut today's mustard. But some of them bear consideration as we think about what marriage is. For instance,

"God is guiding your marriage. 

Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. 

In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom. 

In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more that something personal – it is a status, an office. 

Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. 

As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

God makes your marriage indissoluble. ‘What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). God joins you together in marriage; it is His act, not yours. 

Do not confound your love for one another with God. God makes your marriage indissoluble, and protects it from every danger that may threaten it from within and without; He wills to be the guarantor of its indissolubility. It is a blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together; indeed, anyone who knows that may say confidently: What God has joined together, can no man put asunder. 

Free from all anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance: We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other till death." (full sermon here, printed text in Letters and Papers from Prison)

Two questions (at least) follow as we engage in a church-wide and nation-wide debate about marriage (for proposals concerning same sex 'marriage' raise the question 'what is marriage?'):

What does it mean today that marriage is a 'status, an office'? This would appear to be something we have lost sight of, both in church and in society.

What does it mean for us that 'God makes your marriage indissoluble'? In raising this question I acknowledge that Bonhoeffer has given us, so to speak, a 'hard saying' in a contemporary world of 'quickie divorce', but setting that aside for a moment, and noting the biblical underpinning through the words of Christ himself, if God joins a man and a woman together in marriage, by what argument do we imagine God joining a couple which is not 'a man and a woman' together in marriage (as a status, an office of the great responsibility Bonhoeffer teaches)?

Bonhoeffer challenges us to engage with the theology of marriage by considering marriage as something which is not defined by our personal experience of love for each other and this constituted as a celebration and recognition of that love. Rather, Bonhoeffer's challenge is to receive marriage as something defined by God as its creator and sustainer. As a responsibility taken up by a man and a woman joined by none other than God, marriage is received from God in order to fulfil God's ordinance (to perpetuate the human race to the end of time) and to anticipate our heavenly home (characterized as the place of Christ the groom and church the bride). In both these aspects marriage as the fusion ('one flesh') of difference (man and woman) both models and sustains human society as the one body of many people which is God's plan for creation (Ephesians 1).

It is on this basis of this kind of theology that we cannot jump to embrace same sex 'marriage'. If marriage were simply and essentially what was defined in the sermon I cited yesterday, there would be no reasonable objection to same sex 'marriage': 'For me, that is what marriage is. It is not about children (even though we have a child), it is not about property, and it is not about something magical being bestowed upon us from on high. It is simply acknowledging that I love this person and want to live more deeply into that experience.' Who could deny any couple of any constitution the simple acknowledgement of the love between them and the wish to live more deeply into that experience?

But is this preacher's personal definition of marriage ('for me') out of his own experience, the height and summit of the theological definition of marriage?

For further food for thought re marriage, linked to or highlighting aspects of this sermon, go here, here, and here.

Sidetrack: On the irony of what post Nazi Germany has become, see this.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Say After Me, There is only one God, and ...

... the stool does not have three separate legs.

Craig Uffman points out the folly of thinking 'reason' reveals a different message to us from Scripture or tradition, just as God does not speak with tripartite tongue as first the Father says one thing, the Son something different and the Spirit yet the opposite. (H/T B Black)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Messy Anglican Church

Messy Church is a name for doing church worship in a manner which permits a certain messiness, both of structure, content, and literally of materials as, maybe, paint is spilt or clay is dropped as kinaesthetic learning takes place in a service for all ages (key site here). It is a good concept, incidentally, with parishes here in my own diocese finding Messy Church a useful means for drawing in families that otherwise might not darken the doors of the church.

But 'messy church' could usefully describe the remainder of Anglicanism around the globe in these days when the Covenant movement seems to have gone quiet, noticeably since 'No Covenant' gained the upper hand in the English debate about the Covenant, and path breaking churches such as my own resolutely refused to say 'Yes' to the Covenant. 'No' to the Covenant really does leave us in a mess, as Tony Clavier argues in a Living Church article, Bowdlerized Catholicism. With a nip and a tuck here and there what Clavier says could apply not only to his own church (TEC) but also to mine (ACANZP) and (I sense) a number of other churches around the Anglican world: even as we have taken on more and more of the styles of Roman/Anglo-catholicism (e.g. clergy wearing more robes than formerly), and even some of the words and actions (e.g. a 'catholic' way of performing our liturgies), we have steered ourselves further and further away from catholic theology, that is, an intention to find, foster and fasten on the teachings of Christ that every Christian believes everywhere. Whether we have consciously appropriated arguments from the Reformation which the Church of England developed to justify its break from Rome, or (as here in Aotearoa NZ) intentionally asserted post-colonial arguments about local ecclesial sovereignty, and whether these appropriations and assertions have been about a specific issue or about a general preservation of the way we think 'Anglicanism' should be in the Diocese of X or the Province of Y, our general contemporary trajectory has been anti-catholic. For an Anglican anywhere in the world to today to profess to be committed to the 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic' church is (at best) to beg the question what 'catholic' means. At worst such profession is nonsense speech.

To take just one matter, if global Anglicanism asks itself how we express 'sound doctrine' in terms which are coherent with some vaguely sensible understanding of 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic' church, it cannot give itself an answer. As Clavier rightly concludes,

" If “No Covenant,” what? How do Anglicans express a sound doctrine of the Church without competent instruments of unity? The foes of the Covenant remain silent about that vital question."

There is a saying that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck ... then it is a duck. Anglicanism is an exception to that 'rule.' We Anglicans can look like we are catholic Christian, walk like we are catholics and even quack (i.e. talk) like we are catholics (Christians, that is, believing everywhere what every Christian believes). But we are not catholic Christians: for we reserve unto ourselves the right to not believe what other Christians believe. Worse, when the Covenant gave us a shot at developing a greater coherency of doctrine on a global scale, as a needed step on the way to global Christian reunion, we have (it appears) rejected doing so.

That is a bit messy, to my way of thinking!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gone to the turnips?

Curmudgeon with the help of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ is on the case. You will have to read to find out who helps his argument. (Clue: noted Roman Catholic scholar!). Quo vadis, Anglicanism in the fight for the soul of post Christendom Christianity in the West?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Marriage is discriminatory. Get over it!

The unassailable no 1 blogger in NZ is Cameron Slater at Whale Oil. Right of centre might be more accurate to describe the political leanings of his blog than centre-right (which could apply to the no 2 blog, David Farrer's Kiwiblog).

Whale Oil is consistently, vigorously, and repetitively pro gay 'marriage'. But it is also democratic and defending of free speech. So a couple of days ago a guest post spot was given to Matthew and Madeleine Flanagan, themselves popular Kiwi bloggers at MandM (arguably second most popular religious blog after Bosco Peter's Liturgy). The title of their counter-Whale-post is "Critiquing the Case for Same-sex Marriage."

Here is an excerpt from their guest post:

"At this point, some play the race card. The state would act unjustly if it refused to recognise someone’s union on the basis of their partner’s race. It is argued that refusing to recognise someone’s union on the basis of their partner’s sex is analogous to this, and so it is unjust for the same reasons. 
The analogy is questionable. First, it assumes that discrimination on the basis of race is on par with discrimination on the basis of sex. It is not. If a mall had racially segregated toilets that would be an outrage, but having separate toilets for the sexes simply upholds privacy. Refusing pregnancy services to people on the basis of their race would be racist, but refusing pregnancy services to men is sensible. 
The point is that there are important physiological differences between men and women that justify treating them differently in various contexts that are not present between races, so racial and sexual discrimination is not on par. Until proponents of this Bill are willing to offer pregnancy services to men and prosecute all mall owners that have male and female toilets, we can safely put to one side the idea that discrimination based on a person’s sex is on par with racism. 
Further, anti-miscegenation laws differ in important ways from the prohibition on state recognition of same-sex marriage. Advocates of the former object to someone’s union because their partner is of a different race; the thinking is that people of different races are physiologically different, they come from different clans or ethnic groups. The position is based on the idea that other races are inferior; it is part of a broader attempt to keep people of different races apart to avoid the inferior contaminating the superior. 
Whereas those opposed to same-sex marriages object to someone’s union because their partner is thesame-sex. Like the prohibition on incest, the issue stems from the physiological similarity between the couple. The objection arises because the couple are from the same group as each other. This means the rationale is very different; the position is not based on the idea that other sexes are inferior, neither is the intent to keep members of the same-sex separate to avoid contamination. On the contrary, it is based on notions of other sexes being equal and complementary."

The whole argument is here. I suggest you could run around the world of states contemplating changing laws on marriage and not find a better argued case against gay 'marriage.'

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thames, Tiber or Bosphorus?

According to The Conciliar Anglican, the answer is to continue swimming in the Thames, rather than to swim across the Tiber or the Bosphorus. That is, classical Anglicanism is meritorious orthodoxy, arguably more orthodox than Roman or Eastern orthodoxies. The arguments are here, and I commend them. Especially commendable is Fr Jonathan's point that the filioque clause may not have been approved by the Ecumenical Councils but it expresses what Scripture teaches (note, in my view, especially Acts 2:33).

At Catholicity and Covenant, further reflections on these matters can be found, building on Fr Jonathan's post. One paragraph catching my eye is this:

"The Church cannot define dogmas which are not grounded both in Holy Scripture and in Holy Tradition, but has the power, particularly in Ecumenical Councils, to formulate the truths of the faith more exactly and precisely when the needs of the Church require it."

This is taken from the Moscow Agreed Statement (1976).

What, you might ask, is the difference between 'classical Anglicanism' and alternative expressions of Anglicanism? One formulation of the answer is that the former understands theology to be the formulating of the truths of the faith more exactly and precisely for the needs of the contemporary church while the latter understands theology to be the formulating of truths for the needs of the hour.

The problem with swimming the Thames today is that those 'truths' formulated for the needs of the present times have polluted the formerly pure waters forcing some swimmers to contemplate moving to waters perceived to be cleaner.

One reason I won't do that is some things in those other waters are uncongenial. One of them was celebrated yesterday by some Christians: the bodily assumption of Mary. Talk about a 'truth' not grounded in Scripture!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Luke and the Two Pauls

Tomorrow's class on Luke is concerned with Luke 16. Quite a bit on money in that chapter with the oddity of Luke 16:18, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery ..." in the middle of it. I don't think Luke was making a subtle point about the monetary costs of divorce. Luke is quite outspoken about money. Previously here I have raised the question whether he was a proto-Marxist. But that might be an insult to Luke or to Karl or even both!

Interestingly, when many pundits are making a play on the role Paul Ryan will make in the American election now that he is Mitt Romney's pick for Vice-President, it is the fight between the two Pauls which may be more important than Mitt v Barack, or Paul (Ryan) v Joe (Biden). Who is the other Paul, you ask? Why, it is Paul Krugman. Our friendly Nobel Prize winning economist is a geek's geek when it comes to number crunching (I cannot understand all his graphs, can you?) and a laureate's literatti when it comes to word smithing. And he does not think much of Ryan as an economist. Here Paul K deals to Paul R with some fine word smithing built on a foundation of crunched numbers:

"Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense."

Who is right? On the answer to that question depends quite a bit about the future of the world in my lifetime.

Essentially Paul R stands for constraining growth in deficit, cutting government expenditure to do so, and cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth (which, in the long run, should help generate new jobs, grow the tax base and reduce welfare dependency). All this gives the US a chance of funding through the long-term the welfare dependency it cannot reduce easily, that of its growing population of elderly people. The risk factor is that the global economic situation might be so bad that nothing by way of tax cuts and business initiatives encouraged by a trimmed back government  will stimulate the US economy back into life.

Essentially Paul K stands for stimulating the economy through government borrowing in the hope that the debt incurred (on top of debt already incurred) will be repayable like previous mountains of debt, even though those mountains, in comparison to today and tomorrow's debt, were just little foothills. To help repay the debt, he wants to increase the tax taken from the rich, or, to be more accurate, the higher middle classes and above, while constraining no existing government programme and enlarging the amount of government spending on welfare, including health. In the short term no entitlement will be taken away from anyone, but in the long term, Paul K cannot guarantee that, after repayment of interest on debt, future US governments will have enough money to care for people.

What would Luke do? In terms of Luke 16 I think Luke would say, "People matter, economic policy must serve them. Riches are to be used in the service of God. Read the Law and the prophets and follow their guidance in order to live justly. Above all, take a long term view of future prospects and make present decisions accordingly (unlike the rich man who kept Lazarus unkempt at his gate and paid for it later through eternal punishment).

Just as we see in the New Testament some interesting distinctions between the theologies of Luke and of Paul the Apostle, so Luke's economics challenges both modern day Pauls.

POSTSCRIPT: For a cheap and cheerful attack on Ryan, read Giles Fraser. I think Fraser misses the point Ryan and Romney will be making in the election: social welfare (including health) in the long-run depends on thriving businesses to generate the employment which can be taxed to cover welfare (and education, military costs), operating in an environment which is not skewed by massive debt (which  skims the cream off tax received, and inhibits business with rising cost of loans). Their proposals may or may not be better than what Team Obama proposes, but their validity has nothing to do with whether Ryan once espoused the philosophy of Ayn Rand or not. All successful capitalism involves a degree of 'selfishness': "I want a job so I can get ahead in life" is always better for successful government (it generates more tax and less welfare dependency) than "I want my beneficial share of the socialised distribution of tax through welfare"). Still, Fraser is writing for the Guardian so expectations should not be too high about depth of economic analysis ...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Feeling Down After the Olympics? Nothing to look

... forward to?

Do not despair. You could watch the All Blacks play Australia this Saturday night (NZ time).

Or, and I am salivating at this, you could look forward to  "Political Smackdown."

On 11 October  Vice President Joe Biden is due to debate this man on national television.

I am feeling sorry for Joe already.

(Anglican coverage on this blog will resume shortly. In cricket news, the South Africans have won their next test match by adroit use of social media ...)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Silliest advice ever given to parish priests?

Yesterday I was in Dunedin celebrating the 90th birthday of a very dear and wonderful friend of the Carrell family. My parents, two brothers and one sister with her husband made the effort to travel there because that friendship has been very precious to us through the last forty-seven years. We joined with a host of parishioners at Mary's church, St Matthew's, along with other friends of hers who had also travelled there to be there for this special occasion.

That friendship began when my father became the Vicar of St Matthew's in 1965.

Yet over my years of being a clergyman I have heard on numerous occasions the advice given, with all the solemnity of pronouncing eternal dogma, that clergy should never make friends with their parishioners.

I do understand why that advice is given: parish life can be a complex calculation of considerations which is made more complicated by friendships with some when one cannot be friends with all.

But as a piece of practical dogma, I reject the advice. For a start off, it would have deprived my family of friends like Mary, and a host of other friends made through life in other parishes. It would also have deprived Teresa and me of wonderful friends we have made in the parishes we have been associated with.

In the end, friendships are made because we find things in common with people and enjoy their company. We are bound to meet new friends in parish life. We shouldn't deprive ourselves of those friendships because of silly advice pronounced as dogma. We should heed the kernel of wisdom within that advice, and manage the way we conduct our friendships as part of being good ministers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Never mind the equality, feel the liberty?

Always interesting to venture out of one's local framework of ideas to see what others are saying. I live in Christchurch where the local newspaper is the Press which is part of the Fairfax 'empire'. What we read in it (aside from locally contributed opinion such as I posted on the other day) is pretty much the same as what we read when we journey to Wellington (Dominion Post), Nelson (Nelson Mail), or even Sydney (SMH) or Melbourne (Age). Things are different in Auckland (NZ Herald, though some call it the Horrid!). Yesterday, travelling towards Dunedin I picked up a copy of the Otago Daily Times. In it they were running an opinion piece out of the Maxim Institute, written by Bruce Logan. Fairfax doesn't seem to give Maxim a go.

Anyway, Logan tackles the question of the day from a slightly different Francophone angle: not 'equality' but 'liberty'. I think he puts my concerns in a helpful way: marriage is marriage. Some parts of it can be altered, and need regulation (registration, dealing with dissolution), and the State has an appropriate role in the rules regarding such. But the State defining the essence of marriage (strictly speaking, 'redefining') is new territory in the history of humanity.

"Well, some French friends put the notion of equality under examination. They say same-sex marriage "n'est pas l'egalite, il s'agit de la liberte". It's not about equality; it's about liberty.
Governments who choose to redefine marriage seldom understand what they're doing. "Il a toute la laideur de la fierte." It has all the ugliness of pride.
The issue is not about equality or the success of any one couple's marriage. The issue is about the connection between the state and marriage in civil society. Who decides what marriage is and what it's for?
Marriage is neither essentially religious nor a product of tradition. It is not the child of the state.
Neither is marriage what Lynne Featherstone, the British Equalities Minister, claims. "Marriage is a right of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part." Her historical vision is limited; her logic is deficient and her fusion of the Anglican Prayer Book with modern idiom disingenuous.
Marriage is the consequence of who we are.
We do not make it; it makes us. We are male and female.
In the simple and hopeful business of being alive, we have children in a union of accepted responsibility, love and thankfulness. It is the cementing of two opposite halves of the human being through which new life may be created. That some couples decide not to get married does not change the biology. That some cannot have children or decide not to is beside the point.
To say that you do not believe in marriage or that it is superfluous does not change the truth of its historical and cultural value.
The dogma that asserts marriage is primarily about love and commitment is frequently accompanied by the counter-claim: "I'm in love and committed so why do I need to bother about marriage?
Marriage is what I say it is and anyway I don't need it." That blurring of the status and meaning of marriage is contributing to a range of unfortunate consequences yet to be grasped."

The whole argument is here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The value of corner dairies

Our Diocese is in the midst of a slow and serious conversation about 'parish rationalization.' Various factors are driving the conversation along: (in no particular order of priority) financial health, cost of buildings (insurance premiums, repairs, post-quake replacement), population shifts which are depleting some areas, flowing into other areas, and effects of decline in church participation through many years but now highlighted by the quakes. In objective terms, parish provision of stipended ministry will be easier if we could do away with some buildings (i.e. not rebuild some, repair and then sell some, find ways to share under-utilized buildings). More subjective is to envision what might happen if we worked some of our areas in different ways, whether through greater collaboration between ordained ministers, working two or more parishes in a 'team parishes' approach, or even merging two or more parishes together.

Within such conversations I see a couple of tensions. One is the tension between 'ministry' and 'mission.' Another is the tension between 'corner dairies' and 'supermarket.' Let me explain.

From a ministry perspective, if we have 35 people worshipping in church A which seats 200 people and a kilometre or two up the road is church B with 80 people worshipping which can seat 100 people, it makes sense to raise the question whether 115 people could worship together in the 200 seater church. We are all Anglicans, so why not meet together and enjoy what 115 people can do together in the worship of God. Likely a larger group can provide better music, children and youth ministry and so forth. In reality, Anglican life is more complicated than that: the two churches might be too diverse in 'style' let alone theology to contemplate such a union. But suppose the union happens. What could go wrong?

From a mission perspective what could wrong is this: A and B are in two different suburbs. In each there is opportunity to participate in the mission of God. The presence of each church is contributory to that mission. Focus the worship on church A and sell church B makes it just that bit harder to keep the focus on mission in suburb B. People driving out of suburb B to go to meetings in church A helps the newly shaped parish to thrive, but it may be to the detriment of mission in suburb B. It need not be so, and that is precisely why our conversations are rightly slow and serious, so we get the result right, not only from a ministry perspective but also from a mission perspective.

What about 'corner dairies' and 'supermarkets'? When we shop for groceries, we like supermarkets. Their size means they can stock products in great volume, offer a very wide range of products, and on the biggest selling items, offer low prices, especially compared to a corner dairy. But supermarkets are fewer and further between than corner dairies: we need to get into our cars to go to them to shop. The corner dairy, by contrast, is often in walking distance, and can be very convenient when we want to make a quick purchase of just one product such as a bottle of milk or loaf of bread. Supermarkets when they were established drove a lot of corner dairies out of existence, but many years later we seem to have a settled state of grocery selling: there is room for both supermarkets and corner dairies. Ecclesiologists have observed that churches have been developing in recent years analogous to supermarkets and corner dairies. Some churches have grown very large, partly because they are able to offer more 'products' (a range of services in different styles, ministries to age groups (pre-school, primary school age, secondary school age, etc) and thus draw more and more families, while some churches have become very small, not only because of general decline in churchgoing, but also because families make choices about going to larger churches with Sunday School and youth groups and the like. A tension in our diocesan discussions (as I hear them) is between the supermarket and corner dairy approaches.

Do we have too many 'corner dairy' churches? Would it make sense to fold some of these into a 'supermarket' church? Is there a difference to be drawn between a thriving 'corner dairy' and a struggling 'corner dairy'? If we do not act now to take advantage of the quakes shaking us up as a Diocese will we find that ten or twenty years from now we have even more 'corner dairies' on our hands than currently? The tension between ministry and mission intersects with these questions as (arguably) corner dairies serve local communities in ways in which supermarkets do not. Yet supermarkets, from a mission perspective, have important services to offer to communities (e.g. greater personnel to be sent out to struggling communities).

Needless to say, these questions are daunting. I am not about to answer them. But what I would like to offer as something to think about in respect of such questions is a link to a winsome appeal to the value of smaller parish churches. Cranmer's Curate poses the question, What is the Gospel Value of Parish Churches? Part of his answer is this,

"Not everybody is in a position to commute out of their local community to go to a larger, better-resourced church elsewhere.

For the elderly and the vulnerable in other ways, parish churches in their neighbourhood can provide a Christian community from which they can receive invaluable spiritual and practical support and to which they can contribute by their presence, prayers and gifts.

But surely our whole community would lose out from the loss of the parish church and its ministry. Every person living in our parish needs the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from the wrath to come; by God’s grace our parish church is in a position to proclaim the Saviour to them through our outreach activities, our occasional offices such as baptisms, thanksgivings and funerals and through our children’s work."

Please read the whole post (which is written in the context of the Church of England). You may like to comment there or here about it, or any other matter raised here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Truth, beauty and justice

One of the things that inspires me greatly in the mission of God is the excellent work of others. It is particularly inspiring when it is people I know. It is a bit like some of the performances in the Olympics: the record breaking gold medallist turns out to have inspired the silver and bronze medallists to break their respective personal best times. Here in Christchurch there is some inspiring work going on which encourages me to do my best also. While there is a lot of inspiring work going on which never makes the news, some of what my colleagues are doing is made visible via the media.

Yesterday Bishop Victoria Matthews wrote an excellent Opinion piece in the Press. In a context where people are asking whether fixing homes is receiving priority over the development of an exciting inner city plan, while others are pressing for expenditure of mega-bucks to save the cathedral at almost any cost, she argues that people's immediate needs must be prioritised while not losing sight of the goal of developing a city which is beautiful. With particular respect to the cathedral, +Victoria writes,

"Again we are reminded of the ministry of beauty in the midst of grim circumstances. We want to be inspired and invited to glimpse something beyond the human vista. The Anglican Church is committed to a renewed ancient vision for the cathedral in the Square.We want something that will lift hearts to heaven both as people look on the exterior and when they enter the interior. But we do not believe it is faithful stewardship to do this at a cost of $100 million when people are living in cars and using chemical toilets.
Glory is not given to God by turning our back on human need. The new cathedral will embody mission as well as beauty."

Today in the Press are two reports featuring the work of colleagues as they work on the needs of people.

Tessa Laing, a researcher with our Diocese's Social Justice Unit, which works out of Theology House (I am proud to say), is pressing for the development of housing to replace affordable accommodation lost through the earthquakes:

"Tessa Laing, a researcher from the Anglican diocese's social justice unit, said government incentives were needed to encourage a mix of housing types in the area. These could be rental subsidies, low-cost loans or grants to landlords.
"If the market follows its natural course, we'll see these people squeezed out and shoved to the outskirts of the city where they will have no support," she said.Laing said landlords at the meeting were keen to make the concept work, and many had a good conscience towards disadvantaged tenants. She hoped the council and Government would be supportive.
The blocks between Fitzgerald Ave and Madras, Kilmore and Hereford streets were vital, but the zone could extend as far as Stanmore Rd, she said."

Mike Coleman, a clerical colleague and popular spokesperson for citizens with damaged homes for whom the repair process is not working, has led a protest about the slowness of making urgent repairs to the worst homes:
"Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan) spokesman Mike Coleman, who led the protest, said the weather was "a bit like living in your homes - wet, damp, cold, unhealthy".
Holding a picture of an elderly woman, whose face was bruised from repeated falls in her twisted Southshore house, Coleman said her plight was "desperate".
"This woman should have her house fixed next week," he said."

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, the "TC3" properties are those which are badly damaged but which the authorities have not deemed to be "red zone". Badly damaged TC3 properties need land issues under the houses sorted before repairs are made. That means the owners (unless wealthy enough to have a second home) have to soldier on in a broken house while the geo-techs and engineers work out what to do to fix the land.

It is impressive to see these colleagues speaking 'truth to power' in the pursuit of justice and also of beauty!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Something you may not have known

A correspondent has drawn my attention to a section of the NZ Marriage Act 1955 which was unknown to me: it is an offence to deny that a (legal) marriage is a marriage:

Offence to deny or impugn validity of lawful marriage
  • (1)Every person commits an offence against this Act, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $200, who—
    • (a)alleges, expressly or by implication, that any persons lawfully married are not truly and sufficiently married; or
    • (b)alleges, expressly or by implication, that the issue of any lawful marriage is illegitimate or born out of true wedlock.
    (2)For the purposes of this section the term alleges means making any verbal statement, or publishing or issuing any printed or written statement, or in any manner authorising the making of any verbal statement, or in any manner authorising or being party to the publication or issue of any printed or written statement.
    (3)A person shall not be deemed to make an allegation contrary to the provisions of this section by reason only of using in the solemnisation of a marriage a form of marriage service which at the commencement of this Act was in use by the religious body to which that person belongs, or by reason only of the printing or issue of any book containing a copy of a form of marriage service in use at the commencement of this Act by any religious body."

    The proposed changes by Louisa Wall to the Marriage Act (here) do not affect a section such as this. It will remain as it is.

    My correspondent goes on to make these observations,

    "I take it that this section arose from the concern of Protestants that Roman Catholics would not recognize their marriages. But in the current climate, it could take on a new significance in silencing those who disagree with the proposed changes to the marriage act, with implications for the church if it discriminates as to who can use a church for a marriage ceremony. One way around this would be for the churches to no longer act as state celebrants for marriages and only provide a liturgical ceremony (as is the case in a number of other countries)."

    As I take soundings around the church I sense that there is a vocal group supporting a change to our theological definition of marriage which would line up with Louisa Wall's bill, a vocal group supporting the status quo (at least re 'man and woman' at core of definition of marriage) which does not line up with her bill, and a silent group (a silent majority?) which is comfortable with the current civil status quo (which provides for civil unions for same sex couples), perhaps sees no harm in the Wall bill, but disagrees with the idea that the church's sacraments (or, as I prefer, sacramental actions, cf the catechism of our church) can involve two men or two women being joined in 'holy matrimony.'

    Were the Wall bill to pass, some great care would be needed in talking about 'marriages' of gay couples. Many Christians who do not agree with the use of the term 'marriage' to encompass a relationship not involving a man and a woman could be at risk of offending against the law.

    Even yours truly here, who tries to place the word marriage in scare marks when talking about a concept he does not agree with, could be fined $100 per scare mark when doing so!

    Will the newly amended Marriage Act introduce a new discrimination to NZ society: Christians (and Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, social traditionalists) who wish to discuss in some public manner whether two men or two women can be married in the eyes of God will henceforth be discriminated against?

    That's a genuine question as I am not clear whether the above section is about statements concerning specific persons or couples rather than general statements about situations pertaining to marriage. I have no wish to run round publicly saying that X and Y are not married. I do have a wish to be able to discuss matters of theological concern in public without impedance from an officious State.