Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Framing the question well, the answer encourages rather than condemns

A lot is being made, and rightly so, of an astonishingly frank interview given by Francis 1 on the plane back from (yet another) astonishing Catholic World Youth Day Mass on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Only 3 million turned up but, hey, perhaps there was a footy match which led to a low turn out!

The Catholic Herald has a great editorial on the interview here. Even Andrew Sullivan is impressed by the interview, here. (Off topic, if you do not like the Clintons, read Sullivan on their hypocrisy here).

On the question of homosexuality the editorial in the Herald offers this astute reflection:

"What is most striking about the Holy Father’s now famous comment – “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” – is how evangelical it is. It is implicitly encouraging gay people to walk the path of holiness that leads to union with God. In other words, he is saying that the Church has a vision for gay men that extends far beyond the condemnation of particular sexual acts. It is a vision whose goal is nothing less than heaven.

When the Pope says “Who I am to judge?” he is not suggesting there are no objective moral norms, but rather that we cannot read others’ hearts and minds, and therefore are in no position to make definitive judgments. We can deduce from his remarks that he wants the Church worldwide to take an evangelical approach to gay people, to invite them to hear the universal call to holiness amid the din of our hedonistic culture. He also wants Catholics to refrain from making judgments about individual gay people, to treat them as “our brothers” and accompany them on the long and, at times, arduous journey to the Lord."

In other words Pope Francis has framed the question about homosexuality in such a way that the answer does not come out as 'you must be celibate' or 'you must change'. His answer is a question of himself which constrains any propensity to condemn and a statement which both recognises and encourages the possibility of gay people finding God:

"Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"

At a stroke, as the editorial notes, Pope Francis has changed nothing about the objective teaching of his church but he has changed everything about the tone with which Catholicism will now speak about homosexuality.

There is something here for all to consider who follow in the way of Christ.

Sydney election: one party state or pluralist democracy?

Next Monday 5th August is crunch day for the future of the Diocese of Sydney. That day the election for their next archbishop begins. Previously I had thought that the decision about its new archbishop was a decision between a hard conservative line and a soft conservative line. Now, following my visit to Australia I am thinking differently.

Effectively the election is about whether the Sydney Diocese operates akin to a one party state in which dissent is stifled or operates in a manner which begins to look like a pluralist democracy in which a variety of views are both encouraged and valued. At this stage there are only two candidates, Rick Smith and Glenn Davies, on whose candidacies I have previously written here.

Circulating around the Sydney Diocese at present is a document by Anonymous which argues that the dominant player in the election is Dean Philip Jensen, a point which is also made in published pieces by named writers. Thus:

Jeremy Halcrow, writing on the Canberra and Goulburn website observes:

"Rick Smith’s chances should not be under-estimated. In fact reading the high level endorsements it is clear he is actually in pole position, and the election is his to lose. Rick is the candidate openly backed by the influential Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen who is hosting private meet and greet sessions for electors. But more importantly Rick is being presented and increasingly perceived as the “mission” candidate and that counts for everything in Sydney. Whether this is truly fair to Bishop Davies and his oversight of church planting within Sydney’s northern region is another matter. 
... Both men are thoroughly conservative Reformed evangelicals. Their policies would be identical on the touchstone issues that divide Australian Anglicans such as the ordination of women as priests. The personal style of Rick Smith leans towards ministry-minded pragmatism. So I would expect that in the long run this will result in similar moderate outcomes in their approach to Anglican politics. Five years down the track Rick Smith will be his own man, and the ghostly guiding hand of Phillip Jensen will have long faded."
Julia Baird, writing in The Age also offers an observation about the role of Philip Jensen:
"The most interesting person in this election campaign might be the Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, who is deeply involved behind the scenes trying to ensure Smith will replace his brother, and hold the diocese in place for 20 years."
But what is Dean Philip Jensen himself saying? He has written two articles on the St Andrew's Cathedral website about the election (always disclosing his own role in supporting Rick Smith), here (1) and here (2). These articles are pretty unexceptional as they canvas the qualities required in an archbishop. I have no doubt in my own mind that Dean Philip is acting with the utmost sincerity and integrity in backing Rick Smith as the 'best man for the job.'
But one can do that sort of thing without realising that the issue of 'power', the question of who controls the reigning theological paradigm for the diocese (and how that control is exercised) is a greater issue than 'the best man for the job.' Thus the anonymously written document I mentioned above begins in this way (with my emboldening):
"The current Archbishop’s election for the Sydney Anglican church is not about the two candidates. It is more about power than the GospelThese are – in my opinion - the facts:•    
1.    Glenn Davies and Rick Smith are both good guys    
2.    Both have gifts and skills that make them great ministers of the Gospel   
 3.    But after this, there are all sorts of other issues that make up the true grid of what’s happening.
The document then goes on to outline the influence of Philip Jensen (described as 'the king') on the diocese and suggests that Rick Smith will be under the king's influence whereas Glenn Davies will not. (Note that this is a different estimation from that given by Jeremy Halcrow). The document also sets out in its own terms the manner in which people who think differently from the theological line of Dean Philip are deemed to have become 'cousins' rather than 'brothers.' Whether the influence of Philip Jensen as one individual is as pervasive as the above documents suggest, I suggest that there is a strong influence at work in the ethos of the diocese to promote one and only one line of thinking, a line which is agreeable to the Dean. 

I suggest (on the basis of careful listening and reading over many years) that what is wrong with this kind of influence is that it is not simply an influence for a particular theology, an influence which deploys resources of persuasive eloquence to promote that theology but also an influence which works against rival theologies. One effect of this work is that other theologies are suppressed, even those which barely differ from the preferred theology. Over the years I have met Sydney Anglicans whose conservative theology is more conservative than my own but who are out of favour with the inner sanctum because of small differences of viewpoint with 'the line.' (Another effect of the influence, in a different manner, is the support given to independent Bible churches being set up in areas which already have fine evangelical (but 'not like us') churches ministering there).

In a democracy pushing for a particular theology is fine. But implicitly or explicitly suppressing other theologies is not so fine. The recent history of the Diocese of Sydney and of Moore College, its theological college, is a story of people falling out and falling away when they do not toe the party line. Such departures are gracious so few waves are made, but there are extraordinary stories to tell. The Archdeacon for Women's Ministries who moved dioceses to be ordained a priest and so forth. 

Within the diocese, I am told, people choose not to speak up and say what they really believe (e.g. about the ordination of women) for fear of affecting their future ministry. The intellectual atmosphere in Sydney, as I detect it, is suffused with fear. Why, I ask myself, when once in the library at Moore College, did a senior diocesan figure lower his voice to assure me that there was actually a variety of opinion held among the teaching staff there? (!!) When the then principal told me that there was particular form of doctrinal quality control exercised over postgraduate students sent away to universities overseas in respect of their possible future roles on staff, I felt I was being given the inner secret of a cult and not of a college devoted to the flowering of theological enquiry.

Thus I suggest this election is both about which of two fine men will be chosen to become the next Archbishop of Sydney and about whether the politics of the diocese will continue in a mode of one party line sweeping all before it or will begin a journey of transformation into a mode in which a variety of views are encouraged.

UPDATE: read Philip Jensen on unity and truth here. Once we start saying that people who differ in views from us are "fellow travellers" and worse than "enemies" we are in the territory of Communist parties and all Communist parties approach to government heads in the one party state direction ...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On the transference of wealth

I am not long back from a fabulous few days in Perth, Western Australia. What a beautiful city! I was there for the annual conference of the Society for New Testament Studies, being held for only the second time in the Southern Hemisphere in 68 years of meetings. Each day we travelled from accommodation in the central city to Murdoch University. On the one hand this was a beautiful journey as we crossed the Swan River, on the other hand we experienced a well integrated, efficient transportation system which, frankly, NZ cities could aspire to! The warmth of Perth in the middle of winter was impressive too ...

I will probably have more to say about insights gleaned from the conference and people met there over the next few days. But my thought for today is about the transference of wealth. Perth is a city which exudes wealth, measured by new roads, fast trains, gleaming buildings and a general air of prosperity. Each day we passed the nearly completed Fiona Stanley Hospital-a large complex built with that air of prosperity which says "no corners cut here; nothing but the best." Before my eyes the economic story of modern Australia was being illustrated: as China's mine, it has been on a good earner, and the income has paid for an infrastructure which countries like NZ (at best we are China's farm) can only envy.

Transference of wealth here is partly about transference from country to city (apparently 90% of Western Australia's population lives in Perth), from dirt to dollars and from the labours of a few miners to the households of a vast population of other workers supporting the mining industry. But mostly the transference is between nations. China needs iron ore and coal, Australian mines supply it, and cities such as Perth prosper. Yet what China produces is sold to many nations. The machine I write this on and the one you are reading it on likely were made in China. Wash your socks or your dishes tonight and it could be in a machine made in China. In the case of computers, an American corporation like Apple also benefits. A superb irony of this kind of reflection is that wealth is distributed in the modern capitalist economy with China as a pivot point in a manner unforeseen and unintelligible to Mao Tse Tung!

Today, here in NZ, is Social Services Sunday. This morning I heard a good sermon on recognising the needs in the world around us, particularly by getting close enough to people to recognise their needs. But might it also be true that we will assist the meeting of needs by also recognising the complex manner in which wealth is transferred around the world in order to work out effective ways of insuring local access to that wealth?

One irony of life in my country is that we measure our wealth in terms of our scenic beauty. We feel we are better off living in a beautiful country and we don't mind earning a few bucks from tourists willing to pay money to also share in the scenery. We get grumpy when politicians suggest that we might exchange a bit of the scenery for more dollars via mining. But a visit to Australia is a reminder that the benefits of mining are impressive.

Have there been any sermons in NZ today urging the sacrifice of tracts of scenery in order to increase the monetary wealth of our nation so that we might better help those in need here?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Coming this Sunday

Here in NZ, where we are trying to be supportive of Australian cricket in its hour of need, but also distracted by yet another large earthquake rocking the centre of NZ, it is six days from Social Services Sunday. I am very pleased to post the following from my colleague Jolyon White:

Social service Sunday dvd

Social Service sunday reminds us each year of the need to get involved with the marginalised and vulnerable. What we do not always hear is that helping is a two way street. We gain as much as we give, and may even be in just as much need. 

Here is the link on youtube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7SgMVU7stA

Alternatively, if your church is reasonably close to Christchurch give me a call and I will deliver the file to you on a memory stick. (Higher resolution that way)

Jolyon justice.anglicanlife@gmail.com | 0276122230

Postscript: light blogging at the moment. Actually so light I may just get to post your comments. Please be patient if it takes a day or three ...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Limits of authority?

"Scripture", "the authority of Scripture", "the Bible says," are shorthand for longer ideas about the will of God being revealed to humanity, a will expressed in acclamations and proclamations, in commands and prohibitions, in warnings and encouragements, and in guidance and general directions for how we should live as people claiming relationship with God.

Rightly, yesterday, a commenter here raised questions about our knowledge of the revelation of God (see bottom of post). If, for instance, it is declared to us within the 'canon of Scripture', that is, within a prescribed set of pages of writing, on what basis do we understand the limitation of that canon since there is no additional message in writing "they be the limits of my revelation to the church."

One response, articulated by another commenter is: "because the Church has acknowledged Scripture, as collected by sheer use/citation early on in the piece, is both the authoritative witness to and unique instrument in the saving economy of God, climaxing in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel."

I agree with that response but acknowledge that it does raise the question whether the church which acknowledges Scripture as authoritative witness to etc might at another point in its life acknowledge something else as "authoritative witness" to God acting in history, as, indeed, I understand those parts of the church today are wanting to do when they say something like "we now see that God is working in the lives of [identity of people group]."

I think one way forward in such discussion could be to acknowledge a point at the heart of Eastern Orthodox theology, God has spoken in ecumenical councils where "ecumenical" means the "undivided church" and "council" means a true representation of the whole church. That is, we might one day be in a position to say with authority that the authoritative revelation of God has been given on [issue of the day] because a new ecumenical council has assented to such proposition.

That makes working for the unity of the church, organically and organisationally worth doing!

But if you would allow my paragraph above, a proposal I am articulating within it is this: if we do not have the agreement of the whole church on the matter we do not have much authority  when we attempt to claim that on a matter we have now received the authoritative revelation of God.

Focusing down to the Anglican church in these islands and decisions we might come to at our General Synod in 2014, it is comparatively easy to predict that we will pass by a majority some decisions that will change our polity on the blessing of same sex relationships while simultaneously indicating to ourselves that we are not a united church on such change. Such change, no doubt, would enable those who wish to perform such blessings and to have such blessings performed to proceed. What could not then be claimed (I suggest) is that our church had now received an authoritative revelation from God to so proceed.

In other words, effectively, if change comes to pass, (I suggest) we would be allowing that on this matter we did not have the authoritative revelation of God but we did not mind if individuals (ministers, parishes, dioceses) proceed to bless.

If, from the perspective of "revelation" this was so, then it would be a matter of integrity, fairness and justice that our church transparently indicated that it would be equally permitted that individuals did not proceed to bless.

What do you think?

"Bosco Peters commented: That all relevant revelation is already received by the church in Holy Scripture is a revelation beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture. Discuss.

The canon of Scripture is a revelation beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture.Discuss.

What is the Christian canon of Scripture? Discuss.

That many issues are so difficult to find unmistakably articulated in the Christian canon of Scripture points either to the inadequacy of it for the purpose of all relevant revelation received by the church or indicates that a variety of responses to these many issues are acceptable to the Revealer. Discuss."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Getting Wronger Every Day?

Running up to a conference exploring theology of marriage, a couple of items catch my eye this week, forcing some thinking about the 'state of the argument' in respect of what marriage is, ought to be and possibly could become.

In that well known blog Ezekiel, post #18, being read around the world in the morning office, we have an interesting case in point of transformed interpretation. Pause to read Ezekiel 18

Famously this chapter within the Hebrew scriptures (that is, in the scriptures being written and read by God's people before the singular transformative effect on interpretation wrought by Jesus Christ) alters the understanding of another passage in those scriptures. Exodus 20:5 says that the Lord God visits 'the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.' Ezekiel 18 is summarised in 18:20a, 'The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.'

Now arguments can be had about whether the later passage is a straight-line contradiction of the former passage, or a clarification of it (noting that Ezekiel 18 is also a message about possibilities for repentance, for sons seeing iniquitous fathers and choosing not to be sinful, for the wicked person turning away from all their sins) or a development from one to the other in a richer more nuanced moral understanding and so forth.

But there is no argument that once Ezekiel 18 has been received into the sacred scriptures of Israel that Exodus 20 needs to be read newly in the light of the later revelation.

In a worldwide debate about changing attitudes to marriage, it is worth pondering the extent to which later revelation modifies earlier revelation. Such a matter is inextricably tied to our understanding of revelation and how that is discerned by God's people. For some, all relevant revelation is already received by the church in Holy Scripture, so debates about later and earlier revelation are intra-scriptural debates about meaning and application. For others, revelation is possible beyond the closure of the Christian canon of Scripture.

A keen question, perhaps, about church unity is whether "some" and "others" here can co-exist in one body of believers. Discuss.

To those advocating for change to our understanding of human sexuality in general and to marriage in particular, or, for that matter, to those advocating not to change, Ephraim Radner has published (IMHO) as good an argument as one can find anywhere that "Same-Sex Marriage is Still Wrong."

But, how good is this argument? Discuss. (I suggest it would save a bit of time and bother if we discussed the character and content of Ephraim Radner's argument articulated in the essay rather than engaged, yet again, in a free and wide-ranging general argument about human sexuality and marriage).

Postscript: A fascinating point made by Radner, interalia, is that slavery in the mode which was abolished in the 19th century is an example of a phenomenon which the church had rejected (as an application of scripture) then changed its mind about only to eventually have to admit (also from a basis in scripture) that it got this "horrendously wrong."

Later: For the latest contretemps involving St Matthew's in the City and same-sex marriage, go here.

Via Twitter, yet another angle here re human sexuality, Christianity and marriage.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Theology House has a major conference coming up and I am shamelessly promoting it ...

Tough Questions Today: Exploring Theology of Marriage
Theology House Conference, 2013

DatesFriday evening 16th and Saturday 17th August 2013.

Venue: St Christopher’s Church, Avonhead has been booked, with capacity for breakout rooms.

Speakers: Bishop Tim Harris, Adelaide; Rev Dr Sue Patterson, Nelson; Bishop Victoria Matthews, Acting Dean Lynda Patterson, Rev Dr Peter Carrell, Christchurch.

Background to the Conference:

Theology of marriage is a hot topic for churches today. In a changing world, gay marriage is being legislated for, leading Christians to divide into those who support such change and those who oppose it. 
At the very least intense thinking about marriage is taking place in churches and in society. Does marriage require a man and a woman? Should churches be servants of the state in registering marriages? Perhaps the simplest and most basic question today is, ‘What is marriage?’ Tough questions are being asked. Traditional answers are under scrutiny. So are modern answers. 

This conference offers an opportunity for Christians to set time aside to engage with the questions.
A specific background to this conference is the call of the General Synod 2012 of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) for exploration of theology of marriage in the run up to General Synod 2014.

Details re registration (by 12 August, please) and so forth are here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Measle epidemic could help Communion

Whether the Communion splits or stays together does not depend on one man, let alone the Archbishop of Canterbury. But I am more than prepared to say that he is more influential on the future of the Communion than many men or women. Perhaps, one might argue, he is more important than all the Anglican bloggers put together :) (Not that we are much of a force. We rarely agree with each other).

Anyway, we should keep in touch with ++Justin's thinking and what better way than via the reporting of Charles Moore.

The Communion should split

"They are creating a nasty, divided, prejudiced church which looks totally un-Christian to those on the outside (and to many of us within the church).

The Church of England knows it has a crisis on its hands. It thinks the crisis might be solved by gently persuading enough conservatives to overcome their convictions and vote yes for women bishops. I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable. I believe in a God of love. They believe in a nasty, rule-bound, vindictive God who despite everything they say, hates gays. Until they overcome their prejudice, they will continue to drive the church towards a precipice."

John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar draws attention to the article from which this citation comes. These words are written by Colin Coward of Changing Attitudes as he reflects on the course of the recent C of E General Synod. Of course the 'they' here are people who could be labelled 'conservative' though I suggest a more accurate label would be 'Anglicans who disagree with Colin Coward.' Where, however, there could be a point of agreement with Colin is here,

"I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable."

If this is true for sufficient numbers then I think the C of E and consequentially the Anglican Communion should split or, if you like, continue its splitting.

But is this true for sufficient numbers? If Colin Coward's god and the god believed by the rest of the church are dramatically different then that is not quite grounds for splitting the church. I think we could forbear for Colin to remain in the church.

But the whole of Colin's article effectively claims that he speaks for the majority of the church. That is, there are sufficient numbers supporting his understanding of god for a split to be considered because it is mighty hard to maintain two dramatically different understandings of god inside one religious entity which claims itself to be a church of the one God.

I myself, however, am slightly less than convinced by the line Colin takes. My own experience of being an Anglican is that there is a diverse range of views among us including our understanding of God. But the key word is 'range'. I do not see that we fall into neatly divided camps: you lot with your understanding of god pitch your tent over there, my lot will pitch our tents over here. Sure, I can think of fellow Anglicans who when they speak of God speak of a god I do not feel I know (and presumably vice versa) but I cannot count those Anglicans up to be a sufficient number to warrant splitting away from them.

But Colin says some things which are perfectly dreadful inasmuch as they represent a view of fellow Christians which is as nasty as the allegations he makes. To say of people who disagree with him, "They believe in a nasty, rule-bound, vindictive God who despite everything they say, hates gays" is extraordinary in its understanding of fellow believers. Extraordinary because it is not true. People who believe in such a god just don't get elected to Synod! Or selected for ordination :)

However a point lurks uneasily in these words. If one part of an Anglican church or of the Communion is running round thinking another part is 'nasty' and links that to believing in a 'vindictive God' and not believing in a God of love, then there is little hope of reconciliation, of truly partaking of communion together in which one bread is broken as the body of the one Christ. Even fellowship over a cup of tea is going to be difficult.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Noting progress or 'progress'

One keeps an eye on the wider world.

Though it might be better to keep one's eyes closed, there are so many sad, awful, and bizarre things going on. The story of the Canadian oil train exploding after running away seems to be an example of everything that could possibly go wrong going wrong with tragic results. Close to hand as a story of one wrong action leading to multiplying tragedy is the plane crashing at San Francisco, seemingly at the hands of a trainee pilot. (I am quietly disposing of my lifelong theory that it is better to sit at the back of a plane). Definitely in the bizarre category is politics in New Zealand. Recently we had the spectacle of a person wanted for extradition in the USA lecturing our Prime Minister. Now we have rumours that our Opposition Leader [Labour Party] is about to be toppled in a coup. Perhaps some kind of socialist bacteria jumped across the Tasman!

Stuff is happening in Anglicanland. The C of E General Synod is slowly making its way towards having women bishops. In Canada they are making their way towards changing their marriage canon to include same sex marriage. The motion they have just passed is a prelude to the change envisaged when their GS next meets.

My own efforts in this area are not attuned to such development. This is a motion I am proposing for our Synod in September:

"That this Synod:

( (1) Notes a resolution from General Synod 2012,  “THAT this General Synod/ te Hinota Whanui resolves:

That given the long‐held mission of our Church to challenge and support couples publicly to commit themselves to each other,

Asks Episcopal Units to hold conversations in our Church and with the wider community about the nature of marriage,

And to explore how the Church might theologically and liturgically respond to gay and lesbian Anglican couples who request this rite,

Further, it asks General Synod Standing Committee to support and resource the Episcopal Units in this endeavour;

And for Episcopal Units to demonstrate progress to the General Synod Standing Committee and where appropriate, to Ma Whea? Mei Fe Ki Fe? Where to? Commission, in advance of the next General Synod/te Hīnota Whānui in 2014.”

(2)  Notes the existence and work of the Ma Whea Commission, as well as other work of a theological and doctrinal nature instituted by General Synod Standing Committee, with a view to the deliberations of these bodies informing further discussion of likely motions (at least two of which lie on the table from General Synod 2012) concerning ordination of partnered gay and lesbian persons, marriage, same sex marriage and liturgies for relationships at General Synod 2014;

(3)  Requests the Bishop and the diocesan representatives to General Synod 2014 to prayerfully discern the mind of this Diocese on these and any related matters which come before General Synod 2014.

(4)  Affirms the doctrine of marriage of this church, as explained in Clause 1.3 of Title G Canon III Of Marriage.

Appendix to Motion: Clause 1.3 of Title G Canon III reads as follows:
“The minister shall provide education to the parties seeking marriage on the Christian understanding of marriage, or see that such education is provided by some other competent person, in accordance with any Guidelines that General Synod may from time to time issue.
In particular the minister shall ascertain that the parties understand that Christian marriage is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into in the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind and will, and with the intent that it be lifelong.
The Church's teaching on Christian marriage is enshrined in the Formularies of the Church and is expressed in all the marriage services in the Formularies and in the introduction for the congregation to Christian marriage in A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, (See Schedule II of this Canon).”
Explanation: ‘Formularies’ here means the Book of Common Prayer and A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia o Aotearoa. Schedule II of the Canon collects together teaching on marriage enshrined in our prayer books."

POSTSCRIPT For a good argument for society investing in marriage, read here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tragic marriage split through misunderstanding

It is very confusing making sense of most marriage break ups since there are often two quite different narratives at play about who did and said what in the rundown to splitting up. We are seeing this played out in the media in the case of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. Photos of him clutching her by the throat seem to be an illustrated narrative of his contribution to separation. But now he has announced through a newspaper that he will divorce her because she did not stick up for him. Good luck with making sense of that!

If GAFCON II later this year becomes the moment when all sides agree that the Communion is irrevocably split I suggest it is going to be very confusing trying to make sense of how, in fact, we will have come to this position. Sure, it could be said that 'they misinterpreted the Bible and taught a false gospel' and that 'they excluded people from the church on the basis of misunderstanding human sexuality and refusing to act justly.' If it is as neat as that, then we have an open and shut case for blaming one side (or both!) and sheeting home responsibility for ecclesial tragedy to a bunch of renegades.

It is not as neat as that, I submit. We have a few months to push the PAUSE button on this tragic movie being played out before our eyes and ask whether we might just clear up a few misunderstandings. Should we hit that button, here are some starters for reflection.

Engagement with society

I would like bishops and theologians around the Communion to acknowledge that every Anglican church is engaged with their own local society and the course of that society. A bishop in Nigeria looks in askance at how the C of E is responding to changes in legislation regarding civil partnerships and gay marriage. A theologian in the States looks in askance at a bunch of bishops in Uganda cheering on legislation repressive of openly gay and lesbian Ugandan citizens. In each case the local church is engaged with local issues, working out how best to respond to the direction their own society is heading in. It is easy, is it not, to blast from far away the actions of others. It is harder to pause, reflect, and imagine one's way into what it means to work out the gospel in England, in the States, in Uganda and in Nigeria. But to do so might be to gather up some crumbs of sympathy for the dilemmas of others. When we are sympathetic to others we can find the will to walk an extra mile with them, rather than run away from them.

Understanding the Bible

It would be quite good if we could all work harder at understanding the Bible. Too often, it seems, we work hard at understanding one part of the Bible and then use that understanding to talk past each other.

Thus the Bible is a revelation of God teaching the importance of justice, human dignity and respect for one another while promoting values of fidelity, sacrificial love and stable family life. With that understanding we can talk past those who miss (or downplay) that understanding in favour of the Bible as a revelation of God teaching the importance of holiness, sexual discipline, the importance of marriage between a man and a woman as the cornerstone of society while promoting a gospel which both invites all to enter God's kingdom and announces God's judgment on those who refuse to repent and believe in Christ.

Such understandings potentially could lead to a conversation about what the whole of the Bible says to the church today. Unfortunately that potential is not being reached because ... well, there is quite a question to consider, is there not? We Anglicans love the Bible (we say). We read Scripture together (we say). Scripture is paramount in our life (cf. the Thirty-Nine Articles, our various constitutions, Lambeth resolutions). Yet somehow we are not reaching a common understanding about the Bible, about what God is saying through Scripture to the church today.

Nothing is easy here, just as generally any marriage heading for the rocks is a hard, complicated and difficult situation to reverse.

Could we give ourselves one last shot at reconciliation?

For a contrasting if not contrary view, head to Anglican Curmudgeon.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Good grief, I did not expect that

They say God is a God of surprises. And I am surprised to learn that Glynn Cardy is leaving the Anglican church for the Presbyterian Church, as announced here. (H/T Chris Nimmo commenting below).

That is,

"This morning I told St Matthew’s, my spiritual home for the last 9 years, that I’m leaving. I’ve accepted a position with St Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Remuera. I have many happy memories to take with me, and so much aroha from so many people – from both the church and wider community.

I look forward to getting to know a new community, a new denomination, and all the opportunities that will inevitably arise."

Wow! Glynn, if you are reading this, I wish you well :)

Tuesday: An article in the Herald is here.

C of E in Dismal Swamp?

Trying to follow the C of E General Synod, I have been watching Twitter. Tweets seem to be of the official kind ('Look, despite the headlines, we are really quite good at being good') or the despairing kind ('Synod is as boring, deadly and dull as I expected; we seem to be avoiding the tough issues and hoping against hope for a miracle on [insert issue]'). The general impression, if one sticks to this kind of chorus of cliches, is that the C of E is in the dismal swamp. It would be a mercy if someone drowned it.

But this is completely wrong. This Sunday faithful worshippers will have gathered in hamlet and vale, in city centres and suburbs, in Saxon churches and in coffee shops. The gospel will have been preached, Word taught and bread broken. Disciples will have taken another step on the journey of faith. God will have been worshiped splendidly, with chorus and chant, song and psalm.

The problems the General Synod is mired in are real problems, but they do not tell the whole story. No more than to say that I burned the potatoes tonight tells you that I have had a terrible day.

Besides, it is possible that the problems of the General Synod are minor compared to the storm that is about to be unleashed on the Communion in a few months time. Head to Preludium for an insight into what may be coming. More on this here in a day or two.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Alerted by a friend I have visited an intriguing Kiwi blog, That is Logical!. Joshua Taylor (another Joshua Taylor, not our diocesan youth worker) has decided to visit ministers in Auckland to interview them about what they believe. His first interview is with Glynn Cardy, Vicar of St Matthew's in the City, Auckland who occasionally features on this blog. The interview is a great opportunity to attend to what Glynn believes. Or is it?

I found as I read the interview that I was often agreeing with Glynn! Yet I think there is a huge gulf in belief between us. What is going on?

I think it is this. There is always agreement between people. Even the most divided of groups agree that the sun will rise tomorrow but one day hence will run out of energy and rise no longer. Further, agreements may mask big differences. All sorts of agreements about the sun are possible in a divided group (a year is 365.25 days, red sky at night shepherds delight, the light of the moon is a reflection of the sun's light, etc) but a group could be wracked by fundamental division over whether the sun is the centre of the universe.

Thus I find myself in agreement with a number of Glynn's answers as they are worded yet I think the tendency in his answers betrays the gulf between us. For example on the authority of the Bible I agree that "It has the authority that the communities have given to it." I also agree broadly that "it is a human document it wasn't written down by, you know, a god with, you know, an anthropomorphic god that had a pen and paper and wrote it down or dictated it like "Moses write what I tell you". This was written by human beings and of course it is open to the fallibility of human beings. But it has a spiritual power, in the sense of when people live out some of that love and compassion that comes through in stories. It also has horrible killings and rapes and other things in there that aren't of course not meant to be emulated." (Just before you hit the comment button, I think the dictation element which Glynn denies is too quickly denied. Parts of the Bible are dictated by God (e.g. parts of Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation). 'Open to the fallibility' is not the same as 'fallible'.)

The tendency inherent in the answer given re the Bible is something else. The tendency is towards a liberal approach to the Bible in the sense that what is believed about the Bible fits with a liberal theology and bits of the Bible which do not fit with that theology are denied. Thus,

"Me: OK. So you would drift from the conservative christian position that it is the inspired infallible word of God?
Vicar Glynn Cardy: Absolutely. You have probably guessed that I am not a conservative christian!"

Anyway, one could go on exploring all the interesting answers given in the post. Today's available minutes are too short. But I am grateful to Joshua Taylor for offering this extended record of what one of our most controversial vicars Down Under believes.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How portentous is this coup?

Some of us have been watching events in Egypt closely. A commenter here (who lives in Egypt) recently asked for our prayers. ++Mouneer has asked for our prayers. We should pray and keep on praying for peace in that amazing country, one of the 'biblical lands.'

Now as I write the breaking news is that Morsi has been toppled. In part this seems a reassertion of the power of the military (and to that extent, a triumph for previous President Mubarak, a military man's supporters). In part it is a triumph of people power - people dissatisfied with the Islamicization of Egypt under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is the latter which may be portentous for the world. The creeping power of Sharia zealots, whether dominantly in (say) Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan, or surreptitiously in (say) England is worrying. But is Egypt now a sign that the people, even in Arab lands, will only take so much conservatism?

Here is an intriguing argument, that in Egypt the liberals are not democrats and the democrats are not liberals!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New Dean for Napier Cathedral

Congratulations to Michael Godfrey (ex-pat Kiwi currently in Oz) who will be the new Dean of Napier Cathedral.

Later: the Taonga report on Michael and his life story is now here.

Talking of deans, Bishop Justin Duckworth interviews his new dean, Digby Wilkinson, here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Linchpin sex secret power of Christianity

" is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force?"
Rod Dreher smacks an argument to the jaws of Western civilization. But Western civilization fights back through the counter-punches of Donald Devine. Who will win? Actually, maybe both as they score various hits on different parts of the body politic.

Dreher is warning that Western society embracing same sex marriage is effectively a choice to hasten the demise of Christianity as the social force of Western civilization. Devine argues that Christianity is a victim of its own power, in this case the power of individualism which Jesus unleashed on the world (however unintentionally). Yet Devine also underscores the death of Christianity,
"What we see today in the success of gay marriage is not really freedom run amok, but the result of turning the power to define morality over to the state, or to the dominant group representing it."
Is the state is the new god of the Western world, worshipped in the cathedral of parliament, led by the high priests and priestesses elected by the people to 'represent' them to the god but subject to the influential judgments of the elders (also known as 'journalists')?

The demise of Christianity is also measured in my post yesterday: the failing power of Christianity is evidenced by the lack of concern the Western world shows for persecuted Christians.

For decades we have known that Christendom no longer defined the relationship between Christianity and the West but we have harboured the sentiment that Christianity nevertheless remained the ruling paradigm for morality, justice and human dignity. The last nail in the coffin of Christendom turns out, pace Dreher and Devine, to also be the nail which deflates the balloon of inflated expectations about Christianity's cultural influence.

The death of Christianity as the social force for Western civilization is a Good Friday moment in history. We need to use Holy Saturday to prepare for the Day of Christianity's Resurrection.

On that day we will not be restored to former glories and life in the citadel of power. But we will experience again the power of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Is Assad on the side of the angels?

The Middle East is a tricky place to make sense of. What is happening in Egypt? Mubarak went. Morsi was elected. Or 'elected.' Either way, a huge push to move him on is happening as I write. Millions are taking to the streets, filling Tahrir Square. (If only Egypt was Australia. Last week it took just - I think - twelve people changing their minds about Rudd, and Gillard was goneburger).

Much murkier is Syria. A proxy in war between Iran and Saudi Arabia? A country in turmoil because the poor have been ground down for too long? A cauldron kept off the boil for decades by Assad Snr and Assad Jnr, now not just boiling but exploding? Of one thing we can be certain, revolution in Egypt and Syria, in Iraq too, has not been kind to Christians.

This article makes the point that terrible things are happening to Christians in the name of the religion of peace. Damian Thompson takes up one item in the list, the beheading of a Catholic priest, and charges the MSM with ignoring it. Assad is no saint. But the tragic irony of his dictatorship from a Christian perspective is that his regime has been kinder to Christians than the tyranny being exercised by the militia which have taken control of parts of Syria.

Postscript: The trickiness of the Middle East has tripped up the Archbishop of Canterbury, seemingly. Ruth Gledhill reports that ++Justin is seeking a new communications aide after a PR debacle in Israel Palestine. (Most of report behind the paywall assisting Rupert with his divorce settlement).