Astute comments have been made to my previous post. Comments which are worth reflecting on carefully as we make out way through waters which may be partly charted (i.e. repetitions occur in church history) and partly uncharted (i.e. by definition Christendom has never experienced post-Christendom!)
On the one hand, here is Stephen Donald, a colleague working in the Diocese of Waiapu:
"Communicating the gospel in our Westernised context (and in Aotearoa – New Zealand in particular) is precisely the issue, wherever we may sit on our broad Anglican spectrum of theology and church practice. Rather than fixating on issues around homosexuality, we need to reshape our mission to an increasingly secularised (and often indifferent) society, in which most people see us, at best, as irrelevant, and at worst, judgemental, bigoted and hypocritical.
Even on the most superficial level in the traditional ‘hatched, matched and despatched’ ministries we fail to connect. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s clergy held an almost monopoly in the area of life-passage celebration, but now there are very few requests for baptism, only 1/3 of all weddings in total are taken by organisational celebrants (which includes those from other religions, not only Christian), and an increasing number of funerals are conducted by celebrants or family members. The ‘horse has bolted’ on Christendom, and without a change of approach and a good hard look at ourselves, we will continue to miss the mark, and in the eyes of Joe Public, drift off into oblivion.
When we do deliver the goods to our communities in the face of tragedy and disaster (as in the Pike River disaster and the Christchurch earthquakes) or enhancing community celebration and connectedness as I am often involved in here in the Gisborne-East Coast area, we win friends for Christ and influence people, although this is rarely expressed as more bottoms on pews, for all the reasons given above.
Of course the content of the Gospel is important as well as the context. Grace is not cheap and repentance is required. But so is graciousness; those within the Church who believe ‘the other’ is taking Christianity to hell in a handcart (and both extremes are guilty at times) need to assess their motives. I suspect this often has much more to do with power and control, and a fear of the unknown, than any missional objective."
On the other hand, and just selecting a few paragraphs from many pertinent paragraphs posted in the thread below by Bryden Black, a colleague working here in the Diocese of Christchurch:
"As I’ve tried myself to tease out this question [Editor: the question of ecclesial blessing of same sex partnerships and how the church has arrived through the theological and philosophical journey since the Reformation at a point where it is very open to providing an affirming answer to the question], as a Christian who has all his life straddled many cultures, past and present, and so has a degree of self-transcendence hermeneutically, I have been forced to conclude what I’ve said before: it’s but the presenting tip of an iceberg. I also have two other analogies:
(1) it’s like a glacier, which grinds away over many, many years, and then suddenly, at its edge, a piece - and in this case, a large piece - falls off, precipitating an enormous avalanche. Everyone notices the avalanche and focuses on it and its effects. No-one, or at least only a few, give any credence to the years and years of slow grinding away of the glacier, out of sight - that is, now to apply the analogy, the slow shifts in cultural and societal movements which actually brought about this visible, tangible, presenting thing.
(2) More simply, and more morally (and possibly more in tune with your own ‘missionary’ assessment): the source of the ‘pollution’ is quite simply upstream, historically and culturally; it’s just the case that downstream is where we are; and how we are is ... well; it is what it is! [And of course, one may still use this analogy in a non-pejorative moral sense by using say the confluence of two tributaries: I anticipate a few yells!]...
I think you may by now have something of the flavour as to why we may actually be more in disagreement than you realise. My ‘hermeneutical antennae’, intellectual, cultural, philosophical and historical, as well as spiritual, tune into two things at once: there is a single presenting issue; which however is inordinately rich and complex in its own aetiology, historically, culturally, etc., let alone in the actual instance of any one person who happens to deem themselves gay.
No wonder we humans, this side of the Parousia, are seemingly in freeze-frame mode about ‘it’. Well; some are, and some are not; and those that are not represent two extremes often, the total ‘revisionists’ and the total ‘traditionalists’. What I hope to have shown - again all too briefly - is that there might yet be another stance. I’ve tried to canvass as wide and as deep a perspective as possible, but have still arrived at a position that utterly refuses to align myself with any amendment to the definition of marriage, as the societal and cultural and spiritual thing it really is: such amendment just does not stack up overall! And it is a matter of choose this day: life - or death. Therefore, at root, baptismal distinctiveness, and so sheer holiness [pace Haller] must, yes must, be the order of the Christian Church. And if this particular institution foregoes that ... well; we shall see ..."
With such pertinent thoughts in mind, about the state of the society in which we are missional Anglicans and the state of the church to which we Anglicans belong, how should we engage in mission?
One of the great lessons of my days of fond memory at Knox Theological Hall, Dunedin, in the 1980s, was reading an article (from memory, in the journal Interpretation) about six missional strategies for responding to the (Hellenistic) cultural hegemony of Rome and its empire in the Israel of Jesus' day, all neatly described with "I" words.
Insulation - the Pharisees who lived within society by tried to keep the dominating culture at bay with many rules and regulations for daily and domestic life.
Isolation - the Essenes who physically took themselves to the wilderness and set up communities to live a pure Jewish life (as they understood and regulated it).
Insurrection - the Zealots who determined that the hegemony of Rome needed to be overthrown
Integration - the Sadducees who determined that their faith commitments would not stand in the way of working hand in glove with Rome yet held to their faith commitments sufficiently to debate with Pharisees and with Jesus.
Identification - the Herodians who made Rome's interests their own interests.
Incorporation - the Christians who set out to convert the Roman empire and thus integrate it into the kingdom of God (and determinedly not the other way around).
Thus the first thing I recommend for Anglican churches engaged in mission to the West, with its imperial hegemony of secular, pluralist culture, is that we are clear about which of these six strategies we are pursuing.
Anglicans have not been well known for their Insurrectionist tendencies but I see signs in my reading of history and of contemporary Anglican life of each of the other five strategies being followed. Predominantly, however, the Anglican tendency is towards Integration, Identification or Incorporation.
The point about Incorporation is that Christians set out, principally via their chief strategist Paul, to shape Christianity to convert the whole world, Jew and Greek, slave and free, men and women. Along the way they had to deal to tendencies towards Insulation (so Galatians and Paul's rebuke to Peter, perhaps too Hebrews and its appeal to readers not to go back to Judaism), Integration (see letters to churches in Revelation 2-3), Identification (so 1 Timothy where false teachers whose interests seem similar to the prevailing religion of Ephesus are battled) and perhaps even Isolation (is that what Paul avoids in 1 Corinthians 5:10 and the Elder toys with in 1 John?)
Secondly, once the strategy has been chosen (or clearly identified as the one which is actually being pursued), I suggest we need to work out what steps will enable the goal of the strategy to be achieved.
For the Pauline strategy of Incorporation, it is noticeable how Paul went along with the Roman Empire by avoiding unnecessary antagonism (so Romans 13) and how Luke presented the Christian movement (in Luke-Acts) as no explicit political threat to the Empire. Yet Paul preached Jesus Christ as the true Caesar (Kyrios = Lord) and Luke celebrated the advance of the empire (i.e. kingdom) of God which was, in the deeper reality of life, a total undermining of Roman political power.
What steps do we take today to avoid unnecessary antagonism of the prevailing cultural hegemony while being utterly faithful to the gospel that Jesus is Lord and seeking the advance of the rule of God over the world?
What I am arguing for through recent posts is that we take steps to avoid confrontation with the prevailing culture of the West over homosexuality, including avoiding becoming the church known as the anti-homosexuals church. One such step is not to separate over homosexuality. Where separation nevertheless seems necessary over theological matters of authority, true versus false gospel, faithfulness to Jesus as Lord, (a responsive point being well made by commenters) can we clearly articulate that those are the reasons without association also being made by observers with issues over homosexuality?
I have my doubts that at the present time those inclined to separate can do so while maintaining the perception that the separation is not to do with homosexuality but concerns a larger mess of doctrinal failure, gospel fecklessness and cultural captivity.
As an evangelical I appreciate very much that many issues are at work in, behind and underneath current controversy over homosexuality. That it is, depending on metaphors being invoked, this controversy is the tip of an iceberg which began growing centuries earlier or the latest station on a very long journey on a road which long ago forked in the woods of Enlightenment.
There is an argument for decisive concrete action, for acting on one's convictions if one's church should take one more step along that road by explicitly approving the blessing of same sex partnerships or even changing the doctrine of marriage. That argument is that enough is enough, no further capitulation to or accommodation with the relentless growth of the hegemony of liberal theology is tolerable.
But I respectfully (to my evangelical colleagues and friends thinking about such decisive action) submit a counter argument. No matter how widely (or loudly), gently, reasonably we articulate that decisive action is because of the base of the iceberg or length of the wrongly taken journey, it will be pinned against us, both by others in the church and by the wider community, that we have taken action because of homosexuality, indeed because of homosexuals. No matter how strongly we feel such perception is discordant with reality, is that a perception we wish to encourage?
I raise the question because in that perception it will look like we are scapegoating homosexuals who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Of all the perceptions we might think it worth living with in order to live out our convictions, is scapegoating somewhere between 1% and 5% of our congregations a price worth paying?
Importantly, from a missional perspective, would such perception impede our mission if we are determined to pursue an Incorporation strategy?
There is an alternative way and it is being charted by one of the more evangelical popes in history.
The resounding model today in respect of Incorporation is the manner of Pope Francis' public communication of the faith.
He has not changed (conservative) Catholic teaching on any matter one whit but has managed to frame answers to questions in such a way that the tone of discussion has changed, the prevailing media interest in the Roman church is not its scandalous faults but its possibilities for supporting human dignity.
Are conservative evangelical Anglicans able to engender similar sympathetic response from the public if we generate media coverage that we are forming new churches outside of existing structures because of differences over homosexuality?
Our attention and emphasis should be elsewhere than on sexuality. Steps I suggest we need to take in current mission in the West concern presenting Jesus in a manner which connects with people today.
First, we need to present Jesus as alive - the resurrected Jesus present in the world through his Spirit - doing so through deed as well as word. 'Deed' includes acts of compassionate service and offer of healing prayer. The Jesus of history cuts no ice today. What matters is the now and the future. The 'historical Jesus' sounds as irrelevant as Caesar, Genghis Khan and Darwin.If Jesus is not here in the world today, he is nowhere in the minds of the iPhone generation.
Secondly, we need to find language for today which translates key terms such as 'Saviour', 'the Bible', even 'church'. My suggestion is urgent exploration of Jesus as Healer (rather than Saviour), the sacred writings (rather than the Bible), and 'spirituality centres' (rather than 'church'). Improvements welcomed in the comments.
If there is one thing the cultural hegemony of the West is responsible for it is the immense hurt created by tolerance even encouragement of breakdown of familial relationships. But is it clear to the average shopper in our Malls or to fans at football matches that our churches are places of healing for the hurts being buried through shopping and obsession with sport?
Thirdly, what is happening in our worship services? Are they Jesus-shaped? As an Anglican with deep love for liturgy I see within our liturgies, their underlying dynamics properly understood, great potential to present Jesus to all who gather to find him. But I also see strange obsessions with form, including with robes, ceremonies and over elaborate ritual movements. Are these constructions of barriers to meeting Jesus inside the church?
That is enough for now.