Monday, March 10, 2014

Andrew Brown reveals key reason for schism: we do not understand each other

With H/T to Christopher Johnson, I read this opinion from Andrew Brown and want to express my gratitude to Andrew for what he reveals about the unfolding Anglican schism (i.e. as TEC breaks up, as divisions occur in the Anglican Communion and now as the CofE looks like it is only being held together by a controversial paper from its bishops).

Andrew Brown is offering an explanation for 'Why the church's gay marriage schism is here to stay?' His specific focus is the contretemps within the CofE about the bishop's recent statement (links to which are in his article).

The thrust of the column is that conservatives are unbudgeable about what they think is God's will re marriage and how that will is discerned. What he does not quite spell out is that (at least in his perspective of how liberals think) liberals are also unbudgeable about what they think is God's will re marriage (it's flexible) and how that will is discerned (Scripture is something from which "it would be unwise to draw conclusions" while history, science and law give guidance of better quality than Scripture). Thus between the unbudgeable sides the schism will not go away. One might add, the only interesting question remaining about the C of E is whether the schism will result in formal separation or ongoing tension. Separate houses or separate bedrooms?(!)

In the course of his column he writes,

"What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants – Conservatives believe – is a straight man married to a straight woman: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve are the perfect couple. It is that relationship that shows the kind of love that leads us towards God. You or I might point out that since Adam and Eve never existed it would be unwise to draw conclusions from their relationship, but that's not how the religious imagination works."

I suggest this reveals more the Andrew Brown is intending because it discloses an understanding of conservative thinking that is at odds with the way conservatives actually think. If we are going to misunderstand each other in this way, then of course there is going to be division amongst us. (No doubt conservatives misunderstand liberals and that also contributes to division).

I suggest that this is what conservatives think:

What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants is for men and women to marry in order to continue the fruitfulness of creation and for children to be born into a lasting stable loving marriage between father and mother. The covenant between a man and a woman in marriage is important enough for God to use it to illustrate his own love for Israel and Christ's love for the church. Conversely, the strength of God's commitment to Israel and of Christ's commitment to the church is an inspiring and instructive model for a husband and wife's commitment to each other. (Marriage is not the only relationship which shows the kind of love that leads us towards God, Scripture provides other examples, through familial love, and friendship). Whether Adam and Eve existed or not, it would be unwise to dismiss conclusions drawn from the scriptural narratives and reflections in which they feature as the religious imagination works from what has been given to us, especially that which is understood as being given by God as revelation to God's people. In particular, religious imagination works from asking whether what God wants and what the world wants (e.g. expressed through history, science and law) is compatible or incompatible seeks to develop a way of life (discipleship) which is primarily faithful to what God wants.

If Andrew Brown is representative of a liberal understanding of conservatives then we are in trouble because as long as we misunderstand each other then the conversation between us is going to be more than difficult. When we understand each other the chances of respectful conversation and mutually agreeable living with difference rises. It would help the CofE's future if more care was taken to clarify how each side thinks.

Presumption is the mother of prejudice and prejudice is the father of conflict.

I would prefer comments on the matter of whether we understand in each other well in the Communion today rather than on the many other issues Andrew Brown touches on re marriage and human sexuality (all of which have been given a good rehearsing here at ADU).


mike greenslade said...

Kia ora Peter,

Thank you. You make an excellent point.

I find it sad that as Church, we continue to judge each other on what we think, rather than on what we believe.

carl jacobs said...


The problem is not that we don't understand each other. The problem is that we understand each other all too well. Misunderstanding is the easy solution because it is amenable to talking. "If only we keep talking, we will resolve the misunderstandings and come to some solution agreeable to both sides." That's a fool's hope. This is a conflict of mutually exclusive first principles and both sides are well aware of that fact. Greater understanding can only sharpen and exacerbate the differences by highlighting the irreconcilable nature of the conflict.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
Yes, some Anglicans understand each other well.
But Andrew Brown makes my case that some Anglicans do not understand each other well and thus we may be heading for separation on the basis of a misunderstanding as people writing article's like Browns wedge Anglicans further apart.
Whether or not the conflict concerns mutually exclusive first principles (and whether both sides are or are not well aware of that fact), my question as an Anglican is whether the conflict at this time is:
(1) distinctively different from other Anglican conflicts over principles (which have been resolved, or simply lived with)? [My answer, as you know, is that at least in North America the answer seems to be that it is distinctively different].
(2)capable of amelioration through better understanding?
On which latter question we differ re the answer.

Bryden Black said...

Andrew Brown’s thoughts ...

Ahead of our GS in 2010 I was asked to write a preparatory piece for the discussion on the (now defunct) Anglican Communion Covenant. I gave it the title, “Why the Anglican Communion Covenant Matters”. Having introduced some of the presenting issues, I said this:

“But such events and such phenomena as Bishop Robinson’s consecration are furthermore symptomatic of a deeper concern. And it is this concern which triggers directly any conversation on such a thing as the Anglican Communion Covenant. For what is really at stake here is the issue of authority - and beyond that, the different forms of supposed legitimacy substantiating differing understandings and practices of authority itself.”

Superficially, it might seem we’ve yet another spat about sola Scriptura vs. “arguments from science, from history or from the law” (about what marriage is), as per AB’s phrase. Or as MG seems to imply, there’s no real link between what we think and what we believe.

Au contraire, right from the beginning, Christians have been exhorted to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for the hope you have”. Which answer is grounded firmly in the realities of this world: the covenant history of a specific people, whose entire Way of Life was the preparatory means of God’s climactically becoming a human being on this planet, and whose “traditional witness” (e.g. 1 Cor 15:1-5) founds a specific community thereafter, an extension of the first people.

History then is a vital authority for the Christian faith. The only question is: whose history?!
As for science: longitudinal studies on the well being of children these past decades have clearly shown they ‘do better’ when reared by their own biological mother and father, whose bond naturally overflows in this fruitful manner. The difficulty with any social science though is that it is seldom value neutral; the deemed plausibility structures impinge directly upon the objects of study. But whose to deem what and why, pray tell?! Back to the authority question again. [As for the role and nature of pure science, I can only recommend the works of Alister McGrath.] As for law: as soon as any society reduces law to social convention, forgetting the (possibility of) the Law above the law, then the mere contingencies of history will determine whatsoever we wish. Nietzsche - all is forgiven!

In other words, there will always be an integration of reasoning, belief structures, sanctioned patterns of life, all amidst the flow of communal human history: this is the reality. The only real questions revolve around ‘whose community’. What Christians need to ask is simply this: will they belong to the Church, or will they adhere to the world? For at root, as the Book of Revelation so clearly portrays and as St Augustine so vividly illustrated, there are in the end only two cities. As they say in the fayre: you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Anonymous said...

And there is the further question: is understanding each other's beliefs and opinions the same as understanding each other?

Tim Chesterton

MichaelA said...

Its a typically peculiar article from Andrew Brown.

At one point he seems to be arguing that the Bible must permit gay marriage because it doesn't anywhere say you mustn't do that (which is true enough; The bible prohibits gay sex, but it doesn't then go on to state explicitly that gay marriage shouldn't happen).

Gay marriage (or something similar) did occasionally exist in ancient times. But it was very, very rare. For example the Sacred Band of Thebes formed a sort of holy temple guard composed of 150 homosexual couples. I can't think off-hand of any other examples, and the Sacred Band didn't last very long, although this wasn't because of their sexuality – they ended up in the front line at the battle of Kynoscephalae, and whilst the opposing general Phillip of Macedon also had homosexual tendencies, it didn't stop him slaughtering them to the last pair.

Andrew Brown then switches to a different (and mutually incompatible) argument, that we shouldn't be listening to what the Bible says anyway:

"What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants – Conservatives believe – is a straight man married to a straight woman: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve are the perfect couple. It is that relationship that shows the kind of love that leads us towards God. You or I might point out that since Adam and Eve never existed it would be unwise to draw conclusions from their relationship, but that's not how the religious imagination works."

It thus appears that Andrew Brown has a deeper issue - he doesn't like what "religious" people believe, nor does he believe that the Bible is true. This week, the particular manifestation of his concern may be gay marriage. Next week it will be something different. But at the root of it all will be Andrew's impatience with all this supernatural "religious" nonsense.

Andrew's final complaint is that those whom he despises as religious "can't be convinced by arguments from science, from history or from the law about what marriage is." - Perhaps he should spend a bit more time and effort actually working on his arguments, rather than assuming that they are well-constructed as he thinks they are.

Father Ron Smith said...

"I find it sad that as Church, we continue to judge each other on what we think, rather than on what we believe." - Mike Greenslade -

kia ora, Mike. Spot on!

That's why I'm thinking of asking T.A. to change their title to 'Thinking AND Believing Anglicans'
Simply because they are able to think about what they believe.

Father Ron Smith said...

In response to Bryden Black's quotation about giving an answer for the faith that is in you. I do remember a meeting on the Covenant in Christchurch, hosted by Bishop Sir Paul Reeves (one-time Archbishop and Governor-General in N.Z.) who did precisely that - in refuting the need for a Covenant, that would have excluded TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, on account of their supposed apostacy

I felt the ball was firmly in Paul Reeves' court. he handled it well.
And, as it turned out won the day!

Bryden Black said...

I too was at that meeting Ron; and I recall it rather well. What “won the day” was the curious logic of: if we’d had the Covenant in place back when we changed the Constitution of ACANZ&P into the Three Tikanga Church etc., we might very well have not been allowed to do so ...

I.e. it was an utterly selfish/nationalistic form of logic, without any regard for the sort of Community the Church is meant to be. From the very start of the move to 3T type thinking, from the 1980s through to the formal adoption of the new Constitution, any contrary arguments from either Church history or Scripture were simply dismissed. Naturally! They were inconvenient!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
The first sentence of your submitted comment is unnecessary and unhelpful.


I guess [++Paul Reeves] overview of ACANZP might just be considered to have been rather more extensive than that available to [the rest of us].

"Whom God calls, God equips".

It might just be worth mentioning that even our Mother Church of England rejected the Covenant. does that say anything to you?

The Church moves on - if it is in a listening mode - and things are open to change, sometimes without us, because we are not listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit!

Who was it who ince said that the Church is the only human institution that exists - not for itself, but for others?. Not a bad motto of Christ-like servitude!