Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Shadow Synod?

As I continue to find it difficult to put together my (cogent? coherent? conservative? charitable?) submission for the new working party re A Way Forward for our church (announcement of the make up of the party on 1 September?), I notice moves abroad. Up Yonder, in the C of E, there is a proposal to form a new synod of conservative English Anglicans.

Thinking Anglicans has a report here.

Archbishop Cranmer has a copy of an address given by Dr Gavin Ashenden to a meeting of the parishes working on forming the new synod.

I personally find addresses such as Gavin Ashenden's a challenge to digest. When he questions where a process of liberalization ends up, he rightly asks of his church whether it knows what it is doing. Although he does not mention it, he might have observed that recently the Dean of Salisbury offered a blessing for a gay pride festival. Is that general blessing to a festival supportive of a range of lifestyles consistent with being a church committed to monogamous, faithful marriage?

On the other hand, I find Ashenden tough on women. Feminism is, in the end, a bad thing. The patriarchal bias of the Bible does women no disservice because the Bible teaches "headship" which is the core and cornerstone of right socialization. All is well when men are in charge. His vision for a male-led church is not my vision for a church which includes Spirit-filled, Spirit-gifted men and women in the ministry of leadership.

Anyway, where will these various moves within the C of E end? What influence will they have on ACANZP?

For myself, as I continue to contemplate the final version of my submission to the working party (by 1 October), my perspective on events Up Yonder and Down Under is that it is a challenge to find the a responsible, biblical ethic for 21st century Western Anglicans which is also a continuation of our heritage through the preceding centuries.

POSTSCRIPT: Another way of looking at this kind of situation in the "big picture" is that the Anglican church is always three potential churches in the making: two "either/or" churches and one "both/and" church.

The two "either/or" churches are the edgesof the church that want things to be either "this" or "that" (e.g. extremely conservative or extremely progressive; "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and no truc given to "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" or "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" and never the use of "Father" or "Son").

The "both/and" is the great, broad, middle church that wants (e.g.) everyone to get along, freedom to use either "Father, Son, Holy Spirit" or "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" or both, adherence to traditional marriage and blessing of same sex partnerships, use of BCP and modern prayer books.

The shadow synod proposal in Tunbridge Wells via Ashenden's address is - on this perspective - both a prototype for a possible breakaway and an attempt to somehow keep one edge within the CofE fold.

Incidentally, I didn't invent the great, broad, middle Anglican church: it simply exists!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Youth at the Christchurch Diocesan Synod

The following is a post by Etienne Wain, a member of the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch, about the relationship between youth and the Synod. My posting it here is to assist public dissemination and discussion of Etienne's viewpoint ahead of our Synod which meets next week, 1 - 3 September 2016. One of the motions we will consider concerns youth representation and presence in the Synod. My posting does not signal agreement or approval of the viewpoint. I will be reading it as reflectively as other readers here.

It’s no secret that the number of youth attending Synods is low. Listening to a bunch of older people talk finances and strategic plans was never going to make it onto a teenager’s top ten ways to spend a weekend, so it was always going to be a hard ask.

That being said, youth care about social justice. The high youth participation in causes such as the 40 Hour Famine and the fairtrade movement is heartening evidence that youth want to follow in the steps of Christ and clothe, feed and minister to those in need.

Compare this with Synod. Synod is a way to influence the direction and behaviour of a Church that has concern for the poor and marginalised as a central tenet. It’s an instruments by which positive social change can be set in motion. However, youth, with all their passion for social justice, aren’t exactly filling up Synod venues.

So why the disparity? Why so little youth interest?

Part of the reason is that some youth aren’t interested in meetings and constitutions regardless of potential and cause, but this is certainly not all of them.

Another reason is youth not knowing that Synod exists. A motion at this session of Christchurch Synod looks to address this by encouraging ministry units to educate their youth on Synod and commit themselves to finding a youth representative. This is a step in the right direction.
Another part of the puzzle for those who might otherwise be inclined to go is that most youth representatives do not get a vote, which can make their participation look rather token. A number of dioceses are currently exploring the possibility of granting all youth representatives a vote. This is a vital discussion for the Church to have and it’s encouraging that dioceses are having conversations around it at present.

But there is a fourth reason that I believe raises a wider question for the Church. There is a perception that little actual change results from Synod motions. This perception can lead youth to dismiss Synod as irrelevant, which doesn’t exactly encourage youth attendance. To check if this perception was substantial or just cynicism some youth from the Diocese of Christchurch conducted a survey asking around 50 ministry units about their responses to past motions they had supported. The number of ministry units happy to respond was a positive sign. The actual results weren’t quite as encouraging.

One example was a 2006 motion encouraging all ministry units to become fairtrade. As mentioned earlier, many of the youth I know support the fairtrade movement as it guarantees producers in third-world countries prices that equitably compensate their efforts, rather than perpetuating the poverty cycle in the name of cheaper prices for consumers.

Becoming fairtrade is not difficult. It involves providing fairtrade tea and coffee instead of, or as an option over, their non-fairtrade alternatives and promoting the use of these products. Here are the results of the survey:

Of the 12 respondents, none became fairtrade, only a quarter often buy fairtrade products and two do not buy fairtrade products at all.

This is disheartening.

Yes, the motion was ten years ago. However, the fact remains that none of these ministry units follow the motion precisely and two don’t even buy any fairtrade products at all. This indicates that the motion achieved very little.

Another motion, this one in 2009, asked ministry units to approach their youth and provide mentoring to those who request it. It produced the following results in practice:

Of the ministry units with youth, a third have not been asking them whether they would like mentoring. The trend appears to be that Synods make aspirational promises that struggle to translate into effective action.

From a youth perspective, how do you inspire youth who might want to go to Synod to take part in shaping their future Church when the chance that their participation actually makes a difference in an area they care about is slim? Finances, working groups and canons can mean little to youth. Actual change in areas that matter to youth, resulting from debates, votes and conversations that include them, however, would inspire them.

Please note that this is not a criticism of the processes that shape Synod, or its constitutional framework. Nor is it an attack on the discussions on financial, strategic and doctrinal matters that Synod must discuss. It is an observation that these are less tangible and salient topics to youth, many of whom lack the clerical, financial or experiential knowledge to fully engage with them. What youth have to offer at Synod is not ideas on how safety policies should be amended, or questions scrutinising complex Bills. But youth have a passion for the least, the last and the lost, and the energy to fight for their needs relentlessly. To get young people to Synod, we need to recognise this passion and encourage it, not least by ensuring that motions result in actual change.

I have two suggestions. First, those attending Synod should not accept aspirational motions too easily. Debate them. Counter them. Bring any opposition against them out onto the Synod floor. Give yourselves no leeway to shrug them off in vestry meetings as too hard, too costly or referring to someone else. Build a culture that expects ministry units to turn motions into action.

Second, we should become a fairtrade Church. This alone wouldn’t solve everything, but it would show that the Church cares about the social justice causes that youth do.

In the end, the message is clear: if Synod started taking youth seriously, then youth would do the same for Synod.

Etienne Wain

Thursday, August 25, 2016

If we decide there are Christianities rather than Christianity, might we chillax?

Fascinating review of a biography of prolific Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner here. One of Neusner's emphasises has been on Judaisms rather than Judaism. Reading about that in the review got me thinking: is it better to think "Christianities" rather than "Christianity"?

When we think the latter then, positively, we have people such as moi trying (in an almost inconsequential way!!) to nudge Christians within the one Christianity to ever greater unity. But negatively we have interminable battles as the Church of X and the Church of Y compete for title of "true church" (all the while demonstrating various foibles and fallibilities).

If we think the former, might we stop worrying about unity, cease to compete for title of "true church" and generally chillax?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sudden surge of vacancies for archbishops

Fast on top of the news that Archbishop Brown Turei (Archbishop of Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa) is retiring comes news that Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales is retiring.

Just before everyone starts tidying up their CVs in order to apply, I know it is important for the former position that applicants are fluent in Te Reo Maori (Maori language) and I wonder if it is a deal breaker for the latter whether applicants are fluent in Welsh.


Yes, I know.

It is not the applicant/application but the church/discernment which matters!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Still breathing

A busy week in a muddly, threatening against ever getting back to the blog kind of way ... so to assure readers this blog still breathes, here are some posts of interest to me and perhaps to you:

South African Anglican Church Charts Way Forward?

Is the Bible Wrong?

Does Acts 15 Help with Making Decisions?

But Is Conciliar Decision-Making Intrinsically Messy According to Anglican Articles?

Talking of Anglican Decision-Making, It is Percy v Welby in High Stakes Future of the Church Debate?

Human Biology is Complex, Not Always Binary in Gender Distinction and the Church Often Fails Badly to Understand This

In other words, in Anglicanland this week, we remain ever caught in the vortext between Scripture, councils, bishops, synods and pundits :)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Confirmation: A rite in search of a theology?!

A while back I promised to come back to the subject of Confirmation, a matter which our recent 2016 General Synod discussed and shelved for further discussion and study.

On the one hand, re-reading the Taonga report about the GS debate, I am heartened at the number of colleagues standing firm in resisting the abolition of Confirmation (via the then proposal that it become "Affirmation").

On the other hand, Bishop Jim White's statement re Confirmation, "There is nothing to confirm" offers a profound challenge to those of us who wish to see Confirmation retained and its name continue in the life of our church as one of five sacramental actions honoured alongside the Dominical sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.

Both before and after General Synod 2016 Bosco Peters made a couple of posts on Confirmation (here and here). I made a few comments to the latter post but I am not guaranteeing that I have not changed my mind between then and now.

Not much, it seems to me, has changed this year in ACANZPland re an old saying about Confirmation that it is a rite in search of a theology - a theology which makes this rite plausible, justifiable and even necessary in the journey of faith.

Here goes. My thoughts:

(1) Acknowledged here is that the decision of our church in 1990 to make (i.e. confirm an understanding of the meaning of) Baptism the full and sufficient rite of initiation into the life of the church, including access to the Eucharist, made Confirmation redundant as a rite of initiation. That is, since 1990 there has been a canonical redundancy to Confirmation as a rite that (rightly or wrongly understood) completed initiation by being a gateway to reception of the Eucharist, enabled reception of the Spirit through the laying on of hands of the bishop, as well as an opportunity for the confirmand to confirm that the faith of their parents was also their faith.

(2) Also acknowledged, noting some comments in the report cited above on the GS 2016 debate, is that there is no necessary connection between Confirmation and catechesis, that is, the provision of education on the Christian way of life (in general) or, say, understanding the Eucharist (in particular).

(3) Also acknowledged, is that there are ways and means of confirming and/or affirming one's faith as a young adult or a mature adult which do not require Confirmation as a rite. Opportunities, on a repeated basis, exist for adults to "renew their baptism". Opportunities can be made for the giving of a public testimony of faith and, again, this need not be a unique occasion in a person's life.

(4) Also acknowledged, noting an exchange between me and Bosco Peters, is that Confirmation is not necessary to strengthen bonds of unity between parish and diocese, between congregation and bishop via the bishop coming to a parish for the sake of  confirming people. Bishops these days visit parishes to preach and preside without any confirmands being confirmed and thus bonds of affection between parish and diocese are strengthened without connection to Confirmation. (Besides which, I have some openness to presbyters being able to confirm in some circumstances, as occurs in the Roman Catholic church).

So, what about Confirmation?

I remain loathe to change things without reference - to some degree or other - to the wider church. In this case 'Confirmation' (as I best understand it) remains a "thing" in Western Christianity, with a sort of parallel, Chrismation, in Eastern Christianity. Within churches (some? many? all?) of the Anglican Communion it continues to be held necessary as a step on the way to ordination. I suggest, first, that Confirmation being retained as a rite of this church is less problematic in respect of ecumenical relationships than either abolishing it or re-naming it (as the proposed motion to GS 2016 sought to do).

What might we then ask of Confirmation to do for us? Secondly, and contrary to Bishop Jim White's cited comment above, I suggest there is something to "confirm" which is appropriately even if not necessarily or uniquely done through Confirmation.

When baptised as a child I have no say in whether to be baptised and no say in being baptised. All statements are made by the baptising minister, the supporting cast of parents and godparents or the congregation (whether made on behalf of the child (BCP) or as their own statements of faith and commitment (NZPB).

When do I formally confirm in my own words that I wish to be counted in this world and in  the world to come as a person baptised into God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? When do I formally confirm that the faith my parents and godparents expressed at my baptism (and also the faith expressed by the congregation when it makes its confession "Jesus is Lord") is also "my" faith, the faith I myself wish to publicly articulate and claim as embraced by me?

The rite we call "Confirmation" is an already named opportunity for me to make that confirmation. And, yes, I understand that that is a shift in emphasis from the bishop "confirming" the confirmand through the laying on of hands and thus may require appropriate revision of the wording of our current rite. And, yes, I understand that what I have just written is a rationale for Confirmation for those Baptised as Infants, and not a rationale for those who have been Baptised as Adults. But on the latter, see below.

So far so words oriented, towards the words of our faith. "Ah," the critics of the current rite declaim, "nothing in this rationale for Confirmation requires that a bishop be present nor that the bishop lays hands on the confirmand. What you are talking about is talking not action such as laying on of hands and that underlines our criticism of the current rite."

This is true as far as it goes, but how might the church respond to a confirming believer? What might the church offer as its own "confirmation" that it has heard and applauds and celebrates a deliberate, considered public declaration of baptismal faith? What might the church offer as a sign of support and as an indication of its prayer for strengthening of resolve to follow Christ as a baptised person?

Framing questions in that way - of course - leads me, thirdly, to suggest in answer that it is not wrong that the rite of Confirmation continues to include the act of laying on of hands with prayer (as per NZPB p. 393). With this act of laying on of hands, as per most ancient custom of the church (various passages in Acts, James 5), the believer is strengthened for service in Christ's church through invocation of the Greatest Strengthener of All, the Holy Spirit. In this framing of the matter, of course we have a double confirmation: the confirmand confirms that the faith of the church is their faith and the church confirms that it has heard that confirmation and responds by praying for the confirmand.

On the one hand, framed in this way, I think it appropriate for such prayer with laying on of hands to be given to an adult person when baptised as an adult.

On the other hand, there is the question whether or not a bishop is necessary for such prayer. My own sense, fourthly, is that a bishop is not essential to the rite but definitely is a benefit to the rite. A particular benefit is that we when we ask that the norm for Confirmation be that the bishop if at all possible is the Confirmer then we are honouring the confirmand with the particular sign of the whole church as one body, the bishop, being present to hear the confirmand's confession of faith and to pray on behalf of the church for the strengthening of that faith through the Holy Spirit.

In other words, I am expressing an understanding of Confirmation which does not seek to do what is not now possible, that is argue that it is in some sense or another absolutely necessary for the faithful life of a believing Christian (e.g. to complete the necessary act of baptism).

Rather I am expressing an understanding of Confirmation which renews this ancient rite by finding again reasons to have a specific, once only rite in the life of the believer which draws together an aspect of baptism (formal, public, post-baptismal declaration of faith by the baptised) with an aspect of com-union (the church which hears that confirmation of faith confirms the believer belongs to the church and prays for the believer in a particular way (with laying of hands, with the church in its oneness in God represented, if at all possible, by the bishop) for strengthening in the life of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit, open to the gifts of the Spirit being released or re-released in the ministry of the believer within the church.

Pragmatically, such a rite is, in practice, very useful as a rite which can (but need not) be encouraged among young people in the church as they transition from childhood to adulthood (as indeed the rite has been useful, albeit with shifting senses of the most appropriate age during transition for which the rite is particularly encouraged (so, e.g., we find in our Anglican schools that typically students are confirmed in years 12 or 13 i.e. between 16 and 18 years of age.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Religious Decline (or Stability) in the West Island

"Down Under" is an amorphous term. It includes the large-ish island to the west of NZ, especially when fighting against a common foe as the ANZACs. But it means nothing much when it is NZ v Aussie in some sporting competition, such as yesterday when our women's Rugby Sevens' team lost in the Olympics final to the Australian team. Grrr. More grrr and sinking feelings in my stomach waking up this morning to one Olympics blow after another, and I am not referring to the boxing. NZ men's Sevens lose to Japan. Japan!? SBW out of Olympics with injury. Men's Hockey team lose in last minute to Spain. Equestrian eventing team in silver medal position going into last round of show jumping and four rails later are out of the medals. Top women's rowing duo fail to make final.

By comparison, news out of the West Island about church and belief census statistics, a mix of decline and stability, is quite cheerful :)

UPDATE: Note now these maps (and note the colours of NZ)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Decline in religion plateauing?

"But I can’t imagine any factor that would lead this long-term trend to change."
Linda Woodhead

I am, as all readers here know, a very simple man with a small brain, so maybe it is that small brain once again living down to its small capacity, but I find this Telegraph article, headed "Decline of religion in Britain 'comes to a halt' - major study suggests" somewhat confusing.

The key finding seems to be a snapshot, a slight pause in statistics of decline of religious belief and adherence in Britain. Naturally some fasten on that as a sign of a longed for hope being fulfilled. Surely the decline must come to an end. Surely there must be a point where all those lively congregations up and down the land count for something statistically.

But then there are the likes of religion-sociologist Linda Woodhead whose conviction that a long decline is inexorable means the snapshot is interpreted as a blip along the way. Even a tobogganist might want to stop to admire the view on the way down for a few seconds. The quote cited above (from within the Telegraph article) is Woodhead immersed in data about baptisms and funerals. Those kinds of stats are damning; here in NZ too.

Yet that cited sentence above also belies a missing element in any such narrative about Christianity. In that sentence there is no gospel, there is no revival, no Holy Spirit, and, in fact, no signal that God might exist and might be a "factor" in arresting the long-term trend.

Back to the article which I find confusing. I suppose the sub-editor provided the headline because it is a clickbait headline. Everyone expects the story today about religion to be the decline of religion, the dog bites the man. The sub-editor finds one element in the story which has a slight man bites dog twist to it so provides the headline. The article is then confusing because, in the end, with Woodhead driving the interpretation of the statistics provided, the story is just the old, old story of decline. There isn't yet any steady statistical trend as a basis for the claim of a "halt."

Be great if there was :)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

If Dietrich married Eberhard today, would that be a problem?

This weekend I read Diane Reynolds' The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Women, Sexuality and Nazi Germany (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2016.

I think the only other biography of Bonhoeffer I have read is that by his close companion Eberhard Bethge. I am aware of recent biographies by Metaxas and Marsh. The latter, apparently, not only delves but lingers on Bonhoeffer's sexuality, with some interesting responses such as here and here.

In one way Reynolds' book belies its title. It is a book about the "doubled life" of Bonhoeffer (what we knew, what we didn't know about him; what people experienced of him, what he really felt like within himself; how he led a doubled life as a double agent for the Abwehr). It does tell his biography with special attention to the women in his life (more or less absent from Bethge's biography), with special interest in his relationship with Bethge and, of course, with engagement of the haunting, terrifying spectre of Nazi Germany as the context of Bonhoeffer's significant contribution to theology and to church history. But really, it is a book about Bonhoeffer and Bethge, their relationship and the impact it had on every facet of Bonhoeffer's life after they met and became life companions. It could be re-titled The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the Unrequited Bromance of Dietrich and Eberhard and more or less be pretty much accurate as to what the focus of the book is.

I knew that Bonhoeffer had a fiance, Maria von Wedemeyer, and that they did not get to marry because he was executed within a few weeks' of the war ending. What I did not know before reading Reynolds' book was that
(a) Bonhoeffer's relationship with Bethge was a friendship of such closeness and unity that they shared a bank account, jointly gave presents to people and went on joint holidays;
(b) Bonhoeffer's engagement to a woman many years younger than himself copy-catted Bethge's engagement to a woman many years younger than himself (actually Bonhoeffer's niece, Renate);
(c) Bonhoeffer's relationship with Maria was foundering in the months before he was executed, not least because he was not emotionally engaged with her as she was with him; and
(d) notwithstanding Dietrich's engagement to Maria, Bethge remained the chief beneficiary of Bonhoeffer's will.

Yet it appears that, close as the two men were, Bethge may not have had an equal love in return for Bonhoeffer's love for him, so it may be a moot point to ask the following hypothetical question: in today's world, in today's Protestant church scene, if Dietrich had married Eberhard, would that be a problem for a Christian public besotted with Bonhoeffer's theology, discipleship and martyrdom?

To take up a point I have tried to note here, to consider this matter at a different level than "marriage," for a 21st century couple such as Bonhoeffer and Bethge, could we recognise such a partnership in life and in ministry in some formal way as a church?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Those French, they know how to think

With a H/T to Bryden Black I draw your attention to an interview posted on First Things. The byline re the interviewee and interviewer is,

"Pierre Manent, former director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, [interviewed] by the newspaper Il Foglio in the wake of the ISIS murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel"

It starts with:

"Imagine this scene: a mid-week mass, an almost empty church, two parishioners, three nuns, a very old priest with a mild, fine face who is immolated at the foot of the altar on which he has just celebrated the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. This heart-wrenching scene sheds light on the state of Christianity in Europe. The Catholic Church lives from the faith and zeal of a few, old and young. It is the object of hatred with two faces: the cold and hissing hatred, the contempt of the class that speaks and writes; and the murderous hatred of Muslim fanatics."
Pierre Manent has that sharp insight which I have found numerous times when reading French intellectuals. Insight which somehow, je ne sais pas, is different to those of us who think in the British tradition.

Read on ...

This is the killer sentence (IMHO):

"We invite catastrophe by sincerely believing that the religious affiliation of a citizen has no political bearing or effect. "

Friday, August 5, 2016

More humane? More faithful?

A thoughtful piece in the Spectator (most of which may be behind a paywall, depending on how many free articles you are allowed) on the humaneness of Christianity re terrorism. The article needs reading to see the precise point being made!

On the question of "more faithful" I am simply reporting in that I continue to think as well as my feeble brain can do these days about the matters upon which I hope to finalise a submission to our Archbishops re A Way Forward for our church. My thoughts are not necessarily heading in the direction I signalled here, here and here. Why not?

1. I am digesting comments here. And those comments are mostly not suggesting my draft Way Forward would have a lot of traction!

2. Some off-blog conversations are confronting me with the need to recognise the tough standard our present constitutional doctrine presents to those who blithely want to change our teaching on marriage and related matters. ADDITION: I am emboldening some words in the previous sentence to underline their importance as my thinking shifts a little about where I think the "way forward" lies.

3. I am also reflecting on how even the most principled compromises in life can very quickly fall apart and that is consequentially forcing me to re-think whether a compromise is worth pursuing (see also 1 above).

4. In other words, the continuing question for me and you, as always, is: what does it mean to be faithful to Jesus Christ as the revelation of God to this world and for this world?

I don't know when I will finally offer a final submission, save that it will be before 1 October 2016!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Justice versus Catholicity? Church versus State?

A couple of comments here in recent days have provided some food for thought on issues which relate both to current movement in our church towards some kind of rapprochement on same-sex partnerships and generally to questions of what it means to be church in the world.

One question is whether justice and catholicity are bound together (as in "true catholicity is always just; true justice is coherent with catholicity") or may - in at least some circumstances - be opposed to one another.

Another question is whether the church is bound to recognise what the State decides.

Justice and Catholicity, Justice versus Catholicity?

If catholicity is the universally recognised truth that God has revealed to us, combined with universal recognition among Christian people of what is naturally right, appropriate, fair and proportionate, that is, agreed truth, then catholicity and justice are not at odds with each other. They are coherent.

If then I say (in brief summary): catholicity means marriage is between a man and a woman, and another says (in brief summary): justice means marriage equality, then, first, it looks like justice is contrary to catholicity. Secondly, it looks like (depending on perspective) one trumps the other. Certainly in my recall of various debates both within our church and within the Anglican Communion, I have heard and read assertions and arguments which look like one is to be discarded in favour of the other.

But if my starting supposition about catholicity, "agreed truth", is correct then justice is never opposed to catholicity and thus when it appears otherwise, either "justice" or "catholicity" is misunderstood.

In the present case it is inconceivable that catholicity misunderstands the core understanding of marriage. It is too much of a stretch to say that catholicity which, remember, is the universality of belief from past ages as well as in the present ages, does not and has not really meant by marriage that it is between a man and a woman but could be between any gendered couple. Catholicity understands with biblical support within the Judeo-Christian tradition that marriage is a one flesh union of two different genders, male and female. So justice (that is, justice understood as coherent with catholicity or agreed truth among Christians) does not and cannot claim that marriage equality is demanded by God (i.e. as an implication of God's revelation about the kingdom of God).

Justice may demand and appropriately claim, coherent with catholicity, that all people are treated with dignity and respect, and that in civil society, forming bonds of faithfulness, mutual love and covenanted commitment are respected and supported in law (because such things contribute to a just society). Hence churches for the most part in a country such as ours have not particularly organised against first, civil union legislation and then, secondly, against equal marriage legislation. There has been a recognition by the churches that justice understood to be coherent with catholicity is not a shared belief with all civil society about what constitutes justice. Justice in modern Western civil society has diverged from justice based on and framed by Christian revelation. To argue against same-sex marriage being enabled by civil legislation has been to expose the churches to the risk of appearing to be against justice, in a world which thinks its understanding of justice is the same as the churches'. The churches have rightly accepted that that risk could undermine its witness to the gospel more than the existence of legal same-sex marriage.

Nevertheless the Western churches are now in a fraught situation of wishing both to uphold a catholic understanding of marriage and a catholic understanding of justice while refusing to agree that justice as understood by the wider society should drive home a change to the catholic understanding of marriage.

Church versus State?

When Jesus warns his followers that they are likely to be arrested by civil authority, tried and tested for their testimony to him, he clearly and rightly makes a distinction between obligation to his kingdom and obligation to the kingdoms of this world.

When Paul, writing in Romans 13, warmly endorses the authority of the State in general (but including the particular Roman State to which he was subject as a citizen) as being an authority authorised by God, he speaks clearly and rightly to the situation in which most Christians most of the time find themselves: living in a State which orders the affairs of its citizens for the outcomes of order, justice and security.

Our problem as Christians is mostly not whether we obey the State or respect the State when it makes laws we do not agree with. But sometimes it is. Sometimes we have found ourselves in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia or their equivalent. But the challenge we face in respect of same-sex marriage is not to be compared with such rogue States. We are in a more ambiguous situation. In NZ, for instance, we have found ourselves living in a State which has determined that parents may not smack their children. Objectionable though that may be to some (because against the Bible's teaching, because against a traditional method of discipline, because against common sense that a quick smack saves hours of negotiation ...:) ) we recognise both that the State has the right under God to make such decisions and also that in making such a decision some aspects of justice, especially for vulnerable children, are being served. Ditto, same-sex marriage.

So when I moot that the church might find ways to recognise relationships that the State recognises, I am simultaneously raising the question whether the State has exercised its divine authority appropriately or evilly. I do not accept the latter. I accept that not all may think it is the former. But there is another question lurking here. Mostly States such as our NZ one act via parliamentary democracy which, despite its many faults, tends to reflect not the will of the parliamentarians but the will of the people (who will de-elect them if unhappy). That is, same-sex marriage legislation is not simply "the State making a decision." It is our society expressing its views via legislation.

So talk here of the church recognising relationships provided for by the State is simultaneously talk about recognising relationships affirmed in our society (which often means affirmed within our own families as, e.g., a nephew marries his boyfriend and the extended family, perhaps slightly unsure about what to do, nevertheless, turns up to show aroha and commitment to being a family and all circumstances).

Of course, we may not think the church should do this recognising. We may think even considering doing so shows a lack of faithfulness to God's Word. We may have personally made a decision not to attend the aforementioned hypothetical nephew's wedding.

But is there not a question here, whatever our views, of how the church makes a communicative bridge to a society which thinks differently about relationships? Has the church (churches?) not found in times past (if not also in the present) that breaking the bridge by, e.g. imposing the strictest of laws (suicides may not be buried in holy ground, remarried divorcees may not receive communion, etc, has been detrimental rather than fruitful for the gospel? That on the question of intimate relationships society at large is not exactly queuing at the doors of the churches with the "most conservative" moral stance on relationships? That, in fact, society at large longs for the church to treat it like Jesus treated the Samaritan women at the well?

Again, comments welcomed, encouraged and sought ...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

My more conservative critics ... could be right!

Thoughtful essay here by Martin Davie, C of E theologian, about Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, with specific focus on SSB. Along the way Martin mentions our own dear church ...