Monday, January 30, 2017

The Doctrine of Marriage 2017: the C of E bishops have spoken! [Updated]

UPDATE: Cranmer has one of his best ever posts on the C of E HOB statement. It includes these sobering words for ACANZP to ponder as it makes its own deliberations this year and next:

"This understanding of marriage is rooted in the Bible and developed in the Church’s tradition: it is revered and respected in its sacramental character, embodying, as it does, natural law and the growth of holiness. Christian marriage is not simply a corporeal contract between two individuals: it is in its nature a union of one man with one woman. Holy matrimony is a natural institution predisposed to the purpose of making of “one flesh”, which reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and his Church. This is “doctrinal coherency”: so much flows from it (and proposals to redefine it [see Appendix 1]) that there is a risk of mistaking the earthen vessel for the treasure it contains."

Wednesday 1 February: My attention has been drawn to this robust response to the bishops' document. I do not find it especially convincing ... are we in an analogous situation to Luther's Europe?

And (my bold):

"And in the dimness of that provisionality it becomes apparent that there is simply no corporate appetite or collective belief in the right to amend Canon B30. And since Anglican polity determines that there can be no liturgy which is contrary to the teaching of the church – we pray what we believe – there will be no development of same-sex marriage blessings. The reasons couldn’t be clearer ..."

I invite you to read the whole post (and/or bishops' document) to find out what those reasons are. Spoiler alert: unity is involved!

ORIGINAL Here are three scenarios which seem to be in play at the moment around the Anglican Communion. Any of the three might be in play for ACANZP though our General Synod discussions to date have been focused on Scenario 3.

Scenario 1: Stick with the doctrine of marriage (notably, a blessed sexual relationship uniting a man and a woman in a bond for life) as taught in Scripture, continued in the tradition of the church, while making accommodation to one degree or another for the presence in the life of the church of partnered gays and lesbians. See further below.

Scenario 2: Change the doctrine of marriage (to equalise heterosexual and homosexual marriage) and take the consequences (i.e. that people will leave either for other churches or to form a church which maintains the previous doctrine of marriage or both; yet some may stay, seeing what unfolds). I think this is more or less TEC's situation: "more or less" because, as I understand it, TEC has not formally changed its doctrine of marriage while effectively changing it by formally providing liturgies for gay marriage.

Scenario 3: Change the structure of the church in order to provide two ordered contexts in which some effective difference in understanding of marriage is possible within the one church.  A sticking point here (as I interpret things) is that we Down Under are uncertain whether to moot something akin to Scenario 1 (e.g. no change in doctrine of marriage but blessing of same sex partnerships is possible) or Scenario 2 (change doctrine of marriage in one of the contexts and hope the other context will actually live with that).

What I find interesting, even over this past weekend reflecting on some responses to a report I mention below as well as to a Twitter exchange between some colleagues in ACANZP, is that there does not seem to be a Scenario 4 in play:

Scenario 4: respect for the church maintaining its doctrines means that those wishing to equalise marriage (homosexual, heterosexual) form a new church in order to enshrine a new doctrine. Why not, I ask?

Scenario 1 is now in play in the Church of England. The bishops of that church have published a report which is summarised in this press release (for link to report and for release, go here): my bold,

"The Church of England’s law and guidance on marriage should be interpreted to provide “maximum freedom” for gay and lesbian people without changing the Church’s doctrine of marriage itself, bishops are recommending.  
A report from the House of Bishops to be discussed by the Church’s General Synod next month upholds the teaching, recognised by canon law, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.  
But it also concludes that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples - which allows clergy to provide informal prayers for those marrying or forming a civil partnership - is not clear enough and should be revisited.  
It also calls for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people and those attracted to people of the same sex throughout the Church of England. 
The paper recommends that bishops prepare a substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships to replace or expand upon documents drawn up in the 1990s.  
And it calls for new guidance to be prepared about the kind of questions put to candidates for ordination - irrespective of their sexual orientation - about their lifestyle.  
It also speaks of the need for the Church to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirm the need to stand against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.  
The report from the House of Bishops attempts to sum up the Church’s position after a two-year process of shared conversations on the subject of human sexuality, involving clergy and laity."

Of course there is a host of reaction, helpfully captured by Thinking Anglicans here. I particularly commend two blogs listed there for consideration, here and here. I also commend this post.

Here be my thoughts (without having read every word available to us):

a. There is a powerful movement amongst commentators and commenters for change to the doctrine of marriage, yet that power does not rest on theological authority in Scripture and tradition inspiring or requiring such change. I detect little ecclesiastical self-awareness of the change to the nature of the church which would be consequent on changing the doctrine of marriage (let alone change to the membership of the church as it flies apart into schism).

b. Thus (1) I admire the C of E bishops for standing firm. and I admire them for clearly knowing that doctrine is doctrine and that pastoral responses to people's varying situations require the maximum possible mercy and compassion within the constraints imposed by doctrine.

c. Thus (2, despite 1) I wonder if we will never hear the end to this matter until we actually have some form of Anglican church in which gay marriage is doctrinally equal to straight marriage.

d. Frankly, it would be theologically better for such a church to be a new church with both a new doctrine of marriage and a new doctrine of authority than to take the old church with its doctrine of authority and pretend that the new doctrine of marriage fitted that doctrine of authority. But I support fully our current Down Under attempt to avoid a "new church" if at all possible by restructuring our current church.

e. Incidentally the protests against the C of E bishops deciding what they have decided are very revealing: they show an episcopal church in which some members are restless about its episcopate even when the episcopate does what the episcopate is meant to do which is to uphold the doctrine of the church. If that is not a contradiction, I do not know what is!

I am interested in your comments on the specifics of the C of E situation. I am not interested in any comments about the Anglican church there or here going to the dogs - we have had plenty of such comments here and there is no need for repetition.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Not only Trump making policy on the run

Have been doing a bit of thinking re blogging this year - the Year of You Know Who, You Know What and Only Bill English Knows When.

My modest aim is to post around three times a week in three categories:

The Year of You Know Who: posting on general matters of interest if not controversy, trying earnestly not - unlike most columnists I am reading this weekend - to make it about DT. And, obviously, trying to make it "Anglican" in outlook. Likely these will be mid-week posts.

You Know What: try as I might I do not think I can avoid the You Know What subject of same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage and the related matter of whether the Anglican Churches of X, Y or Z or the Communion as a whole can survive either changing or not changing the mind of Christ in the church on the matter. Likely these will be Sunday or Monday postings.

Only Bill English Knows When: this refers to the date of the NZ General Election this year. Three years ago I had a "Politics of Jesus" series during the run up to the GE. I think I will do that again. I love following politics but I still think Jesus is the Greatest Politician of them all. If only we took his manifesto seriously.

Of course Stuff May Happen and posts may be fired out more prolifically than three times a week. Or less - some weeks I am busier than others :)

Finally, a note about comments: if I reply to a series of comments I am likely not very busy. If I do not reply then likely I am busy. Possibly on the run, posting your comment via my phone and avoiding the temptation to write a comment on the same device. The latter is a recipe for muddled thinking. All comments are appreciated.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A parish to emulate?

I presume we all have a view on whether we should emulate what others do (as opposed to, say, doing our own (God-inspired, creative, local, homegrown) thing, or doing what the tradition says or ...). We likely also have views on whether anything we find in the church is able to be emulated in our own patch - everything does have a local context!

Nevertheless, from time to time, we will come across things which are worth wide and collective reflection on whether we might consider some emulation, and one such instance I want to put to you is found in this lovely post on Liturgy. (I do not know the parish mentioned but I know the vicar a little and am not surprised at all to find that he is leading well, as the post describes).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The death of hermeneutics?

There is a whole section of Western academia which is devoted to the art and science of hermeneutics (including biblical hermeneutics). In this realm every claim to truth is up for (re)consideration, few facts are as they appear to be once put into the hermeneutical blender, and the holiest virtue is to assert at each and every point of debate that objectivity is an illusion, and possibly a dangerous one at that.

In the last two days the phenomenon of Trump, expressed in the debate over how many attended and/or watched his inauguration, has, just maybe, fired a deadly shot into the body corporate of hermeneuticists.

In the claim and counter-claim of the past two days Trump's Administration has come up with the notion of "alternative facts." This has been widely derided as another name for lies.

My sense is that the strongest derision comes from the educated classes. If I am right then suddenly a whole bunch of Western educated "there is no such thing as objectivity" folk have rediscovered objectivity.

Perhaps it is too early to pronounce the death of hermeneutics but I do look forward to some books emerging soon along the lines of "The resurrection of objectivity" and "Objective truth undoubtedly exists."

Another reason to thank God for Donald Trump!

Nota bene: I will NOT take comments which discuss/dispute the inauguration itself or the claims and counter-claims about how many were there. That is NOT the point of this post! There are other places on the internet to do this. I will take comments which discuss hermeneutics, subjectivity, objectivity, the general state of Western academia and the like.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sunshine and rain for inauguration ... and I have been thinking

On one thing Kiwis are currently united: we are having a terrible summer!

Apparently there was an inauguration somewhere else in the world but local Anglican attention was on the inauguration of a new episcopal ministry in the South Island of NZ (Te Wai Pounamu).

Saturday was overcast but not dull which was good for an outdoor powhiri (formal welcome) and consecration service for Richard Wallace at Onuku, Akaroa Harbour. Taonga article here and my personal pic below.

Yesterday was one of our worst days: rain, more rain and a washed out day of test cricket here in Christchurch. And, by the sounds of it, not great weather for an otherwise excellent installation service for +Richard Wallace at Te Hepara Pai, Christchurch. Taonga article here. (No pic from me because I was preaching elsewhere in the city).*

All in all a good start to this new chapter for the mission of Anglican Maori on this island.

Natch I keep thinking during weekends such as this one past about our mission generally as Anglicans, and especially in the localities of the South Island where I have lived most of my life and served nearly all my years as an ordained minister.

Both Maori and Pakeha have huge challenges as we move deeper into the 21st century. Simply put, we have a challenge connecting with our communities. The challenge is highlighted by attendance numbers. Even though it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a full, statistically satisfying set of numbers, no sets of figures I see, nor discussions I have with those who do what research is possible on these numbers concludes anything other than this:

we are not connecting with our communities as we once did and, with the exceptions of parishes/rohe here and there, we are not showing signs of of turning that tendency around.

(See also this related post).

I have described things in the words above because I think "connecting" is a helpful word to describe what is not happening (when we see numbers declining) as well as to explain what is happening when we do see numbers rising. Growing churches connect with their communities (that is, a local, residential surrounding community or a community of interest (Gen X, Y, etc or families or a group identifiable by race/culture/nationality). Declining churches rightly discuss how they can better connect with their community and feel some despair at not knowing how to make that better connection.

I also see in some churches, where congregational attendance is falling, that "connecting" within the existing church community has become challenging. (That may be as simple as working on greater relevancy for sermons or it may be much more complex re the tide of secularism washing people slowly but surely out of the orbit of the church family).

Anyway, I am not going to resolve these matters in this post but I write to acknowledge the challenge we Anglicans Down Under continue to face as we move into this particular year. It is a greater challenge than the You Know What issue.**

*Incidentally, our local Christchurch Press today, reporting on the two events of the weekend, mixes up the installation with the consecration and throws in another mistake or two ... ecclesiastical reporting is not what it used to be.

**On that matter, there have been some bits and bobs of things Anglican (here and abroad) happening since I last mentioned it on this blog but for now I note only this latest Canterbury letter to the Primates.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

While we wait (Updated)

Apt for this morning when we Kiwis wake to news that You Know Who is POTUS are these words from a daily office book I follow:

What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and the new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace. Think of the Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved. 2 Peter 3:13-14

And from the prayers in this book is a prayer I have prayed and appreciated many times, not least because it reminds us of the "local" which we ourselves have most control over, our own homes:

Let our striving for your kingdom not fall short through selfishness or fear - may the universe be alive with the Spirit, and our homes be the pledge of a world redeemed.
Right, I am off to the consecration at Onuku! Comments may not be posted till, well, much later in the day ...

Update: This article by Conor English expresses a core issue re Trumpism which will trouble NZ's economy

Friday, January 20, 2017

Changes for Tikanga Maori

Tomorrow I am going to the consecration of Richard Wallace (formerly based in Hokitika) as the new Bishop of Te Wai Pounamu. The consecration will take place at the Onuku Marae (in Akaroa Harbour) and the installation will be on Sunday at Te Hepara Pai (Ferry Road, Christchurch).

There will be a poignancy to the events of the weekend because Tikanga Maori will be without the presence and guidance of its Archbishop, Turei Brown, who died recently and whose funeral was just a week ago.

The retirement of Archbishop Brown as Archbishop had already been signalled so the fact of an imminent election for that role will not be a change per se for Tikanga Maori. In respect of his role as Bishop of Tairawhiti (around Gisborne, Napier, East Cape areas) a new bishop has already been elected, Don Tamihere. (No date has yet been set for his consecration). As Bishop Don, he will represent a new, younger generation of Tikanga Maori leaders. That will be a significant change!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fair to Russia? (now, with new Postscript)

There was a time when Late Great Planet Earth prognostications about the End of the World envisaged Russia (then "Soviet Union") as the prophesied forces of Gog and Magog pouring down Armageddonically on Israel from the north, like the wolf on the fold. Well, perhaps the geography was a little out, as so far we only have Russia bearing down on parts of Syria.

Anyway, in these here posts and comments, there has been interesting discussion from time to time about Russia, Putin, and whether we in the West properly and accurately understand Russian interests, concerns and history.

Thus, as we move closer to the Day of Trump (Inauguration) it may be relevant to read this analysis by Victor Davis Hanson. Is he too tough on Obama? Does he "get" Russia? Have we in the West overlooked the longer history of Russia and its neighbours as variously allies and enemies as an explanation of Russian (seeming) aggression?

It would be a pity for the world to end because we have engaged in wilful misunderstanding!


For those concerned at the dangers of neoliberalism, this Tweet may be useful to your argument :)

Monday, January 16, 2017

I thank God for Donald Trump

Back at work today. Great holiday - thank you, Lord. Some bits of the holiday will appear in subsequent postings. The Hell Hole of the South Pacific. Going to church with Bill English. Joy of cricket.

More than a little facetiously: the (continuing, informative, lively, provocative, profound) discussion on this blog over recent weeks since my last post and in the absence of new posts has inspired me with the thought that I need never post again ...

But the best news for this blog, really, is the ever present Donald Trump in the media, mainstream, social, you name it media. He is and will be the gift that keeps on giving to bloggers, reporters, Tweeters and dinner table conversationalists. However this is a Christian and Anglican blog, so my comments about Donald Trump or spurred on by the same, will try to have a Christian and Anglican angle to them. For starters, today, and to ease my way back into blogging for 2017 - the tenth year of ADU - I will list the reasons why I (at least) can thank God for Donald Trump.

(1) As already stated, he regularly furnishes new material for blogs. (But, Donald, if you are reading this, could you please tone it down a bit. How about one new thing to respond to each day rather than each hour?)

(2)  He is (sometimes) fun to observe and even more fun is observing the people straining to find the good in him, only to find with the next revelation that he is a complete [you fill this bit in]. And for those readers here who think there really is a lot of good in him, note the ways in which his new cabinet picks try to dial back his more outlandish thoughts (especially on hugging Russia) and how allies are genuinely concerned he might give away secret agent names to the Russians.

(3) More importantly, Trump's very divisiveness is challenging us all in respect of values, attitudes and actions. Christians and non-Christians alike: who do we serve? what do we stand for? who matters in society? who is neighbour, enemy, alien and how will we love them? Talk is cheap. Trump's era will demand action from the chattering classes of Western societies.

(4) Despite all the "post-truth" naming of this new era in politics, I think we are going to find ourselves re-searching for plain truth and, consequentially, recalibrating our ability to call a lie a falsehood. But that journey will be tough and for a time we are going to be very confused about what is and is not true, who is and who is not reliable as a truth teller and as a discerner of lies. (Dust off those Orwellian volumes, 1984 and Animal Farm: essential guides for an era in which we are not certain whether Trump is a muppet or a puppet of Putin or whether Putin is playing a shell-game in which his greatest success is that we think Trump is his poodle when in fact he is not. Though he keeps Tweeting as though he is ...

(5) I think I said something about this last year, but Trump is illustrative of a significant way in which God's judgment is worked out in the course of history. Trump is precisely the president the USA and the West deserve when we have followed the devices and desires of our own hearts, lapping up immoral entertainment from Hollywood and its satellites and worshipping in the citadels of consumerist capitalism. We will focus on the latest Tweet from Trump but we should be focusing on why we have Trump and whether we can or cannot stem the rot which is killing Western civilization. (Memo to ourselves: the best way out of the inexorable judgment of God is through repentance.)

(6) Trump will re-focus our attention on the Book of Revelation. Most of the time this book makes no sense, save for some sense that "at the end of time" it will make sense because at that time The World Will Turn To Custard in Bizarre and Terrifying Ways. Maybe that time has come. (Expect a post or two on Revelation 13-17!)

(7) This may sound a bit perverse, but I think the world has been heading towards a major war for some time (think: China, Russia, Middle East, with or without American involvement) and rather than this time dragging on for decades through this century, just maybe Trump will hasten the day of culmination. I pray it might be largely a cyber and economic war, rather than a guns and bullets war.