Thursday, June 21, 2018

Engagement key to remarriage?

Previously I have noted an important survey of NZ attitudes to faith and today the NZ Herald makes a report, here.

I see no need to extensively comment on the report - it has engaged some key NZ thinkers and shakers on these matters and I commend their comments to you. You may wish to comment further here. In a time of crisis, all ideas welcome!

Two comments from me:

1. We were once a society in which, metaphorically, church and society were married, joined together. Through evangelism Maori became extensively Christian in the 19th century. Through intentional settlement in the mid 19th century Otago was a Presbyterian settlement and Canterbury an Anglican settlement. Churches old (Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Baptist) and new (Brethren, Associated Churches of Christ, and, in the 20th century, Pentecostal) were planted through our islands, in city and in rural areas. Census stats showed a highly Christianised country. Now we are moving through phases of separation, even into divorce (cf. news this week re a court challenge to the teaching of Bible in Schools). Within the article Chris Clarke talks about the need to "re-engage" with society, but in different ways to former times. Others cited effectively say "Amen" to new engagement. That engagement is the key to any possibility of remarriage.

2. In a week when a significant number of lay and clerical Kiwi Anglicans have travelled to Jerusalem for GAFCON 2018, a conference which deep down is driven, among other things, by opposition to Anglican acceptance of same-sex couples, we are reminded again in the article of  sobering statistics:

"Most New Zealanders positively connect Jesus with love. Perceptions towards Jesus are often quite positive; non-Christians suggest he is relatable, approachable and gracious.But there are major hurdles.Church "teaching on homosexuality" is the biggest blocker to engaging with Christianity, cited by 47 per cent. Almost as many are influenced by the idea that a loving God would allow people to go to hell (45 per cent)."

That is, internally, we Anglicans are engaged in a debate about the theology of homosexuality (what does the Bible say, how do we understand it, what does the constitution of our church permit, etc) but externally, should we not be debating, How do we engage Kiwis with the gospel of God's love, forgiveness and welcome? And, How do we Kiwis find the language (not only words but ideas, images, actions) which communicate the Gospel over the hurdle of the 47% who will not listen because of "teaching on homosexuality"?

Among conservative Protestants, including among fellow conservative Anglicans, could we find words which at least say what Cardinal John Dew says? These are his words, relevant to the external challenge (my bold):

"Cardinal John Dew, the Catholic Archbishop of Wellington and vice-president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), said the Catholic Church and its counterparts were mindful of the challenge posed by declining attendance."However, the study also points to opportunities for faith communities, with recognition among both non-Christians and Christians that the Church is involved in areas of social good and that faith too has a role in contributing to the wellbeing of our society."Dew said the members of the NZCBC, which co-ordinates the national activities and ministries of the Catholic Church, "humbly acknowledge our shortcomings, especially with regards to particular groups in society, such as the LGBT community who have felt a very real sense of rejection through the Church, or perhaps in falling short in fully meeting the needs of our recent migrant communities"."We hear, too, the call of those who want to see our actions speak louder than our words, by living out the values that Jesus represents."The findings from this survey speak to Pope Francis' latest exhortation, in which he says 'we are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves'.""

[I won't publish comments which re-run our churches' "internal" debates and arguments. I am happy to publish comments which reflect on the external challenge we face as churches re the society we live in, the nature of the gospel and how we communicate it to 47% who are unwilling to listen.]


James said...

Very interesting survey and not unexpected results. Speaking as a conservative Anglican myself, the survey shows what an uphill battle it will be to continue to engage with a society that has more rapidly changed its moral values than any society in western history (we've gone from homosexuality being illegal to fully sanctioned ad marriage in only a few decades).

The question is, how do we engage with society as Jesus would have us? Michael Riddelk responds to the survey ( pointing out that 100 years ago the biggest stumbling blocks to belief for belief, Nigerians and other Africans were very successfully overcome, and they were overcome without any changing doctrine or watering down of the hardest messages of the Bible.

I suggest that engaging with the biggest stumbling blocks (teaching on sexualities, hell and condemnation, suffering and the role of women) are not overcome by mirroring society's attitudes towards those issues, but rather by presenting a graceful, reasoned and compassionate teaching / example, constant with the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Re - the homosexuality comment.
Some churches (e.g. Anglicans and Methodists) and some parishes (e.g. St Andrews on the Terrace) have taken view of homosexuality that is indicated as "wanted" by this survey.

The striking thing about these groups is the total lack of people flocking to them.

Economists talk about "revealed preferences" - that people often say one thing but do another. In the economics world, revealed preferences trump stated preferences when it comes to economic impact. I think it may be the same in the church world

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, I noticed the byline of the video presentation that you refer to say this: "New survey shows 55% of Kiwis don’t identify with a religion."

I note that this comment involves all religious systems not only Christianity.

This surely indicates that there is no longer a prevailing appreciation of the numinous - where the idea of a Creator God interacting with Creation is no longer attractive to the majority of people in New Zealand.

When we examine why this might be, it is interesting that one of the most compelling reasons is that religionists themselves - or, at least those who present themselves as religiously active - seem less attractive than those who profess a religious faith.

One of these less attractive features - especially for those who may have once been taught about Jesus as representing a Loving God - is that they do not observe this love to be present in religions which promote hatred and the puritanical distances themselves from those they regard as 'unclean'.

In the modern world, which has learned to live with the reality of creation as it really is - rather than focussing on its less perfect features, which are deemed by certain conservative religious people to be alien to the rule of a Creator God - the rigour with which some religious people seem to want to pursue those who do not measure up to their exacting standards seems to be redolent of an avenging, rather than a loving God.

To most people, the religionists (as Scriptures themselves affirm is the case) do represent the God they embrace. The problem for the outsiders is when that 'face' of the God they believe in is perceived to be distinctly unloving and unduly censorious.

This is why many people could not align themselves with the militancy of any religious system which seeks to annihilate the beliefs of any other religion than its own. As an indication of this, one remembers the apocryphal statement of the Mahatma Gandhi "If only these Christians would act like their Jesus!".

Any religious system that is intent on the persecution of 'outcasts' rather than seeking ways of welcoming all people into their loving embrace must seem - to the modern mind - an exclusive sect, incapable of accepting just anyone who might otherwise be tempted to belong.

The idea of a 'perfect' congregation of people in this world is contrary to the reality of what one can see with one's own eyes. Where Christianity ought to attract more people - on the basis of being a loving welcoming community of fellow sinners who, nevertheless, are attracted to the Person and example of Jesus as co-Creator and Redeemer of the whole world - sadly, we sometimes fail to attract those whose lives are most needful of the redemption and Salvation that only God-in-Christ can provide. Jesus said it all when he said: "They (the world) will know you are my disciples BY YOUR LOVE" - not by your judgement! This is maybe our biggest failing.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear James, Ron and Anonymous (please give a name)
Thanks for following my guideline re comments: much appreciated!
Yes, there is no simple correlation or mirroring between following line X in order to better communicate with approach Y within society at large.
My general point about our church's decision is that it gives us freedom to pursue a diversity of lines as we work out response to society, work on what communicates and what is blockage to communication, and so forth.

Craig Liken said...

As I see it 3 of the main areas where it is a struggle to overcme ie blocks to people looking into the gospel seem to be:
- self versus sovereignty of God. The idea that you should be submitting to anyone at all seems to be a real barrier - such is the focus on individualism and the importance of self in today's culture. Even the idea that you can contribute nothing yourself to your own salvation is potentially an affront for some people.
- materialism - worship of things really and the pursuit of things such as career that help with that seem to really dominate people thoughts and time.
- science vs religion - I strike this a lot with people I work with.Basically thinking that science can answer any question we have, so what value in religion, and in fact religion just seems nonsense to such people.

Just as a slight aside, I also think that the established denominations could be in for a bit of a shock when the census results come out. The religion question was significantly different this time round - not sure whether others noticed it? It asked for your religion, but did not have a second box for categories below that eg Anglican, Methodist, Catholic whatever. At least on the online version anyway.

I know for my family all of us would have put Christian then Anglican last time, but this time I was the only one who put "Christian - Anglican" - the others all just put "Christian". How they will code this I don't know, but it will likely just be Christian unspecified or something rather than a denomination. Will be interesting to see anyway.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Craig.
Yes, census will be interesting and frustrating for stat geeks!
Also, great point re blockages: in a survey people might say, "Well, Christians teaching X is a problem for me", but the actual barrier to faith is likely more than that, one or more of the things you mention!