Monday, September 23, 2019

Two roads diverged in the the wood and I, I didn't know which one to take ...

Here is a series of recent posts or news items about division in the churches of the world ...

Eastern Orthodox in Western Europe.

Western European Roman Catholicism.

Within American Catholicism.

On the possibility of schism within Roman Catholicism; also here (but most of article behind paywall), though see embedded Tweet below.

Within The Episcopal Church.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Then, across the Ditch, the most recent posts by David Ould highlight an emerging crisis for the Australian Anglican church which - it is not rocket science to wonder about this aloud - could become an emerging division (hasten an already emerging division?).

Of course here in the Blessed Isles, there is a bit of Anglican division also.

No wonder David Ison writes here about "An Anglican Communion at a Crossroads?" (with H/T to Ron Smith who republished this article on his blog). This article is a very helpful review of a book about the Anglican Communion at a Crossroads, by Brittain and McKinnon, with perceptive comments from Ison. In the book, as relayed through this article, and in the article itself, there are both key observations about how all major strategies for uniting Anglicans are failing (and why), as well as a recipe for a way forward. Spoiler alert: centre on Jesus and focus on what we agree on and not what we disagree on!

The following Tweet highlights something Pope Francis has said about the possibility of a Roman schism:

It would be an intriguing Anglican theological essay, methinks, to respond to the task:

"A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine." DISCUSS.

Not least the interest in the essay would be the fact that much talk by those who leave the Anglican Communion over the past decades has described the leaving as a response to elitist control of (e.g.) TEC, CofE ... such control driven by ideology and not by doctrine ... and, indeed, separation is precisely to maintain doctrine.

Yet, Francis has a point, I suggest. There is an "elitism" which proposes that the few know better than the many. And when doctrine necessarily always includes ecclesiology and genuine ecclesiology always upholds unity, it is a strange commitment to "doctrine" which breaks unity rather than remains within the church to continue to contend for truth. Further, when there are many things wrong with the church, with churches plural (and if the links above mean anything at all, they mean that in churches around the globe, members think there are severe faults within their churches), it is always striking when one and only one fault/"fault" is focused on as a catalyst for schism. It is not "doctrine" (as a whole) which drives such schism, but a fixation on one idea - an ideology which drives division.

Though, to return to Ison's perceptive article, current Anglican divisions are complex and not simple!

While I am personally committed to the Anglican Communion in communion with Canterbury (so not taking the GAFCON road), I am also committed to attending Lambeth 2020 which, noting a TEC link above, not all non-GAFCON bishops are committed to doing. Normally I am committed to the road marked "church discipline" but find myself deeply out of sympathy with the canonical pursuit of Bishop Love (see also link) above ... too many forks in the road in the one Anglican wood???

But if the Anglican woodland has some complexes forks in the road to negotiate, the links given at the beginning of the post make a very simple point: other woodlands have their complexities also. Some Anglicans may be tempted to jump out of our woodland to another - a longstanding option exercised by many through the centuries. But in the 21st century, a century in which there is instant and widely available communication about each and every fork in the road, no matter how great or small, those woodlands should not be entered into with some kind of ecclesial naievity about (change of metaphor) how green the grass is on the other side of the fence!


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter,

I commend this comment of your on this thread:

" it is always striking when one and only one fault/"fault" is focused on as a catalyst for schism. It is not "doctrine" (as a whole) which drives such schism, but a fixation on one idea - an ideology which drives division.

The Anglican Communion seems presently fixated on the question of gender and sexuality.

While this also figures in the Roman Catholic tendency to division, it is not the only issue. In that sphere, it would seem that the authority of the Pope is a much larger issue.

With the Orthodox - especially the Russian brand - the political influence of the Russian Government would seem to be at least a large part of the current tendency to divisiveness.

The Universal Church is made up of human beings - all of us 'Sinners' - that may be the real problem for the conundrum about Unity - whether local or universal. Perhaps we are to learn that The Church, after all, is a collection of local Churches - each with a particular charism to contribute towards the ecumenical 'Body of Christ'.

Father Ron said...

"The faithful tend to just get on with it: showing up, saying their prayers, slowly being transformed by the grace of God. @The_Tablet @RuthieGledhill"

I love this tweet - far more sensitive and wise than anything from the President of the U.S.

It echoes the reality that people are transformed by the grace of God, rather than by any human dogmatic contsruct, no matter how 'holy'.

Anonymous said...

For illustration, Peter, TEC's Title IV is the sort of enactment that has deprived synodicalism of the warm glow that it had in Anglican hearts throughout the C20. Everything that sensible people like about synods seemed worthwhile until we realised the price that we would have to pay for synods not led by sensible people.

If one really does believes in it, it is hard to see how TEC can tolerate even one subdeacon who does not toe whatever line is drawn by each successive General Convention-- the GC forbids SSM no matter what diocesans think; the GC permits SSM but recognises the discretion of diocesans to forbid it; the GC requires SSM in all dioceses no matter what diocesans think but still permits the diocesans to abstain. This is a kind of triennial dictatorship, and there is no episcopacy or conscience flexible enough to accommodate it.

For comparison, consider the medieval belief in papal infallibility that was defined as dogma that must be believed by the faithful in 1870 at Vatican I. Far from being anything new, it had been believed by many in the West for at least seven centuries. Yet as it happens, one bishop-- from Little Rock, Arkansas-- did vote against it but nonetheless died in the peace of the church. Even Pius IX, not the most temperate of pontiffs, undertook no reprisals against him.

Was Pio Nono a finer soul than Michael Curry et al? Only God knows, of course, but from what is generally known few would find it easy to believe that. Rather, the difference between the two is in the institutions that they have served.

As catholic Christians, even popes and councils recognise that they can require no more of souls than scripture and tradition have already implicitly done. But as institutional positivists, servants of the General Convention are obliged to believe that it has unlimited discretion to devise and enforce new doctrine. The dilemma for free spirits alienated from the past is that they cannot have the novelty that intrigues them without an unprincipled coercion that will sooner or later terrify them.

If one believes that all honest inquirers will sooner or later find themselves in one's own widening circle, then one feels no need to hound others until they agree or leave. As St James notes, "The wrath of men cannot further the righteousness of God."

But a wholly new doctrine has no other commendation than the totalitarian force of the institution that invents it. Without the ruthlessness of happy warriors and compliance officers, it will never be more than an opinion.

Are any on earth to be trusted with such force? In principle-- several different principles-- Protestants and Catholics and Orthodox think not. Lord Acton rightly said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely." Even being right, if one is truly blessed to be that, is no antidote to the poison.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman for your helpful elucidation of where synods can go wrong and yet have potential to go right.
I think - if I understand you correctly - that another way of making your point could be to ask whether the role of synods is to lead or to respond?
Thus Vatican 1 responds to widespread longheld belief re infallibility but certain Anglican synods attempt to lead where they think he people of God should go ...
Nevertheless life is complicated: it is entirely arguable, even within the Roman tradition, that the doctrine of infallibility has not been a roaring success (e.g. confusing people about what the significance is of any papal pronouncement).
And one argument within Anglican synods on a Certain Matter is that a significant proportion of the faithful have waited too long for recognition etc.
Cutting to the Albany chase, however, I think we have a highlighting of the synodical lead within TEC getting well ahead of itself.
I also suggest that an interpretation of your reflection above is that the more modest approach of our GS re permission to bless, freedom to teach otherwise, is a synod responding to current reality rather than an attempt to lead to a new reality.

Father Ron said...

With reference to B.W.'s well-known doubt about the relevance of Church Synodical authority, we might reflect on the need for an extant doctrinal tradition to be open to new revelation and discovery as to its continuing relevance in a changing society. If this were not so evident, then the Church Catholic might never have changed its position on many matters of human advancement and thriving: slavery, paternalism, homophobia and sexism being only some of the important issues involved.

As a concrete instance of such development, the Roman Catholic Church moved from the doctrinal status-quo of Vatican I to the more humanely-friendly openness of Pope John XXIII's ethos of Vatican II. Now there are some conservative elements in the R.C. Church who still militate against the reforming developments of the Second Vatican Council - those who now oppose the reforming programmes of Pope Francis - who will even ignore the extant doctrine of papal infallibility to further their own individual understanding of the 'Oughts and Shoulds' of dogmatic religious propriety.

Although I do not support papal infallibility, I do believe that certain Pontiffs (e.g: Pope John XXII and Pope Francis) have been given an openness to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged of this world - to the extent that they have been called to listen to the cries of God's people in ways that have offended the supporters of the doctrinal status quo.

In Jesus' advice to the Scribes and Pharisees, that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way round; I believe we have a humane paradigm that needs to be observed. The Gospel reality of "The great love of God as revealed in the Son" (and rejected by the law-givers of his own day) has to be paramount in the ministry of the Church that Jesus brought into being. Synods - at their best - are meant to listen to the Holy Spirit in conclave, so that 'The Word' may become flesh in their combined prayer and deliberations - bringing life to everyone, and not just the 'pure and holy'.

The upcoming R.C.'Synod of the Amazon Basin' will be addressing the situation of Climate Change; in which the landed gentry will be challenged about their deforestation, which leaves the local people homeless as well as depleting the ozone layer. The Synod will also be discussing the need for the emancipation of women, the Faithful laity, and those whose gender and sexual identity are 'different from the majority. These are all matters that the Church needs to identify with and to use her influence for the good of humanity.

We Anglicans do not have a 'papal infallibility', but we do have our national and local synods - made up of Laity, Clergy and Bishops - each category of whom should be concerned together for the good of all, not only locally but also world-wide.

Anonymous said...

"[Is] the role of synods to lead or to respond?"

Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to reply so fully to my comment. The received answer to your question seems to have been "to constrain the magisteria proposed by primatial archbishops in post-papal national churches."

In the C16, some churches were reformed by Rome (Portugal, Spain, France, southern Germany, Italy, etc), others by their princes or burghers (Netherlands, northern Germany, briefly Poland, Switzerland, maybe Scotland), and still others by their primatial archbishops (England, Wales, Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden). Obviously, the first group has a papal magisterium, but has recently begun to experiment with synods such the one that Father Ron has mentioned. The second group was synodal by default insofar as town councils were sometimes the civil sponsors of reform and bodies of pastors replaced the fugitive bishops. Some of Calvin's most consequential theological disputes were, not with reformers abroad, nor with pastoral colleagues in Geneva, but with his town council.

In the last group, we instead see strong archbishops exercising a devolved petrine authority in matters of doctrine. In Scandinavia, primates shaped a Christianity that was still somewhat plastic around the Lutheran armature of at least the Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism. In the British Isles, we likewise see primates venturing first 10 articles from a different Lutheran confession (Cranmer), then 42 articles that include the first 10 but incorporate some Reformed influence (Cranmer again), then 39 articles that resile from Reformed distinctives (Parker). The convocation of Canterbury rubber-stamped the last of these, but from that time to the late C19 it never again held a substantive meeting.

And interestingly, when an ill-informed Roman pontiff denied the validity of Anglican orders in an encyclical letter, the ABC and ABY, without consulting anybody, shot back a Latin encyclical of their own that Anglicans from that time to this have cited as settled doctrine. Nobody has seriously denied their authority to do that, although few are sure just what that authority was.

But it is plain that the great reforming archbishops were the ecclesiastical arms of great modernising monarchs. That is, those primatial archibishops were at once strengthened and constrained by the patronage of their national sovereigns just as the patriarchs of Constantinople had been given far-reaching power by successive emperors and sultans, but had also answered to them where the condition of the church affected the health of the state. In early modern Northern Europe, the whole third group aspired to replicate the caesaro-papism of late antiquity and Byzantium at national scale. With respect to England, that is known as Erastianism.

In that scheme, the emperor or monarch represents the realm to the church, and the primate represents the church to the state. Each has a sphere of initiative; each acts in his or her sphere with the advice and support of the other. For example, the very long hiatus of the convocations of Canterbury and York-- much more than a century-- resulted from the agreement of successive monarchs and archbishops that they were not needed for the transaction of any business. Better known is that Parker's 39A were promulgated under a royal warrant.

So what happens when, either through revolution (TEC) or evolution (CoE) or emigration (ACANZP), a local body of Anglicans is no longer effectively represented by the British monarch? The same thing that has happened throughout Scandinavia. Synods fill the representational void left by the fading of every royal supremacy. But in times that are post-Constantinian and so post-Erastian too, the question now is: who fills the magisterial void left by the old archbishops?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
And that is an especially good question when every utterance of the archbishops is over-examined by ordinary media (Britain) and social media (many other places), with half remarks “weaponised” etc. (A headline in my mail box this morning from David Virtue talks bout Welby weeping over Brexit but not over Anglican woes as though Welby somehow has forgotten his own church and Communion!).

Nevertheless, taking up your emperor/archbishop “dance” re formation/formulation of position, polity and policy, it is arguable - I suggest - that the dance continues, just that “emperor” is now the site im leben of the local-come-national church, and the “archbishop” is the synod/convention. Thus, evidentially, rightly or wrongly in the judgement of the Lord and of future Eusebius/Bede/bloggers, on That Topic, the TEC GC, Canadian GS, and the ACANZP GS (and likely within a couple of years, CofE GS and Aussie GS) have heard the “emperor” and responded through the “archbishop”! On that score, arguably, TEC GC has most enthusiastically heard the emperor’s instructions and followed them to the letter!!!!

Anonymous said...

"...the dance continues, just that *emperor* is now the sitz im leben of the local-come-national church, and the *archbishop* is the synod/convention."

It is looking to me, Peter, as though the true story is this: Christendom ended, the music stopped, the dance became impossible, and Anglicans have found themselves momentarily disoriented. In drawing up articles to guide belief and to frame reform ++ Thomas and ++ Matthew were straightforwardly exercising a papal teaching office in England, but today ++ Justin says from time to time "I am not a pope," and for the time being he may be right.

Of course, I agree with you that it is is a broadly good thing for local synods to respond to local authorities. On That Topic, for example, I suggested from time to time that ACANZP's GS would have been even wiser to have responded directly to the broad intent of the parliamentary act enabling SSM. Your meetings with families, journalists, etc may prompt you to disagree-- which would be interesting, of course-- but it has looked from a afar as though a resolution acknowledging that *the exclusion of sexual minorities from ordinary participation in civil society is unjust to God* and that *the spread of the gospel does not require that the state maintain any civil inequality* would have been more on point, and would have cleared some common ground for a saner discussion than the one that actually happened.

At the time, I asked here at ADU why this had not happened, but nobody really replied. The deep answer that seems most probable to me now is that, after Christendom, a local synod is no longer capable of a conversation on equal terms with a local parliament anywhere. After all, the synod of even the Confessing Church composed entirely of dissidents who had recognized undeniable evil in the Third Reich was unable to resist Hitler's demand that pastors swear an oath of personal allegiance to him. Yesterday, evangelical pastors here up yonder tirelessly denounced the marital infidelity of the 42nd POTUS; today they cannot acknowledge-- at least not publicly-- the bottomless corruption in all things of the 45th. It was terror of the one-sidedness of the new society-church relationship that led opponents of SSB to stress again and again that their nightmare of a change in the Body dictated by the fallen world was coming true before their eyes. When a contemporary society wants to hear a church's opinion on something, they will tell her what that opinion is going to be.

Since Anglican synods are not purely representative bodies, that fear could seem unreasonable on the face of it. Surely the godly and learned bishops can be trusted to take positions independent of those of perfervid souls swayed by passions of ideology, sex, class, ethnicity, etc? In fact, as we know from the whining of happy warriors hither and yon, houses of bishops have often moderated the resolutions that have finally been put to a vote in the several national synods of the Communion. But three difficulties remain.

Anonymous said...

(1) A house's relative independence of opinion is far from the personal and magisterial teaching that churches need in moments of confusion. Brendan, you will recall, kept demanding that individual bishops lay out a theology of sexuality that would settle the debate. But if the said bishops believed that the whole synod was supposed to maintain ACANZP's magisterium then that was just what they could not loyally or even accurately do. How then are they bishops?, he thundered. That was an unkind question, but not an altogether unreasonable one.

(2) Denominationalism has undone the independence of houses and synods by making them tribunes of classes and ethnicities. Where bishops and peoples are both from the same slices of their societies, the former share all the most consequential cultural biases of the latter. Those on the blessed isles are faultless, of course, but if TEC's GC agrees with the NYT in all things American, is that because they are both discovering the same truth or because they are both run from New York by upper middle class Ivy League alumni? To the diverse majority who have not unreasonably suspected the latter, what moral authority does any opinion of the HoB or the GC have for Americans at large? If none, then how does one dispel the suspicion that their *compliance culture* is merely coastal class politics disguised by the mask of the Lord? Readers on the blessed isles will recognise at once that this is as much a problem for lovers of diverse cosmopolitan societies as it is for lovers of Jesus.

(3) For because synodical enactments at their very best still do not sound much like Jesus, or his apostles, or the fathers after, or even their councils, they do not spark any soul's intrinsic motivation to live them out. Nobody believes synods. Rather, we take resolutions that have no authority of their own and compare them to scripture, tradition, exemplars, etc to see whether we can talk ourselves into a private reason for trusting them from the heart. Of course, if one badly wanted those enactments-- as all birds of one's own feather may do-- one may just enjoy the illusion of the Wizard of Oz for as long as one can. But for everyone else, for believers in a God who speaks to those who listen, these weirdly stately procedures are a curiously uninspired way to live with the Spirit poured out on all flesh.

You know, Peter, that I view these paragraphs, not as counsels of despair, but as their antidotes. Your Cathedral of the Holy Transition is very aptly named as the Holy Spirit is adapting our expectations and actions to the new world that he is shaping. In the meantime, as we recognise which of our ecclesial habits depend on a bygone Christendom, and which are perennial expressions of the ever-fresh gospel, we can be more charitable with all who are wading through the fog of this time with us. Half a loaf is better than no loaf, and tomorrow there will be manna.


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- Peter, of course I pray for happy warriors as for all other sinners shambling into hellfire, but I seldom bother to read what they write. Too many years of partisan hatred have usually deformed them into deaf screamers with a taste for cruelty. If they cannot truly hear what the others are saying, and cannot speak except to savage them, then why should anyone with the serene mind of Christ care what they think?

But then the opposite of a happy warrior is a blessed peacemaker. Years of mediating hateful partisans has usually refined them into patient listeners who say little but encircle the common ground where at least some combatants can lay down their arms. By God's grace, they play a small part in the Son's work of unifying all things, and in so doing they have from the Holy Spirit the imagination to hear affinities and resonances where others hear only protests and curses. That is, mediation is a helpful skill, and compromise a useful tactic, but real peace is made with the creativity that comes of inspired insight into the possible.

If one is making an inspired peace, one is exercising authority, albeit of a merely provisional kind. Thus from patristic Syria, we have stories of hermits who came down off their pillars or out of their caves to settle conflicts with a word from the Lord that quarreling villagers or even confronting armies obeyed. Again from the East, we have many stories-- some perhaps legends, but others well-documented-- that pit the lowly authority of some such holy man or woman against the magisterial authority of an emperor or patriarch. These accounts-- the classic is of St Symeon the New Theologian-- not only continue the OT genre of the *man of YHWH* (eg Judges) but also reflect the Eastern insight that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Body has complementary * official and charismatic aspects. Here, Byzantines sound somewhat like evangelical Anglicans.

So when flawless authority from above seems to be unavailable-- as was more often the case than not in the OT-- the Holy Spirit now as then supplies it from below, and the sign of that *exousia* when it appears is that it is borne by a holy man or woman whose word enables an authentic unity in peace. Even when official authority from above is graciously evident, we should be alert for its unofficial complement from below. One can pray in the mind of Christ for a more confident high centre, of course, but *exousia* in the *totus Christus* will be completed from the lowly periphery. Our notion of the Body must expand to take this in.

Anonymous said...

I say all of this in response to your OP because, absent an effective post-papal magisterium, much of the malaise that afflicts Anglicans-- all of the malaise that afflicts Catholics-- arises from an unscriptural and hence unbalanced account of authority in the Body. I liked Benedict and now like Francis, but if Catholics had no popes at all for a generation, their bishops would step up to their responsibilities, the faithful would follow their saints, and life would go on. Similarly, the greatest contributions to Sykes's Integrity of Anglicanism can probably be made today through holy peacemaking at the edge of the bottom.

* Obviously Nicaea II (787) was occasioned by the conflict between iconoclasts and iconodules, but directly or by implication it settled several deeper questions as well. In mandating the veneration of icons, it completed the dogma of the Incarnation at which the OT hints (eg Daniel vii 13, Ezekiel i 25), refined the characteristically Christian way of reading OT accounts of law and idolatry, and recognised the saintly elders whose likenesses were cherished as having the charism of the OT prophets.

To moderns, it was startling, even incomprehensible, that such advanced matters of Christian faith were treated through a sustained dialogue with the OT. Why, for instance, does St Gregory the Theologian, just home from briefly presiding over the definition of the Holy Spirit at the Council of Constantinople (381) preach his Easter sermon on the theft and deposition of Laban's household idols (Genesis xxxi 34, xxxv 4)? But postmoderns are beginning to understand that patristic and medieval readers used the NT as the apostolic stairway down into the depths of the OT. Moderns preached the brute fact that the Resurrection happened, but earlier Christians preached the light that the raising of Jesus shed on life in the renewed creation.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman for profound observations.
There is always a challenge for the (synodical) church (or the bishops) when our pronouncements seem like talking points from the latest ... Republican/Democrat/Conservative/Labour/Social Democrat/etc ... policy statement. If there is no difference between their policy and our gospel either a miracle has happened (look, the politicians have been truly and deeply converted!!) or we - more likely - have succumbed in the "culture wars" etc.

I wonder if there is also a factor of (a certain kind of) fear: that if we say X then we will be called out as hypocrites because the media can point to non-X in our midst. So, on sexuality and marriage and calls to faithfulness, there are too many sexual transgressions committed by church leaders; on climate change it is providing difficult to give up air travel to (er, say, um) Lambeth 2020 ... etc. That is we may end up with positions or non-positions on issues of the day which mix hesitancy with gospel commitment and the resulting soundbite lacks bite!

Father Ron said...

Meanwhile, on the question of 'Authority in The Church', here is a wonderful example of papal wisdom:

Anonymous said...

Years ago, Peter, a woman who was promoting a host of progressive causes on Capitol Hill asked me out to a curry shop on Dupont Circle. In those days, all of the young organizations on the left-- Ralph Nader, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, etc-- rented offices there.

As she had not made it clear for whom she was working, I joked that she was lobbying for God. She was in fact a Catholic nun advocating legislation on behalf of the social magisterium of the papacy.

Having just taken a course on Modern Catholic Thought, I knew that the popes had struck an interesting balance. They had opined to the right on private matters usually dealt with in the courts here up yonder, but rather to the left on the economic and international affairs then before the House and Senate.

So I wondered (1) what she actually said to members of each party. Please be a good Democrat? Please be a bad Republican?

And (2) what does a Catholic nun say to persuade a Jew?

Also (3)-- was she in the habit of not wearing a habit?

(1) Insofar as lobbying is persuasion, its object is always to induce a rightly ordered affection in the legislator, to relate that affection to the facts of the matter, and in that heart to elicit an honest appraisal of the bill at hand. (Yes, she was a Catholic. The Reformed lobbyist I also knew was way more cerebral; I wondered how his listeners stayed awake. The Lutheran and Methodist ones were both relentlessly helpful; maybe they would come back at 5 and help set up the reception...) If the member agreed to help advance the bill to the next step in the process, then she looked him in the eye and asked for his commitment to speak and vote accordingly.

(2) In principle, the religion of the legislator does not directly matter. Nonbelievers can and sometimes do have affections rightly ordered to the common good. But if anything in a member's identity bolsters them, then of course one listens to that and affirms it. (In other words, she talked to Christians, but Jews talked to her, and either way the result was that they were a bit more civic-spirited.)

(3) A legislator needs to see a lobbyist's civic ideals as congruent with his or her own. Wearing a habit can be helpful to a nun serving as a chaplain or in some other clerical role, but its monastic associations suggest to politicians that her aim is to convert them or play on their religious feelings rather than to advocate for the common good. (No, she sincerely hoped to be caught dead in one someday, but she was definitely not in the habit habit.)

Anonymous said...

"If there is no difference between their policy and our gospel either a miracle has happened (look, the politicians have been truly and deeply converted!!) or we - more likely - have succumbed in the *culture wars* etc."

Tricky. What is wrong with culture wars is not necessarily the policies that happy warriors propose-- as far as they go, these can be reasonable-- but that they are using their proposals to split the body politic toward extremes. By definition, polarisation obscures the central common good with reference to which equitable policy can be broadly desired by all and justly made by good government. When the centre is invisible, taking almost any position seems to be taking a side as well.

By promoting that polarisation, happy warriors sabotage the work of the Son in whom all things hold together. In a political climate thus embittered, the unbridged divide is a greater concern to the Body than the particular policies being considered at the time. In principle, churches ought to be able to do good by collaborating to restore the centre, but I have not yet seen a concerted campaign to do that.

"...if we say X then we will be called out as hypocrites because the media can point to non-X in our midst."

If your professional journalists simply hate you, then you may better reach the public through social media. But usually one's own messaging makes a difference in what anyone can later be perceive as hypocrisy. Compare--

(a) The Church of Cockaigne voted today, 137-9 in its annual synod, to condemn harsh authoritarian punishment of young children, noting that Christ himself had said that it were better that one be cast into the sea with a millstone around one's neck than that one harm a child.

(b) A survey shows that 87% of church members are better able to strengthen self-control in their children after learning alternatives to harsh punishment. Training in how to do this for every kind of child is available to all free of charge from every diocesan office of the Church of Cockaigne.

When someone in a supermarket catches a priest slapping a toddler on a video that goes viral, which message do you think the bishops of Cockaigne would rather be defending? Personally, I would rather defend (b) than (a), because one can use the viral video to expand the audience for one's original point.

(b') Bishop Kind of the CoC said today that he "deeply empathized" with Father Clumsy, seen in a viral video struggling to bring his toddler son under control in a supermarket. "There are methods [INSERT LINK HERE] that are better for both parent and child, and we will redouble our efforts to help this family as we help every family in the ways of Christ, who was tested as we are in every way."

To many people, (a) sounds as though the CoC is trying to shame people into changing behaviour about which they already feel innately guilty. One imagines that many unskilled parents would want nothing better than embarrassing proof that those uppity CoC snobs are no better than anybody else. In contrast, (b) offers to solve their problem, and (b') implicitly extends the CoC's welcome and Christ's own compassion to them in their weakness. It is not too much to say that the same viral video that seems to prove hypocrisy after (a) actually immunizes the CoC against the charge after (b).

Of course the most basic difference between the two messages is the one first pointed out here by Sean, a Russian Orthodox commentator we have not seen in a year or so: church messaging that reports the way of life that the Holy Spirit has wrought in the Body itself has some meaning, but moral absolutes floating free of any lived lives just report that birds of a feather flocked together and voted to feel something on a weekend afternoon.


Jean said...

Hi Bowman

Your musings as ever are interesting and it definitely ‘appears’ as though there are a lot of ummm break up’s or break downs going on between church groups.

Something related in a vague sense to the post that I listened too recently was the book “Unplanned” - the movie came out recently here although not showing in my region so I was curious about the book given NZ’s current abortion debates. One factor I noted was the authors experience of ‘church’. While working and directing a family planning clinic offering abortion’s she was attending a ‘pro-life’ church until the way she was treated by congregation members sent her and her husband looking for other options. Then they ended up going to a TEC church. In an ironic twist, the Anglican liturgy ‘if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off’ alongside an experience where she was asked to assist with an abortion ended up convicting her that she was ‘on the wrong side of the fence.’ After leaving her job and testifying as to why, she was then asked by the TEC leadership of her Church to leave as her views no longer fitted in with theirs.

Curiously a bit what you allude to. Her personal experience of both churches was unrelated in a way to their stance on the subject of abortion; her discomfort was in their treatment of her as a person. Interestingly the Christian Group who had the biggest influence on her was one who stuck to their viewpoint and were keen to debate yet responded with genuine care for her as a person. The recounting did indeed have a backing track perspective of the danger of the ‘issue’ replacing the ‘gospel’ as the highest priority.

Anonymous said...

As usual, Jean, I enjoy your musings more than my own, but it sometimes takes a while for me to formulate a replies to them.


When you say that you do not think it likely that Darwin was right about the evolution of species, I wonder-- what does that disagreement mean to you? The reasons for dissent seem to range from attachment to very concrete readings of the Bible to discomfort with the thought that humans are akin to other living things to class hatred of the scientific establishment. But none of the usual reasons in the range quite fits the Jean we know from your comments here.

Since natural history is not an object of faith, nobody should *believe in* evolution as one does the Nicene Creed. That said, I have found evolutionary theory helpful to faith in four ways. (1) In explaining the forms of life as products of history, it extends our awareness of God's governing providence * into the world of living things. (2) In preempting literal readings of Genesis that answer shallow modernist questions, it nudges us to dig deeper into the thought-world of the biblical authors who after all knew God. (3) It fits well with the emphasis on apocalyptic and wisdom that distinguished the Jews who followed Jesus from the Pharisees who trod a different path of sanctification through law. (4) As I have mentioned already, the continuity of the human genome explains the continuity of human nature, which gives us confidence that the biblical writers knew the human nature that we know. The Bible does not need evolutionary sense to make sense, but for the time being it does somewhat help.

So then, what is the Genesis saying? The reading popularised by John Walton (no relation) seems to be the most plausible account of what its first listeners thought it meant: in a region where all the neighbors had temples with images in them, the Hebrews who had no temple said that their rather different God had made the earth as his temple, and had placed man in it as his image and likeness. Reading aloud the verses about the seven days, some have heard a liturgical cadence that makes poetic sense in a description of temple building. Modern readers tend to read the Bible as legal humdrum like a EULA for software but listeners in the oral culture from the oldest parts of it came would have been alert to the way the text sounds.

To what that Walton says we can add that pre-moderns noticed several other things going in in those chapters. What is the relation of "the Spirit upon the waters" and "let us make make dust in our image" to the trinitarian language of the NT? Is that verse consistent with the C13 notion of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo)? How does God's rest on the seventh day imply the whole network of scriptural ideas about the Sabbath, the Jubilee, etc that run through the canon? Are "image and likeness" set up as a contrast of spiritual states? Why is the Dust at first an irrigation farmer? What does it mean that God reached the solution of sexual differentiation by trial and error? After Dust and Eve had eaten from the wrong tree, would eating from the other tree have made them immortal in their fallen state? In the patristic age, Genesis was used as a textbook for pagans enrolled to become Christians because it sets the stage for so much of the drama of the faith. Whatever one thinks about the physical origin of all things, it seems important not to drop any of the other balls being juggled there.

Anonymous said...

" definitely ‘appears’ as though there are a lot of ummm break up’s or break downs going on between church groups."

Yes, there are. The question about any single case is-- (a) has some new wine burst the old bottles (eg Fox's Quakers, Wesley's Methodists, Azusa Street's Pentecostals), (b) have some been wrongfully expelled from the Body (eg some of ACNA), or (c) is a demon whispering to some grapes that they should leave the Vine to avoid the other grapes? If (a), the mother church should accommodate as much as she can; if (b), reconciliation before the sun goes down is required; if (c), Jesus himself being the only Vinedresser, I see only confused raisins shriveling in the sun.

With respect to That Topic, here up yonder we have seen a bit of (a), most of all (b), and a bit of (c). These proportions vary, of course, with place and circumstance. Many souls have met online or at a GAFCON with similar reservations about SSM but different situations. If they do not distinguish the three sorts of cases and remedies, and recognise the one that fits their local and personal case, they err.

"...her discomfort was in their treatment of her as a person."

Was she treated as a person, or as a box on an org chart? What most weakens the Body today is not a theological problem-- although theologians have thoroughly explored it-- but an interpersonal one: an institutional texture has supplanted the properly ecclesial one, even in congregational churches whose whole reason for avoiding bishops has been to avoid this crypto-heresy * (cf Karl Rahner). What I denounce here as synodical fascism is just the flower of a weed on the Vine with deep strangling roots. Conversely, what I commend as episcopal ministry is usually making the Body personal again.

The Body can be served by institutions that well know and abjectly serve their subordinate function, but relations among souls in Christ are not those among an association's members, a profession's clients, a corporation's customers, or anybody's employees. Nor is this merely a matter of proper politesse. The CoE in Wesley's day had reached a state where a rector could not think how to deal with a coal miner in his parish except as one of a lower class. A TEC vicar serving the poorest part of Cambridge once confessed to me that he had no idea how to talk to the homeless who sleep rough all night on his church's doorstep. Here up yonder, black and white evangelicals scarcely collaborate, not because of the residual racism on both sides, but because they cannot quite figure out how to talk frankly to each other about things that matter. A man once told me that he left seminary for law school when he realised that people tell their priests what they think that they are supposed to say, but tell their lawyer the truth in order to get out of trouble.

Here I can only ask blandly what Søren Kierkegaard explored with such passionate artistry and move on. Did the Body of all things get so coldly bureaucratic when ministry in orders was recast as a modern profession grounded in an objective knowledge? What I will say, Jean, is that, when the gospel is preached with power, the preacher calls the hearts of souls to their notice in Christ so that mere individuals become full persons in the Lord. The gospel is true, but not a truth that leaves the self asleep.

* By crypto-heresy, Rahner meant some social ideology in the Body that is, not explicitly opposed to the defined faith as a heresy is, but is nonetheless distorting her lived life much as actual heresies do.

Bowman Walton