Monday, July 20, 2020

Who or what is driving whom in the recent history of Anglicanism and its splits?

Jessica Martin writes thoughtfully in the latest Church Times under the heading "Sex and Religion: When it all started to go wrong/right (delete as applicable)."

Here is a flavour of Martin's "a plague on both your [liberal and conservative] houses" argument:

"BEHIND these, in turn, lie very different visions of what the Church is, visions that are themselves — in the UK, at any rate — tied up with the history of Reformation and of Establishment. Faced with a terrifying loss of social influence — indeed, with the threat of effective disappearance as they haemorrhage congregations and are increasingly ignored in Government — the “puritan” and the “Anglican” traditions within the Church of England (always uneasily and precariously held together) reach for solutions characteristic of their differing histories and identities. 
The “Puritans”, with a vision of Christian community based on the set-apartness of the “holiness” code, and with separatism deeply driven into Calvinistic foundations, favour a sharp-edged division between a gathered holy people and the wilderness of the wickedly immoral world. 
Meanwhile, the “Anglicans” read the whole world as God’s field, in which sinners and saints mingle undetected, the Spirit blows where it wills, and only God can distinguish wheat from tares. This vision is, especially in England and Wales, underpinned by the ecclesiastical polity of establishment, which assumes that all in the nation belong, by default, to the assembly of the saved, and leaves ultimate judgement to God."

Her main point, I suggest, lies in her last words, and its a point that is much in my mind as I continue to reflect on global and local Anglicanism and the splits/disaffiliations of recent years: we have allowed sex to play a larger role than it should ever have been allowed to play - so large that Martin argues it has been a lordly idol driving our disputes:

"If these irreconcilable differences continue to be the competing stories governing our dis-ease, then we have let the real Lord of all our doings, directing all our pathways and all our dissension, all our understanding of the body of Christ and its institution in the big world, be the — already more than a little publicly tarnished — idol of sex itself."

In other words, Anglican reconciliation on the contemporary matters which divide us might have a best starting point if and when we agree to not let these matters be so big that they divide.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for your attention to my comment and to James's question.

My 10:24s are merely descriptive, and so open to revision. Jessica Martin is attempting something similar in the Church Times article that you link above. Careful description makes assumptions about What Churches Do more explicit. Clarity is good for thinking.

Meanwhile, James's basic question pops up hither and yon. Up here, it is indeed a question that mainline Protestants, including Episcopalians, hear from Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. Again, my 10:24s and Martin's article do not answer the question, but in their slightly overlapping ways, they may describe the status quo that James and most observers see.

On your 11:45.

I read your (1) as mostly Outside --> In. Externally, states adopted liberal democracy in the C18-C19. Then internally, territorial churches such as the Anglican and Lutheran ones, rationalised that public ethos after the fact with the incarnation theology retrieved from the fathers in the C20. That said, Yoram Hazoni may well be right that C16 political theorists (not churches) retrieved the republican ethos of ancient Israel from the OT.

As far as it goes, your (2) rings true. Local pastors of any denomination are faced, not with the myriad women in society at large who want to end their pregnancies, but with the few in their care who have already done so and are of various minds about having done that. But where Anglicans would be acting strangely if they were to tell the wider public that as Insiders they have *special knowledge* that every abortion Outside is wrong, Catholics quite normally invoke the papal magisterium to say precisely that in every kind of public forum. On abortion as on other things, Rome reliably does Inside --> Out but Canterbury not so much.


Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for this latest incursion into the dilemma of what is at stake in the Church of England in the contest between the situation of the national Church and that of its more conservative critics. Here for me, is the more insighful comment of the author of the article from the Church Times:

"'Holiness' looks like a mythically simpler world that resembles the 1950s more than it resembles biblical models. For quasi-separatists, there is no place to go outside establishment except to become a gathered cult — but, as the Established Church becomes itself more and more gathered, the advantages of full separation sharpen.

And the establishment default (you can’t really call it a solution) takes no real account of the loss of Christendom, so that the generosity of its state ecclesiology tips into absurdity."

In new Zealand, though we are not an 'established Church', Anglicans do have a similar scenario, in that the recent departees (represented by the local GAFCON/FOCA Assembly) have placed themselves outside of the more liberal Anglican Church - on the basis of their insistence on Biblical fundamentalism that presupposes the Holiness Code on matters of gender/sexuality and equal marriage. We (the majority) remaining Anglicans are torn between the prospect of Biblical faithfulness and the reality of an emerging general disaffection for organised religion, which sees this as irrelevant in the modern world.

What really needs to be addressed, however, is how does the Church - Anglican or otherwise - deal with a whole new understanding of the Bible, vis-a-vis its abiding message of Jesus, who had to disabuse the religious leaders of his own day about their institutional injustices and lack of compassion to those outside of the Institution as well as within its borders.

A wise Churchman once said that the Church exists, not just for the sake of its members, but for the sake of the world for which Christ gave up his life.

If the Church remains holy and righteous while shutting itself of from the realities of the real world, of what good is it in the task of redemption, to which is is called yb its Founder?

Anonymous said...

"we have allowed sex to play a larger role than it should ever have been allowed to play - so large that Martin argues it has been a lordly idol driving our disputes"

Up to a point, yes. But if it is a war of choice, then why has it been chosen?

My strongest guess is that sex becomes Sex when it proxies for an upstream disagreement between some who are thinking that *there is no salvation without objective authority* and others who are thinking that *there is none without recognised consciousness*. The authoritarians won't tolerate subjectivity; the personalists won't tolerate being reduced to stones. They have long disagreed on dozens of things, but others pile on when the fight is about sex.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Bowman and Ron for wise comments.

A challenge for "being Anglican" is that it means being a participant in a wide ranging church in which (on the matters threaded here) some want a "Roman" approach, others a "Genevan" approach (which on some matters is handily a united approach), others, having translated "via media" to mean "what the reader of the NYT (or similar) thinks", see another way forward ... and so forth. (There is also the "incredibly wise and learned" approach of ADU readers :) .)

The CT article (and comments here and recently) challenge all approaches to consider whether there is "another way" ( a "third way"?) ... perhaps the future of being Anglican is focusing more on "third way" than "middle way"?

Anonymous said...

"whether there is 'another way' ( a 'third way'?)"

Peter, Jessica Martin's sentences are not all as lucid as the most insightful ones, so it is possible for different readers to see the Church of England differently through her lenses.

To me, she has portrayed a CoE that has no contemporary Inside as distinct from the Outside of the secular public around it. Her puritans have an Inside modeled on the Outside of the 1950s; this is not contemporary, nor it truly Inside. Her progressives have an Inside that mirrors the Outside; this is not distinct.

By its nature, the Body has an inner life that is in a place and time, but is not reducible to the mores or needs of its location. If Martin's likeness is reasonably accurate, and if I have seen it as she meant it, conflict is not the CoE's biggest problem.

A church without an Inside can still signal a cultural identity as a choice of politics or car or house-paint might. But when it is only that, it is not in a lively way in Christ. Martin is describing a fight over what sort of cultural signal the CoE should be for English consumers of religion. Shallow.

The job that religion still does for people in societies like ours is to help them make sense of their interior lives as human beings. Persons today are individuated without precedent; their lives demand an emotional intelligence unusual in the past.

Groups that help that in one way (singing Charismatics) or the other (meditating Buddhists) are growing in numbers and influence. Meanwhile, a certain Outside-facing institutionalism has been killing churches throughout the West. Church without an oasis Inside has no future in the C21.

In my lifetime, most have thought that Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism were both rather good at the Inside. They did it in different ways saying different things that might appeal to different people, but Anglicans were lucky to have two good solutions for one manageable problem. And if one was too eccentric for either, one could still resort to the bad solution of an iconoclastic liberalism.

But when sex became Sex, we saw that these had all become empty brands. None of them, not even the liberals, had a theologically-motivated tradition of listening to the heart of persons in the light of Christ. And because anything they knew about the heart had been borrowed from secular traditions like psychoanalysis or experimental psychology, it was not clear whether or how this was to be integrated for disciples on the Way. Nor did most churches offer magisterial guidance on this.

For many, the last straw was when those who must be judged on their capability in the cure of souls could not empathise with the women in the CoE's long struggle over their ordination, or believe that a gay man is actually a gay man. One could think an array of things about either matter and still come away thinking, "These people are too stupid about souls to know how to save them."

To be clear, I do not see a dogmatic difficulty in churches lost in the wilderness, and neither I suspect would Bryden. To the contrary, the neglected resources of the first millennium may have much of what we need. But after nine centuries, the Rome and Geneva preoccupation with divine justice may have exhausted itself.


Anonymous said...

Several days ago, I noted that the post-Trump politics of the right would be interesting. At the time, I was expecting a flurry of conversations, some public but most not, from about December on. But yesterday's conference of the Republican senators erupted into a shouting match between libertarians and neo-conservatives, each claiming to be more loyal to a president elected as a populist but governing as an authoritarian.** Thus begins the 2024 election cycle.

The space in the political spectrum just right of the centre here has been the natural home for many Christians, and indeed many Episcopalians. When you think of religious Republicans, think not only of white evangelicals in red MAGA hats, but also of such complex characters as Mike Pompeo (secretary of state, Evangelical Presbyterian), Clarence Thomas (justice SCOTUS, Episcopalian --> Catholic), James Comey (fmr FBI director, Methodist), William Barr (attorney general, Catholic), Neil Gorsuch (justice SCOTUS, Episcopalian), and Robert Mueller (independent counsel, Episcopalian ***). Not one is regarded as a nominal Christian; each has applied faith to life in ways that have surprised or dismayed others.

They have churches. Do any or all still have a political party?

The Republican Party has been strained for two decades by the opposing interests of its billionaire donors and working class voters. In 2016, candidate Donald Trump seemed to break this impasse in favour of the voters, leading the Republican Party to exchange conservative principles about low taxes, low deficits, free trade, and force abroad for more populist concerns about unrestricted immigration, access to healthcare, lost manufacturing jobs, and endless war.

But as president, he was outflanked by libertarian and neo-conservative Republicans in Congress, so that his populist program shriveled to a wall on the southern border. As he then defied the congressional oversight mandated by the US Constitution, it became clear that Republican conservatism had been exchanged, not for a populism of the right, but for an authoritarianism ** that subverts the constitution.

After Trump, the Grand Old Party (GOP), as the Republican Party is sometimes called, could be defined by loyalty to him or to his (doubtless disputed) memory. Or streetfighting libertarians and neo-conservatives could take the GOP back state by state. Or the populism on which Trump campaigned in 2016 could be revived by a more skilled politician in 2024. For now, it is not clear where Christians attracted to the conservatism of the old Republican Party will go.

** In principle, conservatives and authoritarians are profoundly different. Conservatives seek stability and order, and oppose novelty and change. *Conservative revolution* is an oxymoron. Authoritarians seek uniformity and homogeneity, and oppose the diversity of persons that leads to social complexity. Spasms of coercion and repression reminiscent of fascism violate conservative norms but can serve authoritarian ends.

*** His parish? St John's, Lafayette Square, Washington. Yes, that's the one behind the upside-down bible.


Anonymous said...

How what is In gets Out.

Last Friday, two "field commanders" of American civil rights protests of the 1960s, John Lewis and C T Vivian, passed away. As young men, both were Baptist ministers-- as a boy in Alabama, Lewis preached to the chickens on his father’s farm-- inspired by Martin Luther King Jr's insight that the non-violent resistance to evil of Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas K Gandhi was a practice of Christian spirituality. In cities throughout the South, each trained thousands to practice peacefully disobey Jim Crow laws in the face of police violence. As the leaders of many protests, they endured especially harsh beatings and jail.

Lewis was beaten and jailed more than 40 times, but in Selma, Alabama the especially brutal beating on camera that cracked Lewis’s skull shocked the Congress into passing the Voting Rights Act (1965). Later elected to the House of Representatives from Georgia, Lewis was a mentor to many younger politicians including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But even in his long Washington career, he made time to join the occasional protest, and to write March, his three volume graphic novel on protest.

More importantly here, Lewis continued to cultivate the peaceful relationship to God and society that non-violent resistance to evil express.

(a) In conversations and meetings, the moral sentiment that he most often expressed was a gratitude for God’s providence that was nourished by prayer.

(b) He understood that human societies, although good, cannot escape error in their use of coercion.

(c) He knew that participation in injustice was the life that had to be lost for one’s life to be saved, and not one’s own life only but that of the unjust as well.

(d) His recognition that the unjust too are degraded by a system that uses them gave him a defense against bitter hatred and a bottomless capacity for forgiveness.

(e) Although his soft voice could and did confront any power with its complicity in evil, he used words with gentleness and controlled his tongue.

John Lewis was called “the Conscience of the Congress” because his conscience had always been in Christ. It was in Christ because he did spirituality and politics out of the same theology.

One need not be a Christian to carry a sign and shout a chant. But not many could live through a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience without some awareness that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Perhaps there will be an occasion someday to uncover the scriptural inspiration for the insights and virtues of the leaders passing away. But + Peter’s readers will hear many of these echoes without help.

I recount them here to call attention to something more elusive. We very rarely acknowledge interior life in Christ here, even when we are saying things that have no life outside of it. We sometimes allude to aspects of that interior life in ways that disparage them. But outward action that is organically in Christ that depends on it. If there is nothing In, there is nothing to get Out.


Father Ron said...

Dear B.W. - the truly 'Ineterior life in Christ' must always be accompanied by the visible fruits of the Spirit - the greeatest of which has been summarised in the Holy Scriptures: God is LOVE. (I hope you are doing well in your area of the vineyardm Dear Friend.)

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman,
Not only does my "interior" warm to what you say, my mind agrees with this focus on the possibility that the genius of Anglicanism - in need of refinding now - lies in the interior life in Christ. And from that, the outward direction of our mission (should) unfold.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

"the genius of Anglicanism - in need of refinding now - lies in the interior life in Christ"

Yes, Peter. I often think of Cranmer, not as cutting down trees to plant straight rows of maize, but rather as practising orchardry by trimming away what did not nurture the soul's union with Christ. Richard Hooker defended the classic result of that, but George Herbert exemplified it.

"And from that, the outward direction of our mission (should) unfold."

Which is to walk by faith and not by sight. I can think of lots of good missions for those who want them, and it may be that some in the Body are called to them, but if that is true then their practice of the Way will organically lead them into it. One person's calling is not necessarily another's.

"the truly 'Interior life in Christ' must always be accompanied by the visible fruits of the Spirit"

Yes, Father Ron, when the Holy Spirit calls a soul to contemplation, his love and other fruit will be evident in the living of it (Romans v 5).

"I hope you are doing well in your area of the vineyard."

Thank you for your kind hope :-)

Great disruptions open great blessings. I am getting plenty of both.

However, the dysfunction in Federal politics here will continue for at least six months. A new administration should reduce that, but probably cannot completely repair it.

In the meantime, the very low probability of re-election has loosened the inhibitions of an administration that has never had enough of them. Our constitution's dual sovereignty, for instance, is bizarrely inverted by a Federal government that will not lead a national battle against the plague (so that I can get back to a normal routine), but will lead one against protesters confronting their local police departments (which could reduce the downtowns of cities like mine to chaos).

And elsewhere in the world, several players are taking quiet advantage of the misrule and distraction to do what would otherwise be awkward or impossible. Somebody, for example, has been bombing military targets across Iran. Just who bears what consequences for this depends in part on who the Iranians blame for doing it.


Anonymous said...

Wrong wrong wrong. It is not about sex, but sexuality which covers the gamut of emotional spiritual psychological and sexual. Unfortunately evangelical fundamentalists have a view of gay people which is obsessed with the mechanics of gay sex. These same people want to deprive gay people of love and go back to the old days of pick up joints, lonlieness, drug and alcohol abuse. Well we are not going back there. In opposing blessings that is what you are saying. We do not deserve love/ We only deserve depravity. Shame on you. Would you like your love for yours spouses to be reduced to sex in the eyes of other people?

Anonymous said...

" becomes Sex when it proxies for an upstream disagreement between some who are thinking that *there is no salvation without objective authority* and others who are thinking that *there is none without recognised consciousness*. The authoritarians won't tolerate subjectivity; the personalists won't tolerate being reduced to stones. They have long disagreed on dozens of things, but others pile on when the fight is about sex."


Father Ron said...

Just a brief reflection on the ethic of sexuality:

Sex was given by God to (1)increase the population, and (2) to provide a basis of mutual attraction to express the love of one person for another (see 'Song of Songs' and Matthew 19:10-12) in the Scriptures).

What has been the mistake of the current militants who have expressed their disdain for non-hetero sexual activity - to the point of schism - has been their denial of the gift of sexuality for any sexual activity which does not naturally produces more children; or, is exclusive to heterosexuals.

What this denies is the opportunity for those incapable of reproduction from any meaningful committed loving sexual relationship with another person! Should this govern one's understanding of the gift of God for all loving sexual expression between two human beings?

There is also the matter of a the enablement of commitment to a one-on-one loving relationship that is not ONLY ABOUT SEX - e.g. Christian Marriage!

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, the brevity of your procreative (1) and sentimental (2) at 12:06 is attractive. Relying on your formulation, seven thoughts of my own--

A. A believer in the "Maker of heaven and earth" can reason from (i) a result of sex to (ii) a purpose for sex to (iii) God's providence for sex to (iv) an intention to cooperate with that divine providence in sex. Since both your (1) and your (2) reduce to that same pattern of thought, it seems that they make equal sense.

B. More generally, one cannot live as a believer in the creeds' Creator without practising (i) --> (ii) --> (iii) --> (iv) where the self is regular. For doing otherwise supposes, more or less, that the self is not at all created.

C. It is not surprising that this is the usual Christian defense of queer ** sex. So it is also inconsistent to follow the pattern in defending that whilst rejecting it with respect to procreation. And perhaps vice versa too.

D. Before my time, there was a rather mechanistic version of (1) that survives today only as a straw man at which some especially attached to (2) still shake their fists. (To hear what I mean, just say "procreation" aloud sometime in a room of mainstream Protestants and you will hear somebody rant about Humanae Vitae as if Paul VI were personally locking him in a chastity belt and pocketing the key.) If one does not like his version (actually Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's), then just climb out of the Rome Trap *** and try a smarter one.

Anonymous said...

E. In my time-- on That Topic, it begins in the 1970s-- I have scarcely ever heard procreation raised to criticise queer sex. With respect to procreation, what I do hear are two other protests, (a) and (b).

(a) Having sex with one's spouse to "increase the population"-- has anybody ever actually done this?-- rather than to become a parent and grandparent is not an intention adequate to (iv). If it were, then the scriptures would have said far less about childrearing and the succession of generations.

(b) And, some biological differences between men and women are, just like your (1) and (2), grist for the mill of (i) --> (ii) --> (iii) --> (iv). That is, by B above, a believer in the Creator should live out the biology of her or his sex in an intentional (i) --> (ii) --> (iii) --> (iv) fashion.

F. When I have known a straight critic of queer sex well enough to inquire about her or (far more often) his motivation, that has nearly always been, not homophobia, but fear of the changing relations between women and men. Nobody is really threatened by queer folk-- there are too few of them-- but many have had their hearts broken by partners who did not follow the expected patterns. And those raised by authoritarian parents and pastors struggle far more than most people in a society that to others feels free and exhilarating (eg Fred Trump --> Donald Trump).

G. Conversely, when I have known a straight defender of queer sex just as well, her or (sometimes) his deeper motivation has nearly always seemed to be a revulsion to B and so to A. Thinking-- perhaps falsely-- that their enemy is yours as well, they make a tacit alliance with you to keep things messy and free. If churches marry lesbian couples, then how can they possibly expect straight wives to act anything like their grandmothers? A few who have navigated by their inner compass all their lives actually do not know how to follow a rule about a personal matter.

H. So my 12:43 above gets close to the bottom of the matter. Arguments about That Topic that seem to be about sex or scripture have usually turned out to be about Sex, which is simply the cultural quarrel between authoritarians for A and anarchists against B. There is pain driving the argument on both sides, and without prejudice, I have compassion for absolutely all of it. But both have framed the relation between createdness and personality in a way foreign to the life of the Body in God. I can take the hearts of people with the utmost seriousness. Some of their arguments, not so much. As is usual here at ADU ;-)

** "Queer" and "straight" are the only elegant words for what we are often trying to mention here. The former has lost its pejorative connotations, which I would never anyway intend. Nobody in my hearing still speaks of "homosexuals," and those who do say "LGBTQ" sound politically correct but also style-stupid. Unless you or + Peter object, I will henceforth use the simple English words here.

*** The Rome Trap is the logical fallacy of thinking that the papal version of an ecumenical idea with several variants is the ideal, pure, best, real, true, essential or only version of it. So, for example, if we are discussing bishops, one has fallen into the Rome Trap if one reasons as though Roman Catholic bishops are a sort of standard and there are no real bishops in say the Church of Sweden or the Church of Greece. Ironically, only Anglicans and unusually fundamentalist Roman Catholics fall into the Rome Trap because the papal magisterium itself is comprehensive enough to accommodate a spectrum from oh Ed Feser to Richard Rohr. That, after all, is the point of having it.