Monday, September 14, 2020

Strange Times?

So, in good news in Level 2, we held our Zoom Synod business sessions on Friday, 9am to 5.20 pm (with breaks) and everything went along very well, including passing some needed legislation and making some helpful-going-forward resolutions.

I imagine many Synod members enjoyed a Saturday break (diaries otherwise having committed us to being at the physical Synod had it gone ahead) and it is always a good day in the garden when at the end of it tomatoes have been planted in our glasshouse, fingers crossed that some fruit might appear in time for Christmas. (Potatoes having already been planted!)

Meanwhile, NZ continues (with much of the world) to grapple with Covid-19, and as I write we remain in Level 2 (or Level 2.5 up in Auckland), waiting to see what the Government will announce today re a possible change in levels.

Along the way of this national and global saga, we have had an interesting ecclesiastical-national saga: a church in Auckland, the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship, has been the centre of an Auckland "sub-cluster" with - it appears, according to news reports - some initial hesitations re submitting to tests and some careless practice re not socially isolating due to (in my words) not accepting the scientific basis for authorities requesting tests and requiring isolation as the first members of the church were diagnosed with the virus. 

For a couple of commentaries on the situation, from a source I do not think I have ever cited before, The Daily Blog (one of NZ's premiere political commentary blogs, albeit "leftist"), here is Curwen Ares Rolinson and there is Chris Trotter.

We are seeing, it would seem, some unfortunate fruit of a development in evangelical Christianity which has affected to disdain the reliability of science - a development which may well have at its foundation a scepticism about evolution.

Incidentally, after initial reluctance it appears that everyone connected to this church is on board with the need to be tested and to socially isolated until this transmission hotspot has cooled down.

But some damage has been done. As Christians around me are observing: the impact of the story of this one church is that all churches are tarred by their brush, whether or not we claim to have kosher scientific credentials. 

On the one hand, we might recognise that no church is "independent" of other churches. We all represent Christianity, we are all ambassadors for Christ and witnesses to the gospel. When one church - even an independent church such as this one - hits the headlines for reasons not praiseworthy, all of NZ Christianity suffers.

On the other hand, we might also recognise - in line with comments worth pondering made to the post below this - the importance of continually understanding what the gospel actually is? What did Christ do and what did he teach? What is God's purpose for us and meaning for our lives according to God's purposes in Christ?

These are "strange times" but the church always lives in strange times and it has always needed to work out what the gospel is and how it should be communicated in strange times.


Craig L said...

Yes - a tricky one this. Interesting in that I was talking to someone over the weekend who had heard from a fairly reliable source that some of the problem particularly around not disclosing contacts was nothing around religion or views on science at all, but that some potential contacts were not legally supposed to be in New Zealand (ie overstayers). So I guess this may have taken a bit of working through in terms of dealing with the community and keeping their trust.

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for providing the 2 rather different views on the Mount Roskill Evangelical Church's role in the current COVID situation. It would appear that they are not the only ones to protest against our country's need to question the need to guard against the effects of the pandemic - as witness the crowd who took it upon themselves to protest against the science in Queen St., Auckland.

Such 'fundamentalist' (I use that word advisedly) views of 'Creation science' unfortunately is a direct result of a lack of awareness of a verifiable scientific world view which inhibits any understanding of how the world, and all its satellite planets and stars, function to sustain the Cosmos. This outdated misunderstanding of factors like global warming, rampant cosumerism, scientific 'cause and effect' - a legacy of the old-time 3-level universe created in a mere 7 days - seems to have caused certain religious sects to revert to Old Testament parameters of the Creation story without any critical faculty adjusting to the advance of time and scientific discovery.

The trouble is, as you say here, the outside world looks on and wonders what Christianity is really all about! Jesus came to break through into the heart of Creation, bringing a new understanding of past, present and future that is yet consonant with what is observable - both from the past and the present - with a lively projection into the future - "A New Heaven and a New Earth". Creation does not simply stand still - it is evolving, under God! Our human behaviour can influence the outcome to a certain degree but the future of our planet is ultimately up to its Creator. Theological education has to keep up1

Anonymous said...

Bad news, Peter, but a lovely post.

I like your "glasshouse" slightly better than our "greenhouse."


Now that we are all used to Skyping, Zooming, or Teaming around, I am wondering, governance geek that I am, whether synods everywhere should become less eventual and more continual. So long as they continue to meet in rooms on occasion, and respect the distinction between governing and doing, I can only see gain in more electronic participation.


For clarity about faith claims, could we distinguish between nature and science?

If a church does not believe that the Creator's will is reflected *at all* in his creatures, then it is estranged from a central theme of the Judaic faith of Jesus and the apostles. For it, observing causation in nature is not sacred (cf Solomon, Jesus, St Paul), whilst interpreting scripture may be exclusively so.

So it can and does happen that observers of nature and interpreters of the scriptures will each give no divine weight to what the other finds. Churchfolk who resolve to always do only what they individually know to be godly rather than worldly will then be in a quandary: they may trust the observers or even their own eyes toward one action, but feel obliged to follow interpreters in a conflicting one.

Downstream of their view, the science of public health is quintuply irrelevant to them. Public health is a concern of the world, not of the few. It privileges collaborative rather than individual judgment. If creatures do not show the Creator's will, then its tradition of efficient observation cannot have weight in sacred things. It is inferential rather than interpretive. It is not in the Bible.

The genealogy of such churches is easily recognised. Their rejection of all but individual certitude descends from the Protestant position on justification. Their turn away from nature is confessionally Reformed. So is their preference for interpretation over inference, and their exclusive reliance on the scriptures.**

Anonymous said...

"...all churches are tarred by their brush, whether or not we claim to have kosher scientific credentials."

Of course, most churches who are no less Protestant and Reformed have followed the protocols. They do so because, at past forks in the road, their churches made other choices to arrive today at a more positive view of their participation in society at large and an habitual, if sometimes uneasy (eg That Topic), reliance on science as a part of that participation.

The brush nevertheless tars them in the eyes of those who, religious or not, participate in society, feel enmeshed in natural causation, prefer inference to interpretation, trust expertise, and are unsure whether the Bible can ever fit into all that. The New Atheism a few years back was less an outbreak of actual a-theism than an insistence that society and culture is justly governed by the full participants whose mutual trust naturally makes them attentive to expertise and science. The underlying demand was for loyalty to the societies on which we depend today.

This mindset is suspicious of churches, much as it has in the past been wary of popery, Freemasonry, secret societies, cults, and revolutionary politics. Groups that partially secede from a society and its culture are usually weakening both and sometimes endangering their members as well. Better that churches be good citizens than not, of course. But if they cannot give a **religious** reason for their attention to science, then they can still seem to be freeriders on the superior rationality of citizens with a less conflicted loyalty to the common good, and so the public health.

"What is God's purpose for us and meaning for our lives according to God's purposes in Christ?"

Everything is quantifiably better on the blessed isles, of course, but here up yonder I have posed the question: where the state has failed, and people are dying, why are no churches ***leading*** the public response to the virus? Even a secular institution like fair Harvard knows that all government standards are compromises, and as an independent non-profit with a little influence it normally exceeds mere compliance with them by following more rational standards of its own. Denominational churches are not in this respect any different from universities, yet they have not used their own social capital for good. Why not?

Down under, the question may not be more than a thought experiment. But would churches driven by faith to get the science right on this matter be so easy to paint with that tarred brush? I doubt it.

Tentatively, we could offer this proposition--

Of its very nature as the first fruits of the Resurrection, the true Body exceeds worldly standards in everything that human being do, individually and communally, except where it can support excellence in the public realm.

** This may be a pedigree of fundamentalism, but its descendants are not all conservative. Take a further step past the scriptures and you will find some self-identified liberals making rather existentialist choices a bit further down the same path.


Anonymous said...

"a scepticism about evolution"

For several reasons, the following thought-experiment, although it is only that, can be rewarding for postmodern Christians, especially Anglicans. It has six parts.

A. Log your emotional dispositions toward the emergent situations of a day or two. The easiest way to do this is to code them into your private agenda alongside things done or scheduled. An ideal list reflects your life; it has intentions, challenges, disappointments, satisfactions.

B. Now in any format that makes sense, track each disposition back to your Christian faith. This should yield a snapshot of you being a Christian in one moment of the stream of your life.

C. Now read any online article you like about Stoicism, or if you have time read Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. This is an ancient philosophy that was well known to St Paul, but also to many of those who joined the Body in its first centuries.

D. In two columns, jot down the points at which your own faith Agrees and Disagrees with the Stoic ones.

E. Neither of us is a Stoic, but if you had lived the same day with the Stoic beliefs, what disposition would you have had for each emergent situation of A?

F. Compare B to E to estimate the lived difference for you between being a Stoic and being a Christian.

G. It's not part of the experiment, but if you liked doing this, read Boethius's On the Consolations of Philosophy and St Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, Part Two.

Anonymous said...

So what do we learn from F, and what does that have to do with "a scepticism about evolution," postmodern Christians, and Anglicans? Let's take those in reverse order.

Anglicans who read ADU should know that when divines of past centuries talked about the Reason of the Three-Legged Stool, this is what they had in mind. They were talking, not about logic or science as we would think of those, but about a convergence of originally therapeutic ideas in philosophy. These ideas are clearly different from the Apostles' Creed, but their implications for daily life are the same at so many points that those influenced by the philosophy often came to the Lord, and disciples who had already done that turned to this philosophy to strengthen their faith.

Postmodern Christians should know that they are among the first disciples in Western history to live in societies that do not recognise what you discovered in F to be true. From Jesus's day almost to our own, it was broadly assumed that Reason and Christianity were each introductions to the other. It is as much the rejection of that therapeutic philosophy as scepticism about the revealed Bible that has brought us to the brittle secularism of today.

Evolution is more history than science. The question that it poses to every human being is: can I see myself as an effect and cause in that history in the same way that I see myself as an episode in say New Zealand's history?

Kindly note that seeing oneself in one history does not preclude one from seeing oneself in others. Indigenous Christians are often aware of themselves in two or three histories at once. All of our ancestries are indigenous somewhere.

If disciples know Christ mainly as a character in the Bible, then they must find some way to fit evolution into the narrative of the Bible. But if they know Christ as the Logos, then they must find some way to square evolution with the Reason you found in F.

Both seem to me to be feasible. In scripture, the old Adam of Romans 5 is your skin and bones in the evolutionary story. In a therapeutic philosophy-- Stoicism or Romans 5-8-- your mind before it reflects on its frustration and pain is again living only the evolutionary story. Christians need not deny that evolution is one human story, but they know we live best by another story that is also true.

Alas many of Reformed lineage struggle unsuccessfully to fit evolution into biblical narrative as they have traditionally read it. They are stuck, not in science or even in the scriptures, but in their confessional or systematic conservatism. Others of Reformed lineage read the biblical narrative differently, and so worry less about evolution. A very few have rediscovered that their own Reformed scholasticism (eg Richard Hooker) has an open path through Reason.

Meanwhile, Roman Catholics bound by faith to Reason ;-) seldom struggle to see themselves as effects and causes in evolution. One of Father Ron's favourite theologians, the paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, went so far as to build a speculative theology on evolution of the human species. It is not drinking water from the Tiber that makes the difference; it is having F in your discipleship.


cam said...

A thought on zoom which I have been mulling over since Synod Friday. I agree to some extent with BW's reference to more of these being continual rather than eventful. I do recall the Dio, or the lead of suggesting more meetings via zoom for environmental reasons. However, one well meaning person suggested by not having to cater for some 200 plus people at our recent Synod, there had been a saving of thousands on catering/hire etc. True, true, but.

We do well to remember the community in which we serve. Our saving 15k on food and those who provide it has cost the catering company this amount. If enough meetings go virtual, the entire industry will collapse, umemployment, social ill flowing out of it will follow. Minimum wage earners forced on the breadline. Profligate waste is not Christian living. Pretending our future stability (financially and numerically) is not tied to the city in which we serve and proclaim is short sighted. Yes we save money. And I can also stay at home and choose much better preachers than the local vicar, and not have to pay/tithe for the trouble.

Once we head down that route, where we squirrel away our resources at real cost to our community, we can hardly expect to count and that same communuties support for, oh I don't know, things like a Cathedral for instance.

The Zoom Synod was from where I sat a success given the nessicity of limited numbers. I would however for the reason above rather see people face to face, and spread the love, and the not inconsiderable wealth round.

Father Ron said...

With your permission, Bishop Peter; may I proffer today's Message from Pope Francis - a timely reminder that God's gift of salvation is much broader than our understanding of it. We are all in this together, depending on one another:


“The experience of the pandemic has taught us that none of us is saved alone. We have experienced at first hand the vulnerability of the human condition that is ours and that makes us one family. We have come to see more clearly that each of our personal choices affects the lives of our neighbours, those next door and those in distant parts of the world. The turn of events has forced us to recognize that we belong to one another, as brothers and sisters dwelling in a common home. Having failed to show solidarity in wealth and in the sharing of resources, we have learned to experience solidarity in suffering.”

Pope Francis

Anonymous said...

Offhand, cam, I can think of three ways that synods might hereafter Zoom about (or Skype or Team etc).

One is to try to have as parliamentary a meeting as one can through cameras and mics. Apart from emergencies and certain high stakes decisions, that does not seem very interesting. It does employ caterers as much as ever.

Another is to meet in person for a synod's bones, but to use cameras and mics as its eyes and ears. Obviously, committees can zoom in a freestyle way throughout the year. But more interestingly, the cameras and mics of interested Anglicans might upload more of what happens into the care of a curator. Caterers could find themselves serving more dinners to fewer people than before.

So finally, an online ecology like those of Wikipedia, Reddit, TED, etc could replace synods as we know them. Anglicans interested in a more charismatic polity (eg Andy Lord) have been dreaming of this for quite awhile. Caterers would be engaged more occasionally for events ranging from small to huge.

But if you know a really good caterer, why not just schedule a messianic banquet?