Tuesday, July 26, 2022

On the cusp of the eve of the Lambeth Conference 2022

UPDATE: The updated Calls have been published (here).

The key change to the Human Dignity document is captured by Tim Chesterton in a Tweet here.

ORIGINAL: It is Monday (UK time). Tomorrow we head to Canterbury, Kent to register. Wednesday is a welcome day (with various meetings of the kind that prepare people - e.g. me as a Bible study group convenor). Thursday and Friday are retreat days. The conference begins on Saturday, though the formal opening service is on Sunday. I think we can say we are on the cusp of the eve of the Conference!

And what a cusp it is, as something seems to have backfired big time for the Conference organisers.

Last week we learned (and by the end of the week the Anglican public learned) that the draft “Calls” were available, and among these draft Calls, the one on Human Dignity, was text concerning the Lambeth 1998 1.10 resolution on human sexuality, couched on the one hand in a context which acknowledged the differences across Anglican provinces, and, on the other hand, offering the possibility of re-affirmation of the resolution.

Cue a concert of concerns over the weekend on Twitter, blogs and statements of various house of bishops.

Cue within the last 24 hours learning that the 1998 material was not part of the drafting group’s process and was added late and without notice of it being circulated to the drafting group.

Cue within the last hour or so (as I write, late Monday afternoon UK time) this Tweet issued by the official LC Twitter account:

In full consideration of comments made about the #LambethCalls the Lambeth Calls Subgroup that coordinates the process will meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the President of the Lambeth Conference) today to discuss concerns raised. A further statement will be issued later.

As far as I can hypothesise (it is an hypothesis, as I have no inside knowledge), what has happened is this:

Initially there is a steering clear of the 1998 resolution.

Then Global South bishops make it clear that they intend a discussion of the resolution and even a vote to reaffirm.

Then someone added the resolution bit, which then offered the advantage to the Conference that the Global South desires were on the agenda before the Conference begins, rather than the Conference chugs along and then there is a hiatus while Global South tries to add to the agenda.

The furore thus created seems to have caused a massive rethink on the part of the Calls organising sub-group and we now await the outcome of their deliberations.

UPDATE: That outcome is here. The Human Dignity call will be amended and republished. There will be a third option for voting: in my words, Yes, More thought, No.

I am loathe to jump on a bandwagon of blame or accusations of “bait-and-switch” (as some of the Anglican punditocracy have done over the past few days).

The fact of the matter is, the Communion is not united on the matter of the role of 1998 Resolution 1.10 in the life of the Communion. We may or may not ever be united, but we do need to find a way to discuss this point of difference and to try to understand why there are differences among us. 

Might 2022, despite this rocky cusp to the formal beginning of the Conference, bring some togetherness to our life together?

I have a few other thoughts!

1. Has the furore of the past few days been a talkfest of northern/western Anglican provinces focusing on “our” bit of Anglicanland to the exclusion of any real recognition that the majority of Anglicanland doesn’t think like we do? (In a “worst” case of one eyedness, in some expressions of intense concern it has seemed like some in the Church of England think the Lambeth Conference is another Church of England conference and how could ++Welby possibly … But, let’s get real: the Lambeth Conference is a gathering o bishops in which the majority of bishops are not bishops of northern/western Anglicanland!).

2. To the extent that the greatest intensity of concern comes from the liberal/progressive movement within global Anglicanism, just how is this movement doing “on the ground”? Numbers aren’t everything, but I was recently in a bastion of Anglican liberal lands and was shocked at the low numbers at worship. Then today, walking along a Cambridge, UK, street, I came across “Christ Church” church and paused to look at the noticeboard - a person came out of the church and we had a brief conversation. She told me that some 600-700 people worship there and it is a church plant of an inner city Cambridge CofE church. Do I need to tell you that this helpful woman also told me it is a certain kind of church? (Clue: not liberal/progressive).

3. That is, there are all sorts of issues at play here, including, most painfully, the anxiety and stress this late notice of the Human Dignity Call’s content is causing LGBTQI++ Anglicans. My interest going into the Conference is how we can find together a “both/and” outcome rather than an “either/or” one.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

 I happened to come across the title heading yesterday:

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)

I have no idea who Muriel Rukeyser is but I like her style! (Actually, she was an American poet.)

Her quoted words are on a New York sidewalk as part of a series of New York Public Library plaques expressing humanity’s commitment to the written word. Or maybe just a commitment to words.

In a week when the universe has yielded yet more amazing information and illustrations about its “atoms” (e.g. here, with bonus about NZ swamps!), it is worth a little reflection on how the universe is just an “is” if there are no words. Even a universe with a planet with animals but no humans is an “is” with no history of or stories about the “is.” No knowing that we know things about the universe. No knowing that there is a universe to know things about. No knowing that there might be choices to be made about how we shall live. The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

The Judeo-Christian response to a universe of stories has always been to tell one story as the story which makes all other stories possible and to tell that story as the only story which all humanity should hear and live out as the story of their individual and communal lives. (And, yes, the Christian story has parted ways with the Judaic story, not least because Christians inherited from the Judaic story the singularity of the most important story to tell).

So, among comments to the previous post here, has been a discussion about the present state of, and possible demise of Protestant Christianity, and whether Anglicanism is likely to survive the 21st century, possibly if not probably because of its catholic features.

From a “story” perspective, Protestant Christianity has flowed out of a Reformation in which the then version of the Christian story was critiqued and corrected (rightly) with the corollary that Protestantism committed itself to telling and safeguarding the corrected story through much story retelling (sermons more important than liturgy). Five hundred years later the corrected story remains correct but the emphasis on the way the story is told is under severe pressure.

From a “story” perspective, Roman Catholic Christianity has flowed along with some correction via the Counter-Reformation and a significant correction via Vatican II - when the story’s main form of telling, the Mass, was permitted to be told in the language of the congregation and not the language of a once “universal” community (the evolving Roman Empire). It took Rome 450 years to learn one of the main lessons of the Reformation and some 50 years later some want to unlearn that lesson!

But 500 years after the Reformation, it is time (IMHO) for Protestant Christianity to sit at the footstool of the Mass and learn what it likely should never have forgotten, that the telling of the unique Christian story does not have one and only one form of telling.

Much of Anglicanism has not forgotten that there is more to Christian gatherings than the sermon. Yet what we do and say in sermon and in liturgy needs reflection as we Western Anglicans lose statistical ground (and as other stories permeate Western culture, e.g. here). The significance of the Mass is not purely its liturgical form, as though mere copying of the Mass is the way forward (most Anglican eucharistic services are, more or less, “copies” of the Mass) but its role in the Catholic telling of the Christian story. A role, for instance, which gives people not particularly minded to engage with doctrinal propositions, or depth analysis of biblical texts, a means of refreshing their living out of the Christian story week by week, if not day by day.

The renewal of Christianity in the 21st century must be about engaging people who know the universe is made of stories and are disinclined to elevate one of those stories above others. What do we need to do and say telling our story that one story matters?

Postscript: isn’t it critical to the “success” or “failure” of the Lambeth Conference 2022, that we renew our Anglican telling of the Christian story? What story, instead, will be heard if we either descend into the politics of sexuality, or end with a set of “calls” which are indistinguishable from the story the Green movement tells? Our Bible studies on 1 Peter will include reflection on what it means to give explanation for the hope which lies within us!

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Will Resolution 1.10 (1998) be reaffirmed at the Lambeth Conference?

 My attention has been drawn to this video, a two minute message from the Archbishop of South Sudan and Chair of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA), Dr Justin Badi, in which, among other things, he calls for Lambeth 2022 to reaffirm Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

That raises at least two interesting questions in the run up to Lambeth 2022:

1. Will the GSFA be able to turn the current script of the Conference (to not have any resolutions) on its head, and to have the Conference shift into resolution mode?

2. If Yes to 1, for any such resolution mode to result in a reaffirmation of 1.10?

I don’t know the answer to 1, though I’d wager that if a majority of bishops want to change the script, the script will be under pressure to change.

If we are in resolution mode, would we reaffirm 1.10?

Again, I imagine a majority seeking to change the script, if responding to Dr Badi’s message, would be minded to reaffirm 1.10.

But I also imagine that a significant number of bishops would likely press for a reconstituted 1.10 to be affirmed rather than the 1998 version to be reaffirmed.

If we do have a discussion with an openness on the part of all to find as much common ground as possible across the Communion, then here are the elements of a revised resolution I would like to see.

A. An affirmation that when marriage is spoken of in the Bible it is marriage between a man and a woman.

B. An affirmation that the Bible also speaks about variations to the creation “ideal” of one man/one woman being one flesh permanently - as social contexts and other conditions change, there is polygamy, concubines are taken, Deuteronomy allows for woman taken captive through war to be forcibly married (and offers a way for them to be let go if unsatisfactory wives), and in the New Testament, between the gospel of Matthew and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, the early church finds ways to support divorce in at least some circumstances. An affirmation, that is, that the biblical people of God experienced biblical marriage through time as complex and adaptable.

C. An affirmation of pastoral care for and listening to GLBTQ++ Anglicans, including an affirmation that these Anglican sisters and brothers are found in every Anglican province.

D. An affirmation that Anglican provinces across the Communion face differing circumstances and represent diverse cultures in respect of responses to human sexuality, including differing law codes, and that each Anglican province must determine what biblical faithfulness means, in their respective contextual circumstances, in the light of A, B and C above.

E. A resolve for provinces to both listen to each other in respect of each’s determination and to hold each other to account while maintaining a commitment to not separate. (Archbishop Badi’s video message makes the point that the GSFA is committed to not leaving the Communion.)

Since writing the above I have been reading a few things which some Western Anglicans have been deciding ,,, so their progressive directions are not my progressive directions, and I can see that Lambeth is going to be, er, challenging!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Heading to Lambeth 2022 - God's church for God's world

This may (or may not) be my last post for a while. Later this week we hop on a plane to the northern hemisphere for a mix of some holiday prior to and post the much anticipated - "14 years since 2008" - Lambeth Conference 2022, running 26 July to 8 August. As appropriate I will post from within the conference and there may be a thought or two in the run up to it, but holidays are holidays!

Lots of friends and acquaintances are asking whether I am excited about the Conference and I confess to some rising excitement (next paragraph) and some moderation of the rise (because it appears to be a highly scripted conference - will it be lovely but not era-defining?).

My rising excitement is about being there (should be fun), meeting people (the few I know personally, the few I have "met" online, the many I have heard of but never met and the bishops and spouses I've never heard of but will be exciting to meet and get to know), conference input (Bible studies, speakers) and conference worship.

The Conference seems pretty scripted to not make "line in the sand" resolutions (the shadow of 1998 looms large), preferring that we develop "calls" (which I understand to be motivating challenges/encouragements to be (as the Conference theme says) God's church for God's world. I saw a post the other day which implied that Global South bishops might seek to get the Conference making a resolution or two. Speculation? We'll find out soon enough!

I like the theme: God's church for God's world. It emphasises the servant character of the church - serving God, serving God's world. It conveys the importance of evangelism: the church has no good news for the world if that news is not that God is for rather than against the world; and the church is God's church when it is itself the message that God is for the world.

I also think the theme sheds light on that 1998 shadow I mentioned above. After 24 years, the story of the post 1998 Anglican Communion is convoluted (remember the Windsor Report, the attempt to secure agreement on the Covenant, etc?) and complex (see Venn diagram re Anglican Communion, GAFCON, Global South) but (as a then supporter of 1998 1.10, the thrust of the Windsor Report, and the Covenant), my present concern is whether we become a Communion defined by one issue and that issue is not the doctrine of God or the church.

To the extent that I see some talk on the interweb about either how terrible the Communion is for failing to follow through on 1998 1.10 or how good it would be if the majority had their way via a "resolution" Conference and re-affirmed 1998 1.10, I am happy that we are not focused on one issue (unless that issue is the doctrine of God or the doctrine of the church).

In particular, in "God's world", in which (as seen in the last few days, as post Covid freedoms are enjoyed) Pride marches take place, and many new, famous, popular people are "coming out," is "God's church for God's world" best served, most enhanced by either a great regret that 1998 1.10 has not had the force many Anglicans wish it had had, or by a re-affirmation of it in 2022?

This post - should you be tempted to comment - is not yet another re-run of how the Anglican church should believe or behave in relation to homosexuality. It is simply asking the question whether, from the lens of "God's church for God's world", we should be revivifying 1998 1.10. Is there another way for God's church to approach this aspect of God's world?

There is an alternative! For some years now the Roman Catholic Church, which has not changed one iota of its official, catechetical teaching on homosexuality, has enjoyed a "Franciscan imagination" in what it has messaged about the reality of homosexuality - an imagination which I personally find hard to find in talk of 1998 1.10.

Might the Conference spur some new Anglican imagination, some new light so the shadow of Lambeth 1998 is diminished?