Monday, February 27, 2023

Towards a Theological Response to Cyclone Gabrielle (2)

Following on from last week:

What of "the problem of suffering" in response to the suffering of recent devastation in our land? 

This post is in two parts: part 1, my summary as succinct as I can make it of what might be said in response to the question; part 2, my long "working" which lies behind the summary.


We should listen to those who suffer, hold their hand (literally or metaphorically), be slow to speak, quick to offer practical, active love (while not being a burden on communities and households with limited power, food and accommodation), refrain from blame while embracing change that is needed in our communities and across the world so that to the extent to which humans can mitigate against further disaster, we do, all the while confident that God is present and active in our world in order to yet bring the fulfilment of God's kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth in which there are no more tears.

Small update: This article, reflecting on the suffering in the war in Ukraine, is worth reading to the last line.


(1) The Old Testament and the problem of suffering

While this is not the time for a coffee house discussion in a region far from recent destruction (e.g. my own) which lacks the sharp edge of the coffee drinkers actually faced with damaged livelihoods, lost lives and destroyed homes, there is nevertheless always an occasion for saying something about suffering in a world the Good God made and declared to be "good" since those on the pastoral front line are likely to be asked, "How can God permit this?" or "Where is God in this tragic mess?"

So, on the one hand, I want to attempt to avoid that approach which focuses on reading books to resolve such issues. "You must read the best theology of suffering in the 21st century by J. Theologian who, you know, resurrects a brilliant but long forgotten argument from the fourth century when St Simeon Apologia tackled a question raised by the Synod of Querula." As though a quick trip to the library or order from Amazon is the appropriate pastoral response. 

On the other hand, there is a book, the book, the Bible which speaks God's Word into all human situations. I don't think we can avoid discussing some things it has to say.

The Old Testament, relevantly, is a collection of Israelite writings driven by suffering for the most part. When David's and Solomon's glorious, expanding, victorious Israel broke first into two divided kingdoms, Israel/Samaria and Judah, and then each in turn was subject to conquest and exile, the former at the hand of Assyria, 721 BC, and the latter at the hand of Babylon, 587 BC, with the double blow of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, there was a theological crisis. 

How could Israel be cast from the Promised Land, and how could there be no successor to David on the throne in Jerusalem? Had God not promised precisely the opposite? How then to explain the absence of God's support to prevent calamity to Israel?

Much of Israel's scriptures, the collection we know as the Old Testament, has been shaped by the theological crisis of the Babylonian Exile - shaped via editing of existing stories, laws and wisdom, or by writing in direct response to this calamity (for example Isaiah 40-66), or by taking care to preserve prophetic literature which conveyed the warning proclamations of the prophets of Israel before its exile and the prophets of Judah before its exile - literature which recorded the attempt of God to speak to the hardened hearts of his people in order that destruction would be avoided.

One of the significant results of the Babylonian Exile was the hammering into final shape of the Pentateuch and the so called Deuteronomistic History (i.e. the line of writings from Deuteronomy through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings), so that one response - the majority response of the theologians of Judah - was to explain the suffering of Israel in terms of its disobedience to God's law. It had been warned and warned again to obey God's commandments and that there would be consequences for disobedience. 

It was a foolishness to understand God's covenant with David as a guarantee that no matter what Israel/Judah did, there would be security for God's people around the throne and temple in Jerusalem. This in many ways was the point of Jeremiah (e.g. Jeremiah 7:4 where God through Jeremiah says to the people (I paraphrase), 'Do not say "We have the temple of the Lord, everything will be all right".' Rather, the people need to amend their ways and start genuinely obeying the Law of Moses (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

This approach - the people are responsible for the suffering they have brought on themselves - is mostly not pastorally appropriate in today's world. Yet, if we refuse to follow the Deuteronomist in respect applying the conclusion drawn in the Deuteronomistic History to the people bearing the present suffering in the North Island, might we not recognise that there is another set of people, namely all the rest of us, who need to recognise our role in climate change? Repentance for how we have been treating God's world is a fair message to the whole world right now.

By way of illustrating something which is not quite my precise point here, I noticed this on Twitter (as I am writing this post):

But, the Deuteronomist is not the only voice in respect of suffering in the Old Testament.

An alternative history of Israel, told by the Chronicler in 1 and 2 Chronicles (with supporting voices in Nehemiah-Ezra) beginning with Adam in 1 Chronicles 1:1 and ending with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:23).

In this history less attention is paid to moral behaviour (e.g. David's offence against Bathsheba is not mentioned; Manasseh, unrepentant according to the Deuteronomist, is repentant according to the Chronicler, cf. 2 Kings 21:10-15; 23:26-27; 24:3-4, and 2 Chronicles 33:12-13) and much more to "attitude to the Temple". The final straw which brings God's wrath on Jerusalem is that the last king, Zedekiah, in collaboration with "leading priests and the people" were "unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jersualem" (2 Chronicles 36:14).

Here, of course, the people of Israel bring their painful exile on themselves, but, interestingly, the Chronicler doesn't labour any need for repentance. The people serve their time in exile (36:20-21) and then God takes the initiative, via Cyrus, to institute the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. For the Chronicler the suffering of exile is not in need of any great explanation which shapes a long connection between the Law and the history of Israel such as the Deuteronomist gives, rather it is a blip in the story of what matters in the relationship between heaven and earth, the temple in Jerusalem which is the house of the Lord.

Perhaps the relevance of the Chronicler to our question is this: suffering is terrible but it is never the end of the story of humanity. Potentially this is a comforting message to those of us merely observing the suffering - is it of comfort to those experiencing pain, dislocation, loss, grief and despair?

Thirdly, while looking at the Old Testament, we must attend to Job! I like to first read Job in comparison to other "wisdom literature" such as Proverbs. The latter is somewhat sunny and optimistic: be wise, live wisely and all will go well with you - you'll avoid calamity and prosper. Job is a counterpoint: what if, like Job, you are wise and live wisely and calamity comes upon you and destroys your prosperity? In short, between Job and Proverbs we encounter human experience - most of us do not experience calamity, but some of us do, so what is true wisdom - great theology - which enables us to meet the good times and the bad times in life?

Job's friends seem to be readers of the Deuteronomist. They persist in telling Job that he must have sinned to have earned such destructiveness on his life and on his family's lives. Job is resolute: not true! But what is Job's (and God's) own response to the "problem of suffering"? Through the last chapters the answer appears to be God being God can do what God wills and that will should not be questioned, nor should those who suffer under that will be blamed (because they may like Job be innocent); rather the awesome power of God calls for praise and wonder in response.

Are any of these proposals from the Old Testament entirely satisfactory?

(For reasons of time I need to by pass New Testament considerations altogether.)

(2) Andrew Shepherd, University of Otago theology lecturer writes on "Cyclone Gabrielle will have been apocalytpic if it inspires change". This is also a biblical response to suffering: whatever else we have to say, Andrew implies, suffering through devastation is a call to collective action to not have a repeat of the suffering. Some of the thinking within the "Wairua" section of our national church response to the Cyclone is along these lines, seeking to integrate our love for one another with our centres of collective work such as marae and church.

(3) A comment from B Walton to the post below:

"...inevitable questions about how and why a good, kind, loving God presides over a world..."

YHWH is not a Victorian liberal gentleman. And offhand, I cannot remember meeting any believer who staked the major decisions of his or her life on Dr Pangloss's idea that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Becoming a disciple is, after all, leaving such fables behind to learn Christianity.

So these "inevitable questions" sound empty, something that moderns know one can ask to fill the awkward silence after life is disrupted but cannot track back to credal faith in the Crucified God. Of course, one might still have to reply to them, even if one refuses to answer them.

Last week, I wandered through an active shooter event. Nine casualties, including the gunman who shot himself around the corner from here. So I have anyway been surrounded by mass grief counseling and thinking about what I was taught about evil when I was the age of the students who died.

In the 1970s, the predominant voice here up yonder was that of Simone Weil: "The greatness of Christianity is that it offers, not a supernatural explanation for suffering, but a supernatural use for it." Bad for modern chaplaincy, but good for postmodern spirituality.

Weil's books were read alongside all the others from her wartime French milieu. But Robert Coles, who was then conducting his research on the moral and spiritual lives of children, turned the mainline here away from glib *explanatory religion* and toward the notion that coping with disruption and evil is spiritual work that requires biblical resources.

Are the storefront chapels across the street from the crime scene helping that spiritual work? This generation's Christians seem to be anxious to show that, notwithstanding a reputation for moralism, they can be competent grief counselors. They do not preach; they do listen; they sometimes pray.

Karen Kilby's book God, Evil, and the Limits of Theology is current. So is Suffering and the Christian Life, a volume she edited with Rachel Davies.

Theology down under is in rude good health. But between the lines of ADU, I sometimes detect an adamant public down under that will not let + Peter and his readers represent anyone but that Victorian liberal gentleman who so famously died a dozen theological deaths in the last century. They may not actually believe in the old chaplaincy, but they still expect churches to supply it and somebody somewhere to be entitled to it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Towards a theological response to the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle (1)

 I was going to follow the previous two posts with a reflection on the Bible as the Word of God (what kind of "word" or "words" is it? Etc). But through last week a terrifying cyclone barrelled through the upper North Island causing devastation to land and buildings, resulting in loss of life. So far, at the time of writing, 11 deaths have been reported, but many people are so far "uncontactable". It is feared that, even when communications are restored and many currently who are beyond contact will be contacted, nevertheless there will be many more deaths reported. 

An initiative within our church so that we have an "all of church" response is described as follows:

"Drawing on the strengths of our Church we have established a new group named Hāpaitia: The Anglican Cyclone Gabrielle Response Group. The title Hāpaitia means to lift up, to support, to share a burden. 

Hāpaitia will commit to whakamana* communities so that they in turn can uplift ‘Te Oranga Ake’ – that is, help rebuild flourishing whānau, communities and environments.

Hāpaitia will focus on four key areas:

– providing support for Wairua (spiritual, pastoral and theological support),

– Tinana (care for physical and structural wellbeing),
– Pūtea (financial aid) and

– Kōrero (communications and storytelling).

This pledge stands not only for the following days and weeks, but throughout the journey to recovery. 

In a first step toward practical support, the Anglican Church’s St John’s College Trustees confirmed today they will release $250,000 in emergency funds for immediate deployment on Cyclone Gabrielle response.

Anglican aid and development staff will help coordinate the Church’s financial and operational response to Cyclone Gabrielle as part of the wider Hāpaitia response.

The Anglican Church has launched a Cyclone Gabrielle Emergency Appeal, hosted by Anglican Missions to support communities most affected by this week’s disaster.

Visit Anglican Missions to donate to the Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal. 

 *Whakamana: to acknowledge, uplift, maintain and restore the mana and tapu of others."

I have been invited to be part of this reponse because of the experience of the Diocese of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. This post and any subsequent ones on the matter is a contribution to the Wairua part of the response. Your comments will be helpful feedback in the development of my contribution. Thank you in advance!

(Finally, as we face our own natural disaster, we continue to remember the people of Turkey and Syria following the destructuve earthquakes there. And we continue to pray for peace in Ukraine.)

I understand the offering of theological reflection in such a time of disaster as this as offering at least two things. 

First (meaning foremost), offering theological support to those who bear the burden of care at the frontline of response to the disaster. 

Secondly, offering theological insights which may assist those at the frontline, or further back, to have confidence to respond to inevitable questions about how and why a good, kind, loving God presides over a world capable of unleashing such death and desolation on human society. This response may be needed immediately, because such questions may already be on the lips of the devastated. Almost certainly this reponse will be needed in due course because such questions arise for pretty much everyone who thinks about the world in relation to the possibility there is a God and this God is not immune to the prayers and praises of the people he has made. The story of Job is a salutary reminder of the folly of rushing in to offer explanations for suffering. It is also a story, when we reach its end, nevertheless, of the importance of embracing the problem of suffering, not avoiding it and pressing through to a response to the problem even if the response does not look like a comforting solution.

In this post I will attempt to focus on the first matter and leave the second matter to another post.

Jesus does not ask his disciples to be heroes. He asks his disciples to be faithful in small things (see Parable of Talents, Matthew 25:14-30), which may be as small a matter as giving a cup of water (Matthew 10:42) or giving away some clothing or food or drink or visiting someone in prison (see Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46). As the ennormity of the challenge the cyclone's devastation is revealed the temptation to be overwhelmed (It is so big we cannot do anything) or to be heroic (If I work like a superwoman or superman then I can solve the problem) can be resisted in favour of resolving to be available to serve, to encourage others to serve, and so together to make a response which makes a meaningful difference to the situation.

A focus on service, on achieving small tasks, in other words is fine. In the aftermath of a disaster, after initial adrenalin boosted responses, there is a need for stamina, for steadily working through each day and for days, weeks, months and even years afterwards. Through a long haul, rest and recreation remains important. The people who need us this week will also need us to help next month and even next year. This wisdom was underlined for all of us in Christchurch/Canterbury after the 2010/2011 quakes.

In turn, such considerations raise questions about what will keep our own spirits up, beyond ensuring a steady approach with appropriate rest. As part of a persistent, day to day, longhaul response, prayer and Bible reading, praying the Daily Office, gathering for acts of worship and communion will be vital for our spirits. Communing with God and with others is important when times are tough as well as when everything is trucking along fine. Apart from me, Jesus says, you can do nothing (John 15:5)

Of course, for many of us faraway, who should resist the temption simply to turn up to help unless we are invited to do so, there are two important things we can do to support those on the frontline: to pray and to give (preferably money since locals will know their needs better than we do). Day by day and Sunday by Sunday we will be a praying church, uplifting before God the needs of our sisters and brothers, especially in the territories we Anglicans know as Te Hui Amorangi o Tairawhiti (++Don Tamihere) and the Diocese of Waiapu (+Andrew Hedge).

"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26)

In this way, finally, we underline the importance of working collaboratively. Both locally as people, say, visit homes in pairs, or tackle a cleaning up task with a team so that mountain becomes a molehill, and from one territory to another as we pray and give, we can be a fellowship of Christians. One of the great themes in Paul's writings to the early churches is local fellowship - how members of a congregation love one another - which is also fellowship across the Mediterranean world - how love for one another means taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

"Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:13)

Monday, February 13, 2023

Christian Marriage (2 of 2) [updated] [again]

Arguably the bigger of two challenges to expanding the doctrinal understanding of marriage is whether marriage in Christian understanding requires a man and a woman, or whether marriage can be about any couple of human beings who wish to make the required vows. 

The lesser challenge is whether marriage can be redefined so that a sin is no longer a sin (e.g. that two men or two women may not have sexual relations ever).

Something I keep missing in responses to the recent CofE General Synod which can be summarised as "we may not bless sin" (effectively, = we may not change a sin to not a sin) is that for many Christians through many centuries of Christian marriage, marriage after divorce while a previous spouse is alive has been sin (adultery, in Jesus' own teaching), so that, when priests and ministers bless a married couple where this is so for at least one of the spouses, there is a blessing of sin - a previously defined sin being redefined. That is, the current debate appears to blot out the memory of previous debates and subsequent agreed changes on divorce and remarriage. Hence my suggestion above that the greater challenge for those advocating "equal marriage" is the matter of Christian marriage requiring a man and a woman (noting last week's post, at least one of whom is baptised or intending baptism).

Before a thought or two on that, what has been of interest to me in the past week in the life of the CofE, and more generally?

(1) Church of England General Synod: two ++Welby addresses you may wish to look at: his Presidential Address here, with excerpt below, and his address re the Living in Faith and Love debate is here.

"Unity that we ourselves conjure up has, as its first casualties, those who are different. Look at the church’s history of antisemitism, racism, slavery and collusion with evil structures of power. Look at how we have, and do, treat those of different sexualities. But to be such people – directed by fear of the outsider, those who are different – is to be those who simply live to establish our purposes and not God’s. We become the very image of the world around us, not the ikon of God.

Then at Pentecost, rightly linked to Babel, God the Holy Spirit does something spectacular, something that creates possibilities beyond human imagination or ambition.

Pentecost is not a gift of translation, but the creation of a new people grafted into the old. This is a gathering, not a scattering, but on an entirely new basis of gathering. Those gathered are gathered by love of Christ and by being saved.

The day after Pentecost must have been very difficult. People from all over the Roman world, all new Christians and no common language, except the language of loving, of being found in Christ. And that defined their identity."

(2) Here is the final Church Times report of the last stage of the CofE GS debate, and below is the final wording of the resolution agreed to:

"‘That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:

(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;

(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;

(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;

(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;

(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining,

commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;

(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;

(g) endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.’"

(3) Reactions, there have been a few (i.e. many), so literally just a few here:

Of course Sydney has something to say, and it is not appreciative! Here.

Ian Paul has a wrap up of the debate and the final decision here (albeit with a commenter calling it a one-sided look etc).

Miranda Threfall-Holmes argues that there never has been (for more than a period or so) an unchanging doctrine of marriage. [see pic below]

Then this random conjunction of two Tweeters - identities crossed out because the point is not about who made the Tweets:

(4) Needless to say, if you Google, you'll find GAFCON etc expostulating (there really is no other word for it).

A couple of thoughts from me, but not directly on the question of gender differentiation in Christian marriage:

(5) Taking a cue from BW's references to paradosis/tradition here in recent posts, as we engage in these matters, to what extent may we be "biblical" and attend to the tradition of the church on adaptation to circumstances. In this instance, a growing adaptation within Scripture itself. For instance, is there an unfolding tradition as we make our way from Matthew's Gospel (noting Jesus' strong teaching on divorce and remarriage in yesterday's Gospel, 5:21-37) through to 1 Corinthians 7, because we then find in Matthew 19:1-9 and in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, two "exceptions" the apparently fundamentals of Jesus' own teaching. On what grounds do we say that this unfolding tradition then gets frozen in time and no more exceptions may be entertained ever again by the church? As an historical fact, of course, we have so entertained (and without unity across Western and Eastern Christianity as to what we have permitted).

(6) If celibacy is a great option for homosexual Christians (indeed, the only option, as commended in speeches at the CofE GS), well-known as beeing pressed for by heterosexual Christian teachers (and Tweeter!) within conservative evangelicalism, the Catholic and Orthodox churches, why are not more heterosexual married Christians choosing it as a way of life because they are committed to standing in solidarity with the gay Christians?

(7) I have been somewhat bemused by remonstration that the CofE decision makes a personal decision from a personal conviction redundant and/or rejected (e.g. the "B" Tweet above). How so? Are not one's convictions before God, one's convictions before God and beyond trammelling by a church decision?

(8) I am also bemused by seeing an argument from a member of the female clergy of the CofE arguing that the CofE resolution is wrong, at least in part because the majority of Christians throughout the world disagree. Is that not an argument against the ordination of women?!

Gender differentiation required for Christian marriage?

(9) The strength of the case for what the CofE (and ACANZP in 2018) have resolved is that there are goods to marriage such as companionship and mutual support (Genesis 2:18) which all should be able to enjoy because nearly every one of us humans enjoys sociality and support, to say nothing of intimacy and sexual fulfilment. Most of us find celibacy challenging, living alone difficult, and many of us, sometimes even when we are not looking for it, fall in love and find a life partner with whom we want to enter life partnership. Whether or not we also press for equal marriage, should we withhold prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for the success of a partnership (such as civil marriage, civil union, covenanted friendship) which offers those goods?

(10) The same Genesis story of creation of man and of woman extends to a story of oneness in marriage (Genesis 2:24-25) between the man and the woman, a story repeated countless times in the history of humanity, and told many times within the whole biblical narrative. Marriage in the Bible is always marriage between a man and (at least) a (one) woman. When Jesus speaks about marriage, he speaks about the travails of marriage between a man and a woman. When Paul and Peter speak about marriage in their epistles, they speak about marriage between a man and a woman. Christian understanding of marriage, from then until very recently, has uniformly been about marriage as the joining together of that which in creation was differentiated, a man and a woman, not least, of course, because one intended outcome of marriage-in-creation is that reporduction of our species requires the conjugation of a man and a woman.

(11) Put a little differently, it is actually a big theological step to change the Christian understanding of marriage to include marriages of two men or two women. (And, to head off one possible rejoinder, sometimes made here by Fr Ron Smith, I do not see that talk in the NT of, e.g., marriage between Christ and the church, diminishes the size of this step because the step we are talking about is the step on which humanity in relation to itself stands, rather than the step on which humanity in relation to God stands.)

(12) Whether or not the CofE or our church ever becomes a church which does specifically change its doctrine of marriage (e.g. by changing the wording of its marriage services so that references to man/men/male and to woman/women/female are removed), it is not actually some (allegedly) unfortunate conservative tendency on the part of some (allegedly) theologically short-sighted wing of the church to insist that any such change must be matched by some warmly endorsed ways and means for the view that Christian marriage does require gender differentiation to be supported and cherished.

(13) Put a little differently, while there are arguments for equal marriage in the church - arguments from justice, from wishing to avoid deeming some marriages (according to civil society) "second class" marriages (according to the church), etc - the one argument that cannot be directly made from Scripture and from tradition is that Scripture and/or tradition is, one the whole, indifferent to sex differentiation in marriage.

My argument here is that Christian marriage is unlikely to yield easily (re theological discourse) or quickly (re time for people's minds to change) to a redefinition which squares with the aspirations of equal marriage. It may do. Things do change. One generation gives way to another. It may even be in my lifetime. But there has been and still is, in Christian understanding of marriage resting on Scripture and tradition, a heavy investment in marriage being the conjugation of male and female.


In the Miranda Threlfal-Holmes speech above there is a reference to the CofE 1938 Doctrine Commission report on marriage. Church Mouse on Twitter has posted this pic of a section of the report which - in 2023 - appears to speak of marriage as gender undifferentiated :):


Interesting debate between Ian Paul responding to David Instone-Brewer. (The latter scholar, re his work on divorce and remarriage, is often quoted in support of Jesus/Paul on divorce and remarriage has basically endorsing the changes mainline churches have made in the past hundred years or so). Here Ian takes David to task.

My reflection:
- David's post is genuinely interesting. Could he be right? He himself is uncertain! Is he presuming too much about ancient insight into human sexuality tallying with ours today?
- Ian (as with many commenters these days) focuses on the wrong question which, IMHO, is not, "Does the Bible uniformly teach X and therefore we must maintain X?" but, "Noting that the Apostle Paul himself said, It is better to marry than to burn, how do we appropriately regularise sexual intimacy between people willing to commit to each other in a bonded/covenanted relationship for life?" We have found a way to so regularise when a divorced person seeks a new marriage ...

Monday, February 6, 2023

Christian Marriage (1 of 2)

As usual, this post (and next Monday's) is not primarily intended to rehearse familar arguments on That Topic - arguments familiar from many posts here at ADU through the past fifteen years. It is intended to explore the situation/debate the Church of England finds itself in, and the situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in as responses are made to recent news in England, especially as the CofE General Synod meets soon and the ACC meets soon after in Ghana.

So the English bishops have published their decision about the blessing of same sex couples (but not their relationship per se) and people are ripping into it, for example, here from a conservative point of view, with no less than 8 reasons why the proposals are undeserving of acclamation. 

Then, one famous London parish, having already announced that it is in broken fellowship with the CofE, has updated their concerns in a letter to the Bishop of London. Of course views opposing the several conservative takedowns of the decision can also be found, arguably led by Jayne Ozanne

And, with an intriguing phrase when discussing sexuality, there is a charge that the English bishops have an "Orwellian position" on these matters. Excoriation of English episcopoi unites the condemning critics but won't unite the church!

A considered conservative view from within the CofE house of bishops has been published by Bishop Ric Thorpe - here. Needless to say criticism of this is observable on social media. (For a considered critique, you may wish to follow a thread on Twitter which begins here.)

Also put out by another bishop, Jill Duff, is this.

Then there are exchanges I see which go like this:

A: It is not very loving to argue against the bishops' decision and deny blessings to LGBTQi couples. How dare you?!

B: It is not very loving to disregard the teaching of Jesus. Are you a real follower of Jesus?!

Quo vadis?

Several thoughts.

1. There is a lot of material (see above, e.g., re the +Ric Thorpe-led view) which restates the doctrine of marriage for men and women, for people able to enter into heterosexual marriage. That is helpful - to be reminded what is taught in Scripture about marriage. 

1b. It may or may not be necessary to do so to keep marriage ringfenced for heterosexuals only, but the implication here is that there is no need for discussion about how the church responds to and supports 

(i) any same sex couple who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the context of church (in this case, in the state church of England); 

(ii) same sex couples in which one or both partners are members of the church and who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the church; 

(iii) the question, if "marriage" is to be denied to a couple, there is any "status" possible in the eyes of the church for two people not in heterosexual marriage who yet wish to make a lifelong commitment of love similar to the commitment made in marriage. 

2a. Is it plausible, is it reasonable for a significant part of the Anglican church (in England, elsewhere) to effectively say, No. No. And No? On what basis in the teaching of Jesus can we say that Jesus teaching against divorce between a man and a woman married to each other was also making a pronouncement about the desire of two people of the same sex to live out a public partnership of self-giving love to one another?

2b. In another words, it appears challenging to find discussion in the current situation of the CofE of BOTH "Yes, this is all that Jesus and Paul say about marriage between a man and a woman, and it is good" AND "Yes, we have a reasonable hermeneutical task before us in order to respond with care and consideration and formal respect to couples who are not composed of a man and a woman."

3. Yet, taking a different line, is there too easy an assumption that because the majority of Brits want it, because parliament is cross the state church of England is not changing its doctrine of marriage to explicitly permit the marrying of same-sex couples in CofE churches, and because justice/love/fairness demand the arc of the universe and the CofE align, the bishops can easily, should readily agree to propose such change to the General Synod?

4. Taking up Dr Jonathan Tallon's thread on Twitter, noted above, (or his book which he links to, Affirmative: Why you can yes to the Bible and yes to people who are LGBTQI+), a lot depends on whether "marriage" in Christian understanding only applies to marriage between a man and a woman. Can we vary Christian understanding so that the definition of marriage focuses on matters of self-giving love, lifelong commitment and vows to such effect made before God?

5. And I note, you may have noted, that the Gospel reading for yesterday was Matthew 5:13-20, including:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Who is great in the kingdom of heaven? (From above): A or B?

5. I see some angst over (and/or difficulty in explaining) the difference between "civil marriage" and "[Christian/church] marriage": is not marriage, marriage? Has not the church accepted that I am married if I am civilly married? The answer is, of course, Yes and No for the CofE. Remember: Charles and Camilla could not (at that point in time re divorce/remarriage/church] have their wedding in a church but they could in a registry office with a blessing in a church afterwards.

6. Cue - I think - merit in churches conducting no weddings (let the state register what the state makes laws about), but only blessings of couples who have married (and doing so at the bishop or priest's discretion re their own convictions). Might CofE, ACANZP etc yet end up like European churches?

7. Christian marriage as a concept can be surprisingly robust against change. Let me tell you a story from the annals of ACANZP. Some years back (the General Synod in 2004?) a proposal came to loosen the requirement that one of the parties to a marriage conducted by a priest or bishop must be baptised. The arguments, in my recollection, went something like this:

- priests and bishops are asked to conduct weddings of couples who are not in fact Christian (or only vaguely Christian) and, in a post-modern, secularised world, it is missionally appropriate to be able to say Yes and not No to such requests;

- but the requirement that one of the parties be baptised is a sticking point in a world in which young adults now turn out to have not been routinely baptised as previously in the days of yore = Christendom;

- ah, but doesn't that make the request for marriage an evangelistic/disciple-making opportunity so that it is for the priest or bishop to work with the requesting couple on how they might become Christian in order to enter as Christians into Christian marriage?

- and, while we all understand that many people say "I am Christian because I live by Christian values or similar", isn't baptism the basic, objective measure of who is actually a Christian?

- that is, we cannot easily move away from the requirement for baptism without undermining our understanding of the significance of baptism;

- well, said someone or someones, life is not always chronologically tidy, what if we agreed to an amendment such that we marry a couple where there is an intention on at least one of the couple to be baptised, even if the baptism takes place after the wedding?

Thus: Title G Canon III Section 1:6:

"The minister shall ascertain that at least one of the parties to the marriage has been baptised or is intending to be baptised provided that the minister may waive this requirement in unusual pastoral circumstances in consultation with the appropriate episcopal authority."

(Resolved in 2006 when I wasn't a member of our GS, so my memory of the arguments must stem from a discussion at the Synod before.)

Naturally we can have a discussion about whether this loosening of the requirement for baptism was or remains justified, but my point here is that, when the apparently obvious move in a changing world was to simply abolish any such requirement, close evaluation of the matter yielded a resilience to the doctrine of Christian marriage in our church.

Noting that what the English bishops have decided is understood to require no further synodical resolution, the question is in the air: will the CofE make yet make formal, canonical change to its understanding of the doctrine of marriage (as some are proposing)? We will watch with interest.

A week is a long time in blogging but I think part two of this post will look at the question of sexual differentiation in marriage and whether it is a sine qua non for "Christian marriage." But the most importance consideration, perhaps, will be whether we can be a church which can include those who understand faithfulness to Scripture in one way and those who understand it in another way. Let's see ...