Monday, June 5, 2023

King’s (Defender of the Faith’s) Birthday Weekend: Defender of Confusion?

This is King’s Birthday weekend in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our first for a long time - the Queen having reigned for 70 years - or, we might say, last year’s Queen’s Birthday weekend was the last for a long time, noting the succession plan of Charles, William and George, or even ever. Dare one observe that before the end of this century NZ might have become a republic?

As Defender of the [Church of England variation of the Christian] Faith, Charles presides over what, this weekend in Anglican history?

Unfortunately Uganda rears its head again, the proposed draconian law against homosexuals/homosexuality now having been passed (despite a few pundits saying it might not become law, it has), with Archbishop Stephen, Uganda’s Primate “grateful” for its passing (though he offers the gracious modifier of preferring imprisonment to execution as the severest outcome of the legislation).

Read Church Times report here, and The Other Cheek here.

Cue a certain restlessness in CofE Twitter that neither the ABC nor the ABY have spoken out against their fellow primate. My own thought is a little patience might be in order. Archbishops are busy people and should not make hasty pronouncements!

My own response, made in this past week’s eLife message to our Diocese was this:

 Back in April 2023, the conference of Anglicans around the globe known as GAFCON, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, made a public, damning criticism of the Church of England for its recent decision to permit prayers for same sex partnerships or marriages (a similar but not exactly the same decision as our church made in 2018). This condemnation was made with not one word said criticising an anti-LBGTQi bill before the parliament of Uganda which had received strong endorsement at Easter from Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu, the Archbishop of Uganda (and one of the leaders of GAFCON). Read Archbishop Stephen’s message here. A provision in the bill included the possible of execution as a punishment for certain offences by homosexuals. At the time of GAFCON there was a thought that the bill would never be signed into law by the President of Uganda. This week, however, we learn that the bill has become law—read more from Reuters here. We also learn that Archbishop Stephen enthusiastically supports its passing, although resiles from the death penalty being imposed—Read more here. The chances of GAFCON leaders condemning this decision by parliament, let alone its support by the Ugandan Anglican church appear to be zero. It is tragic that a significant global network of Anglicans can condemn one province of the Communion for openness to praying for same sex partnerships while tacitly, if not explicitly endorsing this inhuman legislation endorsed by another province.”.

It is (at best) a bit confusing, is it not? Gafcon’s moral high ground has always been its resolute opposition to any change to Anglican teaching on marriage/human sexuality combined with deep compassion, welcome and inclusion for all homosexuals who love Jesus and wish to follow his teaching (cf. Lambeth 1998 1.10). The inability to hold Uganda to account for the Anglican church’s fervent embrace of the now passed draconian law suggests Gafcon is not as committed to deep compassion etc as it says it is. Is Gafcon confused about its own moral theology and its application to its own member provinces?

(Nevertheless I acknowledge, courtesy of some posts on Virtue Online, that there is a certain confidence in the counter to the criticism, a sense that Uganda is right and, er, I, ++Welby, the Communion as currently constituted, etc are wrong, weak, weak, wrong: here, here, here, here.)

But, we should hastily add, confusion is a feature not only of Anglican (other, non-Gafcon examples can be adduced), but also of Christian life generally.

Recently, for instance, my eye was caught by a controversy over a book written by an Australian about confusion within evangelicalism, focused largely on North American evangelicalism, or, more specifically, what could be called Trumpian evangelicalism. But the intriguing feature of the observable controversy was over an Australian (Presbyterian) review of this book, which in turn has led to a review of the review.

Again, The Other Cheek has the story here and here.

In all these kinds of current stories - examples mirroring these Protestant contretemps can be found in the Catholic and Orthodox worlds - there are two aspects to what I am calling “confusion.”

One, the most worrying, is that an outsider looking in is appropriately confused about what Christianity is about. 

Are we about the truth? (If so, how comes there is so much disagreement?) 

Are we about love for one another? (If so, how come there is so much vitriol from one Christian (or tribal grouping of Christians) to another? 

Are we about faith in God? (If so, and we each have faith in God, how come this common factor seems to have so little power to glue us together?)

Two, our internal confusion about … well, some days it seems “everything”! Let me (the blogger pleads) focus on two confusions (because I think they are important and if we were less confused on them we might be better witnesses to those who are not yet of the Christian faith).


Somehow, in these “culture wars” within the church itself, Scripture is often used as a single book, of one genre (essentially, instructions/rules), which is very clear on any matter of importance in 21st century life.

But this is not Scripture which is a collection of writings, of differing genres, which both includes some instructions/rules and a strong sense, from Jesus himself, that the church is going to need to make decisions about various matters as life goes along.

Scripture, that is, is clear on some matters (God so loved the world, love your neighbour, do not kill (as a general instruction)) and not on others (What is the nature of the love God has for “the world”, and what is “the world” that God loves, does neighbour extend to enemies (so Matthew/Luke) or get refocused on “one another” (John’s Gospel), or both (Paul’s letters)? What does “do not kill” mean for governments (may they use capital punishment as a means of ordering society?) and for Christians (may we serve as a soldier?). It is not so much that Scripture is some kind of “confusion” as that God through Scripture calls God’s people to talk to one another about how we shall live - together as church, in local communities, in national societies, as employers-and-employees, in households - and to do that talking together, well, together and not schismatically apart.

Further, Scripture treated as some kind of uniform volume from which clear guidance may be distilled with the barest of preambles, “The Bible says …,” fails to read Scripture fully and carefully as a collection of writings often in tension with each other.

In my last post I highlighted differences and connections between the Synoptic gospels and John’s Gospel. Since then I have read this important observation (by way of question) by C. F. Evans:

“Does the New Testament contain not one but two religions, the one, to be found in the synoptic gospels, Acts and some epistles, a Semitic, hebraic, historical, prophetic, messianic religion of obedience to commandments … the other, to be found in the Pauline epistles and the Johannine writings, a Hellenistic, oriental, unhistorical, mystical and sacramental cult of union with a dying and rising Lord (a particular variation of the popular pattern of religion in the Graeco-Roman world), and if so, how do these two religions belong together? To some extent these questions have haunted theology ever since.” (Explorations in Theology 2, London: SCM, 1977, p.95)

The genius of developed Christianity - the “religion” that came to approve the canon of Scripture, to settle the doctrine of the Trinity [some writing of this post is on Trinity Sunday!] - is that it bound these differences together, in one whole, and refused to separate them. The least point of this genius decision is that it invites, even instructs the people of Scripture to live with tension, to engage in conversation about what we differ on (while bound to the one God, the one Lord, the one Spirit!).

But of this approach to Scripture and its consequences for God’s people you will find precisely nothing, zero, zilch in the prognostications of … Gafcon, Archbishop Stephen, Mark Powell reviewing Constantine Campbell’s book, various Catholic pundits bewailing the demise of their church because of … their Pope, etc!

Postscript: at an extreme, misreading of the Bible leads to a very dark place - see here.


In all the various perambulations of modern / post-modern Christianity, we seem - in my judgment - to (fairly) consistently misrepresent the God whom we Christians say we believe in. 

Whether we are proposing “Christian nationalism” or promoting the Latin Mass as highest and best worship of God or presenting a slam dunk five or nine step argument against committed love between two people of the same sex or (for that matter) ceasing to be anxious about the state of the church because, you know, God is still at work in the world, whatever happens, we (I would argue) misrepresent God.

We misrepresent God because in our fervour for … Christian nationalism, the Latin Mass, excluding same sex partnerships from prayer, ceasing to care for the church … we imply (however unintentionally) that God is a Latin speaking Christian nationalist with a downer on homosexuals and a careless attitude towards the Body of his own beloved Son.

That is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ and attested to in Holy Scripture. Alternatively put, there is a lot we do and say (and I am no less a sinner on this score than anyone else) which is not Jesus-like. Our Aramaic speaking Lord of the church who failed to lead a nationalist uprising … you get the drift!

In our fetish for the fashion of the moment we are confused about who God is and thus about what our God calls us to be, to do and to say.

I suspect our King is not a reader of this blog!

But if perchance I am wrong, I ask our King to “defend our faith” in a mode a lot less aggressively than my fellow keyboard warriors of 2023 do.

If God calls us to anything it is to meekness and humility.


MsLiz said...

Thank you a thousand times over +Peter for raising these questions, and very clearly too. In the type of evangelicalism I was raised in, there was no appetite to "live with tension", none at all. Rather, "The Bible says.." ruled supreme. 'Grey' areas were anathema. Eventually after a long time (far too long I'm afraid) I realised the inevitable harm that results. I'm still very much working through these things so I really appreciate your forthright writing in this post.

Anonymous said...

Prelates of Parador crossed an ocean to hold their colleagues in Cockaigne to account for blessing-- in God's own name!-- the ultimate violation of the God-given rights of foxes. However, this intervention from halfway around the world was not persuasive.

Bishops in the two churches hear the salient words of Jesus differently.

Obviously, they also imagine vividly but differently-- horses and hounds chasing foxes, frightened foxes cornered by baying hounds, rifle shots cold or merciful from horsemen, the hunters' banquet and ball, the pelts of the prey bestowed on the belles of the ball. Parador mourns the murdered foxes and despises the empty celebration of death; Cockaigne rejoices that chickens are safe and that a folkway of rural life endures.

Above all, Parador has an authoritarian regime that legitimates itself by enforcing the popular morality of its single ethnicity. Cockaigne is a proudly limited republic that secures the many rights of a citizenry as diverse as Brazil. So conceptions of how prelates should engage the state and for what reasonable ends cannot be the same in the two lands.

The young Archbishop of Tierra del Fuego in Parador gave a stirring and erudite address summoning his hosts, the episcopate of Cockaigne, to be the conscience of their guilty nation and rid it of the stain of fox hunting, once and for all. If Anglicans had popes, he would have been from that moment papabile.

But a sage bishop from Cockaigne replied, "The judges of the constitutional court will never permit a ban on foxhunting in this land. Are you suggesting that we lead an insurrection to impose a new constitution by force? If so, where do you find violent revolution in the scriptures? If not, what is the point of an everlasting antagonism with our law-abiding neighbors? Should we not instead speak to them of Jesus?"


Campbell and Powell continue an argument that began about sixty years ago.


Anonymous said...

" power to glue..."

Very Anglican and timely to be asking on a royal birthday questions that Richard Hooker asked about say Master Cartwright in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.


Philodoxy is faith not in God but in one's own opinions. As we have seen, argument in a certain foul spirit degrades *pistis* to apostasy. Hence the apostles warn here and there against fruitless controversy, much as signs around power lines warn about high voltage.

Now as in the past, the virus seems to attack those lack a habitus of discerning God's will with some local body of the Body. Zeal for law is not in itself a risk factor-- there are serene Jews and Muslims who eat ice cream-- but the prognosis is poor for those who obsess about the behaviour of other people.

The apostles testified that God has a few commandments and some sobering advice for disciples of Jesus in his Body. These were and are sufficient for the Lord's own purposes in and through the Holy Spirit in it.

The grumpy trumpy people think that the Lord's actual purpose is for that witness to directly rule civil society. That religion is not God's religion.


MsLiz said...

I've read your post and a number of the links provided, many times. There's no shortage of things I find confusing, with various folk being poles apart. One person who never seems to lack certainty is the subject of your 2nd "here" link (out of the 4 "here"s) - an ACNA bishop originally from NZ. I read an extra address by him too, very strong views and delivery. In the post you linked to, the final paragraph (quoting him) paints an incredibly grandiose view of Gafcon. If one self-describes their own in-group in such high terms it's a hard fall if something goes really wrong.. my concern is that such glorification makes it difficult to be upfront and honest when serious problems arise. Those 'in the know' will inevitably want to sweep bad stuff under the carpet rather than bring shame upon their glorious 'global family'. Meekness and humility as stated at the end of your post seems far better (and safer for all as well).

Btw John Sandeman's put up another post y'day that I found interesting:

Peter Carrell said...

There are very varied views out there Liz, and some are held by Julian Dobbs who I consider a friend - we were colleagues in the Nelson Diocese sometime back - but we do not agree!

MsLiz said...

I bet you've had interesting conversations! The other article was in The American Conservative. Rod Dreher shared the text of Bp Dobbs address from the 2022 diocesan conference (RD was an invited speaker). Dreher was impressed.. "Imagine a bishop talking like this! Catholics and Orthodox can scarcely wrap our minds around it." I wondered if it's a kiwi 'thing' being so forthright! I saved the link, the sermon-style reminded me of sermons from my youth, he also included about being an Episcopal "refugee" => ACNA bishop, and other points he made help me gain a bit more insight into Gafcon POV.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liz
The problem with being forthright is that it may win Rod Dreher’s approval but also be a barrier to people subject to the forthright critique feeling welcome in the church of forthrightness!!

Anonymous said...

"an incredibly grandiose view"

"my concern"

Among the human temperaments, Liz, there may be one for what a Lutheran priest I once knew called Group-Truthers. He himself had written a thesis on Kierkegaard for Hans Frei at Yale so he was among those unafraid to ask and answer questions through and about deep personal subjectivity. Although he never took spiritual direction up as a discipline, he had the knack it requires and used them in pastoral care.

But his bishop, whom he admired despite their temperamental difference, was one of those for whom nothing is true until the proper authority said that it was and nothing so said could ever be false. They had different and maybe irreconcilable ethics of faith.

In Virginia in the 1970s-1980s they got along well. Both liturgical revision and ordained women made subjective sense to the priest and institutional sense to his bishop. But they later disagreed over That Topic. Why?

The priest empathized with the challenges of subjectivity generally and so with those of homosexuals especially. To him, the apostles' account of the subjectivity of faith revealed an upstream duty to recognize it in the persons that Father Ron would have called "intrinsically gay." Downstream, the Six Texts were not the Reformed *tertius usus* (see below) just wise counsel about the dangers of promiscuity. To him the existence of say intersexed persons amply confirmed the wisdom of his reformers. If you cannot deal with the soul's dark nights and rainbows waiting for God, why be a Protestant?

Nevertheless, perhaps unconsciously or inconsistently, his Protestant bishop understood subjectivity as a problem and religion as its solution. To him, belief in God delivers one from those icky challenges by outsourcing them to the denomination. In that outsourcing, what matters is not *the witness of the apostles and how we might apply that today* but *what the denomination irreformably says that the Bible says about X."

Why irreformably? Because change defeats outsourcing. If the denomination first says that you cannot wear green socks but later says that you may wear them, then it leaves you with something hard to decide. Some will enjoy that, but Group-Truthers find it icky, will avoid it, and will only wear green socks when everyone else does.

Group-Truthers dislike institutional change, but will usually tolerate it if it is (a) shown to be change-in-continuity and (b) approved by a consensus of all but outliers. In the Lutheran debate about That Topic, proponents of change failed to show that it was a logical continuation of past practice and pressed for measures that could not attract consensus support. The bishop was unconvinced.

Did he have "an incredibly grandiose view" of his diocese? Yes. Institution-building was his life's work and he was very good at it. Moreover, he had a vision for the contribution that Lutherans could make in the eastern counties of Virginia settled by Anglicans but long dominated by Baptists. Against the dreary downward trend that we hear so much about, he doubled the number of churches in his diocese in twenty years. Did he "sweep bad stuff under the carpet?" No, he saw it (and alas some good stuff too) as a threat to what he was building for God.

But could he have been a good spiritual director? At an ecumenical retreat, I once heard him sputter out "What do spiritual directors do?" Hearing an explanation from a Catholic nun who was actually doing it, he mused aloud that his Lutherans did not need it and he could not see why Catholics and Episcopalians did. Perhaps if he had been twenty years younger...

Moya said...

“I hear sports fans whose need for their rules and referees is as deep as your own need to be free of them. They crave more authority because they actually need more.”

I remember a time when I was petrified by the thought of the freedom God has given us and the concomitant responsibility it brings! But with the growth in loving and trusting God that has happened, mainly through therapy and spiritual direction, I am much more comfortable with open-ended questions now. I am in my late 70’s and maybe it is a life journey that not everyone takes?

Moya said...

Fowler’s ‘Stages of Faith’ also comes into play with this. Worth reading Liz! Also Richard Rohr’s ‘Falling Upwards’…

Anonymous said...

A note on nones


MsLiz said...

What you've written above is, and will continue to be, a great help for me Bowman. Thank you very much. This divide in the Anglican Communion mirrors the divide I personally experience between 'the faith once delivered' to me as I grew up, and new perspectives more recently acquired. So I read all these things that are poles apart and each side will tend to resonate with me in some way.. and I'm very new to attempting to "live with tension" as referred to by +Peter in his post. So +Peter's questions posed in his post, re "confusion", really struck a chord with me! It's easy to feel overwhelmed (as indeed I do at times) but now I'm trying to see where there might be at least some things in common and perhaps find attitudes that if not in harmony, are at least complementary and helpful in attaining a better spiritual balance.

The final sentences in your first St Symeon link (which I love) really engage me and echo St Paul's words that you'd already quoted:

"In the Church both institution and charism, the law of Christ and the light of the Spirit, belong together. In this way, the Church is saved from a deadly institutionalism and also from an antinomian Spiritualism. The Spirit gives life, not the letter, but the life that the Spirit gives is knowledge of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, and power to live according to his commandments."

I've yet to read the other references but this was a great start :)

MsLiz said...

Wow. ACNA/Foley Beach have their hands full with this bishop.

Peter Carrell said...

That is very messy, Liz!

Anonymous said...

Five pages from 2007--

Nine from 2021--


MsLiz said...

"..Lord of the church who failed to lead a nationalist uprising"--+Peter

>> I'm newly subscribed to an email newsletter from Russell Moore (ex SBC) and the first arrived this morning The Joshua Generation and the Paradox of Power ...I've copied a two-paragraph selection:

Suppose the Joshua Generation had worked out as planned and all our national institutions of power had Christians at the helm. Would that have effectively turned the culture around—now that we’ve seen some of these very leaders abuse power in Jesus’ name and commit the very same sins they denounce, and sometimes even worse? In some sectors of evangelical America, it seems the only disqualifying character flaw is the failure to hate the right people with the right amount of anger.

What is “power” of any kind if it comes with a loss of moral witness? Nothing.

['Joshua Generation' as I understand it... children raised in Christian homes with Christian schooling, the best and brightest then being supported into taking up key government positions with the goal being Christian government --Liz]

Peter Carrell said...

Old Testament history, Liz, as you know well, but apparently not so well known by some to the north of us, teaches that after the Joshua generation came the Judges' generations ...!

MsLiz said...

Lord have mercy!!!

Anonymous said...


"And yet, the overall trend of the talmudic literature is clear: the Torah is divine because it is the will of the god of Israel, but the attribution of divinity to the Torah does not confer upon it the universal qualities of rationality, truth, and stasis. On the contrary, Israel’s god divorces law from truth, issues commands that sometimes lack intrinsic rationality, and modifies his Law in response to the needs and circumstances of his people-- and these very features are proof rather than disproof of the Torah’s divinity. For the rabbis, that’s what’s divine about divine Law."

– Christine Hayes, What’s Divine About Divine Law?: Early Perspectives.

Can bishops agree with the early rabbis on "what's divine about divine law?"

If not, why not?

If so, how might that insight affect disciples' devotion to Jesus?


Peter Carrell said...

Precisely, BW, and my own work on Deuteronomy has highlighted the changes across the Torah (and across Torah-to-the-gospels-Matthew-in-particular) which, generally, evangelical (and other) Christians seem unaware of, preferring to assume stasis!

MsLiz said...

BW, what you shared is beyond me (and yet) because you mention "disciples' devotion to Jesus" I've tried, which led to Hebrews...

7v19: for the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by which we draw near unto God.

9v22: And almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

10v19-20: Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; ...v22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,

John 1 v17: For the law was given through Moses, but the grace and the truth of God came through Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. [Is the new testament where the "rationality, truth, and stasis" enter the picture?]

I've probably gone off on a tangent so I hope you'll speak more to your Q re "disciples' devotion to Jesus". Thanks.

verses are all from the Jubilee Bible

Anonymous said...

Liz, I suspect that books will soon be written about the questions at 11:00 because they concern the *three uses of the law* mentioned at 7:46 and controversy over the extravagant *third use* you describe at 9:35.

If Jesus had said, "Wear green socks," and St Matthew had written that Jesus said "Wear green socks" then we would wear green socks. Presumably, doing so would be meaningful and helpful to us as disciples who love God, just as it is meaningful to Old Believers not to wear neckties or to the Amish not to wear bright colors etc.

But would we take the further step of saying that because God is over all, his command to us is a command to all, so that non-believers too have an obligation to wear green socks, and states therefore should fine, imprison, hang etc those who obstinately refuse to wear green socks, so that disciples should not only wear green socks themselves but take all necessary measures to ensure that the state enforces God's command, and finally that disciples who do take those measures should not meet with those disobedient ones who do not?

Probably not. But why not?


Anonymous said...

And what would we do when the world’s supply of green dye run out? Or, wearing green socks was culturally offensive in the Land of Yellow Socks … !!!

Anonymous said...

"what justifies"

Among my lifelong prejudices have been:

(1) Faith is about, and is only about, what YHWH is doing and will do;

(2) In his chosen time, YHWH will unite peaceable persons in his peaceable kingdom.

(3) In the present, churches exhibit God unifying a naturally fractious humanity;

(4) The core of spirituality in Jesus is union with him that enables reconciliation of those estranged from him and others;

(5) Ethos, morality, and spirituality are in Christ insofar as they support his reconciliation of all creatures;

(6) Those who argue that churches should be mobilized to redistribute power in civil society have lost faith in (1-3); and

(7) When churches are too hungry for social relevance, influence or power, they are no longer (3) and so disintegrate, usually into tribalism seen in the scriptures-- ethnicity, class, partisanship.

In novel situations, prejudice can be rebutted by facts that shift one's perspective, of course. But we all start from some default and mine is that churches are decadent when they simultaneously have little inner life-- is God doing nothing in them?-- and a corporate compulsion to try to influence or control power in civil society.


MsLiz said...

Hi Bowman (if you get to see this)

I'm a wee bit envious that it's summer-time for you but I sure hope you get to enjoy a fabulous fortnight.. time to toss "schedule" and dispense with "normal". Enjoy!