Monday, September 25, 2023

Update on election thoughts as the NZ General Election draws nigh

Please note dear readers that due to some international travel to another part of the Anglican Communion and no idea what internet access I may have - and, in any case, am not taking my laptop!! - this might be the last post for a few weeks. Weekly posts will resume no later than Monday 16 October 2023. Also, posting comments you submit may not be feasible through this period.

Update on election thoughts as the NZ General Election draws nigh - takes place 14 October 2023

The following are a series of lightly edited comments I have been making in my weekly eLife message to the Diocese. I propose a conclusion at the end.

1. One of my wonderings, noting how close National and Labour’s policies are, and how relatively tepid those policies are in respect of the big issues of our time – such as mitigation of climate change and enhancing the productivity of our economy – is whether our leaders are timid or really good at discerning what we the voting public will actually support by way of change. The ultimate question a general election addresses is not who the next PM will be but what the voters will accept as adjustments to the status quo.

2. Despite the claims of some that this year’s election is the most important in their lifetimes, I see that the Press frontpage headline this morning is very lowkey and evenhanded, “Leaders on the campaign trail”! We face issues, but overseas there are much greater issues being experienced. Two countries, Morocco (earthquake) and Libya (flooding), are experiencing appalling loss of life through natural disasters. The war in Ukraine continues, and Kim Jong Un and Putin have had a meeting. Presumably, they have not been talking about the Rugby World Cup. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, by contrast, we have issues, but we have a lot to be thankful for.

3. (Referring to Sunday, 10 September 2023, Ordinary 23 and the epistle reading is Romans 13:8-14). The lectionary skips the first part of Romans 13, which is a pity so close to a general election, not least because these affirm the authority of government to oversee a justice system and to collect revenue! Our epistle reading this week is still germane to election seasoning of the airwaves with promises and policies. 

First, as we discern how we will cast our vote, which set of policies and promises will fulfil the law, “love your neighbour as yourself.” 

Secondly, the last part of the passage lifts our horizons beyond the situation of this time. The day of the Lord – the day when we will all be held to account before God for how we have lived – is “nearer to us now than when we became believers.” Are we living in readiness for that great day?

4. Referring to Sunday, 3 September 2023,  Ordinary 22 and the epistle reading is Romans 12:9-21). Quite a bit in this passage (and in Romans 13) is useful reading as we prepare for our General Election (14 October). Which party, for example, offers a vision for a society in which we “live in harmony with one another” (v. 16)? Who is offering a way forward so that NZ “extends hospitality to strangers” (v. 13)? In the next few Sundays we read on into Romans 13 which also challenges us about the kind of society we want to shape as Christians, summarised in the commandment, “love your neighbour as yourself” (13:9).

5. It is hard to escape the fact that there is a General Election this year, with final voting day on 14 October. Although the polls imply we already know the result, there is a lot to think about. Media focus on National and Labour, sometimes revealing that their respective policies are more or less identical, may be distracting us from considering the ramifications of policies of potential support parties for either Labour or National.

6. We live in challenging economic times. Whatever we make of the wisdom of proposing a change to the general principle of GST (that it be applied without exceptions), we appreciate that many Kiwis need every extra dollar available to them to meet basic costs of living. We also appreciate that financial penalties make life very difficult for those struggling to meet those basic costs. One such penalty is the cost of disconnection and reconnection fees when power bills are not paid. I thank the Reverend Jolyon White, our Director of Anglican Advocacy for speaking up about this, (behind a paywall). 

In the advocates’ petition, launched earlier this month, they also called for a ban on disconnection/reconnection fees relating to unpaid bills. Jolyon White, director of Anglican Advocacy, a Christchurch based organisation, described disconnection fees as “kicking someone when they’re down”.

7. There are a number of news reports these days about an evangelist called Julian Batchelor who is crusading around our islands against “co-governance.” Co-governance is an emerging feature of national life which deserves respectful conversation and empathetic understanding of our obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. Nothing is helped by divisive and inflammatory antagonism. A thoughtful essay on co-governance and  on Batchelor’s crusade has been written by Denis O’Reilly and can be read at . (This comment goes back to a message a couple of months back)

8. (Present comment on this blog, not drawn from an eLife message) More recently - Sunday 24 September 2024 - a columnist I appreciate (but do not always agree with) - Damien Grant - writing on Stuff, about whether we can believe political slogans, makes this astute observation, citing the great Henry Mencken:

"HL Mencken, a wry observer of American life and politics, quipped that an election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods. There is an electoral logic to Mencken’s analysis. If there are ten rich voters and ninety poor ones, you will win an election promising to redistribute wealth. Some readers will cheer. Why should those who have wealth not be forced to share it with the needy?  

Except; it isn’t all of the needy, is it?   

A few short hours from these blessed islands lives the troubled nation of the Solomon Islands. 700,000 souls live in a bountiful but impoverished archipelago where the per capita GDP is about a third more than the retail price of the new iPhone 15.  

A dollar spent in Honiara would alleviate more suffering than ten spent in Horotiu [a place in NZ] but no one is promising that. This election isn’t about justice, or poverty, or fairness. Ask not what you can do for humanity but what a politician can do for you, and we elect whoever we think is in it for us. "

Further on Grant observes:

"We are untroubled by the suffering of those we cannot see but are exercised to outrage at the inequity that others can enjoy the perks of their labour while we are forced to cover the cost of our own dental care or, heaven forbid, pay a market price for daycare.  

This election, like all elections, is about finding the balance between taxing the productive to buy the votes of the poor, but not overtaxing them so that the flow of output is degraded. "

And his resounding conclusion is:

"It was a 19th century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, who speculated that government is a great fiction through which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else. We remain in thrall to this delusion; that there is a free lunch that can be provided by taking the wealth or income of others.

There isn’t, obviously, but so long as we believe we can enrich ourselves at the expense of our fellow citizens there will be politicians promising to sell us that dream while those enduring real poverty remain comfortably over the horizon.

When Hipkins claims he is in it for you, he is being honest, as is Luxon when he sings a similar refrain, but we should be clear-eyed that this is neither an admirable nor a noble path that either gentleman is pursuing."

My conclusions:

9. I am fascinated (as something of a swing voter) by how close National and Labour have become in various things they are promising. Is the critical difference between them Labour's record of delivery through the past six years and National's promise of better delivery, through the next three years?

10. I am intrigued, per a comment above, by how little quizzing there is of what a Labour-Green-Te Pati Maori coalition might entail - compared with a lot of quizzing about a National-ACT or National-ACT-NZ First coalition might entail. Have the media determined who the winner is going to be? (To be fair to the media, the polls support any such assumption.) That is, if National/Labour promises are broadly "good" for middle NZ - they are clearly aiming at middle NZ - then the potential "not so good" or "bold and brilliant and very good" for middle NZ lies in what radical changes to NZ life potential coalition partner(s) may seek to extract in a coalition deal.

11. I am concerned by possible changes (even if they are remote possibilities) should some minor parties gain traction after 14 October: I do not agree with the radical opposition of ACT to "co-governance"; I do not agree that there should be no prisons (Te Pati Maori wishes to phase them out from now, and to abolish them from 2040); I do not agree with a "wealth tax" (Green Party and Te Pati Maori proposals, on the grounds that such tax assumes continuing prosperity for NZ even after we have driven the wealthy to Australia). (I would, for clarity, support an enhanced capital gains tax; and always support review of our tax settings in an ever changing world with respect to all incomes levels and all sectors of society and business); and I am concerned that ACT with increased presence in parliament will have a go at widening settings re euthanasia in our country.

12. In other words, as someone still to make up my mind re whom I shall be voting for, I see that I will be swallowing a dead rat or two of policy promises, whether voting for one of the minor parties or for one of the major parties, knowing that - on current polling -  neither Labour nor National will form a government after 14 October without support of one or more minor parties.

13. BUT I will vote. I urge NZ readers to do so. I see no gain for the body politic if voters refuse to vote on the grounds that it is difficult this time to know whom to vote for (as, it would appear, anecdotally, many Kiwis are finding this time round.)

Monday, September 18, 2023

Oxyrhynchus and composition of the gospels #POxy5575

Every so often there is a bit of excitement in New Testament studies.

The past couple of weeks have seen excitement over a papyrus called P.Oxy.5575 (or, on social media, #POxy5575).

A good initial article to read is Candida Moss's "Scholars Publish Early Papyrus with Early Sayings of Jesus" in The Daily Beast.

Scholarly follow up could be here, here, here, here and here.

Moss sums up the matter in this paragraph:

"The significance of the fragment lies in its date and contents. In conjunction with distinguished papyrologist and paleographer Ben Henry, the editors—Jeffrey Fish, Daniel Wallace, and Michael Holmes—date the fragment to the second century CE. This is important because, as Dr. Fish told me, 

“Only a few gospel papyri can be securely dated to the second or beginning of the third century.” 

This is the earliest period from which we have Christian manuscripts. 

“What is so significant about this papyrus,” continued Fish, “is that it contains sayings of Jesus which correspond partly to canonical gospels (Matthew and Luke) and partly to sayings we know only from the Gospel of Thomas. It is as early or earlier than any of our papyri of the Gospel of Thomas [our earliest non-canonical Gospel],” including other fragments of the Gospel of Thomas found at Oxyrhynchus."

Why get excited?

Generally NT scholars get excited over any early find of any pieces of scriptural writing but there is a bit more going on here.

A papyrus focused on sayings of Jesus raises the question whether this papyrus has any links to the hypothetical Q (the document many suppose undergirds the passages common to Luke and Matthew but not found in Mark). Q is mostly sayings of Jesus, so is the Gospel of Thomas. Clearly people were interested in the sayings of Jesus (e.g. Matthew and Luke add many more sayings to Mark's Gospel, whatever the written or oral sources of those sayings).

Q and Thomas imply a fairly exclusive interest in recording sayings of Jesus. This papyrus is focused on sayings - though it is a fragment and perhaps in its original form it had other material such a miracle stories. Is this papyrus simply a continuing interest in sayings, using well established and circulating gospels?

Is it in a direct tradition with a written Q and demonstrates development by adding a Thomas saying into its Q source?

Lots to think about!

Monday, September 11, 2023

So, we had a Synod ... and the All Blacks lost ...

A few posts back I mused about the challenge of the All Blacks playing finals matches on successive Sundays in October at 8 am in the morning (NZ time) and coinciding with 8 am / 9 am / 9.30 am services and pushing limits of faithfulness (for Christian rugby followers!) as long, over-refereeed games could take up till 10 am to finish.

Then, yesterday morning, the ABs were well beaten by France in their opening pool game and that is two losses in a row, so the chances of the ABs progressing beyond the quarter-finals seem remote and the challenge noted above recedes ... or, does it?

I watched the first half of the game yesterday morning before making my way to the second full day of our Synod, which began with a lovely service on Thursday evening (view here - with apologies in advance for the music sound - our music group used an independent system which was not feeding into the Cathedral's own livestream system). 

A synod is many things to the many people who gather. A steep learning curve, perhaps, for those who have never participated in a synod before. A nervous experience, maybe, for those hoping a decision will go one way and not another. Hard work, of course, for the organisers (my staff, the Resolutions Committee, our Chancellor and Vice Chancellor) and hosts (we have been hosted by the Parish of Avonhead for many years now). A surprise, it could be, for those not anticipating being elected to a committee or board.

Speaking personally, I have generally enjoyed synods and have been to many diocesan synods in two dioceses and a lesser number of General Synods. However being bishop is something different again. On the one hand I am now the President [chair] of Synod and so run its proceedings. On the other hand I can't speak to issues and proposals in the way I used to :).

I acknowledge that in the Nelson Diocese I was a fairly influential synodsperson. I once received feedback that some critics thought that I bent that synod to do my will. As if!? The truth was much more prosaic. There was a synod where I brought three proposals to it. One was passed. One was lost. One was not resolved - I think we moved onto other business or something.

I learned my lesson. Thereafter I only brought proposals that I thought the synod would agree to. I discerned well, made modest but, importantly, agreeable proposals. But my learning from experience then led to the criticism noted above. Oh, well!

Our Christchurch synod, this weekend past, saw some excellent debates and adroit amendments brought to significant proposals. One line of amendments, relating to the ongoing implementation of our Diocesan Mission Action Plan, enabled us as a diocese to acknowledge clearly the challenges of developing healthy ministry in small towns and rural districts, compared to engaging the challenges of ministry in Christchurch city and Timaru (our largest urban areas).

Another proposal, which gained prominence in secular media (e.g. here, here, here, here), concerned the dissolution of the Parish of St. John's, Latimer Square. The bare report of the resolution we reached is in our media release below. The debate was wide ranging and included concerns that the iconic, award winning Transitional (Cardboard) Cathedral not be lost to the city as an important building along with what future we envisage for ministry in our inner city. We will form a working group to take matters forward.

The brilliant thing about synods is that they enable a range of views to be brought into open consideration. Overall - working from comments made as the synod ended and people headed home - it was a good synod, and I think that is because we had useful open discussions on important matters.

Media Release

Saturday, 9 September, 2023

The Right Reverend Dr Peter Carrell, Bishop of Christchurch

The Dissolution of the Anglican Parish of St. John’s, Latimer Square

This morning (Saturday, 9 September, 2023) the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch agreed to the dissolution of the Parish of St. John’s, Latimer Square. 

This decision opens the way to consider the future of the property associated with that parish, on the corner of Madras and Hereford Streets, Christchurch.

The Christchurch Transitional (or Cardboard) Cathedral is part of that property. 

When we resume worship and other activities in the Cathedral in the Square, planned for late 2027, the Transitional Cathedral building will no longer be required as a cathedral.

The Synod has requested that a working group explore all issues regarding the future of the land and buildings on the corner of Madras and Hereford Streets, and report back to Synod in 2024. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

Which Scripture, whose church?

Years ago, the Protestant evangelical in me received a helpful jolt, at least in respect of thinking along standard "anti Catholic" lines, as Protestants/evangelicals tend to do, or at least tended to do back in that day.

The jolt went something like this, Catholicism reads Matthew's Gospel while Protestantism reads Romans and Galatians.

As an evangelical I had to take notice because that explanation involved an appeal to Scripture and not to Tradition. I could see then why Matthew as an apt Scripture in respect of Catholic theology: Matthew present Jesus as the new Moses and his teaching as the new law, with an emphasis on obedience (works done in response to the law), accordingly, and somewhat contrastingly with Romans and Galatians. We might simply mention the last part of yesterday's gospel reading, Matthew 16:17, where Jesus speaks of the return of the Son of Man in judgement,

"then he will repay everyone for what has been done."

It is not that Matthew is a gospel of works-salvation but that Matthew's Gospel proposes a subtle mix of faith-and-works attuned to a Catholic soteriology in a way that a Romans-and-Galatians alone approach is not.

Now let's have a bit of serious fun, if you will. And if you won't, stop reading now!

If Matthew is representative of Roman Catholic theology, then, we might say that Pope Francis' version of it adds in the great Lukan parables on mercy to it (Luke 7:36-50; Luke 10:25-37; Luke 15:11-32). Conservative criticism of Francis (currently focused on his proposed Synod on Synodality) is a doubling-down on Matthew, perhaps especially Matthew 16:13-20.

Protestantism generally and evangelicalism within it is very keen on Romans and Galatians - on the soteriology which emphasises the unmediated by the church but solely mediated by Jesus Christ salvation of God based on the unique sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

But Protestantism somewhat cheerfully incorporates other books to major on. The Pastoral Epistles are favourites in some circles with the oddity that they say very little if anything about justification by faith and quite a lot about rules for the church. Revelation (and Daniel) are relished by those with eschatological inquisitiveness (and are crucial for Seventh Day Adventist theology). Ephesians plays an important role when predestination is a focus, or, for that matter, spiritual warfare.

By contrast, Pentecostalism is keen on Acts - the dynamic, miracle working Holy Spirit has lots to offer a new expression of the most primitive church in our modern world.

Perhaps a commenter can help me with the Eastern Orthodox church and its "founding scriptures." I suspect John's Gospel is significant.

Obviously we need to get to Anglicanism. Is there a significant Scripture? To the extent to which Anglicanism is reformed and catholic, evangelical and Anglo-Catholic, as well as broad, we could claim "all the above," but I suggest John's Gospel is important to our self-understanding of what kind of church we became in the 16th century and have become across many countries and cultures since. 

That is, we have cherished the ability to be a distinctive national church - The Church of England ... of Australia ... Kenya ... Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and done so understanding that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" means we feel confident that the one church can be differently expressed in the different forms of "flesh" (human life) found around the world.

This thought about Anglicanism is tentative - I would be interested in responses any readers care to make in comments. 

The obvious deduction, however, is that all the scriptures cited above are included in the one Holy Scripture! Somehow, in our journey towards Christian unity - towards the healing of the pain of our divisions and towards the completion of our witness to Jesus Christ the Reconciler of the world to God - we need to appreciate that most of our differences are differences which flow from the one authoritative Source - God's Word written!