Monday, January 29, 2024

Cannot not comment on this news

 A key motivation for this blog is that Christians work for unity in a divided world which is unimpressed by Christian fractures and fissions. 

So, really, we cannot not comment on a significant "summit" being held through the past week or so, which continues this week - Catholics and Anglicans meeting first in Rome and then in Canterbury - including NZ Catholic and Anglican bishops. (See links here, here, here, here, here, here and there.) 

The organisation of the twin summit has been by the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission. The NZ bishops there are Ross Bay (Auckland, Anglican) and Michael Gielen (Christchurch, Catholic).

At one level this is good, full of potentiality and the simple fruit of years of local, national and regional dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics.

At another level - at least as observed by me on Twitter/X - this lovely coming together has catalyzed snakey comments from radtrads or tradrads (radical, traditional Catholics), concerned, for instance, that an Anglican liturgy was hosted in a Catholic church in Rome and that Francis was involved in commissioning Catholic/Anglican pairings of bishops ... apparently this undoes the papal bull declaring Anglican orders "null and void."

Let me repeat the first sentence above:

"A key motivation for this blog is that Christians work for unity in a divided world which is unimpressed by Christian fractures and fissions."

OK - I understand that one Catholic approach to unity is simple, straightforward and very traditional: you want Christian unity? Submit to the Pope. Become Roman Catholic.

But does that approach move Christian unity along that much? How many Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal Christians are going to cross the Tiber on such an insistent, "We're right, you've been wrong" basis?

Is there not a lot more mileage in the following?

- working on what we do agree on, what unites us in Christ, and what we can do together in the mission of God in the world;

- humbly acknowledging our shared failings to be the church we wanted to be (let alone the church Christ wants us to be), with specific reference in NZ, Australia and other places to commissions of inquiry into abuse in church contexts;

- seeing the good that Christ is doing in each of us and in each of our churches (it has not been my experience of ecumenical conversations that participants ever think God is only working in whatever is considered by each participant to be the "true" church);

- affirming the ministry of all Christians in a world which, whether ignoring, or marginalising, or even persecuting Christians, is not particularly concerned what denomination of Christian is being ignored, marginalised or persecuted. (Put more bluntly: we have a shared enemy in the world today, so shouldn't we be fighting that enemy and not each other?)

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A Local (Aotearoa NZ) Christian Vision for 2024

 Long story short, some developments in recent years of the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi for governance (aka "co-governance") of life hereabouts (e.g. of how health is organised, of how water usage is governed) have provoked one of our current coalition government parties, ACT, into proposing a sweeping change to our unerstanding of the Treaty (if not effectively-abolishing it). As a whole the coalition government has pushed back against use of Te Reo (Māori language) in government documents and departmental names. 

In turn this has provoked angst among Māori (fearful of losing rights, access to that which improves social and personal life outcomes, diminishment of great progress of acceptability of Te Reo in everyday Kiwi life), deep concern among many Pākeha (concerned that progress for Māori will not only be stymied but set back in measurable degrees) and pleasure among those whose views are that Māori have too many rights, benefits and, these days, too much power.

There is always in such situations, where politicians tap into currents of resentment in society, the possibility of increasing division in society, something which may benefit some politicians in a democracy (cf. Trump in the USA) or, indeed, in a dictatorship, but which never benefits society. A divided society then becomes, tragically, fertile ground for new resentments to emerge, resentments which may becomes rebellions and rebellions may become civic unrest or even civil war.

In recent months, concern about where current approaches of the ACT Party, if not the coalition government itself may lead has risen high.

Theologically, referring back to my post last week, I am concerned that we recognise that a divided society is not compatible with a Christian vision for society - such vision flows out of passages such as Ephesians 4:25-5:2 - for society as a united body of people, committed to forgiving past sins and working in the present for loving, reconciled relationships.

Yesterday a large hui (gathering) was held at Turangawaewae - 10,000 Māori and supporters gathering to address the situation Māori find themselves in.

What would the tone of the event be? Would it be itself a furthering of division in these islands?

Thankfully this seems not to have been the case, as John Campbell reports here.

His report of the day, and its notes of welcome, hospitality, peace, friendship and joy cohere strongly with Ephesians 4:25-5:2.

Thanks be to God!

Monday, January 15, 2024

A Global Christian Vision in 2024

My first post for 2024 reported on the death of my colleague and friend, Bishop Richard Wallace. I learned about his death en route to another funeral, on Saturday 6 January, for one of our priests in Timaru, Heather Robertson. For her funeral she chose as one of the readings Ephesians 4:25-5:1 (here stretched out to include 5:2) - a favourite passage for her life and ministry:

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. 

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

In my reflection through this past week or two on this passage, I have seen in it not only a set of rubrics for each of us to live by - to be Christians whose lives approximate ever more closely to God's own character - the God we meet in Jesus Christ - but also a vision for the society God wants on earth. (One of my favourite commentaries on Ephesians is John Stott's in the Bible Speaks Today series: aptly and provocatively titled, God's New Society.)

What does this "new society" look like, with reference to this passage (clearly Ephesians has a few more things to say than what we find here)?

At one level it is a crime free society: no theft, no lying/perjury/libels/slanders, no violence/assaults/murders (i.e. if anger is controlled, so will violence). But this vision is more than a set of (in the language of these days) "right wing talking points." This is a vision for people relating to one another in healthy and lifegiving ways: speaking truthfully, constraining anger, acting kindly and mercifully, consistently motivated by God's own attitudes and actions towards to be godly (God-like) people.

At the heart of this new society is a clear understanding that it is God's new society because it is created out of God's creating and redeeming relationship with us:

"be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."

In case we are not clear about this sense of both model and motivation for God's new society, Paul restates the above instruction:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

In this restatement Paul reminds us that we are "beloved children" of God, and that the way of Christ is the way of love, "live in love" with that love being of the kind which Christ has demonstrated to us through death on the cross for us: "as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

On the one hand, we have an inspiring vision in this passage for a "new" society which is distinct from societies surrounding Ephesus then and from societies in which most of us live now.

On the other hand, for this society to become a reality, the underlying premise of Paul's appeals is that such society is not imposed by rule of law or rule of gun but by embrace of motivated people eager to live a life pleasing to God (5:10; cf. 4:1). The motivation comes from understanding how much God loves us and how costly that love was for God in Christ dying on the cross for us.

There is quite a challenge here for various strands of Christianity around the world at present which seem eager to impose social transformation on un-Christ-motivated people via use of political power.

Nevertheless, what Christians have in a passage such as Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2 is a vision for the way society ought to be (whether we can achieve it or not this side of glory). One reflection of the past few weeks is that has been how far removed from this vision - of a kind, gentle, forgiving, peacefull society - are alternative visions in our world.

In the midst of immense pressures in sections of Western societies for a ceasefire in Gaza (including from many Christians), there seems to be very little attention to the vision Hamas has for a "free Palestine" - a vision of death and destruction to Jews, and of Islamist control of Palestinian society. Is this vision one which Christians can sqaure with Ephesians 4:25-5:2?

In the midst of immense support in sections of Western societies for Israel's right to self-defence, there seems to be very little attention to the vision the right wing parties of Israel (critical to the Netenyahu government remaining in power) have for vanquishing Palestinians from the West Bank - a vision at odds with Ephesians 4:25-5:2.

Even my own support for the so-called "two state" solution - a nation of Israel and a nation of Palestine, living side by side, at peace with one another - is fraught in the light of the Ephesian passage: could there be such a solution if there is no forgiveness, one for another, Palestinian for Israeli and Israeli for Palestinian? And where would such forgiveness come from if there is no understanding of God's forgiveness for all through the "fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" which Christ made on our behalf?

Absolutely, the question can be asked much closer to home than the Middle East, how are things in Aotearoa New Zealand, in the light of this Ephesian passage?

I will take up that question next week!

Monday, January 8, 2024

Death of Bishop Richard Wallace [updated]

UPDATE: Anglican Taonga has posted stories through this past week relating to Bishop Richard's tangihanga:





ORIGINAL: Unfortunately my new year begins with news that my Maori Anglican epsicopal colleague, Bishop Richard Wallace has died. +Richard was Pihopa o Te Waipounamu (i.e. bishop for the Maori congregations of the South Island), based here in Christchurch. He has been a great friend and colleague through my years as bishop.

Our local Press has an article here.

Tangihanga arrangements have been confirmed this morning:

Monday 8th January 10am: Karakia, Waipatu Marae, 71 SH2 Hastings 1pm: Depart Ahuriri, Napier on RNZAF Hercules 3:30pm: Arrive at Te Pā Mihinare o Te Waipounamu 290 Ferry Road, Ōtautahi, Christchurch.

Bishop Richard will lie in state at Te Waipounamu, 290 Ferry Road, until Wednesday morning.

Wednesday 10th January: 11am: Kaihapa whakawhetai mō te Oranga o Pīhopa Rihari / Eucharistic service of thanksgiving for the life of Bishop Richard Wallace Transitional Cathedral, 234 Hereford Street, Christchurch. The Archbishops of our church will be presiding at this service.

3:30pm Arrive at Wairewa Marae, 435 Akaroa Road, Little River.

Thursday 11th January: 11am Karakia mo te Rā Nehu / Funeral Service at the Wairewa/Little River marae, with burial at the marae urupa following the service.

For guidance: the capacity of the Little River marae is less than the capacity of the Transitional Cathedral, if unsure which service to attend, my guidance is to attend the Wednesday service in the TC.

Please pray for Archdecon Mere Wallace (+Richard's wife) and their family as they mourn his loss - and for all who gather through the next few days from across our whole church.