Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Towards a Motion 29 Working Group 17 November Submission

So, I have been posting here that I think the recommendations in the Interim Report of the Motion 29 Working Group are a "beautiful accommodation" (here, here, here, here) while also noting that not all share that view (here, here, here, here).

Here is another beautiful accommodation:

This is a Tesla electric car. It is beautiful in design and it is an accommodation (electric motor requires generation of electricity by some means or another, batteries which add weight to the car, it saves the world re oil consumption but destroys the world re ingredients required to make batteries, it costs much more than "equivalent" petrol or diesel powered car, and, while it goes further than any other battery powered car, you still need to think where you will end up for the night in order to charge it). In short, because it is a beautiful accommodation that does not mean it will work as a car to save the world's environment - certainly not on my stipend!

In other words, having pushed hard (in blogging terms) for a reception of the working group's proposal as a "beautiful accommodation" it is reasonable to ask whether it will work.

So I am now turning my mind in a different direction, aided and abetted by comments here, posts elsewhere and our own Synod discussion a few weeks back. That different direction is towards questions such as:

- what are shortcomings of the proposal, and can they be overcome?
- what will actually work for our church?
- what if we took more time than "we must have a decision by end of GS 2018"?

And yet, some recent experience has left me wondering why we cannot be a church which is accommodating re SSB? Recently I met an Anglican woman and discovered we both had something in common: both of us have wives! I also discovered a bit about her parish church, which welcomes and celebrates the lives of gay and lesbian persons. It got me thinking about the (potential) capacity of Anglican churches to incorporate breadth of theology, liturgy and experience. Incorporation in Anglican life does not require validation or endorsement but it does mean there is tolerance, space and willingness to exist together in a large enough room for conversation to continue.

That notion of the Anglican church as a large room - "you have set my feet in a broad place" (Psalm 31:8 NRSV) - was first conveyed to me in a lecture by Bishop John A.T. Robinson, on a visit to Christchurch in the late 1970s.

And it was a large space which enabled John A.T. Robinson, author of both Honest to God and numerous less controversial volumes of biblical scholarship, to exist in the same church as (say) John Stott, Jim Packer, Michael Green, Michael Ramsay, Desmond Tutu, etc.

Here's a question,

Would permission for SSB in the life of our church represent a matter beyond the already "broad place" in which the Lord has set our Anglican feet?

Some thoughts about questions posed above

- what are shortcomings of the proposal, and can they be overcome?
- what will actually work for our church?
- what if we took more time than "we must have a decision by end of GS 2018"?

Let's take the last question. I wasn't at the last two General Synod, I will be at the next one. I have assumed that in 2018 we must make a decision to make some change to the status quo.

Perhaps we do not have to. Perhaps - following some comments here and elsewhere - we really need to do theological work which has not yet been done (on blessing, ordination, marriage). It is not as though no theological work has been done (there have been several Theological and Hermeneutical Hui a few years back) nor as though no theology is involved in the various working group reports (there is always at least an implied theology to everything the church does). But are we settling for less than adequate work?

Might such work open up dimensions not yet considered by us? In recent days, for instance, Bowman Walton in comments here has raised the possibility that we should be considering House Blessings rather than Same Sex Blessings.

On the matter of shortcomings, there does seem to be a groundswell for clarity around the state/status of ordinands, ordained persons and licensed persons in same sex relationships. There is also the matter of episcopal relationships: between a bishop and those who are in dispute with that bishop over giving permission for SSBs (or refusing it), ordaining persons living in an SSB (or refusing to do so). Summarising, the proposal provides for an "additional bishop" to support those who are in dispute but there seems to be a groundswell for that additional bishop to also be an "alternative bishop."

But, to come to the middle question above, what is workable?

Without attempting anything like an evaluation of alternative episcopacy where it exists in the Communion, is it workable (and, in particular, would it be workable here)?

Does it work to put off a decision while more theological work is done?

If we accept that the proposal is geared towards safeguarding conservatives on the matter of SSB being permitted in a Diocese, does the proposal actually provide a viable route for progressives wishing for SSB to be permitted in a Diocese which otherwise is against SSBs?

Then there is the question of whether everything about the proposal depends on the bishop of the day not changing his or her mind and the successor of that bishop being of both similar and unchanging mind to his or her predecessor ... unless the electing Diocese specified that it did want a changed mind ...

One thought not much thought through by me is this ... I will air it here for critical review ...

I ask that the idea below is considered against the background of the "broad place" Anglicanism noted above, along with the fact that in the past few decades, despite same sex partnered clergy being part of the life of most dioceses, no bishop has been taken to a disciplinary tribunal for licensing these clergy.

My thought re an improvement to the proposal is to pare it back and slim it to a minimum set of changes:

(1) our declarations are changed in line with the proposal

(2) clergy and ministry unit office holders may determine without fear of discipline whether or not blessings of same sex relationships will be conducted within the ministry unit

(3) bishops have discretion to accept a person in a same sex marriage or civil union as a candidate for ordination or appointee to licensed ministry position.


I think (2) and (3) are the minimum we would need for space to be given for SSB (or, indeed, House Blessings) to be conducted in our church and for bishops to lift the moratorium on accepting candidates for ordination etc.

I suggest (2) would remove bishops from disputes with clergy who do not think they should be giving permission for such to happen or approving forms of service for SSBs. It would also enable the possibility of SSBs to occur in a ministry unit in a Diocese which otherwise generally held the view that SSBs ought not to happen.

Obviously (3) could lead to disputes with bishops, but would it lead to differences of view between bishops and their clergy which are not already in existence?

 What do you think?

Monday, September 25, 2017

We will have a new government, we voted for change

After our election results on Saturday night (which may vary slightly as "special votes" are counted over next few weeks)  and no one party or immediate coalition of parties can form a new government:

Alternative 1 today: blah, blah ... what will Winston Peters do ... blah, blah ... options ... surely that one won't work ... blah, blah ... triumph for Bill ... didn't Jacinda do well ... sad about Maori Party ... ACT, huh, 0.5% party vote ... Greens, got eaten compared to last time ... TOP, silly Gareth Morgan, never show contempt for cats, or voters ... blah, blah ... anyone know where Winston is?

Incidentally, to all those out there who voted "for change" the result does mean, on any scenario of forming a government, that the government will be changed from the previous one.

Alternative 2 today:

"Jens’s political sensibilities remain a delightful surprise to me. Once, when discussing my efforts to put his theology in dialogue with Cone’s work, I asked what he thought of black liberation theology, and he said, “Not radical enough.” I laughed and told him that Cone might not agree. He laughed and said, “Well, in the end we’ll see who the real revolutionary is.”
If there is any revolutionary community, for Jens that community is the Church, which is the only community whose life is to anticipate the kingdom. Baptism into the Church is also initiation into the kingdom. I suspect that the centrality of the Church in Jens’s political and eschatological thinking was what motivated him to work toward ecumenical unity. Jens was unsurpassed in his faithful grief over the divisions of the Church. His dedicated work in cofounding and leading the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology is just one example of his commitment to doing theology for the one Church. I experienced this commitment as Jens gave me pastoral counsel as I prepared for ordination in the Episcopal Church."

The above citation is from a reflection on Robert Jenson's life and theological work found here. (H/T B. Black)

Alternative 2 might offer more lines of fruitful, productive thinking than 1!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pray with Us - Transitional Cathedral Today and Tonight

If you are in Christchurch and have some spare minutes or hours, come to pray at the Transitional Cathedral, Hereford Street.

9 am Friday 22 September to 9 am Saturday 23 September we are leading a Pre Election Prayer Vigil.

Let's pray for a good government and a great representation of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand in our parliament!

Each hour will be introduced with some reflection, Scripture reading and formal prayer - in some cases by guest contributors from our social and community organisations.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

More effective than Russian agents influencing America?

Ross Douthat has a fascinating column about the changing character of the Roman Catholic church. While his focus is on the fate of conservatives and liberals in an ongoing series of Inquisitions via internet trials, he recognises at the end that something Anglican is going on!

"Can the church really become Anglican, with sharply different Christian theologies coexisting permanently under a latitudinarian umbrella?"

So my question is, have some sneaky, hidden behind Facebook postings, releases of hacked batches of emails, etc, Anglicans had more influence on the church of Francis than Russian agents have had on the America of Trump?

Naturally I shall take denials from the ABC and Anglican Communion offices as tacit admissions :)

Who would have thought, around, oh, about 2003, when certain things unfolded for Anglicans and conservative Anglicans looked longingly towards Rome as the beacon of unchangeable teaching and unswerving application of that teaching, that 2017 would see the Anglicanization of Rome all but complete!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Incurvatus in se: who or what are we saved from and/or for?

Saved by grace? Yes, but who or what are we saved from/for?

With H/T to Bryden Black, read this fascinating and provocative post on salvation.

It is about the book, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch by David W. Congdon.

I sometimes think that the notion of "being saved" in today's world is increasingly difficult to explain (since many people have no sense of fear of God, of judgment or of damnation, nor is there a sense of being a slave to sin). So I like the idea of being saved from oneself. The idea that we are our own worst enemies is not lost in a world of personal failures and shortcomings.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Politics of Jesus: who would Jesus vote for this election?

Crunch time. Votes to be cast by end of this Saturday 23rd September 2017. Who to vote for? Jacinda? Bill? Winston? James? Marama? Gareth? I'll concentrate here on the "party vote" but there is also the question of which local person to vote to become your local MP.*

If the criterion of your vote is voting for the winning side, well, good luck predicting that!

If the criterion of your vote is voting for a government which will keep NZ running well, planes flying, etc, then good luck with that!

If the criterion of your vote is voting for a government which has already informed you what their taxation policy is, then very good luck with that.

Perhaps you fancy gaining some insight from the partners of the prospective Prime Ministers? Then this article might help. But, then again, it might not, as each partner thinks their stumping partner is perfick!

If you do not fancy, as I do not, having Winston Peters being the queen or king maker, then, almost certainly, no predictions required, you and I will be disappointed!

But enough of secular political punditry (on which I fancy myself having some expertise :),) what would Jesus do?

Who would Jesus vote for this Saturday? (Well, okay, he was an observant Jew, so probably would cast an early vote so as not to do that sort of work on the Sabbath.)

It is tempting, incidentally, and I think some Christians will do this, to vote for Bill English (because a Christian, a married man and a family man) and not for Jacinda Ardern (because she is not married to her partner, not even engaged, and because she is not a committed Christian - she has distanced herself from her upbringing as a Mormon). Alongside that "moral approach" to voting decision-making, I would bring to bear this question: how honest is Bill English the politician? There are significant questions about his honesty in respect of the imbroglio over Todd Barclay and, more recently, a question about his continuing support for Murray McCully's shambolic if not dishonest performance explaining away an apparent bribe to a a Saudi sheikh.

What I think Jesus would do is to do what Jesus always did, which was to talk and act with a preference for the last, the least and the lost.

This election we are well aware that even if the country is working pretty well for many of us (who have jobs, who live in houses we can afford to rent or pay the mortgage for, who can pay our bills and buy good food for our families), it is not working well for all.

We have the last, the least and the lost among us - homeless, jobless, hungry, poor, waiting on hospital lists for treatment - to say nothing of those who feel hopeless and, perhaps, are turning to drugs as a result. Not all such situations can be fixed by government legislation and government department intervention. Some such situations could be helped significantly by the government governing better (e.g. using current tax revenue better) and by the government having more resources at its disposal (i.e. by raising more tax revenue).

But, just before we jump to the conclusion that Jesus would necessarily vote for one of our left-wing parties, it is worth remembering that Jesus was intelligent and wise. I think we could also assume that Jesus would not be so stupid as to vote for a solution to the problems of the last, the least and the lost which foreseeably would take us into a socialist world liable to become bankrupt (cf. Venezuela) or totalitarian (cf. anti-Christian Soviet Union, China).

In other words, Jesus would be a centrist like me!

OK, maybe not. But thinking like Jesus would think should bring into our minds both compassion and wisdom, both concern for people in need (think Parable of the Good Samaritan) and concern for society flourishing over the long-term in respect of freedom, sound economy, solid institutions (think Proverbs).

It might also be worth thinking about how Green Jesus would be, if voting in this election. As supreme Agent of Creation, I find it hard to think of Jesus as being unconcerned about how polluted our rivers, lakes and underground water supplies are becoming (think Genesis 1-2).

Trying to think Christianly in this way may or may not help us to finally determine which party we will vote for, because this way of thinking, leaves a number of options open to us. But it might also make us think a bit harder about which party we would vote for - it might make us pray more for good discernment.

I know which party I am voting for but won't say here. I am happy to say whom I am voting for in my intriguing local electorate, Ilam, where the incumbent National MP, Gerry Brownlee, is apparently being chased hard by a popular city councillor, Raf Manji, standing as an independent. My vote, however, is going to Tony Rimell, the Labour candidate and a Baptist minister here in Christchurch. In his favour is the fact that he is the only candidate I know personally!

*For overseas readers, NZ has a Mixed Member Proportional voting system in which each voter has two votes. One vote is for the local electorate MP, the other vote is for the preferred  party to govern. The latter vote determines, proportionally, the make-up of parliament with MPs being drawn in from party lists to make up the proportionality required after the electorate MPs are taken into account. Theoretically a party could score >50% of the votes and govern alone but in practice no government has been formed under MMP without either a formal coalition with one or more other parties and/or a confidence-and-supply agreement with one or more other parties.

A further point of history to bear in mind: not since 1969 has NZ elected a government for a fourth term. The present National-led government has governed for three terms. The arc of history bends against a return of a National-led government, but the arc of history is a quaint notion and not a law of the Medes and Persians.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ecumenical Response to Synod's Cathedral Decision

Thanks to a commenter on Bosco Peter's post on our Synod decision re reinstatement of the cathedral, I have now noticed an ecumenical church leaders' response to the decision. It is worth copying in full here:

Sunday 10 September 2017
The Anglican Cathedral has been at the centre of perhaps one of the most public and fraught stories coming out of the devastation caused by Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. It has been a long and difficult saga. Every Cantabrian has to be aware of the angst and debate regarding the future of this iconic building in the centre of our city. Every New Zealander probably, and many people in various parts of the world, also know about this broken building and the conflict over its future.
While it is primarily an Anglican conversation, along with other interested parties, many Christians have felt a stake in this matter, even if for most, it is from the side-lines. So, in the lead up to the Anglican Synod and their decision regarding the future of the Cathedral, many have prayerfully supported their Anglican brothers and sisters, their leaders, and Bishop Victoria.
Now that they have carefully considered the many conflicting interests, weighed their options and thoughtfully arrived at a decision, leaders of most groups of churches in our city and region are glad to express unequivocal support for the Anglican community. The rebuild will be a demanding project, a whole new challenge. We look forward to seeing a successful conclusion, a building ready to be filled with people and praise again.
At a recent Heads of Christian Denominations meeting, serious concern was expressed about the conduct of some aspects of the debate around the cathedral. Church leaders recognised the contentious nature of the issue and the complexities involved, however there is great concern about the occasionally vicious nature of some of the debate. Vitriol and personal attack add nothing of value to a decision-making process, and in fact demean all of us in the city.
Now Christian leaders plead with everyone interested in this divisive debate to accept the decision that has been carefully and legitimately made. Let us put division and bitterness behind us and work together for the good of our whole community.
The vision Christian leaders share for our Christchurch is of a great city, bursting with life, its people thriving and prospering in every sense. Every day Christians work in a multitude of ways for the good of the people of this city and we are committed to continuing this work, in compassion and care, in the arts and business, in education and community building. We want a city where everyone is welcomed and respected, whether people of a faith and creed or not. We desire a city where there is opportunity for everyone to positively participate and contribute, where goodwill and generosity of spirit build strong vibrant communities across the city and region. We dream of a city where our modern nation’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, is honoured, not simply settled.
There is much yet to be done; in housing, mental health, education, employment, racial reconciliation and more besides; and it will take us all working together for the common good.
The task for all Christian believers is to shine the same light of God’s love and grace in our city here today, and in the days ahead.
Christians are fallible humans, we do not always reach the heights we aspire to, and so we acknowledge our shortcomings. However, as followers in the footsteps of Jesus we are glad to be called by God to bless the city with hope, joy, creativity, beauty and love.
This is our commitment to the city and region we love.
We invite all people of hope and vision to join with us in this dream, as we join with you; we all need each other.
Paul Askin, Senior Pastor Kaiapoi Baptist Church
Maurice Atkinson, Regional Mission Leader for Canterbury Westland Baptist Association
Steve Burgess, Senior Pastor South City C3
David Coster, Moderator Alpine Presbytery,Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Alan Jamieson, Senior Pastor South West Baptist Church
Margie Lamborn, Regional Overseer of Central South Island Assemblies of God
Fr Rick Loughnan, Administrator for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch
David MacGregor, Senior Pastor Grace Vineyard Church
Donald Scott, Senior Pastor North City Church
Ken Shelley, Senior Pastor King’s Church
Mike Stopforth, Director Catholic Bishop’s Pastoral Office
Nu Telea, Senior Pastor Elim Church Christchurch City
Kathryn Walters, District Superintendent Central South Island Synod Methodist Church of New Zealand"