Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fair point

Episcopal Cafe makes a fair point about ACNA's refusal to critique draconian legislation in Uganda.

Bryden Black responds to the Doctrinal Commission's report

As we run up to the General Synod in less than a couple of week's time, I offer for readers here a critique of the Doctrinal Commission's report. It is written by the Rev Dr Bryden Black, a Christchurch based priest. 

The critique is here.

An annotated bibliography which accompanies the critique is here.

Here are a few excerpts from the critique, beginning and end:

"Right up front I wish to thank the members of this Commission for their time and work; we are in their debt in this respect. I also have to acknowledge the customary constituency of the ACANZ&P to be a rather political body. To this end, the dictum, “politics is the art of the possible”, would seem to have been uppermost in their mind as they did their work. And yet one still needs to ask, what undergirds that political practice? For any organization exhibits its specific ideology (to use that word in its non pejorative sense). How coherent and/or cogent therefore is the ideology of the ACANZ&P - or, to give it its formal name, its theology?

Consequently, I wish to highlight what I consider to be some serious deficiencies in their theological method, since it is this methodology that has foreclosed certain vital options which would have been otherwise before us, just as it has also steered the Commission in a given direction from the start. In addition, we might have been better able to see the wood for the trees if other approaches had been tried. To that end, I will first examine some of the basic terminology used by the commission, since it underlies both consciously and yet also unconsciously much of the way they proceed."

then to the conclusion ...

"Whereas previously we simply had the Estate of Holy Matrimony, within which all sexual behaviour was deemed to be permitted and fruitful in a number of ways, now we in the West are succumbing to a hermeneutical ploy, rich in secular political hubris, that would subvert at the deepest level the very Imago Dei in which the triune Creator has made us human beings. As with MacIntyre, a profoundly “disquieting” thing has developed, and it concerns the very nature of human being. The result is a counterfeit, tragic irony of enormous proportions. While there are elements of this Rationale, as assembled by the Commission, which are helpful, overall, given the enormity of what lies before us, I have to conclude their deliberations are far from ideal.

We in ACANZ&P deserve more than what is in effect unfortunately only “gruel”. To which end this all too brief 15 page commentary, which tries to put its finger on major outstanding matters ... Ecc 11:1."

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Heterosexual relationships: does modernity prevail in church decisions?

Interesting read here about a church in Gore encountering modern life.

UPDATE: the notion of different rules for leaders compared to members applies in the Anglican church here. Licensed ministers, lay and ordained, are subject to Title D On the Maintenance of Ministry Standards, whereas members are not. A difference between the Anglican church and the Presbyterian church is that our notion of 'member' is more or less undefined, so the chances of any member being deprived of their undefined status is very low!

The point is not that as Christians, 'leaders' and 'members' we follow different 'rules': there is one standard under God for us all (even if we argue what the standard is). But within the church as an organisation which constantly reaches out to people of all ages and stages of life, and seeks to include new Christians as well as mature Christians, it is fair that everyone understands the rules leaders are expected to abide by while allowing that not all members are in a similar place about understanding the the rules for Christian living let alone abiding by them. To give an example: churches normally expect their leaders to control their liquor intake (if not be teetotal) while seeking to be a welcoming haven to the person with a drink problem.

Don Mathieson responds to the Doctrinal Commission's report

As we run up to the General Synod in less than a couple of week's time, I offer for readers here a critique of the Doctrinal Commission's report. It is written by Dr Don Mathieson QC, a Wellington lay Anglican lawyer.

The full article is here. The Doctrinal Commission's report is in the second half of the pdf relating to the Ma Whea? Commission's work here.

The following is the beginning of Dr Mathieson's critique:

"INTRODUCTION
The bulk of the Commission’s report sets out a rationale for the Anglican Church to conduct same-sex marriages and, if that is not feasible, to conduct same-gender blessings. The objections to that rationale occupy much less space. This critique will help redress that imbalance. The unity of the Church and its acceptability overseas as a church that supports overseas mission are in peril. It is time to speak forthrightly in support of the clear scriptural witness about the sinfulness of homosexual acts and the position adopted without dissension by Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches alike for nearly two thousand years.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT?
Since the Doctrine Commission’s Report was delivered the Ma Whea? Commission has elaborated several ways forward. It labels the historic belief and practice of the Christian church the “traditionalist” view”. That adjective itself tends to suggest that the attitude so labelled is suspect because old-fashioned and not in accordance with modern thinking. It is simply wrong to imply that a position held by the church and its theologians of different stripes for centuries is likely to be wrong just because it is old. Ma Whea states  that adopting this view, here called the orthodox view, of the circumstances in which genital sexual activity is to be approved by the Church would lead to the  ‘disenfranchisement”(with all the emotive freight which that word carries)of those in committed same-gender relationships. It would also, so it is said, lead to their “marginalisation”. This is misleading. In the language of the title of Stanley Grenz’s book, there is a wide consensus among orthodox(including but by no means limited to evangelical) Christians  that the Church must be Welcoming But Not Affirming of those in sexual relationship but not married to each other. They are to be loved. They must be accepted as individual believers. They must be encouraged to participate in God’s mission. The same holds for those who are in an adulterous relationship. But their relationship is not to be approved by pronouncing God’s blessing over it. Gay people in active sexual relationship are be treated with loving care, pastorally assisted and welcomed in services of worship. There is no “marginalisation” here. The orthodox approach needs to be accurately stated. Unfortunately, it often is not. The Doctrine Commission, for its part, does not bother to summarise the practical and pastoral position adopted by Anglicans of orthodox persuasion correctly.

SCRIPTURE
Our Church acknowledges the authority of the scriptures for its belief and practice. The fundamental clauses of the Constitution make the supreme place which the scriptures hold abundantly clear. The rationale advanced by the Doctrine Commission ultimately comes down to saying that the  Commission is faced with a situation-the existence of long term committed gay relationships-with which the scriptures do not deal.

This “silence of scripture” argument fails in its first premise –as will later be demonstrated. The Commission claims that arguments for same gender marriages and blessings are a “faithful response to scripture”. Notice its covert move from the claim that the scriptures don’t deal with the supposedly modern phenomenon of same-gender relationships which the parties to them claim to be “permanent” to contending that a “change in practice is required by the revelation of God”. Such revelation must logically be either derived from the scriptures or be extra-scriptural. If it is extra-scriptural, what is its source? The Commission does not directly say. The Commission comes very close to saying that if society now approves of something that something is “required by the revelation of God”. The absurdity of such a proposition is self-evident and its danger to clear and distinctive Cristian teaching and practice must be reckoned as huge. If on the other hand the revelation of God is asserted to be something contained in the Word of God, we must ask how can scripture simultaneously require X but not deal with X? This is self-contradictory. The place of reason is vaunted in Anglicanism. Good reasoning is not self-contradictory."

What do you think?

Monday, April 28, 2014

The politics of Jesus (Monday 28 April 2014)

The politics of Jesus in NZ got quite interesting last week! Unexpectedly Shane Jones, a leading Labour MP, not only announced that he was leaving parliament at the end of May but that he was likely taking up a government South Pacific fisheries role. Time will tell whether this torpedos Labour's already slim chance of leading the next government after our 20 September election. For a flavour of punditry on the matter, read Vernon Small here.

Small's point, which we gather was also Shane Jones' point as a "right-winger" within the Labour caucus, is that to win elections in NZ (and, it would seem, in most Western democracies) one needs an approach to policy more shaped by pragmatism than idealism. The pragmatism, that is, which asks what the broad middle ground of voters are likely to support. With the exception of utterly extraordinary times (e.g. 1933 in Germany), voters do not vote for the idealism of communism, fascism, monetarism, or (thinking of the USA currently) the "ism" which drives the so called Tea Party forward which I understand to be "let's have virtually no government at all." Voters in Western democracies vote for a little bit of change, this election perhaps shaped by keenness to see the poor assisted better but next election maybe influenced by the promised growth for the whole economy and enlargement of personal spending money through slightly reduced taxes. The classic binary switches between Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Labour (UK), Liberal/Labour (Oz) or National/Labour (NZ) are hardly ever made because one party is promising to turn the world upside down!

For Christians thinking about, even getting involved in politics through party membership, engaging with the necessary pragmatism required to win elections can be very tough. Our default setting is idealism. The vision of radical discipleship in the context of communist community life in Acts 2 and 4 says nothing about 'middle ground' or 'shifting the centre a few percentage points in the polls'!

But the Shane Jones' resignation, with Vernon Small's article in view, challenges Christians in another way. If the major parties were once 'broad church' parties then a ready explanation for how a reasonable number of Christians made their way into parliament is that their views as Christians were able to be accommodation in these broad churches. But if the Labour Party here is becoming less of a broad church, even taking on a form of political sectarianism, are Christians destined to belong to the National Party only or to never stand for parliament?

Incidentally, Shane Jones is an Anglican Christian. On the one occasion in which I met him, we were both members of our General Synod in 1996!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Good news, ?Ma Whea?, Freedom of Speech

My concern for the future of the whole of ACANZP in these islands does not blind me to good news when and where it occurs. Thus it was lovely to read in yesterday's Press about church growth in Ashburton (in my own Diocese), including comment from local clergy. If you click on the link here you can also go to a very interesting interactive map of Christchurch re Christian / not Christian belief. Incidentally the article confirms something I have observed: immigration is making a difference to church life in NZ but raises the question, Why are fourth and fifth generation European Kiwis not in church?

The Ma Whea? Commission report is now getting some close inspection. Latimer Fellowship has begun a series of critiques. The general introduction to the series is here, and Chris Spark offers the first critique there. LATER: Alongside that you might profitably read this.

I try not to be annoyed by much, but I am annoyed when defending the doctrine of our church as it currently stands, and as, just last week, I and many colleagues vowed to uphold leads to talk about such upholders having an 'anti-gay theology'. That is not on if we are to be a church in which people can be faithful to Scripture and tradition in a free and friendly atmosphere. Accordingly, I offer this link to a a superbly made statement, "Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why we must have both". The context for this statement is the recent controversy over whether a US company CEO can hold private views which dissent from the trend of public, secular discourse. Those writing the statement are for gay marriage but aghast at where the response to dissent has gone in the States: to the point where freedom of dissenting speech is curtailed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My solution for General Synod's 2014 Ma Whea? maze

UPDATE: In the latest Taonga print magazine (accessible via the internet here) I argue for a position, written prior to the publication of the Ma Whea? Commission report with its ten options, which is effectively Option J. I am not the Autocrat of the church but if I were I would continue to argue solely for that option (which, I remind you, is the resolved position of the Synod of the Diocese of Christchurch). However, with the publication of the report and the ten options, and taking 'soundings' about responses to these options, what I write below seeks to acknowledge the 'real politik' of our church at this time.

ORIGINAL POST: For those who wish to cut to the chase re 'a way through the maze' head down through the post to the heading with those words.

The following is "up for discussion" here. Perhaps it is nonsense. It might be useful. No doubt it can be improved. My purpose in offering this is not to hold our church together at any cost (though I would like us not to divide). Rather, my purpose is to explore finding a way to remain together despite opposing views because those opposing views involve important matters of Christian faithfulness. Faithfulness to God's revelation in Scripture and faithfulness to the well-being of people - a faithfulness which, in each perspective's own lights, is found together on both sides of the matter - is not something to be lightly disregarded.

Introduction

I have now read through the 102 pages of the Ma Whea? Commission document including the report of the Doctrinal Commission (you can re-find it here). There is some impressive work in the document. For example, writing is generally clear, ideas are expressed concisely and, in my view, nothing seriously silly or even stupid is said. However I am learning from some correspondents that some are disappointed with the two reports. Nevertheless some folk have spent a lot of time on the various pieces of the document and for that I think our church can be very appreciative.

Let me be also just a little bit cheeky, provocative and yet encouraging in an even-handed manner to regular commenters here: I think some arguments on both sides of the ledger here at ADU could be improved by learning from the document :)

I would like to pay a special tribute to the Rev Dr Andrew Burgess, Principal of Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson who took part in the Doctrinal Commission's deliberations. When he was considering appointment he sounded me out as to whether I might be more inclined to be considered for appointment. I declined for various reasons. Andrew was appointed and to the extent that I can discern his influence on the Doctrinal Commission's report I cannot imagine any aspect where my influence would have improved on his.

My summary thoughts as I read through the two Commissions' reports

These thoughts are important for what I say about a way through the maze!

1. The case for change to the doctrine of marriage of this church (as received by this church and recorded in our formularies) has not been made.

In part this conclusion is drawn from the strength of Section C of the Doctrinal Commission's report. In part it is also drawn from something I do not think any part of the document tackles with sufficient rigour, namely, the distinctiveness of the difference between man and woman and hence the special but deservedly privileged status heterosexual marriage enjoys, in Scripture and in tradition. Put another way, a running thread through 102 pages of the combined document is a flattening of gender difference.

2. The case for provision of blessing of (permanent, stable, faithful, loving) same sex partnerships is almost made.

If I were to tweak the Doctrinal Commission's report I would say something more about the blessed relationship between Naomi and Ruth (mentioned, but could have been explored more) and also open up friendship as a category of relationship well blessed by God. But whether we could then get to a case for blessings which was received well by our whole church remains an open question. Plus ...

3. A crucial question then arises: with an improved case being made would we have a case being made for the provision of such blessings as a provision for pastoral care or as an inclusion in our formularies, printed in our authorised prayer books?

This distinction is very important. The former is a provision of pastoral care for those who wish to provide it, the latter implies a pastoral responsibility across the Three Tikanga of our church. The former puts the onus on bishops (and/or synods) to determine whether to permit such provision (or even, more subtly, to not forbid it). The latter puts the onus on those not wishing to conduct a prayer book service to justify their refusal.

4. Across the two reports, the case is made that we are a church with two (or more) views on same sex marriage and the blessing of same sex partnerships.

5. Yet we seem to be a church in a state that if we cannot find a way to formally be a church of more than one view then we will lose people.

4. I note the observation made that the Diocese of Auckland found it easier to secure a majority re blessing than re marriage. (Section E1.2 of Doctrinal Report on p. 33 of that report, which is page 97 of the combined report).

"We may note that in 2013 the Synod of the Diocese of Auckland voted not to
pursue a path toward same-gender marriage but voted in favour of a path toward
a liturgy for blessing same-gender sexual relationships. The margin of disparity in
voting on the two relevant motions before the Synod indicates that in the minds
and hearts of a significant number of those voting there is a difference between
‘blessing’ and ‘marriage’. In other words: clearly for some Anglicans a blessing
of a same-gender relationship is acceptable when same-gender marriage is not."

Ten Options

Re-linked here are the ten options the Me Whea? Commission is proposing to the GS for consideration.

A Way Through the Maze

A couple of observations to begin with.

First, from the conservative side of things, there is concern that if agreement to some change is secured now it will lead to pressure for further change, then further change until, before you know it, we will have changed to a degree that is worth dividing over. Hence two strategic conservative response at this time: (i) agree to no change, make no compromises, allow no foothold on to the thin end of the thick wedge; (ii) leave fairly quickly after change has been made because the momentum for further change is unstoppable, so no point in waiting.

Put another way, and in question form, might conservatives accept some change to acknowledge we are a church of more than one view if there is guarantee that further change will not be pressed for?

Secondly, with respect to bishops making determinations about the chasteness of candidates for ordination and for licensed appointments, we can observe that bishops already have some discretion in this area. Consider the matter of remarriage after divorce. Strictly speaking remarriage after divorce is not an impediment to ordination or appointment on the grounds of chasteness. But we could understand that a bishop might be a little wary of (say) a candidate who has been twice divorced and thrice married.

Here, then, is my way through the maze, in the light of the 102 page document, the above thoughts and observations:

(in parentheses are named relevant options from the ten options proposed by the Commission, though no claim is made that my 'steps' equate to the commission's 'options').

In certain ways what I am proposing relates to Option F.

Step One: we commit to not changing our doctrine of marriage for a period of not less than twenty-five years. (See Option A)

If 'resistance' to such change is a generational thing, then twenty-five years should see the resistance melt away without painful divisions resulting.

Step Two: we confirm that bishops have discretion (remember: it has already previously been exercised in the past in our church) to authorise priests to conduct blessings of same sex relationships (note: a rite already exists on one of our church's websites but we might wish to bring this up to date while not making it part of our formularies). (See Options C, I)

Step Three: we confirm that bishops and their advisors only have authority to ask of prospective candidates for ordination or appointment to licensed ministry about their adherence to our doctrine of marriage: that is, whether or not a candidate is willing to conduct or to not conduct a blessing of a same sex partnership is not a relevant matter to such discernment processes. (See Option A)

Step Four: we confirm that 'chaste' may be understood by bishops to include people in same sex partnerships which have been blessed by a priest or a bishop and registered with the state via civil union or marriage but need not be so understood (i.e. bishops could choose to continue to understand 'chaste' as 'married or celibate'). (See Options C and E)

For Steps Two and Four, bishops might wish to consult their synods and they might be prudent to do so but they would not be required to do this.  (See Option D).

Step Five: we encourage a period of facilitated conversations in dioceses prior to 1 April 2016 in order that from 1 April 2016 Steps Two, Three and Four may be implemented. (See Option J)

Step Six: we encourage bishops to remain open to the possibility that the actual working out of Steps One to Four, with respect to all sides of the issues, might require new arrangements in respect of episcopal care of clergy and parishes and we authorise the Primates with the assistance of the General Secretary to appoint a commission of responsible persons at any time through the period 2014 until 2018 to review how this new direction for our church is working. (See Option G).

It is understandable that bishops are wary of 'Dual Episcopacy' yet our church may need to find new ways of being an episcopal church in a new situation. All may go well, in which case Step Six requires nothing to be done. But if all does not go well then this Step offers guidance to our bishops and archbishops.






Monday, April 21, 2014

The politics of the RISEN Jesus (Monday 21 April 2014)

A brief note this week since it is the holiday season, family are home, visitors are coming ...

The resurrection of Jesus is a key ingredient in consideration of the politics of Jesus. Jesus dead in the grave, his bones able to be visited by pilgrims and tourists alike could still be an influence on politics as a teacher of ethics and wisdom. Or, maybe confined to the annals of history (see other rabbis of his time). But the resurrected Jesus impacts the story of Western culture and other cultures today with a vital political ingredient: hope for a better life.

A further aspect is that the resurrection is proclaimed as a public fact of history, validating the gospel of Jesus Christ as a message for all. Hope for a better life is hope for change for all people, not just for those who identify themselves as Christians.

In a democracy this translates to evaluation of proposals: which proposals offer prospects - credible and plausible - for a better life for the whole of society?

That leaves a lot to think about.

It is likely that it makes some Christians uneasy about identifying with one political party, as though some guarantee exists that Party X has a monopoly on making a better future. There is no such guarantee. The guiding principle for Christian involvement - arguably - is not to align with one party but to work with any party which offers prospects for a better future.

UPDATE: an excellent essay re resurrection and politics, by Caleb Anderson is here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

I drafted up a pretty hard hitting "take" on our church in the light of an article in this morning's Sunday Herald about church life in our largest city Auckland, suggesting that we are a church in crisis re decline and doing nothing much about it at General Synod. Then I thought that it might not be received in a kindly manner and perhaps I should be more responsible as an older member of the clergy: church life is difficult, people are doing their best and we are all in this together. Also, it is not as though I have all the answers.

So how about I let you the reader do the work today?

First, here is a list, as reported by my bishop, +Victoria Matthews, in a recent letter to her clergy of some of the topics for discussion at our General Synod in a few weeks' time. (I am not a member of GS so do not have access yet to the full set of papers - hence grateful for this list):

"The papers for General Synod  which arrived last week are extensive and some weighty topics will be discussed.  The Ma Whea Commission Report which looks at possible directions for our Church in response to the many voices calling for action and reaction about same gender relationships and the request to have these relationships blessed, is now up on the Diocesan web page and is also attached to this letter.  Included in the Ma Whea Commission Report, as an appendix, is the Report of the Doctrinal and Theological Commission on the Theology of Marriage with its theological rationale for same gender marriage.  Other resolutions address the possibility of mutual recognition of Holy Orders with the Methodists in this country; a request for a Decade on Mission; a proposed revised Communications Commission; Fossil Fuel Divestment; an HR package proposal; two Constitutional Amendments; and the motion from last General Synod which seeks episcopal autonomy with respect to those in same gender sexual relationships.  There are a number of Bills including one which requests a name change of our neighbour Hui Amorangi to become the Anglican Maori Diocese of Te Waipounamu.  Reports from the three Tikanga Commissions are also included in the General Synod papers."

The Herald article, secondly, about the state of church life in Auckland city is here.

My question, dear readers, is this: should our list of topics at our General Synod be different in the light of the success the mega churches in Auckland are having at connecting the gospel with Kiwis in this secularised, post modernized new agey 21st century?

Depending on the answers and our willingness to work on them, we may yet look forward to the resurrection of our church in the course of this century as the largest national church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Or not. Perhaps our will is focused in another direction. If so, what do we think our future is?*

*My focus here is on Anglican life in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our church includes the island nations of Polynesia but the mix of culture, history, church relationships and politics is different across those islands and less familiar to the life I am familiar with here in these islands.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Someone thought it cool to invent Jesus' wife; AB on ++JW

A while ago there was a bit of a fuss about a fragment of papyrus known as the Wife of Jesus fragment. At the time it seemed like an academic at a prestigious Ivy League university who should have known better nevertheless went all speculative on a bit of papyrus which was pretty promptly declared a forgery.

Well the academic, Karen King, is undaunted, it would appear, and is busy promoting a book of essays on the fragment in such a way that despite some of the essays repeating the previous denunciation, the fragment, albeit slightly more subtly is being pushed again as sorta, kinda authentic.

Mark Goodacre has the low-down with links here. Of particular note is his link to a quick response PDF by Francis Watson.

They do not come much sharper than Francis Watson. N.T. Wright's class and all that. Believe me, when Francis starts saying that fragment X really says Y and Y goes against received tradition, then the tradition had better change. But in this case he really thinks that fragment X is a copy of some other stuff. Rainy afternoons, idle moments, clever person, charcoal to hand. Explanation done and dusted.

Talking of rainy afternoons, NZ is going through a very rainy, windy and in some cases disastrous patch. If your Saturday is wet and miserable then here is a good long read on the life and times of ++Justin Welby and his first year as ABC by Andrew Depending What Mood I am In I Might Be Kind to Anglicans Or Not Brown.

BONUS for reading through to here: A. N. Wilson on Good Friday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest post on the Cross

One of the first bloggers in the Christian world, writing as Anonymous, has kindly supplied our post for today. The post is headlined:

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all - this is God's will.

Day after day every Jerusalem Temple priest takes his turn on the roster to perform his religious duties; repeatedly he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

But when the Great High Priest I am writing about, Jesus Christ had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies - the ones who reject and even despise the cross on which he died - to be made his footstool.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.

First he says (in Jeremiah 31:33):

"This is the covenant I will make with them, after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds."

Then he adds (in Jeremiah 31:34):

"Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."

In conclusion, where these sins and wrongdoings have been forgiven in such a complete manner, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

From now on the only sacrifice God's people are asked to make is the sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Sunday by Sunday, indeed day by day, the effectiveness and finality of this Great High Priest's sacrifice means, sisters and brothers, that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, that is, to draw close into the immediate presence of Holy God, to outrageously claim fellowship and communion with God himself.

The blood Jesus shed on the cross, the blood we could say of the High Priest who was also the sacrificial Lamb, has opened for us a new and living way into the presence of God - the curtain at the entrance to the Holiest of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple has been thrown wide open so we can enter.

So, having such a wonderful great priest over the family of God, let us draw near to God with sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith in Jesus brings, because through faith we know that our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

On this Good Friday, as we remember these things for our benefit and give praise and thanks to God for sending Jesus to be both High Priest and Lamb, let us travel through space and time to the place outside the Jerusalem city gate where Jesus suffered to make the people holy through his own blood.

Let us, then, go to him, outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore - beyond the security of comfortable domestic arrangements, let's go to the marginal places, to where Jesus is, willing to be despised and ridiculed for his sake. It's tough, but our horizons in life are not limited to a house in suburbia and a career in an inner city office, we are looking for the city which is to come, the heavenly city of God.

Indeed, as we look with understanding eyes on Jesus dying on the cross, let's resolve to continue our journey of faith. Perseverance in these days of trials and tribulations is vital. Others have gone before us through testing times - they form a great cloud of witnesses who urge us on.

Let's throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles us.

Let's run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfectoer of faith.

Here is the thing, this Good Friday:

For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

War or peace? Wrath or example?

War or peace?

We have been having some debates here on war versus pacifism. Soon on TV screens we will see the moving story of conscientious objectors in the First World War including Archibald Baxter, father of our most famous poet, James K Baxter. Called Field Punishment No 1, it screens this Tuesday at 8.30 pm on TV One.

In this year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, with Ukraine being torn apart by Russian manipulation of nationalist sentiment (or is Russia rescuing Russians under threat of Ukrainian nationalism?) we continue to make the War to End All Wars among the biggest of all lies humanity has told itself.

Locally here in Anglican NZ, in the heart of our own residential theological college, the spirit of military service is alive and well, as you can read here.

For Anglicans in NZ, where, as the article reminds us, we have very strong links to the military, especially via chaplaincies, questions about Christian duty to Queen and country have the potential to divide us.

We could debate whether if this were 1914 we would go to war in foreign fields for the sake of control of Europe. An interesting and safe academic debate.

What if we asked ourselves whether Russians under Ukrainian yokes or Ukrainian interests affected by Russian expansionism is worth fighting for? Or the plight of Syrian rebels?

Wrath or example?

We have also had some debates over the years about God's wrath. It struck me reading Exodus 12 this morning that if the roots of the action of God in Christ on the cross go back to the first Passover (and beyond, to the Fall, in case anyone thinks I have a short-term view of history) then God's wrathful judgment is intrinsic to understanding the cross.

The first Passover is the story of God's wrath being visited on Egypt. The unjust treatment of Israel as Egypt's slave incurred God's just response: let my people go. When polite request for justice failed, God's wrath was invoked. Even a series of severe plagues was insufficient to make Pharaoh repent. Finally, God's judgment would come though the angel of death. For Israel the way through this ultimate plague was to kill a lamb, smear doorpost and lintel with blood, thus signifying that that angel of death was to pass over that house and family. Israel escaped the wrath through the Passover being celebrated for the first time.

At his Last Supper, our Lord celebrated Passover with a transformative action which changed that meal forever for his followers. Breaking bread and blessing wine, equating them with his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, Jesus became the new Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29, 36). Through his blood his followers would be saved from the wrathful judgment of God: 'Whoever eats of this bread will live forever' (John 6:58). The implication of rejecting Jesus the bread of God (as some did immediately after Jesus finished his teaching in John 6) is judgment: 'The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge' (John 12:48).

There are other understandings to bring to the cross, including demonstration of God's love for us in Christ Jesus and offering an example of patient endurance through suffering (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:21). But for those uncomfortable with the wrath of God being part and parcel of the event of the cross, some reckoning needs to be made with the interpretation of our Lord himself, that on the cross a new Passover took place.

The good news, of course, is that once again, blood serves to save people from the judgment of God, from God's justice being enacted on those of us who have acted unjustly. Through the blood of the Lamb we receive mercy undeserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consequences of being Justin Welby

Recently Archbishop Justin Welby fronted up to the public via media by way of an hour of talkback radio in England. Questions came in from the public.He responded. One response in particular has generated enormous follow up discussion, debate, perhaps even scorn. One line into the controversy is via a linked blog, Psephizo and a post entitled, What did Justin Welby say about gays and violence in Africa? The controversy, you see, turning on the extent to which ++Justin made some violence against Christians in Africa consequential on decisions in England about same sex marriage.

+Gene Robinson weighs in on the matter via The Daily Beast. It is a thoughtful piece which expresses thoughts I have read elsewhere, including concerns that the ++Welby approach kinda gives into murderers.

Is the matter, nevertheless, one that raises questions about what it means to be 'Anglican'? I have also been reading (but cannot now recall where) that if we go too far in the direction of (so to speak) local concerns trumping global consequences, do we not undermine understanding of episcopacy, with (as it happens) specific reference to the episcopacy of +Gene Robinson himself?

Anglicanism as a global phenomenon is a tension between the local and the global. The Anglican Communion is a communion of churches and not (it is often noted) itself a church. Thus the churches which make up this Communion are autonomous (they can make decisions via General Synods/Conventions without reference to higher authority) while the Communion when it meets cannot make decisions which the churches must implement. So far so good. And thus far we can certainly note that if autonomy means autonomy then local churches should be able to make local decisions about, say, gay marriage or blessing same sex partnerships, or, uncomfortably for many observers, about supporting draconian anti-gay legislation without acknowledgement of any consequences for other churches in the Communion.

But does autonomy mean autonomy?

I suggest that, in the peculiarity of the Anglican Communion, we do not have a straightforward understanding of autonomy, that, in fact, we have a sneaky version which amounts to 'when it suits, autonomous means autonomous, but when it doesn't suit, it doesn't.'

Bear with me.

When TEC ordained Gene Robinson to be bishop in 2003 it exercised its autonomy to ordain whom it saw fit to ordain. In that particular context in time and Anglican debate, the autonomous American church said, 'Global concerns about this mean zilch.' But when we fast forward to 2008 we found that +Gene Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference that year. A snub on any reckoning. Effectively the Conference via its president, the then ABC, ++Rowan Williams, said 'You are not recognised as a bishop admissible to this global meeting of Anglican bishops.' A conclusion we may draw from that event is that sometimes autonomous Anglican churches acting on local concerns will effectively perform sacramental actions, such as ordination, with local but not global recognition of the action or actions.

If autonomy means autonomy then no snub would be perceived: TEC had the right to ordain +Gene Robinson; ++Rowan Williams had the right to not invite him to be a bishop beyond his diocese of New Hampshire.

But there was a perceived snub. Anglicans around the world were pained by the refusal to invite. Autonomy does not quite mean autonomy when we do not want it to mean that. A bishop, we say, ordained locally is available for ministry globally.

What makes this so? What makes for this less than straightforward state of autonomy? It is the fact that the reality of how we understand the Communion is that it is not actually a communion of autonomous churches but a communion of churches with a degree of autonomy and a degree of interdependency with other churches. That interdependency concerns entering into a series of common interests. Communion meetings of bishops, of primates, and of bishops/clergy/laity foster those common interests and do so in a form of theological speech which is laced with distinctive themes and memes derived from distinctively Anglican speech set down in documents such as the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, to say nothing of the writings of popular Anglican theologians.

Bishops chosen locally should share in the common interests of the global Communion. Meeting together at Lambeth is a way to deepen understanding of those interests and perhaps to develop new commonalities. When the commonalities are not shared there may be problems over meeting together (as there were in 2008, noting not only the snub, but many bishops who chose not to take up their invitation).

Perhaps ++Justin misjudged the 'consequences' of local actions on other parts of the world, and perhaps he misjudged the consequences of his own words, as +Gene Robinson notes. My own judgment is that he made an important note to all of us about connections across a global communion and the note works in various ways re a variety of actions at this time (cf. my comment on the Psephizo post linked above). Nevertheless there has been wide debate following++Justin's brush with radio and clearly a number of commentators are angry with ++Justin.

What ++Justin got absolutely right, however, is his underlying presupposition: the Communion is not a communion of completely and utterly autonomous churches. It is a Communion of semi-autonomous churches which should take care not to claim autonomy only when it suits. Further, this group of churches is a communion, a group with common interests fostered by interdependency which need affirming not disputing. For as long as we dispute common characteristics we run significant risks of destroying the Communion as the disputes highlight autonomy and undo unity. The key to our future is to find out what interdependence means, the balance between autonomy and dependence on one another. We set that back when we rejected the Covenant.

++Justin does not wish to be the ABC who finds himself without a Communion. He is working hard at renewing interdependence. He has his work cut out. His critics are zeroed in on his every word. Should he prove fallible he will be mercilessly criticised.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The most Christian PM since ...

UPDATE

David Cameron is on an evangelistic roll as he speaks publicly once again about his faith, the work of the Church of England and the importance of faith for morality. Thanks Church Times!

ORIGINAL POST

David Cameron seems an enigmatic kind of chap. At best, is he an 'all things to all men' kind of leader, trying to please this constituency and that? This, it seems, is to the despair of many a Tory. At worst, is his Prime Ministership a charm offensive which hides an agenda for maintaining the classy British society of which he happens to be at the top as a rich, Old Etonian? This, according to many a left-winger, is the real Cameronian inside oil. Either way, some have wondered about the Christian commitment of David Cameron. But on that score we now have this to consider: with H/T to ++Cranmer, we hear David Cameron saying some good things, including this at a recent 'Easter reception' at 10 Downing Street:

" I’m proud to hold a reception for Christians here in Downing Street and proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school, which – I often get my moment of greatest peace – not every week, I’m ashamed to say, but perhaps every other week I pop in to the Thursday morning sung Eucharist beautiful service in St Mary Abbots, and I find a little bit of peace and hopefully a little bit of guidance."

He goes on to make an observation I included in my sermon yesterday (there was an AGM to follow the service):

"This third thing I wanted to say, which I suppose is a little bit more controversial, but I was reflecting on this meeting tonight and what to share with you and I have a thought – which is not a new thought, but I think it is a true thought –which is when I think of the challenges which our churches face in our country and when I think about the challenges political institutions face in our countries – in our country, I see a lot of similarities. We both sometimes can get wrapped up in bureaucracy; we both sometimes can talk endlessly about policies and programmes and plans without explaining what that really means for people’s lives. We can sometimes get obsessed by statistics and figures and how to measure things. 
Whereas actually, what we both need more of is evangelism. More belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives and make a difference and improve both the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and we should be unashamed and clear about wanting to do that. And I’m sure there are people here of all political persuasions and no political persuasions, and I’m certainly not asking you to agree with everything the government does, but I hope you can see – hopefully more than moments, but real moments of evangelism, enthusiasm and wanting to make our world a better place."

There is more at the link, including heartfelt concern for persecution of Christians. But perhaps the nicest comment he makes concerns the pastoral ministry of parish priests, referring directly to the priest of the parish whose school his children go to and his own local priest in his constituency:

"So it’s lovely to have here tonight the vicar from St Mary Abbots school, Gillean Craig, and also the vicar who looks after me spiritually in the constituency, Mark Abrey in Chadlington, who, when I often – anyone asks me about the pastoral care that many vicars carry out across the country, I remember 5 years ago when we had to mourn the loss and bury my son Ivan, I can’t think of anyone who was more loving or thoughtful or kind than Mark. And of course, Ivan would have been 12 yesterday, which has had me pause to think about that."
Britain's most Christian PM since Margaret Thatcher?

But then Giles Fraser pours a bit of (needed) cold water on the idea of DC's Christianity being the meat and bones kind that gets you crucified ... here.

That critique fires bullets all around. Is what I believe and stand for as a Christian likely to get me crucified?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The politics of Jesus (Monday 14 April 2014)

I really like what I see of our NZ Prime Minister John and his wife Bronagh Key. They seem extraordinarily pleasant, open, transparent people with the best interests of New Zealanders at heart. If you have time watch this lovely interview by John Campbell as he meets and eats with the Keys as part of a series on our political leaders at home.

Just before readers who do not like John Key and/or detest his policies switch off, I will be trying to bring you further instalments of John Campbell's series,**** so some fairness to all leaders is experienced here. Further, I don't think I am particularly biased towards National Party PMs: from the past (within my lifetime) I have admired Norman Kirk and Bill Rowling, detested Rob Muldoon and his style of politics, and looked in awe at the talents of David Lange. Though not when they were PM, I have met and much liked Mike Moore and Geoffrey Palmer. I was once enthralled to have a two minute conversation with Helen Clark when she was Leader of the Opposition: she is one of our greatest Kiwis. I was at primary school with David Parker (current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) and have had a couple of occasions of meeting him during his career in politics: as nice a bloke now as he was a school friend then.

Possibly only Norman Kirk of those named above came from as hard a family upbringing as John Key had. My admiration for John Key partly stems from the fact that (unbeknown to me) he was growing up about 800m from where I lived in Bryndwr. My street was as middle class as any street in NZ. John lived in a tough state housing street that I steered clear of. He was brought up by a single mother. By all accounts there was not a lot of money. His life story, of moving from a poor upbringing to becoming one of NZ's richest men (prior to politics) and now to being our Prime Minister, is a genuine story illustrating the possibilities of betterment in a capitalist democracy (both here and in other countries where he made his fortune such as the UK and the USA).

But as we contemplate such things today we find ourselves matching present day economic conditions with the politics of Jesus which includes valuing of economic equality as an expression of equality of persons entering the kingdom of God as equal bearers of the divine image (Genesis 1), equal as sinners needing salvation ('all have sinned'), and equal as recipients of God's merciful love ('God so loved the world). What does the politics of Jesus mean for Christians working out which economic future to vote for?

Cutting to the chase, within the capitalist sphere of the world, Christians along with others consider the possibility of Communism as a system and (in my understanding) quickly reject it as proven not to work (Cf. failure of Soviet Russia and Communist China, both now (state-guided) capitalist economies) and also as destructive of basic human freedoms as it was imposed (mass starvations, ethnic cleansing, labour camps). That appears to leave some form of capitalism as the only option for the method of economic activity in the world and (again, cutting to the chase) presents as with the agony of supporting a system that poses equality of economic opportunity versus equality of outcomes: the former can be implemented consistent with human freedom, the latter cannot be done without dictatorship.

The story of John Key rising from poverty in Bryndwr to wealth in Parnell (especially via the key 'opportunity' means of education) is the perfect illustration of equality of economic opportunity on this scenario. When he was at Burnside High School (then NZ's largest secondary school), 2000 pupils from a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds, according to the narrative of modern capitalism, all had equal opportunity, if chosen and pursued, to become "John Key." Less trumpeted, of course, is the simple mathematical fact that if 2000 pupils are at one secondary school being educated for success, no economy can support all 2000 becoming extraordinarily wealthy: someone has to make their wealth at the expense of others. If one, say, rises to own and manage a supermarket, others are needed to stock the shelves and run the checkouts, one can realise  capital advancement out of the business, the rest settle for wages.

Are these the only alternatives, opportunity versus outcome? Does equality for people within capitalism (which can only sustain equality of opportunity) boil down to inequality of outcomes? These days there is a twist to the question: are we also doomed to have a system which offers increasing inequality rather than some kind of inequality in a settled state? Are we doomed to a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and nothing can be done about the ever-widening gap?

As I best understand the following article, 'Capitalism simply isn't working' about economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, there is another way forward, a way which has been followed previously in the twentieth century, in which governments through taxation (we might even say 'actual, effective taxation') attempt to ameliorate the gap between rich and poor. (The cynic might say, 'At least revive the prospects of the squeezed middle-class'). This is undoubtedly attractive as taxation as an imposed redistribution of wealth is a very long way from the totalitarian methods of Soviet Russia and Communist China. Yet the point remains in the article that the globalization of economic conditions means that country A changing its taxation system does not present the advantages to that country which prevailed in, say, the 1930s or 1950s so long as countries B to Z refuse to change their tax rates.

Our election in NZ is not an election of a 'one world government'. It is just for the government of an incredibly tiny percentage of the world's population. What are we to do for the equal benefit of all NZers in a world where our economy depends as much on wage/tax rates in China as it does on (say) America's attempts to assist income for its farmers via subsidies?

**** I now note that David Cunliffe is going to be a no show for this particular series of interviews:



-  - -  -  -
As a bit of a postscript and so I do not lose sight of the link, I note John Pilger's plaintive cry of the heart about twenty years of economic life in post-apartheid South Africa. His article illustrates the dilemma we seem to face re choices. On the one hand his characterization of the control of the post-apartheid economy by the same forces that controlled it beforehand is troubling. In theological terms, Mammon's rule over the kingdom has been both unchanged and unchallenged. On the other hand his own recipe for an alternative, essentially widespread nationalization of industries and massive control via state intervention in economic activity is a recipe for failure. South Africans might be more equal today in their share of wealth as a result but their non-participation in the usual trading conditions of the world (e.g they would have been battered by the banking system on Pilger's approach) but that wealth would be much diminished. But particularly poor (in my view) is Pilger's failure to acknowledge the likelihood that a government controlled economy creates enormous opportunity for cronyism: the operators approved by such government, from Cabinet ministers downwards becomes the new rich. To truly change the system one needs to change the individuals ...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Anglicans should stop driving cars and flying to meetings, NOW!

It is a little difficult to take Archbishop Desmond Tutu seriously these days. However I would not like to stand in the way of those who wish to take him seriously. In this case, on divesting one's lifestyle away from reliance on fossil fuels.

Accordingly I look forward to reports from those who do take him seriously that they are selling their cars, forswearing off flying to meetings (Who are Anglicans? "We meet") and refusing to use electric heaters until the cessation of all coal, natural gas and diesel fired power stations contributing to their national power grids. It goes without saying that no fires will be lit by Anglicans taking Tutu seriously.

Let's be clear: oil companies are not to blame for oil usage, nor coal companies for burning coal. Nor are investors in these companies. The blame lies solely with consumers. With you and me and our use of cars, purchases from supermarkets of products delivered to them by trucks, turning on heaters in the middle of winter, and buying tools, BBQs and other steel or iron products from hardware stores.

In one way Tutu is right: we could solve the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change at a stroke if our consumption habits change. But he blames the wrong people for the problem and thus asks the wrong people to change.

This, by Tutu in his Guardian article, is just nuts, very difficult to take seriously as a contribution to effective action on the matter:

"People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change."

The real truth is far from pleasant and way too personal. It is this:

People of conscience need to break their ties with consumption habits with contribute to the injustice of climate change.

I look forward to your reports via comments of your changed consumption habits ...

Incidentally, Tutu's contribution seems to miss the point that a very simple way to change the climate would be for the human population to radically reduce itself. We are in the state we are in as much as anything because we have grown the global population to a point almost unimaginable (say) 100 years ago. We could reduce our numbers by having less children, knowing the consequence will soon be billions of elderly people without sufficient work force generating the income to support them as they age towards death. Anyone up for that?


Thursday, April 10, 2014

That's just odd- can anyone explain it?

With H/T to Anglican Curmudgeon we fly this morning to Norway - neutral marriage law since 2008- where the national church has agreed at its latest General Synod to its stance on marriage:

According to this report, the GS votes mean the Norwegian church is:

NOT in favour of same sex couples marrying in a religious ceremony

NOT keen on, in fact rejected "A proposal for a prayer recognizing two equal theological views on same sex marriage and giving the church’s blessing to same sex couples after they married in a civil ceremony".

NOT keen on, in fact shut down also "A plan to introduce a prayer, without acknowledging two equal views"

so, obviously, this church is committed to the status quo that marriage is between one man and one woman ... don't be silly because the General Synod is also

NOT in favour of the status quo that marriage is between one man and one woman.

"It meant there was no clear statement from the Kirkem√łtet on Tuesday on the church’s gay marriage stance."

Explanation's of this curious set of votes welcomed in the comments ... it is beyond your blogger with his very small brain :)


Monday, April 7, 2014

Ma Whea? Commission: A nightmare or a mare's nest?

I am going to jot down responses to the Ma Whea? Commission's offering of ten options to General Synod, the report of the Doctrine Commission, with a day by day addition to this post for a week or so.

Key Links re what is being presented

Anglican Taonga Report

Ma Whea? Commission's full report in PDF

The Ten Options

Precis of Doctrine Commission's report

Doctrine Commission's full report in PDF

A blogpost or two worth looking at re response

Making Tracts (Bishop Jim White)

Monday 7 April

Reading around the traps (i.e. posts and comments to the posts) I suggest that one way to reflect on the situation before our church is that of two broad groupings talking past each other because the situation is seen in a completely different perspective by each broad grouping. (Thus the one bit of the reports presented on Taonga which connects with this reality is the news that the Doctrine Commission could not agree on a number of matters).

For one group the issue before us is small (and the group cannot understand why so much energy is expended about it), involving a modest extension of rights within our church, an additional rite for our church and, possibly, a tiny change to our doctrine of marriage by removal of gender differentiation as a sine qua non of marriage. In terms of the ten Options, C, D and I could come to the forefront of consideration with little or no ramifications, according to this line of thinking (as I detect it, reading around the traps ... I might be misreading).

For another group the issue before us is big (and thus a lot of energy is being expended because the future shape and even life itself of our church is at stake). On one point this group would agree with the other group, greater clarity re 'rights' within our church is important. Thus we read in the report on the Doctrine Commission,

'The Commission states clearly that the Church should stand for the inclusion of those who are marginalized, even while the shape of that inclusion is debated.'. 

But for the remainder of matters, this group's thinking runs along these lines: there is nothing 'modest' about a change which decides we can bless in God's name what God has prohibited, nor about removing gender differentiation as core to our understanding of marriage. For that matter even adding a rite to our church's set of rites is not a neutral action for it would raise the question of whether clergy would be disciplined for refusing to offer the rite, to say nothing of the question of people being refused ordination or appointment to licensed positions because of such refusal. I note that under Option I there is a chilling remark to the effect that it is a serious option to refuse to permit clergy to not offer the rite:

'“An exception could be considered to permit clergy to elect not to perform blessings of persons in same sex relationships.”

Only, 'could be considered'??

Within this group I detect an alertness to the possibility of naievity. The course of secular debate in Western societies has quickly moved from 'de-criminalization' of homosexual acts, to 'civil unions', to 'gay marriage.' Wouldn't it be foolish to presume that agreement now to Options C, D, or I would settle the matter once and for all? Surely the real agenda of those pushing for change is to secure Option E? Why not 'get it over and be done with it?'

For this group, seeing large rather than small changes before us, of the ten options, J seems the least we could agree to at this time - A would be satisfactory, B plausible but demanding. In ascending order of urgent priority for consideration F, G, and H must be reckoned with if change is going to happen.

But F, G and H are arguably 'nightmare' options. But the reality, whichever way we might go as we reflect on the options is that we have a 'mare's nest' because we have two quite different views at work as to how big or small the issues are.

The mare's nest also involves Option K which the Commission has not presented, and maybe not thought about ... more later.

Tuesday 8 April

Very interesting discussion on the Making Tracts post linked above - please read.

Reading there and elsewhere, and thinking further ... these scenarios/questions strike me:

X: We retain the status quo because we cannot agree on a way forward ... but perhaps also because we recognise that whatever we do, change or don't change, our church will suffer loss, and we cannot work out which is the greater loss if we pursue one option rather than another.

Y: We change (or signal 'change in principle, two years study, change in 2016 in practice') but will we be able to sustain Two Integrities? Will those pressing for change admit safeguards? Will they be permanent or for the time-being? What kind of Two Integrities would we have? Referring back to discussion on Making Tracts (link above) would the Two Integrities be akin to trying to promote both Baptism of Infants of Believers and Baptism of Adult Believers Only (something Anglicans have not done previously) or to living with Military Chaplains and Pacifists in our midst?

Z: We bite the bullet and press for Dismemberment: choose you this day whom you will bless. (At least we might allow ourselves a process through two years for orderly Dismemberment). But would the rump 'gay church' survive? If we pressed for Change Now, Dismemberment Now some very strong parishes (i.e. with many younger generation families) could depart. Almost certainly on such a draconian cleaving of the ways, the Diocese of Nelson (with a theological college in its midst) would walk apart. Perhaps one other NZ Diocese too, along with the Diocese of Polynesia. Many parishes remaining would consist of elderly parishioners incapable of embracing adaptation to the 21st century, unable to put forward candidates for ordained ministry in sufficient numbers to maintain ordained leadership going forward. Within ten years the rump church would be in severe crisis mode re person power in the ministry (though likely not financially as existing trust funds would spread better over fewer ministries). Hmm. Not an exciting scenario. Perhaps General Synod won't go there!

In some ways our church is considering a 'zero sum' game: if we chose one scenario we keep so many and lose so many; if we choose another scenario we lose that much and keep that many. Put another way, our dilemma (arguably, when all is said and done) is whether we wish to include conservatives and marginalise gay couples and their supporters or marginalise conservatives and canonically include gay couples and bring peace to their supporters. We would like to (so to speak) keep both groups happy. We worry that we cannot do so. If there were a simple answer to the dilemma we would not be a church with ten options to consider!

There is also an eleventh Option K to consider which I will think about further while on the road today ... comments may not be posted till late tonight.

Wednesday 9 April

Reading the ten options I do not find any particular sense of reflection on the future of our church in terms of growth and development, in terms of, we might say, riffing off from Option H, 'Planned Memberment.'

The focus, understandably, through the ten options is, 'What will we decide?' and 'How will making a decision, one way or another, affect current membership of the church?'

But we live in a desperate situation for our church, one of widespread ageing and decline of congregations BUT NOT a situation beyond change, transformation and a new day dawning. A new day dawning, however, is about recruiting new members into the life of our church.

None of the ten options addresses the question of what kind of church in the future will new people want to join (whether as Christians transferring from other churches or as new Christians responding to the gospel preached from our ministry unit bases).

In the present context some, of course, are likely to say 'Well, no one will want to join a church out of touch with the times' and others might say, 'Not so. Who would join a church which looks so in touch with the times that all distinctiveness of message and lifestyle is lost?' Personally I would prefer to ask this question:

'What messages being preached in word and deed today are drawing new members into the life of the Anglican church in these islands?'

My Option K is then this: 'We should decide re marriage and the possibility of blessing relationships which are not marriage to make changes (or no changes) which support and foster the messages being preached in word and deed today which draw new members into our churches'.

Would doing anything else foster the continuing decline of our church?

Friday 11 April

Our dilemma as a church is neatly captured by a comment made on Making Tracts - link above - from which I cite a small portion:

"In the NZ society, unlike Australia, there is no official discrimination except in the church. Even the visiting future king attended a playgroup yesterday with a same sex couple and their child. It was harldy big news.Even in my age group of 60 plus I do not experience any discrimination day to day. Most of my friends however do not go near a church.I do not support church missionary activity because I would not recommend any young gay person become involved with the church. That way lies misery."

I suggest that no one on the conservative side of the argument wishes the church to be a place where it is viewed as the only community within society where there is 'official discrimination' against gay members; nor does anyone wish the church to be a place where gay members are 'miserable'.

Yet no one on the conservative side of the argument wishes the church to be a place where our understanding of the will of God is determined by sweeping social change or parliamentary law. Social change expressed in law may be God's will (or at least in accordance with God's will) but shouldn't the church discern whether that is the case or not? And shouldn't our discernment be undertaken in terms of our understanding of Scripture and tradition?

Solomon: what is your cellphone number?

Sunday 14 April

I like this comment by Gail Young on Anglican Taonga's report re the commission (but it needs to be read in tandem with the comment below by Rosemary Neave):

"

Gail Young

The Catholic and Apostolic Church that was founded by Christ, Matt.16:18, and served by the Apostles and early church fathers as recorded in the Book of Acts calls mankind to define themselves by their relationship to their saviour Christ. Perhaps it is now time for all the modern liberalists who wish to define themselves outside of this doctrine should be like the rest of the modern world and move on too.
Contrary to Rosemary's comments, the church has no desire to throw the "gays" out but like the rest us, their inclusion is contingent upon keeping His commandments John 14:15.
Those attending the General Synod at Waitangi in May would do well to remember that the church and doctrine belong to Christ and not to man and that it is our duty to live in His church for Him and through Him.

rosemary Neave

Sigh - is any of this news? As one friend said we could have come up with this list on the back of an envelope over a drink.

I feel a little sorry for the Commission, the Church handed them a hot potato, because they could not come up with a solution themselves. And now it is back in the Church's hands.

For God's sake make a decision! We are so over this, much of the world has moved on, and can not believe we are still debating this.

If the Church decides to kick gays out, then do it, put us out of our misery. Show your true colours.
Justice delayed is justice denied."

Then ...

Mollie Hemingway, in the context of the USA has a stirring column re marriage and debates (or suppression of debate) in her country. Here is the heart of her pro-marriage as it always has been argument:

"Well, I know that we’ve had years of criminally one-sided media coverage, cowardly political leaders and elite cultural views that have conveyed to you that the only reason anyone might think sexual complementarity is key to marriage is bigotry. ... There’s no question marriage has been treated dramatically differently than other relationships by governments and society. Why? Is it that it features a more vibrant or emotional connection? Or is there some feature that is a difference in kind – that marks it out as something that ought to be socially structured? We usually don’t want government in our other relationships, right? So why is marriage singled out throughout all time and human history as a different type of recognized relationship?
Well, what singled it out was that sex was involved. Sex. ... And why does that matter? Well, there’s precisely one bodily system for which each of us only has half of the system. It’s the one that involves sex between one man and one woman. It’s with respect to that system that the unit is the mated pair. In that system, it’s not just a relationship that is the union of minds, wills or important friendships. It’s the literal union of bodies. In sexual congress, in intercourse between a man and a woman, you are literally coordinated to a single bodily end.In every other respect we as humans act as individual organisms except when it comes to intercourse between men and women — then we work together as one flesh. Coordination toward that end — even when procreation is not achieved — makes the unity here. This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense. It’s not something that’s wrong, but should be protected speech. It’s actually something that’s right. It’s right regardless of how many people say otherwise. If you doubt the truth of this reality, consider your own existence, which we know is due to one man and one woman getting together. Consider the significance of what this means for all of humanity, that we all share this."

Tuesday 15 April

 With H/T to a colleague for two of the three links below, I note the following:

A new crisis for the C of E re gay marriage, precisely because a clergyman has married his male partner and thus appears to have flouted C of E rules.

Andrew Brown comments on the delicacies of the situation, including that the clergyman is secularly employed as a chaplain while holding a bishop's licence as a canon. I am not sure that Andrew Brown has a particularly dramatic headline - creaking compromises are what the C of E is made up of!

Then a link to an interpretation of Leviticus. What do you think, brilliant or incorrect?

The politics of Jesus (7 April 2014)

'As proved by the budget, the basic idea is simple enough: they divide society into those who think they can cope with globalisation and those who cannot, and then shower the former with praise and modest enticements – while clobbering the latter in the service of political popularity. Better to be a striver than a benefit claimant. Better, too, to play your part in what David Cameron calls the global race – manifested in George Osborne's beloved infrastructure projects – than to admit its impossibility. For all its awfulness, I understand that version of what lies ahead; indeed, I can almost feel it.'

John Harris, writing in, of all media, The Guardian, argues that the Tories own the future (of the United Kingdom) and the social democrats, let alone the socialists of the Labour Party are trapped in the past. The Tories make up 'they' in the above quote. This is no propaganda piece for the Tory right. But witheringly he asks of their counterparts on the left,

'What Marx and Engels would call the mode of production has long since changed. But have enough people on the left actually noticed?'

A challenge for Christians thinking through the politics of Jesus in 2014 is to work out these politics according to the situation of today. That puts a lot of weight on 'the situation of today'! Harris makes an excellent point that 'today' is not the burgeoning industrialised world of Mark and Engels in the mid nineteenth century. Arguably the only virtue of communism in Soviet Russia and in Mao's China (the two most notable communist experiments of the 20th century) was that they caught up two largely agrarian societies with the mid nineteenth century. If that is a virtue given the ongoing effects of industrialization on our world such as pollution and waste.

Some reference to 'the Left' and to communism is called for when working out the politics of Jesus for today because the core vision of Jesus' politics is remarkably in tune with communism's vision for sharing control of the material things of life and for the outcome of class warfare in which there is only one class of equal people.

Our guide here is Luke, theologian of the poor, when he sets out the life of the earliest days of the church in Acts 2:44-45:

'All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.'

Prior to this Luke has told the story of Jesus preaching the good news of the kingdom of God (i.e. the Gospel according to Luke). That story in Luke's hands has introduced us to a Samaritan caring for a Jew, to Zacchaeus returning his stolen money to the community he has defrauded, to women treated as equals of men, and to the impossibility of the rich entering the kingdom of God. How does that work out in practice, Luke? Like this, Luke says: 'All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.'

Whether or not we go on to say 'but' or 'except' in respect of people earning a living (e.g. Paul making tents during his missionary travels) or continuing to own large houses in the service of churches meeting in them (e.g. Romans 16) or the lack of action in abolishing slavery through direct change (see Philemon for, arguably, changing slavery by indirect action), we should not as Christians engaged in politics, seeking to be faithful to the politics of Jesus himself, let go of the communist core of these politics.

Every time we gather as church, inviting all baptised believers to gather together around the table of the Lord as one body of Christ, we honour the vision of a classless kingdom of the baptised.

What we may not be so good at doing these days is working out the implications of sharing communion together for community life between 11 am Sunday morning and 10 am the following Sunday morning!

POSTSCRIPT: It might be going too far to say that Jesus was a homeless bum at the bottom of society through no choice of his own, as a recent doctoral thesis presented here argues. In this news report of it, I am very pleased to find that the new Dean of Tikanga Pakeha students at St John's College is a person of sensible, orthodox theological views!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Urgent Reading

The great day has dawned. Online are reports and what have you from the Ma Whea Commission and the Doctrine Commission, with options to consider.

The links via Anglican Taonga are these:

Taonga Report on release of MW Commission report.

Ten Options in the Report.

Doctrine Commission's Report.

Your comments most welcome. I have not started reading yet. For overseas readers this is material preparatory to our General Synod in May this year.

I am interested in comments which carefully and thoughtfully review what is in these links and offer insight into what we who belong to our church are thinking in response. I am also interested in reflections from those looking in from outside our church which may help us in our review of these matters.

I am not interested in, and may not publish comments which:
- slag off one side of the debate or the other
- take us onto the merry go round of debate about homosexuality in general terms (we have been there before, we can go there again on another occasion).

I would love to hear which of the ten options you think are viable or not viable or a waste of time debating. Perhaps there is an eleventh option, or even a twelfth which you would like to propose.

No confusion of tongues?

It is great to get robust responses to posts. So my excursion towards Anglican theological coherency has provoked various responses. Here are some reflections:

- 'catholic' seems to me to mean different things to different folks: some lean towards it as valuing 'tradition' with openness to development of the tradition rather than maintaining it in a foxed form; actually change 'some' to 'everyone' commenting here; it seems to be just me who thinks that 'catholic' is about the common life of the church and its value lies in commitment to securing that common life around any development of the tradition.

- a way forward, attractive to me, is for Anglicans to refind and recommit to classical Anglicanism, at least in the sense of renewing our understanding of Anglican coherency at the time of the English Reformation and its aftermath, the coherency which is reflected in the theology of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles, embedded as they are in Scripture while yet valuing some rules of faith which shape our understanding of Scripture.

Meanwhile, I promised a post on liberalism as a possible way forward for a coherent Anglican theology. I think liberalism is a wonderful way of being coherent theologically. The essence of the liberal approach to theology is to take nothing received for granted and to be open to all new possibilities. That offers great possibilities for a consistent theology as well as all the coherency of liberalism in general, for instance, the coherency of placing humanity at the centre of God's purposes and understanding God as essentially committed to human flourishing.

There is just the slight problem of the word 'Anglican' in the phrase 'liberal Anglican theology' because 'Anglican' begs questions about whether the coherency of a genuine liberal theology fits with implied commitments on the part of Anglicans to taking some received things for granted (Scripture, creeds, liturgies) and to not being open to all new possibilities (as some are bound to clash with what is already agreed).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Anglican Babel?

Can an Anglican talk theology with coherency and integrity or is our theology bound to disintegrate, like language at Babel?

A while I go I made a first stab at this question by considering the coherency of Roman theology and the price it pays when subject to test, specifically the test of coping with the breakdown of marriage. I suggest the price of coherency is too high: annulments of 'marriages' are declared in order for a new marriage to proceed as a genuine marriage and not an 'as if' or 'sort of, sort of not' marriage. But the price of this theological coherency is either dissembling (many a true marriage is determined not to be so (i.e. a marriage ceremony, consummation, bringing of children into the world can be determined to be 'not a marriage')) or injustice (some people through no particular fault of their own, having ended up divorced also end up forbidden to participate in the eucharist - a matter that Pope Francis is clearly intent on addressing).

But can Anglicans do better? We are quite good (in my experience of blogging) at finding all sorts of pitfalls in our diverse attempts at coherent theology.

Evangelical Anglican theology? Pah. It either does not take Scripture seriously, or fails to define 'plain reading', or avoids engagement with the question of the 'what' and 'whose' of Scripture (what is it, who determines it, is it not the church's book more than God's book?) or lacks consideration of the role that reason and tradition play in the understanding of Scripture, or ...[name another fault]. At least that's what some commenters say here in argument against my slavish devotion to evangelical Anglican theology which is both impeccable, irrefutable and irrepressible :)

Catholic Anglican theology? What a disaster that is turning out to be! Or is it? Start commenting now and refute the following ... At the heart of catholic theology (as I understand it) is a concern for finding, forwarding and fostering common theological ground both the commonality of past and present belief. Whether we focus on tradition or on ubiquity of belief (what Christians have always and everywhere believed) that commonality is important. For the present, commonality of belief, when questions arise as belief is challenged to adapt, change or develop, means catholic theologians look for the common if not universal agreement among Christians which favours any proposed adaptation, change or development.

Within the Roman approach to catholic belief the role of the pope is crucial, both as leading upholder of tradition and as authoriser of new developments in belief. That is, the pope (again, as I understand things) is decisive for catholic theology (in Roman perspective) as the one who, finally, after all sorts of consideration, including by the magisterium, determines that from henceforth thus and so will be grafted into the tradition.

For Anglican catholics, united in respect for but not in obedience to the pope, the commonality of belief has been fostered by renewed emphasis on the days of the development of the common tradition (i.e. the works of the Fathers), by acknowledgement of the model offered by Eastern Orthodoxy (no pope, but faithfulness to the tradition within autonomous Orthodox churches) and by determination to read the gospels themselves afresh as the starting point for orthodox, catholic theology. But that approach appears to have run aground.

On the one hand, conservative catholics have largely abandoned ship, heading for Rome directly or the Ordinariate, recognising that the tradition of catholic theology within Anglican churches, revived under the Anglo-Catholic movement has no future when it abandons the tradition  in order to bring about change not agreed to by some common forum such as (in Anglican terms) the Lambeth Conference.

On the other hand liberal catholics, willing to embrace change to theology without regard for even a small commonality factor (no Anglican agreement, let alone Roman or Eastern Orthodox agreement) have effectively denied the word 'catholic' in the description of the approach. Continuing appearances of catholicity such as maintaining common robes and rituals paradoxically forms 'the Emperor's robing' as a cover for the loss of common faith.

Does that leave an unabashed liberal Anglican theology as the unexpected winner of the coherent theology stakes? Let's leave that question for another post.

Tell me my analysis above is wrong. I am desperately keen to find a coherent Anglican theology. Notwithstanding what is said above, I remain confident of the future of Anglican evangelical theology!