What Next for Justin?

Well it’s been a fun week for Lambeth Palace hasn’t it?

Last Friday the story broke of a rather egregious press statement that the Archbishop authorised, praising Katherine Jefferts Schori to the hilt on the news she had been awarded an honourary doctorate from Oxford University. As Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council rightly pointed out, the use of the word “Compassion” was particularly offensive.

Katherine Jefferts-SchoriOn February 17, 2011, The American Anglican Council published a documented report of how Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC had violated the very text of its canons, due process and natural justice to inhibit and depose (at that time) 12 bishops and 404 deacons and priests.  Since then, the estimate of total inhibitions and depositions of bishops, priests and deacons has risen to 700.  This represents the largest exercise of penal discipline by any Presiding Bishop in the history of the TEC—and perhaps in the history of any Church in the Anglican Communion.

In one notable case, Bishop Jefferts Schori deposed Bishop Henry Scriven of the Church of England!  In another notable case, her “compassion” led her to inhibit retired Bishop Edward MacBurney (VII Quincy) on April 2, 2008.  On April 4, his son died, leaving the grieving father and bishop unable to conduct his son’s funeral rites.

Through her Chancellor, Bishop Jefferts Schori authorized and continues to authorize litigation against volunteer vestry (parish council) members and other volunteer leaders in church property cases. Although volunteers do not hold title to the property of the departing congregations, we documented at least 48 instances (as of the date of our report) where such volunteer vestry members have been sued by TEC or the diocese—in some cases, seeking the personal assets of these volunteers for monetary punitive damages in excess of the value of the property at issue. Such claims represent a position by Episcopal bishops and attorneys that a volunteer vestry member‘s vote to leave TEC is oppressive and malicious illegal behavior that justifies the forfeiture of a volunteer‘s personal assets. In addition to suffering the intentional infliction of emotional distress at the possibility of losing their personal assets, volunteer vestry members and other leaders have suffered damages by the mere filing of such claims including difficulty in refinancing their homes, difficulty in obtaining security clearances for new jobs, and prejudice to their credit reports.

When “Christian compassion” might have moved Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC to accept the Primates call for a moratorium on litigation at their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori chose instead to accelerate the litigation.  In 2009 when TEC cut staff and program by 30%, it increased the line items in the budget for litigation. We documented at least 56 complaints filed by TEC and its Dioceses against individual churches, clergy and volunteer vestry members.  Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori led a delegation of bishops to Lambeth 2008 who demonstrated reckless indifference to the truth by telling other Anglican bishops in their “indaba groups” that TEC was being sued by local churches—when precisely the opposite was true. The Episcopal Church has continued to stonewall every request for an accounting of the funds it has expended on such litigation, and conservative estimates based on public records indicate that the cost is already in excess of $30 million.

Really-Is this “compassion dedicated to the service of Christ?”

He’s got a point hasn’t he?

Of course, there’s also the issue of where the copy for the press statement came from. As I demonstrated last week, there are strong textual clues to indicate that 815 had a hand in it’s drafting. I have asked a Lambeth Palace representative twice in the past week to deny that the Headquarters of the Episcopal Church had any hand in either drafting part or all of the statement or providing biographical information suitable for such a statement. On both occasions no denial was forthcoming when at the same time they were incredibly quick to tell me that ++Justin had seen and authorised the statement when I suggested he might not have. Make of that what you will.

I tell you what some people are making though, and that is a clear understanding that the Press Statement from Lambeth Palace last week was a political disaster. I’ve spoken to two members of the House of Bishops over the past 24 hours from different camps, and both of them were very clear that the leadership realise the words of that statement were a grievous mistake. The fact that the Americans thrown out of TEC for simply wanting to believe and preach what the rest of the Communion did have united past their differences (womens’ ordination anyone?) to decry this piece of blind sycophancy is deeply worrying, but it’s not half as disturbing as the utter silence from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and others. The danger comes for the Archbishop not when his fellow Primates respond to his letters with ones of their own, but when they decide that they have finished with appeasing (as they see it) a traitor to the cause and there is no more hope in dialogue.

And it’s dialogue that Justin Welby wants to facilitate. In his address to Synod he called for love across the divides and a renewed commitment to each other.

We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it although we don’t often apply it.  We mostly know that perfect fear casts out love. In any institution or organisation, the moment that suspicion reigns and the assumption that everything is zero sum becomes dominant (that is to say that some else’s gain must be my loss, we can’t both flourish) that institution will be increasingly dominated by fear. It is an old problem in game theory. The moment at which something is zero sum, players stop looking so much at their objectives and increasingly look at each other. The more they look at each other, the more they are dominated by fear and the less they are able to focus on their objectives.

The Church of England is not a closed system, nor is the Anglican Communion and most certainly nor is the Church catholic and universal. It is not a closed system because God is involved and where he is involved there is no limit to what can happen, and no limit to human flourishing.  His abundant love overwhelms us when we make space to flood into our own lives, into institutions and systems.

At the other end of the spectrum, closed systems, full of fear eventually implode under the weight of their own contradictions and conflicts. Assumptions grow about what is happening. I notice many of them.

And so do others. Of course Welby is talking about the women bishops issue here, but he is also addressing the wider sexuality debate about to engulf the Church of England. When he mentions disagreement with “appointments of people who disagree with us most profoundly”, he is as much talking about the possibility of Jeffrey John being elevated to Episcopacy as he is the idea that the Church of England will continue to consecrate Bishops opposed to the very principle of women’s ordination (as Lee Gatiss proposes here).

But the lines are being slowly drawn in the sand. Andrew Symes points out very clearly and concisely (perhaps I should take lessons) that beyond all the talk of loving through our disagreements, key values cannot be compromised.

Symes AndrewWe know that Justin Welby has made this new version of Indaba a central feature of his archepiscopacy. Of course there is a need for sympathy and understanding for his position, and much prayer. There are several problems though, not least theological difficulties. It may be possible to get people who profoundly disagree with each other to be nice and respectful (it happens at Synod, and regularly in Deaneries up and down the land). But the ideological and philosophical differences remain unresolved and will continue to be so as long as the fiction persists that contradictory views on primary issues are equally valid and both welcome in the same church. To put so much energy and money into getting people to repeat the same arguments and tell the same stories in refereed, set piece engagements appears to be making superficial reconciliation within the church a primary means of facilitating mission. However it is not preparing the ground for Gospel preaching, but a flight from it, because of the admitted confusion about the content of the Gospel. It is being portrayed as a model of peaceful and courageous negotiation, but how will it be seen? Yet more navel gazing, or worse – a dishonest form of manipulation?

Jesus’ intention was that Israel should be a light to the nations, as the prophets had foretold. He found an Israel profoundly divided on their understanding of the nature of God, the reality of the spiritual realm, the meaning of salvation, and the interpretation of God’s word. He did not see the way forward in facilitating conversations between the Sadducees and the Zealots as the key to creating a united, witnessing people. Nor later did Paul see reconciliation between Jew and Gentile as a precondition for mission, but the result of it.

For a more precise statement of the fundamental problem facing the Archbishop of Canterbury, look to Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm,

There is no “middle road” here. There is no reconciliation ground between these two viewpoints. None. If those who believe #1 above are correct, then then those who believe #2 are leading people God loves to hell. These leaders must be called to recant or be subject to discipline and expulsion. What Archbishop Welby wants to do, and he does it clearly in this speech, is re-cast the question as if it were tantamount to “should Christians drink wine?” or “What is the appropriate length for women’s skirts?”. He wants to reduce the question to “adiaphora”, to the level of a matter about which God does not speak. This is a lie as anyone equipped with reason, a bible, and the ability to understand human language ought to know. To promote this notion is to sully and obscure the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

and then look at what is coming out of Changing Attitude.

It’s impossible to conform to a conservative interpretation of Scripture and not be homophobic. I know conservatives will disagree with this statement and some will be hurt by it. I also know that comparing a conservative hermeneutic about homosexuality with hermeneutics about race or gender or slavery isn’t popular. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the parallels are appropriate and the results all too similar. Prejudice and homophobia are the result of a particular Biblical hermeneutic.

I wish Justin all the luck in the world (or should that be chutzpah) trying to bring those two positions together. The bottom line appears to be that neither side accepts the issue of sexual behaviour is a matter of adiaphora. The Church of England has in some senses reached a moment of decision that may engulf and destroy it – will it, through however many “facilitated conversations” it takes, reaffirm and hold to the traditional position on marriage as a unique gender specific icon of the union of Christ and his bride the Church, or will it compromise and accept the world’s definition of marriage as simply two people, whoever they are, loving each other. Both are yet possible, but increasingly the idea that we can hold these contradictory positions in “loving tension” is being seen for the arrant nonsense it obviously is. And when that becomes blatantly apparent even to the highest leadership in the Church of England, what next for Justin?

56 Comments on “What Next for Justin?

  1. “the idea that we can hold these contradictory positions in “loving tension” is being seen for the arrant nonsense it obviously is.”

    Indeed, I think this is the heart of the issue. There is no ‘via media’ between blessing same-sex unions and calling them sinful.

    That said, I feel like this could be a watershed moment for the church of England. Because I don’t think there is a way of fudging this issue (more than has been fudged in the past, anyway. We are at the maximum point of fudging. We have fudged maximally.) it will at least make clear the Church of England’s position on scriptural authority in practice.

    A while back I watched a talk by Peter Williams of Tyndale House. One of the questions he was asked at the end was, “What do you think about the state of the Church of England?” And he simply replied: “In God’s care”. I thought it was a helpful reminder anyway.

  2. I agree with Matt Kennedy here…….no middle road on same sex marriage, it’s either yes or no, but it would have been difficult not to have talked about the issues around women bishops at the synod……..and anything said about them is going to be interpreted as being about same sex marriage etc. Poor chap can’t win! If the speech was getting at anyone (which it may not have been anyway), then I can’t help feeling that phrases like “assumption that…….. some else’s gain must be my loss, we can’t both flourish” feel more like a subtle message to the leadership of TEC than a shot at their victims.

    Different thing…….can someone tell me what *word or phrase* is for? Is the * * meant to be for emphasis instead of underlining?

  3. I wonder what I will do as a Church of England priest if the CoE decides to allow blessings of same-sex marriage (I specifically say “marriage” rather than “unions” to avoid any and by “same-sex marriage” I mean what the law of England now means by the term).

    My problem will be that I do not think this is a point over which the church’s practice can be ambiguous. It must be binary. Either we do or do not allow blessings of same-sex marriages.

    I have not been convinced (but remain open to discussion) that the term marriage can correctly be applied to same-sex couples from a Christian perspective. So, do I stay in a church whose practices are, in my view, anti-Christian and moving in the wrong direction? Or do I go somewhere else? And how do I love those who are taking the church in the wrong direction? Or should I “expel the immoral brother” (as the NIV editor so strongly exhorts me to do in 1 Cor 5)?

    One thing I am pondering is similar to what I have long been proposing regarding gender-neutral episcopacy (which can be found here: http://tomblog.firstsolo.net/index.php/five-principles-a-manifesto/). Briefly: if I stay, I can render a service to the church by safeguarding the dissenting view for the future when either I will realise I have been mistaken or the church as a whole will realise it has been mistaken. There is much power in this idea, but I would have to write a lot more to elaborate it. See my blog post instead, if you have the strength.

  4. I think how it works is this. It is assumed that a generational shift is happening, so that within an indeterminate (but not particularly long) period of time the overwhelming majority consensus “in the pews” will be in favour of same-sex relationships. I don’t think you have to be in favour of that shift to assume that it is likely to occur in practice.

    If any final decision on the C of E’s position – one way or the other – is taken before that point occurs, it will cause a calamitous and devastating split in the church. If things can be spun out for long enough, however, then any split will only involve a small minority of “hardline” hold-outs and therefore be manageable.

    Can you say, “women bishops”?

  5. I wish this fact got out more–“Although volunteers do not hold title to the property of the departing congregations, we documented at least 48 instances (as of the date of our report) where such volunteer vestry members have been sued by TEC or the diocese—in some cases, seeking the personal assets of these volunteers for monetary punitive damages in excess of the value of the property at issue.” I know one of them, a single woman without a large income.

  6. Thank you so much Peter for exposing Indaba for the Indabadabadoo nonsense that it is. The Africans simply withdraw. Which is what Reform has done. This is not facilitated conversation, it is manipulated conversation.

  7. What the proponents of both sides of this argument seem sometimes to forget, but Archbishop Justin seems impliclty to realise, is that many of us in the pews who don’t go to Synod or engage much personally with these issues but simply try to live a christian life in our communities to the best of our ability, and join together to worship Christ in communion on Sunday, don’t have irrevocably firm formed views on women bishops or gay clergy or same-sex marriage, and we are a bit fed up of seeing the Church we love perpetually presented to the world as a result of these arguments as obsessed with what people do with their personal plumbing, because that’s not what we see on the ground in our parishes day in, day out. We see and sympathise with both sides of these arguments. We want to try and find a way through that doesn’t lead to schism, because we feel ourselves in communion with those on both sides. And we don’t see the case as open and shut but are in a genuine state of doubt and uncertainty and don’t discern the Holy Spirit as having moved the church decisively in one direction or the other. We don’t want to write off our brothers and sisters as heretics, apostates or schismatics just because we don’t necessarily agree, and are not remotely ready to do so. In other words, we sit uncomfortably in the middle ground and are not persuaded or inspired to the conclusion that there is no via media to be found. I realise that most participants on this blog (which I find educational, stimulating and generally engaging, so thank you to Peter and all the other regulars) fall firmly on one side or the other of this line. I suspect that some of you will think I am so lukewarm as to be spat out. But from where I sit, stand or kneel, I don’t know what the answer is, and, not to coin a phrase, I would beseech all those who think they do, in the bowels of Christ, to think it possible they may be mistaken before they take irrevocable steps to break communion. So for me at least, Archbishop Justin’s address to Synod hit exactly the right note.

    • Once upon a time we could trust Bishops to look after doctrine. Sadly this is no longer the case, so ordinary Christians need to step up to the plate. Some Bishops openly flout Christian doctrine, and are allowed to get away with it.

  8. No one was “thrown out of TEC,” they chose to leave, and Schori gave ’em what they wanted. The most that can be alleged is that due process under its canons was not followed to the letter, with letter being the operative word. The spirit of the law was followed to the full.

    If they wanted to keep their orders, why attempt to “transfer” out? This complaint is just bizarre.

    As for Welby, I agree that his well-meaning but utterly naive attempt to “reconcile” those who call gay relationships a sin and those who affirm them is doomed to fail. If the church can’t be neutral, the best course all round would be to work out a divorce more amicable than the Episcopalians’.

    • Are these facilitated conversations not THE new idea from Welby>
      I find it hard to get even moderately excited that TEC has decided to help Welby fund his experiment……… the last time I checked they were a church member of the Anglican Communion, they were full participants in all the Instruments of Communion and already major funders of the infrastructure of the Communion.

      just what is there to be so hot about?

      It is ironic that TEC were also the main paymaster for the increased Primates Meetings that Rowan wanted, they also paid the bill for the Windsor Report and going back thirty odd years they were there with their cheque books while the whole of the communion lined up for their Land Rovers and Mercs ………..

      At a more general level the antipathy towards TEC is not universal and as we see from the press statement the visceral hatred some have towards their lead bishop is not shared by Welby. If this is something of a shock to some, I am very sorry for you.
      I somehow think that Welby is likely to continue to be well disposed to those who support the Anglican Communion as presently constituted and his antipathy may well ecome focused on those who do not support its structures or his initiatives and who are planning an alternative structure, which is increasingly looking like a different church.

      The Press release does seem to have been written with Welby’s full knowledge and consent and it also looks like some of the background material came from biographical stuff published by The Episcopal Church (USA). None of that is surprising or particularly noteworthy.

        • So there you have it, Jill.

          Placing the thumb of an open hand to the nose and wiggling fingers, they exclaim: ‘Welby’s bought and paid for. So there. Na-na, na-na-nah!’

          The very acme of liberal maturity.

            • You might even condescend to ask me directly.

              You say: ‘I somehow think that Welby is likely to continue to be well disposed to those who support the Anglican Communion as presently constituted and his antipathy may well ecome focused on those who do not support its structures or his initiatives and who are planning an alternative structure, which is increasingly looking like a different church.
              That phrasing must have drawn upon your reserves of clerical restraint, but the thinly veiled glee at the prospect of TEC-bought LGBT ascendancy borders on derision.
              Hence the cock-a-snook description.

              • You are a very silly man to imagine that my comments concealed glee. How could anyone have any joy in the pain or humiliation of others?
                For me, that runs completely against my faith and ministerial calling.

                We do not do well when we imagine what is in the heart and mind of others!

                • ‘How could anyone have any joy in the pain or humiliation of others?’
                  Not joy, just self-congratulation. Ask TEC’s litigation team. Unless you really believe that they suffer as much as the legal adversaries whom they dispossess.

                  A word to the wise, while probing your motives might be ill-advised, a person of religious stature resorting to unvarnished name-calling does come across as an inability go far enough beyond insulting opponents as to engage here, as others do, in reasoned debate.

        • I think there is much to this “follow the money”.
          Historically as evangelism/colonisation swept accross Africa and the east it was the well funded and highly competitive missionary societies who left their particular flavour of Christianity behind. The theological war being fought out within the Church of England at a time when the “salvation issues” were the sacraments and church order was engaged with renewed vigour throughout the colonies and possessions. In a way, this is precisely what is happening now.

          Thirty to forty years ago there was still a great deal of trading going on, much along established lines, and there was deep concern then at the way some Americans in particular used their wealth to create fiefdoms abroad, the sort of anxieties we have seen resurface in the recent dacades over the manipulation of African Provinces to voice north American concerns.
          Perhaps the AMiA is the most glaring and harrowing example of this.

          In the light of the fuss over the Lambeth statement on TEC’s lead bishop it might be useful to recall the Press release circulated by Nigeria where the Word document was sent out with all its edits and comments showing. Several white Americans and a couple of Brits actually composed the Primates statement, he had no input at all.
          But as I say, this all part of the rich history of Anglicanism and it follows a direct colonialism by a more subtle one. But the axiom still stands “follow the money”.

          Even back in the 70’s there was some concern about the ambitions of the diocese of Sydney whose unique style and take on Anglicanism was finding outposts worldwide due to their exceptional wealth.
          More recently there have been deep concerns as that little diocese and its big wallet have control over priestly formation and theological education in large parts of continental Africa.

          But these are just part of the rich political and theological play among the many faces of Anglicanism that has constantly anathematised and despised eachother.
          What should be of deep concern to ALL Anglicans of all hues is not so much the inner rivalries and power games we play with and against each other, but the deliberate attempt to destabalise the Anglican Church by powerful, rich political forces OUTSIDE our family of churches. Sadly we have seen some within Anglicanism fall under that spell and it is doing great harm.

          • Mission has always needed money, but this isn’t mission. This is American money being used to push their policy of radical inclusion to unwilling nations, or as in this case to facilitate ‘conversations’, or in other words to keep on harrying us until we agree with them. There is no need for facilitated conversations, or indaba, or whatever else you would like to call them. The matter is already settled, per Lambeth 1:10.

            Really, one can’t help but wonder where they find all this dosh, having spent $40 million dollars on suing the pants off unsuspecting parishes, clergy and people who won’t go along with their progressive ‘inclusive’ dogma.

  9. The denomination should “just split already”: liberals (American Episcopalians and their English, et al. equivalents: mainline liberal high church) on one side, conservatives (the Global South and some English people: Evangelicals) on the other. Easier if the Church of England were to be disestablished, but it would be sad to see England drop another aspect of Christendom, even if Catholics believe that aspect in England was imperfect. For all the in-house gushing and fuming about church people such as Bishop Schori, and as “cool” as such church people might think they are, mainstream secular society doesn’t care about them; it doesn’t need the mainline denominations anymore.

    • Agreed, about everything besides secularism being a bad thing: the separation of church and state is to the benefit of both. The Church of England is already de facto disestablished (own Synod, laws that contradict its teachings), & finishing the job would give it a new confidence to follow its own path, whatever that may be.

  10. The so called “gay marriage” matter cannot be fudged. There is no via media on this one. Either it is OK or not. Scripture and Tradition are very, very clear, that it is not part of God’s plan for humanity. Reason, science, tends to come down more on the side of the ancient wisdom than against it, on balance. If there was a decisive “gay gene”, all could be well, but there isn’t, not so far with the research anyway. Ironically we have more scientific knowledge, and social scientific too, than ever before but not much of it seems to be used by the Church, which prefers to go with the political obfuscations. Why not use the new scientific knowledge ? Maybe because it doesn’t fit this essentially politically led process. I don’t think that we can hold together these two utterly contradictory positions, with any integrity. The TEC funding of the dabadaba process says it all to me – it’s a dangerous process designed to inculcate a misguided revisionism. It’s not for me, I’m certain about that.

    • 1. The Americans aren’t, to my knowledge, funding the CofE conversations. This is our process, and ECUSA have nothing to do with it.
      2. The conversations aren’t indaba. Nor are they to be based on Pilling.
      3. It’s not any longer about listening to LGBT people on its own. It’s also about LGBT people listening to those who hold the historic and orthodox view.Two way conversations. They probably won’t change anyone’s views.

        • An interesting comment has now appeared on Stand Firm and T19 – and I quote:

          I am not sure that anyone has suggested that TEC is paying money specifically to the Church of England. However, it has been suggested that they are paying money which is being paid to finance Reconciliation and Continuing Indaba in all parts of the Communion. Since we have been told that that Facilitated Conversations for that will be designed and overseen by the recently funded Director of Reconciliation for the Archbishop of Canterbury and we have been told that Canon David Porter and the Lambeth team will undertake that both in the Communion and within the CofE in what is a process initiated by the College of Bishops in response to the Pilling report, so that what he is saying may be clearly understood, will Bishop Broadbent please answer these questions:

          1. Please confirm that Canon David Porter is not funded in his work in the Church of England and the Communion from funds directly or indirectly from the Anglican Communion Office from funds originating from the Episcopal Church of the United States?

          2. If he does not know will he please undertake to find out and to report back?

          • David Porter is a p/t member of staff at Lambeth. As such, he’s funded by the Church Commissioners, as are all Lambeth staff.

            He also works at Coventry Cathedral.

            The annoying thing about the ACO (aka the Politburo) is that it’s part funded from Vote 3 of the GS budget.- £508k in 2014.

      • Peter, Do you seriously believe that the LBGT crowd are really going to “listen” to anyone holding the historic and orthodox view? Let me save you all some time. They won’t! And the conversation won’t be two ways- promise! Conversation with liberals means one thing- we talk, you (conservatives) listen. If such two way conversations actually happen, would love to see video of such conversation.
        You are right- such conversations won’t change anyone’s view. It will only serve to cast the orthodox as bigoted homophobes.

        • Liberals tend to strongly support equality and justice, yes. Conservatives (behind the theology: “the Bible says it, I believe it, end of debate”) aren’t known for their flexibility, either.

      • A question for Pete Broadbent: will you consider changing your mind on the traditional line on gay people’s sexuality?

        Your championing of women’s ministry has been inspirational. It would be a pleasure to see you bring a similar passion to justice for gay people. I know this goes against a lifetime’s beliefs, but so too does the church affirming and celebrating the ministry of all, regardless of gender.

        Does God truly want gay people to suppress their sexual orientation for life? You’ve decided that he doesn’t want women to suppress their gifts. Could a similarly nuanced hermeneutic be applied to the verses that apply to gay people?

        • I agree, though from the opposite side. Once you overturn centuries of accumulated wisdom to fit in with fashionable mores, you open the gate to other innovations.

          • Those who oppose female ordination and divorce are happy to junk slavery and unquestioning obedience to earthly authority. It’s all a matter of degree!

            • Yes, indeed. The false equation “centuries + accumulation = wisdom” can easily blind one from finding the right path.

        • The point that you don’t seem to get is that, while there is a satisfactory hermeneutic for the ending of slavery, the equality of women in leadership and the possibility of divorce and remarriage (Jesus in Matthew), I haven’t yet uncovered one for gay marriage. Indeed, Jesus (who is always mentioned by revisionists as never saying anything about homosexuality), is pretty clear on his understanding of the nature of marriage and its derivation from creation, as spelt out by the CofE in Canon B30 and in its marriage liturgies.
          I have long been an advocate, as a matter of natural justice, for non-discrimination against gay people in society (when we argued and campaigned for it in Islington in the 1980s, we were universally vilified). But I am unpersuaded that revision of the Church’s traditional teaching and pastoral and liturgical practice squares with scripture. We’ve discussed it for 40 years, and the facilitated conversations probably won’t change anything.

          • Thanks for the reply. :-)

            The hermeneutics that allow no-fault divorce (Matthew draws a narrow exemption for adultery, which contradicts Mark’s absolutist position), the abolition of slavery, and women’s ministry involve “trajectories” that, to put it bluntly, involve saying that certain verses are wrong.

            If you’ve already acknowledged that parts of the the Bible can be wrong, why can’t Paul of Tarsus have been wrong about gay people?

            Nowhere in the Bible is slavery condemned. We, rightly, go beyond the Bible. Why can we not go beyond the Bible when it comes to equal marriage?

            • Please excuse the interjection. Can I clarify that the church’s stance on divorce hasn’t changed? It certainly does not approve of ‘no-fault’ divorce, which is a secular invention.

              What General Synod did affirm was that ‘there are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church’.

              The House of Bishops affirmed: ‘That some marriages regrettably do fail and that the Church’s care for couples in that situation should be of paramount importance; and
              ii) That there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse;

              Those circumstances include an acknowledgement by the divorced of the church’s position on marriage, that it is the lifelong union between one man and one woman. In order for the divorced to be re-married in church, they would have to satisfy the vicar of their repentance over the guilt of their failures that contributed to the failure to live up to the marriage doctrines of the church: http://www.churchofengland.org/media/37453/mcad1.doc

              I would presume that your strident support of gat marriage would have no truck with this shriving acknowledgement of the above. In which case, there’s no wiggle room.

              Ultimately, the church can re-interpret the absence of explicit pronouncements (on slavery, etc.) as toleration. What Christians can’t do is to declare holy an act which the scripture roundly condemns.

              Please excuse the interjection. Can I clarify that the church’s stance on divorce hasn’t changed? It certainly does not approve of ‘no-fault’ divorce, which is a secular invention.

              What General Synod did affirm was that ‘there are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church’.

              The House of Bishops affirmed: ‘That some marriages regrettably do fail and that the Church’s care for couples in that situation should be of paramount importance; and
              ii) That there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse;

              Those circumstances include an acknowledgement by the divorced of the church’s position on marriage, that it is the lifelong union between one man and one woman. In order for the divorced to be re-married in church, they would have to satisfy the vicar of their repentance over the guilt of their failures that contributed to the failure to live up to the marriage doctrines of the church: http://www.churchofengland.org/media/37453/mcad1.doc

              I would presume that your strident support for gay marriage would have no truck with this shriving acknowledgement of the above. In which case, there’s no wiggle room.

              Ultimately, the church can re-interpret the absence of explicit pronouncements (on slavery, etc.) as toleration. What Christians can’t do is to declare holy an act which the scripture roundly condemns.

              • “What Christians can’t do is to declare holy an act which the scripture roundly condemns.”

                I see the TEC, the ELCA, the Folkekirken & quite a few other churches doing just that. Are you declaring them apostates? If so, plenty will disagree with your declaration, especially when neither the Nicene nor Apostles’ creeds say a word about biblical authority.

                As for divorce, if the church was bound by (one version of) Jesus’ words, it’d strictly limit divorce to instances of “porneia.” Even allowing for discretion goes beyond this.

                If the Church of England wants to create “two integrities” for those who want gay people to suppress their sexuality for life, and those who affirm gay relationships, it’s one way forward, I guess. What’s certain is that the current position is unsustainable.

                • As you’re aware, apostasy, literally means to ‘stand against’ Christ. None of the organisations that you mention have explicitly renounced Christ Himself, nor His all-sufficiency for salvation.

                  I think that heresy is the better description. The classic example of leadership heresy is St.Peter (who was not an apostate). After Christ’s explanation of His passion to His disciples, Peter is horrified and rejects the idea of a humiliated Messiah, only to earn Jesus’ rebuke: ‘Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ (Matt.16:23)

                  An overwrought concern for worldly justice (“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”) also reaped Christ’s rebuke, when it appeared to be a perfect opportunity to enhance His social gospel credentials:

                  “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:14,15)

                  Your hermeneutic lacks context regarding Jesus’ restrictions on divorce. In the gospels, His audience is completely Jewish, whereas in Corinthians, St.Paul’s readers are at least partly Gentile. So, to believing married couples, he relays the Lord’s command: ”To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.’ (1 Cor. 7:10,11)

                  In the case of those married to unbelievers, there is an absence of explicit divine guidance, so St.Paul exercises his pastoral discretion: ‘If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her.’ (vs.12) The Christian is not to instigate divorce, when the spouse is agreeable to remain together.

                  St.Paul then declares: ‘But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.’ (vs. 15) Crucially, the word for bound is ‘dedetai’.

                  As one writer puts it ‘willful desertion of the unbeliever sets the other free, a case not contemplated in Christ‘s words in Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9.

                  Luther argued that the Christian partner, thus released, may marry again. But that is by no means clear, unless the unbeliever marries first.

                  The problem for gay marriage is that, instead of grounding your argument in scripture (re-marriage of divorcees), or at least claiming it’s tacit stance was provisional tolerance, rather than affirmation and encouragement (slavery), you want the church to declare that the explicit condemnations of homosexuality are wrong.

                  That’s not ‘two integrities’, that’s accommodating a heretical view of scripture and apostolic authority.

                  • If you want to talk heresy, how about leaving the one true catholic and apostolic church and going independent? That rubicon was crossed 500 years ago.

                    A rejection of church authority that led, ironically, to the weight that you’re putting in the Bible.

                    Who’s going to declare who a heretic? Is it down to individuals? If so, there’s a lot of crossfire ahead.

                    • If you’re suggesting that, on the basis of its separation from Rome, the CofE was from that point historically bereft of any divinely constituted authority to judge heresy, why would a change to accept gay marriage hold any value?

                      Even so, the scripture is no less than a record of apostolic authority that remains supported by church authority on both sides of the Reformation divide.

                      Of course, it’s obvious where the value lies for liberals, isn’t it? To the extent that the church is a national institution, holds some sway in the public life and influences the values of our society, its rejection of gender-indifferent marriage remains a key obstacle to universal social affirmation.

                      That’s where you lack credibility as guardians of the Christian faith. We know that to your cause, what we believe is disposable. Our faith is just a disposable means to an end.

                    • Liberal theology is, simply, the rejection of dogma, springing from a commitment to follow the evidence where it leads & treat theological claims like any other type, open to scrutiny & change.

                      All this means to an end stuff is something you’ve projected.

                    • Ah, yes. I wondered when you’d trot that out.

                      Does following the evidence include ‘re-imagining’ God as ‘Our Maker Sophia’, or does it include replacing bread-and-wine’ communion with a feminist-inspired ‘milk and honey’ ritual?

                      As with Episcopalians at the 75th General Convention, do supporters of liberal theology still balk at publicly affirming that Jesus is Lord because it alienates the Jewish people?

                      You can try to dignify your liberal theological aspirations, but its concomitant downward spiral into heresy and apostasy is inexorable.

                    • Personally, I’m not interested in “re-imagining” God as anything. “God” is a signifier for something that (as Aquinas put it) is so removed from out frame of reference that it must be comprehended by metaphor. Yeah, I dig the apophatic.

                      I find the notion of “heresy” & “apostasy” alien, as bizarre as rejecting a scientific hypothesis for contradicting Aristotle or Newton. They have no substantive meaning beyond “my side lucked out in the 4th century A.D., so there!”

                    • Then why even mention liberal theology in one breath, only to dispense with it (personally) the next.

                      Dig the apophatic all you want, Jesus is no metaphor, but an historical human being. Fundamentally, if you deny that within the very body and person of Jesus was the defining and thorough revelation of that which is so removed from our frame of reference, God manifested in the flesh, you are an apostate from Christianity just looking for the visibility of a public argument.

                      And don’t worry about resorting to further ‘pop’ psychology pronouncements on projection.

                    • Where have I dispensed with liberal theology? Nothing I said is inconsistent with it.

                      Of course Jesus was a historical human being. Lived in 1st century Palestine, preached the Kingdom, executed by Pontius Pilate.

                      I didn’t mean “projection” in any psychological sense, pop or otherwise. I simply meant that you attributed to me opinions that I don’t hold.

                    • Of course, you have. You just claimed: the notion of “heresy” & “apostasy” alien, as bizarre as rejecting a scientific hypothesis for contradicting Aristotle or Newton

                      Liberal theology maintains its framework of doctrine and heresy. It is not just scepticism. They would, for instance, insist that all gender distinctions were problematic for the Christology of the Chalcedonian definition to the point of describing conservative resistance to gay marriage as heretical.

                      Since, by your own admission, this sort of doctrinal framework is sadly lacking, your espousal of liberal theology is void of substance and can’t be taken seriously.

                      In which case, I’ve got better things to do than indulge your resort to theological name-dropping.

                    • Some liberal theologians will retain the concept of heresy, others won’t: I see no reason why retention is a necessary component of liberalism.

                      The only name I “dropped” was Aquinas, who is, I believe, quite well known!

                    • Sheer sophistry: ‘I see no reason why retention is a necessary component of liberalism.’ I agree. But we weren’t talking about the the broad philosophy of liberalism, which has no theological underpinnings.

                      We were discussing liberal *theology*, not the specifics of particular liberal theologians.

                      It would be just as inane to highlight that some Marxists embrace religious principles as proof that Marxism does not retain a rejection of religion.

                      Individual syncretisms make not a whit of difference to the nature of Marxist philosophy, nor do they vary the nature of liberal theology.

                      Your responses are decidedly unworthy of further reply.

  11. Conversation need not be about compromise. In 2006 Oliver O’Donovan posted seven web sermons on the Fulcrum website, which were later published as “A Conversation Waiting to Begin” . His final sermon concluded thus:

    “The old-style liberalism that used to preside over the church’s dilemmas in a confident spirit of practical compromise began from the assumption that everyone was divided from everyone else by recalcitrant disagreements. The Lord, the liberals prophets announced, had sent a perpetual famine of his word. We should stop asking questions of one another and hoping for answers, and eat the dry bread of commonsense compromises. Those who remember Pentecost may reasonably doubt that this was ever the wisest counsel for the church. But at the very least we cannot know whether and how much of a famine of the word there is in any disagreement until we submit it to the disciplines of patient common enquiry. No disagreement refuses to be analysed, and its constituent elements sorted out according to size and shape. No disagreement does not lure us on with the hope, however distant, of a genuine resolution. Can we promise ourselves, then, that if the churches would only discuss homosexuality long and fully and widely enough, they would end up agreeing? Well, we are not entitled to rule out that possibility. But suppose it were not true; suppose that after careful exploration and a search for common ground, there was an agreement-resistant core at the centre of the issue – a problem about how modernity is viewed, for example, or about the ontological status of self-consciousness – it might still be possible to set the residual disagreement in what the ecumenists like to call “a new context”, and (who knows?) learn how to live with it. We have a parallel in the difference between indissolubilist and non-indissolubilist views of marriage, a traditional point of tension between Catholic and Protestant. That disagreement has not gone away; but if today it bulks less threateningly than it once did, that is because we are so much more clear about the extent of the agreed ground all around it – God’s intentions for marriage, the pastoral desiderata in dealing with broken marriage etc etc. It no longer evokes threatening resonances. It is a problem reduced to its true shape and size.

    There are no guarantees. There never are in the Christian life. But that is not a reason not to try. And seriously trying means being seriously patient. Anyone who thinks that resolutions can be reached in one leap without long mutual exploration, probing, challenge and clarification, has not yet understood the nature of the riddle that the ironic fairy of history has posed for us in our time.”
    Maybe at last the conversation is no longer waiting to begin! As O’Donovan says the fact that there are no guarantees of success is not a reason not to try.

    • Problem with conversations is the participants holding different frameworks.

      Gay relationships are, sadly, a proxy war in the battle over biblical authority, a position, by its nature, that’s immune from evidence. I can’t see the point in any of it.

  12. Facilitated conversations. Hmm…My instinctive reaction was to view the whole process with suspicion, but (for once) I actually believe that the CofE leadership has got it right.

    You see, there are quite a few bible stories that frustrate conservative thinkers because they don’t tie up all the lose ends.

    For instance, it is through Christ’s personal intervention that the woman caught in adultery is spared execution. Although we harp on His ‘go and sin no more’ admonition, we can’t possibly know what the outworking of that command in her life meant. Did she and her adulterous partner ever meet up again? Did she manage to reconcile with her husband?

    Again, while some rejoice with the Samaritan woman who proclaims Jesus as Messiah by saying: ‘Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?’ Others want to impatiently ask her: ‘Yes, but to which husband did he say you were legitimately married. Should you stay with your present husband or divorce him?’

    I think that there is a divine wisdom in telling stories with loose ends. It may establish a principle, but it’s not just up to the main protagonists of the story to fix themselves to our satisfaction. In most cases, the human story is too complex and the harsh upheaval to new normalities in other lives (including children) is too overwhelming to prescribe what should happen next.

    If anything, facilitated conversations will give us the chance to think and act as individuals, not just polarised groups. We will learn to rejoice in the triumph of same-sex adoptive parents who, after seven years, finally had a breakthrough with the ‘difficult’ child that they adopted.

    We will learn to rejoice with the young man who, through reparative therapy, has managed to overcome unwanted same-sex attraction (even if his scruples are compared by same LGBT activists to those whom St.Paul describes as having ‘weak’ consciences).

    Conservatives may not applaud every victory for the LGBT cause. Liberals may not surrender to to orthodoxy regarding the interpretation of scripture. The conversation is merely a space for us to co-exist as humans acknowledging how real and complex our respective journeys are.

    As SallyAnn Roth of the Conflict Research Consortium states:

    ‘There are certain benefits to being aligned on one side –– such as social validation, having a place to stand, the support of like–minded people, and avoiding the risks of stepping out and being seen as different. For many people in intractable conflicts, standing on a side supports a sense of self and a sense of group membership. However, loyalty, or standing on a side, or allowing oneself be drawn to one pole or another also exacts costs, both from the
    individual and from the community. The cost to the individual has to do with the suppression of their own uncertainties and complexities, and sometimes, the suppression of personal experience, conversation, and inner conflicts about values. One of the most common costs that we have heard about is the suppression of differences between oneself and one’s allies, which creates the appearance of a united front. These are the costs to the participants.

    There are also costs to the non–participants — the people who are on the sidelines. These include the silencing and marginalizing of people whose views don’t fit at either pole; people who see themselves or fearing that they will be seen as “soft” or disqualified, because they don’t speak up and don’t appear to stand firmly on one side or another; people, who, for these reasons, may feel a sense of isolation. Most problematic of all, is that the community perceives the controversy as a win/lose situation, even though it is likely that there can be no simple win or loss. When there appears to be a win, the winning party feels that they need to defend their position, and the party who has lost rallies resources to retaliate. Stalemates and these “wins” and “losses” have extremely high financial costs. On the abortion issue, if all the money that has been spent on people fighting each other was spent, instead, on health care for
    women, what might have happened? I don’t know the dollar amount, but it is absolutely phenomenal! Our investment in this work arises from this sense of waste.’

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.