Thursday 16 February 2017

Back to the Holy Drawing Board, with some relief

For a conventional set up like the Church of England General Synod, all its structures loaded for deference, yesterday's result was something of a shock to the system. 

Many episcopal colleagues may feel disappointed that the clergy did not buy a report laying down C of E policy for the world before it had even been to synod. 

This kind of bloody nose may stir memories of the Anglican Covenant project — another disastrous and ecclesiologically inept attempt to make doctrine through lawyers that backfired.

But every failure brings opportunity...
This one gives us a chance to follow up the Shared Conversations, which were generally good and constructive, properly. 

A fair and effective follow-up report will 

  1. reflect truly what actually happened in the shared conversations, instead of being heavily loaded towards doing nothing politely. A lifetime of steering round difficulties rather than facing them may not fit us for an hour such as this, but the best way out is through. If the Church of England can make it through to a place of mutual respect and understanding, evidence from churches the other side of the Atlantic that have done this is that it can lead to great spiritual and community flourishing. Perpetuate the stale debates as they have been framed these past 40 years, and we're stuck with where we are.
  2. include someone openly LGBTI in its composition group — 2 if there are two strong advocates of the "Living Out" position which, let's face it, is an extreme and unusual niche point of view that should be heard with the respect it deserves, but not given a veto over the result compared to overwhelming majority views among LGBTI people
  3. It will include in its author group, alongside others, somebody who has actually begun to think through and articulate theology and Bible interpretation to affirm the possibility of gay people marrying. A group exclusively composed of people who have never thought such a thing might seriously be possible, or are profoundly hostile to the very notion, cannot map out how to deal with the reality around us, as it’s now shaping up.
  4. Understand the difference between a canon and the creed. It will use the traditional approach to marriage of the Church in England before 1950s new model indissolubilism, and the Higton Motion of 1987. The Doctrine Commission of 1922-38 would make a better starting point than either of these.
  5. Realise that you can't make your effective theology entirely through lawyers. Lawyers are the last people you consult, to give legal effect to what you have decided to do, not the first people you use to shape your theological options.
  6. Expunge the almost certainly unwitting Jewish / Gentile replacement theology in one paragraph that articulates this damaging approach to NT Scripture. 
  7. Look forward to our real missional context over the next 10 years, not simply try to draw together an answer out of the wrangling of the past 20.
What about Bishops?
This reverse for the approach the house of bishops took is an invitation to renew episcopal ministry — We need Bishops who are confident about the possibilities and limits of their role, and able, more positively, to work according to the ordinal, as servants and enablers of the people of God in their mission. 
The idea, so beloved of Caiaphas, that we can resolve differences by continuing to throw a minority under the bus, but doing it politely, if you please, is a busted flush. 
Bishops are not called to be nannies, old school boarding headmasters, elite experts, or a cabinet of politicians trying to manage and fix a crisis. 
True collegiality can only be founded on the reality of the people involved, the truth that sets people free, missional and pastoral alignment, and mutual respect. It does not come from political gamesmanship, groupthink and manipulation.
I think pretty much all the bishops know this, really. If we climbed down from various high horses, as clergy have had to do since the end of the great ages of deference, we would be better bishops, and our work would enable, not inhibit, the flourishing of the whole people of God.

Friday 27 January 2017

How to Get Home in the Fog

I always wonder what horses think about a coachman. 
I imagine that they think him stupid, unjust, particular about unnecessary trifles, and always checking them needlessly. 

But his business is to get the coach along without upsetting it. He is on the box & he sees more than anybody else. He is not responsible for the obstacles in the road and if he could regulate all the traffic he could make things easy all round. 

But alas he is limited to the obscure & ignoble duty of steering his own vehicle to the best of his power.

Bishop of London to Fr Henry Westall, 3 April 1900.

“True, My Lord,” Mr Westall might have replied, “but in a fog the coachman, from his box, sees no further than anyone else can, while the horses (poor unreasoning beasts) can at least feel the solid ground under their feet, 
and sometimes their instinct will lead them safely home.”
W.Scott, "An 'advanced' view of the 'Church Crisis'"
Nineteenth Century, April 1901, p 692.

Sunday 17 January 2016

Washington Post

This morning Ed Stourton interviewed Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of Washington DC on the BBC R4 Sunday programme. Both for its content, and as a case study clear radio interviews, I commend it for study:

  ES   Anglican primates have reaffirmed their determination to walk together after their Canterbury meeting this week, but the Episcopal Church in the United States will have to walk a few steps behind everyone else for a while. It’s been sent to administrative and doctrinal Coventry for three years for endorsing gay marriage.

The Rt Revd Mariann Edgar Budde is the Bishop of Washington DC,
and she gave me her reaction:

+MB  We were expecting this reaction because all the warning signals in all the pre conversations had indicated that many in the broader communion wanted the American church to be sanctioned in some way. And I would just want to say we are unified. I am personally so proud and grateful for the leadership of our presiding bishop, Michael Curry.
  ES   I was gong to ask about him. Do you think he fought your corner hard enough?
+MB  Oh my goodness! Well, fighting isn’t the way Bishop Michael Curry works. As he said he was gong into these talks as a Christian, as a member of this body coming in with his whole heart and with clarity about the good discerning of our church. He was clear, he was passionate, he was appropriately humble, in the sense that he was not seeking to disrespect anyone but wanting to stand, as he said so well, stand among them as a brother in the faith, and yet very clear, very firm, that the place where we as Episcopalian Christians have come to in our own discerning is solid and is not going to change.
  ES You’ve anticipated my question! Will it change?
+MB  No we are not all of one mind in this side of Christendom, as is true in any other part of the church, but this process for us led to a very solid consensus among the breadth of the Episcopal church that this is where God was calling us to be. The consequences in the communion are difficult, but we have a real understanding of our relationships in the communion being much deeper and much more personal than the governing bodies, or the leadership bodies of the primates, which are consultative and fraternal but not constitutionally binding.
  ES   If you are as settled as you say you are in your view on this question, that means that this is just a breathing space, doesn’t it? That this is going to come back and that the arguments will not have gone away?
+MB   Well, three years is a long time. A lot can happen in three years, witness the changes in our country in the secular realm around issues of marriage and inclusion. So I make no predictions, but I am completely confident that what will not happen is any movement backward in the official position of the Episcopal Church vis à vis our understanding of marriage and the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of our Church.
  ES   And as you speak today, do you still feel part of the Anglican Communion?
+MB   Oh most certainly. The Anglican Communion is not determined by hierarchy. It’s this extraordinary network of relationships, deep and profound relationships across the world, that are based in common mission. You cannot [over]estimate how deeply connected the American Church feels to our brothers and sisters across the world. As the archbishop said, there are consequences for decisions made in one church. We accept those consequences, and as consequences go this is relatively mild. Our broader concern is for gay and lesbian people and members of churches around the world who are in a much more vulnerable place than any of us can imagine.
  ES   Did the archbishop of Canterbury’s apology for the hurt caused to gay and lesbian people in the past convince you, and gay and lesbian members of the Episcopal Church?
+MB   Well, I can’t speak for others. I believe the archbishop was sincere in his apology. As I said it reminds me of very awkward statements that we, during our years of discerning our positions on gay and lesbians, we would say things very similar on our journey through this process. We tried to carve out a place of love and unconditional acceptance for gay and lesbian people and yet deny them their god-given identity as full members of the church. And yet the discrepancy between such words and actions can only be tolerated for so long, and then you must change your church to reflect the desire that you have for that pain to be addressed appropriately.
  ES   So what you’re saying quite politely to the archbishop of Canterbury is “you’re just a bit behind, you’ll catch us up in the end?”
+MB   This is an insight that we have come to, and we recognise it as similar to insights we came to regarding the role of women in leadership in the church, regarding our teachings in terms of the full inclusion of divorced persons in the church, certainly in our ongoing struggles with racial reconciliation. So this pattern, this process of change, and further opening the doors of our church is familiar to us. Not to be arrogant about that but simply we say that this is the truth that we claim as revealed to us. And as our presiding bishop has said we feel it’s our vocation to stand firm, and stay in communion, and stay in relationship, but to be clear about who we are and what we believe God has asked us to do.
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