Saturday, 14 November 2009

Revision Committee: Tough Salami

The latest from the rather dry and technical sounding Revision Committee on women in the Episcopate which met yesterday contains one ecclesiologically significant discovery:

After much discussion, the members of the Committee were unable to identify a basis for specifying particular functions for vesting which commanded sufficient support both from those in favour of the ordination of women as bishops and those unable to support that development. As a result all of the proposals for vesting particular functions by statute were defeated.

The effect of the Committee’s decision is therefore that such arrangements as are made for those unable to receive the episcopal ministry of women will need to be by way of delegation from the diocesan bishop rather than vesting.

It seems that the 19 members of the committee spent long hard hours trying to see if there was some way of producing some kind of new model episcopacy that simultaneously was and wasn’t complete in the ministry of every bishop. What they seem to have discovered by painful endeavour is that it just isn’t possible to salami slice what bishops’ ministry is within an autocephalous Church. St Cyrprian’s principle (“Episcopatus unus est cuius a singulis in solidum pars tenetur”) has, since the time of Archbishop Benson (1882-18891), been the keystone of Anglican theology of Episcopacy. Thus, ecclesiological first principles prove themselves.

So what? The choice now before Synod is for provision outside the legislation itself, or a statutory code of practice. The full synod will doutbless discuss these options and decide what they want to do between these options. There is, of course, always a third option of dong nothing (letting the measure fail). This is the kind of discussion and decision making the General Synod is for, really. February’s debates could well make interesting reading...


Unknown said...

How about doing a swap? The remaining Anglican Traditionalists accept the non-statutory delegation of powers from women bishops in exchange for bishops having to believe and uphold the Anglican tradition - Creeds, formularies, thirty-nine Articles - in all other respects?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm all for it, John. I suspect it woujldn't be much of a trade. One of the perks of this job is I get to use and hear the declaration of assent quite often. I don't know of any episcopal colleague who doesn't seem to believe and uphold what we are all committed to believe and uphold.

One difficulty, surely, is that neither creeds nor formularies make any mention of the societal hot-button issues that drive modern debate. The most we can say is that these are matters of canon not dogma.

Unknown said...

My experience of these things is that those who are strong on the dogmas tend to be strong the 'canonical' issues. So, for instance, those who believe Jesus was born of a sexual virgin called Mary, who think that the fulness of God dwelt in him bodily, that he died "to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men" (Article 2), tend to be pretty sound in moral areas as well.

Unfortunately, I seem to come across a lot of ordinary clergy for whom these are anything but established dogmas. It may be that the bishops of your knowledge are being selected from the 'sterner stuff', but I do wonder if they inquire sufficiently into the 'sound learning' of those presented to them for ordination.

Certainly I have never, ever, been asked a question by a bishop about what I believed, except in the most general and formal sense at my various licensings.

My confidence that the trade would be worth it is thus rather higher than is, perhaps, your own!

Erika Baker said...

Are you trying to say that people who do not believe as you do generally have less sound morals?

All who do not share your precise definition of the Christian faith, all Jews, Hindus, Muslims, agnostics, atheists - all not as morally sound as you and those like you?
Or does this only apply to Christians who don't toe your line?

Even then, that's a huge statement; I'd like to see some evidence for this.

And please don't give me buzz words like homosexuality, abortion, assisted dying etc., because we are discussing those precisely because we are assessing their moral values, not because one group of us is moral the other selfishly immoral.

It would be good to get some precise data as to whether people who don't believe in the sexual virginity of Mary are more likely to be tax evaders, whether people who do not believe in a literal incarnation have a higher tendency to become burglars, or whether Christians who don't fully embrace Article 2 are more likely to be proud, boastful and self-righteous than true believers.

Or does this only apply to priests?
Are those who struggle with article 2 more likely to be sloppy and cold-hearted about conducting funerals?
Are those who struggle with Mary’s virginity more likely to have affairs with parishioners or commit financial fraud?

I look forward to some sound statistics.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Erika. I hear all kinds of general assertions made about others faith or lack of faith, and realise I share Queen Elizabeth's horror about making windows into people's souls. Or, to put it in Biblical terms, I Corinthians 4 just about says it all for me.

For example, a large number of fervent tradionalists hold a variety of "Tract 90" style interpretations of various of the 39 articles that touch RC practice and piety. I don't agree with them about the matters in question, but I would contend earnestly for their integrity, and right to as generous an interpretation as I hope they would allow others in good faith. Nothing makes me want to question their basic commitment or faith.

Thirty years as a priest (and a few of them in prison ministry) has made me really hard to shock or surprise about who's moral and who's not! Therefore I'd be interested by some chapter and verse, too...

Unknown said...

Erika, you ask "Are you trying to say that people who do not believe as you do generally have less sound morals?"

My answer is yes and no. No, I am not saying that I am the arbiter of true faith and sound morals. That would be a claim to divinity.

But I am saying - I trust we are all saying - there is a faith that is true and a morality that is sound. And I am further suggesting, which I do not think is an extraordinary idea, that the two are correlated.

In the Ordinal (the Prayer Book one), the Bishop prays for the newly-ordained priests that God will "so replenish them with the truth of thy Doctrine, and adorn them with innocency of life, that, both by word and good example, they may faithfully serve thee in this Office".

There is an understanding here, I take it, that true belief and sound morals go together. It is not necessarily that the one causes the other, but it certainly is the case that the person who displays the one will display the other, because 'a good tree brings forth good fruit'. (Belief, of course being not simply an acquiescence to the truth of a statement, but a living trust in the God who forms the object of that belief.)

Now as to the statistics, I would refer to the survey conducted by the Christian Research Association on behalf of Cost of Conscience in 2002. The full material may be found here.

Generally, on moral issues those clergy who were of traditional belief had traditional morals. This may not be regarded as 'rocket science', but the point is that the departures from traditional belief were not trivial. On the physical resurrection, for example, confidence levels were at about the 60% mark!

So this is the 'chapter and verse' for which you and Bishop Alan asked. They may not be on the issues which you specifically addressed, but the bishop referred to "societal hot-button issues that drive modern debate", and those are the terms in which I answered him. Nevertheless, I do think you'll find a high level of tax-return honesty amongst Christians, and certainly our faith specifically requires it (Romans 13).

However, the chief point is that we do have standards of belief, some of them quite simple and specific. Bishop Alan has asserted that they are widespread, but I do not understand how he can say that if he operates a sort of Elizabethan "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. If I understand you correctly, Bishop, you can't be sure if you don't inquire.

With respect, in the ordinal the bishop says to the archdeacon, "Take heed that the persons, whom ye present unto us, be apt and meet, for their learning and godly conversation [ie lifestyle], to exercise their Ministry duly, to the honour of God, and the edifying of his Church." And the Archdeacon answers, "I have inquired concerning them, and also examined them, and think them so to be."

A bishop has a unique role as the church's gatekeeper. It is therefore his job to do this asking (or make sure it is done).

Anonymous said...

RE: "My experience of these things is that those who are strong on the dogmas tend to be strong the 'canonical' issues. So, for instance, those who believe Jesus was born of a sexual virgin called Mary, who think that the fulness of God dwelt in him bodily, that he died "to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men" (Article 2), tend to be pretty sound in moral areas as well."

I'm with John Richardson -- it's certainly true for TEC, where I am. Those who are creedally and dogmatically faithful generally speaking also agree with scripture on the moral issues. Doesn't make them personally "more moral" but then, John wasn't speaking of that -- he was merely speaking of the consistency one finds *in belief*.

Certainly those who are asserting the glories of same-sex sexual relationships and abortion are in huge numbers also people who can't agree to the creeds [other than, of course, in deconstructed terms, as in "of course I believe in the resurrectionness of the eternal divine."

I see that John Richardson has provided the evidence to back this up -- but honestly, we all know it. It's just that some of us don't like it pointed out.


Erika Baker said...

Thank you.
But if I understand you correctly, your case rests on the link between a traditional faith and traditional morals, with the unspoken implication that newly evolving ways of assessing the morality of situations or actions is always immoral.

I’m not sure I find that a very intellectually convincing assumption.

Anonymous said...

RE: "But I am saying - I trust we are all saying - there is a faith that is true and a morality that is sound. And I am further suggesting, which I do not think is an extraordinary idea, that the two are correlated."

Judging by the response, John, I think your trust was, unfortunately, overly optimistic.

Unknown said...

Erika, I think you're rather forgetting the original point at which I came in, which was to say that if we are to have women bishops, let us have bishops - and other clergy - who are fully committed to the doctrinal formularies of the Church of England.

It was Bishop Alan who made a link with what he called the "societal hot button issues", which he felt were "matters of canon" rather than "dogma", and it was in response to this (only) that I drew the link between traditional morals and traditional faith - a link which I think is nevertheless well-established.

That is not, however, to say, as you do, that I believe "newly evolving ways of assessing the morality of situations or actions is always immoral". That is, as you put it, an "unspoken" implication - unspoken in the sense that it is not what I said or meant. A newly evolving way of assessing a situation may be immoral - it may not. But it is neither more nor less moral for being new or old as an assessment method.

However, I am digressing myself.

The point is, let's be clearly and confessionally (if I may use that word) Anglican. If we did that, some of our other problems might be less 'problematic'!

Erika Baker said...

"that I drew the link between traditional morals and traditional faith - a link which I think is nevertheless well-established."

From your earlier response to my questions about financial morality etc., I take it that you are only referring to sexual morality here. Also, I take it you are in favour of a traditional faith and traditional morals.

And so I would like to say, again, that I do not think you are doing this debate any service by separating traditional morals from new ones, as though one lot was automatically better. It leaves out the possibility that new insights make actions traditionally considered to be moral become positively immoral when analysed from within the traditional moral framework (for a non sexual example of this you only have to look at the debate of corporal punishment for children).

The hot button debates occur precisely BECAUSE some people feel they fit neatly into a traditional moral framework that is defined by the evaluation of the impact and outcome of actions and not a simple and rigid categorisation into “moral” and “immoral”.

Of course, if you are saying that traditional rigidity and a traditional authoritarian approach are always preferable by definition, then I would have to accept your stance but question whether it has anything to do with genuine morality.

And if such a rigid approach was associated with a rigid definition of what people have to believe to be Anglican, then I would fail to see any benefit in a belief in Article 2 or the virgin birth (and by the way, I cannot find any reference to “sexual” virginity in the Creeds or the 39 articles).

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for a really engaging thread. I've been following it carefully.

I take John's point about there having to be a gate and bishops having a special responsibility for staffing (almost said manning) it. It's often said the C of E is not a confessional Church, but that's not quite true. Archbishop Fisher said years ago, the creeds are the content of Anglican doctrine, and authorised formularies & liturgies, principally the BCP, are the official standard.

But how has this standard has been applied? The story gets very interesting. The C of E and the Presbyterian C of E entered the 18th century in very similar places, indeed Presbyterian clergy had served various parishes in the 17th century, not all ejected in 1662. One difference was that the Presbyterian C of E enforced strict doctrinal conformity to the Westminster Confession locally. The C of E, meanwhile was rather more messy. Creeds were said every week, and subscription required of all, but wide room allowed about interpretation. It wasn't the entire solution, witness the interesting correspondence between (ordinand) William Temple & Randall Davidson about the Clerical Subscription Act. Ditto, the Hereford scandal of 1917. But, actually, nailing the flag to traditional creeds and clear formularies but then giving people room to enter into those realities, did work. By 1800 a lot of Presbyterian Church life in England had collapsed into deism and unitarianism. The immediate police modified alongside the people they were policing (to use ugly and inappropriate language), and within three generations, Westminster Confession or no, the Church was doctrinally off its rocker. The most vibrant 18th century Reformed clergy were often actually Anglican, Toplady, and friends. These were bouyed up by the essentially reformed character of the BCP (a point Tractarians could be extremely disingenuous about), no doubt. But the same C of E spawned Methodism, and mainline socially transforming Evangelical movement of Wilberforce.

Now as a gatekeeper I am very interested in how this worked. Perhaps one key was ancient creeds said at every service: Lex orandi and all that. Perhaps it was the lower setting on a higher older gate that allowed for both theological engagement and creativity, within a framework of ancient tradition. The effect is like Jazz, based on a rigid eight bar law, but all tghe more engaging and creative for that.

So as a gatekeeper I require assent, I give assent, and I expect people to mean what they say. I suppose whenever I put a member of the clergy in, I could say "are you sure?" but I'm not sure what, if anything, it would add. I want the Church in the next century to be vibrant in the Spirit, but I believe it can only be that if it is living the basic (eight bar) articulated in the creeds.

My special care is the Christian faith I aim to live and teach, and the hot button issues are secoindary/derivative. This doesn't mean they don't matter, but I don't think monkeying around with them to make additions is any more sensible than monkeying around with them (like Spong and Bishop Barnes) to take away from them. We need to understand and live them first.

As to connections between growth and churchmanship, we;ve just had figures in establishing a doubling of Usual Sunday attendance in Slough over the past five years. This includes vibrant Evagelical Churches, but equally Anglo-Catholic, and, growth in what some would see as the soggy liberal sector. I'm not in the business of playing one off against the other. The enemy is the other side of th wire, not the people in the next trench!

As to morals, I am sure there should be a linkage between conventional faith and morals. I know from Barna material and Willow Creek's Reveal studies, that Evangelicals in the states, and for all I know over here, do have a challenge about the linkage or lack of it between faith as formulated and way of life. But then we all ahve that!

Unknown said...

Bishop Alan, just on the Barna studies and morality, part of the problem is what these studies use as a definition of 'evangelical', which (I hear from Dr Don Carson) is based on what people say they are in terms of beliefs, rather than on what they do in terms of regular church attendance, etc. When the latter is factored in, rather clearer distinctions are found.

Erika, I think you're trying to squeeze me into a mould you can then reject, as you keep making generalizations about where I stand which go well beyond what I've said.

To repeat, I responded on the moral issues to Bishop Alan's specific challenge. Those 'hot button' issues are indeed largely about sexuality, which reflects the society in which we live, but I did not confine myself to that. Indeed, I addressed the issue of taxation and honesty, on which you yourself had touched.

Of course, Christians should be 'holy as God is holy' in all areas. I am happy to concede that, provided we do mean all, and the apostles do have some very distinct things to say about sexual immorality, which in my experience is a greater challenge to many Christians than resisting the temptation, say, to rob banks.

As to 'sexual' virginity, I was trying to avoid the claim that 'virgin' simply meant 'young woman' as in Matt 25, rather than woman pregnant through the exclusive operation of the Holy Spirit, as in Matt 1. If we don't believe it, so be it, but let's be clear about that.

Erika Baker said...

After my first comment you told me you had only wanted to deal with Alan's hot button issues, now you say you are not confining yourself to that - this is getting us nowhere.
My real point, which I don't believe you have answered yet, probably because I have not been making it clearly, is that you cannot simply equate "traditional morality" with good, and "questioning traditional stances" with bad, and then tie these two to different approaches to faith, thereby also implicitly dividing these also into good and not good.

Unless we can accept that other people's view have their own deep integrity and have been arrived at through wrestling with faith and with moral issues, we are helping to build up a Them and Us situation where we end up being so assured of our own views that we close ourselves off from the possibility of learning from each other and end up seeing everything in black and white only.

The old and the new both have their integrity and unless we accept that and genuinely respect other people’s views and faith even if we don’t share it, we will never overcome this appalling and unnecessary deadlock and general air of contempt for each other our public faith conversations have created.

Erika Baker said...

As for Mary’s sexual virginity, my point is that for you it may be as simple as looking at Matt 1, but that neither the Creeds nor the 39 Articles have ever attempted to specify what Anglicans have to believe to that extent. You are perfectly entitled to follow your own interpretation here, but if other people should end up believing, for example, that the Holy Spirit can operate through the biological process of a natural pregnancy and still make the resulting child wholly man and wholly divine, then there is nothing in either the Creeds or the 39 Articles that disallows that.

I fear that we are in great danger of polarising our faith and of narrowing it down by insisting that only our own interpretation can be right and that everything else is, by definition, of lesser value and, God help us, even morally suspect.

Unknown said...

Erika, I honestly think that much of the problem is 'close reading of the text'. I don't think you're reading what I'm saying closely enough and therefore you keep posting across that and then wondering why I don't 'reply' to it.

It is indeed frustrating!

As to Mary's virginity; to say that the Creeds and Articles do not specify what we have to believe in that respect, given the statements of Scripture on which they are founded, seems to my mind to give 'private judgement' a latitude to mean whatever we like when we don't like the obvious.

I recognize the difficulty of embracing every possible variation in one church - but that is why I doubt it can be done.

Erika Baker said...

I apologise.
I had assumed that you wrote this: "So, for instance, those who believe Jesus was born of a sexual virgin called Mary, who think that the fulness of God dwelt in him bodily, that he died "to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men" (Article 2), tend to be pretty sound in moral areas as well." make a connection between a traditional faith and sound morals and, by implication, a non-traditional faith with unsound morals.

If you did not, I have no idea what you meant by that sentence, but I agree, this conversation is too frustrating to be continued.

Archbeship Anthony said...

Hi All,
If you take the issue about Women Bishops literally according to St Matthew, when Jesus had risen on Easter Morning, then you would most likely say that it is the only correct way forward. He appeared to a couple of women first. He must have known that all the men would be hiding somewhere and not at the grave. Chapter 28 Starting at Verse 9, Jesus met the women on making their way to tell the other disciples. Verse 10 tells that Jesus tells the women the same thing as the angel had told them "Do not be afraid, Go and tell my followers to go on to Galilee, and they will see me there" In Mark, Jesus also appears to the Woman First. In St Johns account, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene first (Chapter 20 v 15) then appears to his other disciples (namely the men) later (starting the next story at Verse 19). I seem unable to receive the same thread from the Gospel according to St Luke as I do the other three. If someone, however, was able to either explain it to me in context with the other three or to say that it does not matter that I do not receive the same message, then I would be most grateful for this.

Many Thanks

Anthony Tull

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