Friday 5 July 2013

Genuine Unity — How to focus it

A bishop is called to be a focus of unity. But how?

Unity matters. Here’s the theory, according to St Paul. The whole created order is emerging into Unity through Christ whose death has reconciled everything and triggered a viral process of reconciliation that takes in every human dimension. the Church is a new people, the firsfruits of the whole creation. Nobody is left out. It takes a whole world to know Christ.

Disunity is all in the mind. Some Christians believe gayness is within the purpose of creation; some against it. Much of our official history has taken the anti-gay line, and much of our unoffcial practice has behaved differently. Some believe in women’s senior leadership, some not. According to the last Archbishop, bishops could only be a focus of unity by resisting change in order to reassure traditionalists, in public anyway. The price of unity was rejecting gay people, largely paid by gay people. Ditto with women. They were to calm down and accept being diminished in ministry, as the price of unity.

This policy has failed, on every level.

The dwindling number of Traditionalists were not reassured and gay people continued to be diminished, patronised, bullied, and rejected. Meanwhile the Church became the only UK public body left allowed to discriminate against women in its senior leadership. What seemed even-handed was actually taking sides and has kludged up real dialogue, parking the issues in a siding, but guaranteeing an increasingly guilty and untenable paralysis. Meanwhile society got on with sorting both issues without the Church.

Bishops sat on the fence for the sake of unity in the name of even handedness, trying to slow everything down and keep order. The result was disunity, frustration and chaos.

In reality there was no fence to sit on. In effect, doing nothing was siding with the decreasing majority who believe gay people are wicked, stunted, sick or disabled, or the one that believed women were made by God for non-leadership roles.

As the numbers who believe gay people are just people and women are equal grew and became a majority in England, even the Church of England, the game was up.

You can't build unity in a family by excluding any members of it. If your children fall out it is not even handed to ignore the one who's stepping out of line, to build fellow feeling between the others who aren't, sacrificing the black female, or gay member “for the sake of family unity.” Doing that actually destroys the family, not unites it. You can only parent a family on the supposition that all its members are equally valid. Thus Bishops, by trying to be nice to gays whilst siding with anti-gays have not been a focus of unity, but have actually stoked a bigger crisis over gay people in the church than was experienced in education, politics, the military, the law, commerce, or any other area of life.

If bishops want to be real focuses of unity they have to stop trying to be nice, in effect siding with anti-gays. Both sides act out of conviction. Good. It's time to stop trying to calm everybody down and synthesize them. A working model is actually in the New Testament, and we need to wake up and follow it.

Romans 14 deals with Meat sacrificed to idols. This mattered to early Christians not as animal lovers, but because meat came from pagan temples. Eating it was either subsidizing idolatrous cults or defying them by proving Christians were immune to their products. Eat or refuse, you couldn't do both simultaneously. The issue was black and white. If St Paul ate meat he sided with those who think their faith is strong because they eat meat. If he refuses he sides against them with those who refuse, on grounds of conscience. There is no middle ground.

At this point St Paul could come running on, saying "Calm down, dear! Nobody eat anything because that will upset the vegetarians! Let's all discuss what we all have to do before we can do anything! And then when we're ready to move, we must all move together!"

What St Paul recommends is the exact opposite. He tells every Christian
  • to be convinced in their own mind, each one personally.
  • to get on with doing whatever they do, meaty or veggie, 100%, but to do it for faith reasons, for Christ, not fear reasons. What comes from faith is faith.
  • When doing this produces passionate disagreement, to view it as an opportunity to accept the other as is and love them, not an opportunity to tribalise
  • To judge nobody else before the time
  • When people see you doing this, they will be amazed, and God will be glorified. Nobody has to pretend. Every particularity praises God's works, not its own, in its own language. Nothing is judged or synthesized before the time.
Fake Unity is basically about what's going on among the officers on the bridge. Its aim is keeping everyone as happy as possible. Driven by fear of everything falling apart, the captain becomes what Walt Disney called Mickey Mouse, "a little guy trying his best."  Its aim is a world tamed and homogenised, where everybody calms down, and each particularity curbs its enthusiasms whilst every anomaly is synthesised out.

Real unity is concerned with where the ship is going as well as how the ship is running. Its comes from the Cross, powered from within by a shedding of blood that bridges every contradiction in heaven and earth, even life and death. Its aim is a world reconciled, not homogenised, where every particularity believes and does what it does to the utmost and so becomes fully itself in a new, emergent, diverse, chorus of praise to God.

The coming days, for the General Synod, could be make up your mind time between these two visions of unity, cheesy or real. At last.


UKViewer said...

You're right. Time to get away from the traditional Anglican Fudge and compromise.

Open the way for Grace and the Holy Spirit to lead and for diverse voices to be celebrated together in a new unity, that of difference accepted and enjoyed, not denigrated.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Very struck by Alan Ewing's comments on my FB page about this post — birth pangs are always painful, and perhaps church internal pain reflects that of the whole creation struggling to come to terms with what God is making it and how. What we need ultimately for joy is not an anesthetic, but a baby!

Steve Hayes said...

I don't think your eating meat analogy solves the problem at all. It rather evades it, and leaves you in exactly the same position that other bishops find themselves in.

If you say that if you believe that eating meat is wrong, then don't eat meat, but don't despise those who do. That's fine.

But if you transfer it to other situations, think how it would apply. If someone believes that women can't be bishops, or priests and that the sacramental acts they perform are null and void, then if one applies your solution, those who believe that would just avoid services with female celebrants without objecting to their ordination.

But would this ensure unity? I think not. It would cause more disunity than ever before.

To paraphrase someone else, it would be better to admit that the two positions are irreconcilable, and to take the line that it is better to go into schism for the sake of love than to insist on maintaining unity because of my lack of it. And it works both ways.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I understand your point, Steve. The Church has to make its mind up, that's all. The people whose views you mention are simply in exactly the same position as they are now, say, when they go to Church in Bangalore Cathedral — do they take communion or not? It's for them to say, not the Church to invent some elaborate scheme for Schrodinger's sacraments. Thank God Unity in Christ is bigger than individual churches...

Anonymous said...

> The Church has to make its mind up, that's all.

Is 'the Church' the Church of England, or the Church throughout the world? The Church of England has pretty clearly made its mind up for women bishops, and the Church throughout the world has even more clearly made up its mind against them (current estimates are that 1.2 billion of the world's 2.2 billion Christians are RC, which is a majority).

This means that supporters of women bishops are a majority within a minority, and opponents are a minority within a majority. Confusing!

June Butler said...

The bishop is the focus of unity that points to Jesus Christ who told us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves and that we are to do unto others as we would be done to. The older I get, the more I feel the urge to keep the faith simple and focused on the Christ in the Gospels. How any policies that promote unequal treatment of LGTB persons or women line up with what I view as the two greatest teachings in the Gospels is a mystery to me.

June Butler

Erika Baker said...

Not confusing at all, Anonymous. . We are members of the Church of England, a church that is precisely NOT the Roman Catholic church and that has is own polity.
If you really really believe that it has to look to Rome you are in the wrong church. It has never done that, it was born out of NOT looking to Rome! This fantasy really has to stop!

Unless you can argue from within the CoE you have lost your argument. Look at the Canons of this church, look at its polity, at its decision making processes and at the fact that is has had women priests for 20 years. THAT is the reality.

JCF said...

Preach! Preach! Preach!

It's not that the CofE won't continue to have respectful discussions with the anti-WO group.

They will. Respectful, ecumenical discussions.

But the time for taking anti-WO as a (controlling) *Anglican* position is OVER.

Dick Wolff said...

Rom 14:19-23 is clear. Paul's pastoral advice on meat offered to idols was the opposite of what you're suggesting : not 'strong-faithed' meat eaters eating meat whilst sitting alongside 'weak-faithed' veggies - disagreeing with them but not patronising them. He is saying "of course you can eat meat. But don't do it in front of others for whom it's still a violation of conscience. Do it out of their sight, because if you put them under pressure to conform (by eating meat offered to idols in your public gatherings) you are pressuring them to violate their own conscience, and that, for them, is sin (15:1) They should only do it once their faith has developed such that it allows them to. Pressuring people to go against their conscience by doing things in your public gatherings that they find so challenging that either they'll effectively be excluded or will act against their conscience is wrong. You are going to have to sacrifice some of your freedom from such constraints in your gatherings for the sake of unity in Christ." I don't think Paul's teaching here is as helpful to the case you're trying to make as you seem to think it is.

Erika Baker said...

"You are going to have to sacrifice some of your freedom from such constraints in your gatherings for the sake of unity in Christ."

And that applies to all sides in the debate, not just to those who support women bishops.
The problem has been that no offer of provisions has yet been seen as acceptable by those who want to stay in a completely "protected" place.

"You can do what you like as long as I am not one little bit affected by it, and if that means you become a second class bishop, then that's the price you have to pay, just don't expect me to do any sacrificial giving" is precisely not following St. Paul's spirit

Anonymous said...

Erika @2149: Sorry, you're not getting away with that piece of solipsism. The Church that Christians affirm in their creeds is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Not Anglicanism. Not Roman Catholicism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, - the one church.

Erika Baker said...

yes, but catholic does not mean Roman Catholic, nor does it mean institutional uniformity.
Yes, we are all one in the body of Christ. But we are not all Roman Catholic nor do we want to be.

You know, I feel really sorry for all you Anglo-Catholics who are having to give up the fantasy that the CoE will one day reunite with Rome. It won't.
You just need to look at the ones you are now uniting with to stop women bishops - the evangelical REFORM. They are as far from Roman Catholicism or any other catholicism as you can imagine. If it wasn't for women bishops you wouldn't even be talking to them. But they are a part of the same CoE you are a part of, just as valued, just as loved and wanted.

I am delighted that the CoE is not just introducing women bishops without giving pastoral care and concern to those who cannot accept it.
But those people absolutely must become aware of what kind of church the CoE is.

Look at its canons, look at its polity, look at the fact that is has had women priests for 20 years, and look at the fact that the November vote was about HOW women can be bishops, not whether.

Wake up!

James said...

Anonymous, yes, but catholic does not mean Roman Catholic, nor does it mean institutional uniformity.

I never said that it was. You're going off on one again...

Your answer does not answer the fact that the polity of the Anglican church (if such a thing there be) does not equate to "the church", and never will.

And for the record, I am not an Anglo-Catholic, and I want an apology for your damned insolence in suggesting you know my mind better than I do.

Erika Baker said...

nice to know you have a name. It will help the conversation, because I have to say, talking to “Anonymous” is always tricky, you can never be quite sure how many different people you’re trying to talk to and that can muddy the waters. I assume there is only one in this comment thread.

If I understand you correctly, you took exception to my suggestion that the issue of majorities was not confusing.

I interpreted your reference to the majority against women priests in the wider church to mean that we must seek unity with the whole church in the whole world and that we should ideally not do anything new until everyone agrees.
Maybe I jumped the gun, but people usually refer to the anti-women stance in the wider church in order to show that the CoE is wrong to go ahead on women priests. And it is usually only Anglo-Catholics who talk about the 2.2 bn RC Christians as if they had any relevance for the CoE. So I naturally assumed that you were an Anglo-Catholic.

If that is insolent (even damned insolent!), then I apologise. But I might be more helpful if you explained what kind of unity matters to you and why.

Because I still think we are talking cross purposes.

There can be no doubt that the polity of the Anglican Communion (you’re right, there is no such thing as the Anglican Church) is not the same as the spiritual Body of Christ that includes all Christians everywhere.

But my point was that the Church of England is one unit within that body of Christ. And it has its own polity, its own laws, it’s own decisions making processes.
We can argue that it “should not” have them and that there ought to be a world-wide united church.
But there IS no world wide united church. And the CoE has already done numerous things Roman Catholics the Orthodox etc. do not accept.
We can welcome that or bemoan it. But we cannot ignore the reality of it.
The only majority that matters here is that within the CoE.

John said...

Bishop Alan,

As a church warden in a rural village church in the Diocese of Oxford (Dorhester Area) I find it intriguingly interesting that I often one across your blog when searching on the Internet about issues that I and the Parish are facing. When I stop and read your blog I always get just the spiritual direction and message that I need. Thank you.

You are a breath of fresh air and a reminder of why I joined the CoE. You remain an inspriation and a motivation. Though I have never met you or heard you speak, I feel as though you know the way I think and the logic I use.

I pray for rebirth. For unity. For a common cause to bring us all together so that we are vessels of Gods will.

Thank you for this posting.

Peter Saunders said...

On what basis do you believe that the issue of sexually active gay partnerships falls in the Romans 14 category of 'disputable matters' on which Christians can legitimately disagree?

Paul seems to take a very different view in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Sam Allberry said...

Bishop Alan,

Is characterising those who believe homosexual practise to be wrong as thinking "gay people are wicked, stunted, sick or disabled" an example of how you commend we "accept the other as is and love them" and "not tribalise"? Is this an example of "not judging"?

I would love to sit down with you and explain how, as someone who experiences homosexual feelings, why I cannot believe homosexual practise to be something God can bless. There are real reasons, not just the cartoon ones you seem to deal in. If you are genuinely interested in mutual understanding it would be a privilege to chat with you.
Sam Allberry
St Mary's, Maidenhead

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Peter, I Corinthians 6 is talking about people who sleep with prostitutes, and would apply to a male or a female prostitute equally... it has no particular reference of homosexuality.

Sam, I'm always happy to meet and talk. Please understand, I have never said all gay sex is right, or wrong. All chosen sexual behaviour is subject to the same moral consideration and standards, including gay sex. What is morally objectionable. and usually unlawful in most contexts, is discrimination against anyone on the grounds of their sexual orientation — still permissible in the Church, but not in many other place, and that is the moral shame of the matter. I did not characterise all who believe gay sex is wrong in the way you say, but I have had a few dozen letters, from people who have said exactly those things about gay people. I am simply summarizing, in much more temperate terms than they originally expressed themselves, what they actually said. If I had to say what seemed most morally dangerous in their points of view, it would not be their views on sex, but the underlying Pharisaism.

John Buck said...

Dear Bishop Alan
I think it is time we fessed-up to the fact that we are all capable of experiencing same-sex attraction. So it is not the experience that is important but our response to it. Some of us (I myself was one such) get hung-up in early childhood on the feeling that we have been "born gay." It was not until relatively late in life that I realised that I
was probably no more gay than anyone else. Gay feelings can become a habit of mind and, like all habits, it gets stronger the more we indulge in it.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

John, thanks for saying a bit about yourself. The evidence seems to be that bisexuality is more common than some would find it comfortable to think, and about 10% of male and 40% of female gay people experience a significant degree of fluidity around their sexuality. All sexual behaviour has a compulsive/ habitual element in it, and all orientations are points on a scale not simple binaries. I strongly agree we are not responsible for the feeling, but what we do about it. One of the results of moving beyond a homophobic anthropology is it enables a common moral standard to be applied to all sexual behaviour regardless of orientation.

gentlemind said...

"Moving beyond a homophobic anthropology"? Really?

Given that the human body itself is physically heterosexual, how can an anthropology be anything other than heterosexual? And how can an understanding based on nothing other than the physical reality of the human body be regarded as being hateful towards something that the body is not?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm completely baffled by the assertion that "the human body is physically heterosexual." What does that mean? Surely the simple fact of life is that some bodies are more heterosexual (for whatever reasons) than others, int he same way as some bodies are more sexually active than others. I believe are some 70 physical sexual indicators in any body, and some 50 will incline one way or the other. Thus, for example, 30% of active heterosexual couples, we are told, practice buggery. There is no physical reason why they should or should not. That is a question for morals and psychology, not anatomy. Classical RC (Thmoist) rested on the best knowledge of the 13th Century — some of it rather dotty (like the idea women were women because of the temperature of the sperm when they were conceived). Starting with that anthropology, and assuming God made it that way, Thomas went on to construct his theology. If we do the same, we cannot expect to come to the same result, either about gay people or women.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

The whole language about the "redefinition of marriage" was a bit of rhetoric from the moral majority that is very convincing to people already convinced that they don't believe in change, but also don't want to appear homophobic. It cuts no ice with anyone else and in some ways repeating it louder and louder and louder makes this problem worse, not better. I notice that the primary definition of marriage in the OED, dating back to the 13th century in the English language, doesn't actually need to change as a result of this year's legislation. Essentialism about biology, let alone semantics, is very unconvincing except to its own true believers.

gentlemind said...

Thank you very much for your responses. Very interesting.

People themselves are not "gay": we all have a God-given sexual identity - male or female. "Gay" and "straight" are emotional identities that we choose for ourselves. Those identities do not defeat the physical reality of our God-given identities. A "gay" man and a "straight" man are both men, and both have bodies sexually structured to allow their union with the other sex. Neither man has a homosexual body ie one sexually structured to allow their union with the same sex.

Aquinas (and Natural Law full stop) simply recognise that things have a purpose. If we believe otherwise, then there can be nothing to argue in favour of, since there would be nothing to argue against.

Put simply, if a marriage is not a life-long sexual union of one man and one woman (that by its very nature brings new life into the world and unites that life with its parents), then what is a marriage? If marriage is not one thing, is it another thing? Or is it nothing?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

There were writers in Germany around the time that the term homosexuality was first coined who did think of gay as a kind of third sex, but I don't personally think there's evidence for that. A gay man remains a man and a gay woman a woman. I don't think gay or straight are chosen paths — indeed for people my age the stories of our gay friends are very often a bout struggling to be straight, choosing it with every fibre of their being, sometimes assisted by bizarre treatments like chemical castration, yet finding it was impossible. I'm still not sure what you mean by physically or sexually structured. If it's true that 30% of straight couples practice anal sex, it may be right or wrong, but physically it's possible. Aquinas founded his own essentialism on a Aristotelian philosophy. I see no reason to absolutise it today, but if we wanted to do what Aquinas did we should of course ground our natural theology on the anthropology of our science, as he did on the ancient anthropology of his age. Doing this would argue strongly for allowing gay people to marry, especially as many have been living in structured relationships like marriages for years. All the things that enter into your definition of marriage are indeed among what Augustine calls the goods of marriage but cannot be integral to it — or what does it mean to say we are the bride of Christ — that we have to have sex with him? That he can only have one of us? Who are the offspring of this marriage? I have found it difficult to accept any rhetoric about "redefining Marriage" since discovering that the primary meaning of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary, attested since the 13th century, doesn't actually need to be redefined, but will cover a same sex marriage perfectly adequately.

gentlemind said...

Can you tell me what that OED definition is, please?

A clearer understanding of what it means to "redefine marriage" can be had by separating man-made law from nature ie the reality of our bodies. I never use the phrase "redefine marriage", because marriage itself cannot be redefined, any more than the moon can be. Instead, we are redefining the legal institution of marriage - something that Adam and Eve did not have access to :) The physical reality of marriage will remain, and the new legal definition will be out of harmony with it. That's the most man-made law can ever do to marriage - peel off its name, attach it to something new, and leave actual marriage without a name.

Although you and I have different views of marriage, I do honestly admire and appreciate the fact that you have put your cards on the table. That is a lot more helpful that what some of your C of E colleagues have done/are doing.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Since 1297, we're told "the condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other." Thank you for your clarification, which I understand the force of. If an essentialist reading of marriage is necessary, the institution cannot rather than should not be changed. Thank you for your kind words: which I'd want to mirror! I think we now have to transition to a place where we can talk about these things honestly and openly as we do about other non-credal issue that different Christians see differently.

gentlemind said...

That's pretty much the gist of it - "cannot be changed", rather than "should not be changed".

I think I can see why that particular 1297 reading might appeal to you. It describes marriage from the point of view of the individual - both Husband and Wife are individuals, and the persons married to each other are individuals. But marriage itself is a relationship. The question is, "can a woman be a wife in relation to another woman?" If she can, then she can be a mother in relation to another woman.

Thanks very much for your time and attention.

Joseph said...

I agree with the comment that marriage cannot be redefined because it is not created by man. If the government want a union between same sexes then call it something different. I have seen a web site that also has some interesting views.


Alan said...

That reading doesn't particularly appeal to me, really. It simply is the prime meaning of the term in the dictionary. The fact it hasn't been changed may partially explain wqhy the powerful rhetoric about "redefining marriage" that worked so well in the Proposition 8 campaign in California when Pat Robertson and friends used it was so singularly ineffective elsewhere - partly because definitions of marriage manifestly are fluid in all sorts of ways (like the fundamental change detected by the weddings project in the 1970's, where marriage ceased to be seen in society at large as a qualification for sex) and partly because some aspects of it haven't been changed by allowing gay people to marry.

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