Wednesday 9 July 2008

Church of Navel-Gazers?

I am not a natural Daily Mail reader, and I struggle with some of its historic points of view, from its enthusiastic endorsement for Hitler back in the 1930’s to its more recent tendency to whining Xenophobia. The fact is, however, that it is one of the few newspapers to build its circulation in the past twenty years. It has done this, it is said, by having a sure finger on the pulse of middle England.

Seeking the gift the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us, I noticed a different persective on this week’s General Synod by Stephen Glover. Does this voice of Middle England deserve more serious consideration than comes naturally to Church political insiders?
Most people do not know the Church of England very well, and few of us regularly worship in its pews. But it is, for all that, our national Church, and most of us write 'C of E' when asked our religion. Millions of us are still married in its often glorious churches, and millions of us will have the words of its prayer book - transcendent ones, if they come from the 1662 version - spoken over our coffins when we are dead. So, however remote we may appear from the Church of England, it remains part of many of our lives, if less so than for most of our forefathers.

Strange and unfamiliar it may sometimes seem, but it is not some private sect whose deliberations are purely its own concern. And yet that is exactly what it has appeared to be these past few weeks, months and, I fear, years, as it has torn itself apart over issues that do not seem central to this nation's needs and concerns...

Our national Church is preoccupied - no, obsessed - with two issues: whether its priests should be allowed to be practising homosexuals, and whether women should be allowed to become bishops. I don't say such matters should be of no importance to members of the Church. But to concentrate on them so long to the virtual exclusion of more important things - well, that seems a form almost of madness, and certainly evidence of grotesque introspection.

One does not have to be apocalyptic to believe that we live, as David Cameron says, in 'a broken society' in which Christian values, as they would have been recognised by our fathers and grandfathers, and as they have been preached by the Church for nearly 2,000 years, are scarcely observed, or even understood, by many people.

Nearly half of marriages, which institution the Church has celebrated as the rock on which society is built, end in divorce. A growing number of people no longer bother to get married at all. The family, whose most perfect inspiration was the Holy Family, is no longer a paradigm for many people, and the Church of England only intermittently and half-heartedly promotes it. The Church is silent on many pressing social problems which seem to portend the slow disintegration of society, and often arise from the family breakdown about which it is comparatively relaxed. While it has been agonising about homosexual priests, ever younger children have been stabbed to death on our streets, and the level of mindless violence seems inexorably to grow. Yet our national Church has little to say about the brutalisation of our country...

The debate on the consecration of women bishops has been bewildering to many people, including some Anglicans. The Church of England decided 15 years ago, rightly I think, that there is no theological objection to the ordination of women as priests. Now half those accepted for ordination are female, and there are women canons, archdeacons and even a dean. Why not bishops?

One can understand that Anglo-Catholics should feel qualms about women bishops, as they did about women priests, and it seems reasonable that they should have their own male 'super bishops', as was proposed at the Synod yesterday. But the country looks on in amazement as Anglo-Catholics threaten to resign en masse, and to rip apart a Church that is, frankly, already tottering. Their arguments seem arcane, particularly in view of the earlier acceptance of women priests, and almost insanely inwardlooking.

Similar objections should be made to the Church of England's obsession with homosexual priests. Here, the factions are different, with the Anglo-Catholics being for the most part relaxed about homosexuality, while many Evangelicals, comfortable with the idea of women bishops, are distinctly queasy about homosexual priests. Many Third World Anglicans, especially in Africa, share their reservations.

But why in God's name does it matter so much? Both sides should be castigated for upping the ante. There are people such as the publicity-seeking American gay bishop, Gene Robinson, for whom homosexuality appears to be the most important issue in the world, and there are fundamentalists on the other side, the degree of whose intolerance seems almost un-Christian.

Everyone knows there have always been gay priests, and no one minded very much as long as they didn't demand instant and complete equality with heterosexuals within the Church. With good sense on both sides, there could have been a quiet evolution, which has been the Anglican way in past centuries, or at any rate since 1660 and the restoration of the monarchy and the Church of England.

As it is, with grandstanding crusaders opposed by intolerant fundamentalists, there has been an unedifying struggle about something not very important, while the rest of the country looks on in amazement at an increasingly monomaniacal national Church. Think what both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals in the Church of England did for society in the 19th and early 20th century - building churches and opening missions in working-class areas, ministering to the poor, encouraging education, and inculcating Christian values.

And now, when our own century throws up its different but perhaps no less appalling social problems, our national Church, far from trying to fill this frightening moral vacuum, is too busy talking to itself.
I have certainly met good ordinary people, many of them lifelong core members of the Church of England, traditionally minded rather than traditionalist politicians, who think exactly along Stephen’s lines. They often feel that nobody in Synod speaks for them, and the whole focus of the present debate excludes their point of view. Discuss?


David Keen said...

What's to discuss? I hate to say this about anyone connected to the Daily Mail, but he's absolutely right.

Anonymous said...

On the homosexual question - if those promoting this sinful practice didn't push it, there'd be no preoccupation about it.

Tim Chesterton said...

Yup. That would be about the level of discussion in the coffee shops around my parish too (with the exception of the female bishops thing which we got over a long time ago). In a country in which same-sex marriage is legal, they can't understand why we're tearing ourselves apart over the issue,

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

The source of this insight sticks a bit in my craw too, but it resonates deeply with what many of the people I serve have been saying to me recently. These incude many people who go to Church a lot more often than Stephen says he does; churchwardens and others of a basically traditional rather than traditionalist outlook who measure faith by the fruit of the Spirit. The whole liberal/traditionalist war strikes them as essentially futile. They don't welcome blatant change or trendy relativism, but they find what they call Fundamentalism ridiculous and Pharisaic. As I go around preaching the gospel and matters arising, I find great resonance with them. There was a piece in the Telegraph at the weekend which interviewed three ordinary Guildford churchgoers and found them all to be of this mind, but it is both strange and unhelpful, perhaps, that these bedrock Anglicans should show up so little on the public radar...

Anonymous said...

No offense intended Bishop Alan, but you yourself are as guilty of playing politics, and with all due respect, after reading not only this blog article, but a fair selection of your others, I have to say, you can not spin your way out of this by trying to hide behind a sudden claim of "getting it" regarding the violent crime, poverty and the plethura of serious problems that you as well as the rest of the church leadership have ignored quite happily.

My response will be fairly long, and comprehensive, so kindly read it in it's entirity before getting tetchy. I am a woman, in my 40's. I grew up considering myself to be progressive and a feminist, I am a Christian and my faith influenced my politics. I care about the issues of social justice (the traditional definition, not the shabby, narrowly defined version the extremist, elitist left have attempted to reduce the term as meaning, and civil rights). I'm a widow, the mother of a 25 year old daughter. I live in the US, and am a supporter of Barack Obama.

Why would I be taking the stance that I do on this disussion? That is because the issues, again, are of paramount importance to me. Those who seek to exploit or marginalize them, are hypocrites who do much harm, and nothing good. I've seen and read enough of that hypocrisy in TEC, from sham Christians like Bishop Jefferts-Schori and her ilk. I even took it upon myself to telephone her, was persistant and actually did get to speak with her after reading some very cold hearted and unChristian remarks that she had made about the poor in America.

Her response to me was even more disappointing, coming from a so called Christian leader, and also a woman who lives a comfortable, affluent existence. When she couldn't dismiss the issue, she became irritated and inferred that there was no poverty in the US, and then went on to bitterly state that the poor in America didn't suffer enough.

I've noticed the same mindset in the elites of the women's movement over the past ten years. They do not represent all women, only the issues of those women, like themselves, who live above the glass ceiling. A few pet issues, that they have elevated as more important than anything else. It's the reason why the majority of women today consider the women's movement irrelevant. WATCH, and the rest who demanded that they be considered more equal than others, weren't displaying Christian love and charity on Monday evening, they were drunk on their blind lust for power, their winning approval to discriminate against those who refused to tow their line. I've read Bishop Wright's comments about how this won't happen in the UK, but of course it will. It's happening in the US and Canada, and will in your country as well. Congregations whose own families have paid for land, built and paid to maintain churches, are now witnessing the punitive venom of Bishop Schori, who demands that TEC be allowed to seize and sell their churches.

Unfortunately, her attitude is not the exception to the rule among too many in the hierarchy of the TEC, and from what I have read of too many in the Anglican church. I have no problem understanding why many Christians would feel that their church is being destroyed from within, and corrupted.. based on the intolerance that I've read examples of.

It's as though you're either indifferent to, or ignorant of Christ's teachings. You've displayed a complete willingness to be divisive, to slander and demean those who disagree with your political ideology. From my reading of the article you reference, the writer wasn't leaving your side of the schism off the hook. Yet, your own ego requires you to attempt to spin it that way.

When Christ admonished his followers to not put priests on pedastels, because as all humans, they are as given to sin, he had priests like you in mind. He went on to state that we must be willing to ask the hard questions and expect truthful answers. Christ didn't envision his church being lead by jumped up elites.. unfortunately you are the epitome of such an elite.

Perhaps you might find my comments harsh, but your negative attitudes merit such harshness. You are not on the side of any righteous cause, you are no better than a spoiled child fighting over a toy.. disrespectful of the fact that the faith you pay so little respect to means so much to others. Perhaps not so many as in the past, but considering your kind, it's not so surprising that church attendance is so low.

I remember my own youth, and why I left the church for a time. It wasn't that I lost faith in God, or Christ's teachings, rather it was the blatant hypocrisy, the selfishnesss of the organized church. I'll wager that priests like yourself inspire young people to view the faith as irrelevant, and a sham.. you certainly set a poor example of what a Christian is supposed to stand for.

In other posts you refer to traditional Christians as "old bores", do you ever contemplate the fact that you could find the same description applied to yourself? As to listening, do you even understand what that entails?

I notice when you referenced racism in another blog article, you cite Alabama, when you made an example.. is there no racism in your country? I know it's easier to keep pointing the finger of blame elsewhere rather than look into your own heart and mind, when you clearly do not make a practice of self examination.. but that doesn't mean you won't be criticized. Reading international news online tells me that there is plenty of racism, and hatred all over the world, including in the hearts of clergymen like yourself. The way you sneeringly dismiss African Christians as "third world", why not come straight out and say what you mean, Bishop?

Tell me, why was the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the "great and the good" so silent after the death threats against the Bishop of Rochester? Why did so many of you attack him when he spoke honestly of no go areas in Britain? I read some examples of the scorn he was subjected to, and I've read comments by some of you, and WATCH for example turn the expression "no go" around, it underscores your selective attention to the realities.. a reason I don't put much faith in your sincerity on the subject of your getting it about significant issues. Your lot have also been silent on the death threats against former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. I have to ask, why do you consider yourself a Christian, why are you in the clergy if you lack even the faintest commitment to Christ's teachings, why be a phony? Perhaps you considered it an easy out in life?

Anonymous said...

It's very easy to criticise the Church of England but I would rather celebrate what it gets right. Our parish churches are a Christian presence in every community - in rural areas sometimes the only one. Our clergy are available to everyone in that community and very often our churches are open for people to walk in off of the street.
We are available to people from all backgrounds and of deep faith or none at all. I am sure that if we were to walk into the equivilent of General Synod in the other denominations it wouldn't be any better.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dear Anonymous, Thank you for telling so much of your story. I'm sorry you feel so bitter, and hope you find the courage one day to put your name to your feelings rather than hide in the shadows. The only basis on which any of us can consider ourselves Christians, if we should do such a thing, is Grace. Pelagianism seems so right, but will break your heart. Please be assured of my prayers, that God may give you courage and hope.

Mary, I'm quite sure you're right, and am told you are by colleagues from other denominations. The C of E, being a particular sort of public body, has to have its discussions in public; it can be embarrassing, but it does make us all more accountable, perhaps. The glory of the kingdom is the local church.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to 'lower the tone', and hope you'll forgive an impertinant question...

Is that your navel in the photo?

Steve Hearn said...

While I can agree with the article and the apparent lack of energy from the Church to help those here in the UK, who need social justice and the poor who need help, I am also reminded of the many projects the Church IS running to do exactly that, help the poor and declare justice for all. Only yesterday on BBC1 there was the program about buying and selling property at auction and a flat was bought by a Church project that houses the men and women who are released from Prison and have nowhere to go. They helped them to get back to society and not to reoffend and return to prison. That is what the article was talking about but of course the reporter fails to see such works as we do not shout from the roof tops about the good works the Church is doing. We go into our rooms and pray in private, giving thanks to God and asking for help to reach those who need it.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

’fraid not, Rchard. But I can see you know my methods! I did consider it, but on inspection decided mne was undeifyingly hairy. Oops, I've lowered the tone even further. Picture was stock. No navels were harmed in the operation...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I should also say that in the night another anonymous poster simply posted as comment Matthew 23, Jesus’ Woe to the pahrisees. I removed it, not because I disagreed, but for reasons of space. Readers can find the passage at;&version=31; .
There was no other comment with it.

Unknown said...

Here's a question. What doctrinal standards are set by the church's selection and appointments process, and what doctrinal checks are made by bishops when they carry out their episcopal reviews of clergy?

I know of clergy who don't believe in the virgin birth, and/or the physical resurrection for starters.

Does a bishop ever ask his clergy, "What is your gospel? What is your understanding of Christ's nature? What will happen to the world at its end?"

I have never been asked a doctrinal question by a bishop by way of inquiry into my doctrine or manner of life. Ever.

If such questions were asked, then some of these other problems might not be so urgent, for unity is found finally in truth, as the Bible says and the Prayer Book has us pray: "We humbly beseech thee most mercifully ... to receive these our prayers ... beseeching thee to inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant, that all they who do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity, and godly love."

Where there is no agreement on the truth, there can be no unity. A divided Church needs to look to its doctrine, not to its divisions.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Steve — you're absolutely right. I will now looko forward to the Daly Mail noticing the many church inspired and led projects to do the thngs it says the Church should be doing — I hope not entirely in vain. Actually Ruth Gledhll did some brilliant miniTV on her blog last year about the impact of a C of E congregation on its local estate in South London. It may be that given the present media agenda such things are few and far between. My friend +Syep[hen Cotterell's impassioned please about knife crime following a death in Reading was in the local press, but spread no further into Fleet Street, I notice.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

John, thanks for a sgnificant question that deserves an answer, though I'm not sure it will meet your particular requirements.

There are clergy, as you know, who are not Conservative Evangelicals, and since the 1860's Clerical Subscription Acts there has been a formal degree of lattude to allow for honest divergence about epistemology and the meanngs of words. You may say Elizabeth I's comment about "windowes into men's soules" has always, to a certain extent, applied. However, all clergy subscribe on every appointment and at ordination. Before ordination they are certified from their course or college in the form given in the ordination service. Before selection in this diocese we enquire as to their willingness to live according to Issues in Human Sexuality, and written assurance is sought and given in every sponsorship for which I am responsible. There is an issue about people's integrity, of course, and we do not have an efficient thought police. You can challenge their integrity and they can challenge yours.

I am anxious that people who are appointed are people of faith. I don't care whether they are high or low or Catholic or Evangelical, but I would be looking for people who bring faith to their work. My custom at interview is to give them a bible and five mnutes and tell them to get on with it. Usually appointment boards discover in this way what kind of a gospel people preach, and that is a significant question, surely, for any parsh ministry appointment.

Practce in different diocese may vary greatly, no doubt.

Finally I know what you mean about truth and unity, and on a human pelagian level, of course that will do. I need to say, however, that this is not a gnostic cult founded on propositonal truth. Unity is a gift of Christ arising uniquely from his blood shedding on the cross, not something you or I can create by signing up to checkboxes. I'm sure you didn't mean to imply otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Being a conservative yet evangelical Anglican (originally from Methodist stock), I share John Richardson's concerns over this whole issue. It is one of core doctrine, and not one of whether the CofE mets with society's standards and approval.

The current debate is at core about what we as Anglicans BELIEVE, not what seems right in today's society. One of the core teachings we pass on to our children is that God is unchanging, yesterday, today and for ever, yet we are suddenly and unilaterally deciding that we can move God to our own position based on our (sinful, therefore flawed) human wisdom (reason). A grave mistake.

It brings to mind a repeating scene in many of the USA police video programs, that when a driver is suspected of being under the influence, he/she is asked by a police officer to walk along a straight line. It's a simple and unambiguous test that quickly reveals the state of the driver. Similarly, in the CofE, we have had that straight line drawn, initially by God's own Word in the Bible, then distilled into core doctrine as exampled by the Nicene Creed and 39 Articles.

This line of doctrine is unmoveable and must remain straight, not even a slight kink 'because we feel it's right'.

It's very hard as a christian to continually understand that it's us who sin and deviate from God's intended line, not just in these matters, but in all walks of life. God is forever the same, and is eternal. What he said then, holds now.

I once has a conversation with a German colleague on the subject of theft along the lines of "is it still a sin if a starving child steals a loaf of bread?". His response was very human in that under certain circumstances, it would be ok, but the commandment doesn't give any such leeway, "Do not steal" it says. Period.

Doctrine is very, very important for the future of the CofE, and indeed for any church, and is sourced from God himself, through the established Word in the Bible, and the job of each parish priest, supported by the Bishops, is to hold very fast to that, both in their own lives and in their teaching. If core elements of this doctrine, including the virgin birth, resurrection, ascention, and God's model for living (e.g. marriage or single abstinance) and model for church leadership is not 'held fast', then that division will be quickly exposed. And it is already being so.

I find it very sad therefore that, as a christian who wants to see the saving grace of our Lord jesus Christ revealed and accepted by those who do not yet believe, I see so many other christians believe that woman bishops and homosexual priests are a more important issue.

As I said above, how gravely mistaken that is.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Simon, I am concerned about doctrine as a measure of faith. Look at what happened to Presbyterian churches in the 18th century in England, where most became Unitarian, and lost much of their sense of gospel. I would hate that to happen to the C of E.
What doctrine? I entirely endorse the words of the declaration of assent to "the faith uniquely revealed in the holy scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds."

For me this is what really matters, certainly more (if I have to triage them) than derivative moral issues.

All I would plead is to remember

(1) there is a Holy Spirit, and he is alive, and doctrine always has been a living thing, not a dead deposit of ideas. Gregory of Yssa teaches "Only wonder understands — concepts create idols." Good doctrine is informed by prayer, and leads to further exploration of the richness of Christ. Its fruit is the fruit of the Spirit.

(2) The creeds are elegant and simple summaries of what we need to know from the Scriptures. There's always a tendency to over complicate and develop sub clauses around what are essentially secondary questions

(3) What really worries me is the volume and complexity of information in theological courses which can lead to a superficiality about the actual text of the Scriptures. I was the last generation of student to build a working knowledge of the scriptures three years of preliminary study, book by book, bashing through closely in original languages. It was narrow then, but has opened out and been supplemented by lfe and ministry experience since. I fear for theological students who, say "do" the OT in four essays. There is simply no substitute for extended time exploring the text itself; and a paperback introduction is only a starting point, not a complete course. I know there are major cost constraints, but the church really needs to base its understanding of God in the Sciptures, and not skimp on that.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Wilson, what sort of reply was that to the anonymous lady? "Pelagianism" is the easiest theological smear to throw around, and I fail to see that it had any bearing on her letter. Joseph S. O'Leary

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I was not using Pelagianism as a theological smear, but as a technical description. I assumed the lady's bona fides as a discple, and seeking the positive root of such anger and hostility aimed at a total stranger, I noticed that everything seemed to come down in her post to a sense of responsibility for the Gospel. Every discipled Christian feels some degree of responsibility for the work of God. The concept of "working out your own salvation with fear and trembling" is Biblical but so is perfect love castng out fear. We need to seek the whole counsel of Scripture. When responsibility to work out salvation becomes the main driver, felt more deeply than anything else, that seems to have been precisely the root of Pelagius' doctrine. His was a holiness movement at heart. It seemed to facilitate an engaged and responsible discipleship, and at first it did. It won many disciples on its merits not its deficits, but in the end it took its own followers faith, and the lack of faith of others, more seriously than the sovereign grace of God. My use of the term was not accusative but descriptive.

Anonymous said...

I’m not a conservative evangelical, although my faith was certainly nurtured within that tradition after my conversion. I dislike any label other than Christian, though I have also been content to be called an Anglican. I don’t believe that the new creation began in some curious ‘miracle’ involving Jesus having no human father any more than I believe that God created the world in six ‘literal’ days. Neverthless, I do believe ‘in’ the virgin birth as a metaphor of the truth of the incarnation itself: that God is in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to himself. I also believe in the truth of the resurrection, though I am uncertain as to what, if any, naturally identifiable process was involved in the raising up of Jesus from the dead. I doubt that there is some undiscovered body somewhere in a tomb in Palestine – but it wouldn’t destroy my faith in Christ if one were to be found. Again I am not sure what happened at the Ascension (and note that the scriptures are surprisingly taciturn in furnishing detail about this event) but do believe that Jesus now rules at the right hand of God and will come again at the end of time to judge the world. I am passionate in my conviction that the Gospel is good news and that all people, regardless of age, race, gender, or indeed sexuality, are called to respond to it by committing their lives to Christ and work for the cause of his kingdom.
I believe that sexuality is a gift of God to be enjoyed in loving and committed relationships. The majority will find such a context in marriage between a man and a woman. Others may find purpose and companionship within same sex relationships and, if they are equally loving and committed, I see no moral or scriptural reason to withhold God’s blessing from them nor to deny that the people involved may seek to serve God, even within the ministry, or indeed the episcopate, of the Church.
John P Richardson might want to deny the orthodoxy of my views and will probably be horrified to learn that I am an ordained minister of the Gospel and priest of the Church of England. It is not his ‘well done good and faithful servant’ that I wish to hear.
I agree totally with Stephen that people on both sides of both the debate about women bishops and the debate about homosexuality have rather upped the anti by seeking over definition and sectarian clarity. I hope that we can move away soon from rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and return to our committment to proclaiming the good news of salvation. As ++Rowan said in his response to Gafcon, Conservative Evangelical Anglicans do not have a monopoly on that.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Andrew. Of course there has to be some standard of doctrine within any church, but the Anglican way of handling this has been more open source than proprietorial — more like Unix than Windows. The test of faith is its authenticity when tried, and its fruits, says Jesus. Therefore weighing propositions only gets you so far. Modalities of the doctrines of the creed first emerged amidst passionate debate, and have never been entirely settled. Thus, in applying doctrinal tests, there is a need for charity and clarity as well as personal conviction.

Unknown said...

Funny. I always thought that when I said the Creeds I was supposed to be agreeing with them.

Now I discover its OK, provided they can be made to agree with me.

So that's where I've been going wrong!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that when the anonymous commenter points out specific actions that Bishop Alan and his allies have taken -- puncturing his pietism -- Bishop Alan states that she is "bitter" and implies that her comments indicate a "pelagian" theology, which of course one can imply about anyone who protests another's actions.

Bishop Alan in fact demonstrates in his response to her precisely what she accused him of doing, which is in itself richly ironic.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

John, many thanks for your saying about relating to creeds, which I found really helpful. But for me it's a "both/and." Our believing is based on and formed by creeds but also interprets them within our context. That's why creeds are living things, and we need the Holy Spirit afresh in each generation. People sometimes minsunderstand creeds as straitjackets when they are in fact immensely creative doors into deep mystery and wisdom. But this two-way process means we can't just say "it's all in the words." And beyond any discussion how assent to creeds works, ultimately faith is a gift far more than an act or product of private judgment.

Sarah, one of the oddities of communicating on the internet is that none of us particularly know the other people we encounter; we can only go on what is said. The writer's original piece appeared to me profoundly Pelagian for the reasons I've given above.

Of course I am guilty of the sins I may think I can see in others. That is why Augustine stresses the universality of original sin. And it is precisely the belief that one can attain a place from which to accuse other people of things one is immune from oneself that is the essence of historic pelagianism.

And humanly speaking, why be cynical? Why does there have to be a war? Why can't we just say what we mean and respect each other for it? And what does the failure of Christan people to communicate without sarcasm and hostility say to a world where people are fed up with anger and vituperation, but hoped we had something better to offer in Christ?

You may say this is just another piece of pietsm, cooked up with my allies (who they?)... and so the cycle could carry on.

The only answer, as Augustine pointed out, is the Divine grace.

Anonymous said...

RE: "And humanly speaking, why be cynical? Why does there have to be a war? Why can't we just say what we mean and respect each other for it? And what does the failure of Christan people to communicate without sarcasm and hostility say to a world where people are fed up with anger and vituperation, but hoped we had something better to offer in Christ?"

All nice questions, of course -- but I'm not certain what they have to do with the blog post or the comments.

Not sure what you mean by "a war" -- some people want one thing in the church and others want the direct opposite. Is that a "war"? Maybe -- but if it is, why is that a bad thing? That's what happens when folks who hold mutually opposing ideas are in one organization.

It appears that the anonymous commenter said exactly what she meant -- and you didn't like it, calling her bitter and pelagian.

Then I pointed out that you did to the anonymous commenter precisely what she claimed you did!

And now you've responded with some irrelevant questions, which is certainly your right -- it is your blog, after all.

But to answer those questions, the reason why there is conflict in the church is because one side believes that inclusion and affirmation of their particular desired behaviors is the gospel, while actively preventing others from practicing their own beliefs as a part of their "inclusion" efforts.

The other side is countering that gospel with another gospel, one based on repentance and grace. It doesn't even claim "inclusion" as a value at all.

As long as these two sides -- and the various hangers-on, collaboraters on all sides, and folks who are pretending to "not take sides" while actually taking sides under the table -- are in the same organization, there will be intense conflict.

This is hardly surprising or new or even particularly interesting.

The conflict between the two gospels will go on for some decades I expect . . . and again, I don't find that surprising or a particularly bad thing. It's inconvenient, certainly -- takes away from other nice things that one might do. But conflict is often a good thing, and I think the same will be true here as well.


Martin Reynolds said...

Back to the topic. These pieces of journalism masquerading as “common sense” positions are perhaps the more dangerous and certainly the most disingenuous.

Lets just take two ditties masquerading as fact:
“There are people such as the publicity-seeking American gay bishop, Gene Robinson, for whom homosexuality appears to be the most important issue in the world,”

This personal attack on this bishop seems wholly unjustified. Every time I have heard him speak he spends the vast majority of his time and effort proclaiming the Gospel. As to his sexuality – it is the Anglican Communion and The Windsor Report in particular that dwells on the matter of his sexuality to the exclusion of all else – isolating him in the most extreme way – and in the case of the Lambeth Commission – all without ever having set eyes on him!
This statement is just a lie, and insidious in its mockery of the truth.

“Everyone knows there have always been gay priests, and no one minded very much as long as they didn't demand instant and complete equality with heterosexuals within the Church. With good sense on both sides, there could have been a quiet evolution, which has been the Anglican way in past centuries, or at any rate since 1660 and the restoration of the monarchy and the Church of England.”

Again the author is offering us a completely false perspective. I am a priest in the Church in Wales our bishops welcome us as partnered same-ex couples, there are no newspaper headlines here. We do not recognise the world he speaks of. As far as I am aware no openly gay person wrote the iniquitous document known as “Issues” and its spawn, this flows directly from the English House of Bishops. They are responsible for its iniquity and duplicity and for its failure. I remember our former Archbishop speaking about how evil it was and refusing to sign up to it!
Quiet evolution is a nonsense – no change has come without pain for some – this is a deceit.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

It surely is a very English approach, Martin. I gather (from above) that Stephen Glover was a vicar's son.

Issues was indeed a house of bishops statement, and your observation is fair and accurate; though I'd be interested to know who actually drafted it (before my time). For all its faults it has been a de facto line in England for the past few years, and kept people from very different sides of the fence talking to each other.

No change without pain for some, may be true. As we've discovered this week over women bishops in the synod, it's a very uncongenial line to the English.

Thanks for your view — pretty much "nul points" to Mr Glover. Would you have any time for his view about the priority of these issues in the whole picture?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...


I'm sorry that because of the publication times this will overleaf with the next comment...

Thank you very much for your perspective. Conflict is perhaps something we are too afraid of in England (and elsewhere no doubt). I can't thnk of a time the Church has been without it.

Having just read Philip Groves' resource on the Anglican Communion and Homosexuality, I can see many more than two positions over this. The Australian process in one diocese, for example, involved four completely different homosexual voices, includng one group I feel for intensely — gay people who want to try and walk faithfully with traditional Christian morality but don't deny the reality of their orientation. They often find themselves living in no man's land between the more obvious warring factions. Four distinct positions then — and that's in only one culture in Australia... Simple binary warfare is unlikely to serve anyone that well, I fear, or resolve anything.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Alan, I'm sure there were many "distinct positions" amongst Arians as well -- but in the end, they were Arians.

RE: "The Australian process in one diocese, for example, involved four completely different homosexual voices, includng one group I feel for intensely — gay people who want to try and walk faithfully with traditional Christian morality but don't deny the reality of their orientation. They often find themselves living in no man's land between the more obvious warring factions. Four distinct positions then — and that's in only one culture in Australia . . . "

You make my point for me -- those with homosexual attraction determined to walk faithfully within traditional Christian morality would be -- obviously -- on the latter side that I mentioned above -- believing in a gospel that is based on repentance and grace.

So sure there are many *thousands* of "distinct positions* but they are easily categorized in the end into promoters of the two gospels I mentioned above.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dear Sarah, Sorry about my delay picking this up (busy day), and thanks for your comment. I'm sure you're right that most ancient groups had many shades about their positions... I'm very happy to make your point for you!

I first encountered the oddness of what I thought I knew about Zionism 20 years ago when Lucy and I had a summer in Jerusalem at the British School of Archaeology. We met Lubovichers at Meah Shearim who were Conservative Jews conscientiously opposed to the existence of the state of Israel and excused military service. I suddenly realised how many shades of oddity there were among Conservative Jews, even on such a basic question as Zionism.

I could corall the sincere Christian views I meet into two camps, but I'm aware of many more, and sometimes cookies crumble in very unexpected ways. It's important to avoid namecalling and over simplification...

I want to prioiritise, as you do, a gospel based on repentance and grace for all...

Steve Hayes said...

The problem is not too much omphaloscopy, but not enough.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Interesting to return to this very intriguing discussion after two years, and in the light of a week's retreat in France. Perhaps, by analogy with Benedict' view of zeal, there is good navel gazing and bad navel gazing! Good would be looking in the mirror of scripture carefully (beyond slogans and sound bites) and reflecting with a view to action. Bad would be the stale recycling of unresolved arguments that are never resolved because engaging with them gets us to a point we would have to change in some way too awful to contemplate in order to move forwards. It's what John Bell once called "essentially masturbatory" behaviour. So I meet people who are on general synod and know right from wrong, and say all the right things, but can only engage with voting in terms of feelings and politics, not underlying truth.

Steve Hayes said...

Bishop Alan,

I found the post because of your "Link Within" thingy, but perhaps I can elaborate a little.

Navel-gazing (omphaloscopy) is an Orthodox hesychast monastic practice that Western activist theology despises to such an extent that they almost always use the term pejoratively for something they regard as quite useless.

I've been to quite a number of ecclesiastical gatherings, including a few Anglican synods, and while they do open meetings with prayer, and sometimes have services at the beginning of the day, I suspect that most delegates spend quite a lot of time at the services meditating on the political tactics to force their own views through and how to put a spoke in the wheel of those who oppose them.

So a little bit more navel gazing might be in order. As one Orthodox prayer puts it, "Grant that I may see my own sins, and not to judge my brother."

And I need to do a bit more navel gazing myself.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Aha, Steve! Enlightenment is followed by agreement. I see exactly what you mean now. The good ol' tradition of a few perfunctory/ generalised muttered words directed at the Almighty as starter course for a main course of serious backstabbing is very different from a process of discernment and decision that grows out of being before God... I'd certainly agree with you, there.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Aha, Steve! Enlightenment is followed by agreement. I see exactly what you mean now. The good ol' tradition of a few perfunctory/ generalised muttered words directed at the Almighty as starter course for a main course of serious backstabbing is very different from a process of discernment and decision that grows out of being before God... I'd certainly agree with you, there.

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