Thursday, 16 February 2017

Back to the Holy Drawing Board, with some relief

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

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

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

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

A fair and effective follow-up report will 

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


Unknown said...

We may also need to change the gate-keeper to the 'suitable for preferment ' list. She, wife of a bishop, has curated for a long time , resulting in what we have in the HoB.

MArk Vernon said...

I agree that the theology of marriage is key and in particular, the understanding based not on equality, which has a valuable but only horizontal understanding of what it is to be human; but the one based upon soul, which introduces depth and ultimately divinity into what it is to be human.
It has a 3-D anthropology: the insight that bodies are the tangible manifestation of souls, which are themselves the created expression of the uncreated within us. Marriage is sacramental when two become one in soul, thereby incarnating the unity that is found in God.
The Greek Fathers understanding of eros will be crucial as well, and their insights into the desire that reaches for God, which is awoken and shared in human love too. This is about directing love in a vertical-divine as well as horizontal-human direction.
And yes, we also need less of the complementary, biological-scientistic notion of gender difference (big since the 17th century) and a renewed notion that is more like the ancient, in which the human capacities culturally associated with masculinity and femininity are recognised as being fundamentally qualities of the soul, and so not rigidly tied to gender differences.

BlackPhi said...

You know those involved far better than I, Alan, so is it plausible that this report was set up to fail by some of the bishops? In other words that the hard-line traditionalists were given enough rope to hang themselves?

It seemed such a *bad* report on so many levels that it is hard to see how it can have been meant seriously. Whereas now they can get on with producing something which at least begins to move forward, with the more extreme conservative views having been aired and rejected and therefore out of the way.

The Bishop of Liverpool, on Channel4 News last night, gave the impression of being delighted at the result whilst paying lip service to defending the report.

June Butler said...

Thank, Alan. I've not been following Synod closely, and I was a bit puzzled about why my English friends rejoiced over the vote. After reading your post, I have a better understanding of what took place.

UKViewer said...

I can only say - well said.

I among many straight Christians, long for the day, when LBGTI people are truly welcomed as equals in the Church of God. Whatever their relationship status, married, single, civil partnership or undisclosed, should not and must not decide how we treat God's Children, or family, friends and colleagues.

For a start the unequal situation where Clergy are discriminated against if they're in a same sex marriage, while lay people are not, needs to be resolved. The faculty process, which I underwent some years ago, was painful, intrusive and caused me to feel that I didn't want to be part of an organisation that demands such a process of individuals, and my wife was put through the inquisition as well as she had been divorced before we met and married.

There is huge fear among the HoB that there will be some sort of scandal if they give the green light to same sex relationships and that the Church will schism. Perhaps they should reflect on the experience of the Armed Forces, when they were forced through legal means to accept that same sex relationships were not a disciplinary issue, with subjects open to blackmail and therefore a security risk. All of the bemoaning from the Admirals and Generals, who said they would resign, came to nothing. None left and if they left, they didn't give the sexuality issue as a reason.

Meanwhile, the troops, sailors and airmen got on with life, fought three wars, with LGBTI people, fully accepted without discrimination. And the world didn't stop, the forces didn't fracture, instead, the cohesion and efficiency improved.

I was there as part of that experience. We changed a whole culture of discrimination, effectively and well - something like this is needed, the church needs to be led well and inclusively, and God's mission will be more effective and the church will be a cohesive whole in the nation.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, UKviewer, for your comment, especially about the situation in the armed forces when the rules over lesbian and gay relationships were changed. That is a perspective which needs to be shared widely in the church.

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