Saturday, 31 May 2008

Anglicanism Subverted by the Pluralist World?

Matt Kennedy has completed his four part uploads of Mere Christianity in a Pluralist World: Anglicanism Subverted and What Can Be Done. It comes from two presentations at the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) Atlantic District pastor's conference between May 12th and May 13th. I commented on the first three parts, so here I write about the fourth.

This final part focuses on Christology and its apparent weakening under the impact of pluralism abroad and within The Episcopal Church.

Dr. Bill Witt, professor of Historical Theology at Trinity Episcopal Seminary in Pittsburgh (at which Archbishop Akinola rcently gave a talk) asks whether Christ gives salvation found nowhere else or elsewhere or everywhere. Matt Kennedy says:
That's the struggle pluralism has brought to the church. Is the content of the faith externally and objectively revealed in Jesus Christ or is it experienced subjectively anew by "people of faith" everywhere in different ways and through different means?

Well there is a connection, but not directly. Pluralism and subjective experience are not the same. What changes is the nature of objectivity.

Go back to the high point of the Middle Ages, and one Religion and one Church have achieved such explanatory power for everything, including the sacrilisation of feudal power structures, that they offer a sacred canopy which is very hard to escape. There had been an intellectual shock to the system with the release of classical knowledge translated and held by Muslims, but Anselm nicely merged that with Christianity. In any case, the sacred canopy dominates the everyday, not just the educated but the uneducated. The practicality of life had superstition regulated into the Christian calendar.

It is institutions that have made all the difference, the Renaissance and Reformation, and then the increasing awareness of no religion and many religions. With all this ideological competition, there is increasing space for none of it. The scientific and the technological have also affected magic and superstition, weakening it (and consumerising it) at the same time as a weakened supernatural. As well as Western intellectual thought being this worldly (theology is not consulted) practical thinking is about what works and solving problems. These are what sociologists call "objective" conditions, and any subjectivity comes within such conditions. The Enlightenment led to some overall thinking conditions that allow a sense of shared values, but has an institutional base in plurality.

Pluralism, peculiarly, can go on to have a reverse effect. In conditions where plurality becomes so intense, to a point of objective confusion (let's say), and postmodernity, institutional explanations have no further objective rooting other than their own. Everything becomes sectarian - it's all sect and no Church. There is a loss of the objective and subjective because there are no opposites even purported to exist. This condition has never properly existed, but some explanations including religious use it - particularly Radical Orthodoxy and Yale Postliberalism.

Now this raises the question whether there is pluralist subversion and whether Anglicanism is susceptible, though the argument by some seems to vary between Anglicanism and The Episcopal Church - and Matt Kennedy thinks Anglicanism is susceptible before particular debates in The Episcopal Church.

Yet issues take up his argument at first: that women's ordination had those against saying tradition and scripture said no versus those who said social justice demanded reinterpreting scripture and his giving social and cultural experience a say.

I find all this odd: there has always been a place for natural theology; there has always been a pro-cultural stance for theology: it is just that in the days of the sacred canopy, the overarching one Church, these were all consistent. The difference now is those objective relationships. It is why we had a theology of Karl Barth that gave no role for human-derived thought in order to preserve the purity of revelation (though he was no scripture-literalist either: a revelation of that distant God in the nearest encounter of the person and work of Christ for all humanity).

Yes, those who remain liberal in the sense that they reject the Karl Barth approach continue to draw from culture. I suggest this is a far wider matter than Anglicanism, but of course Anglicanism makes specific use of Reason as from a time when reason seemed to be more secure than today.

Anglicanism (at least in a parish model) also wants to stay in touch with the population at large. Inevitably this means those "objective" relationships affect its expressions if it is not to be purely sectarian. Consider what happened with the Engliah Presbyterians and many American Congregationalists. Both had a parish mentality that led to liberalising, and both adopted Unitarian literalist views of the Bible and later broad liberal Christian views before going on to more religious-humanistic and later pluralistic stances.

So there is some agreement here with Matt Kennedy's view, but from a sociology of religion stance, and that the sociology of religion has affected theology.

He comes to key Anglican aspects of the regulative aspect of Scripture and not pushing the language. The first is not about prescribing but forbidding only what is forbidden in Scripture: otherwise it can be allowed. Not pushing the language has allowed various orthodox interpretations of credal and confessional texts.

This is right, and to this extent the Broad Church was a regulative party in Anglicanism, but of course it acquired its own characteristics, and its own radical wing that was pro-culture, pro-expression and, whilst it pursued the uniting practice of liturgical conservation, carried on earlier traditions of doctrinal enquiry (e.g those of Latitudinarians) and had its own radical edge. Both the Oxford Movement and the Broad Church movement developed at the same time, and so did the Evangelical movement become more socially orientated. In the United States and in Britain movements like Transcendentalism and Romaticism fed both the Catholic and Liberal revivals. The Puritans were long gone and irrelevant. What was important was Biblical criticism, first from those plural institutions in Germany, soon on the radical edges of the Broad Church party as well as welcomed into one wing of Unitarianism, and soon part of the way of interpreting the Bible.

It is not just this looser in the negative Biblical regulative principle:

...makes it more difficult to combat heresy because it shifts the burden of proof to those who object to a given change.

But Anglicanism does have several sources of authority and enquiry that have developed over time. Indeed these are what produces orthodoxy: they define orthodoxy and it is broader than those who would depend on a more literalist view of Scripture, and includes those who apply schools of Biblical criticism.

So much of the language then has become increasingly something about "historic formularies" and therefore an inheritance into various points of a broader understanding.

Matt Kennedy refers to some details of belief: like the Virgin Birth. There are no historical methods that can prove or disprove a virginal conception of Jesus. Indeed, historical methods suggest that this has mythic origins, that the whole of the birth narratives are a backwards reading from New to Old Testaments. This is Scriptural. It may not be literalist, but it is scriptural. It shows that the writers regarded Jesus as a chosen prophet (it is also scriptural by the critical approach to see that the titles for Jesus accelerated, particularly after his death). So I will say I do not believe in the Virgin Birth as historical, and have good grounds for dismissing it as anything other than myth about significance. I note how people today preach against a historical view of the Ascension, only because it is so obvious that we do not exist in a three-decker universe, but are more resistant about bones dissolving into a transformed body and a rising after death. So I do not believe in a bodily resurrection, and indeed have a mythic view of the Resurrection too. I do not expect creeds to be other than of their time, and not subject to our understanding of historical enquiry, or biology, or even philosophy. The creeds are packed with assumptions that are pretty much rejected, and yet in a mythic space define the basis of an inherited faith.

I'd like to ask if Katherine Jefferts Schori believes as I do: I doubt it. Moreso, even if she does believe as she is often accused (and examination often shows assumptions in the accusations), does this change the nature of The Episcopal Church - a Church which has not changed its formal faith.

All mainstream denominations, unless they do not want to become sects, must stay in touch with the wider population and with the complexity of talk that our institutions throw up. Of course postmodernism allows separation, but a bubble is a bubble. Institutions are free to draw their own boundaries.

Matt Kennedy proposes Christian apologetics to cut the head off "the pluralist beast". All this amounts to is adopting narrower boundaries. So it would be Biblical literalism rather than Biblical criticism. It means hitting people coming through the door with a different, narrower, ideological education - however, no one gives up their basic assumptions that easily.

Indeed Matt Kennedy has left The Episcopal Church. He is now in and directs within a narrower institution. He indeed wants to push a Pauline view of sin and salvation in such an institution. He also wants to preach away from experience and more an expository sermon; well there is a cost to that, that it does not meet current or past experiences. Indeed, like a sect it is reformulating a person through ideological boundaries.

Such boundaries have to be maintained: maintained by exclusivity in personnel regarding teaching.

Is Anglicanism about reformulating people through ideological boundaries? Not really. It provides a pathway - a broad Christian spirituality and there is ideology in that. There is what might be called long formation. There is, though, much about space in which to search. We are, here, Westerners, and it will be a capitulation if a Church cannot deal with the complexity of Western institutions, ideas and life. Being Church is risky.

Personally I don't care about orthodoxy any more. It is a word like secularisation or liberal: it means so many things it lacks explanatory power. I make no claim towards it, even if others not so dissimilar from me do.

Friday, 30 May 2008

The New Beginning?

I have this: without permission such as this should not be displayed, but I think everyone ought to read what this implies:

As you all do know, it's about now three weeks before we all get on our various aircraft and coaches and go down to the Holy Land for our big get together. Some of us are going to Jordan, and some of us are going into Israel. These are great places to go to more than just think about where the Anglican Church is going into the future. Our Archbishop here is leading the way, a mover and shaker that is going to make all the difference. In prayer, in worship, in Bible study, and in planning, we are going to make a difference. A huge difference.

As I understand it, a group of people, real leaders, have put themselves together to get this thing off the ground. They are from what's called the North; they are from Africa; they are from the Global South. Sometimes they say we are from the North. That's the way it can be confusing. Well, whatever, we are from all around, and it's Global. It's the beginning. It's Alpha again. I'm one of those invited along; I shall be going from here just to Israel, that part of it, that part where we will hear the future. It is the future, my friends.

Soon you will hear these names all the more often: Akinola, Orombi, Nzimbi, Minns, Sugden, and, yes, Duncan. Not forgetting, of course, our own Peter Jensen. They have planned and they have planned; they have jetted around the world to make this thing work, and work it surely will.

Look. I am not in the middle of this: far from it. But I tell you what I think is going to happen. Forget the rubbish you hear about a different Communion. It's not going to be that. There's only one and that's the one we're interested in. Before they even sit down in those small groups in Lambeth, we are going to set out the picture for this worldwide Church.

It has to be a provision of leadership that bypasses all this liberalism that has taken hold, especially in the North, and thank God such liberalism did not come here, allowing us to be a point of resistance. Well resistance isn't good enough any more. Forget the monopoly of Anglican Churches and all that about geography: there is a new Global Future, a Global Anglican Future coming. Leadership will be offered to those growing congregations that obey orthodoxy, that uphold biblical truth, and you're going to see a partnership between international bishops and clergy and lay people throughout the world in these congregations. And it starts next month - bishops, clergy and lay people together.

Before they even sit down in those small groups at Lambeth! What are they going to achieve? Those old ways of doing things are over. The final nail in that coffin is they can't even decide to have any resolutions. It will be so different in Jerusalem. I'm tempted to say THIS year in Jerusalem. This year in Jerusalem.

You know, Mouneer Anis said he won't go to GAFCON but he'll go to Lambeth. So many of them simply won't make the break. He says the Global South could split: well who would split it? This road will not be easy: and you can see who hasn't quite got the drive and the vision. But he says, if Lambeth cannot produce anything, we may need a "holding Covenant".

And who would produce such a thing? The Global South as a whole? Can we carry on going round in circles, forever more? That's what Henry Luke Orombi has asked. What we need is a renewed Anglican centre of gravity. I've heard it called an Instrument - because Lambeth and Canterbury and all that has instruments. Well we need clear directions in orthodoxy and clear leadership, leadership that leads, with bishops that oversee, and to bypass those who think so differently that they simply no longer follow the Bible. Watch out for the rise of a real leader, by the way. It's not Archbishop Akinola, a man who has been vilified in all this liberal Anglican propaganda put out over the Internet. It is Robert Duncan. He is the man who will be at the centre. He will be the one for the future. You see, we believe in the personal, in leadership; we do believe in bishops - we are Anglicans. This change to be brought about by GAFCON has to be the centre of gravity, and thanks be to God for the core leadership that has been taking us there, including Bob Duncan, and we will launch this new beginning next month.

It could have been so different. It really could. Remember the Advent Letter last year? Even then it could have been so different. That laid it out well enough. Where is that now in this Lambeth gathering, neutered and impossible? What are we to make of the St. Andrew's Draft of the Covenant? And still these liberals won't accept it. Whatever happened to the pastoral scheme that The Episcopal Church could have used it: oh no,it offended their autonomy. Oh no, the Covenant offends autonomy (until it becomes as weak as dishwater). Oh no, we can't have this and we can't have that. It's a charter for heresy. No wonder heresy pervades Anglicanism today. And the Archbishop of Canterbury talks about Better Bishops? I tell you, we have some excellent bishops already. Well, to hell - yes I choose the word carefully - to hell with autonomy. As we reconstruct this one and only Anglican Communion, to hell with autonomy and let's go towards what we should be doing as a Church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ: Global leadership. Actual leadership. You know, nationalism really is a sin and it has no place in this Church. Something else the liberals say: the Communion is not a Church. How convenient. Come on, under one Lordship a Communion is a Church, and it is about time it was rearranged so that we all recognised one another. Undeer Global leadership, we will.

I don't know what the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to do, or all those bishops who are left with clergy believing in this, that and the other, and those dwindling congregations. I don't know what the Archbishop of York will do. Whatever will the Presiding Bishop in the USA do! I suppose she could go off and do some science. I don't even know what the Mouneer Anis's and those theologians like the Michael Poon's are going to do. I tell you what they can do. They can come back. They can come back to a reconstructed and properly led Church.

This one, this Church, will believe the Bible. And the confessions and so-called historic statements in their plain meaning. These statements are present day statements. The Creeds without crossed fingers. Our God really did intervene in history, and he wasn't interested in Muhammad or other make-believe, or Buddha and sleepy meditating; Christ who was God was born of a virgin, he did miracles in front of people's eyes, he did get out of that grave and then meet the disciples in those locations it says, and he visioned Paul too, turning him around, who became the fantastic organiser like we need fantastic organisation now.

The others, who knows what all the others will do - rusting away like those hulks that we see, brought here to be broken up and recycled for the metal. Let the others write to the unbelievers. Should they come back, no they will not just be recycled - they will be made new. And, by the way, my friends: have you noticed? Not once have I mentioned the H word all the way through. That is because - well it is so simple - when we have the unified Anglican Communion, our Church, that we need and must have, there won't be any need to mention the matter. It sorts itself out.

So, indeed my friends, this year in Jerusalem - in less than one month's time. I'll be there; please pray for me, and pray for GAFCON, which is the beginning.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Effect of Postgraduate Education

I give here a further outing of some statistical work done by Razib of Gene Expression and highlighted by A Guy in the Pew. It concerns any relationship between United States denominations of two variables: the percentage of postgraduate education and the belief in biblical literalism.

Now I am not the best person around to consider statistics, and indeed my wife over in Reading is the person doing the course. Unfortunately she has had a busy day, and is in need of her sleep (statistical relationship 1 for a specific time of day). She tells me that the diagram (which I have redrawn - this is the sort of thing that appeals to me) shows moderate linear regression. If 1 then it would be completely strong, and if 0 then no relationship.

She says there is a phrase in her notes that is worth remembering, but will find who said it only after sleep. It goes something like:

None of the models are right; some of them are useful.

The line above takes an average through the various positions that more or less deviate from it on the variables. There is a definite weakening of the relationship (away from 1) by the Roman Catholics. Without them, R2 would rise to 0.81 (which is stronger - nearer 1). Visually, the flatter the curve, the nearer to 1, and the more responsive the relationship between the two variables on the x and y axes.

What this graph does not show and yet tempts the conclusion is that as you learn you become less biblically literalist. That is reading the graph back up the line, which you can do, but is to forget that this only concerns the percentages of postgraduate education. There is an initial starting point along the y axis, the 25.94 in this case, and then the linear regression that follows as one moves down the percentages of the postgraduate educated and sees a relationship rising of biblical literalism.

The importance of the denominations cannot be overlooked. They are a variable in this, and why Razib goes on to make his explanation based around them. It works like this (my explanation, not his). Unitarian Universalism preaches a message that is relatively attractive to postgraduates. The message involves a discouraging of biblical literalism. The same is so, but less so, with The Episcopal Church. At the other end, the Church of God in Christ , the message is less attractive to postgraduates and involves a strong dose of encouraging biblical criticism. What the Roman Catholic Church does is impose another dogma that relatively discourages postgraduates and yet involves itself an absence of biblical literalism. The actuality, thinks Razib, is that the population is heavily Latino and still has expectations of authority and an absence of above higher education.

This is the point, of course: the actual situation. My above explanation implies rational and free choice, which sets up relationships between cultural and institutional collectivities. You end up mapping denominations. It is, in the end, qualitative at final explanation because of the cultural nature of the phenomena. What would be the position in the UK? I venture to suggest that the education level of Unitarians is reasonably high - many teachers - but many a professor is more likely to be an Anglican. All sorts of multi-variate analysis could be made: self-understood social status, for example.

Given that the flatter the line the stronger the relationship, here follows a purely imaginative set of lines that follow a more general set of rules about education and literalism.

This shows that the impact of science education is less on biblical literalism than social science education, but that modern theology has an even bigger impact on removing literalistic beliefs. Remember each line would have the denominations scattered all around in deviation from it.

And also, as a commenter has pointed out, and as my sixth form and undergraduate student life showed with supply and demand diagrams, these diagrams are not going to show straight lines regarding the relationships between the variables involved, but curves. In other words, these are marginal relationships that trade off education (here postgraduate) and biblical literalism: indeed one can do indifference curves at each denomination (and on and on).

So very very roughly speaking, you are more likely to be a biblical literalist if you are thick.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Modern Theology Course?

Over the last week or so I have been thinking on the lines of what sort of course could introduce ordinary churchfolk to modern theology, to begin to bridge the gap said to exist between clergy and many in the laity. Such a course would have to be introductory and on voluntary adult education principles (that is a resource, a discussion, an activity possibly, and drawing on thoughts and experiences already existing) whilst providing information. If the course was a package, then there could be additional resources online that would also attract in others wishing to make use of the course.

Each topic would involve the questions: what issue/s were the theologians involved trying to tackle, what did they present (in much summary form) and what were the consequences of what they presented. This would be a theology course, and yet involve some background of, let's call it, theological sociology. These would be the headings of a course, biased towards England/ Europe with US theology input and somewhat Anglican too, but not exclusively (and updated):

  1. Introduction session
  2. Karl Barth - neo-Calvinism
  3. Emil Brunner - up and down
  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer - on to secular theology
  5. Reinhold Niebuhr - pragmatism
  6. Paul Tillich - ultimate questions
  7. Rudolf Bultmann - demythologising
  8. Hans Kung - all rounder
  9. Modern theologians - summary
  10. Victorian Oxford Movement and after
  11. Victorian Evangelicalism and after
  12. Essays and Reviews
  13. Traditionalisms from the past (eg Thomist theology, Anselm, Puritans, etc.)
  14. Background and shadows - summary
  15. 1938 Church of England Doctrine Commission
  16. Honest to God and Debate - metaphors and mixing Bultmann, Tillich and Bonhoeffer
  17. The Myth of God Incarnate - meanings of myth
  18. Theology of David Jenkins - using Barth and Bonhoeffer
  19. Evangelical reactions - National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) 1967 and after
  20. Feminist theology - Sallie McFague and Rosemary Radford Ruether
  21. Faiths - John Hick and exclusivists, inclusivists, pluralists and universalists
  22. Postmodern theology - nihilist textualism and Radical Orthodoxy
  23. Movements summary
  24. Theological issues for the future
These 24 topic areas would cover at least a whole year (if not two) with some topics lasting two sessions. The trick of the course design - if possible - is to translate by resources complex theologies down to summary points and presentations around which folks could make their discussions and, if so moved, go off and do some of their own finding out. There would not be homework as such - just tasters of these all the way along the line so that people get a picture of theology through the twentieth century and where it has landed now.

Of course such a structure does lend itself to a more complex treatment, and such a course could have a higher level method too. Each week someone makes a short presentation followed by discussion, and during the course half way through can ask each person to do a little writing on a subject of interest at which sessions are made available for presentation and discussion. The best way to do this in a church setting would be on a rerun of the structure but using deeper resources and tackling the issues again having done the basic course right through. Indeed the structure allows for continuing education, multiple runs and specialisation into one or two topics.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Orombi Marching

The Archbishop of Uganda Henry Luke Orombi was interviewed by Anne Coletta on the United States Anglican TV.

I have recoloured some interesting bits!

He saw a parallel with the courage of Joshua and his coming to leadership after Moses' death and the orthodox people who have a challenge. God is with you and it is about moving on. You get into the promised land, you are poised to take over Jericho but God dealt with them seriously in Jericho. So stay clear of sin if you walk with God, he concluded.

There seemed to be an obvious parallel there and with his and others' actions in the United States. Orombi said he was refreshed by his travel to the USA.

He said Ugandans had treated Bob Duncan as a primate when in Lagos 2004 in his leading the orthodox - he steps out tall as a leader. Duncan was honoured by Ugandans. He compares with Caleb who was along with Joshua. Caleb was 85, and walked with the Israelites for 45 years. Bob Duncan is also humble and it is time to take his inheritance as Caleb did. Duncan is godly and experienced. Caleb helped Joshua to fight, Orombi believes and Duncan is a leader within orthodoxy and solid and it is his time for his inheritance. There is though no time frame with God. Walk a day at a time. That's God.

Orombi had thought it unlikely for TEC to comply with Dar Es Salaam by September 30 2007. The gap has widened further since then. The Ugandans are not going to Lambeth. They are not in fellowship with TEC. It is impractical to go to Lambeth. Rowan Williams has not given them an opportunity to resolve differences. The Covenant discussions will not come to a close. Everyone is still in square one. There were many options from Dar Es Salaam but TEC was not interested in the pastoral scheme and there are litigations going on. So it would be like going back to square one at Lambeth: three weeks where there would be more conflicts than fellowship.

When the concept of GAFCON came they thought let's get together; plus the venue is appropriate - it's Jerusalem where the early Church started. They could renew their vision for mission and networking and passion for the gospel. It is only for one week but will be a more profitable use of time - contrast that passion there for the three weeks at Lambeth, which will be suspicion towards each other and pretending to be together but not in reality.

GAFCON is invitation only otherwise it would be overwhelmed. There could have been many more than 1000. Orombi and company do not want it to be Lambeth-like but have clergy and laity too with younger potential leaders. So they want to target this mix by invitations.

They have all been spending a long and needless time with issues going around in circles. They want to get out of the circle and get together and tackle what the Lord wants with the Church and what is the need of the world - and to go for it, he said. From October 2003 for five years he said they have talked on this - and for how much more? The Anglican Communion is there; but the agendas in the Anglican Communion should shift.

It is a question of conscience about some orthodox bishops going to Lambeth. Orombi saw no reason personally why to go to GAFCON and then Lambeth. He has great demands on his time that need prioritising.

He said that the second draft of the Covenant is watered down already. The Church of Uganda is submitting. The Church of Uganda (?) hopes and prays that the Covenant can bind us [Anglicans]. Such depends on a willingness to abide by it. Some people may reject it outright if it is very strong. The best prospect for everyone to subscribe to it may be if it is watered down; but if it is so watered down the Church of Uganda may not subscribe to it. "What's the point?" he asked. The Communion is an amazing organisation with paperwork. Sit down, talk, how to communique... What is it though if people are not going to abide with what they agree upon? He gave 1:10 1998 as an example.

The Presiding bishop letter protesting about the visit to Savannah was mailed and released on the Internet about the same time. He said that was good because someone could read it and bring it to him. He was travelling - an excellent way for him not to receive it Bishop Schori's letter. He wondered why she didn't write it a week before he left. It was a publicity gimmick, he said. He was not contravening anything: he was coming to a congregation that was not under TEC. He had never been to Savannah and this congregation had come out of the Episopal Church - he added "praise the Lord that it is in the Anglican Communion". He came to offer pastoral communion and care; it was a fantastic time. He wrote back to her and said, "Listen, if you are really walking according to Windsor you would not be saying what you are saying and doing what you are doing." The Windsor Report was so clear and now she has rejected it - this had been talked about in Domantine. His was a response where the Episcopal Church had failed and the leadership want to retain the congregations in the Anglican Communion - these could have joined other Churches and left the Anglican Communion altogether. Uganda is available for the time being until they solve their own problems. They should of course go back to their parents, and the time will come to go back and the congregations should go back. He wondered why the local Bishop did not write instead. The Presiding Bishop is entitled to her opinion and he had responded. He hoped she read it. He said that a letter to him should not have gone public: she was politicising and he responded publically.

He said they did not come to the USA on their own but by invitation. The invitations are very valid, from friends for a long time, and a friend in need is a friend indeed. They know they can be given something; and all they are stepping on is the Gospel, the Word of God. No TEC bishop has a message for anyone in his country. (It was not clear on the recording if he said he would or would not protest if TEC people were invited by people in his country.) They might want to bring money but the issue is beyond money. It is the commitment to Christ and his Church. They were invited in the USA and you cannot say no.

He said a little later that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has not acted as a referee but has taken sides. He ought to be an independent man. Also he should help them know where he stands. There is his role as a convenor of meetings - after Dar Es Salaam and after New Orleans 2007 he would have loved him to have called a Primates Meeting. They made a request. There was not (either) a joint meeting of Primates and ACC: the Archbishop of Canterbury would not get himself to do that. It was really a let down. The Primates initiated this action and should have got together about what came out of the TEC House of Bishops at New Orleans - which was inadequate. There was no way for the Primates who initiated this to respond because they were not called together. So Archbishop Orombi feels disappointed. The Archbishop of Canterbury's lack of clarity is the problem - what he means. He is a gifted and intelligent man. Sometimes communication from people like that is difficult to understand. Where does he stand? When the Archbishop of Canterbury is with them he is very committed; when he is with the liberals he is equally committed. All right, but is he trying to please all of us? He suggested that Rowan Williams finds out who he is going to please.

Archbishop Orombi also said that all (?) need to be faithful as Anglicans as a calling to a Church to the Word of God; this world is hungry for the word of God. They need to go out to minister to them and for people to be together. All should seek to work together: unless united there are factors and powers to tear us apart. He said that we need to guard against this but Jesus is Lord and we cannot fail. He said that we (?) are on the march. God is not interested in numbers. If there is a few here it does not matter - as with Gideon.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Heads or Tails

One point I have made in the recent past is that providing non-geographical Church of England dioceses for male only ministry would set up structures to allow in GAFCON type boundary crossings. It does follow, however, that a straight and no-protection for dissidents vote for equality of the sexes at bishop level will give GAFCON extra excuse for its new invasions, even if it too has associates who ordain women. Noting that apparently, at this Market Bosworth gathering, despite Rowan Williams apparently having argued for such divisive if protecting structures, GAFCON will at some point have to declare him "heretical" (or at least utterly ineffective regarding "heresies").

It all happens in July too: the Lambeth Conference and the Church of England General Synod - when this matter arises. The betting is that a straight vote won't go through, rather as in the Church in Wales a little while back.

In my searching around I came across this account, by a disagreeing Anglican, of the consecration of a female bishop in the United Kingdom to the Open Episcopal Church. It comes from 2003. Since then Elizabeth Stuart, who is known for her output of 'Queer Theology' at the University of Winchester, has moved on to head the Liberal Catholic Church International in the UK and Ireland, though it seems very depleted, and indeed there is only one clergy member in Bristol other than her. A male ordained of them became independent and eventually joined the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church, a Church like the Open Episcopal Church (headed by the media friendly Bishop Jonathan Blake) which seems to be planning its own small scale expansion. Except that in the last few days its website has expired.

It is interesting to compare the Open Epscopal Church (OEC), and I'll add in the Old Catholic Church in Europe (OCCE) and various Liberal Catholic Churches. The OEC is attempting to be the most ordinary and mainline independent Church in the UK and values ecumenical gatherings - it is just socially inclusive regarding ministry, blessings and an open eucharistic table under Jonathan Blakes leadership (and all this he stated in his own words to me in an email). The Old Catholic Church in Europe like the OEC relates back to Arnold Harris Mathew, but the OCCE treats this with more importance than the OEC. The OCCE does this, because of the rejectionist statements about Arnold Harris Mathew that still come from the Utrecht Union of Old Catholics. However, the OCCE rejects the Liberal Catholic element that was also Theosophical and acquired some clergy that left another independent Church that still valued Theosophy. The Liberal Catholic Churches all recognise the importance of the Catholic and Theosophy bishops Wedgewood and Leadbeater as founders, though the importance of theosophy as such is variable and even less emphasised - that history of Theosophy is usually a means towards a more general liberalism and towards the generally esoteric (magical side of supernaturalism). Leadbeater never saw Theosophy as being a necessary permanent feature. The Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church still gives a good nod to its Unitarian element, both in past personnel before it and via recognition of the other turn of events around the same time of Wedgewood and Leadbeater that formed Free Catholicism with Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas and, somewhat independently, but with apostolic succession, the ex-Unitarian denomination minister Ulric Vernon Herford, who set up his own version of Liberal Catholicism- but who became a Church of the East route to every variety of independent bishop as well as Free and Liberal Catholic independents.

And so to a website update: a new Pluralist Website page on Where are the Liberal Catholics in the UK? Having just found another batch, it is a new page that I have further just updated. They are all scattered and somewhat relatively invisible (made better by the Internet), but the page started by comments by one in the know and then followed through by me. Meanwhile, given the patriarchal nature of the Bible and religion, I have a webpage about the Biblical demand for the urinal.

There is a page about Episcopi Vagantes and Independent Catholics on the Anglican David McClean's website. It is unfortunate that he should mention Gary Beaver along with short explanations and connections to others.

The final point is this: ordaining and consecrating women does change the nature of the Church. Most females ordained in the Church of England are fairly liberal, and consecrating women will have an effect on broadening the Church of England out (about which it is in some desperate need). However, being socially inclusive and having some effect, as with the OEC, is not the same as or as far reaching as actually being liberal in identity, as with the Liberal Catholics.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

800 From 9000? What of the 700?

The Church of England has, roughly speaking, about 9000 clergy still, with vacancies arising not being filled and in fact much left hanging and merging. Out of this, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, one of those bishops who has grown wings, is quoted as saying that 800 could leave the Church of England if women are made bishops and there is no proper provision made for them.

According to the Daily Telegraph, around fifty Anglican bishops huddled at Market Bosworth (sounds like they're having a civil war - oops, they are, sort of) decided by small majority not to make a structural provision for clergy dissenters from women bishops. They would also end current arrangements that allow parishes to reject having women clergy.

Structural arrangements for male only bishops would involve two dioceses in Canterbury and one in York, sort of escape arrangements on a non-geographical basis. So an actual geographical diocese might end up like one of those holey (not holy) cheeses where the holes are filled by the male only diocese.

The non-geographical diocese would be pure, free of the pollutant of women in clergy dress, and free of women saying eucharistic prayers, free of women holding hands above the heads of other men and women as they consecrate and priest others.

Except they would not be, because they would all rise up the chain to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury both of whom will have consecrated women - and indeed could be women.

Once again the Archbishop of Canterbury has backed the conserving horse. According to the same report, he argued for proper provision for these men on the principle of promises made and keeping people in.

Bishop Pete Broadbent put on Fulcrum his view that:

My skin feeling is that Synod will coalesce around the mandatory transfer option [option 4] (which is not a million miles from TEA). But we will have to debate and vote down the simple statutory options favoured by WATCH, and the alternative structural provisions favoured by FiF.

Later on, elsewhere (the debates got a bit cross-threaded) he wrote:

Whether you like it or not, we made commitments to those opposed back in 1993. Any provision has to take account of those commitments. I want to see women bishops - preferably tomorrow! - but I'm not prepared, unlike the liberals, to sell the conservative catholics and evangelicals down the river. So there's a straightforward choice. Go with legislation that will make provision for them, or exclude them. Now, if the women are saying that they won't countenance such legislation, so be it. Synod needs a majority in all three houses. If the House of Bishops bring legislation with arrangements for transfer to the Synod, it may well be that it will be voted down in the House of Clergy. If arrangements with a code of practice alone are put forward, that won't carry the Synod either. And only a minority want a separate province or diocese. So that won't get through either.


So - back to the issue at hand. If neither the women nor the ultra conservatives will accept a compromise, we shall have to find another way through.

At this point, not unlike many people, when reading the Manchester Report I get terribly confused. There is a variation four that is within existing structures. Apparently legislation would transfer from the diocesan bishop to a complementary bishop oversight of parishes and priests wanting purity from women bishops, male priests ordained by women bishops, or male bishops who ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate. Those rights that parishes have already to decline the ministry of women priests would continue. I think this is what Pete Broadbent referred to, but this report is an exercise in getting lost in detail.

So 800 may leave. I don't believe it. Nevertheless 700 women clergy - half of them - did petition for a straight adoption of bishops male and female.

Promises? How long for: for this generation, forever? A House of Commons vote cannot bind a future House of Commons vote. So it is with a Synod. Perhaps there ought to be residual arrangements for some to continue on - but no one new, no one else.

Separate dioceses would not work: and if they were ever instituted they would be bolt-holes for all sorts of malcontents and GAFCON-like people. These do seem to be dead in the water, however.


I like this entry as a whole, but especially this point made I'll highlight here:

The designers of GAFCON have made it clear that their future will happen regardless of what anyone else thinks or wants or needs: witness the blatant disregard for the Bishop of Jerusalem and their disinterest in the local situation. For the GAFCONites, Jerusalem is not a place where real people live but it is an historical and religious theme-park to be viewed from bus windows, hotel conference rooms and through guided tours. It is a backdrop that makes a political statement.

Andrew Plus does not agree with my response to the video news conference by The Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori. He avoided a quick response, whereas I reported on it, but he is pleased he did contemplate about it first and then came to a more positive view.

For him to be right, over all, that the Lambeth method facilitates what is positive, needs the active positive mindset of those going. I just don't see that positive mindset there, even among a sufficient number to lend weight to that approach. I take the view that The Episcopal Church presentation put the best spin on the method that coincides with its own aims and intentions, but it almost denies what is the predicament being placed down. Of course there is much to talk about and can be done so building on the positive, but it is the zero-sum aspects that won't go away and indeed are made worse by the theme park people in Jerusalem.

I'm not sure that the semi-adoption of the Indaba process is equivalent to Appreciative Inquiry, nor are those going in appreciative mood. It may be face to face pain: that is not the same as Appreciative Inquiry. The idea that face to face absorbs the pain seems overly optimistic. There still has to be resolution; the Windsor Report and invitations are still very much of this face to face - meaning resolution exists elsewhere, via some committee, or the Archbishop, and not in the ownership of the Indaba process. No, it won't work.

The list in the blog entry of what Anglicans value, by the way, is a good one, and a very positive approach. If the predicaments were not there, I am sure these or like them would be background or even foreground part of the whole 'better bishops' event.

No Kneeling

As someone who does not kneel, bow, scrape, face a book except to read it, or move my hands about my chest (but not that mad about any of these), I rather warm to Dougal's viewpoint:

"It is better to die on your feet, than to live forever on your knees." (La Pasionara) It struck me that could be a very good motto for anyone like me who has broken away from a life inhibiting, soul destroying Conservative faith and theology and found a more positive, liberating and life affirming one. It could also be a powerful battle cry for progressive Anglicans as we approach Lambeth. We are not going back into kneeling position in thrall to a reactionary theology to please a majority or even ++Rowan Williams (who has an awful job, but who really seems to have given up on his progressive principles in the quest to preserve a rather spurious unity). Jesus prayed standing up: as a beloved yet mature child facing the Father as he had been destined to. We are children of God through Grace and Adoption and it is better for the Anglican experiment to split in two than for us to default as requested by Archbishop Akinola et al into the kneeling, whimpering infant begging for forgiveness.

I never had a conservative type faith. It started with liberality (John Robinson' Honest to God and ever onwards) and has remained at the liberal and radical area. I often wonder about the emotional anchor that continues to operate when a faith began as something different, that was perhaps altered during theological college or down the line with continued reading.

I rather agree with him now about Anglicanism: better for it to split. However, we should not be under any illusions. For the GAFCON types to come on their raids, and to set up Instruments and control centres, they have to retain the pretence of one Communion for as long as possible. It will, in effect, be two, but entryism needs the way in - the host is needed.

Did She Say This?

I was reading the latest Epistle of Bishop David Anderson. If you want to know what the "opposition" is doing, it is best to read them and try to do it carefully. His letter is about good things and bad from his perspective over recent days.

Here we are again, with heresy hunting and specifically the TEC Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori. He writes that she said:

The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke recently at the University of the South, saying "Diversity is a vital part of the Anglican Communion. That can be a problem for those who think their way is the only way." She goes on to make a comparison of those who believe in a specific Christology of Jesus as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," as sinning against the Holy Spirit, "It’s like the sin against the Holy Spirit, believing that there is no other possibility. Believing that we’ve got the whole thing right now and God can’t possibly do anything else, anything unexpected." Although Schori earned a Ph.D in marine biology, her grasp of the Holy Scriptures and her comprehension of theology are far removed from her area of learned expertise, and it would appear from her remarks that if you believe what Jesus said about himself, you are sinning against the Holy Spirit. It simply takes your breath away...

So I thought, this is plain enough; I will see what is published. She must be attacking those who state that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and who build a specific theology around it. Quite risky then for this leader of a Church. So I listened to her sermon given at the University of the South (May 13 2008). It was about provoking based on hope and love an students going out into the world to address need. She referred to Julian of Norwich and love as our Lord's meaning. Desmond Tutu provokes, she said. She talked about a female ex-student with the Magdalen community with humble rules and an enterprise called Thistle Farms offering jobs and skills which were taken into Rwanda. Thistles are beautiful and provocative. Graduates are to be thistles in life's fields.

I admit that this was a very this-worldly sermon and nothing first-hand supernatural in it. So I looked around a little more and found this report at

BOB SMIETANA • Staff Writer • May 17, 2008

...Diversity is a vital part of the Anglican Communion, Jefferts Schori also said. That can be a problem for those who think their way is the only way.

"It's challenging to live in a community with a variety of opinion when you think yours is the only right one," she said. "That is the hard part - finding the grace and humility to admit the possibility of some difference of opinion."

She added that those who believe they have all the answers are mistaken.

"It's like the sin against the Holy Spirit, believing that there is no other possibility. Believing that we've got the whole thing right now and God can't possibly do anything else, anything unexpected."

This is very interesting, when compared with Bishop Anderson's letter. He slipped in an example of a fixed opinion, and put it in the same quotation marks. So he put (to repeat):

That can be a problem for those who think their way is the only way." She goes on to make a comparison of those who believe in a specific Christology of Jesus as "the Way, the Truth, and the Life," as sinning against the Holy Spirit, "It’s like the sin against the Holy Spirit, believing that there is no other possibility.

By doing that, he makes it look as if she has directly criticised those who focus on this part of the Gospel of John's Farewell Sermon. Having done it, he then launches into a more personal attack about her education and her theological inadequacy. In fact she had made a more general point against those who think they have all the answers and do not allow God to act on unexpected bases. She made no comment about those with one kind of Christology or another. After all, there are those who do believe in specific (though we are not told which specific) Christologies of Jesus based on that Gospel sermon, indeed on those very words, and yet who do not think that they know it all and do allow for God to act surprisingly and with difference.

It is all inference, all sleight of hand, but once again it is not accurate. It is ideology. Now I here rely upon a report, but then I am not stating any more than is in that report. I have added nothing in.

Notice how in this letter, as elsewhere, Archbishop Mouneer Anis is being attacked for his comments about why he is going to Lambeth 2008 and not to GAFCON. The letter states:

His words about his decision to absent himself from GAFCON, blaming the trouble on northern agitators, are poorly chosen as well as factually wrong. GAFCON is the creation of some Global South Primates, and in their invitation to other orthodox bishops, clergy and laity, naturally some come from the north, even as Egypt is north of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Rwanda.

Isn't that last comment silly! Egypt is north of these African states. Bishop Anderson knows perfectly well what 'northern' means. It has an ideological and cultural connection. It means people in Northern or Western Christianity who have a particular outlook that some of us would call sectarian. They have joined up with these Africans whose faith has another cultural setting. What concerns Mouneer Anis is that the African cultural setting relates to that of the rest of the Global South, and yet under this Northern agenda is likely to split the Global South. Some of us indeed do see Northern or Western advisors with hands well on the GAFCON steering wheel.

Now I do make the analytical abstraction (and clearly so, that this is my commentary) that it is typical that a generous in tone letter from Mouneer Anis to GAFCON receives nasty attacks back: it is typical of what I call religious trotskyism, that is to say the core control of this GAFCON agenda and its intended entryism has the strategy that those who should be on board and who refuse get attacked.

Of course the issue of whether Mouneer Anis will achieve anything at Lambeth is moot, something he has wondered himself (if a Covenant is possible, how to rearrange the Communion with a more leading role for the whole of the Global South).

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Another Pluralist World

Matt Kennedy gave a three talks on Mere Christianity in a Pluralistic World posted at Stand Firm on Tuesday, May 13, 2008, Sunday, May 18, 2008 and Wednesday, May 21, 2008.

It's another claim that The Episcopal Church has abandoned the historic Christian faith, this time focusing on the effects of pluralism and the pluralistic position.

Given my Internet name, I am interested, though the origin of this name is a stance within the Unitarians of years ago. Fulcrum also have used a pluralist name (the thread became somewhat variable in content), this time regarding Anglican Churches and their organising.

These talks may have one more to be posted, but there is enough to go on for now. They derive from two talks given to an LCMS Atlantic District pastor's conference.

Very soon in the first talk he claims the Episcopal Church is sick. It was the intellectual Church, but one without a grip on classical doctrine to be replaced by love and social justice. The Episcopal Church has engaged the culture and pluralism, and Anglicanism in the West was "so susceptible to cultural subversion". He states:

a pluralist culture is one that embraces a myriad of choices, paths, and pursuits, many of them mutually exclusive, as valid and legitimate.

This is not the same as relativism:

Relativism is self defeating because the relativist assertion that all is relative and nothing is absolute asserts an absolute.

This is not necessarily so. Just as a pluralist can be agnostic about absolutes, so there can be an agnosticism or relativism about relativism. These, though, are not the same. The first allows the possibility of some absolutes whilst thinking much is relativist; but to be relativist about relativism is to be part of an intense deconstruction not only of all other concepts but about relativism itself, and this represents a kind of implosion of meaning that turns structuralism into poststructuralism, everything into a spin. In fact it can produce a kind of virtual world, or a bubble world of word-plays and meanings where an impression of absolutes is nothing but a relationship of relativities.

Matt Kennedy is talking about objective truth and lack of certainty. He says:

The pluralist answer is that human knowledge of the absolute is absolutely limited and being limited very few definitive statements about the absolute can be made.

Not quite. This sentence contains an assumption that there is an absolute. Limitation of knowledge involves the question at least of whether there is any absolute anything. We do not know this either. This is one reason why relativism can become a working hypothesis, but another hypothesis is the Isaiah Berlin position of clashing values all claiming objective truth.

There is, though, another position that is both objective and stranger - that reality may end up, as in quantum science, full of paradoxes and multiple states. Ideas that clash may well have possibilities that they do exist as truth even though at a larger and surface level they seem to be completely competitive. That paradox thus leads to another kind of relativity, a more objective relativity, and it can be a road to a very broad universalism of paradoxes.

Anyway, he then jumps to something else, "though it might seem like a detour at first" which is Christian pluralism, the position of John Hick - that religions themselves provide salvic ways to the Real. This is different from the Christian inclusivist position where it is still Christ that saves via what is legitimate in other faiths and unknown regarding Christianity. Matt Kennedy is an exclusivist, but just about allows for the inclusivist - but not the pluralist. He thinks the pluralist position asserts that:

...Christianity and Islam and Buddhism are all equally valid, equally able to provide access to the divine in themselves.

I don't agree with this, and I doubt John Hick does either. My view is that John Hick is an inclusivist of the Real, that all are aiming towards the universal ultimate. A pluralist position says, rather, that each religion, like a language, has is its own process of "salvation", that salvation or equivalent being understood within that religion. The problem with Hick's view is that he imposes a Real on religions and groups and individuals that they do not themselves accept. As soon as he describes the Real, he has described his own package. It is rather like this: the Gospel of John gives Jesus the words that he is the only way to the Father. Well he is to the pluralist, just as Buddha is the found way of the Dharma. Buddha is not even seeking the Father. The concepts are internal.

Well they are except the pluralist can be playful - and just as languages steal words and even phrases from other languages, so you can get combinations of phrases and understandings. The social anthropologist tries to translate. But join elements together and they form packages: a new one every time.

Here he is knocking The Episcopal Church's own leader:

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church articulated the Christian Pluralist view with precision in an interview with Time Magazine on July 10th, 2006. She said, "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."

This could be Christian inclusivism, actually. Clearly there are other religions around, and at least on theory that God acts these have been formed in time and in place. The definition of God may be that of the Christian, but clearly there are other paths by which there can be a judgment of salvation that derives from Christianity. As for Bishop Schori, lack of certainty that there are not other ways regarding the fullness of God may in fact be no more than an agnosticism about those other ways, while she is fairly certain about her own. Such is not affirming an inclusivity of a higher Real, let alone pluralism.

A person who may actually be pluralist as I understand it is Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is because from time to time he addresses Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims about their scriptures and them having their own integrity and form, and generate communities (about which we can be multi-cultural) whilst he operates within Christianity. We can compare communities, of course, and have laws, but religions are something that form around us and indeed form us as individuals.

The second section identifies pluralism as coming from the impact first of Kant - that we receive the physical world through our senses and that leaves the metaphysical world high and dry, with reason suggesting there might be a divine, but that Schleiermacher said that our feelings of utter dependence give us a route to the divine.

I am not sure what this has to do with pluralism at all.

Pluralism arises because institutions have ideological output and they do not agree and they make claims on others. So we once had in a geographical area basically one religion (other than for the persecuted Jews) and we lived in a hierarchical sacred canopy. That canopy absorbed and regulated the baseline of magic and superstition. There was a flowering on non-sacred knowledge at the Renaissance, but the real change came with the Reformation and religious competition. With the rise of rationality came a whole non-religious space too, which was another basis of ideological competition. Some historicist ideologies arose that were similar to the Judeao-Christian-Islamic linear schemes but secular. Eventually we lived in a world of many religions, many Churches, and a large space where we think practically and ordinarily without any of them. There is a fragmented superstition left, much of it forming miniature religions and consumer spirituality. As well as competing dogmas there is a stress on non-dogma regarding the spiritual. Much seems to be subjective. In the neither objective nor subjective postmodern situation, the large claims of competing ideologies collapse, forcing everyone of commitment to a particularist language be sectarian in a sense.

In other words, pluralism is a social issue - it is about the sociology of knowledge and how this alters with changed institutional relationships. Kant and Schleiermacher are bit players in this.

Matt Kennedy then jumps to scripture and revelation. He does not tell us how he knows that these are objective sources of exclusive knowledge: how he escaped the experience trap that apparently found everyone else.

He should also realise that in the postmodern situation there are those who are equally narrow in their selection of authoritative sources of revelation who have no objective basis for the selection - none at all. They just run with them. Thus we have George Lindbeck (discussed regarding Fulcrum and the pluralist position) and John Milbank of Radical Orthodoxy.

Inside the bubble may be as real as inside any other bubble - the pluralist again says that each bubble decides the terms of its own understanding and engagement.

The origins of this are Karl Barth, that neo-Calvinist of sorts, whose God was anti-cultural and anti-religious. It was all a one way encounter. When such a God is so remote, he is in danger of disappearing. Thus Harvey Cox's The Secular City was a combination of Barth and Bonhoeffer. Theologically I also identify the subjectivity of James Martineau, who produced such a cultural view of religion that it becomes subject to transience and difference. He was a collective universalist of theism that actually was subjective in authority regarding every individual. It just breaks down. From opposite poles both end up with postmodernity.

As for experience and Schleiermacher, it is arguable that since William James the theological view is that you express and then experience. You cannot experience without a symbol-system interpretation - otherwise it is mu (a Buddhist word for utter nothing). Well there may be a pure transcendence or mu (Hick again) but not a dicky bird can be said about it.

I have no idea how Matt Kennedy knows that he is backing the correct horse, with his exclusivist Christianity. Apparently Rowan Williams (the pluralist and narrativist?) believes that without a historical dissolving of bones into the resurrected Christ he would stop celebrating the Eucharist and resign. But he has no historical method to know whether that happened or not, and for it to happen would involve changing our understanding of biology and physics - not exactly full humanity (in that sense - I don't know beyond that sense how "full" humanity is measured).

Matt Kennedy thinks that reliance on experience is the way by which the Episcopal Church has innovated against his interpretation of scripture. Experience needs interpretation:

the corporate experience of the contemporary church has become the sole measure of theological truth. Sola scriptura is replaced by sola ecclesia.

This does not follow at all. The Church can believe in continuing revelation: it can believe in the continuing and ever new witness of the Holy Spirit, for example. It can be as dogmatic as him.

It might, alternatively, be agnostic and therefore just become more inclusive on a social basis. Arguing that this is theological and of revelation is not pluralist at all: it is another form of exclusivism. It says it knows that this is being revealed, or at least this seems to be the case.

Indeed there can be a revelation argument about cultural change and the move to inclusivity all around. The incarnate world follows God's revelation into particular culture. This is not postmodern at all: it is realist. It is not pluralist either (other than that there are a variety of cultures). It need having nothing to do with it.

The third talk gets into the effects of "pluralist subversion" regarding forms of Marcionism (that God is always good, equalitarian, etc., on the grounds of the love of Christ) and Gnosticism in the Church (privileged spiritual knowledge).

Is Marcionism based on experience? Has it anything at all to do with pluralism, even if it can be shown to exist now?

All a Marcionite-avoiding position involves is taking into account the yuck of the Judaeo-Christian tradition as well as its good bits. It does not mean treating them equally: it does mean asking why they are there and what they convey, and whether any of it can be translated to the now. Experience often flies in the face of a Marcion type position, rather than upholds it, given that so much in the world is ugly and destructive. Ah - perhaps this is why we keep the rough stuff as well as the good in the Bible.

Gnosticism is definitely not equivalent to a 'Christ of faith' and 'Jesus of history' discernment. In fact the starting point is often the material world, and affirms it, which Gnosticism does not. It just states, for all what dogmatists assert, that there is no sure historical method by which you can find out that much about the Jesus of history. There are no primary documents and the New Testament is a series of theological documents from the early Churches - secondary and about faith. The Jesus Seminar votes: so what? It does so after indirect methods are employed.

Pluralism matters here in so far as the multiplicity of institutions including secular ones, and the shifting of religious authority away from secular authority, has allowed for a critical historical approach to be made to religious formation using historiographical understanding.

Theology that then says we shall be symbolic, or narrative, or radical, is not a pure knowledge, but rather a stance of faith - just doing. It is to walk the path. The creed writers had no more historical insight than we do: indeed, they had less and did not apply it. They just came to philosophical conclusions that made the faith a coherent workable Empire faith. Early Christians may have developed various formulas, but they hardly needed sealed doctrines - nor did they need anything other than the sacred mythology that they lived within. So today the importance is to walk the road; trust in the faith-path.

The real Gnostics today are perhaps those who think they can override historiography and "know" it is all historically true. They don't know.

The "pluralist" Church doesn't divide flesh and matter. If it exists then all it means is that there are different views and tendencies. Most liberals and radicals are quite earth rooted.

It might have taken some intellectual muscle to put down Arianism and Marcionism, but it does not take much to put down the arguments as presented by Matt Kennedy. They are just a collection of misapplied points. In the end, he makes assertions he cannot support. He does not tell us how he knows, only that he does. He is the Gnostic, him and his New Puritanism Church. They have history all wrapped up - except they have not.

Friday, 23 May 2008

How Long?

June is not far away; and we are now getting a picture of fault lines and how developments may go. It is based on what is likely to come out of both main Anglican Conferences, and the likely pressure on remaining centres of geographical monopoly. Anglicanism can either plan or descend into a more autocephalous route (by design or accident respectively) - which does involve overlaps and competing Churches even Communions.

One asks how long the map above will continue - and here is a little game to play: can you identify which colours represent which Anglican Church? Click on it to make it bigger.

(I could do an image map to identify each Church but it may only have historical value.)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

More Betting

Right, so we have the Lambeth as a kind of semi-Indaba-marshmallow, where "incarnate" face to face conversation of huge differences has no resolution, at least not produced in a clear sense for the world to see with participants' ownership over any decisions. Not without revolution in the ranks to overturn the method.

We have an ACI participants' message that without a Covenant the Communion divides, but the purpose of a Covenant is now to divide the Communion on more favourable terms for the doctrinaires.

We have a full blown conference in Jerusalem that could well lead to parallel structures that effect a division: Instrument? Common Cause Partnerships? More boundary crossings.

Now we have a bishop in the know adding that the Global South itself could split, as a northern (let's call it) New Puritan agenda drives GAFCON with its northern African and right wing American backing.

So what splits are likely now? The Anglican Communion is as near as dividing as it can be. It will be surprising if it does not. Northern/ Western Churches by and large will not accept a restrictive Covenant or one that goes beyond present Anglican formularies. Against this GAFCON, supposedly renamed, e.g. Instrument of Global Anglicanism, will become a kind of activist agent for the theological right. The Global South will, however, not only feel alienated from the Northern/ Western Churches, but will split with the Global South elements in GAFCON. Also split will be the Open Evangelicals either towards openness or evangelicalness about whether to go with GAFCON types or the Northern/ Western Churches - the Covenant for Northern and Western Churches either being dead or no more than a summary document. GAFCON will also split within, between Catholic and Reform.

No doubt too some Churches will fragment and divide off - losses and gains.

Also clear is that geographical monopoly is gone. There will be different Anglican Churches in the same town, even in the same street. One Covenant may lead to others, or a specific rejection: minimal, detailed, doctrinally heavy, doctrinal minimalism. There will also be gaps in provision, regarding each provider.

Quite a prospect. Once again, go back a few years. When an institution is spinning with centrifugal force the worst thing to do is introduce a policy to rivet its centre and force everything in by centralising. All that does is create a big explosion, if delayed, and then fragments. You have to relax it out and prevent those spasms and try to get the least worst situation that represents the reality of the dispute. Instead the result could be far worse: multiple schisms and much antagonism.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Anis to Lambeth Only

The Most Revd Mouneer Anis, Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East has written a letter saying that he will not be attending GAFCON. He is going to Lambeth and looks forward to GAFCON recommendations before going.

He urges that the Global South stays united and that it should not be driven by a northern agenda. I take this to mean that the likes of Minns and Sugden should not be running the show according to what can be called a 'New Puritan ' agenda.

He also fears that GAFCON might take decisions that actually divides the Global South. He is very concerned for its unity and its meeting in 2009.

He further wants what he calls northern orthodox to stay with southern orthodox. Again one infers that there is a danger of the Global South going it alone. He sees that northern orthodox bishops might affiliate with the south - very GAFCON and potentially against the principle of geographical monopoly. There could be parallel processes for building unity among those loyal to the biblical historic faith and ethics in both the South and the North. He clearly is troubled by his interpretation of doctrinal observance in the United States and Canada.

He also sees that the Covenant may be the non-starter that rejection by some Churches implies:

If there is no prospect of a Covenant that safeguards orthodoxy and unhindered mission within a reasonable timescale, then the possibility of adopting a "holding covenant" may need to be considered. I urge you all to consider participating in the Lambeth Conference.

Such could, of course, come from GAFCON. It might come from the whole Global South in 2009. He thinks the GAFCON people should go to Lambeth.

He makes the assumption that people in the pews may be confused or misled, and have less understanding about controversial issues. I can suggest people in the pews are not baahing sheep but are well capable of understanding the coming division and that a minority in the north, who could never get their way otherwise, are hitiching a ride on some literalist, supernaturalist and magic relating African provinces, to drive their own agenda. In other words: yes, some in the north are driving this, and doing it via GAFCON. The Global South will either have to follow along or, indeed, there could be further division.

One wonders what Mouneer Anis will achieve in addressing face to face and face to face in a method of meeting with no resolution, with people he thinks should not be there (who started the crisis, he claims) in a part-adaptation of the Indaba participatory meeting. Of course there is Bishop Sulheil Dawani in the diocese where GAFCON meets in June and he is opposed to GAFCON and has good relationships with The Episcopal Church.


What we have, it seems, is a method of consultation that has been theologised as "incarnate" and God-representing by its face to face human encounters.

Indaba, as far as I can see, is becoming a general term for meeting in southern Africa. Trying to push it more towards a particular meaning, it seems to imply a participatory meeting of a matter; thus there is an agenda on a deep discursive meeting out of which some kind of resolution is extracted.

Is it that so revolutionary? Surely a meeting that involves a fairly standard procedure of many group discussions and workshops more than enough amounts to an Indaba. There is usually a plenary session when groups report back and then further debate. There is an implication, however, in the Lambeth design, that there should be no plenary session and no resolution.

Why should an Indaba group imply that cut-off point? I cannot see it. It seems to me that the Indaba meeting on a matter, to get more deeply into the issue of concern, is to bring out the issue and bring it to a satisfactory resolution, via more understanding all around.

It is not just about face to face people, it is about variable commitment to issues being reported upon to others in order to sort out a predicament.

So I might go to an Indaba with all my concerns, or those I represent, and then get stuck in with conversations that give rise to me being confronted by the other point of view too, and force me to take on how the other person sees the issue. There may be multiple variable commitments. It is in that encounter that I have to face up to the kind of agenda I want when there are other pressing stances. They also do the same. The talk, the negotiation that results, may take a long time.

Why should there be a binary opposition about this with the parliamentary? Both the Houses of Parliament and indeed the United States Congress hold committee hearings. Imagine instead if those hearings had everyone who are witnesses coming in at once, and all discussing. That would make it more Indaba (presumably). But there would still be a sense of resolution, and just as a committee report can and should affect a parliamentary vote, so would such a meeting affect an outcome. But an outcome there would be, because the other person has seen that they live in a community where there are real arguments among real people elsewhere. It may be, of course, that zero-sum decisions have to be taken in some places as real gains by some mean real losses by others.

People might remember the British Channel Four programme that had people of very different views all on comfy chairs and sofas around a table with drink and nuts, and that (within some boundaries obviously) went on as long as it would into the night. So time becomes an element in this; indeed shortening time might be a way to force through some resolution after long discussion. There is no flexible time element at Lambeth: just set times and set topics.

Now if there are no mechanisms by which the sense of the meeting comes to a resolution, then the question becomes who does take the sense of the meeting and carries it on? There is going to be, for example, a Covenant Continuation Group carrying on what happened at Lambeth. How is it to know the sense of the meeting? What if it takes one view rather than another? Arguably for someone else to interpret a meeting's outcome is against the whole point of Indaba: the meeting must own its outcome.

Then there is the question of the Anglican Communion as a community. Is it a community? Or is it a diverse association, where indeed there is no need for any resolution at this level, because the effective units are decentralised at the level of the Churches? This is the implication of the TEC presentation: thus there are Churches and these Indaba groups are face to face encounters without resolutions.

My own view is that The Episcopal Church has found the Indaba structure and intent very useful. Indaba does not mean an absence of resolution (never minds resolutions) but this one at Lambeth 2008 seems to imply that either there is no resolution, or that resolution takes place elsewhere in other committees. This does not seem right.

Also, just because an agenda and method is set up does not mean that participants cannot stage a revolution. I once chaired a meeting when a rule was that we did not comment on internal Church affairs given the nature of the conference and society. Someone among the number was dismissed by a Church. I pointed out the rule, but a speaker said if we cannot comment on this then the meeting is worse than useless. So I said OK - who was I to stop it (and why should I?). And the meeting went against its own rule. So it there is pressure for an outcome, for a resolution, then it is quite possible for the method to be overturned by the participants. Who is it that enforces the agenda and method over the participants and what some may want to force over the others?

Lambeth Talking

On May 20th the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, Angus Dun Professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of the Lambeth Conference's design group, joined the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in talking about the Lambeth Conference.

This is my summary of the media conference with added comments.

An introduction told of the small group conversation model of indaba groups (40 people at Lambeth; follows after 8 people groups) in that were first designed for a Southern Africa Anglican congress that did not happen (to which Lambeth would have been related), and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, asked that this innovative external-mission focused model was used for Lambeth itself, replacing a parliamentary type model of winners and losers. This replaces a text-driven conference of reports and resolutions on a Western linear model. There is a retreat, then ten ordinary days. It is a decentred, relational, conversationalist, face to face based conference. The Presiding Bishop said conversation comes from spending time with - so it is about hanging out with people you do not know. You meet the other, and not discarnate as on the Internet. Parliamentary procedures leads to winners and losers, producing an out-group that did not succeed. Removing this brings us back to being a Christian community.

This raises an interesting question. When you meet a predicament that needs an answer - the source of all politics - what happens if the method becomes resolution free? There is sometimes a comparison with the Quakers made. However, the Quakers do have plenary meetings and do resolve, but aim for consensus. Is there no basis for this then? Not according to this presentation.

Almost immediately GAFCON was mentioned. Bishop Schori said that the Bishop of Colorado, Rob O'Neil, is going to give support to Bishop Dawani as Dawani had said that it is not helpful to import conflict into the Middle East at this time. Another venue would have had positive potential. It was also said by Professor Douglas that it is good for Christians to come together and have conversation. An either-or session saddens as a loss of opportunity. There was no fear or concern about GAFCON. It would be wonderful if participants there also came to Lambeth.

Of course Dawani has been sidestepped. GAFCON is definitely a conference: the GAFCON leaders sidestepped him at first by saying Jerusalem was a pilgrimage. It is bad faith. They have show contempt for Sulheil Dawani. He wants to tell them what he thinks, and one wonders if he can.

Ruth Gledhill had an open question about Lambeth and hopes that went on in her sly way to ask about the impact of conservative bishops attending like Gregory Venables. This latter question was ignored. Indeed there was a rather significant correction: the Anglican Church not a correct term for the Communion, said Bishop Schori. The Conference is about encounter and building relationships. Relationships lead to growing new partnerships - and the number of these new partnerships had grown recently.

Yet the confusion of terminology of Church and Communion has been made by Rowan Williams, the same one whose aim for the Covenant (hardly mentioned here) was that of centralisation: the bishops in dioceses and then... him. The Communion became thus a Church. Clearly this is not acceptable to The Episcopal Church.

A question was on how to meet Gene Robinson there. The House of Bishops has been very disappointed that he was omitted, said Katherine Jefferts Schori. He might be present around the edges and , anyway, Province 1 bishops (his) will give opportunities to meet Bishop Robinson. Professor Douglas said that invitations come from the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are issues of timing, irregular bishops (about which Rowan Williams looked to the Windsor Report), and Gene Robinson (and he looked to the Windsor Report again - the principle goes both ways) and the [deposed] Bishop at Harare was not invited. So there is a larger context and it is not simply about one bishop in one Church.

Bishop Schori's reaction was quite strong and that Gene Robinson was going to be represented and could be met. Professor Douglas provided an apology of reasoning that tried to be even handed.

Interestingly someone asked why Brian McClaren of the Emerging Church is speaking. Professor Douglas said that the Archbishop of Canterbury heard him and wanted his fresh vision to be useful for bishops. He speaks on the first night of ordinary nights - on evangelism and Fresh Expressions. He will allow bishops to think in new ways. The Presiding Bishop said she met him in Seattle. She was greatly encouraged. She said how he turned the normal pattern of believing then belonging and then behaving around into belonging, behaving and then believing and this applies in more than just Western Churches. Professor Douglas said that he has a global view and was in Rwanda.

Of course some evangelicals question whether Brian McClaren represents an evangelical position at all, with all his postmodernism. One sees Fresh Expressions as almost a form of desperation regarding decline.

They were asked if the Lambeth Conference will significantly change the Communion and Episcopal Church. They said deep and full conversation leads to conversion and hope. Also that the communion is becoming. There is a many voiced global perspective to facilitate conversations to help the becoming.

The question was probably referring to the coming divisions but, again, the answers were hopelessly (or hopefully) positive in the face of the actual.

It is less well remembered that the 1998 Lambeth Conference endorsed Millennium Development Goals. Implementing these takes us towards what a healed world looks like, said Bishop Schori. Professor Douglas said the third ordinary day (23rd July) will look at the bishop as a leader in social justice with MDGs involved. The London day is the next day and will involve a witness there involving MDGs as well as these palaces being visited.

All bishops may go to somewhere in England, Scotland and Wales. The Presiding Bishop is going to Salisbury (assuming her strange pronunciation) and some others are going there from different provinces. This will allow bishops to see localities in Britain, and feel more at home in these islands. It will allow them to rest into business.

A crafty question asked how the I AM statements of John's Gospel will provide an avenue for those who disagree on the authority of scripture to discuss differences: especially regarding homosexuality; were these texts chosen for that purpose - why or why not were they chosen - and how can Indaba conversations or workshops look at Church's approach to gay clergy.

The Presiding Bishop guessed that studying these statements are because they give one view of what it means to be the incarnate presence of God. Bishops are not the only leaders, she said: all the baptised are. Thus she saw it about how we too become God's incarnate presence. Professor Douglas said she was exactly correct about the texts and why they were chosen. Rowan Williams is drawn to the Gospel of John. Six Bible scholars were chosen about how to help bishops get into the study and the question is what does Jesus say in all those different circumstances of I AM. He said that the Indaba groups will not shy away from hard questions - one day's Indaba is dedicated to how Bible study is done and Bible authority; one day's Indaba is dedicated to human sexuality. There is also Anglican identity, Anglican Covenant, environment, gender and violence to be tackled this way.

One wonders if some bishops will be frustrated about the texts. Also one day discussing the Covenant, one discussing identity, one to human sexuality, may itself lead to a frustration of 'time's up'. I can see some bishops, especially those like Venables, attempting to usurp the agenda. If this happens the whole Conference could indeed become linear and even bloody.

Regarding how much TEC's own controversies will be discussed depends on other individuals "het up on it" and their passions, said Bishop Schori.

Professor Douglas, in being asked to describe the wide diversity of the Anglican Communion and how other provinces are unique (was this another crafty question?) referred to British and US colonial history used by God to plant the Good News in many 164 countries. He saw a New Pentecost in the Anglican Communion. We can all contribute. The fullness in all of our differences across the world helps us to know more of the full gospel. The Presiding Bishop believed the Anglican Communion is important as the whole advances God's mission.

I do find this language about God using colonialism to plant the gospel such romantic drivel. More often than not these missionaries were invasive and cultural thugs. They had no right to be where they went, and the end did not justify the means. As for this New Pentecost for the Communion, it just beggars belief. It almost seems like their heads are stuck in the sand, ostrich-like. Where have they been? The agenda is not the same thing as the issues at hand.

The Presiding Bishop answering the next question was quite blunt that learning to be with one another is made more difficult in this particular instance of Bishop Robinson not present: that avoiding people we find uncomfortable means conversation ceases to be"incarnate". Professor Douglas said it is sad and painful when the full family cannot come to the family gathering - all are diminished. He said that it is not however up to only one bishop to tell the story of what the Holy Spirit is doing in The Episcopal Church. All TEC bishops are to participate and witness to the difficulties and joys of being faithful Anglican Christians.

Again he was trying to be the more explanatory.

A question was put whether this indaba method is not a sidestepping of difficult issues and how to plough through them. Meeting face to face rather than head on, came the reply from Ian Douglas. The design group went beyond the Western Enlightenment and parliamentary method of debate and resolution. He asked, in these post-colonial times, whether those old processes, that create winners and losers, provide the best way forward. Such privileged that one way of being and doing the Church; face to face is the change and there is to be real person to real person and genuine meetings around the hard issues. Parliamentary alienates, divides and causes hurt. The Presiding Bshop said sexuality is central for us and some others, but this is not so everywhere. Elsewhere hunger, disease, life and death are to be met head on.

But again, if there is an issue that needs resolving, how can this be done by an agenda and method that prevents resolutions?

A question was how to interpret Lambeth back to parishioners? The Presiding Bishop said it can be seen as a global conversation. Lambeth 2008 will not legislate at all. There will be no final decisions about anything. One part of the body of Christ in the Anglican Communion (bishops) is to have challenging, enriching and converting conversations. Professor Douglas said it is hard for the media as there isn't a focal point of decision making. What happens will do so in very small, close, one-on-one relationships. The story will be difficult but one story is strengthening. The Presiding Bishop added that journalists might consider how they can tell any particular story that images the holographic view.

Someone was confused that there could be absolutely no resolutions. Both affirmed this.

Does strengthening happen when there is an unresolved issue that can but go around and around?

Another thought that Lambeth showed a lack of transparency contrary to the aims of The Episcopal Church. Bishop Schori said it is not her meeting and she does not issue the invitations. Americans and British have one language but different cultures. Dozens of different cultures will encounter each other. Such encounters happen more easily in an intimate community than on a parliamentary floor. Ian Douglas said it is an "incorrect presentation" to describe Lambeth as closed shop. There are sessions for those invited. The design however allows for wide open hospitality before the conference and in the evenings and in open spaces. There are spaces on the university campus for all sorts of organisations. There is the Market Place too. Fringe events in UK parlance mean a key part of the encounter. So this Lambeth compared with 1998 will be more porous. The Presiding Bishop added that not only is this a post colonial but also a postmodern way of operating.

Yes and there may be the odd demonstration too. Security may be rather worried about the porous aspect of the Conference. Homophobes may be worried too.

Closing statements followed with Ian Douglas focussing on worship. 1998 had one kind of daily Eucharist and then the issue was who did it. Lambeth 2008 will have a service order, yet with cultural understandings then brought in. Worshipping together would facilitate unity. He asked for bishops and Rowan Williams to be kept in prayers for such a very different conference.

One wonders what planet he is on. There are going to be - just as at Dar Es Salaam in February 2007 - refusals to have communion with one another. It would be good if these diminished via the hard one to one talking, but not if issues emerge unresolved in any wider sense.

Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schrori said that from England came this idea of worship in the language of the people. It is in the DNA. Despite the colonial imposition of one language, this had grown into diversity of contexts, the Gospel presented in new idioms around the world. She added that the first conference was about bishops and teaching and on walking into other terrritories - and that such still not sorted out. There are indeed challenges in a complex, diverse, challenging family.

Such is the point. Will the challenges be anything other than mangled through these groups? How can they emerge with any resolution? When a predicament is not tackled to some outcome, the result can be frustration. Talk is a means, not an end. The Quakers both talk and resolve. The people coming up from GAFCON are coming to give one message and that's it. Of course there will be some output, in terms of identity and Covenant, but even that will be decentred. Will the Covenant still attempt to centralise? In the real world, the Covenant will present itself with a level of restrictiveness across the Communion. If the Covenant just presents talking and no effective restriction, then a large constituency will find it inadequate. If it presents effective restriction, then a large constituency will find it unacceptable. Such win-lose linear "parliamentary" issues do not go away by some method of absorption into talk.

I think this is naive and over-optimistic. I'll stay with my more depressing bet. It is called realism.