Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Fingers in Dykes

"Where is Lambeth '08 going to speak from?" asks the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, hoping it is from the heart of Anglicanism, and he thinks the bishops are present because they believe there is an Anglican identity and that it's worth investing time and energy in Anglican identity.

(I thought they were there because he invited them and were either willing, or had insufficient objection or needed to overcome the objection)

Well, such raises the question of where the heart is. I (for example) invest perhaps too much time and energy into Anglicanism as a volunteer of no position, but my heart position is perhaps elsewhere and one that values the place of diversity.

He thinks the centre implies practices and disciplines that make some demands upon everyone in the sense of focus on:

...a bit more of a structure in our international affairs to be able to give clear guidance on what would and would not be a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a local church.

He envisages all sorts of matters where diversity might have to be closed in, not just:

sexual ethics[;] it could just as well be pressure for a new baptismal formula or the abandonment of formal reference to the Nicene Creed in a local church's formulations; it could be a degree of variance in sacramental practice - about the elements of the Eucharist or lay presidency; it could be the regular incorporation into liturgy of non-Scriptural or even non-Christian material.

To have such policed, he wants:

a body which commands real confidence and whose authority is recognised

This points to a Covenant, one of "good law" about

...consistence [sic] and fairness in a community... mutual generosity - indeed, 'generous love'

Getting together at Lambeth 2008 has allowed for this, he says: a common language recognised at the centre.

He says there is a most painful debate, and imagines in a setting of patience and charity those who hold to traditions of morality and doctrine and those who:

...starting from the same centre, find fewer problems or none with some recent innovations.

Both locate in developing or Western cultures but cut across them as well. The traditionalist wants the progressive to hear that:

...some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God.... We don't see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person with love must mean blessing what they do in the Church's name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle.

Also these traditionalists see people leaving to other Churches, or non-Christians getting violent, or the label of gay Church being applied. It is too much to bear, but bishops have turned up at Lambeth 2008 even though some have said attendance is a betrayal.

The progressives, however, want the others to see that they have to bring Jesus to their culture and where people are. The progressives don't like the labelling against them, when the Spirit may be at work:

And part of that is acknowledging the gifts we've seen in gay and lesbian believers. They will certainly be likely to feel that the restraint you ask for is a betrayal. Please try to see why this is such a dilemma for many of us. You may not see it, but they're still at risk in our society, still vulnerable to murderous violence. And we have to say to some of you that we long for you to speak up for your gay and lesbian neighbours in situations where they are subject to appalling discrimination.

So the progressives feel like "scapegoats", "stigmatised and demonised" when there is:

a life that is varied and complex but often deeply and creatively faithful to Christ and the Scriptures...

Generosity by the traditionalists to them may lead to an accusation of compromise towards what is unscriptural and unfaithful; the progressive sees generosity as sacrificing an oppressed group for a false unity and dangerous centralisation. Rowan Williams thinks that if these two sides could respond generously:

perhaps we could have something more like a conversation of equals - even something more like a Church.

He wants this Conference reflecting a "true Centre" to ask the innovator not to become isolated, to ask the traditionalist not to produce a purist like-minded Church, and at least understand pastoral, human and theological issues.

At the moment, we seem often to be threatening death to each other, not offering life. What some see as confused or reckless innovation in some provinces is felt as a body-blow to the integrity of mission and a matter of literal physical risk to Christians. The reaction to this is in turn felt as an annihilating judgement on a whole local church, undermining its legitimacy and pouring scorn on its witness.

He wants life to be spoken to each other via a Covenant that recognises growing towards one another, and yet also that others may choose differently (this suggests a two-tier Communion, that actually negates what he wants anyway). He cannot think of another way forward. He wants people to ask themselves, after hearing the other side, what generous initiative can be offered to the other side.

So he asks, but GAFCON got its institutional changes in first, so there is no initiative there any more, and we know that even generosity may not bridge the gulf. The generosity internally has too many costs externally - for one side to doctrine and dogma, for the other to people.

The problem with this approach by Rowan Williams is that the institution is the key driver: holding the institution together. It does not follow that this is necessarily the best way to establish good relationships with each other. It is probably the least important consideration when there are people to consider, when there is the freedom of the faith to consider.

When a marriage fails, it reaches a nasty point that somehow has to be overcome. In the most successful cases, divorce allows the ex-couple to be friends afterwards. Sometimes this is difficult to achieve, but the worst option would have been to have stayed married. The marriage becomes a shell and at best an illusion.

Something that once was has gone, and the change just has to be recognised. The way forward then is forms of agreement on how to disagree, and that includes the freedom to find other partners.

In the past Christian institutions separated, and these once new institutions still exist. If (as) the Anglican Communion does split, it would not be long before such a clearing of the decks had an ecumenical dimension, in that people who were once separated off can come and join together. Of course they may have had their separations too, facilitating coming together, since that big historical original separation.

Let there be Churches that want to be utterly doctrinal and dogmatic and purist, that clearly suits their need. Let there be Churches that can innovate and include those who are marginalised.

Churches in the West are peculiar places. A minority of people attend them, usually those who are happy with levels of commitment - the jobs - that go with joining in. It gives people things to do, status in small places, and very importantly they are ways to socialise. The relationship they have to religious worship and attendance and the liturgical language is complex: basically it produces believers and commitment to the practices, so long as the words can also be handled lightly. Witness how, after a service, few people talk about their beliefs. I do, with some selected folk, but I am rather strange in this matter. People like me often get siphoned off into forms of official talking and more ministry.

The relationship between institution and wider culture has to work. In the recent past, marriage and the family was upheld in the context of a working social duplicity about other forms of relationships. Other relationships went on in a subterranean sense: even ministers of religion participated in such relationships. But Western society has been changing, and broadening out, and these subterranean methods are no longer good enough. Freedom, reason and tolerance are important social goals.

For some, this means a shift in the religious relationship that now incorporates new forms. Christians' own sons and daughters have Civil Partnerships that mean taboos are broken even among these religious who would have preferred to have kept what they have always known.

For others there becomes a newer necessary literalism, a new resistance and imposition, that has to bear down on the culture from some saved space. But it just won't work for the general minority who come into the ministry of churches, unless they are purist in a purist space. We now have this internationalism that is adding to the puritanism, never mind the specialised religious market that allows commuting purist congregations and can hook up with Churches of developing countries, those still regularly using the language of the supernatural, the magical, the literalist and the authoritarian in every day life.

These two approaches are incompatible. The purists and the subtle cannot mix, not any longer, because the subterranean duplicity is going.

It is better to accept this, and to let the frustrated, mixed up and warring pack of cards at least do some dealing into suits. Then, from within more accepting settings to each, the friendly relationships can be slowly rebuilt.

Sometime in the future when other disputes exist, the pack of cards will sort again, and ecumenism will bring together some the descendants of today's dispute back together. This will be if Christianity is recognisable and institutional in a distant unknown future.

It may still be possible to have a loose, spiritual commonwealth that is an Anglican Communion. What won't work is institutions within an imagined institution at a centre acting like fingers in dykes, or sticking plasters, trying to keep something together than needs re-ordering.

The garden needs dividing, with some new landscaping, different arrangements, new planting, joining with neighbours, and then see how things grow.

Theologically there are many Christs (different Christs in the Gospels, in traditions, in theologies, in cultures), and Christianity has always been diverse. From time to time Christianity's arrangements rearrange, and this is one of those times, and it has been coming for some time.

1 comment:

Erika Baker said...

And outstanding analysis, thank you.