Saturday, 7 February 2009

Being Offensive

It should be clear now that the likes of Henry Orombi and Greg Venables are not just talking about Communion structures, but seeking to decide who is and who is not a Christian. On this they are little short of offensive:

"A liberal expression of Christianity is not Christianity [as we know it]," Bishop Venables said. Addressing this gap needs to take place before structural or legislative solutions are imposed on the church.

There are a small number of debriefing videos from Anglican TV Ministries. The one with Orombi and Venables is quite revealing as they claim their own orthodox calmness and clarity at the Primates' Meeting sat around tables with a realism from the beginning that they had a "broken Communion". Venables wants to see "gracefully" that "we are not a part of the same faith". Venables put it:

"It is quite obvious that we are talking about the Christian faith and something that is not the Christian faith. Whatever it is we could speculate, but it is quite different.

In this meeting in the Bible studies we were actually able to sit there and to say in a caring way that we don't agree. We believe different things. We don't believe what you believe and you don't believe what we believe. That sort of honesty marked every moment of this meeting we have just concluded, and we found that refreshing and encouraging."

Orombi put it like this:

The reason for being together is really trying to seek if we are going to stay together or is this wound going to lead to amputation. ...We know where we are. It's not business; it's a serious encounter with one another.

...What I was very shocked about was Philip [Aspinall] from Australia explaining to me what The Episcopal Church means by repentance. If them repenting is not having ministered to same sex union people, it's a totally different understanding from what I'm expecting them to repent of. I'm expecting them to repent of going out there, ordaining a homosexual, marrying a homosexual; but for them they are saying repentance is that they failed to do this to the homosexual. Now that is a very interesting understanding of it. So you are now seeing two camps here. It's very interesting. And so for that matter when we call for repentance we are not meaning the same thing."

He went on:

...My proposal would have been really (but did not put it out there): let's have two sets of theologians. One on the other side, another on this side. Let them debate this thing as much as possible because I don't think Primates have enough time to even talk a lot about these things.

...The question though to me is whenever we encounter a position of understanding we are actually not the same Church, as it were. ...The point though is will there be a mechanism to drag the debate year after another until everyone is grey and bald-headed...

Venables came in here:

I really think we need to be straight about this. [David Frost asked in October 2003], 'Is this just kicking the ball forward?' ...We don't believe that's what's happened here [in Alexandria]. We believe that there is a recognition that this whole thing has fallen to bits and therefore we have got to honestly get to grips with the theological situation and find how we can deal with the situation that we are experiencing. There are those who say that I hope we will find a way forward because they believe in relativity; they believe that you have your truth I have my truth, you have your Jesus I've got my Jesus, and therefore we can learn to live together. We know that that's not true because if the Jesus you know and the Jesus I know is the same Jesus then we are united. We are united in how we think and how we behave and how we work our Christianity out. But we've got to get to the point where that's stated.

Orombi also wanted talking on the one hand and the mission as he sees it to continue on the other (yes but ACNA cannot prosletyse!). Whilst Orombi's listening was for the orthodox to speak to challenge Fred Hiltz and "the Presiding Bishop"and to know whether this talking should go on or stop because they "cannot" do what the other side wants, Venables later stressed:

"I think the people who are in this other thing that isn't Christianity are blind; I say that with great love and respect but I know I was there once - I can say once I was blind and now I can see. And I believe they think that's what they should be doing. When we talk about mission we talk about preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ: preaching salvation through the cross."

To me, they are not even talking about Communion structures particularly. They are now talking about the legitimacy of forms of Christian faith.

Now let's be clear here. My sort of expression probably is too liberal to be described as Christian. If asked now I would say, "I practise Christianity." I actually don't want the label Christian, one reason being that I do not want to be associated with the likes of Orombi and Venables, but clearly I have moved back to a more religious humanist position.

However, there are many many people who have a critical, middling, expressed in trinitarian form, Christianity who must find this to be incredibly offensive. Venables is seeking to label as not legitimate a huge history of theological enquiry and Christian discipleship. It would be such to exclude, for example, a once Bishop of Monmouth among many others, but while some can appear to become something different according to the role they play, others believe in a consistency that demands its legitimate place around the table. Christianity is broader than that expressed by Venables and Orombi.


Erika Baker said...

Venables says that "we are not a part of the same faith".

He's right. Thankfully.

greg said...

Thank you for the analysis, as ever. I don't find them offensive any more, just a bit sad. For me, this situation raises several interwoven questions. In no particular order: 1) Is it possible for both Venables etc and me to co-exist in the same organisation? At a parish level in England I think the answer is 'yes', simply because things carry on as normal locally and nobody really talks about it; therefore it doesn't practically matter, yet. However, I feel that would be to ignore what is going on in the wider communion; communion being central to Anglicanism. Being aware of this, my liberalish humanist/Christian/constructionist perspective, suggests we cannot sensibly remain together, if nobody gives. 2) Is it better to stay or go? This depends, I think, on what matters to each of us, which is what I am currently working through. I have an immense sense of loyalty to, and love for, an institution and friends that is returned generously on a local level, but rarely at higher levels (i.e. what did the listening process consist of in my home diocese of Canterbury - if it happened, I didn't notice unfortunately). Sometimes individuals within the hierarchy, or outside the parish, are simply unpleasant. My seeking after God, however that is understood, seems often distracted by these debates. To use an analogy I read recently, seeking God is like digging for water in a desert; digging shallow holes in several places is less likely to succeed than digging deeper in one place. The key thing is that one digs, and the C of E would be a fine place to work from in many respects. But if one's digging is constantly distracted by irreconcilable disputes, perhaps digging deep elsewhere makes more sense. I suspect people like me pose the same problem for them as they do for me: unlike them, if I eventually choose to go, it will be done quietly and respectfully. The C of E has been, largely, a gracious and welcoming home and I wont forget that. Is this running away? Maybe. But I only have one life and I am not yet convinced that God is best found in this apparently endless, frequently uncharitable, struggle much of which seems, beneath the surface of the presenting issue, to have much more to do with egos, power and money than loving God or loving one's neighbour. Apologies for going on, it helps to try and set my thoughts out at times!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I think that's about the same issue for me too: locally, no main issue (other than the transmission of dogma in formal texts used), whereas up higher the less connected the better.

Birinus said...

Not offensive, just irrelevant. What is slightly more 'offensive' is the lack of official recognition of the legitimacy of any kind of liberal theology these days, even the more 'benign' variety of a Keith Ward or a John Hick - it would seem we are back to 1938 with brass knobs on, judging by public pronouncements of certain high-ups.

Anonymous said...

Should they be silent because a few people may be offended by their views?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Who says they should be silent. They say what they will, but they are dismissing much Christianity as something else, and that is offensive to many.

Anonymous said...

well, the only way they can avoid offending some people is to keep silent about their views...perhaps we should not be too precious about offence?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

No. Let's hear them and call them offensive. They offend many Christians who they are calling, clearly, not Christian. But let them be clear, so we know.

Anonymous said...

ok, good, so the offence does not matter per se (or should not inhibit anyone from speaking the truth as they see it). What matters is whether what they say is true or TEC following a new religion in its "new thing" which differs so much from most Anglicanism in the world

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

As far as I can see, TEC uses the same liturgies, subscribes to the same beliefs, and has people undergoing the same spread of theological education as elsewhere in Anglicanism.

My point was Venables and Orombi were calling not just some institutions but people and their positions 'not Christian' and this is offensive.

Christianity is broader than their narrow creed.