Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Smell of Coffee

Hooray for the Modern Churchpeople's Union in updating the appearance of its website, and more of a hooray for new content in an article that focuses on the recent attacks on gay people as necessarily unrepresentative in Anglicanism in the pursuit of goals to centralise worldwide Anglicanism. The following is not a summary of the argument made, but just some lifted choice paragraphs and phrases which show further that the liberal side has had enough, and that pretences to reason shown by Rowan Williams in particular are over. For some time there has been a willingness among some groups to run with the Covenant and make it more inclusive, but it is now clear that trying to 'go along' with the Covenant is futile. The MCU article is a good, well written, well argued piece. The President of MCU is Bishop John Saxbee.

In my view, the best paragraph is this one:

For the Anglican Communion to be 'essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common' would be to keep it near enough as it is. Williams' hope of a 'global consensus' in a 'theologically coherent "community of Christian communities"' has never been the historical reality - especially if it implies agreement on ethical issues like homosexuality - and stands no chance of becoming so in the foreseeable future. To make the governance of the Anglican Communion fit this idea would, contrary to his claim, be a major innovation.

Each paragraph below can be separated by other explanatory words in the original article, and each here can stand alone - this is not necessarily repeating the narrative of the argument.

Rowan Williams... largely repeating arguments

N T Wright, Bishop of Durham, is a longer paper, written in blunter language

Both papers blame the American church for rejecting a consensus that homosexuality is immoral. There is no such consensus; there is only their dogma.

...the institutions of the Anglican Communion have neither legal nor moral authority to impose it on provinces which dissent. Their claim to have this authority is an attempt to introduce a new authoritarianism. These papers, instead of engaging in that debate, seek to suppress it.

[They contain] an idealising theory of the church

[They] deny that they seek to centralise power ...while at the same time proposing innovations designed to have exactly this effect

Both insist there is an Anglican consensus that homosexuality is immoral ...[but] they make no attempt to appeal to a general agreement. They appeal instead to a few central authorities...

Williams and Wright represent a defensive, reactionary church leadership responding to new moral theories not by arguing that they are untrue but by suppressing them in the name of their dogmas.

Williams and Wright both write as though this authority was already there

...they are in the process of creating an authoritarian centralised system, and are identifying themselves with it.

These arguments, though expressed by senior figures of the Communion, represent only the more authoritarian elements of Anglican moral thought.

In general, moral rules serve people in two ways: to guide them in their own lives, and to give them bullets to fire at others. Wright uses the latter for all it is worth at no cost to himself.

Williams allows for change as a theoretical possibility but makes it impossible in practice, demanding 'the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole'. Williams' ideal church is Catholic.

...the agreement of the whole church really means only the agreement of archbishops, Vatican and patriarchs

Wright's vision is Calvinist rather than Catholic. ...to clarify the distinction between true Christians and everybody else, and to ensure that one's own church is entirely governed by true Christians.

[They show] their ignorance of the theological arguments in favour of accepting homosexuality. Williams reduces them to human rights. Wright tells us that 'some in TEC insist that their theological position has in fact been argued, and that the rest of the Communion is ignoring these arguments.' He then immediately proves them right [about his ignorance].

Firstly, biblical exegesis reveals that the texts usually cited as condemnations of homosexuality are not all about homosexuality ...[; secondly] the teaching of the Christian church through its history has been nowhere near as monolithic as Williams and Wright would have us believe. Thirdly, the traditional 'natural law' argument has been turned on its head. ...that some diversity of sexual practice is necessary to the survival of every species of bird and animal.

There is now a large body of scholarly literature in all three areas. We must accept Wright's admission that he is unaware of it. In Williams' case the matter is more complex. We know from previous publications that Williams the theologian is familiar with it; he could never speak of 'the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years'. Yet Williams the archbishop writes it.

...it does appear that he considers it his responsibility, as archbishop, to ignore the findings of theological scholarship until such time as they are formally accepted by church leaders as the official teaching of the church. This is to take an authoritarian, dogmatic view of Anglican doctrine.

...'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' may indeed be venerable but to call it 'the conviction of the Church from its very early days' ignores the historical reality of repeated controversy within and between denominations. It has never been a formal part of the Anglican Communion's governance and to introduce it now in the face of immense opposition would indeed be 'some piece of modern bureaucratic absolutism'.

[As for] Wright [,] If there is any doubt that it would involve centralising power, his point about 'ecumenical credibility' makes it clear: he wants a small number of people who can attend meetings with patriarchs and cardinals and declare authoritatively what the Anglican position is...

An important strand of Wright's argument is the urgency of a solution. He writes at length about it. There is no time to wait for more committees to meet: the matter must be settled now.

Williams, however much he softens his language, still looks forward to a tighter structure where covenanters commit themselves to agreeing with each other and non-covenanters are excluded from representative functions. Here we see two features of his catholic theology which conflict with each other: on the one hand the desire to retain as many people as possible within the church, and on the other the authoritarian commitment to its official teaching.

Both Williams and Wright show themselves to be dogmatic authoritarians. Their appeal to consensus is really an appeal to an unreflective dogma which refuses to take any account of current beliefs. Their denials of a centralising agenda are only there to make their centralising proposals sound acceptable.

Williams' hierarchical, hieratic and dogmatic doctrine of the church, with no interest in what the laity think and no real place for change, is Anglican to the extent that it has its roots in the Oxford Movement, but has never characterised Anglicanism as a whole. Wright's equally dogmatic, but Puritan and schismatic, doctrine of the church is Anglican to the extent that it represents the Church of England in its sixteenth-century Calvinist phase and the minority of Anglicans who wish to reaffirm it today.

The current alliance between these two theologies cannot be stable: they disagree with each other about too much.

Neither position is characteristic of Anglicanism. Other Anglicans, calling themselves open evangelicals, or liberal catholics, or broad church, or radicals, or liberals, have not been part of this programme to condemn the Americans and introduce an Anglican Covenant.

It is a tragedy that this more open, tolerant, creative Anglican ecclesiology has gone too far in tolerating the intolerant and including the excluders. They have now taken many of the senior posts in the church, and seek to turn Anglicanism into an intolerant and exclusive sect.

The MCU piece then identifies Williams's and Wright's inward looking with decline and seeks revival by being more outward looking.

I suppose the question is how one revives the outward view, but, as for these two, both regarded the recent liberal period of theology (up to the 1980's) as going as far as it could go or as a low point in theology, and they are not going to be steering the ship in a more outward looking direction. We all see this very clearly now.

What a career for Rowan Williams: he has been rotted by Church doctrine and its defence to a logical point where Anglicanism has never been. Williams's Catholic obsession is clear, but the rot started with his Advent Letter 2007, when he married it himself to a dallying with biblical literalism that also seems to be driving the shift to the centre, just as Wright bellows his conservative biblical apologetics towards a traditionalist Catholic view of central authority.

7 comments:

john said...

You are right, Pluralist. This is a spanking piece.

Best,

John.

Believer said...

An excellent piece by the MCU on first reading - thanks for the pointer and the comment.

Grandmère Mimi said...

...but the rot started with his Advent Letter 2007....

I'd say that the rot started when the ABC pressed Jeffrey John to stand down from his appointment to the position of Bishop of Reading. That was a giant misstep from which Rowan never recovered his footing.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes and no, me thinks. Yes - showed the road he was now on, though that's by hindsight as well. Yes, his own weakness in the face of localised bullying. But no in the sense that he joined his Catholicism to an okaying if biblical literalism within the Advent Letter 2007 in an explicit manner - that explicitness now finding a new low with the Reflections.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Adrian, I see your point. I suppose it depends upon which rot you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

GAFCON represents how many Anglicans? The MCU represents how many?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Numbers is it and not the argument? Now where have I heard that presentation before?