Tuesday 24 July 2007

Why This Rumour Matters

A rumour was highlighted at Inclusive Church that Rev. Dr Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream will be consecrated bishop. When I first heard about this, I suggested buckets of ice cold water because it is a juicy rumour that will run on little evidence.

Since then Chris Sugden has written a piece for his own so-called Anglican Mainstream website that I think makes this rumour more likely not less. It is not a very substantial article, and not out of keeping with much else, and full of hyperbole and bias, but it does in effect act as a Tract for This Time. I think this is so much twaddle, but it hardly matters what I think. This is the effective bit:

Globalisation as the judgement of God

In the view of a senior Anglican bishop, globalization is an effective judgment of God on the idolatry of the nationalism of the Anglican community.

He does not say who this senior bishop is (odd really, as they are in agreement), but raising something to "judgment" is important evangelical-speak. Now of itself this might be an approval of setting up a system of prelates to make each national Church go the speed of the slowest in order that this somehow keeps the Anglican Communion together. Then it would be in accordance with the Covenant process, though it is now concerned itself about handing too much power to bishops at an international level. The argument, though, isn't about this. It is about:

Orthodox Anglicans are also forming global networks with those who share the universal biblical gospel. Different networks are now sharing the same geographical space.
In other words, as in the United States, it is about African Anglican bishops consecrating Americans to be under them rather than the home Church to be under their control and uphold orthodoxy as they see it. It is also a justification for this being Africans of different Anglican Churches all in there together, and having to co-operate so there is less fragmentation of this claimed orthodoxy.

The last part of this article to highlight is this:

Those who share a common biblical faith in the Communion are building new international networks, relationships and coalitions through which God is building an Anglican Communion for the 21st century.
In other words this is not confined to the United States. Canada is now actively being considered for the same treatment.

To return to the rumour. Chris Sugden has worked closely with the Global South schismatics at Tanzania in February 2007. He was there at the alternative headquarters where messages were passed to and fro and was a crucial setting for the negotiations that turned a largely positive Windsor Process report on the The Episcopal Church (USA) into a directive and hostile Communiqué of the Primates with a 30 September deadline.

It is my view that if, after 30 September, with Rowan Williams's invitations to Lambeth 2008 staying as they are, and The Episcopal Church having not met the conditions set (an overisght system for internal dissidents with international oversight - not acceptable; the House of Bishops of TEC must state that all it’s members will unequivocally not authorise or allow any same-sex blessings nor consent to the consecration of any person as a Bishop who is living in a same-sex union - neither can be done effectively as these are matters for the General Covention in 2009), the Global South will act or look like the biggest case ever of a Grand Old Duke of York marching troops down again. Incidentally the Global South boundary crossers are suposed to have paused their actions, but they haven't.

One act will be setting up a Not the Lambeth Conference for 2008, probably somewhere down the road. Already, the Archbishop of York (Canterbury is having three months off) has said this is in effect schism, but another act will surely be around the failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself in inviting those who consecrated Gene Robinson in 2003, a bishop in an active gay relationship, whilst not inviting the boundary crossers consecrated by various African Churches. Plus the rather fundamentalist Diocese of Sydney is suggesting an alternative meeting. The Archbishop of York says that invitations to Lambeth can be withdrawn if Americans show no willingness to engage in Communion strengthening processes. They have shown such willing, and do so even though they cannot meet the Tanzanian requirements. The Archbishop of Canterbury, fresh from his break, will visit the American House of Bishops close to the apparent deadline of 30 September. He may regard their position as inadequate, but may continue to invite them to Lambeth as willing to engage. The boundary crossers will also meet beforehand.

There is some suggestion that Rowan Williams, on the basis of an accusatory lack of backbone, will be bullied into withdrawing the invitations to The Episcopal Church bishops. On the basis of York's statement, this turnaround itself would force a schism. He may also be bullied but less and invite the boundary crossing bishops as well as the TEC ones. This might keep one big meeting going. He is, though, aware of the bullied charge, asked about it in a Time interview, and may just stick to his guns. His belief in patience is why TEC should still be able to attend Lambeth, despite the distance regarding Tanzania, but this will not satisfy those, including Chris Sugden, who helped engineer the Communiqué.

So September 30 is a big day, for these Africans and boundary-crossers, and let us assume that the troops are not marched down the hill again. There will be declarations of failure in the Archbishop of Canterbury, that England will be seen as out of step too. There is also plenty for the Global South to go on about the compromises the English Church has made with gay equality legislation (that produces such muddle in the Church of England that its middling approach still gets it found guilty of discrimination as in the John Reaney - Bishop Priddis Diocese of Hereford tribunal). My view is that Chris Sugden is a prime candidate by association for consecration as an African bishop to organise so called orthodox Anglicanism the UK.

Now there is a case already of such a consecrated bishop. This is Sandy Millar in 2005 in Uganda. There is a difference, however, and it is this:

Archbishop Orombi stressed that the Archbishop of Canterbury had requested him to appoint and consecrate Sandy Millar in August 2004.

Permission was granted. The Bishop of London approved. Sandy Millar stands at the production and marketing head of the Alpha Course, so he is something of an organiser, but it is not hostile. The difference with Chris Sugden in such a case as after 30 September is that, after all his work, it would be a hostile act against the existing Anglican Communion and against the Church of England.

Chris Sugden as African bishop would be be to organise sympathetic congregations, these apparently big ones with plenty of money. It would be to identify areas with more liberal congregations and set up hostile church plants. It would connect with Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Oak Hill, London as ministerial training colleges. The General Synod would be greatly unimpressed, seeing some congregations change allegiance, a new Covenant (there is one ready - scroll down and add the Theological Statement), diversions of monies, competition with existing bishops. There would be civil war in the Church of England.

So the in effect Tract sets up the intellectual basis for this post September 30 act. God's judgment, it claims. Well you can get higher than God, and you can't get more determined than having a judgment (a fantastic hotline from the divine give to these Conservative Evangelicals!). The Tract is preparation.

It seems to me that the juicy rumour needs a little less in the way of ice cold water. The evidence for it is the same - except this Tract-like article. The troops are amassing at the top of the hill (and this article is another justification for them) - the only issue now is, after a meeting of the Generals in September 2007, what they are going to do. They have already met in preparation for the coming meeting!

Incidentally, as an add-on to this, some associated with these, like Ephraim Radner of the self-named Anglican Communion Institute, are getting cold feet. They realise that the actions of some of the Global South archbishops and bishops, plus others like Chris Sugden, will in effect hand the Anglican Communion to a stronger proportion of moderates and liberals. They are saying slow down, because the idea is to remove TEC, not remove themselves. Funny, really, this late in the day realisation that schismatics cause schism. However, the Global South grouping is perhaps fed up with too many compromises, and what they really wanted (and have wanted all along) is them to call the shots and refashion the structures their way.

If they do, the main Anglican Communion can become a much more tolerant entity again, of Churches autonomus and interdependent, able to be more inclusive, less reliant of the illusion of Covenant devices (what would be the point of one?) and able to be diverse in theology and make some litergy more progressive. Once the break is made, the gap gets wide quickly.

Let's see what happens.

Sunday 22 July 2007

Church of England Job Interview

Here is a job interview in the Church of England for a lay post.

Bishop: You are recommended as the best candidate. We have a published policy of non-discrimination. Are you gay?
Candidate: Yes I am, but I haven't got a relationship.
Bishop: Have you had a relationship?
Candidate: Yes, but there is not one now and I would not have one during this job.
Bishop: But what if someone was to come along?
Candidate: I would see you first.
Bishop: Well we can't employ you then. This job "promotes religion". We might then have to give it to someone else.
Candidate: I didn't say I would enter into a relationship.
Bishop: Yes but you did have one, and given the emotional state that relationship generated you might want another for that feeling again.
Candidate: Anyway I am telling you the situation now and what I intend. I would see you; I might one day have a Civil Partnership.
Bishop: Sexual relationships can only happen in marriage.
Candidate: I cannot marry. Therefore you are saying I cannot have this job because of what I might do. You have discriminated against me.
Bishop: We welcome everyone; I congratulated the organist on his Civil Partnership.
Candidate: Isn't he promoting religion?
Bishop: No it only applies to very few jobs. He just plays the tunes.

Candidate: Basically, you do not believe me; you would never accept that I could be in a faithful relationship and do this job.

First (more likely) result: After the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance (Bishop Priddis) - John Reaney case, the Church of England is fined for the umpteenth time because it cannot understand that what matters is honesty and faithfulness, which is the test for any relationship, and one test for many.

Second (hopefully less likely) result: Church of England employs private detectives investigating the sex lives of homosexuals and heterosexuals (active terminology: "homofiles" and "heterofiles" used in the actual Cardiff located Tribunal) in order to appear to be non-discriminatory, to actually lose people of talent, and wish to save some money in the courts.

Friday 20 July 2007

Another Hutton? More

Michael Portillo on the BBC Programme This Week made the connection with Hutton, saying that the drop-it result of this Cash for Honours investigation is, again, too good for the government; he also made the point that there was a sufficient political scandal on its own, that people were recommended for peerages because they made secret loans to Labour. Indeed so. Andrew Neill had sufficient own resource as a presenter (and commentator) on the programme to show just how nervous the BBC is.

The programme did a cut-away to the count at Southall by-election where the Liberal Democrats are doing better than expected. I said it to my friends in the pub, and I'll say it here, the froth of the media and comment far too easily dismiss the Liberal Democrats. Ming Campbell may be seen as ineffective in presentation, and I too wonder about him, but some good highlighted policies at the next General Election and the Lib Dems will do better than poll ratings with a view that he is capable and honest - and, after all, the poll ratings are not that bad considering the criticism heaped his way and Gordon Brown having made a reasonably good start to his premiership.

Thursday 19 July 2007

Another Hutton?

Here we go again. We had all the evidence to the Hutton Enquiry exposing how the publicity part of Downing Street was part of the over-emphasised presentation of beliefs of group-think regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the government got off Scott (pun intended) free. The result was Parliament was fiddled into a war by an executive branch that was run by one believer. Now we have police investigation after investigation when the government decided to dodge around its own legislation having loans instead of donations (but don't worry about paying us back) and the odd peerage proposal being blocked by the House of Lords itself, plus the investigation looking into the withholding of information in that enquiry, and now we find once again Tony and all those cronies are Scott free.

The BBC was rocked when Hutton said it was part of the establishment and don't rock the boat, we will now have the Police under attack (and no doubt but considerably less so the Crown Prosecution Service) and the Scottish National Party has already been referred to as that little sectarian party. So this government, that loved big private donors, and danced around its own clean-up legislation, is once again whiter than white. Except, of course, it wasn't.

The BBC is in trouble again because it is part of the creative industry (all television is a constructed deception) and lost its sense of the boundaries, whilst ITV goes down the plughole with its late night pointless exploitation of the idiots who ring in, with trash on channel after channel. But see the effect of the BBC's self-mutilations: Newsnight tonight has been tiptoeing around this story because the BBC is frightened. It should have put it, straight away, because the question needs to be asked: Is this another Hutton? It is, after all, a question.

The voting public is not stupid, and changing the top is not its solution to dodging the verdict of the voter. The rot is at the spinning top.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Having a God of the Gaps Discussion

I made the point on Thinking Anglicans that religious revival is not some big numbers, gassy, marketing approach to churches with some God apparently behind it, but rather small groups of people asking questions.

It's not my place here to represent others' opinions, so I am not going to try and avoid it, plus I see this straying from an intention here to keep to general points about matters to which anyone (within this reasonably liberal-democratic culture, especially the UK) can relate. There was a discussion among church people, and I was there, and my presence pushes things in some directions just as others push it their ways. Don't, reader, get the message that my discussion here about my contributions represents the drift of the whole.

The discussion was about God and change: God as purist Greek type, getting involved Hebrew type, suffering and limited Christian type, sometimes inactive deist type (an early response to science and the invisible hand of the market), sometimes the secular.

The issue of Dietrich Bonhoeffer arose, he who was killed by the Nazis not long before the Nazis fell, and so we will never know half of what he meant. One phrase that did not arise was the odd one "religionless Christianity", but we did consider "God of the gaps".

This Bishop's Course booklet - a sort of make of it what you will type course - had two statements for each of two examples to contrast secular and religious, as follows:

Moses led the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt
God led the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt

Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree

For me, as a religious person, whilst the first statement in each case was open to be falsified, the first was also religious as well as the second. This is because I am not a God of the gaps person, however I might understand God. Nor are these statements meaningful because of something I am adding on. They are special and meaningful statements by themselves from a world view, and there is not a neutral world view. A secularist would regard the first statements as secular and the second as religious, but for them Bonhoeffer would not solve the problem. Bonhoeffer attacked the God of the gaps: God is not an answer at the end of resources of answering, but in the centre. For the secularist, Bonhoeffer has religious add-on statements of irrelevance even if Bonhoeffer is in the business of attacking add-on statements!

It could be that I am already so Bonhoeffer that the first statements are, for me, God in the centre, and thus Bonhoeffer and I would agree that basically secular statements are religious. Actually I think that there are reasons to consider otherwise that Bonhoeffer and I agree. Whatever, a secularist view of these statements, that does have them as first secular and then religious, is not altered by Bonhoeffer.

(Of course there are religious believers who think the first is secular and the next is religious: pity them. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was only writing for their benefit)

These are the reasons otherwise - why I think I don't agree with Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of "man come of age", another one of his 'please explains'. The best view of this cliche is not that man is now morally good, or similar, which is partly due to a misreading by and of John Robinson and Honest to God. It is instead (I suggest) that gaps are being closed in the explanation of things, and we have come of age in that manner. Bonhoeffer was not some latter day optimistic liberal, but a modernist evangelical. Bonhoeffer, then, had his "religionless Christians", people too busy with gaps closed to be bothered with existential questions. This is the road to The Secular City, as with Harvey Cox (before he went all Eastern). Against this is the more existentialist approach, of "What is the meaning of it all?", as with Paul Tillich, and it is in this sense that statements, such as 'Moses led the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt' and 'Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate' acquire religious meaning even standing alone, in the sense that they are special and sacred as of themselves (existentially).

I do not understand "Religionless Christianity". I understand the secular city, that God is so revelation-only based and so unconnected with any shifting cultural expression, that God is therefore remote or hidden, that there is therefore no objectivity in this world; and that even with a 'biblical encounter' understanding of Christianity, the modern city, come of age, just gets on with life. This may be more Karl Barth than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but Harvey Cox used them both. If Bonhoeffer is God at the centre, it is still anti-existentialist, still more via unsought encounter than diffused questioning. A diffused metaphor is a more questions metaphor. (This paragraph is beyond the discussion we had.)

Those statements inthe course are more questions-arising statements. They have myth within them. So, for example, if history falsifies (the materials aren't available, but Moses's existence is rather doubtful to say the least) a Moses leading the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt, then the myth of the statement on its own remains. Now it is rather likely that Jesus did die under Pontius Pilate, but I expressed it in discussion that it could be, from a Roman viewpoint, that an insignificant person along with other insignificant people, but nevertheless seen as trouble makers, were killed by the Roman authorities. In other words, done and forgotten.

So I am arguing here that some speech has a specialness given into it, a specialness of otherwise everyday speech but speech worth making.

Then followed another point by me, that the New Testament is, itself, a shelter place (another's expression) of the God of the gaps. Seen from our (come of age gaps closed) perspective, it is a set of explanations that is precisely framed that way. There was an answer to this, but I wasn't wholly convinced.

This related to an earlier part, a sideways discussion, about the Bible itself - where I raised the point about it being normative. It should be used. There is the Anglican Quadrilateral that includes the statement that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation. Yes there may be a lot of dross in it, and contradiction, but it has all things... What does normative mean? There are, for example, those anti-homosexual clobber passages. That unlike for women and headship, there are no contradictory passages. You can indeed interpret, for example, that these clobber statements in the New Testament relate to idol worship and behaviour in the equivalent of brothels and have nothing to do with steady faithful relationships between gay people. But the issue is in what sense is it normative - or more to the point why - if, as was suggested (I have to include another's opinion here), that it was written in one culture and time and we are in another. I would agree, but then how does something so elastic be in any sense normative or contain all things necessary for salvation. A suggestion (again to state other opinion) is that therefore it does not so contain all necessary for salvation.

In what sense then does this justify a normative position for the Bible? For example I said no I do not find significance in the statement 'Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate' because I add, silently, 'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree'. Indeed, under the elastic view of the Bible, I am at complete liberty to subvert that second statement (which I do, though not for simple elasticity reasons). That second statement is itself a God of the gaps type statement, because it concerns an area that is now covered by psychology. I didn't hear Pamela Connolly, the psychologist, refer to God once when she interviewed Sarah the Duchess of York, about Sarah's condition over time from childhood through to media attacks.

Take this to its logical conclusion, and you can read say the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Hebrew Bible, or indeed Buddhist ethical precepts instead of the New Testament... Gosh, I used to do that, and a lot of people did not like it even when I could.

(Yeah I know - why move from a situation where I can to one where I can't: another discussion about norms imagined and real...)

I said in the discussion I keep asking why. There is actually a history behind this. It was an ex-Anglican priest then Unitarian minister, no longer alive, and a spiritual mentor for me, who said and recommended, "You just keep asking why." I am in a why phase at the moment. Why has something to do with a very stupid bishop who said recently in the General Synod, with his parodying of others, "‘Oh we have to live with difference'... 'at least we’re being "open"'," and then, said the bishop, "Friends, we have never been this way before." Yes we have: as was pointed out in our discussion, the Lambeth Quadrilateral only came about in the 1880s.

Somehow, living with differences, the issue is one of tradition as adequate (not exclusive) source, of insights and depths, remythologised if it has beendemythologised first and therefore closed of those God gaps. The bishop of biblical exegesis (the occupant of Durham) has hardly bothered with these more fundamental systematic theological questions. Our discussion did include some of these, as I view part of it.

Monday 9 July 2007

Covenant passes on

So by about two to one the Covenant has passed this stage of its life, rather like an embryo in intensive care (perhaps indeed its mother is in intensive care) with no idea who its father is - how quite its features will appear. At a point where, we are told, nothing is committed in substance, a third of representatives were against it.

All the amendments were lost, either to democratise it (synodically) or to give it some doctrinal strength. The latter amendment is quite interesting, backed by a traditionalist Conservative Evangelical pressure group, the Church Society, to make the Covenant biblical and connected to the 39 Articles - in other words doctrine instead of its process. You would think conversionist Conservative Evangelicals would agree, but they don't. Or, rather, they don't now. That's the rub.

Conservative Evangelicals in favour of it want to stop homosexual faithful relationships in ministry (certainly, wider too), which they pursue to the point of obsession, but they are also in a long haul "strategic" (Richard Turnbull, Wycliffe College) effort by intended congregational organisation to overrun the liberals (as well as exclude America's The Episcopal Church from the Communion). So a Covenant is but one strategy of restriction, and they say too that it is all about biblical authority, what I'd call their selective literalism. But Affirming Catholicism were also reluctantly in favour, who want the same Covenant document to affirm the dignity of difference including, presumably, variations of interpretation regarding the Bible and the inclusion of faithful homosexual relationships. These are, of course, mutually exclusive.

Odd alliances here, then: the Open Evangelicals of Fucrum were in favour and even produced a joint approach with one leading member of Affirming Catholicism. The latter think they are part of the Anglican centre, as in the old Broad Church, and the former think they are the new centre ground. There is no centre ground, however, because the Conservative Evangelicals to the right of the Open Evangelicals find themselves unable to accept any liberals (and even Open Evangelicals trouble them). Also odd in outcome was the Church Society and the Modern Churchpeople's Union both being against the Covenant. They have entirely different, even opposite positions in substance, but come out with roughly the same positions against its process. This should not be surprising: those who think they are a centre of a bureaucracy support the means to hold it together; those who are towards the edges take up more principled positions on the ideology of the bureaucracy. It was always so, and especially heightened at a time of potential schism.

The speech that Bishop Tom Wright gave he could give any time. It was (after some speeches against the Covenant): "I dare you" to vote against the Covenant, that it was passed with a big majority last time, that there are poorer Anglicans depending on the vote (???), that to vote against is disloyal to the (absent) Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a script to use every time, and is like the big kid in the playground. It is why the vote, even at an early stage, was an important point to stop it, but of course most doubters are being asked to give it the benefit of the doubt, while a draft text gets worked on more.

Plus Archbishop Drexel Gomez, who'd been working on the text with his group, and will, said that there is legitimate concern about its international process being over-reliant on bishops (when the Anglican Churches are qualified episcopacies - due to priests and laypeople having votes too; a Covenant operation to decide whether the action of one Church was acceptable to the Communion could have no other people involved than that of leading bishops).

People who voted for it therefore did so for a variety of reasons. When the text is presented, presumably with a more acceptable process in deciding restrictions, then those in favour this time will start to divide up. It won't satisfy those who find the text not restrictive enough, and it won't satisfy those who find the text too restrictive: and the reason to have a Covenant is because of the chasm between these, and trying to find a way to hold everyone together.

There is another problem. This Covenant could take up to 2012 to become fully operational. Yet on 30 September 2007 The Episcopal Church (TEC) has to agree to abide by Primate-issued restrictions regarding no (more) faithful active gay relationships in its bishops and no authorised blessings for gay couples. It should agree to an internationally based system of oversight for its own ultra-orthodox dissidents. TEC cannot hold a General Convention to decide such an intention until 2009, and its bishops cannot decide alone: but already they have advised rejection of international oversight as against TEC's own laws (as indeed might the Church of England when the final Covenant text is presented). Despite the late 2007 deadline, the Archbishop of Canterbury has already sent out invitations to American bishops to the Lambeth Conference of 2008, excluding only Gene Robinson (the one openly gay bishop - who may still be invited as non-voting) from the American Church, and excluding all the dissident bishops consecrated by African Churches to work inside the United States.

The basis of action (making TEC an Associate member only of the Communion) is presumably only meaninful in the Covenant process, but the Covenant will be far from ready on September 30 2007. The discussions are intended to continue by all sides at Lambeth 2008. However, the consecrators of the dissident American bishops in Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda are stating more or less clearly that if their bishops are excluded these whole provinces will not go, and these are the ones who have pushed for Anglican Communion unity based on their selective literalism and against TEC. Sydney, a peculiar fundamentalist diocese in Australia, might organise a Not the Lambeth Conference - the Africans and their American offshoots might go to that instead.

In other words, before the embryo Covenant has even grown into a recognisable shape the schism could be underway. Only last week the Archbishop of All Nigeria said that the Anglican Communion does not have to go through Lambeth.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams relents in the face of such bullying, to invite those boundary crossers he has excluded, he will lose even more credibility. Sometimes it seems as if he acts according to who twists his arm the most. The Windsor Process, guided by rowan Williams, had found in favour of TEC on two thirds of matters and neutral on one third: this was then overturned by the meeting of Primates in Tanzania in February 2007 and a September 2007 deadline imposed on TEC - though now the Archbishop seems to be circumventing this. This is why someone like Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, who counts himself as close to the Archbishop, stands up with his big man act: he has done this before prior to the Tanzania meeting. It is a case of trouble at the top.

So it could be that as this embryo Covenant continues in intensive care; events may simply overtake it. It is too long a pregnancy. The baby, should it be born, may have a father unacceptable to some of the relatives: indeed it cannot please all.

And, even now, at this stage, one third is a big minority. Well, a coherent third can win a general election, but a third in a Church cannot be asked to sign up to something that, in effect, is extra to what is the situation at present.

I suppose we must allow for miracles, but the one third is bound to grow as the shape of the thing to come reveals itself: the Conservative Evangelicals of all kinds will be demanding more and, presumably, Affirming Catholicism will have to withdraw support (unless it abandons those faithful homosexuals as its co-founder, a certain Rowan Williams, did). But before then, the Conservative Evangelicals especially in Africa, but spreading out, may well have so organised themselves to render the whole purpose of having a Covenant redundant.

Sunday 8 July 2007

Newspaper? Given up. TV?

I do know when we, by which I mean Elena, last bought a newspaper. It was, I am ashamed to say, The "Super Soaraway" Sun, and she bought it in the holiday vouchers season by which we went to stay in a caravan in the summer like weather of late April for £7.50 per person per night including all additional costs. Temperatures on the side of Loch Lomond, which we visited on its east side, hit some 25 degrees at just before 6 pm. Remember this, those who went on holiday in June or July.

Other than that, we simply buy no newspaper. The news in them is old, and overtaken by events. The features in them perhaps interest me very occasionally. For the most part, they are verbage.

A free so called newspaper comes through the door every Thursday. I do not ask for it, and it annoys me. It annoys me because, not opening it, except perhaps to glance at job adverts that I see on the Internet anyway, and if I have I don't open it, it leaves me with the problem of disposing of it as added waste.

When there is a religious story of interest, it is accessed online. I don't quite understand the newspapers going online. It seems to me they are cutting their own throats. It does not encourage me to buy them; it simply is a means to information that is more efficient. In any case, usually the report is old hat, that it has been sourced on the Internet already, and has come via less mediated routes. If a minister has been in a meeting, and does a blog, is it better to read that or a journalist who reads the same thing. Journalists are lazy: they write at speed and make sweeping assumptions and bang in a bit of newspaper or personal bias.

The solution of the Church Times is to restrict access and demand payment for the full copy. Right. The lead news items are unrestricted, so I read those. Then last week they let some letters go out for free, presumably because it agreed with the anti-Covenant stance (I'm not sure about this). So this is a solution. Except a week later it is all accessible. I think I can wait a week for features. The Church of England Newspaper, which I would refer not to read with its inbuilt bias, is rather more closed off - except that it produces a free daily version, reduced in summer (religious issues reduce in summer: it must be the expected heat provided by the weather with less needed from the sectarians).

Meanwhile, the question is of television and whether this is going the same way. Like all good and law abiding people, I bought a TV licence. I am beginning to wonder why. I suppose I watch three to five decent programmes a week, and then the news. News is information, and BBC News 24 now provides itself via a little web window, which is not the same as receiving a TV signal through the computer which itself needs a licence. Other programmes provide catch-ups. Now with so little on TV, what happens is I lose all sense of when programmes are on that I could watch. I end up watching tripe and switching off. There is a deluge of repeats. Furthermore, programmes I could watch, say on BBC Four, are spoilt by the BBC wanting to tell me all the time that I am watching BBC Four. I find this so distracting and irritating that, well, I will often just switch off. Plus BBC Four (and others) show a programme over and over again, and then some months later, the same one is back, shown over and over again. Furthermore, the expansion of digital television means that so much now is like a back catalogue, again ruined by logos and what's on next (right on the punchline of a programme) and irritations over the credits. I just give up. I conclude they are not actually interested in viewers but in some sort of presentational marketing, perhaps among themselves. Do these logos and irritations actually do anything but lose viewers? Is it because, actually, people no longer watch but just change channels all the time. If so, what is the point of any meaningful programme - and thus why is BBC Four wasting time putting anything on air?

I would miss the hiss free signal for radio that delivers to the stereo system, and the trouble is a receiver even without a TV screen needs a licence. These DAB radios are notorious for compression, falling in and out of stereo according to the lack of bandwidth, and low quality sound. They are hardly the solution.

I actually - even as someone in poverty - agree with the principle of the TV licence. I just think they are ruining it via the presentation, and via the deluge of repeats. I know some friends who do not have a television and they do not suffer. They probably benefit.

Sometimes I think I'd buy an FM aerial and have it fitted, and do it that way. Then I'll find they'll switch the FM signal off. It'd be better to wait for more digital radio bandwidth and quality. Or some manufacturer might produce a box that receives radio stations only via Freeview - it's not possible, is it?

I should admit that I listen to very little radio. Really, I only do so in the car, for as long as I can afford to run a car. So perhaps I should just, at the appropriate moment, take all the television based equipment to a council dump. Take it.


Friday 6 July 2007

General Synod and this Covenant

It seems that every pressure group and religious dog has been commenting on the new Covenant that is to be debated in the Church of England General Synod. The Synod is being asked to approve of the Covenant in principle, the trouble being that there is a text to look at and that it might all end up creating a kind of international bishops' decision making system which goes against the qualified episcopacy that is a synodical system.

I think the best argument has been made by the Modern Churchpeoples' Union, which is against it, whereas Inclusive Church is hoping for an inclusive Covenant, which amounts to wishful thinking, and Affirming Catholicism wants to uphold the dignity of differences within the Churches, which also amounts to wishful thinking. Presumably a restrictive Covenant (especially against even faithful gay relationships among people, ministers and bishops) is something they would oppose. This is the point of it, that where some African Churches are threatening to walk out the Communion because Western Churches are groaning towards a more progressive and inclusive Church, the Covenant can slow every Church to the point of the slowest via the Primates' moralising diktats.

The Open Evangelicals are for a Covenant and so are "Conversionist" Conservative Evangelicals, the ones on the warpath against progressives, in the manner of those African Churches (excludes South Africa, incidentally, which is relatively progressive). Interestingly, though, and rather more logically, the Church Society of "traditionalist" Conservative Evangelicals, is against a Covenant. They see it as weak, as it stands, its restrictiveness about process rather than about doctrine and biblical restriction. Of course the Covenant does allow for a progressive outcome, but only through a process of agreement (that could not come about if the Africans slam on the brakes all the time). No doubt though the Conversionists will approve of a Covenant and then try and bang on the restrictions via their selective literalism of the Bible.

On the balance, then, most groups seem to be against it, as it is intended to appear according to its draft text. Then there is the chap who is Chair of the Covenant Design Group who turns out to have approved of African appointments of their own bishops into the space covered by the United States own The Episcopal Church (TEC) - when the whole point of the Covenant would be to prevent such incursions given that everyone goes the speed of the slowest. Archbishop Gomez is hardly justified then to speak to General Synod on having a Covenant as he is actively undermining it. I hope someone asks him about this apparent duplicity.

The boss meanwhile is in some Roman Catholic seminary writing a book or three. While chaos takes over, the Archbishop of Canterbury's head is down. Actually, it might not be a bad idea. He reappears near a date of reporting back for The Episcopal Church and what it has done to be in the Communion (having already consecrated a man in a faithful gay relationship). However, his invites are already out for the discussions of the Lambeth Conference in 2008, and it includes those who consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, excludes him but might have him there anyway without a vote (for what?) and also excludes all those bishops who are invading TEC's space. In other words, the deadline is not a deadline. It is rather like those that existed in Northern Ireland, and on the same principle Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wants to keep everyone talking.

The trouble is, they are already falling apart, according to the line up around the Covenant. It seems that Rowanda and Uganda are not going to Lambeth, and Nigeria says Lambeth is not necessary. There is every possibility they will have their own Communion to suit based around their own geographical centre. Meanwhile a far-out dicocese in Australia wants so called "orthodox" Churches to meet near Lambeth instead, presumably to ignore those at Lambeth, and again this could be a means to a second Communion.

Divorce is messy. If these want to leave, let them leave. It would render the point of a Covenant for the rest redundant. These others could have a really restrictive one. Others might have a statement - it could even be an inclusive one as wished by Inclusive Church and Affirming Catholicism. It could be based on old Anglican formularies or the Declaration of Assent priests read out when starting work. Actually, though, I suggest that a more progressive Church might want to classify all of these statements, including Creeds, to be more like the basis on which the 39 Articles are now regarded - as historic formularies.

Of course it will not go (national) Church by Church but will have some churches making allegiances with outsiders, demanding bishop oversight from the ideologically pure. That would be their problem, up to them to set up.

In the end, surely, most groups are against this Covenant. A more. looser, confederal style, loose spiritual communion, is a better model, and suited to cultural difference. It may be too late for this, however - a split may be inevitable now. On a confederal model there could be Churches falling in an out of communion with each other, and many bilateral agreements. It would have to evolve. There is a lot of fear about, as if having a Covenant is better than nothing. It just will, though, lead to people finding it inadequate, and divisive itself, and ineffective when the Primates get ignored. Even its run-up is divisive, with people taking up positions. Anyway, the Americans and many Churches simply will not accept "foreign" oversight of their autonomy anyway. Many will rewrite Covenants more to their liking and create loyalities to these. The Covenant is not a solution to what is a spinning and splitting ideological machine - if it continues to spin out, trying to hold it together just leads to a more massive break a little later.

The centralising and restricting strategy has been wrong for some time. The ship needs to slow its rate of spinning, and this is done by loosening and by ongoing discussion. Tension needs looseness and slackness where required, a sort of tolerant patience, and reconvening the process of complaint and understanding.

The General Synod is being asked to approve of something in principle, the approval of which will lead to a moral obligation to accept some presented text at a later stage. This makes it all the more important to say no now and try, if it is not too late, to have a process of talking. If some, though, really wish to leave, let them. It might be a shame, but sectarians will do sectarian things. The Synod vote may not make much difference now: it mgiht want more oversight but in the end a Covenant depends on its international ability to force Churches to do what they otherwise would not do, and a Synod represents what a Church believes is right to do according to the qualified episcopacy it represents.

Grateful Gordon

I suppose Gordon Brown is aware that people might see him as having extensive capability into every branch of government, and being the only person really in charge. So far, then, he has tackled that by two things. One is his manner in the House of Commons, which genuinely does seem to answer people positively from all around the benches rather than just his own side. Also he seems matter of fact. His performance in Prime Minister's Questions, where he said he was only in the job four or five days, reminded me of a school teacher who had prepared a lesson but was not on top of it, so that a clever pupil catches the teacher out. Two possibilities here: bluff or admit. The problem with bluffing is that it is obvious even if it is an authority game. Blair the lawyer would have bluffed, gone into attack and repeated mantras. Blair, though, would first have been on top of his brief, and that is the real necessity. So no, it was not a "score draw" at all, according to spinners, but it was better to admit as he did.

Meanwhile he really does have to tackle the welfare to work system, if they want to call it this. It is not appropriate to go into personal details here, but separation of functions is leading to greater incompetence not efficiency, and staff cutbacks underline this. Because official complaints probably go nowhere, it is important to point out what is going wrong higher up in the representative system. I also suggest (as in an earlier entry here) what could be done to put it right. If the government is serious about tackling unemployment from a client-side point of view, then it must overhaul it into a case worker based system and turn Job Centres into the equivalent of Employment Agencies. They should facilitate looking for work, not try and process statistics.