Monday 31 December 2007

Happy New Year All

I have taken this from a mention on a website chat area. Florence says it is of a hymn from a book called Let Us Sing number 11, and it was sung recently in Glasgow Unitarian Church. It seems to be a one verse hymn, and called Spirit of Life. It is also in Singing the Living Tradition:

Spirit of Life, come unto me,
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea,
Move in the hand giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close, wings set me free,
Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.

Carolyn McDade

So I wish all a better New Year and good wishes. We never know what the next year brings. We can guess based on past events, but there are always surprises. Life's story keeps being written.

Slapped Down by Metadata Author

Michael Poon's original questions about GAFCON have received a nasty slap-down from, apparently, an unnamed Primate, except that Michael Poon declares that document metadata shows the slap-down not coming from the Primate but from a new north American bishop.

The comment of shock at such a slap-down was posted on the Global South Anglican website and then removed, but on 31 December 2007 Thinking Anglicans has preserved and published it (rightly so). It is worth reproducing, to spread it about and help preserve it. This is the slap-down part as Michael Poon received it from the metadata source.

I can only use the very words you yourself have chosen to express my great concern at your public statement - shocked and saddened.

How could you possibly believe it to be God's will to make such a public scandal against your brethren without first consulting with us? Common courtesy and politeness alone would have insisted on that and the scripture clearly teaches us to exhaust private attempts at reconciliation before doing something public.

You assume authority and superiority (neither of which are yours to assume) and assault not only the entire enterprise but the integrity of those involved.

You use rhetorical questions thus adding inappropriate scorn to what you have perpetrated.

On top of this you used the Global South website for a personal matter. With whose authorization did you do so?

This conference is designed to move beyond the current paralysis in the Communion and pursue mission with those who have a common mind about what Biblical mission means. We are not suggesting that we are the only ones who have the "real" faith to share, but neither are we so naive to believe that all who call themselves Anglicans agree with what the church has always described as the content of the faith and the mission of the Church. If the intention were to foment division, there are far more effective ways to do it than the plans we are making. In addition it is being set up by leaders who believe that the theological crisis (which you wrongly limit to being a North American problem) has damning implications in real people's lives.

Given that every clear statement on unity, faith, and order has been summarily ignored, it is unreasonable to suspect that continuing to do the same things will bring different results.

Please seek God over this and recognize the great wrong you have done to those who have trusted you and never imagined you might behave in this way.
It does not take the detection abilities of Sherlock Holmes to realise who the Primate may be and who the real author would be. They have got form on this matter, as reminded by Graham Kings in what would have been a comment after Michael Poon's on the Global South Anglican website - pointing to the Church Times revelation of the actual document and metadata of true authorship involved in a previous case.

Michael Poon obviously thinks he is talking to open, honest and clear Christians according to expected high standards of behaviour. The slap-down turns that against him.

Personally, as no one more than a bystander watching all this going on, I would have no such illusions. My reference point is the activities of Militant Tendency in Liverpool in the 1980s. They get themselves part of a larger organisation, but always run things themselves. Even friendly bodies, in this case the Global South Anglicans (GSA), are to be bypassed when it is time to get things moving. This is because all these bodies are, in the end, deadweights to action, and Chris Sugden has argued himself about revolution.

The revolutionary approach is to tell something of what they are doing, but not all. Let's be clear with eyes open - GAFCON is the launch of a different Anglican Communion. It is not some sort of pastoral initiative for the downtrodden orthodox. That is some chaff for naive people, who expect high standards of honesty and openness. The only other function of these words of underplaying the event is to have a fall back position if they fail in the launch. However, to be clear, GAFCON will connect several African provinces and Sydney, and will set up its own Covenant or equivalent, its own organisation and its own structure. We see that in Akinola's reply to Anis revealed on Virtue Online.

GAFCON's whole point is to stir it and get things moving, so that others have to follow on. GSA either fall in or get squeezed, as the "liberal evangelicals" are to be squeezed and indeed cut into. GAFCON would like the respectability of other bodies following on, and indeed James I. Packer gives some respectability, but following on means not dictating terms but accepting what already exists. The Militant Tendency always keeps control, no matter what official body (for example, GSA) thinks it is doing when it joins itself to some initiative already set up.

The necessary alliance between the Militants and a sufficient number of provinces is now well sealed. They really have gone too far down the road now, but it is a road that was well forseen.

The other point about Militants is that, actually, they love you to know what they are doing. It could be their weakness. Whilst they have subterfuge, they also want praise for being the people who made the difference. They got the houses built in Liverpool, they were the ones who took on Thatcher, they supported their city. They also bullied; they also handed out redundancy notices from taxis. In power, they become Bolsheviks (in all parallels, despite their anti-Leninist purist details). So these Anglican equivalents will let you know what they are doing, leave trails - but they are also careless because of the Militant arrogance of self.

On Sunday at the church I had a conversation with an evangelical chap. His whole focus is on personal holiness and honesty, and he puts real effort into this. He is on the Internet and yet knew nothing of my website or blog. I asked if he had come across this GAFCON business.

Pause... "Is it the homosexual business?"
"It's arrogance."

It is, of course.

On reason why I was (and am) personally furious about the Advent Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury (beyond being thrust personally well beyond any boundaries) is because, whilst this Advent Letter appeals to the Militant's argument, all it does is show that they have "got him" and that the Archbishop is basically left powerless, even swinging in the wind. This is why indeed the Advent Letter has received no interest from them. Why should the Advent Letter be of any interest to them, when they are going to do their own thing? It is just the latest manoeuvre on the other side from them, that shows his neutralisation. Plus the Militants know that when Lambeth 2008 comes, and the conservative cause there is weakened, the policy of the Archbishop will fall into ruins, and in contrast their GAFCON will be seen in the better light, and be more attractive to the Global South Anglicans, who can then join up on the organisers' terms.

Understand that it now suits GAFCON for Lambeth 2008 to be more liberal, for the policies announced to be compromised and reversed, and for the whole of Lambeth 2008 to be a mess.

The reason Michael Poon received such a nasty reply is to be found in understanding the Militant Tendency approach. When friends complain, give them a punching, and they will withdraw hurt, and then come along nicely afterwards. Show your friends who is the boss.

Organise! GAFCON

So now we have the President Bishop of the Middle East, the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, writing to Archbishop Peter Akinola, with concerns over the Global Anglican Future Conference, and receiving a reply. Once again the self-declared orthodox are falling out with the self-declared orthodox.

Mouneer Anis says that African Anglicans who will attend Lambeth are those who lack Information Communications Technology access and so will be unaware and acquiescent, and thus not provide a developed Conservative voice to oppose the Liberals. By all, including the ICT aware, attending Lambeth they can make changes and block an unfriendly agenda.

This seems strange: they might not get the detail of blog narrowcasting but they can read and others can communicate.

Mouneer Anis does not like the timing nor the locality. He would rather it came after Lambeth, after seeing what happens and responses to Lambeth.

The orthodox would, for sure, say if they met in November, discuss the Covenant. The agenda would be clear:
This will be mainly about the covenant. Will it be agreeable or will it be reduced to an unacceptable form? This also will help us to draft an acceptable one for the covenant which can be circulated before our meeting and signed during it.
In other words the minimalist Covenant that liberals would prefer (as is their basis of support

In the letter Jerusalem is also criticised as a venue:
It is my region and I know it better than you. To say we will do a pilgrimage to attract Bishops, and yet it is not entirely a pilgrimage, is not right in my point of view.
He thus wants the venue and timing altering.

Mouneer Anis says this despite being one of those who attended the Nairobi meeting that set up the Conference.

It is an odd state of affairs. If Nairobi encouraged Dr. Mouneer, how come it had an outcome he did not want or expect? How is it that some could push it through? It makes one wonder who indeed is running the show.

Archbishop Dr Peter Akinola's reply includes agreement about North America and about having to meet. There is, though a key passage in his letter:
I also agree with you that any discussion of a structured network for orthodox Anglicans with statements of faith, constitution and organisational structure needs proper preparation. We are not at that point yet and that is why we need to meet in June.
This shows an intention to have:
  • Statements of faith
  • A Constitution
  • Organisational structure
Akinola wants to meet as a Global Fellowship, and one that sets the agenda rather than following Lambeth. A number of primates and their bishops cannot provide spiritual care given the mix of people at Lambeth and so it needs separate organising.

He claims that they all considered the argument about timing at Nairobi, but agreed unanimously to press on. So did Anis Mouneer says this despite being one of those who attended the Nairobi meeting that set up the Conference. [Please see the comment below and why this is obviously wrong - the meeting was without him]

It is an odd state of affairs. If Nairobi encouraged him, how come it had an outcome he did not want or expect? Did Dr Mouneer give his vote against the timing and place then or not? [Again as above]

Akinola hopes that he (Mouneer) keeps with them in laying the first steps for the future.

The choice of venue shows another aspect of this GAFCON - its support for Israel on the lines of the American political/ religious right. Some may remember Tony Higton and Action for Biblical Witness to Our Nation. He too is pro-Israel - and went there. He has been interviewed on Revelation TV, the shoestring UK satellite station that shares the pro-Israel stance. The stance is also distinctly anti-Muslim.

The biblical dramas that make sense to African culture on highly supernaturalist even magical lines, plus the memory of colonialisation, lead the African Churches to be sympathetic with Israel and its drama of oppression, miracles and intended liberation. Nevertheless it is highly insensitive to go into the ara en-masse when Israel and Palestine need sensitive treatment.

David Virtue, from whom this material comes, writes to conclude:
It is time to say "enough already" and move onto a separate Anglican Communion which, while not free of sin, will, at the very least not endorse it.
So he for one is clear what this is about. It is separation.

Sunday 30 December 2007

J. I . Packer: You are Wrong about Liberalism

James I Packer has, it seems, unlike in the past, joined the schismatics, to make a new Communion. He does not call it this, but he certainly knows that it is a voyage into the unknown, if along Anglican principles. It is, he says, realignment.

In the analogy with Militant Tendency running this Global Anglican Future Conference and launch, Packer is like the old socialist. He gives it respectability. He is the Eric Heffer to Chris Sugden's Derek Hatton.

Of course there is agreement between Anglican old socialist and Anglican Militant Tendency about liberalism, and he goes on about sexuality like someone worried about what people get up to in bed. He does not mention long term relationships, love, and stability - he mentions unhealthy sex. If sex is unhealthy, as it can be for any pairing (or more), then practitioners do something about it. Some of us also want to do something about relationships: adding to heterosexual partnerships through ritual blessing, and adding to homosexual partnerships through ritual blessing. Ministry is about inclusivity, without barriers, affirming and promoting through support.

In setting sail into new waters he has to tackle the issue of the unity of the Church, and recognises unity in geography and in denominations where there is a principle not universally accepted - thus gathering on the specific denominational principle, and dividing on it too. Other than that is all about biblical fullness, he states. Schism then is not simply division, but unwarranted division. Realignment is a good thing, however, when it is:
...withdrawal from a unitary set-up that has become unorthodox and distorts the gospel in a major way and will not put its house in order...
Realignment also includes making connections with some other group that has also withdrawn in a similar manner.

He states that Anglicanism is not pyramidal but a loose connection or fellowship of independent provinces (so the Archbishop's centralising solution via the Instruments of Communion and Catholic theology has no agreement with him then). It is shared faith plus heritage: biblical, credal, liturgical, pastoral via its form of ministry, missional and service oriented rather than hierarchical. His argument, then, is purely Reformation based. Of course that is not the whole picture regarding Anglicanism,but it is the heritage he keeps and so his denomination, the speciality.

He now feels the need to realign within this heritage, which means he must accuse the whole of Anglicanism as it stands as being unorthodox. Who is to blame?
In brief, it is the bitter fruit of liberal theology, which has become increasingly dominant in seminaries and among leaders in what we may call the Anglican Old West - that is, North America in the lead, with Britain and Australasia coming along behind.
He dates it from when "Anglo-Catholic leadership began to flag."

So now is the time, then, to run, or realign, because the Anglo-Catholics can no longer keep the liberals at bay, along with, presumably, the weakness of evangelicals.

So how does he characterise liberalism? It knows "nothing" of God who uses written language, or of sin in humanity needing new birth; instead liberalism is optimistic about humanity via a natural religiosity. The Church is to develop such religiosity, which is enhanced through culture and so there is dialogue with culture. It also keeps Christianity relevant. Pursuing the present means leaving the Bible behind at point after point, which is a human creation anyway in time, he states. The big "collision" (one was bound to come) then has happened with gay unions, according to liberalism's engagement with the current concern of minority rights, and a diocese in Canada (where he is based) has pursued this against the faithfulness of the "old paths".

Liberalism in this example is against God's creation- a form of saying it is against nature (but then this would be irrelevant, as much that is biblical is against what is otherwise obviously so), and it does not take account of new birth from sin, and it does not produce true care to homosexuals and their particular "besetting temptation".

Thus the break comes: to reject the culture (unlike liberals), to be committed to the Anglican Communion (?), to realign with the 90% of Anglicans outside the West who keep to the old ways, to have church planting, and show courage into the unknown.

So, presumably, for the last one hundred and fifty years, if not longer, there has not been a necessity to realign from liberals, and now there is. It's the gay thing.

Is he right about liberalism?

First of all, he presents a nineteenth century onwards and upwards forever view of liberalism. This was when language was replaced by the mystical and, at best, the poetic, when optimism went hand in hand with progress, and religion was not simply natural but cultural: Reformation Protestant liberalism, in other words.

Structuralism would emphasise language, and so does poststructuralism - language where meaning is multi-layered and complex. Language is crucial for the liberal. Liberals have highly developed views of the divine and language. Indeed the learning and processing of language involves key aspects of biology, and therefore the body.

Secondly the evolutionist view of religion (Protestant liberalism at its peak) has been replaced by cultural bubbles and a more critical discernment between religion and culture. There is a great deal of ambiguity about culture and progress; that progress at the same time involves some kind of ethical and moral dilemma.

That the world and culture may be raised up is part of a Catholic witness, itself involving an affirmation of the world but requiring transformation. The liberal would agree. The liberal would put a focus on human effort and building, but again by being wary of all human efforts because some involved the devious and the scheming (rather in the manner of setting up alternative Communions, for example).

Liberals do learn from social sciences and the arts. For example, my own view is informed by the binding nature of ritual with a way in, a peak exchange ritual and a way out. This involves preparation, reorientation, some transformative act (especially involving the body) and a going out into the world. This is a powerful intersection between social anthropology and theology: it also relates to structuralism.

It is because liberalism is aware of the fragility and lack of permanence in life - not optimism - that it seeks to introduce ritual forms that emphasise commitment. This means dedication to practice via life marking rituals and reference points. Liberation and letting it all hang out it is not: it is rather conserving in fact.

The liberalism of old said that Christianity was but one insight into something more universal and divine. Some liberals still think this. Others are more particularist. They are always within a culture and within thought forms. There is a difficulty through space. We cannot say whether Islam or Buddhism are better or worse at achieving the religious goal compared with Christianity. Rather, it is better to see each as they are, as they change, from within: and that takes a lot of awkward translation and much living within the other, which cannot easily be done.

It follows from this a difficulty through time too. Would that we could recover some deep biblical meanings, or have clear historical insight into the Jesus movement and the earliest Churches. There's is but another culture. It is simply impossible to be dogmatic about this. But rather than be agnostic about the historical dead end, there is a return to language and story again, to live in the stories of traditions for their insights.

To some extent all liberalism is postliberalism. Not the postliberalism of the icebox as in Yale Postliberalism, where doctrines are frozen and non-objective performance is all there is. It is, rather, open and discerning, along with performance. Liberalism is now complex and based on working through and with traditions, non-exclusively, and always with a sense of a don't know amongst the affirmations.

Maybe this is too variant for the "radical evangelicals" to stomach. However, James I. Packer is wrong in his description of liberalism, and he is extremely limited in his sudden rejection of a Communion (as it has been) because of the presence of liberals, and how they carefully read into their traditions and texts in order to seek out some stability in the uneven and difficult world in which we all reside but for a moment.

More Poon Questions (GAFCON)

Now this busy Singapore theologian is asking questions of Archbishop Peter Jensen:

The problem is this, regarding his questions. Miachal Poon is asking Peter Jensen how everyone can make the stable they are in much more pleasant for the animals when Peter Jensen and others are busy fitting out another stable in preparation for a specially selected set of animals moving in.

There are, no doubt, some hurt feelings going on here (from Michael Poon) and a sense of being sidelined by these "radical evangelicals", which matters because we saw similar in the UK in the political world when the Social Democratic Party was formed as a challenge to Labour - the Labour Party later more than occupying the relative shift to the right of the SDP, the SDP having become part of the Liberal Democrats. Before this shift, however, the bad feeling between Labour and SDP was despite being next door in terms of ideology. No doubt this is what we are seeing here: that one set of Global South personnel feel betrayed by another set of Global South personnel and northern organisers as they go on their way (the best analogy remains that of Militant Tendency, however, in the opposite political direction).

Michael Poon repeats this point about Canon A5 and Canon C15 of the Church of England as the necessary and sufficient condition for biblical orthodoxy - or is it not. The point he surely realises is that these radical evangelicals know that all sorts of folks, including liberals, live with Canon A5 and Canon C15 of the Church of England. As for the Covenant, this GAFCON will probably develop their own - indeed they may well recommend theirs as part of a condition of unity. Presumably the radical evangelicals have few hopes regarding Lambeth 2008, other than to get in their first regarding their own outcomes and see what the response is at the University of Canterbury some weeks later.

Michael Poon suggests the June Conference (GAFCON) should rightly focus on how the disparate groups under foreign intervention in the US should work together, and those of different ecclesiastical authority. I think GAFCON is likely to decide its own agenda, and hardly limit itself to these internal husbandry concerns. It is hardly the basis for a grand meeting in the Middle East.

Michael Poon further asks, more pertinently:
If you cannot sort yourselves out in North America, are you merely spreading your mess and divisions to Anglican churches worldwide?” Second, can we in practice talk about an Anglican future for the global Communion if the Primates of all the Communion are not present? Or are you thinking of devising strategies for crossing boundaries to the churches worldwide that are deemed not to be orthodox?
So the gentlemanly talk of internal husbandry and what is right for GAFCON now becomes a comment on "merely spreading your mess and divisions" - which shows how one evangelical side is regarding the other, plus those along with them.

The point about the Global South Churches in Africa is their supernaturalism and last days and even magical/ disaster managing properties, with the biblical literalism. It is the energy in these Churches that the northerners want to pick up as a sort of objective fact, when some of us would identify such as cultural. Singapore is a kind of capitalist modernity, Protestant Ethic and all that infused into this more rational religion compared with some local religions. A touch of Weber, I'm suggesting, and South East Asia is likely to liberalise its expressions of Christianity. There is also a stronger 'return the missionaries' sense in Africa than in South East Asia.

He says:
It would be a sad day if Anglican churches across the Communion are presented with the choice: between a particular understanding of biblical faithfulness, and allegiance to Canterbury.
He thinks it is easier to be rebels with causes like this, not a new world order. But Michael Poon knows that the rebels have a cause, and want it fast-track, and they have shown nothing if not impatience. They are in the business of cooking omelettes.

On all of this I have no more knowledge than anyone else. However, I know something of Machiavelli and dodging and weaving, and of political parallels. The SCRUNTSKies have had enough, and they are launching the new wine bottle in June 2008.

Packer Obsession and GAFCON Plans

This piece by James Packer explains all that one needs from their perspective.

Here are some choice texts getting my interest for comment. Whilst he comes up with some rubbish about gay sex, which would also rule out oral sex:
First, it violates the order of creation. God made the two sexes to mate and procreate, with pleasure and bonding; but homosexual intercourse, apart from being, at least among men, awkward and unhealthy, is barren.
I don't want to quote more of this and give it more than it deserves. This is an obsession of theirs, and just as the Bible is not a book about science nor is it a book about sexual practices.

What are these GAFCON folks doing?
The present project, however, is precisely not to abandon...

...but to realign within it [Anglicanism] , so as to be able to maintain it in its fullness and authenticity...
Clearly then there is structural change intended, and this GAF Conference is launching a future change in associations. At root it is anti-liberal.
...liberal theology, which has become increasingly dominant in seminaries and among leaders in what we may call the Anglican Old West - that is, North America in the lead, with Britain and Australasia coming along behind.

...since Anglo-Catholic leadership began to flag.
This is quite interesting. Indeed there is some agreement about this, as with the Michael Hampson book (2006) Last Rites: The End of the Church of England (Granta). The Anglo-Catholics were divided after ordaining women, leading to a straight battle: yet the evangelicals were supposed to have the numbers to take on the liberals. How come then that they identify liberal theology as so persistent?

Well now; with liberal leaders thinking and teaching in these terms, a collision with conservatives - that is, with upholders of the historic biblical and Anglican faith - was bound to come. It came over gay unions...

It is this way around. They have been looking for realignment for a long time. The gay issue is one they can unite on. It seems that the old method of delay and duplicity will no longer do - well it will no longer do when there are Civil Partnerships or the equivalent and indeed gay marriage in many countries. How can a couple be in the closet in Church, a supposedly moral community of honest living, when such is open in society? This is not about liberal theology, it is just simply practical.
...we see our realignment as among other things, an enhancing of our solidarity with them [claimed 90%]. As I said earlier, what we are doing is precisely not leaving Anglicanism behind.
This is an arrogance of leadership: it is always the leaders who have fallen out with the lost faithful in the pews. The Conservative Evangelicals might find that the faithful in the pews are rather mixed in beliefs, wishes, doubts and even sexuality. People in the pews are not sheep but well capable of thinking for themselves.

Once they have set up shop these SCRUNTSKie folks are not going to hang around. There will be missionary Churches on the intervention in America model, with consecrations and loyalties to African hierarchy. This is what will make it a different Communion because it will be duplication everywhere.
Right from the start church planting will be central to our vision of what we are being called to do....

heading out into unknown waters but committed to the Anglican confidence...
In other words, it is the full deal, the big effort, and they will know that their failure could be the more than just an end of claim to the ninety percent. They already have a power base of support in the African Churches, but they will probably have only limited success in many Western countries. The price they pay, however, will be Western Churches finally able to be honest themselves, to bless gay couples setting out in life together and have all kinds of folk in ministry without the obsession about what people get up to in the bedroom.

Services at Barton-on-Humber

In time for the New Year the new Services Calendar is up and running. It has been made considerably more specific in its information - mouseover any date and it gives the services times. There is a direct link from the St. Mary's Website. The town map for Barton now includes a parish map as well. The Services Calendar page is large and links information together as a whole. These are its parts:

Calendar Generator

Services Calendar

The Liturgical Year

This links through to more on the liturgical year, which has had a small update as St Mary's now has rose coloured vestments.

Time Zones - a bit of a novelty but it is relational.

Holy Dates - the newest and set up to connect to information on days. The Calendar Generator goes further than the Services Calendar grid and presents the information slightly differently.

Saturday 29 December 2007

Poon Questions (of GAFCON)

Michael Poon asks some questions about the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) about who it includes and excludes, and by what authority it is set up. He starts with this apparent quotation.

"Everything is permissible" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" - but no

"Everything is permissible" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" - but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 9: 23-24)
It is wrongly attributed. It is: 1 Corinthians 6: 12, and a bit.

12 'All things are lawful for me', but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me', but I will not be dominated by anything.
Poon is saddened and shocked by the Conference announcement.

He asserts that Canon A5 "Doctrine of the Church of England" and C15 "On the Preface to the Declaration of Assent" of the Church of England are the bases of orthodoxy in the Anglican Communion, as in the draft Covenant. So, if some Primates claim to be orthodox then the question is how are they more orthodox than others? Who (presumably) is not orthodox?

He wonders if the primates involved were speaking personally or representatively and if such went through due process.

There is a Global South Steering Committee, but it has not endorsed anything. It too, he says, represents a broad spectrum Anglicanism that maintains the historic faith, and clearly sees GAFCON coming from a "radical evangelical" stance. He notes (actually regrets - but why regret non-consultation in something that is not approved?) that Asia, West Indies, and Middle East are missing, and indeed Jerusalem as a location for this conference precludes orthodox Christians from Muslim countries attending. He sees (the same) northern Anglican Christianity names on the conference creation list. There is a lack of broader consultation then, and he wonders if the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem of the Middle East was consulted (on the Anglican principle of consult the person in charge of a territory).

Clearly he infers that private judgments and personalities are at work here, rather than (as the Archbishop of Canterbury does!) doing their job of upholding official positions.

What is interesting about this is that he, and others, are obviously excluded, and yet claims are made for this 30 of 55 million representation. It is a nonsense claim anyway.

The way to understand GAFCON, I suggest, is rather like an internal battle of orthodoxy. We know that "liberals" are the enemy of GAFCON, but they are rather like an enemy that the orthodox have never been able to get at because of the layers of Anglican breadth, even that breadth that claims to be within historic orthodoxy. The key speech is not actually related to GAFCOM directly, but by the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, in England, Dr. Richard Turnbull, when in October 2006 he identified "liberal evangelicals" as in the way, and the necessity to get them out of the way in order to get the main enemy (the liberals) dealt with. It is not just other evangelicals, of course, but others who are insufficiently orthodox, but who claim orthodoxy.

Yet the radical evangelicals, as they were called by Michael Poon, find "Common Cause" with the most doctrinaire of Anglo-Catholics because of the issue of authority. Both want a change in authority, as compared with all the moderates, hangers on, orthodox but apparently weak, the passive, never mind the unorthodox, from this Anglican Communion. Nevertheless these Anglo-Catholics are not in the driving seat. With no 'broad Church' helping smooth the way, two conflicting dogmatic elements are bound to come to serious differences. Already Martyn Minns has had to speak to part of the evangelical constituency about the absence of ordained women in the new structures.

The drivers of this GAFCON are a more closely connected bunch. We have African Christianity. It is a heady mix of post-Western Reformation, biblical literalist and pagan-magical (thus miracles, signs and wonders) Christianity. It kind of recreates the Biblical magical world in its cultural readings, even of last days and disasters, adding to it a developed but strained-out "great tradition" Protestant Christianity and highly authoritarian local understandings of leadership (based on wide differences in education, authority given to leaders, and basic local cultural understandings of leadership). This heady mix is added to by pouring once superstition into its Christianity as a means to reward and success, and the growth in this kind of religion that comes about with risky modernity on top of an older culture. This is not an evolution theory of religion, incidentally, because the outcome need not be something more moderate and settled. It is what it is.

Conservative Evangelicals find this the engine that they, a minority in the West, have been looking for. It suits them to come under the episcopal authority of such Churches, partly because in reality they remain the drivers of the cause.

The parallel is the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party in the 1980s. Thus alliances are made, and whilst there are official structures (as in the African Provinces) the real driving is by the militants. We see this again and again - Chris Sugden, it is, who set up the GAFCON domain name with the outcome decided even before they met at Nairobi. They were there at Dar es Salaam in February 2007, they had their names all over documents supposedly from Peter Akinola even if approved by him. These primates are all willing, like left wing socialists were amongst Militant, but they are not the drivers of the strategy.

What does one do about a Militant Tendency? Not lean over and use their argument, as has been done up front in the Advent Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury. No wonder they ignore it - they could not care less. No, one should do a Neil Kinnock, which is to start the process of kicking them out.

Except that they are kicking themselves out, as their strategy involves separation and then coming for personnel and plant in the existing Canterbury Communion on a selective basis. So the answer is, Michael Poon, and all others - let them go.

Of course what concerns the remaining "orthodox" is their own ranks. Well, they should maintain their own ranks. This will be a task for them, once the militants set up shop. The danger, of course, is forms of bloodletting that take place. It is what the militants would expect too, as a way of recruiting to their more ordered, more authoritarian, Communion, under their rules.

My own 'Resist Canterbury' has been a little modified and moderated. I am convinced that the Archbishop has got it wrong, and that he will gain nothing via this Advent Letter. Taking it at face value, Liberals should have nothing to do with it. But the strategy of the Archbishop won't work, and when it fails the liberals (and those bishops who turned up at the University of Kent in summer 2008) will be those who are most stable as a bloc. Oh, the militants know this too. This will be part of their appeal to more moderate evangelicals, up to a point. The moderate evangelicals have to decide with whom they wish to live.

Thursday 27 December 2007

SCRUNTSKies and Anglican Futures

Archbishop Peter Jensen (see the image in the previous blog entry that introduced comment on GAFCOM), the lowest of the Anglican Prots, explains the GAFCOM Conference. There is an element here in his explanation of having it both ways, and perhaps connects to the branch theory that emerged in legal action in Virginia. However, to protect themselves from more liberal Anglicans does mean organising and protection via organisation, and there is no such thing as a branch of the Anglican Communion - this is a new Communion in the making. It has its own logic, and they know it. They are being publically cagey to see how the land lies regarding Lambeth 2008, with its hard line Lambeth 1998 1:10 agenda.

I am not pessimistic about this development, of a Conference where the apparent ultra-orthodox take themselves off to build something new. For a long time the mainstream has been spinning around, and unless associations are incredibly loose and flexible the New Reformation was bound to get under way using one presenting issue or another. It was not going to be women's ordination, because the Prot fundies were divided over that. The gay issue makes their way in to reorganise, and they are all going together - extreme Prots and those long self-sidelined extreme Anglo-Catholics. They of course had split themselves over women's ordination, with Affirming Catholics being within the main body, but now it is the turn of the Protestant side to split.

There must be a lot of money floating around for all these worldwide trips. Canon Chris Sugden gets about all right - Africa and the USA with some frequency - and he is not the only one. A week ago he joined the others in Nairobi, but before he went he had already secured the GAFCON domain name on 14 December (somewhat unfortunate choice - association with gaffe), so the outcome of the Nairobi gathering was already set up.
Domain Name:GAFCON.ORG
Created On:14-Dec-2007 11:51:24 UTC
Last Updated On:22-Dec-2007 11:54:00 UTC
Expiration Date:14-Dec-2009 11:51:24 UTC
Registrant Name:Chris Sugden
Registrant Organization:Anglican Mainstream
Registrant Postal Code:OX294HE
Registrant *************
Admin Name:Chris Sugden
Admin Postal Code:OX294HE
Admin *************
Tech Name:Chris Sugden
Tech Organization:Anglican Mainstream
Tech *************
The Global Anglican Future Conference was obviously predecided, and this has been the pattern all along. This is why a number of people have said Chris Sugden will be the missionary bishop for Nigeria for when there is something like:

CAUK (Convocation of Anglicans in the United Kingdom) or
CAWSE (Convocation of Anglicans in Wales, Scotland and England).

It must be UK because they surely won't repeat for Wales and Scotland. Add an I somewhere for including Ireland, if they do in that body. Maybe they'll do:

CAWE (Convocation of Anglicans in Western Europe).

There are two possibilities now. One is a successful launch of the new - let's call it the:

Global Anglican Communion

(I hope I'm upsetting their ability to choose names for their organisations - any agreement with my naming and I shall sing like a bird.)

The other future is it flops.

If it flops it will be because it cannot get enough support from a broad spread of world localities. In England it has support from Michael Nazir-Ali, dicocesan Bishop of Rochester and Wallace Benn, Suffragan Bishop of Lewes (illustrated). Bishop Benn can just change allegiance, should he want to, but Nazir-Ali might want to take his diocese with him, as some Americans are trying to do. Establishment and the law prevents that, just as it makes congregations leaving with property and defying local bishops almost impossible. Nazir-Ali was the one who said there are now "virtually two religions" in Anglicanism. There is already a hint that he and Benn won't go to Lambeth 2008, but perhaps they will go to both Anglican conferences. A Bishop Chris Sugden would have a different job from Bishop Martyn Minns in the USA. These evangelical groups, say members of Reform, would have to put their money (which they say they can generate) where their mouths are as they refuse to pay into Church of England funds and go it alone. No doubt much defiance will precede independence under a new, detached missionary bishop. There can be no doubt that all this has been considered before now, just as the GAF Conference was predecided some time ago.

The other future is success, and the reason for success is its base in the Global South across several provinces. This is what makes success more likely than failure. I don't know how Sydney can change allegiance in Australia.

Presumably the Archbishop of Canterbury has bought and made the Lambeth 1998 1:10 with only one way to read the Bible into Churches expectations of each other argument, as a way of picking off hard line episcopate fundies who make this argument themselves, and maximising attendance at Lambeth 2008. Yet, if those in the know see this as tactical and for the purpose of maximising attendance, and are not fussed, so will the SCRUNTSKies, who therefore realise what it is and so press on regardless with GAFCOM.

One of the consequences of people affording to go to GAFCOM only is they won't be at Lambeth, and so Lambeth 2008 will be a different gathering - and it would suit the SCRUNTSKies if Lambeth was more obviously liberal in outcome. So, with success at GAFCOM, there are two possible outcomes to Lambeth 2008.

One consequence is that the change in attendance will make it more liberal. Contrary to everything in the run up to it, an outcome could be no Catholic and dogmatic centralisation, no Covenant or a minimalist one, and the ending of the effective holding to ransom of Lambeth 1998 1:10 that has been used to claim one way of reading the Bible.

However, there is another future. In the early days of a Global Anglican Communion launch there might be an effort to undermine it. This would be done by a second future of Lambeth 2008 being more conservative. It would underline one way of reading the Bible, produce a narrow Covenant and centralise to Instruments of Communion. It would produce this 'nasty Anglicanism' as a way to shadow the Global Anglican Communion and stop people leaking to it. Liberals will be told to be patient, again, and hang on in there. So will lesbian and gay people. The Episcopal Church might find itself marginalised despite few in the Canterbury Communion wanting anything of the sort.

This is why the agenda of the Advent Letter remains dangerous and potent. Plus it receives the support of the likes of Fulcrum, who in a more liberal Canterbury Communion will be split down the middle - some open evangelicals preferring the evangelicalism of the Global Anglican Communion, while others preferring the rebalanced liberality within the Canterbury Anglican Communion. So it is in the interests of Open Evangelicals to prevent the Protestant split coming on to their patch (which is the natural cut point - open/ evangelical) and thus weakening the whole evangelical witness, as indeed the Catholic witness was weakened after 1993 and ordaining women.

In the more medium term, though, the evangelical witness will be weakened because it will already have been broken by the Global Anglican Communion being launched. The effort to make the Canterbury Anglican Communion look more orthodox won't survive because its constituency won't accept it, now that the alternative has been set up. The Canterbury Communion will keep its core documents but become at last able to interpret. Should it become clearly more liberal (given the division in the evangelicals, and the Catholics being the Affirming sort) then there is no doubt that this whole Lambeth 1998 1:10 will be dumped and there will be a rapid move towards inclusion of gay and lesbian people in ministry, and blessings and marriages of gay and lesbian people in the Canterbury Anglican Communion Churches - as there should be. There might also be just a bit less duplicity all around too.

So let's be optimistic.

Wednesday 26 December 2007

SCRUNTSKie Conference

All these people who met at Nairobi last week are now calling for a Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) lasting eight days (5-22 June 2008) in Israel/ Palestine.
(Primate) Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya)
(Primate) Archbishop Donald Mtetemela (Tanzania)
(Primate) Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda)
(Primate) Archbishop Henry Orombi (Uganda)
(Primate) Archbishop Peter Akinola (Nigeria)
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria)
Archbishop Peter Jensen (Sydney)
Bishop Bill Atwood (Kenya) -
who represented Archbishop Greg Venables (Southern Cone)
Bishop Bob Duncan (ACN and CC USA)
Bishop Don Harvey (Southern Cone)
Bishop Martyn Minns (CANA)
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali (Rochester England)
Bishop Wallace Benn (Lewes England)
Canon Dr Chris Sugden (England)
Canon Dr Vinay Samuel (India and England)
Given that none of them represent England or India in any sense, unless they more clearly signal a breakaway and then do so for this grouping, then I'd call them the SCRUNTSKies holding the SCRUNTSK Conference. If India and England are represented by schism groupings, then it is the SCRUNTSKIE Conference.

They say it is not an alternative to the Lambeth Conference 2008, except for pastoral care purposes, but it comes first and allows invited participants to decide whether or not to spend twice and go to, or save on and not go to, Lambeth. Including England on the basis of 3.7 million attendance at Christmas, they make the ludicrous claim of representing over 30 million of the 55 million active Anglicans in the world. No they don't - they represent who signs up to their groups. This means the Global South provinces that break away, Sydney (under Archbishop Peter Jensen) if it can leave (unless it gets replaced - then count who goes), departed congregations in the United States and those further that go with diocesan bishops that leave The Episcopal Church - the diocesan leadership being replaced, and whoever joins any new schisms for England and elsewhere in the world should a couple of bishops and/ or the odd Canon decide to leave. Incidentally, Bishop Don Harvey does not represent Canada, but was retired and then taken on by the Southern Cone. Common Cause is a collection of existing Churches and missions of others, likely to break up itself.

To be logical, there ought to be an English grouping formed, or say a Convocation of Anglicans in the UK, called CAUK. CAUK, part of the SCRUNTSKIEs but under, presumably Nigeria or another province. A bit like pulling a CAUK out of the English bottle, then.

It is another Christmas present, on top of the CANA congregations claiming "branches" in the Anglican Communion.

Going to the Holy Land - "There was no other place to meet at this critical time for the future of the Church than in the Holy Land," says Chris Sugden - gives it all the features of a launch. This means that those who do see a need to go to Lambeth afterwards will obviously go with a message (some may be ambassadorial) like, "This is your last chance!"

Everything is in motion then, as we knew long ago by all the intentions. The one person obviously not invited to this gathering is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps he could be a non-voting observer, if the conference has votes. Or he will be too busy in Kent.

This puts the Advent Letter in even better light. The Advent Letter should have horrified every reasonable Anglican. I know Fulcrum liked it, but Fulcrum likes to think that it and the Archbishop are buddies. What the Advent Letter did was make the argument of the schismatics: that there is one way of reading the Bible only, strictly according to Lambeth 1998 1:10, and that this is the basis of local Churches' expectations of other local Churches in order to agree to the geographical principle of one Church per locality. The difference then came, in the Letter, that it is up to the centralised - made clear, via the Covenant - Instruments of Communion, to decide when a Church had "failed" locally, and was thus subject to intervention (or interference) from the sufficiently empowered Anglican Communion.

So the vast variety of Anglicanism was dumped in order to appeal to this departing constituency. For me, just as a lowly observer, wondering why I'd have anything to do with this "one reading", I said that the Archbishop had gone too far and is now losing those who have never caused any schismatic trouble. But it seems the bishops who are going to Lambeth 2008 are more in the know. If they are right, then the appeal to the schismatics won't have any force. And in any case no Church has to take any legal notice of such Instruments of Communion. A centralised Anglican Communion busts itself, because it can only ever declare a Church out of its membership, and then no Church has to take any notice - The Episcopal Church would not be isolated.

The danger, I'd reply, is still as in the lesson of electing Tony Blair as Prime Minister. People said of him, 'Ah he'll get Labour elected so we'll go along with it, and then Labour will govern with some socialism once again.' No! Don't be surprised if you set up an agenda that this is exactly what you get. Setting out with one reading, clarification and centralisation might just produce that result.

What is more likely now, with the SCRUNTSKies meeting, is an agenda broken backed before it gets going, and the bishops there discussing under a new situation - assuming that the SCRUNTSKies meeting does involve a launch and a new identity beyond going via Canterbury. They might find, after all, a new Mind of the Communion, the Canterbury Communion, rather than the SCRUNTSKie Communion.

If they don't, the reality is that all intentions of centralising to Canterbury and its Instruments of Communion will be finished. All that pseudo-Roman Catholic ecclesiology will be no more. The Primates via Canterbury will make their own decisions of Churches they recognise, and they will gather on the older more confederal or, at best, Eastern Orthodox Catholic basis. Bishops will not only defend but also interpret faith. There will be more than one reading of the Bible; there will be a recognition of what has happened in theology over some two hundred years.

Tuesday 25 December 2007

Merry Christmas to One and All

It's a CANA Christmas present; but it is not all bad!

(And if you don't want to read this, go down to my picture and little verse at the end)

I find it tricky to understand the latest legal situation in the United States, but the upshot seems to be that Virginia Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) congregations in their attempt to retain property are arguing that there are now two branches of the Anglicanism, defined as one that goes through the See of Canterbury and one that upholds the historic faith, doctrine and discipline of Anglicanism, the leader of which is apparently the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) which changed its documentation in 2005 from its identification with Canterbury to its identity according to a narrow biblical based interpretation of Christianity.

I want to get away from whether or not there is a division in The Episcopal Church or not, which they also seem to argue but the wider implications as from these summary headings reproduced at BabyBlue Café from an excerpt of Section IV of the Post-Trial Brief (pages 49-60):
IV. The CANA Congregations Have Independently Satisfied the Requirements of Virginia Code § 57-9 By Establishing The Existence Of A Division In The Worldwide Anglican Communion And The Existence Of Branches Resulting From That Division.

A. The CANA Congregations Have Demonstrated that a “Division” Has Occurred in the Anglican Communion.

B. The CANA Congregations Have Established that the Church of Nigeria Is A “Branch” of the Anglican Communion that Has Divided From the Episcopal Church.

C. The CANA Congregations Have Established that the Anglican Communion Is a “Church” or “Religious Society.”

D. The CANA Congregations Were “Attached” to the Anglican Communion
More detail is contained in the post trial briefs (.PDFs) also provided via Baby Blue, regarding CANA Congregations (approximately 1 Mb) and the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church (approximately 2 Mb)

Mark Harris at Preludium argues that there is not a division into two branches as of yet in the Anglican Communion. Thus if the Virginia Court finds in favour of the above, it would not hold up in a higher court because a division cannot be demonstrated. He then thinks it would take an alternative gathering of bishops to demonstrate such a split, and such a gathering would have its own patriarch. Thus he argues that such an alternative gathering, long considered likely, of bishops who deliberately do not go to Lambeth 2008, is important to actually carry out for demonstrative purposes.

I'm a little baffled by this, because it might be enough simply for the not so long ago renamed Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to claim it is the other branch, by virtue of the fact that there are bishops who obey the Primate of Nigeria as in their recent consecration vows. However, then there could be several divisions, if others do not accept Nigerian superiority. Alternatively, Mark Harris becomes right, that a gathering of bishops could create a new structure of an unbending version of Anglicanism as a focus of some Anglican Churches, with a focus via an existing Church or Primate.

The point is that when two such branches are formed it actually produces two Communions. These are not branches: they are separate. To me a branch suggests a tree. Presumably at present this could be argued along the lines of some local (national) Churches still regarded by Canterbury as in Communion organising interventions by its bishops unrecognised by Canterbury. That means such as the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is having it both ways (rejecting Canterbury itself as a definition of Anglicanism but relying on Canterbury still recognising it. This is not the argument in Virginia. In the Virginia legal business, being a branch is connected with the notion that the Anglican Communion is a Religious Society or a Church. The arguments assert that this exists. Hold on there - this is being argued about now with the Archbishop's own centralisation proposals!

However, if say the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) does not recognise "going through" Canterbury as necessary, but many go through its own Primate, or an allegiance is given to a patriarch, or indeed a group of primates in some sort of Council without a leader, then there are not two branches but two Communions.

Mark Harris sees a loose collection of Churches connected to Canterbury, and then the autocratic one via its patriarch, and he uses the word Communion to describe each.

He also sees the Canterbury one being a loose fellowship of Churches, and "not branches of a single Church".

So it's that Advent Letter again! The Archbishop of Canterbury now is saying there is but one way to read the Bible, and there is a Church that might be marginalised because local Churches expect other local Churches to read the Bible one way, but the marginalising will be done by the to be centralised and clarified, via the Convent, Instruments of Communion, not by other local Churches, as such defeats the principle of unity. Clearly the Archbishop is leaning over in the others' direction; but he is leaning over to the point of falling over when the Communion of which he is titular head has considerable diversity and theological variation. It doesn't perhaps have the public diversity I would like, but it has considerable variation around its core statements and their interpretations within the basic Reformed Catholicism.

Yet, if on the principle of unity, another Communion rises to be a different Anglicanism, then it will seek to organise everywhere.

It means that the Canterbury Communion will be distinct for its diversity - from fundamentalism to liberalism, from high Catholicism to low bare Protestantism, where Churches vary in their tendencies to innovate and conserve, and groups, bodies and individuals vary within each. Every ten years its bishops shall gather in Kent for prayers, discussions and the Eucharist and share what some conserve and what some do newly, and they will discuss the Bible and discuss theology, and they will uphold the value and worth of all people.

Merry Christmas to one and all, and indeed to our hard-working Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, exposed to public comment in the age of the blogger and journalist like never before, and who tries to find a way forward in the most difficult of circumstances possible.

Meanwhile, a little verse for this time, called A Window, and placed amongst liturgy along with my use of There is No Rose for liturgical purposes:
A Window

A Window out to the Vastness
Was born in occupied Palestine
Two thousand years ago
In the body of a helpless baby
Who grew up
To tell it like it is
And how it could be
And showed that to get there
It will never be easy
But produces the greatest of all rewards
And told us and showed us this
As a suffering gift
Into glory
In which we can participate
With a little food and a little drink
As a small taste of what is to be.

Sunday 23 December 2007

Christmas Legend

The Archbishop of Canterbury said, recently, "I should think so," regarding the question, "...historically and factually true?" Let's take a more detailed look.

There may be a common source for the birth narratives but the two Gospels do not agree. Did his mother, who survived him, give any account of the birth to the curious? Who knows, but from a scriptural point of view they were constructed in various places to connect to the prophecies given in the Hebrew Bible. Plus, the further away the Christians get the more the believers are likely to be curious about his origins.

Micah 5:2 says the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

If Jesus thought he came from Bethlehem, would not more have been made of this (given its central prophetic role?). Everyone took it that he came from Galilee. In John 1:45-46 Peter of Nathaniel asks if any good can come out of Nazareth. Nicodemus was told to search the scriptures and see that no prophet comes out of Galilee (John 7:43), on account of Jesus coming from there.

Luke says that Joseph took his pregnant wife 70 miles to Bethlehem for the Roman enrolment for taxation, Joseph being a descendent of King David, Bethlehem being the city of David. Acts 5:37 claims an enrolment in Judaea, but (if so) this required only men to go to their own city for enrolment. Luke says it applied to the whole empire, however. The mind boggles at that.

The trek to Bethlehem does not have credibility. The Romans kept extensive records, but there is no evidence of such a tax based census, and the one that might have been it has a date at 6 CE, some 6 to 10 years after Jesus was born. Nor would the Romans have organised such movements of masses of people, in Palestine never mind the whole empire, given their concern about security. Nor did they care about Jewish origins - they only wanted to know about what the Jews owned.

Matthew puts the trip the other way around. The three of them start in Bethlehem and they end up in Nazareth. Now why did they want to do that? This time, though, they moved via Egypt, in order to fulfil another prophecy (Hosea 11:1). So that is a 450 miles detour to Egypt and back, which could not have been much fun for a newly born baby named Yehoshua (Yahweh saves) and mother. Perhaps Matthew lived in Alexandria and gave the birth account some local colour.

Factual and historical Bethlehem is not. Nor is the massacre of the innocents (no mention of one anywhere by Josephus), the star, nor the virgin birth.

In those days stars were considered to be on the roof of the world, like lights. We have different evidence. Halley's Comet appeared 12 CE - remember that Comets do not apear to move. As regards the Magi, or astrologers, well it might have been Isaiah 60:3 but the Romans had thre Magi accompanying Tiridates of Parthia to go and worship the baby Nero as Mithras, and so to this Messiah may have had the same recognition as a demonstration for such Gentiles. They must have been a bit thick, these Jesus following Magi, losing sight of such a star and then making the effort to ask Herod, of all people. It's a multi-sourced fable. The notion of "His star" is a connection with Levi 19:3, in The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Numbers 24:17 in the Septuagint also uses the star myth, and the Talmud has a star rising in the east and seven others fighting. When Mithras was born as star fell out of the sky and Magi followed that. It is simply daft talking about "scientific theories" about a star, as the Archbishop of Canterbury did when interviewed by Simon Mayo. Magi are not "professionals" looking for signs, and certainly would find nothing in stars. It is funny that astrology can be dismissed as bunk, when astrology as explanation and comfort falls into the same category as much other religion.

The Archbishop finds the Virgin Birth increasingly meaningful. It is, directly, a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14, that a damsel would conceive and bear a son. Being fatherless derives from the mistranslation, not precedes it - unless of course there was a rumour about illegitimacy (but why would there have been?). Myths abound about Gods not having human fathers, of course. Plato, Pythagoras, Augustus and Alexander the Great all have virgin birth stories attached to them, and for Buddha in Buddhism too. Yet, in some contrast and contradiction to this Virgin Birth doctrine, Joseph is given as a descendent of David (which is a nonsense on its own terms, and given even our difficulties with genealogy is hardly likely to be evidenced) - the ancestor more for the Jews perhaps, and virginity more for Gentiles.

The gospels are not principally histories. Just because we deal with them as if biography and "history-like" does not make them biographies or histories. We cannot jump into an imaginary world and declare fact and history: that really does take postmodernism to the extreme. They are theologies of the early Churches written in biographical historical form, and do not even work from primary sources. There is history to be found in them, by sifting, with great difficulty, but the least historical and factual parts of two are the birth narratives.

None of this is news to the Archbishop. Factual and historical? I should think not. Or, in simpler language: no.

So what of an actual and unknown to the world birth (history does not go backwards). Galilee is one thing, but Nazareth is another. Neither the Talmud nor Josephus mentions Nazareth as even existing, but archaeological work suggests it did and was a very small village. So was it the place the evangelists described? It would not have had a synagogue - but there was one in Capernaum (Mark 1:21). It is usually taken that Nazarene means someone from Nazareth, but why would such a person not be a Nazarethene? It looks like Nazarene may have another meaning entirely, which could be the group name, and one that was less significant over time and even to be concealed. Matthew (2:23) adds a prophecy that never existed, that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

If Jesus was not born in Nazareth (which is still possible), then there is another contender, and that is Caparnaum, known as his own city (Mark 9:1). Jesus was arguably based there, on the north west shore of Lake Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee) and where the fishermen were active. There was a centurion there (Matthew 8:5). Jesus performed miracles in Capernaum (Mark 11:23).

There he grew up, speaking Aramaic and Koine (probably - a rough Greek) and caught the last days fever of his time, with the religious prophets of his day, healing so many as they believed that the unwell had demons, and the poor had more than most. The demons had to go to be ready for the Kingdom, and those people had to sin no more while they waited. Those demons wore you down and were responsible for your death too, death being caused by sin. Know where this is heading?

Meanwhile, how was Lord Krishna supposed to be born? His parents were journeying to pay taxes, and he was born in a manger. There were shepherds visiting the birth. The new born baby escaped infanticide and they went into exile.

Campbell, Steuart (1996), The Rise and Fall of Jesus, Edinburgh: Explicit Books.


2008 is not far off, and although January 2008 was tagged on to the 2007 services calendar I have updated and indeed uploaded the new calendar for services during 2008 at St. Mary's Barton-upon-Humber. The idea is to mouseover any day and you get the services for that day. Christmas and remaining services for 2007 are in text above the calendar for the time being. The St. Mary's website, maintained by Dr Peter Large, has a direct link to this services calendar.

Saturday 22 December 2007

Sir Cato

Merry Christmas from this bit of the the Worsfold clan.

Elena decided to put her name on to Facebook and the Worsfold group, set up by Amy Worsfold, who lives in York. Worsfold is a surname largely of the south, indeed Surrey. I don't know her. I am not on Facebook myself. Amy has somehow found a family crest, a sort of upraised hog, and I reproduce it. There was a crest posted that has been produced by a commercial website selling family crests. It bears a resemblance to the one of Sir Cato Worsfold. I am supposed to be related to Sir Cato - I knew about this long, long ago. I reproduce what was his crest, shown in the press when he died. Yes I have touched it up for this graphical use (as indeed I have for the hog - to make it a cleaner .gif image).

I mention this partly because Graham Kings has questioned my use of Pluralist at the Open Evangelical website of Fulcrum (where I give a liberal point of view). I am happy to be called Pluralist or any other name. I took it as a domain name at the time of participation in the Unitarians, and it tells something of my religious position (probably my political position too) to this day. Somebody had taken Pluralist, however, for the weblog, so Pluralist Speaks was chosen, which isn't too bad for some difference. Meanwhile I learnt today, for the first time, that there is another Adrian Worsfold, who is to be found at Leeds Metropolitan University at present. Perhaps I'd better use Adrian John Worsfold, just in case my uniqueness is threatened. I'll ask my friend Mick Taylor what he thinks about names and being unique.

Incidentally the funniest card came from my friend Mike Peachey. I mention his name for a reason that will shortly become even more obvious to some in the know. He wrote in the card: "To Archbishop Adrian and Mrs Elena Worsfold, leaders of Western religion". Note the plural - Elena as well! He has a big family, but as far as we know has no relationship to Barry Peachey of south of the Humber, who actually became an Archbishop in a tiny branch of what is called 'Continuing Anglicanism', although he had a spell earlier in the Open Episcopal Church.

Friday 21 December 2007

Taste and See Tasted

We few in Barleytown (from where Barton-upon-Humber gets its name, I was told by the same few) have completed our run of Taste and See, a Lincoln Diocese course intended for Lent - not so many weeks away. The advice remains the same - don't run it. Much as the group enjoyed its own company, we did not think that the course was written anything like well enough to introduce different spiritualities properly.

You can see my take on it written in two parts. There was my contribution to the halfway submission we all decided to make, and then I made my own contribution complete by finishing my feedback to the end of the course. As yesterday was the final session, I have updated it. The course has provided its own collective feedback, in particular through the use of scoring similar to that in the Review at the end of the course. Both are available at my website at Learning - Religion - Denominations and (scroll down to) St Mary's Barton.

Let Me Help

The Archbishop has added to the fun of the season of Advent (the joining of current news Advent stories of the present time has become so bizarre - contrast all this with his Advent Letter) by pointing out what is not in the Biblical account of the nativity. He has added to this by saying that the Virgin Birth is not necessary for belief, and he was not fussed about it thirty years ago, but, handed down in tradition, he came to appreciate it more, and now does.

This should be a link for a short time: however, it is via BBC Radio Five Live when the Archbishop spoke to Simon Mayo.

Do I detect the demands of the religious bureaucracy and having a leadership position bending what he believes and does not believe? Just a bit?

How does this relate, then, to the Advent Letter and one way of reading the Bible, that this is part of the expectations of Anglican Churches on other local Churches, and that Churches which fail to read the Bible one way could be declared failed Churches by a the centralised Instruments of Communion under a Covenant?

Over at Fulcrum there is one of those discussions where The Episcopal Church (TEC), that carries on with a standard Anglican liturgy, is being viewed as a Church needing discipline, and where someone who discusses faith with me at times suggests that TEC follows a different religion. A different religion?

How is what TEC does, in terms of having theological breadth within Christianity, any different from the Archbishop of the province of Canterbury saying that the Virgin Birth is optional?

If African Churches and Western fundies start saying that belief in the Virgin Birth is compulsory, will the new Instruments of Communion consider that the Archbishop is potentially heretical and that the southern bit of the Church of England is to be put into some kind of ecclesiastical quarantine?
Let me help regarding the birth narratives. The expectant parents (two involved, beginning some nine months before the birth - the normal method of making babies) did not travel to Bethlehem, as there is no evidence of a census at all, and if there was one it would not have involved any such travel. Jesus was born, unknown and unvisited, in Capernaum or Nazareth, or abouts, a Galilean. He may have grown up a trained carpenter with a keen religious interest in the last days, or it could translate into being a learned scholar - the member of a family that got into the last days religious fervour of his day, in a situation under oppression, who met the Baptist (who may have related to that looser than we think lot called the Essenes), and who took up a similar but broader ministry of healing and teaching to prepare the poor sods of Galilee for the fast coming (taste it, it's almost upon us) utterly new reality of the liberating Kingdom where all the ethics of the present are reversed into the new. Then he went to Jerusalem to make his point, to prompt God at the heart of Judaism to say he is ready for the coming of the Son of Man, and was picked up by the Romans as another trouble maker who got shot of him as they got shot of so many.

In other words, if you want to say that the birth narratives are all bollocks, let's say it properly.

The Archbishop did not say it is all bollocks of course, nor all a Christmas tall story. He was careful, he was measured, he was found deep inside the myth, nudging this way and that within it. I do think he pushed the myth much too far in a historical direction, but it is typical that he has an insufficient mythic grounding for where how far he pushes the detail and what makes sense to him in this relevant section of a longer BBC Radio Five Live interview (verbatim) below.
Simon Mayo: We talk about Christmas, first of all. It comes round every year this story about, you know, we're not being Christian enough, or people don't know where Bethlehem is, and people have never heard of Mary and so on. So this is a sort of an almost like a tradition of Christmas, isn't it really, now. But I wonder, if people have got a traditional religious Christmas card in front of them. I just want to go through it, Archbishop, to find out how much of is - you think is - true and crucial to the believing in Christmas. So let's start with it. So we've got the baby Jesus in a manger; historically and factually true?

Rowan Williams: I should think so. Um, the Gospel tells us he was born outside the main house, probably because it was overcrowded, because it was pilgrimage time or census time; whatever. Yep, he's born in poor circumstances, slightly... slightly out of the ordinary.

SM: The Virgin Mary next door to him?

RW: We know his mother's name was Mary, that's one of the things all the Gospels agree about, and the two Gospels that tell the story have the story of the Virgin Birth and that's something I'm committed to as part of...

SM: It is.

RW: ...what I've inherited.

SM: You were a prominent part of a Spectator survey in the current issue which headlined, 'Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?' There are some people in this survey who would say they were Christian who don't have a problem if you don't believe in the Virgin Birth. How important it is it to believe in that bit?

RW: I don't want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they can, you know, be signed up; but I think quite a few people would say that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense, of what the Virgin Birth is about. I would say that of myself. Now about thirty years ago I might have said I wasn't too fussed about it; um, now I see it much more as, you know, dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story. Yes.

SM: Christopher Hitchens in that and amongst many others make the point that isn't the translation for young woman rather than virgin? Does it have to be seen as virgin? Might it be a mistranslation?

RW: It is... Well. What's happening there is one of the Gospels quotes a prophecy that a virgin will conceive a child. Now the original Hebrew doesn't have the word virgin, it's just a young woman, but that's the prophecy from the Old Testament that's quoted in support of the story which is, in any case, about a birth without a human father, so it's not that it rests on mistranslation; St Matthew's gone to his Greek version of the Bible and said "Oh, 'virgin'; that sounds like the story I know," and put it in.

SM: Right. So we go er. Virgin Mary, Jesus: Joseph?

RW: Joseph, yeah. Again, the Gospels are pretty consistent that that's his father's name. Yes.

SM: So we're panning out now. Shepherds? They're with the er, their sheep, and the oxes and asses?

RW: Pass on the oxes and asses; they don't figure very strongly in the Gospels, so I can live without the ox and asses.

SM: And the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason.

RW: Well, Matthew's Gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from. It says they're astrologers, wise men, priests, from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told. So, yeah, the three kings with the one from Africa - that's legend; it works quite well as legend.

SM: Yes. But would they have been there?

RW: Well - not with the shepherds, they wouldn't.

SM: Right, so. So if I've got on my card the...

RW: If you've got shepherds on one side and the three kings on the other, there's a bit of conflation going on.

SM: And pulling back further - snow on the ground?

RW: Very unlikely, I think. It can be pretty damn cold in Bethlehem at this time of the year, but then we don't know that it was this time of year because again the Gospels don't tell us what time of year it was; Christmas is the time it is because it fitted very well with the winter festival.

SM: Just as a side issue on the kings and the wise bit. Do you have a problem with astrologers being seen as wise men? There'd be many people in your Church who would think, actually, astrology is bunk and should be exposed as bunk and the idea of saying that they are wise is somewhat farcical.

RW: Well, I 'm inclined to agree that astrology is bunk but you're dealing there with a world in which people watched the stars to get a sort of heads up on significant matters and astrologers were, you know, quite a growth industry; they were people who were respected who had a kind of professional technical skill and were respected as such. The thing is here, of course, is what's the all skill about? Well it's all bringing them to Jesus; it's not about fortune telling or telling the future - it's about a skill of watching the universe which leads them inexorably towards this event. So I don't think it's a justification of astrology.

SM: So if we're pulling back even further then, is there a star above the place where the child is?

RW: Don't know; I mean Matthew talks about the star rising, the star standing still; we know stars don't behave quite like that; that the wise men should have seen something which triggered a recognition of something significant was going on - some constellation, a star in the sky. There are various scientific theories about what it might have been at around that time and they followed that trek - that makes sense to me.
Now read the rest of his views (via books, on line texts) of the accounts of Jesus, his followers and the early Christian communities. It's not all history. It is myth, a tradition that comes down to us (as the Archbishop says), and narrative - more or less meaningful in different places.

By the way: Merry Christmas Archbishop; you have one tough and difficult job.

Thursday 20 December 2007

Lincoln Response

Just as a matter of public information, I have a response from my own diocesan bishop regarding the Advent Letter. I cannot properly reveal its contents, suffice it to say that I think it is an impressive letter - in answering me so quickly and in John Saxbee, the Bishop of Lincoln, so stating his argument. He is indeed going to Lambeth 2008, where he can meet others of disagreement, and he has his own clear goals for such a meeting. All I can say is I wish him well.
I just think that, whatever may be other knowledge, aspects and considerations, the Archbishop of Canterbury is pushing many among the more broad-minded to breaking point in the effort to get as many on the disruptive side in attendance at the Conference.

This is the danger. If you have a programme on a narrow basis, don't be surprised if that narrow basis is carried out. There would be these Instruments of Communion in a centralised, excluding Communion, sacrificing classes of people on the back of religious bureaucracy.

The argument can go further, however. Apparently, even if this restrictive Covenant production was carried out, the Church of England is insulated (indeed in law), as are other Churches from having to accept any international oversight. It might be that they all carry on just as they have before, and it is the Anglican Communion that is diminished as a body - centralised yet busted itself in the process.

The danger though, still, is that of being forced by membership of a Communion to unrecognise a Church that carries on as before, and taking on obligations of being in a restrictive Communion in terms of own practices. Yet if the Communion unrecognised a Church because it had "failed", a whole set of national Churches could explicitly decide for themselves to recognise such a Church directly as being faithful. Pop goes the Anglican Communion again!

So an odd outcome would be Lambeth 2008 thrashing out matters, and then either a minimal or inclusive Covenant resulting that would still see more than only the fundies and Africans march off, or a restrictive Covenant that would simply not gain the assent of many Churches and be kicked into touch. Both could happen too at once, which would be the worst outcome. If both happen, then in this scenario the Anglican Communion will also have failed.

In other words, whatever happens, the Anglican Communion cannot take the centralisation being pushed upon it.

I still think this is a highly dangerous game, and a kind of brinkmanship. Delaying the point at which a restrictive Covenant has to be rejected (as it must be) could allow it to slip into force within a Church too scared to reject it. The Covenant, many will say, will have been waved through so many provisional goalposts that there would be a huge pressure to push it into the last goalmouth - the one that mattered - when it should be kicked right out of the stadium.

Meeting together is one thing. Actually coming up with a Covenant is another, and one that will do anything that does not in the process diminish the Anglican Communion is a lot harder, vi even more division.

I can see, in further reflection, that the Archbishop of Canterbury might via his Advent Letter pick off some of the schismatics to turn up whilst others stay away, and weaken them still further beyond the differences they already show to one another (a note - the Bishop of Lincoln says nothing like this to me nor even hints at it). The Archbishop does have a really dreadful job, and can be praised for his sheer effort, but I remain against a Covenant and fear that it will push its way into the final goalmouth if a restrictive one is passed. Then either the liberals will go, more evangelicals will go if dissatisfied (if liberals put up resistance and water down the Covenant), or there will be centralisation that will be ignored and amount to a great deal of nothing.

Update Friday 21 December:

John Saxbee is, of course, President of the Modern Churchpeople's Union. Jonathan Clatworthy has given an MCU response (in the Only Connect blog), which refers to the narrowness of the personnel involved in Lambeth 2008/ Covenant, so that:
Since bishops and archbishops are also responsible for the good governance of their dioceses and provinces, it is inevitable that institutional tidiness is given priority over long-term questions of justice for the scapegoated and the cultivation of the virtues which make true reconciliation possible.