Monday 21 January 2008

Affirming Liberalism

The website has been set up, and the Conference is very soon. It is based in Oxford, ex-seat of Bishop Richard Harries and the diocese where fully chosen and fully eligible Dr Jeffrey John did not become Bishop of Reading due to Rowan Williams's first act of reversal to turn himself from who he was into "the job" man he is now.

The Affirming Liberalism Inaugural Day Conference is on Saturday 9th February 2008, at Trinity College, Oxford, from 10 am to 4.30 pm. Unlike Theo Hobson's latest output, Rev. Canon Prof. Keith Ward (Professor of Divinity, Gresham College) speaks on Why the Future Belongs to Liberal Religion. Keith Ward has long been a sparring partner of Don Cupitt's nihilistic atheology and so his liberalism (philosophical, like Cupitt) has long been a moderate one, but has radicalised in recent years. The Rev. Canon Prof Martyn Percy (Principal Ripon College, Cuddesdon) speaks on Why Liberal Churches are Growing, so this is obviously at an enormous remove from Richard Turnbull's direction down a few roads. Many people think liberal churches are not growing. What grows are churches in urban areas that are a) known and b) distinct. The cost is modest, as it is £25 including lunch in College Hall. The Rev. Dr Richard Warden is handling enquiries.

Obviously a problem for someone like me is cost and distance. Essentially it is a local gathering but with an eye to expansion. The issue is how it relates or does not to the Progressive Christian Network, which is developing local groups (and related to John Spong and Hugh Dawes) and Sea of Faith, that bobs along with a number of groups, that relates to Rev. Don Cupitt and Rev. Prof. Lloyd Geering). Well both of these are not specifically Church of England and, indeed, Sea of Faith is not specifically Christian. Affirming Liberalism, like Affirming Catholicism, is a Church of England pressure group.

This raises a subject on this blog before. What's the difference between a largely liberal group like Affirming Catholicism and Affirming Liberalism? It depends where you start. Presumably Affirming Catholicism is principally the Anglo-Catholic package with a critical approach - open therefore to female ordination and female bishops and gay equality. The liberal approach is more individualist, Protestant perhaps, theology-as-enquiry, and promotes reasoning, freedom and toleration. I suppose the issue is how much, as Theo Hobson identifies, that the Affirming bit means corporate. If it does then there is a huge overlap between it and Affirming Catholicism.

Think of it perhaps like this. Many folks who have expressed liberal or liberal-compatible views in my local church do a lot of crossing themselves and bowing - I'm talking lay folk as well as clerical - and have a high view of worship. I don't. I don't even like this turning towards the Gospel when it is read out in amongst the people. I've nothing against dramatics, but I'm not into the raising up of books towards which I have an investigative attitude, even if it has a normative status. I don't cross myself and I don't get on my knees in prayer or indeed clasp hands or perform any other gesture. I don't protest, unless I am made to, so I stand and sit as others do, unless I am with someone who cannot stand and then I show solidarity with them. My only kneeling is at the communion, and I do have a central view of communion. I am not a mad no-gesture Puritan, but nor do I go in for elaborate gestures. There is a coolness about the liberal approach and an awareness too, even when going with the flow (such as with the music). Christianity is a series of traditions to be opened, and we are not subservient. A "mystery tour", as Sunday's ordinand preacher put it, still has places of clarification: fog is for clearing rather than making into even more fog.


Erika Baker said...

I suppose the real question is what the purpose of those various groups are. Are they discussion groups, like PCN, or do they try to help shape the church and its thinking, or are they even pressure groups within the church?
My local PCN group is definitely a discussion group only, and although it is broadly Christian I would say that many members would feel equally at home in a Sea of Faith group.
If Affirming Liberalism and Affirming Catholicism want to influence the CofE they might be better off joining forces. If it truly matters to them whether their members kneel in prayer or face towards the bible during the gospel readings, they probably can’t cooperate too closely. Although isn’t the whole point of being liberal that you accept others where they are and don’t need them to see things your way? And that’s leaving aside the fact that many will find themselves somewhere between the two extreme theological points on that spectrum. After all, we all journey and none of our views are fixed forever. Wouldn’t it be dreadful if we had to change groups and allegiance each time our growing has taken us another few steps forward?

Having said that, increasing efforts by liberals of all persuasion to provide a counter balance to the extremely well organised and well financed consevos can only be welcomed.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I am largely reflecting here on my own experience regarding my absence of gestures. I have no problem with those who do gesture, nor about their reasons why.

I think there is a Catholic package difference between Affirming Catholics and liberals but if we were to draw one of those venn diagrams the overlap would be considerably larger than the two crescents on the outside representing separation. The traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have largely gone, so it really is a difference of starting point. I think these groups will get on quite well. It is the evangelicals who are about to split, first via GAFCON and secondly via the efforts of GAFCON on some of the rest.

mewmewmew said...

If it truly matters to them whether their members kneel in prayer or face towards the bible during the gospel readings, they probably can’t cooperate too closely. Although isn’t the whole point of being liberal that you accept others where they are and don’t need them to see things your way?

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