Monday 5 May 2008

Stealth Radicalism

Here's an interesting phrase just picked up on my tour of musings around the religious world: Stealth Radicalism. It is used by frdougal, as the blog is named, which leads me to assume this chap could be called Dougal, though I see no Ted alongside, nor do I see toy cows very close.

He is discussing the recent evolution of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and its turning from something rather predominantly and closely high and patristic in contrast with the national Presbyterian Church to something that has acquired a liberal identity as well. It has also moved from a denominational narrowness regarding its rejection of the Presbyterian approach and a stricter social and sexual discipline. There has also been the ordination of women and liturgical reform. Also important has been the influx of people from outside the Scottish Episcopal Church: from England, from Roman Catholicism seeking some fresh air, from Presbyerianism for a more participative form of worship, and an escape from religious and social tribalism - none of these being evangelical but not Scottish Episcopal in root either. All these influences have been handled by toleration rather than legislation. The need for diversity has led to a recognition of diversity.

What has changed internally is, he says, interestingly, the growth of evangelical congregations as well as growing up impacted by the Honest to God Debate. The latter involves also a greater theological awareness among the churchpeople than before.

A bishop having slightly radical views on scripture and God today doesn’t get the front page publicity that John Robinson got when he published “Honest to God” in 1963. Post Richard Holloway, we’re rather used to that! We are better informed and therefore better equipped to discuss and disagree about theological issues as a Church than we once were. Whilst some have found this disquieting, many have found this freedom liberating and indeed it is one of our strengths when it comes to drawing in new members. It appeals to people out there.

So why is this called 'Stealth Radicalism'? Because to hold this together is a greater sense of corporate life, including the eucharistic movement. Individualism is constrained by the corporate, and by plugging into the inheritance of tradition.

Our sense of being a historically rooted community of faith and a witness to and proclamation of the incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ means that any attempt to tie us exclusively to the latest fad or fashion in belief will be met with informed critique pointing us back to our roots and sources in Faith history.

Then it works the other way too, that the history and text - tradition and scripture - forms an applied faith into modern society.

We are less hidebound by tradition than might be thought, because we seek often to rediscover forgotten elements of tradition which can offer fresh insight to the Church of today. And, whilst we value the impact of reasoned thinking, it is done invariably within the context of a praying and worshipping community of diverse believers.

The result is that the radicalism produced is not "disembodied". It is a stealth radicalism.

The fact that our thinking is generally done by the Church within the context of prayer and worship shapes our theology in a way that doesn’t particularly lend itself to the disembodied and essentially theoretical radicalism which marks a lot of radical theology as the product of individual reflection in a study surrounded by books on the failings of the institutional church in a post-modern and anti-authoritarian age. Its content may be radical, but it is couched in terms which connect with the worship experience of a diverse community of believers.

I really do think that there is some good and useful thinking going on here. In recent times the Church of England has shown both fear or diversity and has - as with the debate on women bishops - just tried to look both ways at the same time without integration.

It seems to me that we have to be radical, and we have to cohere and across a breadth that is beyond our own individual thoughts. I've always believed in that, and here one does take from something inherited, and something that is a challenge to one's "self".

The tendency at the centre of the Church of England, with its role regarding the Anglican Communion, pressed by hard line evangelicals and an Archbishop of Canterbury who has a centralist view of Catholicism (like his mate Benedict XVI), and with the 'tough guy' narrow ramblings of the Bishop of Durham Tom Wright, is to reduce, close down, to be less diverse, to cut out those who cannot be accommodated, and chop away those on the fringe. It's the old one of sacrifice the awkward squad in order to save the way we have always had it. The Covenant policy is a disastrous policy of reduce, remove, cut, isolate, conform, show power, promote subservience. It is not about a Church of now.

It's the save the bureaucracy approach, whereas this 'stealth radicalism' approach is about an organism that is seen to change and push itself as a whole self in varying directions like a blob that changes its shape as it moves over the ground.

Well done to Dougal for seeing that small cows far away are bigger.

These following verses are from the intercession (see yesterday) I adapted from the creative pen of Reverend Penn:

We pray for Christians and the leaders who serve them, and for their Churches:

We dream of a church with origins long ago that continues to express its great faith and its good works through the loyalty and devotion of its people.

We dream of a church that uplifts all within, with its song of praise, giving a pulpit of convictions with honesty and without fear, and an altar where Christ's gift comes to all.

We dream of a Church of human fellowship: of prayer, meditation, discussion, trivia and that spirit of sharing, of voices loud and voices quiet.

We dream of a church with doors open: not only for prayers and meditations but also discussing and learning, where mind may meet with mind, of mutual support even through diversity and difference.

We dream of a challenging church, and yet one where the church can be called a home from home.

We dream of a generous church in the Spirit, under the unseen God; but it is not just a dream: for day by day in the model of Christ it is made a reality through our response of seeking, of faith, of effort, and in mutual healing.

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