Sunday 30 November 2008

On a Personal Thread

It's not in my theology - I simply don't have that belief - that anything supernatural goes on and so I neither expected nor wished for nor thought I hadn't received anything in terms of my recent failure to get a job that I really wanted, had prepared towards, impressed at interview about, and was beaten for it by a candidate on a very narrow basis. A "luxury" of two good candidates when five were interviewed (thus why not interview two, or was only one expected and then the interviews are that merry dance?). Good job I made my own arrangements for getting travel expenses. It was a Higher Education job too, to suit me better, and they are very difficult to secure.

Nevertheless, despite my theology, that you can't knock what you don't have in the first place, the impact of that decision (and so much else) and sitting in the first Advent service does make you wonder what is the point of being there.

I think they call it Michaelmas when the curate was ordained deacon in the church. At that point it was said she had made these promises, then she gave them again, then at another service gave them again. And I thought, whilst I could see how I could make such promises, in all honesty I couldn't make those promises. Since then, though it was cracking beforehand, I haven't said the creed with everyone else. I ought to be like Emma Darwin when she and her family turned around during the creed and faced the congregation. She was still a Unitarian in an Anglican church. I just stand, but should anyone watch my lips they have stopped moving.

I continue to go to the communion rail, but obviously it strikes me that this isn't quite consistent, when you don't say the creed, and so I have been thinking of stopping. My sense though is that once I stop that's it, and so I have not. Nor will I change behaviour on the spur of the moment.

Mentioning this afterwards to someone, I was told of someone else with a theology not far from my own, who started out as an atheist, married a churchgoer, and ended up having adjusted position on the other side of the line and is now a Reader. It would indeed be interesting to talk to such a person. I am a naturally committing sort of person, that when in I want to push my involvement. I've paused my involvement for some time: I did do useful project work recently (and I would do more of that) and I still present some material for an open group discussion.

I write this before attending some Advent procession service. To be honest, I find this time of the year fairly tedious. I do disappear more around the Christmas period, avoiding those endless tiring carols in services and the myth building that grates against the intelligence. My Christmas budget this year - all have been informed - is zero. I was pleased when a pub friend said this year its no tree and all that in his house, so that makes two of us. I shall be no doubt here alone, rattling around, and television will be so awful it will likely be off most of the time, while others eat themselves silly (I can do that anyway) and watch endless rubbish and hopefully have some genuine family contact. I gave up on my family years back and then there is the strange separation...

To get back to the point, if the giving up communion would be temporary, then I won't. I might try without for a trial period, with the intention of 'going back'. However, assuming it all collapses, the issue then is about religious observance.

First of all, I like the Anglican services as such. Secondly, I like the people, and have some important relationships, and when you are on your own and doing sod all most of the time, meeting other people is valuable in itself. But if I stop taking communion, what would happen? At present I attend Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, most Tuesday evenings, most Wednesday mornings. I do this in all seriousness, and as intended practice. All of those, except most Sunday evenings, are Eucharists, and it would be ridiculous to attend especially said Eucharists if there was no consuming, especially the one with say eight people present. In any of them, the prayer of "thank you for feeding us" that effectively winds up the service is a bit pointless if you were not fed.

I don't know really whether the position I've arrived at is one where there is no more that I can do, that the Christian language is once again not giving but taking - that the incredibility of the mythic package is undermining all that which I have theologised about in a more positive direction (and which I still believe).

The Christian service as practised by Anglicans is a very closed affair. Once you are on the other side of the line, you are excluded by the main services that repeat throughout the week. The core service is for insiders, and must be why it generates long term decline. Not that other denominations, with a more open service, are doing any better - indeed their services strike me as cold and bald and lacking the artistic support and indeed power of the ritual path.

At the moment I hang on with a thread. The Advent period is never a good time in my religious calendar, and indeed Christmas is the worst. Maybe I should do something like do the equivalent of hibernation for a short time, still visible but asleep, to perhaps wake up when all this rather nonsensical season is over.

I Am a Dalek

After the debacle of NEAC 5 (or NEAC 2008) (15 November) when the Chair, Richard Turnbull, tried to force an unamendable vote on all assembled to support GAFCON's Jerusalem Declaration, it was clear that he was going to go and arrange the vote anyway within the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC). This is the body which a number of Conservative Evangelicals kept attending whilst others fell away, so it is in their hands, and they regard it as still representative.

So what are others doing? It's a case of if he must, then they are getting in on the act. So we move from the picture of Militant and entryism to the added image of smoke filled rooms. It's by email - what else - to cobble together a resolution that somehow would meet objections of the more communion minded Evangelicals as well as those who have one foot in and two feet out - the GAFCON crowd.

So far it seems to be a private conversation amongst the few, and no doubt whatever comes about to be voted on at CEEC will be presented to those not in the know in the manner of the one presented in the first place. After all, having been negotiated, if such results, how can it then be changed? Would such be any more representative of Evangelicals than the original, or just those who think that they represent other Evangelicals as well as themselves.

As a complete outsider to this, I simply ask...

Let's be clear, though. The GAFCON crowd only use the negotiations of others in order to further its own interests. The result will be entirely compatible with its own objectives, otherwise one will be presented and voted upon regardless. And in the end, it's all for show. The reality was that of NEAC 5.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Roads to Anglican Independence

On Julian Mann's church (north of Sheffield) website it has these lines:

Why would Luke lie? It was dangerous to be Christian in the middle of the 1st century AD. We know Christians were being fed to the lions. Why would Luke risk his life for a lie?

An Anglican bishop who says the early Church, men like Luke, made it all up isn’t risking anything.

Why bother with the Bible? Because it’s God’s honest truth – it tells us accurately what God said and did and what we should do about it...

A good bit of anti-Anglcian bishop knocking copy there. Meanwhile, I think the technical term in theology for that sort of explanation of the Bible is "drivel".

At Thinking Anglicans Julian Mann recently related the Jerusalem Declaration of GAFCON as a measure of orthodoxy:

Orthodox net-giving churches which subsidise ministry in net-receiving parishes have a moral responsibility to make it clear to diocesan boards of finance that Anglican unity is not institutional but creedal.

It is quite immoral for ministries that are not preaching the Gospel or preaching another gospel to be subsidised on the basis of an appeal to institutional unity, masquerading as support for the Body of Christ. In God’s goodness, the Jerusalem Declaration is a rallying point for confessing Anglicans of whatever churchmanship enabling them to get that message across to diocesan authorities.

This point is slightly modified further along as here:

3). Regarding parish share, the concrete suggestion I made in a later post here on Thinking Anglicans was that orthodox net-giving churches in dioceses should publish a list of net-receiving parishes in which they have confidence.

4). Dr Kings cited Sydney Diocese and the Church of England in South Africa as being the prime movers behind FCA. Whilst I am absolutely with them in supporting the Jerusalem Declaration, I am not a supporter of Sydney's move towards non-presbyteral celebration of the Lord's Supper, on the ground that this undermines the unity of orthodox Anglicans behind Jerusalem.

That institutional unity a rather thin basis of rejection for a group that claims credal confession over institutional unity (by the way, we British spell credal with one 'e'). In other words, he'd accept lay presidency.

We see the strategy being employed here. It's true that this strategy has been around for longer than the Jerusalem Declaration. It was around with the Covenant for the Church of England, the Southwark Ordinations and now it reappears with GAFCON. Each of those has been rejected by the broader Evangelical constituency; however, my point would be that there is a bigger, organising, head of steam behind GAFCON than the other events, and that GAFCON can decide to incorporate those events into itself.

Julian Mann has a GAFCON-like clear sight of the enemy, with visions of going into a liberal parish (by whatever definition) and turning it into an evangelical one:

Usually it is evangelical churches wanting to do this in churches that haven't been previously evangelical. In some cases dioceses are supportive, in other cases not on the ground that the smaller church is being 'taken over' by another theological tradition. Such a negative response by liberal diocesan authorities is surely inexcusable when it's a clear choice between orthodoxy and closure.

Gosh the enemies are everywhere: diocesan authorities to add to bishops. The GAFCON approach has a foot in both camps: inside the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, and outside, and can shift between them. It's clear about enemies, always liberalism and institutional, but liberalism gets broadly defined and, as Religious Trotkyism determines, becomes as broad as those who do not accept the Jerusalem Declaration.

An example of what GAFCON looks like when stepping outside the Church of England and Anglican Communion has been provided by my own adopted parish priest, David Rowett, after a dinner with an affected friend. Emmanuel Church in Nottingham describes itself as Independent Anglican. One wonders in what sense it is Anglican. Like the Jerusalem Declaration it makes use of Canon A5:

We are Anglican because we fully identify with the historic position of the Church of England in terms of its belief. You’ll see this reflected in our Statement of Faith. The Church of England’s doctrine ‘is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinals’. We stand full-square with that.

At the same time, we are independent of the structures of the Church of England, in terms of things like Bishops and Dioceses...

It is obviously not Anglican, and its description of its services means it has no sense of being Anglican. This is an important point, that many evangelical Anglican churches that cut the rope might rather quickly not look Anglican at all (and some are such rule breakers now regarding their services that they hardly feel Anglican to people visiting). They'll draw people in already evangelical from many (ex) denominational traditions and there will be plenty that is informal and entertainment based. We can excuse Oughtibridge, north of Sheffield, as its services do have an Anglican identity.

There are Anglican continuing Churches, of course, that emphasise the tradition in one way or another. Here are just a few:

Many such are American: where a denominational spirit is more active, and a more sense of do as one wants takes place. Meanwhile, if you want to see some independent extravagence, of a you consecrate me and I'll consecrate you type of carry on, for the umpteenth time, take a look at this. Don't worry, they are not Anglicans. The only sad thing is that it took place at one of the most progressive Unitarian Churches in Britain. Mind, anyone can hire a space and do what they like.

Friday 28 November 2008

This is Getting Serious

Laws are being misused. The terrorism laws keep being used for other purposes. In this country, the United Kingdom, we have an opposition politician, a shadow minister, Damian Green held for nine hours by the Metropolitan police because he received documents via the usual leaking methods and part of the process of holding the government to account. David Cameron at the last Prime Minister's Questions had a document that showed the government considered a VAT rate of 18.5 and even 20% as part of the governments throttling of any recovery of the economy in 2010. He did not receive that as part of a government daily handout.

Not only was this politician questioned for so long, with his two houses and offices searched, but whilst the London Mayor Boris Johnson, Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, and House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin were informed, the government apparently knew nothing. Yeah, pull the other one, nor will Gordon Brown's "purely a police matter" strike anyone with credibility. In fact it is sinister. Plus all this happened during an actual terrorist incident in Mumbai, India, where all the news media was focused.

The reason civil servants keep leaking documents is because the government is dishonest. It does not tell the truth, but keeps dodging and weaving. In the House of Commons government ministers talk about the opposition policies, instead of defending what they do.

Here is a passage from 1984 by George Orwell that describes Gordon Brown only too well:

But always... there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

George Orwell (1961), 1984, New American Library, 270)

Even if Gordon Brown and his debt ridden ways as means of recovery succeeded in kick starting the economy, and not throttling it a year later, I would not vote for him or his party. We need a clear out of the political process, the refreshment that a two or three party system brings. This government has forgotten what political pluralism means. That's if we keep a two or three party system, when politicians doing their work are going to be arrested.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Another Appearance over Substance

Yesterday I could have blogged on Ruth Gledhill's supposed splash about excluding the Southern Cone from the voting of the Anglican Consultative Council. I didn't, because I could see straight away that there was nothing in it or her blog backup. We learnt that the issue did not arise at the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting and this was only mentioned because of her report. This November 24-26 meeting focused on budgetary issues and planning the next meeting of the ACC.

Here is yet more in the world of appearances. To justify her existence, Ruth Gledhill has to keep producing these exclusives. Yet they amount to less and less. She is no more than as a blogger but with a job, an address book and a telephone. There is a pro-GAFCON bias there, only because it stirs things up. This declining reputation and continuing world of appearances is one substantial reason why the press was treated so badly and sidelined at the Lambeth Conference last summer. Of course Lambeth set out to maintain its own world of appearances, and therefore did itself no good by the sidelining as it just intensified ongoing suspicions.

When it comes to the press, it is less about quality and more feel the width, and increasingly superfluous.

World of Appearances

Coming second in a job interview is as good as never being interviewed in the first place in terms of the result. Too often recently I've been told I came second. This time it mattered more because the job was around study skills, and at HE, and I have a genuine interest in this, not least in the bizarre situation that A level rates are near 100% passing whilst many students lack adequate literacy and study skills to do the A levels, never mind become undergraduates. There is a gigantic con going on regarding A levels and the rest, where students do so much in quantity of work, but are basically processed through and have not learnt how to think about what they think.

I am also deeply suspicious regarding interviewing these days. Again too often I've identified a preferred candidate through observing the revealed connections and the way candidates address interviewers. This time candidates did not see each other - I only saw one waiting - but to be told that it's a luxury to find two good candidates and that this delayed the decision is annoying. I realised when the decision did not come at the time given that the most I could have done was upset a situation: the rule is if they don't get back to you quickly and on time you haven't got the job.

Over and again we live in this crippling world of appearances, where rules exist to give a level playing field but something else goes on underneath. We have, now, these so called "equal opportunities interviews", and of course all the paperwork must be filled in. But the requirement is to have these so called open interviews when really the institution wants the person in situ who may be undergoing a form of promotion or some sideways move, or maybe there is someone in another institution coming over. It's one reason why vacancies appear. Everyone else called to interview is playing to the pre-exisiting dance, but they get told (not in this case, however) that it's an equal opportunities interview as if that means you have an equal opportunity, and you don't.

I hate this world of appearances. I see it all around me and the games people play. The justification for joining in is that people do what their employers want and they are therefore paid to play the game. In the end, though, it involves a lack of integrity and in economic terms a drop in productivity.

It's visible too in this world of religion. I saw the creeds by the back door by which too many Unitarian committees operated whilst claiming freedom of belief and no belief test for the pulpit. I see it now via these Church of England promises. If you can meet the promises and don't upset the applecart too much then you can come on board - and everyone knows the issues are more complex. It just leads to distortion after distortion. I do know how to meet those promises, but as the boundaries come in the issue has been whether to play around with them.

Incidentally, looking for work these days is also a world of appearances. From the monitored staff computer use of Jobcentre Plus - why they will offer the most ridiculous of vacancies so that they have done it - through to the minimum quantity of contacted "leads" required per week (and the appearance of such), it all builds up to where the government in parliament can claim that there is dedicated high quality help and advice offered to the unemployed. It isn't, of course, because it is bureaucratic processing, but it is a system at play - and play it is.

It works like this. Benefits are kept low so that you cannot exist long term without giving up everything beyond meagre existence. Never mind the economic downturn, what matters is to be seen to be applying for jobs over and over and over again. You know that 90% of this effort is a waste of time. You expect the employer to chuck away the application on receipt. Employers understand that Jobcentre Plus-forced applications are for the bin in almost all cases. Now we know that workfare is on the way. The only question is whether the money will be put in: even if people are forced to work for their dole it still costs more to do workfare than to have people doing nothing. The workfare itself is often inappropriate: it would have been for me (it exists now in order to end the statistic of long term unemployment - when its thirteen weeks are done you are no longer counted as long term unemployed). I improved my situation thanks to well situated friends and supporters, and was able to give them something in return. Workfare will mean the unemployed doing all sorts of projects that are otherwise expensive to do, like environmental clean-ups and the like. It puts people into charity shops and makes the voluntary sector involuntary. Some employers receive free labour for marginal activities. But it is coming on big time and will kick in well before the present eighteen months. It only helps people get work if the workfare is appropriate and if situated with an employer who wants to pay the person rather than get another free workfare offering. It will mean that as unemployment rises, the statistics will show falls in the unemployment figures.

This is the world of appearances, and it is pure deception. It's why we no longer know what our economy runs on any longer. What the debt mountain was about was a cover for economic and productive failure; the solution offered at present is more debt and more consuming, but it was the problem in the first place. People of intelligence (and there is an army of us) are wasted, with nowhere to fit into this bizarre mixed economy. It is why, I suspect, that processed A levels are actually enough, because nothing else is needed - it just undermines Higher Education, in as much as it is needed.

The Inadequacy of Sociology Alpha

I want to make Sociology more popular. I wonder how I should do this? One way might be this, to gather up some of the headline findings from Sociology in the past and make slogans of each, each one memorisable and as simple and clear as possible.

Let me try two possible slogans of an issue:

  • Marx says all ideas serve the existing economic interest represented by the ruling class over the working class and uphold the present economic arrangements.
  • Weber says whilst most ideas serve the existing economic interest represented by the ruling class, some ideas might be independent enough to challenge the ideas of the economic system and bring change to the present economic arrangements.

A couple of slogans there that might help the understanding of this end of Sociology, but clearly there is more depth to this. There was a rise of a capitalist class to the feudal class, revolutionary in its time, but for all kinds of complex historical and cultural reasons, so we must go into more depth about the Marxist view of history working itself out. We ought to go into some depth about Weber and his pessimism about rationality and economic bureaucracy, and the disenchantment of society involved that has no way out - at least Marx goes on to have a liberating working class. But then we can criticise Marx's determinism and really a fantasy view of history and then we can criticise Weber's pyramidal view of bureaucracy as challenged by contemporary management studies.

It can go on, this, until we have subtle views of the economy and its sociological dynamics today, probably far from Marx and Weber, getting into complex dynamics of groups and interests and ideologies upholding interests and seeing challenge, but owing something to them as means of getting to where we are today. We might today be talking about consumerism as ideology, advertising, postmodern ideas, absence of overarching narratives, just in time economics, the differences between and yet combinations of managerialism and shareholding, and so on regarding a modern complex economy. We ought to draw from various disciplines to add to all these arguments.

However, let's go back to those initial slogan sentences. They might have instant reach to an unknowing public. So what we'd need perhaps is to spread those around and perhaps invite groups and give them a meal and even end up with them committing themselves to revising and repeating the slogans. I'll call the package the Sociology Alpha Course.

The problem is then calling these slogans the answers. They are not adequate, don't go far enough and do not attend to their own problems.

We'd hope many who might learn such slogans do move on. But we notice something. First of all, they do not, because it suits some people in Sociology power to hide the compexities and keep people in relative ignorance - not to address the problems and new theories too which, for some, come to question Sociology itself as a highly complex and contradictory subject. As the main aim is to bump up the numbers attending, it is seen as better to keep the subject simple and slogan based. Those who parade the complexities are seen as letting the side down - they might inhabit universities and research but keep them out of the classrooms.

One problem is that a set of rules of doing Sociology were set up in the period when the subject had just become established. Then the Marxist and Weberian projects were still open to completion, and the slogans seemed to be once delivered and adequate. So the people who are now more complex lack integrity in relationship to the old rule list of membership. Those who inhabit the complexities can only reply "tough" as regards the rule list: the rules were of their time and place. All sorts of literalists for these rules and textbooks of the time demand that all should obey, as if the world has not moved on. The trouble is that the world has moved on.

Now there is something else disturbing about the Sociology Alpha Course. It's that people who learnt the slogans before keep coming back, and, in addition, some people who were listening and sometimes thinking about a more complex presentation of the subject have given up on it and gone to the happy fellowship and meal of those who inhabit the taught slogans. A great weight is lifted from them as learners and contributors, because the Sociology Alpha Course is easy enough to do and is enough in content contrasted with the uncertain mental effort that existed before that seemed to cover a vast, unending canvas.

After all, with such mental effort, how can one celebrate the subject when you come to lessons every day? Much easier with the slogans, and so it's a case of bash the electric guitar and bang the rhythm and do the song. Peculiarly, the music and poetry that had responded to the slogans when they were not used like slogans, and drawn from the less complex period of thought seems no longer to be enough. What is odder, perhaps, is that the people inhabiting uncertainty with the subject celebrate the subject they do draw from these earlier thought forms in words and music. It's like a division between olde worlde indigenous folk music and the pop music that gets more and more vacuous and repetitive in beat.

Of course we know it is more complex than this, in that some people are perhaps rather stranger still. They place themselves somewhere inside the subject's glory days. They become historians of Sociology, in effect, referring to the vast literature that used to exist and has brought us to where we are - or, usually, a little before where we are, because where we are seems to be such an uncomfortable place. So these folks know the complexities and will even talk about them, but they wallow in something past and something once seeming secure. They go on and on about the Fathers of Sociology and all sorts of saintly researchers: people who broke through decades past. It's a constant tour around the Sociology Intellectual Museum, which is all very informative but little about the complex present. The Sociology Alpha people regard them with some suspicion but always mark them as valid according to the extent that their expressions coincide with the slogans.

Here is a peculiar thing. The people who do develop the sometimes peculiar and bizarre theories of contemporary academic Sociology, including ideas about non-objective postmodern narratives, and hyper-critical approaches to regular and valid research methods (but use them in the critical even potentially self-defeating way that they must), find that they are being raided. One of these types wallowing in the history of the subject has pinched the non-objective fact-fiction postmodern idea. They produce their own narrative fact-like bubble, and, living-in-the-fiction, set out to view the rest of the world from this detached lens. They seem so conservative! And yet they are not! They are complex in their lack of foundationalism, like sawing on the branch they are sat on, but yet they seem like sociologists of old and draw the approval and even admiration of a number who, if they thought beyond their own slogans, or were a little more searching, might realise that all is not as it appears.

How complex and how orthodox is the detail of this historical Sociology, and yet its vast volume of ever closer nuances sits on rice paper.

Meanwhile, as those who go around and around the Sociology Alpha system and as those who escape complexity fall into the bosom of the friends with food seem to show greater numbers, there comes a claim that Sociology Alpha means success. Here is a transformation! This is Sociology because here are the numbers!

This, of course, is rubbish, but then the numbers say they will no longer fund the universities unless the universities support the slogans. Now some with their wallowing in the history of Sociology can seem to fit in, just about, and sometimes put on quite an effort at fitting in. So they might be funded from the classroom admission rolls. But the rest, who have done much research, and yet are critical of methods, who have done the subject in open depth, but realise just how deep some of these issues go, are being told to shut up shop, they they are the enemy of the subject.

The question becomes what the historians of the subject will do. In the end, it turns out that most cannot stand the poverty of the sloganisers. They cannot share their celebrations of the subject either. They would rather not have the classroom money.

It comes down to who distributes the finances of the university endowments. It comes to it whether the sloganisers have enough access to power the old, rusty levers. We already know how they have got into controlling the lower educational system with its tick-box mentality of league tables, so this is a close run thing. In the end, though, the sloganisers are the most impatient and the ones who think they can go it alone and make the running. They often pluck failure out of apparent success.

In choosing separation from the researchers and uncompromising lecturers they make another crucial mistake. They believe their own propaganda. They don't realise to what extent the numbers who stick with the slogans are recycled. They don't realise just how limited is their leadership base. For so long, too many others were also performing as if consistent with the slogans when they knew differently, but when forced to really declare for the slogans it's suddenly not so simple. They canot stand the idea that they must follow the slogans, or (more to the point) the teachers who advance the slogans.

The sloganisers, impatient as they are, infiltrating as they are, in the end break off in order to compete. Suddenly, for them, it's not quite the same, not even getting the limited success as when attached to the greater body. Yes they might attach with some compatible institutions abroad, but for how long? In the end cutting the rope with their historical bodies is the beginning of them drifting away, drifting from actual continuing communities, which is why it took even the impatient ones so long to actually do it. But once they've gone they've gone, drifting off into their own fantasy land of the slogans that mean increasingly little.

Suddenly there is a sense of relief. People start asking: can we please get rid of the league tables and all this nonsense that is called education when it is not? Can Sociology stop being this out of date subject, dumbed down for consumption in some classrooms, and start to develop more widely again. Can we at last revise the rules?

Of course the historical wallowers can continue on in their museums. It is very important to know how a subject came to arrive where it is. They may still be the source of material for celebrations too - there is a real crisis of contemporary celebration material. But let's also discuss where the subject is moving, and try and open up some of the thinking on these lines. Let's stop hiding. Yes, some of those who had been close to the sloganisers but stayed on ship are disturbed, but this was the deal when they decided which way to jump. Clearly there is an institution at play again, but it is no longer displaying the incompatible, restrictive, paradody that passed for Sociology.

Let's be honest. Sociology in this complex world it discusses is not going to be for everyone, but those who do the subject can do so to serve the others - in communities and for communities as it opens out the issues of those communities.

Here is how it might be done for Theology (from back in the 1990s; scanned to image - click each to increase size):

Tuesday 25 November 2008


Back from an interview of substance, and I don't think I could have done better. I am quite pleased. The presentation was well appreciated, and my answers to questions followed on. The comment at the end from the main interviewer that "That was good" also reflected my view. The thing is that 10 or so minutes of presentation took hours and hours to prepare plus a lot of thinking before and during its construction. Well, I hope to re-enter the employment of that institution.

I see Episcopal Café has my robust piece in. Taking over the Church of England isn't my title but matches the fashion of what I wrote. The piece is as given with an added link to Wikipedia, I note, on the definition of Entryism. This piece, unlike my interview presentation, was written incredibly quickly, as in one go and a quick edit through, but that's only because I'd written several entries to my own blog here after this NEAC 2008 fiasco where, at least, a few Evangelicals started to see the Entryism involved. This Episcopal Café piece is different in so far as there is more reference to politics and a greater stress on failure as a motivator of entryism: failure of the host institution, failure of the broader reformers of the host institution, failure of the entryist group if they were completely reliant upon their own appeal. Conservative Evangelicals represent a tiny part of the Western Churches, like some throwback to a long dead past and intellectually defunct. Using African ballast and their own networking, they then come back into the Western Churches and via organising attempt to control or sideline other Evangelicals as their strategy to get at who they lump together as the Liberals. In this they have been helped by the present Archbishop and his Anglican Communion centralising tendency, his Romanesque view of the bishops of the Communion by dioceses as if in one worldwide Church. Anyway the wheels are coming off some of these wagons and it may be that all the Conservative Evangelicals manage to achieve is ruining the wider Evangelical constituency.

Monday 24 November 2008

Hoping to Buck the Trend

I'm hoping to counter the recession as I have a job interview tomorrow, for which I have spent a long time making a presentation. Its for a Study Skills Facilitator (HE).

I make a number of applications for jobs knowing that many are efforts that will blow away to nothing, but Study Skills is an interest of mine, the lack of which - like literacy - leads to educational incapability and therefore compensatory strategies by teachers at many levels to force students through exams getting students qualifications levels that overstate their actual abilities.

This is why exam rates rise, inflating league tables, with plenty of quantity of work, and yet when students have to cope with their own learning they often show inadequacy at HE level. In the past, when students learnt for A levels, teachers handed out chunky, wordy, textbooks and taught in an academic manner that meant some students failed but those who passed were ready for undergraduate Higher Education. Even some A level textbooks today follow the facing pages rule. Now HE finds that it has to do what amounts to much remedial work at its level, despite the near 100% pass at A levels, with inadequate literacy to cover the subject demands and with study skills that were never developed by students told what to put and where.

I think that students benefit from study skills sessions because they offer the organisation of learning, and that organising is a means to handle abstract concepts. A levels used to start the handling of abstract connections in subjects, but the teaching now continues the concrete pushing of material in order to get through the exam. Study skills is to get people off this dependency. It also introduces academic community rules in amongst that responsibility for learning.

It would be good to beat the recession. I'm not sure if this government will by its actions today. The drop in VAT comes across as throwing money away. It's a drop that, in the midst of sales discounts, will be unnoticed, and will even be mathematically inconvenient for staff brought up with 35p in every £2 in their bloodstream. It might help generate more cash in businesses, which is what some measures seem to do. The primary tax pumping seems to be bringing forward benefits, and one off payments, though as ever the single unemployed get sod all. But the most stupid aspect of this pump-priming (or should it be prime-pumping?) is the tax payback starting in 2011, which is likely to choke off any resultant growth, or deepen an ongoing recession, with borrowing therefore far higher than the huge amount forseen. This £118 billion borrowed in 2010 for what is a £20 billion pump into the system is a huge burden, and that's on the Treasury's optimistic presentation.

It's basic economics, or it used to be, that at this point in the economic cycle the monetary curve is somewhat flat - interest rates have little impact - and it needs spending. But it needs to be effective spending. Handing out money might just mean reducing private debt (transferred to public debt) and additions to savings (that reduces interest rates, but by little at this part of the cycle). What works is the government actually spending. And here the Chancellor has brought forward public spending on some £3 billion of items, but actually his public spending growth is given at 1.2% in the future years whereas we have been having this at 3% year after year. There is a sense that over in the United States Barack Obama will show how it is done - through massive infrastructure spending. As Vince Cable said, we should be buying up the land and physically constructing social housing. There are railways to be laid again, and some new rail and road projects. Capital and efficiency making spending - value added spending - is better than simply consumer spending, much of which goes on imports anyway. And the most stupid 'tax' rise of all will be the National Insurance rise - that is called a tax on jobs - in 2011.

Since the government got over its first nationalisation, it is now suddenly discovered a left wing blood vessel and will tax the wealthier more in the future. The economic justification for this is more effective spending - marginal consumption is higher among the poorer.

The only long term economic strategy is efficiency that brings down the 'natural' rate of unemployment. That means productive and value-adding activity, value in the end determined by a productive worker who consumes. The difficulty is the imbalance where so much productive capacity has transferred to China and its state directed capitalism that delays market developments to higher wages, and less so to India with its English language and education advantages (but it will see higher earnings start to modify its cheap productive base). Thus surpluses in China and nearby fund debts in the West so that it continues to consume what it cannot afford. Therefore the answer to the economic downturn cannot be more debt funded consumption, which is what this government proposes. It must be in productive ability, and in market segmentation (terms of trade - where shifts in productive activity leave us with comparative advantages: it might be cheaper for them to do some things, but we do them because they do the other cheaper still) and all the State can do is aid the means towards value adding.

It's like the Americans bailing out their car industry. If all that US federal money does is a kind of British Leyland scenario, then it is money down the drain. In the end we gave up on that, car plants as existed were slashed, but new ones were built by other companies (often with state subsidy) in other places on upgraded productive techniques and with different models. Our failed banks have been bailed out with little instruction to change; they need major changes in operation and a longer term outlook.

If banks will not lend to solvent businesses that can afford interest payments (and any going concern should be able to do so), then the government may have to take a nationalised bank and make it a business bank and state banking might have to allow some private banking to go to the wall. An independent panel as proposed today is rather pathetic in comparison.

I don't see this pre-budget report, really a budget, doing anything except choking off any growth in 2011. Such is after a General Election. It's called timing. By the way, doesn't Alistair Darling mumble at the despatch box!

Saturday 22 November 2008

Here Comes the Attack Back

So the spillage from National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC) 5 (or NEAC 4.5 or NEAC 2008) continues its spread after the group in attendance at All Souls Langham Place rejected being bounced by the CEEC leadership into supporting a pro-GAFCON motion without the right of amendment.

Writing "personally" and not for Anglican Mainstream, Chris Sugden fashions his argument as a reply to Stephen Kuhrt (of 14 November) , though it clearly goes much further than that.

Why, Sugden asks, are there only three streams (of Conservative, charismatic and open, based on Graham Kings' watercourses)? If Fulcrum represents the centre, then what's the range? So wonders Chris Sugden. There is not one centre, he replies to his own question, but the difficulties of legitimate overlapping debates, such as how the ordination of women works out among Evangelicals.

Then he moves into an attack on Fulcrum. Affirming Catholicism came into the diocese of Rochester (the one with the GAFCOn supporting bishop) organising its and others' presentations. So did Inclusive Church, the Modern Churchpeople’s Union, Changing Attitude, WATCH - Women And The Church and Society of Catholic Priests. Fulcrum took part! Yet Fulcrum did not publish itself on taking part, so he wonders if it has various views on taking part (with such non-Evangelicals).

He thinks this three streams business, coming from Fulcrum, is a divide and rule business, as shown in British imperialism (GAFCON is incredibly obsessed with British imperialism - they liken it and the inherited position of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as if there is any working parallel). Divide and rule is applied to Evangelicals together by those who consort with groups who deny Evangelical identity (like Fulcrum).

This is exactly what the Jerusalem Declaration set out to deal with, he claims. It is not so much about pleas for reconciliation and unity on the one side as about hounding out loyal Anglicans as understood by those who support the Jerusalem Declaration.

So if there was no theological dispute at NEAC why the resistance? GAFCON via its renewing conference contains all Anglican Communion orthodox touchstones, but has opened the future in the way of structures; at the same time the likes of Fulcrum are retreating into the diminishing space in those old structures "given to the orthodox by liberal society", and as part of this Fulcrum pursues diversity in unity with non-Evangelicals. This is a compromised agenda. Fulcrum is more interested in this than the more legitimate diversity of those in the CEEC itself. Chris Sugden asks if this is coherent for Fulcrum.

There it was: a strong appeal at NEAC 2008 to support those in North America who, harassed out of their churches by those with an inclusive agenda (he claims), was not met. They have shown a firm and clear witness to the truth but NEAC has yet to do so: "They have. Will we?"

The spaces, then, of legitimacy and orthodoxy are laid down by Chris Sugden, and there he finds Fulcrum covorting with those outside these spaces in other spaces. It's a world of enemies within the institutions, who have to be defeated, because they end up harassing out the orthodox.

What he means is that he and others like him will press on because Fulcrum's legitimacy is weakened by association.

This is exactly as the Trotskyites in 1980s Labour behaved, and now Bishop Pete Broadbent (not a member of Fulcrum) sees this approach as how Labour itself used to operate against the Trotskyites and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It is guilt by association, innuendo, doesn't know what it stands for, divide and rule and a hint of martyrdom. GAFCON does not have a monopoly on support for those Canadians and those in the United States, he says.

Let's go back to the Principal Dr Richard Turnbull speaking at the Reform Conference in October 2006.

By the way, he produced a four part definition:

  • Supreme authority of scripture in all matters of life and faith
  • The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Our relationship with Jesus Christ as a personal relationship with a personal God
  • Bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those ...95% of the people in this country facing hell

He said:

The identity of evangelicalism of course has broadened rather enormously in recent years and it has become rather convenient - even popular in some ways - to claim the name of evangelical.

And he said:

What I mean by that is this whole idea of what it means to be evangelical being broadened so that it encompasses everybody and everything. If the liberals seek to capture the theological colleges in order to exercise strategic influence, the first step will be to encourage liberal evangelicals to capture the evangelical colleges.

The implication of such dastardly behaviour, of course, is to take on such Liberal Evangelicals who are undermining the Evangelicals proper as a first stage of going for the Liberals proper.

It might just be that broader Evangelicals are seeing how these entryists operate and might want to do something about it.

Friday 21 November 2008

Anyone for Lay Presidency?

We hear much about lay or diaconal presidency of the Eucharist thee days because the only thing preventing it from taking place now in Sydney Anglican Archdiocese is the Archbishop himself. The only reason he might say no for any length of time is the additional division this would bring to GAFCON.

GAFCON carries the extreme end of Anglo-Catholicism, which surely cannot last as the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration includes incorporating the Thirty-nine Articles. However, the biblical selective literalists also show a varying commitment to Anglican orders, that is to say the view that the Church in any place coheres around the bishop and that the presbyter represents the bishop. Here therefore is the restriction of who does the central representational act of the Church. If someone is to begin to preside at the Eucharist, then the person ought to be priested.

The Evangelicals who accept lay presidency say that scripture allows it, and then make a comparison with preaching. The bishop will licence a preacher, but the preacher can be anyone, clerical or lay. If preaching is more important than the central ritual act, then why can't anyone be licensed to preside at the Eucharist, clerical or lay?

Indeed the argument can be pushed further, that a preacher uses his or her words, which for an Evangelical runs the risk of the person saying heterodox things, whereas the president at a Eucharist uses fixed words and thus is at no risk of heresy. David Ould makes such an argument.

When I produced categories of mainstream Christians for my PhD thesis, one of these was traditionalist Evangelical, though always at danger of being swamped by the contemporary varieties. The traditionalist Evangelical was defensive rather than attacking, tending to fundamentalism, but connected to the interpretations of historical denominations and past divines. They reject (and do not use) the culture. Well, these have now surfaced against others because they in particular defend Anglican orders, including those who have escaped to GAFCON (not all have and not all would have it usurp the Church of England or other Anglican Churches).

Others also argue that practice and order matters, and cohering around the bishop is the well worn practice, the first ministry practice of the New Testament Churches. Some denominations interpret presbyter and bishop as one, the presbyter is as the bishop.

One wonders if there is a liberal view. Well, first of all most liberals are a bit of something else as well, so that a liberal Anglo-Catholic will uphold the priestly ministry, and the liberal Evangelical will probably uphold Anglican orders as historical, biblical and valid.

What is the liberal component viewpoint: is there one?

The issue is going to be one of competence and making the ritual work. Ritual is multi-faceted, and works at the level of the imagination as well as straight explanation. The purpose of ritual is that it should be effective. What it should do is a number of things, specific to the Christian tradition and moving out to a general effect.

The most specific Christian impact should be an intimate, relationship-generating identification with Christ - that is the ethical-theological teachings, the character of the person as received, the life and death as a drama of his service and sacrifice. In direct connection with this is an identification with the community that proclaims the resurrection life and that the person and message lives. The community is historical and present. Using food and drink is clearly bodily and personal - the one way we take in a foreign body and make it our own.

The second aspect and more general is the token exchanging binding nature of the ritual. It is like taking yourself through a door for renewal and then coming out through another door renewed and bound to one another and set up to again go out into the community. The purpose of renewal is your own orientation to serve others. There is a lot of social anthropological work about this, that one sets up material and spiritual gift-exchanges that have a renewing and binding social and communal effect.

Now it is possible that anyone can head up this ritual, but if the person is not perceived to have some sort of competence and charge, a sense even of personal power in service, then the ritual will not work. There has to be a drama to it: it has to have features of approach, the moment, and the coming away. It needs a good conductor.

The bishop system is just someone who is authorised as a means of selecting someone who has become competent. So training and education are important. However, the bishop system does add one more element, and it is the personal and the relationship. Carried through to the priest, the impotance of the pastoral side comes through.

It matters that, other than on some occasions of geographical distance, this particular person of pastoral relationship presides at the central communal ritual. That person has the privilege of knowing what the generality may not, and that privilege extends to other people in relationship with the same person. That pastoral relationship does extend to the bishop. So the personal matters.

When I married in 2001 it was important to me that it was done in the Unitarian church in which I had spent my worshipping life week by week, and done by the man with whom I had had a pastoral relationship. So the marriage ceremony extended that relationship, including to my wife who had only come upon this as a result of joining me. It is that sort of argument employed here.

It is why I will participate in a healing service from time to time and receive a direct ministry. It is not because so magic trick might happen, or some doodly wotsit with a God out there, but because it expresses a relationship and a working through.

Therefore my conclusion is that I am wary of lay presiding as such. Of course there are all sorts of possibilities of Church order, and one system is not the only that combines these elements of the ritual and the pastoral. Nevertheless the grounds of proceeding must be consensual and well understood, and there must be a power and intent in the ritual. It should be done by the main person in situ or those of that understood team, in a representative and relational setting. In some places this could be lay led, in other places ministerial without bishops, and in others with the bishop or representative. A lot of this comes down to forms of developing trust.

As for preaching, well that too should relate to the community of hearers, but I would extend who can do it quite widely. Again the pastoral relationship does come into this, and we should expect the main pastoral figure to reflect on matters of interest to the community. Orthodoxy or heterodoxy does not enter into this consideration: again it is whether it works. Much preaching does not work: it is like a lecture made worse. Again training and education are important. In the end, though, a sermon ought to be a conversation with that group on some ethically motivating topic that stands with the rest of the ritual. It should be a free and different part of the service, open to a variety of influences, and always an aid to contemplation. So preaching can be more varied in the persons to give the message that engages with others than the central person of the ritual act.

The liberal justification for restricting who does what is going to be functional - does it actually work - and other explaining lies with other traditions. In the end, whilst flexibility and creativity are important, a little restriction and in the right places enhances the task at hand and its motivating power.

Thursday 20 November 2008

New Anglican Church

I've decided on a solution to my problem of being a square peg in a round hole. I'm going to start my own Anglican Church.

On 3rd December I shall announce that this Pluralist Anglican Church will begin, and in the place of cathedrals we shall convert a number of double and single garages attached to bishops' houses. You can generally get a few seats in and all the religious finery, so long as you leave the cars in the drive. The choir does have to assemble in the back garden. We've been to India and found someone related to some ancient line somewhere, with several glossy certificates that interact with an Anglican bishop in the seventeenth century, so off we go with lots of hands laying.

Now I have a rival. It is led by Bishop Bob Duncan, formerly of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and now of somewhere of the same name. He will become Archbishop of the new Province of GAFCON in North America, and many of his bishops have an African connection, but given my obscure Indian connection I can do better than him. My bishops will use the ancient title Mar, as in Mar Garine, Mar Gate and Mar Kharris. Also I shall set up a theology seminar requiring one set of bullet points per Anglican non-residential ordinand, and thus, being six foot five, I shall henceforth be known as the Most Reverend Professor Mar Mite of the Pluralist Anglican Church. Do remember to use small writing when putting that on an envelope - emails are much easier.

Now if you go to that prominent outbuilding next to Lambeth Palace you can find application forms headed: I Want to Start an Anglican Church. We believe Bishop Bob Duncan filled one in back in October. You give your name and address and among pages of pointless detail there is a box where you write a paragraph under where it says: Why do you think your Church would be Anglican? It does say that if you run out of space you can attach additional sheets. Apparently forms filled in so far have a variety of answers, and there does not seem to be a correct answer. Bishop Bob's form gave an ideological answer, which is most unusual - something about confessing they are Anglicans whereas most folk are a bit happier about their Anglicanism. I shall fill in my form ideologically too, based on my Nine Theses revision of John S. Spong's Twelve Theses. My version for the Pluralist Anglican Church is bound to be far more acceptable to the Archbishop, who took the opportunity to demonstrate his own apparent orthodoxy by spending some time putting crosses and not ticks next to each of the twelve theses. So he doesn't need to do that again.

At the end of the Lambeth form, which I'm afraid did not win the Clear and Simple English Award, it states that the Archbishop of Canterbury '...cannot promise that this form will not be read selectively and to the advantage of parties involved, on the basis that legally the Church of England cannot be directed by external agencies other than the Crown in Parliament.' This sentence has had lawyers making their various interpretations: but all agree that it does not negate into promising that the application will be read without prejudice. Indeed Anglicanism is full of prejudice, which is more than half the problem.

Once the form has been filled in by the applicant, the Archbishop of Canterbury takes it in person to the Anglican Cricket Club which decides whether its constitution makes more or less sense than playing cricket, and whether it will baffle foreigners in similar measure, as when they received Anglicanism originally. If it passes this particular test, it then goes to London Zoo, where two thirds of the Primates in residence generally tear it up and eat it.

Should there be no evidence of a form after this (all the paper fragments must be eaten), and no comment emerges from the Archbishop of Canterbury, then it is deemed that the new Anglican Church can start up as a legitimate part of Canterbury Anglicanism. Should the Primates spit out what they are chewing, or feel sick, then the Church will be outside the Canterbury Communion. However, it makes not one jot or tittle what is eaten, not eaten, spat out or rejected as the new Church gets set up anyway.

Should a new Church be successful in establishing itself then it will be invited to join the Covenant. The Covenant exists either to keep The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada in, or to keep them out, or to include the new ideological Province in North America, or to try and make my Church become at least a teensy weensy bit more credal. However, the Covenant cannot direct anyone about anything, has no sanctions available, is illegal in England, is ignored elsewhere, is completely contradictory, has no relationship with the Jerusalem Declaration, is destined never to be finished, and apparently was typed up by the Primates at London Zoo and no one can make head or tail of it.

Anyway, as regards my new Pluralist Anglican Church I can confidently predict its expansion through "Entry by Troops" in its revolutionary future (Baha'is will understand what that prediction means). There will be lots of parked cars in driveways. The Church will be thoroughly Anglican and therefore will allow everyone to hold a private faith of whatever kind, which no one will have to discuss with anyone else. This is as far from a Confessing Anglicanism as you can get, and therefore nothing like Bishop Bob's application form (being torn up and thrown between London Zoo Primates as I write), as Confessing Anglicanism is a total contradiction in terms: that is, oxymoronic without the oxy (though, apparently, for good old Anglican identity, in actually needs the Oxy it lacks in order to be contradictory-moronic).

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Looking in From the Outside

More of a personal reflection...

Once again I have spent too much time reading down the comments on Fulcrum after the NEAC 2008, and yet read clearly as someone on the outside looking in. I like to read in ascending date order, but go to the last page first, and back to the first post read previously to read on forwards. I did also take the odd suggested direction elsewhere. I also look at Thinking Anglicans, but on this it isn't the main centre of comment, of course, and some comments there go off focus towards contributors' own biases.

I'm sure there are quite a few uninvolved people looking down at what people are saying. To start elsewhere, I'm sure I disagree with Peter Ould about most things, but his alternative resolution to vote upon would be uniting of these different evangelical factions. He doubts if such would be put by CEEC, however. The Fulcrum forum on NEAC shows something of a return to the issue of Richard Turnbull himself and his impact, and also Chris Sugden's declaration of loyalty to some Global Anglicanism while taking advantage of the Church of England parish basis. The mess from NEAC is getting worse, spilling out, but one comment suggests that the failure too of the Covenant - or its uselessness once done - could leave Evangelicals in a worse state still.

I just maintain the point that this is all to the advantage of the people running CEEC. When opponents (because this is what they are for as long as they disagree) are scattered and neutered, then the one show in town can make its progress. Soon there will be no other options, such as when the Covenant finally dies from its thousanth cut.

I'm personally in two minds about this. This ability to self-destruct clearly limits Evangelical progress, and that I regard as a good thing. I think the self-destruct button and the nature of Evangelicalism are connected. When Pete Broadbent wants a Communion that excludes the non-orthodox but regards Evangelicals ejecting other Evangelicals as "party mindedness", all I can see is the same boundary line drawing at a different place. The assumption is that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are non-orthodox, which I just find bizarre. Some individuals might be, but it follows the basic lines of credal Christianity in all its worship. Some seem to be worried about theology, but theology is like this - it is diverse in its interpretations. Otherwise what is the point - separate out university theology from something sectarian in the Churches? Trinitarian worship shoehorns in theology, even with tight fits: it does its own excluding - and I say that as someone who separates theology and liturgy probably further than they can go.

On the other hand it is sad to see a scrap like this, because there is quite a fallout taking place and it is yet another negative hit within Anglicanism. It may be that there is no alternative to such a scrap. Sometimes there are points where breaks have to be made, or positions taken, and you stand up for them.

I have to say that more and more I look upon this as an outsider, and not just of Evangelicalism. There are numerous ropes and other threads connecting me as an individual and aspects of Anglicanism. I move around in odd corners on the inside, but inspect the ropes and threads and they are fraying. I assess that some kind of liberality will come through in the Church of England, and it is naive to think it will just be ethical and social and not doctrinal. They go together. However, it will be limited and won't really stretch to the position I occupy.

One can go on inhabiting a quiet corner, but in the end I don't like the feeling of being neutered.

There are almost no institutional alternatives for someone like me, a sort of symbolism recognising postmodern liberal who holds to no particular doctrinal position.

The Unitarian Church ought to be the closest to my position, but in the UK it has its own battles and the liberal Christians continue to push a realist agenda of last defence and last practice and the religious humanist has neglected art and symbol in religion. Its long Puritan shadow and the unstated chapel majorities, that do influence types of religious expression, limit its potential as creative, evolving, ways of faith. It has lost an understanding of ritual as a means to cohere, and it has lost a cohering view of ministry. Its historical attempt to find an objective core via a subjective method has limited the impact of postmodern play.

I would equate to something like Free Catholicism, if I understand it properly, but it was a temporary emergence and the nearest to that since would be Liberal Catholicism. But Liberal Catholicism in its different branches has taken from its inheritance of Theosophy and first individuals a very esoteric, even magical view, of the Eucharist and the laying on of hands of bishops, which, though I could live with it, is another workaround. It is socially inclusive. Like its earliest developments, it is highly clerical even when very small, and there is this troubling element of compensatory fantasy.

Another potential institution is - well let's call it - Open Catholicism. This equates more closely to the Old Catholic rather than Liberal Catholic, but is not dependent upon such past associations. From what I can find, it is rather straightforwardly ecumenical in intention, around the set creeds and seven sacraments, and rejects the Protestant, but is not dogmatic beyond these and is socially inclusive - female ordination including as bishops and an open table regarding the Eucharist, with an intention of avoiding judgmental attitudes. I suppose here the liberalism is consequential rather than doctrinal and by intention (such may have been the case with Liberal Catholicism too, but the impact of Theosophy is that it picks up Eastern religions, Gnostics, and New Age, all of which is intentional and invigorating) and so the Open liberalism is clearly limited. Where does all the creative liberal and postmodern theology fit in with Open Catholicism?

The one group I did get on with and only left because I changed location was Western Buddhism. There were issues there, but they were only side ones at the stage of involvement I was at. The emphasis on spiritual friendship involved higher up organisational separation of the sexes, and that was a niggle, though not as I mixed with them. Also I was not as dedicated to the one cause as the dedicated; I did attend an Anglican Church at the same time! My theological diversity was frowned upon by this Buddhism as muddle and even harmful (no God one minute, God the next).

That there are non-affiliated Baha'is lurking around in some numbers now is interesting and encouraging, to say the least. I wonder how much criticism regarding infallibility and all that, and how much relativism, can the Faith take before what is essentially Baha'i is lost? Just where do the unaffiliated Baha'is pitch their critical relationship with the Faith? They vary, of course, but perhaps it starts to look like a version of Unitarian Christianity where the relationship is symbiotic and oppositional at the same time, a relationship towards the Creeds that rejects them.

I find a many people agreeing when discussing areas of theology, but for some reason they have an easier institutional time of it than me. My desire I suppose is to fit an institution and then get fully involved, and it has never happened. In some cases it went far and then became utterly frustrated, and in other cases never started because the objections were clear early on.

So there is a bizarre reflection when looking at these Evangelicals in a state of almost warring factions. They are all well within the institutional boundaries, but some are knocking the walls down anyway and they seem to scrap like hell. And they also scrap, if less ferociously, with others within the walls. But there are liberal Christians who I'd see as well within the walls that others would regard as outside. At least I don't have that grey area to worry about, like say Bishop David Jenkins: I know I'm a cuckoo in the nest.

Monday 17 November 2008

Evangelical Knows

The presentation of Chris Sugden to the National Evangelical Anglican Consultation ought to be read quite carefully, and this passage and a bit is key:

We refuse to abandon our space in the Church of England. The Church of England has always been focused on parishes: the 39 articles speaks of the visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful people in which the word of God is preached and the sacraments administered. We build on the space we have, strengthen it, and relate it closely to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and the Primates Council. We will keep formal administrative links with the formal Church of England, but our real identity is with Global Anglicanism as defined by the Jerusalem statement and declaration.

GAFCON is our connection to the Global Anglican Communion. The GAFCON Primates and bishops are the true successors to John Stott. The Canterbury network is unsure and even confused about what Global Anglicanism means....

The bold is mine. It is clear from this that the core loyalty is declared: that whilst the GAFCON wants to keep its space in the Church of England, the loyalty is to other authority. This is what is understood as entryism, the core of Religious Trotskyism.

What is clear is that the meeting on the Saturday started with some reflection, but moved into acrimony because of the unadvertised resolution that was take it or leave it. It's presentation was along the lines of do as you are told, to find someone tell Richard Turnbull to do as he was being told by those longer in experience than him.

Here was what Richard Turnbull tried to railroad through, according to Graham Kings's transcription reproduced at Fulcrum:

That this National Evangelical Anglican Consultation, acknowledging that the Church of England professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creed and bears witness to this truth in her historic formularies (the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the Ordinal) and as set out in Canon A5, Article 6 and the Declaration of Assent and mindful, as members of the Anglican Communion, of our obligations to faithful Anglicans across the globe,

(a) express our support for the Jerusalem Declaration’ and

(b) recognising that Evangelical Anglicans will pursue a variety of strategies, support our brothers and sisters in their strategic decisions including those set out in the GAFCON statement made in Jerusalem on 29th June 2008 at the Global Anglican Future Conference gathering attended by 1148 people, including 291 Bishops of the Anglican Communion.

Graham Kings includes the all important additional paper given headed 'Procedure':

For the avoidance of doubt, please note the following:

* No amendments will be permitted

* The motion will be voted on in parts (i.e. (a) and (b) above will be voted on separately)

* The Chairman of the session, the Revd Canon Michael Walters, has full control over the handing of the session to ensure a clear vote and timely finish and no challenges to his ruling are permitted

* The vote will take place no later than 3.55 pm

How to get people's backs up! Clearly there was no trust involved there, no trust because the core group did not want to lose the agenda. That the vote was not taken, due to a procedural move from the floor that itself received a majority vote, matters not as Richard Turnbull at the CEEC will get it voted for anyway. The main thing to avoid was any revision - for revision is revisionism.

Thus the Church of England Evangelical Council is 'representative' (says Richard Turnbull) in the way that the Bolsheviks regarded themselves as the vanguard of the working class. Here is the vanguard of the Evangelicals, who already know that their constituency is incapable, but would rather leave them as incapable than have any decision moderated.

As organised Evangelicalism disintegrates, what is left? Why GAFCON is the only show in town. So the Evangelicals are going to be led by the nose in the same direction regardless. The CEEC meets December 4th to do its own voting.

I could have written the script in advance. Warm words about GAFCON, and criticism about various Anglicans to oppose, some semblance of viewpoints beyond the dominant presentation; a surprise vote and no changes; chaos; the core group carry on regardless as chaos keeps everyone else unorganised.

This has more to do with Machiavelli than Christ and Paul, more to do with Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism than with Anglican Christianity.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Evangelical Don't Knows

It seems that the National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC) was something of a non-event on Saturday. That or a death event. The Church of England evangelicals are something of an divided undecided bunch these days, in the manner that it is better not to vote than to vote and expose divisions further.

Three streams are usually identified these days: Open, Charismatic and Conservative. Some Conservatives are of the view that all three cannot be right, rather as more view the wider Church of England and Anglican Communion. If the Church of England Evangelical Council, that heads the NEAC day, is somewhat Conservative dominated, it is because they are the remaining ones to give this Council most commitment. The CEEC President is Wallace Benn and the Chairman is Richard Turnbull, both prominent and arguably narrow Conservative Evangelicals. This domination tends to frustrate the others, presumably a vicious circle for them. John Richardson, another Conservative Evangelical, thinks the leadership is not representative whereas Richard Turnbull, who once wanted liberal evangelicals tackling first in order to overcome weaknesses to get at the real enemy, liberals, thinks the leadership is representative. (a comment about Richard Turnbull in Church Times).

It seems that the meeting was too brief, that it could have been reflective but was not, and that an attempt to push a vote to support the Jerusalem Declaration at GAFCON failed amongst the gathered. A broader representation of evangelicals obviously did gather compared with the leadership, because they felt bounced and declined to vote.

GAFCON alone, it seems, is not adequate for the broader representation, even if it may (for some of them) ask the right questions. It needs to mix more with other Evangelical and Global South elements. The danger is that Evangelicals end up being identifiable as for and against GAFCON.

My thought on this is that it will just underline to the GAFCON people that their strategy is correct. They will see that once again the Evangelical constituency plucks failure out of success. It is even losing faith in the too long to implement and unlikely to be any good Anglican Communion Covenant (told them that a long time ago) so it has no broader Communion strategy. Nick Jones thinks from Bradford it's about too many old men in blazers and ties going on about the glory days and he would prefer to organise using groups via GAFCON. The only answer, thinks the GAFCON Conservatives, will be to proceed with their Religious Trotskyism, that is to say a core group pressing on, keeping and making the agenda and forcing people to come in with it or stay out. Richard Turnbull will think that his Reform lecture was correct, that first the "liberal evangelicals" have to be sorted out before there is any progress possible.

It is odd, really, because there has been a sense over twenty years that the boundaries of believing have been shrinking within Anglicanism. Yet, if the evangelicals are growing in percentage terms, they are rather lousy at pressing home this apparent advantage. Presumably it is the doctrinal spirit that causes them to pick holes in the details, and they fall out when it comes to implementing anything. Liberals and their doubts put up with more grey areas and can tend to discuss more and for longer. However, issues arise that can be effective in implementation.

The key issue is ordaining women as bishops. There is no doubt that as Evangelicals argue amongst themselves, this will be a huge blow to those who insist upon biblical male only headship. It will cause structural failure among Conservative Evangelicals, just as it will finish off the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. This is why the GAFCON types will press on, because no one is going to hand out separate dioceses and it will be up to separatists themselves to produce new male headship only provinces. GAFCON pressing ahead forces the Open Evangelicals to decide which bed is best - that of Evangelicalism with a Conservative thrust, or that of Openness with a liberal thrust.

The advantage for the liberals is that GAFCON takes the worst of the dogma and even the homophobia with it. No one likes, say, Fort Worth congregations and individuals going elsewhere, but it does lance the boil in that locality. If people can't live together, it is up to those who cannot to do something about it and GAFCON gives every indication of doing so. After all, if it does not, then it becomes just one more Evangelical failure and would prove to be the most deflationary for its constituents. The effect of it as a false start would be to set back Evangelicalism for some decades. GAFCON's active separatism (and it will drop its fellow travelling Anglo-Catholics if need be) means less confusion all round. What NEAC shows, however, is that confusion is right inside the broad Evangelical caucus, never mind the wider Anglican body.


Here is a further report posted after I wrote the above. It seems that it started all right and then went wrong later on. A Conservative Evangelical motion was pushed by Richard Turnbull and rejected. Wim Houtman in this report says that many are:

not prepared to give way to liberalism by - as they perceive the line of the conservative 'Fellowship' to be - retreating [to] strongholds of their own.

Which is why Richard Turnbull and those like him will conclude a need to press on. Like this:

"If you don't want a vote, fine", said Turnbull from the chair. "In that case the Church of England Evangelical Council will take its own decision."
From the audience: "Then why consult us?"
Turnbull: "I would appreciate if you did not interrupt me."
Someone else in the audience: "Depends what you say."

So GAFCON carries on! Get those Softy Evangelicals out of the way!

Saturday 15 November 2008

MCU to Change: But to What?

When I came into the Church of England as a communicant in 1984 I soon gathered material about the Modern Churchpeople's Union (it then had the male gender name). I took it to be a moderate, middling, and particularly Anglican group. My own activity in terms of groups was with the emergence of Sea of Faith. I looked at its publications for a time, but when I drifted towards the Unitarians I lost specific interest in MCU.

The wider reputation seemed to be something on the lines that it represented liberal or modernist theology as present in Anglicanism in the 1920s and 1930s, though liberalism was then on a downturn and that kind of modernism had never recovered. It was also representative of the broad Church managerialism of the Church of England that had moderated its output over time. Now it seemed to be a publisher of articles in a reasonably broad band of Christianity, that paused before the more radical expressions were incorporated. Don Cupitt, for example, was not included - as much criticised as welcomed in almost like letting the side down.

Incidentally I was never happy about Sea of Faith and its distinction between liberals and radicals. I have always seen radicalism as part of liberalism, particularly as when Sea of Faith itself adopted no creed (and I was there).

I took a view, against some of the labelling of liberalism and modernism, that liberalism was actually quite visible and strong, that it had continually changed (as would be expected) and, whilst MCU was largely a bystander, there were various liberal expressions of Christianity having an impact at regular intervals. After all, what was Honest to God all about, and what about David Jenkins in the 1980s? On the other hand, it seemed to take less and less liberal expression to make a controversial statement. David Jenkins was hardly liberal, and if he was a cuckoo in the nest then I (for one) must be an albatross among humming birds. Since the 1980s Anglicanism and UK Christianity in general has become more sectarian.

MCU perhaps suffers from the dual role of the Broad Church party. I have a particular historical interest in radicals of the broad Church and Unitarians who co-operated in the past, with individuals who have crossed over in both directions, and it is clear that the broad Church was both a corner for radicals and a place for middling managerial theology to hold more extreme wings of the Church of England together. Incidentally, some Unitarians crossing over, like F. D. Maurice and Coleridge are those who end up being middling in impact, largely because they had to make quite a trinitarian leap to come into the Anglican community. There has to be some sort of escalation of personal theology (I did this too, for a short time). Something similar happens in the other direction too, that on-the-edge Anglicans tend to pass over quickly towards a religious humanism well beyond the hinterland of some Christian Unitarians. This is the result of no longer hanging on to what ought to have been dropped a while back, and quite a lot is dropped at once.

Apparently the MCU sees a need to overhaul itself, and this must be right. I think its labelling and outlook simply no longer reflects the situation as it stands and its development needs updating. I'm not a member, in fact I'm hardly a member of anything now, but it seems to me it ought to sharpen up its ecumenical, interfaith and radical edge. It also might consider what could be called its residual doctrinal baggage, and be a bit more fearless regarding a freer encounter with matters of religion and faith. Might I suggest consideration into the mix of something like my own Nine Theses? However, matters are not so simple as such a general wish about its stance.

I was pleased to see that my defence of liberalism within the Church of England roughly agreed with points made by Paul Badham in the MCU article on its history within the Church of England. We differ over my stronger expression of imported Socinian and Arian ideas (he does mention Samuel Clarke). My defence has been expressed at Fulcrum, after a remark by one Conservative Evangelical that whilst he could understand the place of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals in the origins of the Church of England, he could see no founding place for liberality. This is a theme being repeated over and over again - that liberalism is illegitimate, that it is 'False Teaching'. The birth of GAFCON and its associated sympathisers (e.g. Wycliffe College, Reform) clearly targets liberalism as the enemy. Some target Open Evangelicals as the first stage of clearing the decks of evangelical weakness before taking on the real enemy, the liberals within.

Why should this be so: it is that the ordination of women, important as it is, broke the back of traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism, and continues to do so in the corners in which they still inhabit some sort of existence, and has created a more dangerous bipolar institution, with evangelicals at one end and liberals and theological radicals at the other. The Conservative Evangelicals regard Open Evangelicals as in the way, or they just ought to behave and join the Party, in order to take on the liberals. Affirming Catholicism is to the theological left, and made its decision regarding where it is to be based. Rightly or wrongly, it gets associated with the liberals, though some just think they are critical whole Catholics.

However, make women bishops too and the Conservative Evangelicals are all of a dither, as so many state that women cannot have headship. Their backs start to crack too. Interestingly, though, at GAFCON the lack of any Broad Church means that the two wings hardly have a future together. Sydney and lay presidency may help that division along quite speedily. The coming Province of North America in GAFCON begins divided. But such is the trajectory of separatists: separate and separate again.

For the time being, then, there is no Broad Church function for the liberals, in that there is a middle division position occupied by Open Evangelicals. They do not function in the old Broad Church sense: they are just a location for the knife that cuts them one way and the other.

Assuming women do become bishops, a number of evangelicals will go the GAFCON way (they won't get their own non-geographical dioceses) and the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics will form their own entities or join up with other Churches. This will leave as insignificant any remaining traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and weaken remaining Conservative Evangelicals. The remaining Church of England will therefore have narrower boundaries. There will be Open Evangelicals (who are left - both senses of the words), broad liberals and radicals. My predictive difficulty is how the broad liberals will then assume the Broad Church role again, and start to demand discipline among the radicals - radicals who will upset the Open Evangelicals. We radicals cannot behave when it comes to theology and ethics.

Is my prediction reasonable? If it is, it creates a dilemma for MCU as it reforms itself. Does it want to keep that Broad Church negotiating in the deposit account, so it can bring its role back again later? Or does it want to take on the role it is finding itself in at the moment, a defender along with all liberals and radicals of the awkward squad in a more ecumenical and interfaith-looking Christianity? I don't want to be funny but my bishop of Lincoln (so put in that I, lay Anglican, live in his diocese) is President of MCU: would he find it possible to be President of a more awkward body that had less of its doctrinal baggage on board? Well, membership should indeed include the more apparently orthodox, but what of presiding over a body that doesn't much care for upholding the doctrinal niceties? I'm a member of the Have Some Balls tendency, but these days people are a little afraid of what others think and do.