Sunday 1 March 2009

Bonhoeffer Moments Coming

Paul Vallely made concluded an article in a recent Church Times like this:

In Rome the revisionists have friends in high places. Pope Benedict XVI sees dangers for the Church in modern thought and lifestyles. He has used the rehabilitation of the schismatic con­serva­tives, whose doubts on ecumenism and relations between the faiths he shares. Moscow, under its new hard-line leader, Patriarch Kirill, who believes that the interests of the Church and the state are one, is attempting something similar, though he seems more motivated by political power than by theological purity.

There is perhaps a lesson in all that for those in the Church of England faced with the dilemma of how to press ahead with the ordination of women bishops without alienating the traditionalists. Sometimes appeasing those who cannot accept the mind of the Church is only storing up trouble for the future.

I spent some time listening to contributions to the post-General Synod Additional National Assembly of Forward in Faith UK (FiF) on Saturday. Usually a clear theme comes through, but I listened to David Houlding, David Waller, and Jonathan Baker and I've no clue about what is their actual strategy other than not accepting a Code of Practice, but clearly a number think this is all but dead anyway. I've listened to others since too.

There seems to be a rejection of the workings and outcome of the General Synod and yet an effort to try and improve the outcome at the elections in order to prevent a two thirds majority. Then there seems to be a giving way that there will be women bishops, so long as there is a suitable outcome that is structural (a watertight non-geographical diocese or third province, or a Society that is effectively a third province) that isn't a one generation ark while they die off. There seems to be, however, a severe doubt regarding the potential of the Legislative Drafting Group and yet, again, a view that it may produce something better (all from the Forward in Faith point of view) because the General Synod did not receive a clear shape for any legislation. Some FiF would withhold the quota that goes towards paying clergy. Then, still, the whole stress on a universal Church seems to mean that this group, or members of this group, would go anyway, something that has been the subject of rumour about people leaving.

I'm a complete outsider here, but it seems to me that there are a number of Bonhoeffer moments approaching on a number of structural issues. This Bonhoeffer moment was something the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned in 2006 in an interview for The Guardian.

Alan Rusbridger: at what point do you eventually stub against your irreducible, small "l" liberal principles and say actually "well there is an irreducible bit I can't negotiate over"?

Archbishop of Canterbury: Yes, I haven't got there yet, and if I could speculate about where those were, then it would be rather simpler now. It's - it's a dangerous comparison, because it sort of ups the stakes a bit, but I'm very struck by what Bonhoeffer writes in the middle-30s about the division of the church over the Aryan laws in Nazi Germany, where he says both that it's extremely important not to try and work out in advance every circumstance in which it would be necessary for the church to break.

On this, the Church of England will have to decide whether there will be a third province without women bishops and women priests, which divides up the Church of England (for its own undefiled, unpolluted Archbishop surely). It would build in schism and would also be a place for GAFCON to put its Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (or why not have a fourth province?). The decision, the real Bonhoeffer moment for the General Synod, would be to have women bishops and keep the Church as it is, which means a defeat for these traditionalists with or without a Code of Practice. This would mean FiF clergy resignations, leaving behind those individuals who at the last point decide to hang on (clergy not looking for another job) and perhaps do some ducking and diving to avoid being polluted by women as bishops and women priests and male priests ordained by women. Lay people might move to rented premises, or stay. It would, of course, leave what the FiF crew call Faux Catholics, those who retain a Catholic approach to liturgy but have a critical approach to theology and even ecclesiastical structures, and who accept the full ministry of ordained women. Such is the constituency represented by Affirming Catholicism.

The second area concerns The Episcopal Church and its coming General Convention. It is whether it should continue to observe the moratoria or not regarding no appointing of bishops in same sex relationships and no blessing ceremonies. The idea of continuing to do this would be to facilitate a Covenant and decisions to be taken probably now by the Primates Meeting rather than the Anglican Consultative Council about which Churches are in the Anglican Communion and which are not.

This is to continue something temporary so that another authority elsewhere can attempt to make it permanent, or as permanent as the final Church objection giving way. It is agreeing to something in order to export authority, which The Episcopal Church cannot do anyway - just as the Church of England cannot. Even some sort of moral authority (if moral is the right word) given away voluntarily would still have centralised institutions making decisions. And there might be a Faith and Order Commission too, that would take further this centralisation towards more like a Church than a Communion. All this and still there will be a different self-selective Primates Council approving and organising an Anglican Church of North America and other incursions.

It seems to me that it is time now to pull this charade to an end. We know what a Covenant would be now in terms of what it would try to restrict - it would restrict one of the central purposes of The Episcopalian Church in the United States and what will be done by others in time.

So coming up is, I'd suggest, its Bonhoeffer moment on this issue. If other Anglican Churches want a Covenant, no one is stopping them, but the US Anglican Church saying "no" may simply force the issue. It might find quite a number of other Churches unwilling to come under an international Covenant - or to see the point of it. Secondly, the Canadians aren't going to have second class relations with the Americans, nor will the Brazilians, Mexicans, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Hong Kong, New Zealanders - probably not even England either. There will be parallel communions at worst, and at best the Covenant will be binned.

On both issues, it is up to those who want to say no to these structural changes to organise themselves and carry through the necessary decisions. When a Church makes a decision to change - say have women bishops or extend categories included in the ministry - the Church should not organise its own schism. It might provide pastoral suport and deal with sensitivities, but it should also have its own structural unity as a body. Some do leave when there is change, and others find the ability to join because of the change.

It seems to me that the Church of England and The Episcopal Church ought to decide to be more inclusive regarding their leaderships. The Church of England's changes will make it more like The Episcopal Church, and thus will continue to follow where it has led. So it is up to The Episcopal Church to lead and its Bonhoeffer moment is not long off.


Fred Preuss said...

Having a religion bases your life on professing to know what nobody sane can know.
The fact that you were dishonest with each other is no surprise.
What were you thinking? That people would all have a Kumbayah moment and those who don't want women/gay clergy would magically agree with you, for the sake of social class/pensions/ancient associations?
You are a massively spoiled and self-obsessed group of people, even for upper-middle class WASPs.

Fred Preuss said...

Comparing yourselves to Bonhoeffer, a man who died opposing the Nazis, is only the latest sign of gross self-importance; Sunny von Bulow was less self-absorbed than your church.

it's margaret said...

Adrian --I hope and pray our 'moment' is coming... riding the fence is awfully uncomfortable.

On another note, the snarky me is thinking that since autonomous churches are equal in their autonomy, perhaps our Presiding Bishop here in TEC could organize a consultative committee and send them as 'visitors' to advise her and you all on the difficulties you all are having with the full inclusion of women.... (and she could make them all women and progressive theologians, perhaps a lesbian or two among them), and we could return the favor of the advisory committee the +++ABC is sending us!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the solution for the Communion is to have all the progressive Provinces join the Porvoo Communion, where there is apparently no scandal attached to the Church of Sweden contemplating full same-sex marriage, yet the CofE and the CofS have been in happy full communion since the 1920's. The Anglican Communion would then be reduced to whoever wants to stay behind, which would be largely the Gafconites and the CofE whilst it takes another 100 years to decide. The Porvoo Communion would still include the CofE and carry on progressively as the rump Anglican Communion sinks into the faded remnant of Empire, internecine warfare, and bickering about who's the purest one of all.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

If the Churches decided who they could associate with, then perhaps the progressive ones would hook up with Porvoo and the like.

The Pastoral Visitor's thing looks like a lot of nothing to me anyway.

I'm no upper middle class anything: I'm a member of the underclass. I'm not comparing myself with Bonhoeffer at all, he was mentioned by Rowan Williams as someone who said you have to be careful when you decide and decide to cut links, and so the point of cutting and deciding something I've called a Bonhoeffer moment. This may not have the same level of importance or consequence, but it is entirely legitimate to use it as a means of describing when a predicament is finally faced.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Adrian, for asking a hard question clearly. I've been reading the Atlantic Review piece on Rowan Williams ( which combines one or two slightly ludicrous historical and factual howlers with a really perceptive model and conclusions.

You can always call for a division of the house and then that's what you've got. What Lambeth made obvious was 2 things:

(1) we're a long way away still from having the kind of knoweldge and understanding of each other that would really support an honest and realistic answer to various culture wars questions.

(2) When you actually get human beings together in an indaba type process things begin to emerge which don't appear as long as people just sit in self-referential ghettoes, or indulge in custard pie fights

I wonder how much of the present falling out is genuine falling out. I wonder also how much of that is conditioned by the way in which issues have been framed by a process of adversairal verbal custard pie fighting instead of human contact and communion.

Constraints are fine, in design terms. They can even lead to great design. But without creative thinking, we're all stuck. The resources are in the tradition, not of answers, but of ways to seek answers...

Erika Baker said...

"When you actually get human beings together in an indaba type process things begin to emerge which don't appear as long as people just sit in self-referential ghettoes, or indulge in custard pie fights"

And isn't that so true of all aspects of church life and society!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The question I'm asking is whether the process is stuck, and how to release it and free it up. The situation and its method seems to me to be at a kind of stalemate, and by reaching a point where a decision is made (that then allows reconstruction) is a way to free up the works.

Fred Preuss said...

"Indaba"? as in "Indaba-daba-doo?"

June Butler said...

The question I'm asking is whether the process is stuck, and how to release it and free it up.

I hope and pray that freeing up will come at GC09. Quite honestly, I don't like the idea of the ABC's hovering presence there at all. I suppose I should be more respectful, and I'm sure he means well, but I don't trust him not to exercise pressure for results that will make his life easier.

Se non ora, quando?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

If he'll be there it will be for a result - his.

Indaba daba doo is an old joke. They are not indaba groups anyway, which meant something like a village thrashing out an issue until a resolution. This version has no resolution.

Fred Preuss said...

Actually, Indaba-daba-doo is an obvious joke told about an overinflated term used to make guilty white people feel that they're connecting with Africans and becoming more multi-cultural.
Always go for the surface rather than substance! It's a lot cheaper!