Friday 31 July 2009


The Quakers - The Religious Society of Friends - in the UK will now treat gay and lesbian couples in marriage ceremonies like they do heterosexuals. Say congratulations to that, and the State's compromise with Churches - to keep the ceremonies secular - is now blown open. Churches and religious gatherings can, of course, do what they like with no status in law, but this clashes with law. Until sorted out, presumably most couples so inclined will get a Civil Partnership and then go to the Quakers for marriage.

Is There Life in Church?

Sincere apologies yet again to David Bowie.

Is there life in Church?

It's a God-awful small affair,
In the Church of once liberal heir,
But the Bishop is yelling, "No!"
And Archbishop has nowhere to go.
But past friends are nowhere to be seen,
Now he talks in his sunken dream
To the crowd with Catholic views:
And he hears evangelicals;
But the lot are a saddening bore,
'Cause he's heard it ten times or more,
He could preach to the eyes of fools,
As they ask him to focus on:

Gay men fucking in the bedroom.
Bishops! Look at those gay men go:
It's the Puritans' show.
Take a look at the Churchmen
Beating up the wrong guys.
Bishops! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's at the ethical low:
Is there life in Church?

It's on Anglicans' tortured minds:
This Archbishop has turned all around;
Now the clergy are stuck for claims
'Cause theology's sold again.
See his books once in millions sold,
From St Ives to the Shetland Isles.
Anglican Church falls into hate
To lesbians, gay men, and straight.
But new texts are a saddening bore,
'Cause he writes these ten times or more;
It's about to be writ again,
As they ask him to focus on:

Gay men fucking in the bedroom.
Bishops! Look at those gay men go:
It's the Puritans' show.
Take a look at the Churchmen
Beating up the wrong guys.
Bishops! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's at the ethical low:
Is there life in Church?


Didn't see the time and rushed off to evensong.
I leaned back on my pew, you know;
Some preacher saying, "Out with gays, and lesbians too," he said.

Archbishop's sound did seem to fade,
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase.
(That never was this man, that's a hazy present phase.)

There's a Christ-Man waiting in the sky,
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds.
There's a Christ man waiting in the sky,
He told them not to blow it
'Cause he knows it's not worthwhile.
He says:
Let the churchmen lose it,
Let the pews ignore it,
Just get on - with faith.

He had to preach somehow, so he picked on us
Hey, that's far out, so we heard the same!
Switch on the TV - qualifies for satellite.

But the real presence has a different light:
Shining and sparkling and he may land tonight.
Don't tell your bishop or he'll have us locked in - fright!

There's a Christ-Man waiting in the sky,
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds.
There's a Christ man waiting in the sky,
He told them not to blow it
'Cause he knows it's not worthwhile.
He says:
Let the churchmen lose it,
Let the pews ignore it,
Just get up - in hope.

Christ-Man coming from the sky,
He will come down and meet us
But he knows he'll blow our minds.
There's a Christ man coming from the sky,
He knew they would just blow it
Cause he knows it's not worthwhile.
He says:
Let the churchmen lose it,
Let the pews ignore it,
Just go out - and love.

Short Cut: Oppose the Covenant

I am not the right person to oppose the Anglican Covenant.

The religious position I occupy now is one where I continue at the adopted nearby Anglican church in which I worship, but on its margins; this is tolerated and I won't exploit that toleration and so I become quiet. I still present some pieces for theological discussion for as long as these are wanted, and then I shall stop: I try to offer the theologies neutrally while theological events are discussed (including, later, more conservative ones).

Nevertheless, I still understand and value the potential of Anglicanism, and can still make a contribution to those who have beliefs rather more inside its boundaries (or are within them at present).

My reasons for opposing the Covenant from the beginning are the same as I oppose restrictive creeds, articles or even the Unitarian Object that was introduced some years ago to that denomination struggling with its definition or lack of definition. That Object gave the General Assembly, among statements upholding freedom of belief, a named preference to "upholding" "liberal Christianity" (whatever that means). All sorts of explanations have been given for it, from the purely descriptive of a majority position in Britain to something for the Charity Commissioners (the latter argument being utterly false). They all have something in common: they involve one form of deception or another. If it is descriptive and doesn't uphold, then don't use that language, and if it does uphold then don't say everything is as free as it was. Why introduce additional duplicity into a denomination historically creedless? By the way, I was in quite a minority and lost that battle, but I still notice people becoming ever so concerned about the statement. Once in it becomes hard to remove.

So I am not in any sense providing any Christological arguments against the Covenant, because I no longer believe in any either for or against. There are examples of these developing. My argument is simply one observing that Anglican Churches have characteristics that make them different from other Churches, though with (obviously) some core matters in common.

One is that, despite observing core creeds and orders, they are a strange mixture of Englishness (sometimes Englishy-Scottishness) exported and being culturally responsive in each situation. That means they develop their own cultural habits on top of the English inheritance, but they also build their own theological responses and may attempt from these to find universal Christian principles when making changes. Also some Anglican Churches are highly authoritarian in structure and others are towards the liberal-democratic. So Anglicanism is a sort of number of running arguments, diversified; and Anglicanism is aware of its own settings and changes. This cultural-theological condition also determines how they respond to each other as structures. They are going to do it in dialogues, each to each, according to how the theologies and cultures overlap or not.

There is an inbuilt contingency and flexibility about Anglicanism as a whole, and it can be relaxed, diverse, patient but also make some bold moves. Anglicanism has this mixing of Protestant fellowship and Catholic orders in situ, that allows a conservatism in both and a liberality in both.

The Old Catholics have become similar. They used to be very much more 'Catholic' but they have relaxed since the days of Arnold Harris Mathew moving out. Lutherans have historical points of specific identity (too), but they are broadening out. The extent of similarity comes because, of course, we in the West at least live in the same pluralist and secular world, where many of the old Christian particularities have died away, and so many Catholic-independents and once non-conformists now have reducing objections to getting on with Anglicans even in a more structural sense. These cultural and specific vessels for Christianity of course extend further beyond the West, but these are themselves influenced by the strains of poverty, authoritarianism, modernisation and education - with some blowback into the Western Churches. Aggressive mega-churches of Protestant individualism in South Korea, for example, tell us something about capitalism and development, just as churches as media and leisure centres with huge car parks tell something about aspects of North American consumer society.

Clearly a fundamental tension going on worldwide is that the old denominations and their specifics are being replaced by new ones inside them: generally the radical, the liberal, the defensive traditionalisms, the conversionist. These are going on along with the cultural settings, for example the strains of modernisation and where these churches were planted into deeply local magical cultures and still reflect such supernaturalism.

What I am suggesting is that Anglicanism has, beyond its definitions, a flexibility that brings out the best in hands-across-the-world human relationships, in that Anglicans meet for friendly fellowship, conversation, and sharing. It is a theologically human view of communion. A secular view would call it all confederal.

What a Covenant does is rewrite the structure. It introduces unification of process into shared beliefs, beliefs of the day (and not just credal), and also introduces more than strong implications that the Communion is itself a Church. Now the problem with this is that it produces the logic of many more 'oughts' and 'shoulds' and even 'musts' at a worldwide level than exist and are challenged at the moment.

I have already argued that apostolic authority - of promises to obey, when credal and doctrinal and when set against changes in theology and what people believe - cause strategies of deception. The cost to truth - the integrity of finding and discussing truth - of the Covenant is even higher. It would curtail the diversity of Anglicanism by unification of process.

The device in the argument given by the Archbishop of Canterbury is that of a "local Church" [he does not capitalise]; and just as gay people now have a "lifestyle choice" that is purely secular and rights based, and for which there is no basic theology (he says), so "local Churches" are cultural and they are either more or less cultural when more or less local, with again no theology of place (he implies). His argument is also ecumenical, though it is only really Roman Catholic ecumenical. With the Orthodox, for example, they are all in place, but they are so slow and conserving that their responses to each other over relative trivia are excommunications! They lack Anglican flexibility. But there are many other denominations and Churches that have such flexibility, including those with Catholic theologies, Protestant theologies and mixtures.

Nevertheless, the Covenant should also be seen another way. It is of opportunistic use by hardline evangelicals. They lost the argument in the West a long time ago, and lost it to Open Evangelicals and liberals. However, by going around other 'local' Anglicanisms they can build up the numbers and, of course, if there is centralisation they start to have a bigger impact than they would otherwise - and back into the West. This has been the whole strategy of international oversight by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, spreading tentacles where impact can be increased. Now the FCA has been both dismissive of the Covenant (it is too moderate; it is based on current structures) and finds it useful (because of its potential already to slice off several degrees of believers as heterodox). Having set up a competitor Church in North America, the Covenant suddenly becomes useful as a way of upping the anti regarding the progress of Conservative Evangelicalism. And it is working: already, a bishop who branded the FCA types as super-apostles is warmer than ever about the competitor Church. Come into my parlour says the spider: because the agenda will be the FCA's, not that of Open Evangelicalism, its first line opposition. And indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury himself has made statements about gay people that have the approval of Conservative Evangelicals (in the basic terms about lifestyle choices, and about the impossibility of them 'representing' the Church in any ministry).

But let's be clear. The Covenant is a means to an end for the Conservative Evangelicals; the FCA approach will continue regardless of the Covenant or not: it will just be another weapon in their armoury for as long as it remains one.

Whatever happens, the intention of the Covenant is to restrict, to slow, to unify, and is ecumenical towards Roman Catholicism.

Now some groups have seen the Covenant as the coming centre, and thus argued for inclusion in the Covenant and for a Covenant that is inclusive. This would, of course, mean it would not be as in all the features intended for it as present in the Ridley-Cambridge draft plus its Section 4. Some have said the Covenant is a good idea if it is just as statement of, say, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and some additional bits more of Anglican flavour. But, then, why have such a statement of no additional impact?

The Covenant is not about this: it is about raising to the level of process-doctrine the exclusion of people in faithful gay relationships out of the Christian family. It is, in addition, the process that the international Anglican Church should decide what is international and what is national (read local). In other words, it argues for federation of Anglicanism into its instruments rather than the confederal friendly arrangements as of now. It innovates a new Anglicanism based around an international hub. It does this, even while a Conservative Evangelical group is innovating its own Anglican definition around its own international hub.

Now when it comes to the European Union, I am a near-federalist, and I am because Western liberal-democracies have a need to function at high level on matters of multinational economics and other environments with fully democratic structures, and not Councils of Ministers (representatives of government executives) starting to take more and more majority votes without adequate challenge. The European Parliament needs more power. There also has to be initiation of legislation at European level - it's what the Commission does, and there democratic accountability has to develop ever more. There also needs to be as much decentralisation as possible, and I would still have sovereignty fundamentally at the nation state (for the ability to withdraw). I would have an English Parliament to join the other three of the UK, and then keep decentralising. Europe is mixing its economies regardless of national boundaries, but we also live in communities.

What the Covenant does is federate by the equivalent of extracted executives, and it decides what is international on the basis of expediency, according to the ongoing issue. But Anglicanism is confederal by its Churches, and there has been nothing like the necessary thorough debate - no equivalent of those referenda or the debate in the news media - about this intended yet happening, ongoing, transference to an ecclesiastical federation. And we know in the media just how resistant people are regarding the EU, and is one reason why the Lisbon Treaty has considerable confederal elements within it (including new roles for national parliaments and rights to secede). What Anglicanism is seeing, otherwise, is the top deciding that the top should have the chief decision making functions, taking to itself any controversial matter, including the obsession with sexuality as one 'presenting issue' at this time, and then displaying itself as a unified body to Rome.

This is why, if people do value Anglicanism as special, different, with a witness that combines core belief and flexibility of actions, then they should oppose the Covenant completely. They should not seek a Covenant that 'includes', because that will only then add to the paper pile; it has to be opposed: to take away the means of centralising and, additionally, imposing Conservative Evangelicalism where it has ceased to be.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Bishop Tom to Ground Control

When I wrote the Anglican Oddity and Anglican Ashes pieces, I assumed that the real Bishop Tom Wright would be pretty fed up with the Real Archbishop Rowan Williams by now, especially as 'Rowan's Reflections' contain no specific means to an end of flogging the same Covenant. Well, I've been a little previous. Now Bishop Tom Wright has written a piece offering some means towards as well as supporting the same end; and he is also far more warm to the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) than ever before, assuming it works along with picking off of dioceses and even parishes - even individuals - inside The Episcopal Church (TEC) for Covenant signing purposes - and surely it would only be too eager.

There are two things Wright is right about. One is the now screaming clarity of Rowan Williams statement on homosexuality (doesn't mean he's right, though) and the other is the statement within Williams's paragraph 13 that the decision as to which things can be decided locally is not itself one that can be taken locally - 'locally' meaning one of the Anglican Churches (and that clarity does not mean it is right either).

It is not a matter of "sneering" that this implies central control: it imples nothing other. It implies the decision is taken centrally by whatever are the control mechanisms [Wright's para 8 (ii)].

This centralisation is where innovation is being introduced into Anglicanism, and who says it is to be introduced: the central decision makers in a grab for central control?

Once again, the Communion is not a Church. It does not have this power, not is there the legitimacy to grab this power. Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no juridical authority outside the Province of Canterbury [para 20]. Nor, should it be added, would it be legal for the Church of England to adopt a Covenant of central control, if such control was to be regarded as demonstrative. Parliament might have something to say about this, constitutionally.

Now Bishop Tom Wright wants the Covenant adopting rapidly, even while it remains in process of completion and while none of the UK issues have even been considered. Given the intention of the Covenant to most definitely exclude, on the basis of Tom Wright's particular view of a two track approach (extracted selectively from 'Rowan's Reflections'), in that one is the correct and coherent (and ecumenical) track and the other is not [para 10], it is unlikely to be adopted with such an intention by many a Church and somewhat doubtful by the Church of England General Synod given previous debating. How would that work then: a Covenant where the Church of England could well be on the 'outer track' and the Archbishop of Canterbury up a creek without a paddle?

On the matter of homosexuality [back at para 6], Wright dismisses the importance of identity and rights by shifting the argument to "desires", and that desires have never been part of Christian identity although constraint has been. Perhaps he ought not to ignore the science then [para 6 (i)]. He goes on to criticise the claim to baptismal theology that is inclusive of the homosexual:

This appears to ignore the New Testament teaching about baptism, that it constitutes a dying to self and sin and a rising to new life with Christ, specifically characterised by a holiness and renewed humanity in which certain habits and styles of life are left behind. [para 6 (ii)]

It does not (even) appear to do anything of the sort. Indeed, the argument specifically refers to holiness and renewed humanity, in the context of faithfulness of one to the other, and no doubt there would be as much chastity within the gay relationship as within one between a man and a woman. Those are the constraints of Christianity. So the meaning of baptism is not overturned; furthermore, because it is not, the issue of identity can then come into the argument.

So this is the actual baptismal argument, and that is why TEC would be justified in seeking close relationships with other Anglican Churches.

However, I think that seeking it through the Covenant would be a mistake. The issue is not to be included in the Communion by way of the Covenant, but to stop the Covenant altogether. It is the Covenant that is innovating Anglicanism into something it has never been, and whilst TEC ought to be part of 'discussions' regarding this thing, the outcome intended ought to be the point where this experiment in centralisation is dropped.

If it is not dropped at a point before where institutions and parts of institutions (probably illegally) start to sign on, then some Anglican Churches ought to consider what other means of agreements can be made, such that can appear in the Synods of Anglican Churches as more attractive alternatives and more consistent with Anglican structures.

It may be that a group of Churches end up signing something like this Covenant, but many will not, and if dioceses start being picked off in order to sign it, then there will be a campaign in some dioceses for them to start unsigning it. Remember, Bishop Tom Butler once talked of the Communion as a Spiritual Commonwealth, or that Bishop John Saxbee is President of a group that has consistently opposed the Covenant. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Or - more cleanly - just don't go there, to such a mess; such a mess based on a partial reading of biblical texts about what people do sexually, or an ecclesiastical desire to look more Roman Catholicism to Roman Catholics.

Perhaps that's the point: if Anglicans want to be more ecumenical, perhaps they ought to talk more to the Protestants: the Swedish Lutherans are a good start (a good spread on them in the Lincoln Diocese publication Crosslincs). Anglicans might well find a proper ecumenical purpose with them, with the Old Catholic Churches, with many non-conformists too including those with Anglican origins, and leave Pope Benedict to his own frustrated rationality and logic, that sort that in the end has the logic of a Williamson, not of a Williams of old.

Anglican Oddity and Anglican Ashes

Sincere Apologies to David Bowie

Anglican Oddity

"Archbishop to Bishop Tom,
Archbishop to Bishop Tom:
Take your prozac pills and put your mitre on.

Archbishop to Bishop Tom,
Commencing countdown, all in line...
Check readiness and may God's love be with you!"

Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five,
Four, Three, Two, One. Process!"

"This is Archbishop to Bishop Tom:
You're seated on your throne
(And the Church Times wants to know the garb you wear),
Now it's time to preach my gospel if you care."

"This is Bishop Tom to Archbishop:
I'm rising up to preach,
And I'm walking in a most peculiar way,
And the folks seem very different today.

For now
Am I standing in a wood box,
Far above the ground;
So many are dismayed,
That there's nothing more to say.

Though I'm past my making any sense,
I still sound very shrill,
Saying the Archbishop knows no way to go,
Telling you now: its over, you know."

Archbishop to Bishop Tom,
"My head's gone dead, there's something wrong:
Can I hear you, Bishop Tom?
Can I hear you, Bishop Tom?
Can I hear you, anyone?
Can I....

Here am I, this wrecked Communion.
Canterbury based:
All has gone so blue,
And there's no more I can do."

Anglican Ashes

Do you remember a guy that's been
Once a theologian?
I've heard some rumours from Anglicans...
Oh no, don't say it's true.

He got a message from friend Bishop Tom,
"I'm not happy, you're not happy too,
I've said all I'm able to say:
Sordid details following."

The shrieking of Cov'nant is killing:
Just tensions of Churches in synthetic forcing,
And Catholic reasons and that Protestant scare:
The Episcopal's slick, and Communion's dying.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dusty,
The Archbishop is now sunk and,
Strung out in heaven's high:
Hitting an all-time low.

"Tom, you know, I tell myself,
'I'll stay clear tonight,'
But the little brain things keep following me:
'Oh no, not again!'
I'm stuck with a tortured mind.
Not happy, you're not happy too -
One flash of thought but still unclarity.

I once wrote some good tomes,
I now write no good things,
I never wrote anything out of the blue, woh-o-oh.
Using pens to break the Church,
Gonna break it right now."

Ashes to ashes, dust to dusty,
The Archbishop is now sunk and,
Strung out in heaven's high:
Hitting an all-time low.

"My own wife said to get things done,
You'd better not talk with Bishop Tom.
My own wife said to get things done,
You'd better not write with Bishop Tom.
My own wife said to get things done,
You'd better not read with Bishop Tom.
My own wife said to get things done,
You'd better not mess with Bishop Tom."

Tuesday 28 July 2009


There is a response from Northern Michigan itself (carried on Episcopal Café) after the consents never came for Kevin Genpo Thew Forrester, which has proved to be something of a doctrinal boundary marker for The Episcopal Church. Stating that the diocese is of just 27 churches scattered across towns in economic decline, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, who have had their choice of bishop rejected, states:

Among the issues ripe for discussion are how bishops and standing committees can best be made aware of the particular needs of individual dioceses, and how new communications technologies affect the consent process.

What happened with the communications technologies was this. First of all, the conservative bloggers went into overdrive, but their claim about a "Buddhist Bishop" went nowhere, as it was just a spiritual discipline. When it came to liturgical change, however, there was more solid ground for accusations of revision, and then this became even a chance for some liberal bloggers to draw a line in the sand and demonstrate orthodoxy, thus to give the lie to conservative bloggers keen to demonstrate that The Episcopal Church was a breeding ground for heterodoxy, Unitarianism and Paganism.

Sacrificing one of your friends rarely works, however, to placate the other side or as a (futile) demonstration, as the labelling just continued. Ask Rowan Williams. He did it and it did him no good. Indeed it can be a dangerous starting point, because in Rowan Williams's case you can start with The Body's Grace and opposition to the scrum at Lambeth 1998 over resolution 1:10, then in your new job sacrifice a friend to placate the opposition, and finally end up with a statement that includes:

...whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires. [Para 8]

In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. [Para 9]

In other words, start small and end up with the rhetoric that once you would never state: in this case that being gay and fulfilling being gay is a "lifestyle choice", that such choice carries consequences, and that such people in ordained ministry cannot represent the Church, especially in the episcopate. In other words, never mind bishops, those priests who have such a 'lifestyle choice' do not represent the Church and ought to resign.

Except the person who ought to resign knows who he is, just as the person knows who he is who would have been a creative selection for the episcopacy in the United States.

Monday 27 July 2009

The Real Archbishop of Anglicanism

Aha! Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has responded to the decisions of the General Convention 2009 of The Episcopal Church to pass resolutions D025 and C056 with some Reflections. And what does his piece amount to? A sort of 'Argument as usual' with proposals as usual.

They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local. [Para 20]

It is really time now, however, to nail this argument he keeps presenting once and for all. For he says:

The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle. ...It takes time and a willingness to believe that what we determine together is more likely, in a New Testament framework, to be in tune with the Holy Spirit than what any one community decides locally. [Para 13]

Here we have it yet again. Something that is 'local', the Churches, and something that is 'global' - the Communion: that is, therefore, the Church, globally. And he goes on:

There have never been universal and straightforward rules about this, and no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion. [para 15]

But why ever not? If the venerable principle is such, and even when what is important enough to be decided by a communion should itself be decided by a communion, as in "ways of checking whether a new local development would have the effect of isolating a local church or making it less recognisable to others", then why not set up the appropriate communion doctrinal body?

We need to crack this division made by the Archbishop of Canterbury between a 'local church' and the global communion, by which, he means indeed, and be honest, a Global Church. And he does mean this, because of this, and here is the crux of it:

This again has an ecumenical dimension when a global Christian body is involved in partnerships and discussions with other churches who will quite reasonably want to know who now speaks for the body they are relating to when a controversial local change occurs. [Para 15]

Later in paragraph 18 he emphasises this:

To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. [Para 18]

This argument applies to the ordination of women, surely? But when years ago he hinted at this reality, the actual reality of one local Church - The Church of England - forced a rapid reversal. Indeed, this local Church is not far off from deciding to ordain bishops: when other Anglican Churches do not and the whole of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not. Of course, b 'sacramental practice' he steers clear of the ordination of women and has a go at another two creeping changes happening 'locally' elsewhere:

Lay presidency at the Holy Communion is one well-known instance. Another is the regular admission of the unbaptised to Holy Communion as a matter of public policy. Neither of these practices has been given straightforward official sanction as yet by any Anglican authorities at diocesan or provincial level... [para 16] acceptance of these sorts of innovation in sacramental practice would represent a manifest change in both the teaching and the discipline of the Anglican tradition, such that it would be a fair question as to whether the new practice was in any way continuous with the old. [para 17]

Well, one is the matter for the Australian Church because it is starting to happen in Sydney diocese, and another is a practice found in various Catholic type places - open communion - that is often the practical situation anyway. People don't exactly have their passports checked for 'Anglican or approved Church membership' before they come to the rail and consume bread and wine.

He sees the other argument, of course, though I wish he and others would use confederalist. What he wants is more the federalist structure:

As Anglicans, our membership of the Communion is an important part of our identity. However, some see this as best expressed in a more federalist and pluralist way. They would see this as the only appropriate language for a modern or indeed postmodern global fellowship of believers in which levels of diversity are bound to be high and the risks of centralisation and authoritarianism are the most worrying. [Para 19]

But how historical, how traditional, is this global Anglican Communion identity? Oh! Not that historical at all; indeed, it is quite an innovation:

...less than ever in the last half-century, with new organs and instruments for the Communion's communication and governance and new enterprises in ecumenical co-operation. [Para 19]

New organs! Does that not show where the innovation has come from? Where is this acceptable innovation towards a global Church? Have some people not mistaken growing the means for co-operation between actual Churches and something they are now starting to call, but whisper it gently, a Global Church? And of course we are back with the only proposals in town - well, at the centre anyway.

The Covenant proposals of recent years have been a serious attempt to do justice to that aspect of Anglican history that has resisted mere federation. ...They are emphatically not about centralisation but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). [Para 20]

But the freely chosen commitment is not there, is it, and more and more it begins to look like imposition. It comes from the centre. Here is the innovation happening before our eyes, driven by an ecclesiology that is simply not representative of all of Anglicanism. Now it is that they are so driven, that it looks that they are there to include some and exclude others. Here we come to the most tortured argument of this response:

They have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out... [Para 21]

Really? Not if there is a division between associational membership and core membership, as has been envisaged before. But rather than go back to some previous statement, this one will itself do as he envisages: least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces. [Para 22]

If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom. [Para 23]

OK, so it is exclusion. Here is a point: if there was exclusion from certain operating functional decision making institutions and these defined such a Communion (that by which these are recognised) then The Episcopal Church ought to stop paying the bills. But in further torturous argument Rowan Williams goes on to think there might be:

two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. [Para 24]

And this cake and eating it is even more obvious and self-contradictory when it comes to:

The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. [Para 24]

So, here is the logic of this argument: you divide Anglicanism up in order to have one part speak for Anglicanism in a centralising body, but there is greater integrity in that BOTH are doing this. Well, in which case, what is wrong with so-called local Churches doing this more fluidly in the first place?

And then we have the matter of carving up these actual Churches - the ones he calls 'local' - in order to serve the Greater Communion as a Global Church:

But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. [Para 25]

This prospect of a carve up is given here:

...and no-one would say that new kinds of structural differentiation are desirable in their own right. [Para 26]

So he would try and bolt Churches together via this Covenant and Communion instruments, but where they are already together he would introduce new kinds of structural differentiation!

What a good idea: Lincoln diocese could join in full Communion with The Episcopal Church, and perhaps the Americans might send one of theirs over here (in a manner of speaking). We could call these Anglican tectonic plates: lots of really local dioceses getting ever so pluralist in breaking off from national Churches so that national Churches can be more like overseas Churches with more consistency as a product of trying to create a more solid Communion Church that can be presented to the Roman Catholics?

I have an idea for playing cards. We could have new packs of cards, with similar numbers in each, all with different colours on the back indicating where they came from!

He says:

Thus far in Anglican history we have (remarkably) contained diverse convictions more or less within a unified structure. [Para 26]

Sorry? It is already unified (more or less)? So let's examine how this has worked so far, before this whole centralisation project - the only proposals in town - got going? Well, the more or less unified structure worked that's because it has been a diversified structure! That's the point. No one has been trying to nail it together, until now.

Note how the Reflections just come to a kind of dead stop, with nothing actually demanded in some sort of concluding paragraph. And yet the demand is still there throughout: as if a Prime Minister has come to the end of his political cycle, with a Cabinet of "extinct volcanoes", and yet the same policy is being proposed that had failed to be pushed through over the previous period. It ends:

the different emphases in what we want to say theologically about the Church itself, are bound to have consequences. We must hope that, in spite of the difficulties, this may yet be the beginning of a new era of mission and spiritual growth for all who value the Anglican name and heritage. [Para 26]

I think he is trying to be more optimistic than he was at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica, whilst the substance has moved on even more negatively for him. His demand in all its tortured reverse arguments is little more than the prospect of a total mess.

He does not seem to have got the point - or has he? The point is this: the Churches are the Churches, and bits don't drop off them in "new kinds of structural differentiation", and the project to nail them into something of a Global Church that suits Rowan Williams's outlook is a non-starter. The more or less unified diverse structure is the one that allowed some and then more actual Churches to ordain women, including as bishops, and the structure works the same for discerning whether there should be same-sex blessings or partnered homosexual people in all levels of ministry. This is how Anglicanism "more or less" works. The Orthodox have habits of ex-communicating one another, but Anglicans have tended to be more practical in their associating and their rejecting of one Church by another. The argument comes down to this: that the Covenant is unAnglican and, as the only proposal from the centre, it should be dropped without replacement.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Bishop Ali-England Signs Off

Pastoral Letter of Exit from Your Evangelising Bishop

Our Friends in the South,

It was King Alfraed who protected the English from the Danes, who had threatened by their invasion and their people to destroy what the English had already become. The Danelaw Line was drawn, north of which was a no go area for the English at that time like so many of the northern cities are now. But through time, and through learning, and through the institutions built up by Alfraed, the Danelaw melted against the superior power of English culture, and English proved once again to be the dominant language and culture over the British land (except in Wales, where the people are different, and over Scotland, where the people are historically complicated).

Thus today we have faced the same threat, this time from immigration and a foreign religion, and I have been here doing the small part that I can to promote and protect the English from attack, just as the Danes were held at bay. I am, of course, of Pakistani origin and have seen how Islam works in my previous place of abode and bishoping, and seen how the Qur'an at its best gives insight into the strengths of Christianity, and what we must do to protect this country's culture and especially its religion which informs the English who they are, rather than have some wet multiculturalism and a damp climate that says all religions are equal. But, as I have already announced, I must leave you now, and leave with Kent and the South better than I found it, and I can safely say that there are no no-go areas here, except of course in Canterbury where I wanted to be instead and had to settle for second best nearby. But please read on - and fear not.

I give no apologies for making convenient use of what some of my misguided theological colleagues call 'secular theology'. The sociologist Peter Berger has laid out the problem. He talks of secularised theology when he talks about religionists who give in to the culture: the so called progressives who just throw in their lot. That is all they do. And then he talks about the negotiators, those who trade off credal details of our great faith while identifying apparent essentials. He has most contempt for this position, when you read him closely. But he has most praise, as a sociological strategy, for those who are conservative with their faith, who resist the march of culture, and how, in the face of the homeless mind, this offers most identity to the religion of this land: the religion as once delivered to the saints indeed.

We can dismiss the real secular theologians, as they give up every scrap of identity for a mess of postmodern pottage. It is a scandal that they even occupy our ministry, for there is little of laity entertained by their presence. But those who negotiate, they have created virtually another religion by their dabbling with the secular and the Pagan that once covered this land and contributed to English culture and superstition.

Ladies and gentlemen - and that covers everyone by gender and sex - we defend our religion of the English and maybe the British along with all the other institutions of this land, such as royalty, of course, but also and especially the family. And by family I mean a biological father and a mother, just like Jesus had. I mean fathers and mothers even on benefits in high rise or out of town estates taking responsibility for the children they have and perhaps ought to think about first. What I do not mean is father and father, taking a child from some uncaring of her offspring donating mother, or some Pagan mother and mother, asking for a donation of sperm from a convenient man who is irresponsible to the world. These will do nothing for the future of English culture, and indeed these so-called partnerships that the state misguidedly recognises are going to lead inevitably to a decline in the birth rate (beyond such bizarre conception arrangements) to a point where the English cannot reproduce themselves and English culture is further threatened.

But I do have to leave you. Fear not, however, for I am not going far. I have a new mission where I believe I can be more effective. Yes I can travel the world, being like my own version of the British Council. But I will be here, and doing what Peter Berger finds most logical.

I will uphold those who confess Anglicanism in its strict and Biblical variety. You see, the negotiators, the liberals, now have this virtual religion, and we have the proper and original one. We have the one that Alfraed would have upheld in his defence of the English. And if we need to bypass and upturn the established Church in order to do it, and be another Henry VIII to smash its cosy institutions, then so be it. Because we must root out the cancer of revisionism, and as the Queen of Hearts who made the tarts said, you cannot make an omelette without cracking eggs. And yes it would have been different if Canterbury was not for me a no-go area; but God moves as God wishes to move and so I need the freedom to depart this cement of the English and yet to inject into it a fellowship of believers who will, over time, but needed from now, water down the effect of the New Danes on this land. The New Danelaw will be defeated.

It will not be easy. Let me be clear about this. The broken night of the Church of England is coming to a close and its loneliness of belief from God, and the expressions of faith that have become torture must end, because we need absolute control over every living soul and that's an order. We have to root out the culture of drugs like crack cocaine and the scourge of anal sex, and stuff that up the hole of the culture we seek to replace. Leave the permissive society to a small place in Berlin, and rebuild its Wall around it, and bring back for them Stalin and for the rest of us the costly and wonderful insight of St. Paul. If we do not then, believe me, Armageddon will come, our own version, and things will slide and slide and you just won't be able to measure anything anymore when the blizzard of the world comes to these shores. So we will have to say repent, repent, to any gays, even if they know longer know what it meant, for we do say this. And to everyone. Now, I am from a Muslim background and I understand the Bible, and nations may fall and rise, for example the Abbasid Dynasty after singing Waterloo and ending with Thank You for the Music, but it will offer the way through while others find everything coming to a halt - and believe me it will be murder. So we Christians must keep the wheels of heaven turning and take the crop off the Devil to get ready for the future. And to do this, everyone will have to repent, repent, even if they don't know what it meant. And why are we doing this? Because we are trying to uphold the Western Code, to stop our private lives from exploding, so that the white man can carry on dancing and the woman will not have to cover up her features like they do in Islamic countries under a different culture and the New Danelaw. We say keep the poets that made the English culture what it had become before all this negotiating, all this madness, that makes us instead like Charlie Manson. Where is it all sliding to otherwise? Another Hiroshima, if we are not careful, and of course abortion after abortion. No, the English need to begin to love their children again and to have many more of them, and not to have a future of murder, and it is time to repent and repent, even if they don't know what it meant.

But our institutions are riddled with the cancer of another virtual religion, and have become buggered up and anally retentive, so much so that up north is no-go for people like me, and this needs overturning by a vanguard of truth. At the moment we are so downtrodden, that I need to minister to such oppressed Christians, but as we sign on to the fellowship, we will become the leading edge of the coming revolution and I urge you to sign up and take over the evangelical world to this effect.

So of course we welcome gays, so long as they repent and become something else and become partners of the opposite sex and have lots of children and instill in them a good, solid, muscular Christianity of heterosexuality like we once did in our historic public schools. And if we do this, all else will come right, and our civilisation will return.

For I shall be there leading you, our troops, for the second great rescue of this land. For this land is your land and this land is my land, from the Isle of Wight to Shetland, from Nottingham Forest to the Gulf Stream waters, and this land was made for you and me. And let me say to close that I was driving rapidly south on the A1 highway, and saw above me an endless skyway, and ahead a golden valley and believed that this land was made for you and me. Yes I have roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps from the Islamic sands of its diamond deserts and all around me a voice of God was sounding that this land here was made for you and me. And, everyone, the sun was shining as I pressed the accelerator, with the wheat fields passing and the police sirens calling, as the fog was lifting and a voice came chanting, "What speed do you think you were doing sir?" For as I was driving I'd passed a sign there and the sign said a camera and we'll get your speed now, and on the other side it went 'flash flash' - and that that side was made for you and me! And so in the courts of the city, in the shadow of the church steeple, down from the Jobcentre, I see my people, and some are grumbling and some are asking, if this country is still that land of liberty that Alfraed once declared.

Thank you, and man the barricades, and I will see you there.

Bishop Ali-England

[Using: Leonard Cohen, The Future © and Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land © 1956 (renewed 1984), 1958 (renewed 1986) and 1970 TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (BMI)]

Saturday 25 July 2009

Interview of Bishop Tom

Interview by Christianity Now of Bishop N. T .W. of Bishop Auckland, in North East England.

CN: Bishop Wr...

NTW: Do call me Tom.

CN: Tom...

NTW: Bishop Tom. It is a great privilege to still be be here in such wonderful, historic, premises, occupying a see associated with the academic greats of episcopacy, and it is pleasing to think that others think I am worthy of this position and I am glad to put my shoulder to the task. Granted I was baptised with Pagan-like predictive fortune that I would be associated with the New Testament, and my mother had great insight like that realising that her and my father's genes would come together to produce a counter-cultural occupier of this place and publishing with my initials put to great use. What do you want to put to me?

CN: Bishop Tom. Well let's start there. You are back from yet another trip from the United States.

NTW: I have just been spending some subsequent nights in the same bed as my wife, being safely heterosexual as I am, and I was just reflecting on all the travel I do as a much travelled author with friends around the world. And she is so sweet, saying, as she does to me, "G'night Mr. Tom," because she likes to call me that, as I say, "Goodnight Maggie Thatcher," because of course I need to get some sleep when home - because of all the travel I do - and that thought puts me to sleep.

CN: And combining that with being a diocesan bishop.

NTW: I am just back from America, and I love the American people. They queue up for me to sign the books they buy and they are always so friendly and put their hands deep into their pockets. If I told you everything I said to the people asking me to sign the books I would have to write a book. There is such an enormous amount to give thanks for and for the opportunity that Christianity gives me to travel around the world, and my first love becomes the United States and the American people and their rich and leading traditions of doing theology - thinking of all the great centres and universities where I have never been.

CN: Well this is a good opportunity to talk about the American people and the United States, and what is happening with The Episcopal Church.

NTW: Well they've got it coming to them, haven't they? The Americans only seem to listen to themselves, utterly arrogant and isolationist, and it is in their very psyche, who think they can come up with all this so called theological diversity when we have an Anglican Communion of great interdependent teaching trying to evangelise ourselves. And we have such a wonderful Archbishop whom they seem to think they can ride roughshod over. Well let me tell you, and take it as a scoop if you want - not for much longer. Just wait and see.

CN: I am intrigued. Can you tell more?

NTW: No, but I was there when his officials were talking and I heard what they are going to do. You will not recognise the Instruments of Communion once our Archbishop fires the starting gun. The Americans won't know what's hit them and it will serve them right. You know, he is my greatest friend and he confides in me what he wants me to know, and so I often try to overhear his officials talking. And you know, they are often in despair. I say to them, give him a kick up the backside and they say wouldn't you like to do it and I say no he is such a friend of mine and so they said well just wait and see. I know what they mean. You just wait and see, and take it from a man in the know. Sometimes Americans make me sick, the way they behave.

CN: But you were saying that you publish there.

NTW: I feel like kicking dust in the publisher's face when over there. They publish me under Tom when I want N. T. and they put N. T. when I want Tom. Can't they tell? Some Americans are just thick and I write for them under 'Tom'. I do that for Evangelicals too. But others, the great intellectuals of America and Germany, these books have to be N. T. of course. It is obvious: N. T. for New Testament scholarship and Tom because I want people to like me, but keep it simple until they do. Jesus said kick the dust from under your feet, but I'd give the dust a goal kick. Not that Americans would understand goal kicks.

CN: You suggested recently that with D025 and C056 the American Episcopalians have rather derailed themselves.

NTW: What numbers are these?

CN: D025 and C056 - the resolutions. Well, let me put it that the first decentralises the process of discernment where there is disagreement, but the Church now has no across the board brake to partnered homosexual clergy becoming bishops; and the second collects liturgical material for three years time and until then, at least, there is no authorised blessing of gay partnerships.

NTW: ...

CN: Er, Bishop Tom?

NTW: That's a bit sophisticated isn't it? No! It is nothing other than a kick in the teeth for our Archbishop, and don't come all that mamby-pamby oh so cute explanation of all this progressive claptrap that these Americans are so self-righteous about. It was deliberate, nasty, and in sheer ignorance of the Windsor Report of 2004 and the Covenant that this Archbishop (and my good friend) has worked so hard on for so long. They have ripped into the proverbial cloth, not even using scissors, but got a blunt knife and slashed and slashed at the Communion - and then they have the blind cheek to say they want to use that cloth to pay up to make it into an amazing technicolour dreamcoat? They are like schizophrenics (without wishing to upset any schizophrenics), but what a display, when you go over there, what a shower. And he did - the Archbishop did go over there. Gave him tea and buns and then na-na ne na-na once he'd left the airport. I'd be getting that pilot to turn the plane around, go back, and give them a piece of his mind.

CN: Have they got no case at all: is there not the movement of, er, the Holy Spirit - say?

NTW: I'm a scholar of the Bible, right? Look at it, and the Holy Spirit isn't going to contradict his Bible. It is clear in there: one man, one woman, lifelong, and that's where you do the nookie. You ask the Muslims; ask the Jews. They don't go in for all this variation and postmodern invention, and you ask that Winchester woman because gays aren't even gays anymore, like that chap who was my predecessor. Muhammad, take him: he had only one wife; and Jesus kept himself close to his mum and that other woman. The Jews, they worship their women they do. You don't get David playing cushee with Moshe do you? So where else do you get lots of women using the old tickling stick with other women? Witches round the cauldron, that's where. Paganism. That's where you get all that. All these bloggers you get these days too, from over there, all stirring the heretical brew. Paul saw it, you know, and said they had to stop. It was idolatry, like images and saints and too much holy smoke in amongst all the statues and columns and altars. All that Matthew Fox so-called theology and that Pagan woman, what's she called - Hawkstar. Only in America could you get theology like that, which is why I have to make such an effort to sell them my books. You have to occupy the fulcrum. The Episcopal Church doesn't: it is one big Pagan ethic and a Coven has replaced the Covenant we were all preparing and they've just thrown a brick at it.

CN: If that is so, should allegiance be transferred to the new Anglican Church of North America?

NTW: What? That bunch of super-apostles? There's plenty in the Bible about people like them. They think they can stomp around and rearrange the Anglican Communion, making my friend the Archbishop optional. It's time for some backbone. Look, there is only one Anglican Communion, and it's the one that the Americans are going to have to be told to rejoin, once we've kicked them out. No, but we'll hang on to the few who want to sign the Covenant, but no we don't want that bunch of breakaways to sign any Covenant. They steal the name evangelical. The only thing these Confessing Anglicans should do is do as they are told: confess and disband; the structures and oversight are there and it is the Anglican Communion. They have no patience when we come to sorting TEC out and it is time we got on with it.

CN: Change the subject just a little. What boundaries are there regarding theological diversity? Say when it comes to Easter and when it comes to Christmas.

NTW: I am thrilled you have asked that question. You see until I came along, we had all this namby-pamby liberal direction theology, which has been the worst period in Anglican history ever. We have all this wishy washy stuff that has passed for Christianity and negative biblical criticism. Now of course Jesus was Jewish, and he was part of that last days eschatology of his time's way of thinking, and there were resurrection concepts in place, and Jesus followed the Jewish law, but the events of that time, as in the Roman practice of crucifixion, the breaking out of the resurrection, and with the New Perspective on Paul's insight into salvation (in which I am a central figure), were absolutely unique, and Christian orthodoxy absolutely has its root and very foundation in these God given events. And the atonement is absolutely a central belief in all of this for our salvation, but sometimes you get these so called theologians who cannot tell the difference between a sort of penal substitution that is absolutely fine and another which would be cosmic child abuse if it is the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story that is at best a caricature of the true one. So we cannot dismiss the love of God that still allows, yes, a penal substitution but still also allows for salvation being fulfilled in the resurrection and love of God. We don't need the mediaeval stuff but the modern - indeed the postmodern is fantastic now. And... well of course you see there is the international angle which we theologians understand: we have some fantastic theology now we can pursue in the United States and Germany, but there is nothing stopping some really cutting edge work here in England too, so long as diocesan matters don't become intrusive. But of course the trajectory of German Kantian-grounded and Hegelian expressive based theology really has nothing much to offer English Anglicanism in the current climate where we are recovering from where it has taken us, and indeed some American theology too, and yet must not be seduced by the implicit liberalism in much of the opportunity offered by postmodernism of which I want to be a part when I describe what I think it is on about. But let's be clear, we are full on with orthodoxy thanks to the literature turn we receive with postmodernity, so there is much to be thankful for in how we have arrived at where we are today. And let's also be clear that we know who the bad guys are: not the liberals or Steve School-Blackboard but those who read penal substitution more into the Bible than is there, and frankly if they want to start a witch-hunt they'll have to get past me first. Anyway, Steve my friend can get on with his schools. There are lots of people I could pierce for their transgressions, and the violent imagery they seem to enjoy is simply pre-Christian and Pagan and I simply won't allow them to get away with it. And why do they ignore Anselm?

CN: Wow. Tour de... something. And Christmas?

NTW: We don't want to be full of false belief or unbelief, and so we see in the uniqueness of Jesus's birth an expression of the love of God, which actually is what Easter is all about as I have been saying, supremely, and, unlike the as I say the cul de sac of the liberals, so we celebrate the virgin birth as a marker of Jesus's importance of birth as a true prophet in the Jewish tradition and more than this - where the postmodern turn allows us to sing with Chris de Burgh, A Spaceman came Travelling - and with the text's numerically measured genealogy down Jesus's father's side who, of course, wasn't involved except as Mary's bag carrier as you examine the all important words and numbers, because you shouldn't sift them out or produce proof-texts to order, and keeping close to them with the latest research; but the key is Jesus's baptism in Mark, which is for all. I use 'Tom' for that book, because it is in those popular bookshops rather than what theologians might want to read. But yes, absolutely, no doubt about it, the texts point to a unique birth and a unique set of events around it which, of course, we don't look to history about in a naive way, but in the sort of sophisticated way when I use my initials that I am so grateful for receiving and which avoids me being sub-biblical like my critics when they pick and choose texts according to fancy, and here I mean so-called evangelicals stealing the name rather than the liberals who, frankly, are conked out.

CN: So before we return to contemporary events, perhaps you can give an overview of your understanding of the Bible.

NTW: I am a scholar of the Bible, reading the latest theology - liberal and evangelical - especially out of Germany and the United States. And there is the liturgical use, constant day to day reading through, according to the calendar. And then there's pastoral referencing as a bishop. Now evangelicals don't really support the Bible like they claim. I have examined how they use it, and they are too low. It does have to be used in connection with the Church. In these postmodern times we don't really understand authority any more, and that can be liberating. And we have much to be thankful to the liberals for, as their witness in scholarship influenced the character of postmodern turn. So even more now authority depends on context - as in 'con' and 'text', meaning untruth and writing, and seeing between the lines there, that is (to negate it) truth and reading, and thus the context of reading and the Church. And that reading is pronounced 'ree' ding and not 'red' ding, which is a soulless place, for which Bishop Auckland is quite the opposite in our binary structuralisms that we seek to collapse as poststructuralists, if not as bad as Slough for soullessnesses - not 'Sloff' when you reeeeed it but 'Slow' as in cow and not as in roll - but clearly reading otherwise 'slow' ly is part of the way forward to doing lectio divina which means a worshipful way of reading the scriptures in a Church context rather than Davina telling us what she thinks about Big Brother. So documents, people, buildings, music, are authoritative in the right context, right there and right now, and so it is not just an authority of scripture alone, and I really wish the present crop of super-apostles would get off this sub-biblical hobby horse of theirs. It has been proven in history that this biblicism is inadequate. Because in the end they are about control, and that means people; and control is not the issue, but liberation, and regulation, so that we do not go off the rails doctrinally. And so there are rules and credal statements we do impose upon the Bible, as we allow our reading of the Bible to liberate us. See, we are not talking about power, but authority, which is about legitimacy, and legitimacy comes from God. And we read the Old Testament that relates to the New, and then crucially the New that relates to us as people in the Church under God. But if you read the Bible in chunks, as a daily devotion, to make it something like credal statements of Calvin's book of rules, then the Bible becomes something that it is not.

CN: Erm, so er...

NTW: Let's be honest: the Reformers made a pig's ear of it. But we here, and myself; we stand where and how we can say how these ancient texts, these dry bones, live again. Take the birth narratives. Are they historical in the sense a historian understands them? No. What about the Easter narrative, with palm leaves out of season when there would not have been any, and all the objections to the trials and outcome. Are they as good as court records? I think not. No no, they are authoritative because they relate to Christian experience, and we know how important experience is in the development of a guiding hermeneutic that post-Enlightenment Christianity developed, into some of the recent important figures of liberal theology at that time. No the Bible is about Christians teaching one another, and at prayer and in church, just as Jesus read it in the synagogue. God exercises his authority through the text on to then what Christians do, the way that the story motivates God's own people. It is the narrative that identifies Christians: and in my pursuit of narrative biblical theology, where the Bible is a vehicle, I am of course grateful to Yale postliberalism and the like - which I think can do with some improvement from my close textual work. Now I am sorry to disappoint many evangelicals, but that is the way it is, because for generations evangelicals have trotted out the same old stuff to the point of utter tedium, so that we have this now rather tired and puzzled evangelicalism in many British churches today, or these liberals who became people who frankly belittled the Bible, but what I am saying is go for God, go for the Church and go for Christians doing what Christians do.

CN: Thank you. Finally then, if there's time, or space: the future. More generally, not just TEC.

NTW: I am so grateful that you asked me about the Bible. The trouble with Christians is that they keep fighting one another. And of course, the disputes are right there in the earliest of days. So I know it might be tedious but we should see differences as part and parcel of the Biblical narrative and indeed where Christians are to this day. We have our historic parameters and here we have some today, and when it comes to the Church it is why we need this Covenant - sorry to get specific again - because we really need to close down these differences. It really does come down to personalities sometimes and treasuring my friend our Archbishop and getting him to do something is an important matter in this. What we look for in the future is the narrative of the Bible, then, to bring order to God's world, as God speaks peace to his people through the text, and we will develop a pan-Anglican hermeneutic alongside the Instruments of Communion, rather than super-apostles to one side and liberals to the other, guided in the pan-Anglican hermeneutic by what I see as the centrality of biblical authority and bringing harmony like a fine musical instrument of the sort scientists once believed was evidence of the mathematical order of God, even though we might not say that quite so much today given the uncertainty principle in subatomic physics.

CN: Bishop Tom, thank you and G'night.

NTW: Thank you and I look forward to confronting my critics.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Archbishop writes to the Communion

Letter to all Bishops of the Anglican Communion from the Archbishop of Anglicanism.

In a letter dated 23 June 2003 to just the Bishops of the Church of England I argued that:

Confidence in the ability of a new bishop to minister to those in his pastoral care is a centrally important matter, and it is clear that serious questions remain in the diocese.

In other words, what happens within a local Church is a matter for every Church. I had put:

...the concerns of many in the diocese of Oxford are theologically serious, intelligible and by no means based on narrow party allegiance or on prejudice. They must be addressed and considered fully.

The actions by me relating to Jeffrey John were seen as a turning point in many of the expectations of me becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet apostolic authority meant and means that I was never going to operate simply as an individual, and this was my first not insignificant action in which I operated as an Archbishop under collective, apostolic authority. My concerns then were based on the Cameron Report of 1990, clearly rooted in Anglican understanding, and not simply my own personal background, or my ecumenical understanding and relations with the Roman Pontiff. The Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on the Episcopate, 1990 stated:

In the local church the bishop focuses and nurtures the unity of his people; in his sharing in the collegiality of bishops the local church is bound together with other local churches; and through the succession of bishops the local community is related to the church throughout the ages. Thus the bishop in his own person in his diocese; and in his collegial relations in the wider Church; and through his place in the succession of bishops in their communities in faith-fulness to the gospel, is a sign and focus of the unity of the Church [paragraph 351].

Thus as Archbishop, I continue as Archbishop from other Archbishops, rather than simply being my own Archbishop, and this has been true of me as Archbishop in the Anglican Communion, as well as Archbishop in the Province and indeed in the local Church. Thus, on taking up my appointment, I became one of the Instruments of the Communion. I would here make a comparison with the new Speaker of the House of Commons. John Bercow was elected Speaker on 22 June 2009. When he assumed office, he announced that he was giving up all previous political opinions. Some, of course, on the Conservative side had assumed he had been doing this already, which made him particularly attractive to the Labour side as Speaker, but nevertheless once sat in the Speaker's Chair he made this point explicitly. In my case this did not happen, nor was I seeking such office, and indeed it is a matter of record that the previous Archbishop, who now travels around with a freedom to address the worldwide media, considered me unsuitable to be worthy of office in the Church of my training, which is why I was for a time Archbishop of a minority ecclesiastical unit, where there is a different local apostolic test, although I would argue again that all bishops have collegiate apostolic authority towards and including the Archbishop of Anglicanism.

The analogy between the office I hold and that of the Speaker does not stretch too far. The Archbishop, of course, continues to observe the very creeds that all Church members hold, although they are interpreted with cultural variation, and upholds apostolic authority. Nevertheless, there are not unexisting further potential parallels: and along with direction against offensive language (I have done so regarding some remarks made in Nigeria), the equivalent of asking members to be quiet to listen to minority voices (such as indeed our lesbian and gay members), and suggesting that members be quiet (usually in private to my such loyal friend Bishop Tom), there is the not minor matter of suspending members and the sitting of the House.

Since 2003, in particular, the Instruments of Communion (not simply myself as a form of Speaker; I cannot so act alone) have been looking for ways by which we can suspend members or the equivalent of the sitting of the House - and for Houses (plural) read local Churches. Indeed we managed successfully to suspend one member outside his local Church, namely the understood to be Bishop V. Gene Robinson, although actually local Churches have effectively suspended many women who are also understood to be bishops in their local Churches. But we have not yet done this properly and formally in respect of partnered gay and lesbian people. In effect too we also exclude lay and clerical gay and lesbian people, except those who hide this feature of their identities, although I have indicated that such exclusion ought to include listening to the unhiding while they are excluded unless, of course, they resume and have a good hiding instead.

This was what the Windsor Process and the Covenant have been all about, creating formal processes in which we can exclude those who fall outside collective apostolic authority and its understandings, and in the process of reaching such formal exclusions across the board, including laity, asking for moratoria regarding these disputed matters from all those who represent apostolic authority, which in some cases even involves asking lay people who sit in synods and conventions.

Nevertheless, although this is an Anglican process, we cannot ignore that this would be an ecumenical matter. This I addressed in the next major milepost in my ministry as Archbishop, my (but not my) Advent Letter. As I wrote to the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches:

...the deeper question is about what we believe we are free to do, if we seek to be recognisably faithful to Scripture and the moral tradition of the wider Church, with respect to blessing and sanctioning in the name of the Church certain personal decisions about what constitutes an acceptable Christian lifestyle. Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about this, it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.

I also wrote that: I have repeatedly said, that the 1998 Resolution [1:10] is the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion. This is the point where our common reading of Scripture stands, along with the common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries.

As an individual, I may have at the time of Lambeth 1998 responded in the minority of bishops against the manner and outcome of the resolution made, but as Archbishop I am bound to teach what an Archbishop should, whether in an airport or the cathedral, or on the street, at home and abroad, and if apostolic authority means anything it surely means being trapped into what took place over ten years ago. Thus I made a distinction between the Camp Allen bishops of The Episcopal Church (and any others) loyal to the Windsor process.

I reiterate the essential meaning behind my (but not my) letter of October 2007 to Bishop Howe, Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida:

I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such. Those who are rushing into separatist solutions are, I think, weakening that basic conviction of Catholic theology and in a sense treating the provincial structure of The Episcopal Church as if it were the most important thing...

But the ecumenical concern matters further, again invovling this from the Advent Letter: the "common reading of the majority within the Christian churches worldwide and through the centuries".

My function as Archbishop is ecumenical, and it was clear to me that I could not meet the Bishop of Rome representing some rag bag of dissolute Churches but ought to be able to present at least a process of consistency that involved identity as the Anglican Church. I have to identify common ground that is more than something along the lines of ecumenical relationships within our own Communion.

Yes, the Advent Letter with its mixture of Evangelical Bible understanding and traditional Catholic ecclesiology failed to bring along most of those who threatened to stay away from the Lambeth Conference 2008. Nevertheless I still could not risk further rushed resolutions at the Lambeth Conference under my management (but not my management, as I am but an Instrument). Consistent with these aims of identity and apostolic consistency I set up groups to further the Windsor Process whilst the bishops who did come made conversation with each other and showed a consistency of purpose over their disagreements, and everyone left feeling progress had been made towards understanding what it meant to be bishops. It was good for them to get back to basics.

However, it is not unclear that we arrived at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica still in a position of unclarity. And the differences exposed there did lead to my Presidential actions and Address presenting a situation of not inconsiderable confusion of people as to the ongoing direction of the process and the progress of the proposed Covenant. Of course I urge patience, including upon myself, though not myself, and the final draft of the proposed Covenant will return after Section 4 has been reconsidered, even if largely unchanged, to see where further it can go or not.

But of course all of this was before the recent meeting of The Episcopal Church General triennial Convention in 2009, and the passing of key resolutions regarding all of this and with implications for communion-wide apostolic authority. A lay woman wrote to me afterwards about this and I think this Protestant approach expects me to respond, and having consulted some bishops on the matter the next stage in the process now comes to the response I can give to the letter.

Now in the not my Advent Letter I had written: would be unrealistic and ungrateful to expect more from TEC in terms of clarification. Whatever our individual perspectives, I think we need to honour the intentions and the hard work done by the bishops of TEC. For many of them, this has been a very costly and demanding experience, testing both heart and conscience.

We must indeed not be ungrateful. In passing resolutions D025 and C056 relating to the process of consenting to the ordination of bishops respectively and the gathering of liturgies regarding same sex blessings, we should not be unwilling to understand the very real desire in this local Church to contribute to the Communion and indeed pay many of its bills. The collection plate is a central part of any gift into the Church and should always remain a particular means of identifying submission to apostolic authority. As Archbishop, I counsel against those too easily dismissive of the financial sacrifice for the gift of the worldwide Church, and certainly I shall do little to undermine the financial sacrifice that allows our worldwide witness to continue.

Nor should we be not be undismissive of the interpretations by the local Church upon its actions; that bishops in dioceses will continue to disagree and discern when it comes to the deeper processes of selecting candidates for consecration, and that as yet pastoral considerations for the saying of prayers for same sex couples are different from the use of a Church wide liturgy: such is indeed only to be examined, not put into effect (for a minimum of three years). Nor should we not decline to reject the sense that while a moratorium continues to exist, boundary crossings by bishops from other local Churches continued and indeed a Church was established outside the Anglican Communion by those inside, or formerly inside, the Anglican Communion.

Nevertheless, The Episcopal Church as an administrative unit of Canon Law has decided on no formal objection to the consecration of a partnered gay or lesbian bishop, not is there resistance in this local Church to blessings for gay and lesbian people, and it has to be asked whether waiting for these actions constitutes any more of a moratoria. We have moved, seemingly, from a nearly-moratoria, where it has held, to a not quite not moratoria, where it may not hold. Now whilst I certainly do not misunderstand that there can be substance in nuances like these, many people do not, and it has to be asked whether these resolutions constitute the maintenance of apostolic authority at the level of the international Church, the Communion for which Anglicans have Instruments like myself beyond my self.

At the same time, we have some Primates who think that they can establish alternative authority, that the Archbishop of Anglicanism only holds authority when it agrees with their Evangelical opinion, and have set up alternative structures with some characteristics of a local Church, which clearly lie outside the collegiate nature of a worldwide Church or attempt to constitute one of its own.

So where do we go from here, because even if this matter was acceptable according to Catholic ecclesiology, which it surely cannot be, nor does it work as an ecumenical matter when engaging in Church to Church relationships, for example with Rome or the Orthodox?

My own (and it is my own) dilemma is this. If I am working as an Instrument of Communion, and having given up my former views (in the manner of the Speaker alluded to above), with the exception of Catholic ecclesiology (which, while not wishing to contradict, in my view is unaffected by the giving up of views), what difference can be made by changing the personnel of the Instruments of Communion? Arguably, as being operators of collective, apostolic authority, in the Anglican tradition, we are doing only what we can do, and anyone else does, in the roles that we carry through.

Nevertheless, there is a me struggling to be released from all of this, and if I were to follow in the tradition of recent Archbishops, or at least one of them, we would be unlike the Speaker in retirement because we do resume our opinions. For example, I might combine my Catholic ecclesiology with being very much favourable to the full inclusion of partnered gay or lesbian people as holy unions capable of participation in the life of the Church at all levels of ministry. On the other hand, if the me inside has concluded throughout my tenure as Archbishop that Anglicanism does not work, and the only solution is to become part of the Church of Rome or Orthodoxy, then I would have to bury such opinions even more under the stronger yoke of apostolic authority. The analogy would then have to be with my views on the virginal conception: that once I dismissed this particularity as unimportant (in effect, disbelief) but came, through positions of authority, to see its usefulness and indeed to promote within me a sort of personal agreement with it now subsumed anyway within me as an Instrument of Communion. Otherwise I should be released into a condition of having my Orders yet without ministry into a condition of relative theological freedom and I might change my mind again even on this small matter.

So I finish this letter with this reflection on such a personal note. Otherwise, I ask the Instruments of Communion to formulate a policy as to how we might proceed, given that no one wishes to see further worldwide schism, nor an impoverished Communion (in all senses), nor a change from the constricted view of apostolic authority within which I have been working for perhaps too long.