Wednesday 8 July 2009

First Order, Second Order

In his Further Reflections on the FCA Launch, in the context of the lack of longevity likely in the make up of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, Ugley Vicar John Richardson goes on to refer to liberals and their own first order issues. He says:

Indeed it is rather ironic that at this point Traditionalist Anglo-Catholic and Liberal ‘others’ share the same point of view —in the eyes of both, women’s ordination is a first-order issue, standing in the way of full cooperation with those who think otherwise.

And slightly later:

The matter is further complicated by the fact that, for Conservative Evangelicals like myself, ordination itself is not a first-order issue. Indeed, I once remarked, slightly tongue in cheek, that this was why I could happily sit down with Anglo-Catholics who have a view of priesthood and sacrament which I regard as somewhat beyond the Pale of true Anglicanism.

I think he is (partly) wrong about this, when referring to liberal positions, depending on what one regards as liberal positions.

First of all, I'm not sure that the language of first and second order is appropriate for liberals. However, I think one ought to be a little careful regarding what is liberal.

For the Affirming Catholic, often taken as liberal (but I think wrongly), ordination matters for ontology and it also matters that women are ordained too, including to the level of bishop, so that ordination reflects baptism. The same applies with gay people. Church tradition matters, on the basis that tradition is a collective but moving and changing entity according to the impact of the Holy Spirit. So it is a collective, ordered, whole tradition view, based on Church order which Anglicanism is entitled to change according to prompting by the Spirit.

For the liberal, however, ordination is functional and really amounts to a restrictive practice that might be useful from a training or quality assurance point of view. The ordination of women is therefore a sign of equality of all, and the same is true with gay people. All the language of religion is like code wording for such important 'gospel imperatives' reflecting the worth and dignity of all people. In the end, if quality can be assured, lay people can do anything a clergy person can, including presiding at the Eucharist. I remember years back some Sea of Faith people saying they were in favour of ordaining women because it had the effect of undermining patriarchy and undermining ordination itself.

The level of overlap between an Affirming Catholic and an Affirming Liberal (say, but let's extend the liberals beyond the Affirming) is quite large because the policy agreements are pretty much the same, but there is an underlining difference of philosophy.

The Affirming Catholic tolerates the liberal because the Catholic has confidence in the Eucharistic community and its order, that it should be whole and move with collective agreement. Opinions are not the same as decisions: the Affirming Cathiolic is quite disciplined when it comes to what is acceptable within worship. The liberal tolerates the Catholic in that a bit of symbolism does no harm in these postmodern image-conscious and borrowing-from-the-past times. Many a liberal likes the incomprehensibility of the Book of Common Prayer as a means of foggy mystery too, along with quality of worship performance, whereas the Affirming Catholic may use it for a repetitive reminder of older tradition and for its quality of worship.

The important difference here is seen in the extremes. For the liberal, there would be just an equalitarian Church, with training and quality levels of performance. For the Catholic, there would be ordination, but anyone can be ordained, as is the policy of some so-called Episcopi Vagantes groups (e.g. The Young Rite) where Catholic Church order is maintained.

In the end, a liberal like me is a functionalist, and we do actually overlap with some of the stances of even Conservative Evangelicals regarding Order - it's that we don't regarding belief.


Daniel Lee said...

I think the ugly vicar's reading of liberal religion is well-intended but rather wrong headed. WO is important to change now, because we know enough now that we must be responsible for what we know. I can easily forgive previous generations for not quite getting it; I wonder if I would have gotten it, given the dominant males first-males only contexts in which I would have been socialized, intellectually, emotionally, embedded.

But that does not exempt me from being responsible for knowing what I do know, as a modern believer and citizen, raised for the most part in a western contemporary democracy. Seriously indebted to particular women, I might add. Surely that extra dollop of indebtedness figures into what I know and what I know I know. What I am trying to be responsible about.

About the folly and many sins of patriachy, about the flat earth aspects of what used to be the going justifications for why not.

Oh yes, practically speaking, WO helps level the recruiting fields for a declining sub-population of clergy who are leaving, getting older, dying off.

These issues are quite pressing, per my modern believer conscience; but I would not argue them on alleged first order grounds. Truth is, all that we know is provisional. Thus all is in some telling sense, penultimate, open-ended, capable of more nuance, fine tuning, even wholesale corrections.

As a modern believer I am not at all relying on doctrines or articles of faith for my salvation; those are second order things, entirely dependent in a direct and mystical way upon God being gracious to me and others in Jesus of Nazareth.

It's nearly all grace, so far as I'm concerned. I didn't come to follow Jesus of Nazareth by figuring a whole lot of first order eternal things out, even via huge second hand efforts made by large figures sometimes called Doctors of the Church. Saints, Patristic Fathers.

The only reason I am willing to fight for women to be priests or bishops is just because I know what I know, about equality and womens' competencies as equal human beings. The available empirical evidence about the contextualization of sex and gender also figures in all that, somewhere. Not as a final doctrine or revelation, but as the current best practice available.

The U Vicar's take on all that just misses most of the progressive or modern marks. He's still playing special revelation first order games; I think these are fun or interesting up to a point. Yet empty and worthless, just at the point where a best practice investigation into legacy first orders - starts to take over from the trumping second order realities of just following Jesus of Nazareth. Paying attention to the vicar at that point just makes me wonder when he started thinking that his being able to recite, say, the Nicene Creed delivered him from being incarnate on this earth, no longer a human mammal, embodied.

Insofar as he thinks he has a clear grip, finalized, on first order things as a believer? Well that is where I part most ways with him as a modern educated person.

The gloss the vicar would probably substitute? He'd likely dismiss my corrections of him glossing me, making additional mistakes by claiming that if I don't assert I am exclusively privy to first order knowledge in a special revelation sort of way, I in fact believe nothing.

That's his loss, and so far as he is lost to me by mistaking me as a believer, my loss, too. If I only knew what to do about it, then I would have to be provisionally responsible for that, too; but as it is, I do know about WO, and I do not know how to always correct the U Vicar's mistaking of me as modern believer.


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes this first order second order business is a bit of a nonsense when all are fallible.

By the way I posted a comment to his and last time I looked it wasn't placed. Assuming the Google identity and message doesn't get lost in transit, one might be tempted to think that the FCA type position is closing in on who is a believer or not and worthy of debate. He's not come here either, despite my cartoon showing him in an attractive light!