Friday 22 October 2010

Choosing Your Church Wife

We might complain about tabloids in Britain, but little compares with the depths of the Ugandan Rolling Stone as it tries to get itself registered and its stupid 100 "top homos" story with some names and addresses - enough to put people into hiding. What it indicates is the condition of opinion there, and encouraged by State and Church except for watchful eyes internationally. Those watchful eyes are important, although States are more important than Churches in terms of applying pressure.

One reason why I stopped taking communion in the Church of England was a conclusion about its wider moral bankruptcy, especially as parts of the Anglican Communion border on evil. The principal reason was my own belief, but others weren't so far off in conversation and they could carry on, showing much loyalty to the idea of the Church even if concerned about the reality. Even though I had two Church wives, and was effectively going back to only one of them, communion could have continued. But it is a public act to take part, and a public act to say no especially if you keep showing your face.

There were people close to me, but also those of very different view, and I asked myself what I had in common with them. Humanity, of course, and conversation is always good, but sometimes you stretch across too far. In the end you have to conclude that they are entitled to their opinion, so long as they can't harm anyone, and if they can't harm anyone then best to let them be. They may have the same view of me. And sometimes associating with the more likeminded develops greater consistency and strength for a clearer outward message.

Now that I have moved over the river, and the now local Anglican church seems (barely) staffed with evangelicals, although my curiosity isn't yet addressed, I'm keeping with my one Church wife. She needs building up a bit.

Perhaps I have read and listened to Rowan Williams too much. I do think he says interesting things from time to time, and has potential for a social and economic and an interfaith theology that can be reflected upon, and have taken to myself his notion of patience even in the heat of situations. But his attitude to the central question of the moment is just one of moral disengagement, saying in this manner:

The decision of the American Church to go forward, as it has, with the ordination of a lesbian bishop has, I think, set us back. At the moment I'm not certain how we will approach the next primates' meeting, but regrettably some of the progress that I believe we had made has not remained steady.

This sort of pathetic statement means it all comes down to the bureaucracy and it is what makes this man so deeply depressing. One supposes that, faced with oppression, he would work to save the institution first while people suffered. We shouldn't ask too much how someone would respond to repression, given our own potential weaknesses, but Rowan Williams doesn't exactly represent anything prophetic even in his own institutional terms. He is the dead hand bureaucratic referee, but one that has not been neutral but promoted bureaucratic solutions at the cost of minorities.

The Church I choose to be with now has full acceptance of male and female, gay and straight (etc.) equality, in ministry of all kinds, though there are a few conservative type individuals that try to frustrate things in corners of their activities. Let's put it like this: some older people don't change overnight. But it has been nothing but beneficial to join in with Quakers and Reformed Jews to promote a full equality for religious participation in Partnerships, indeed to want a full ceremonial and labelling equality for couples.

Now Unitarians can be criticised because they are not Christian in collective identity, in that it would be better to have a clearly collective Christian Church that was also fully inclusive. The Unitarians do have a horrible and meaningless (when examined) Object for the General Assembly that it 'upholds the liberal Christian tradition', whatever that means, and although congregations probably do there should never have been produced such a doctrinal statement that so goes against the Unitarian creedless tradition. It is part of the current confusion of trying to have a Unitarian identity and then falling back on some minimalist credal statement like that, which aids cynicism and duplicity, and it does more harm than good for those newcomers who are ex-Christian.

The question is whether a Church can be collectively Christian in identity and be fully inclusive. Christianity developed as a communal view about the salvation figure Jesus Christ - about him, not of him. It therefore makes credal statements about him, many of which many Unitarians regard as ridiculous or worthy of being ignored. The doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible, but nevertheless the Bible is a book full of statements that are ethically doubtful, and if it is normative it still creates problems if one is a religious humanist. Classical unitarianism (small u) and Arianism are in the Bible and create problems enough. The patriarchial inheritance of the main Western Church stream, from which all other Churches come - and all reforms are from this - is deep in the language not just with the personnel past and present. Unitarians both share and shake off that loaded language.

So the Bible cannot be normative. Too many statements are damaging. It can be part of tradition and the discourse, but has to be rejected as directive. Tradition again is really a shorthand of language, a sticky if evolving means of discussing things that point towards transcendence, or towards something that matters most. The worst form of traditionalism is the institutional and bureaucratic: it is but a shell, a means to an end.

What matters most is compassion, service, our humanity, the place of other life. Why so? Because through these, it develops potential and without these it has pain and limitation. Community is about developing its and its individuals' potential. Religion is about contemplating these and reflecting upon them, and developing an attitude of mind about them (through spiritual practice).

Such religion then must be ethical. It is simply a wrong focus to concentrate on the bureaucratic. The bureaucratic is only to facilitate. The ethical is going to be an argument, but when the book and tradition gets in the way of being ethical, they must give way.

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