Saturday 28 July 2012

Alternative Provision

My idea for the provision of other oversight for women to be bishops in the church of England. This is a straight question: what is wrong with this?

A parochial church council may issue a Letters of Request to the diocesan bishop according to the diocesan scheme put in place by the diocesan bishop using best practice as built upon in the Church of England. Such a scheme can therefore be updated for improvement.

On receiving the Letter, the diocesan bishop should use the diocesan scheme already in place.

This means that, at a minimum, he or she should consult the parochial church council about its concerns in relation to the celebration of the sacraments and other divine service and the provision of pastoral care. Other processes and consulations may be involved.

Taking the expressed concerns into account, the diocesan bishop delegates another bishop to carry out all leadership and pastoral functions to the parish in his or her expectation of suitability. A trial period may be involved followed by further consultation with the diocesan bishop. The diocesan bishop also has the right to replace such a choice subsequently after further consultation.

Such an additional bishop is not required to subscribe to any statement of faith beyond what all bishops have to affirm when making the Declaration of Assent. The additional bishop in position should take account of diocesan policies and decisions, and hold meetings with the diocesan bishop, but is free to exercise the derived powers of being a bishop in respect of the parishes under the diocesan bishop's delegated care.

The additional bishop chosen must be from the Church of England and be either a diocesan bishop from another diocese, a suffragan bishop of the diocese, a suffragan bishop of another diocese, an assistant bishop of the diocese who is a member of the House of Bishops of the diocesan synod of the diocese; or an assistant bishop of another diocese of the Church of England who is a member of the House of Bishops of the diocesan synod of that other diocese.

The idea is that all the power to decide is with the diocesan bishop. Conservative Evangelicals are not allowed to circumvent this, and they get their bishop with derived powers on the same basis as others. In practical terms the bishop with oversight is the one the opting-out parish consults, but this bishop is always ultimately delegated from above.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Hard Questions for Gay Inclusion

The extension of the previous entries is that to the matter of gay inclusion in ministry and all forms of blessings; it is a matter of religious liberty that, if there is to be gay marriage, then churches should be able to carry out gay marriage.

But there is a core problem, and it has to be faced. I agree with Changing Attitude's campaign, "of course", but there is a difficulty. The latest campaign posting states:

It’s time to proclaim with passion and spiritual enthusiasm Jesus’ gospel of unconditional love and welcome for all.

But is this so? Where, historically, is this outward inclusion made? I see Jesus very much concerned with Jews. Jews are the chosen people - quite a responsibility for them - and the cause is bringing about the Kingdom of God. Jesus was messianic to this effect. When he meets Gentiles, he regards some of them with ignorance and even contempt: let's say, at best, he lacks pastoral skills.

He gets challenged about his attitudes and he changes his mind - he learns better. And this from gospels that are very much pushing Gentile inclusion. In other words, Jesus is likely to have been less Gentile-inclusive than these Gospels (all coated in Pauline influence) make out.

I don't buy it, this 'back to Jesus' purity, like, in the end, I don't buy a Jesus-centred animal rights campaign. Again, as a rabbi, he will have participated in the slaughter of the lamb in the Temple, and his imagery (his beliefs, indeed) are of demons shooting off from people into unclean animals that then run off the cliff edge and kill themselves and their contents as someone gets better. It is the health service of demonic explanation (i.e., rubbish) and at the expense of lesser creatures.

This Jesus in the campaign is a by-word for inclusivity and unconditional love, but it doesn't match up to either the historical or the doctrinal versions. Did Jesus say anything against homosexuality? Probably it never entered his head for comment, because he might only have known that it was something Greeks and Romans did. He did regard marriage as something angelic once in the Kingdom of God, and was thus fiercely against divorce. The Church is considerably more inclusive about divorce than Jesus was.

(By the way, I'm of the view that Jesus probably spoke common Greek as well as Aramaic, as common Greek was the linking language of Jews in the region, so he will have been aware of the wider world and the naughty things it did. It just wasn't his field of concern.)

The theology for gay inclusion has to be a humanist theology. It shouldn't be locked up into the cult-of-an-individual, because that won't support the outcome.

If (as Jeffrey John claims - but how?) God is supposed to accept and value all people equally then it must be based on a broader theology than a Jesus centred one.

The Jesus that supports inclusion - gay inclusion (animal rights too) - is an imagined Jesus, and one that gets caught up in fantasy. It's this notion that Jesus has moral perfection, and he does not.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Deeper on Subservice and Asking

The argument about language and subservience, and the female approach as opposed to the male, starts to look like a justification for male exclusive priesthood!

I'm saying (so far) that Anglican women rise to be bishops and then use the language of subservience, either regarding father God or Jesus Christ. These are above, these are followed, and the language is male. In the myth, God becomes human and a sex is chosen.

When men have used this language of subservience, for donkey's years, they have nevertheless been privileged priests and bishops, so in a line and sharing the gold-dust handed down. So they became used to being in the hierarchy that uses the hierarchical language, and indeed in their churches they have exclusive, hierarchical rules - the bishop is the cornerstone and the lower clergy stand in his place dotted around the bishop's parishes.

Now it becomes important that if women join this hierarchy then they should do so equally, but it becomes difficult to wipe away hundreds of years of split sexual approaches to such religious language.

The female approach to subservient language really was just that, because the role was given from the fixed barrier in place. Indeed there was the all-important mythic impossibility of the semi-deified virgin mother, and made statue (doesn't move, something to look at), for men to dote over while impossible for any woman. The best woman was sexless and mind you don't menstruate.

So the woman rises to the top and joins the full hierarchy. She can now identify with the first women who had leadership, even in the proto-orthodox line, as well as the men, and of course in the many later-on heretical groups where women retained important leadership roles until snuffed out by authority or faded out.

For me, the equality will only be right when the language ceases to be one of subservience. It is important not to 'follow' any human being in a religious doting sense.

And the sex barrier remains, because for a man there will always be participation in that hierarchy and in the 'love' of the fellow man Jesus like a friend or colleague, even a superior one, like a bond, whereas for the woman Jesus will always be that of a lover, or a male friend who could be a lover but is not but with whom she does not bond.

Yes, I know, that there is the gay relationship, where Jesus can be a man's lover. But what of the lesbian, for whom he is a friend but of another sex? Friend, colleague but perhaps still not one to bond with. I understand gay men are often attracted to opposites - I'm not sure how universal this is. I'm not sure how iconic Jesus as an opposite can be to be an object of desire to a gay man; I rather think that the attraction of the religion of Jesus to a gay man is in the ritualistic and theatrical actions of doing the job. But not for some, so again it's hard to generalise. Heterosexual women often choose gay men friends because they are safe: one wonders if Jesus as unavailable is a religious iconic friend in this sense because he is always unavailable - a bit like the devotion to Mary by a gay priest or bishop (she can never become real, she is never sexual to him, as well as having been de-sexed).

I have very close male friends, and no desire to get into any sexual expression with them. This surely comes as some relief. But it doesn't alter the nature of the bond. With a woman, closeness really does come with the sex, and more than that, with repetition. The intimacy comes body to body in a way not so with a man. And you want that intimacy. The woman also invests her emotion into such a relationship.

We hear of nuns who invest their sexual desires into a Jesus icon. But surely most women do not. The relationship is presumably quite cool and, because of subservience, might even be at a critical distance. He really is unavailable.

There is another issue too. The attractive female bishop. There are going to be a number of male priests attracted by the boss, or the boss of other priests. It is going to create mixed up desires in a setting where the desires have been regulated by single sex authority and desexed statue women. Some people are just going to have to learn to be professional, and when relationships start, to declare them when they involve a potential clash of interests. Because start they will because sexual difference and desire have a power that rivals any religious syphoning of the sexual instinct.

My own view, developed over the last few years, is that all forms of cult-of-the-individual are harmful, and this includes devotion to spiritual figures. The Christian religion is built on hierarchy and is therefore damaging: damaging to those trying to build personal authenticity.

There are models of Trinity and Unity that emphasise the social and loving, but all forms of following are necessarily hierarchical. They are either based on dogma or an uninformed league table approach of higher ethical people. What is important, instead, is the way, either some pre-made or discovered versions, or ones you work out for yourself.

I don't think women bishops will ever be equal until the language of Christianity is radically rewritten, but so radically rewritten that it becomes of form of very liberal Judaism or thoroughly and not classically unitarian. Its references to Jesus would have to be at an angle and more occasional, with perhaps more emphasis on transcendence or on ethical human striving.

But until women are bishops, there won't be any rewriting.

Meanwhile, interesting developments in the Church in Wales, where they even had Charles Handy involved in making suggestions for future structures. He is a sort of miracle worker of organisation participation. Trouble is, he does this for firms that are still selling their products. Basically, the Church in Wales is small and collapsing. It is facing widescale social irrelevance, in a setting where various non-conformist groups have vanished chapel by chapel, but it is a single organisation that realises that it may not have a future. Perhaps the odd woman bishop might help there too. Hard to say, but there is nothing unique about the Church in Wales. The Church of England might be desperate to hang on to establishment, but in its attitude towards women and gays it is straining its relationship with state and society.

After all, the replacement amendments in November for the Church of England General Synod might be just as cackhanded as July's, and with no amendments (the cleaner option) still might not achieve the two thirds majority vote needed. And if the vote doesn't achieve the two thirds, and another five years wait before the equality issue returns, can the Church of England keep taking the internal pummeling it gives itself over these predicaments that change its future?

Saturday 21 July 2012

Rising to Subservience

Chatting to a chap at the church Friday morning, with a measure of agreement. He is one of those everything comes together type universalists, and it's a position I've encountered before and tend to resist. But as he seeks simplicity, so am I also in a 'stripping out' mood.

He has a service next in November, and likes to think ahead and let ideas bubble up. I'm more of a production line person, to grab any idea and run with it and make something of it. My service for fellow residents, to be completed this weekend for Monday, is God is a DJ - the result of a comment and a link to some music by Faithless made recently.

He has two ideas. One is the simplicity of ethics and the other is something about heroes, people we look at like Francis David's 'We don't have to think alike to love alike'. I too think that ethics has to come on their own, not pre-set by any kind of theology. He is also into the writings of Karen Armstrong and has re-borrowed her book on The Buddha. But to me, how much is that just construction in tradition, and I said she was far too kind about Muhammad, in the sense of making excuses about raiding camel trains and the disloyal opposition of Jews in Madina, who I regard as morally dubious. This is a problem with universalism - it isn't critical enough.

Where I've changed is that I've stripped out all senses of following individuals - the cult of the individual is probably always damaging.

I see a clash in the whole business of women bishops. I made a comment on Facebook about a recent blog entry against those against women bishops. Now, to be honest, I don't much care about bishops anyway, although the idea of co-ordinating those who facilitate others in a communal tradition is a sensible idea. But given they exist, they should be open to all. But as the argument proceeds and concludes, you get this sentiment:

It is an irony to me that those who most understand the numinous, ethereal, other-ness of divinity, a divinity that reached out to us in human form, like the universe in a grain of sand, could so limit God’s priesthood to what I understand as the original sin: making God (and Jesus as our High Priest) in our own image, when we are called to come ever closer to ‘sharing in Christ’s divinity as [He] shared in our humanity’ (a prayer said by priests as we pour the drop of water into the wine as we prepare the elements (bread and wine) for the Eucharistic prayer reminding, us of the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side when the guard pierced Him with a spear to check that He was dead.)

Mary, Mother of Jesus, birthed our Christ through the blood, sweat and tears of a homeless young woman amidst the stench of a working stable, her bemused betrothed beside her. Having chosen such an entry into this world, I doubt very much He is quite as precious about blood, and femininity and clean linen as we dare to suppose Him to be.

To me this is the language of subservience, subservience to a deity believed to be exclusively in one male (note, male - that's what happens when you invest deity in one person, you have to choose the sex). For the life of me, transcendence, if it exists, is a joining up, and is hardly likely to be invested in one male. What of nature and evolution, and the animals, the beauty of equations that produce fractals, the arts, the tribes we fight about and try to overcome, the gift and exchange that binds, even sleep and dreams. What of history, of space, of knowledge that leads to awe? I do not 'follow' a person of little historical record and for which the attachment is a community based on the mythic notion of living after death and returning as a messiah. That's a biological nonsense as well as a thought form long dead for practical purposes.

So as women priests rise up the ecclesiastical pole (if they do), it is all to maintain the language of subservience anyway. The blokes did it because they also had priestly power, pipes of the Christ power, one step below and part of an institution said to be his body. So is this the 'power' that the women want as well? Or will it have a different ring, coming from a background of subservience, to rise and then continue. Like the last remaining miracle (the resurrection) Christ becomes the last remaining man. He only washes your feet so you lick his, in ecclesiastical terms.

It's a nonsense and to be finished. But then, of course, it is goodbye to Christianity. Because, no matter what Christian Unitarians say, Christianity is the idea that Jesus is the Christ, and not some league table winner ethical bloke - because, on that, we don't know and it is rather second hand to the ethical point anyway and you don't follow some bloke like you follow a football team.

Of course you might say Jesus pointed away from himself and to the transcendent (as he understood him, supernaturally) and rather to the effect that Buddha pointed away from himself and to the Dharma. You can say that, but there is the issue about how much the Jesus of history thought he was connected to the coming of the messiah and really whether he took on too much self-assumption (that his tears were necessary for God to get the point and send the messiah). So Jesus is not ego-less at any point. I don't find this attractive at all. It is also a so-what, in that it is for us to point to what matters, to what is important. None of this, anyway, should result in attitudes of subservience. Of course it is plainly offensive that women cannot rise to the managerial top, but if this is to practice subservience then it is the ultimate glass ceiling of all.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Hymns and That

I'm very pleased that David Dawson appreciates my reworking of the contents of the first CD using updated (and free) software. In the recent Cantemus (from the Unitarian Music Society) he explains how, with that first CD in 2000, the recording equipment did not turn up, so those 21 hymns were recorded with rough equipment. The result was a lot of hiss and mono.

When I first used noise reduction on it a metallic trail was left instead of the noise. It was still there with reduced noise reduction settings. I hid the 'trail' inside echo and stereo separation. You could sing along but the words of the choir were indisctinct. But the upgrade of Audacity had a change in noise reduction. Using the pre-set level, the noise reduction was good and clean. However, the effect of that and artificial stereo was a hollowing out of the sound, that was not righted by using a low pass filter (tempted) but rather by lowering the notes and the useful same time action of slowing the speed. These must be done together to keep the integrity of a sound. Occasionally I might add a reduced shot of bass as well. But I was surprised that a second shot of noise reduction was even better, killing all obvious traces of hiss and it seemed to me that, based on a space of hiss, ought to be done before the note was dropped.

So the action was:
Find a non-organ fade out section of background hiss and take that as the noise to remove.
Then do the noise reduction.
Amplify down to make space for stereo (I chose -5.4)
Make stereo at full width (this is a VST plug-in)
Then do the noise reduction again.
Reduce speed and pitch by -6.
Amplify back up to peak.

In all cases I had a second of silent lead in and up to two seconds silent lead out for each track. This helps with CD playing machines less sophisticated than the one at the Hull church. For the CD itself, with the 21 put back, there is an extra gap of two seconds between tracks.

In some cases a little echo was added at the end of tracks where a finish was too quick, or where interrupted by a click. In one case a hymn with repeat lines and verses was reconstructed.

It's good to read that the CD will find use. It is one used by many because it contains popular hymns and indeed hymns first available on a CD with the different words Unitarians sing.

David Dawson explained to me that with the 1985 book much thought was not given to the vocal range of a hymn and he plays by transposing, whereas with the 2010 book the range rarely goes above D. Technically it is all to do with the general pitch or tessitura - the comfortable range for a particular singer or group of singers.

I selected -6 to slow the hymn and lower it noticably enough and to reclaim some 'body' back into the sound (it does work - rarely did I add bass boost). David explains, however, that for someone of perfect pitch, it sounds in between the notes. Interesting. -4 might have been better, I wonder, but -8 is well noticable but can be too slow. As you slow it down, you push your luck with the integrity of the note - the stability of a note from an organ, for example.

I did wonder about this. We Westerners do not cover every note with our notes! Proportionately the music should work out the same, it's just that it doesn't hit the notes.

I cannot read music, but I can copy what I see. I have recently upgraded Musescore. I've only just discovered the proper click for a tie to join two notes, rather than just add a curly thing. I still put up notes and down notes on different scores - it also allows more instruments.

My list of hymns is continually updated. In next Sunday's service, Stephen Carlile has chosen some funeral type hymns to go with a service theme on colours. They are not on any CD, but I have sourced the music and added to the list. The 1985 book remains the standard - it made leaps and bounds then, and it covers the range from liberal Christian to religious humanist belief and some interfaith. The newer book, as a supplement, contains much more that attack the idea of verses, and has more challenging singing. I can add to these either when the music is standard, the music is already available somewhere, or by transcribing and hoping I get the rhythm. Sometimes I choose 'small band' versions of hymns as a means to modernise, and more often than not get criticised. But I have resisted all attempts to get me to tell preachers what hymns to sing - these are matters for the service takers and then I make sure I can cover what they need. We should be able to sing without an artificial congregation all the time.

Monday 16 July 2012

Ethics and Church

It's interesting that the more I look into the basis of making an argument regarding the rules of the Christian Church, the more it becomes utterly obvious that I am now a complete outsider. Thinking Anglicans wants to be constructive regarding the amendment 5 that caused the General Synod to take back the process to the House of Bishops to rethink the rethink from there that led to the amendments in the first place.

I have nothing to say! Listening to a new and professional person in my life, I realise that the Church of England's position is simply offensive to women in general. The evangelicals can argue all they like for and against - the present situation is simply offensive. The Catholic traditionalists can do what they like: they are peculiar and the general impact is offensive. So bugger the clauses and amendments and stop being offensive. If you don't, then OK, but don't attempt to relate to others outside the shrinking tent.

So now the public and ritualistic statements of my past are misleading. And on those latter points, I don't care either. I made them faithfully and with intent in the past, but the fire went out thanks to distance and elongated time without prospect of reversal. What I do care about is that my position is known to the person who now matters to me, and vice versa, as we also continue to function in our own established lives. Although early days, and the door shut on others, this could be far from a conventional sense of union.

When the last piece of coal stopped glowing I don't precisely know, and I was probably over-hopeful for too long, but now that is of a previous time. Memories and a faithfulness to the past is also important, for both of us setting out. There is a sadness about the past on all sides. The person of former ritual connection knows of the change and had understood change was likely to happen.

In order to start this new relationship I did not consult a rule book of a Church or the Bible or indeed any other such spiritual-resource book. I would think that according to set texts I'm now well in amongst the immoral - and it does not worry me a bit. I do not live in a woo-woo world where people try to make other people fear for their salvation. I couldn't give a toss about that hogwash (more fool them). I have only made the most general of extractions regarding broad spiritual sources, but these are available in the secular sphere too. That there is a spiritual aspect in the relationship is important, in recognising the uniqueness and fullness of the other person. Her narrative is compelling and I can only hope about mine. I relate faith and trust, which to me was always the meaning of faith (not beliefs), and so the question is one of trust. And hope indeed. Hope failed before, but hope can come again.

By the way, all people have negatives as well as positives. What is compelling is not just a list of positives, but all of it taken (and not a list) that makes for the whole. The question for me always is: can I 'live' with myself in what I do, and can I 'live' with the other and can she 'live' with me.

And on this point, I wish to say no more personally. But I do wish to comment on how this then relates to my own pursuit of a spiritual life along with others who do the same. Because these principles that are intense in a one-to-one also can apply to friendships and then the general pursuit of life.

I arrived by a route of pressing links to the general mission of the Methodist Church, and I thought I could use this.

I do not follow in reverence one text collection nor the cult of an individual (Jesus of Nazareth), so any rewrite will avoid both, but the rewrite does relate to the position above of values, trust and hope that we might try to achieve in valuing ourselves and the other.

So a Church that tries to bring together trust and hope does this through:



The purpose of worship is to contemplate and reflect on the direction and purpose of our lives and our place in the wider cosmos. All people are important to us, whether significant others or generalised others. We worship through the use of traditional spiritual language and meaning, and through the focii that develop a sense of trust and hope on this living planet.

We might express a sense of sorrow and regret and also awe, wonder, thankfulness and praise. We can do these through words, symbols and music and in traditional or radical styles.


The Church helps people to grow and learn to value one another, through mutual support and care. It is done through small groups in discussion or for charitable activity. Some of these help others join us.

Pastors (Ministers, Lay Leaders) facilitate ministry among everyone. Sermons should inspire action.

Some drift away or leave and we should ask why and seek to alter behaviour to keep those in future who might not have left but did.


The Church exists to be a good neighbour to people in need and to challenge injustice by sharing concerns. This may relate to the local or a wider community. There should be an international angle. We can bring in charities or support others as individuals. There are the ethical issues raised by daily work.

We should share with one another our concerns about things that do not seem right, or cause trouble in our identified communities, or appear unjust.

The premises are a useful resource for income but income by helping others consistent with our beliefs and values.

The worship should refer to the identified communities and those using the premises.

Service to others should be part of the active development of the Church.


The Church exists to grow so that others have space to reflect and do it with other people also seeking faith.

Reaching out involves spiritual friendship exercised in the church, in and after the services.

The language used has to be clear and recognisable. Words used should be straightforward and meaningful to outsiders.

Each individual has their own narrative of coming to a community seeking faith. We should be confident in telling our stories. This does not have to be competitive (e.g. do this in interfaith meetings) but it should not be hidden.

Liberal religion varies in different denominations and in Unitarianism around the world, and we can learn from them.

Unitarians should be prepared to start new groups, even if it begins with twos and threes, with necessary publicity and a means to gather.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Insight From Fulwood

The chap who took the service at Hull Unitarians came from Fulwood Unitarian church in Sheffield. He and wife afterwards mentioned the Anglican church down the road from theirs, full to bursting point with several services each day. I said that is one of the Reform churches, as is one at Clough Road/ Beverley Road in Hull. It is also busy, though not as busy as it might like: Hull is a touch area for religion regardless of what kind. The Fulwood C of E church regards the Unitarian church nearby as "evil".

I said these are the churches in the C of E for which a woman cannot teach a man. They might be teaching Sunday School boys and girls, but not men. So you cannot have women ministers in charge nor certainly a woman bishop. I said these are like a Church within a Church, so that they'd have their own colleges and training, and own bishops, and Amendment 5 in effect gave them their own bishops because it introduced theological compatibility with the parish.

Yet despite people spilling out of the doors, there are only so many of these churches in the C of E and require car parks. There is one just outside Hull that pulls people in far and wide - very charismatic. The C of E still has a coverage of lesser attended churches (I pass one in the next street to me, evangelical, a congregation probably under 20 in number) and such that the Reform people still represent a minority of the whole. So do the traditionalist Catholics, and they do not generate large congregations.

In the end, the taking back of the Amendments was the only course of action available for the Church of England. The Amendement 8 to explain delegation and derived was probably all right for those who believe in fuzzy things going on when people lay on hands as do traditionalist Catholics who want their bishops derived. It answers the Catholic traditionalists but of course it did nothing for the Conservative Evangelicals, for whom delegation by a woman is precisely the problem. But Amendment 5 was toxic because it mixed with the derived and gave full force to the pollution argument as well as allowing particular theologies to decide added bishops.

The point is that there is no provision to be offered to Conservative Evangelicals. They are Puritans within a different body. They do not carry large scale weight, except by bringing in foreign Anglican oversight from places like Africa and other patterns of entryism. Entryism means they form themselves more clearly as a Church within a Church, for self-rule and self-development, but doing so in order to have the reach of the wider Church into which they are burrowed.

The C of E is giving Catholic traditionalists the chance to regard their other bishop as derived, and in practical realities they will keep a book of laying on of hands in their understanding of derived. Others will, at the same time, regard women and men ordained by women as just as derived. These traditionalists will fade away, or go elsewhere if safeguards against pollution don't go far enough.

But you cannot accommodate with Conservative Evangelicals. You can only vote them down. Of course, when they start doing their entryism proper (Jersusalem Declaration, correct College, international oversight from the Primates Council), then the Church of England has the right to defend itself and root them out. Getting Wycliffe College back, even if it stays evangelical, was important. Conservative Evangelicals with their declations and demands might realise that they ought to have the courage to run their own Church and move into their own churches.

Come back with an undefined 'derive' and 'delegated' if you like, but next time in November just bring in the legislation to be voted upon. The pro-women bishops lobby (if it can be called that) might not get the two-thirds needed (the amendments gained no votes, only lost them) and then it is a clean and clear loss until next time. On the other hand the Catholic traditionalists know that the game is up for them, and should seek their place in the new reality or go elsewhere, as is on offer. The vast spread of the C of E now wants women bishops, so are the Conservative Evangelicals going to frustrate the rest by blocking? Do they have a third or more in the General Synod?

Probably not now: but they might in five years time. Better get this through in November: it is probably the best chance to do so.

Monday 9 July 2012

Saturday 7 July 2012

Where the Buck Stops

I don't go for the idea that "staff" are responsible for the onslaught against same-sex marriage in the recent Church of England response.

This is, I suggest, rather like getting something on paper, doing the donkey work, following the obvious guide of Canon B30. Rather, detailed suggestions went to the House of Bishops and then to the two Archbishops.

So the people who issued this were the Archbishops, and it followed exactly the sentiments of John Sentamu and the willing bureaucratic-Church priorities of Rowan Williams.

He could not but have noticed the response, Rowan Williams told the General Synod as one answer to questions. But did he not predict the response at all, one wonders, or is his outlook so skewed by some pan-Anglican outlook abroad or (in the opposite) a Lambeth bunker mentality that he has lost sight of change around his own province?

But here we have it. The Covenant; conformed: the statement; and the Amendment. The Covenant could not reappear due to its demise, thanks to church people. The mess of the Amendment is on Monday, but we know who asked for the wriggle room that produced the Amendment.

The idea that an Archbishop is a no-powers person has been shot down these past few years. He might be a power to persuade only person, but this one has driven the agenda in these key areas in order to preserve and advance his model of a Church, a Church of hierarchy. His colonels followed on, in awe.

It is this idea of hierarchy that needs challenging, to be replaced (given that such a Church is hardly likely to abolish bishops) by an ethic of service not command.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

A Potential Problem Regarding the Vote...

On the women bishops thingy...

For the bishops to 'take back' the legislation so that it can be re-presented at a subsequent General Synod without the amendments, a motion to do so needs to be accepted by the Chair of the proceedings.

The Chair of the proceedings has to be one of the Archbishops. The Chair of the proceedings does not have to even accept the motion.

One of these Archbishops at least, and one can bet it was both, argued for wriggle room despite the clear message from the dioceses. He said, to a General Synod, regarding resistance to his Covenant plan, "Read the Ordinal." That is, remember who is boss (wears purple). One of these appointed flying bishops well ahead of this vote.

So would one of these Archbishops, would either of them, accept the motion to return to the bishops, or would either force a vote now on the nuclear option - it is either women bishops with "taint" or it is no women bishops at all (and will have to start all over again)?

Monday 2 July 2012

The Future Depends On It

As I make my efforts within the Unitarian fold, it gets more distant to comment on Anglican affairs. The whole business regarding women's ordination as bishops is more a sad tale than anything else.
Basically, it's a bloody mess and it is a mess to add to a succession of stupid interventions and directions. So despite the sadness in the train-crash detail it is important to keep hold of a wide as possible picture available.

The first stupidity was the Anglican Communion Covenant. The sense that it was being forced through by authority grew over time, and as it did so, and against any consensus, the narrow votes fell across dioceses to dismiss it out of sight. Though some would drag it back for a second go.

The second stupidty was the recent high handed comment about gay marriage and marriage in particular. Well, most denominations have said the same thing, but the dismissal of marriage for couples of the same sex here was absolutist in tone and narrow in source. It gave no sense of the debate actually going on and shifts in opinion.

Then the amendments were the cackhanded result of leaders being too close to the subject, an inability to see that an amendment far from being a tweak was an innovation to bring to an institution a view about unpolluted apostolic succession at the very time of the innovation to have women bishops. One simply undermines the other, and makes it contentious throughout the institution.

All this is the result of a disastrous Archbishop of Canterbury who, on his way out, led the wriggle room to cause violent shakes instead. He'd thought he could apply a Covenant and saw no other way, and others have had to say no; he has stood on his own head on the gay issue and this represents its inherent authoritarianism and clash with unrecognised secular responsibilities, and finally has come this intervention when the dioceses had made it clear what was going to pass.

At the heart of all this is a view stating that we do not live in a liberal-secular state where ethics are under constant negotiation (such as what constitutes marriage) but in a series of different communities to which each of us is signed up as a member and has its own authority structure. This is bad multiculturalism without any unity between them, a conserving postliberalism of frozen narratives in every little place. Some can have Sharia Law, some do not. So if you are an English Anglican Christian then you should 'read the ordinal' and take your authority as it is dished out, and it has been dished out on the basis of matching up with a deeply unethical Anglicanism abroad or in its sectarian features at home. Instead of challenging these, this Archbishop has simply promoted the institution as a sort of compulsive base for unethical theology and ecclesiology. He has proven to be deeply illiberal.

This is not the Anglicanism many recognise and which has been part of Englishness as an open, if class-ridden, grope towards negotiated change and different views of progress. Instead it is a fantasy Anglicanism of purple and authority, or story-narratives of the close kind.

The upshot is that, once again, the people of the Church of England are going to have to rescue the Church from its inept inward leaders. They are inept because they thought they should follow the leader and his 'teaching'. The rescue will be to get the bishops to take the amendments back, and return without any. If the bishops don't, then the legislation will collapse.

What has happened with the gay marriage statement - people are leaving - will also happen if there is a collapse in the process that dioceses showed would have been passed. All the authority was behind passing into reality the ordination of women as bishops. For it to collapse because an Archbishop, on his way out, can't leave be (and others doing the same), would be a tragic result and a conclusive demonstration that the bishops need to change as a whole.

The problem is that in these days of differentiation and specialisation, the Church of England is too broad. Secularisation theorists might have thought that the mainstream Churches would break up into aggressive sectarian evangelicals and defensive sectarian Catholics, with only a rump liberal group trying to stay in 'negotiation' with society. I'd say those new denominations are definitely in there and where the energy for change exists. But one should allow for institutions to have their own peculiarities, and one may be a Church of England that still combines different tendencies but does this over a narrower range. One should almost expect conservative evangelicals to go off and form their own Church, and indeed for traditionalist Catholics to form existences within Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In such a trimmed Church away from these constituents, the liberal wing may find itself part of a settlement that demands a level of subscription that its radicals cannot bear. It would be like a new settlement Church, where there is a greater harmony of purpose between wings that do actually relate to each other. This sounds fine and clear-cut, until the liberal reluctance to say it as they think comes through, with the tendency to subscribe and keep quiet in the face of opposition. Plus the debate will be on how to relate to wider society, because not even the trimmed Church will do that.

Incidentally, the 'Not in My Name' petition against the recent gay marriage statement was organised at least initially by Ian Stubbs, and I knew of him from my 1990s Sea of Faith days. Now I don't know his views at present - I note he is called "Father Stubbs" by many (never would be by me) and has an Anglo-Catholic appearance, if married to a female Methodist minister. The question (I am asking, that's all) is how liberal could be a trimmed down Church of England and would it (should it?) include the Ian Stubbses of the former, overstretched Church? Don Cupitt, of radical views, decided, in the end, to be out - that his critics were right, and a number have agreed, but some are still in and clerical too, obeying the creeds and the historic formularies as a whole.

What recent episodes show, however, is that Catholic authoritarian ecclesiologies are still alive at the top, at least for some months yet, as are those strange views about obeying scriptural passages. If the gay exclusion view persists, and if the bishops do not do the decent thing and force the amendments, then the all male led Church will persist. Who's to say that a future attempt to have women bishops won't come up against a stronger conservative evangelical resistance or a renewed traditionalist Catholic Anglicanism? In that sort of Church the women will walk as the gay folk are doing, and the Church will become the sectarian bolt hole that some seem to want. In this situation disestablishment will be virtually a necessity and we shall have a Church in England instead, but one that is remote and irrelevant to everyone else.

So next Friday the fun starts, and let's be honest. There's not a lot riding on it - only the whole future of the Church of England, to trim itself and try at lest to have some sensible relationship to ordinary thought and practicalities, or to become a sectarian memory rump of fantasy-land evangelicals and Catholics.

But just to help, will the present and retiring Archbishop just go quietly and realise that his thumbprint on the institution has been a disaster at every turn, leaving others to prevent the outcome he intended. It would not be his last Synod, if the legislation unamended is to return to a Synod say in November. Perhaps waiting until February 2013 might be an option, when he is gone.