Wednesday 30 January 2013

Free Restricted Church Recognised

Peter Levite: It's our religion corner again, and our correspondent Reverend Linda Bode is going to help me and is here on my webcam. You may remember Linda Bode...
Linda Bode: We're not going through that again Peter.
Peter Levite: You look a bit different again. What's all this then about a Free Church in England rather than your Church in England? Apparently your two Archbishops have recognised their two bishops. Is that right?
Linda Bode: That's right - recognition at long last, for them.
Peter Levite: But, it is dated 28th January and you don't have an Archbishop of All England at present, only the Archbishop of the North.
Linda Bode: Yes I suppose that is right. It is an interregnum at present for the Archbishop of All England, but then God moves in mysterious ways. Peter, on my webcam you are scratching yourself again on top of your legs.
Peter Levite: So what is the Free Church in England?
Linda Bode: It's a tiny, tiny denomination of mainly elderly people and elderly leaders who represent a traditionalist evangelical viewpoint and who broke away from latitudinarianism and Anglo-Catholicism.
Peter Levite:  What is latitude in arian arian ism?
Linda Bode: Moderates, like me.
Peter Levite: Evangelical, then it must be doing well.
Linda Bode: It is in decline because people of that persuasion now tend to go to big charismatic centres and media churches, where things are more dynamic.
Peter Levite: More entertaining, you mean.
Linda Bode: You may mean; I try to reach out these days. It is 1662 or conservative-modern language forms and formal.
Peter Levite: The point is that someone like you has argued for female and male equality all this time in leadership, and there you are recognising a Church that doesn't even have women as readers never mind deacons, priests and bishops.
Linda Bode: Yes, it is a little embarrassing.
Peter Levite: Perhaps if you go ahead and have women bishops, they will cease to recognise your orders.
Linda Bode: I can imagine it could be a short-lived relationship, if we get women bishops.
Peter Levite: What puzzles me is this. There are people in your mob who say if they don't get a third province, as in if the male-only bishops (who are in suffragen dioceses of the Archbishops), don't become dioceses in their own rights, they will have to self-organise and recognise their own bishops from abroad. But here is a ready-made group for them.
Linda Bode: Entryism. Running their own show but attached to the main body, like a parasite.
Peter Levite: Well, why not just join the Free Church in England?
Linda Bode: Because it is a self-funding, self-financing, cut-off body that doesn't have the reach of the big brother. It is in decline. But, you are right, it is the Protestant, Evangelical, body in purity that they seek. The Bible is clear to them - male only teaching leadership, and so even the reader is male only.
Peter Levite: But now recognised by your Church.
Linda Bode: Indeed, we go marching backwards and two, even one, Archbishop decides it for our Church. Apparently.
Peter Levite:Weather!
George Hudson: Yes, the wind is now the other way, and it is much warmer but you wouldn't know that when it races through Doncaster station.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Active Tolerance

I did not wonder if the forebears of the Hull Unitarian congregation, trinitarian 'extremists' all, were spinning in their graves. I know they were. As good Protestant Puritans, they have been revolving rapidly for some time, but I'm talking about a speed at which bits fly off, the sort of speed that dries clothes before going on any radiator. It was my service and Unitarian churches do as they please. I nearly chose Die Gedanken Sind Frei as a hymn. This was never their intention...

To avoid faffing with matches, I had a candle prelit. To signify 'more fire' for Imbolc I had a 5 stem candelabra already lit. The chalice lighting got another flame going (a candle stub on a tee-light, for a better flame). The liturgy to past, present and future lit three more. The four elements liturgy lit another flame and got some good incense smoke going. That's eleven candles plus incense. Plus, against forebears who refused to celebrate Christmas on the basis that it was Pagan, thus was Pagan neat, including a reading from a book about how to be a witch in thirteen months. Unfortunately the law was passed in 1844 by which other denominations cannot grab the money, and having been there (in and out) for 27 years I am myself within the stipulations of the act about occupation and continuous change. Though I have done these before, if not together.

As in discussion afterwards, we can but we don't have to take the whole packages, nor do we have to believe them in the way that some of their adherents do - though, also, individuals can and the Unitarian denomination is a means to meet adherents of other ways. I also made a parallel about being a "Pretend Pagan" according to one accuser and a postmodern liberal Christian - there are indeed postliberal Christians for whom Christianity is a drama and identity rather than a base for truth. For someone leading a U3A course on Philosophy my liturgy had in it Plato and Aristotle - he said afterwards, "Not their best moments," in that they believed in a four elements that we regard as purely mythic. Indeed the science, proper science, was in my sermon, and I am no dealer in Astrology - the midwife exerts more gravitational pull at birth than even the nearest planet (and what is the causal connection anyway between heavenly bodies and personalities?). None of this is sillier than virgin births or resurrections of the body, however, and as someone said afterwards, no we don't have to take the whole package as demanded by the Pope of Catholic Christianity.

So in that lot, then, the different views of toleration within Unitarianism - my 'raiding party' approach, for liturgical content and spiritual result, or the true believers who'd rather meet those of other true believers.. One of ours went and closed the magical circle because I'd left the powers swirling and active.

Unitarians really do 'meet people where they are', the slogan used by liberal Christians, but then Unitarians are not trying to take them somewhere else. They go where they want to go.

Next week the theme is, oh, Imbolc and Candlemass - again. But it will be very different.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Sermon to Come

Below is the sermon I plan to give on Sunday. I am also writing two short liturgical pieces to fit the service based around Imbolc, one to the past, present and future and the other around the mythic Four Elements. The prayers are new, the chalice lighting is imported and I have one reading as suggested. The following is subject to editing and ad-libbing on the day.

If you are accused of something you can plead not guilty, enter a defence, and see if you are found guilty or not guilty. If you say you are guilty, that is more or less it, other than for any mitigating circumstances. Or you might come clean and even ask for other related crimes to be taken into consideration.

Very recently I was accused and have been forced to make a plea. I decided to plead guilty as charged and although I can therefore make no defence I can provide an explanation by the way of, well, admitting that I have done it before.

I have been accused of being a Pretend Pagan. I plead guilty, because it is true, but if I have an explanation it is that I have done this crime at least twice if not more often.

A pretend Pagan doesn't really believe it. Doesn't really believe in the gods and godesses or the magical powers that derive out of the cycles of nature. There is no real immersion into the Pagan world, but basically it is being used as a vehicle of expression by someone who believes in, well, frankly, something else.

Now the accusation is all the more targeted because even the real, immersed Pagan is aware that the religion is full of one's imagination and creativity, and that the gods and godesses can be imagined representatives of magical forces. But magical forces there are, says the real Pagan, and one of the oldest transmitters of magical information is, of course, astrology. Astrology is virtually a science to some Pagans, because it deals in cause and effect: that who we are is linked to the motions of planetary bodies.

As someone who takes the view that a midwife exerts more gravitational force than even the nearest planet, and that there is no causality in Astrology, I have to plead guilty. And, as some of you know, my answer to Bill Darlison's questions about pure probability in our life narratives is to come back to him to discuss the whole point about probability and the moral consequences of magical causality.

The Postmodern Pagan Miriam Simos or Starhawk is a true believer, but she also pushes the Pagan cause into the academic world, and in so doing has had a great deal to offer about the Pagan as liturgy and about using it as a means to understand your life-narrative. She understands the connection between play and playfulness, liturgy, drama and re-enactment. For people like her, the Pagan view is the best way to connect self and all that is around us. She has been able to meet up and match with the likes of Matthew Fox, the ex-Roman Catholic and now Episcopalian, with his view of Original Blessing over Original Sin. Again, it is about having a positive life story.

So I want to plead guilty and I have done it before. See, I was once a Pretend Christian, but they were called Postmodern or Postliberal Christians.

One route to postmodern Christianity was via our own James Martineau. James Martineau was a reviser of liturgies, a liturgical poet who took a generalised Christianity as a collective liturgy but said everyone must be their own religious conscience - not the Bible, not the liturgy, but their own stance. Such extreme subjectivity collapses a collective and one time objective liturgy into something that is postmodern. The language is like a set of guideposts for the group, but no more than that, as each person has their own selections of beliefs. That is an open, liberal, postmodernity, and the whole reason for its existence is the dissonance between received religious tradition and modern understandings of what causes things to happen.

Set against this is a more conservative approach to being postmodern. As with the Calvinists, our very own forebears in the 17th century, if yiou believe in revelation then religious truth is all one way. If you regard the world, its culture, and its human-made institutions as corrupt, then you might have the view that there is no truth to be deposited in the world as we know it. Rather the truth is in not the science in the Bible, not the history that might be in the Bible, but in the biblical encounter itself. It is your faith and its faith in its text, and the same encounter is true in the language of doing worship. Put that into today's terms, and it means that such religious encounter is rootless. It is Plato and perfection, and indeed the more Catholic Church-version of this emphasises Plato. It is definitely not of Aristotle, who wanted truth grounded in the very stuff we live amongst. Whether it is George Lindbeck's Protestant postliberalism, or John Milbank and company's Anglo-Catholic Radical Orthodoxy, the whole tradition becomes a matter of performance, and of identity, not of proof. There is no proof to be had in following Christianity, according to that line of postmodern thinking.

So over the river some years ago I was a communicant Anglican on a liberal postmodern basis, but realised that I was sending out all the wrong signals. I wasn't a very good postmodern Christian, because my liberalism was so selective, and wasn't very good at doing the narrative thing. The priest-in-charge, as was, now with the freehold, was very much better at 'doing the whole tradition'. He was not a liberal, but he was postmodern in many respects. A number of professional Christians and theologians are like this: they live in the real world when it comes to explanations, such as say the biology of Richard Dawkins and the astronomy of Brian Cox, but they live in a kind of museum world when it comes to doing religion, because the museum artifacts still deliver a spirituality. The reason one chooses one spiritual package over another then becomes, again, that connection between liturgy, play, playfulness and re-enactment - which is the best playtime or drama for you?

The problem of liberals, well understood by James Martineau, is that we too raid the museum for our religious language, from within our inherited culture, but liberals are more selective than taking whole packages. I still do shop and select my religious artefacts. And I can do it with Paganism. After all, Paganism is our culture too. Quite a few Pagans in the Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist camp are postmodern Pagans, otherwise they would be in the Pagan groups proper. Some of them, though, are also in the Pagan groups proper either as postmoderns or as inhabiters of a magical world. They do the Unitarian thing as well because Paganism is expansive and they also like the contact with the humanists and the Buddhists and the Christians.

Whereas, someone like myself is much more part of a raiding party, even a fraud. In fact, I have dropped a lot of the postmodern fluff because I believe in research. Research is a good way to find out what is true and what isn't, and language is not the be all and end all of expressing working truths. But language still functions when considering religion as art, and when I consider religion as art I am going to paint on the broadest canvas possible and find as many styles as I can. So watch out Pagans because I am on a raiding party, to nick some of your stuff and make it liturgical.

I'm guilty as charged and I've done it before.

Friday 18 January 2013

The Appalling Response of Martin Kuhrt

Here we go again. Steve Chalke says one thing and evangelicals, like Martin Kuhrt, resist. The Christian world is thus buzzing itself with the question of whether or not Steve Chalke, the Baptist minister, is an evangelical or not. He's rejected bloody substitutionary atonement and now he blesses gay couples after a Civil Partnership. Personally I care little whether Steve Chalke has gone down this well-travelled path from evangelical towards liberal; what concerns me is that under a previous Labour administration and since a broad secular country has him and others like him through their agencies running some of our schools.

Perhaps that is it: that the need to institutionally conform with national standards of general inclusion have contrained the ideological needs of these agencies and altered the outlook of its principal individuals.

Whatever the motives, we have a battle of the Bible. Steve Chalke's extended essay is how the Bible can be understood, selectively, to allow for gay inclusion. Chalke says that Paul isn't referring to stable and committed homosexual relationships. In this matter, as others, one doesn't follow the mistakes of the Bible in detail anyway (like its scientific errors) when set against newly acquired knowledge, and given that the Bible is tougher against women's inclusion in authority than some evangelicals like to make out the Bible itself fails to provide final answers and therefore these answers are often post-biblical. Thus it should be with homosexuality. It's how it was with slavery.

The Bible itself is diverse, humanly constructed, but in its conversation from God there is a trajectory from Old to New Testaments of greater liberty, and of course, as always, the Jesus issue is used as the trump card, when so interpreted. So Jesus was comparatively inclusive, though fully revealing. This strikes me as a little odd - as he is not completely inclusive and indeed far from it, so he is only fully revealing if he is projected forward too.

So via Jesus one goes beyond the New Testament to answer ethical questions. The principle applies to homosexual relationships.

It is the principle of progressive revelation, or the notion that the Bible was never completed. Its themes continue to be written, continue to be scriptural, and sometimes believers mention the Holy Spirit (the paraclete). These are liberal Christian principles. The late Unitarian Christian Arthur Long used to promote acceptance of progressive revelation as a distinctive liberal Christian trait.

Then there is the pastoral need Chalke faces, where he is challenged by what most of his tribe think scripture says and what he thinks scripture says. Naturally he does what liberals do, and acts according to what he thinks is the case. His silence previously has been so as not to upset evangelical relationships.

Against him we now have Martin Kuhrt writing in defence of scripture closing the book on the last page of the New Testament, so that, unlike for women, there are no accepting tracts for gay relationships as there are statements for women in authority set against women not being permissable in authority.

Kuhrt wishes to be limited by the book, and of course the notion that the book might have got something completely wrong doesn't feature. It doesn't because, for all his biblical sifting, he gives the game away later on:

He [Chalke] says it is ‘anti-gay stigma’ that causes most of the health problems for gay people, rather than anything unhealthy to do with homosexual practices.

In other words, Kuhrt is on the side of a sexual practice (undefined here) being unhealthy under a classification of 'homosexual practices'. Now I know of a whole range of sexual practices, and a great many of them are shared by people of all sorts of sexualities. I wasn't aware that some of them are intrinsically unhealthy by classification and yet some, the same, are comparatively healthy, by classification.

So if a man sucks off and masturbates another man, this can be unhealthy, but if a woman sucks off and masturbates a man, this is healthy? If a man penetrates a woman in her anus unprotected this is healthy, but if a man does this it is unhealthy? If a man has sexual intimacy with a man stroking his body, this is unhealthy, but if he strokes a woman's body this is healthy? If a woman seeks out a man's apparent G spot by pushing her fingers in her anus, it is healthy, but it a man does this to a man, it is unhealthy?

Kuhrt tells us has "known and liked several gay people", including those where he has had a pastoral relationship (he says "responsibility" - there's hierarchy for you), and some through "mature Christian understanding" do not label themselves as gay at all. But, principally, regarding gay people, he wants to "love them".

If I was a gay person, at this point I'd be telling him to get lost. He is categorising practices and indeed end the people themselves. Because, as regarding the Bible, and Steve Chalke, Martin Kuhrt says:

Chalke doesn’t engage at all with the view that disciples of Christ cannot defiantly and unrepentantly persist in identifying themselves as belonging to a class or people who are defined by behaviour which is sinful.

So it is about a class of people, a class of people defined by sin who become invisible as a class of people through mature Christian understanding. This is very important - it is the very logic of no rights to an identified class of people.

Well a little while back I was kicked off Fulcrum because, in repetitive fashion, I started short-cutting arguments and giving brief answers. I wasn't engaging with their point of view, and indeed I was not. Quite so. I find these evangelical arguments reprehensible. Society allows religious liberty and rightly so, but I'm suggesting that these evangelicals are allowed to exhibit themselves in their corners and hopefully contribute less and less to the public good. If the book is wrong, the book is wrong; and the argument of Kuhrt is itself evil in consequence.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Grains of Sand

On Sunday the denomination's 'music man' took our service and with his mixture of choir CD pieces and own playing used, and with a meditation over Vaughan Williams's Thomas Tallis theme, where I slid the sliders up and down, I had my work cut out. My pre-made CDs also had back-ups if he didn't play, so I was jumping tracks thorughout. He even did unsupported brief hymns for starting and benediction that I knew nothing about and I had not put on the board.

In amongst all that was a presentation that might be entitled seeing it all in the smallest item - like grains of sand. So religion - as indeed with his service - wasn't about God or the like, but about attitude of mind. The religious mind is expansionary about what is, a sort of yes. It is like tourism that turns out less to be about where you go and more about your attitude.

This I once learnt from one of those TV philosophers. In my own experience, we used to travel to stay with friends in North Wales and we were on holiday. They used to come and stay with us and they were on holiday. To them, their tourist destination was just home, and to us Hull was home but to them different, even exotic, and add in the east coast and the river. You can go on holiday without going anywhere, if your mind is so capable of a shift of outlook.

This is thus how the God thing can be so irrelevant to a religious attitude. Well, can be - it might be that seeing the universe in grains of sand is a signal of transcendence. But then signals are signals and need not point anywhere. It is the response, the attitude, the sense of own being perhaps.

In the mundane is the sacred, not because there is a sacred, but because the mundane has it all. It is simply a way of viewing and responding.

Friday 11 January 2013

J R Ewing Elected

Peter Levite: A news flash! This says:

TO ALL MARRIED, GAY MARRIED AND SINGULAR CHRISTIAN PEOPLE AND PAGAN OTHERS whom the underwritten shall or may in any way concern

We've just received news of the change to having an Archbishop of All England Elect. I'll read it out, and it says:

RICHARD DICK DL, DCL, DD DEAN MARTIN of the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ Clark Kent for All England GREETING in the Lord Everlasting and Eternal not Arian:

WE DO MAKE IT KNOWN to you universally by these presents laid from the royal annual Christmas Tree that the See of Kent being vacant by the resignation of The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Professor Rowan Tree late Archbishop and Pastor thereof We the College of Canons aforesaid by virtue and authority of Her Majesty's Tax Disc and Licence Plate granted to us for the Electing another Archbishop and Pastor of the said Church assembled together in our Cathedral on this Eleventh day of January in the year of Our Lord Everlasting and Eternal Two thousand and thirteen and making a College of Canons to go off bang there and observing the Laws and plaster Statues of this Kingdom and the ancient customs of the Cathedral Church in this behalf to be observed did elect [big breathe in] THE RIGHT REVEREND JUSTIN ROTATION EWING, Master of the Dark Arts, by Divine Permission Lord Bishop of the North East, to be Archbishop and Pastor of the said Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ Clark Kent and for All England.

    [signed] Richard Dick


Our correspondent on these occasions, Lesley Tilgate, is on the phone to tell us what this means.

Linda Bode: I'm not called Lesley Tilgate any more. For you I am using my actual first name not my middle name and my original surname. I'm fed up with you trying to fit me into your head instead of letting me be me. Well now I am the person Linda Bode.
Peter Levite: Describe what that long pile of words means - what does metropolitical mean?
Linda Bode: Metropolitical means Henry VIII and all that. The rest means that J. R. Ewing will be the next Archbishop of All England. He is elected; it will be confirmed; and in March he'll become it when crowned though Her Maj defends the faith.
Peter Levite: The old American President stays President until the new one is inaugurated. Isn't Rowan Tree the Archbishop still?
Linda Bode: Nope, he's gone. We are leaderless. It is like an interregnum although Archbishop of the North John Sendmehome is the acting boss if we want one.
Peter Levite: People don't get to the top unless they can dispose of people on the way: Eton, oil industry... Linda Bode: We all love him, for now. From Farmer Giles to Tommy Rod.
Peter Levite: What? No, we don't have the time or frankly the desire to take a call from the Archbishop of the North. Tell him to ring back another time - preferably never.
Linda Bode: I'll ring off now, just in case you do take his call.
George Hudson: We're missing some rain at the moment, though it's been raining at Thirsk station.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

For the Liberal Democrats (Get Lost)

Dear Sir/ Madam

I can do better than your survey.

The minimum it would take for me to consider voting Lib Dem again is the removal/ resignation of Nick Clegg and people like Danny Alexander, David Laws etc..

I voted for the party after its long development, and during, with hope, on the basis of its manifesto. What we got instead was completely different. Nick Clegg referred to politicians lying, with all that litter in the broadcast, but he turned out to be the biggest liar of them all.

Those who depend on benefits - the law says you need x amount to live on - will get clobbered by the 1%, by council tax contributions and by a spare bedroom tax. Liberal Democrats sign off these policies One month Alexander says, 'We protected the poorest' and next it's the 1% to join the others.

And what of the banks and all their credit expanding policies and bogus 'insurance' products when prices fall? Absolutely nothing.

The party built up by Ashdown and Kennedy has been destroyed by the present 'Orange' leadership that just loves the Conservatives. They're all economic liberals and of a social class.

No one believes the statistics for unemployment. People on various benefits and schemes aren't counted as unemployed. They want to work but the jobs aren't there and they just go round and round the system.

You haven't even managed any constitutional reform.

The sooner the coalition ends the better. Instead we get Nick Clegg further enthusing with his partnership with Cameron. Well, the electorate sits, waits and when the time comes you'll know what's coming. The Liberal Democrats will be destroyed at the next election and will deserve every rotten result.

I won't touch you again until the poison has gone.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

The Sexual-Doctrinal Connection

Most of the time I don't have any interest in what the anonymous blogger Cranmer thinks, with its unwanted combination of irrelevant doctrinal purity and Conservative politics. I am only interested now via Changing Attitude and what has been set down as a challenge. I share the intentions of Changing Attitude but not the setting.

The position held by Cramner isn't absolutely clear. On the one hand there is an offering of moderation:

...homosexuality is not an issue worthy of schism: it is simply not of the order of the sort of debate that used to divide the Church: the divinity of Christ, for example, or the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325 – or even over liturgy or the transforming nature of infant baptism. The issue of homosexuality affects only a tiny minority of its adherents: it is of distinctly secondary, even peripheral, scriptural importance.

On the other hand, it could well be a first order issue after all:

Hooker not Cranmer!
That God established an objective, moral order in creation, and continues a work of re-creation through Jesus, is a source and standard of all that it beautiful, good and true. If such a moral order means anything, there may be no via media on the issue of homosexuality. Accepting theological diversity is not the same as tolerating all beliefs and practices, because ultimately the Church is calledto be holy because God is holy (Lev 19:2; Mt 5:48).

Furthermore, Jesus spoke in large-scale terms and not in small details, so his thoughts on marriage excludes homosexual relationships. St Paul allowed no compromise either.

There is a connection from a different perspective between gay relationships and all this biblical doctrine. The big doctrinal issues, like the doctrine of the Trinity, are not finalised in the Bible. The Christian New Testament contains various views of Jesus and divinity from the perspective of the early Christians who wrote it. The one view not in there is the expressed doctrine of the Trinity. It may be implied as potential, but there are given unitarian and arian views (John's Gospel is easiest, simplest, as an Arian document - in the beginning was the Word, thus the first of creation, through which creation was made; Mark makes a few hints at Jesus's divinity, but with the other synoptics is mainly unitarian where Jesus is chosen and special).

The fundies insist on the Bible as the last word on homosexuality, but not on doctrine, though they delude themselves about the Bible and actual ecumenical doctrine. Perhaps what really matters is what Churches have thought and decided, but then what Churches have decided can be undecided.

The Unitarian stream of thinking eventually took the view that that Bible offered no final answers. We do not have the historical method to know what Jesus thought on this issue or the next. There are only themes, such as reverse ethics and ethical integrity. In the end what matters is your own experience, with some outlook provided by tradition, some from modernity and beyond, and much by ethical discussion amongst the gathered.

This is why, against Cranmer, accepting theological diversity is about a sincere debate on a 'you believe this, I believe that' approach to being together, or moving apart, in the Church. It is not cheap to have 'reconciled diversity', meaning benign tolerance, because that is the tolerance that makes society. It is more accurate regarding broad movements in faith.

There are two main movements in Unitarianism from the nineteenth century onwards. There is the rational and the non-rational, though each has a little of the other. The non-rational was transcendentalism and romanticism: dangerous in Germany but about literature, the rural and the imaginative in Britain and America. The rational was the early liberal outbreak, the biblical Unitarians (really, 'Reformation Arian'), later on the biblical criticism taken from the rational Germans but actually within our Romantics, and then religious humanism. So in the rational side there is the liberal Christian (becoming postliberal - standards of recognition and performance in an identifiable church service) and then to humanism (some Western Buddhism) and on the non-rational side the growing Pagan element and the interfaith/ Hindu/ Buddhist perspectives.

None of these are restrictive about gay relationships, or indeed others. But sexuality is important because it is the core of our identity and drives, and of course the basis of reproduction or otherwise. It is the core of our collective diversity and evolutionary flexibility (to populate, to care - we have lived to grandparent age which has evolutionary advantages and not to over-populate so have 'spares' who are within the creative, collective mix) that has made the last human species so successful. And through language it understands itself and its limits, even its own end.

Faith has sexuality shot through it: it is not for nothing that today's Pagans stress the feminine and the relationship within and across the feminine and masculine and make descriptive deities. Hindus had a highly sophisticated view of sexuality before some Muslim rulers and the British Empire introduced loin cloths. Evolution is all about sexuality and death, after all. It is out of these that we draw spiritual concepts and experience, out of these that some even regard the world as magical (magical rather than supernatural, though it can be both).

Church of England theologians might know all this, as do social anthropologists, but they cannot apply these ideas because they are stuck within the realm of Church councils and biblical writings. The late nineteenth century saw the limits of the Churches, and the late 1970s was the end-point of myth using liberal Christian theology until it turned postmodern (either conservative or liberal in form).

It is no surprise, then, that in parallel the Churches have become so sclerotic about human sexuality. The link between forms of religion and the diversity of expression of sexuality is made: Christianity needs a wopping change to accommodate the actual sexuality of people who trust others, receive trust and make relationships.

Perhaps one reason adherence to Christianity dropped by 10% in ten years in Britain (other than an over-favourable previous question) is because it has come up against a newly widespread and accepted understanding of sexual diversity as part of social cohesion, and Christianity is understood as representing a narrower view. The schism is a product of the mainline institutions creaking and splitting on these questions of the day thrown up by the newer tolerance.

Many gays and lesbians simply say to hell with all your religion, but just a few have noticed the Quakers, libral Jews and Unitarians saying differently, and thus make their enquiries about what it is religiously that makes them different. The Quakers, with a strong social and independence reputation, should benefit the most, though have a peculiar strict kind of practice, but the Unitarians are accessible, and a practice that is more understood and full of words and music that can express the connections between experience in faith and authority and experience in sexality.

Cranmer can keep talking to the few that want to be tied in knots. It's not a schism issue but there may be no via media. Well, if there is no via media there is hardly the flexibility available to avoid schism. But as his institution strains and stresses, Unitarians are pleased to receive those who want to seek differently.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Keep it Up - It Directs the Traffic

Let's put it like this. The yet more controversy in the Church of England is doing no harm whatsoever to the Unitarians, and indeed is doing the denomination no end of good. Suddenly the empty ice cream carton on the recently reshown The Simpsons: Unitarian flavour ("There's nothing there."  "Exactly.") isn't quite so empty. What has been the case for the Unitarians is now much more publically out there and obvious.

In the past weeks the average age of the Hull congregation has collapsed. The two who were new today were unconnected with the two new some weeks ago. Come to give it a try... And of course people like it because the stress is different - the stress is that you are your own authority and your faith is encouraged in a collective setting but it is your own to develop and express. There's been a swing towards Paganism too, the version that isn't watered down. It all adds to the mix.

Did the Church of England 'bury bad news' at the end of a meeting's text report? Please don't notice a change of policy. Not at all. No one in a Civil Partnership being considered for becoming a bishop is going to get far if he (as it remains) preaches in favour of gay love. It would be a fine line indeed for someone in a Civil Partnership and preaching in favour of sexual expression with your significant other who then reassures the appointers that, by the way, although we approve we are not doing it ourselves.

The requirement would surely be that the Civil Partnership couple regard sexual activity between them as sinful biblically: they'd have to preach against it even if it comes with difficulty and personal cost. Even then said bishop to be might not be a 'focus of unity' given the stink some would make of an appointment.

It's as locked up in its twisted logic as it was.

Giles Fraser says in such a situation it is morally right to lie. Well that will reassure the nut-jobs. Preaching in favour of sexual expression, in a Civil Partnership too but "No we are not at it ourselves". "Are you not lying?" "No we are not lying - but it is morally right to lie." ("So then you could be, so no you cannot be a candidate.")

It is moral to tell the inquisitor to "get lost", but what is the motive to lie? Stay in the job and draw the salary? Motive matters in the moral response of telling a lie.

Whatever your position, an organisation does have the right to define its boundaries. If you are unpaid and a minister, you might think about ministering from a friendlier organisation. If you are paid then really you ought to start considering other means of support, unless there is a real prospect of change. You do not have to stay where you are.

Meanhwhile, thanks, because Unitarians have gays and lesbians in ministry, and will be some to marry. They will marry among themselves and marry others. They have and will conduct Civil Partnerships. It's all good, as they say.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

The Liberal Label (and those Post-Liberals)

My recent blog entry on Chadderbox characters created an interesting level of negative comment particularly because real people lead on to the characters that then get played out in interaction. They are cartoon characters when they appear, as cartooned in words as when I depict them in pictures. My pictures can be controversial because although intended to be or inevitably 'funny' they are recognisable. I also enhance certain features, and when it comes to women clergy then it is ambiguous because it is as much Carry On as trying something more sophisticated. Someone like the Rev. Hitchener has the more sophisticated cobweb-blowing approach than mine. Funnily enough, trying to draw her, she ends up either ordinary even shifty or some pasted fashion icon that is just commercial and artificial. Rachel Marszalek down the catwalk has been a lot easier, despite similarities of presentation.

Originally I was going to comment less, even not at all, on the Church of England, even via a parallel Church in England, with the retirement of the Archbishop who so annoyed me while I was trying to cut a little path within the C of E. My high point of commentary was 2007 and onward; by 2009 I was refusing communion and 2010 I was out and had had enough, with a final settlement in the Unitarians.

I can still see me having 'fun' in 2013, but I'm more at a distance. I'm at a distance too from Anglican liberals, and of course one of the problems is recognising Anglican liberals. Those who are or could be don't or won't use the term, and it is a term of abuse that no one has attempted to recapture. Well, Affirming Liberalism did, but that's like a punctured raft somewhere in Oxford with the air let out. Keith Ward is not and never was a Don Cupitt.

Anyone from the outside would have said the incumbent of my final parish was a liberal Catholic. But he had that conversation with me in which he said, "You know, I'm not a liberal."
He was not because he took the whole tradition, he said, as a spirituality, so that nothing beneficial was missed. This is indeed different from me, because I was and am selective, so I drop what is harmful nor do I observe boundaries to miss out from what is good - say in the Buddhist path - for understanding what I do. It's open source and open plan, and the furniture is selected and different styles. And crucial is an overall humanistic causal narrative about reality.

So when someone very online with comments and sermons like Lesley Crawley says she is not a liberal, I am interested in that denial of the label. (Should I now make my cartoon character, Lesley Tilgate, also claim not to be a liberal or should she be one?) Using the principle of selectivity, I applied the liberal label because of details like a recent sermon put on line (November 3rd 2012):

Of course the church exists to bring forward, to bring into existence the Kingdom of God. The place where Love, Joy, Peace exist. The place where people journey towards loving God and one another. The Good News that we offer is that there is a pathway towards light, and not darkness, towards life and not death, towards love and not hate.

This is dramatic, life-changing stuff. Which brings me to the Gospel passage.

Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus could have come sooner, but he didn’t. Martha’s words ring like an accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I guess anyone who has experienced grief has experienced that one.

“If only”

She is talking about the past, but Jesus is very much in the present. I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday, it is something within us, we are an Easter people.

And so Jesus came to the tomb, the place of death and called out:


Now this is not saying the resurrection is both an historical event and an event of now, which I take as consistent with 'taking the whole tradition' or indeed an objective resurrection accepted; it is a denial of the resurrection as an historic event because she said, and has recorded here, I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday and the belief is selective, like mine. I don't believe in an historical resurrection either on Easter Sunday (or, for that matter, any other time). Also important in there are the basic humanist values and the idea of the Church as bringing in the Kingdom of God, that is ethical improvement to our world.

Now I give all credit for someone ordained in the Church of England for being open and honest about this, but I have since been told that Lesley does believe in the resurrection and indeed in the virgin birth too. She also prefers to deny an interventionist God, which is essential for a virgin birth or resurrection to happen. On this matter and her stance, I now leave to her own explanations should she care to make them.

Now I do not believe in the virgin birth because I regard Jesus as a last days believing Jewish rabbi. I think it is both unhistorical and, actually, harmful because it leads to all the Mary nonsense who becomes an impossible ideal for women. If one thing stopped me being other than a bystander with Anglo-Catholicism it was my response to Mary. Yuck. Yet I like the notion of female deity. She, though, is not - she is a male deity.

I also read Colin Coward carefully, who is becoming universalist in his faith source (meant in the broader sense of universalist too) and selective and he doesn't use the word liberal either. Today there is a Facebook entry where Colin regards liberals as "woolly thinkers" in the face of the use of this label as misapplied to Rowan Williams (who is not a liberal!).

I'm as selective about the Bible as is Colin Coward. This idea that there is some reinterpretation and a true meaning behind the surface meaning won't do if the result is to contradict the basic surface meaning. You just have to reject the Bible in its harmful parts. I find the book less and less useful, personally. The New Testament is a kind of generated unreliable biographies of Jesus plus issues of the early Church according to mainly Pauline proto-orthodoxy.  So what - interesting in parts.

There are various definitions about being liberal. One is being liberal about a faith tradition. So it is being selective if within a faith tradition, and treating it lightly. A reason may be clashing with humanism and common narratives of this worldly causality (evolution, the cosmos, technology as problem-solving). Being liberal can also be constitutional, that is a belief in individualism, and so creedlessness, and then in the autonomy of institutions. This is where James Martineau arrived, and creedlessness means a faith position is subjective, and that subjectivity up against any common liturgical framework causes a collapse towards the liberal postmodern. Every stance becomes relative to any other.

Don Cupitt and followers used to deny the liberal label because liberals were compromisers and thus tarred with the same brush as their more orthodox confessors. But he was and is liberal postmodern because he accepts the power and place of common causal narratives, whether they are objective or not. He, like me, rejects those postmodernists who live in their own wonderworld of reality and then try to make it as if of its own objectivity.

For the Protestant postliberal postmodern, there's Karl Barth and the God of revelation beyond all worldly objectivity. Because there is no objective underpinning, the encounter with God as in Bible and doctrine becomes, according to Frei and Lindbeck, standards of performance like performing a role. It is a drama and only true in itself. You find the Kerygma, as with Bultmann, in the text. There is no social anthropology through time in this, it is just the Christian writings afterwards.

For the Catholic postliberal postmodern, it's a kind of restored Platonic wonderworld of alternative reality inside the bubble. Radical Orthodoxy some call it, and Rowan Williams is very close to this view. It's rather like Ultra-Orthodox Jews wishing they could go back in time and be in an easier belief time, in the Middle Ages. So they dress up, as do Catholic postmoderns. Essentially it is a fantasy, because there is a thing called research and research in science and social science will overturn the fantasy again and again. Sociology is not secular theology but grounded in research.

The Catholic postmodern position is not that of Pope Bendict. The position with him is that Greek culture is privileged and defines both the reception of the Gospel and the self-limitation of God. It is contrasted with any postmodernism and Islam's universalism, in that Greek culture is objectively receptive to the Gospel and the foundation for the Church. For him the virgin birth is true because it appeared in Greek text as of the narrower meaning from the original Hebrew 'young woman'. Thus revelation joins culture, and underpins culture, and is seen in privileged culture whre God acted to make that culture.

I make a distinction between such postliberalisms and the one actually post liberal (ie there is a liberalism of the individual and across boundaries). This is where there is collective language and meaning, and interlocking packages (including hybrids) and an openness, not a frozen view, of cultural change. I am baffled by, say, Andrew Brown's commitment to Yale/ Duke postliberalism in a liberal (Cambridge Unitarian) church. I wonder if members of his congregation become tired of him trying to work within something so restrictive (when he claims to be virtually an atheist) - having a standard of role performance and limitation of identity - that is not required in a liberal church. It's not Unitarianism as I understand it, which is a liberal view of different faiths and philosophies and not trying to be an ecumenical Christian as such.

Don Cupitt and I both gave up on the C of E at roughly the same time - well he was first. He stopped taking services I think in 1993 and gave up communicating into the new millennium and I think any attendance later on. Cupitt concluded that his critics were right all along. If I went to an Anglican service now it would be to do no more than meet friends or remind myself about what happens. I regard the C of E (like Roman Catholicism) as ethically bankrupt.

But then I'm clear by my view that I do not conform to a Christian position on key points, and therefore I am not a Christian. Perhaps the reason people who seem to be liberal refuse the label is because they can see how there are no boundaries and no end to being selective; perhaps their reluctance is because they are being paid or have a position and 2013 is definitely not the year to give up security of income.