Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My solution for General Synod's 2014 Ma Whea? maze

For those who wish to cut to the chase re 'a way through the maze' head down through the post to the heading with those words.

The following is "up for discussion" here. Perhaps it is nonsense. It might be useful. No doubt it can be improved. My purpose in offering this is not to hold our church together at any cost (though I would like us not to divide). Rather, my purpose is to explore finding a way to remain together despite opposing views because those opposing views involve important matters of Christian faithfulness. Faithfulness to God's revelation in Scripture and faithfulness to the well-being of people - a faithfulness which, in each perspective's own lights, is found together on both sides of the matter - is not something to be lightly disregarded.


I have now read through the 102 pages of the Ma Whea? Commission document including the report of the Doctrinal Commission (you can re-find it here). There is some impressive work in the document. For example, writing is generally clear, ideas are expressed concisely and, in my view, nothing seriously silly or even stupid is said. However I am learning from some correspondents that some are disappointed with the two reports. Nevertheless some folk have spent a lot of time on the various pieces of the document and for that I think our church can be very appreciative.

Let me be also just a little bit cheeky, provocative and yet encouraging in an even-handed manner to regular commenters here: I think some arguments on both sides of the ledger here at ADU could be improved by learning from the document :)

I would like to pay a special tribute to the Rev Dr Andrew Burgess, Principal of Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson who took part in the Doctrinal Commission's deliberations. When he was considering appointment he sounded me out as to whether I might be more inclined to be considered for appointment. I declined for various reasons. Andrew was appointed and to the extent that I can discern his influence on the Doctrinal Commission's report I cannot imagine any aspect where my influence would have improved on his.

My summary thoughts as I read through the two Commissions' reports

These thoughts are important for what I say about a way through the maze!

1. The case for change to the doctrine of marriage of this church (as received by this church and recorded in our formularies) has not been made.

In part this conclusion is drawn from the strength of Section C of the Doctrinal Commission's report. In part it is also drawn from something I do not think any part of the document tackles with sufficient rigour, namely, the distinctiveness of the difference between man and woman and hence the special but deservedly privileged status heterosexual marriage enjoys, in Scripture and in tradition. Put another way, a running thread through 102 pages of the combined document is a flattening of gender difference.

2. The case for provision of blessing of (permanent, stable, faithful, loving) same sex partnerships is almost made.

If I were to tweak the Doctrinal Commission's report I would say something more about the blessed relationship between Naomi and Ruth (mentioned, but could have been explored more) and also open up friendship as a category of relationship well blessed by God. But whether we could then get to a case for blessings which was received well by our whole church remains an open question. Plus ...

3. A crucial question then arises: with an improved case being made would we have a case being made for the provision of such blessings as a provision for pastoral care or as an inclusion in our formularies, printed in our authorised prayer books?

This distinction is very important. The former is a provision of pastoral care for those who wish to provide it, the latter implies a pastoral responsibility across the Three Tikanga of our church. The former puts the onus on bishops (and/or synods) to determine whether to permit such provision (or even, more subtly, to not forbid it). The latter puts the onus on those not wishing to conduct a prayer book service to justify their refusal.

4. Across the two reports, the case is made that we are a church with two (or more) views on same sex marriage and the blessing of same sex partnerships.

5. Yet we seem to be a church in a state that if we cannot find a way to formally be a church of more than one view then we will lose people.

4. I note the observation made that the Diocese of Auckland found it easier to secure a majority re blessing than re marriage. (Section E1.2 of Doctrinal Report on p. 33 of that report, which is page 97 of the combined report).

"We may note that in 2013 the Synod of the Diocese of Auckland voted not to
pursue a path toward same-gender marriage but voted in favour of a path toward
a liturgy for blessing same-gender sexual relationships. The margin of disparity in
voting on the two relevant motions before the Synod indicates that in the minds
and hearts of a significant number of those voting there is a difference between
‘blessing’ and ‘marriage’. In other words: clearly for some Anglicans a blessing
of a same-gender relationship is acceptable when same-gender marriage is not."

Ten Options

Re-linked here are the ten options the Me Whea? Commission is proposing to the GS for consideration.

A Way Through the Maze

A couple of observations to begin with.

First, from the conservative side of things, there is concern that if agreement to some change is secured now it will lead to pressure for further change, then further change until, before you know it, we will have changed to a degree that is worth dividing over. Hence two strategic conservative response at this time: (i) agree to no change, make no compromises, allow no foothold on to the thin end of the thick wedge; (ii) leave fairly quickly after change has been made because the momentum for further change is unstoppable, so no point in waiting.

Put another way, and in question form, might conservatives accept some change to acknowledge we are a church of more than one view if there is guarantee that further change will not be pressed for?

Secondly, with respect to bishops making determinations about the chasteness of candidates for ordination and for licensed appointments, we can observe that bishops already have some discretion in this area. Consider the matter of remarriage after divorce. Strictly speaking remarriage after divorce is not an impediment to ordination or appointment on the grounds of chasteness. But we could understand that a bishop might be a little wary of (say) a candidate who has been twice divorced and thrice married.

Here, then, is my way through the maze, in the light of the 102 page document, the above thoughts and observations:

(in parentheses are named relevant options from the ten options proposed by the Commission, though no claim is made that my 'steps' equate to the commission's 'options').

In certain ways what I am proposing relates to Option F.

Step One: we commit to not changing our doctrine of marriage for a period of not less than twenty-five years. (See Option A)

If 'resistance' to such change is a generational thing, then twenty-five years should see the resistance melt away without painful divisions resulting.

Step Two: we confirm that bishops have discretion (remember: it has already previously been exercised in the past in our church) to authorise priests to conduct blessings of same sex relationships (note: a rite already exists on one of our church's websites but we might wish to bring this up to date while not making it part of our formularies). (See Options C, I)

Step Three: we confirm that bishops and their advisors only have authority to ask of prospective candidates for ordination or appointment to licensed ministry about their adherence to our doctrine of marriage: that is, whether or not a candidate is willing to conduct or to not conduct a blessing of a same sex partnership is not a relevant matter to such discernment processes. (See Option A)

Step Four: we confirm that 'chaste' may be understood by bishops to include people in same sex partnerships which have been blessed by a priest or a bishop and registered with the state via civil union or marriage but need not be so understood (i.e. bishops could choose to continue to understand 'chaste' as 'married or celibate'). (See Options C and E)

For Steps Two and Four, bishops might wish to consult their synods and they might be prudent to do so but they would not be required to do this.  (See Option D).

Step Five: we encourage a period of facilitated conversations in dioceses prior to 1 April 2016 in order that from 1 April 2016 Steps Two, Three and Four may be implemented. (See Option J)

Step Six: we encourage bishops to remain open to the possibility that the actual working out of Steps One to Four, with respect to all sides of the issues, might require new arrangements in respect of episcopal care of clergy and parishes and we authorise the Primates with the assistance of the General Secretary to appoint a commission of responsible persons at any time through the period 2014 until 2018 to review how this new direction for our church is working. (See Option G).

It is understandable that bishops are wary of 'Dual Episcopacy' yet our church may need to find new ways of being an episcopal church in a new situation. All may go well, in which case Step Six requires nothing to be done. But if all does not go well then this Step offers guidance to our bishops and archbishops.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The politics of the RISEN Jesus (Monday 21 April 2014)

A brief note this week since it is the holiday season, family are home, visitors are coming ...

The resurrection of Jesus is a key ingredient in consideration of the politics of Jesus. Jesus dead in the grave, his bones able to be visited by pilgrims and tourists alike could still be an influence on politics as a teacher of ethics and wisdom. Or, maybe confined to the annals of history (see other rabbis of his time). But the resurrected Jesus impacts the story of Western culture and other cultures today with a vital political ingredient: hope for a better life.

A further aspect is that the resurrection is proclaimed as a public fact of history, validating the gospel of Jesus Christ as a message for all. Hope for a better life is hope for change for all people, not just for those who identify themselves as Christians.

In a democracy this translates to evaluation of proposals: which proposals offer prospects - credible and plausible - for a better life for the whole of society?

That leaves a lot to think about.

It is likely that it makes some Christians uneasy about identifying with one political party, as though some guarantee exists that Party X has a monopoly on making a better future. There is no such guarantee. The guiding principle for Christian involvement - arguably - is not to align with one party but to work with any party which offers prospects for a better future.

UPDATE: an excellent essay re resurrection and politics, by Caleb Anderson is here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

I drafted up a pretty hard hitting "take" on our church in the light of an article in this morning's Sunday Herald about church life in our largest city Auckland, suggesting that we are a church in crisis re decline and doing nothing much about it at General Synod. Then I thought that it might not be received in a kindly manner and perhaps I should be more responsible as an older member of the clergy: church life is difficult, people are doing their best and we are all in this together. Also, it is not as though I have all the answers.

So how about I let you the reader do the work today?

First, here is a list, as reported by my bishop, +Victoria Matthews, in a recent letter to her clergy of some of the topics for discussion at our General Synod in a few weeks' time. (I am not a member of GS so do not have access yet to the full set of papers - hence grateful for this list):

"The papers for General Synod  which arrived last week are extensive and some weighty topics will be discussed.  The Ma Whea Commission Report which looks at possible directions for our Church in response to the many voices calling for action and reaction about same gender relationships and the request to have these relationships blessed, is now up on the Diocesan web page and is also attached to this letter.  Included in the Ma Whea Commission Report, as an appendix, is the Report of the Doctrinal and Theological Commission on the Theology of Marriage with its theological rationale for same gender marriage.  Other resolutions address the possibility of mutual recognition of Holy Orders with the Methodists in this country; a request for a Decade on Mission; a proposed revised Communications Commission; Fossil Fuel Divestment; an HR package proposal; two Constitutional Amendments; and the motion from last General Synod which seeks episcopal autonomy with respect to those in same gender sexual relationships.  There are a number of Bills including one which requests a name change of our neighbour Hui Amorangi to become the Anglican Maori Diocese of Te Waipounamu.  Reports from the three Tikanga Commissions are also included in the General Synod papers."

The Herald article, secondly, about the state of church life in Auckland city is here.

My question, dear readers, is this: should our list of topics at our General Synod be different in the light of the success the mega churches in Auckland are having at connecting the gospel with Kiwis in this secularised, post modernized new agey 21st century?

Depending on the answers and our willingness to work on them, we may yet look forward to the resurrection of our church in the course of this century as the largest national church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Or not. Perhaps our will is focused in another direction. If so, what do we think our future is?*

*My focus here is on Anglican life in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our church includes the island nations of Polynesia but the mix of culture, history, church relationships and politics is different across those islands and less familiar to the life I am familiar with here in these islands.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Someone thought it cool to invent Jesus' wife; AB on ++JW

A while ago there was a bit of a fuss about a fragment of papyrus known as the Wife of Jesus fragment. At the time it seemed like an academic at a prestigious Ivy League university who should have known better nevertheless went all speculative on a bit of papyrus which was pretty promptly declared a forgery.

Well the academic, Karen King, is undaunted, it would appear, and is busy promoting a book of essays on the fragment in such a way that despite some of the essays repeating the previous denunciation, the fragment, albeit slightly more subtly is being pushed again as sorta, kinda authentic.

Mark Goodacre has the low-down with links here. Of particular note is his link to a quick response PDF by Francis Watson.

They do not come much sharper than Francis Watson. N.T. Wright's class and all that. Believe me, when Francis starts saying that fragment X really says Y and Y goes against received tradition, then the tradition had better change. But in this case he really thinks that fragment X is a copy of some other stuff. Rainy afternoons, idle moments, clever person, charcoal to hand. Explanation done and dusted.

Talking of rainy afternoons, NZ is going through a very rainy, windy and in some cases disastrous patch. If your Saturday is wet and miserable then here is a good long read on the life and times of ++Justin Welby and his first year as ABC by Andrew Depending What Mood I am In I Might Be Kind to Anglicans Or Not Brown.

BONUS for reading through to here: A. N. Wilson on Good Friday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest post on the Cross

One of the first bloggers in the Christian world, writing as Anonymous, has kindly supplied our post for today. The post is headlined:

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all - this is God's will.

Day after day every Jerusalem Temple priest takes his turn on the roster to perform his religious duties; repeatedly he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

But when the Great High Priest I am writing about, Jesus Christ had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies - the ones who reject and even despise the cross on which he died - to be made his footstool.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.

First he says (in Jeremiah 31:33):

"This is the covenant I will make with them, after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds."

Then he adds (in Jeremiah 31:34):

"Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."

In conclusion, where these sins and wrongdoings have been forgiven in such a complete manner, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

From now on the only sacrifice God's people are asked to make is the sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Sunday by Sunday, indeed day by day, the effectiveness and finality of this Great High Priest's sacrifice means, sisters and brothers, that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, that is, to draw close into the immediate presence of Holy God, to outrageously claim fellowship and communion with God himself.

The blood Jesus shed on the cross, the blood we could say of the High Priest who was also the sacrificial Lamb, has opened for us a new and living way into the presence of God - the curtain at the entrance to the Holiest of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple has been thrown wide open so we can enter.

So, having such a wonderful great priest over the family of God, let us draw near to God with sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith in Jesus brings, because through faith we know that our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

On this Good Friday, as we remember these things for our benefit and give praise and thanks to God for sending Jesus to be both High Priest and Lamb, let us travel through space and time to the place outside the Jerusalem city gate where Jesus suffered to make the people holy through his own blood.

Let us, then, go to him, outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore - beyond the security of comfortable domestic arrangements, let's go to the marginal places, to where Jesus is, willing to be despised and ridiculed for his sake. It's tough, but our horizons in life are not limited to a house in suburbia and a career in an inner city office, we are looking for the city which is to come, the heavenly city of God.

Indeed, as we look with understanding eyes on Jesus dying on the cross, let's resolve to continue our journey of faith. Perseverance in these days of trials and tribulations is vital. Others have gone before us through testing times - they form a great cloud of witnesses who urge us on.

Let's throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles us.

Let's run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfectoer of faith.

Here is the thing, this Good Friday:

For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

War or peace? Wrath or example?

War or peace?

We have been having some debates here on war versus pacifism. Soon on TV screens we will see the moving story of conscientious objectors in the First World War including Archibald Baxter, father of our most famous poet, James K Baxter. Called Field Punishment No 1, it screens this Tuesday at 8.30 pm on TV One.

In this year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, with Ukraine being torn apart by Russian manipulation of nationalist sentiment (or is Russia rescuing Russians under threat of Ukrainian nationalism?) we continue to make the War to End All Wars among the biggest of all lies humanity has told itself.

Locally here in Anglican NZ, in the heart of our own residential theological college, the spirit of military service is alive and well, as you can read here.

For Anglicans in NZ, where, as the article reminds us, we have very strong links to the military, especially via chaplaincies, questions about Christian duty to Queen and country have the potential to divide us.

We could debate whether if this were 1914 we would go to war in foreign fields for the sake of control of Europe. An interesting and safe academic debate.

What if we asked ourselves whether Russians under Ukrainian yokes or Ukrainian interests affected by Russian expansionism is worth fighting for? Or the plight of Syrian rebels?

Wrath or example?

We have also had some debates over the years about God's wrath. It struck me reading Exodus 12 this morning that if the roots of the action of God in Christ on the cross go back to the first Passover (and beyond, to the Fall, in case anyone thinks I have a short-term view of history) then God's wrathful judgment is intrinsic to understanding the cross.

The first Passover is the story of God's wrath being visited on Egypt. The unjust treatment of Israel as Egypt's slave incurred God's just response: let my people go. When polite request for justice failed, God's wrath was invoked. Even a series of severe plagues was insufficient to make Pharaoh repent. Finally, God's judgment would come though the angel of death. For Israel the way through this ultimate plague was to kill a lamb, smear doorpost and lintel with blood, thus signifying that that angel of death was to pass over that house and family. Israel escaped the wrath through the Passover being celebrated for the first time.

At his Last Supper, our Lord celebrated Passover with a transformative action which changed that meal forever for his followers. Breaking bread and blessing wine, equating them with his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, Jesus became the new Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29, 36). Through his blood his followers would be saved from the wrathful judgment of God: 'Whoever eats of this bread will live forever' (John 6:58). The implication of rejecting Jesus the bread of God (as some did immediately after Jesus finished his teaching in John 6) is judgment: 'The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge' (John 12:48).

There are other understandings to bring to the cross, including demonstration of God's love for us in Christ Jesus and offering an example of patient endurance through suffering (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:21). But for those uncomfortable with the wrath of God being part and parcel of the event of the cross, some reckoning needs to be made with the interpretation of our Lord himself, that on the cross a new Passover took place.

The good news, of course, is that once again, blood serves to save people from the judgment of God, from God's justice being enacted on those of us who have acted unjustly. Through the blood of the Lamb we receive mercy undeserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consequences of being Justin Welby

Recently Archbishop Justin Welby fronted up to the public via media by way of an hour of talkback radio in England. Questions came in from the public.He responded. One response in particular has generated enormous follow up discussion, debate, perhaps even scorn. One line into the controversy is via a linked blog, Psephizo and a post entitled, What did Justin Welby say about gays and violence in Africa? The controversy, you see, turning on the extent to which ++Justin made some violence against Christians in Africa consequential on decisions in England about same sex marriage.

+Gene Robinson weighs in on the matter via The Daily Beast. It is a thoughtful piece which expresses thoughts I have read elsewhere, including concerns that the ++Welby approach kinda gives into murderers.

Is the matter, nevertheless, one that raises questions about what it means to be 'Anglican'? I have also been reading (but cannot now recall where) that if we go too far in the direction of (so to speak) local concerns trumping global consequences, do we not undermine understanding of episcopacy, with (as it happens) specific reference to the episcopacy of +Gene Robinson himself?

Anglicanism as a global phenomenon is a tension between the local and the global. The Anglican Communion is a communion of churches and not (it is often noted) itself a church. Thus the churches which make up this Communion are autonomous (they can make decisions via General Synods/Conventions without reference to higher authority) while the Communion when it meets cannot make decisions which the churches must implement. So far so good. And thus far we can certainly note that if autonomy means autonomy then local churches should be able to make local decisions about, say, gay marriage or blessing same sex partnerships, or, uncomfortably for many observers, about supporting draconian anti-gay legislation without acknowledgement of any consequences for other churches in the Communion.

But does autonomy mean autonomy?

I suggest that, in the peculiarity of the Anglican Communion, we do not have a straightforward understanding of autonomy, that, in fact, we have a sneaky version which amounts to 'when it suits, autonomous means autonomous, but when it doesn't suit, it doesn't.'

Bear with me.

When TEC ordained Gene Robinson to be bishop in 2003 it exercised its autonomy to ordain whom it saw fit to ordain. In that particular context in time and Anglican debate, the autonomous American church said, 'Global concerns about this mean zilch.' But when we fast forward to 2008 we found that +Gene Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference that year. A snub on any reckoning. Effectively the Conference via its president, the then ABC, ++Rowan Williams, said 'You are not recognised as a bishop admissible to this global meeting of Anglican bishops.' A conclusion we may draw from that event is that sometimes autonomous Anglican churches acting on local concerns will effectively perform sacramental actions, such as ordination, with local but not global recognition of the action or actions.

If autonomy means autonomy then no snub would be perceived: TEC had the right to ordain +Gene Robinson; ++Rowan Williams had the right to not invite him to be a bishop beyond his diocese of New Hampshire.

But there was a perceived snub. Anglicans around the world were pained by the refusal to invite. Autonomy does not quite mean autonomy when we do not want it to mean that. A bishop, we say, ordained locally is available for ministry globally.

What makes this so? What makes for this less than straightforward state of autonomy? It is the fact that the reality of how we understand the Communion is that it is not actually a communion of autonomous churches but a communion of churches with a degree of autonomy and a degree of interdependency with other churches. That interdependency concerns entering into a series of common interests. Communion meetings of bishops, of primates, and of bishops/clergy/laity foster those common interests and do so in a form of theological speech which is laced with distinctive themes and memes derived from distinctively Anglican speech set down in documents such as the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, to say nothing of the writings of popular Anglican theologians.

Bishops chosen locally should share in the common interests of the global Communion. Meeting together at Lambeth is a way to deepen understanding of those interests and perhaps to develop new commonalities. When the commonalities are not shared there may be problems over meeting together (as there were in 2008, noting not only the snub, but many bishops who chose not to take up their invitation).

Perhaps ++Justin misjudged the 'consequences' of local actions on other parts of the world, and perhaps he misjudged the consequences of his own words, as +Gene Robinson notes. My own judgment is that he made an important note to all of us about connections across a global communion and the note works in various ways re a variety of actions at this time (cf. my comment on the Psephizo post linked above). Nevertheless there has been wide debate following++Justin's brush with radio and clearly a number of commentators are angry with ++Justin.

What ++Justin got absolutely right, however, is his underlying presupposition: the Communion is not a communion of completely and utterly autonomous churches. It is a Communion of semi-autonomous churches which should take care not to claim autonomy only when it suits. Further, this group of churches is a communion, a group with common interests fostered by interdependency which need affirming not disputing. For as long as we dispute common characteristics we run significant risks of destroying the Communion as the disputes highlight autonomy and undo unity. The key to our future is to find out what interdependence means, the balance between autonomy and dependence on one another. We set that back when we rejected the Covenant.

++Justin does not wish to be the ABC who finds himself without a Communion. He is working hard at renewing interdependence. He has his work cut out. His critics are zeroed in on his every word. Should he prove fallible he will be mercilessly criticised.