Archive for February, 2015

Grace and Disagreement – what about Truth?

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

The Church of England’s “Shared Conversations” were officially launched in a low key manner at the February Synod: the website went live, and two booklets were published under the title “Grace and Disagreement”. The first of these booklets, subtitled “Thinking through the Process”, explains how facilitated discussions around the divisions over sexuality were recommended by the Pilling Report of November 2013. We now have a clear insight into the philosophy behind these “Conversation” meetings which begin after Easter, and the questions those taking part are going to grapple with on our behalf.

Summarising Pilling, the booklet outlines the context of rapidly changing attitudes towards sexuality in the nation to which the Church carries out its mission. The report notes that popular belief should not in itself determine the Church’s teaching. However in a number of ways, the guidance given in this booklet does not seek to defend and uphold that teaching (as one might expect from an official publication) but repeatedly assumes that it is up for negotiation, and even that those who still believe in it are the minority. The booklet tries to be “neutral” in giving equal weight to different views, and moves towards the conclusion that the important thing is not whether homosexual relationships are right or wrong in the eyes of God (since apparently we cannot ultimately know this for certain), but how we reach a place of “Good Disagreement” and model it to a world where bitter and even violent conflict is often the default position.

The document correctly observes that the sexuality debate is not a side issue, but reveals what we believe. How Scripture is used goes “to the heart of people’s sense of discipleship and their understanding of how God speaks to his people…what is at stake is the church’s understanding of …the God of the church and of Jesus himself.” [p.10]. However, though all sides in the debate hold Scripture in high regard, we can’t agree on how to interpret it. Rather than use the Conversations to re-hash the same old arguments, there should be a time of careful listening, as Anglicanism should be “capacious” enough to include all viewpoints. Rather than winning arguments, participants can discern Christ in “the other”, a concept supported by an enigmatic quotation from philosopher T.H. Green:

In discovering the otherness of the other, I find the questions which open up my potential.

There is a positive reference to discussing the suggestion in the Pilling Report of “Pastoral Accommodation”, whereby the Church would retain its traditional understanding of marriage, but allow services of prayer for Dioceses and congregations to “mark” commitment, virtue and faith in a same sex relationship. A version of this has been agreed by the Church of Scotland, whose report is commended for further study in the companion booklet (along with other essays written from different viewpoints). The author denies categorically that the Conversations have a pre-agreed outcome or that they will be manipulated in any way. This is despite the clear steer towards a “mixed economy”, based on an understanding of church as having almost limitless diversity, because of uncertainty about truth. The whole tenor of the document assumes that no matter how far apart and incompatible the views of the participants, because of “the warmth of shared faith” (Pilling), unity in the institution can be maintained.

In terms of relating to the worldwide Anglican Communion, the document shows awareness of how a decision for example to bless same sex relationships in the C of E could damage relationships and cause mission problems in other Provinces. The “Continuing Indaba” project of the Anglican Communion Office is endorsed as a solution: it has had a clear influence on the plan for Shared Conversations. However, it was previous incarnations of this Indaba process as used by American and Canadian revisionists, promoting “conversation” while facts were created on the ground in the blessing of same sex relationships and appointment of non-celibate gay clergy and Bishops, which split the Communion in 2003. Its principles and methods have been rejected as wrong by what has become the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans or the GAFCON movement. In a recent Pastoral Letter the GAFCON Primates say:

“we reject the process of “Indaba” as it is being implemented. Rather than seeking true resolution, it has been consistently manipulated only to recruit people to unbiblical positions. “Indaba” as currently practiced, is a fiction advancing human desires that are not informed by Gospel truth.”

This recent history has been airbrushed out of the “Grace and Disagreement” document.

The deliberate lack of clarity on theological foundations underlying the Conversations will be seen by many as a denial of the truth of the Gospel and undermining the ethical witness of the Church. Many orthodox Anglicans believe that the Conversation process is biased towards a revisionist agenda, and irredeemably flawed. Boycotting the process is an honourable course of action, as is taking part to stand for the traditional view, and chronicle the process itself. Either way, over the next few months the soft focus of Shared Conversations will be balanced by the hard fight for Synod election places, as it is in General Synod, perhaps in 2017, that the decision whether to change the Church’s teaching will be taken.

I’ve Changed My Mind: Conservative Evangelicals could do with A ‘Flying’ Bishop

Friday, February 20th, 2015

flying bishopBy Julian Mann, VOL:

When the facts on the ground change, a servant of Christ has to follow the spiritual logic and that may involve changing one’s mind. I now have. Conservative evangelicals in the Church of England could do with a prophetically-minded ‘flying’ bishop.

I wrote on VOL in December that no conservative evangelical should agree to become the ‘headship’ suffragan Bishop of Maidstone whom the Archbishops are generously wanting as our representative in the College of Bishops. I had been concerned that Maidstone would turn into a quasi-union delegate and would get sucked into a collegial plausibility structure that prized theological diversity over biblical faithfulness.

But what has changed since then? The fact that at February’s General Synod it emerged that since January the Bishops are requiring all ordination candidates to sign their internally contradictory five guiding principles on women in the episcopate. The principles are to be ‘held in tension’ and are designed to ‘create space’, conservative evangelicals are being told. But the first principle clearly commits signatories to agree with women bishops contrary to their understanding of Scripture:

“Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience.”

Conservative evangelical ordinands who rightly refuse to assent to all five, having spent three years in theological training, could find themselves jobless and even homeless in June. They undertook theological training on the basis that they would not be required to deny their theological integrity.

Read here

EPISCOPAGANS: Bad Bishop Heather Cook and the dying Episcopal Church

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

By Gilbert T. Sewall
February 16, 2015

On December 27, 2014, at 2:30 in the afternoon in suburban Baltimore, the inebriated Episcopal Bishop Heather E. Cook’s Suburu struck and killed a much loved 41-year-old married father of two, cyclist Thomas Palermo, shattering her front windshield. She drove away, a hit and run, returning about 30 minutes later.

Arrested and charged with driving under the influence, causing an accident due to texting while driving, and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, she was later released on $2.5 million bail. Now a grand jury has issued an indictment including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Cook, 58, registered a shocking .22 breathalyzer reading shortly after the fatal collision, close to the .27 reading she registered in a 2010 arrest that Episcopalian leaders failed to reveal to the delegates who elected her last September to the high-ranking position.

Bishop Heather — in today’s Episcopal Church many bishops prefer the first-name address — and her enablers create a fascinating tableau of the sketchy contempo Episcopagans.

In the Episcopal Church latitude — the proud tradition that doctrinal rulings that constrain reason and freedom of the believer are neither necessary nor salutary — gives the clergy license. On account of an intramural crisis of faith starting in the 1960s, the perimeter has expanded to Episcopagan, in which heresy and moral abandon are winked at or even hip.

Headquartered in Manhattan, the Church seems to be in the hands of louche, highly political stewards.

Since the 2003 ordination of celebrity narcissist Bishop V. Gene Robinson (of New Hampshire), the Church has been drying up, going from 2.3 to 1.9 million active members in the last decade, with 40 percent fewer baptisms than in 2003.

Bad boy Bishops James Pike (California, d. 1969) and Paul Moore, Jr. (New York, d. 2003) — not figures of legendary probity such as Bishops Anson Phelps Stokes (Massachusetts, d. 1986) or Henry Hobson (Southern Ohio, d. 1983) — seem to be Church models.

Episcopaganism is New Church, not Low or High Church. It’s the Church of Love and Inclusion.

But the Love is not working. Episcopal churches often remain open because their endowments act as embalming fluid. Many wayward stewards seem to be living well off shrinking legacies.

Police say at the time of her 2010 DUI arrest Cook was found to be in possession of a bottle of whiskey, a bottle of wine, and two bags of pot. According to the police report, she had vomit running down the front of her shirt and was driving on the rim of one wheel, the tire having been shredded.

In picture after picture, Heather looks like an overweight, middle-aged preppy with a big drinking problem. We learn of a shady, defrocked ex-minister who is Heather’s newish boyfriend, whom she helped get a church sinecure and who may have met her bail with church funds.

It takes willful blindness not to see a problem. Yet the nation’s Episcopal leaders waved Heather on to the second-highest ranking position in the Maryland diocese. The Church’s legal and financial liabilities are not yet known.

The 2010 DUI was a red flag flapping loudly, as many have commented since. Did anyone ask her about treatment after the 2010 DUI? Did she mention that she resumed drinking and currently drinks?

Nobody picked up on this? The Diocese now admits that Cook may have been “inebriated” at a private dinner before her consecration.

I’m sure church leaders didn’t want to offend her. Everyone involved here is very nice, not the sort of people to hurt the feelings of a well-known Reverend Canon, the daughter of a prominent Baltimore pastor and St. Timothy’s music teacher, an Eastern Shore figure, already embarrassed, who might become a colleague.

For Heather, it was apparently a cozy, insider relationship to begin with. The four finalists were all women. A New York canon at St. John the Divine, Victoria Sirota, described as “one of those rare people who had a true aura,” was to great dismay passed over.

For whatever reason, Cook was selected to be suffragan, or deputy, to The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton Bishop of Maryland, a smooth, well-credentialed, upper-class black man. His diocesan priorities and choices in personnel are clear. The diocesan websitefeatures “Racism in the Anglican and Episcopal Church of Maryland.”

Sutton warned the Episcopal Church’s diversity-driven national leader, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, about Cook’s drinking — but did so the day before her ordination. They all — the primate, the bishop of Maryland, everyone — seemed to know Heather had a drinking problem even leading up to her ordination, yet they ordained her anyway.

Bishop Heather and the Diocese do not deserve our forgiveness or sympathy for her wanton behavior. She appears to be a likeable, sick, ambitious minister’s daughter who had very bad luck. Innocent and dead bicyclist Thomas Palermo and his family had bad luck too, much more so, and not of their own free will.


Living Into the Tension by Creating More Tension

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Living Into the Tension by Creating More Tension

February 16, 2015

How does the approval of the rite of same sex blessings in some parishes of a diocese but not in others affect the relationship of people from those parishes when they meet together in convocations or conventions? How will they interact as individuals meeting in committees or executive councils of the Diocese? There will be a tension that needs “to be lived into” when the chairperson of a committee has been a participant in a same-sex blessing either as one of the blessed couple or as the priest presiding at the service. Other members of that committee could see such acts as anathema. Or what if both blessed partners happen to serve on the same committee?

Imagine the scene: Prior to the beginning of your meeting, you see people congratulating and hugging the happy couple. What do you do? Stand in the corner? Then as prayers are offered at the opening of the meeting, someone offers a prayer of thanks for the recently blessed ones? Do you say, “Amen”? As the meeting progresses and people talk about budgets, plans, things going on in their parish, and how things are going so swimmingly well, do you think, “Who are they kidding?”

The above hypothetical situation certainly sounds like it would create an uncomfortable tension.

If you know that your presence might make them uncomfortable, does your participation violate the “love one another” rule?

Non-participation might be the best option, but you should in some way make it known to the powers that be that your refusal to participate is based on a “love thy neighbor” rationale.

Your communication will not change the behavior of those who endorse same-sex blessings or marriage, but might open the eyes of the uninformed that such blessings and marriage are contrary to scripture and the Church has no business performing them.

Love your neighbor so much as to not enable behaviors that may lead others into sin.


Living Reconciliation ‘Deeply Problematic’

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

A Book Review by Dr Martin Davie

Dr Martin Davie, a widely respected Church of England theologian, has exposed serious flaws in ‘Living Reconciliation’, a book published recently by the Anglican Communion Office to champion its ‘Continuing Indaba’ project.

While recognizing that there are some helpful insights, he describes the book as ‘sadly lacking’ because it offers a highly distorted account of reconciliation, one that is not grounded in the teaching of the Bible, despite the claim by the Anglican Communion Office that ‘The Bible is central.’ See here.

Dr Davie shows that biblically the ministry of reconciliation is first and foremost evangelism and he writes ‘The New Testament’s emphasis is not on people learning to live with what divides then, but learning to live out what unites them’.  In sharp contrast, the writers of ‘Living Reconciliation’ are focused inwards on what they see as the pressing need to live with difference within the institutional Church.

Furthermore, there seems to be no limit on what those differences may be. The book assumes that the deeply divisive teaching of such Anglican Churches as the Episcopal Church of the United States on same-sex sexual relationships are within the bounds of what is acceptable within a fellowship of Churches.

But the problem goes well beyond this particular flash point. Dr Davie sees that the ‘Continuing Indaba’ model of reconciliation actually undermines the Anglican Communion’s witness to the gospel because it is ‘effectively a blank cheque for the acceptance of any and every possible form of deviation from New Testament Christianity.’

The review is published by the Church of England Evangelical Council and can be found at . It is a powerful reminder of how essential GAFCON is for the future of the Anglican Communion when confusion about the gospel is actually being encouraged by its central institutions.

Until recently Dr Davie was Secretary to the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England, Theological Secretary to its Council for Christian Unity and Theological Consultant to its House of Bishops.

The True History of Christendom and Islam

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
By FrontPage Magazine

U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama’s recent condemnation of medieval Christian history to exonerate modern Islam is a reminder of how woefully ignorant (or intentionally deceptive) a good many people in the West are concerning the true history of Christian Europe and Islam.

The problem is that those who condemn things like the Crusades—including “mainstream” academics, journalists, movie-makers, and politicians—do so without mention of historical context.  Worse, they imply “we” already know the context: evil popes and greedy knights exploiting Christianity to seize Muslim lands and wealth.  Or as Karen Armstrong put it, “the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam.”

The true story of Christendom and Islam is the antithesis of such claims.  Consider some facts for a moment:

A mere decade after the birth of Islam in the 7th century, the jihad burst out of Arabia.  Leaving aside all the thousands of miles of ancient lands and civilizations that were permanently conquered—including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and parts of India and China—much of Europe was also, at one time or another, conquered by the sword of Islam.

Among other nations and territories that were attacked and/or came under Muslim domination are (to give them their modern names in no particular order): Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Sicily, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Armenia, Georgia, Crete, Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Belarus, Malta, Sardinia, Moldova, Slovakia, and Montenegro.

In 846 Rome was sacked and the Vatican defiled by Muslim Arab raiders; some 600 years later, in 1453, Christendom’s other great basilica, Holy Wisdom (or Hagia Sophia) was conquered by Muslim Turks, permanently.  (Till this day, Turkish Muslims celebrate the sack of Constantinople, which saw much rapine and slaughter.)

The few European regions that escaped direct Islamic occupation due to their northwest remoteness include Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Germany.  That, of course, does not mean that they were not attacked by Islam. Indeed, in the furthest northwest of Europe, in Iceland, Christians used to pray that God save them from the “terror of the Turk.” This was not mere paranoia; as late as 1627, Muslim corsairs raided the northern Christian island seizing four hundred captives and selling them in the slave markets of Algiers.

Nor did America escape.  A few years after the formation of the United States, in 1800, American trading ships in the Mediterranean were plundered and their sailors enslaved by Muslim corsairs.  The ambassador of Tripoli explained to Thomas Jefferson that it was a Muslim’s “right and duty to make war upon them [non-Muslims] wherever they could be found, and to enslave as many as they could take as prisoners.”

In short, for roughly one millennium—punctuated by a Crusader-rebuttal that the modern West is obsessed with demonizing—Islam daily posed an existential threat to Christian Europe and by extension Western civilization.

And therein lies the rub: Today, whether as taught in high school or graduate school, whether as portrayed by Hollywood or the news media, the predominant historic narrative is that Muslims are the historic “victims” of “intolerant” Western Christians.  (Watch my response to a Fox News host wondering why Christians have always persecuted Muslims.)

So here we are, paying the price of being an ahistorical society: A few years after the Islamic strikes of 9/11—merely the latest in the centuries-long, continents-wide jihad on the West—Americans elected (twice) a man with a Muslim name and heritage for president; a man who condemns the Crusades while openly empowering the same Islamic ideology that Christian warriors fought for centuries.

Surely the United States’ European forebears—who at one time or another either fought off or were conquered by Islam—must be turning in their graves.

But all this is history, you say? Why rehash it?  Why not let it be and move on, begin a new chapter of mutual tolerance and respect, even if history must be “touched up” a bit?

This would be a somewhat plausible position—if not for the fact that, all around the globe, Muslims are still exhibiting the same imperial impulse and intolerant supremacism that their conquering forbears did.  The only difference is that the Muslim world is currently incapable of defeating the West through a conventional war.

Yet this may not even be necessary.  Thanks to the West’s ignorance of history, Muslims are flooding Europe under the guise of “immigration,” refusing to assimilate, and forming enclaves which in modern parlance are called “ghettoes” but in Islamic terminology are the ribat—frontier posts where the jihad is waged on the infidel, one way or the other.

All this leads to another, perhaps even more important point: If the true history of the West and Islam is being turned upside its head, what other historical “orthodoxies” being peddled around as truth are also false?

Were the Dark Ages truly benighted because of the “suffocating” forces of Christianity?  Or were these dark ages—which “coincidentally” occurred during the same centuries when jihad was constantly harrying Europe—a product of another suffocating “religion”? Was the Spanish Inquisition—also condemned by Obama—a reflection of Christian barbarism or was it at least partially a reflection of Christian desperation vis-à-vis the many Muslims who, while claiming to have converted to Christianity, were practicing taqiyya and living as moles trying to subvert the Christian nation back to Islam?

Don’t expect to get true answers to these and other questions from the makers, guardians, and disseminators of the West’s fabricated epistemology.

In the future (whatever one there may be) the histories written about our times will likely stress how our era, ironically called the “information age,” was not an age when people were so well informed, but rather an age when disinformation was so widespread and unquestioned that generations of people lived in bubbles of alternate realities—till they were finally popped.

Church of England to begin sexuality ‘conversations’

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

The Church of England is to begin talks on whether to authorise prayers to mark same-sex relationships.

The question is raised in the resources published this week to go with the “shared conversations” on sexuality which are about to enter their second stage.

 The “second circle” of the shared conversations, set up last year in an attempt to resolve the Church’s crisis over sexuality, will begin regionally in April. The dioceses will meet in 13 “clusters” of between three and five dioceses at venues across England between April this year and March next year.

The groups will consist of gay and straight clergy and laity.

One of the questions the groups are being asked to consider is: “Should the church offer prayers to mark the formation of a faithful, permanent, same sex relationship? If so, what is the right level of formal provision that should be made?”

Although the question is explicit, sources told Christian Today that this was in no way meant to infer there was an “intended outcome” of any kind.

A further question asks: “More specifically, given that same sex marriages are now taking place, what should our pastoral and missional response be to married same sex couples who seek to be part of the life of our church locally?”

The Church of England’s position has traditionally been that, whatever their faith, a couple is entitled to be married in the parish church of either, although marriage after divorce is less straightforward.

When same-sex marriage became legal in Britain last year, the Church of England, which opposed the legislation, won “protection” in law for itself from ever having to perform one.

This means that some couples who are legally entitled to marry cannot now do so in their own parish Church, even if they are practising Christians and have been churchgoers all their lives.

One of the difficulties for the Church of England is the consequences of a change of mind for the wider Anglican Communion, of which it is the “mother” church. Some Anglican provinces function in countries where homosexuality is illegal and carries serious penalties.

The questions in the conversations also ask: “How might parish churches in England reflect upon the responsibilities of being part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, in ways which remain true to their vocation to witness to God effectively in their local context?”

Those taking part are being asked to consider whether the concept of “pastoral accommodation” might help Anglicans to honour the consciences of fellow Christians while recognising that the church’s present teaching on sexuality has not changed.

In a paper put forward for the conversations arguing for the traditional, Biblical position, Dr Ian Paul, honorary assistant professor at Nottingham university, concludes: “It has been claimed that the biblical texts do not speak to our current context, since they show no knowledge of stable, same-sex, committed relations. But this is not the case; we know from other ancient texts that same-sex relations took a variety of forms. Though unequal, pederastic relations were the most common, equal partnerships akin to same-sex marriage were not unknown.

“It would therefore be more accurate to say that the biblical texts show no interest in the form that same-sex relations take. Scripture rejects the notion of ‘orientation’ as of defining significance in human identity, instead putting the binary identity of gender at the centre of its theological anthropology.”

In another paper, Canon Loveday Alexander, emeritus professor of Biblical studies at Sheffield university, says just “walking away” from the Bible is not an option for himself or the Church. “We can’t just abandon this text which has nourished the life of faith for two millennia. I can’t turn my back on a text which has sustained and informed my own faith for as long as I can remember. We have to stay with the Bible — but we have to find a way of making sense of it, in a world that is very different from the world (or rather worlds) in which it was written.”

But Dr Philip Groves, of the Anglican Communion, says in a third paper that the answer is not in choosing one option over another, or in finding a compromise that holds the strengths and weaknesses of each option in tension. “The answer is to aim for both.”

He concludes: “The radical step asked of the Church of England in deciding to enter into good disagreement is to find the energy for this mission. It is about reconnecting with society and discovering faithfulness. It is about relevance and identity. It will be hard, but it will be rewarding.

“The process will need to reflect theological diversity and to do this it will need to develop trust and relationships between unlike people so that the Scriptures and traditions of the Church can be properly examined and ways of faithfulness emerge.

“The time has come for good disagreement.”

Jayne Ozanne, director of Accepting Evangelicals, who recently “came out” as gay in an interview with Christian Today, welcomed the publication of the “conversations” timetable and resources.

She said the key was to accept there were different ways of reading Scripture. “What we are looking at is creating that middle space of accepting, as we have done with other issues, that there is an integrity to someone’s faith if they hold a different view on this.”

She said it was critical for the Church to create forums where people of different views could engage “safely” with each other.

“For me, Jesus embodied grace and truth. It is about grace, and understanding the hurt of those who hold a different point of view. For too long this has been a hot issue, a theological debate which has been a battle of words.

“When you embody these words in experience and personal testimony as we see Jesus did, I believe they take on a new meaning and authority.”

The conversations were just the start.

She called for reassurances of a “safe space” for all those taking part, including the suspension of any disciplinary measures against clergy. There are fears that clergy who share things in the conversations that might technically be against the rules, such as experience of a gay physical relationship, could be vulnerable to disciplinary action.

Ms Ozanne said: “For some, their very livelihoods are on the line. Words can never be unspoken. It is absolutely crucial that we look to our bishops to accept a moratorium on clergy discipline throughout these two years.”