Archive for June, 2010

Issues in Human Sexuality: the bishops begin to wobble

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Back in the days of black and white television, one of the staples of light entertainment was the plate-spinning juggler. The act was simple, but compelling: a juggler would balance a series of plates on top of polls by spinning them. The real entertainment came when the plates started to wobble. Would the juggler spot them in time? Would he be able to prevent one of them falling off before the row was completed?
Today, though it is by no means as entertaining the same is beginning to happen to our bishops over homosexuality. Since 1991, the episcopal ‘line’ in the Church of England has been held by a small document produced by the then House of Bishops, titled Issues in Human Sexuality. Whenever a bishop was questioned on the subject, the stock response was, “I abide by the position set out in Issues in Human Sexuality,” whether the bishop agreed with the conclusions of that document or not. Thus unity was maintained and, equally in keeping with ‘company policy’, controversy was avoided.
Interestingly, when a much more substantial follow-up report, Some Issues in Human Sexuality: a Guide to the Debate, was again produced by the House of Bishops in 2003, it actually took a theologically very conservative line, reinforcing rather than questioning the traditional position largely (though not entirely) reflect in the 1991 report.
This makes it all the more important to understand what is happening now. When a system — or a person — is under stress, collapse may be a long time coming, but when it comes, it tends to be abrupt rather than gradual. What we are now seeing in the House of Bishops on the matter of homosexuality is an increasing number of ‘wobbling plates’. When they fall, though, I predict they will do so both dramatically and abruptly.
In this respect, Archbishop Rowan Williams definitely belongs in the ‘old school’. His personal views were made quite clear in his essay The Body’s Grace, and have never been repudiated. He has, however, been faithful in his own way to his commitment to uphold the church’s present teaching. Fundamental to his international approach has been the conviction that if the mind of the Communion is divided, then his responsibility as an instrument of unity is to recognize that, not to try to pre-empt the outcome in favour of his own views.
The same, however, is not true for our diocesan and suffragan bishops, and it is here that we see the wobble developing.
One of the early indications of this was the declared change of heart by the Bishop of Liverpool. This was then greeted with approving noises from the Bishop of Gloucester and the Bishop-elect of Chelmsford. Just recently the Bishop of Manchester has welcomed a LGBT ‘celebration’ at his cathedral.
Meanwhile, as an indication of the changing climate, the views of Geoffrey Annas, the new the suffragan Bishop of Stafford, have passed almost unremarked:
My feelings about openly gay clergy — I personally have no issues with that at all, but I think again like the ordination of women to the episcopate it’s something where there needs to be enormous sensitivity. I’m not somebody who will overthrow rules and regulations for the sake of it, because I think if you do that you get chaos and anarchy, but I am somebody who will work to build a consensus to change rules and regulations and I would hope that in the future at some point people could be allowed to be true to themselves. (Interview, Church of England Newspaper, 11 June 2010, p7)
This is, of course, a long way from ‘collapse’ — on the contrary, it is nuanced and careful to recognize the existing ‘rules and regulations’. But precisely for that reason, it is in fact more deadly than the pronouncements of the Bishop of Liverpool. What we see here, once again, is what Richard John Neuhaus wrote about when he warned of ‘The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy’.
As Neuhaus observed, the crucial damage is done not when orthodoxy is overthrown, but when it is included as an option. And that is precisely what Annas advocates — all in the nicest possible way and the best possible taste. As he says earlier,
We sometimes make the mistake [of thinking] that everyone wants something new but there’s a lot that’s good about the traditional ways we’ve always done things and it’s just about bringing the two together really, which is what I meant by the consensual thing.
Thus traditionalists must be held together with revisionists until, as he says, such time as he can “build a consensus to change rules and regulations”.
Of course, the traditionalists will never be rubbed out or ruled out — not until there are too few of them for anyone to care any longer — but the very act of establishing the consensus between orthodoxy and change establishes that only those who accept the consensus will henceforth be allowed centre place in the institution. Indeed, the headline to the article says it all: ‘New bishop holds firm to incremental reform in Church’.
The tragedy in all this, however, is not the views of Mr Annas, but those of the existing Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd John Gledhill, whom I have hitherto admired as an evangelical. In the present circumstances, it would have been a dereliction of his duties not to ask his suffragan’s views on sexuality, and a dereliction of honesty for his suffragan not to have volunteered them. One can only conclude, therefore, that Bishop Gledhill was aware of, but unfazed by, the compromises being urged by his new episcopal colleague.
Our list of ‘wobblers’ thus runs to Liverpool, Gloucester, Chelmsford, Manchester, Lichfield and Stafford, but doubtless more could be included.
What will happen when the ‘tipping point’ is reached? And what should happen if one’s own bishop moves from ‘wobble’ down to floor level?
It cannot be long before the situation becomes intolerable on both sides. Indeed, the interviewer of Geoffrey Annas poses an interesting, though sadly rhetorical, question:
Traditionalists are asking why, if he feels women are entitled to be bishops and people who are gay entitled to physical relationships without being excluded, he doesn’t take a stand and openly challenge the Church, instead of sneakily undermining it.
The answer, I would have thought, is obvious. He is biding his time — as are many on the episcopal bench, some known, others unknown. But the time will certainly come.
When it does, and it cannot be far off, there is only one possible way that traditionalists can respond effectively — the way that has always most affected and changed the Church of England — and that will be radical principled action. In short, as the bishops topple, the traditionalists will have to find their own bishops.
A friend of mine who works in finance once said of the global recession that he could understand everything except why people were surprised it happened. To him, predicting it was like predicting that if it is spring, summer cannot be far off. The collapse of the bishops on human sexuality is in the same category. The only question is whether traditionalists will be ready when it comes and will act when they should.
John P Richardson
26 June 2010

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When diversity trumps truth, the Church has nothing to offer the poor.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

June 25th, 2010 Posted in Archbishop Of Canterbury, Marriage, Poverty, TEC |

Canon Chris SugdenBy Chris Sugden, Evangelicals Now

Anglicans on both sides of the homosexuality debate have concluded that the crisis is now behind us. The key decisions have been made both by TEC and orthodox Anglicans in the Global Communion. TEC has clearly walked apart. The leader of the LGCM in the UK said that a schism should be now recognised.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has sent a Pentecost letter to the churches addressing the situation. His minimalist response is little more than wordplay.

He uses the term diversity to describe a range of views on a number of matters, as though they were all examples of a positive diversity to be embraced: diversity of tongues and languages in which the gospel is proclaimed, diversity of gifting and service, human diversity, societies are diverse, diverse peoples of the world, diversity of views on infant baptism, a coherent Anglican identity does not mean one with no diversity, which of course includes a diversity of views and practice on sexuality.

The Archbishop frames the current disputes as diversity, which become divisions because of misunderstandings and failures of communication. He thus reinterprets clear disobedience by TEC to the will of God as set forth in Scripture and recognised by the Church and reduces it to mis-communicated diversity.

The problem as he diagnoses it, is that some provinces, not only TEC, have formally adopted policies that breach the moratoria on same-sex consecrations and on crossing provincial boundaries to address this. All such provinces therefore will have their representatives on ecumenical dialogues reduced to consultant status. To go by what happened at the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham in 2005 when TEC representatives were present only as observers, this will mean no difference whatsoever: another play on words.

What is needed is better communication through “encounters that take place in a completely different atmosphere from the official meetings of the Communion’s representative bodies” – in other words in backrooms where there is no correct procedure to appeal to but all decisions are left solely in the hands of the powerful.

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Lambeth Palace on “the issue of vesture” AKA #mitregate

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

June 24th, 2010 Posted in Archbishop Of Canterbury, Church of England, TEC |

From The Lead

An American Episcopalian received the response below to his email concerning his “disappointment … in the manner in which our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was treated during her recent visit to Southwark Cathedral.”

[…]   Dear Mr _____,

Thank you for your e-mail to which I have been asked to respond as, I am sure you will understand, Archbishop Rowan is not able to reply personally to as much of the correspondence he receives as he would wish. It may help if I set out some of the background to the questions you raise.

The Dean of Southwark first issued an invitation to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori before the Lambeth Conference in 2008 – one in what I understand to be an ongoing programme of invitations to Primates of the Anglican Communion. She was not able to accept the invitation at that time and last Sunday’s date was subsequently agreed. Initially the invitation was to preach, however, earlier this month it became clear that the Presiding Bishop would be asked to preside at the Eucharist too. As the intention was for her to ‘officiate’ at a service the Archbishop’s permission was required under the provisions of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967. This is a matter of English law. The Archbishop’s permission under the Measure is the means of confirming a person’s eligibility to exercise their ministry in the Church of England and applies to any clergy ordained overseas. The application form (an example of which is at asks the necessary questions – although in the Presiding Bishop’s case it was explicit that the ‘letters of orders’ were not required. The Archbishop’s permission was sought and granted, although the legal and canonical framework of the Church of England prevents the Archbishops granting permission for a woman priest to exercise a sacramental ministry other than as a priest. The agreed approach of the English bishops [not all] is that women bishops celebrating under these provisions should do so without the insignia of episcopal office so as to avoid possible misunderstandings.

Read here

Archbishops’ compromise deal on women bishops is rejected

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Ruth Gledhill reports:

A desperate joint effort by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to prevent schism over women bishops was dismissed today by both opponents and supporters of female ordination in the Church of England.

Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu intervened with an unprecedented joint amendment to legislation on women bishops to be debated at the General Synod in York next month.

Their plan envisages the creation of “co-ordinate” bishops who would stand in for a woman diocesan in parishes unable to accept women’s ordination.

But their scheme drew criticism from both sides of a debate that is regarded as more likely to lead to schism than those over the ordination of gays or women priests.

Read it all..

Rowan’s Ordinariate

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

I regard the proposals which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are promoting as profoundly disappointing. I had been led by rumours to believe that they would be offering something that would in effect be a Third province … or an Ordinariate … within the Church of England. They are not.

What is clever about their scheme is that it claims to give us “good news” while at the same time purporting to require only a couple of minor changes in the draft legislation. It ostentatiously claims not to diminish the jurisdiction of diocesan bishops. This, combined with the deference still felt by many towards the archbishops, is likely, in my view, to incline a substantial number of the less fundamentalist liberals to tolerate it; and there will be Catholics who, despite the rhetoric which they have adopted over the years, will be willing to clutch at any straw which can be disguised as a fig leaf enabling them to remain in the Church of England.

Furthermore, any criticisms of the archiepiscopal plan will be met by pointing out that it would in effect create a situation closely similar to what we have now. At the moment, a diocesan can decide to whom to hand on the care of ‘petitioning’ parishes – it doesn’t have to be to one of the flying bishops. So, it will be argued, Catholics will be no worse off under the new system than they are at the moment. Indeed, because of the strong moral pressure on diocesans to follow a (not yet drafted) Code of Practice, we shall, they will say to us, be better off. And, above all, ‘our’ bishops will, for the first time, have genuine jurisdiction.

This sounds, and will sound, good. The problem about it is the unreality of it all. The plain fact is that it leaves the whip – in fact, all the whips – in the hands of the Establishment. Because diocesans will be able to craft and adjust both their diocesan schemes and the personel who will operate them, they will be able to call all the shots. Their appointees will be crucial. We have to envisage the probable use of a suffragan, a neighbouring diocesan, a retired bishop, who will say, with complete sincerity, that he opposes the ordination of women. But because we shall not have chosen him, he is likely to be a man chosen by the Establishment as a safe pair of hands, someone who can be relied on to bear in mind at all times the overall requirement of the entire system; a man more willing to tolerate a dodgy compromise rather than to rock the boat … any boat … too disastrously. In a word, One of Them rather than One of Us. If, of course, several of the current PEVs have by then accepted Papa Ratzinger’s shilling, there will be a preference to select successors who can safely be relied on not to provide a new generation of departures in five years’ time; men who have made a settled calculation about which side their bread is buttered.

At an even more basic level, what the scheme attempts to plaster over is the fact that the navigation department of the Anglican faith-community has set a firm course which is irretrievably in divergence from that of the Ancient Churches. As Walter Kasper … a distinctly liberal practitioner as Cardinals go … unsuccessfully attempted to get the House of Bishops to understand, what the C of E is faced with is a quite stark decision: whether to pursue the ARCIC dream of organic unity, or to opt to be one of the Protestant sects. This is the kairos of decision, both for Anglicanism corporately and for individuals. How long is it feasible, even for those among us of the most stay-and-stick-it-out tendency, to keep a foot on the decks of two ships which are heading in different directions?

If this scheme does go through, I hope that those who go and those who stay to live under it will retain all the old bonds of amity. There will be temptations on both sides to be nasty about the choices which others have made. It is very important that these temptations are resisted. If we end up with a bridge … and, at one end of it, a bridgehead called Ordinariate, and at the other end, a bridgehead called Coordinated Jurisdiction … then we could have a new and interesting ecumenical experiment. If, on the other hand, in ten years time, there are two groups of former friends taking potshots at each other across the floodplains, we shall all be the losers.

Come off it, father. You know perfectly well that when you’ve finished your time at St Whatsit’s and qualified for your full pension, you’ll want to saunter across that pontoon to a comfortable place where the shadow of Peter can fall upon you. You’re going to want your chums the other side to have kept the Border-Crossing wide open for you, and no questions asked … aren’t you?

WATCH Women and the Church) responds to the Archbishops

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Hat Tip: Thinking Anglicans

All bishops are equal but some are more equal than others.

WATCH has studied the outline proposals of the Archbishops’ intervention in the progress of legislation for women bishops. Despite the assurances that all will be well we are not convinced that the issues raised regarding jurisdiction will be resolved equitably when the practical steps of implementation are worked out. Will an “unacceptable” Diocesan bishop be required to share jurisdiction and how? Or will it be at her or his discretion? If the former, we are in effect back to automatic transfer.

The timing of the Archbishops’ intervention is similarly to be questioned. The Revision Committee considered all proposals put to them in great and thoughtful detail. These new proposals could have been made in similar detail to the Revision Committee. This would have enabled their practical consequences to be thoroughly considered before they came to be debated by General Synod. It is important that the Church does not re-create the unforeseen consequences of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod in agreeing to proposals that have not been thoroughly explored and explained. We ask; In what way are ‘nominated bishops’ not actually flying bishops with extended jurisdiction? Are we not creating a two-tier episcopacy of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ bishops with all that implies about how the Church continues to view women? Have the Archbishops sought the views of the senior women who must be counted amongst “the full diversity of voices in the Church of England”? Has their support been obtained for these proposals?

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Soweto stirs the soul

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

If the Pastor is the Steve Moreo I know, I am not surprised at the warm and joyful congregation.

BBC Paul Fletcher reports:

World Cup 2010: Pretoria

The Sunday morning service at the Holy Cross Anglican church in the township of Soweto was in full swing when I sheepishly appeared at the door.

I had been drawn in by the sound of singing, whooping and laughter (but no vuvuzelas) – and could not resist investigating.

I was immediately struck by the sight of a smiling, happy congregation who genuinely looked to be having a wonderful time. Moments later an old man dressed in his Sunday best appeared and invited me to join the procession working its way along the centre aisle towards the altar.

My attempts to politely refuse fell on deaf ears and I suddenly became a small part of a service that was vibrant and uplifting.

It was Father’s Day and all the dads in the church headed to the front before Reverend Steve Moreo spoke to his congregation.

“All men can make babies, but not all men can make fathers,” was one pearl of wisdom that met with huge approval.

My young son is 5,617 miles away in England and although I am not a religious man, to feel part of something so welcoming and inclusive on my first Father’s Day almost brought a tear to my eye.

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