The Christian Union debate has spun off in a slightly unexpected direction over on Cartoon Church thanks to a comment from MadPriest, and then a statement on his blog, and also a separate posting entitled ‘Don’t Mention the War‘.
Effectively what has spun off is another variation of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ arguments than unfortunately permeate the Church of England a lot of the time, one of the key aspects in this particular discussion being that MadPriest, like us in Finchampstead are unfortunate enough to be in the same deanery as a church that is protesting against the central Church diverging (in their eyes) from true Christian teaching by withholding their parish share. He makes a number of other comments, all of which I can identify with. The issue from Dave’s point of view though is the generalisation of the comments. Dave makes the point that the generalisation is not helpful.
Having said that MadPriest is not the first, and I’m sure won’t be the last to get frustrated by situations like this. Certainly there was a good deal of anger in the Sonning Deanery when Arborfield and Barkham announced that they were going to suspend their parish share earlier this year. The way the Church of England quotas are worked out is that richer diocese and parishes give more money to enable the wider Church to subsidise churches and programmes in other parts of the country that are struggling. The issue with this from Reform’s point of view is that there is no control over which Churches or programmes are supported by their money – for example it could be programmes giving a theological position with which they profoundly disagree.
There is an extensive document on the Reform web site that details the arguments for withholding share – and talks a lot about problems in the central Church, theological issues, and essentially argues that each Church should pay it’s own way – although perhaps the comment in the document that really annoyed people around here is this statement which comes about half way through:
First, only churches that are net-givers to their Diocesan budgets can morally cap their quotas. Churches that are still charges to diocesan budgets and need to be subsidized by other churches are in a different position.
Effectively what this statement suggests to Reform Churches is that they should pay their own way, unless they are currently being subsidised by the central Church, in which case they take the money until they can pay their own way. In terms of the logic over not wanting to fund Churches and programmes offering a theological position with which they disagree, it makes perfect sense, although as it is encouraging all Reform parishes who are net givers to withdraw, essentially it is the rest of us who fund their smaller Churches until they are big enough to pay their own way. On top of that, what MadPriest is really aggrieved by is that although they are withholding their share, the priests still get paid a stipend, the Church still has a vote at synod, basically there is no comeback.
Looking at that, you can well understand why large numbers of people get annoyed with the Churches that withhold share, and that is not even getting on to some of the other topics that MadPriest covers. Whilst many within the Church value the theological breadth, at the same time there is a significant group who are taking advantage of the rest, and the Church authorities happily let them get away with it – indeed more than that the other Churches are asked to provide extra funds to cover what hasn’t been given, some of which go to subsidise other Churches who subsequently withdraw just as soon as they can afford to do so.
Although I can well understand Dave’s call not to generalise, at the same time I also think we need to be very aware of the level of anger that the actions of some of the other Churches generate.