Tag Archives: Church of England

Just Say No

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

After the tension of the meeting, and the ultimately fudged ‘unanimous’ communiqué, the recent meeting of the Anglican Communion Primates left the US church with an interesting problem. They alone were singled out for special treatment, with a plan for independent oversight of disputed Churches, for which apparently recruitment is already occurring, and the House of Bishops called upon to not approve any same-sex blessings (although ironically the Church in Sweeden who are in communion with parts of the Anglican Communion have just approved a rite) The Anglican Church of Canada also got briefly mentioned over approval of same-sex blessings.

To be honest, it was obvious that it was merely postponing the inevitable as it was announced as the final communiqué addressed only some of the issues of disagreement. The church in the USA and Canada were asked to step back, whilst at the same time, in order to get him to to sign, Bishops who were meddling in other provinces such as Peter Akinola were allowed to continue. The mission from the Nigerian Church into the USA, was effectively given some measure of legitimacy.

Within weeks, the Anglican Church in Canada made their position clear, and now the American Bishops have done the same. They have refused the plan for independent oversight on both spiritual and legal grounds, and highlighted that thanks to the democratic structures of the Church much of what was suggested cannot be approved by the Bishops alone. The fact that Peter Akinola also hasn’t been censured for his backing of the new Nigerian anti-Gay law – a move seen by many as contrary to the Anglican listening process that is supposed to be taking place has caused positions to harden even more, resulting in statements that are for once clear, and strong in their position. At one point they even accuse the primates of trying to drag the Anglican Communion back to a ‘time of colonialism’ with a central Church over which the others have no control dictating policy worldwide. They have called for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss their position before the official response is made in September.

The general response from many is that it is good to see the Bishops holding to their beliefs and principals. Quite what will happen to the Anglican Communion though is open for debate as the Episcopal Church still bankrolls much of the Anglican Church, hence the attempts to keep the whole thing together. Ultimately what makes the whole thing more frustrating from a UK point of view is the fact that it is widely known that the Archbishop of Canterbury is theologically closer to the US and Canadian position, but is not expressing his opinion because of his international role. Ironic considering that in his own Church, after public calls for the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords to vote down the Sexual Orientation Regulations, only three of them voted to oppose them – which coupled with events at General Synod, certainly gives an indication of the direction in which the Church of England is heading. The fact is that many of it’s leaders do not believe that the Church should be stopping a law that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, nor are they going to censure their own clergy if they are apparently breaking the current rules as a result of the ongoing listening process, however much some of the conservatives may kick up a fuss.

In terms of our local Church, the topic came up as part of our Lent Course last week, and despite my concerns that it would be a divisive topic, seemed to go rather well, and certainly there was a good deal of respect for the differing opinions. Age wise the younger members of the groups seemed to either be inclusive, or to admit that they had never really thought about it in a Church context as they didn’t have an issue in day-to-day life, and in general even the people who had issues over the topic were not nearly as violently opposed as was suggested people would be a few years ago, and were willing to discuss it. Certainly it seemed to give Rev Richard confidence that we could move forward with properly exploring the issue in the future, something that has been avoided thus far.

I’ve bookmarked a lot of the online comment on the announcements over on my link blog, but worth a read are Ruth Gledhill’s comments, Stephen Bates posting under the heading ‘Bishops to Primate: Drop Dead’, The Episcopal Majority roundup, and of course check out Dave Walkers unique contribution.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Getting Along

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.

Yet More Anglican Postings

Father Jake has posted a series of interesting posts over the past few days. The Bishop of New Hampshire has written an open letter in the wake of B033, especially with regards to the feelings of delegates who felt they were betraying other members of the Church in the cause of Anglican unity, only to have it thrown back in their faces. The Times has published an article questioning whether Rowan Williams is too brainy to lead the Church. Perhaps the most interesting comment item is this article from the Guardian comparing and commending the US Church, and comparing it with what is happening in the Church of England. Michael Hampson, the author of the article has a new book, The Last Rites: The End of the Church of England that will be published in October.

God’s Next Army

What would the world be like if the most powerful country in the world, was run by a regime with just as extreme religious views as fundamentalist republics such as Iran, or the former regime in Afghanistan. In the same way as in those countries, everything in this powerful country is driven or decided based purely on the scriptures of their religion without question.

This is the vision of the future that was shown by God’s Next Army, a programme looking at the phenomenon of Patrick Henry College in the USA. Despite the historic basis of the United States, in which the separation of Church and state is enshrined in the constitution, the college is aiming to ‘re-Christianise’ America, to ‘preserver the world from the sinfulness of man’. Essentially the people behind the college are looking to turn the United States into a Christian Republic. 80% of it’s students have been home schooled, kept separate from mainstream schools, and indoctrinated with their fundamentalist beliefs from an early age, with little contact with differing world views from their own – or as one participant in the programme said, protected from the ‘moral decay of the world’. They go from home schooling into a college that continues with these hardline beliefs. Worringly, students from the college are already making inroads. The college is conveniently located close enough to Washington DC that it’s students can become interns in the machinery of government – indeed the college has already provided the current White House administration with more interns than any other college. It’s students also volunteer to help with lobby groups, indeed the programme showed the students lobbying in opposition to a payment of compensation to people affected by asbestos.

Everyone at the college, both academics and students have to sign a statement of faith. Perhaps the only part you need to read is the following:

The Bible in its entirety … is the inspired word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts, and the only infallible and sufficient authority for faith and Christian living.

However the full statement is available online. Essentially everything is claimed to be founded on biblical principles, but essentially biblical principles as viewed through the lens of fundamentalist Christianity.

For example the statement of faith has the following example with regards to property:

Private Property: As God’s image-bearers with dominion, and stewardship responsibilities, over the remainder of creation, men and women have the inalienable right to own and manage their own property, subject to government regulation only in the unusual situation where the rights of others are endangered. Government systems such as communism and socialism, which give the government primary control over property, are a violation of God’s creation order.

I’m sure most people would read that, and question how that fits in with a number of biblical passages, but perhaps the clearest example is Luke 14:33:

“In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.�

The programme included a number of these theological and philosophical conflicts, which seem bemusing to those outside, but so clear cut to the students. For example when interviewed on his beliefs, one student stated his opposition to abortion, his opposition to gay marriage, both for biblical principles, and then with no hint of irony started quoting Thomas Jefferson on the right to bear arms. Bear in mind that Jefferson was also one of the chief architects of the separation of Church and State – take for example this quote from a letter Jefferson wrote in 1813 which seems somewhat apt:

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government�

Essentially, I find the prospect of a United States administration, so loaded with the single minded world view and unbending fundamentalist Christian beliefs put forward by the college just as worrying as any regime based on fundamentalist Islam, not least because in relative terms the United States has significantly more power. Whilst supporters will quite probably point to the statement on the PHC site that ‘no leader or group of leaders may ever acquire unchecked power’ as what would separate them from regimes such as Iran and Afghanistan, I’d counter that the fact that since they are specifically looking to move towards a Christian Republic fundamentally means that those members of society who are not Christian, or are not Christians from their particular wing of the Church, are improperly represented – one of the fundamental reasons for the separation for church and state put forward by Jefferson. How can a group of people who have been brought up and schooled at home, separate from the broad range of belief in society, and educated at a college that again teaches the same beliefs, separate from the broad range of belief in society, possibly be able to represent or even understand the breadth of society that a country represents.

I have no objection to Christian voices being heard in government, but it should be exactly that, voices, and should be part of a representative array of voices from all communities and groups within the country. Whilst there is much argument over the close ties between the Church of England, and the state in the UK, I would suggest that situation here is somewhat different from what Patrick Henry College is trying to establish. The Church of England is so broad that in many debates, there are a multitude of voices, with Bishops and other senior churchmen often holding opposing opinions on a multitude of issues. This broad range of belief extends to Christian politics in the UK too. I know many staunch Conservative supporters who are Christian, but equally I know Christians who regard Christianity and Socialism as being closely tied together. Indeed I know of one clergyman who around election time was renowned for preaching from the pulpit that he believed all right minded Christians should be voting Labour! The same is true of Christian education in this country. Here aside from some notable exceptions, most schools are run based on a Christian ethos, rather than being Christian schools. Hence when I was growing up, the nearby Catholic school was also popular with Muslim and Hindu families wanting a a strong ethical basis for their child’s education. This is what makes me so uneasy about Patrick Henry College, here most Christian schools will quite happily contain a breadth of Christian belief, and in many cases those with non-Christian beliefs, or no religion at all. PHC has a comprehensive set of beliefs that all staff and students must sign, and apparently no room for any breadth of opinion – and more than that, their students, indoctrinated with these beliefs are increasingly being found all across the government of the most powerful country on the planet. Worrying indeed…

Seaside Diocese?

We’re really enjoying the new series of A Seaside Parish, but I think one of the reasons that we’re enjoying it is because the outlook has widened out to include the local Bishop, and a variety of other parts of Cornwall. Although we still see life in Boscastle, it is showing much more about life in the wider church.

One of the interesting additions are a pair of new priests, who at the start of the series were just weeks before their ordination. This week we saw one of the practising presiding at a Eucharist on his dining room table. Now I know it sounds odd, but I’d never thought of a priest as practising this, but having seen the show it seems pretty obvious! The one interesting question that Beth asked was whether ‘it counted’, i.e. whether he consumed all the bread and wine after he had practised!

Next week we see the other new priest perform her first wedding. However from the trailer all does not go according to plan. Quite aside from the nerves of the first time, it seems she manages to drop the wedding ring, and of course the BBC film crew are there to capture the whole thing and broadcast it to the nation!