Friday, June 27, 2008

Scotland is another country

They do things differently in Scotland. Here is the Bishop of Edinburgh's address to his Diocesan Synod on the conflict engrossing the Anglican Communion. It goes deeper. Who in England has ever heard a bishop inviting his Synod to consider the difference between God's ontological transcendence and God's epistemological transcendence? The Church of England paddles in the shallows too often. Afraid of being accused of intellectualism. But the deep issues and paradoxes of human existence are presented more subtly in provincial theatres any night of the week than they are in most English Diocesan Synod meetings sadly.

Church and gay question

May the Church gives its blessing to homosexual partnerships and remain true to the will of God? Still be faithful in its witness to the love of God as shown in Jesus and revealed in the Bible?

As a minimum it seems to me this is an open question. That is, even if you are reluctant to give a definitive “yes” in answer, then neither can you give a definitive “no”. The reasons for this I explain below.

If it is an open question, then isn’t the only proper response of all Christians who take seriously the ethic of love for neighbour, especially bishops and church leaders, compassion and respect between those with differing answers? For me this means learning from and listening to others; accepting, not condemning, those who in good faith and conscience want to go ahead and affirm homosexual relationships; as well as those who, also in good faith, genuinely believe this can never be an option for a faithful Church.

This much might be agreed by all Christians who have not allowed their party-line allegiances to cloud their spiritual discernment. But can it be shown that this is an open question?

I have several reasons why I think it is.

Firstly, “facts on the ground”. Clearly there are many Christians, homosexual and not, who already believe that homosexual partnerships may be good and right in the sight of God. But these may be false teachers. The New Testament itself warns against those who will lead the Church astray with spurious beliefs. But the errors the New Testament speaks of are central points of faith such as the adequacy of God’s grace in Christ. We are also taught that by their fruits you shall know them. Where there are Christian men and women who are faithful members of the Church and who clearly reveal in their lives the fruits of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and differ from Christian brothers and sisters in no other way than that they answer “yes” to our question then how can they be regarded as false teachers?

Secondly, our greater knowledge of the human condition. The findings of various branches of science and the personal experiences of many people suggests very strongly that homosexuality is a given feature of human life.

Thirdly, the development of understanding of the biblical texts. Whilst it may be clear that there is very little in the biblical tradition to support a positive assessment of homosexual partnerships, and much to endorse the traditional Christian antipathy, it is not clear that the biblical material should be determinative of a developed Christian ethic for the 21st century.

Fourthly, the development of positive aspects of sexual ethics in public life. Many religiously motivated critics of homosexual partnership consider it to be part of a wider decline in sexual mores in Western society. But this ignores the evidence for many positive changes in relation to more traditional cultures. Modern intolerance of rape, of domestic violence, of child abuse and of forced marriages shows that the so-called decadence of Western societies actually displays many strongly moral developments in recent decades.

Therefore in my view there is no case for condemnation on religious grounds of those who believe sincerely that homosexual partnerships may be a faithful Christian expression of human love and companionship

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Church of England bishops concerned over the quality of the clergy

This item in the Daily Telegraph decribes the content of a report from the Church of England House of Bishops expressing concern over the quality of the Church of England clergy. On the one hand, there is concern over the abilities of new entrants to work in a professional and competent way with teams of skilled lay volunteers and colleagues; and on the other, that too many experienced older clergy have lost their enthusiasm for the role.

These are valid concerns and there are some welcome suggestions of a strategy for how things might be improved going forward. At the same time, it needs to be recognised that the stresses upon parish clergy in the Church of England go wider and deeper than pay, pensions and housing; though these are important. Oversight and support from the wider church structures are patchy at best, because resources are over-stretched; the cultural and social standing of Christian clergy has been significantly diminished in the last quarter century; and the sheer quantity of demands upon clergy to introduce and manage change have outstripped the resources available to them to achieve these tasks effectively. Just one example - the introduction of IT has challenged older clergy who have had to find ways from their own resources of catching up in practical and administrative matters. The list of issues and challenges parish clergy have needed to cope with in recent years , largely relying on their own time and initiative, is very long indeed. Older clergy who happen to have lower levels of physical and psychological resilience will have found it very difficult to make up their skills deficits given the general lack of support.
Mention these points to diocesan training depratments and quite often some officers will complain that clergy are offered training and consultancy but don't take it up. However, this misses the point. De-motivated or over-strectched clergy are not just going to pick up the phone and book themselves on training courses as soon as the latest mailing arrives from the diocesan office. More likely than not they won't see the notice in time to do anything about it anyway, because it wil have been buried in their inbox , possibly unopened, for a week or few.
In his strident book about the Church of England, Last Rites: The End of the Church of England, Michael Hampson is bitter, understandably given the church's attitude towards his sexuality I guess; but nonetheless telling points are made. One that sticks in my mind is his insight that in the Church of England the congregations are irrelevant and the parish clergy are almost irrelevant in terms of power. All the power comes down hierarchically from the Crown and is almost totally vested in the bishops.