Sunday, May 20, 2018

Could ++Michael Curry turn the tide for Christianity against secularism?

Last night (NZ time) Teresa and I tuned into the Royal Wedding telecast and, as usual, it was all colour and pageantry such as, arguably, only the Brits can do. While I do not want to buy into obsession with celebrity culture and all that, I am happy to view a liturgy to see how it is done and review what is good and what might be learned, so why not watch the service.

You may have done so and like me, been reasonably lacking in any experience of the preaching style of ++Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of TEC. Not only did he impress me with his enthusiasm and panache in delivery, he impressed heaps of people on Twitter. And I do not mean just clergy/preachers.

Here is Ed Miliband, British politician and non-Christian:

++Curry's content was pretty good to and packed a lot in, from Song of Songs to 1 John, from Martin Luther King through Jesus Christ to Teilhard de Chardin and back to MLK, all on the theme of the power of redemptive love. (Full sermon here and here).

There was a lovely one liner or two:

Sure, there was some Tweeted criticism, re length and, well, too much enthusiasm for Brits, as well as some humour:



But enough of the humour. Curry's sermon was as powerful reminder of the potential of preaching to connect with people, to display the gospel in a gripping and attractive manner, and to use the medium of television to communicate to a large number of people (albeit viewing for reasons other than watching a preacher). What is there not to like and not to learn?

Which is an appropriate moment to draw attention to this sobering survey of secularism versus Christianity/church life in Kiwiland: here.


(This will be my only post this week.
I am engaged in our annual Clergy Conference.
I will try to post any comments but am unlikely to engage with any comments after today, Sunday.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Cardinal Dew

This is a busy time for many churches. Here Down Under it is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (disunitedly observed in January by the Northern Hemisphere!!). It is also the period, between Ascension and Pentecost of #ThyKingdomCome, a burgeoning movement of prayer and missional action for God's Kingdom to ... Come!

Today I want to concentrate on praying for Christian Unity, a prayer our Lord himself prayed (John 17). The other day I came across this lovely encouragement from Cardinal John Dew of the Catholic Church in NZ and Archbishop of Wellington.


Message for parish bulletins for Ascension Sunday

Dear friends

As we gather in our parish each weekend for Mass other Christians are gathering in churches in our area for their Sunday worship. They are our neighbours, friends, people we meet in the supermarket, perhaps even our relatives.

We gather separately because of events that happened centuries ago. We have moved on from wars among Christians, hostility and bitterness, to respecting one another and being able to honestly acknowledge the many things we have in common – at the heart of which is our shared belief in Jesus Christ.

We have also found many practical ways to work together for the common good of our community.

The feast of the Ascension this weekend marks the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which extends until Pentecost Sunday next weekend.

It is a time to reflect upon how we each might do some small thing for Christian unity, prayer, reaching out to someone from another Christian church, contributing to food banks supported jointly by churches, taking part in an ecumenical service.

Nothing is too small in the work of promoting Christian unity. We are restoring that fractured unity piece by piece, and each of us has one or more of the pieces to put in place.

John A Cardinal Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
Catholic Bishops Committee for Ecumenism"

Monday, May 14, 2018

Decision 2018: Q and A (1)

Among recent comments to the post below, a few questions were asked of me and I am posting responses here in a new post, along with a few further thoughts/reflections from me.

First, the further thoughts:

As the days unfold after General Synod in New Plymouth, I am aware of rumblings if not ructions in various parishes up and down these islands. I offer two personal hopes to any readers in any such parishes.

(1) that discussions in parishes are based on accurate information about what General Synod has done, on fair and reasonable expectations of trust and goodwill among Anglicans as we work these things out, including trust that our bishops are open to working out how conservative parishes are supported through this new era.

(2) that parishes do not try to work out difficult questions in (say) parish meetings without calling on outside assistance such as an archdeacon to be an external voice in proceedings. Archdeacons are busy people and may not love me for expressing this hope, but I do worry about parishes working on these matters within the framework of limited viewpoints.

Tomorrow I hope to tackle a couple of questions raised with me "off-blog" but for now, two questions raised the other day here on ADU

Sarah's question: "My question is not in regards to the SS issue but rather your thoughts on other examples of permanent/de facto relationships. Forgive me if this has been addressed before, I am a sporadic reader.

Question: if a heterosexual couple came into the church, having been in a de-facto relationship for a number of years and, let us say, have children in tow, and whom had a genuine desire to know the God's teaching on family order, what would your response be? 

Where in Scripture (and I would like the answer to be Scripturally based, please) would you point this young couple? 
I am genuinely interested as I have read your thoughts on the SS aspect of such a scenario, and wonder - if the basis is a committed relationship (and how more committed can a couple be by having children!) - where your line is drawn for gentle and loving rebuke? "

My response: The hypothetical couple you refer to are married, theologically speaking. There is no Scriptural text I am aware of which demands that a de facto married couple become a de jure married couple. There is no text that prescribes what form the beginning of a marriage should take but 1 Corinthians 5 teaches that every act of sexual intercourse forms a marriage, even sex with a prostitute does that, and such brief marriages are injurious. But the point is that consummation of a relationship is critical to the beginning of a marriage and historically non-consummation has been grounds for annulment of a(n apparent) marriage.

However in most churches in the Western world we like to know that couples in our midst are in a de jure marriage rather than a de facto marriage. This is probably because we doubt that a de facto married couple are quite as properly married as a de jure married couple, since the former lacks the public declaration of lifelong commitment and fidelity which the latter requires. But, to repeat, Scripture does not require a wedding as we generally understand weddings. It would be fine if your couple said to your vicar: "we are not married legally and have no intention of being so,* but we do want to be married theologically and we want the congregation to know that, so could we next Sunday together say to the congregation that we love each other, that we promise to be faithful to the other and to remain married till one of us dies." [*there are good arguments for the church having nothing to do with state registration of marriages.] 

It is actually hard to find one simple Scripture to cite which fulfills your request for Scriptural reasoning for asking your hypothetical couple to make their marriage either de jure or in some way more "proper". I think I would say to your couple that the general discipline of the church through the ages, based on numerous Scriptural texts about the importance of marriage, is that couples in a sexual relationship should be married and the clearest sign of a couple embracing this challenge is to become legally married

I myself would not think of offering a rebuke to such a couple as you cite. Many and varied are the reasons why some couples are in a de facto marriage and not in a de jure marriage and as a pastor I would want to listen to those reasons before speaking.

At least twice in my pastoral ministry I have found the right words to say which have led to couples formalising their de facto marriages. I do not recall those words being a "rebuke".

Sam's question: "you wrote, "There is another image that fits here too, it is called whanau or extended family. ACANZP is that family"

To which family do you consider yourself primarily attached, the parish, the denomination, or the universal church? To which of these do you think Christ calls us to show greatest fidelity? Even at the expense of the others?"

My response: "To which (church) family am I loyal? I have this feeling, Sam, that my answer will not satisfy you! But why not give it a go. I am loyal (human frailty acknowledged) to Jesus Christ and to his followers and thus to God's family in the widest sense of all those who also confess loyalty to Jesus. But in a narrower sense, the Anglican part of that family, I am loyal to Anglicans ahead of (say) Presbyterians (even though my initial theological education was with them) or Catholics (even though I am married into that great family) or Protestants generally (even though I share many matters of theology with those unconvinced by all the claims of Rome). 

In an even narrower sense I am loyal to the church - ACANZP - into which you and I have been ordained and have taken vows of obedience to the authority of our (respective diocesan) bishops, our constitution and canons, including the liturgies authorised for use by common agreement through General Synod which express our doctrine. That loyalty is congenial to me because of my upbringing as a cradle Anglican, my conviction as a thinking adult Anglican and by my many wonderful friendships across theological divides and cultural diversity in our Three Tikanga church (underlined again this most recent General Synod).

In this church of ours I appreciate fellowship with Anglicans loyal to Jesus who include two brothers and a sister who resigned this past week from General Synod and gay Anglicans who did not. Our current and future situation would appear to ask whether I will be loyal to one group rather than another. If that is your underlying question then I can only say that I will love all Anglicans in these islands, both those who stay in ACANZP and those who may yet choose to depart. 

You also ask to which of the forms of church, parish, denomination, universal church does Jesus Christ ask us to show the greatest fidelity? The answer is "all" because we have obligations to the local church to which we belong (and may, as licensed ministers, have made specific commitment to), to the denomination to which that local church belongs (and without which the local church would not be the local church), and to the universal church of which the denomination belongs, for the universal church is Christ's body on earth and we cannot opt out of that!

I do not see where 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 implies that our love for fellow Christians is ever asked to be "at the expense of others." 1 John implies a situation in which some Christians have departed the fellowship to which the letter is addressed, and calls for ever deeper love for those that remain, but it is not clear exactly what has led to the departure, though it may be over the highest form of dispute possible between Christians, the nature and character of Jesus himself. From that perspective I would not say that (e.g.) I am obligated to have as much faithful love for Mormons, Muslims, Christadelphians, etc as for fellow Christians.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Decision 2018 [updated x2]

If you wish to comment about this decision, please do so with grace or I will not publish your comment.

(But give me a bit of grace, please, 
and allow me an hour or four to publish your comment, 
as I may prefer to publish your comment with my immediate reply as well.
Am still at GS (as I write on Wednesday) and opportunity to be on my laptop is limited.)

The further work we need to do will not change the substance of the matter, 

that there will be blessings of same gender civil marriages or civil unions in episcopal jurisdictions 
which authorise services for this to happen.

There will be a substantive report on Anglican Taonga soon, and I will post the link here when I see it.  HERE IT IS.

Also HERE is the report on yesterday's debate.

HERE is an article re Polynesia's opposition to same-sex blessings (but not to our church passing legislation permitting them).

I make one observation, well two: 

There will be Anglicans who are unhappy with this decision, fullstop. 

There will be Anglicans who wish to stay in our church and wonder if they can live with this decision: to you I make this observation: there will not be one canonical change which requires you to do anything differently to what you are currently doing or to believe anything differently to what you currently believe.*

*I have been challenged about this observation because it is not as simply true as I make out. That is, while one does not have to change practice or to change what one believes (about blessings, about homosexuality, about marriage), a member of ACANZP does have to shift their sense of alignment, from alignment with a church which previously offered no official space for such blessings to alignment with a church now offers space for such blessings.

Note the first few comments published below were received by me ahead of me including the links to Taonga articles above.

Apparently Newshub reads Anglican Down Under :)

The FCANZ statement is here.

The AFFIRM (NZ) statement is here.

UPDATE: Thursday 10 May 2018

Some readers will be aware that there was also a motion for consideration which sought to set up a working group to do work on our marriage canon. Timewise it turned out to be the last motion we debated. The motion was lost.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Aaaand, General Synod is underway

Yes, here we are in New Plymouth, staying across two hotels, one of which is also the venue for our meetings and our main meals.

Friday the NZ Dioceses met during the day (for "Inter Diocesan Conference") then General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui began properly with a 5 pm powhiri at Owae marae at Waitara, with meal and eucharist to follow.

Yesterday we were back into Inter Diocesan Conference mode for most of the day but met formally to deal with a motion or three in the evening.

Today we travelled by bus to Turangawaewae for a service at which Archbishop Don Tamihere preached, as part of 160th anniversary celebrations for the Kingitanga movement.

Tomorrow, effectively, is the day when we get into deep business waters. There won't be much time to blog and it remains better that I do not raise expectations I will do so.

We remain of the plan that Motion 29 discussion and decision-making will spread over three days.

Keep in touch with the news via Taonga, which already has stories and pictures up.

Also Twitter may be useful. We are trying to use the hashtags #Hinota18 and #GSTHW18 for Tweets. My Twitter handle is @petercarrell .

Your prayers for us would be appreciated - and many are praying and have told us so. Thank you!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Countdown to General Synod/te Hinota Whanui 2018

On Thursday night this week representatives from the thirteen episcopal units of our church, that is, three tikanga (7, 5, 1 respectively) gather in New Plymouth. We meet through to Thursday 10th May and travel home on Friday 11th May. The draft timetable is this - you may need to enlarge your screens to read it:

For those interested in the progress of Motion 29, you can see that we are considering it over three mornings.

This post is also a way of saying that I am going to be busy over the next few days sorting out all the things that need sorting out before leaving my desk. Also the not insignificant matter of the last two days of Bishop Victoria's episcopal ministry here in the Diocese.

So, no more posts this week. I will try to post briefly on Monday next week (which is when the legislative meat and bones of the Synod begin) including a hashtag for Twitter posts. I do not anticipate blogging through General Synod itself. I cannot see where the timetable allows for that :).

Your prayers for the Synod are most welcome. We had a good Diocese of Christchurch team meeting yesterday and an interesting meeting following that with a dozen or so from the Diocese to run over General Synod business.

In practice that second meeting focused on Motion 29.

Believe it or not, Motion 29 is not the only item of interesting business.

Bosco Peters, for instance, draws our attention to some liturgical matters the Synod will be considering.

The papers for General Synod are located here.

Any final thoughts from you about any matter of Synod business are welcome here. I continue to listen and to reflect as I move around the Diocese and engage with emails and phone calls. I am unlikely to respond to your comments because of the weight of busyness over the next few days. But I will read them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

How any of them persist post-Darwin I have no idea.

Recently Bosco Peters via Twitter drew my attention to two posts referencing evolution. On Liturgy itself and in a Joe Bennett column on Stuff.

Bosco's post focuses on the non-necessity of conflict between science and faith, but he raises this challenging point:

"What I think we also need to see more of is not simply a dialogue between science and faith within the beginning-of-the-universe-and-life framework, but also in the framework of redemption. In Romans 5, as just one example, St Paul writes:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned…For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
If Adam, and Adam’s sin is not historical, how does this affect our understanding of Christ’s redemption? If death is not the result of sin, but simply a part of nature present billions of years before humans (in fact a required driver of evolution), how does that affect our theology?
These early chapters of Genesis form the foundations, and often the unexamined presuppositions, of so much of our culture and civilisation. All these are opened up to re-examination: attitudes to gender, work, death, the environment and nature, sexuality, marriage, and so on and so forth…"

Joe Bennett provokes with a line which I am using as the title of this post:

"How any of them persist post-Darwin I have no idea."

"them" equals religious organisations, whether cults or established faiths.

His argument is that if we understand the full implications of "Darwin" (a catch all theme which includes the role of continental drift and earthquakes in shaping life on earth) then we would understand the simple truth: there is no God, there is only the natural world, and we understand everything in that world by science.

So, between the two posts Christians confront two Darwinian-shaped conclusions:

A. We need to rethink our understanding of God as creator AND as redeemer.

B. We should cease to believe in God because all evidence apparently pointing towards God existing can be explained without recourse to proposing that God exists.

I have been doing a bit of reading about Darwin lately. Something that has struck me is that, in a very loose engagement with Darwin and his theory until now, I have managed, through my life, to avoid asking hard questions about the full potential of the Darwinian revolution in scientific knowledge.

That is, I am beginning to reckon with something I think many of us Christians manage to avoid, that it is possible that if we manage to kick B for touch then we really, really ought to tackle A and rethink pretty much everything in our understanding of God and the gospel.

Conversely, if we tackle A before B and think that there is nothing we can do to rethink our theology, then we really, really ought to consider whether that unrevised theology is trumped by Darwin, that Joe Bennett is correct and Sunday mornings would be better spent surfing.

It is that bleak ... or exciting, if we allow ourselves to feel the full force of the Darwinian revolution in knowledge! (And, just before certain critiques are launched in the comments, let's ask how many people have either wandered away from Christianity or never thought it worth bothering about because the Christianity of their experience has seemed utterly inadequate in the face of Darwin's impact on human understanding?)

I think it is exciting to confront challenges in the pursuit of truth.

I am working my way through A.N. Wilson's The Victorians (London: Arrow, 2003) and he has a pertinent paragraph at the end of a chapter which discusses, variously, Charles Kingsley and his famous book The Water Babies, John Newman's conversions from evangelicalism to Anglo-Catholicism to Roman Catholicism and his famous book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, with mention of theologian F.D. Maurice, scientist Charles Darwin and others relevant to that period of the Victorian era.

Wilson writes (with my paragraphing of his single paragraph),

"The Apologia made many readers think more kindly of the Oxford converts to Rome. Within a year of the publication of The Water Babies, Parliament had banned pushing little boys up chimneys. But Kingsley's is more than a social gospel. Newman came to believe that there were but two alternatives, the way to Rome and the way to Atheism. Not only does Kingsley's religion seem altogether more humane: he would seem to be thinking about larger issues.*
The journey of little Tom the sweep to his watery paradise engages mind as well as heart rather more than the crotchety Oxford don's - Newman's - journey from the Oriel Common Room to the Birmingham Oratory. Speaking of Huxley, Darwin and the others, Kingsley wrote to Maurice, 
'They find that now they have got rid of an interfering God - a master-magician, as I call it - they have to choose between the absolute empire of accident, and a living, immanent, ever-working God.' " [p. 304]

In other words, Kingsley is charting a direction in theology which - in my experience - is underdone by both Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism. These two great forces in global Christianity place great store on the transcendence of God. Oh, yes, God is also immanent: orthodoxy is at work in both forces! But when emphasis is placed, by both, on interventionist miracles, dramatic conversions through direct encounters with the risen Christ, and direct disclosure of God's will through inspired text, the lean is towards a Christianity which is difficult to wean off ideas of "an interfering God" or "a master-magician" and thus one which is susceptible to Darwin's persuasions that nature is an "absolute empire of accident."

Is it time to re-look at the immanence of God? To look at what it means that God (according to our time) does nothing about creating life as we know it on Earth, for billions of years, and then creates it but presides over a development which is (again, by our time) very slow, according to a process of adaptation and thus of experimentation (some species survive, some do not). Is God - for example - more associated with the being of the universe and its unfolding life than we seem to give credit for when we are biased towards the transcendance of God?

This photo captures something of the issue, though it is not a reliable depiction of theism!

Who is God? I find for myself that often the actual God I worship and pray to is a super-duper version of the best human being imaginable: amazing; very, very intelligent; also hard to fathom on matters of suffering; but worth trusting because he has a masterplan. Of course it is easy to be angry with that "God", even to walk away from that "God" because much of life is disappointing relative to what I think that "God" ought to be doing in the church and in the world.

Conversely, we would not be having this discussion if the unfolding life of the universe were not punctuated by God speaking into the world (the Old Testament) and the God who speaks into the world entering the world in human flesh (the New Testament).

Thoughts? (Mainly because I am at the edge of my ability to think theo-logically and about to fall off the edge without help!)

*Nothing in particular to do with this post but Wilson on Newman, in words which precede the paragraph above, is worth reading - at least if one enjoys demolition jobs on revered figures!

"Never once in the whole book [Apologia] do we get a sense of the world outside Newman's college walls - or come to that outside his own head. It is something of a shock at the end to be told, 'I have never seen Oxford since, excepting its spires as they are seen by the railway. The reader is jolted into recognition that the debates [between High Church and Low Church divines in the 1830s leading to the Tractarian movement] happened not in the time of St. Augustine, but in the Railway Age. Never once does Newman's quest for a perfect orthodoxy, a pure belief in the Incarnate God, appear to prompt him to consider that if God tool flesh, then this has social implications, that the Church should be engaged with the lives and plight of the poor." [pp. 303-04]