Thursday, 22 November 2012

The statistics of representation

I promised in my last post to say something about the things which are going around the web which I think are unhelpful.

One is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way General Synod operates. How can it be that it voted down something which was overwhelmingly approved by the Dioceses (42 to 44), and which has such significant support in the wider Church? Well the answer is that our representative system doesn't work the way that these questions presuppose.

Yes, they are skewed towards the pressure groups and factionalism that political processes formalize. But how could they not be so? How many Members of Parliament are not members of a pressure group or faction(/party)? And yes, General Synod is skewed towards those with time and resources to be able to attend meetings - but tell me which church council isn't!

Most important to remember, General Synod members are not elected simply to vote in accordance with the views of those who elected them. How are they supposed to know those views? From opinion polls? But how many polls are broken down on a Diocese by Diocese basis? How many include only regular church-goers? Perhaps from the letters they get then? And I'm sure many members do take full account of letters. But these will be not much more representative than the Synod members themselves: the same people who care enough about Church politics to write letters are those who put themselves forward for elections.

No, Synod, members are elected on the basis of having knowledge and experience of the Church, of the Bible, of theology, perhaps even for their known spiritual life. They are, in short, relatively expert in the kind of thing Synod discusses. How many people "in the pews" really understand what Synod was discussing? Or have taken time to familiarize themselves with the theological and biblical arguments on each side? Precious few, I would hazard to guess. And why should they, really? We have representatives to do that stuff for us. Again there is the parallel to MPs (consider how many MPs would vote for the restoration of the death sentence(very few) and what opinion polls tell us of the public's views).

And we should remember that the Diocesan Synods are generally somewhat less expert than General Synods (like local councils to Parliament). Moreover, if the Diocesan Synods had used the same system of 2/3rd majority in each of three houses it would have been passed in 33 of them, rather than 42 of 44. So 25% would have been against, a much larger minority than the debate tends to acknowledge.

Diocesan and General Synod votes cannot be directly compared, of course, because the memberships are different, and they are voting at different stages in a legislative process (so the psychology of members will be different accordingly).

There again, if a survey this year is to be believed, 31% of regular Anglican church-goers want to see women as bishops either never or when there is consensus with other churches. Now since 36% of the House of Laity voted against the Measure, compared to 23% of Clergy and only 6% of Bishops, it turns out that the Laity were more in line with the mind of the Church than the others. I don't suppose anyone is proposing to reform the Houses of Bishops or Clergy to bring them into line.

The Synodical system isn't perfect, and reform may be appropriate. But before we start to make changes, let's make sure we understand what we've got properly.

Women bishops - Same as it was before

Well, I have to admit to being shaken when I heard the result read out. Literally.

We knew all along it was a possibility, I'd actually predicted it to a couple of people, but actually knowing it had happened was a different thing.

I've given it a couple of days before blogging to let it sink in. And because there's been a huge amount written on the web about it. I said in advance of the vote that we need to look for what the Holy Spirit is doing in all this. I still think that, perhaps even more so - though that implies I wasn't sure before hand.

It seems to me though, that nothing very much has actually changed. The General Synod in particular, and the Church of England in general were discussing how to proceed towards having women as bishops last week; and discussing it on Tuesday; and we're still discussing it now.

Make no mistake - no one is really suggesting that there won't be women as bishops. We're not back to square one. It's just his very specific way of doing it that has been rejected. In a hundred years from now, Tuesday's vote will surely be not much more than a footnote in the pages of history.

But there are various things being said around the web which I think are unhelpful, and I want to respond to a couple of them - but I'll do it in separate posts, to keep tings neater and shorter here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Women Bishops - Voting Today Part 2

Well, I've said what I think, and how I would vote.

However, when all is said and done, the only right thing is to pray. And not to pray for any particular outcome, as many seem to be doing. But to pray that God's will may be done, whatever that is. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will work through General Synod today.

Indeed, we kind of have to trust that the Holy Spirit is involved, otherwise all the decisions to date are questionable, including that to ordain women as priests. Let's not even go there - that way madness lies!

And having prayed that the Holy Spirit will guide and inspire the Synod members, let's assume that prayer has been answered, whatever the result.

If it is "yes" that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit approves of women bishops. Perhaps we are being led into a parting of the ways, and the "traditionalists" will thrive while the "progressives" fade.

If it is "no" that doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit disapproves of women bishops. Perhaps we are being led to work harder on the provision for "traditionalists." Perhaps we are being led to reject any provision at all.

Either way, more work will need to be done. Either way, the Holy Spirit will be taking us into a future whose shape we can only begin to grasp. Perhaps the will of the Holy Spirit is that the Church will become weaker before it can become stronger.

"Thy will be done."

Women Bishops - Voting today Part 1

Well, push has come to shove. The vote on women bishops is today.

No-one seems to be pretending they know which way it will go. Everyone thinks it's too close to call.

For what it's worth (nothing), I suspect the Measure will pass, if only because the waverers will have been influenced by the warnings of doom if it doesn't.

For what it's worth (less than nothing(?!)), if I was there and voting, I'd vote no. The clear view of the majority within the Church is that women should be bishops. That ought to be respected. But note that it is not, as some reports have it "an overwhelming majority." By definition if it were an overwhelming majority the minority would be overwhelmed - the vote would not be on a knife-edge. But pedantry aside, a recent set of surveys suggest that opposition runs at about 12-16%, but if you add in those undecided or thinking it's right to wait then you get higher figures: about 25-30%. Obviously we should be careful with statistics and surveys, but I wouldn't call that "overwhelming."

And for the minority opposed, is the provision in the Measure sufficient? Well, I happen to think it's stronger than most opponents allow, but I'm clearly in a minority on that one. And given that the point of having  a compromise at all is to help those opposed to stay in the Church, it has a crumbs from the table feel to it. At least the original Clause 5(1)c received a cautious welcome from opponents. Personally, I think a better compromise can be found. Lots of people, urging a yes vote, disagree. They may well be right. It certainly seems that the adversarial style of the debate surrounding the factions in Synod works against compromise.

Perhaps if the vote is "no," rather than looking to bring in a new measure at some point soon, we should be having  a debate about how Synod works - or, in this case perhaps, doesn't work.

But he thing which finally decided me that a "no" vote would be my choice, that the Measure is not fit for purpose, is reading this morning of one part of the Q&A session at Synod yesterday. There will be a Code of Practice governing how parishes which want to opt out of ordained women's ministry are to be treated. If a parish doesn't think the Code has been followed properly it has the right to take it to judicial review. Now, I can't really get behind the idea that a secular court should decide these things (1 Corinthians 6.1-7), but what really troubles me is that the Church might pay the legal costs of a bishop, but would definitely not pay the costs of a parish.

This is a huge imbalance of power. What parish could afford to go to judicial review? Almost certainly none. Is the Code therefore enforceable in practice rather than just in theory? Almost certainly not. And this huge imbalance of power is just the sort of thing feminists work against. This is surely a liberation issue. This is surely about opposing kyriarchy. Personally, I think we need something better. I think feminists should vote "no" - not because they oppose women as bishops or don't want to fight patriarchy, but because, far more fundamentally they oppose kyriarchy in all its forms. The Measure is not fit for purpose.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Galatians 3.28 Part Three: 1 Timothy 2.15

On Thursday I promised to write about 1 Timothy 2.15, and why we should conform to the world. This is where this whole set of three blogs really arose, because it was 1 Tim 2.15 that took up most of the last College discussion group.

In Part Two, I argued that Galatians 2.38 ("in Christ there does not exist male and female") has been used out of context by proponents of the consecration of women to the episcopate. In particular, I suggested that Galatians is a letter about Christians not conforming themselves to the world outside their community. This means that the line taken by  "Enough Waiting" and others, that we risk looking ridiculous in the eyes of the world if we don't pass the Measure next week, is not one Paul would take.This is true whatever Paul actually thought about the proper relationship between male and female in the Church (and therefore in ministry).

But of course, there are counter-arguments to this. the most interesting and challenging I've met in quite a while arose out of last week's discussion of 1 Timothy 2.15. Now in case anyone isn't familiar with that verse it reads in the NRSV:
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
As usual, there are huge difficulties of interpretation. For a whole range of intepretations see here, but I'll summarize what we discussed last week.

Who is "she"? Well immediately preceding this verse we have mention of Eve, so "she" could be Eve, but then "will be saved" makes little sense, since Eve is in the past. In any case verses 13-14 about Eve are explaining what was said in verse 12:
I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
This means the Eve reference should probably be put in brackets, so that "she" is the woman who is not to teach. Note that the Greek here could read "wife" and "husband" for "woman" and "man." I don't think that's the most natural way to take it, but equally, it doesn't make much difference to the general point.

Next we ask about how child-bearing can save. One option is to say that this is the specific child-bearing of Mary - woman (and man for that matter) is saved by the birth of Jesus Christ - by the Incarnation. whilst his is possible, it hardly seems likely in the context. If that's what Paul meant, you'd expect something much more explicit about Mary and Jesus being involved.

Alternatively, one interpretation offered (we were consulting commentaries) is that Paul thought that Christian woman are saved from childbearing - that they don't experience labour-pains or perinatal mortality. We found that explanation pretty ridiculous.

And who are "they"? The childbearing women? Then why the change to plural from singular? The children? Since when did the conduct of children bear on the salvation of the parent?

If we believe that salvation comes through grace and faith not works, this mention of child-bearing is really problematic. Somehow, there must be something about the way that a woman take her place in the household of God, which includes bearing and nurturing and teaching her children, which relates to her salvation. All these things would be marks of the fact that her faith is genuine. This is a fairly generalized account of what this verse might mean. The specifics are beyond our understanding, nearly two thousand years out of context - how do we deal with women who cannot have children, for whatever reason? Surely we don't think the cannot be saved?

What we seem to have here though, is a clear text showing that for Christians, male and female are not simply interchangeable. Paul thinks that there is a real difference. No man can ever bear children. Here then is a proof-text which shows that Galatians 3.28 cannot mean what the proponents of women's consecration think it means.

This interpretation, which is the best we could come up with that actually does justice to the text, is not without difficulty. It suggests a status for women which is hardly progressive, and not one that most people today would wish to stand up for. The world has moved on.

Which leaves the difficulty of what to do with this text. I have so far written about what "Paul" thought, but most scholars would say that this Epistle was almost certainly not by Paul. One tactic used is therefore just to dismiss this passage. Not by Paul, it is unworthy of Christianity.

Well, I think the scholars are right (I'm not totally convinced by the arguments). But, like it or not, 1 Timothy is in the canon of scripture, and I don't wish to discard any part of scripture. That's just making scripture mean what we want it to, rather than letting ourselves be changed by it. So fine, not by Paul, but is Christianity worthy of it?

At the end of the day, I think we have to admit that it's a struggle. We don't quite know what's going on here, and even what we think we understand, we don'y know how to deal with.

The only possible answer is to say that we need to look at the rest of scripture. Article XX:  the Church  may not "so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." Just as Gal 3.28 should not be used as a proof text, so 1 Tim 2.15 should not either. Perhaps the best arrangement would be for both sides to pretend these two verses don't exist, and to see what is left in scripture.

I don't think either side would change its views, but I think we'd have a healthier debate, which didn't rel yon just one verse, as if it closed down the argument..

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Galatians 3.28 Part Two

On Tuesday I blogged about Stephen Cottrell's use of Galatians 3.28 in his video supporting the consecration of women as bishops. I looked at he difficulties of translation, and how this suggest that proof-texting of the kind he employs is rather unsafe.

I suspect he knows better, but you can't go through the entire Biblical debate about the role of women in ministry in a short video. But then I'm puzzled about who exactly is the target for this "Enough Waiting" campaign. The worry one might have is that lots of General Synod members haven't actually worked on the Biblical material very hard. Ho hum.

Now, I think a good Biblical case can be made on both sides of this discussion, but I definitely want to challenge the over-reliance there seems to be on Galatians 3.28, as if it simply closes down the argument. It is treated as if it states in simple terms that women are absolutely equal with men in Christianity, end of any discussion. I happen to think that women and men are absolutely equal - hardly controversial - but there is a real debate to be had about whether they are interchangeable without loss in all aspects of the Christian life. Proponents of women's ordination will say they are interchangeable in ordained ministry with gain - the House of Bishops will be enriched by their presence, it is claimed. I'm not so sure it will make any real difference beyond the obvious "equality of opportunity." I don't think parochial ministry has been enriched (or changed much either way for that matter), but maybe that's just me. And perhaps any changes there have been have been more to do with wider changes in society than the occupants of vicarages. But I digress.

What I'm interested in in this post, and the next one, is whether St Paul's letters think that men and women are interchangeable in Christian life without loss. Does he really mean, what Gal. 3.28 appears to say, that in Christ male and female don't exist? This could mean that he believes in some kind of androgyne humanity - male and female really do cease to exist in the baptized because all sexual differentiation is eradicated.

I don't think Paul can mean this, since there seems to be no hint that he thinks Jesus is not a normal human being, as it happens in this case male, even now after his Resurrection. That leaves open the possibility that he thinks there is not male and female, but just male. Again, I don't think that's likely to be what Paul is saying. I would have though it say it explicitly, if that's what he meant. Both these ideas fly in the face of ordinary perceptions, which is why something more explicit would be required.

Instead we get all sorts of passages which make distinctions between men and women in the Christian community, some more controversial than others. 1 Corinthians 7, where he talks about marriage is a case in point. he describes marriage as able to be "in the Lord" (v.39). If it is "in the Lord" then we have the same situation as Gal.3.28 "in Christ," but the fact of marriage assumes male and female for Paul.

So male and female still exist in some sense for Christians. I say "in some sense" advisedly, for it is clear that Gal 3.28 is making an ontological statement. But it's something along the lines of not existing at the level of being part of the Body of Christ, rather than at the level of daily lives. All very complicated and paradoxical. And this doesn't tell us whether having ordained women is something which is right, because we should be working at that Body of Christ level, or not necessarily right because we must work at the level of daily life.

Which brings me around to Bishop Stephen's argument that
if we don’t pass this it would look terrible in the eyes of the world, would hold back our mission, and would also plunge us into years more debate on this issue.
Now, I happen to think that plunging into years more debate on the matter would be a bad thing, since it works against Church unity. That's a good argument for passing the Measure. Of course, it's not clear that it will stop the debate, as we'll then move on to discuss the Code of Practice, and then fight about whether the Code is being properly applied and so on ad nauseam.

But I also think that worrying about looking bad in the eyes of the world is a terribly bad way of making decisions about how we live our faith - and I think Paul would agree with me. the reason I think that is by reading Galatians.

For Galatians is essentially a rant about the Christians of Galatia succumbing to the desire to conform themselves to the community around them, specifically on the issue of circumcision. Paul is furious that they have been led astray by those who would have them conform to Jewish strictures. Whether this is a small group of teachers or pressure from a large body of Jewish Christians is unclear, but the pressure is coming from outside the churches Paul helped found, and it is trying to change them, to make them conform to the expectations and beliefs of others.

Which could look a lot like the way that secular values have come to have such an influence in terms of equality in the Church. If the argument being used in favour of women bishops is that the world expects it, and won't understand if we do it, I think Paul would say "Well, tell the world to [disappear away]!"

Or perhaps no he wouldn't, even if he was in Galatians-rant mood. I think he'd say "Well, tell the world to come and join in with our way of being."

Is that what the Church is doing over women bishops?

Next time: the very difficult case of 1 Timothy 2.15, or why we should conform to the world.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The women bishops debate again: Galatians 3.28 Part One

I stumbled across the piece by Stephen Cottrell (Bishop of Chelmsford, and generally speaking someone I rather like) for the Archbishop of Canterbury's "Enough Waiting" campaign, which is aiming to get the legislation on the consecration of women as bishops through the General Synod meeting in two weeks time.His main point is to expound Galatian 3.28 as one of the
climatic passages [of the Bible] – the one through which we then interpret many others 
Now this verse came up in the discussion group here in College yesterday evening, and I promised to blog about some of what we discussed, since it seemed pretty interesting and challenging stuff. But, as I come to think of it, there's so much here that it probably needs several blogs to go through it in anything like a thorough manner.

So here's the first installment.

Bishop Stephen reads Galatians 3.28:

"There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, for you are all one person in Jesus Christ."

I haven't been able to track down the translation from which he's reading.

[Update 18/6/13: I've just found out that this is the reading of the New English Bible]

Although it's not a bad translation, it's not perfect, so I offer my own, extremely literal translation:

"neither exists Judaean nor Hellene, neither exists slave nor free, not exists male and female; all for you one are in Christ Jesus."

OK, that's pretty much gibberish in English, even if Yoda had been saying it. We need to supply auxiliary verbs, change the double negative construction, use more familiar terms and rearrange some words:

"there does not exist Jew nor Greek, does not exist slave or free, does not exist male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Which just goes to show what a tricky job translation can be!

But what difference does it make? Well I think a few things stand out.

Firstly, the point that "there is no such thing/does not exist" as these three dualities. the Greek word used is stronger than the simple "there is" of the AV(KJV), and also used by NIV; even the "there is no longer" of NRSV doesn't quite get it. So the vast majority of Anglicans hearing or reading this passage won't appreciate what's going on here. There is an ontological claim being made - i.e. a claim about what does and doesn't exist at the level of true reality. This is reinforced by Bishop Stephen's translation saying, reasonably enough in terms of the Greek, "you are all one person" - in reality, there is only one Christian (i.e. Jesus) and our separateness is just an illusion (!).

Now it should be fairly obvious that in the first Christians' and our daily lives, these dualities and our separateness haven't just evaporated. So Paul isn't making a practical point about daily life here, he's talking about deep theological realities. Thus at the level of secular equality between men and women, this verse gives us no help at all - it is irrelevant. But then let's all hope that the Church is trying to be theological, rather than simply playing at gender politics.

What Gal. 3.28 does relate to is the change made by our baptism, as verse 27 makes clear "... for whoever is baptized into Christ has put on Christ..." Opponents of the consecration of women point out that Galatians 3.28 is about our baptismal status, and therefore says nothing about ordination.

But this depends on your view of what ordination is. For the Archbishop of Canterbury, ordained ministry is derived from the fact that all Christians are a "priestly people" by virtue of their baptism. Thus ordination does relate directly to baptism. This view of what ordained ministry is is a common one, and on this reading Gal. 3.28 is applicable to the debate.

On the other hand, it might be held that the priestly role of Christ is derived from being " a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek." ( Heb 5.6 NRSV, cf v.10). Since Melchizedek was not of Israel (Gen.14.18), this priesthood is independent of the priesthood of all believers. Both priesthoods meet in Christ, but they are not identical. On this understanding of ordained ministry, also widely held, Gal. 3.28 is not applicable to the debate.

See how difficult it is to rely on one verse to back up a theological viewpoint? I'm not the first to make this point (see Bishop Tom Wright on this passage) and doubtless won't be the last.

That's before we even get onto the other point which some translations obscure: the transition from "neither...nor" to "not...and" when it comes to "male and female."

Why this should be the case, I honestly don't know. Tom Wright has an explanation which seems to me plausible. I've seen this change given as grounds for believing that this phrase is a later interpolation (though sadly I can't track this down at the moment). I think that's unlikely (although it is odd that male/female occur nowhere else in Galatians), but in any case, it's in the canonical text, and whenever it was written, by whomever, we must not simply take it out. That would be to re-write the Bible to say what we want, rather than letting the Bible change us.

Whatever the explanation for the change, I think it shows that there is rather more going on in this passage than is imagined in the straightforward proof-texting approach of Bishop Stephen and so many others in favour of the consecration of women. The whole of scripture must be read in the light of the whole - this is the Anglican way: Article XX "it is not lawful for the Church to ... expound one place in Scripture, that it be repugnant to another."

Both sides can make arguments from scripture; neither should rely on single verses taken out of context.

To be continued...

Monday, 5 November 2012

On choosing Church leaders

I wonder whether the Crown Nominations Commission should resign en masses, and we should instead choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury in much the same way as the Copts choose their Pope:

Maybe there would be a process of nomination - all General Synod members secretly write down one name, the top twenty go onto the long-list. This would allow the possibility of those not already in the house of bishops to be considered, and General Synod members might be expected to have a sense of what the potential leading candidates are like (!).

Then there would be a vote to produce a short-list. Perhaps all clergy and PCC members in England could have the franchise in this. It ought to be easy enough to organize, rather than a vote of all Anglicans (after all we've no idea who would qualify for that).

Finally an innocent person chooses one name from the three in the bowl (why not have a Muslim do it, just as the keys to the Church of the Resurrection/Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem are held by a Muslim family, to stop the Christians arguing over it?).

You see, the thing is that this way God can get directly involved (see Acts 1.20-26). And this would give the poor so...chosen candidate a legitimacy which the current system denies. Something which the Church of England could very well use in settling arguments. Something along the lines of "I know there are legitimate disagreements here, but since God has put me here to give a lead, this is how we're going to go forward."

Anyone disagreeing would have to explain why they thought God wasn't careful enough when the choice was made.

Monday, 22 October 2012

On Respect; racism, and yet more about women bishops

There has been something of a furore (three syllables) about racism in football of late. Over this last weekend  the focus has been over the refusal of a number of black footballers to wear t-shirts supporting the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign (see herehere and here for BBC website pieces relating to this).

The fuss has been caused because many people cannot understand why black players would object to an anti-racism campaign - surely they are undermining it's efforts. Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, was critical of Rio Ferdinand's decision not to wear the T-shirt. Easy for him to say - he's surely never experienced racism (and no, having a go at Scots is not racism, though we all know how ugly nationalism can be), and he's very much part of the establishment. There's something rather reactionary about telling someone how he should or shouldn't protest.*

The point of those players not wearing the T-shirt was precisely that they feel Kick It Out is not an effective force against racism in football. They ask serious questions about how seriously the FA takes racism, given the way the whole John Terry fiasco was handled. Then they look at the fact that the FA is a major funder of Kick It Out, and conclude that the public face of the FA is not in line with its actions. They see those funds as a sop, rather than a serious commitment. So they protest. As is their right. Note that the protest is about the football establishment/FA not Kick It Out per se; I don't think any of them are suggesting that Kick It Out has compromised itself - just that the cause isn't being taken seriously enough.

It just won't do to tell players that they out to stay united and show a common front against racism. If they feel the established mode of opposing racism in football is inadequate or undermined, they need to walk away from it. They are refusing to let the FA say "Look, we've got the Kick It Out campaign, what need is there to change?" The question of whether Lick It Out really is inadequate is beyond my competence  but by protesting these players have made people at the highest levels ask the question - or shown themselves up by not being prepared to ask the question.

Whom do we respect more? The FA or the protesting players?

Now, what has this got to do with woman bishops? Well, As Rowan Williams acknowledges in his Church Times article, part of the reason we are having the debate is because of the promptings of secular feminism. And whilst many feminists are having a go at patriarchy, there are many who recognize that it is not just men who can abuse power. Where there is a pyramidal structure of domination and oppression it is better called "kyriarchy" (a term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in 1992). This recognizes that rich black women are perfectly able to oppress poor white men, for example.

But we are all bound up in these structures of domination. The western consumer, however poor, dominates the developing-world farmer, however wealthy. It's all down to the powers and dominions of this world (Ephesians 6.12) - or the sin endemic in humanity, if you prefer to put it that way.The answer must involve a liberation theology - we all need to throw off domination, of ourselves and by ourselves. We need to reject an easy satisfaction with the established way of things.

Which is where the Cross comes in, by utterly rejecting power, by embracing total weakness.

The protesting footballers were refusing to go along with the established(/establishment's) way of doing things. Good on'em, I say. But here's a problem I have over the consecration of women. When women join the establishment, will they simply come to fit in, and become totally establishment themselves? Will they just allow the kyriarchy to say "Look, we've got women bishops, what need is there to change?"

Feminism seems to me most powerful as a much-needed critique, as a prophetic voice, against kyriarchy. When women become bishops in the Church of England, that may be a battle won against patriarchy  but will kyriarchy notice the difference?

*Let me confess an interest here - I'm a City fan; but I don't think I'd see things differently if some other big-name manager had said the same stuff.

On Respect: more about women bishops

Rowan Williams has come out very strongly in favour of passing the measure which will allow women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England. No great surprise there. He had a piece in the Church Times on Friday, which is reproduced on his official website. Given the way that is is written (with"we" throughout referring to Anglicans in general) and published, it seems safe to say that this him writing in his capacity as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England, rather than as the indiviual theologian Rowan Williams.

The key part is where he states that the word "respect" in the new Clause 5(1)c does have legal force:
The truth is that the word does have legal content.  If you’re required to show ‘respect’, you need to be able to demonstrate that what you do takes account in practice of someone’s conviction.  You will need to show that it has made a difference to how you act; it doesn’t just recommend an attitude or state of mind (‘with all due respect…’).
This is one of the concerns that those who are opposed to the consecration of women have; that "respect" means nothing very much, and that the stated aims of WATCH and GRAS are to see provision for "traditionalists" fade away to nothing. The "traditionalists" take this as proof of the kind of respect they'll get.

But when the Archbishop goes on the record to state just what legal force the word "respect" has, we need to take note, and I think we should take him at his word. It does actually change the actions which are required. It is not enough to say "I respect your views," and then to ignore them. Which is what I've been saying all along. ++Rowan has confirmed that this clause means something.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

On Love and Marriage

If you're an avid Church Times reader (and surely, who isn't?), you may have noticed the article in last Friday's edition, reporting the views of Phillip Jensen, the Dean of St Andrew's cathedral in Sydney in Australia. He had expressed his opinions in a piece for the Sydney Diocesan website, in the context of the debate there about a new marriage service, which gives the bride and groom different vows to make..

Dean Jensen was reported as bemoaning the fact that modern marriage services are too much about love rather than commitment and faithfulness. Here's what he wrote in full.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn't be very bothered by the thoughts of someone from the Diocese of Sydney, where  the tendency appears to be so conservative that most British conservative evangelicals would look liberal by comparison. But it just so happened that the readings for Sunday morning's Eucharist were centered around the theme of marriage, so someone from the Anglican communion saying controversial things about marriage seemed an ideal peg to hang my thoughts on. The readings in question were Genesis 2.18-24, and Mark 10.2-16. Jensen refers to two of these in his article (except that he actually cites Matthew 19.3-6 instead of Mark - but the passages are such close parallels that it makes no difference in this context).

Now Jensen wants to say that these passages demonstrate that "Marriage is therefore intended as a lifelong, monogamous, procreative union of a man and a woman." This is based on the "promises of their common agreement or covenant. Faithfulness rather than love lies at the basis of this union." The bemoans the fact that modern services have moved away from giving procreation as the first and foremost reason for marriage, and instead have placed "the romance called love" at the centre.

However, as I argued in my sermon on Sunday morning,it seems that Jensen has failed to read his Bible carefully or seriously, and has instead imported into it the things he wants to read there, that suit his purposes. For there is nothing in either the Genesis 2 passage, or Jesus' use of it, that suggest that procreation has anything at all to do with marriage. Now don't get me wrong, children and family life are certainly important parts of what makes marriage what it is. There's lots of good theology behind saying that. for example, a family of parents plus child(ren) is a model of the Trinity, with love shared more openly then in a binary relationship.

But it's pretty clear from Genesis that God's purpose in creating the woman after the man was for "a helper as his partner" (NRSV) or "a fitting helper for him" (NJPS) (2.18) - this presumably in the task of tilling and keeping the garden of Eden (2.15). Nothing here about procreation. And to prove that procreation is not in mind, we have an account of God creating all the animals and bringing them to the man. Only when none of them are deemed suitable for a "helper as his partner" does God make the man fall into a deep sleep, so that he can take a rib and create woman (by the way, we might note that there's no "common agreement or covenant" between the man and the woman, as Jensen presupposes).

If had been all about procreation, God would surely have made the woman first of all. Or perhaps the man would have seen the giraffe, and said, "Look at the legs on that - that's the one for me!" (lots of species have huge differences between males and females, after all). If it had just been about tending the garden, then surely an ourang-utan would have been ideal for looking after the trees while the man did the ground-level work.

But no. This was about finding a companion; it was about the relationship which should exist between man and woman. In other words love comes first. Which is hardly unexpected when it comes to the Creation of the God who is love, and who has made us in his image. It's not, as they say, rocket-science to work this one out.

Why does this matter? Because Phillip Jensen and his ilk want to use the alleged priority of procreation in marriage to exclude same-sex couples from getting married. If marriage is about procreation, those who cannot procreate have no part in it. Except of course that marriage between a couple where the woman is past child-bearing has always taken place.

If society has moved on, and now wants to place love at the heart of what marriage is, the Church should welcome it. Or perhaps it's that the Church has actually already done this work in creating the newer marriage services. Love is at the heart of Christianity ("God so loved the world" &c. &c.). What the Church cannot afford to do is to misread the Bible in order to bolster prejudice.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Concerning the next Archbishop of Canterbury

I was intending to post something on this last week, when the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) was actually meeting. however, preparations for the arrival of the new students (who seem to be a lovely bunch so far, by the way) rather over-ran all that.

And in my delay in writing, we have now found out that the CNC has given us a delay in appointing. See here for lots of useful links to the various news reports at Thinking Anglicans.

Now obviously (and correctly) the CNC members are sworn to secrecy, so all the speculation is merely speculation. But, just for fun, I'll add my own thoughts and speculation.

I said right a the beginning, when the news broke that Rowan was resigning, that my choice for the next Archbishop would be Richard Chartres, currently Bishop of London.

I'm certainly in the Anyone But York camp, for a variety of reasons - not least because the Daily Mail like him. I felt, and still do, that Richard Chartres would be a good caretaker candidate, sufficient of a statesman to see the Church through a few tricky years, while the next generation of bishops are learning the ropes a bit more. He also has a reasonably good public profile, which counts for something in the "chaplain to the nation" side of the job. Justin Welby of Durham, a leading candidate with many, has only been a bishop for a about a year, and there's a crop of others who perhaps need a bit more proving (Christopher Cocksworth, Stephen Cottrell, and a few others).

Now the fact that the CNC has not been able to make a decision has been interpreted in various ways. It might be that John Sentamu has been taken off the short-list (or "snubbed" depending on whether you like him or not), or it might be that he's one of the three names still in it. It might be that Justin Welby has been agreed upon, but that the deadlock is over the second name to put to the Prime Minister.

It's worth pointing out that just because one name has been agreed, it doesn't mean that he is the first choice. two names must be agreed (by two-thirds of the 16 CNC members - i.e. 11 votes), and then those two names are ranked by a simple majority vote. So my theory, which is probably completely wrong, we'll never know, is that one name has been agreed, but this is the presumed second choice candidate. Quite possibly this is Justin Welby.

On this theory, Justin Welby is considered appointable, but not first choice because of his lack of experience. It's like the CNC saying, "We think he'll be a good choice next time round, but we don't think he's quite ready yet. But if he will be a good choice in the future, he wouldn't be a bad choice now." The deadlock would be over who is to be the shorter-term answer to the Canterbury problem. Perhaps John Sentamu has some support in this, but is disliked by enough CNC members not to get the 11 votes. Perhaps Richard Chartres is in the same position (apparently he has told friends he's out of the running - but how would he know?).

One thing which complicates matters, under this theory, is the tradition of alternating between more catholic and more evangelical Archbishops. Rowan then Chartres would be two catholics in a row, but Sentamu then Welby would be two evangelicals in a row. personally I think the job is too important to be bothered with this kind of turn taking. We need the best man for the job, regardless of which wing of the Church he comes from. - there are much bigger concerns than such internal politics. And let's face it, whoever gets the job will be disliked by pretty large sections of the Church for some reason or other.

A final point to note is that speculation about Richard Chartres being thought unsuitable is based largely on his failure to ordain women to the priesthood. But The Act of Synod of 1993 states :

1. There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.

If Richard Chartres is excluded because of his views, this would be against the rules of the Church. Would any clerical member of the CNC be open to a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure for allowing this to happen? Possibly, except that we'll presumably never see records of the discussions. And if a formal body like the CNC can't keep the rules on this matter relating to the ordination of women, what prospect the Church keeping to a Code of Practice when it comes to women bishops?

Friday, 14 September 2012

Concerning the Consecration of Women as Bishops

So the House of Bishops has come out with its revised version of the now infamous Clause 5(1)c. I feel I have to comment - after all, what else is a blog for? And this has to be the biggest thing happening at the moment in the Church of England, of which I am part.

What's interesting to me is that there hasn't been the huge rush to comment that there was when the Bishops introduced the original Clause 5(1)c. At the time of writing WATCH (Women And The CHurch - a campaigning group) didn't have anything o their website, and Google reveals only a few blogs with comments: Nick Baines (the "blogging bishop"), Ancient Briton, Peter Ould, and of course the ever-interesting website Thinking Anglicans. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, always worth reading, is so far silent.

Perhaps this silence is just people taking time to think about it all, which would be good (so why am I not doing that, eh?); perhaps it indicates that on the whole people are going to be happy to move forward with the new wording; perhaps indicates that people just don't know what it means.

Well, here are my thoughts on the new Clause 5(1)c, which states that the Code of Practice accompanying the Measure must provide for:

“the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3”

This is instead of:

"the selection of male bishops or male priests the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration and ordination of women on grounds of which parochial church councils have issued Letters of Request under section 3,"

But  what does this mean? it's not entirely clear - and therein lies the difficulty. If this is deliberately vague as part of a tactic to get the vote passed in November, and open the way to having women as bishops, does it store up problems for the future? I fear it does.

Although "respect" looks like a nice fuzzy alternative to "consistent with," suggesting compromise and openness (not bad things, of course), the Law does not generally like fuzziness (that way lawyers' fees lie), and I'm not sure that it actually means anything different. How does one respect a reason given without actually accepting it and acting on it? Can I respect the grounds on which you've asked for something, but still say "no"? Just possibly; but can my selection of a male bishop respect your grounds for requesting one without giving you what you want? I can't see how it can.

Which makes the other vagueness even more problematic: the replacement of "theological conviction as to the consecration and ordination of women" (which WATCH hated) with "grounds". For "grounds" does not specify that the letter of request should have to do with theological convictions - it might open the door to simple prejudice. I don't think any parish would ask for a male bishop on grounds of prejudice, but who knows?

More importantly, it looks as if the door is wide open for a parish to request a bishop who agrees with their position on women's ordination, male headship, homosexuality or a range of other things. The previous Clause 5(1)c meant only that the bishop or priest's "exercise of ministry" had to be consistent, i.e. that he had to be a genuine bishop/priest as the parish understood it (not ordained by a woman). It didn't mean that they had to agree with the parish's views on anything. After all, when a bishop does a confirmation, if he lays hands and says the words provided by Common Worship, we've no idea whether he believes in male headship or not - but his ministry has been duly and properly exercised.

But if a parish ask for a male bishop because only a male bishop will hold a strong view of male headship, and they want a bishop who holds such views, then the diocesan responding to the Letter of Request must "respect" this and provide just such a bishop, views and all. Or so it seems. And a parish might make a Request on the grounds that only male bishops will have the "right" views on homosexuality, but since the grounds for the Request include views in homosexuality, that would need to be respected.

Now I don't for a moment think that this is what the House of Bishops intended. It will be interesting to get the fuller account of their discussions, and the legal advice about what the new clause means that goes with it. What is put into the new illustrative draft Code of Practice will be highly significant, and it may be here that the next battles are fought. But if my reading is a valid one, where does it leave us for the vote in November?

Well, I would have thought that it does leave the way open for opponents of women's consecration to vote in favour or abstain, because it does seem to give the safeguards they want in the Measure itself, rather than in the Code of Practice (which can be amended relatively easily in the future to get rid of them). But for those in favour of having women as bishops, but not at any cost, this would seem to be a problem. They objected vociferously to the previous Clause 5(1)c; I think they ought to like the current one even less.

Everyone recognizes that a failure to pass the measure in November will be extremely damaging to the Church of England, at least in the short run (in terms of the blame-game and internecine strife). What the longer term implications would be is anyone's guess.

Time for us all to pray even harder for the Holy Spirit to get very, very busy.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What's this blog all about?

So, why write a blog?

As much as anything, to find out if I can. As Chaplain at Christ's College in Cambridge, I find myself dealing with young people who are completely up-to-the-minute on social networking and all that kind of stuff. And I'm not. I know these things are out there, and I feel that they ought to be part of my ministry somehow. Indeed in these cybernetic times, it probably makes sense for anyone charged with keeping the rumour of God alive in British society to yet make use of them. But I don't really know how to use them effectively. So here I am, making some effort. Only time will tell if it works.

Whether my period musings on things related to Christianity will be of any value to anybody, I have no idea. I'd like to think that I'm a pretty decent theologian, and that I'm good at explaining theology to the non-theologian. This blog will be one way of testing that theory.

It might be useful to myself, in that sometimes the mere fact of saying or writing what one thinks about something can help the thought process itself, and make what was vague clearer. Sometimes it will expose gaps in knowledge or understanding. I hope this will happen for me. And I hope that if people read this blog, and choose to comment on it, they will charitably point out the gaps and failings which it exposes. In other words, I hope to learn from the process.

If people post responses, then conversations may open up. This is bound to be a good thing. I certainly believe that theology is best done as a discussion.

Which brings me to my title. Why "Infinitely Uncertain"?

Because I hold the general principle that anyone who starts talking about God had better remember that God is infinite. And we are finite. Which means that we will never be able fully to grasp everything about God. We will never get the full and final answer to any of our ponderings. Any results of our theologizing will be provisional. We need to recognize the vastness of our own uncertainty. This means we must all have the charity to say to others, "You may be more right, I may be more right, the truth probably lies somewhere in between." Sometimes (often?) we have to settle for whatever we can make work in any given situation. We may have to agree to differ, and live with out uncertainty. We may manage to agree that we are tending towards the truth, whatever it may turn out to be.

This doesn't mean that I think there are no "right" or "wrong" answers to the questions we ask - God is the God of truth, after all - but it does mean we can never be quite sure we've got the right answer. I believe that the truth is absolute (it's "out there"), but I'm never going to have all of it. Or even most of it. God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1.15,19; Hebrews 1.3), and continues to reveal himself through the Holy Spirit (John 16.12-13). But we are left struggling to make sense of this revelation afresh in each generation. That job never finishes.

I reckon that the moment you think you've pinned God down is exactly the moment when you're furthest away from the Truth. We must never give up seeking. Never rest on what we think we know. My lack of certainty should admit no limits. I am, I hope, infinitely uncertain.