Comments: American bishops visit Lambeth

If there is any part of Bishop Lawrence's statement that rankles me, it is this:

"• Baptismal Theology detached from Biblical and Catholic doctrine. The phrase heard frequently at General Convention 2009 was “All the sacraments for all the Baptized”. One suspects that great Catholic teacher of the 4th Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem would have been unconvinced for he wrote tellingly of Simon Magus, “he was baptized, but not enlightened. His body was dipped in water, but admitted not the Spirit to illuminate his heart. His body went down and came up; but his soul was not buried together with Christ nor with him raised.” (see Acts 8:9-24) Nevertheless, this inadequate baptismal theology was used to argue for the full inclusion of partnered GLBT persons to all the orders of the Church—deacons, priests and bishops. What it singularly misses is the straightforward teaching of the catechism, not to mention of the New Testament’s “teaching that baptism is a dying to self and sin and a rising to new life in Christ.” (N.T. Wright) Even if one would turn to the simplicity of the catechism one would encounter this question and answer: Q. What is required of us at Baptism? A. It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Since when has baptism been the ticket to ordination in the Church? The Archbishop’s perceptive comment in section 8 of “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future” is pertinent here."

Despite St. Cyril's position re Simon Magus, who are we--as fellow sinners--to determine whether some other person has "admitted not the Spirit to illuminate his heart" at baptism? What gift have we to discern another's heart?

I would point out to Bishop Lawrence that, undoubtedly, the Vatican considers HIM to not have "renounc[ed] Satan and repent[ed] of [his] sins," given that the Vatican considers any of the Anglican communion to be just this side of heretics. Does he agree that the Pope is a sufficient judge of his worthiness? No? Why then does he propose to be the sufficient judge of anyone else's?

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 7:30pm BST

Bishop Lawrence knows well that under South Carolina law he will lose pretty-well everything if he plays the Secession game, so he's going for a Secession-in-all-but-name strategy.

Posted by Lapinbizarre at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 7:47pm BST

I'm a TEC progressive believer. Hint, Bishop L of SC: Stop bearing false witness about me; about my beliefs; about the alleged reasons for my beliefs. You've quite mistaken.

Corrections? Gee, so many, it's hard to put them all in a brief post, fully. Okay.


Shame on you bishop for repeating this fake canard. Struggling with language concerns about to make male/female generic references in our changed view of equality between men/women is is NO WAY a categorical rejection of Trinity.

Like lots of the rest of your false witness, you jump too far, fast in your smug presupposing. One thing supposedly leads to another, then to another, then to another – all bad, of course.

Stop it. I aim to follow Jesus of Nazareth in the power of the Holy Spirit, as a modern educated citizen in a western democracy. Your lies about me diminish you as much as you attempt to cast doubts on my person, ethics, or theological outlook.


Shame on you again, bishop. Jesus as Risen Lord of life needs no holier than thou affirmation from me, other than the glorious affirmation that has already been given by God in the first place. Yes, of course, as a global modern progressive believer I have a non-hostile connection with people of other great current world religions. As a lay scholar I also have a non-hostile connection with sometimes studying the global religions of our past world history. I need drum up no faked and false war mongering with believers of other spiritual pathways in order to bear witness honestly and clearly about my own. One way Jesus shows lordship is precisely in making peace; in laying down weaponized doctrines and theologies.

How odd that you cannot see laying down religious arms as a Great Sign, Jesus is Lord. Would you prefer to hone weaponized doctrines, fight, slay, and crow about beating up other religious people afterwards? Conservative habit leans into bullying, not gospel.

I'm with Desmond Tutu on Jesus: If Jesus crucified by us be lifted up, all will be drawn. All, all, all. God is at work. My believer call is to disarm, not make war. Looking back on history, I'm pretty sure living by the sword, even by weaponized doctrines, can only result in violence. Bullying. False witness against neighbors, even other TEC believers, even other world religions.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 8:26pm BST

2. Progressive Hint, Bishop L of SC: Stop bearing false witness about me. Corrections?

Gender talk=bait and switch.

First, accuse believers of groveling unduly before modern studies of gender. The main point is still that women are equal in depth, value, and humanity to men. One way we've worked is a classic college graffito: A women needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. It's a thought experiment, duh. An intoxicated rush to false witness in service of spin doctored condemnations, inflates a thought experiment, designed to get us into a stance for valorizing women as fully human, into being what it clearly is not, and can never be: A final conclusion.

This is dishonest, bishop. Such patent dishonesty does not become you.

Wait, we have other problems to put on the table as believers.

After skewing your take on modern gender stuff, mainly so that you can condemn rather than study and engage? You jump fast and far, preaching as if male stuff was the royal road to understanding full humanness, plus deity as well. Can we not think today, beyond ancient or even Late Medieval beliefs about gender? Are we, males only? Males, first? Today? What in the world?

Now, instead of groveling unduly before modern gender studies which try to open up full humanness for women, we are supposed to obey, grovel and bow down before historical-cultural male stuff as peculiarly central, apt, and final in God talk?

A more Anglican manner would be for us to carefully and critically discern male talk and female talk, so that we can understand full humanness, and so that we can be careful not to dumb down our praise and prayer to God by elevating gender stuff to high heaven.

Scripture cautions us that we see through the glass, darkly. Surely earthly gender-genitals is not our final, total exhaustive clue to being human. Let alone to God?

Best witness? God does not have genitals, other than the genitals created in creatures. Praising, praying to God the Father is not collapsed into any gender-genitals stuff, male or female. The key point is a First Commandment caution: No other gods, no graven images mistaken for gods and goddesses, no sloppy-reified gender Father or Mother stuff. Our embodied lens for perceiving God is not, simply, God.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 9:14pm BST

How have we managed for all these years, without Bishop Lawrence to tell us who is (and is not) 'Really' Christened ? !

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Thursday, 3 September 2009 at 11:28pm BST

"The bishops attending the meeting were Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, Gary Lillibridge of West Texas, Edward Little of Northern Indiana, Bill Love of Albany, Michael Smith of North Dakota, James Stanton of Dallas, and Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana." - ENS Report -

Am I mistaken, Or have any of these Bishops in TEC already threatened to leave TEC if their demands are not met by the ACC and the Archbishop of Canterbury? Having watched a video of the recent meeting of AAC bishops, I seem to remember some not so salubrious remarks about the ABC's lack of initiatives on behalf of their agenda of exclusion.

If the ABC turns out to have given in to their threats, and colluded with them in their attempts to highjack the Communion into submitting to their agenda, there could be repercussions - not only in TEC and the A.C. of C., but also in the other Provinces which wish to be 'Inclusive'.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 2:19am BST

I'm still skeeved that ?Lillibridge---an OUTLIER if ever there was one!---was the *single* "TEC" representative to Lambeth's Windsor Continuation Committee. With a friend like ?Lillibridge, TEC doesn't need enemies. >:-/

Posted by JCF at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 3:01am BST

I wonder why people believe that General Convention ended the moratoria, despite the letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from the number 1 and number 2 of the Episcopal Church affirming that nothing has changed?

I voted for D025 because it described where the Episcopal Church is today: in disagreement. And as I helped to craft C056, substituting for the original, I know that it does not end the moratorium on the creation of public rites of same-sex blessings.

It seems that both sides have partisans who want the moratoria to end now. But we are not there, and saying so doesn't make it so.

Posted by Bp Pierre Whalon at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 8:09am BST

Bishop Lawrence quoted a translation of St Cyril of Jerusalem referring to Simon Magus (Acts 8:9ff): “he was baptized, but not enlightened. His body was dipped in water, but admitted not the Spirit to illuminate his heart. His body went down and came up; but his soul was not buried together with Christ nor with him raised.”

Which seems to be what an elder generation termed the “Status controversae”, the presenting issue, and asked: “Since when has baptism been the ticket to ordination in the Church?”

Which, however, no one claims. Baptism is though the one requirement, which leads directly to the question:

How can Bishop Lawrence and his anti gay followers in the Cultures claim that Gays and Lesbians automatically (and “intrinsically”) are “not enlightened” and not “with him raised”, if it is true what Augustine pleaded so eloquently, that the Sacraments are Christ’s only not the individual’s.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 9:04am BST

"who are we--as fellow sinners--to determine whether some other person has "admitted not the Spirit to illuminate his heart" at baptism? What gift have we to discern another's heart?"

While I agree in principle with this, I can't escape the idea that to be a Christian is to be SOMETHING, it is to believe and attempt to follow SOMETHING. If there is no mechanism within the ecclesia to define that or to in some way or another require that those who claim to follow that SOMETHING actually do follow it, then what's the point? I mean to say, it's pretty clear in some cases, at least to me. Would we all agree that someone who is a serial killing child molestor is not following the Gospel? Would we agree that, while such a person is just as loved by God as I am, which I firmly believe, that doesn't make his actions right, nor does it make him a functioning member of the ecclesia? Would we agree that it shows he is not actually following the Gospel? If we agree to any or all of these statements, then is there nothing we could do about something like that? I mean, if we who follow the Gospel, imperfectly though we do, do not have some responsibility or authority to at least try to ensure that the members of the ecclesia actually try to manifest the Gospel in their lives, who does? And if no-one does, what actually IS it we are practicing?

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 3:38pm BST

"the number 1 and number 2 of the Episcopal Church"

{JCF:Must.Resist.Temptation.To.Juvenile.Rejoinder. You're not at MadPriest's! ;-X}

But seriously, Bishop Whalon, I'm interested in this (rather novel?) interpretation of TEC's polity. Is the Presiding Bishop supposed to be "number 1 of the Episcopal Church"? Because I've honestly never thought of this PB, ++KJS, or any PB (since my baptism in '62, adolescent confirmation in '77, so I've seen a number of PBs now) in that way. [Is Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, then "number 2"? And is that a "We're Number 1!" assertive kind of number 1, or a Star Trek/naval-style "Number One", or???]

A moratoria is definitively known through its maintenance (or not). The reason "both sides" are making competing claims, Bishop Whalon, is that we honestly can't say, until conditions arise that TEST whether such (alleged!) moratoria are being maintained. God bless the Dioceses of Minnesota and Los Angeles, as they discern whether (in choosing Godly bishops) to create such tests.

Posted by JCF at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 7:41pm BST

"If there is no mechanism within the ecclesia to define that or to in some way or another require that those who claim to follow that SOMETHING actually do follow it, then what's the point?"

Good question! So the ecclesia was righ when it decided to burn witches. The ecclesia was right when it supported slavery. The ecclesia is right now when it said that gays cannot be Christians.

I read the examples you quote and I am afraid that I agree with some of them. But then - many years ago, others would have agreed with the mores of their time.

You are the one who is deeply suspicious of the secular world. When it comes to judging the hearts and minds of people, I am too.

I pray to the God "to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known and from whom no secrets are hidden" for a good reason. I can surmise, only he can know.

"And if no-one does, what actually IS it we are practicing"

We're practicing love. And faith. And for the rest, we trust in God.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 8:32pm BST

3. Hint, Bishop: Stop false witness. Corrections?

Bible power? Third time, shame on you, bishop.

I'd bet you already know by now: Progressive believers are not disagreeing with you about the authority of scripture. You accuse again, but are testifying falsely. Again.

We disagree indeed, for very good reasons – about matters of faithful believer reading, interpretation, critical scholarship, and above all right now – about that hot button, pesky target group of dear modern global neighbors, the queer folks. Especially in western democracies, where society has grudgingly, painstakingly agreed (without much real support from churches and religions?) to refrain from threats, bullying, violence, and the death penalty – all quite traditional ways of responding to the discovery that, gasp, queer folks are alive and thriving among us.

Common sense and empirical science now tell us, these hard but positive changes are ethical, grounded in the daily life goods of queer folks (even in vexed and difficult cultural circumstances, all around the planet, outside western democracies). Yet, you carry on, as if your trash talk were literally true.

Are you then arguing for all the old, mean stuff? Shall western democracies return to threats, bullying, violence, and the death penalty?

Back to the scriptures. We've changed how we apply the Leviticus death penalty for queer folks? We've changed any number of other scriptural hot buttons (usury, divorce, contraception, menstruation as uncleanness, Ptolemaic flat earth cosmology, slavery, women as sub-human ... )? What makes a change about queer stuff so impossible? Don't you know any ethical queer folks in your daily life rounds, bishop? Don't you see and appreciate the goods they live in your extended family, in your parishioners work teams?

Closed, negative presuppositions define away change, sidestepping. An answer that sticks is simply not about having a way to define away change. Nor as a way to distance from the practical or ethical daily life goods that real, live queer folks are bringing into being, right among us as brothers and sisters. A big deadly, weaponized church fight is not, really, the point.

Been there. Change was supposed to overturn or deny Jesus, God. Instead? We corrected our interpretations of Bible, powerfully. Change, a deep way of acknowledging Bible authority, not the reverse. If a solar system and galaxies far flung did not overturn Jesus, God, and Bible power; changed views of queer folks will not do so, either.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 9:12pm BST

I take your point, Ford, but we're not talking about outright actions such as murder (or even adultery). We're talking about taking a different position on an interpretation of a particular set of scriptural passages.

Surely we can agree that such a disagreement is not enough to claim that the person we disagree with was not really baptized?

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Friday, 4 September 2009 at 9:14pm BST

How on earth did God manage to do His job before Mark Lawrence came along?

Posted by JPM at Saturday, 5 September 2009 at 8:21am BST

"The wild card in the mix, of course, is the ACNA. Despite the word "Anglican" in their title (and on the signs in front of their churches), it could be plausibly argued that the ACNA, technically, is not Anglican. Not yet, at any rate. But they are aligned with GAFCON, which represents the overwhelming majority of the world's actual Anglicans. So they are part of a matrix that is capable of putting immense political pressure on Lambeth Palace. I suspect the seven bishops and Dr Williams are discussing this fact as well." Dan Martin, Virtue-on-line -

One thing Dan Martin is right about is that ACNA is not presently part of the Anglican Communion. Nor will it be so until, and unless, the ACC approves of its membership.

What he is wrong about, is the strength of pro-sentiment for the Covenant within the Communion. Here, he is equating the numerical strength of the African and South East Asian Provinces with the representational strength of the total number of Provinces within the Communion. It is probable that most Anglicans of the Global South Provinces have no personal understanding of what their Bishops are up to - in their stand against the LGBT community and their human rights.

Dan Martin's mention of the political pressure available to the GAFCON and the ACI team is precisely that. This cannot be said to equate to moral pressure - not in the best sense of that word. One hopes that the ABC and the ACC will not succumb to this attempt to highjack the 3-legged stool of Anglican inclusivity in favour of a restrictive Covenant.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 5 September 2009 at 12:02pm BST

4. Hint, Bishop: Stop false witness. Corrections?
Baptism theology, gone wrong?

Gee, bishop. Where have you been all this time?

The change point is surely: We have now known baptized queer folks, up close and personal for several decades of honest church life in TEC. In our extended family networks, too. In our work teams, too. At school, too.

We have seen about as much evidence of God at work in their daily lives and committed adult intimate relationships, as we can see among the heterosexual believers we know.

So? Like the New Testament example of the Holy Ghost falling on the Gentiles, we were compelled to ask: What keeps these believers from being acknowledged among the baptized? The clear, changed church life answer was: Not much, no more than anybody else who happens to be straight.

There is a practical side to this lesson, plus a theological side. Practically, given up close-personal knowledge of ethical queer folks in church life, we can see in a common sense way that their sexuality functions quite similarly to the known-observed sexuality of baptised straight people we also know-observe in church life.

Ditto, parenting. Parenting care harmonizes more often than not with ethically committed queer couple caring, and common sense sees this.

Theologically, the good side of all this cannot be sidestepped; since good points to God, no matter what. Again using common sense, we theologically infer that good in the lives of baptised queer folks points to God, every bit as much as good in the lives of baptised straight folks.

Then. Having recognized that our institutional church life tendency often encourages us to shut out and cast aspersions on the unbaptized, anyways, we went further.

We generalized the queer folks lesson just a bit more widely, encouraging us to seek out and appreciate God at work, even in the lives of unchurched, unbaptized people. God lets the rain fall on the crops of the just and the unjust.

Again, the point is to correct an out of kilter church life habit; not make baptism a fashion accessory for very bad people pretending to be religious and good. A deeply worrisome bit is your spin doctoring, to the effect that inferring signs of God's grace and generosity towards people points, not to God, but to some sort of shallow-false pretending or posturing. Wow, what a carefree condemnation binge.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 5 September 2009 at 7:15pm BST

4a. Dying to self? Hamartia, Metanoia, change for the better?

Again, you lean hard in closed, nasty directions.

Queer folks have spent years in many instances, dishonestly pretending to be heterosexual so as to blend in with church life, and avoid stirring up controversies. Pretending, dishonesty, lying – all were touchstones of very bad habit for queer folks among us. When some queer stuff did get expressed, it was typically embodied in the lowest, meanest, underground, sleazy sort of way possible. After all, that was exactly what all queer stuff was supposed to be – low down, unethical, dishonest, unhealthy, manipulative, secretive? Life, underground, dark, suffocating, diminishing? Life in closets, voiceless?

A very different empirical human light began to dawn. Barely a rumor, at first. Nobody much anticipated-predicted this sea change. Suddenly it was here, and we were forced to look at change carefully. Research was slowly being done, using non-clinical samples of average to high functioning queer folks. The results contradicted the claim, all queer stuff by definition impaired, closed to good living. Say what?

Over time, studies tested this or that added negative. Queer folks started to pay attention. Was it possible? Queer stuff did not necessarily involve, nothing but very low life sleaze?

To test change, queer folks started with truth telling. A brave, uncertain experiment: truth telling.

Over time, queer folks discovered that good living was possible, though presumed utterly impossible. Presumed unthinkable, per our traditional beliefs. Queer folks could work. Queer folks could love. Queer folks could speak the truth, about work, about love.

Gee, bishop. You are stubborn about this particular change. You are stubbornly blind and deaf, faced with the truth telling about queer folks, about work, about love. You preach that your stubbornness is gospel, that this truth telling is a lie. Okay. Anybody can make mistakes, even bishops.

Pardon the rest of us if we hesitate in a principled manner as believers to conclude that blind eyes and deaf ears are a gospel essential? See, bishop. We see queer folks truly working, truly loving – we repent of our blindness, deafness, hardness of heart, then.

Posted by drdanfee at Sunday, 6 September 2009 at 9:15pm BST

5. Hint, Bishop: Stop false witness. Corrections? Sexuality? Confusing tactics?

The air in your talk is thick with confusing spin doctor tactics, I guess, bishop. You are surely doing your own part to confuse issues?

You talk about one part of scripture being used to spin and confuse the application of another part of scripture. But, here is the key spin, so confusing. You are completely leaving out the empirical changes which are the reason we mainly felt compelled to revisit how we looked at sexuality, human nature, and marriage in our own era.

I think you are confusing these changes by trying to attribute them mainly to bad Bible hermeneutics. You are also confusing because you preach as if all corrections were by your special definition, errors. Yet, many Anglican believers have revisited hot button sex controversies in the past century or so. Believers have changed their minds about contraception, terminating pregnancies in cases of rape or incest or even threat to the mother's life. A changed Anglican hot button these days par excellence is: Divorce.

Granted, bishop. In a time of dramatically changing views, thanks not least to new science, we can find plenty of honestly confusing bits and pieces. Thank goodness we have a large and explicit modern empirical tool box for sorting through those bits and pieces, and for tolerating complexity, ambiguity, contradictions, and staying open while we carry on with research.

Especially in times of great knowledge change, then, a progressive believer might emphasize caution, carefulness in method and in details, and a sort of humility about closing down or finalizing prematurely.

Yet, focusing strictly on a sex-marriage Status Quo, premature closure is your norm. Our views of the human body, sexuality, and nature are changing in deep and rapid ways, thanks mainly to a New Biology. Our crisis of change about queer folks is but one indicator among many. A much longer average human life span went along with relaxing the religion rules about divorce and remarriage. Modern parenting is light years away from past practices in some areas. We have a much better, detailed science of human development available.

Trying to find all that, solely through one or another set of scriptures is – ????? Wacky?

Confusing, this studied inattention-omission of empirical-modern changing knowledge? Confusing, this rush to shut down global Anglican study hall time?

Posted by drdanfee at Sunday, 6 September 2009 at 9:19pm BST

6. Hint, Bishop: Stop false witness.

A word about not being discriminating enough in believer discernment, bishop, if I may.

You loudly accuse believers of not being careful or discriminating when it comes to the new welcome extended to honestly Out, high functioning, ethically committed queer folks in progressive church life.

Yet, all along, you have seen fit to be utterly, blissfully unengaged with any of the changed science that is helping to drive progressive believer changes. I can't tell if you think that ignoring science is a best way to do a closed, conservative theology these days. Or, whether you have looked at science in great detail, and then just dismissed empirical hypothesis testing altogether. Either way, your basic method so far relies far too heavily on closed presuppositions. Depends too much on using one set of conservative assumptions to argue for a second, then a third, then a fourth. I think such presuppositional hermeneutics shows a strange lack of respect for studying the very scriptures for which you profess such an abiding, deep respect.

Replacing surprise changed science and close, personal knowledge of our real neighbors who are queer folks, by strictly reading out your scriptures in a very closed, final way? Hasn't been a helpful habit since we worked through the solar system discovery. Copernicus, Galileo, Bruno.

Your own views wrapped in loud, colorful accusations that progressive believers are the very epitome of carelessness, superficiality, and routine uncritical appearances. Meanwhile, you completely neglect science and the queer folks in daily life whom we know, whose goods we can see and weigh closely, and whom we so dearly cherish, as queer folks.

All this is odd, off kilter. How can false witness pay tribute to real gospel?.

Your false witness habits as you try to urge closing down upon all of us? - well, that habit is very hard to square with your self-proclaimed believer allegiance to truth telling, and love of neighbors.

What you say isn't true, bishop. Metanoia? Change takes careful attention to best practice methods. Courage to look at self and others, to look at society or church life writ large across history. Trust and hope, praise and prayer as one changes for the better. Progressive believers follow these values as much as anybody else in our Anglican big tents. Ditto, queer folks in church life.

Posted by drdanfee at Monday, 7 September 2009 at 10:22pm BST

Oh do be scrupulously fair, Doctor Dan. We don't know the good bishop's real mind on the tricky subject of divorce and re-marriage! Nor do we know what he really thinks about contraception - 2 matters that seem to have squeezed past the empirical closed shop mentality of the pre-Raphaelite sodality in the Church.

Surely issues of gender and sexuality were fixed by the true and enduring facts of Adam and Eve? Trouble with that though, is that nobody can find out from Scripture where Cain found his wife. Was she also the daughter of Adam and Eve, or did she appear like Gary Glitter at the end of the rainbow?

Nor do we know what people like the said bishop think about the several accounts of the Creation from the Bible. Also, did God create Adam and Eve together at the same time, or did Eve really emerge from Adam's rib? these are minor matters, though, compared with the complexity of sexuality and gender. But then, the Bible was written before the earth was found to be spherical, and just one of myriads of planets.

Biblical literalism really does have its downside, but obviously not all bishops can accept that.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 11:41am BST

"You are the one who is deeply suspicious of the secular world."

Secular societies have just as long a list of wrongs. They have denied women the vote, or indeed any legal rights at all; jailed, electrocuted, drugged, and murdered homosexuals; carried out numerous acts of genocide; declared women insane for "sexual incontinence"; incited innumerable wars, stolen children from their families and forcibly deprived them of their languages and cultures, and on and on. Are you sure the secular world is any more worthy of your trust than the Church?

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 10 September 2009 at 1:36am BST

"Are you sure the secular world is any more worthy of your trust than the Church?"

I think the real point is that we have to discern true values, regardless where they may surface first.
It's not good decrying the secular world just because it isn't the ecclesia, and it's no good ignoring the good that comes from religion just because it's not modern.

The 3 legged Anglican stool of Scripture, Tradition and Reason shows how it should be done.
But the real key is that we have to be open to the fact that in any new discernment process, there will be an intense debate as to what scripture "really means", what constitutes tradition and what reason. And just because the church takes a long time to weigh the evidence and holds to the past while it does so, does not mean it is right.
And I'm only talking of an idealised version of church here, not of the actual one made up of people as varied as in the secular world - some power crazed, some blind to anything but their own views, some amazingly spiritual and insightful.

During any conversion process, there is the period between a new awareness of God's truth and it's final implementation. And during that time, mistakes are made.

A church run largely by men of a certain age is, by definition, tending towards the conservative. New insights are, by definition, new and not conservative. So the chances that the church initially gets it wrong are rather high. The only thing you can trust, or hope! is that the church will eventually get it right.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 10 September 2009 at 8:54am BST

Incidentally, I did not mean to imply that the church has to accept every new development in society and that this is a more or less given process.

But it is true to say that any new development in society throws up a new question for the church and causes it to examine carefully a position it has previously held without giving it much thought.

And so it is, in theory, completely possible for the church to enter into a discernment process and to emerge later holding on to past truths, but these will have been re-examined critically and affirmed after much engagement with the new thinking in society. The affirmation will be theologically sound, reflected and taking into account all modern scientific and psychological findings. Then, and only then, does it have any credibility.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 10 September 2009 at 9:46am BST

"And I'm only talking of an idealised version of church here, not of the actual one made up of people as varied as in the secular world - some power crazed, some blind to anything but their own views, some amazingly spiritual and insightful."

But that's what the Church IS. The idealized version is what we strive for, not what we have achieved, or likely will this side of the parousia.

"much engagement with the new thinking in society."

And part of that has to take into account society's hypocrisy. In what follows, I am running the risk of agreeing with some conservatives who post here, but I'll soldier on. The "new thinking" in society isn't based on much more than the volume with which a certain group at any particular time promotes its message. The majority of the general public are lemmings who will follow along happily with whatever the noisiest group tells them to think. Thirty years or more ago, my generation was questioning marriage. Why do we need someone's approval to love each other? Why do we need a license to make love? Why do we need society to tell us that our relationships are in fact valid? That was about marital type relationships in general, not just gay ones. Now, society seems to have made an about face. Now, we seem to be saying that, for gay people at least, we DO need society to validate our relationships, we DO need society to approve of us. Not only that, but we are demanding they do so and not giving them the opportunity to withhold that approval. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I come from the old school that society can take it's approval of my relationship and stick it where the sun don't shine. If our ideas of the role society has in our relationships, as but one example, can change so drastically in just one generation, I really don't think society's ideas are all that reliable as a source of fresh insight into anything.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 10 September 2009 at 3:40pm BST

I cannot talk about an idealised version of anything.I live in the real world and I have to contend with what is actually there.

I agree that society doesn't always get it right, I don't think I ever said it did.
But as for most people just following along - is this really different from most people in the pews?

It sometimes strikes me that you have this idea that there is a society "out there" that is full of reckless individuals who are only out to do as they please, and then some of those people go to church on a Sunday where they suddenly transform into this moral, insightful and Spirit-guided body of honest discerners of God's will.

That's just not how it is - all kinds of people are found absolutely everywhere.
And while the trend towards completely unrestricted relationships was undoubtedly mistaken, society as a whole has never followed it fully and marriage and stable relationships are as popular as they have been for decades.
The difference is that the strong reaction against the restrictive 50's has blown away some of the more rigid aspects of relationships.
On the whole, society gets it widely wrong but also self-corrects more easily.

The problem I have with your insistence on giving all power of moral insight to the church is that I have yet to see where it has taken a leading role. Left to its own devices and without being kicked into assessing new moral issues as they arise from within the society it is part of, it would never move on at all.
Or can you point me to anything at all where the church in the last 100 or 200 years has been a beacon of hope and new thinking?

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 11 September 2009 at 8:42am BST

"The problem I have with your insistence on giving all power of moral insight to the church"

I'm not. I just don't accept the concept that society is in any way "progressive". Society is quite capable of regression, and of convincing itself that that regression is actually progress. What will people in 500 years think is backward about us that we think is so "progressive" now? I see no more reason to trust our "enlightenment". They were just as sure of their "enlightenment" 500 years ago. Many in Germany in the 40s thought the Nazis were enlightened too. And that was in the decade immediately following what everybody at the time thought was a terribly "progressive" time in German history, despite the economy. How's that for regression in the guise of progress? There are still many who think Stalin was enlightened and "progressive".

"people just following along - is this really different from most people in the pews?"


"you have this idea that there is a society "out there" that is full of reckless individuals....Spirit-guided body of honest discerners of God's will."

Rather, "do as they have convinced themselves is right/socially acceptable/politically correct", and that hasn't changed for all of human history, and it doesn't stop at the church door. We are just as capable of telling ourselves we are at the pinnacle of human development as any other time in our history, and I don't think it's any more true of us than it was of European imperialists who thought it their responsibility to destroy entire cultures because they weren't as "progressive" as those Europeans believed themselves to be. But there have always been voices in the Church, and usually only there, who have pointed out the folly of that. Thing is, they are usually drowned out by the louder societal and Church voices that need either of the delusions of "virtue" or "progress". I see modern "liberals" and "conservatives" as two sides of the same coin, and I have litte respect for the coin whatever side you look at it.

"the trend towards completely unrestricted relationships was undoubtedly mistaken"

Not sure I agree. It was NOT about "completely unrestricted relationships" nor about seeking something other than "stable relationships", but that stability ought to be based on love and respect, not some need for societal approval because society said a relationship had to have a certain form to be valid, that it needed certification in some form: the "license", perhaps the worst part of the whole marriage ceremony. And without that license, we didn't really have a valid relationship. I rejected that in my youth, and I see no reason to go back on that now.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 11 September 2009 at 3:13pm BST

But you're still not answering the crucial question. Does the Holy Spirit blow and do people hear him? If so, does that only happen in the church and what evidence is there for it? Or does it also happen in society and do church and society have to work hand in hand?

That it's difficult is beyond doubt. That neither always gets it right is also beyond doubt.
But complete pessimism and not seeing any good anywhere isn't helpful either.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 11 September 2009 at 10:10pm BST

"But complete pessimism and not seeing any good anywhere isn't helpful either."

Not what I'm doing. We see "as in a glass, darkly". God is of course not limited in where He speaks the Still Small Voice, but I believe the Church is in a better position to hear that voice than a society that doesn't even know to listen, let alone what it's listening for. Surely your "what is the evidence" question is not meant to imply Christianity hasn't done any good in 2000 years, is it?

The Church doesn't always get it right, obviously. My problem with your position is that it seems to ignore the changibility of society in general. I have given you the example of the massive about face that German society did in the 1930s. Had you been in Berlin in the 20s, you would probbly have been out. In which case, you would probably have been dead by 1940 or so. I see no reason to believe that our current "inclusive" society is any more deserving of trust. That's just one example of how quickly society can change its mind. So, if what society values is so changable, what's to trust?

The Church certainly had some huge failures. But, as I said, I think that the people who at least believe they need to listen for the Still Small Voice, and have some idea what it might sound like, are a bit better positioned to discern God's will than a society that doesn't know to listen, has no idea what to listen for, and changes it's mind depending on whoever is currently loudest in the political debate. If indeed God loves me, gay and all (and I have no doubt of that), then I would rather the Church work through the issue and find some more lasting basis for that assessment than a human society that has shown itself too willing to praise me up one minute, encouraging me to "be who I am", then, after I have exposed myself for what I am, it changes its mind and sends me to the gas chambers. As to your question of what evidence there might be for the Church hearing God's voice, I'd say Western society as a whole. You can't deny that Western society has been informed by Christianity for the past 1700 years. It isn't necessarily a blatant "the Church says 'Do this!' and society obeys" type of thing, but basic Christian concepts have been informing Western society for nearly two millennia, and I don't agree that any advances that have been made in the West are in spite of that, though it may be trendy to say so. The influence of Christian thought on society hasn't always been positive, I agree. But are you actually suggesting that any advances in Western society are in spite of the presence of Christianity as the cultural religion?

Posted by Ford Elms at Saturday, 12 September 2009 at 5:06pm BST

"As to your question of what evidence there might be for the Church hearing God's voice, I'd say Western society as a whole."

Whereas what I'm seeing is that a tolerant Western society is trying to foster an inclusive church in the West, whereas intolerant African societies are fostering churches where Archbishops can support truly horrific laws for gays and their supporters while still be seen as shining Christians in their countries.

You talk of Christian values that have shaped Western society, but you are not giving me a single example where, in the last 100-200 years, the church has led the development of a just society instead of battled against it and followed later.

I think we really have to agree to differ on this one.
I trust or mistrust individuals, wherever I find them. I certainly do not trust any body, be it "society" or "church" to get things right, far less to claim special God-given insights.
Fortunately, it just so happens that Spirit guided individuals in society and in the church work together and influence each other. If we had to rely on one alone, we'd get nowhere.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 14 September 2009 at 9:43am BST

"I certainly do not trust any body, be it "society" or "church" to get things right"

Neither do I Erika. Religion is predicated on the idea that there is ultimate truth. I believe that it is more likely that that truth can be perceived by people who believe that it exists. They are more likely to do that if they practice the principles laid out by that truth, as far as they can perceive them. The Church has not been good at doing that, but there have always been individuals in the Church who have.

Don't confuse the Church with the institutional Church, either, the Church that has compromised the Gospel for the sake of society's approval for the past 1700 years. Much of what you see as wrong with the Church is, ISTM, a direct result of that. Modern conservatives, IMNSHO, are fighting to preserve that corrupt model of Christianity that seeks to make the will of society into the will of God. An example: slavery. The Institutional Church certainly gave support to it. But where do you think the idea came from in Western culture that it was inappropriate to own another human being? Sure, the institutional Church didn't even get the idea, but individuals did. Christianity has been the cultural religion of the West for 1700 years. Despite the failings, and there have been some huge ones, of the Institutional Church, Christianity has permeated Western society and had a profound influence on our ideas. Even those who oppose the Church or the faith do so in terms defined by that world view.

I certainly don't think the Church will always get it right right away, but then I don't need for Her to. God still loves me. But some people will be very annoying to me, my even try to kill me, and I will find myself forcefully reminding myself to "be still and know that (He) is God." In all honesty, what's there to be afraid of?

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 14 September 2009 at 4:40pm BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.