Saturday, 11 September 2004

columns on Saturday

In The Times Geoffrey Rowell writes about his recent visit to a Russian monastery at Solovki in Belief which resurrects hope from the wreckage of despair. An extract:

At the heart of the Christian understanding of God is the faith that the God who allows human beings made in his image the freedom that is necessary for them to love, is the one who in love enters into the darkness and evil that such freedom also permits. Crucfixion/Resurrection is the deep inner rhythm of the life in Christ which is at the heart of the Church. Solovki which seemed annihilated and crushed by the tortures of the gulag is now a place of resurrection, of hope born out of an incredible despair.

Somewhere this resurrection faith, to which Solovki is a standing witness, touches the terrible darkness and evil of Beslan, a very ordinary Ossetian town which I passed through once on a journey from Georgia. Innocent children, teachers, families broken-hearted and grieving, caught in a web of evil and destruction — the scenes we have witnessed will haunt all of us.

There are no easy answers to this problem of evil, no way to live in the face of it, except the way of that deep conversion which is repentance, a turning away from darkness and evil, to the resurrection life of new creation. The cost and victory of God’s love in the Cross of Christ, which next Tuesday the Church will celebrate on Holy Cross Day, is where we see the God who stands alongside us, and enters into our human suffering, in a gulag in the White Sea or in a school gymnasium in Beslan. “Out of the deep have I called to you, O Lord — Lord, hear my voice!” “If I go down to Hell, you are there also.” “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” for, as the Russian church sings on Easter night: “Christ is risen! and the demons are fallen.”

It is this faith alone which is the source of our hope, and the kindling of our love. Without this there is only the continual rekindling of a cycle of hatred and violence, creating that web or axis of evil which can only divide and destroy. Easter faith and resurrection life point us to that goal of our human life together, which is shalom, the deepest peace and communion, the life of the city of God, which is by grace God’s gift to us.

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse writes about how Getting out of hell isn’t easy.

In the Guardian Rabbi Tony Bayfield comments that Religion is a bloody disgrace which is subtitled The Abrahamic family of faiths is now frighteningly dysfunctional.

Related to this is the article in The Times by Simon Rocker on efforts to encourage a more constructive Muslim-Jewish dialogue in Britain: Fraternity eases the religious and political divide.

In Friday’s Church Times Giles Fraser wrote this:
It’s the Psychology of survival a biblical reason for obsession with sex

I missed this yesterday:
Guardian Martyn Percy on Harvest Festivals A harvest of the spirit

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Saturday, 4 September 2004

Saturday views

In the Guardian Madeleine Bunting - a former Religious Affairs correspondent - writes about Cummins & Co (We can no longer ignore Islamophobia, or the racism that fuels it)

The background to this is explained here or here.

Also, Colin Sedgwick writes that Evangelicals are strict, not stupid.

Locusts and wild honey are discussed by Christopher Howse in his weekly Telegraph column Sacred mysteries.

The Times has Stephen Plant writing in the Credo column that Christians were late converts to the joys of democracy. This is in the context of the Olympics in Athens and the Republican Convention in New York City.

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Saturday, 28 August 2004

opinions on Anglicans

In a recent Church Times issue Bill Countryman wrote an op-ed column about What holds the Church together? from a Californian perspective.

Here’s an extract:

Anglicans in the US aren’t as divided as they seem…

…Disestablishment means loss of status. No follower of Jesus can automatically assume that that would be a bad thing. But it would change the context of the Church. The C of E would have to find new terms for saying what it is. American Episcopalians have spent a couple of centuries on this task. Our sense of self is that we are the one traditional Christian alternative to the Puritan legacy of theocratic rigidity in the United States.

That legacy has shaped most American assumptions about religion, including the assumption that “real” Christianity is always legalistic and oppressive. There are liberal alternatives to this legacy, but Episcopalians are something else — the one expression of historic Christianity that has continuously resisted the temptation to know the mind of God better than God does.

Since we don’t profess to know the whole mind of God, it makes it easier to remain in communion with one another, even though we disagree on many things. Theologically, we are divided; just like the C of E. There is no single official theological stance, but we live with that by staying in conversation.

This is why we will survive our current conflicts, and be the stronger for them: for we are living out our identity. Again and again, the mean-spiritedness of right-wing American Evangelicalism has turned out to be our single most potent tool of evangelism. There are signs that the American public is once again tiring of its theocratic program, notably in its refusal to get behind the campaign for an amendment to the federal constitution foreclosing gay marriage….

A week ago in the Telegraph Christopher Howse wrote what he thought about Lay Presidency in Sydney. The column is titled The all-clear for DIY at the altar.

Some letters on this subject are also appearing in the Church Times. Here are last week’s contributions: Lay presidency vote would undermine Sydney including this by Judith Maltby:

There are not many things one can say with such certainty, but lay presidency is clearly a departure from Anglican tradition and doctrine, and an ecumenical impediment far greater than is supposed by the ordination of women.

Does this mean, therefore, that alternative episcopal oversight from orthodox bishops will be provided for those faithful and traditional Anglicans in Sydney who are opposed to such a significant departure from orthodox Anglicanism, and, indeed from Catholic Christianity understood in its most inclusive sense?

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Sunday, 15 August 2004

more comments on Reform

The paper recently issued by Reform and first published here is at last available on Reform’s own website. You can read it here.

The press release is also available here.

The reports and editorial comment on all this in the Church Times generated a whole clutch of letters in the CT issue of 6 August, which can now be read at
Is Reform defending the faith, or getting above itself?

I particularly liked Fr Kevin Scully’s criticism of the media for using “conservative” to describe the positions taken by Reform. He said:

The agenda here seems as conservative as placing Oliver Cromwell in charge of church statuary. Perhaps a more judicious use of language by newsmongers, if not by those who admit their own divisive agendas, would help us all.

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Saturday, 7 August 2004

opinion columns

From today’s Telegraph a column by Christopher Howse about that Vatican letter on the role of women: Eve is Adam’s ‘vital’ helper and another column by Niall Ferguson which contrasts American and British work customs: The atheist sloth ethic, or why Europeans don’t believe in work.

Over in the Guardian earlier this week, Martin Wainwright wrote about Christians in Turkey, In the language of Jesus and today the Vicar of Soham, Tim Alban Jones writes God stopped at Soham.

In The Times Theo Hobson writes: Europe both fears and envies the certainties of Islam and there is a very interesting article about National Health Service chaplains: Spiritual aid in sickness and in health by Jack Shamash.

Some excerpts from Theo Hobson’s article:

OUGHT we to fear an expansionist Islam? There has recently been a fresh rash of scare comment in the press, suggesting that Islam is the new spectre haunting Western civilisation: by tolerating this enemy in our midst, we are sleepwalking to cultural oblivion.

Of course no such fear is warranted. The Islamic-related terrorist threat is real, but it does not amount to a concerted political threat. Even if bin Laden struck again on the scale of September 11, it would lead him no nearer to the overthrow of the West. In global terms, there is no Islamic state or alliance of states that constitutes a threat to the West.

And in European terms, the Islamic minority is weak. Muslims are not storming the citadels of business or culture. They are, for the most part, surviving on low-wage jobs. Yes, the minority is expanding – from almost nothing a generation ago to about three per cent of the average European country’s population. But there is no reason to fear that the minority will continue to expand until it dominates.

But the problem is the ideology, some will say. Unlike Hindus or Jews, Muslims want to see their religion overtake European society. This is an expansionist religion. But so is Christianity: don’t Christians hope that Islamic nations will come to accept the lordship of Jesus Christ?

Islamophobia does not have a rational basis. Yet it affects intelligent people who are not generally racist; its roots are deep and complex. Could it be that Islamophobia is based in a sort of envy? For Islam painfully reminds us of what we lack. It highlights our lack of faith in our common values. We envy the unitary vision of Islam, its fusion of politics and religion.

…Is there a solution to the old duality of post-Christian, semi-secularised Europe? We cannot reinstate pre-secular Christian culture, and we cannot assert secularism as a coherent unifying ideology, without creating something horrible. So we need to patch up the marriage between our Christian and secular identities. We need to reaffirm the inner affinity between Christianity and secularism. The key work to be done is not so much political, or cultural, as theological. The “spectre ” of Islam may be providential: the spur to a new era of Christian-secular relations, the forging of a coherent European identity.

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Saturday, 31 July 2004

Saturday columnists

Bishop Geoffrey Rowell writes in The Times that There’s nothing wrong in kneeling before a loving God. Part of what he says:

Kneeling to say your prayers was one of the most characteristic postures of earlier generations of Christians. Many novels and memoirs speak of the courage of those who, in barracks or school dormitories, showed their faith by kneeling to pray. A. A. Milne’s Christopher Robin famously kneels at the foot of the bed to say his prayers.

Kneeling, however, is not exactly in fashion in churches today. There may be a dazzling display of beautifully worked tapestry kneelers, a testimony to the talents of the congregation, but more often than not, even in cathedrals, the instruction will be “kneel or sit”, and most will sit.

At one level it seems trivial, but something has been lost here. We are bodily beings, and “body language” is something we all recognise. Newspapers carry articles analysing the nervous scratching of the nose, the twisting of a ring, the tugging at a cuff, to judge whether the politician or celebrity is at ease. We welcome close friends with an embrace. We do not convey our love and affection to another by sitting and telepathising intently at them. When Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, it was a deep undermining of the love, loyalty and affection that greeting with a kiss conveys.

You really need to read the whole article.

Ruth Gledhill attended a service at The Royal Foundation of Saint Katherine
for the At Your Service column. The sermon she writes about can be found here.

Over in the Guardian, Giles Fraser writes again about Rethinking Sentencing in The price of punishment and Karen Armstrong writes about the need for collective responsibility in Kill the scapegoat.

In the Independent there is a review of Stephen Bates’ book by Paul Vallely. But it is accessible only to subscribers :-(

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Sunday, 27 June 2004

weekend columns

Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about Westminster Abbey, Don’t embrace the corpses

If Americans wander around in baseball caps, eating, at least they don’t embrace the corpses. It has been estimated that 4,000 are buried in the Abbey, and I have gained a new appreciation even of the sepulchral architecture from the wonderful new book by Richard Jenkyns. It is called Westminster Abbey (Profile Books, £15.99) and the author is Oxford’s Professor of the Classical Tradition, whatever that is. If Dr Jenkyns is an example of it, I’m all for it.

In The Times Roderick Strange uses the feast of the Birthday of St John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, to write about the power of God.
God is not some kind of Superman with special powers

At its root, all unaware, there is a presumption about the nature of divine power. God, we say, is all-powerful. If God is a God of love, why does He not exercise His power to prevent such tragedies? I would if I could, but I can’t. My power is limited. But God’s is not. If He exists, why doesn’t He act? But the flaw in this question lies in supposing that God’s power is just like ours, only greater.
I do not pretend to know what divine power is like, but I am confident that, whatever else, it is not simply an excess of human power. When we call God all-powerful, we do not mean that God is Superman, merely possessing the extra muscle to do what we cannot.
We may wonder why a different world was not created where such disasters never occurred, but that is a distraction. Creating is not the same as physical making. And we have to make sense of the world in which we actually live, not a world formed by our fantasies of perfection.

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Sunday, 20 June 2004

weekend columns

Geoffrey Rowell writes in The Times about Holy places on a path that leads to the love of God. He starts from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets and Little Gidding. Some of what he says:

Holy places are significant, for they are places which have a power to point beyond themselves, and challenge us, and raise questions about meaning, and purpose, and what the life we have been given is for and how we are to use it. They are always, of course, ambiguous.

God cannot be imprisoned in holy places, any more than the mystery of God can be pinned down in words and concepts. Yet places where prayer has been valid, the places of witness to the faith and of martyrdom, are powerful. They naturally become places of pilgrimage, for they are “thin” places, places where men and women are conscious of the intersection of the timeless with time.
Christianity is a religion of incarnation, in which the Word of God becomes flesh, embedded and embodied in the world. Yet this world which God chooses to know from the inside is a world which in its created reality already points to his presence.
Through that same Word all things were made. Incarnation is the fulfilment of creation. It is from that reality that the sacramental power of place derives, just as the sacraments which incorporate us into God’s new creation, the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Eucharist are the very stuff of creation.
Faith is distorted whenever an abstract idea replaces the God whose overflowing love holds all things in life and reaches out in self-giving. The disengaged, remote first cause of Deism is a negation of the God revealed in Jesus Christ as creator, redeemer and sanctifier, whose life we are called to share. It is that God who can find us in holy places, be they cathedrals or simple, village churches, desert monasteries or islands such as Iona. They call us out of the stress, muddle and conflict of our lives “to be still — to let go — and know that I am God.”

In the Guardian Jonathan Bartley writes that God goes to Brussels. An extract:

It is a safe bet that among the one in six Euro-electors who voted to “take their country back from Brussels” there were quite a few churchgoers. Why should the opinions of the man or woman in the pew be distinguishable from anyone else’s - even when it comes to the question of whether God should get a name check in the preamble to the EU constitution?
Nonetheless, there is a strong argument that the very concept of a European community is essentially a Christian one, with its roots deep in the biblical narrative. The story of the Tower of Babel suggests that the existence of separate nations can be seen as a consequence of sin. Humankind had concentrated power in one place in a challenge to divine power, so God confounded them with a sudden diversity of language, and they scattered and divided.
On the Day of Pentecost, however - when the church was born - those divisions of language disappeared as everyone heard the disciples speaking in their own tongue. A new community came into being, whose identity centres on citizenship of a kingdom that takes precedence over every nation and state. Now, as Paul said, “there is neither Jew nor Greek”. A key word the New Testament writers apply to the church is ekklesia , a secular term that suggests a political community.
Christians have since fallen into the error of aligning their religion with national loyalties. Secular leaders, too, have used Christianity to establish a coherent national culture. But Christian eschatology - the perspective that considers the ultimate destiny of the world - challenges such thinking. Rather than looking back to an imagined golden age when religion was central to the national psyche, the Christian vision of the future involves nothing less than the abolition of the nation state.

Christopher Howse writes about a Lucky strike on a building site.

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Saturday, 29 May 2004

Whitsun weekend

Christopher Howse in the Telegraph writes concerning False concerns about Muslims

There are far fewer Muslims in Britain than you might think. Indeed, everything about religion in English daily life is quite different from our impressions. Or so a new Home Office study suggests.

Roderick Strange, writes in The Times about Pentecost, If we receive the Spirit, we can overcome the Darkness

I remember [the Canadian Jesuit, David] Stanley remarking in relation to Pentecost that there was no nostalgia in the New Testament. He referred to the way people, nowadays, will sometimes say how much they would like to have seen Jesus during His public ministry. They believe that it would have strengthened their faith if they knew what He had looked like, if they had heard the sound of His voice, if they had seen how He walked. They look back to the public ministry of the Christ as to a golden age. How unlucky are we to have missed it?
At first, the point may seem obvious, but, Stanley observed, it is a view which is utterly foreign to the New Testament. There is no trace of it there. Nobody is looking back. Thomas, it is true, wanted to be able to put his finger into the wounded hands and his hand into Jesus’s side, but that was not nostalgia. He wanted proof to conquer his doubt. So why was there no nostalgia?
It is because, Stanley explained, the public ministry of Jesus for the writers of the New Testament was not the golden age. For them that began with this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That was the start of the golden age. It runs from Pentecost to the Second Coming of Jesus. Why look back? This is the golden age. We are living in it now.

In the Guardian Tom Wright also writes about Pentecost: The spirit of the age

But also, Tom Wright is interviewed at length by John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter which you can read here (thanks Tim). All Lambeth Commission watchers should study the full text of this interview carefully. A few excerpts are also embedded in this column.

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Saturday, 22 May 2004

Religion columns

In The Times Geoffrey Rowell writes about why Christian values must always face judgment and scrutiny. Starting from Tertullian’s question “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” he goes on to discuss the relationship Christianity should have with Culture today. He concludes:

Christians have therefore a twofold responsibility. They are called to find God in the undergrowth, the unexpected places of contemporary culture, and to welcome all who are explorers and searchers and seekers. But there can never be an uncritical endorsement of culture. Whether it be the rhetoric of multiculturalism and political correctness, or the pick-anmix individualism that makes subjective choice the measure of truth, or the popular cults of celebrities or consumerism, these are as much under the judgment of the God of sacrificial love as the ideology of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.
Likewise, the Church is always under judgment, for its compromises, its human weakness, and its failure to live out more plainly the deep compassion of Christ. But the saving grace is that at the heart of the Church’s life is the penitent knowledge of its weakness and failure and of the healing that can transfigure and transform it. The saints have always known themselves to be sinners in need of redemption, and have rejoiced in the love and grace which comes down to the lowest part of their need.
Christians live always as those looking up to the Ascended Christ, to the love that reigns victorious, and as those who know that love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit He has given to us. To live by that knowledge and vision is to live for that Christian culture and society, in which values, choices and judgments are shaped by likeness to Christ.

The Times also has an interesting report by Greg Watts on Theatre Ministry. Celebrating the theatre of faith.

Christopher Howse in the Telegraph discusses some religious books in A better bowl of cherries.
I failed to report earlier that last Monday the Telegraph also carried a news story about the Church of England that did not refer to sexuality. Church of England finds fertile ground in France.

The New York Times has a column by Peter Steinfels that is headed A Thorny Issue Begets Much Reading. This is occasioned by the US republication of The Way Forward? Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church. Below is some of what Steinfels has to say:

Despite the inevitable unevenness of any collection like this, and a disappointing sense that the evangelical authors of the St. Andrew Day’s Statement have not quite engaged their critics, “The Way Forward?” operates at a level far above the usual battling about a handful of biblical passages and the usual volleying of stereotypes and sentimentalities. Yet to read these essays is almost to despair.
For one thing, simply by way of contrast, they bring to mind how rarely it is acknowledged that the current debates about homosexuality involve matters that remain unsettled, matters about which serious thinking is still required and about which more than one side may have points worth considering. The prevailing attitudes are quite different: Either resistance to revising the traditional Christian teaching (or the traditional legal arrangements) can only be the fruit of bigotry or uninformed fundamentalism; or the demand for change must spring from accommodation to a permissive culture or surrender to relativism, individualism, hedonism, etc., etc.
But still more daunting is the fact that these theological essays are in fact genuinely theological. The St. Andrew’s Day Statement begins its brief exposition of underlying principles with the straightforward declaration, “Jesus Christ is the one word of God. He came in human flesh, died for our sins, and was raised for our justification.” And the essays, even where they attend to empirical and cultural issues, make God and God’s self-revelation, whether in Scripture, creation or tradition, the framework for their judgments.
This is not, in other words, psychology or sociology or political philosophy presented in a religious wrapper. It is theology. It is a theological exploration of a theological question. And who, in the sound-bite-driven state of religion no less than of secular culture, actually has the patience, the appetite or the resources for that?

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Saturday, 15 May 2004

another Saturday in London

In the Guardian Giles Fraser writes about Luther, love and Gloria Gaynor. His remarks will be familiar to those who have read his recent University Sermon.

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse writes about Lancelot Andrewes The insides of a private diary.

In The Times Jonathan Sacks writes that The family is where we find passion, affection and companionship.

Also, Ruth Gledhill writes about her experience attending the Ship of Fools cyberchurch. Ruth’s article is here. Here is a quote:

It was an extraordinary experience, resembling a real church service and yet at the same time being completely different, akin to one of the “out of the body” dreams I used to have. Sitting in front of a computer screen, I quickly identified with the yellow-haired onscreen avatar, a sort of ecclesiastical Lara Croft that had been designed for me by the “creator”, Darrell of specialmoves, who was also in church.
Besides raising my arms and yodelling “Hallelujah!” I could kneel, cross myself, stand up and sit down, walk around, get up into the pulpit, heckle the bishop during his sermon and wander down to the crypt to chat and scrutinise the noticeboards.
The preacher was the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, who had been vested a bit too lowly for his liking.
Bishop Chartres is a princely, patriarchal figure who seems to hail from an earlier age. His nickname in ecumenical circles is “quiverful”, a psalmic reference to the four children he has with his wife Caroline. In real life, he is a man of steel ? the steel nib of a fountain pen.

The full text of his sermon can be read here.

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Saturday, 8 May 2004

British Saturday columns

AN Wilson has a review of Edward Norman’s book in The Tablet.
Anglican Difficulties: a new syllabus of errors
Snarling at the hand that fed him

The Guardian has Counting the cost of giving by John Newbury who asks Why should we give to those we do not know?

In his weekly Telegraph column, Christopher Howse discusses A prize for the best blasphemy.

The Times Credo column is by Stephen Plant, A dead church should not hold the living Church to ransom in which he discusses the threat of closure for a church building; some extracts:

THE local church I attend is threatened with closure. The property is in good order, the bank balance in credit, and there are no plans to build a ring road through its car park. But the congregation has simply shrunk to the extent that there are not enough people to do the work to keep it open or to fill the front rows at Sunday worship.

My church is situated in a densely populated area short on public buildings; it should be capable of sustaining the kind of community church its building is perfect for. Even if closure in these circumstances is the sensible thing to do, it will be difficult to see it as a shining gospel success.
I take seriously the sense of obligation to those whose energies and faith have been bound up in this local church. But a dead church cannot be allowed to hold the living Church to ransom. When I think it through I find that if we are to give my local church one last chance it must not be as a way to keep its past alive, but because of the fragile possibility that it might have a future as a community of faith and as a centre of service to its local community.

In the Church Times Giles Fraser asks
Does the brutality of Iraq make all forces like Saddam?
As bad as each other?

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Saturday, 1 May 2004

Saturday slots

As usual British newspapers carry faith-related columns on a Saturday.

The Independent has Faith & Reason: Muslim terrorists embrace a very secular heresy by a Muslim chaplain at Cambridge University, Abdal Hakim Murad.

The Telegraph has Christopher Howse discussing Bats, We’re bats to put up with it

The Guardian has May Day, money and morality by David Haslam.

The Times has Roderick Strange discussing Vocations, It is a risky business to have a commitment to something.

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Sunday, 25 April 2004

godslots and more

Geoffrey Rowell in The Times
Let us liberate ourselves from the dark, demonic powers of evil. Here is an extract:

If the memory of the crusades is still a distorting one in the context of Christian-Muslim relations, the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade still haunts memories and attitudes in the relationship of the Christian East to the Christian West, and colours the suspicion of many Orthodox Christians towards Christians of the West. Both Catholics and Pentecostals can be seen in very different ways as representative of the ancient aggression of the Latin West.
Eastern Christianity, which has never had the experience of either the Reformation or the Enlightenment has, at its best, a deep awareness of the cosmic dimension of redemption, and a sacramental understanding of the world. The Easter Liturgy, so central to Orthodox worship, proclaims Christ?s victory over death and His liberation of humanity from the imprisonment of the dark, demonic powers of evil. We are called into a new creation and a transfiguration of our life by the grace of Christ.
The healing of memories is necessary if the different traditions of the Christian churches are to find their true unity in Christ. We cannot ignore history, and we must learn to understand the histories of other traditions and communities. In so far as it is possible for a later generation to be penitent for what earlier generations did, Christians in the West need to remember that events can have a terrible afterlife and so be ready to acknowledge the scars and fault lines that have resulted from what happened in Constantinople 800 years ago this month.
If the risen Christ appeared to His disciples still bearing the wounds of His passion, but transfigured, we can surely believe that the wounds of history may by humility, penitence and grace be transfigured in the same way. The peace of the world and the unity of its peoples depend in the end on this Easter reality.

Judith Maltby in the Guardian
What women want reflects on the progress still to be made in the CofE:

…Officially, Anglicans continue to constrain the ministry of women clergy. Terms like “provisionality” and “in reception” are used of our orders, and the church endorses employment discrimination on the basis of sex that it would condemn in any secular employer. In the midst of all this, women priests must not, of course, give anything other than complete loyalty and commitment back to the church.
We continue to exclude women from the church’s most authoritative body, the House of Bishops, although it is clear that we are not awash with talent in the episcopate. Tellingly, Canon Jeffrey John’s welcome appointment as dean of St Albans has been characterised as “compensation” for a bishopric, whereas a deanery is the highest office to which a woman may be called in the Church of England.
Most disastrously, however, we provide “flying bishops”, with “untainted hands”, for those who cannot tolerate sacramental contact with a bishop who ordains women. What does this provision reveal about what the Church of England, as an institution, thinks of women as a source of pollution? How, too, is this model being applied to other issues of conscience? Those who object to the “bishops of choice” model as a way of dealing with disputes over sexuality must ask themselves why it is bearable, or desirable, in dealing with the debate over gender. I, for one, would like to see a bit more anger from my own “liberal side” about the treatment of women, as well as of gay men.
Why do women priests put up with it? Opponents like to see us as fuelled by something rather wicked called “secular feminism”, which, I suppose, means owning property and having the vote. But on the contrary, the vocations of the vast majority of women priests have been fed from deep within the life of the church. A doctoral study of the 1994 ordinations revealed that the single largest group defined themselves as evangelical, something worth remembering as the word has become, to many, synonymous with “reactionary”.

Christopher Howse in the Telegraph
What’s all this about Rapture?

It sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? Indeed, a bestselling series of 10 novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins, starting with Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (1995), has sold in almost Harry Potter-ish millions.
Yet the Left Behind publishing phenomenon reflects the remarkable fact that many - perhaps eight million - in the United States really believe The Rapture is coming, probably soon. Makes sense, they say, what with this terrible world violence and Israel surrounded by hostile nations.

Guardian For God’s sake The strong influence of the Christian right on US policy will only increase if George Bush wins a second term, says Philip James

The influence of the Christian right on the Bush White House is self-evident. As well as George Bush, cabinet members Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft and Don Evans all consider themselves to be born again.

The administration is acutely aware of the power of the Christian voting block in the US. Gallup surveys consistently count 46% of the population as being self-described born again Christians, the bulk of whom live in middle America.
It is a stunning statistic, and one that escapes the attention of the chattering classes who populate the much less devout coastal strips.
Many of these churchgoers voted for Bush in 2000, and Carl Rove is determined that all of them should do the same this year. The latest data should put a spring in his step - Bush’s job approval among grassroots Christian social conservatives hovers between 92% and 96%.

The Times At your service visits St Nicholas, Brighton.

Labyrinths are to be found in religious traditions all over the world. Many take the form of a large circle, with a single path leading you through the four quadrants to the centre. They became an established part of the Catholic Church during the crusades, when pilgrimage to the Holy Land was dangerous, and people needed another way of honouring their vows.

By coincidence, I just visited Amiens Cathedral, which has a genuine medieval labyrinth built into the tiling of the floor of the nave.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 25 April 2004 at 12:06 PM GMT | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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Saturday, 17 April 2004


From British newspapers Saturday:

Guardian David Bryant Taking the sin out of sex

Telegraph two doses of Christopher Howse An Easter week anthology: Rorate coeli and Madonna, with strings attached

The Times Jonathan Sacks ‘Never again’ - but will we ever learn the lessons of history?

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Tuesday, 13 April 2004

religion and violence

Madeleine Bunting, who was once the Religious Affairs correspondent of the paper, has an opinion column in the Guardian entitled In death there is life. Part of it:

Western secular societies and Islamists regard themselves as polar opposites. They are both wrong.

For Christians, Easter is not just a bloody crucifixion (any inadequacy of imagination on the gory details now finds ample remedy in Mel Gibson’s rendition), but the resurrection - the monumental act of redemption for all humankind. Hence, from the violence comes a message of astonishing optimism.
For all the faults of the church institutions (and there are many) that perpetuate this faith, it seems to me that this is a strikingly hopeful and honest account of human experience. In contrast, western secular culture has relegated death and suffering to the role of entertainment - it’s on celluloid that we love death - or it has been tidied away as subject to the last remaining taboos. In an age of gleaming white smiles from every billboard, who finds it easy to acknowledge or to understand their suffering?
All of this comes close to sounding like nonsense (though they might be too polite to say so) to a large proportion of people in Europe in what historians of religion now call the “spiritual icebelt”. This is the only part of the globe in which secularisation has dug deep and lasting roots since the second world war. Social theorists complacently assumed for several decades that secularisation was inevitable and irreversible all over the globe. The conclusion that many drew was that there was no point trying to understand religion, because it was a belief system that would wither on the vine. The result is a widespread ignorance and lack of understanding of the religious imagination, and it is usually accompanied by the secularist’s unexamined faith in their own beliefs; for example, an astonishingly naive belief in human beings’ rationality.

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Sunday, 11 April 2004

Easter Opinion

Today in the Observer, Will Hutton has a column titled
Heed not the fanatics
Only by rebutting fundamentalism in all its forms can we stop ourselves being plunged into a new Dark Age

Today, more than two million Protestants and Catholics will attend church to celebrate Easter, a resilient band but millions fewer than just 50 years ago. The great fathers of sociology - Weber, Marx, Durkheim - all believed that industrialisation, wealth and democracy would lead to the development of a massively secular society. Religion and its myths, the linchpin of dirt-poor traditional society, would evaporate before detraditionalising modernity.
They were right about Europe but wrong about almost everywhere else. Protestant evangelism in the United States and Islamic fundamentalism are the two fastest-growing religions on the planet; even Hindu and Buddhist fundamentalism are on the increase. Only Europe has moved in the direction the classic sociologists predicted. A mere third of Europeans report that they think that life is worth living because God exists. In the US, 61 per cent do, a proportion matched, although we don’t have reliable evidence, within Islam. In those broad religiously inclined majorities, fundamentalists find it easier to recruit.
But why? Why is rich Europe secular and rich America religious? And are there any clues in the answer to that riddle to the rise in religious fundamentalism, one of the most pernicious and hateful phenomena in human association, ranking with political fundamentalism of Right and Left in its destructive and poisonous influence.
Whether it is the perpetrators of the Madrid atrocity or Franklin Graham, evangelical son of evangelist Billy Graham, calling Islam a ‘wicked religion’, fervent fundamentalist religiosity breeds violence, intolerance and sexism. The sacred texts of Christianity and Islam may plead love, mutual respect and peace; their fundamentalist followers observe these doctrines in the breach.

Doug LeBlanc has commented on Hutton’s article, here at GetReligion. This is part of a series of posts there all titled Creeping Fundamentalism. This one is the first that ventures outside America for its source material. From a European perspective, Hutton’s comments about American Christian fundamentalism seem quite mild to me, but evidently it looks different from over there.

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Saturday, 10 April 2004

Easter Eve

Saturday’s columns from the London newspapers:

Independent Tom Wright
Faith & Reason: Take care to avoid the Easter trap set by modernity

Guardian Martyn Percy
Easter facts and fictions

The Times Alan Webster
Hope, compassion and creativity are everyday resurrections

Telegraph Christopher Howse
Return journey into the grave
AN Wilson
Three reasons to stay an Anglican, for all its follies

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Friday, 9 April 2004

Good Friday in Britain

The Guardian prints a column by Giles Fraser The dry eyes of deep grief
and Stephen Bates reports that Churches take ritual of Passion on to the streets.

The Times has an editorial The Passion. Two excerpts from this appear below.

Extreme sacrifice and extremism
Given the suffering which so many endured during the 20th century’s age of extremes, the ebbing of faith in certainties might seem to be a welcome development. And for many contemplating what has been done in the name of religion in Iraq this Holy Week, the influence of a highly politicised form of faith must seem almost wholly malign. If this is what mankind does in the grip of religious fervour, then many will yearn for a world without such passion.
On this day, however, we are called to remember a passion of a different kind, and the extremes to which one man was driven because of faith, and draw a very different message. The Easter narrative helps us to understand that what the world needs is not a retreat from faith, and religion’s moral codes, but an approach towards the mystery of creation marked by the humility of Jesus and infused by the sympathy that He showed to all mankind.

The journey to Calvary that Jesus made was, however, for them as much as anyone. He confronted the ultimate extreme - a painful death and the cries of the world jeering in His ears - to prove that compassion can triumph over calculation, and that sacrifice can redeem sin. He required a faith that might be considered so strong as to be extreme. But His quiet adherence to the principle of love, and the willingness to sacrifice His interests for others, and then His Resurrection, completed a symbolic but real journey, and began a new phase of human spirituality.
The extremists who challenge our peace this Easter come not as Jesus did, to redeem, but as His tormentors did, to uphold an arid purity and proclaim a vengeful power. Their faith is a political religion, like fascism or Marxism, their vision is exclusive and self-indulgent, and their hands are clenched round a gun. The faith of Jesus was of a very different kind: His outstretched hands on the Cross were there to embrace all mankind. If the world is to overcome the dark passion of those whose hate drives them to violent extremes, it can only be helped by contemplating the message of compassion from the One who went to the ultimate extreme for love.

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Tuesday, 6 April 2004

Bishops: USA

Pierre Whalon wrote another essay at AO on Thought, Love, and Bishops. This discusses at length some of the theological issues arising from the New Hampshire consecration. Recommended reading and not susceptible to short quotes here.

It has drawn comment from conservatives, see here, and also here.

Meanwhile John Heidt, who was once in Cheltenham but is now in Fort Worth, wrote this open letter to the American bishops, which analyses the reasons for conservatives among them not participating fully in the ECUSA House of Bishops meetings. It also is recommended reading.

Again conservative comment can be found here.

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Saturday, 3 April 2004

Saturday columns

Theo Hobson writes in The Times about the Church of England under the headline Is the Pope a Tory? Some extracts:

Until quite recently the Church of England was sometimes called “the Tory party at prayer”. Today this could hardly be further from the truth: the Church looks more like the Lib Dems at prayer. As for the Tory party, it now chooses to pray elsewhere.
For more than a decade, the most prominent religious voices in the party have been Roman Catholic rather than Anglican.

A generation ago, the Tories’ Roman tendency would have scarcely been credible. Tories were Anglicans, almost to a man: Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Hogg, Powell, Heath. To understand this shift in the Tories’ religious allegiance we must consider the party’s disenchantment with the Church of England as well as its attraction to Rome.
The Tories were the party of the monarchy and the established Church: they sought to protect these institutions from the reforming zeal of the Whigs, to defend the common national faith. This remained the case well into the 20th century - until the 1950s, in fact. Then came the 1960s: dramatic secularisation effectively ended the Church’s traditional role of the nation’s moral guardian. In effect, the Church was semi-disestablished by 1980. As its identity became less national, it became more radical. It moved away from its Tory image, and it often pursued a global agenda (poverty, disarmament), at the expense of what the Right called the national interest.

The Tories’ resentment at liberal Anglicanism is still going strong. There was a good example in The Sunday Telegraph a few months ago: a leading article called Rowan Williams “An Unworthy Archbishop”, for daring to criticise the treatment of suspected terrorists. Tory orthodoxy still entails the claim that the Church of England is a failed guardian of the national soul, which is safer in Tory hands. And, for many Tories, in Roman Catholic hands.
But what about Rome’s old image as essentially unpatriotic? During the second half of the 1990s this evaporated with startling speed. The Queen herself began to demonstrate her openness to the old religion: she attended a service at Westminster Cathedral in 1995, and later invited Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to officiate at Windsor. It became commonplace for her to treat Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism with equal respect - this was especially evident in her Christmas broadcast of 2000, in which she paid homage to the Pope.

The Credo column is by Maurice Glasman and is Religion without reason results in violence and injustice.

In the Guardian, Rob Marshall writes about The true meaning of Lent.

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Sunday, 28 March 2004

godslot columns

In the Independent, the Editor of the Church Times, Paul Handley writes about Passiontide.
Faith & Reason: Forget Mel Gibson, the Passion is to be found in Rwanda.

In the Telegraph, Christopher Howse plugs his new book: The comfort of misly globules.

The Guardian has an article Taxing questions for the Church which is actually about Taxation.

The Times has a Lenten meditation Lent is a season for penitence - so do not sin any more.

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Saturday, 27 March 2004

ECUSA reactions analysed

ENS has published a detailed survey covering many of the reactions to the proposal made by ECUSA bishops for delegated oversight.
Conservative responses mixed on Camp Allen oversight plan.

This report does not however include the most recent NACDP statement Convocation Deans Respond to House of Bishops Plan.

The House of Bishops has failed the Church by its new process for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO). The bishops had the opportunity to act sacrificially and lovingly to reach out to orthodox Episcopal congregations and parishioners. Instead, they have offered DEPO, a cumbersome bureaucratic process controlled by the very overseers from whom relief is sought. It inadequately deals with episcopal pastoral care and fails entirely to address such issues as ordination, the calling of clergy, church planting, finances or property. Under DEPO, the power and prerogatives of the bishops are paramount, while genuine concern for parishioners is lost. It shows that the House of Bishops is not serious about reform which would respond to the concerns of the Primates.
We know that our Network bishops who were present worked valiantly for a better outcome from the House of Bishops meeting just concluded. Nevertheless, the great majority of the bishops have made clear by the terms of the plan for DEPO that the rejection of biblical authority and the endorsement of sexual intimacy outside of marriage are now the settled teaching of our Church; all that remains is to regulate the speed with which this new teaching is imposed on orthodox Episcopalians.
The Anglican Communion Network is committed to living under the authority of Holy Scripture and in true unity with the vast majority of the world-wide Anglicans. We serve in partnership with the Primates, who have written, “we offer our support and the full weight of our ministries and offices to those who are gathering” in the Network.

This does not sound like a body looking for a negotiated settlement.

Reference is sometimes made to the English Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 as a model for the American or Canadian situation. But this Act does not remove a petitioning parish from the jurisdiction of its diocesan bishop, and is dependent on his agreement for its application. So I think it is unlikely to be acceptable to NACDP.

Where the English model differs from the American proposal is in its de facto compulsion. Every bishop in the Church of England has agreed to abide by it, and, as far as I know, no properly submitted parish petition for “appropriate episcopal duties in the parish” to be carried out by another bishop in accordance with the Act has ever been refused. It seem that NACDP believes that some American bishops are even now unwilling to offer any form of “DEPO”. If this is true, then only a General Convention (next scheduled for 2006) could compel them to do so. From a British perspective, this perceived inflexibility of diocesan bishops just seems very strange.

Nevertheless, I find it very surprising indeed that no-one among the conservatives has published any draft of an alternative oversight proposal that might be acceptable to them. With no such document in circulation it is easy for others to accuse the Network leaders of insincerity in their statements about wanting to remain within ECUSA, as opposed to forming a North American equivalent of the FiF-proposed but as yet non-existent CofE Third Province.

Since writing the above, the AAC has published Setting the Record Straight: What Really Happened at the House of Bishops which raises the temperature yet again.

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Saturday, 20 March 2004

weekend columns

Geoffrey Rowell writes in the Times, Our fantasies and fears can beget terrible consequences. Here is a portion:

To flourish as human beings we need to be delivered from the fears and fantasies which threaten to overwhelm us, and which can distort and destroy our humanity. The Christian teachers of spiritual wisdom point us insistently to the God whose perfect love casts out fear.
In the Gospels Jesus stills a storm on the Lake of Galilee, when the disciples are overcome with fear that the boat will capsize and they will drown. The old mythology of the chaos monster of the deep echoes in this story, but Jesus shows Himself as Lord of the wind and the sea. Immediately after this story there is another, of a man possessed by a multitude of demons, and again, just as the wind and sea are stilled with a word of peace, so the inner chaos and conflict of the possessed man is overcome by a word of peace and deliverance.
The biblical writers insist that there is one fear which is both necessary and not destructive. It is that “fear of the Lord” that is the beginning of wisdom. But what is meant by this “fear” is something akin to awe, and reverence, and wonder. It is a fear, the great Byzantine saint, Maximos the Confessor, tells us which is “linked with love and constantly produces reverence in the soul”. This awesome wonder is at the heart of the prayer of adoration in which we come before God in our need and seeking His grace, that we may be rooted and grounded in love, a love which meets our deepest needs and so dispels the fears and terrors of the night, of whatever kind.

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse’s column is about the Templeton Prize winner, When science met spirituality.

George Ellis is a 64-year-old Quaker who lives in South Africa, and he tussled in the 1970s with the apartheid government, drawing attention to the injustices done to squatters in the Western Cape. He has not won the prize for this, but for his work on cosmology and religion.
Dr Ellis has outstanding qualifications to speak about the science of cosmology, being a professor of applied mathematics who has co-authored a book with Stephen Hawking (The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, 1973).

Mark Vernon writes in the Guardian about Resources for living.

On one level, it is no surprise that corporations are bad at coping with existential crises, or, indeed, the deep desires and longings that can lie behind love affairs. There are also positive signs that organisations can make space for their human assets to genuinely care for themselves, such as the option of a four-day week.
But beware. When the company says it wants you to flourish, it can only have your goodwill at heart to the extent that it maximises your creative output, your commercial surplus value. Life is to be found elsewhere.

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Thursday, 18 March 2004

extra-marital sex

Another delayed Church Times article:
Not all extra-marital sex is the same by Duncan Dormor.
The Church should recognise cohabitation as a step towards marriage, he says, in an article published before the General Synod debate on the York diocesan synod motion. See report on that debate here.

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Lambeth Commission again

After some delay I have been able to extract this op-ed article from the Church Times archive.
Mark Hill a distinguished English church lawyer, wrote this back in February:
We can work out what we are - The Eames Commission is a great opportunity

THE Anglican Communion teeters on the brink - not of imminent collapse, but of reinvigoration. Far from being the dysfunctional legacy of a misguided imperialist past, the Communion is a vital body, animated by a shared ecclesiological inheritance.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2004

Servants of the People

There was a documentary radio programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning, about Church of England clergy. Four priests, representing a wide range of traditions within the church, talked to Gavin Esler.
Servants of the People
will be repeated tonight at 9.30 p.m. London time.

The programme is available on the internet here using Real Audio. I suspect this link will last only one week.
I thought this programme was the best PR for the CofE that I have heard in some time.

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Saturday, 6 March 2004

more CT synod reports

From the Church Times of 20 February:

Don’t rob asylum-seekers of legal rights and sustenance, says Synod
Church urged to help in fight against AIDS
New weekday lectionary discussed
Marriage is best, but others need rights, too, says Synod
ARCIC asked to revisit papal infallibility and jurisdiction
Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure
Broad welcome for new safeguards for clergy

And from last week’s Church Times opinion columns
This is no way to disagree Giles Fraser writes about the recent General Synod debate on sexuality.

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Saturday roundup

From the Guardian
Silence on sex is no answer Marilyn McCord Adams

The most serious threat to the Anglican communion is not cross-cultural substantive differences about sexual norms, serious as these are, but the spirit in which the debate is conducted. Late 19th- and early 20th-century English theologians did not fear to let sharp theological disagreements coexist, and allow experiments to run their course until time proved whether or not the Lord would prosper them.
By contrast, in the present controversies, some show a tendency to slide from explicit professions of biblical infallibility into implicit confidence in the inerrancy of their own methods and interpretations. Some wish to take to themselves quasi-papal authority to determine doctrine and discipline, and to excommunicate those who refuse to conform.

Ten years on, opponents are in the minority Stephen Bates (published last Thursday)

US Anglicans ‘naive’ about gay bishop Bates interviews Griswold

From The Times
Light and love are at the centre of both Islam and Christianity Bruce Dear

Christian and Islamic traditions contain a network of overlapping insights that can create a space for mutual comprehension. This is not to say that the two religions are the “same”, in some politically-correct sense. Each has unique and incompatible claims. However, there is irrefutably an architecture of shared ideas which can help to open dialogue. This dialogue cannot share out oil, land or power more fairly; but it can help to dispel the crudest prejudice which demonises all Christians or all Muslims.

Ruth Gledhill reports on the service to dedicate the new ACO offices and spoke to Archbishop Malango:

In the congregation was Archbishop Bernard Malango, Primate of the province of Central Africa and one of those most opposed to Bishop Robinson’s elevation. “A split is inevitable,” he told me afterwards.
The split over gays is roughly defined as one between North and South. The warring factions can share Communion, it seems, but not much else. Some can not even bring themselves to share Communion. The week-long committee meeting that preceded this service was boycotted by the Primate of Nigeria, Dr Peter Akinola, because of the presence of Bishop Griswold.

From the Telegraph
Who’s in charge of leaking tub? Christopher Howse writes more about Edward Norman

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Saturday, 28 February 2004

Saturday British columns

Self-knowledge is the key to this spiritual spring time
Geoffrey Rowell writes in the Times about Lent as a spring time
(Australians and others in the Southern Hemisphere just pass on this :-)

The scourging of the Shi’ites
Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about the parallels between certain Muslim and Christian rituals

Arousing passion and interest in Jesus’s death Telegraph leader

Mike Wooldridge of the BBC writes about Cathedrals fall on hard times

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Saturday, 7 February 2004

British opinions on Saturday

In the Guardian Giles Fraser writes about the forthcoming Mel Gibson film in
Crucified by empire.

In the Telegraph Christopher Howse writes about DIY Sundays and fishless Fridays
which refers to an article in last week’s Tablet by Eamon Duffy, Fasting - our lost rite.

In The Times, Alan Webster, once Dean of St Paul’s, writes about his grandson, Today the young are drawn by choice to a changing faith.
Nick Wyke writes about How art and religion are enjoying a renewed partnership in A new vision of divine inspiration.
Ruth Gledhill describes a café-style church at the Church of the Ascension in Balham, South London, in At Your Service.

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Saturday, 31 January 2004

columns from Britain

The Guardian has published an edited extract, Imitations of Christ from Rowan Williams’s introduction to the guidebook accompanying Presence: Images of Christ for the Third Millennium , a series of exhibitions organised by Biblelands to mark its 150th anniversary.

And David Haslam writes about the World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai, Glimpsing the new world orders.

In the Telegraph, Christopher Howse writes about What is a soul without a body?.

The Times has We have to face the fact: we must remember our future by Stephen Plant in its Credo slot.

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Saturday, 24 January 2004

Saturday press columns

Christopher Howse in the Telegraph writes about Rowan Williams’ new book Anglican Identities in God is not negotiable.

Theo Hobson in the Guardian writes about Life after Anglicanism.

In The Times a column by Julie Birchall that describes her religious journey: I believe: but not in a God of Screaming Mimis.

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Sunday, 28 December 2003

Sunday press review

The BBC has two reviews of the year for the Anglican Communion:
This one is a web page, Anglican church rues lost unity and this one is from the Radio 4 Sunday programme, listen here using Real Audio (7 minutes long). If you have audio, do listen to this in full, it is well worth the time to hear what Stephen Bates has to say to Roger Bolton.

In the first item Alex Kirby concludes:

Both camps are sincere, and neither has a monopoly of the truth. But in those parts of the world where sexual definitions are increasingly irrelevant, a church which sets such store by them is left more and more with only itself to talk to, and nobody else remotely interested.

The Sunday Telegraph has a swingeing editorial attack on Rowan Williams, An unworthy Archbishop.

In the Observer Jamie Doward reports on Church ‘weddings’ for same-sex couples which is bound to upset anybody who was not offended by the Telegraph.

Descending further, the Sunday Times has a report that Carey diaries to reveal chats with royal mistress in which we learn, for example, that:

The Queen and the Queen Mother are believed to have got on well with him, but it is not thought Charles held him in the highest regard. The prince, a religious traditionalist who is patron of the Prayer Book Society, is thought to have seen him as a “happy clappy” and

Carey was appointed by Margaret Thatcher not long before she left Downing Street in 1990. “She spoke at me for about 10 minutes and I couldn’t get a word in edgeways.” he said. “Then I mentioned John Wesley because I knew she had had a Methodist upbringing. But she called him ‘that Christian socialist’.”

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Saturday, 27 December 2003

some earlier stories

…I failed to report when they first appeared.

Jonathan Petre in the Telegraph was unduly sensationalist in saying Sceptic priests could face trial by heresy courts.

In Nigeria the infamous Bishop Chukwuma again makes news Anglican Bishop Threatens to Withdraw Deacons’ Licences (does Amicus know?)

From Canada a reliable account of the latest, wildly misreported, development in New Westminster, Diocese shuts down church over discipline, same-sex issues and another report on the financial effects of all that.

In Ireland Bishop of Cork: Church’s Bluff is being Called in the Gay Debate

And finally, on a lighter note, Anglican Church in Nigeria offers deal to American Episcopalians

Another Irish report, this one is an editorial opinion from the Limerick Leader. The column refers to this Sunday Times article which I listed some time ago.

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after Christmas

Tom Utley writes in the Telegraph about going to the Church of England for Christmas rather than his normal RC church, It’s time to cross the fine line that divides our two Churches.
And Christopher Howse writes in the same paper about music at his RC church, Sing all ye citizens, for heaven’s sake. Hmm.

Meanwhile, both the BBC and the Telegraph report on a survey of clergy conducted by trade union Amicus that finds two-thirds of them feel insecure in their jobs.

In the Guardian Geza Vermes discusses Christmas: fact or fiction
Also in the Guardian Stephen Bates has a reprise of Christmas sermons etc. (his paper did not publish yesterday) in A time for peace on earth - but not in the royal home which includes the remarks of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
‘Homophobic’ church slated
Time to shake off homophobia

“These are spiritual matters, because hatred may only be cured by a change of heart. We all require a change of heart, because the church not least has contributed to the prevailing homophobic mindset.”

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Monday, 22 December 2003

internet petition stats

I last posted about the AM petition statistics on 18 December, when I updated my blog entry of 17 December - this is the petition that has provoked two separate threads of ridicule on Ship of Fools (the count there is stalled at slightly over 6 billion).

Following further correspondence with Dr Giddings over the weekend, some slightly improved information is, as of 1230 GMT on the 22nd, available about the block-signups.

I noted on the 17th that I could not be sure which were the four dioceses then claimed in the numeric totals, as only two were clearly named. This situation has not improved:there are still only two clearly named and still four claimed in the numbers although the total of their “votes” has increased from 168,000 on the 17th to 184,300 on the 22nd. No doubt all will be revealed eventually.

However there is clarity about provinces. There are now four named and four counted. Although individual province counts are not revealed by AM, I believe the figures are:
South East Asia 184,000
Uganda 8,000,000
Congo 500,000
Central Africa 650,000
What was confusing me before was that a third province was being claimed but not named as early as 1200 GMT on the 18th, and when a third name (Congo) was revealed on the 19th, a fourth one was at the same time claimed in the numbers.

Still no progress on naming 220 “parishes and organisations”, in case you were wondering if you have been signed-up without your knowledge, you’ll just have to wait.

Updated 2250 GMT
In the last hour, another province was claimed and the count for provinces increased to 9,359,000. So the additional province represents 25,000 people. Could this be the Southern Cone, whose primate’s name has been present on the list all along?
The site now carries the following disclaimer (my emphasis):
… we have received support both from individuals and also leaders of more than 9 million Anglicans around the world following the launch on November 24.
When a parish, diocese, or province is indicated as supporting the Network, their authorized spokesperson has signed on their behalf. That person can be held accountable for the use of his authority. It is of course open to members of that diocese or even parish to disagree and in some cases the numbers recorded on the website are less than the numbers on the roll.

updated again Tuesday noon
Oh yes and on the signup form it also now says to dioceses (provinces aren’t mentioned on this form anywhere):
(You may send your signatures later, or the relevant resolution of your standing committee relating to the consecration of Gene Robinson)
so a diocese (as represented by a standing committee - American term) doesn’t really even have to agree to the detailed wording of this petition at all, merely have passed a resolution relating to GR.
Even more wonderful. Marvellous. Whatever.

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Sunday, 21 December 2003

more comment

Sunday Telegraph
Joanna Jepson Herod was not alone in his fear of the helpless
Melbourne Age
Muriel Porter Time to remember who Mary was (the Bulletin story mentioned here is this one)
Colin Slee Unholy orders
For the major feature in the Observer today, see the TA blog

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Saturday, 20 December 2003

comment from Britain

Some stimulating newspaper columns:
Tom Wright Why Saddam is more Herod than Saladin
Giles Fraser Birth - the ultimate miracle
Madeleine Bunting Secularism gone mad
Rupert Shortt reviews Geza Vermes
Paul Handley How to stumble across the spiritual in the Christmas rush
The Times
Geoffrey Rowell The pit is a place of death, darkness, destruction - and Creation
Andrew Lycett interviews Rowan Williams about poetry, religion and Welshness
Christopher Howse The schoolgirl and one-way diversity

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Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Dr Giddings replies

On 5 December I published schismatic statistics, questioning the reliability of the numbers claimed by the petition on “Anglican Mainstream” website. After three attempts to invite Dr Giddings to reply to this criticism I have now received an answer which is reproduced in full below.
Update 18 December
Meanwhile, a coalition of ECUSA groups issued this press release
Anglican Mainstream Christmas Petition Effort Criticized as Deceptive which says in part:

Questionable counting. Most petition signatures are assembled the old-fashioned way, one signature at a time. Electronic websites now permit worldwide sign-up, such as this world-wide effort. Still, one should be able to assume that each signature represents one person. But in this counting, it seems one signature can sign up the whole family, a whole parish, or even a whole diocese. Is this honest? Do all members of such communities really want to be counted?
…Many may not even know that they are being counted as supporters. It matters not whether a bishop has limited the numbers of “signatures” to the proportion he believes support his position. The count was made without asking the individuals where they stood on this statement. Such “mass signatures” account for over 97% of the total signatures on this “petition.”

There is at the time of writing this not even list of the (currently 4) dioceses currently claimed as mass signatures, never mind a list of the (currently 196) parishes.
Further comment 16.00 GMT 18 Dec
Clearly the arrival of precisely 8 million signatures from Uganda has caused some confusion: the number of provinces has now increased from 1 to 3, and the number of dioceses has decreased from 4 to 3. Presumably some poor province was previously regarded as a mere diocese. But there are still only 2 provinces listed (South East Asia, Uganda) and the names of the 3 dioceses are still not clear: Fort Worth, Kitale Kenya, and ???

Dr Giddings writes:
Sorry - I don’t recall receiving the previous e-mail.

I invite you to re-visit the web-site. On the ‘signing up’ part you will see
< ** Please note - to enter corporate details for a parish / diocese you must be the authorised spokesperson for that community. If submitting for a diocese please enter a contact email>.

Individuals who object can therefore take the matter up directly with the authorised person of the body concerned (which is always the recommended route for complaint-handling). Incidentally you should not assume that ‘the entire membership roll’ was signed up. I know of a number of instances where the number of signatures is lower than the roll number because people have been given, and taken, the opportunity not to be included in the signing-up.

You will also see on the web-site a break down of the signatures received to date: on 12 December it was:

3,369 individuals
9,909 in 2,751 families
54,881 in 182 parishes
168,000 in 2 dioceses
184,000 in 1 province

We have therefore made clear the basis on which the numbers are being counted. Not being a statistician I don’t know what qualifies as < schismatic statistics > but the purpose of inviting people to sign up to the statement is not just to signal the breadth and depth of opposition to the New Hampshire consecration but also to express sympathy and solidarity with orthodox Anglicans in North America who are being intimidated and persecuted by lawsuits, threats of disciplinary action and other means.

Best wishes,

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Tuesday, 16 December 2003

bits and pieces

update 22 Dec a full interview in NCR with Mary Tanner is here

Some more from the National Catholic Reporter related to current Anglican-Roman Catholic relations is in this article, scroll about halfway down the page.

On Dec. 11, an eminent English ecumenist, Mary Tanner, lectured at Rome’s Centro Pro Unione. She argued that while the controversy has revealed serious fissures within the Anglican world as well between Anglicans and Catholics, it also reveals the closeness between the two branches of the Christian family. She argued that when Pope John Paul II in early October warned the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, of “new and serious difficulties” related to the ordination of Gene Robinson, it reflected a climate in which the pope felt he could speak the truth as he perceives it in love.

The same journal also published this comment on scripture and homosexuality, Hold the condemnations.

Something different from Nigeria, Clergy Wants Anglicans Separated From Protestants

The Anglican Bishop of Egbu Diocese, Prof. Emmanuel Iheagwam, has decried the situation in higher institutions where Anglican Church faithful are meant to worship with other denominations in the name of “Protestants”.

From Fort Worth, this story about how A local Episcopal group is working to keep its house undivided

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network fog lifts more

Two fragments of the forthcoming Network of Confessing Dioceses and Congregations in ECUSA manifesto have emerged on Kendall Harmon’s blog, here and here
while an Advent letter to the diocese of Pittsburgh from the Moderator of the Network, the ECUSA Bishop of Pittsburgh is here.
The article in the Moonie-owned Washington Times to which Bishop Duncan makes reference can be found here.

One has some sympathy for Duncan in relation to this article: it attributed the number of “signatures” then being claimed by the Anglican Mainstream petition, 384,935 - most of which are demonstrably bogus and many of which come from outside ECUSA - as signed-up members of the forthcoming Network. Of course, normally the Washington Times is viewed as one of the ecclesiastical rightwing’s stoutest supporters. It must have been galling to see such a strong natural ally expressing the same opinions of AAC and Network actions as those held by many whom the AAC and its cohorts would normally describe as apostate.

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Saturday, 13 December 2003

anglican news roundup

The Toronto Globe & Mail visited the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Abuja Nigeria, and reported on what it found there, Conservatives could spark Anglican split.
The vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Njabulo Ndebele took a rather different view of life, Those Who Look Through a Keyhole With Two Eyes Are Blind to Humanity’s Riches.

The Telegraph reported and commented favourably upon CofE Bishops’ expenses, and also reported on US parishes revolt against gay bishop.

One vacant deanery was filled this week and The Times got very excited about the possibility that another one would be filled soon. For the benefit of overseas readers unable to access those stories, they claim that June Osborne, currently acting dean at Salisbury has been offered the job. Here’s a copycat article in the Guardian.

The Guardian reported on the royal grave story, No aye for Harold seekers and today it has a leading article, Hell hits back that refers to a Church Times feature which won’t be on the web for 2 weeks or more (sigh).

The list of formal statements on the New Hampshire consecration on the main TA blog has been updated to include the latest information available as of 11 December. I am still looking for the formal provincial statements reported to have been made by Rwanda, West Africa, and Central Africa. Quotations from the statements that are available can be found here.
I forgot to add this one: Botswana’s Anglican Church Leaders Denounce Gay Bishop (Botswana is a part of the Central Africa province.)

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Thursday, 11 December 2003

views on New Hampshire

Some articles read recently:
In the Sunday Times (Ireland edition) Irish Bishop says gay clergy are a fact of church life. A couple of excerpts:

THE Church of Ireland should recognise gay relationships in the clergy, according to the Anglican bishop of Limerick.
Michael Mayes, who was a private guest at the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in America, said he had no regrets about attending the ceremony that has caused a global schism in the Anglican church. He called on his own church to accept same sex relationships as “a fact of life”.

Mayes refused to back down yesterday, saying: “Gay relationships have always been there, they didn’t come down in the last shower of rain and the Church of Ireland needs to accept that. There have always been people in these sorts of relationships, so I think the church will have to try and acknowledge that, even though it is very difficult for us.”
He said Bishop Robinson was “innocent of any wrongdoing and he is entitled to be left in peace”.

In the American National Catholic Reporter The Episcopalians? They are us. A long essay.

In the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Episcopal pioneer urges unity at Trinity

The Rev. Fleming Rutledge — a renowned teacher, author and preacher in the Episcopal Church who’s been in Columbus since Thanksgiving weekend — offered wide-ranging views about her denomination’s recent troubles at a forum Monday night.

In the Los Angeles Times Larry Stammer reports Bishop Asserts There’s Room for Gays

In a ringing defense of an openly gay bishop and same-sex unions, Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop J. Jon Bruno declared here Saturday that the Episcopal Church is “a roomy house” for all, and warned that those who leave would be leaving “the presence of God.”

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Friday, 5 December 2003

schismatic statistics

Update see reply from Dr Giddings here
Considering that one of the key movers in Anglican “Mainstream” is an academic political scientist (and leading General Synod member) who specialises in ombudsman systems, it’s intriguing to see what is happening there with a public petition, designed to show something that everyone already knows, that millions of Anglicans hate the idea of an openly homosexual bishop. But in this case you don’t have to send your name in to get subscribed. Your bishop, or even your archbishop can do it for you, without your knowledge. The subscribed total of names currently includes 168,000 signed up by their bishop in 2 dioceses (Forth Worth, USA and Kitale, Kenya) and another 184,000 in 1 province (South East Asia). Not to mention another 31,467 in 95 parishes whose leaders have signed up their entire membership roll. What’s surprising given their approach is that they have only set a target of 1 million names, when a single transaction from Nigeria or Uganda can easily exceed that figure many times over. But is there any mechanism for aggrieved individuals to seek redress against the misuse of their names in this way, Dr Giddings?

And those are not the only funny figures being used. Elsewhere on that very same web page, we find:

“We in the Network of Confessing Dioceses and Congregations are deeply grateful to our Anglican brothers and sisters around the globe for your support and prayers. We are now thirteen [emphasis mine] dioceses stretching from coast to coast and from Canada to Mexico. We are congregations in another 36 dioceses. A million signatures by Christmas will make an extraordinary difference to us as we seek an unhindered witness to the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.”
+ Bob Pittsburgh

Now, the Anglican American Council website shows a list of only three affiliated dioceses (Dallas, Fort Worth and Quincy), so this Network must be something else again. And the AAC site lists congregations in many more dioceses than 36. So who exactly are the thirteen dioceses in this network which the petition applauds as follows:

We therefore
Applaud the action of those Bishops in North America
- Who are forming a Network of Confessing Dioceses and Congregations as suggested by the Archbishop of Canterbury, within ECUSA and in good faith with its Constitution.
- Who have designated Bishop Robert Duncan as Convening Bishop (Moderator)
- Who will no longer be at the Lord’s Table with those who have consecrated Gene Robinson (see below).

This is of interest outside the USA because the petition calls on the ABC and other primates individually and severally to do a number of things, including:

- To recognise Bishop Bob Duncan (Pittsburgh) as the duly elected Convening Bishop (Moderator) of the Network and invite him to all events to which the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA is invited.
- To recognise the Convening Bishop (Moderator) in opening ecumenical conversations with other Christian churches.

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Tuesday, 2 December 2003

another equality milestone

Today, the The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 take effect.
The text of the regulations is here.
The text of the ACAS guidance can be downloaded as a pdf file from here.
The regulations have already been amended to bring occupational pension funds within their scope, and the text of the amendment is here.
For other links covering both this and the sexual orientation regulations, see here.

The Guardian has published useful guides to each of the new sets of regulations:
Sexual Orientation
Religion or Belief
The Guardian also reports that a solution has now been found to the difficulties of the 16 Roman Catholic Sixth Form Colleges who were caught by this legislation.
Over at The Times two columnists discuss these changes: Alan Coren and Libby Purves.
The BBC also has coverage:
Respecting all the workers
Q&A: New anti-discrimination laws and more amusingly
Could an agnostic be bishop?.
This story refers to “A document distributed by Lambeth Palace outlines how parishes need to make the link between such roles and religious belief, if they are to avoid a slew of writs” but I think this is a mistaken reference to the document issued earlier in the year by the Evangelical Alliance.

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Sunday, 30 November 2003

world opinions

Peter Akinola’s opinions on ECUSA, and a lot of background information on him, are reported at length in this interview by the Associated Press.

An ethnic Yoruba from southwestern Nigeria, Akinola abandoned a chain of cabinetmaking shops and postal agencies in the country’s Muslim-dominated north to “follow the calling of the church” in 1968.
These days, Akinola boasts of creating a diocese in Abuja, “from nothing on the ground. No church, no land, no money.” Two decades ago, parishioners worshipped “under trees, others in classrooms,” while today there is a cathedral and several parish churches.
Nigerians still regard him as a “big man” who, traveling in a chauffeur-driven, bulletproof Mercedes, rubs shoulders with the rich and powerful.
For instance, President Olusegun Obasanjo, a longtime friend who hails from Akinola’s hometown of Abeokuta, sent a three-man delegation to congratulate him for being elected leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella group uniting the nation’s 60 million Christians.
During a recent meeting with foreign journalists, church employees greeted Akinola with a combination of affection and obeisance. They chuckled, and kneeled to the archbishop, who laughingly referred to them as “you bushmen.”

Sarah Wildman lives in Washington DC. She writes for The American Prospect that “Conservative Episcopalians huffing over the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson are standing on the wrong side of history — their own church’s.” Read Gay Rites Movement.

Tom Harpur is a columnist for the Toronto Star. In his opinion, Alpha’s a giant leap backward.

Alpha is a reactionary, essentially fundamentalist, strategy. It will not satisfy the demands of the Spirit today for radical change. The churches must find another way.

Margaret Rodgers of Anglican Media Sydney writes in this month’s Southern Cross Ripples from ECUSA action felt far and wide

America is the beacon of democracy in the world. Yet it is not always a blessing to other nations. For the US often seems to determine what is, in its judgment, the right way forward, and it then proceeds to move relentlessly in that direction, however much the rest of the world dissents or protests.
This is apparent in US foreign policy. It also seems to be an underlying, though perhaps unconscious, driving force in much of the decision-making of the liberal elements in the Episcopal Church of the USA.

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Saturday, 29 November 2003

Saturday religion roundup

Earlier this week, Church asked to disinter ‘Harold’ in the Guardian. A church court was asked to give permission to open a medieval tomb which may conceivably contain the bones of King Harold, last Anglo-Saxon ruler of England.
And yesterday, The Times reported on Churches unite for justice in housing market. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, yesterday challenged the morality of the property market, arguing that it was “divorced” from people’s needs and left those working in essential services unable to afford a home.
Today, the Guardian has a comment column by Jewish academic Geza Vermes on What’s sex got to do with it?
Meanwhile the Telegraph has a useful column on Muslim God and Christian God by Christopher Howse.
The Times has Priest turns property tycoon to put churches in profit which is about a new company called Ecclesiastical Property Services. If this company has a website, I didn’t find it yet.

The same paper’s At Your Service column has a description of what happens at St Philip and St Jacob Bristol. This may or may not be the kind of thing that David Stancliffe was writing about recently but I’m pretty sure it’s what John Ewington dislikes not to mention Prudence Dailey.

The music is the main variable, with traditional organ-led services only about once every two months. Today the worship leader is 27-year-old Adam Stone, a student at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school. He describes his music as “U2-ish soft-rock”, and his band has drums, a piano and bass, acoustic and electric guitars. Sometimes there is half an hour of solid singing, punctuated by the occasional guitar riff. “It’s great to get into the presence of God and stay there for a while,” he says.
Perhaps the most notable innovation is a very large screen attached to the partition between the nave and the chancel. When a lady stands up to ask the congregation for help with some church maintenance work there appear on the screen two towering clip-art men - one holding a ladder, and another knocking a nail into a wall. During the sermon I look on in wonder as the preacher’s main points - as well as assorted quotations from the Bible - swoop jauntily into view.

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Friday, 28 November 2003

Australian news and views

Updated 29 November
Peter Jensen agrees with Peter Carnley. About asylum seekers that is.
‘God’s Own Country’ Would Turn Away Jesus - Archbishop is in the Scotsman this morning.
Archbishop slams refugee stance is in the Melbourne Age. And it is even on ICWales and South African News24 but no mention of this on Anglican Media Sydney yet.
Here now is the full text of that speech from AMS and a BBC report.

The religious affairs editor of the Australian, James Murray has written Who decides who’s a Christian? in which he criticises Peter Jensen’s “assumption of the right to interfere in the affairs of other churches.”

Jensen is on record as saying that truth is more important than unity, but the claim to be the possessor of the truth is surely a dangerous one. With the assumption of power as an archbishop and the influence of abundant funds - $3billion was mentioned - a heady combination threatens the integrity of the Anglican Church in Australia.

The differing views of other Sydney Anglicans are mentioned in this report.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published this opinion column
Conquer the Sodomites! The St Jensen’s Parish Newsletter.

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Sunday, 23 November 2003

Sunday news

Istanbul: updated links on this are here.

Another George Carey interview, this time on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme. Listen to it here (Real Player required).
and another, on BBC TV’s Breakfast with Frost. Here is the transcript of the interview.

And here is the full transcript of that Australian TV interview with Peter Jensen. An Australian news story based on it has two headlines:
Melbourne Age Archbishop flags split over gays
Sydney Herald Sydney archbishop could abandon Canterbury’s authority
Anglican Media Sydney is unhappy about that second headline.
Not all Sydney Anglicans are happy about what Jensen said, Jensen threatens to switch allegiances in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Meanwhile in Britain, the Telegraph reports that:
Archbishop gives his ‘full backing’ to pro-life campaigner and also has a long interview with Joanna Jepson. The view of the West Mercia Police on this is reported here. Here are some earlier reports:
Curate takes police to court over abortion of cleft-palate foetus
Ruth Gledhill gave some background in Curate tells of past that led to fight on ‘eugenic’ abortion.
The issue is discussed in today’s Sunday Times by Tom Shakespeare and also by Minnette Marrin.

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Saturday, 22 November 2003

Saturday roundup

Another reminder that news stories about the Istanbul bombings including today’s updates, are over here.

Last week in the Vancouver Sun: Top African Anglicans’ stake in B.C. “Their opposition to blessing homosexual relationships is rooted in religous struggles at home”.
Yesterday, Anglican truce threatened by war of words was published on
Also on Thursday, Same-sex battle may force ‘schism’ in the Vancouver Sun.

From today’s London papers:
What the Synod can learn from synagogues in The Times discusses Progressive Jewish views on homosexuality, and a story about tin churches, Faith in a flatpack reports on how you used to be able to buy them at Harrods.

In Australia, several trailers for a TV programme to be shown tomorrow:
Religious turf wars and
Sydney Archbishop eyes Anglican schism

Also the list of Formal Statements relating to the episcopal consecration of Gene Robinson has been substantially updated since it was first published.

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Thursday, 20 November 2003

Bishops utterances

The Church of England Newspaper has published an interview with George Carey in which he gives his views on current church matters. Sinister developments in the Communion. Unfortunately, the web page ends abruptly in mid-sentence so the full text is not available.
Update full text available here, courtesy of Kendall Harmon.

In Nigeria the House of Bishops met, and issued this statement
which was also reported in the Lagos Vanguard as Gay Bishop: Severance of Ties With US Anglicans Final - Akinola.

In New Westminster Michael Ingham issued this statement
which was reported in the National Post under Anglican bishop considers locking out dissenters.

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Saturday, 15 November 2003

Saturday opinions

First, an interesting critique of three church websites appeared in yesterday’s Financial Times, but this requires a subscription to link to. Someone else has ignored any legalities and reproduced a large part of it here. After admiring the Church of Nigeria (though not realising the site comes from Texas) and criticising (deservedly) the ECUSA site, he goes on:

Back to base, the Church of England. The site is looking tired, with a heavy blue and purple design, ostentatious use of “frame” navigation (very 1998) and a cringe-making “Welcome to the Church of England!” greeting on the home page. But, like the good old C of E itself, it is relentlessly practical and pragmatic. The first item in the house newsletter, the Gazette, is on “the Church campaign for VAT reform” and there are useful data on church attendances. A section headed “The Church’s view on . . .” covers everything from Sunday trading to child benefit. There is a section on Homosexuality, too. “Page not found” the message reads. The symbolism of the broken link: discuss….

Three very different articles in The Times this week (apologies to those who cannot read these without subscription, I will include extracts here):
Ruth Gledhill writes about the recent LGCM service in Manchester in the regular At Your Service column, which concludes:

Afterwards, as we were leaving, a clergyman whose youth, clean-cut blue cassock shirt and crystal white collar marked him out immediately as an evangelical, came over to chat. “I assume you are here to pray for them,” I said. “No,” he replied. He was there in solidarity, to show his support. He was upset by what has emerged from some sections of the Church in recent months. So all is not lost. Maybe there is hope for the Anglican Communion yet.

The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes ‘Arguments for the sake of Heaven’ demand a culture of civility in the regular Credo column. Resonance here for Anglicans:

Disagreement is essential to the life of any group. But there is a theology of disagreement. Judaism has a lovely ancient phrase, “arguments for the sake of Heaven”. A civilisation is a conversation scored for many voices.
But that means an active commitment to preserve the protocols of public debate. It means not shutting out the voices of those with whom you disagree. It means modernists not calling their opponents fundamentalists, and conservatives thinking twice before calling the other side heretics.
This is not a call for politeness. It is the recognition that in a world larger and more complex than our imagination can compass, humility is more than a virtue. It is an imperative. It doesn’t make headlines. It isn’t even fun. Unless we can create, within each of our faiths, a culture of civility and respect, we will fail the challenge God is setting us now.

And as a measure of our British secular context, in which the church must operate, see Jeannette Winterson’s There never has been a Pink Plot … and at last we can join the family earlier in the week, in which she says:

The dismay that has greeted the determination of the African Church to shatter the Anglican Communion over the ordination of gay bishops is a measure of most people’s tolerance towards gay people. We simply do not share the savage outrage of those men of God who are anally fixated on what the clergy do in bed.
The Church almost shipwrecked itself over the ordination of women priests; now it is reckless enough to risk centuries of unity and faith over an issue relevant to none but a minority of Bible-thumping evangelicals.

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Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Cheshire rumbles on

The Stockport Express adds its report, Bishop’s gay slur sparks fury while over in Northwich, other clergy are expressing opinions, Holy smoke in gay argument.

The intervention of the police appears to some Americans and even one Canadian to be very odd, see Weblog: Bishop Committed No Hate Crime Saying Gays Can Change and English Tolerance:, or He’s off the hook—but Big Brother’s watching or Andrew Sullivan, and also this one (scroll right to end) which invites readers to let the Chester Constabulary know what you think. Or even contact all the members of the Cheshire Police Authority.
And links to a picture of Chief Constable Peter Fahy.

I think it would be a very good idea for people who support what the Chief Constable said to do just that.

The Cheshire Police website has a page which explains the policy.

The Cheshire Police take homophobic incidents seriously and are working to eliminate homophobic incidents against lesbian, gay and bisexual communities in Cheshire. We are determined to eliminate all such incidents because homophobic incidents hurt more when they are not reported. Help the police to help you.
Here’s someone who is actually interested in what the bishop had to say.
And reported on the reporting, Gays ‘should seek a cure’ splash creates media storm.

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Tuesday, 11 November 2003

Tuesday news

Better for one bishop at least.
The Independent notes that Bishop’s ‘psychotherapy for gays’ comments not a crime
So does the Telegraph Police clear bishop in gay row
The Guardian has several readers letters on this in A cure for homophobia.
The story is also reported in the Manchester Evening News, Gay-row bishop not to face ‘hate’ charge
and Cheshire Online, Bishop escapes action

There are also letters in the Guardian, When faith is no longer charitable in response to an opinon column there by Giles Fraser on Monday, The evangelicals who like to giftwrap Islamophobia

George Carey spoke at Princeton University about Islam, Former Archbishop of Canterbury talks of Islam, West, the students there are rather liberal.

The East African published this opinion column, In US, as in Africa, Gene Robinson Has Tested Ecumenical Relations

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had a column In the Northwest: Episcopal leader vies for peace on sexual battlefield.

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Saturday, 8 November 2003

Saturday bonanza

Lots of stories today, to make up for yesterday.
First, more reports on what Peter Forster said:
The Times ‘Gays should seek help to be straight’
The Telegraph Gays need psychiatric help, says bishop
(Do note the URL file name :-)
The Guardian has the identical headline Gays need psychiatric help, says bishop
The Times catches up on yesterday’s blessings story, Bishop backs same-sex blessings
The East Anglian Daily Times counters Chester with Bishop welcomes practising homosexuals about Richard Lewis, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

Then, The Times has two very worthwhile opinion columns
Geoffrey Rowell Bishop in Europe A heated disagreement or mutual loss of charity is not a schism
Theo Hobson An established Church of England is a neutered Church
(and in connection with this, here is a radio clip I forgot to link earlier in the week, a discussion on disestablishment on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme last Tuesday (Real Audio required).
And in the Telegraph Christopher Howse writes only incidentally about Anglican liturgy but Sacred mysteries - Older testament better than new is interesting anyway.

Writing for the Washington Post but from London, Glenn Frankel has a major report on Anglican Head Seeks ‘Middle Way’ Issue of Gay Bishop Is Test for Williams

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Wednesday, 5 November 2003

press reports

The high level of press interest in Anglican affairs seems to be subsiding, so I have moved my reports back here for a while.

The BBC has this Factfile: Anglican Church around the world which lists the “stance on gay issue” of each Anglican province.

Yesterday, the CofE published a book, which is reported by the Guardian,Church of England ‘obsessed’ with sexual sin and by The Times, Pretend you are gay, Church tells worshippers. Neither of these headlines does justice to the book, which could be a very useful basis for serious study of sexuality issues in parishes and elsewhere. Two of the four bishops on the committee that produced it were among those who signed the Nazgul letter and the other two were supporters of Jeffrey John’s nomination, and all four agreed to the entire text of this book.

The Telegraph did not report on this at all, but a columnist, Janet Daley published her opinions under the heading Gay bishops threaten our foundations.

In Australia Peter Carnley has upset some people by asserting that “Life starts after 14 days”. The story can be found in the West Australian or in the Melbourne Age.

Some more reports from Africa:
The East African Standard, Nairobi Muslims Disown Gay Bishop
The News, Lagos Till Sex Do Them Part
This Day, Lagos Gay Bishop: Conference Praises Anglican Church Action
Johannesburg, Star The Anglican choice

West African province of Anglican Church breaks away
Pakistani Christians reject gay bishop
Kenya Gay Bishop is Put On Blacklist By Anglicans
Uganda Gay US Bishop Wrong

Further addition
Peter Carnley gave another interview to ABC Radio and you can listen to it here (Real Audio) or read a transcript here.

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Sunday, 2 November 2003

The long and short of it

I owe everyone an apology for overlooking this letter in the Sunday Telegraph last week:

Re: The long and short of it
Date: 26 October 2003
The 37 primates who attended the crisis meeting at Lambeth Palace may not agree on everything, but judging by your photograph of them they do have one thing conspicuously in common. With the exception of one, all of them, including our own Archbishop of Canterbury, are wearing trousers that need shortening by two or three inches.
Perhaps they are too saintly to have noticed. But if, as your reporter writes in her accompanying article, “the threadbare fabric of unity is unravelling”, this is not the only thing that will be unravelling, because, as my husband points out, trousers that are too long wear out more quickly than ones that are the right length.
It would be a kindness to the primates if someone suggested that they visit their tailors.
(Mrs) Patricia Davies, London, W4

And today, this response

Re: The wrong trousers
Date: 2 November 2003
Your correspondent noticed the length of the trousers worn by the primates attending a meeting at Lambeth Palace (Letters, October 26), and suggested that they should visit their tailors to have them altered.
Other readers may have noticed the fact that the primates wore trousers at all, and possibly think that they should visit their tailors to be measured for the correct episcopal kit.
Bishops (and, a fortiori, archbishops) cannot be expected to be taken seriously if they cannot be bothered to wear, on formal occasions, the clothes appropriate to their high station - which do not include trousers.
P C Thompson, Worcester

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Friday, 31 October 2003

Where the Bible leads me

…is the title of a thoughful piece by Barbara Brown Taylor published in the Christian Century. She refers to the Arian controversy and discussion at the bakery, and says

North Georgia has come to resemble Constantinople in at least one regard: no Episcopalian goes anywhere without being asked for his or her position on homosexuality. While no physical assaults have yet been reported, the debate has split churches and threatened budgets. It has also involved heated references to scripture.

The full text is reproduced below, with permission of The Christian Century as the original will disappear from the web soon.

Where the Bible leads me

By Barbara Brown Taylor

During the fourth century, at the height of the Arian controversy in Constantinople, one Christian wrote that it was impossible to go into a bakery for a loaf of bread without debating the nature of Christ. Was he the eternal Son of the eternal Father or was there a time when he was not? With bishops physically assaulting other bishops over this question and emperors changing sides on a regular basis, the debate spilled out of the church into the streets, where the Athanasians favored passages from John’s Gospel and the Arians shot back with passages from Mark.

When I read this chapter of early church history, I thanked God for letting me live in a later one. Then I got back to planning classes and grading papers. That was before the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, however, when a majority of delegates from across the United States confirmed the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.

Since then, North Georgia has come to resemble Constantinople in at least one regard: no Episcopalian goes anywhere without being asked for his or her position on homosexuality. While no physical assaults have yet been reported, the debate has split churches and threatened budgets. It has also involved heated references to scripture. Robinson fans tend to favor passages from the Gospels, while Robinson foes shoot back with passages from Paul. In the crossfire, it is not hard to understand why Anthony the Great fled civilization for the desert in the middle of the fourth century. Depending on who your neighbors are, snakes and hyenas can look like pretty good company.

The problem I run into at the bakery is that I do not have a position on homosexuality. What I have, instead, is a life. I have a history, in which many people have played vital parts. When I am presented with the issue of homosexuality, I experience temporary blindness. Something like scales fall over my eyes, because I cannot visualize an issue. Instead, I visualize the homeroom teacher who seemed actually to care whether I showed up at school or not. I see the priest who taught me everything I know about priesthood, and the professor who roasted whole chickens for me when my food money ran out before the end of the month. I see the faces of dozens of young men who died of AIDS, but not before they had shown me how brightly they could burn with nothing left but the love of God to live on. I see the face of my 16-year-old friend, still waiting for his first true love, who says that if he found out he was gay, he would kill himself. Other people have other stories, I know, but these are the stories that have given me my sight. To reduce them to a position seems irreverent somehow, like operating on someone’s body without looking him in the face.

I used to believe that swapping stories was one way to get closer to people who see things differently than I do, so that both of our truths get stretched, but I have almost given up on that. Where I live, at least, there is little sense that life stories can be “true.” Only scripture is true, so that the debate about the place of homosexual Christians in the church today hangs on what various biblical writers did or did not mean by one of five passages that were written at least 1,950 years ago.

I love the Bible. I have spent more than half of my life reading it, studying it, teaching and preaching it. While I do not find every word of it as inspiring (or inspired) as some of my fellow Christians do, I encounter God in it reliably enough to commit myself on a daily basis to practicing the core teachings of both testaments. When I do this, however, a peculiar thing happens. As I practice what I learn in the Bible, the Bible turns its back on me. Like some parent intent on my getting my own place, the Bible won’t let me set up house in its pages. It gives me a kiss and boots me into the world, promising me that I have everything I need to find God not only on the page but also in the flesh. Whether I am reading Torah or the Gospels, the written word keeps evicting me, to go embody the word by living in peace and justice with my neighbors on this earth, whatever amount of confrontation, struggle, recognition and surrender that may involve.

In this way, I have arrived at a different understanding of what it means to follow the Word of God. The phrase has become a double entendre for me, meaning not only the Word on the page but also (and more crucially) the Word made flesh. If Jesus’ own example is to be trusted, then following the Word of God may not always mean doing what is in the book. Instead, it may mean deviating from what is in the book in order to risk bringing the Word to life, and then facing the dreadful consequences of loving the wrong people even after you have been warned time and again to stop.

These days I guess everything sounds like a position, even a confession like this one. I do not know what is right. All I know is whom I love, and how far I have to go before there is no one left whom I do not love. If I am wrong, then I figure that the Word of God will know what to do with me. I am betting my life on that.
Barbara Brown Taylor teaches at Piedmont College and Columbia Theological Seminary.

All material copyright 2002 the Christian Century Foundation.

Copyright 2003 Christian Century. Reproduced by permission from the 20 October 2003 issue of the Christian Century. Subscriptions: $49/year from P.O. Box 378, Mt. Morris, IL 61054. 1-800-208-4097.

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Sunday, 19 October 2003

My opinion on this week

You can read what I think about the final statement from the primates meeting in my report on Anglicans Online. Alex Kirby’s comments really summed up my feelings very well, although I preferred the first version.

The Church of England and the other Anglican churches around the globe are sometimes unfairly caricatured as vague and unworldly. This time, though, it really is hard to think they share the same planet as most of humanity.
Whichever side of the debate about homosexuality and the church you find yourself on, this meeting has actually solved nothing. The threat of a split remains as potent as it ever was, and the crisis will come very soon.

I was at the press conference when the statement was presented. The most impressive person at the press conference was Michael Peers, Primate of Canada. No, that’s right he wasn’t on the panel, but he was at the back of the room and, after the questions were over, a big crowd of reporters and cameramen stood round him and asked him lots of questions. So many that one could hardly hear his answers. The TV crews included at least one francophone one, and of course he gave them all the same stuff in French.

This continued for so long that the conference organisers became desperate to get everyone out of the room, and close up, and so Peers and the reporters moved out of the building and continued the interviews outside on the street. This man’s ability to handle the press puts into the shade absolutely every other Anglican bishop I have ever seen. It was brilliant.

While I was writing that article on Friday morning, I listened to Rowan Williams talking to John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4 (Real Audio here, full text here). I found it hard to concentrate on what I was writing, as this interview was I thought really much more newsworthy than the primates statement.

And then just this morning I found on the Guardian website this comment by Simon Hoggart which although I would not have used the word “waffle” expresses much of what I felt at that moment (emphasis mine):

Heavens, yesterday morning’s interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on Today was grisly. His pious yet agonised waffle as he tried to hold the line between those who are not bigoted against gays and those who are was almost too painful to listen to. (And proof that John Humphrys can achieve as much through icy politeness as raw aggression.)

He talked about “the homosexual community”, which made it sound like Ambridge. But he was also worried about the views of smaller branches of the church “often in third world countries” who would be upset by a gay bishop.

But what’s the point of having a church abroad if it doesn’t lead people towards tolerance? What’s the use of a mission that wrings its hands over the great issues of justice and humanity? He wouldn’t contemplate holding the ring between those who were against cannibalism and those who thought that, on balance, in its cultural context, it was a valid expression of a community’s values.

But then I felt a deep sense of relief. It’s nothing to do with me. I’m not one of this lot. I don’t have to worry, any more than I would need to take sides in a dispute in the Flat Earth Society over the existence of New Zealand.

Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury. I am part of this lot. So this morning I went to church and prayed. And as the preacher said: “I have known a lot of bishops and priests, some good and some bad. And some straight and some gay.”

As somebody else said earlier this week, I have no objection to fundamentalist Christians so long as they are not practicing.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2003

Views from around the world

News items about the primates meeting are on the main TA blog.

Katie Sherrod, writing in the Dallas Morning News today has Episcopal critics have forgotten Christ’s teachings.

This story appeared yesterday in the Mail and Guardian, South Africa, Gay priests are ‘forces of evil’ in the church, reporting on Nigerian Anglican opinions.

Here in the UK, Reform wrote this letter to the Primates on 8 October which I had missed.

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Tuesday, 14 October 2003

Primates meet tomorrow

Tuesday’s main London newspaper stories are reported here.
Later in the day, the Manchester Evening News published this opinion article by Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, Crucial gay question facing church.
The BBC published Leaders grasp church gay sex row. (There was also a major segment on the Newsnight television programme.)
Latest Reuters stories here and here.

Some useful reports from abroad:
The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, USA) published Anglicans gather to confront historic rift which includes an interesting table of comparisons with other American Christian groups.
In Australia, ABC Radio carried two interviews: Exclusion of gays ‘religious fascism’: Anglican priest and Jensen disagrees injustice committed against gay Anglicans.

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Monday, 13 October 2003

Comment from abroad

From Sydney, where Peter Jensen has addressed his annual diocesan synod, the Sydney Morning Herald has this report and also this more general opinion column, An imposed unity could see church’s communion falter which ends:

Thus it was appropriate yesterday for Jensen to have asked the Synod to pray for Williams. But it is just as appropriate for others to wonder how long Sydney actually would tolerate an archbishop of Canterbury who began to function like a pope.

From Canada, the Toronto Star has Anglicans bracing for same-sex showdown.
The Vancouver Sun has Canadian clerics want U.S. groups to ‘stay home’ referring to the interference of some American bishops in the Canadian church.

From Nigeria, this story by Associated Press, Nigerian Anglicans in gay protest.

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Saturday, 11 October 2003

Stephen Sykes interview

ABC radio in Australia has published a recording, and also the transcript of an interview with Stephen Sykes and others, Homosexuality issue threatens to split Anglican Church.

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Saturday columnists

In The Times, Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop in Europe, who was with the ABC, writes about the visit last week to Rome. The love that binds the Churches of St Peter and St Augustine.

In the Guardian, Martyn Percy writes about the forthcoming primates meeting, Breaking up is hard to do.

So does Paul Vallely in the Independent, but the full text is available only if you have a paid subscription. Here’s the teaser anyway.

Faith & Reason: There is a way to avoid an Anglican schism at Lambeth next week.
The 38 primates who gather to confront the Church’s crisis over homosexuality need to avoid modern ways of thinking about sex and single issues

Paul Vallely
11 October 2003

To judge by what you read in the newspapers, a split in the Anglican Communion looks inevitable next week when the 38 primates who lead the 70 million-strong worldwide communion gather at Lambeth Palace for their emergency summit on homosexuality. Reports coming all week out of the pre-summit gathering of American hardline evangelicals have suggested that a potent international anti-gay coalition is consolidating.

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Friday, 10 October 2003

some views on the Texas meeting

First, two American newspaper reports.
One from the Associated Press, as seen in the Washington Post, Conservative Anglicans Rebel.
“The AAC clarified its statement earlier in the meeting that 46 bishops were attending the gathering by saying that only about half of those prelates are in the Episcopal Church hierarchy — the rest came from groups that have already left the church. Twelve Episcopal bishops took the platform at the closing session.”

And here is a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Dissident Episcopalians call for action.
‘Like an angry Old Testament prophet, the Rev. David Anderson raised a wooden staff before the crowd of 2,000 dissident Episcopalians in a Dallas hotel ballroom Thursday.
“Pharaoh,” Anderson shouted, “Let my people go!”
The crowd joined in with hoots and cheers, as the conservative American Anglican Council took a decisive step in rebuking its denomination’s election of an openly gay bishop.’

Second, here is a opinion column from the local Dallas Morning News, with a perspective not shared by the attendees, Liz Oliphant: Matters of faith aren’t resolved by walking out.
“Of course, schism is nowhere to be mentioned in the resolutions that the various dioceses and individual parishes are being asked to support. Instead, we hear of “faithfulness,” “biblical patterns and revelations,” the “sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman,” “doctrinal and moral standards” and dozens of other euphemisms for what the goal seems to be - dividing the Episcopal Church into those who believe the general convention erred and the majority who voted to accept the election of Bishop Gene Robinson.”

Third, here is what the ECUSA Presiding Bishop had to say about the meeting.
“It therefore concerns me deeply when Christians use inflammatory rhetoric when speaking of one another or issue ultimatums.”

And finally, in case you don’t believe reports about what the people at the meeting were saying, here’s another sample speech and a copy of the statement the meeting endorsed.

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Sunday, 5 October 2003

Andrew Brown on RW

Andrew Brown, in the Sunday Telegraph has an opinion piece, entitled Poor Dr Rowan: solving the gay row will only lead to another one in which he suggests that RW will side with the Africans, and attempt to close down the dispute by announcing that the Church takes a “biblical” view of sexuality. The article needs to be read in full though.

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Friday, 26 September 2003

This other Anglican Communion again

A further item from the Anglican Communion Institute has appeared at another place on the web, namely the blog of Kendall Harmon.

It is described as: “APPENDIX FOUR of The Anglican Communion’s Case Against the Episcopal Church USA: ASSESSING THE PROPOSAL FOR A SECOND OR PARALLEL PROVINCE” by the Very Rev. Dr. Philip Turner, Vice President: The Anglican Communion Institute. This is the document advertised on the Institute website, that I mentioned yesterday.

Basically, it argues against proposals for a parallel province for dissidents from the official actions of ECUSA and/or the Canadian church.

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Thursday, 25 September 2003

Which Anglican Communion is this?

There is a body which calls itself The Anglican Communion Institute. Now you might think that such a body was in some way related to the Anglican Communion Office, in London, or was in some sense an agency of the, err, Anglican Communion.

But if you thought that, you would be wrong.

The Institute is in fact a party-political organisation, associated with the same crew of right-wingers, mostly Americans, mostly evangelicals who are currently making almost all of the noise in Anglicanism (you recall Robert Runcie’s comments about most of the splashing coming from the shallow end of the swimming pool).

You can find out more about the institute from its website. The Compass Rose motif appears on the home page. Although the site lists no geographical address or contact details other than two email addresses, the executive director is named as one Donald Armstrong, who in fact is the rector of Grace and St Stephen’s Church, Colorado Springs, USA.

One of the more interesting things about this body is that the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, is listed prominently on the home page of the site as a member of the board of directors.
And on the page describing its mission he is quoted as saying: “I welcome this exciting initiative. At a time when our growing Communion is under strain, we need to undergird our common life with a firm base in Anglican doctrine and devotion and worship.”

Another interesting thing is that the website is advertising a forthcoming book, which is curiously titled: “The Anglican Communion’s case against The Episcopal Church, USA”. This is further described as “The Official Study Document of the Global South Primates” and as “A Paper Commissioned by the Most Reverend Drexel Wellington Gomez Archbishop of the West Indies”.

And the October Primates Meeting hasn’t even happened yet.

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Thursday, 4 September 2003

What price unity?

The Guardian today has this leader entitled What price unity?

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Sunday, 24 August 2003

Another thinking anglican...

A thinking American with a weblog is AKM Adam, who teaches New Testament and Church History at Seabury Western Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Here is what he wrote about the recent ECUSA General Convention.

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American Opinions

Two more American views of ECUSA recent events that are positive.

Theologian Harvey Cox wrote an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled A Schism Averted? about the ECUSA General Convention actions. Harvard Divinity School has reprinted the article here.

Retired Anglican priest, and editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Anthony Morley wrote a column on 10 August, Some important issues for people in pews to digest.

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Thursday, 21 August 2003

A telescopic perspective

There’s an excellent article in the Chicago Tribune by Robert McClory, a retired professor of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago, in which he compares the ECUSA and RC handling of sexual issues. Here is part of what he says:

The present impasse on homosexuality resembles nothing so much as Galileo’s confrontation with the inquisition in the 17th Century.

When Galileo suggested ever so carefully that the Earth may not be standing still at the very center of the universe, he was labeled a heretic for denying an article of faith.

If his accusers would only look into his telescope, he told the inquisitors, they could observe that things are not always as they seem.

“We have no need to look,” replied the churchmen.

“Both the Bible and the unbroken tradition of the church are unanimous on the subject.”

And they did not look.

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Monday, 18 August 2003

A PEV's view of Jeffrey John's nomination

The following two items were written by Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, one of the two Provincial Episcopal Vicars in the Province of Canterbury.

On 29 May (Ascension Day), Bishop Andrew wrote this.

In his August Pastoral Letter (dated no doubt in July), Bishop Andrew wrote this further reflection.

Incidentally, it is good to see that some bishops in the Church of England make good use of the web, and make it easy for people to contact them electronically.

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Thursday, 7 August 2003

Christina Rees on Questions of Faith

The Church must learn that there is never a straight answer to questions of faith is the title given to an article in The Times for 5 August, written by Christina Rees.

This should be required reading for anyone considering the issues raised by ECUSA’s ratification of the election of a new bishop for New Hampshire diocese.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2003

What Kenneth Stevenson said

about the Jeffrey John affair.

He wrote this piece in the Church Times of 11 July.

I think it is very good.

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Sunday, 27 July 2003

What Peter Akinola thinks

Peter Akinola is the Anglican archbishop who heads that church in Nigeria. He wrote an article in the Church Times recently entitled

Why I object to homosexuality

It is so outrageous that it deserves to be readily available. Hence this blog entry.

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Wednesday, 25 June 2003

What is Acceptable Episcopal Behaviour?

My comments on this are here at Anglicans Online.

For anyone who may have been on Mars last week, this is about the Nine Bishops Letter concerning the appointment of a new Bishop of Reading.

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