Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Housing dissent and difference.

Seeing that what the CofE gets upto these days shouldn't be any of my business, I believe that its established nature does give me the right to comment.

I will admit to being a bit of a secularist. This may appall you; however, please permit me to explain myself with an example.

In Berlin, plans are afoot to build the "House of One", a single building which houses a church, a synagogue and a mosque. There is a central meeting place which everyone has to pass through in order to get to their respective place of worship. This does seem to me to be the model for how Society should be.

The fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard the Church tries, not everybody is going to be Christian: some are going to be Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, et c. In declaring myself to be Christian, I am necessarily saying that, while I believe that there is much in the way of goodness and truth in each of those religions and philosophies, I must also believe that they are deficient or just plain wrong in some way. That's not a disrespect, that's just logic. Nonetheless, if these folk are part of the society in which I find myself, then they are my neighbours, and I am bound by my own adherence to the Christian Faith to love them as myself. Loving them means giving them a place to thrive, even at the cost of their turning away from God. If God does that, then I am duty bound by Divine example to do the same, imperfect though I am.

I am happier with the House of One than I am with the worship room at Bluewater which can change its religious affiliation literally at the touch of a button. For that to happen, that single room becomes everything and nothing - it treats all religions equally and the affiliation is quite generic. That worship room has no actual care about which religion it is; it's a case of one room fits all. The House of One, if it is ever built, has permanent space for each of the religions involved. There isn't one bland room whose furnishings pop out of the woodwork to suit the whims of the worshipper. These rooms are to be permanent, hallowed, and identifiable for each of the religions involved.

This is very much how I would like the British Society to be. Like the House of One, there should be central community in which people must play an active part in caring and building together, each taking ownership of that society and ensuring that everyone is valued. Then there are designated separate places in which to practice one's religion (and yes, I do count atheism, apatheism and agnosticism as religions), each respected by the other. That is how I see a secular society since it acknowledges the realism that not everyone is Christian, and yet lives in hope that by ministering to everyone at the commandment of God, there is the opportunity for everyone to become Christian - not by brow-beating and polemics, but by mutual respect.

The trouble is, that many people think of the Bluewater model when they hear the word "secular". They see society as one single room in  which no one has any religious identity. Consequently, many folk lack the desire to take an ownership in that society, try and cut themselves off and wall themselves in using religious privilege as an excuse. This is why the newspapers enjoy bringing to light stories of Christians being sued by gay rights activists, et c. There is dissonance as two groups with very different beliefs try to coexist.

If both groups therefore had some ownership of the common ground and a separate "room" in society to which they can repair for reaffirming their faith, then there is a chance that some rapprochement and consideration can be made. Both groups must recognise that the opposite viewpoint exists and is real and is unlikely to change no matter how "sinful" the other regards it. For the Christian, walking among sinners is a necessary task and inescapable given the fact that we are probably all sinners, though I simply cannot speak with any authority on the state of other people's souls.

Now this may sound like a ringing endorsement of the CofE's latest attempt to become a broad Church again by recognising the different and indeed opposing integrities. I do have to say that the speeches that I heard before the motion was passed were impassioned and, if genuine in their respect of other theologies, generous to their opponents. There was a sense of wanting to be family together.

This is all very well and I am pleased to see more charity and appreciation for each other being voiced by the Established Church. Certainly this is a very Christian attitude and shows that Christ is present in the hearts of many people in that Church.

Yet, even the CofE realises that it's set itself a very hard task - one that is almost quantum in its nature, given that women are going to be both bishops and not-bishops at the same time according to the totality of its membership. To aid itself, the CofE has developed five principles that it is using to ensure fairness and tolerance. These are:

  1. Now that legislation has been passed to enable women to become bishops the Church of England is fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and holds that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office are the true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy and thus deserve due respect and canonical obedience;
  2. Anyone who ministers within the Church of England must be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  3. Since it continues to share the historic episcopate with other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and those provinces of the Anglican Communion which continue to ordain only men as priests or bishops, the Church of England acknowledges that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  4. Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures;
  5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the Church of England will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.

Let us just look at these. 

Principle 1. The first to notice is that the CofE has fallen into the same trap of confusing sex and gender. Gender is the social construct; sex is determined by biology independently of any human being and therefore determined solely by God. A human being may be able to change gender by surgical procedure and by law; sex is something written into the very DNA and thus part of that human's being in itself. Likewise, it also shows that the CofE has legislated a change to a sacrament, something which can only really be done by an Oecuenical Council and then only with sufficient grounds. The guiding genius behind the first principle is that the CofE believes it has the right to legislate doctrine. The Roman Church believes the same thing, but on slightly safer principles. For the CofE, Society determines the answer to the question before it is investigated. I explored this some time ago. The fact of the matter is that it is the established nature of the CofE which means it must have women "bishops" because it is funded by the State for the benefit of the State and is the State religion. The U.K is not  a secular society, and this is not to its credit. Disestablishment would benefit the CofE so much.

Principle 2. All members of the CofE must accept that the CofE has made a clear decision. That's fine. For many people, this will be the wrong decision. How they live with the consequence that they believe that their Church is wrong is down to that individual, but it does puncture the authority of that Church. If someone believes that their Church is wrong about this, what else can it be wrong about? The clarity of the CofE's decision creates a lack of clarity for those who believe that the decision is wrong.

Principle 3. Neither the Roman Church nor the Eastern Church have women "bishops" and they will not have them. How then can the CofE claim that it continues the historic episcopate unless what the CofE means by "historic episcopate" is different from the Orthodox "historic episcopate"? If they are different, then there is a clear deficiency in the intention of the CofE to ordain bishops. Thus, while the matter of the sacrament may be invalid for the case of trying to ordain a woman as a bishop, the intention of the CofE to ordain bishops whether male or female is also now invalid, though it seems difficult to take this invalidity in the sense of "absolutely null and void" unless one is Roman. It does give better reason for the Orthodox Churches to ordain a convert rather than re-ordain sub conditione.

Principle 4. When I left the CofE, there were processes in place trying to "encourage" parishes who held the Resolutions to drop them when they fell into interregnum so that they could get a "good priest". They were told that "many priests were unlikely to take up a position in a parish which refused the ministry of women". Can it be that this principle means that a priest who is pro-W"O" will take up a parish which is orthodox in its outlook and respect that? Will he ensure that he will teach the orthodox faith, or will he be true to his principles and try and turn his parish? To flourish means to grow. Does that mean that the pro-W"O" party will ensure that there are sufficient numbers of orthodox priests for that growth to occur? What if that number dwindles? What about isolated orthodox individuals who have no local orthodox parishes but have to travel far and wide? Will there be a commitment to an orthodox church in each deanery, or within a benefice? And what of the incumbent himself? Is he really a priest? In the far future, if there is a far future, what will guarantee a priest really being a priest without him carrying around his genealogy?

Principle 5. It would be wonderful to see the CofE at peace in itself so as to commit to the mutual flourishing of its members.This is something that all Churches need to do and to think about seriously. I do, however, still fail to see how communion can be gradated. One is either in communion  or excommunicate, and this can only be in reference to Our Lord Jesus. If two Christians are in communion with Him, then they must necessarily be in communion with each other despite appearances to the contrary. We are in communion with Him if we keep His covenant. While individuals fail, the Church as a whole does not, i.e. membership of the Catholic Church ensures communion with Our Blessed Lord Jesus. There can be no middle ground. Of course, I am always accused of being a black-and-white thinker unable to see the shades of grey or the different colours of God's creation. Yet, God Himself has created a universe in which a statement and its logical negative cannot be true simultaneously ceteris paribus. The only possible recourse is that "communion" here in this principle means different things to different bodies. This is fine, yet given that it is the goal of each Christian to bein in communion with Christ, must he be in communion with Him in every sense of the word the CofE means or will some meanings do and others not? Is there a necessary criteria for being in communion? If this is the Eucharist, then what can be done with those who cannot receive any "sacrament" confected by a female "priest"? Are they in communion, or not?

The CofE has set a rod for its own back and yet is committed to receive the blows from this rod. Fair enough - it will have my prayers that it may find that way of honouring all its members and, despite the clouds of theological occlusion, at least put folk on the road to Christ. For me, the whole thing raises questions that do not seem to have any sensible or coherent answers, nor does it demonstrate a commitment to what we received in our history. The Vincentian Canon has long since been ignored. The CofE and I walk apart irreconcilably with the status quo but, I hope, peaceably. We have separate rooms in the House of One, but I look forward to our time in the common room.

No comments: