Friday, 31 January 2014

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali Comments on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill,...

The Church of Uganda has issued this press release.

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali Comments on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the Church of England’s “Pilling Report,” and the Open Letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York

30th January 2014

The Church of Uganda is encouraged by the work of Uganda’s Parliament in amending the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to remove the death penalty, to reduce sentencing guidelines through a principle of proportionality, and to remove the clause on reporting homosexual behaviour, as we had recommended in our 2010 position statement on the Bill. This frees our clergy and church leaders to fulfill the 2008 resolution of our House of Bishops to “offer counseling, healing and prayer for people with homosexual disorientation, especially in our schools and other institutions of learning. The Church is a safe place for individuals, who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness, to seek help and healing.”

Accordingly, we are grateful for the reminder of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to fulfill such commitments as stated in the 2005 Communique of the Primates Meeting held in Dromantine, Northern Ireland.

We would further like to remind them, as they lead their own church through the “facilitated conversations” recommended by the Pilling Report, that the teaching of the Anglican Communion from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, from Resolution 1.10, still stands. It states that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture,” and the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago. We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

Furthermore, as our new Archbishop of Canterbury looks toward future Primates Meetings and a possible 2018 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, we would also like to remind him of the 2007 Primates Communique from Dar es Salaam, which says that there are “consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion” for TEC and those Provinces which cannot

1. “Make an unequivocal common covenant that the Bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through” their governing body;

2. “Confirm…that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent.”

It is clear that the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada have not upheld these commitments, and so we do pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury as he considers whether or not to extend invitations to their Primates for the next Primates Meeting or to their Bishops for the 2018 Lambeth Conference. To withhold these invitations would be a clear signal of his intention to lead and uphold the fullness of the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10.

The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali

ARCHBISHOP OF CHURCH OF UGANDA.

Posted by Peter Owen on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 12:16am GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

"The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor 3:6)

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 5:06am GMT

"Disorientation". That's a good one. Let's have a facilitated conversation about your disorientatiion.

Posted by: Rev Drew Tweedy on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 8:30am GMT

"We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church." - Primate of Uganda -

And if the ABC and the ABY and the Church of England do not 'step back', what will Uganda actually do? Go the way of ACNA and separate out from the Anglican Communion?

There are those who would say: "Bring it on".


Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 10:15am GMT

Never been able to understand why they just don't split.

Posted by: Mike Homfray on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 10:52am GMT

Now will Canterbury give up on the attempt to serve two masters?

Welby is Primate of England. Not Africa. Not the world.

Get off the fence, Church of England. Take a side.

It's only the most salient civil-rights issue of our time.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 12:03pm GMT

Alison Barfoot ducks the support for the present legislation by arguing the Church had successfully seen the Bill amended.

The three areas she identifies were those highlighted by Rowan Williams when he criticised the Bill some years ago. One of TA's commentators quoted this recently on another thread.

Of course it won't do. The Bill as originally drafted was monstrous, now it is just outrageously bad. She will have to come up with something better than this sly threat that they will not attend Lambeth or Primates meetings.

As an aside, and partly in response to Mike's question, absence of some provinces from the Instruments of Communion would suggest that they have already left, but are hanging around to make trouble.

Several have already abjured the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meetings and ACC. Some have said they do not want or need the ministry of Canterbury. At what precise point would their actions catch the attention of those keeping the list?

And what of the Covenant?

Is that still working its way through the internal mechanisms of Member churches? We hear a heart beat now and again.
And what of the internal reworking of the Instruments of Communion we heard about some time ago, probably as a consequence of the absenteeism?

As much as there are turning points, one suspects that another mass boycott of the next Lambeth Conference will be surrounded by a flurry of activity aimed at either making the split more formal by GAFCON or limiting its importance from Canterbury.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 12:06pm GMT

Well, I'd say the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have just been told to "get stuffed." That could be seen as helpful, though: Ntagali has made it blazingly clear just how effective their "Neville Chamberlain" approach is going to be. I'm sure they expected that.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 5:11pm GMT

When it gets to trading letters along these lines you can't help but think that some kind of brink is not far off. I wouldn't care to be tasked with facilitating conversations between these parties.

Posted by: Samuel Denyer on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 5:50pm GMT

Archbishop Ntagali and others who agree with him refer repeatedly to those (few) parts of the bible that appear to condemn exploitative and abusive same-sex encounters. "Scripture" says nothing about faithful and stable same-sex relationships, which are as different from these abusive relationships as faithful marriage is from rape.

The bible says nothing about using a mobile phone, or (for instance) posting a press release on the internet. Are these actions therefore similarly condemned?

I'm sure that conversations are the only possible way ahead. Liberals won't get anywhere fast by shouting louder than before when those on "the other side" say they won't listen, so perhaps we should listen to them and try to work out exactly what it is that scares them so. Is it the thought of moral chaos (if so, we can certainly show that gay relationships don't lead to this), or personal insecurity, or something else?

Posted by: Peter Dyke on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 9:14pm GMT

"Never been able to understand why they just don't split.' Mike Homfray -

Because, Mike, this would then render them as non-Anglican - even though they already claim - through GAFCON - that they are the sole 'Orthodox Anglicans' on the planet.

I believe that GAFCON will not make the first move towards schism, though. They are waiting for the rest of us to kick them out - so that they can claim - like ACNA -to have been betrayed and maltreated.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 11:56pm GMT

Good question, Peter Dyke. I believe they're terrified of uncertainty. Their source of revelation is on trial. If the Bible can be wrong, their certainty evaporates, and they're in the existential mire with the rest of us.

That's why liberals and conservatives talk past one another. This isn't about what the Bible does or doesn't say, not really. It's about psychology. Liberals can deal with uncertainty: dogmatists can't.

I sympathize with their angst, but it's not grounds to impose their views on those who disagree.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 12:45am GMT

I agree that there is no need to shout. Nigeria and Uganda enjoy world opprobrium just as Putin's Russia does. Let them shriek and shout until their folly becomes apparent to their own people, just as British Catholics rejected Archbishop Nichols' dismal and lurid piece in the Independent on Christmas Day 2012. Meanwhile, just quietly remind them of the Gospel.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 4:28am GMT

"I believe they're terrified of uncertainty. Their source of revelation is on trial. If the Bible can be wrong, their certainty evaporates, and they're in the existential mire with the rest of us."

Very well put!

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 12:25pm GMT

"If the Bible can be wrong, they're in the existential mire with the rest of us."

Almost sounds like a perfect rebuttal of Cranmer's collect for Advent 2.

Posted by: cseitz on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 1:55pm GMT

'I believe they're terrified of uncertainty. Their source of revelation is on trial'.
Yes this debate is triggering an important internal debate among evangelicals that circles around biblical hermeneutics. So yes, something is on trial. But not, I think, because the bible is wrong. I think the ways we have been reading it are being exposed as flawed.
But this challenge is at every door. It was Jeffrey John who strongly challenged his own tradition some years ago for not being anywhere near thorough enough in doing the hard work of careful biblical study.
And yes, a tradition that focusses so strongly on authoritative teaching is very likely to struggle with 'uncertainty'. But is it really true that the liberal tradition is the promised land of secure, non-anxious, honest neurosis free faith? Really? Every tradition offers a way of hiding as surely as a way of living the truth.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 4:40pm GMT

"Almost sounds like a perfect rebuttal of Cranmer's collect for Advent 2."

Really?

To inwardly digest something usually means to absorb what is useful and beneficial, and to expel what is not.

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 1:02am GMT

This is clobber verses in reverse. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Cranmer's collect would get this kind of reading. "Almighty God, who has caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning" except the parts we "expel."

Posted by: cseitz on Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 2:56pm GMT

As it happens, David Runcorn, I totally see where anti-gay evangelicals are coming from. If I believed that I had access to a God-given source of revelation, and that people who got it wrong would burn in hell forever, I'd not be open to compromise, either.

Liberalism can't promise secure, non-anxious, honest neurosis free faith, and doesn't pretend to. It does promise to do away with the problems inherent to authoritarianism. Given all the anxiety and neurosis that revelation claims and the threat of hell brings, that's not without value.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 10:13pm GMT

"a God-given source of revelation, and that people who got it wrong would burn in hell forever"

How odd.

Jesus gave His life on a Cross that we might have life in him, as the "God-given source of revelation" uniquely declares, to the glory of God the Father.

We would have no access to this, no 'dial tone' to this new creation life, absent what the collect of Cranmer identifies and celebrates on just those terms.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 12:11am GMT

Which part of "slaves, obey your masters" was written for our learning?

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 3:14am GMT

"This is clobber verses in reverse. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Cranmer's collect would get this kind of reading. "Almighty God, who has caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning" except the parts we "expel." - cseitz -

And perhaps the greatest learning experience from Holy Writ is that God requires justice for ALL.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 10:09am GMT

"Which part of "slaves, obey your masters" was written for our learning?"

We can certainly learn from it, Jeremy. It is a question of WHAT we learn from it that matters. I find the grim and shocking bits of the Bible are some of the most instructive - they expose the fallibility of humanity. We at least get the chance to learn from their mistakes...

Posted by: Anne2 on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 10:53am GMT

"This is clobber verses in reverse. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Cranmer's collect would get this kind of reading. "Almighty God, who has caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning" except the parts we "expel.""

"Learning" does not equate with "unthinking obedience".

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 12:09pm GMT

"Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven."

An exhortation unknown in the household codes of the day. As was Israel's handling of slaves (a common reality in antiquity).

But this is why the collect reads, "hear them, read, mark, inwardly digest them, that we might embrace...". This isn't the hair-trigger of "we know better" so familiar now.

I appreciate the logic of James Bryon. Just throw it all out! The Bible is outmoded and in opposition to our aspirations.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 2:16pm GMT

I'm with Anne2. I find St Paul's musings on women and queers as nauseating as the next person but, traditionalist that I am, would insist on the integrity of the lectionary. Scripture has to be read whole for us to make any sense of it. Indeed, I often lament the thinness of the newer lectionaries in my province, and their apparent squeamishness about the less palatable parts.

Posted by: Geoff on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 4:02pm GMT

"I appreciate the logic of James Bryon. Just throw it all out! The Bible is outmoded and in opposition to our aspirations."

More like "treat it as any other text." This of course rests on whether we believe that the canon of scripture is revealed truth or a human creation. If it's a human creation, we're treating the aspirations of 2,000 years ago as the word of God.

The determination is, by its nature, not about evidence.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 3 February 2014 at 5:21pm GMT

Anne2, I could accept your understanding if it were publicly preached.

But who preaches the lectionary and says that it is wrong? And that we learn from Scripture _because_, or especially when, it is wrong?

Who after hearing the Gospel read (or perhaps reading the Gospel himself or herself) goes up to the pulpit and says "I disagree with the Word of God that you have just heard"? "And here's why"?

No one, of course.

It's all couched in much more subtle language. "Today's Gospel is a difficult passage . . . . How are we to make sense of it?"

Which, in my opinion, is intellectually dishonest.

The hard truth is this, and I'd like to hear it preached more often. The Bible may be the Word of God. But you can't believe everything you read in it.

If they heard that preached from the pulpit, some in the pews would walk out....

All because we are ashamed of the great merits of our Anglican tradition, and lack the courage and the vigor to say that yes, we do test the words of the Bible against our experience and our reason.

If Anglicans were more forthright about our intellectual heritage, we would be much more able to bring today's culture to Christ.

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 1:13am GMT

"Anne2, I could accept your understanding if it were publicly preached.

But who preaches the lectionary and says that it is wrong? And that we learn from Scripture _because_, or especially when, it is wrong?"

I do, Jeremy, and I don't suppose I am alone. I often stand in the pulpit or sit in Bible study groups and say that the Bible is a record of humanity's struggle to understand life, faith, themselves and God and that we might not agree with the particular answers they came up with in their time. Having a record of that struggle though means that we see our own struggles in a new light. We might come to different conclusions or act in different ways, but the fact that their stories are preserved enriches our own ability to come to our own decisions about the issues that face us.

No one has complained, and many have expressed appreciation. Most people in my congregation would take it as read that we shouldn't just expect old solutions to fit new problems. It all depends whether you expect the Bible to be like a washing machine manual - turn to page 63 if your sprockets clunk - or whether you can allow it to be the living word of God, speaking to every generation afresh.

Posted by: Anne2 on Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 9:49am GMT

Anne2, I appreciate your response, and of course I prefer your hermeneutic.

But with respect it sounds as though you may make our point a bit indirectly.

Of course this is easy for me to say as I do not preach!

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 4:31pm GMT

Yes, Jeremy, if you did have to preach, if you were to be totally honest - in today's world of new revelation through science and technology, you might find it very hard to insist on 'every word of Scripture being either true or even relevant to modern-day understanding of life today.

Many of us who exercise the precious gift of preaching - in the light of the INCARNATE WORD - sometimes have to question the wisdom of verbatim acceptance of that which is written. We need, in every instance, to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to interpret for our particular audience.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 11:41pm GMT

Father Ron, I don't think you and I disagree on interpretive approach.

But I think we might disagree on how open preachers should be about that approach.

"To interpret for our particular audience" sounds like trimming interpretive sails to suit the bible-olatry of the people in the pews.

That, to me, is a serious problem.

And I think the Holy Spirit would counsel truth-telling.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 1:32am GMT

If you do preach you have to be aware of the huge variety of people in your congregation - young and old, those who have been sitting in the pews all their lives (though not necessarily listening or understanding...) and those who have just come in for the first time that morning with no knowledge of the Bible at all, those who have post-graduate degrees and those who left school with no qualifications and are barely literate...
The challenges of differentiation are huge for preachers - far greater than any classroom teacher or university lecturer will face.
To add to this you have to make some kind of sense of Bible readings which you haven't chosen yourself, in the light of whatever liturgical season it is and whatever is happening in the news. And you have to do it all in 10 minutes or so, possibly against the backdrop of restless toddlers, knowing that the PA system isn't that good...
And somehow you have to find some good news which people can take home and apply in their own lives.

Simply to say "I don't agree with this bit of the Bible" won't do it. Half the congregation will switch off, or just assume that you don't believe in God or have a bee in your bonnet. The other half will be left confused about what you do believe. And all they will take home is a negative message.

The reason why preachers are measured and careful in their exposition of the Bible is that we recognise that for many people the strain of opening their minds and getting their heads around the Bible in anything other than a "washing machine manual" way is immense.
It is far more productive to most to acknowledge that a particular passage might seem very strange or offensive to us, and that it was written in a very different context, and explore why that culture might have taken that view. While we might deplore their prejudice or violence or whatever, the seeds of their behaviour are in us too - we don't know how future generations will judge us. It is fine to say - " I don't believe that God is like this or that we should behave like that" but the important thing is to be honest about how we are still constructing God in our own image, and learn from the stories of the past what dangers lie therein.
Sorry if it all seems too nuanced from your perspective, but you have to imagine also how it sounds to someone very different from you, who is perhaps having to look again at long cherished beliefs, or doesn't have your intellectual or spiritual capacity to cope with this sort of challenge at that point.

Posted by: Anne2 on Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 9:57am GMT

Ten minute sermons according to a fixed lectionary -- not in an evangelical tradition, then! :D

One of liberal Christianity's greatest pitfalls has been its reluctance to say what it means. Absolutely say, "The Bible is wrong." So what if half the people switch off? You've got the other half. As for the one's who assume that you're an atheist, great: opportunity to challenge them about what faith means. If they're unwilling to listen, odds are they're in the wrong building.

Evangelicals aren't shy about saying what they believe. That is a large part of their success.

The liberal approach can, regardless of intent, come across as elitist and two-faced. People would much rather hear something uncomfortable upfront than feel they've been duped.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 5 February 2014 at 11:37pm GMT

"we recognise that for many people the strain of opening their minds and getting their heads around the Bible in anything other than a "washing machine manual" way is immense."

As you can tell, I'm not one for beating around the bush.

So I'll just say it.

This is both condescending and self-defeating.

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 6 February 2014 at 2:16am GMT

No, Jeremy, it is neither condescending nor self-defeating; it is reality. I'm not saying that some people can't consider other possibilities, or that we shouldn't try to help them to, but for some, for all sorts of reasons, this is much harder and more painful than it might be for you.

I think, for example of the woman in my congregation who, by her own admission had always clung onto simple certainties about her faith which she had learned in childhood. She comes along to our Bible study group and has immense difficulty in taking on board that the things she reads in the Bible might not be literally true. She truly wanted me to tell her exactly what angels looked like, and struggled with the idea that the Bible didn't describe them as blonde haired, white nightdress wearing beings. It has caused her real distress and confusion as she has been brought into contact with the the idea that the Bible was not dictated by God all in one fell swoop, and that we can't simply open it and find simple instructions. I have had to be very gentle and take things at her pace as she has started to look at some of the issues of biblical interpretation. She's not unintelligent, but she has a real need for things to be black and white. She does, though, at least come to Bible studies and has been quite brave in persisting with the questions rather than just writing me off as a hopelessly wishy-washy liberal; many others like her would never get that far, and I can think of others who, despite years of encouragement still obviously assume that anything theological said in church is something they are bound not to understand.
It's not necessarily to do with intelligence, class or education. I think of another man, very wealthy and retired from an obviously illustrious career in finance who gets very upset if I suggest in sermons that, for example, we might not know exactly what the first Christians meant when they talked about the virgin birth, since they didn't know about the processes of conception. He is quick, too, to pass on the latest "findings" which people claim support an actual flood, or explain the star of Bethlehem. As far as I know he has never been part of a fundamentalist congregation, but somehow he can't cope with the idea that we might need to take a non-literal or more nuanced view of the Bible, including its stance on moral issues. The challenge needs to be very gentle, otherwise he simply withdraws from it.
It is really important to listen to people's fears that if their faith is rocked at all, it will capsize completely. It isn't condescending to do so; it would be lacking in compassion not to. The self-defeating approach is to try to bludgeon people with things they are not ready to hear.

As I said before, the truth is that congregations are hugely varied. Sermons are not academic lectures, but attempts to open people up to what God needs to say to the real situation they are in (which I may not be aware of at all). While it is important not to avoid the tricky subjects and the things which we have to acknowledge we don't know the answers to, it is also important to be aware of the sheer variety of starting points and assumptions there will be in the average congregation.

Posted by: Anne2 on Thursday, 6 February 2014 at 10:30am GMT

Anne2, I think you're making my point for me.

Anyone who thinks that everything in the Bible is literally true should be disabused of that pernicious notion--and fast. That notion is a source of great evil in the world today.

And again, to work around the virgin birth in the way you describe sounds very indirect. More sail-trimming.

In other words, the two people you describe appear, by their interpretive approaches, to be constraining your own. You're focusing on them because they are already in your congregation. But what about the people _not_ in your congregation who might think better of the church, of Christianity, of Christ, if we all were more honest?

Anglicanism ought to be widely known as a branch of Christianity that does _not_ hold that every word in the Bible is literally true. That, after all, is our heritage. Our charism. Our brand, if you will. Certainly a selling point and a distinguishing characteristic.

So why do we hide it?

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 6 February 2014 at 1:48pm GMT

Anne2, there's a danger of allowing pastoral concerns to stifle honest expression, and for politeness to tip over into obfuscation.

If someone can't handle critical evaluation, the hard fact is that they need to go elsewhere. Academics get students from a range of backgrounds, but they don't see that as grounds to avoid challenging their presuppositions. The alternative is to allow criticism to be so muffled that it becomes silent. Confrontation is unpleasant, but sometimes it's unavoidable. You can't make everyone happy.

A large part of the problem is the authoritarianism inherent to church services, with a priesthood speaking to a silent audience. It's a recipe for paternalistic elitism. Perhaps it's time to junk the sermon altogether, or to follow it with a Q&A. It is, ultimately, no more than privileged opinion.

At the very least, allow members of the congregation into the pulpit, and encourage a diversity of views there.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 6 February 2014 at 11:25pm GMT

Jeremy, I'm totally in agreement with your last comment (6 Feb) - Father Ron -

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 7 February 2014 at 2:17am GMT

Jeremy and James, there is plenty of challenge in my sermons - if there wasn't I wouldn't know about the struggles these particular people I mention have in dealing with that. The question is, though, how do you get people from A to B, from the point where they think of the bible as a washing machine manual to being able to question it and argue with it? My experience is that you don't do that by saying "if you don't like it you should go somewhere else". You do it by taking their concerns and their fears seriously, and helping them to take small steps towards a more open view. Perhaps you can think of ways in which your own opinions have changed over time. How did that happen? Was it a sudden and total change, or something gradual? Did it feel disturbing to you - did you struggle with the sense that the foundations of your life had become shaky? It may be that you are both the epitome of the rational human being, who calmly and rigorously examines every idea and adopts it or doesn't according to the evidence; if you are like that, however, then you are probably quite rare (or perhaps you just haven't come up against a challenge to what you think yet). For most people changing their minds about something is a painful and extended process.That doesn't mean they are bad people, and it certainly doesn't justify excluding them from the family of the church. When I need to stand firm on something I do it, but it is usually far more productive to try to find a way to get alongside people than to go head to head with them.
This is my last contribution on this subject. I'm sorry if you still can't see where I am coming from, but I think my (very open, diverse and affirming) congregation do.

Posted by: Anne2 on Friday, 7 February 2014 at 12:06pm GMT

To clarify my position, I'm not suggesting that anyone be told "my way or the highway," but that people be given things straight, and left to make up their own minds.

"Get people from A to B" is, perhaps unintentionally, a paternalistic approach. This is, I think, the root of my disagreement with Anne. Instead of leading people by the hand, have an open debate. People will, ultimately, decide their own path.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 7 February 2014 at 10:13pm GMT

I think Anne2 is spot on.
Are we so intellectually superior that we absolutely must hammer our own views home, regardless of consequences?
Is Anne not right to say that if she takes people on their journey too fast she will lose them? Are they expendable?

And what do we mean by disabusing people of the idea that the bible can be read literally?
Are we saying that there is a group of hopelessly stuck individuals who would still stone people if they could on one side, and an enlightened group of us on the other who know never to take anything literally at all?
That completely misses reality.
People who do not talk about Sola Scriptura nevertheless believe in the physical Resurrection, in the actual Incarnation. Some of those idiots even believe in the virgin birth, would you believe it, and aren't they stupid sops who need to be disabused of that by us immediately?
How arrogant are we going to be about this?

Everyone’s faith is complex. Some take this bit more literally, others that bit. Some take none of it literally.
I personally couldn’t care less what people believe. I’m interested in how they live and in whether their faith helps them to become free of fear, willing to look out for the weak in society and whether their trust in God helps them to grow as people or whether it comforts them when they need it.

Anne’s kind of preaching is pretty standard in many churches. Sensitive priests who never claim that anything is absolutely true, who encourage people to think, but who do not push them where they are not ready to go.

Our churches aren’t empty because some people believe in the virgin birth. Most people, if they did come, would find that most priests would not lecture them about what they have to believe. They could worship with people for years and only discover during a surprising Lent group session what the individuals actually believe. You can’t tell. Some of the most compassionate ones are astonishing literalist about some things. Some of the most dogmatic ones aren’t.
The best priests will be like Anne. Gently challenging without threatening, allowing people to come to their own conclusions about their faith without telling them that they’re wrong in some objective way.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 8 February 2014 at 8:49am GMT

"Are we so intellectually superior that we absolutely must hammer our own views home, regardless of consequences?"

Not at all, Erika; I've argued the exact opposite. Claims should be tested in debate.

If people want to hold (to quote 'Blue Like Jazz' with tongue very much in cheek) "private, religious, wacko beliefs," it's none of my concern. They doubtless think my beliefs are equally whacko. Problem is that beliefs beget actions. If we could just agree to disagree, there wouldn't be an issue. Since orthodoxy often goes hand-in-hand with imposition, in many cases, that's not a realistic option.

If someone's beliefs compel them to impose their views on others, the kindest response is to challenge them. Tolerance isn't a suicide pact.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 8 February 2014 at 11:33pm GMT

James,
there is no empirical method that can test faith. There is no empirical method that could settle the question of whether there is a God, never mind what he's like, whether he actually came down to earth in the form of Jesus, whether he died and was resurrected, whether that had any cosmic effect on the world's fate... it's the idea that we can easily disabuse people of their beliefs just because they seem impossible to us that is the intellectual arrogance.

What matters is what kind of people our faith helps us to become. Can we tolerate that other people believe differently, can we restrain our urge to use our faith as a reason for trying to impose controls on them, can we become genuinely compassionate and outward looking - that's what matters. Not whether we believe that Mary was a virgin when she conceived, or whether we believe that she remained one for the rest of her life, or whether we believe that she was a young girl who terrifyingly got caught out pregnant and made the best of it, producing an extraordinary son.

Yes, we need to use our brain and those of us interested in theology can dig deeper and deeper and go on a fascinating journey of exploration.
But that's not what matters. In the end, it's only the fruit of our lives that count. And they don't depend on our intellectual faith.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 10:35am GMT

"... it's the idea that we can easily disabuse people of their beliefs just because they seem impossible to us that is the intellectual arrogance."

Perhaps, but I never said that, so it's by the by!

I'm willing and able to tolerate all kinds of beliefs, and loathe the idea of imposing controls on anyone. The problem comes in tolerating the intolerant, in tolerating beliefs that seek to impose controls on others. In that case, challenging beliefs is self-defense and defense of third parties.

You're right about beliefs not resting solely in the intellect. Much belief is rooted in emotional need and other complex psychological processes. The emotional need to not be oppressed is, of course, just as strong. To allow that flourishing, oppressive creeds need to be opposed.

Because it isn't about abstracted intellectualism, but people's wellbeing.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 7:43pm GMT

James,
I understood you to say that if only we confront people with rational arguments they will give up their medieval beliefs and become tolerant people. That's why you wanted Anne2 to be confrontational and disabuse people of their harmful belief that there was a virgin birth etc.

Maybe I misunderstood you.
But I don't think we are that far apart at all.
But I think there is this prejudice that the literalists are the ones who cause grave harm to our church because they are the ones who discriminate and are intolerant. And we really mean evangelicals by that who tend to focus more on scripture and are less open to the idea that parts of the bible are simply wrong, or dependent on culture etc.

And I suppose I don't quite go along with the idea that it is a particular theological belief that makes people become oppressive.
I know a lot of people who are rather evangelical, yet who will always emphasise the idea that they are not to judge over their concern that some modern social developments may not be “right”.
Real life people, even if they disagree with me, tend to be astonishingly tolerant and really do not go on at all about their innermost beliefs.

But if you meet people on the Internet perception changes. There is no longer the constraint of having to face an actual other person, we can be “purer” in our intellectual disagreement and suddenly it looks as if we were really quite strident in real life.
The Internet also encourages those who really are more strident – those who couldn’t care less or not so much simply don’t get involved in those debates.

And I think that twists our perception of the debate. On the internet we are confronted with the extremes. And so we easily begin to equate evangelical with intolerant, and then we wrongly conclude that the intolerance comes from a more literal reading of scripture.

It’s not our belief that needs to be challenged but our intolerance and our desire to control. And they are not linked in quite such a linear fashion as Internet forums can lead us to believe.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 9 February 2014 at 11:21pm GMT

I'm curious about the charge of intellectual arrogance.

Which is more arrogant--the idea that the Bible is subject, like most texts, to interpretation, and that what we read in it depends on what we bring to it?

Or the idea that the Bible has one literal truth, and I know it, and you do not?

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 12:40am GMT

There is no arrogance in either approach, Jeremy. The arrogance, on both sides, lies in claiming that one's preferred approach is so obvious that everyone who doesn't share it has to be dismissed or quickly re-educated.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 10:09am GMT

"the idea that the Bible has one literal truth, and I know it, and you do not"

Which is exactly what those are doing who insist that the bible has no literal truth and that they know it, and the others don't.

If you did indeed allow "the idea that the Bible is subject, like most texts, to interpretation, and that what we read in it depends on what we bring to it" we would not be having this conversation.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 10:27am GMT

Erika, couldn't agree more about the decency of many evangelicals as individuals. Problem is that an authoritarian creed works against that decency. How many evangelicals have you heard say they'd like to affirm gay relationships, but consider their hands tied by the Bible? I've heard plenty, and I believe quite a few.

Authoritarian ideas also attract, and give cover to, others who aren't nearly as pleasant. Controlling individuals who mask their bullying in a cloak of righteousness.

Like you, I have no desire to cause anyone distress. What alternative would you suggest to challenging the underlying belief?

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 12:03pm GMT

James,
I believe that people chose those creeds they want to believe in and that they chose the kind of churchmanship that best suits them.

And so anti gay evangelicals will tell you that it's all about the plain meaning of Scripture, whereas anti gay Anglo-Catholics will tell you that the Pope has confirmed that being gay is an intrinsic evil.

Anti women evangelicals will cite St Paul, anti women Anglo Catholics will talk about sacramental assurance and that God has assigned certain roles to men to the extent that women can literally not carry them out effectively.

Religion is the cloak for the opinion and provides it with a still just about respectable excuse.

There are many genuinely affirming evangelicals and genuinely affirming Catholics. And they use the same evangelical or catholic approach to their faith as those who come to anti-gay or anti women conclusions.

The problem is not the churchmanship but the opinion.
And while we have to use the arguments rooted in the respective traditions to challenge the opinions, it is the opinion we are fighting, not the tradition.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 4:33pm GMT

"The arrogance, on both sides, lies in claiming that one's preferred approach is so obvious that everyone who doesn't share it has to be dismissed or quickly re-educated."

Erica, please tell me where in the world those who put forward a nonliteral hermeneutic are criminalizing literal approaches.

Otherwise I shall conclude that you are engaging in a false equivalency.

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 12:15am GMT

Churchmanship & opinion aren't unconnected, are they?

The core problem is authoritarianism, judging an opinion by its source, not its merits. Evangelicalism and anglo-Catholicism have this in spades. It enables their adherents to ignore evidence "because the Bible/magisterium says so."

I won't use an argument "rooted in the respective tradition" if I consider its assumptions to be wrong. Doing so would be like arguing against segregation from a white supremacist perspective (and this was done by well-meaning "liberals" back in the day). A strong comparison, I know, but its strength illustrates the point.

Liberalism is, at times, way too pluralistic for its own good.

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 12:26am GMT

Jeremy,
I don't think I was talking about crimimalising anything.
I am commenting on your conversation with Anne, who seems to be doing what she can to challenge people gently and to help them to accept the possibility of a nonliteral hermeneutic.
And you have consistently criticised her for not being firm enough, for not preaching outright that her view of non-literalism is the only right view.
You said "And I think the Holy Spirit would counsel truth-telling." as if it is a given that your view is right in some absolute terms and that of others wrong.
You said "Anyone who thinks that everything in the Bible is literally true should be disabused of that pernicious notion--and fast." So it's not enough to challenge people gently, they have to be brought to see things our way quickly because we know that we’re right.

That is what I think can be close to intellectual arrogance.

James,
Are churchmanship and opinion connected?
Only a very few percent of parishes still oppose women’s ordination. These are split between conservative Anglo-Catholics and conservative Evangelicals. Each use the arguments from within their own tradition to make their point, but over 95% of the others from the same tradition do not share those beliefs.

The majority of those attending church regularly are now broadly pro-gay, that includes the majority of young evangelicals and young Ango-Catholics. Those still against will use evangelical or Anglo-Catholic arguments against same sex relationships but their opposition is clearly not an intrinsic part of their tradition, otherwise so many others would not have changed their minds over the last decade while still remaining evangelical and Anglo-Catholic. These people have not all become liberals. They just have liberal views on those 2 social issues.

The reason people changed their minds is because they experienced women and gay people as truly equal. And once you do that you simply can no longer hold on to the belief that they should be treated differently. The mind cannot believe what the heart knows to be wrong.
And so they began to be persuaded by pro-women and pro-gay arguments arising from within their own church traditions.
They did not have to leave their traditions behind when they changed their minds.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 9:13am GMT

I accept, Erika, that evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics can move thanks to ingenious arguments. Point is, they'd never have become so entrenched without the underlying authoritarian framework. Legitimating the amoral "because X says so" as a justification is dangerous beyond the telling of it.

It's still far from clear that even open evangelicals will shift to an affirming position on gay relationships. That's the thing. It shouldn't be a struggle. If people like Tom Wright didn't cleave to biblical authority, it would be a non-issue for them.

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 8:05pm GMT

Yes, but Tom Wright is firmly pro-women.
Biblical authority itself does not say anything about the social policies people will end up supporting - because we both know that there are so many ways of reading the bible that any conclusion we come to can be explained as accepting biblical authority.

Homosexuality is something parts of society are still conservative about, and many of those conservatives are found in religious circles. So they use religious arguments to shore up their views. Once their views change they will find just as many biblically sound arguments in favour, policies will have changed and the concept of biblical authority will remain untouched.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 10:54pm GMT
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