Saturday, 8 July 2017

Opinion - 8 July 2017

Bosco Peters Liturgy The Bishop’s Mitre

Jem Bloomfield quiteirregular Morality and Message: The Church of England, Young People, and LGBT Issues

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 11:00am BST | TrackBack
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Really perceptive article by Jem Bloomfield.

"I am deeply concerned that our current situation is preventing thousands upon thousands of young people from hearing the Gospel."

Working as a nurse in a school for 1200 teenagers, I have to say that this is the message I pick up from them too.

It's not that these teenagers reject the Church message on LGBT issues out of lascivious immorality. It's that they regard the Church's perceived discrimination and vilification of gay sex as immoral and disgusting. It is a huge turn off.

And of course, young people will often latch on to perceptions like this, and lose interest in other things the Church may offer. Sadly, for thousands of ordinary young people, their trust in the Church falls at the first hurdle, because the vilification of gay sex is regarded as obnoxious and toxic.

At my school, it's not just gay and lesbian young people who believe in inclusion. It's the vast majority of heterosexual students too. There's a widespread acceptance of the concept of diversity. 'Jack' may be gay, even outwardly camp and celebratory, but young people look past that to who 'Jack' is.

I'm transgender and lesbian, yet not a single student has been negative or rude towards me. They seem to 'get' that this is part of inclusion, part of their values. And it's decent and moral. A wonderful change in society going on (though obviously not yet complete).

So where a Church vilifies gay or lesbian sex, it just ends up seeming creepy and bizarre (and I respect that some Christians in good conscience have the right to believe gay sex is wrong, but the effect is the same). Alienation.

People sometimes say that it's conservative churches that are drawing in more people, rather than liberal churches. But what that doesn't factor in is the hundreds of thousands of young people that kind of Christianity is putting off.

A whole generation of young people are being alienated, because they are growing up believing in the common decency of inclusion, and the perceived immorality of the Church with its fixation on 'othering' the kind of classmates the young people themselves have learnt to like and accept.

Big conservative churches may claim success for attracting 200 people in their city. The actual score of their kind of message, however, is +400 and -20,000. In short, an evangelical disaster.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 11:58am BST

On Wednesday Dr Paul's article about an item of ecclesiastical millinery elicited 36 comments; on Monday the distressing story of Mr Ineson (and the 'response' of the authorities to his complaints) elicited 27 comments.

Someone has now thought it necessary to write a rather acid piece as a riposte to Dr Paul's nearly pointless article.

Mr Peters' piece tells me relatively little, but does provide a useful illustration of the extent to which parties within the Church really detest each other.

Quite apart from the various abuse scandals, increasing marginalisation of Christianity in modern society, the remorseless demographic decline, the progressive implosion of the parochial system and the preposterous politics associated with sexual preferences and gender orientation, an acrid debate about mitres provides incontrovertible proof that the Church is institutionally insane. It is an inadvertent opera buffa rendered all the more comedic and pathetic by its pretensions to opera seria.

Posted by: Froghole on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 12:08pm BST

After scanning Bosco Peters jejune article, I thought, seriously?

Perhaps Mr. Froghole's consternation about the relative priorities of the subject matter can be calmed by the fact that a number of the comments on the mitre issue in the earlier thread were flippant. I know mine were, and it is just the kind of comment the issue pleads for.

Besides, sometimes a certain perspective sees humour where others have been conditioned to discern gravitas. Example: A friend of mine who had never attended a "high mass" kind of liturgy complete with fancy vestments and swinging thurible remarked, " Someone should tell that guy his dress is nice but his purse is on fire." ( :

Poor Emperor, sometimes wearing no clothes, other times too much a clothes horse for the occasion.

So, Froghole's closer is apropos, "It is an inadvertent opera buffa rendered all the more comedic and pathetic by its pretensions to opera seria."

Besides when it comes to a sex obsessed, scandal plagued, floundering and perhaps moribund institution, if one didn't laugh one would cry.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 3:35pm BST

"There are moral principles of inclusion and justice which are central to [young people's] lives, which they see the Church as transgressing."

And yet, these "moral principles" don't stop kids from flocking to evangelical megachurches, nor affirming mainline churches being in decline. That's the conservative rebuttal to articles like Bloomfield's: if inclusion's the answer, why are we the successful ones?

Personally, I'm not convinced, and believe that style's far more important than substance: evangelical churches happen to be the ones with services in a modern style. If affirming churches were a success, conservatives would just switch it about and accuse them of selling out, and present themselves as the faithful remnant.

And yet. If nothing else, evangelical success among the young indicates that these so-called moral principles are, in the main, fashion, not conviction, a trendy accessory that can be jettisoned as easily as it was acquired. I fear that far too much weight's being put in something that'll blow away the moment it proves inconvenient.

Don't get me wrong: affirmation's of course welcome, even if it's fickle. It can be harnessed to deliver lasting change. But we must be careful to ensure it's not put to the test, for I fear it'll fail.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 3:38pm BST

Ah Froghole, debates about mitres are proxies for more compelling things. Episcopal hats is a straw man representing liberalism (=those abominable gays and uppity women). Militant evangelicalism has always picked on the easy target fripperies of the church, but the underlying agenda is always deadly serious. It might appear to be about headgear: it's actually about decline, orientation and all the things you flag up as being more worthy of our attention.

Far more impactful truths are conveyed through drama giocoso than the warblings of castrati.

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 3:47pm BST

Sorry, a couple of typos in my last line. Should read:

"Big conservative churches may claim success for attracting 200 people in their city. The actual score of their kind of message, however, is +200 and -20,000. In short, an evangelistic disaster.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 3:57pm BST

"...an acrid debate about mitres provides incontrovertible proof that the Church is institutionally insane"

I could not agree more.

Posted by: crs on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 4:22pm BST

Jem Bloomfield's article brings strongly to mind another aspect of LGBT issues, namely that a very large number of LGBT people, though often hungry for spiritual nourishment, would never entertain the thought of entering a church. The constant, loud voice of homophobia is all they hear, and some of the very people to whom Christ reaches out are chased away before they ever reach the door.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 5:03pm BST

Froghole's observation about the absurdity of the debate about mitres reminds me of the story about the Russian Orthodox Church on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution: busily engaged in a fierce debate about the colour of vestments.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Saturday, 8 July 2017 at 10:14pm BST

I don't deny that there is something engagingly abstruse about the heated arguments over episcopal headwear. And I don't doubt that many of the people who have strong opinions on the subject (myself included) would admit that it might not be the single most pressing issue facing the Church in the modern world. I would even dare to suggest that perhaps the number of comments below the line on TA might not be an infallible barometer of what is most important to the various thinking Anglicans who post here.

But I really don't like the line of argument that runs, "how dare you waste your time talking about (x) when you really should be talking about this other issue that matters far more?" It is the same kind of reasoning that can be used to say, "isn't it indulgent and navel-gazing to worry about inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England when Christians are being murdered and persecuted in Syria and Nigeria?" In internet speak, this art of trying to stonewall discussion by suggesting that we should really be talking about something far more important (and that we are in some sense morally defective if we're not) is known as whataboutery. It is blustering and righteous and totally empty.

As it happens, I think it is possible to care deeply about vestments (or about liturgy, or about ecclesiology) without laying yourself open to the accusation of moral blindness or apathy or institutional insanity. Yes, of course there are more serious issues facing the Church - no doubt Ian and Bosco would agree - but I don't think we have to talk *only* about those far more weighty issues endlessly all the time. And while the Church may very well be institutionally insane, two blog posts within a week by two theologians on opposite sides of the world, read, perhaps, by a hundred or so people between them, seems like very slim evidence on which to base this accusation.

Posted by: rjb on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 6:47am BST

James Byron, young people aren't flocking to our liberal churches because they don't know they exist. Their knowledge of church is limited to what the see in the media. And that is all about Christians not wanting to let gay people rooms in a B&B, not wanting to bake cakes and of priests being punished for getting married.

As a very aware and involved same sex married woman I'm finding it very very hard to identify affirming churches for people, because so few make sure they're visible.

If liberal churches want to attract young people they have to find ways of getting a good media presence in the secular media.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 11:18am BST

As to the young flocking to the mega-churches, some data show that they do not stay very long. Lots of candy in the window, little substance.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 3:45pm BST

Well said, RJB! I've kept out the mitre skirmishes, 'cause I've no strong feelings either way, but have followed with interest, and such debates do appeal to the traditionalist in me.

We could, though, all agree that it's a crying shame that the Bad Vestments blog went quiet a few years back. ;-)

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 4:26pm BST

Couldn't agree more, Erika. Liberal churches desperately need (for want of a better term) a sales strategy. (I know, I know, but that's what it is.) Evangelicals know how to evangelize, even if their retention rates fall short. Liberals must learn.

They also need to be culturally accessible, with contemporary music and audio visual at least some of the time, and socially engaging, with the cell groups and networks that evangelicals have.

Copy evangelicals? No. Liberal churches can keep a distinct ethos, with ritual and robes aplenty, not to mention open-minded teaching: but that can be combined with cultural accessibility.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 7:03pm BST

The young people in the Evangelical Churches in my neck of the woods seem to be the offspring of existing church members and their close friends. The local AoG church runs a busy evening Youth Club in response to the closure of all the secular youth clubs. Loads of kids from the school I work at go there, but they are very skeptical about anything 'religious' they are told. What I am finding is a huge interest in spiritual matters, but the established churches aren't regarded as the answer because of the 'hate' in them which they don;t see as Christian and therefore we are all 'fake'. Painful to hear, but difficult to refute.

Posted by: Lavinia Nelder on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 8:53pm BST

Thanks Froghole.

I also wish sincerely that there was more debate on this site about graver issues e.g. The Grenfell disaster and all the questions about social justice and division that underline it (which may be of less interest outside of the U.K. but has been a profound wake up call here). Among other things, prayers for the local churches (and mosques) involved in the relief effort, those trying to restore confidence in local government, and the task facing the Anglican lay man who has been charged with chairing the enquiry.

PS thanks also due to Froghole for starting another megathread on the site on an issue which surely most Anglicans treat as adiaphora. My response has just driven home this own-goal

PPS do you blog Froghole? Always look forward to reading your posts.

Posted by: ExRevd on Sunday, 9 July 2017 at 10:56pm BST

@rjb: You may well be right about the email I wrote - in the heat of a Saturday afternoon - was 'blustering and righteous and totally empty'. However, I considered the elision of the revelation of Mr Ineson's treatment with a piece by Dr Paul on a subject which many people would consider trivial to be somewhat unfortunate. Moreover, I am not certain that Dr Paul (who, incidentally commented BTL in one of the Cranmer articles about Ineson) was necessarily promoting his arguments about the subject in as light-hearted a spirit as it might perhaps warrant. It struck me that he was probably making a rather partisan point.

I am not uninterested in liturgy; I read Alcuin Club publications and possess a number of monographs on the subject. However, I definitely do not attribute to it the importance that many do, being reminded of W. R. Inge who, on being asked whether he was interested in liturgy asked his questioner whether he was interested in stamp collecting.

Nor was I attempting to 'stonewall discussion'. I am perfectly happy for people to go on discussing the finer points of mitres or, for that matter, shovel hats, birettas, zucchettos, galeri, etc., even if it might appear bizarre to many people outside certain confines within the Church, and I would hope (with respect to your remarks about TA) that this site has some readership beyond the Church.

As to the statement: "It is the same kind of reasoning that can be used to say, "isn't it indulgent and navel-gazing to worry about inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England when Christians are being murdered and persecuted in Syria and Nigeria?", I suppose you may well be correct, although some might argue that this particular assertion of yours - in the context of what had been a discussion about ecclesiastical headgear - could be construed as a species of false analogy, but I suspect that others might describe it somewhat differently.

Posted by: Froghole on Monday, 10 July 2017 at 1:18am BST

I confess I have some sympathy for Foghole. To utilize, or not to utilize, a particular vestment or other accoutrements are not points of principle—they are adiaphora.

What irritates many of us, however, is the absolute refusal of some people to change their judgments in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary. Eye witnesses can write that Archbishop Cranmer wore a miter during a Consecration service in 1550; or, that a miter was carried on a cushion before the body of the late Bishop of London in 1663; or, that Bishop Seabury wore a miter at the first Anglican Ordination service in the New World in 1785, etc., and some people will continue to insist that the Anglican liturgical use of miters goes back only 100 years.

I remember some years ago on this site a Roman Catholic convert stubbornly denying that Bishop Seabury ever wore a miter, because it did not fit the prejudices he learned as a Sydney “Anglican.” He was in denial even when I provided a photograph of the miter in question!

As someone who is very fond of history—Church history included—I’ve changed my hypotheses on issues numerous times when others have provided convincing evidence to the contrary. Why is it so difficult (particularly for some Evangelicals) to do the same?

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Posted by: Kurt Hill on Tuesday, 11 July 2017 at 7:27pm BST

Froghole's observation about the absurdity of the debate about mitres reminds me of the story about the Russian Orthodox Church on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution: busily engaged in a fierce debate about the colour of vestments.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Sunday, 23 July 2017 at 10:24am BST
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