This week’s articles in The Guardian’s Comment is free belief section include:
Mark Vernon Is Christianity compatible with wealth? “The Christian tradition is not anti-money. Rather, it is excess and luxury that pose the spiritual problems.”
Giles Fraser Bethlehem’s church of the punch-up. “The latest brawl between Armenian and Orthodox monks in Bethlehem is a product of Christianity’s romance with buildings.”
Pope Benedict XVI Europe’s crisis of faith “In hard times, Europe could learn much from Africa’s joyful passion for faith.”
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes in The Independent that Christianity deserves better worshippers.
“Too many are like Cameron, part-time Christians of convenience who use religion as a weapon.”
N T Wright writes for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about Suspending scepticism: History and the Virgin Birth and in response Andrew McGowan writes about Greeks Bearing (Christmas) Gifts.
Today’s Church Times has reports of several Christmas Day sermons: ‘Atomised’ Britain is urged to seek God’s forgiveness.
The full texts of some are available online.
Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Wales
Bishop of Salisbury
Bishop of St Albans
Bishop of Bath and Wells
Archbishop of Westminster, also available here
Archbishop of Dublin
Archbishop of Sydney
Archbishop of Perth
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral Glasgow
Barton being about as far away from Canterbury as it is possible to be in England’s southern province, it’s slightly odd that we have a mediaeval altar-dedication to Thomas Becket. But the presence of an artesian spring by the churchyard may hint at a connection: the healing associations of such pools is well-documented, and the mediaeval pilgrim-saying ‘Optimus aegrorum medicus fit Thoma bonorum’, ‘Thomas is the best physician for the pious sick’ suggests we might have a franchise of the saint’s healing cult, with convenient miraculous pool nearby.
Bede tells of Oswald’s relics ability to work miracles, so this link between saints, particularly martyr-saints, and healing is hardly newsworthy. But it does invite reflection on the relationship between death and wholeness.
They present as polar opposites: though in their different ways both hospice and euthanasia movements try to make death a better experience, both are counsels of last resort, of how we manage the transition from life into not-life. Neither challenges the polarisation of the two. That life might somehow spring out of death isn’t considered.
It is a commonplace of Christian belief that suffering unites us with the crucified Lord — ‘in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,’ Paul writes. I suggest that the long association of martyr-shrines with healing take us one step further, that these who are united in Christ’s suffering are also somehow channels of the first-fruits of the Resurrection, signs of the wholeness that is to come. This bids us hold up a prism to the mystery of death which transforms our vision of future, present and past.
My father died a week ago, and my response to the inevitable, ‘I suppose you’re going to cancel Christmas this year?’ was found in this proliferation of martyr-days between Christmas and New Year, in turn underscoring ancient carols which see in the Nativity the seeds of the Crucifixion, inviting us to consider the truth that in the Incarnation death and life become co-workers in the story of redemption.
We may see Thomas as political victim, as meddler in State affairs, as prophetic figure, whatever. Saints have their fads and their fashions. But the cult of Thomas as Physician surely points us to this great paradox of the Christian faith, that in the midst of death, we are in life, and that death is not merely a gateway into life, but a gateway back through which life comes — and transforms.
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of Sudan has issued a statement, and also sent a letter to the Presiding Bishop of TEC.
See the news report by George Conger in the Church of England Newspaper Sudan breaks with the Episcopal Church.
The American Episcopal Church’s support for gay bishops and blessings has led the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) to ban Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori from visiting the church. The dis-invitation to Bishop Jefferts Schori follows a vote by the ECS House of Bishops last month to swap its recognition of the Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) as the legitimate expression of Anglicanism in the United States…
The letter reads as follows:
“The Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church United States of America
Thursday 15th December 2011
Dear Bishop Katharine,
Advent greetings to you in the name of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is with a heavy heart that I write you informing you of our decision as a House of Bishops to withdraw your invitation to the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS). We acknowledge your personal efforts to spearhead prayer and support campaigns on behalf of the ECS and remain very grateful for this attention you and your church have paid to Sudan and South Sudan. However, it remains difficult for us to invite you when elements of your church continue to flagrantly disregard biblical teaching on human sexuality.
Find attached a statement further explaining our position as a province.
—(The Most Rev.) Dr. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Archbishop Primate and Metropolitan of the Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and Bishop of the Diocese of Juba “
The statement, which has appeared on various blog websites reads as follows:
STATEMENT OF HOUSE OF BISHOPS OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF SUDAN ON HUMAN SEXUALITY
The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan in its meeting held in Juba from 14-16, November 2011 in the context of General Synod has reaffirmed the statement of the Sudanese Bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 as quoted below:
“We reject homosexual practice as contrary to Biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships.”
We are deeply disappointed by The Episcopal Church’s refusal to abide by Biblical teaching on human sexuality and their refusal to listen to fellow Anglicans. For example, TEC Diocese of Los Angles, California in 2010 elected and consecrated Mary Douglas Glasspool as their first lesbian assistant Bishop. We are not happy with their acts of continuing ordaining homosexuals and lesbians as priests and bishops as well as blessing same sex relations in the church by some dioceses in TEC; it has pushed itself away from God’s Word and from Anglican Communion. TEC is not concerned for the unity of the Communion.
The Episcopal Church of Sudan is recognizing the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) fully as true faithful Orthodox Church and we will work with them to expand the Kingdom of God in the world. Also we will work with those Parishes and Dioceses in TEC who are Evangelical Orthodox Churches and faithful to God.
We will not compromise our faith on this and we will not give TEC advice anymore, because TEC ignored and has refused our advices.
(The Most Rev.) Dr. Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop and Primate of Episcopal Church of Sudan, Juba, 12th December 2011
Responses from American dioceses are recorded by Episcopal Café in Dioceses respond cautiously to latest letter from Church of Sudan.
The report on this from last week’s Church Times is now available, see Sudan chides US and backs ACNA.
The previous report on this: AMiA will negotiate with ACNA was updated with a link to one additional letter last Thursday.
Other correspondence has now emerged, and can be found here: Communique from House of Bishops of Rwanda. The original letter is dated 9 December, but was issued with a covering letter from two AMiA bishops, only on 16 December.
From the covering letter:
We also have delayed sending these letters because we needed to clarify with the Rwandan HoB the second bullet point in the letter to clergy and churches. While AMiA affiliated congregations are under the pastoral oversight of Archbishop Rwaje, they are also affiliated with the U.S. non-profit corporation, The Anglican Mission in the Americas. As a result, churches have had a type of “dual citizenship” with Rwanda and the AMiA. Unfortunately, while many of us had been led to think differently, the churches in the AMiA have never been canonically resident in the Anglican Province of Rwanda or anywhere else in the Anglican Communion. We are currently working with the Rwandan HoB to discern ways to rectify this for those congregations that desire a true membership in the Anglican Communion. At the same time, the canonical status of the clergy is clear. If you are clergy in the AMiA, (other than the 8 active bishops who resigned*) you are canonically resident in PEAR.
Poor St Stephen, not only the first martyr to Christ but also the first martyr to Christmas, his feast day lost as most clergy enjoy their first decent day off for ages and even the most avid churchgoer feels sated after Carols, Christingle, Crib Service, Midnight Mass and Christmas morning Eucharist.
Even in the bible he appears only briefly on the scene; ordained deacon by the apostles in Acts 6, he is dead by the end of Acts 7 after one recorded sermon. Accorded the position of patron saint of deacons during the early centuries he finds his own transient ministry echoed in the way that for much of that time (and still largely today) the Western church has seen the role of deacon as a one year preparation for priesthood.
Yet for one brief moment it is Stephen rather than one of the twelve who is at the centre of the story. And in that moment he does two remarkable things.
Accused of speaking against Moses and the temple, Stephen draws a clear distinction between the two. Moses is a man in relationship with God, the temple a much later addition. The latter cannot hold God but the former may hold on to him, even when rejected by his own people. The fulfilment of what Moses proclaimed is not a building, or any other human construct, but a man, Jesus. Stephen has broken the link between Israel’s faith and its institutions.
Meanwhile somewhere at the back of the crowd stands another man, young Saul from Tarsus. Driven by Stephen’s words to attack the new Christian communities, he will find that his efforts to bolster his religious orthodoxy through ever greater degrees of aggression have backfired. Stephen has planted a seed in his heart that will not lie dormant. Saul will need to reassess what his faith is about, and he like Stephen will discover it centres purely on relationship with God. This is the context we need to set Saul in, lest his need later to speak so much on matters of practical church organisation lead us to think that is what he thought really mattered.
Holy Stephen, first of Christ’s martyrs, remember us, and redirect our thought and hearts, when we, like the Jewish council and like Saul, are tempted to place our institutions and their wellbeing ahead of relationship with God.
What would Jesus do… today of all days?
Lo within a manger lies
he who built the starry skies…
Doing what? Sleeping? Staring at the ceiling? Filling the first century equivalent of nappies? an occasional infantile gurgle or puke?
What did Jesus do? Not much, I’d say — certainly nothing out of the ordinary. The manger scene reveals the Son of God in a state of almost complete passivity.
The baby in the manger is almost as helpless as the tortured body on the cross.
And yet Christian theology says that in these two episodes of utter helplessness Jesus accomplished his life’s work, far beyond our capacity to describe let alone understand the implications. They are the heart of the good news, the foundation upon which everything else rests.
Jesus’ passivity is however, in itself, good news because it puts the boot firmly into into three pervasive pictures of God that are familiar but distinctly bad news. Disposing of these unwanted visitors to the manger can only clear the air.
First out the door is the “Action Man” Pocket God, always busy seeing people and doing things, fixing up the world, zapping the baddies and blessing the goodies real good. It’s a compelling, natural picture of God; indeed it’s the way most of us would tackle the job of being divine — it’s just not God’s. If God were like that, we’d have to say, with Woody Allen, he was something of an underachiever, as the good go unblessed and the innocent suffer. These facts, as much as the sleeping baby in the manger, indicate that this image is false.
Another god the sleeping baby disposes of is the absent Deist watchmaker, designing and setting everything off then letting it run. Whatever else he is, Jesus in the manger is the heart of the scene, present in the engaging way that babies become the centre of attention by not doing very much.
Finally out the door goes the old Gnostic God of Spirit, who’s around the world in some creepy mysterious way, but hates the place along with all unsanitised human beings. All that matters to him is Religion. Experience? Money? Work? Sexuality? Art? Science? He’s above all that. Jesus isn’t. He’s in the middle of it. Taking Jesus seriously involves laying aside the snooty assumption that the world is somehow beneath divine contempt. We may despise the world but Jesus’ two bouts of helplessness say the living God so loved it that he gave everything for it…
Finally among unwanted visitors to the stable, tell that pervasive old English hypocrite Pelagius to go away. “Don’t you realise the world is going to hell in a handcart?” he whines. “Do something! Pull your socks up! Sing Louder! Get Christians ideologically aligned! Get us back to the good old days, when God was safely back in his heaven and all was well with the world…!”
The baby in the manger sleeps on. And nothing will ever be the same again.
Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times that Christmas is meant to be shocking and in the London Evening Standard that We owe Dickens a great debt for his Christmas vision.
Here are some of the articles in the Comment is free belief section of The Guardian this week.
Chris Chivers Why vicars like me are handing out leaflets this Christmas
“Not only does it up attendances, but it reminds us all what churches are for.”
Mark Vernon Christian morality has the power to bring all things to account
“Objectivity in ethics is valuable not because of what it might tell us to do, but because of where it suggests we might be heading.”
Eddie Arthur The Bible should be available to read in every Christian’s native language
“As an adviser who helped create a New Testament translation for an Ivorian village, I saw what an impact such work can have.”
Denis Alexander Evolution, Christmas and the Atonement
“We are not descended from Adam and Eve – but still, Jesus was born to save us.”
Jonathan Freedland The story of Jesus is the ultimate political drama
“I shouldn’t be interested in the life of Jesus, but I can’t help it – his story makes for gripping entertainment”
Richard Beck writes on his Experimental Theology blog about A Christmas Carol as Resistance Literature: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.
Andrew McGowan writes for Biblical Archaeology Review Magazine about How December 25 Became Christmas.
And finally, a small selection of Christmas messages
Archbishop of Canterbury In Congo or in Croydon, God is there for us
Bishop of Chelmsford One person can make a difference. That person is Christ
Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church Christmas reflection
Archbishop of York’s Christmas Message for YouTube (including a transcript)
Bishop of St Asaph Christmas message
Bishop of Ely Christmas and New Year Message [video]
President of the Methodist Conference Challenge your pre-suppositions this Christmas
Bishop and Archbishop of Liverpool
Archbishop of Wales
You think you’d like to see an angel, do you? No. Not something to like.
The very fag end of a long, knackering day with the sheep. We were boiling up a bit of gruel on the fire. To this day when I smell gruel burning I feel … it takes me there. Burned porridge, and, — look, I’m not one of your religious types. I’m trying hard to keep this clean, not use bad words.
This thing was there, and yes, we were all s — we were all — This thing was there. Bigger than a house. Burning light. A lot of wings, claws, legs, a terrifying face. Then something like a human shape, wavering like looking at fire. That’s not why I nearly peed myself. Not the claws, not the face. It was a sense — look, I don’t do touchy-feely, woman’s stuff? OK? Don’t do it. But I just wanted to hide. Wanted the ground to swallow me. Found myself thinking of things I’d decided to forget.
And then it spoke. It told us not to be afraid. It was quite clear this was an order. You ever tried to stop being afraid because something terrifying gave you an order? I knew I couldn’t — and it made me even more afraid. And the thing spoke of the Messiah — and we all know what the day of the Messiah is like, don’t we? Fine for you holy bods, sure. People like me? Darkness, that’s what. Threat.
And then the thing told us to go to the village and find the Messiah.
Look it was like the burned porridge. It was so f, flaming ordinary. Not a Messiah like what I expected. Not darkness. A baby, wrapped up just as all little ‘uns are — and lying where busy mothers put them, in the work room, safe in the manger during the day while the beasts are out. It was so — look you don’t expect great masses of flame and when you get them, you don’t expect a message about a baby all safely wrapped up. You just don’t.
And you don’t expect one blooming great mass of fire to turn into countless masses of fire, none of them any smaller, all singing in complex harmonies. I like a song — I’m one they always call on to sing at weddings and the like — you may well think us a rough lot, but we have our songs. And I ain’t never heard the like of this. I can’t tell you what I’d give to take a part in a song like that. A good deal more than I possess — that’s what.
Then an empty hill — well, it seemed empty. Just us, the sheep and the burned out saucepan.
First published in Love Blooms Bright.
A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.
A century ago, this was not the case…
John L Allen Jr has written about this for the National Catholic Reporter with The Laws of Christian Thermodynamics and concludes
Based on the study, here are three rules of thumb about Christian growth and decline — extrapolations which go well beyond the contents of the Pew report, but which can be supported by the data it contains:
- If you want Christianity to shrink, give it wealth and privilege and back it up with the power of the state.
- If you want Christianity to show surprising resilience, suppress its structures and persecute its people.
- If you want Christianity to thrive, drop it into a free market environment and force it to hustle.
The Washington Post carries this Associated Press summary of the report: Study: Christian population shifting away from Europe, still largest faith group worldwide and this article by G Jeffrey Macdonald: Report shows Christianity shifting to Africa.
Myles Collier in Christian Today Australia writes New study: Christianity is the largest religion in the world, decentralized.
The last Evening Prayer of Advent is the context for this final ‘O’ Antiphon, O Emmanuel. When Evening Prayer comes round again, tomorrow, he will come. And that is the hidden message in these seven antiphons. Working backwards from today we have seven titles addressed to the coming baby: Emmanuel, Rex Gentium, Oriens, Clavis David, Radix Jesse, Adonaï, and Sapientia. Taking the initial letter of each of these invocations yields the words ‘ero cras’, a couple of Latin words that mean ‘Tomorrow, I will come’.
And the identity of who it is that is coming is to be found in all those titles: the divine Word or Wisdom; the LORD, the ‘I AM’; a shoot sprung from the family tree of Jesse; the successor of David; a Light shining in the darkness; the true ruler of the world. And Emmanuel.
Emmanuel, or God-with-us, was a name used by Isaiah when he tells King Ahaz that the royal house of David will flourish despite the great danger that it faced from Damascus and Samaria. Isaiah foretells that before a child who is still in the womb is able to choose between right and wrong, the kings of Damascus and Samaria will fall, and the threat to Jerusalem will fall with it. Isaiah gives this unborn child the name ‘Immanuel’, a sign of hope in the future and trust in the divine will.
And Matthew, in his proclamation of the good news about Jesus, takes this message out of Isaiah and makes the parallel with Jesus’s birth, seeing it too as a sign of hope and trust in God, and of liberation from oppression and tyranny.
To us, the name Immanuel signifies even more. It tells us of the immanence of God: El in Hebrew, so we can make a pun and say that Immanu-el means the immanence of El — that God, the creator of the universe, lives among us, lives a human life, a humble human life, born to an ordinary family, in a far-off colonial outpost. God is not some remote cosmic being, and God is not some fickle pleasure-seeking divinity who masquerades in human form on occasion. No, this is a God who puts off the divine attributes to live within the limits of a human life and a human death. Here the human and the divine mingle in a way that poetry and theology are better at describing than science. And in a day or so’s time we shall be, as it were, witnesses to this mingling, this incarnation, as we celebrate the birth of that baby and ponder its meaning in our hearts.
O come, O come Emmanuel!
Updated Saturday morning
Lambeth Palace has issued this “press advisory”:
The Archbishop of Canterbury today set up an enquiry into the operation of the diocesan child protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester.
He has appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to carry out the enquiry. They will advise the Archbishop on any steps that need to be taken to ensure the highest possible standards of safeguarding in the diocese. This will involve examining current child protection arrangements as well as making recommendations for the future. They will make a preliminary report to the Archbishop by the end of February 2012.
The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, has given his full support to the enquiry.
The step which the Archbishop has taken is an Archiepiscopal Visitation under Canon C 17. Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC have been appointed as the Archbishop’s commissaries under Canon C 17.
The Diocese of Chichester has issued Archbishop’s Child Protection Enquiry:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, today set up a visitation of the operation of the Church of England’s Child Protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester.
He has appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to carry out the enquiry. They will advise the Archbishop on any steps that need to be taken to ensure the highest possible standards of safeguarding in the diocese. This will involve examining current child protection arrangements as well as making recommendations for the future. They will make a preliminary report to the Archbishop by the end of February 2012.
The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, has given his full support to the enquiry. He said: “Our diocesan staff have been in constant touch with Lambeth Palace over the last year and this is now the outcome of those discussions. We welcome this Visitation as an opportunity to resolve a number of issues in the implementation of best safeguarding practice in the Diocese and more widely, and should also contribute to the response of the Church to the pain victims have experienced as a result of abuse. We trust that it will add to the progress the Diocese has already made and will help to continue to establish robust safeguarding practices.
I expect full cooperation with the Archbishop’s Commissaries. I hope that after my retirement at the end of April 2012, the Diocese will have firm foundations on which the new bishop will be able to build in leading the Diocese in the future.”
Neither of these press releases refer to any earlier events, which were last reported here in this article: BBC challenges accuracy of Chichester sex abuse report which includes a link to this diocesan page responding to the earlier reports from Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
And most recently by the BBC in this: Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn may face misconduct probe.
Today’s announcement is reported by the BBC as: Lambeth Palace launches diocese child protection inquiry.
Canon C 17 can be found here (PDF).
Further press reports:
Press Association Church child policies probe set up
The Business Committee report on the reference to diocesan synods of the legislation to allow women bishops was emailed to synod members today. It is also available online as GS 1847.
The report includes the detailed voting figures on the motion in favour of the legislation (42 dioceses in favour and two against). Five diocesan bishops exercised their right to have a statement of their opinion recorded in the minutes of their diocesan synods and, as required by General Synod standing orders, these are included in the report. The report also gives details of all the following motions (whether passed or not).
The outline agenda for the February meeting of the Church of England General Synod includes these three items concerned with the legislation to allow women bishops.
Women in the Episcopate: Draft Code of Practice: Presentation and questions (Tuesday afternoon)
Women in the Episcopate: Manchester DSM (Southwark DSM as an amendment) (Wednesday afternoon)
This is the Manchester diocesan synod motion as it will have been submitted to General Synod.
That this Synod [i.e. the General Synod] call upon the House of Bishops, in exercise of its powers under Standing Order 60(b), to amend the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure in the manner proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York at the Revision Stage for the draft Measure
and this is the motion from Southwark
That this Synod:
(a) noting the significant support the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure has received in the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity of diocesan synods; and
(b) desiring that the draft Measure be returned to the Synod for consideration on the Final Approval Stage substantially unamended so that it can be seen if the proposals embodied in it in the form in which it has been referred to the dioceses can attain the level of support required to achieve Final Approval
request the House of Bishops not to exercise its power under Standing Order 60(b) to amend the draft Measure.
Women in the Episcopate: Final Drafting (Thursday afternoon)
At final drafting the steering committee can propose amendments that deal with matters previously overlooked or that clarify the wording. Members of the Synod no longer have the opportunity to propose amendments. Also this is not the point at which the House of Bishops can exercise its powers of amendment.
The Church of England General Synod will meet in London from 6 to 9 February 2012. The outline agenda is available online and is copied below.
2.15 p.m. Prayers, introductions, welcomes, progress of legislation
Report by the Business Committee
Dates of Groups of Sessions in 2014-2015
Appointments to the Archbishops’ Council
Private Member’s Motion: Mrs Sarah Finch: Independent Commission on Assisted Dying
[brief evening worship]
9.30 a.m. Worship
Draft Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2012
Clergy Discipline (Amendment) Measure – Revision Stage
Diocese in Europe (Amendment) Measure – First Consideration
2.30 p.m. Women in the Episcopate: Draft Code of Practice: Presentation and questions
Legislative business not completed in the morning sitting
Presentation by Sally Keeble on the Anglican Alliance for Relief, Development and Advocacy, followed by questions
5.30 p.m. Session ends
6.15 p.m. Joint service with the United Reformed Church at Westminster Abbey
9.15 a.m. Holy Communion in the Assembly Hall
Chichester DSM: Appointment of Archdeacons
Women in the Episcopate: Report on Reference to Dioceses
2.30 p.m. Women in the Episcopate: Manchester DSM (Southwark DSM as an amendment)
Report of the Standing Orders Committee
[brief evening worship]
9.30 a.m. Worship
Additional Eucharistic Prayers
Women in the Episcopate: Final Drafting
Higher Education Funding Changes: Presentation and questions
2.30 p.m. Private Member’s Motion: Professor Anthony Berry: Reform of the House of Lords
Health and the Church’s Mission:Report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council
PMM: The Revd Stephen Trott: Manifestation of Faith in Public Life
Reports from ACNS
The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea has announced that its Provincial Council last week approved and accepted the Anglican Covenant.
Writing to the Secretary General of the decision on behalf of the House of Bishops, the Bishop of Port Moresby, the Rt Revd Peter Ramsden, said the decision was based on their understanding of the name Anglican Communion.
“Anglican” was one of the styles of Christianity brought to this land and people near the end of the nineteenth century”, he wrote. “It never pretended to be the only form of Christianity, but it did reflect how one part of the Christian family had developed, built on the importance of scripture, creeds, sacraments and episcopal order. Today we try to combine our Anglo-Catholic theological heritage and personal discipleship to the Lord Jesus in the way we witness to the five marks of mission with our ecumenical partners in PNG and our Anglican partners overseas…
If you aren’t sure where Papua New Guinea is, here’s a map.
At its recent November (3 to 11) meeting in Asunción, Paraguay, the Executive Committee of the Province of the Southern Cone of America, together with its Bishops, voted to approve the Anglican Covenant. The Province views the covenant as a way forward given the difficult circumstance of watching certain Provinces of the Anglican Communion propose novel ways of Christian living in rejection of Biblical norms.
In response to these novel practices the Southern Cone had held churches in North America under its wing for some time while the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) was formed. However, the Province has not maintained jurisdiction over any local churches there for over a year. As a result, all so called ‘border crossings’ by any provincial members ceased (as of October, 2010) even though the Southern Cone still remains in impaired communion with US and Canadian Provinces. It is hoped that the Covenant can now provide Communion stability.
One of the Bishops commented, “We believe that life in the Communion must be maintained by a basic level of accountability if, in fact, we are a family of interdependent churches. The Covenant helps fulfill this role. Naturally, house rules should be kept to a minimum. But being a member of a family has responsibilities that must be ‘lived into’. Right now, a small faction in the Communion continues to do ‘its own thing’ enjoying many privileges and few responsibilities of family.”
There is commentary on this:
…The Province of the Southern Cone has adopted the Anglican Covenant, but with its fingers crossed. Apparently the PSC hopes that no one will notice that it still has the deposed bishop of Recife under its wings, along with a sizable number of congregants constituted as a diocese.
The PSC claims that it is no longer doing those things it ought not to have done in Canada and the United States, but makes no apology for having done so.
I suppose this counts as a “yes” in the score card on the acceptance of the Anglican Covenant, but there will not be much joy in Anglican-Land over this one.
The No Anglican Covenant scorecard on provincial voting is over here.
Back in the 1980s when I was in seminary in upstate New York, it had become fashionable to talk, not of the Kingdom of God, but of the Commonwealth of God. As a recent arrival, both to the country and to that particular concept, I was fascinated to hear familiar phrases in bible readings and liturgy where Commonwealth supplanted Kingdom. I had no trouble understanding why this would be; Kingdom is associated with heredity, class, privilege and self-interest where the identity of a nation, or a race was embodied by, even ceded to, a particular family which had the means to both maintain its supremacy by force, along with the illusion that its primacy was underwritten in the heavens. Yes, I could see it, Kingdom: bad concept, with dodgy associations, particularly in a republic, Kingdom out, Commonwealth in. It would take me years to figure out why this just didn’t sit right with me.
A commonwealth of God is indeed much closer to what the gospel writers envisaged. It is about the welfare of everyone, attested to in scripture from the creation of the world, where all of humanity, not simply the ruling elite, was made in the image of God. Again and again the overwhelming justice of God is described, not as retribution, but as a demand for proper distribution of the resources of the land. The first lesson the freed slaves learn during their exodus from Egypt is that there is enough manna from heaven for everyone to have sufficient for each day in the desert. It is written into the charter of the Promised Land, not only that that all have enough, but provision should be made for those who have no-one to provide for them, like widows and orphans.
The classical prayer of Christian faith, the Lord’s Prayer, describes the character of the household of God: everyone should have enough, bread sufficient for each day, echoing the freed slaves’ desert experience. The feeding miracles, and Paul’s tirade to the wealthy Corinthians who hog the best of the Lord’s Supper, so embeds the notion of common-wealth as a key Christian concept that it is amazing that it has never become a foundational Christian doctrine. The same lack of focus on common-wealth has compromised the definitive Christian ritual, which has long ceased to be about everyone having enough. The Eucharist has become petrified into a precious liturgy of prescribed words by authorised people, where God’s justice is now believed to be honoured by sanitised silver plate and spotless starched linen.
So, if commonwealth is so good, why do we revert to the word kingdom, and to the Kingship of Christ? It is a commonplace now to hear in Christmas sermons that the titles for Jesus: Son of God, Saviour, Prince of Peace are titles already well-known as titles for Caesar. The gospel writers, in using them for Jesus, are either having a joke or are committing treason against Rome itself. They are hi-jacking the existing language of power in order to re-define kingship, from being about punitive brute force to representing God’s distributive justice, a movement in which everyone will have enough.
And you can imagine Herod’s people getting news of the Galilean preacher and his Kingdom of God, and saying, “Kingdom, that’s our word, he’s talking about us” as indeed he was.
So we can embrace Kingdom and Kingship because the followers of Christ inherit a commission to take these titles of earthly power and subvert and transform them. In doing so, we enact God’s Kingdom: those happenings which derive not from earth but from heaven.
Jonathan Clatworthy has published an article at Modern Church entitled Instead of the Anglican Covenant.
Proponents of the Anglican Covenant sometimes challenge opponents to suggest alternatives. Thus the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his 2011 Advent Letter to the Primates, wrote:
I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
This article seeks to respond to the challenge. It can only be a partial response because unlike the Covenant’s proponents, who are supported by the resources of the Anglican Communion Office, opponents work on a voluntary basis and none has the right to speak on behalf of all. The matter is complicated by the marked reluctance of proponents (with honourable exceptions like the Bishop of St Asaph) to communicate directly with opponents at all. This means that nobody in particular has been asked to offer an alternative. This one expresses the views of Modern Church and the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.
Normally, opponents of a suggested change are under no obligation to present an alternative change. In this instance we understand the challenge to stem from a sense of crisis and a concern to do something to resolve it. The question, as we understand it, is: if the Anglican Covenant will not be the solution to our current problems, what will?
Updated again Thursday evening
We reported recently on the upheaval in the Anglican Mission in the Americas: AMiA withdraws from Anglican Church of Rwanda.
Since then, there have been two developments:
First, a meeting was held in London:
Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini, Moses Tay and Yong Ping Chung, founding archbishops of the Anglican Mission, met with Bishop Chuck Murphy December 12-14, 2011, in London, England, and were joined by Cynthia Tay, Julia Yong, Susan Grayson, Canon Mike Murphy, and Canon Kevin Donlon.
They issued this Anglican Mission in the Americas Communiqué from the London Meeting (PDF).
In the midst of what must be recognized as a challenging transition, we believe God is showing us His direction for the future of the Anglican Mission. Our current situation necessitates a clear response based on what we have heard from the Lord, and therefore we commit to the creation of a missionary society as a cherished and honored model recognized within the wider Eastern and Western traditions of the Church. We look forward to the opportunity to give specific form and shape to this normative structure of a missionary society, seeking the input of our bishops, clergy, network leaders and laity. We are encouraged to be still before the Lord and to discern His leading to a new canonical provincial relationship. In addition, we pledge our commitment to the eight-member Council of Bishops and all of the Anglican Mission leadership and congregations. Living out this model within our Anglican context allows us to be a mission…nothing more, nothing less in North America and beyond. Finally, we recognize and affirm the development of a Pastoral Declaration designed to provide the necessary order for developing a constitution.
Second, the Anglican Church of North America has published this Pastoral Letter from Archbishop Duncan.
Recent events within the Anglican Mission in the Americas have challenged us all. This letter is a brief report to you all about those events and about our efforts to find a path forward. The present reality is brokenness. The vision, however, that governs our fledgling Province remains unchanged: a Biblical, missionary and united Anglicanism in North America.
The resignation of nine Anglican Mission bishops, including the Bishop Chairman, from the House of Bishops of Rwanda, changed relationships with Rwanda, with fellow bishops and with the Anglican Church in North America. The resigned bishops lost their status in our College of Bishops as a result of their resignation from Rwanda. The Anglican Mission also lost its status as a Ministry Partner, since that status had been predicated on AMiA’s relationship with Rwanda. In addition, confusion and hurt has been created in Rwanda and in North America, and there is much serious work ahead of us.
Representatives of the Anglican Church in North America and of the Pawleys Island leadership met today in Pittsburgh. For the Anglican Church in North America the starting point was the importance of our Provincial relationship with the Province of Rwanda (a sister GAFCON Province) and with His Grace Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, of our relationship with the North American Bishops Terrell Glenn and Thad Barnum and all the clergy licensed in Rwanda, and of our relationship to those represented by the Pawleys Island group with whom we were meeting. We, as the Anglican Church in North America, have been deeply connected to all three, and we can only move forward when issues and relationships have been adequately addressed and necessary transitions are in progress…
Mark Harris at Preludium has commentary on all this: So who do ACNA bishops go for jurisdictional connection?
He quotes the latest statement from the Southern Cone:
In response to these novel practices the Southern Cone had held churches in North America under its wing for some time while the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) was formed. However, the Province has not maintained jurisdiction over any local churches there for over a year…
And then asks:
…Now it would appear that Archbishop Duncan et al believe that “jurisdictional participation in a way that is fully Anglican” involves being part of a Province of the Anglican Communion as currently constituted. So the AMiA bishops “belong” to Rwanda. The Bishops of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) “belong” to Nigeria. The Bishops of ACNA “belong”…where?
And there is a further letter to AMiA members from some bishops: A Letter from some (formerly Rwandan) Bishops to the AMiA.
How many of us, even in these dark, short days, are around, or alert to the morning star of the east? Very few, I suspect; but most of us will constantly, in these last days of Advent, make the connexion between the light eternal and the coming of Christmas. Light, lights, are part of the way in which the season is marked, the story told, in church and out.
I’m re-adjusting, preparing for Christmas in a new parish and in a different culture. I’ve swapped the hectic and heady mixture of faiths and ethnicities of east London for the particularities of south Essex (very close to TOWIE country). Here light chases away darkness not in the succession of festivals of electricity and fireworks which marked Newham between late October and the new year, but in the forms of illuminated Father Christmases, glowing reindeer, trains which puff their way across the upper stories of neighbouring houses, pulsating stars, and flashing greeting signs. Our residential corner has an especially fine display: and the participants are not purely secular celebrants of the season — one near neighbour, whose house is well and truly lit up, is a faithful member of the local Roman Catholic congregation, deeply committed to issues of social justice.
Tasteless? It depends on your own taste. Questionable on grounds of stewardship of scarce resources? Perhaps. But there is a prodigality, an exuberance which I find appealing.
Christians can be dour about Christmas, repressing the impulse to party, to take delight. We want people to wait in the darkness of Advent until the 25th. We resent the consumerism which so consumes people that they will not listen to what we want to say. The alternative seems to be to catch their attention by appealing to an imagined past. In our church last Sunday evening, the carol service began in candlelight, and even our 1960s barn of a building looked beautiful as the points of light were repeated around the church, on the altar, in front of the nativity scene. An aesthetically pleasing moment, but perhaps a dangerously nostalgic one, which may have helped to keep the Christmas story firmly distanced from the normalities of daily life for any of those present.
At the back of the church, though, was the Christmas tree, hung with lights, including some which flashed on and off. At one time I would have wanted to banish it to the narthex, if not the church hall; now I welcome it, as a symbol of shared celebration, of that exuberant joy which should be ours on Christmas morning. Yes, people (including the faithful) will overspend on ridiculous things they would never buy at any other time of year: we will give each other presents that we don’t need and often don’t particularly want; family relationships will come under strain; there will be too much food, and too much drink; many, including the clergy, will reach Christmas morning exhausted; the money, the time, the effort could be much better employed.
But the lights, products of our own time and culture, shine in the darkness, brilliant, vivid, unstinting tributes, conscious or unconscious, to the light coming into the world.
‘O key of David!’ starts today’s antiphon: David, the second King of Israel, but the man whose name became synonymous with all forms of kingship and rule in Israel and Judah.
He is an extraordinary choice for the position of legendary revered ruler. It is sometimes suggested that he is indeed simply a figure of legend. Generally speaking, however, legendary kings are a good deal more noble and less flawed than David. The astonishing thing about the David narratives is their pictures of a fatally flawed but very vivid man. His beautiful lament for Jonathan, so beloved by those who want Biblical gay role models, should not blind us to the fact that Jonathan is killed as David makes his move on the throne. Jonathan is uncomfortably close to being the sacrifice made by his friend and lover in order to gain power. Indeed, too many of those whom David loves end up dead, particularly his sons. One of the most splendid narratives from the ancient world, the ‘succession narrative’, charts the closing years of David. His seduction of Bathsheba led to the skilful elimination (was she scheming?) of all plausible heirs to David except the son he has with her, Solomon. The narrative includes perhaps the most moving of all Biblical laments, that of David over Absalom: ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ But only a fool could have believed that the action against Absalom was likely to end any other way – and David was no fool. This extraordinarily believable picture of a passionate man who keeps a very clear and calculating mind strikes me as so totally removed from hagiography as to be very believable.
History or fiction (and David’s period is far removed from the Victorians of whom I know something) the fact remains that this great king is consciously and deliberately presented as a flawed figure. Perhaps it is his very passions which make him such an attractive figure. Perhaps in the often grubby reality of life we are closer to God than we are in those noble moments when we are blinded by our illusions. For sometimes we come to believe that our aspirations actually reflect the daily reality of our lives; that we are the kindly, thoughtful, people we seek to be. If we are more honest, there is often a tangled mess of demands made on us, selfishness and loving response, a darkness of misunderstandings, naked greed and those loving actions which (like David’s desire to keep his power and save Absalom’s life) were never going to work out. There is a terrible reality about David’s mixed desires and ambitions which make him seem astonishingly contemporary.
In that sense, today’s antiphon seems to fit him well – and in fitting him, to fit all those of us who know too well our flawed and dark passions, our divided loyalties and the complexities of our lives. It promises the rescue (by ‘great David’s greater son’) of those in darkness, trapped and ignorant of the paths to escape.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Amidst the devastation of the holy city and the kingdom, Isaiah has seen the enormous potential for new life in the stump of a felled tree. Whilst forests may be destroyed by fire, or flattened by hurricane and tsunami, many species can regrow and the forest can flourish again. But the sign to which he points is not the military might of King David, nor the splendour of Solomon’s court and temple. He doesn’t choose the example of a heroic patriarch. Instead, Isaiah returns to the humble origins of David’s father Jesse. The man had been known simply as ‘the Bethlehemite’, someone from an unimportant village. Within the new kingdom of Saul this Bethlehemite would have appeared an insignificant sapling rather than one of the pillars of the realm. But the name of Jesse would replace that of Saul. Time and again the name Jesse appears, and Isaiah uses it to symbolise the enormous destiny of gathering God’s people from exile throughout the known world. It would stand at the heart of messianic hope of the Jews.
Directly this messianic hope is identified with Jesus in the writings of the New Testament, Paul (Romans 15.12) uses Isaiah’s prophecy with a wider significance. The name of Jesse provides a cornerstone for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Here is the inspiration for the apostles’ desire to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, and for their faith to break out of the confines of their own nationality.
With the rise of Christianity, the Jesse Tree became a well-loved and familiar image throughout the Western Europe in the middle ages. The family tree, depicted as a vine growing from Jesse, passes through David and Solomon to Mary and Jesus, whilst all around the prophets make their proclamations about the messiah. Jesse, the root of this divine flowering, lies at the foot, blissfully asleep. He is oblivious of all that God would achieve. All he had ever done was respond to Samuel’s call to accompany him to a sacrifice. He hardly knew that God’s call was in Samuel’s bidding. But then, who does know? Did Ruth, Jesse’s grandmother, have any inkling of what would happen when she refused to abandon her mother in law? Did Boaz, Jesse’s grandfather, know what was in store when duty and desire invited him to marry Ruth, a foreign widow?
From all of this Isaiah gives us the unlikely spectacle of a fragile shoot rising from the unlikely ruin of a fallen tree. It is the insignificant man from Bethlehem, a forerunner of the unknown child who would be born in his town in a stable. God takes what the world counts insignificant, and with it he builds his kingdom. He takes our obedience, our generosity, our acceptance of him and uses them for his purpose. And though we may not see the fruits in our own lifetime, nothing is lost. Though we cannot see it, all will be grafted into the vine he makes, just as strange, seemingly unlikely disparate sayings of the prophets are woven first into messianic expectation, and then into glorious fulfilment.
As a youngster, the version of this antiphon found in the Advent carol ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, always intrigued me. What was this strange word, sung as ‘add-on-ay-eye’? It was several years before I discovered the answer to this question, buried in the foreword of my Revised Standard Version of the Bible. There it was explained why in the Old Testament, the word ‘Lord’ was frequently printed in all capital letters (in ‘caps & small caps’ to be precise), and occasionally in the expression ‘Lord God’ the word ‘God’ was capitalized instead. This tradition, still followed in many of today’s Bibles, dates back many centuries, or even millennia.
When printed in capitals in this way the word ‘LORD’ represents the occurrence in the Bible of the name of God. In the original Hebrew this is indicated by four consonants (written Hebrew having no letters for the vowels), and variously represented in our own alphabet, perhaps most commonly by the letters I, H, V, and H. But in ancient times this name had already come to be considered too holy to actually speak, and instead the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ was spoken aloud. And that Hebrew word is Adonaï.
This then, is the meaning of the verse of the carol, and the meaning of the Advent antiphon. Each of the antiphons is addressed to Jesus: and in addressing Jesus as Adonaï we implicitly declare our belief in his divinity: that the baby born in Bethlehem is indeed the incarnation of the eternal God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, declaring to him his existence and his very name, the divine ‘I AM’. And the salvation that came to the Hebrew slaves, the downtrodden people in Egypt, that salvation is offered to all God’s people right now.
O come, O come, Adonaï!
Andrew Gerns writes on his blog about Choosing the anchor of certainty over the sails of comprehension.
[This is in response to the article by Joseph Bottum The End of Canterbury that I linked to last week.]
Nick Spencer writes in The Guardian that The Church of England’s future grows ever more bleak.
“One grim finding for Anglicans in the British Social Attitudes survey is how few find religion after not being born into it.”
Christopher Howse of The Telegraph has made a seasonal pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem: Holy Land pilgrimage: Away to the manger.
Giles Fraser writes for Church Times about Waiting and the need for God.
Joseph Harker writes for The Guardian that For all its flaws, religion remains a force for good.
“I’d rather have a reminder of what I should be striving for than hear no message at all.”
Updated Saturday night and Sunday night to add more responses
The Prime Minister gave a speech about the King James Bible in Christ Church Cathedral Oxford yesterday (Friday).
The Oxford diocesan website has this brief report: Prime Minister speaks to Oxford clergy.
Speaking to an audience of largely parish clergy at Christ Church Cathedral, David Cameron spoke strongly in defence of faith and the role of the Church in society.
Mr Cameron said that he was a committed but “vaguely practising” Church of England Christian who was “full of doubts” about big theological issues. But he stressed the importance of the Bible, and in particular the King James Bible, in shaping British culture, values and politics.
“We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so,” he said.
“Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith - or no faith - is somehow wrong.
“But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.
“Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.
“The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.
“You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”
Here are some of the many press reports.
Riazat Butt in The Guardian: Cameron calls for return to Christian values as King James Bible turns 400
The Telegraph: David Cameron: the Church must shape our values
The Huffington Post: David Cameron Urges Britons To Stand Up And Defend Christian Values
Oliver Wright in The Independent: Cameron shows off his faith with a swipe at Archbishop
Kelvin Holdsworth has written this Response to the Prime Minister.
Nick Baines Words about Word
Will Cookson David Cameron and The failure of Christian vision
Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator Cameron’s missing the point: Christian values require Christianity
Jonathan Bartley at Ekklesia David Cameron’s Beatitudes
David Edgar in The Guardian We can’t allow the Bible to be hijacked for narrow and partisan politics
I love the Wisdom writings of the Old Testament. There is something wonderful about a religion that can give space in its sacred writings to compare a beautiful person lacking in sense with a gold ring in a pig’s snout, or include a verse such as “The lazy person says ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13). Whilst the Advent Antiphon speaks of wisdom that comes forth “from the mouth of the Most High”, the scriptures are full of more earthy wisdom. It’s the wisdom that emerges from careful observation of the way the world is. Such wisdom can rightly be said to spring from God’s mouth because it is God’s word that makes and remakes creation.
Within the Christian tradition the wisdom that comes from evidence has often been made subservient to that which is derived from abstract thought. Redressing that balance is a key aim of the branch of academic study known as Empirical Theology, in which my own research group is based. Holding conversations with people, or inviting large numbers to complete questionnaires, may not look as highbrow as reflections on basic theological principles but it might actually tell us something about the Christian faith as lived. And if that faith is lived by God’s grace then maybe it is also telling us truth about God too.
The things that my colleagues and I find out often challenge the presumptions of those responsible for running church programmes – especially the tendency to assume that everyone else believes and likes what I do. They also expose the gap between the intentions of some religious policy or practice and what people make of it. Doing theology on the basis of evidence chimes well with Archbishop Rowan’s famous dictum that the task of the church is to see what God is doing, and join in. Above all it suggests that the form of theology that is of most use to the church is reflective practice - which is just what some wise individual some 2500 years ago was doing when they collected together the distilled essence of their observations in the Wisdom literature.
Updated again Wednesday morning
The Church Times reports today: Paintings at risk as Bishop Auckland deal falters
CHURCH officials are working desperately to revive a £15-million deal to safeguard the future of the 12 Zurbarán paintings at Auckland Castle, Co. Durham.
Jonathan Ruffer, who offered to pay £15 million to the Church Commissioners to keep the paintings in the north-east (News, 1 April), announced last week that he was withdrawing his offer.
Mr Ruffer, an investment manager in the City of London, who grew up in Stokesley, near Middlesbrough, blamed “insurmountable” conditions that had been placed on the deal by the Church Commissioners.
Writing in the Church Times, Mr Ruffer describes the First Church Estates Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith, and the Commissioners’ Secretary, Andrew Brown, as “decent men who have gone wrong”.
The Church Commissioners have declined to comment in detail on Mr Ruffer’s charges. However, in a letter to Mr Ruffer, sent on Wednesday and seen by the Church Times, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, writes: “We all hope that the matter is not irretrievable, and that we can press on as planned. . .
“I believe all are committed to achieve the end result that is desired, and I know the Church Commissioners are continuing to work to resolve the outstanding issues. They cannot, however, wave a ‘magic wand’ and bring it all together.”
And scroll down for a sidebar which provides a detailed chronology of how this saga developed.
The full text of Mr Ruffer’s article is, unfortunately, not available this week, except to Church Times subscribers. I will link it here when it is available.
The full text of the article by Jonathan Ruffer is now available here: Why I pulled out of Zurbarán deal.
However, you can get some further idea of its content from another report:
Northern Echo Chris Lloyd Financier says Church commissioners ‘torpedoed’ Zurbarans deal
But today, the Church Times – the leading weekly Anglican magazine – carries a remarkable article by Mr Ruffer in which he says the two leading commissioners, Andreas Whittam Smith and Andrew Brown, are “decent men who have gone wrong” who have “torpedoed” the deals for the Zurbarans and the castle and so have delivered “two slaps in the face for County Durham”.
He says: “Andreas Whittam Smith is by nature a buccaneer: quick to offer the hand of friendship, decisive and brave. He generously accepted an apology for a remark I made which had hurt him.
“Andrew Brown is a very different character, the antithesis of the smutty joke: he is wholesome, serious, and dutiful.
He would make an excellent minor royal.
“Yet these men have managed to torpedo two deals, to the detriment of one of the neediest regions of the UK.”
Mr Ruffer paints a colourful picture of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, becoming involved in the debate. He writes: “I witnessed last month the Primate of All England pleading for the future of the castle.
The Archbishop pleading; Andreas untouchable, untouched.”
Update In the Guardian Riazat Butt writes Would-be saviour of £15 million paintings hits back at Church Commissioners.
Updated again Friday morning
The House of Lords today debated the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011. See earlier reports, starting here.
No vote was taken, as Baroness O’Cathain eventually withdrew her motion:
That a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 8 November, be annulled on the grounds that they do not fulfil the Government’s pledge to protect properly faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships where it is against their beliefs.
Links to Hansard:
The permanent record of this debate now starts here. See below the fold for links to the speeches made by the Bishop of Oxford, and the Bishop of Blackburn (twice).
Meanwhile, media reports:
And press releases:
This morning, the Guardian had published this editorial comment: Civil partnerships: questions for the church
…Today’s motion should be opposed. Opposing it would be more straightforward if the Church of England were to come off the fence on the issue of gay and lesbian equality. Britain has taken great strides towards wider tolerance and equality in recent years. Yet on civil partnerships, as on women bishops and gay priests, the church has recognised the moral wrongness of discrimination while failing to embrace the moral rightness of equality. Everyone can see where this journey is leading. But leading is the one thing the church is reluctant to do. It could make a start by throwing its weight clearly against the conservatives in the Lords today.
And earlier, the Cutting Edge Consortium had published this briefing note for peers.
The leaders of the religious bodies who had originally sought this legislation wrote a letter to parliamentary leaders, which is reproduced in this Ekklesia article: Faith bodies urge Lords to support civil partnerships.
Bishop of Oxford’s speech starts here.
Union Among the Churches of the Anglican Communion - Encyclical Letter 1.5
There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.
- First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.
- Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.
- Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.
- This does not refer to questions respecting missionary bishops and foreign chaplaincies, which have been entrusted to other Committees.
Tobias notes in Those Were the Days (Lambeth 1878) that:
It appears to me that most of the troubles in the present Anglican Communion stem from the failure of some provinces to observe and abide by point 1. Some of those same provinces have gone on to violate point 2, and the recent trouble in AMiA seems to reflect a bit of the mess one gets into by not observing point 3.
But point 1, in one sentence, is the key to any real Anglican unity. No further “covenant” is needed. And the one currently on offer provides a mechanism to frustrate point 1, by shifting from respecting the actions of the provinces to placating those offended by them. The proposed Covenant is government by discontent and disrespect.
…Aware of our mandate to promote the deepening of communion between the churches of the Anglican Communion, we emphasised the importance of being a fully representative group, and we greatly regret that some of our members were not present. We re-affirmed the significance of the Anglican Communion Covenant for strengthening our common life. …
Jim Naughton has written a severe criticism of this at Episcopal Café in The InterAnglican Standing Committee and the illusion of consultation:
…One feels both gratified and alarmed, then, to learn that at is meetings last week, IASCUFO (the InterAnglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order) recognized the importance of “being a fully representative group” and “re-affirm[ed] the significance of the Anglican Communion Covenant for strengthening our common life.” Gratified, because, well, it is nice to have your opponents make your points for you. Alarmed because the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office continue to behave as though the more centralized church they hope to create already exists.
Whatever its claims, IASCUFO is in no way representative. Its members are not elected to represent their provinces, but are cherry-picked by the communion office to ensure the outcome that the Archbishop of Canterbury desires, while creating the illusion of consultation. (In this way it is similar to the Covenant Design team and the Windsor Continuation Group.) Of the 19 individuals named in the release, no more than three hail from churches that have adopted the covenant. (Precise numbers are hard to come by, as many churches don’t actually care enough about the covenant to have made a public statement indicating their attitude toward it.) Yet the group asserts its representative nature, and then affirms what the churches its members allegedly represent have not: that the covenant is essential in strengthening our common life.
IASCUFO employs collegial rhetoric, but it behaves like a pressure group. What sets it apart from other pressure groups is that it uses financial resources contributed by member churches to lobby on behalf of a covenant that many of those churches will not sign—a covenant that would assure that essential decisions in the communion would continue to be made by purportedly representative bodies that are in no way accountable to the communion’s member churches.
As for some members being absent, here is a full list of its membership, dated July 2009, and here are some annotations provided in October 2010 by John Chilton. Readers may care to work out for themselves who was missing from the Korean jaunt.
According to Box Turtle Bulletin in This Anglican Bishop Wants You To Rot In Jail:
Archbishop Peter Akinola, retired Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, has enthusiastically endorsed Nigeria’s anti-gay bill which would impose criminal penalties on same-sex unions and LGBT gatherings. Akinola told Nigeria’s Guardian that the Nigerian government should reject warnings from Britain and the United States that efforts to deny basic human rights to LGBT people would have international implications…
Here is the original article in the Nigerian Guardian Akinola, Others Urge Support For Anti-Gay Marriage Bill
Akinola, who described the bill as “a new orientation towards transformation and reformation of Nigeria from its moral decadence into a new platform of sound morality,” said President Jonathan would be going against God’s will for Nigeria if he refused to sign the controversial bill into law.
He stated that Nigeria needs such law to preserve the nation’s sacred moral heritage for national development.
The former Primate of Church of Nigeria, who described homosexuality as an aberration, said it was repugnant to the word of God and African beliefs. “Same-sex marriage is against natural order of creation; it is against the laws of our religions, and it is against our African custom and traditions,” he said.
Responding to international protests that the bill would limit the rights of homosexuals in Nigeria, Akinola said human rights have limits by the operative society.
“Can you say you have right to marry anybody you want and because of your right, you now go and marry your mother or sister or daughter in the name of human right? For example, in this community, everybody has the right to own a car, but this community says that you drive your car on the right lane. Can you now say because it is your right to own a car, you must drive on the left, while every other person drives on the right?” he asked.
The full text of this bill, as passed by the Nigerian Senate, can be found here.
Updated Sunday evening
The Scottish Government just concluded a consultation on Registration of Civil partnerships same sex marriage and related issues. The terms of the consultation can be found here.
This consultation paper seeks views on the possibility of allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and the possible introduction of same sex marriage.
This Government believes in religious tolerance and the freedom to worship. We also believe in equality and diversity.
There are a variety of views on religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and on same sex marriage. We hope that everyone will use this consultation to express their views and opinions. However, as the debate unfolds, we also hope that everyone will treat those with different or opposing views with courtesy and respect, in accordance with the very highest standards of democratic discourse.
The Scottish Government is choosing to make its initial views clear at the outset of this consultation. We tend towards the view that religious ceremonies for civil partnerships should no longer be prohibited and that same sex marriage should be introduced so that same sex couples have the option of getting married if that is how they wish to demonstrate their commitment to each other. We also believe that no religious body or its celebrants should be required to carry out same sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies…
…In submitting its response, the Scottish Episcopal Church has stated that its General Synod expresses the mind of the Church through its Canons. The Canon on Marriage currently states that marriage is a ‘physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and as a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God’.
The Rt Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Convener of the Faith & Order Board’s working group on the consultation explains “The Canon on Marriage is clear in its wording and that has given the working group set up by the Faith and Order Board a common basis on which to discuss the issues raised in the Government’s Paper. The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church.
“The general issues raised by the consultation document are matters which are already the subject of ongoing discussion within both the Anglican and Porvoo Communions, and in which the Scottish Episcopal Church plays its part. Our written submission is offered in the knowledge of these ongoing discussions, it is placed within the Government’s time frame and has therefore sought to indicate our canonical position without pre-empting any debate we as a Church are or could be engaged in…
The Church of Scotland responded with No to same sex marriage: Consultation response confirms traditional position and the Convener of the Legal Questions Committee also issued this statement.
The Roman Catholic Bishops in Scotland have expressed strong opposition to the proposals, but their official response to the government does not appear to have been published yet by the Scottish Catholic Media Office.
Update The SCMO has kindly supplied me with a copy, which is available here (PDF).
Although the RC bishops objected very strongly to anyone from outside Scotland being allowed to respond to the consultation, numerous lobby groups invited people outside Scotland to respond, including Anglican Mainstream which sent emails to English General Synod members and others, urging them to participate.
“It will be a mark of perpetual disgrace, and a blot on Scottish history, that no sooner has the Scottish National Party formed a majority Government than one of its first measures is a moral and social revolution of such a nature that it will destroy the time-honoured understanding of marriage, undermine the family, threaten the well-being of children, disrupt Scottish education, compromise healthy living, satisfy the communistic agenda of cultural Marxism, introduce anomalies into Scottish Law which will leave a legacy of legislative confusion, and be a stick with which the aggressive homosexual lobby can continue to beat Christians.”
In The Economist Bagehot writes about God in austerity Britain.
“As recession looms, the Church of England is active and vocal, but in the wrong way.”
Robert Orlando writes for The Huffington Post about A Polite Bribe: A New Narrative For Paul And The Early Church?
In a Church Times article now available to non-subscribers Duncan Dormor writes about Where students can reconnect.
“Cambridge chapels flourish, as the young engage with tradition.”
Joseph Bottum writes for The Weekly Standard about The End of Canterbury and asks “Will the sun set on the Anglican communion?”
Chris Bryant writes in The Independent that As a vicar I found that most churchgoers are liberals trying to find meaning in life.
Savi Hensman writes for Ekklesia about Fruitful love: beyond the civil and legal in partnerships.
Yesterday there was an official Statement to the Clergy and Laity of the Anglican Mission.
As you may know, on December 5, in response to unforeseen and extraordinary circumstances, the Anglican Mission in the Americas withdrew from the pastoral oversight of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. In addition, Bishop Chuck Murphy resigned as Primatial Vicar and Bishops Murphy, Sandy Greene, Todd Hunter, TJ Johnston, Philip Jones, Doc Loomis, John Miller and Silas Ng, as well as retired Bishop John Rodgers, resigned from the House of Bishops of Rwanda.
During this interim period, the Anglican Mission is under the oversight of our founding Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini, Moses Tay and Yong Ping Chung until we have a new provincial home within the Anglican Communion. Bishop Murphy is meeting with these overseeing archbishops in London next week to discuss options for the best way forward…
Background documents, in PDF format, are all linked from this page.
And there is another news article today, Addressing Finances with Rwanda.
The AMiA was formally founded in 2000, six months after Bishops Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers were consecrated bishops by Archbishop of Rwanda, Emmanuel Kolini and Archbishop of Southeast Asia, Moses Tay, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore. Its origins are in a conference held in South Carolina in 1997.
When the Anglican Church in North America was formed in 2009, the AMiA was a founding member, but subsequently in 2010 changed its status to Mission Partner.
press release from No Anglican Covenant Coalition
COALITION CELEBRATES SUCCESSES, PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
LONDON – After slightly more than a year, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition can point to several successes, according to Coalition Moderator, the Revd Dr Lesley Crawley.
“In November 2010, we launched the Coalition to ensure that the case against the proposed Anglican Covenant would be given a fair hearing,” said Dr. Crawley. “Today we are seeing our efforts bear fruit. When fair debate has been allowed, the results have been gratifying.”
Critical to the success of the campaign, especially in the Church of England, has been the support of the Coalition’s Episcopal Patrons, Bishops John Saxbee and Peter Selby, who have encouraged diocesan bishops to allow for a full and open debate. In the coming months, 37 more English dioceses will vote on the Anglican Covenant. Only 18 additional no votes are needed for the Church of England to reject the Covenant.
The No Anglican Covenant Coalition continues to provide assistance to those researching the proposed Covenant. The Resources section of the Coalition website (noanglicancovenant.org) is regularly updated with new material and analysis.
In the coming year:
“Anglican Communion Office officials have repeatedly responded to criticism of the Anglican Covenant by suggesting that critics have not read the document,” said the Coalition’s Canadian Convenor, the Revd Malcolm French. “Ironically, we find that the more familiar people are with the document, the more likely they are to reject it. The Coalition is committed to ensuring a proper and balanced debate in churches throughout the Anglican Communion.”
From 1 to 4 November, the Churches of the Porvoo Communion held a consultation in Turku, Finland on the Churches’ teaching on marriage. Delegates represented the Anglican Churches in England, Ireland and Scotland, and the Lutheran Churches in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Observers were present from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, and the Latvian Lutheran Church Abroad.
Read more about this:
Church of Ireland Gazette High-level Porvoo Communion consultation on marriage
…The Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, and the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, attended from the Church of Ireland. Archbishop Jackson had been invited to give a series of Bible studies and Bishop Burrows acted as a Group Convener.
Each member-Church of the Porvoo Communion was invited to submit copies of its marriage liturgies and regulations. Dr Jackson told the Gazette that this material, together with lectures on the interpretation of biblical passages related to marriage, on theological arguments surrounding the issue of same- sex marriage, and on aspects of human genetics “gave scope and shape to the discussions”.
The Archbishop said that in a climate of “tension” relating to marriage practice across the Churches of the Porvoo Communion, the consultation had been conducted “in a spirit of attentive listening and courteous interchange of ideas and experiences”.
…During the days together members from each Church shared their official teaching on marriage, as well as their pastoral experiences. There were also presentations covering aspects of the scriptural foundations for marriage, the development of doctrine, and human genetics.
The consultation concluded that differences over the introduction of same-sex marriage remain unresolved. The Churches hold a variety of views and pastoral practices along a theological spectrum. Some believe same sex marriage to be a legitimate development in the Christian tradition, whilst others see the potential for a serious departure from the received tradition. Nevertheless the consultation affirmed the benefits of “belonging to one another” and the value of honest encounter. The strong relationship of the Porvoo Communion, provides a “platform of sustained communication in the face of issues which raise difficulties for [the Churches]”
The full text of the communique issued can be found here (PDF).
The following critiques of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent Letter have appeared.
Alan Perry Of Advent Letters and Archbishops
…In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body.
Er, that would be people like me, I imagine. But then, I’ve read the document and analysed it, rather than simply rely on unsupported “assurances” to form an opinion.
With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all.
I do wish that the Archbishop would ask someone to respond to the sorts of concerns that I and others have raised, and perhaps even offer a rationale or argument in favour of the Covenant. “No it isn’t” is not an argument, it’s mere contradiction.
It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled.
Well, actually, it outlines the rough idea of a procedure, which is so vague that it’s practically useless, to make arbitrary decisions based on unclear criteria whether a given decision or action of a given Province is or is not “incompatible with the Covenant.” And, although it threatens “relational consequences” it doesn’t define them, so the Archbishop is incorrect to say that it indicates any “sorts of consequences.” The process, such as it is, is a recipe for arbitrariness.
Tobias Haller Noises off…
…The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.
I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
I can, of course, think of any number of “alternatives” to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:
- Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
- Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
- Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
- Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”
…In what seems a very disingenuous statement, I just noticed (thanks to Rod Gillis for pointing it out in the comments to the report at Thinking Anglicans) the irony in another portion of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent musings:
In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. (¶ 7)
Beg pardon, but it is the Archbishop who introduced language of two tracks or two “tiers” for the future of the Communion. Moreover, the invitation not to participate in, or be suspended from, one or more of “the Instruments” is spelled out in the Covenant at 4.2.5. And further unspecified “relational consequences” concerning the actual status of communion between members churches, is also threatened (4.2.7).
If these are not “change to the structure of the Communion” then what are they? It seems to me they are fundamental changes to the only structure we have. Evidently, the Archbishop thinks otherwise, which leads me to wonder what he means by “structure.”
…Communion is a gift. The problem is not the Communion. The problem is the Covenant.
To make the argument, Dr. Williams begs the question: since he did all the visits and all these events happened without the Covenant in place, then is it possible to be a Communion without the Covenant? Would these connections cease if the Covenant were to not pass? Would Anglicans stop working together or would our voice be diluted in any way without the Covenant in place?
Put another way, would the voice of Anglicanism be any stronger in Zimbabwe and would it influence Mugabe any more if they had the Covenant in their back pockets? Would having the Covenant stop Polynesian islands from being any more submerged and would the urban parish be any more relevant to it’s neighborhood with a fully empowered Anglican Covenant?
Once more he talks about how we must not focus on the things that divide us, while extolling a document that defines itself in terms of division, rather than reconciliation. He says we need this to make room for everyone. Dr. Williams asks for an alternative to the mechanisms outlined in Part IV. He says that no one has offered an alternative. While this point is in itself debatable, allow me instead to make a my own humble suggestion:
Instead of spending time (as Section Four posits) on throwing each other out when we disagree, how about building a communion that encourages dialogue and reconciliation?
Instead of focusing on eliminating conflict by making sure that no innovation can happen without the approval of the most conservative member of the Anglican Communion, how about creating a structure and processes that encourage members of Churches who see the implications of the Gospel differently to come together, listen to one another, pray together, share experiences of mission together, and break Eucharistic bread together?
Mark Harris Canterbury writes a letter. It is Advent after all.
We reported on 24 November and again on 2 December on attempts to force a debate in the House of Lords on The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 which come into force tomorrow.
The Quaker website Nayler has published two articles concerning this development, containing a great deal of useful background information:
And Ekklesia has published Quakers in Britain welcome civil partnerships opportunity.
Iain McLean has written an article at Our Kingdom Time to save religious freedom from the UK’s religious right.
…What faith groups want to conduct civil partnerships on their premises? At the moment, a handful: the Metropolitan Community Church, the Quakers, the Unitarians, and Liberal Judaism. The Act, the regulations and ministers in both Labour and Coalition Governments have all made it clear that s.202 is purely permissive. No faith community can be penalised for not requesting to hold civil partnerships. And yet a coalition of conservative Christian groups continues to insist that this measure exposes them to litigation from those seeking to force them to hold civil partnerships against their will. This is part of a victimhood narrative in which, it is said, people are being penalised “for being Christians” (read: for discriminating against gay clients) in various roles such as registrars, relationship counsellors, would-be adopters, and hotel proprietors. In each of these cases, the courts have ruled against the Christians. This is bad for the individual Christians, who have been encouraged to bring (or defend) hopeless cases; it is good for their lobby groups, who need to keep the victimhood narrative going…
And he concludes:
…Furthermore, in a legal opinion published only on 1 December (long after Lady O’Cathain had secured her debate), the Church of England Legal Office reveals that both it and the government’s own lawyers agree with us and disagree with Mark Hill. It is a mystery why the Legal Office did not pass this opinion on to the Lords committee, which could then have seen that the regulations pose no real threat: neither to the Church of England, nor, as the C of E’s lawyers proceed helpfully to add, to any other faith community, whether congregational or hierarchical.
Lady O’Cathain’s campaign is not about protecting faithful Christians from the threat of vexatious litigation. If it were, then Quakers and Jews, who have suffered more than their fair share of that over the centuries, would be on the same side. It is about restricting religious freedom, and thwarting the will of parliament. Section 202 was enacted under the Labour government. The disputed regulations were promulgated by the coalition. All three parties have therefore endorsed it. As a Quaker, I totally respect the right of other Christian denominations not to host civil partnerships, if that is where their conscience leads them. But we have consciences too. Please get your tanks off our lawn, Lady O’Cathain. I hope that Peers will turn out in force on December 15th to protect religious freedom by defeating the O’Cathain motion.
Recent press coverage has tended to focus more on the Church of England’s own position than on the threat to the regulations themselves:
Martin Beckford Telegraph Church of England insists it will not have to host civil partnerships
Jasmine Coleman Guardian Church of England pours cold water on hopes for civil partnership ceremonies
Steve Doughty Mail Church ‘may have to offer gay weddings’ if Cameron’s plans given go-ahead
Press Association Tatchell asks clergy to defy ruling
The papers delivered at the recent Inclusive Church conference: BeAttitude are now available for all to read as PDF files. Other material from the conference can also be found at the link above.
Giles Goddard Tradition and the Gospel
Adrian Thatcher Gender and the Gospel
Hilary Cotton Episcopacy and the Gospel
Andrew Nunn Worship and the Gospel
Christian Purefoy and Faith Karimi of CNN reports this as Nigerian senate passes anti-gay bill, defying British aid threat.
The Nigerian senate has passed a bill banning same-sex marriages, defying a threat from Britain to withhold aid from nations violating gay rights.
The bill by Africa’s most populous nation calls for a 14-year sentence for anyone convicted of homosexuality. Anyone who aids or “abets” same-sex unions faces 10 years in prison, a provision that could target rights groups.
It goes to the nation’s House of Representatives for a vote before President Goodluck Jonathan can sign it into law.
Monica Mark writes for The Guardian: Nigeria ready to punish same-sex marriages with 14-year jail terms. “Bill passed by senate in defiance of western pressure against legislation curbing gay rights.”
A bill banning same sex marriages was passed by the Nigerian senate on Tuesday. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and one of the few that hasn’t bowed to western pressure to drop legislation that curbs gay rights.
The bill, which makes same-sex marriage punishable by a 14-year jail term, still has to be ratified by the country’s lower house before being signed off by the president, Goodluck Jonathan. It also seeks to tighten existing legislation, which already outlaws gay sex, by criminalising anyone who witnesses or assists such marriages and making same-sex public displays of affection a jailable offence. Under the new law, groups that support gay rights would also be banned.
Savi Hensman has written about this for Ekklesia: How Nigeria’s anti-gay bill is unjust and victimizing.
The Washington Post has published this article from Associated Press: Nigeria Senate approves bill banning gay marriage, groups in Africa’s most populous nation.
The Moment (which describes itself as “Nigeria’s most independent Newspaper”) reports this story as 14 year jail awaits same sex marriage offenders.
Changing Attitude has published this: Nigerian Senate votes for draconian anti-gay law to ban same-sex marriage.
Bishop John Packer writes about Cathedrals, Bishops and Committees - What is a Diocese?
Although prompted by the proposals to amalgamate three Yorkshire dioceses including his own, most of what the bishop writes is applicable to dioceses in general.
In a Church Times article now available to non-subscribers Alan Billings writes They belong, but don’t believe. “Many in church at Christmas need their tentative beliefs to be nurtured.”
Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield at the Daily Episcopalian ask Is the Kingdom of Heaven a Ponzi Scheme?
The Church Times has a report today, by Ed Beavan which is only available to paid subscribers until next week, headlined Lawyers dispute civil partnership opt-ins for sacred venues. (£)
A SUBMISSION by a leading ecclesiastical lawyer, Professor Mark Hill QC — which says that the planned changes to the regulations on civil partnerships in religious premises could lead to “costly litigation” for faith groups who object in conscience — has been challenged by an Oxford academic…
…From a more general point of view, the Objectors‘ position becomes clearer. Rather than objecting to the Proposed Regulations, which offer all the protection available to faith groups, denominations, individual ministers and congregations, which is available under the existing regime for licensing religious premises for conducting marriages, Objectors wish section 202 had never been passed in the first place. They want a second chance to defeat the principle of the Alli amendment. In order to accomplish this, they have used every effort to identify problems with the regulatory regime that cannot be solved without a complete overhaul of English marriage law, as well as the Equality Act itself. Rather than offering constructive suggestions for modifying the Proposed Regulations, which the GEO could incorporate into its regime, they have put the perfect (in their view) in the way of the possible.
Neither the GEO nor the legislature should cave in to these efforts. The regulatory scheme proposed and submitted to the legislature offers every protection to the Objectors which is available under English law and applicable human rights and equality laws. They should be permitted to go into force as planned.
Yesterday, after the Church Times had gone to press, the Church of England’s Legal Office published its opinion, which also disagrees with Mark Hill.
…5. The question has been raised in Parliament and elsewhere of whether a religious denomination, or a local church, which declined to seek to have its premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships could be held to be discriminating in a way which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The clear view of the Legal Office is that it could not. This is also the declared view of the Government’s lawyers.
6. A key relevant provision is section 29 of the Equality Act which makes it unlawful for “a person (a “service-provider”) concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public” to discriminate on various grounds, including sexual orientation, “against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service”. A Church which provides couples with the opportunity to marry (but not to register civil partnerships) is “concerned with” the provision of marriage only; it is simply not “concerned with” the provision of facilities to register civil partnerships.
7. That would be a different “service”, marriage and civil partnership being legally distinct concepts. If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory. But that is a separate issue which would have to be addressed in the course of that new legislation.
8. The non-discrimination requirement imposed by the Equality Act on service-providers does not include a requirement to undertake the provision of other services that a service-provider is not already concerned with providing just because the services that it currently offers are of such a nature that they tend to benefit only persons of a particular age, sex, sexual orientation etc. Thus, for, example, a gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes. A children’s book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults. And a Church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships…
Meanwhile, over in the House of Commons, Edward Leigh MP has tabled an Early Day Motion to annul the new regulations. See this report in the Catholic Herald MP takes on Government over same-sex regulations.
And this report in the Telegraph by Martin Beckford Tory MPs try to stop civil partnerships in places of worship.
Gavin Drake has written twice for the Church Times about the employment tribunal hearing last week in Birmingham.
First, last week’s report: QC: ‘Spirit of Trollope is alive’
A LEADING ecclesiastical lawyer has suggested that “the spirit of Trollope is alive and well in the Church of England.” Geoffrey Tattersall QC made the admission on the second day of a week-long preliminary hearing at an employment tribunal in Birmingham.
The tribunal, chaired by A. J. McCarry, is being asked to decide whether the Revd Mark Sharpe, formerly Rector of Teme Valley South near Tenbury Wells, was an employee. If he was, he would be entitled to bring his claim for unfair dismissal to a full tribunal hearing.
On Tuesday, Mr Tattersall, who represents the Bishop and diocese of Worcester, told the tribunal that a priest with freehold status, such as Mr Sharpe, had absolute liberty within his parish, and the bishop had no power to direct the work he did or remove him from office…
And this week: Judge must decide on priests’ employment status
…In his closing submission, Geoffrey Tattersall QC, for the Bishop and the diocese, told the judge that he was dealing with a test case, and that whatever he decided “for this freehold incumbent in the diocese of Worcester would decide the status of all freehold incumbents in the Church of England”.
He said that the Church of England’s case rested on the lack of an expressed contract between the parties and the very high level of autonomy exercised by incumbents — as governed by Measures that had the same force of law as Acts of Parliament.
The judge replied that he had not been aware of the strength of the Measures at the beginning of this case.
John Benson QC, for Mr Sharpe, told the judge that “there has been a great deal of information that, at first hand, is very difficult to understand. A lot of the material is arcane and bedded in history. The Church of England is an organisation that doesn’t fall comfortably in the role of an employer; nor does an incumbent fall into the role of an employee.”
He said that the evidence heard during the hearing and the past case law meant that he was “ploughing a lonely furrow in arguing that Mr Sharpe is an employee, but that won’t deter me”…
And scroll down in the second link for a sidebar, giving a succinct summary of the previous cases that have relevance to this.
Judgement was reserved and appears unlikely to be given before February.
The original tribunal hearing was reported in 2008 as Worcestershire rector claims harassment.
The paper starts:
In view of the likely media interest in and possible controversy over a change in the law which comes into effect on 5 December this note and the attachment prepared by the Legal Office provide some background information and explanation for the benefit of Synod members.
In short, the position under the new arrangements is that no Church of England religious premises may become “approved premises” for the registration of civil partnerships without there having been a formal decision by the General Synod to that effect.
An analysis by the Legal Office to justify this conclusion is attached to the paper.
from Lambeth Palace
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has sent the following Advent letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches.
The following three paragraphs are the ones most likely to provoke discussion:
6. Along with such signs of hope, the Communion still lives with numerous tensions. A number of Primates felt unable in conscience to attend the Primates’ Meeting in Dublin early in the year. However, two-thirds of the Primates were present to pray and take counsel together. In addition to a number of strong statements in defence of various Christian communities in situations of suffering and stress, and a very clear commitment to work together on issues of gender-based violence, the meeting produced a carefully considered statement on what those present believed was the proper role of a Primates’ gathering; and it was clear in the discussion that the position and powers of the Primate were very different in different Provinces. These differences affect opinions over the sort of powers a Primates’ Meeting could and should have. They still need more careful and dispassionate discussion, and a sustained willingness on the part of all Provinces to understand the different ways in which each local part of the Anglican family organizes its life.
7. This of course relates also to the continuing discussion of the Anglican Covenant. How it is discussed, the timescale of discussion and the means by which decisions are reached will vary a lot from Province to Province. We hope to see a full report of progress at next year’s Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting. In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. It sets out an understanding of our common life and common faith and in the light of that proposes making a mutual promise to consult and attend to each other, freely undertaken. It recognizes that not doing this damages our relations profoundly. It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function. I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
8. These questions are made all the more sharp by the fact that the repeated requests for moratoria on problematic actions issued by various representative Anglican bodies are increasingly ignored. Strong conscientious convictions are involved here. No-one, I believe, acts out of a desire to deepen disunity; some believe that certain matters are more important than what they think of as a superficial unity. But the effects are often to deepen mutual mistrust, and this must surely be bad for our mission together as Anglicans, and alongside other Christians as well. The question remains: if the moratoria are ignored and the Covenant suspected, what are the means by which we maintain some theological coherence as a Communion and some personal respect and understanding as a fellowship of people seeking to serve Christ? And we should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.
Church of England press release:
The House of Bishops has announced the membership of a Group established to advise it on reviewing its Pastoral Statement issued prior to the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005. The Group will be chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt Rev Robert Paterson. The other two members of the Group are the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, and the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Rev Colin Fletcher. The Group will start work in December and report to the House in time for the House to reach conclusions during 2012.
The preparation of the pastoral statement was the last occasion when the House of Bishops devoted substantial time to the issue of same sex relationships. The House undertook to keep that Pastoral Statement under review and announced in July, this year, http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1289380/gsmisc997.pdf , that the time had come for a review to take place.
The House of Bishops also announced in July further work on the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality more generally. The expectation is that the membership of that Group, whose work will be considered by the House during 2013, will be announced in the next few weeks.
The original 2005 Pastoral Statement is here.
As noted here earlier this week, the announcement of the review said:
“It is now nearly six years since the House issued its Pastoral Statement prior to the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005. The preparation of that document was the last occasion when the House devoted substantial time to the issue of same sex relationships. We undertook to keep that Pastoral Statement under review. We have decided that the time has come for a review to take place.
“Over the past five and half years there have been several developments. Consistent with the guidelines in the Pastoral Statement a number of clergy are now in civil partnerships. The General Synod decided to amend the clergy pension scheme to improve the provision for the surviving civil partners of clergy who have died. More recently Parliament has decided that civil partnerships may be registered on religious premises where the relevant religious authority has consented (the necessary regulations are expected this autumn).
“The review will need to take account of this changing scene…”