Comments: Church Times reports on the Primates meeting

According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, "It was our unanimous decision to walk together and to take responsibility for making that work."

"Unanimous decision"?

Dr. Welby's phrase is a truthful statement only because the Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda had left the meeting the night before.

On Wednesday, only the primates who wanted to stay looked around and announced they were staying. The decision was "unanimous" only because it was taken after the dissenter left. So the process was circular--which makes the claim of unanimity somewhat deceptive.

You really have to watch very carefully what Dr. Welby says.

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 22 January 2016 at 12:46pm GMT

Re "The Canterbury Tale":

Can someone explain the following to me? I honestly don't understand what's being said.

"The repentance realisation[:]

One revelation was that the call for repentance was genuinely felt, and not just a ploy. At one point, the US Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, was called over to explain the depth of his Church’s commitment to sexual equality. His hearer appeared to grasp this for the first time."

Whose "repentance realisation"? Whose "genuinely felt"? Who called over PB Curry? "His hearer": who/what??

Ignorant Yank (Yours Truly) is mystified.

Posted by JCF at Friday, 22 January 2016 at 12:48pm GMT

I really wish that church leaders would stop exiting their meetings with announcements about how prayerful it was. One would expect a meeting of bishops to be prayer filled. Telling us it was turns the whole thing into a churchland version of dog whistle politics. The take away is, we prayed over this, so clearly we are on God's side, and God approves our message. If you were really pious you would cut us more slack.

It would also be helpful if bishops from western churches would be less categorical in telling global south bishops that our decisions are not about cultural conformity but are based solely on theological grounds. It may well be that theology is the framework of preference for western churches like Canada and the U.S.. However we need to be more honest about the debt our sexual inclusion policies owe to changing social mores, civil and human rights advancements, and the sexual revolution.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 22 January 2016 at 4:14pm GMT

@Rod Gillis: How about this: How about if the churches acknowledge once-and-for-all that, often--very often--in its history, the church has had to be dragged kicking and screaming by secular society toward decent treatment of others? One thinks of Jews, of people of African or Native American ethnicity; of people enslaved by Europeans and Americans (North and South); of the people of the Pacific Rim touched by so-called "Christian Missionaries;" Everywhere we've gone we've treated the people we found there like dirt, and finally had to be forced by secular governments to stop it. I'd like someone here to name an instance where the church was on the vanguard of progressive social change. One would like to take credit for the Liberation fathers, only they've been repeatedly betrayed by their own bishops. Current chapters of this saga involve gay people and Muslims, but it's still the same disgusting story.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Friday, 22 January 2016 at 7:05pm GMT

Rod, I agree heartily with you. (That's a first!) Theology is, of course, always culturally contextualised, and the bishops of the global south should acknowledge this too.

As for a time when the Church was in the vanguard of progressive social change, I would say that, in the early centuries the Church did in fact make some pretty progressive social and moral changes (Christianity did attract the poor, and the low of rank, after all), unfortunately many of them reversed when Constantine made it the religion of the Empire. Certainly, from very early on the Church did take very seriously (or as seriously, perhaps, as was culturally possible) the equality of all in Christ, and was especially concerned with widows and orphans in a society when to be a widow or an orphan was often to be penniless and largely marginalised. The Church's care for the sick was also a fairly constant concern of the Church, from the start, given the place of healing in the ministry of Jesus.

In India, where I grew up as a missionary's son, the percentage of nurses, indeed the percentage of hospitals, that were mostly Christian is very significant. 70-80% of Indian nurses were Christian, I believe, though this is only a childhood memory (but I was 18 when I left India, so not early childhood, and I am 74 now). There was only one hospital in the city my father worked in (and from), and it was a Mission Hospital, and Christians were in the forefront of attempting to obliterate caste distinctions (and thus to lift up the lowly). Missionaries also opposed, and got the government to outlaw, the practice of Suttee (where the wife was immolated on her husband's funeral pyre). Of course, in Hindu belief, being burned alive with your husband was to enter a state of grace, and widows were (and still are, I think) often isolated and shunned, but still it was a misogynistic practice. It may be that missionaries sometimes treated the people amongst whom they worked as children or as savages, but one of the primary concerns of missions, despite this, was education and welfare. Albert Schweitzer was certainly paternalistic, but no one would claim that he did not contribute to the welfare of a small corner of Africa.

So it is not, as Daniel says, that the Church treated people as dirt (though no doubt sometimes they did). Jesuits in Canada whose purpose was mainly evangelistic, were martyred by the native peoples. So Christians were not necessarily always arrogant and tyrannical, and missionaries, in general, less so, I think. It is wrong to blame the Church for the misdoings of imperialists abroad, just because they came from a Christian country. In India, for example, the East India Company kept missionaries out, and missionaries were only permitted to "ply their trade" when the British Government took over the government of India, after the Mutiny (or First War of Indian Independence - although I think there were many revolts against Muslim rule before ever the British set foot in India). However, I believe it is true that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was bequeathed an estate, including a large number of slaves, in Jamaica or Barbados, and they were not freed, but branded with an "SPG" somewhere on their bodies. So, Christians were certainly guilty of their share of crimes and misdemeanors. But judge everyone by their "desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Said's "Orientalism" has caused much misunderstanding, I think, and while colonialism may have done much harm, it was not an unmitigated evil.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 23 January 2016 at 1:38am GMT

As a Primate within the Anglican Communion does not Michael Curry merit the title of "Most Reverend" rather than merely "Rt. Reverend" as nominated in the Church Times article, which surely must know better, or has he too, as well as TEC also been demoted?

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 23 January 2016 at 4:48am GMT

1928 must have been a significant year because not only did Parliament reject the Prayer Book of that particular date but then supported the idea of a fixed date for Easter. Here we are not much short of a century later and we are still messing about with a movable date for the Queen of Festivals. I note that wise old buzzard, Cosmo Gordon Lang said that we "could not contemplate consenting to it unless it had the concurrence of the great religious Communions". However, that did not stop us in the late 20th and early 21st centuries in making considerable changes to the ministry without "the concurrence of the great religious Communions" but let us hesitate before we tiptoe yet again along that particular Primrose path.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 23 January 2016 at 9:32am GMT

I wonder why my comment to this post about the petition to Parliament, now over 11,000 signatures in less than a week and qualifying for a response from the Government, which states that it is a response to the Primates Gathering, wasn't approved. Any feedback on what not to post appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by Dennis at Saturday, 23 January 2016 at 2:38pm GMT

@ Daniel Berry and Eric MacDonald: The relationship of theology to culture is dynamic. Advocates for civil and human rights have often come from outside the church. They have had to work against conservatives whose frame of reference was/is organized Christianity.

However, reflection upon and engagement with social reform can and does produce significant new theologies. Predictably, new theologies elicit a reaction from conservative voices and vested interests with the institutional church itself sometimes being that vested interest.

Notwithstanding, the result of theological reflection can produce an added dimension of meaning. It can facilitate the joining of faithful people to a coalition for social reform.

I've included a link below to the sermon delivered by PB Michael Curry at Trinity Institute, New York. The sermon is about 25 minutes long. At about six minutes in he begins talking about the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and summer of 1963 in Birmingham,Alabama. At about eight minutes he talks about the civil rights movement being not just a politcal movement but a moral one as well. It is a powerful example of theological reflection with regard to social change. The application to the current problems in our Victorian era Communion ought not to be lost on the listener.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 23 January 2016 at 3:23pm GMT

If the petition reaches 100,000 it will have to be debated by Parliament. Without the issue of same sex marriage to oxygenate it, a similar petition in 2012 garnered scarcely 400 signatories. An opportunity was missed when none of the bishops were present at the House of Lords debate last September when Richard Harries spoke so eloquently about LGBT rights in Africa. Likewise, an empty ministerial chair greeted the audience of BBC Radio 4's flagship religious affairs programme 'Sunday' last week when no bishop was available to be interviewed.

Perhaps the PM could suggest to the bishops that they voluntarily withdraw from the Lords for a period of three years until there are an equal number of men and women and a fair representation of openly LGBT people, in line with the Commons. We give the impression to many people that the C of E is a single issue protest party in the manner of UKIP. A jolt to the establishment might ease the institutional logjam on the issue.

Posted by Andrew at Saturday, 23 January 2016 at 10:19pm GMT

[Hmmm, no answer to my question. Oh well.]

"Some of the Primates came with the desire to walk apart: those who support same-sex marriage in one direction and the others who do not in another."

This statement (I believe by Dr Anis, in the "Reactions" article) is a bald-faced LIE. None of the Primates "who support same-sex marriage" [PB Curry, and the other non-GAFCON Primates] expressed ANY "desire to walk apart": that is solely the provenance of GAFCONians.

Why can't anti-TEC Anglicans make their arguments, w/o resorting to false equivalencies and projections? (See re the common canard that TEC wants to "impose" marriage equality upon the AC)

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 4:31am GMT

"If the petition reaches 100,000 it will have to be debated by Parliament."

That is a common assumption but it is not true. If a petition reaches 100,000 it will be *considered* for debate in Parliament.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 11:07am GMT

Rod: "The relationship of theology to culture is dynamic."

Yes, of course it is. That is precisely what I mean by "contextualised," since theology is both affected by and influences its cultural context. The problem with this is that while engagement with movements of social reform can produce significant new theologies, the reverse is also the case, and where the culture is harsh and cruel theologies which justify such cruelty have often been the product. Many people think of theology as somehow engaged with its surrounding culture on a higher plane, and so do not recognise the effects of the interrelationship of culture and theology.

A good example of this is Augustine's response to the Circumcellions, which led him to argue against suicide on any grounds whatever, since the Circumcellions avidly sought martyrdom, and occasionally demanded it. His response was to a particular social context, and yet his arguments against suicide still characterise most Christian theology regarding suicide, even though Augustine's exegesis of the sixth commandment has nothing to commend it.

This is also true of the Roman Catholic doctrine regarding sexuality and its use. When societies existed on the brink of extinction because population could only barely keep up to the death rate, the idea that the natural end of sexuality is propagation of the species made considerable sense. Now that world population is leading to environmental catastrophe, sexuality as propagation as the only natural purpose of sexual relations is both foolish and dangerous. It was always wrong, but now can be more clearly seen to be so.

The contextualisation of theology works both ways, which is why I prefer that characterisation of the relationship of theology and culture to the idea that the relationship is dynamic, which to my ear suggests something much more positive.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 4:33pm GMT

Yes, where the LGBT agenda is at the forefront, there is a huge over-population problem.

So contextualization will be a winning formula.

Posted by christopher seitz at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 7:03pm GMT

Erika, as I understand it the House of Commons Petitions Comittee will 'almost always' schedule a petition for debate if it reaches the threshold. The two that weren't debated according to the website were a vote of no confidence in David Cameron's government, which the committee had no power to request, and the arrest of Benjamin Netanyahu. There would need to be a good reason if the bishops' one isn't debated.

Posted by Andrew at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 8:09pm GMT

Multiple reports suggest TEC was subject to consequences because it acted "unilaterally". Either the commentators are just quoting each other, or it was the word the Primates agreed upon.

So if Canada for instance votes for same sex marriages, TEC will no longer be acting unilaterally. Am I alone in suspecting that at that point the goal posts will move?

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 10:23pm GMT

Well said, Kate. I think you are right that if Canada does add its vote to the ("damnable") decision of TEC that the goal posts will move very quickly, and the African bishops will repeat their demand for the imposition of godly order on rogue elements in the church that much more shrilly.

However, I suspect that the marginalisation of TEC will have a dampening effect on the General Synod meeting this year, and that the motion to recognise same-sex marriages will fail. But you never know. The Canadian Church is already widely thought to be out of step (though I fail to see in what respect), and General Synod may (justly, I think) hold that justice is more important than primatial politics, since as a group the primates have no official function within the Communion. It is regrettable, in my view, that this warped opinion has been given some credence. Primates are not Cardinals, and they do not constitute a college with juridical authority.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 24 January 2016 at 11:50pm GMT

@ Eric, "The contextualisation of theology ... I prefer that characterisation" I don't disagree with that. In fact, I rather wish I had put it that way myself. The caveat is to insist that while no culture is normative theology itself is not rendered completely relative.

I found your comment about engagement imagined on a higher plane somewhat intriguing. I think, if I understand you, that we may be in agreement there, if what you intend is that theology sees itself as being very much the senior partner and above the fray as it were. Of course, it is neither.

However, I would add that in order for theology to be "contextual" in a contemporary society it must finds ways of engaging in inter-disciplinary work.

I think the involvement of pastors and theologians in the American civil rights movement in the 1960s was an example of a kind of inter-disciplinary work at the praxis level.

Climate change is another instance where the willingness of theologians to sit at the table with atmospheric scientists and other allied fields may produce positive outcomes, including perhaps an updating of theological perspectives on population control. The churches could be a significant voice with regard to the moral dilemmas climate change and unbridled capitalism present; but only if that voice is informed by a critical reflection on Christianity's constitutive tradition together with a willingness voice concerns on behalf of threatened cultures and populations where Christianity has significant representation.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 25 January 2016 at 12:45am GMT

"Primates are not Cardinals, and they do not constitute a college with juridical authority."

Until this latest power grab.

Christopher L. Webber put the point very well in a comment over on Andrew McGowan's blog:

"It’s all very well to point out that the Primates don’t actually have the power they assume, but it is not very well to let that action go unchallenged. Power unchallenged is power acquired. Rome gained the position it is has over centuries by asserting increasing power and not being challenged. If this power grab is not challenged, the Primates will understandably reach for more and this precedent will be cited as evidence that they have this power."

Posted by Jeremy at Monday, 25 January 2016 at 10:29am GMT

@ Eric, "I suspect that the marginalization of TEC will have a dampening effect on the General Synod meeting this year..."

Anxiety within the church, especially within the Canadian House of Bishops has had something of a dampening effect on the looming vote even before the Primates Meeting.

The manner in which the theological reflection was handled in This Holy Estate does not help matters.

The Primate is now on record after the Primates meeting as upholding the synodical process. However, don't discount the House of Bishops in Canada, in some sort of "word to the church" may not end up derailing the entire project.

First Nations concerns about governance and decision making may also play a role. In fact, this may create something of a dilemma and a split for delegates interested in justice for both First Nations and GLBTQ members.

Finally, first reading this year and final reading in three years time will each require a vote with a 2/3 majority in all houses. The order of Bishops, in the past, have voted measures down that clergy and laity have supported. So, passage of the amendment is a long shot. I would not be shocked if the motion ends up not being put. One wonders, if once again, some nuncio or other from the Communion will be hanging around yamming about bonds of affection.

Either outcome will be very sad for the Canadian church that likes to lecture others about social justice.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 25 January 2016 at 2:24pm GMT

' comment to this post about the petition to Parliament, now over 11,000 signatures in less than a week and qualifying for a response from the Government, which states that it is a response to the Primates Gathering '

(Dennis on Saturday)

I had thought that I had signed this petition.
However being prompted by Dennis's post, I checked, finding that I had not !

I have now signed. Thank you, Dennis.

Alternatively, let it be for a period of 3 years, during which they may not sit on any government or related committees, or represent the Church to the Government !

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Monday, 25 January 2016 at 10:36pm GMT

@ Rod Gillis - thanks for your response to my posting. I'm always glad to receive conditioning or correctives to the dark picture of Church history.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Tuesday, 26 January 2016 at 12:17am GMT

thank you, that's really helpful. I had somehow thought that most topics were not debated.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 26 January 2016 at 9:32am GMT

@ Daniel Berry, and it can be a history with very dark moments indeed.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 26 January 2016 at 2:00pm GMT

I am beginning to think that Church Times owes everyone several corrections.

Two themes that Church Times put forward were the idea that the GAFCON walkout didn't happen, and the notion that Archbishop Foley Beach stayed.

According to Abp Beach himself, neither of these notions is true.

Abp Beach now says that he left on Thursday night, before the final communique was discussed.

Abp Beach also says that a "majority of GAFCON primates" also absented themselves from those Friday discussions.

But it's not just the press's fault. As I wrote above, "You really have to watch what Dr. Welby says." At the time I thought I was writing only about the departure on Tuesday of Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, Primate of Uganda. But it now seems as though other departures took place earlier than had been reported.

It's easy to claim unanimity when everyone who disagrees with you has left the meeting.

So . . . is the story of Primates 2016 really one of unity joyfully preserved, as Abp Welby would have us believe?

Or do the facts demonstrate instead a GAFCON-led schism in progress?

Posted by Jeremy at Wednesday, 27 January 2016 at 1:09pm GMT
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