Comments: Opinion - 15 March 2017

John Davies examines the nitty-gritty of church committee meetings. I can say that I am not naturally drawn to being part of a committee, with all the politics involved. I want my own way - way too much. But I know I'd be more co-operative if I didn't believe that others want their way - way too much. A case of suspending belief?

Posted by Pam at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 9:32am GMT

Kimberly Bohan’s excellent piece has tempted me to mount a hobby-horse. Prior to the middle decades of the nineteenth century there were no seminaries (saving perhaps St Bees in Cumberland, established in 1816 and curios promoting theological education like Sion College, founded in 1630). The possession of a BA from the three Anglican universities – Oxford, Cambridge and TCD – was generally thought sufficient (Durham and KCL were founded almost contemporaneously with the foundation of seminaries). This was despite the fact that the theological content of the Schools or Senate House examinations was practically nil (at Cambridge it was a bit of Paley tacked onto the end of an extremely demanding though increasingly dated mathematical trial). For those lacking a BA one could become a ‘ten year man’ at Cambridge and gain a BD, but this was routine and did not require proper residence. The real test for those with or without degrees was that of the examining chaplain and/or bishop, an ordeal which varied from diocese to diocese. This was a system which, for all its ostensible inadequacies, worked fairly well. The clerical profession was, for the most part, highly literate, enjoying a broad education, but by no means isolated from the laity. For the most part colleges were not distinguished for their partisanship, although some of them (Magdalen and CCCC) came to have a pronounced high church bias.

Seminaries have changed this. As the universities became secularised – especially after the 1850s – it was felt there was a need to formalise clerical education. This was part of an increasing formalisation of all the professions. The Oxford Movement also had a disruptive impact: it helped to calcify the hitherto fluid differences between low/high church parties. This led to seminaries which catered to the different parties, with ritualist seminaries tending to predominate numerically over time.

The result was the development of a clerical profession in which partisanship became increasingly pronounced and problematic, whilst the relatively isolated status of most seminaries tended to make the clergy more of a caste (even the seminaries at Oxford, Cambridge and [to a lesser extent] Durham, though not KCL, were for long relatively isolated from the universities in which they were situate).

The need for seminaries also became more pronounced towards the end of the nineteenth century as the development of Biblical criticism, the advance of positivism, anthropology, natural selection, etc., subverted conventional theology.

Posted by Froghole at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 12:57pm GMT

Contd.

Seminaries were therefore not only necessary to protect certain ordinands from the corrupting influences of modern theology as to instil a more clerical ethos: in effect to bolster the self-confidence of the clergy even as their incomes and role in society diminished (especially with the gradual disappearance of clerical justices and the progressive secularisation of parish government, with the final divorce in 1888). This strategy was highly successful, but risked creating a clerical caste of the type that had done such damage to the standing of the Church of France.

It is only quite recently that financial exigencies have rationalised the numbers of seminaries (which has decisively undermined the AC party) and have led to the establishment of non-residential courses that have diluted, though by no means eliminated, this partisanship. However, these same financial problems have also eliminated some of the more broad church seminaries (Salisbury and Wells, Lincoln) which have arguably undermined the strength of liberals within the Church.

My experience of the clerical profession over a fairly wide area is that there is little/no difference between the education, aptitude and ability of clergy who have been through a three year residential course and those who have gone through something like SEITE (indeed, I often hear far better sermons from non-seminary educated clergy or from readers than from erstwhile seminarians). As I see it, this makes the value added by seminaries somewhat dubious. Can a cash-strapped Church really afford them? Does a Church riven by parties seriously benefit from the partisanship [in]advertently impressed upon students in partisan seminaries? Can people not be trained more effectively (and less expensively) by being directed to a good local library, studying on their own time, and by the simple business of living and working in the world under the periodic supervision of a DDO or examining chaplain who can provide guidance/a course of reading?

I suspect my comments might cause some indignation. Many alumni of theological colleges tend to assert that their experience as seminarians was very positive. That, in itself, is part of the problem: seminaries often engender a passionate esprit de corps which tends to confirm the partisanship that has caused such damage to the wider Church. It is a tendency that also helps engender the belief that clergy who did not partake of that type of education are somehow second-best (which is sometimes the reverse of the truth).

Posted by Froghole at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 12:58pm GMT

Wise words from a wise bishop.
Thank you Bishop Stephen.

Posted by Fr John E. Harris-White at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 3:56pm GMT

I think Bishop Stephen has given the most open and honest appraisal of the realities that I've read so far from any bishop. The realities are not everything I want, but I think it assesses very fairly where the realities probably lie at the present time. I'm really grateful to Stephen for this very open and detailed expression of views.

I wish all our bishops were as open as this.

I've had correspondence with about 25 bishops in the last few weeks, in response to my suggestions about 'Unity in Diversity', some of them very frank, but Stephen's observations are public and for that I am grateful. I also think he is acute in realpolitik terms about what can be achieved at present if there is sufficient leadership.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 6:52pm GMT

Compare and contrast the Bishop of Chelmsford's approach to 'radical Christian inclusion' with the letter in last week's Church Times from the bishops of Birkenhead and Maidstone which seeks to slam the door shut.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 10:11pm GMT

Er, no, Bishop Stephen. Have you not learned anything from Sheffield? The days of the Church of England tolerating discrimination are over. There is neither male nor female in Christ. That applies to same sex marriage just as much as it does to the ordination of women. Suggesting prayers of thanksgiving (not even a blessing) and no change to doctrine is patronising and very much inadequate.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 11:23pm GMT

Froghole,
that's a fascinating analysis, thank you. So could it be said that the problem is not the specialised theological training but how partisan it is? And that a better form of training would be a church-wide curriculum drawn from all forms of churchmanship, and seminaries/regional courses attended by all?

I wonder if your suggestion of home-study with a good local library wouldn't compound the problem, which seems to be largely that students are insulated and protected from ever having to engage properly with others who believe slightly differently?

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 9:02am GMT

Froghole, yes - but!

I agree that the partisan nature of the seminaries has had unfortunate consequences. Anecdotally, though, my experience has been that (the better) seminaries have provided their students with a wider experience than used to be the case.

But what would worry me about your model would be the inevitable further reduction in the proportion of theologically competent clergy. Under the current model there is at least the opportunity for graduates to "do a second BA", one in theology. Of course degrees can be won after part-time study, but that's a hard road for many, especially those with family responsibilities. If it's possible to go on funding a residential course for these people I'd be in favour of continuing it; and if it's not, then I would have thought that some serious discussion with the OU would be a good place to start. I don't think a DDO could possibly provide what's needed.

Posted by american piskie at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 10:44am GMT

Froghole has got a sound point on the finances. It sesms seminaries are a luxury the Church can no longer afford. The home study can work well though. Here in Exeter Diocese we do the mixed mode approach to learning. Academic stuff is covered in evening classes with the nitty gritty covered in Parish. You get sent to several parishes to make sure you get a rounded grounding in churchmanship. Before you get near the Selection Conference we have to go to churches of different traditions to our own and attend services and make notes and ask questions. In the academic study you mix with other traditions and trade notes as well as in the weekend training sessions so it's not totally isolated. The system seems to work well and we have a very wide range of clergy coming into the mix here.

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 10:51am GMT

As someone who attended a 'seminary' (closely linked with a university) many years ago I'm not up to date with current patterns of ordination training. Academically there is no reason why the non-residential model should not be as effective. But in terms of priestly formation I don't see what can replace living as a community with a corporate discipline of worship, and time for prayer and meditation. Not to mention the equally important role of informal chat at all levels from trivial gossip to theological speculation.

Posted by David Emmott at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 11:48am GMT

Froghole: Thank you very much indeed for your illuminating and thoughtful piece on theological education/training for ordination which I have found very helpful. Your analysis of the historical context was particularly useful. My experience is that clergy who were educated on 'courses' have a far greater understanding of life in the real world than those educated in residential seminaries, and they have often very largely benefitted from a much greater understanding of theological difference, which has not resulted in retreating into theological ghettos as in my experience often happens after residential training courses.
I am in Oxford and have had first hand experience of teaching students from the range of 'local' colleges who insisted in sitting in segregated areas for lectures and calling each other 'the enemy'. Neither of which I would allow. In fact I was deeply shocked the first time it happened. It had never occurred to me that so called adults could behave like that with each other. It did, though, provide the opportunity of talking together and working out with the various ordinands why they felt their location within the lecture theatre and the name calling was acceptable, In every case it generated very useful discussion and I hope a greater understanding of what they, the ordinands, were doing in holding onto and hiding behind entrenched positions. If lack of money is the catalyst for closing down most, if not all, residential seminaries, then perhaps one can conclude that yet again the Holy Spirit is having to use man made structures (financial systems) to get us to think creatively and prayerfully about any changes s/he is wanting us in the Church make.

Posted by Anne at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 2:43pm GMT

Froghole, I've read your piece with interest. My experience of residential training, some 30 years ago, was not especially positive. This was partly the fault of the syllabus which gave too little time to practical and pastoral subjects, and partly to the ethos of the college. It was difficult for women in training and we were all treated rather like public schoolboys. It was actually a bit mixed as to churchmanship but heavily theoretical. I used to joke with other curates on POT that they knew how to do things, but I knew the names and rationale for them!

My old college has since become much more partisan, while part-time courses seem to have improved. However they do place a very heavy burden on those who are still working, especially if their jobs involve shift work, if they have family responsibilities, transport problems, or a long commute to their course,

If residential colleges were to close we would need much more investment in regional/area courses, including financial support for trainees and a number of good theological libraries - one per diocese would be inadequate.

Posted by Janet at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 3:18pm GMT

What is 'radical Christian inclusion'? I have no idea what that means. Plain ordinary inclusion is all that's needed.

Posted by Jane Charman at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 3:28pm GMT

Many thanks for the various comments made about theological colleges (I used the word ‘seminary’ in order to help me keep under 400 words).

I wasn’t necessarily suggesting that having people buried at home/in their home parishes was a good idea. Indeed, it could harden the partisanship of candidates from certain party parishes, who would only ever engage with people having a similar outlook – a danger liable to be magnified if their DDO were from the same tradition. However, that is also a risk if they attend partisan theological colleges.

My view is that the likes of SEITE, Sarum College, etc., are the best way to go. I assume (though am not certain) that they are relatively less expensive to run, and – as a function of their being non-residential – they are, perforce, non-partisan. It is the partisanship which has been so toxic, and we have seen unfortunate evidence of the impact of partisan strife in recent weeks.

It is, of course, possible that partisans would object to non-residential courses, in part because engagement with people from different ‘traditions’ might have the effect of gradually eliminating those traditions and/or reducing the Church to a 'common mulch'. Even if there is a risk of sameness, I sometimes wonder whether that would be a price worth paying for the aggregate welfare of the Church, since the principles of ‘unity in diversity’, ‘shared flourishing’, etc., are being strained almost to breaking point.

Also, in giving a thumbnail sketch of the provision of theological education before the establishment of theological colleges, I should have mentioned (of course) that knowledge of the Bible was vastly superior amongst the mass of the population than is currently the case – and I also forgot to mention Lampeter (established in 1822) as ante-dating the foundation of most seminaries.

As to Janet’s interesting remarks, transport is often a problem and decent theological libraries are relatively scarce. Query whether use could be made of those university libraries that have adequate theological content and/or if there could be a central repository of online literature, with the Commissioners doing a block deal with the likes of Eerdmans, T&T Clark, university presses/JSTOR, etc., so that clergy/readers and candidates alike can access good quality commentaries and the likes of JTS, JEH, NT, VT, Mind, etc. Of course, not all counties/dioceses will have a decent university library, though some cathedral libraries might have adequate cover.

Posted by Froghole at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 4:21pm GMT

A lot of people think of radical inclusion in these examples by Jesus:
1. The Good Samaritan. Samaritans were hated by the Judeans. The people asking "who is my neighbor," looking for exclusions, would not have wanted to hear about a good Samaritan. Substitute that with Musilm, or gay, or even woman in some circles today.
2. The Samaritan Woman and other interactions with women. In addition to the bit above, Jesus talking with, teaching, and touching women has been considered "radical inclusion" as it moved beyond cultural taboos of the time. Losing the argument with the woman who touched his robe and Mary Magdalene present strong examples as well.
3. Hanging with the "sinners" and unclean. It just wasn't done. But Jesus did it.

Further, inclusion requires change, and that's why it is radical. Accepting women, accepting gays, accepting Muslims and others as Children of God, equally loved, has accommodations and implications that challenge the status quo - and particularly challenges privilege.

Inclusion is only ordinary when enough people value it and when Christians see it as one of the imperatives of the Gospel (rather than those who see exclusion as the imperative - I call them God's most unnecessary gatekeepers).

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 4:32pm GMT

Re: Sonya Doragh and Lizzie Lowrie's excellent and very moving piece on the Liverpool Diocesan website. I am so glad they have taken this initiative into the Cathedral. I too find Mothering Sunday very difficult, 3 miscarriages and a home where I was the only biological child of our parents, with 3 adopted siblings, where my own mother was unable to notice the sexual and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of one of my siblings, where I was constantly told that "You are the one who understands" and where I had to share any present I was given with my siblings (they did not have to do this with me). On my birthday one sister always had to have presents too so "she will feel wanted". No understanding of what this might say to me, the message it might bring me. When I finally gave birth to a live baby, but very small, I remember weeping all the way home from the hospital (having had to leave the baby in Special Baby Care). I felt such a failure as a human being, but particularly as a woman, that I couldn't even have a normal baby. So Mothering Sunday services are times when I have always had a bright smile on my face to pretend all is well, when inside I have been dying. Yes, I know God loves me, and yes, I know that honouring our parents/mothers is a good thing to do, but actually acknowledging that very, very many of us had less than perfect relationships with our own mothers and very many of us have had real problems with either conception or staying pregnant. - or indeed are single despite longing for marriage and children. So welcome to the real world! Thank you Sonya and Lizzie for doing us all such a favour.

Posted by Anonymous at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 5:16pm GMT

Well said, Jane Charman. Thank you.

Posted by Anne at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 5:17pm GMT

In the whole course v college-based training argument, I'm wary of the idea that a part time course is necessarily cheaper. Cheaper for the church, maybe: but someone still has to pay for the ordinands' food, board, accommodation- and for their families as well. And for the majority of people on courses, that someone is the ordinand themselves or their spouse.

To make this model work, the church needs three things: either a steady stream of early retirees with healthy pensions; or a flock of spouses with enough income and goodwill to support an ordinand; or people with flexible yet entirely predictable jobs that allow them space to go through one of the most mentally and spiritually exhausting processes imaginable.

But for people who can't rely on a job or a spouse or a pension, a full time course with adequate funding is going to be a necessity, whether based in a theological college or mixed mode. If we restrict that opportunity to train full time and fully funded, then we're likely to be narrowing the pool of ordinands even further: and ordinands will conform even more strongly to the grey haired, middle class stereotype.

Posted by Laurence at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 8:17pm GMT

Laurence: Yes, I agree, with mustard. The clerical profession today is much as it has often been (outside Wales and some upland parishes): an overwhelmingly middle class vocation. I acknowledge this is a major problem: perhaps when we think of diversity on this site, we ought also to think of the relative lack of economic diversity in the Church, amongst both clergy and laity.

However, I am not certain that residential courses make ordination that much more [im]plausible for single candidates lacking a supporting 'competence'. Any ordinand who is single and lacks the prospect of a sufficient inheritance and/or an adequate defined benefit pension is going to have a truly grim time of it following retirement unless they can get a spot at Dormansland, or places like Bromley College, an almshouse, HFD post, etc., but even they might not be safe in the medium/long term (after all, look at what has happened at Hindhead).

Remorseless house price inflation means that the profession makes little financial sense post retirement for clergy lacking capital or an alternative income stream. Set against that problem I fear that the cost of training is a relative sideshow, but it is arguably the case that the dioceses are more likely to be able to provide assistance to indigent retirees via HFD posts if other financial pressures (such as the training bill) are reduced, since there might therefore be relatively less of a temptation to sell parsonage houses and other assets.

As to encouraging candidates from outside the middle class (such that they can have the assurance of some security), I suspect the options remain very limited. Query whether there should continue to be a steady diminution in the number of stipendiary posts with a corresponding increase in SSM positions in order to encourage/fund more 'working class' vocations. The SSMs will be largely middle class and often older (with alternative income streams), and they would effectively subsidise the stipendiaries (who might have no prospect of alternative subsistence) since the stipendiaries would be paid relatively more than at present as a function of the overall diminution of stipendiary posts. This would, of course, make the profession means tested and would probably be highly invidious/unworkable. It might also be financially impossible as stipendiary posts need to be reduced in any event so that dioceses can pay for the pensions of existing retirees.

Perhaps someone has a better suggestion.

Posted by Froghole at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 11:40pm GMT

Looking at who the lepers and the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are in today's society, I really wonder whether it is exactly correct to suggest that the Church needs to reach out especially to LGBT people or Muslims. Of course, it does - I don't mean to deny for a moment that the Church's mission must include these groups (and that it has often failed to engage with them in the past).

But if inclusion is to be 'radical' it can't focus merely on the darlings of secular identity politics. We need to go after the people who are really marginalised and despised by the humanistic liberal values-system that dominates our culture. When I see churches extending a loving and unconditional welcome to BNP supporters, dole bludgers, convicted paedophiles, hedge-fund managers, rapists, antisemites, people-traffickers and the other categories of non-person among the moral detritus of our society, then I think we may conclude that our inclusivity is finally radical enough.

Posted by rjb at Friday, 17 March 2017 at 10:00am GMT

Froghole and others: the pros and cons of residential vs non-residential clergy training have been well rehearsed above, though without a conclusive answer.

What hasn't been addressed however is the question of how well a priest can be encouraged to develop a spiritual life and a deep as well as practical understanding of liturgy, without day to day immersion in a prayerful community. Few parish churches, however devoted are its individual members, can offer such an experience and it is a lonely journey on one's own. The residential college (of whatever churchpersonship) can be criticised as inappropriately monastic, but bearing in mind the Benedictine roots of Anglican devotion, there is an appropriate monasticism. I'm not sure if that can be developed in a non-residential context, but it would be good to be contradicted by some people with experience of that.

Posted by David Emmott at Friday, 17 March 2017 at 3:44pm GMT

Cynthia,

on radical Christian inclusion, I'd say "yes, but" to your examples.

In particular, on 2) and 3) although Jesus spent time with these people, he wasn't expecting to leave them unchanged - he highlighted the sins of the woman at the well, and the "sinners" and unclean were those who need a doctor (Mark 2.17). So the discussion starts with these groups, but cannot end at "Jesus spent time with them, so they must be OK" which is often what's implied (or at least that's how it seems to me). It's the old "come as you are, but don't stay as you are" - but that must go with recognition that it applies to each and every one of us, even (especially?) the "in crowd."

BTW I'm baffled by the idea of Jesus arguing with the woman who touched him or Mary Magdalene, let alone losing an argument. You wot?

Posted by Bernard Randall at Friday, 17 March 2017 at 3:56pm GMT

"Looking at who the lepers and the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are in today's society, I really wonder whether it is exactly correct to suggest that the Church needs to reach out especially to LGBT people or Muslims" @rjb

Surely it rather depends on how you might define 'today's society'. I'd suggest that in huge swathes of the world, LGBT people continue to be persecuted more than any other group. Even in the supposedly liberal U.K., outside of parts of the major urban centres, LGBT people are still ostracised, bullied, denied rights, etc. as, of course, are Muslims.

I cannot disagree with your list of those who should also be radically included; though I would want to be very clear I wasn't suggesting other than being ostracised, any equivalence between the various categories. However, that doesn't take away from the very real distance we still have to go in the C of E to get anything near even an acceptable level of inclusion for LGBT people. We're nowhere near there yet.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Friday, 17 March 2017 at 6:27pm GMT

Bernard, I was trying to be succinct and it might have made me incomprehensible.

The story of the Syrophoenician woman, who touched Jesus' garment, is frequently framed as the one time that Jesus lost an argument. Jesus said it wasn't right to give meat to the dogs and she said that even dogs eat the crumbs, and so he healed her daughter. And it made it into the gospels. That was an interaction that can be described as radical inclusion because he was speaking with a woman, and a gentile at that. Clearly he was going beyond normal boundaries, he said as much, and extending the God of Abraham to the gentiles was pretty radical.

The fact that Mary M was the first witness to the Resurrection is huge. Radical.

As for hanging with the sinners. It was still radical. And if we are all sinners, then the call is to radically accept one another. Jesus had words for the Pharisees, particularly over exclusion. Personally, I have been both a Pharisee and a notorious sinner (not because I'm gay). OK, not as notorious as I like to think. But still, we all share in all of the roles, including that of the crowd screaming "Crucify Him." We are all called to change, and that's precisely why inclusion is radical. We need to change to do it.

Others have affirmed "ordinary inclusion." I think it's nice but naive. I could be wrong. History/herstory is filled with narratives where inclusion (the right to vote, racial equality under the law, etc.) was the result of struggle, struggle against a resisting status quo. But maybe the English are different and can just vote for inclusion and voila, inclusion.

Posted by Cynthia at Friday, 17 March 2017 at 7:45pm GMT

Following this interesting conversation, I was thinking along perhaps similar lines to David Emmott.

With regard to residential colleges, the word 'community' came to me: community rooted in daily liturgy and prayer, and living in close proximity with others doing the same.

That can be really searching of individuals, and a process of growing and being less able to hide.

As someone who has explored monastic life, I do believe 'regular' parishes have so much to learn about community and prayer from the monastic tradition and some of our religious houses.

On the other hand, as a nurse, the heart of my training and learning was about 12 placements in different 'front line' situations. So I suppose, in balance there is a counter-argument for making priest training brutally real and unromantic right out in 'front line' situations in 'the world'.

It's an interesting discussion.

I do think there needs to be more emphasis on community in all its expressions, because community is exactly what we're called to in the eternal household of the Holy Trinity.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 17 March 2017 at 8:27pm GMT

Perhaps the difference between inclusion and radical inclusion, is that inclusion welcomes the sinner, but radical welcome redefines the person's acts or state of being as not sinful at all.

For many years we LGBT have been offered inclusion based on "pastoral accommodation", the idea that our loving acts are less than perfect, and sinful, but we are to be welcomed out of a sense of Christian forgiveness as long as we repent of such acts. But a radical inclusion says that LGBT love is not sinful or less than perfect, but a blessing and a gift from God.

Similarly for the interesting story of the Samaritan woman at the well. It seems Bernard Randall would include her in the Christian narrative, but only as a sinner, no doubt based on the fact of her multiple husbands.

A radical exegesis and welcome would question such a judgement, and see it as similar to the traditional labeling of Mary Magdalen as a reformed prostitute. If you are able to look beyond that and examine the story carefully you will see that she should be welcomed because of her obvious intelligence; her ability to enter into a theological dialogue with Jesus (much more so than Nicodemus); the fact that Jesus joined that dialogue and treated her with respect; and the fact that she was able to persuade her fellow villagers to come out to investigate this holy man (so obviously she was a person that the villagers listened to respectfully). In fact this woman was a successful missionary before the actual disciples had begun to get going.

And as for the multiple husbands. Is that the fault of the woman, or the fault of the patriarchal society she lived in?

A normal inclusion (the old traditional way of seeing) welcomes women and gay people, whilst seeing them only through the lens of their sexual activity, which is viewed as problematic.

If radical can be defined as "thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms". A radical inclusion changes the terms of welcome. What was once seen as sinful is now not so. And this enables the Christian establishment to look beyond the "sin" and interact with such people as fully rounded human beings.

And as a final comment, can I just say how much I support Cynthia's comments about the need to challenge patriarchal culture, and then the subsequent need to challenge and question the bleats of outrage when the benefits of entitlement begin to disappear.


Posted by Simon Dawson at Saturday, 18 March 2017 at 8:37am GMT

Cynthia,

thank you for your clarification. You're confusing the woman who touches Jesus (Mk 525-34) with the Syrophoenecian woman (Mk7.24-30), and I don't see the latter as an argument (closer to banter) but the key point about his inclusion of her stands.

Simon Dawson,

I do think that John's Gospel presents the Samaritan woman as a sinner. And yet there is a level of engagement with her which is remarkable. I'm not sure we can say that her sin is not sin, but Jesus doesn't directly condemn her either (whether entirely her own fault or not, it's her current situation which is dubious, and it perhaps falls outside the patriarchal norms of the time).

I'd question whether she has "obvious intelligence" or enters a better dialogue than Nicodemus. In fact, I'd say she gets Jesus wrong - first thinking he's a prophet, and then doubting his words about being the Messiah. But these are both cases of different people seeing different things in a text, which is fine by me.

But "radical" surely can't mean thoroughgoing change from tradition, at least for Christians, for whom Tradition is deeply important. Rather it must have its standard sense of "from the root" (Latin: radix), going back to origins. Which is Jesus, who did not keep away from sinners (as the Pharisees perhaps did), but nor did he ever deny that those he came to needed a spiritual cure for their sin or change what was sin (except to intensify it: the Sermon on the Mount, "but I say to you ..."). Isn't that the point of the end of the Samaritan woman episode, where Jesus is recognized as the "Saviour," that is, "Healer."?

But one more "root" of Christian theology - we are *all* sinners. So radical inclusion doesn't, I'd argue, "change the terms of welcome" - it remembers that we are all welcomed on the same terms.

There is clearly work to be done for the Church at large to see LGBT love as not in any way sinful; I'm afraid I don't see the language of "radical inclusion" as doing that work.

Posted by Bernard Randall at Saturday, 18 March 2017 at 3:07pm GMT

Bernard, my understanding of the Samaritan woman is that she had been cast out, as opposed to promiscuous. Women couldn't divorce men at that time, only men could do that. And there was a limit to 5 marriages. So the guy she was living with, but not married too, may well have been a good Samaritan, giving her a safe place to dwell.

It's the Syrophoenician woman who bests Jesus. It is an interpretation I've hear several times.

"Radical" doesn't mean a change from tradition. Radical describes the life, teaching, and commandments of Jesus. It is the Gospels that are radical, and tradition that is embedded in patriarchal custom.

Posted by Cynthia at Sunday, 19 March 2017 at 3:11am GMT

Cynthia and Bernard,

I agree that we often find different things to see in a bible text, but I certainly can't find anything in the Samaritan woman text which says that the primary thing about her is that she is a sinner or cast out. That is one possibility, but not the only one. And it ignores many other interesting things about her.

I found this commentary interesting, especially as it treats her as a fully rounded woman, not just a symbol for a state of being - sinner or outcast. It reminds me of that saying, in the Bible women can only be one of two things, mother or whore. But this woman is more than that, and possibly neither of those two choices.

https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3189

Simon

Posted by Simon Dawson at Sunday, 19 March 2017 at 8:47pm GMT

Froghole, I'm afraid it wouldn't be enough to have a good university or cathedral library in each diocese - in a large rural diocese that could still be an hour or two away by car with no public transport. Not very practical for those already struggling with full-time work, a heavy study load, church placements, and possibly no car. People with families have commitments there, and single people have the burden of running the whole house, shopping, cooking, cleaning, accounts etc. without support.

I like your suggestion for online access though, that could well be the future. And maybe each deanery could have a repository of books donated by retiring clergy, those thinning out their libraries, etc? Those books might be a little dated but they're better than none at all - especially if you've got an essay deadline looming and no ready access to a good library.

Posted by Janet at Monday, 20 March 2017 at 4:29pm GMT

Simon, the exegesis in the link is excellent, thank you. I also heard a great sermon yesterday, from an Australian priest in Princeton, New Jersey.

I'm not saying that "outcast" is primary in this very long and amazing conversation. But she is likely an outcast, going to the well alone, not at the time most women went. And she had been cast out of several male homes. Was she too uppity? Or really sinful? We don't know. We only know that women were not allowed to initiate divorce. And that a women without the protection of a male household was incredibly vulnerable. We know that Jesus hung out with everyone, so the outcast bit is not the point. But this points to inclusiveness:
1. She's a woman and talking with women was taboo, let alone entering into a long, respectful, conversation.
2. As mentioned in the passage, the Judeans hated the Samaritans. Again, Jesus is being inclusive, and that bugs the disciples.
3. She becomes the evangelist, bringing her village to receive the living water. A powerful position for a woman in those times.

It is pretty radical. I would say that despite all these examples of Jesus including women, that the patriarchal culture has prevailed. We call it "tradition."

Even more radical would be the economics of Scripture. Forgiving the debts of the poor, welcoming the migrant, not letting people suffer when you live in a land of plenty (the sin of Sodom). It is radical and we find ways not to live into it.

Posted by Cynthia at Monday, 20 March 2017 at 11:33pm GMT

"Others have affirmed "ordinary inclusion." I think it's nice but naive. I could be wrong. History/herstory is filled with narratives where inclusion (the right to vote, racial equality under the law, etc.) was the result of struggle, struggle against a resisting status quo. But maybe the English are different and can just vote for inclusion and voila, inclusion."

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday

I must agree here with Cynthia's important differentiation between 'Inclusion' and 'Radical Inclusion".

'Inclusion' might mean the same sort of accommodation that has been professed by the Church in Wales, which - at the same time - is wont not to include Jeffrey John as a Bishop.

'Radical Inclusion' - on the other hand - might have actually accepted J.J.'s Nomination.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 21 March 2017 at 9:27pm GMT
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