Sunday, 19 September 2004

The Archbishop and the Network

Andrew Brown has commented upon the recent disclosures which were reported here on Friday.

In Dr Williams’ blessing he says in part:

…However, there may be a partial explanation in the arrogance of the Northern, liberal faction in the American church, which regards the Anglican Communion with proprietorial contempt. This really, really, upsets people at Lambeth Palace, and, until recently, they could do nothing about it. Now, of course, they can destroy the liberals by giving their enemies an opening to sue them for everything they own on the grounds that the liberals will be no longer official Anglicans, recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury. And it looks as if this is what will happen. What makes me so sure? A tiny story found through Simon Sarmiento: that it was Rowan Williams himself who suggested to the American bigots conservatives that they call themselves “The Confessing Anglican Network”, because this name echoed the “confessing” churches which kept the true faith in Nazi Germany.

And so the subtlest theological mind in Britain has reached the point where clergymen who denounce the ordination of practising homosexuals are morally comparable to the Christians who faced jail and execution for resisting the extermination of the Jews. The implied comparison of their opponents actually does bear some thought, which, once, Dr Williams might have given it.

Read it all to see the context in which this comment is put. The reader comments there are also of interest.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 19 September 2004 at 12:28 PM GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

The demise of “liberal and civilised Christianity” eh? Lol! I can imagine the Apostles rolling in their graves. That the Love and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ could ever be any such thing. Praise God for its demise! - the sooner the better.

I do find it interesting that Brown scorns the network as “bigots” and then rips off a piece about “Africans and Southern Americans.” Rather telling, isn’t it? Say, Andy, what about all of us Northeastern, college educated Americans who find this liberal rot to be disgusting apostasy because we find the loving and transforming Power of Christ to trump the idolatries of money power & sex every time? Where do we fit into your scheme of things?

It is, as N.T.Wright put it, just easier to demonize “anyone who takes the Bible more seriously than they take themselves.”

Posted by: MJD_NV at September 19, 2004 03:54 PM

The main reason it’s necessary to critique liberal Christianity is that it has more than once simply followed the way the world at large is going, almost as though whatever is ‘the done thing’ will become regarded within a few years as ‘the right thing’.

I’m sure that this is to caricature, but there is a danger that we will see our own culture as normal; and much that is normal is (illogically) within a few years seen as ‘right’.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 19, 2004 04:25 PM

Almost all forms of Christianity find tolerable and conformable to the Gospel what is normal in their culture. This applies to both factions in the American church; and it is a reproach traditionally levelled at the Established church of England, too. But American society is in the middle of a culture war, so what’s normal in one part of it is abominable in the other.

I don’t know who the raucous commentator is who thinks that Christianity can never be civlised, but I’m coming increasingly to agree with him.

Incidentally, what I wrote, which seems to have fallen out in translation, was “bigot” with an overstrike, which is slightly different from what Simon printed.

Simon adds My bad in copying over. Now fixed.

Posted by: Andrew Brown at September 19, 2004 04:39 PM

‘The demise of “liberal and civilised Christianity” eh? Lol! I can imagine the Apostles rolling in their graves. That the Love and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ could ever be any such thing.’

Gosh, see how these Christians love one another! Liberalism and civilization are not incompatible with Christianity — it is Christianity which has helped bring about the world that liberalism and our civilization inhabit. That is not to say that liberalism is the sole rightful heir of Christianity, but one of the reasons why tolerance and care for others are so well-regarded in our culture is precisely because they are part of what Christianity has taught for almost 2000 years. There is no discontinuity here. It is the Pharisees and the scribes and the Saducees who were the doctrinally and ritually pure conservatives of their day and we know what Jesus had to say about them. Yes, we must also value the good things that conservatism and continuity and tradition give us, but this is a different world from the one in which the writer of the book of Revelation visualizes the luke-warm as being spat out as neither one thing nor the other.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw at September 19, 2004 07:28 PM

“It is the Pharisees and the scribes and the Saducees who were the doctrinally and ritually pure conservatives of their day and we know what Jesus had to say about them.”
There we go name-calling again.
Actually, it seems to me that those who are using political correctness and other left-wing sacred cows who mimic the Pharisees and scribes and the Saducees. Just look at the way they react with self-righteous indignation when one tries to raise real questions and real discussion about the proposals of those who would revise received Christian sexual disciplines.
It is very typical of the spirit of our age, is it not, that we have a kind of reverse bigotism that goes into the temple and prays. “I thank God I am not like that Pharisee over there….”?
And I though this was supposed to be a page for “thinking” Anglicans.

Posted by: Chris McMullen at September 19, 2004 09:41 PM

As another Northeastern (born), college educated American I agree with Liberals’ views on sexuality but find their arrogance, smugness, grandstanding, manipulation and power politics appalling. It isn’t that this behavior is unChristian or not nice—I’m all for playing rough—but that it doesn’t further their stated goal of ending discrimination against gays and gets conservatives support from unlikely quarters by generating resentment. I took it that that was one of the points Brown was making.

These guys don’t just regard the Anglican Communion with proprietorial contempt—they’re contemptuous of Episcopalians in the US who are not wholly on board with the program, including fellow Liberals who support their goals but not their methods or agree with their conclusions but criticize their arguments.

Their smug assumption that they could steamroll anything through, then soothe ruffled feathers by therapeutic manipulation and move on to the next agenda item repeating the process, was maddening. Before the last General Convention I was invited to a post-convention conference that was to be devoted to “healing”: the assumption was that the Liberal agenda would squeak through and then those who opposed it would be reconciled by a feel-good event at which they could ventilate their feelings, work through their hang-ups, cry, hug and join in a rousing chorus of Cumbyah.

Posted by: H. E. Baber at September 20, 2004 01:07 AM

When speaking of ‘liberalism’, definitions are important.

Where the term ‘liberalism’ signifies a generous and forgiving and free-thinking/open-minded approach, it’s a good and Christian thing.

Where it signifies a sometimes unthinking conformity to the surrounding culture, and direct opposition to the tenor of biblical and/or historical Christianity, then it can sometimes be nothing but humanism by another name.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 20, 2004 09:47 AM

Andrew Brown may well be right that there is a strong tendency for all different kinds of Christians to support an admixture of the gospel with their own culture or subculture.

It can’t be overemphasised that:
(1) these cultural elements may or may not be compatible with the gospel, & often will not be;
(2) it is possible to be self-critical in this matter, and revise one’s views to remove cultural bias, as best as one knows how;
(3) some are more self-critical than others, which shows that progress in self-criticism is possible.

What is for sure is that our cultures do not determine the gospel, but (hopefully) vice-versa. If they do, that’s just a sign that we want to be in control, and self-centredness is sin. Everyone of us who is human knows all about self-centredness; and we also know that it’s possible to excape from it at least to a degree, since some are clearly less self-centred than others.

This would be my diagnosis of the root of the problem, and its solution.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 20, 2004 09:59 AM

That’s interesting, Christopher. Not for the first time, it strikes me that you are defending a conventional position (call it ‘conservative evangelical’, for want of a better term) with some very unconventional arguments. In this particular case, you have conceded that the gospel is very closely intertwined with culture, and that it may be difficult to disentangle them, however hard we try. In saying this, it seems to me that you are opening the door to cultural relativism.

Let me ask you this. You accept that “there is a strong tendency for Christians to support an admixture of the gospel with their own culture” — not just at the present day but (I presume) at every point throughout the history of Christianity. Well, then: why should this not also be true of the New Testament writers themselves? It would surely be very odd if they, alone among Christians, had succeeded in purging their religion of every particle of culture. Indeed, I find it extremely difficult to imagine what a culture-free Christianity would look like, or how it could make any impact on the culture surrounding it. Surely it would be like an air bubble in water, sealed off from the outside world?

Let’s assume, then, that even for the writers of the New Testament, the gospel had to be filtered through a set of cultural assumptions. Concede that, and New Testament criticism becomes a matter of situating the texts in their cultural context. And this makes it possible for liberal critics to argue (e.g.) that Paul’s attitude to homosexuality was culturally constructed. You may disagree with their conclusions, but you are at least playing on the same cultural playing-field (as it were).

What I am really saying, Christopher, is that you have a lot more in common with your liberal opponents (and a lot less in common with your conservative friends, or many of them) than you are prepared to admit.

Posted by: Andrew Conway at September 21, 2004 11:51 AM

Andrew-
This is a great posting that gets to the heart of the matter.

I was only thinking last night that perhaps I had not fully explained my position on culture.

The positive is that the gospel can be expressed in glorious diversity: as many expressions as cultures. (I’m an alumnus of All Nations College, & a committed internationalist, who feels that a lot of our problems could be lessened if only we could realise that our own culture is not necessarily either normal or right.)

The negative is that often people are bound to import various things from their own cultures which are not Christian. Both Jesus and Paul were committed internationalists, and therefore we can hoepfully trust them not to be ethnocentric.

On the ‘liberal’ / ‘conservative’ thing, there are several important points to be made:
(1) I would forfeit my right to be a scholar if I decided to be either ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. Scholars are those who examine first and conclude second; ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ (and unregenerate mavericks, and maximal conservatives etc) all hold ideological positions, such that even an outsider can predict roughly what they will conclude on a given issue. The conclusion is easily reached that they are in danger of concluding what they want to conclude.

(2) If indeed they are in danger of concluding what they want to conclude, this is a serious matter. It means they are confusing wishes with opinions/beliefs, when everyone knows these are two different things. Often the truth will be what we do not wish it to be.

(3) The scholars one can trust tend to come to conclusions at a variety of points along the scale from ‘liberal’ to ‘conservative’. They will conclude for a more radical/liberal position if they feel, after examination, that the consensus is wrong. They will conclude for a more ‘conservative’ position if they feel, after examination, that the consensus is broadly right.

(4) If you feel that most scholars appear to be either liberal or conservative, then to an extent you may be right - but it’s none the less a serious matter for all that. We all know how prone we are, as humans, to be tempted just to hold the positions that we want to hold. But this is ideology, not scholarship, & the two are direct enemies of one another. However, I know plenty of scholars who appear to be just truth-seekers, and hold a wide variety of positions on different topics.

(5) You’re characterising me as one who reaches orthodox conclusions by unorthodox routes. I would characterise the Bishop of Durham in this way. I’m slightly different, in that some of my conclusions are unorthodox and radical, as my NT colleagues are aware.

(6) If the idea is to characterise opinion as utterly polarised (either 100% liberal or 100% conservative), with nothing in the intervening part of the spectrum, I’d call this seriously mistaken. Plenty of opinion is somewhere in the middle. But I do notice how (worryingly) many people seem to hold a ‘package’ of views, rather as though they are MPs answerable to a party whip: e.g., those who agree with one aspect of the 1960s anti-family legislation are that much more likely to agree with another part of it. The ex-Master of Balliol wondered why few people were both unilateralists and opposed to abortion, since both have in common that they condemn the suffering of the innocent. I can only share his astonishment, and conclude that too many have simply swallowed whole the ‘package’ of some party line or other.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 21, 2004 12:58 PM
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