Thinking Anglicans

Tom Wright: the Monday interview

Paul Vallely, associate editor of the Independent, has a major interview in today’s paper with Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham.
Tom Wright: It’s not a question of left and right, says the combative priest who opposes the war in Iraq and gay bishops is there until it disappears into the paid archive.
There is also a front page (broadsheet edition at least) news story to lead readers to the interview Bishop attacks Blair as ‘white vigilante’ which concentrates on one aspect of the interview only.
There is also an editorial about the bishop and his views, which is unfortunately available only to paid subscribers. This also deals mainly with the UK political aspects, but not entirely. Here are some extracts.



Tolerance is the key to our society

Support for the Church of England came today from an unexpected quarter: the editorial column of The Observer newspaper. In Faith values the leader writer refers to the major feature story by Rachel Cooke on the cover page of the Review section, The sleek shall inherit the Church which reviews the current state of the CofE.

Part of the editorial:

Some three million people will file into the pews of the Church of England at some stage this Christmas – three times as many as on a normal Sunday. It may be only 5 per cent of the population, but in a secular age in which Christian faith appears so out of fashion it is remarkable how well the numbers hold up every year. Christmas remains a time when the story of birth and redemption retains a remarkable hold on our collective imagination.
…People do not have to accept every canon of the Church’s creed to be impressed by its core spirit of radical toleration – a continuing gift to our national culture. Some of the millions in church this weekend will not be attending because they are regular practising Christians. Rather they come because they feel the spiritual dimension of Christmas should be acknowledged and they know this radically tolerant church will welcome them, even if they don’t turn up again until next Christmas.
Such tolerance, though, is under siege. It is even attacked by evangelists within the Church who see it as too accommodating to what they portray as amoral trends in civil society, such as homosexuality. It is regrettable for both believer and non-believer that such trends tend more towards the Old Testament age of retribution, revenge and intolerance that threatens our modern plural and largely secular society.
… If we all could subscribe to greater tolerance, it’s hard to dispute that the world would be a better place. If Christmas can help that message alone, it is more than worth its keep.



Prepare the way of the Lord

just thinking…

Headlong into Christmas we all seem to rush, but it is still advent and the hurry, whilst certainly to do with preparation, has little to do with penance. It might not have been the kind of preparation John the Baptist had in mind when he told people, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’. What preparation though would he be demanding of us today?

John challenged people to prepare themselves but also to look around at those in need and help them. Who are those most in need in our midst? Surely no one these days actually has nothing. Social security provides a safety net. The homeless shelters take people in, and feed them, and even help with clothing. But, do you know, there are actually those who have nothing. There are even people whom the shelters will not take at all? There are those in Britain, not just in major towns and cities but in your town on your streets, on your doorsteps who actually have nothing, not even food, and are hungry?

These people are asylum seekers. They have committed no criminal act. Routinely now, those who through no fault of their own, did not know that they had to claim asylum the moment they got to immigration control, but only found out even an hour later are denied all benefits. They are also prevented from working so they cannot earn their keep, as many would happily do. And these are not economic migrants, they are almost all from countries with which we have either been to war, or which have massive abuses of human rights. (Otherwise we would expect to see many more from the poorer African countries.) Many come highly educated, as many as 30% actually have a degree. In many cases, they cannot even be returned to their countries of origin, because it is not safe to send people back to places like Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Iraq. Their basic human rights were denied them in their home countries and they come here and find that they denied them here as well.

They are expected to have perfect knowledge of how the asylum system works here, before they arrive, even if English is not their first language — not that it gets explained to them at any stage.

So we have people now, without benefits, without work and without shelter, because the shelters only take in those for whom the state will pay for a bed, i.e. people who are British. We have managed to create a whole new underclass in our society, and one which generally gets nothing but vilification and blame from the media, as if they did not already have enough with which to cope.

So if you ask me what I think John the Baptist would be saying, I think he would be talking to us about asylum seekers. We might want to recall that Christ himself was a refugee in Egypt, that his family were even visitors to the town where he was born. And are we not to treat every asylum seeker, every refugee as Christ?

If you really want to help, if you really want to make a difference, then that would involve sharing money perhaps, but more importantly time, that is — getting involved directly; helping groups to distribute food, to dispense advice. But perhaps most important way of all, the way everyone can help them, is by not judging them before they have met them, and attempting to see behind the headlines, the rhetoric and the tinsel to see what life is really like for those who are marginalised on your streets this Advent and Christmastide.

And the latest news from the streets… the government want to take away Christ from his asylum seeking family — all for his own good you understand, because otherwise he would be destitute, too. And immediately with birth we see crucifixion as well.

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just thinking…

‘Go on, ask him for something this Christmas’ says the Churches’ Christmas advert.

The baby Jesus, dressed in an unlikely Santa suit, rather than the traditional swaddling clothes makes us think, and will probably cause anguish and confusion to the parents of thousands of children. The Christmas poster from the Church’s Advertising Network has again prompted all kinds of disapproval. Even the least of the criticism complains about the apparent desecration of a beautiful old master picture of the nativity.

But it does its job. It was intended to surprise, and, with gentle irony, make people think about what we have done to the festival which marks the birth of God’s Son. The meaning can be distorted or lost in all the events and all the products which claim the title of “Christmas” but have little to do with the Christian celebration of the incarnation.

The poster, of course, just adds to the confusion. But it’s only intended to point people to the places where the real message of Christmas is proclaimed — in churches of all denominations throughout the land, all marking Christmas in their own special ways.

All churches acknowledge that Christmas began with the best Christmas present in history, God’s greatest gift to the world.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

So, for the real message and meaning of Christmas, celebrated in carols, in scripture, in teaching, in drama and liturgy, come to church, and have a real Christmas. Ask him for something.


Partaking or plotting?

Two weeks ago, the Church Times paper edition’s web page contained an article by Sarah Meyrick, about various new web-based British church organizations, which mentioned Thinking Anglicans. This is now on the CT website.
To read the whole article, follow this link and scroll down to Partaking or plotting?
The portion about Thinking Anglicans is reproduced below.
As Sarah concludes:

All these websites give people at the grassroots a chance to track events as they unfold, and to explore tricky issues with an audience far wider than could have been dreamt of in pre-web days. For the movers and shakers, they are a means of taking the temperature of the Anglican Church at a time of turmoil.
At its best, the internet provides a way of fostering community and broadening the horizons of its users; at its worst, it allows people to become narrower in outlook and to plot damage. I suspect the outcome in this case lies in how much – if at all – the different networks communicate with each other.

So here are links to the other sites she mentions:



just thinking…

Having lived for ten years in the North-East of England, I returned to Dublin (which I had left in 1990) just over three years ago. The Dublin I had left was really still a provincial town, and its inhabitants lacked the self-assured arrogance of those of some capital cities. But its community was also still far from being at ease in the modern world: the 1980s were marked in many ways by very public struggles in which the Roman Catholic church fought, and generally vanquished, what people elsewhere took for granted: contraception, divorce, homosexuality.

When I returned I encountered a very different city, and a very different country. The demure city whose pulse was hardly in evidence has become an in-your-face, secular, materialistic community. Churches in urban parishes which had attracted 90 per cent of the population to their Masses are now lucky if the get 10 per cent. A new RC archbishop feels the obvious need to begin his prelature by offering apologies to all and sundry on behalf of his church.

Anglicans have been beneficiaries, to some extent. For the first time in over a century or so the Church of Ireland is growing, and in some parishes it is growing fast. Young affluent-looking families (who will often still be declaring they are ‘Catholic’ on the census form) make the Anglican cathedral or parish church their spiritual home. And why? Because, as one said recently in a TV interview, ‘here is a denomination which understands the new millennium and can combine the spirit of the new age with the best of the old tradition’. And another said that ‘Anglicans manage to be religious without being obviously unreasonable’.

Maybe that’s too rosy a picture, and maybe the more familiar pattern of decline will return. But I don’t believe that a born-again dogmatism — whatever its direction — is a likely agent of continuing growth. Fundamentalists comfort those who cannot quite face the world as it is; but most people whose main instinct these days is to give religion a miss will run a mile if they sense a dogma around the corner. We need to speak a different language — still capable of being expressed in thees and thous, by the way — which engages the mind, refreshes the senses and shows the way forward.


just thinking…

A little over a year ago I began to learn bellringing. The bells at our church had been largely silent for several years, and a group of us decided that if we wanted them rung we would have to learn to ring them ourselves. Under the expert guidance of ringers from a neighbouring parish we started to learn the ropes.

This is no easy thing. As the bell turns full-circle on its wheel the rope goes up and down at a tremendous speed and the beginner has to learn to grab it and release it as it flies past, to pull it at the right time by just the right amount, and to feel what the bell mechanism is doing fifty feet above. This must be done for the safety of the beginner, of the other ringers, and to prevent damage to the bell and its mechanism.

After a few weeks practice this all begins to come together, and you can start to ring the bell properly. Now you must learn to ring with others, hearing the other bells as you ring, so that the church bells sound out together, calling people to worship God, or singing joyously in celebration, or sorrowfully at a funeral. Then the bells speak loud and clear, knowing their place among the other bells, singing harmoniously as they weave complex patterns to and fro.

When we try to follow the teachings that we find in the bible and in the traditions of the Church we can follow a similar path. Here there is a complex of ideas, underpinned by some simple principles, and we have to use the skills that God gives us to understand how to apply these concepts. It is not enough simply to pull on a bell-rope and expect to be able to ring a peal of bells — it takes practice, skill and co-ordination. Similarly we strive to deepen our understanding of our faith, and of the words of the bible, and to work out what we are called to do, and how to do it. The message of the bible is not always simple and its application to the world is not always clear-cut, and if we think it is then we risk becoming at best a clanging noise, and at worst a danger to ourselves and others, as when a ringer loses control of the bell-rope.

But when we have begun to understand the good news of the kingdom of God then we can sing out harmoniously, and proclaim the theme loudly, clearly and joyfully to the world.


Is Christianity curable?

Two weeks ago, Paul Vallely the associate editor of the Independent newspaper and regular contributor to the Church Times published this comment piece: A suitable case for treatment? in which he considers the benefits to society of reorientating Christians.

I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject – to borrow a phrase from the Bishop of Chester – but it is clear that some people who feel themselves to be religious can, with psychiatric help, reorientate themselves. Being a Christian is now a curable condition.
There are those deluded folk who assume that Christianity is not a lifestyle choice, but a gift from the Almighty. I want to help them on this. Modern mental-health care has a number of techniques, including aversion therapy, which can significantly reduce religious cravings, or, at least, stop people acting on them in a way that is unnatural.

Read on…


just thinking…

Awaiting licensing to a new post, there is one bonus, as I sit amongst the detritus of moving house — I don’t have to preach on Sunday, the day we mark as ‘Christ the King’. I always find these weeks before Advent, which we now call the Kingdom season, difficult. The words given to us to use in worship and in our lectionary readings are distinctly triumphalist. They speak of majesty, power, grandeur, force. How do they fit with the gospel theme of a world turned upside down, a world where the priorities are quite other? The contrast seems all the more striking this year, when the immediately preceding Sundays gave us a whole series of readings from Mark, in which we are told that the first shall be last and the last first.

But perhaps I should regret not preaching this Sunday, and trying to work out my ambivalence about the Church’s season in the light of current events. News coverage this week has been dominated by the state visit of the president of the United States. George Bush’s visit has been an extraordinary mixture of pomp and security. He has been entertained at Buckingham Palace, and protected by enormous numbers of police and security officers; he has addressed the political elite, travelled in a limousine with doors five inches thick, and reviewed a traditional guard of honour. Majesty, power, grandeur, and force.

My questioning is not about the character of American foreign policy under this president, or even about the extent and limits of American power; it runs deeper than that. It is about how the Christian tradition views power and all its trappings. In celebrating Christ the King, it is not enough to imagine a purely virtuous superpower, engaged in promoting universal well-being by using the traditional levers of force and influence. We are called, I think, to something much more radical, to re-imagining the nature and uses of dominion, to losing the triumphalism, and seeking out what it might mean for the last indeed to be first.


Istanbul bombings

Saturday and Sunday additions below

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued a statement concerning today’s bombings in Istanbul, which you can read here.
The Diocese in Europe has also issued a statement concerning this, which you can read here.
The Church Times has a news story, on the web but not in the paper edition,
Chaplain comforts Istanbul bereaved.



Some Issues in Human Sexuality

This is the title of the new book published last week by Church House Publishing. The book, prepared by a committee of four bishops, is commended to the Church for study by the House of Bishops of the Church of England. I commented briefly about it when it was published.

The key thing to understand about this book is that it is a study guide, it does not set out to be an expression of any new opinions, by bishops or by anybody else. Rather, it aims to state a full range of existing opinions on the subject, so that they can all be studied.

Here is the official publishers blurb for the book.
Here is the Church Times digest of the book.
You can download the front matter and Chapter 1 of the book from the CHP website as a pdf file. You can also download the first two chapters of the short accompanying booklet, A Companion to Some Issues in Human Sexuality, with study material for individuals and groups.

Today the Church Times carried this comment on the book by Giles Fraser, Let’s be realistic about sex.
Thinking Anglicans hopes to publish other comments and reflections on the book when people have had time to read it.


just thinking…

Getting to the end

The hardest sentence to write of this article has been this one. Where to begin? What bearing to set off in? The start is determined by the end. I need to know where I want to go, so that I can point myself in the right direction.

For me this isn?t just part of the struggle of writing articles, it is central to the way I live as a Christian. I believe in a God of purpose and of destiny. A God who has clear ends in mind, and who calls me to journey with him towards our final destination. The question of discipleship is one of discovering where I think I am being led, and then trying to take the next step in that direction. Believing, as firmly as I can manage, that God himself will help me to take it. It?s a way of being Christian that makes the basic ethical question one of asking whether a particular action (or inaction) is likely to work towards the fulfilment of the divine purpose, or against it.

The clues to this destination come supremely in the bible, especially in the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes they are called the ?Kingdom of God? or ?Heaven?. They offer a glimpse of an existence characterised by complete intimacy with God, love, and forgiveness. In heaven there will be no more oppression, injustice or prejudice. In Christ there is, we are reminded, neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. The Kingdom we are told is breaking in even here and now. And it does so when we act in ways that show we are trying to live in it already.

The scriptures give us much more than a glimpse of the destination. They offer the reflections and experiences of others who have sought to make the same journey. As my uncle taught me years ago, ?Learn from other people?s mistakes. You?ll never have time to make them all for yourself.? St Paul in particular gives us lists of the types of behaviour that may help or hinder us on the way.

In the immediate post Vatican II era Roman Catholics built up the image of the ?pilgrim church?. And it is one that has stuck with me ever since. It keeps me from imagining, in some post-modern or ?new age? sense that the only journey is my personal one. My journey is part of the journey of the church, which in turn is part of the journey of the whole creation towards God. Again Paul?s letters provide some wonderful insights into the many ways in which the church lost the path, even in those immediate post-Easter years. And I often find comfort in them when we mess things up today ? the comfort of knowing there never was a golden age.

Because the journey is not simply a personal one, the creation itself matters, and matters deeply. I find myself in direct opposition to those Christians who deduce from their belief in the imminent return of Jesus that we should use up the Earth?s resources, or even hasten the destruction that the scriptures suggest will herald the end time. Rather the whole creation is being shaped by God to achieve its ultimate fulfilment in him. It is not a rejection of the doctrine of the fall, but a belief that God works to restore the fallen, rather than just to pluck brands from the burning. But that does mean that I part company, and pretty firmly, with those of my colleagues who base their theology on what one recently referred to as the ?utter depravity? of our fallen state. And in terms of the subjects that are most controversial in the church at present the primary question I take to the scriptures, reason and tradition is to ask what effect the love two men or women have for each other has on their and our ultimate destiny. Is it something that condemns to hell, or that will need to be discarded on the road to heaven? Or is it part of them that will travel with them and us to God?s Kingdom?

I?ve just about completed my journey through this article. I?ve got to where I wanted to get, and said what I wanted to say. But like most good journeys I?ve found something new on the way. It has struck me how the way I live my faith resonates with how I deal with a new computer or piece of software. In both cases looking for a book of instructions comes last on the list, after I?ve worked out what it?s meant to do and tried to get it to do it. And possibly followed the examples of more experienced friends. So if you?re one of those who reads the manual thoroughly first, and memorises as many rules as you can then it’s highly likely the way we encapsulate our faith is different too. And in that diversity is God?s glory.

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Church Times: reaction to Primates meeting

Several additional articles published last month are now available.
Searing pain of an honest meeting by Barry Morgan
Do we really believe in the Bible? by Philip Giddings
We are not the architects of divison by Michael Ingham
The Quadrilateral is not enough by Michael Nazir-Ali
It will be hard to disentangle by John Rees

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just thinking…

Sixth formers, as a breed, generally do not need another reason to disregard the church. If they think about church at all, it is usually as a branch of the National Trust that sings hymns, theme park England, a costume drama and what goes with that is irrelevance, disdain and (this was a new one on me) pity.

We had talked before in class about sexuality and the church, when there had been the leisure to theoretically consider biblical texts and the worlds from which they sprang. This time it was personal, this time it had legs; four of them, Jeffrey John’s and Gene Robinson’s though, to be precise, there were eight legs if you counted their respective partners. It is the partners which fuels the sense of offence and, in the absence of a biblicist African bishop, it was me who was held to account.

Why I was so ill at ease was because, it seemed to me, that this group of young people seemed to be much better informed about both the nature of sexual orientation and the emotional range of affective love than has been evident in the recent public news releases of the church. In the past, the church at its best may have called secular culture into account, or, just as likely, been lagging behind secular wisdom while blindly protecting its own interests. In that classroom, I was uncomfortably aware that these young men and women had not needed to be taught about the values of compassionate and inclusive community, for them it was a given. It fell to me to try and interpret for them what appeared to be blind bigotry, and I did not have the heart to know where to begin and neither did I care.

The problem is that I do not have a position on homosexuality. For me it is personal, it has legs, lots of them. I cannot reduce to an issue my liturgy tutor from university who first introduced me to Thomas Tallis, and showed me what it was like to regard the moods of the day as sacred and a resource for prayer, while taking my friends and me out punting in long ago August afternoons. I cannot clinically debate the man who, when it was discovered I may have to preach for a living, took a clumsy sixteen year old with a stammer and began to train his voice over years so he could speak a complete sentence in public. I cannot weigh the spiritual legitimacy of a man and his partner who had no reason at all to keep an unobtrusive eye on me, when I was recently divorced in a foreign country, looking after my three-year-old at weekends. These are sufficient, but there are many more.

As a pastor I have learned that human communities seldom make decisions on the basis of logical issues. If we have an impasse we tell our stories, we show how we came to believe the way we do. I do not know, but I would not be surprised if this had been the hope of the Archbishop at the recent Primates Summit at Lambeth. But, publicly at least, the heat has gone into an issue, and the way back looks like an increasingly distant hope.

What saved me, before the period bell went, was to convey that the gospel, before it is anything else, is news. We have four gospels in the Bible and a few others outside. Each reflects the retelling of Jesus to different communities with different cultures and interests. These have been with us for almost 2,000 years, but we have not yet taken the hint.

We start with their witness, this is one of the characteristics of a Christian outlook, but we do not stop there. We can consult scripture, but we cannot set up camp there, even if we could. Like the gospel writers, we have to take what we have heard and seen and go and live Christ’s world in this one, by living in peace and justice with my neighbours on this earth, whatever amount of confrontation, struggle, recognition and surrender that may involve.

I am here to write this because some individuals, who have been called unclean by my fellow Christians, took time over me and cared for me. What is more important is that I, in my turn do the same. If I wind up caring for those who are being called outcast, and loving them because they are loveable, and that God did not make a mistake when he made them, then maybe I’m not too far off-message.


About News reporting

I shall now revert to posting my near-daily News updates on my personal blog rather than here on TA.

The “really major events” of the primates meeting and the New Hampshire consecration have now passed, and the level of press activity is reducing rapidly.

Simon Sarmiento

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international press Tuesday

Africa first today.
This Day, Lagos Akinola Leads Protest Against Anglican Gay Bishop
East African Standard, Nairobi Kenyan Anglicans Disown Gay Bishop
The Monitor, Kampala Church of Uganda Rejects Gay Bishop



British media Tuesday

The Guardian Rowan plea for unity over gay bishop and What they said about…Bishop Gene Robinson
The Independent Anglicans sever ties amid gay bishop fury
The Telegraph Day the Church split and Lambeth’s fragile peace shattered and African Anglicans fear cost of split
The Times World’s churches cut links over gay bishop and ‘Lost sheep’ start to desert liberal churches
Also The Times has this leader On the brink Anglicans should still strive to avert a schism
The BBC African Church anger over gay bishop links also to video report
Also on the BBC Alex Kirby has this opinion article, Split church hopes to muddle on.


international reports

Here are the four key American newspaper sources:
The New York Times Openly Gay Man Is Made a Bishop and African Anglicans Vent Anger at Gay Bishop
The Washington Post Episcopalians Consecrate First Openly Gay Bishop
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Openly gay man becomes Episcopal bishop but more interesting is Steve Levin’s account of local events yesterday, Fellowship prevails in local service where conservative meets liberals.
Larry Stammer reports in the Los Angeles Times Episcopalians Consecrate Openly Gay Bishop.
Christianity Today’s Doug LeBlanc filed Gay Bishop Consecrated Despite Objections
if you want more American reports there is a huge list of them here (scroll down to second item).


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formal statements listed

This entry contains, for convenient reference, links to all public statements made by official bodies (above the level of the individual diocese) or by lobbying groups, consequent upon the consecration of the Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire. The order is completely random. Requests for additions invited.
Revised 8, 13, 18, 21 November, 4 December, 11 December

Despite reports to the contrary in other places, I have been unable so far to confirm any formal provincial statement from either Rwanda or Central Africa.



Monday press reactions

British newspaper websites have the following:
The Times Gay bishop consecrated amid threat of schism and Williams: my deep regret at division
The Telegraph Diatribes mar consecration of gay bishop and Williams anger as ceremony for gay bishop tears Church apart
The Guardian Gay consecration splits church and Two views from the pulpit – in just one church
The Scotsman Unholy row reaches its peak and this PA report, Parishioners Defiantly Support Their Bishop’s Consecration
The Sun Gay bishop cops swoop (worth reading this!)