Thinking Anglicans

Canadian General Synod

The 2004 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada is meeting now. Their convention website gives detailed coverage including webcasts, and the Anglican Journal reports from the convention are posted here. The webcasts all are in .wmv format (Microsoft Media Player).

There are news reports today in two British newspapers:
In the Guardian Stephen Bates reports Canada’s Anglicans debate blessing of gay unions.
In the Telegraph Jonathan Petre says Williams envoy hopes to turn gay marriage vote.

Both these stories report the speech made to the synod by Gregory Cameron, who is secretary to the Lambeth Commission.
This speech can be seen and heard on a recorded webcast downloadable here, but as this is a 7.5M download, a full transcript also appears below.
Also below that is a copy of the relevant portion of the Presidential Address (full webcast is 13.7 Mb, downloadable here) to which reference is made several times in Gregory Cameron’s remarks.

Update 11 June Official version of this speech is now on ACO website here.

Some Canadian news reports:
Toronto Star
Anglican schism feared over same-sex blessings
Anglicans clear way for vote on leader
Montreal Gazette
Gay Anglican priest elected to high post at synod
Vancouver Sun
Anglicans elect gay B.C. priest to Synod

And an internet naming angle reported in the Anglican Journal:
Who owns the name ‘Anglican’?


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On the receiving end

The photographs of American soldiers abusing prisoners in Iraq gave me pause for all sorts of reasons, not least because some of the soldiers are Christians.

It has been an interesting turn of events that, while I was growing up, my teachers were predicting the end of religion. Belief in God was a throwback to magical thinking and feudal society, so I was taught. Yet, it turns out these days, religion is as much of a force in world events as it has ever been.

I think that blaming soldiers for abuses is to treat the symptom but not the cause. Soldiers are everything and nothing; we have no idea how they are prepared, if at all, for the complexities of the roles they are expected to fulfil.

What I have found deeply troubling is reading how fundamentalist Christianity has permeated the centres of power in the United States.

The absence of any US commitment to environmental politics, for example, can be traced to a deeply held belief in the current administration that, if Jesus is coming back to judge the world and reduce it to a cinder, why bother saving the rain forest? The same idea of judgement encourages a sense of the world being divided into the saved and the damned, the good and the bad: we are good, and all the evil in the world is out there somewhere.

Once you take on this mindset, then the abuse of prisoners follows from this. The only circumstance in which abuse can be justified is that they are the enemy and they represent all that we consider to be evil. Once you’ve made that decision, the rest is easy, they have no rights, they can be treated however we feel like, they deserve whatever they get, we are the righteous, we are the chosen. It doesn’t matter if you lock suspects up in Guantanamo Bay for two years with no basic human rights.

Keeping all the evil in the world Out There somewhere is very comforting. People have grown huge church congregations by gathering those huddled together, set apart from the evils of the world. I want to take a different Christian view.

Deep at the heart of Christian faith is a view of life from the perspective of the victim. Imagine how Christian faith looks to the prisoner on the receiving end of a GI boot. Maybe two years ago he was on the receiving end of one of Saddam’s boots, now it’s a Christian one. How do we look to them, what must they make of the wonderful new world and values that liberation has brought.

Christianity says that it is possible to do something about the evil in the world. You don’t stop evil by deciding it is only to be found somewhere else, and that its source is somebody else. When Christians gather to worship, we routinely make the space to consider how we look to others, and to allow God to show us the evil within ourselves.

I can say, and I believe, that Saddam Hussein is an evil man, and I don’t expect anyone to disagree with me. But I can keep saying that, and the world doesn’t change, we just feel cosy that the evil is being committed by someone else.

What happens if I ask what an Iraqi prisoner sees when he looks at me, or looks at people who act on my government’s behalf? What does he think of the values of my world, as he sees them acted out on him? What happens if I ask whether there is any truth in what he describes when he looks at my world? And what can I do about it?


The Reformation Continued

University Sermon 2nd May 2004 preached by Revd Dr Giles Fraser
University Church, Oxford

In the years leading up to 1519, Martin Luther experienced what might be described as both mental breakdown and theological breakthrough:

“I did not love God” he said “I hated the just God” and was indignant towards Him, if not in wicked revolt, at least in silent blasphemy.”

Martin Luther’s admission that he had come to hate the God in whom he believed sparked a theological revolution that was to transform the political geography of Europe. What was it that he hated? For Luther, service to a God who demanded human beings earn His love had become service to a heartless despot, impossible to please. Consequently, the confessional had become a private hell of never being good enough, of never earning enough merit to satisfy the unattainable demands required for salvation. This was the shadow-side of the Pelagian’s breezy moral optimism. Luther’s deep sense of the extent of human inadequacy made him appreciate that a God who dealt with human beings strictly on the basis of merit, strictly on the basis of what they deserved, was always going to be a God of punishment. Rowan Williams writes: “this experience was an experience of hell, a condition of moral and spiritual hopelessness. The God who presides over this appalling world is a God who asks the impossible and punishes savagely if it is not realised”. In the years leading up to 1519, Luther came to see his former understanding of Christianity as inherently abusive, and the psychology of the confessional as a destructive cycle whereby the abused child constantly returns to the abusive heavenly father for comfort.

In exposing this cycle of abuse Luther blew apart the theological establishment. Parallels with arguments that are now transforming the political geography of Anglicanism are remarkable. For the debate about homosexuality is a great deal more than a debate about sex. It’s a debate about the nature of God’s love for human beings that has much in common with debates that drove the Reformation. For the message the Church has given to gay Christians is the message Luther came to see as inherently abusive: God does not love you as you are – you need to be completely and fundamentally – and perhaps even impossibly – different before He will love you.

Consider the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster’s advice to gay Christians that they should find a way of being cured of their homosexuality. Having investigated allegations, the Crown Prosecution Service decided his comments did not amount to a prosecutable offensive – the Public Order Act of 1986 only applies to the incitement to racial hatred. Nonetheless, his remarks deserve the deepest theological censure. For gay Christians who have tried to become acceptable to God by subjecting themselves to electric shock therapy, or by being bombarded with pornography – thus to “cure” themselves of homosexuality – have been forced into precisely the sort of private hell Luther experienced in the confessional. The Bishop of Chester’s theology serves only to describe a cruel and abusive God who cares little for the emotional or spiritual welfare of His children.



animals and sport

Whilst on holiday in Spain I had the opportunity to see what local papers were saying about the recent ban in Barcelona on bullfighting. The very idea that Spain might be banning what the world had thought of as its national sport seemed almost impossible — that is, until you remember what they paid for David Beckham. Maybe bullfighting isn’t the draw it was, either for tourists or locals.

The press began by noting that cock fighting, bear baiting, bull baiting and dog fighting were, like bullfighting, once far more widespread, but across Europe a growing horror of such cruelty to animals had gradually reached everywhere.

The bull doesn’t naturally fight. It’s a gentle herbivore, and, as a domesticated animal, has been bred over hundreds of generations for its gentleness. All idea of fighting is foreign to it. The cows allow us to milk them, and cattle have been our best friends for thousands of years. It doesn’t ‘fight’ at all until lances have been hurled into its back. There is no contest in taking a sword to such a creature. It’s like taking a machine gun to a boy who throws stones.

In Spain, bullfighting had become identified with extreme right wing, oppressive government. It had come to symbolise the oppression of ordinary people, of minorities, of those who were different. So, it was unsurprising that the Catalans, whose language and whose culture had been suppressed in Franco’s time should see themselves as such an minority, and side with the noble, suffering bull, rather than with the murderous weapons of the bullfighter in his suit of lights.

Oppressive regimes glory in portraying punishment and killing as a sign of their power. This is what was at the heart of the circuses of ancient Rome. Ritualised execution in such a state could be the fate of anyone who was different, as Christian martyrs of the first, third or 20th century have testified.

Sports which involve killing brutalise those who take part, and all those who watch.

Now, the Catalans appear to have had enough. In a secret ballot which probably surprised everyone, they outlawed the old national sport. I expect they will be followed by similar votes from people in the other marginalized areas of Spain, and eventually the whole nation will turn against the blood lust of this barbaric sport.

And when they do, we shall need to ask ourselves whether, in order to demonstrate that ours, too, is a civilised society, and part of a modern Europe with decent values, we should ban the sport of hunting wild creatures with dogs.