Thinking Anglicans

O Radix Jesse : O Root of Jesse

Amidst the devastation of the holy city and the kingdom, Isaiah has seen the enormous potential for new life in the stump of a felled tree. Whilst forests may be destroyed by fire, or flattened by hurricane and tsunami, many species can regrow and the forest can flourish again. But the sign to which he points is not the military might of King David, nor the splendour of Solomon’s court and temple. He doesn’t choose the example of a heroic patriarch. Instead, Isaiah returns to the humble origins of David’s father Jesse. The man had been known simply as ‘the Bethlehemite’, someone from an unimportant village. Within the new kingdom of Saul this Bethlehemite would have appeared an insignificant sapling rather than one of the pillars of the realm. But the name of Jesse would replace that of Saul. Time and again the name Jesse appears, and Isaiah uses it to symbolise the enormous destiny of gathering God’s people from exile throughout the known world. It would stand at the heart of messianic hope of the Jews.

Directly this messianic hope is identified with Jesus in the writings of the New Testament, Paul (Romans 15.12) uses Isaiah’s prophecy with a wider significance. The name of Jesse provides a cornerstone for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Here is the inspiration for the apostles’ desire to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, and for their faith to break out of the confines of their own nationality.

With the rise of Christianity, the Jesse Tree became a well-loved and familiar image throughout the Western Europe in the middle ages. The family tree, depicted as a vine growing from Jesse, passes through David and Solomon to Mary and Jesus, whilst all around the prophets make their proclamations about the messiah. Jesse, the root of this divine flowering, lies at the foot, blissfully asleep. He is oblivious of all that God would achieve. All he had ever done was respond to Samuel’s call to accompany him to a sacrifice. He hardly knew that God’s call was in Samuel’s bidding. But then, who does know? Did Ruth, Jesse’s grandmother, have any inkling of what would happen when she refused to abandon her mother in law? Did Boaz, Jesse’s grandfather, know what was in store when duty and desire invited him to marry Ruth, a foreign widow?

From all of this Isaiah gives us the unlikely spectacle of a fragile shoot rising from the unlikely ruin of a fallen tree. It is the insignificant man from Bethlehem, a forerunner of the unknown child who would be born in his town in a stable. God takes what the world counts insignificant, and with it he builds his kingdom. He takes our obedience, our generosity, our acceptance of him and uses them for his purpose. And though we may not see the fruits in our own lifetime, nothing is lost. Though we cannot see it, all will be grafted into the vine he makes, just as strange, seemingly unlikely disparate sayings of the prophets are woven first into messianic expectation, and then into glorious fulfilment.


O Adonaï

As a youngster, the version of this antiphon found in the Advent carol ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, always intrigued me. What was this strange word, sung as ‘add-on-ay-eye’? It was several years before I discovered the answer to this question, buried in the foreword of my Revised Standard Version of the Bible. There it was explained why in the Old Testament, the word ‘Lord’ was frequently printed in all capital letters (in ‘caps & small caps’ to be precise), and occasionally in the expression ‘Lord God’ the word ‘God’ was capitalized instead. This tradition, still followed in many of today’s Bibles, dates back many centuries, or even millennia.

When printed in capitals in this way the word ‘LORD’ represents the occurrence in the Bible of the name of God. In the original Hebrew this is indicated by four consonants (written Hebrew having no letters for the vowels), and variously represented in our own alphabet, perhaps most commonly by the letters I, H, V, and H. But in ancient times this name had already come to be considered too holy to actually speak, and instead the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ was spoken aloud. And that Hebrew word is Adonaï.

This then, is the meaning of the verse of the carol, and the meaning of the Advent antiphon. Each of the antiphons is addressed to Jesus: and in addressing Jesus as Adonaï we implicitly declare our belief in his divinity: that the baby born in Bethlehem is indeed the incarnation of the eternal God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, declaring to him his existence and his very name, the divine ‘I AM’. And the salvation that came to the Hebrew slaves, the downtrodden people in Egypt, that salvation is offered to all God’s people right now.

O come, O come, Adonaï!


opinion a week before Christmas

Andrew Gerns writes on his blog about Choosing the anchor of certainty over the sails of comprehension.
[This is in response to the article by Joseph Bottum The End of Canterbury that I linked to last week.]

Nick Spencer writes in The Guardian that The Church of England’s future grows ever more bleak.
“One grim finding for Anglicans in the British Social Attitudes survey is how few find religion after not being born into it.”

Christopher Howse of The Telegraph has made a seasonal pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem: Holy Land pilgrimage: Away to the manger.

Giles Fraser writes for Church Times about Waiting and the need for God.

Joseph Harker writes for The Guardian that For all its flaws, religion remains a force for good.
“I’d rather have a reminder of what I should be striving for than hear no message at all.”


The Prime Minister and the King James Bible

Updated Saturday night and Sunday night to add more responses

The Prime Minister gave a speech about the King James Bible in Christ Church Cathedral Oxford yesterday (Friday).

The Oxford diocesan website has this brief report: Prime Minister speaks to Oxford clergy.

Speaking to an audience of largely parish clergy at Christ Church Cathedral, David Cameron spoke strongly in defence of faith and the role of the Church in society.

Mr Cameron said that he was a committed but “vaguely practising” Church of England Christian who was “full of doubts” about big theological issues. But he stressed the importance of the Bible, and in particular the King James Bible, in shaping British culture, values and politics.

“We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so,” he said.

“Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that to have another faith – or no faith – is somehow wrong.

“But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

“Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.

“The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option.

“You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”

You can listen to the address in full here or read it here.

Here are some of the many press reports.

Riazat Butt in The Guardian: Cameron calls for return to Christian values as King James Bible turns 400

The Telegraph: David Cameron: the Church must shape our values

BBC: David Cameron says the UK is a Christian country

The Huffington Post: David Cameron Urges Britons To Stand Up And Defend Christian Values

Oliver Wright in The Independent: Cameron shows off his faith with a swipe at Archbishop

Kelvin Holdsworth has written this Response to the Prime Minister.

More responses

Nick Baines Words about Word

Laura Sykes Is David Cameron Representative of Many Members of the Church of England?

Will Cookson David Cameron and The failure of Christian vision

BBC David Cameron on Christianity – views

Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator Cameron’s missing the point: Christian values require Christianity

Jonathan Bartley at Ekklesia David Cameron’s Beatitudes

David Edgar in The Guardian We can’t allow the Bible to be hijacked for narrow and partisan politics


O Sapientia

I love the Wisdom writings of the Old Testament. There is something wonderful about a religion that can give space in its sacred writings to compare a beautiful person lacking in sense with a gold ring in a pig’s snout, or include a verse such as “The lazy person says ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13). Whilst the Advent Antiphon speaks of wisdom that comes forth “from the mouth of the Most High”, the scriptures are full of more earthy wisdom. It’s the wisdom that emerges from careful observation of the way the world is. Such wisdom can rightly be said to spring from God’s mouth because it is God’s word that makes and remakes creation.

Within the Christian tradition the wisdom that comes from evidence has often been made subservient to that which is derived from abstract thought. Redressing that balance is a key aim of the branch of academic study known as Empirical Theology, in which my own research group is based. Holding conversations with people, or inviting large numbers to complete questionnaires, may not look as highbrow as reflections on basic theological principles but it might actually tell us something about the Christian faith as lived. And if that faith is lived by God’s grace then maybe it is also telling us truth about God too.

The things that my colleagues and I find out often challenge the presumptions of those responsible for running church programmes – especially the tendency to assume that everyone else believes and likes what I do. They also expose the gap between the intentions of some religious policy or practice and what people make of it. Doing theology on the basis of evidence chimes well with Archbishop Rowan’s famous dictum that the task of the church is to see what God is doing, and join in. Above all it suggests that the form of theology that is of most use to the church is reflective practice – which is just what some wise individual some 2500 years ago was doing when they collected together the distilled essence of their observations in the Wisdom literature.


Auckland Castle and the Zurbaran paintings

Updated again Wednesday morning

The Church Times reports today: Paintings at risk as Bishop Auckland deal falters

CHURCH officials are working des­perately to revive a £15-million deal to safeguard the future of the 12 Zur­barán paintings at Auckland Castle, Co. Durham.

Jonathan Ruffer, who offered to pay £15 million to the Church Commissioners to keep the paintings in the north-east (News, 1 April), an­nounced last week that he was withdrawing his offer.

Mr Ruffer, an investment manager in the City of London, who grew up in Stokesley, near Middlesbrough, blamed “insurmountable” conditions that had been placed on the deal by the Church Commissioners.

Writing in the Church Times, Mr Ruffer describes the First Church Es­tates Commissioner, Andreas Whit­tam Smith, and the Commissioners’ Secretary, Andrew Brown, as “decent men who have gone wrong”.

The Church Commissioners have declined to comment in detail on Mr Ruffer’s charges. However, in a letter to Mr Ruffer, sent on Wednesday and seen by the Church Times, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, writes: “We all hope that the matter is not irretrievable, and that we can press on as planned. . .

“I believe all are committed to achieve the end result that is desired, and I know the Church Commis­sioners are continuing to work to resolve the outstanding issues. They cannot, however, wave a ‘magic wand’ and bring it all together.”

And scroll down for a sidebar which provides a detailed chronology of how this saga developed.

The full text of Mr Ruffer’s article is, unfortunately, not available this week, except to Church Times subscribers. I will link it here when it is available.
The full text of the article by Jonathan Ruffer is now available here: Why I pulled out of Zurbarán deal.

However, you can get some further idea of its content from another report:

Northern Echo Chris Lloyd Financier says Church commissioners ‘torpedoed’ Zurbarans deal

But today, the Church Times – the leading weekly Anglican magazine – carries a remarkable article by Mr Ruffer in which he says the two leading commissioners, Andreas Whittam Smith and Andrew Brown, are “decent men who have gone wrong” who have “torpedoed” the deals for the Zurbarans and the castle and so have delivered “two slaps in the face for County Durham”.

He says: “Andreas Whittam Smith is by nature a buccaneer: quick to offer the hand of friendship, decisive and brave. He generously accepted an apology for a remark I made which had hurt him.

“Andrew Brown is a very different character, the antithesis of the smutty joke: he is wholesome, serious, and dutiful.

He would make an excellent minor royal.

“Yet these men have managed to torpedo two deals, to the detriment of one of the neediest regions of the UK.

Mr Ruffer paints a colourful picture of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, becoming involved in the debate. He writes: “I witnessed last month the Primate of All England pleading for the future of the castle.

The Archbishop pleading; Andreas untouchable, untouched.”

Update In the Guardian Riazat Butt writes Would-be saviour of £15 million paintings hits back at Church Commissioners.


House of Lords: challenge to civil partnership regulations withdrawn

Updated again Friday morning

The House of Lords today debated the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011. See earlier reports, starting here.

No vote was taken, as Baroness O’Cathain eventually withdrew her motion:

That a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 8 November, be annulled on the grounds that they do not fulfil the Government’s pledge to protect properly faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships where it is against their beliefs.

Links to Hansard:

The permanent record of this debate now starts here. See below the fold for links to the speeches made by the Bishop of Oxford, and the Bishop of Blackburn (twice).

Meanwhile, media reports:

And press releases:

This morning, the Guardian had published this editorial comment: Civil partnerships: questions for the church

…Today’s motion should be opposed. Opposing it would be more straightforward if the Church of England were to come off the fence on the issue of gay and lesbian equality. Britain has taken great strides towards wider tolerance and equality in recent years. Yet on civil partnerships, as on women bishops and gay priests, the church has recognised the moral wrongness of discrimination while failing to embrace the moral rightness of equality. Everyone can see where this journey is leading. But leading is the one thing the church is reluctant to do. It could make a start by throwing its weight clearly against the conservatives in the Lords today.

And earlier, the Cutting Edge Consortium had published this briefing note for peers.

The leaders of the religious bodies who had originally sought this legislation wrote a letter to parliamentary leaders, which is reproduced in this Ekklesia article: Faith bodies urge Lords to support civil partnerships.



The Anglican Covenant, IASCUFO, and the 1878 Lambeth Conference

Tobias Haller draws our attention to Recommendation 1 from the 1878 Lambeth Conference. (The full set of them can be found in this PDF file.)

Union Among the Churches of the Anglican Communion – Encyclical Letter 1.5

There are certain principles of church order which, your Committee consider, ought to be distinctly recognised and set forth, as of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.

  • First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.
  • Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.
  • Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.
  • This does not refer to questions respecting missionary bishops and foreign chaplaincies, which have been entrusted to other Committees.

Tobias notes in Those Were the Days (Lambeth 1878) that:

It appears to me that most of the troubles in the present Anglican Communion stem from the failure of some provinces to observe and abide by point 1. Some of those same provinces have gone on to violate point 2, and the recent trouble in AMiA seems to reflect a bit of the mess one gets into by not observing point 3.

But point 1, in one sentence, is the key to any real Anglican unity. No further “covenant” is needed. And the one currently on offer provides a mechanism to frustrate point 1, by shifting from respecting the actions of the provinces to placating those offended by them. The proposed Covenant is government by discontent and disrespect.

This view is clearly not shared by IASCUFO members, who have issued this Communiqué following a recent meeting in Korea. They say this:

…Aware of our mandate to promote the deepening of communion between the churches of the Anglican Communion, we emphasised the importance of being a fully representative group, and we greatly regret that some of our members were not present. We re-affirmed the significance of the Anglican Communion Covenant for strengthening our common life. …

Jim Naughton has written a severe criticism of this at Episcopal Café in The InterAnglican Standing Committee and the illusion of consultation:

…One feels both gratified and alarmed, then, to learn that at is meetings last week, IASCUFO (the InterAnglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order) recognized the importance of “being a fully representative group” and “re-affirm[ed] the significance of the Anglican Communion Covenant for strengthening our common life.” Gratified, because, well, it is nice to have your opponents make your points for you. Alarmed because the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office continue to behave as though the more centralized church they hope to create already exists.

Whatever its claims, IASCUFO is in no way representative. Its members are not elected to represent their provinces, but are cherry-picked by the communion office to ensure the outcome that the Archbishop of Canterbury desires, while creating the illusion of consultation. (In this way it is similar to the Covenant Design team and the Windsor Continuation Group.) Of the 19 individuals named in the release, no more than three hail from churches that have adopted the covenant. (Precise numbers are hard to come by, as many churches don’t actually care enough about the covenant to have made a public statement indicating their attitude toward it.) Yet the group asserts its representative nature, and then affirms what the churches its members allegedly represent have not: that the covenant is essential in strengthening our common life.

IASCUFO employs collegial rhetoric, but it behaves like a pressure group. What sets it apart from other pressure groups is that it uses financial resources contributed by member churches to lobby on behalf of a covenant that many of those churches will not sign—a covenant that would assure that essential decisions in the communion would continue to be made by purportedly representative bodies that are in no way accountable to the communion’s member churches.

As for some members being absent, here is a full list of its membership, dated July 2009, and here are some annotations provided in October 2010 by John Chilton. Readers may care to work out for themselves who was missing from the Korean jaunt.


Akinola supports Nigerian anti-Same-Sex Marriage Bill

According to Box Turtle Bulletin in This Anglican Bishop Wants You To Rot In Jail:

Archbishop Peter Akinola, retired Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, has enthusiastically endorsed Nigeria’s anti-gay bill which would impose criminal penalties on same-sex unions and LGBT gatherings. Akinola told Nigeria’s Guardian that the Nigerian government should reject warnings from Britain and the United States that efforts to deny basic human rights to LGBT people would have international implications…

Here is the original article in the Nigerian Guardian Akinola, Others Urge Support For Anti-Gay Marriage Bill

Akinola, who described the bill as “a new orientation towards transformation and reformation of Nigeria from its moral decadence into a new platform of sound morality,” said President Jonathan would be going against God’s will for Nigeria if he refused to sign the controversial bill into law.

He stated that Nigeria needs such law to preserve the nation’s sacred moral heritage for national development.

The former Primate of Church of Nigeria, who described homosexuality as an aberration, said it was repugnant to the word of God and African beliefs. “Same-sex marriage is against natural order of creation; it is against the laws of our religions, and it is against our African custom and traditions,” he said.

Responding to international protests that the bill would limit the rights of homosexuals in Nigeria, Akinola said human rights have limits by the operative society.

“Can you say you have right to marry anybody you want and because of your right, you now go and marry your mother or sister or daughter in the name of human right? For example, in this community, everybody has the right to own a car, but this community says that you drive your car on the right lane. Can you now say because it is your right to own a car, you must drive on the left, while every other person drives on the right?” he asked.

The full text of this bill, as passed by the Nigerian Senate, can be found here.

It now passes to the Nigerian House of Representatives, where this week’s statements from the US President and US Secretary of State, were not well received.


Religious responses to the Scottish government consultation on same-sex marriage

Updated Sunday evening

The Scottish Government just concluded a consultation on Registration of Civil partnerships same sex marriage and related issues. The terms of the consultation can be found here.

This consultation paper seeks views on the possibility of allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and the possible introduction of same sex marriage.

This Government believes in religious tolerance and the freedom to worship. We also believe in equality and diversity.

There are a variety of views on religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and on same sex marriage. We hope that everyone will use this consultation to express their views and opinions. However, as the debate unfolds, we also hope that everyone will treat those with different or opposing views with courtesy and respect, in accordance with the very highest standards of democratic discourse.

The Scottish Government is choosing to make its initial views clear at the outset of this consultation. We tend towards the view that religious ceremonies for civil partnerships should no longer be prohibited and that same sex marriage should be introduced so that same sex couples have the option of getting married if that is how they wish to demonstrate their commitment to each other. We also believe that no religious body or its celebrants should be required to carry out same sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies…

The Scottish Episcopal Church made its response, and published it here (PDF) together with this press release.

…In submitting its response, the Scottish Episcopal Church has stated that its General Synod expresses the mind of the Church through its Canons. The Canon on Marriage currently states that marriage is a ‘physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and as a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God’.

The Rt Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Convener of the Faith & Order Board’s working group on the consultation explains “The Canon on Marriage is clear in its wording and that has given the working group set up by the Faith and Order Board a common basis on which to discuss the issues raised in the Government’s Paper. The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church.

“The general issues raised by the consultation document are matters which are already the subject of ongoing discussion within both the Anglican and Porvoo Communions, and in which the Scottish Episcopal Church plays its part. Our written submission is offered in the knowledge of these ongoing discussions, it is placed within the Government’s time frame and has therefore sought to indicate our canonical position without pre-empting any debate we as a Church are or could be engaged in…

The Church of Scotland responded with No to same sex marriage: Consultation response confirms traditional position and the Convener of the Legal Questions Committee also issued this statement.

The Roman Catholic Bishops in Scotland have expressed strong opposition to the proposals, but their official response to the government does not appear to have been published yet by the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

Update The SCMO has kindly supplied me with a copy, which is available here (PDF).

Although the RC bishops objected very strongly to anyone from outside Scotland being allowed to respond to the consultation, numerous lobby groups invited people outside Scotland to respond, including Anglican Mainstream which sent emails to English General Synod members and others, urging them to participate.

A political party entitled the Scottish Christian Party responded that the consultation was “not fit for purpose, and concluded saying:

“It will be a mark of perpetual disgrace, and a blot on Scottish history, that no sooner has the Scottish National Party formed a majority Government than one of its first measures is a moral and social revolution of such a nature that it will destroy the time-honoured understanding of marriage, undermine the family, threaten the well-being of children, disrupt Scottish education, compromise healthy living, satisfy the communistic agenda of cultural Marxism, introduce anomalies into Scottish Law which will leave a legacy of legislative confusion, and be a stick with which the aggressive homosexual lobby can continue to beat Christians.”



In The Economist Bagehot writes about God in austerity Britain.
“As recession looms, the Church of England is active and vocal, but in the wrong way.”

Robert Orlando writes for The Huffington Post about A Polite Bribe: A New Narrative For Paul And The Early Church?

In a Church Times article now available to non-subscribers Duncan Dormor writes about Where students can reconnect.
“Cambridge chapels flourish, as the young engage with tradition.”

Joseph Bottum writes for The Weekly Standard about The End of Canterbury and asks “Will the sun set on the Anglican communion?”

Chris Bryant writes in The Independent that As a vicar I found that most churchgoers are liberals trying to find meaning in life.

Savi Hensman writes for Ekklesia about Fruitful love: beyond the civil and legal in partnerships.


AMiA withdraws from Anglican Church of Rwanda

The Anglican Mission in the Americas has withdrawn from the pastoral oversight of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.

Yesterday there was an official Statement to the Clergy and Laity of the Anglican Mission.

As you may know, on December 5, in response to unforeseen and extraordinary circumstances, the Anglican Mission in the Americas withdrew from the pastoral oversight of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. In addition, Bishop Chuck Murphy resigned as Primatial Vicar and Bishops Murphy, Sandy Greene, Todd Hunter, TJ Johnston, Philip Jones, Doc Loomis, John Miller and Silas Ng, as well as retired Bishop John Rodgers, resigned from the House of Bishops of Rwanda.

During this interim period, the Anglican Mission is under the oversight of our founding Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini, Moses Tay and Yong Ping Chung until we have a new provincial home within the Anglican Communion. Bishop Murphy is meeting with these overseeing archbishops in London next week to discuss options for the best way forward…

Background documents, in PDF format, are all linked from this page.

And there is another news article today, Addressing Finances with Rwanda.

The AMiA was formally founded in 2000, six months after Bishops Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers were consecrated bishops by Archbishop of Rwanda, Emmanuel Kolini and Archbishop of Southeast Asia, Moses Tay, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore. Its origins are in a conference held in South Carolina in 1997.

When the Anglican Church in North America was formed in 2009, the AMiA was a founding member, but subsequently in 2010 changed its status to Mission Partner.


No Anglican Covenant Coalition reviews the past year

press release from No Anglican Covenant Coalition


LONDON – After slightly more than a year, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition can point to several successes, according to Coalition Moderator, the Revd Dr Lesley Crawley.

  • Four dioceses of the Church of England have rejected the Covenant (Birmingham; St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Truro; Wakefield). Where synod members were provided with balanced background material (i.e., material that presented both the case for and the case against the Covenant), the synods have voted it down. Four dioceses, where little or no material was presented other than officially sanctioned pro-Covenant material, have approved the Covenant (Lichfield; Durham; Europe; Bristol). A total of 23 diocesan synods must approve the Covenant for the matter to return to the General Synod.
  • The Tikanga Maori defeated the Covenant at their biennial runanganui, virtually ensuring the defeat of the Covenant in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
  • The Philippine House of Bishops has indicated they will not support the Anglican Covenant, likely ensuring the defeat of the Covenant in the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.
  • Individual dioceses in the Anglican Church of Australia (Newcastle; Sydney) and The Episcopal Church (California; Eastern Oregon; Michigan; East Carolina; and others) have indicated their opposition to adoption of the Covenant.

“In November 2010, we launched the Coalition to ensure that the case against the proposed Anglican Covenant would be given a fair hearing,” said Dr. Crawley. “Today we are seeing our efforts bear fruit. When fair debate has been allowed, the results have been gratifying.”

Critical to the success of the campaign, especially in the Church of England, has been the support of the Coalition’s Episcopal Patrons, Bishops John Saxbee and Peter Selby, who have encouraged diocesan bishops to allow for a full and open debate. In the coming months, 37 more English dioceses will vote on the Anglican Covenant. Only 18 additional no votes are needed for the Church of England to reject the Covenant.

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition continues to provide assistance to those researching the proposed Covenant. The Resources section of the Coalition website ( is regularly updated with new material and analysis.

In the coming year:

  • The Episcopal Church will consider the Covenant at its General Convention in July in Indianapolis,Indiana. The Executive Council of the church has circulated a draft resolution to reject the Anglican Covenant.
  • The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia will consider the Covenant in July at its General Synod/Te HinotaWhanui in Fiji. Given the rejection of the Anglican Covenant by Tikanga Maori, rejection of the Covenant by that church seems assured.
  • The General Synod of the Church of England is scheduled to consider the Covenant at its July session. However, unless 19 more diocesan synods have approved the Anglican Covenant by that date, the matter will not return to General Synod.

“Anglican Communion Office officials have repeatedly responded to criticism of the Anglican Covenant by suggesting that critics have not read the document,” said the Coalition’s Canadian Convenor, the Revd Malcolm French. “Ironically, we find that the more familiar people are with the document, the more likely they are to reject it. The Coalition is committed to ensuring a proper and balanced debate in churches throughout the Anglican Communion.”


Porvoo consultation on marriage

From 1 to 4 November, the Churches of the Porvoo Communion held a consultation in Turku, Finland on the Churches’ teaching on marriage. Delegates represented the Anglican Churches in England, Ireland and Scotland, and the Lutheran Churches in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Observers were present from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, and the Latvian Lutheran Church Abroad.

Read more about this:

Church of Ireland Gazette High-level Porvoo Communion consultation on marriage

…The Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, and the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, attended from the Church of Ireland. Archbishop Jackson had been invited to give a series of Bible studies and Bishop Burrows acted as a Group Convener.

Each member-Church of the Porvoo Communion was invited to submit copies of its marriage liturgies and regulations. Dr Jackson told the Gazette that this material, together with lectures on the interpretation of biblical passages related to marriage, on theological arguments surrounding the issue of same- sex marriage, and on aspects of human genetics “gave scope and shape to the discussions”.

The Archbishop said that in a climate of “tension” relating to marriage practice across the Churches of the Porvoo Communion, the consultation had been conducted “in a spirit of attentive listening and courteous interchange of ideas and experiences”.

Bishop David Hamid Anglicans and Lutherans in Northern Europe meet to discuss the doctrine of marriage

…During the days together members from each Church shared their official teaching on marriage, as well as their pastoral experiences. There were also presentations covering aspects of the scriptural foundations for marriage, the development of doctrine, and human genetics.

The consultation concluded that differences over the introduction of same-sex marriage remain unresolved. The Churches hold a variety of views and pastoral practices along a theological spectrum. Some believe same sex marriage to be a legitimate development in the Christian tradition, whilst others see the potential for a serious departure from the received tradition. Nevertheless the consultation affirmed the benefits of “belonging to one another” and the value of honest encounter. The strong relationship of the Porvoo Communion, provides a “platform of sustained communication in the face of issues which raise difficulties for [the Churches]”

The full text of the communique issued can be found here (PDF).


Critical comments about the Anglican Covenant

The following critiques of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent Letter have appeared.

Alan Perry Of Advent Letters and Archbishops

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body.

Er, that would be people like me, I imagine. But then, I’ve read the document and analysed it, rather than simply rely on unsupported “assurances” to form an opinion.

With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all.

I do wish that the Archbishop would ask someone to respond to the sorts of concerns that I and others have raised, and perhaps even offer a rationale or argument in favour of the Covenant. “No it isn’t” is not an argument, it’s mere contradiction.

It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled.

Well, actually, it outlines the rough idea of a procedure, which is so vague that it’s practically useless, to make arbitrary decisions based on unclear criteria whether a given decision or action of a given Province is or is not “incompatible with the Covenant.” And, although it threatens “relational consequences” it doesn’t define them, so the Archbishop is incorrect to say that it indicates any “sorts of consequences.” The process, such as it is, is a recipe for arbitrariness.

Tobias Haller Noises off…

…The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.

I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.

I can, of course, think of any number of “alternatives” to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:

  • Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
  • Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
  • Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
  • Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”

and Shedding some light

…In what seems a very disingenuous statement, I just noticed (thanks to Rod Gillis for pointing it out in the comments to the report at Thinking Anglicans) the irony in another portion of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent musings:

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. (¶ 7)

Beg pardon, but it is the Archbishop who introduced language of two tracks or two “tiers” for the future of the Communion. Moreover, the invitation not to participate in, or be suspended from, one or more of “the Instruments” is spelled out in the Covenant at 4.2.5. And further unspecified “relational consequences” concerning the actual status of communion between members churches, is also threatened (4.2.7).

If these are not “change to the structure of the Communion” then what are they? It seems to me they are fundamental changes to the only structure we have. Evidently, the Archbishop thinks otherwise, which leads me to wonder what he means by “structure.”



more on the threat to civil partnerships on religious premises

We reported on 24 November and again on 2 December on attempts to force a debate in the House of Lords on The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 which come into force tomorrow.

The Quaker website Nayler has published two articles concerning this development, containing a great deal of useful background information:

Baroness aiming to stop religious civil partnerships

Religious civil partnerships: almost law

And Ekklesia has published Quakers in Britain welcome civil partnerships opportunity.

Iain McLean has written an article at Our Kingdom Time to save religious freedom from the UK’s religious right.

…What faith groups want to conduct civil partnerships on their premises? At the moment, a handful: the Metropolitan Community Church, the Quakers, the Unitarians, and Liberal Judaism. The Act, the regulations and ministers in both Labour and Coalition Governments have all made it clear that s.202 is purely permissive. No faith community can be penalised for not requesting to hold civil partnerships. And yet a coalition of conservative Christian groups continues to insist that this measure exposes them to litigation from those seeking to force them to hold civil partnerships against their will. This is part of a victimhood narrative in which, it is said, people are being penalised “for being Christians” (read: for discriminating against gay clients) in various roles such as registrars, relationship counsellors, would-be adopters, and hotel proprietors. In each of these cases, the courts have ruled against the Christians. This is bad for the individual Christians, who have been encouraged to bring (or defend) hopeless cases; it is good for their lobby groups, who need to keep the victimhood narrative going…

And he concludes:

…Furthermore, in a legal opinion published only on 1 December (long after Lady O’Cathain had secured her debate), the Church of England Legal Office reveals that both it and the government’s own lawyers agree with us and disagree with Mark Hill. It is a mystery why the Legal Office did not pass this opinion on to the Lords committee, which could then have seen that the regulations pose no real threat: neither to the Church of England, nor, as the C of E’s lawyers proceed helpfully to add, to any other faith community, whether congregational or hierarchical.

Lady O’Cathain’s campaign is not about protecting faithful Christians from the threat of vexatious litigation. If it were, then Quakers and Jews, who have suffered more than their fair share of that over the centuries, would be on the same side. It is about restricting religious freedom, and thwarting the will of parliament. Section 202 was enacted under the Labour government. The disputed regulations were promulgated by the coalition. All three parties have therefore endorsed it. As a Quaker, I totally respect the right of other Christian denominations not to host civil partnerships, if that is where their conscience leads them. But we have consciences too. Please get your tanks off our lawn, Lady O’Cathain. I hope that Peers will turn out in force on December 15th to protect religious freedom by defeating the O’Cathain motion.

Recent press coverage has tended to focus more on the Church of England’s own position than on the threat to the regulations themselves:

Martin Beckford Telegraph Church of England insists it will not have to host civil partnerships

Jasmine Coleman Guardian Church of England pours cold water on hopes for civil partnership ceremonies

Steve Doughty Mail Church ‘may have to offer gay weddings’ if Cameron’s plans given go-ahead

AFP Church of England against ‘gay wedding’ use

BBC Church of England bans hosting civil partnership ceremonies

Press Association Tatchell asks clergy to defy ruling


BeAttitude: Inclusive Church Conference papers now available

The papers delivered at the recent Inclusive Church conference: BeAttitude are now available for all to read as PDF files. Other material from the conference can also be found at the link above.

Giles Goddard Tradition and the Gospel

Adrian Thatcher Gender and the Gospel

Hilary Cotton Episcopacy and the Gospel

Andrew Nunn Worship and the Gospel


Nigerian senate passes anti-gay bill

Christian Purefoy and Faith Karimi of CNN reports this as Nigerian senate passes anti-gay bill, defying British aid threat.

The Nigerian senate has passed a bill banning same-sex marriages, defying a threat from Britain to withhold aid from nations violating gay rights.

The bill by Africa’s most populous nation calls for a 14-year sentence for anyone convicted of homosexuality. Anyone who aids or “abets” same-sex unions faces 10 years in prison, a provision that could target rights groups.

It goes to the nation’s House of Representatives for a vote before President Goodluck Jonathan can sign it into law.

Monica Mark writes for The Guardian: Nigeria ready to punish same-sex marriages with 14-year jail terms. “Bill passed by senate in defiance of western pressure against legislation curbing gay rights.”

A bill banning same sex marriages was passed by the Nigerian senate on Tuesday. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and one of the few that hasn’t bowed to western pressure to drop legislation that curbs gay rights.

The bill, which makes same-sex marriage punishable by a 14-year jail term, still has to be ratified by the country’s lower house before being signed off by the president, Goodluck Jonathan. It also seeks to tighten existing legislation, which already outlaws gay sex, by criminalising anyone who witnesses or assists such marriages and making same-sex public displays of affection a jailable offence. Under the new law, groups that support gay rights would also be banned.

Savi Hensman has written about this for Ekklesia: How Nigeria’s anti-gay bill is unjust and victimizing.

The Washington Post has published this article from Associated Press: Nigeria Senate approves bill banning gay marriage, groups in Africa’s most populous nation.

The Moment (which describes itself as “Nigeria’s most independent Newspaper”) reports this story as 14 year jail awaits same sex marriage offenders.

Changing Attitude has published this: Nigerian Senate votes for draconian anti-gay law to ban same-sex marriage.



Bishop John Packer writes about Cathedrals, Bishops and Committees – What is a Diocese?
Although prompted by the proposals to amalgamate three Yorkshire dioceses including his own, most of what the bishop writes is applicable to dioceses in general.

In a Church Times article now available to non-subscribers Alan Billings writes They belong, but don’t believe. “Many in church at Christmas need their tentative beliefs to be nurtured.”

Deirdre Good and Julian Sheffield at the Daily Episcopalian ask Is the Kingdom of Heaven a Ponzi Scheme?


Religious premises for Civil Partnerships: conflicting opinions

The Church Times has a report today, by Ed Beavan which is only available to paid subscribers until next week, headlined Lawyers dispute civil partnership opt-ins for sacred venues. (£)

A SUBMISSION by a leading ecclesiastical lawyer, Professor Mark Hill QC — which says that the planned changes to the regulations on civil partnerships in religious premises could lead to “costly litiga­tion” for faith groups who object in conscience — has been challenged by an Oxford academic…

Here is the full text of the memorandum (PDF) by Scot Peterson to which the report refers. This criticises the opinion of Professor Mark Hill QC which was published previously. He concludes:

…From a more general point of view, the Objectors‘ position becomes clearer. Rather than objecting to the Proposed Regulations, which offer all the protection available to faith groups, denominations, individual ministers and congregations, which is available under the existing regime for licensing religious premises for conducting marriages, Objectors wish section 202 had never been passed in the first place. They want a second chance to defeat the principle of the Alli amendment. In order to accomplish this, they have used every effort to identify problems with the regulatory regime that cannot be solved without a complete overhaul of English marriage law, as well as the Equality Act itself. Rather than offering constructive suggestions for modifying the Proposed Regulations, which the GEO could incorporate into its regime, they have put the perfect (in their view) in the way of the possible.

Neither the GEO nor the legislature should cave in to these efforts. The regulatory scheme proposed and submitted to the legislature offers every protection to the Objectors which is available under English law and applicable human rights and equality laws. They should be permitted to go into force as planned.

Yesterday, after the Church Times had gone to press, the Church of England’s Legal Office published its opinion, which also disagrees with Mark Hill.

…5. The question has been raised in Parliament and elsewhere of whether a religious denomination, or a local church, which declined to seek to have its premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships could be held to be discriminating in a way which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The clear view of the Legal Office is that it could not. This is also the declared view of the Government’s lawyers.

6. A key relevant provision is section 29 of the Equality Act which makes it unlawful for “a person (a “service-provider”) concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public” to discriminate on various grounds, including sexual orientation, “against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service”. A Church which provides couples with the opportunity to marry (but not to register civil partnerships) is “concerned with” the provision of marriage only; it is simply not “concerned with” the provision of facilities to register civil partnerships.

7. That would be a different “service”, marriage and civil partnership being legally distinct concepts. If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory. But that is a separate issue which would have to be addressed in the course of that new legislation.

8. The non-discrimination requirement imposed by the Equality Act on service-providers does not include a requirement to undertake the provision of other services that a service-provider is not already concerned with providing just because the services that it currently offers are of such a nature that they tend to benefit only persons of a particular age, sex, sexual orientation etc. Thus, for, example, a gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes. A children’s book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults. And a Church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships…

Meanwhile, over in the House of Commons, Edward Leigh MP has tabled an Early Day Motion to annul the new regulations. See this report in the Catholic Herald MP takes on Government over same-sex regulations.

And this report in the Telegraph by Martin Beckford Tory MPs try to stop civil partnerships in places of worship.