Thinking Anglicans

The Covenant tightrope walk

The Covenant tightrope walk is the title of an article in last week’s Church Times by David Walker Bishop of Dudley.

…LOOKING at contributions to the debate, one can see a parallel with the way diocesan synods debate parish share. Ostensibly, the discussion is about principles, but (by apparent coincidence) everyone’s proposal just happens to benefit his or her own parish financially.

In the case of the Covenant, many responses rest on whether or not their authors favour a text narrow enough to expel provinces that take unilateral decisions on same-sex relationships. These authors then create the necessary theology to lead to this outcome — again, by apparent coincidence…

Please read the whole article. He also said:

…THIS IS the first significant Anglican Communion debate in which bloggers have played a major part. They were particularly in evidence in their responses to Archbishop Rowan’s Advent letter to his fellow Primates, which was hailed by some as a shot across the bows of the theological conservatives, and by others as a capitulation to the right wing.

The challenge, especially once a revised text is issued and subjected to their intense scrutiny, is how to harness the bloggers’ energies and passions for what needs to be a prayerful, reflective, and non-polemical search for the widest degree of consensus. Can they be part of the solution, not just part of the problem?


  • drdanfee says:

    Brava to Dr. S. I am sure standing up was not an easy decision to take, but benefits all of us, wherever we may be as Anglicans.

    Often when reading all the standard conservative theological hoo-ha about the allegedly biblical concept of male headship of women, I find myself surmising that it is just this sort of thinking Anglican (woman) which the concept seeks to render extinct with all deliberate conservative evangelical speed.

    I, contrarily, constantly pray that God will raise up even more outstanding women, across all the existing Anglican believer spectrums.

    But then, it has been thinking women in my life who often stood up against men being unfair and mean-spirited towards anybody who dared to get in their considerable male way. So, no surprise, and you go girl.

  • David Walker’s ending line made me laugh

    “old archbishops in a hurry”
    a Monty Python moment as lots of rhyming sentences came up

    old archbishps in a slurry
    old archbishops in a huffy
    old archbishops in a flurry

    The comment about bloggers is not a surprise. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks commented a few years ago that whenever literacy opens up a level e.g. the creation of paper, the printing press; there have been major evolutions in theology as well.

    Souls get to share concepts that were not shared. Dialogues occur that would not have occurred otherwise and new insights come about as a result.

    Paul wasn’t scared of such things – look at how he relished the debates with Greeks and attempted to integrate some of their thinking into his Hebrew paradigms.

    I am again reminded of the “Drenched in Grace” conference, there is so much potential for renewal and growth with the ability for souls to contribute who have traditionally been made inarticulate.

    It is not surprising, for example, that the feminine has a higher profile. Traditionally, while the men played church, the wives played child minder and house keeper. We can now contribute to public discussion without neglecting our other responsibilities.

    Similarly, it is not surprising that ethnic minorities have a higher profile.

    Nor should we be surprised there is “more than one” position on any subject, that was a worthy Hebrew trait – to record the minority position, that often latter came about to be vindicated or true to apply in different circumstances. E.g. Numbers 13:26-33 where Caleb gave a different position to the others who had been sent to preview God’s Holy Land.

  • Pluralist says:

    Are bloggers supposed to be part of the solution. Isn’t the idea to provide some sort of scrutiny and say, hello, some real people being affected here? If the bloggers highlight the problem, it is because there is one.

  • Pluralist says:

    Interesting difference between liberals in England, here claimed to be higher and communion oriented, than the dissenting liberals of the US. I would rather reckon that the liberals have this view of the Church of England, extended to the Communion as far as it may go in the present, so long as the C of E remains intact. It’s not that much different from attitudes by American liberals to TEC. Furthermore, many liberals are uncomfortable with a Covenant at all, and are just biding their time and doing the usual not rocking the boat. However, should the Covenant begin to offer a narrowing or undermine autonomy (even if not legally) the opposition to it should rise up.

    I for one remain completely opposed to it: and it will not hold the Communion together that will not hold together by other means. Anyway, GAFCON has changed the landscape, and the point of having a Covenant may well be lost if GAFCON is at all successful.

  • Prior Aelred says:

    I’m with Pluralist (& others) on the Covenant (at least as conceived as punitive) — if it is necessary, it won’t work (& if it would work, it wouldn’t be needed).

    Re: Yankee & Brit liberals — I hate to say it, but I think it is the hypocrisy thing (& I know some Brits who would agree) — TEC is rebuked by the ABC for consenting to the election of an openly gay man while he himself presides at a secret Eucharist for gay clergy — if the glue holding the WWAC together is hypocrisy, then the sooner the split, the better!

  • Pluralist says:

    And I rather agree with Prior Aelred – the difference is in hypocrisy. It is like the Advent Letter – not to read by what it says straight up, but that it has to be understood in the context of private conversations, presumably on the lines that it does not mean what it says.

  • David Walker says:

    Firstly, thanks for all the comments on various stories on TA that helped me write the article.

    I agree that the task of bloggers is first and foremost to scrutinise, indeed to test very thoroughly, all contributions to the debate. The ability of the blogosphere to do that from the whole 360 degrees almost instantly, and then for the reactions themselves to be scrutinised in turn, is a new and potentially healthful dimension.

    But I am concerned when passionate critique descends into invective, ad hominem arguments and character assassination. And also when those who advance different viewpoints or challenge the “saints” of some particular faction, are traduced.

    I think that bloggers can do better. If we really care about the Gospel and the Church that exists to live and proclaim it, then it’s worth a bit more effort and self-restraint. I’ve been part of TA since the day it was set up because I want to be part of a thoughtful tradition. There are enough blogs that could vie for the title “Emoting Anglicans”, and we fall into that trap occasionally here. We can be just as robust as ever in our critique of all and sundry, but we can do so a bit more respectfully (recognising the image of Christ in each other) and with minds open to learning and being changed (as well as wanting to change others). We can seek to build on the contributions of others (rather than simply agree or disagree) and attempt to synthesise as well as analyse.

    I think that will be enough to make us part of the solution.

    Finally, I don’t think the difference between US and UK liberals can be collapsed into the hypocrisy of the latter. Hypocrisy is to believe one thing but do the opposite. To hold two theses in tension rather than demand that one yield to the other, and to seek to live in that tension (with all its apparent contradictions) lies at the heart of the European philosophical tradition. It isn’t a disjuncture between behaviour and belief but that both are influenced by both the competing theses. But it does throw open the possibility that part of the US/UK division is the relative failure of the ideas of Hegel and Marx to influence the former. That the missing continent at Lambeth 08 will not be North Amnerica or Africa, but Europe. And without a strong element from the continent where Christianity learned the vast majority of its theology and thinking, we are all much impoverished.

  • “To hold two theses in tension rather than demand that one yield to the other, and to seek to live in that tension (with all its apparent contradictions) lies at the heart of the European philosophical tradition.”

    I think this is the ERROR. “Holding things in tension” means doing nothing, believing in neither.

    It is the Fruit we reap of the Faction and Dissention of Calvinism.

    Not No, No and Aye, aye – but the inability to be Righteous in the light of the Gospel.

    Running away…

  • Erika Baker says:

    “I think that bloggers can do better. If we really care about the Gospel and the Church that exists to live and proclaim it, then it’s worth a bit more effort and self-restraint.”

    I’m not sure about this. Yes, in an ideal world we would all sit there politely exchanging complex ideas. Reality is that the blogging shpere is populated by the same normal and diverse people as the rest of society. Maybe it’s too idealistic to expect us all to become dispassionate contributors when the subject matter discussed affects the core of who we are.

    Blogging is like every other aspect of public discourse. I hate the simplifications that are necessary to be heard and successful, and I hate the resulting polarisation. Too often everyone ends up a caricature. It’s as though our point was less impressive if we accorded those who oppose us any respect or if we saw them as complex people who we might like very much were we to meet in different circumstances.

    I’d like to know how many look first at who has posted a particular comment, and then read it with the intention to agree or disagree depending on whether it was posted by friend or perceived foe.

    But I must also be honest and recognise the same tendency to polarisation in my own posts. When I first started posting on TA a long time ago I was forever trying to reconcile views and to explain my position patiently. After a while it becomes almost impossible. Some people are so entrenched that they refuse to accept anything. Many are maybe not very theologically trained and fail to follow even a mildly complex argument. And others simply insist on using the same pat opposing phrases. Nuanced debate gets lost in this and we occasionally descend to pithy answers and devastating one liners.

    And if you’re among those who have forever to explain why they believe they are moral beings, complex people, even Christians, while the others continuously try to reduce us to a scandal for the faith, you do get frustrated and lash out at times.
    Not good, I accept, but maybe understandable. We’re normal people after all, with the same feelings as everyone else. Part of our reason for debating here is to make this apparent to everyone else.

  • Fr Mark says:

    David W: your comments are interesting. When I read you lamenting the way blogging can turn to invective and character assassination, I started thinking about the history of the press as a medium for public debate. The British tradition of public debate in the press is very robust, and since at least the 17th century has involved lots of character assassination and invective: theological debate in Britain was for centuries fuelled by vitriolic pamphleteering, much more rabid than anything one sees on a computer screen nowadays. Perhaps we, especially in the C of E, have recently become too shy of robust and straightforward debate: we seem only able to cope with committees of the like-minded.

    As regards hypocrisy and the European dimension, we need to remember that the British enjoy a terrible reputation in Europe for being hypocritical about sex generally. You are right to say that we need to hear the European voice, as the future of religion in Britain is going to much more bound up with that in the rest of the EU than it will be with Africa. Throughout the EU, we see a massive shift towards ever greater acceptance of gay people. Gay marriage is an accepted and entirely uncontroversial fact in Spain, the Low Countries, Scandinavia; and you can be sure it will soon be so right across the EU. There is no point at all in the C of E avoiding the issue: it will have to deal very soon with the reality of civil marriage for gay people in Britain, rather than maintaining this fiction that civil partnerships are not actually marriages at all.

  • David Walker says:

    Thanks Fr Mark for reminding us of the vitriolic history of the print medium. The exciting thing is that from such inauspicious beginnings emerged in due course a robust mechanism that enables serious issues to be debated and allows (at least in some places) politicians and others to be held properly to account. My prayer is that blogging will also develop its “broadsheet” dimension.

    As a longstanding campaigner on Housing issues and also nowadays involved in pensions provision (I’m on the C of E’s Pensions Board) I’m much in favour of the rights that Civil Partnerships have brought. I also support them as a better structure for gay and lesbian people than any other alternative that is tabled. And I don’t think it the remit of faith groups to oppose civil law developments on grounds that can only apply to their own adherents. I think I might demur slightly though at the suggestion that gay marriage has been non-controversial in Spain. The RC Church has been quite vehement in its opposition.

    Thanks also Erika for your thoughtful comments. Rest assured, I’m not expecting everyone to be able (or want) to debate like a Cambridge High Table, just hoping that as blogging matures sites will develop whose ethos is less dominated by the angry than others. I think that’s already beginning to happen, and I’m committed to TA being one of the places where it does (alongside some more conservative blogs). The more emotive stuff will still have its place (as do the red top newspapers), but it won’t be the totality and it won’t be the most influential.

    In the meantime amateur and occasional writers like myself will seek to translate some of it for a wider audience in the traditional media.

  • Prior Aelred says:

    David Walker — I thank you very much for you comments & for your original article, but I must confess that your comments have served only to reinforce my perception that the problems is precisely British hypocrisy — saying one thing while doing another is exactly what the ABC has repeatedly done (as evidenced by the example I suggested above) — “creative tension” doesn’t mean “doing nothing” (or doing something and lying about it). Our Lord had something to say about hypocrites (especially among the religious leaders).

    BTW — I certainly no not intend this as personal invective! I am simply relaying my personal observations (which seem to be in accord with those of many others posting here — & not only other Americans).

  • Hugh of Lincoln says:

    The Covenant debate at York Synod last summer was as remote as you could get from being a “prayerful, reflective, and non-polemical search for the widest degree of consensus”, but rather, an emotive, passionate and highly charged act of political theatre. Ecclesiastical politics is more interesting than the Parliamentary version at the moment – opinions really are polarised.

    The debate should have been given a whole day instead of the pitifully short allocation of time for such an important topic – so many wanted to speak who couldn’t. There is a sense that it is being bulldozed through. There’s too little debate, not enough, especially at the local level where there seems to be little information about what the Covenant is and why it is needed. We rely on the blogs to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. For the most part, church-going is indeed “prayerful, reflective, and non-polemical”, but the Covenant is a political document about which all church-goers should have their say, especially if the laity are to be taken further away from the decision-making process. In its current form, it won’t be our Magna Carta, written to set all free, but rather, a cumbersome device guaranteed to prolong our institutional navel-gazing.

    Perhaps the Church of England should loosen the apron-strings a little – be less colonial – and let the autonomous daughter churches develop according to their local requirements.

  • I think TA generally does a good thing of managing the boundaries. It can be a bit heated at times, but then there is honesty by most contributors and we often end up articulating the underlying premise or paradigms that lead to our positions. Goodness, sometimes we often find that we have very strong common ground but the difference is that some are just more timid about who they should acknowledge is receiving God’s grace than others.

    Pluralist, you’ve been busy recently and its been fun. You link quoted a sentence by the bishop “Faced with natural disasters and terrorist atrocities, we now have in Jesus an example of divine courage, compassion, self-giving, and sacrifice which combine to help us cope. But there is nothing here to help us comprehend what all this might mean.”

    The bishop’s debate continued and this wasn’t his final resting point, but it did highlight that there are some who want complete certainty and want Jesus to be more than what Jesus was lest they have to step up to the table and be more than what they are. If Jesus is not all of God, but merely part of God, demonstrating that we have to have faith and be an active member of stewarding this Creation and succouring its occupants; then it is no longer sufficient to sit in ivory towers congratulating each other on the latest sycophantic scroll.

    David Walker commented “To hold two theses in tension rather than demand that one yield to the other, and to seek to live in that tension (with all its apparent contradictions) lies at the heart of the European philosophical tradition.”

    I agree, and that tension of multiple perspectives and moderation has been heavily influenced by the Hebrew thinking found in the Old Testament and synoptic gospels.

    We are called upon to be Christ-like to have Christ-consciousness. That means accepting that a divine spark can dwell within us and that we can choose to allow that divine spark to guide our decisions and shape our actions. The fruits of Spirit include patience, endurance, faith, love and courage. Mercy, compassion and forgiveness are the outpourings and it is these clean waters that lead to true justice for ALL Gaia’s occupants.

  • Pluralist says:

    I wrote my blog about what David Walker said before reading his reply above; however, the other feature of blog-world is to then go back and alter it. The alteration was to address the issue of hypocrisy, and put it into context, and somewhat say where this hypocrisy arises. Briefly. It’s not my main point, though.

  • Pluralist says:

    Cheryl, it was simpler than that (though you can rely on me to make something simple become complicated). Temperamentally I like the Bishop of Lincoln, but to be honest I was baffled by what he was saying. I assume it was in some way meditative. Plus I think the letter writer gave a good argument (though if he pursues it then it goes much further).

  • Fr Mark says:

    David W: yes, you are right to say that the RC Church vehemently opposed the gay marriage law in Spain. Yet it was passed with 66% public approval. Result: further marginalisation of the Church. RC Mass attendance is in freefall across Europe at the moment: over-hierarchical churches can lose the sensus fidelium, the essentually bottom-up nature of Christian practice.

  • Pluralist

    Don’t worry. I’m tired of religious scholars who look like they are playwrights for the “Yes Minister” series.

    I now just cherry pick core assumptions that flavour the paper or can lead to erroneous conclusions.

    Sometimes that might seem that one sentence is blown out of proportion, and in one sense that is true. But if you don’t challenge the presumptions, then souls can’t see where their mental models fall over.

    One recent favourite was challenging the myth that Jesus’ teachings were the predication of how grace was meted out. No, Jesus was preordained and acknowledged at birth.

    To be honest, he could make a right real botch of things and God would still have woven it into something useful. It was just a bonus that things went so well and we’d glossed over some of his immaturities (e.g. just “not getting” the whole soul mate thing). We would have continued to do so, but I’m sorry, mass genocides and ever escalating tyranny underpinned by unrepentant Christian aggressive theology just went too far for too long.

  • David Walker says:

    Such a lovely picture you’ve done of me on your website, Pluralist!

  • Ford Elms says:

    “he could make a right real botch of things and God would still have woven it into something useful.”

    But Cheryl, this assumes that Jesus isn’t God.

  • Ford

    Jesus is not all of God. He wasn’t female.

    Jesus had the character of God and was a portion of God, but Jesus was not and never could be God in God’s entirety.

    No human can encounter God in God’s entirety. It would kill them and thus there would be no testimony.

    God can “tone down” a manifestation to the level safe for humans to encounter and discover. Jesus is the highest acknowledged manifestation for this planet. No one is going to compete with that or take that away from Jesus.

    Jesus’ existence did not change the existence of prophets, celestial beings, angels, transcendant forces or other things both seen and unseen. It doesn’t hurt to remind both Jesus and Christians that their conduct is not accountable only unto themselves.

    Don’t like it? Maybe there shouldn’t have been rampant vilification and tyranny for so long. It’s called getting your bottoms smacked for being the rude aggressive children that you’ve been. Don’t want to be embarassed? Don’t do anything embarassing that would bring shame to God’s name, and especially don’t deceitfully use God’s name to justify complacent greed or violence.

  • Ford Elms says:

    “He wasn’t female.”

    Neither is God. He’s not male either. Being one gender or the other is a fact of our existence, not God’s. If the both of us are made in the image and likeness of God, then the relatively minor differences in our anatomies can’t mean anything in defining that image and likeness. God is not one or the other, neither is He both, He is beyond gender.

    “Jesus was not and never could be God in God’s entirety.”

    Which is not traditional, Athanasian Christology. You are free to believe this, Cheryl, and I don’t disresepct you for it, but it is Arianism. For Christ to be less than God, for me, is to destroy the redemptive effect of the Incarnation, it means that atonement: at-one-ment, can’t happen, since who can reunite us to God but God? Further, since “He became as we are so that we may become as He is”, you are saying theosis is not possible. I suspect you are falling afoul of some accidents of history. Jesus in the flesh was male, but to equate that maleness with divinity is incorrect. To say the Christ’s maleness is important in the Incarnation is, to my mind, to say that only men are redeemed. He had to be one or the other, and 2000 years ago, no one would have heard the message from a woman. But that doesn’t diminish His divinity, since God is beyond gender.

  • If you need Jesus to be more than what he is in order to trust in him. So be it.

    Other souls who know what Jesus is and what he was ordained to do still trust in God’s choice to use Jesus as the beacon of hope and salvation for all humanity, irregardless of where they are on this planet or anywhere else in the universe.

    We don’t need him to be more than what he is.

    However, his disciples are not allowed to break fundamental covenants without being disciplined.

    Jesus might have rebuked the Teachers of the Law, but only in the context of where their determinations showed no respect for the intent of the Law.

    We tolerated that variation because it formalised the precedent that enabled light to be offered to both Gentile and Jew.

    Some souls might want to gloss over parts of the Old Testament because it scares them. That is also their choice.

    The covenant of peace and salvation for both Jew and Gentile has always existed, existed before Jesus and exists with all sentient life on any planet in any galaxy in any universe; as well as for both seen and unseen consciousnesses. For example, reread the Daughter of Zion imagery e.g Isaiah 49:6 or the biblical passages referring to the covenant of peace with Levi e.g. Malachi 2.

    If Jesus is complete and sufficient unto himself, then there he has no soul mate and he has no issue with any female taking a mate for life or eternity. Similarly, since Jesus is complete and sufficient unto himself, then he has no needs of any gifts or talents of any female, so he has no concern if God chooses to remove any females elsewhere. Since there is no place for certain types of females to openly dwell on this planet, then Jesus can’t complain if certain types of females are not sent to this planet.

    Since we have no worth, it doesn’t matter if we are not here or if we keep our talents hidden.

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