Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 22 July 2023

Jonathan Clatworthy The point of it all Early Christian marriage

Caroline Newman Surviving Church Is anyone safe in the Church of England?

Mark Bennet ViaMedia.News Learning Lessons? Leading a Church Where Abuse Has Happened

Lorraine Cavanagh Christian Faith in the here and now

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Susannah Clark
9 months ago

Responding to Lorraine’s reflections on ‘Community’, I think for me one of the key things is ‘living alongside’, ‘sharing alongside’, ‘serving alongside’, ‘being joyful alongside’, ‘sharing sorrow alongside’, ‘being patient alongside’. To me ‘alongside-ness’ is precious. In an Anglican context, I think that extends beyond an internal church fellowship. It involves ‘alongside-ness’ with the secular parish, with people’s needs, with people’s dreams and aspirations, and sometimes with people’s tragedies. To me, that is close to what the Church of England is called to be: I think we are called to be alongsiders. Not a religious sect. Alongsiders in our broader,… Read more »

David James
David James
Reply to  Susannah Clark
9 months ago

Beautiful vision with which I entirely agree and tried to practice over 45 years. Totally rewarding but costly. Beyond management, strategies, targets, the things that are fashionable right now

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Susannah Clark
9 months ago

Couldn’t agree more. What will attract people to the church is when they see us living out the love of God to everyone, not just church members. Even if it attracted no one, it would be worth doing for its own sake.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Janet Fife
9 months ago

Even if it attracted no one, it would be worth doing for its own sake.”

Exactly.

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
9 months ago

“I agree with Gavin Drake that the Church of England is not a safe place for vulnerable people. But they don’t care. Sadly, they are more interested in preserving the institution than protecting the people they are called to serve.” (Caroline Newman) That has been my experience and I am a white middle class man. Every Church Website has a statement about “safeguarding” but this is really about safeguarding the Church of England not safeguarding vulnerable people. If the Church of England really CARED about vulnerable people, every Church Website would have child friendly guidance about what to do if… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by David Hawkins
Susannah Clark
Reply to  David Hawkins
9 months ago

“How many people have silently left the Church of England because their faith has been destroyed by an abuse of power?”

Sadly, quite a lot: read with caution if you may be affected by accounts of spiritual abuse

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Susannah Clark
8 months ago

Quite so! And it doesn’t help any possibility of mission when the secular press gives full coverage to the case to which you link, including in The Times, but, in that journal, no mention whatever of the gamechanging appointment of Professor Jay.

Last edited 8 months ago by Malcolm Dixon
peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
9 months ago

I think Jonathan Clatworthy’s column makes the early Christian community and women out to be too peachy-keen. Early Christian men could be just as patriarchal as Roman men. Women could often still be in second-class status. And Andrew’s comment in response to Mr. Clatworthy’s column is spot on. St. Paul’s letters portray a complex individual with complex, sometimes conflicting advice. But there’s a historical argument that Jesus of Nazareth’s earliest followers were so convinced the Kingdom of Heaven was coming now that they didn’t think marriage and procreation was necessary. Only after more and more time passed between the end… Read more »

James Byron
James Byron
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
9 months ago

Yes, attempting to effect change by projecting contemporary values onto the early church is not only conservative, it’s self-defeating: just prove that the earliest traditions are patriarchal and where is there to go?

Liberalism should be proud of its radicalism. Going back to the roots, subjecting them to scrutiny, and overturning unreasonable traditions is its essence; appealing not to merits but to vintage, its antithesis.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  James Byron
9 months ago

I love that last paragraph of yours!

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  James Byron
9 months ago

“Liberalism should be proud of its radicalism. Going back to the roots”

I echo Susannah Clark’s praise of your comment, especially the above quote.

Last edited 9 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Susannah Clark
Reply to  James Byron
8 months ago

“appealing not to merits but to vintage, its antithesis”… This is a hugely thought-provoking remark. The emphasis on “the authority of the Bible” over all else is perhaps near to the heart of a backward-looking Church… slow to get on board changes in society… reluctant to embrace issues if they don’t conform with what James calls ‘vintage’. No argument at all that there are huge and profound insights in the Bible. It’s not about being anti-Bible. But if we elevate the Bible onto an immutable pedestal, then it can be used to over-rule conscience, block beneficial change, drag heels on… Read more »

James Byron
James Byron
Reply to  Susannah Clark
8 months ago

Thanks for that incisive unpacking! 🙂

I too treasure the Bible and the insights contained within that remarkable collection of documents, especially the Wisdom literature of the Tanakh and the Early Church’s response to Jesus’ life and Resurrection. Its merits are inherent, and stand separate from any doctrine of authority various churches impose.

At heart this is about authority, not Scripture, a paradigm liberals were born in opposition to. Why then argue in those terms?

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  James Byron
8 months ago

Exactly! Note the following comment from Bernard Brandon Scott, writing in America Magazine: Faith must always be tested, and that raises historical questions (as well as other kinds of questions), which provide only probability. There is no way around it, unless faith is an authoritarian claim. Given the bankruptcy of authority in the church today, we should take any such claim of authority with a historical and deconstructive grain of salt.”

Entire article here:
https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/746/article/jesus-history?gad=1&gclid=CjwKCAjwtuOlBhBREiwA7agf1m9mR_oLUbv9OJip5PUYcxz_R5CzhEMGginndlmUjjFQ-H3_AoY1MBoCm0EQAvD_BwE

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Susannah Clark
8 months ago

I wonder if David Runcorn’s post near the bottom of the previous thread (LLF: A Public Letter on behalf of Inclusive Organisations) is relevant to your discussion, and the book he cites also.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
9 months ago

And over here, too. Only I suspect we’re a little more subtle and sophisticated than the Southern Baptists (it even made the BBC news the day it happened!) as various comments and testimonies on earlier threads here show.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
8 months ago

The most compelling assertion in the Jonathan Clatworthy article is the assertion that “evidence is sparse”. The search back to ‘sources’ (ressourcement) is a tricky business. It’s very easy to end up with either anachronisms or archaisms. Better to approach new problems with new thinking. I’ve attached a link to an an excellent article ( I think) by Benjamin Hohman from 2020 on Gender and Metaphysics. Just back from the UK . Had a great time! Delightful 1662 evensong at Westminster for the 25th anniversary of Modern Martyrs. My grandchild enjoyed it almost as much as ‘Wicked”. lol. Article here:… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

The most compelling assertion in the Jonathan Clatworthy article is the assertion that “evidence is sparse”. The search back to ‘sources’ (ressourcement) is a tricky business. Agreed. According to Catherine Nixey up to 90% of all Greek texts have been lost to us, and possibly up to 99% of texts from the Roman period, either through deliberate destruction or because they were not felt to be worth preserving, and so the manuscripts collapsed to dust without being copied. And so trying to make any confident statement on Roman sexual and marriage customs is like trying to make a thousand piece… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Simon Dawson
Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

“those Roman texts reinforcing a Christian view are most likely to have been preserved (often through short extracts cited in larger texts) and those against the Christian view more likely to have been lost” That is so very true: for instance we only know of Porphyry’s ‘Adversus Christianos’ because of the refutations written by Christian apologists: Theodosius II had all copies of his book burnt. Similarly, only one copy of Celsus’s ‘Logos Alethes’ survived and most of what be know about him comes from Origen’s famous refutation. Porphyry, incidentally, is a very sympathetic philosopher, with strikingly modern ideas about vegetarianism.… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Froghole
8 months ago

I think Porphyry is worth studying for more than vegetarianism. His data appears to come from travels into the East, and he and other contemporary writers are excellent sources for early Buddhist practises. Beckwith (in “Greek Buddha”) argues that Porphyry, and Pyrrho (who travelled to India with Alexander), provide the earliest extant written texts on Buddhist teaching and monastic practice, much earlier than anything coming out of India itself. What I find fascinating are the commonalities between the spiritual practises of these early “hindu/buddhist” mendicants and what is described in the Gospels. (I use the quotes because this was from… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

Many thanks. Indeed, and we have the perhaps more certain Buddhist influence of Euthymius of Athos who is now commonly thought to be the author of that Christian life of Buddha, ‘Barlaam and Josaphat’ (formerly attributed to John Damascene), one of the great medieval proto-novels. It had a considerable influence in this country in the 20th century, courtesy of the Wardrops and the tragic figure of David Marshall Lang (distinguished Georgian scholars) and the EET edition.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Froghole
8 months ago

That’s a reference I missed. I will look it up with interest. Thank you.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

The work of Lang: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/edit/10.4324/9781003250708/balavariani-david-marshall-lang-ilia-abuladze and https://www.routledge.com/The-Wisdom-of-Balahvar-A-Christian-Legend-of-the-Buddha/Lang/p/book/9781032168739. These efforts were of seminal importance for the study of Georgian literature, because the Jerusalem MS Lang used demonstrated that Georgian had been a key vector for transferring the legend of the Bodhisattva from a Christian Arabic source to a Byzantine Greek source, through which the legend entered Europe. Lang (a distant kinsman of Cosmo Gordon Lang) was, along with Cyril Toumanoff, Bill Allen, Vladimir Minorsky, Firuz Kazemzadeh, etc., the foremost student of Caucasian history and literature during the post-war era. He was also a KGB agent and eventually took to drink. Although… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

The same is probably true, at least to an extent, in relation to Christian texts. Added to which there was the process of deciding the canon, not just gospels like Thomas but were there other epistles which didn’t make the cut – perhaps because they had lost even by the 5th century. 400+ years is a long time. Even today, with far better resources, so much has been lost from Tudor times.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

That’s an interesting connection, Kate, thank you. There are indeed similarities.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

It is an interesting controversy. Increasingly and unfortunately Anglican bishops and their socially conservative periti are relying on ecclesiastical authority to counter scholarship. “We simply don’t know what we don’t know.” Some years ago a medical specialist described for me the results of electron microscopy. The cell details were apparent, but there was in that situation no way of knowing simply by looking as to whether or not the subcellular entities were working properly. All one can do in some instances is rely on collateral data to rank probability. On that score, here is an article written by Daniel Wallace… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Thanks Rod, ref your”rely on collateral data to to rank probability”. Agreed. Doctors rely on a multiplicity of tests, and rarely one method alone. I am a big fan of using archaeology to inform ones interpretation of ancient texts and scriptures, especially the Hebrew scriptures.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

Agreed about archaeology. Certainly in religious studies archaeology competes with, and is often preferential to, texts in terms of developing a theory of what may have been taking place. For example, archaeology has given us a much greater understanding of the fate of ordinary people at La Forteresse de Louisbourg. My point about the microscopy was an illustration of how we can sometimes get to the limit, reach a wall, in terms of evidence, and can go no further. Electron microscopy allowed one to see that the subcellular ‘looked normal’; but simply looking could not indicate if the entities were… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

Thanks Rod, Personally, as a nurse and not a priest, I wonder if that medical analogy can be taken further, in looking at the relationship between either patient/surgeon and pupil/priest and acts of faith. When preparing for a surgical procedure the surgeon is required to explain the benefits and risks of what is planned, and to make clear all the uncertainties. Then at the end of the day the decision is with the patient whether to go forward not. It requires a decision by the patient, an act of faith, on whether to accept the risk of surgeon’s proposals, despite… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

Simon, I like that analogy. I think it is well within the ‘scope of practice’ of ministers and teachers to provide that kind of pro and con counsel. Indeed, I think increasingly that is what many people who remain observant to varying degrees are already doing. I want to share a quote from religious studies scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith which I think is germane on this point: ” There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can legitimately be called the Christian Faith. There have been and are the faiths of individual Christians, each personal, each specific, each immediate.… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Rod Gillis
8 months ago

That’s perfect. Thank you.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Simon Dawson
8 months ago

It would be interesting to review multi-disciplinary evidence/probability/lack of evidence for (among others): references or artefacts suggesting date and extent of Israelite presence in Egypt; archaeological evidence to date Israelite mass settlement, and Canaanite settlement in Israel, and whether population movements match biblical narratives; the walls of Jericho – were there walls in the windows of time that match the Biblical narrative, or evidence of their destruction; data on when there were last regional flooding or worldwide flooding involving sea levels rising higher than mountains during human history; collective data to try to pin down dates when all books of… Read more »

David Exham
David Exham
Reply to  Susannah Clark
8 months ago

There is a wide range of books and websites on biblical archaeology and on the early Christian texts, canonical or otherwise. So the work has been done, and continues to be done. For example, I think the broad consensus is that there is very little historical or archaeological evidence for the Exodus and even less for Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, apart, of course, from the books of the Hebrew Bible.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  David Exham
8 months ago

Thank you.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Susannah Clark
8 months ago

Susannah That work has indeed been done by many expert archaeologists. The best source is probably Israel Finkelstein, Director of the institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. He has written a very accessible book titled “The Bible Unearthed”. Without going into detail – there is little archaeological or epigraphic evidence supporting much of the narrative from Abraham to Josiah, and much disproving it as a historical narrative Your suggestion in the final paragraph about a created, semi-fictional, national foundation story matches Finkelstein’s thesis exactly. And can I remind you of a thread on TA only a couple of months… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
8 months ago

As usual my longer pieces seem to be the opposite of clickbait. I would be very interested in hearing about other questions no-one is asking – I think these may be diagnostic of the real underlying issues. In the meantime, noting Roger Harrabin’s article here

Aljbri
Aljbri
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 months ago

Mark, that may be because what you say is in a sense unarguable, or possibly seen as not mainstream for TA. But I also suspect a tendency on the site to keep away from specifics. It is a fascinating place to learn about or recall a lot of Anglican history like the intriguing history of the diocese of Sydney in the last century, or what Coggan might have done, all of which I read with interest. History matters. But there is remarkably little on how we might actually engage with some of the current problems we deplore. Safeguarding has been… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 months ago

I must thank you for your piece and also for your frequent and profound interventions in the last session of Synod, which I thought were high points in the proceedings. I am very sorry to read that you have had to deal with the backwash of abuse: the abuser moves off the stage, but you – and others like you – are left on it to face the music. I rather agree that what is at stake is not only the abuse itself but the wider issue of trust. All institutions subsist on trust, and it is an especially important,… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Froghole
8 months ago

Sadly, our society seems to have lost all concept of trust nowadays, and it’s been accelerating for the last fifty years. Given the example of certain people in high leadership positions recently, is that hardly surprising? Unfortunately, once trust’s lost, it is either very hard or impossible to regain. Integrity, which is a prerequisite, seems out of fashion in so many ways as well. Short term expediency is the watchword, protect your back (or, more importantly, your boss’s) the golden rule. And there is no one to blame but ourselves. The church – not just the CofE – inevitably reflects… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 months ago

I am sorry that your piece attracted so little comment, although I did comment directly on the Via Media site, saying that the issues and questions you raised were replicated very closely in a case which arose in a parish where I was churchwarden, over a historic safeguarding matter from a decade earlier which had not been fully dealt with at the time. When it resurfaced, the necessary confidentiality meant that many attributed the necessary actions to the wrong motives, but could not be corrected. This caused much ill-feeling in the parish, which still rumbles on several years later. A… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
8 months ago

[Sorry pressed the wrong button] … noting Roger Harrabin’s article, if you want something controversial to think about – aren’t non-biodegradable single use plastics our most effective current means of carbon capture and storage? Are we thinking about the carbon cycle in the right way? Of course we need whole system thinking – and don’t we badly need whole system thinking – as solutions for one bit have impacts in other places, and there is not now much margin for error.

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