13.2.14

From fear to flourishing or Justin's love for Valentine's day!


The A B of C shared his presidential address with General Synod yesterday and it has caused some interesting reactions around the Anglican blogosphere. He sets a context for our debates by fixing our attention, in his opener, on real, bloody conflict in South Sudan. Perspective is what he is encouraging, I guess.

He equates 'conflict' with fear with his synopsis that 'Societies in conflict are societies in fear.'

His aim is to address our fears. 

He places our debates within a Darwinian construct. Is fear generated because we are suspicious of one another, that someone else's gain might be our loss? I am not sure about this, the distinctive thing about the God-economy is that someone else's gain is my gain too. If the church isn't understanding this and co-working for the growth of this, then in what way are we counter-cultural, counter-competitive...? He argues against his own premise, saying God's 'abundant love' secures 'human flourishing.' God's abundant love does this when we have 'open' systems. Closed systems render the opposite, he implies. 

The symptoms of closed systems are suspicion and paranoia. He points out how quickly people supposed that his 'good vicars grow churches' meant also that 'small churches have bad vicars.' This was that human tendency to paranoia and a consequence also of a little clumsy verbalising on his part. 

In opposition to suspicion and paranoia are 'love' and 'trust.' He proposes that there has to be a receptiveness to love for trust to then be experienced. In some ways, love then becomes the faith-leap. In its receipt; in its being validated as a true demonstration of love, trust that this is what it really is, can be experienced. I am not sure about this. Does this work? You decide that an act of love really is an act of love in receiving it, trusting that it is so. Trust then seems part of the package rather than a subsequent experience. There are, of course, those for whom, the consecration of women to the Episcopate will not be seen as 'an act of love.' Now, don't get me wrong, I support women's consecration to the Episcopate, I just think that there might be better ways of framing it as the right thing to do, than this simple plea for a commitment to love. 

I wonder if 'love' here is being defined carefully enough. 'The gift that Christ gives us, of loving us to the end, to the ultimate degree is meaningless unless that love is both given and received, and then passed on.' It is 'love' yes but as an experience of the 'saving faith in Christ' that we are to pass on, isn't it? Love can be very subjective.

It would seem that those opposed to the consecration of women to the Episcopate could be those suffering the fear, paranoia and suspicion of their closed systems. Just as the A B of C never intended to imply that churches can't grow without good vicars, this could be another assumption generated about who do not support women's consecration. By not supporting it they compound the A B of C's implicit proposal that they are therefore paranoid, suspicious and fearful. I suspect my Conservative Evangelical friends are feeling caught in the double-bind here. 

Love is the high ideal proposes the Archbishop. We do not have to 'like' each other's practices so long as we 'love.' Not liking, in love, is grace and counter-cultural. 

'A church that loves those with whom the majority deeply disagree is a church that will be unpleasantly challenging to a world where disagreement is either banned within a given group or removed and expelled. The absolute of holy grace challenges the absolutism of a world that says there are no absolutes expect the statement that there are no absolutes.'

Justin has already emphasised that there is a good reason why decisions do not easily get made in the good old C of E. We have no Magisterium. The A B of C sounds rather Richard Hookerish. Hooker's was a comprehensive vision for how humanity comes to know what it knows. All knowledge is restrained by our imperfection, but God does communicate with us. The A B of C knows there are no perfect systems or human beings, only systems that are either more 'open' or more 'closed.' Hooker's thinking dances between Scripture and Reason rather than systems. For Hooker laws are 'set down' by God and others '[humanity] make by composition'. Hooker's writings explore that 'light of reason' which leaves things

...free to be ordered at the discretion of the Church...[because] it is no more disgrace for Scripture to have left a number of other things free to be ordered at the discretion of the Church, than for nature to have left it unto the wit of man to devise his own attire. Hooker, Op.cit. BOOK III. Ch. iv. 1.

The A B of C supports the 'Facilitated conversations' that are going to help the church work through its debates. He realises that what they might secure is only the 'good disagreement,' that Ephraim Radner decides might ultimately lead to exit, in his article Talking about things you will never agree on

'We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling. There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.'

He describes the fears but does not venture a solution. The A B of C is interested in 'process' rather than 'outcome,' although he does remind us that the decision has already been made to appoint women as Bishops. 'How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.' 'Where we work to overcome fear...we can make a real difference,' he says.

Perhaps 'facilitated conversations' are the only recourse left open to Anglicans. The A B of C has spoken of our flat government, our lack of a Catholic Magisterium. Hooker explored our need to 'hold it a thing most consonant with equity and reason, that no ecclesiastical law be made in a Christian commonwealth, without consent as well of the laity as of the clergy...' Hooker, Op. cit. BOOK VIII. Ch. vi. 8.
One of the particular features of Anglicanism, in contrast to other denominations, is its involvement of the laity in decision-making and ceremony:

As well as the scriptures, the reasoning of God's people determines how 'sundry things may be lawfully done in the Church, so as they be not done against the Scripture, although no Scripture do command them...' Hooker, Op.cit. BOOK III, Ch. vii, 2. Scripture and reason, clergy and laity quest after 'that estate whereby we attain, so far as possibly may be attained...our perfection...union with God...' Hooker, Op.cit. BOOK I. Ch. xi. 3

Harrison describes how Hooker enables Anglicans to declare with confidence that 'Life has changed and so must the structure of the church, in order to be truly faithful.' (Harrison, Prudence and Custom) Tradition is the sum of the customs adopted by our forebears, which they deemed appropriate by application of their reasoning faculties, inspired as they were by the Holy Spirit as they read the Scriptures. The theological method must always involve the interplay of Scripture, Tradition and Reason for a church that will continually change and respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The conversation then, must go on!  

Hooker's appeal to those with consciences disturbed by episcopacy, might speak today to those whom, for matters of conscience, can not accept the episcopacy of women. Hooker describes how if 'Things were disputed before they came to be determined; men afterwards were not to dispute any longer, but to obey.' Hooker calls for an obedience to the majority decision as 'ground sufficient for any reasonable man’s conscience... whatsoever his own opinion were as touching the matter before in question.' Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Preface, Ch. V. 3.

Hooker's call is for obedience, except if there is 'any just or necessary cause' Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. vi. 5, 6 against it. However, necessary causes must not be those that can not be substantiated by everyone else's consciences being equally disturbed. He explains, 'Neither wish we that men should do anything which in their hearts they are persuaded they ought not to do, but,' and the “but” betrays, with what follows, that he will not look kindly on individual dissenters, when 'my whole endeavour is to resolve the conscience ... [to] follow the light of sound and sincere judgement, without either cloud of prejudice, or mist of passionate affection,'Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. vii. 1, 2. Passionate affections can lead people astray, is the implication, and dissenters are to be guided by the majority opinion on a matter of possible controversy.

Is Justin warning us against the 'passionate affections' of paranoia, suspicion and fear? 

Hooker's aim, like Justin Welby's, is that where there is controversy, there is still a unity preserved through tolerance: our 'not liking' the actions of the other is tolerated because of the greater ideal of love. For Hooker he trusts that although,

...contentions are now at their highest float...the day will come...when the passions of former enmity being allayed, we shall with ten times redoubled tokens of our unfeignedly reconciled love, shew ourselves each towards [the] other...Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. ix. 4.

Is this the 'love' of which Justin Welby speaks? 
'Find love in the midst of it,' he says.   

Perhaps the final words of this short exploration of the Archbishop's presidential address belong to Hooker. Although as a church, we argue and debate, and at times the world reckons that there is little love amongst us, we are to

...labour under the same yoke, as men that look for the same eternal reward of their labours ...in bands of indissoluble love...to live as if our persons being many our souls were but one, rather than in such dismembered sort to spend our few and wretched days in a tedious prosecuting of wearisome contentions...Hooker, Op. cit. Preface, Ch. ix. 4. 


Perhaps the ultimate decision we have to make is over what we actually mean by the word 'love'?

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.