History & Doctrine – Written by the Winners?

by the Revd Canon Simon Butler, Prolocutor for the Province of Canterbury

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It is a common dictum that history is written by the winners. Scholarship, particularly for the pre-modern world, enables us to uncover the other side of the story. Revisionism – often a term of abuse – is in fact a commitment to uncovering the other side of the story.

This came home to me in a shocking way as I concluded Catherine Nixey’s recent book The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. Like good revisionist history, Nixey’s book is an uncompromising account of the dark side of the so-called ‘triumph’ of Christianity in the post-Constantinian world. We read of the suppression of philosophy and other academic learning – in the name of, and for the glory of, Christ, with perhaps 10% of classical philosophical writing surviving the Christian onslaught. We read of the rise of monasticism, which in many instances involved Christian mob rule – with hordes of monks descending on towns to destroy books, temples and people, and with some monasteries being, to the modern ear, little more than centres of abuse and terror. And we read of the other martyrs, the ones who died not for Christ but for paganism, having their lives taken from them by those who, encouraged by radical preaching, thought that the best way to give glory to God was to destroy their fellow human beings. Nixey’s book should be recommended reading for all who cling to the idea that the late Patristic period was a sort of Christian “Golden Age”.

The great gift of revisionist histories is that they reveal that the world of the past was far more complex than we would care to believe. I well remember reading John Boswell’s The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe which was an eye-opening moment and helped me to see the ancient world in a new light. Even Tom Wright’s revisionist Jesus and the Victory of God prompted a reassessment of Jesus through his painstaking scholarship. Nixey, Boswell and Wright, from their different angles, all offer new perspectives. They may claim more than scholarship completely allows, but they do us a great service.

Our current conversations about sexuality in the Church of England include the claim by some prominent conservatives that progressives are arguing for a change in the teaching of the Church.

So, recent reviews of Vicky Beeching’s Undivided have praised her courage and lamented her treatment, while offering a robust, occasionally sub-Christian, defence of the teaching of the Church. What Nixey and the revisionist historians remind us is that ‘the teaching of the Church’ is not a neutral idea and that the claim that the current teaching of the Church has emerged solely through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is not really tenable. Power, corruption, homophobia, violence and intolerance have also played a part. When we assess the value of the teaching of the Church as a guide to making ethical decisions, we need to set it in a particular context of its emergence within a particular culture, development into doctrine (including the suppression of alternative perspectives and all that implies for the treatment of human beings), and the way in which that teaching has affected the conduct of those who have followed it.

It is an unusual development in the current Church that Evangelicals are using the more Catholic approach of arguing against the goodness of same sex relationships by appealing to ‘the teaching of the Church.’ If they are to do that, then it is important that they accept the negative side of that appeal, the dark side of the development of particular doctrinal and ethical positions.

Many who now argue for a new approach, like Vicky Beeching, do so out of a deeply negative experience of the effect of the teaching of the Church. Failing to recognise that doctrine leads to actions that are sometimes negative cannot simply be explained away by the sinfulness of those who act; it must recognise that the doctrines and teachings themselves are shaped and emerge through sinful, broken and sometimes deeply destructive periods of Church history by sometimes terrible people.

Doctrine, like history, is written by the winners.

Our commitment to Jesus the Lord of all time requires more than allowing the winners to have the only word. The marginalised are also those whose voices have been silenced by history.

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Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Simon Butler | 2 Comments

Incarnational Truth – The Power of Testimony

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Author of Just Love

Jayne Ozanne (3)

I’ve been reflecting recently about the books that most shaped my youth and which helped give me a glimpse of a God who I was so hungry to know and eager to serve.

I think the three that I remember having the greatest impact were “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson, “God’s Smuggler” by Brother Andrew and “Chasing the Dragon” by Jackie Pullinger.  The latter was recommended to me by a friend at Cambridge who had had the privilege of spending time with Jackie in Hong Kong during his gap year, and who had been “blown away” by her faith and ministry.

Her book had caused a bit of a problem for the Church, however.  Here was a woman who clearly had an incredible call on her life, who had decided to follow that call despite the reaction of those around her – senior church leaders who would not allow her to serve in a leadership role in the Church because she was a woman.

I remember Jackie addressing a women’s meeting at Holy Trinity Brompton in the late nineties and explaining that she in fact hated women’s meetings: “Give me the men any day,” she said, “as they are the ones who need to be challenged about their views of women in leadership!”  We had all laughed, but we knew that what she said rang true – many of us had calls on our lives that were being thwarted by a Church that did not allow women into leadership roles.  So, Jackie encouraged us to just get on and do what God was calling us to do anyway.  For her this had meant getting on a boat and ending up in Hong Kong.  The rest is history.

Her powerful testimony of God at work in her life, as set out in her memoir “Chasing the Dragon”, challenged many.  They could not but see the hand of God blessing her ministry – even if it failed to conform to their understanding of what the scripture had to say about women in leadership.

What she carried was incarnational truth – she was a living witness to the power of God at work in her.  No one could deny that, not even those who were most vocal about the “clarity of scripture” on the matter.  Here was a woman who God was clearly using, a woman who had brought many to Christ, who had founded and led various international ministries, and who was overseeing the work of many men.

She was an exception to their rule – and in being so, brought clearly into the light the fallacy of that rule.  It reminded me beautifully of the teaching that I had had under Stephen Hawking – that the way to disprove any scientific theory is to find a counter example….only one is ever needed.  In this case it was a woman – an incarnational woman – who showed through the power of her ministry and her testimony that God was blessing her and those around her.

Incarnational truth is difficult to argue with.  It’s fact, it’s real and it’s raw.

It’s what Jesus demonstrated to us too.  He came, he lived, he died, he rose again.

His own incarnational truth broke the rules – and as such the Pharisees couldn’t get their heads around it.  They were so intent on holding to their strict interpretation of scripture that they failed to understand the core message of God’s love as revealed by scripture.  Their focus on law rather than love is why they could not see the incarnational truth in the person of Jesus who stood right before them – their Messiah, for whom they longed.

Last week I had the privilege of meeting Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Austin, Texas.  I had wanted to speak to him to thank him for his prophetic role in speaking out for the global LGBTI community, and for his encouragement to us.  Seeing my tears, which appeared from nowhere as I spoke, he climbed over the table that separated us and gave me a huge hug.  Looking me squarely in the eyes he said: “Encourage them to tell their stories, Jayne, for it is that encounter that has the power to challenge and change people.”

I couldn’t have agreed more – what we are each called to do is to share our incarnational truth about who we are, what we are, how we love and how we know that we are loved by God.

It’s what my dear friend Vicky Beeching has done with her book, Undivided, and what I too have endeavored to do with my own recent book, Just Love.  We have dared to tell our stories.  To testify to the work of God in our lives, and the power of His love that has saved us from harmful teachings that have nearly killed both of us.

It’s what we were taught as evangelicals to do – to share our testimony and so witness to the faith that is within us.

It has been interesting to watch people’s reactions.

For many it has encouraged them to tell their stories too, to know that they are not alone, to be reassured that God loves them – just as they are – and that they are beautifully and wonderfully made.

For others it has meant that they have had to defend their rules, to close their eyes to the pain and trauma that these rules have caused, and to negate the truth of those standing right before them saying – this is me, and this is what God has done.

I for one know that the God I serve will take my story, as fallible as it is, and break it (as he did with the offering of five loaves and two small fish) in order to feed many.  He will use it, I pray, to challenge and encourage people, and whether they choose to hear it or damn it, it will be a witness to the power of God at work.

It’s my attempt at telling my story – I wonder, are you able to share yours?

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne | 9 Comments

Tapping Into Love – Democratising Evangelism

By the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool

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Last week the General Synod met to address a wide-ranging agenda which included listening to victims and survivors of abuse, debating the Church’s approach to climate change, to appropriate investment in (or disinvestment from) energy companies, to nuclear weapons, and a large raft of legislative business. In and among all this a debate on evangelism, built around the final report of the Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group, was squeezed out and will be debated at a future Synod, hopefully and presumably in February 2019.
This was a pity, not least for those of us who had prepared for the debate and had written the report on which it was to be based.
I need to declare an interest in all this, as I served as vice-chair of the Evangelism Task Group (ETG), under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I’m so glad to have been asked to serve on the ETG and to have worked with an outstanding group of colleagues from all traditions, whose presence on the group at different times blessed the whole Church. I thank God for every single one of them, and I thank God that in our Church there is a place at the table for them all, for as long as they wish to stay in the room, or to re-enter the room if they’ve left it, so that wisdom and grace may abound.
The motion on evangelism which the Synod hoped to debate asked the national officers of the Church to continue their work of resourcing and supporting Christians in their sharing of the good news of Jesus. This was an excellent thing, as far as I was concerned. I served for six years as the National Mission and Evangelism Adviser in our Church of England, and I am proud to have done so and to have tried to make a difference from that position. I continue to value the work of national officers and of the new and expanded Evangelism and Discipleship Team. So I would have supported the Synod motion.
But as I have reflected on the non-debate, and on the undebated motion, I find myself worrying that it might have deceived the Church into believing that the responsibility for evangelism lies solely with Church House teams and officers and diocesan staff, as if without nationally smart ideas no evangelism can be expected to take place.
It is not so. Evangelism is simple if you do it, as Archbishop Moon Hing said to the Synod from his own experience in Asia. Evangelism happens when people talk. It happens when people talk. Evangelism cannot be delegated upwards. It takes place between friends, across kitchen tables and at school gates and in workplaces, when Christians listen to the ones they know and talk to them about Jesus.
Evangelism, the sharing of good news, happens most especially when there is love; that is when the redemptive love of Jesus is shared by people who have been redeemed, and who (you might say) love large.
Outstandingly the most significant single example of commending the faith in recent memory is the sermon preached by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church at the Royal Wedding. Bishop Michael communicated his humanity and he told the couple, and 1,900 million people besides, that there was power in love, and that Christians were people committed to redemptive love and to justice.
As the Archbishop of York said at the Synod, this came as welcome news to the world. Millions of people did not know that Christian preachers could be human, and they did not know that the Christian faith was about love. Repeatedly in newspapers and magazines Bishop Curry’s message was described as “unorthodox”. Since then, preachers have been invited to be like Bishop Curry. I agree that we should be like Bishop Curry, if that means we communicate who we are as beloved children of God (not pretending to be who he is!) and talk about the love that has made us beloved. As the man said, there’s power in love.
Evangelism is a long, churchy word, and love is a short, everyday one. Evangelism is a blah blah word and love is a real word. I’m afraid people expect blah blah from church people. They don’t expect Christians to talk about love. They think it’s unorthodox. That is a sadness and an indictment of course, but let’s not be too gloomy. We beat ourselves up too much as it is. Instead, let’s look on the bright side;  when we talk about the power of love then people are surprised and they want to hear it. People are glad that love is real. Isn’t that great?
The Washington Post was one of hundreds among the media that reported positively on Bishop Curry’s sermon. This is what they said:
“Based on social media, the reaction to Curry’s sermon showed that it was incredibly well-received, especially by black Americans. But emphasizing the power of love seemed to resonate across countries, races and even political views perhaps because such a unifying message is rarely shared so prominently. And it also possibly connected because the current times are politically divisive, and even violent.
 
Curry spoke for an alternative:
 
“Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way,” he said. “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive.”
 
There is a lot to take away from Saturday’s ceremony, and there will be numerous pieces reflecting on it. But the component of the day that had the greatest potential to connect is that hate will never be an effective approach to righting societal ills. Therefore, tapping into love is worth a try.”
Tapping into love is worth a try, the love that’s “unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive”; as we would say the unique love of Christ that saves the world. Churches that speak of this love are like sprinkler systems on a parched lawn. Suddenly the dry and brown grass becomes green again. Suddenly the dry, harsh, misrepresented, half-forgotten Christian narrative makes sense again. Suddenly the ones on the edge of things realise that they are included. Love makes things work. Love large; love is big. Dante hit the bullseye when he said that it is love that moves the sun and the other stars. Love is as big as it gets. In short God is love, and Jesus is the word of God. As Brian Zahnd puts it, Jesus is what God has to say.
But we must, must, must be clear; if we live as Jesus people and say what God has to say, if we tap into love as the way God is, then people will expect to see love as the way we are.
In his Presidential Address at the recent Synod the Archbishop of York specifically and explicitly reminded the Church that its leaders have committed it to a radical new Christian inclusion. Each of those four words matters. No one of them cancels out the other three. Together they speak of a deeply rooted and refreshed welcome within a changed and changing world. Together they speak of love. There’s power in love.
Becoming a community marked by radical Chrisian inclusion has not been postponed until 2020, or even till next week. Our Archbishops have called us to it now, today, this moment, this breath; this welcome. There will be no evangelism without it. If it’s not radical, not new, not Christian, not inclusion, then it’s not good enough.
In my own Diocese we have a rule of life and each person who commits to it will be committed to prayer and to reading scripture and to living justice and to generosity, but they will also be committed to bringing one friend into the conscious company of Jesus each year. Talking to one, listening to one, bringing one. If that happens it will be because of love, radical, new, Christian, inclusive love, and where that is seen there will be evangelism. There’s power in love.
Can we then democratise evangelism, a radical, new, Christian, inclusive evangelism? Between friends and across kitchen tables and at school gates and in workplaces, can we speak of the love that is for all, of the power of love to embrace and to bless and to redeem the world? Can we tap into Jesus’ love? It’s worth a try.

 

Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. Mobile email.
Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Church of England | 2 Comments

Episcopally Led and Synodically Managed

by Dr Meg Warner, Theologian, Lecturer and Member of General Synod

Meg Warner

In the most moving session of the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England (York, 7-11 July) a survivor of church-related sexual abuse spoke about her experience of reporting the abuse, about the support organisation to which she had turned for care and advice (see details below), and about her more recent work with that same support organisation, helping others who have been sexually abused by clergy. Her presentation was engaging, challenging, and harrowing.

In his introduction to the debate that followed the Bishop of Bath of Wells noted that the final report of IICSA on the handling of sexual abuse claims in a number of institutions including the Church of England was not due to be delivered until 2020. Nevertheless, he said, improving the experience of those survivors of church-related sexual abuse who were brave enough to report their abuse was so urgent that synod ought not to wait, but should begin to take action immediately.

The synod went on to vote overwhelmingly in favour of the motion before it, endorsing priorities for action and calling on the House of Bishops and Archbishops’ Council ‘to ensure that the plan of action is implemented as a matter of priority’.

Here was a good example of synod in action. The bishops and the business committee brought a matter before synod, synod listened and voted.

This debate, however, and particularly the Bishop of Bath Wells’ comments about the 2020 IICSA report,  threw into sharp relief the decision of Business Committee (no doubt supported by the House of Bishops) that the topic of human sexuality will not be included in the agenda of synod before the Episcopal Teaching Document (recently titled ‘Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage’) is published in – wait for it – 2020.

This decision was made despite the fact that more than one Private Members Motion on the subject has attracted the requisite number of signatures to be presented to the synod for debate. It was made despite the fact that provisional synod dates for November that have been in synod members’ diaries for months have been declared unnecessary. It was made despite the fact that the House of Bishops has decided to take no action on the clear request of synod in July 2017 that they sponsor the development of liturgy for welcoming trans people. It was also made despite the fact that this current synod will be prorogued following the July 2020 synod and a new synod, many members of which will not have participated in this synod’s shared conversations, will be formed in November.

LGBTI+ Christians are hurting, and the response of the church has often, if anything, added to their injury. It is absolutely the case that the need of survivors of clergy sexual abuse is urgent, but the need of LGBTI+ Christians is urgent too. By 2020 many more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and otherwise queer Christians, many of them young, will have left the Church of England. Some of them will have self-harmed or committed suicide because their church tells them that their identity is unacceptable to God.

Nevertheless, the business committee will not bring this matter before synod before 2020. The synod will have no further opportunity to listen, and nor will it be seen to be listening.

The House of Bishops and the business committee have either not learned the lesson of the synod’s snub of the House of Bishops in its rejection of February 2017’s take-note debate, or they have learned it only too well, and reasoned that it is not safe to allow the synod to get its hand on this particular subject.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that synod is being very, very carefully managed, so as not to allow it to get too close to controversial issues. These are being deftly kicked into the long grass or, as one synod member put it during the business agenda debate at the beginning of synod, kicked like a can along a road. Either way, synod is not being let loose on them.

General Synod, at its best, is a dynamic and responsible decision maker. We saw that in this synod with a spirited debate on the relative merits of engagement with and disinvestment from energy companies. The Diocese of Oxford had campaigned widely prior to synod, and won much support for its proposed amendment in favour of disinvestment. Synod, however, heard an extraordinary and compelling account of the success of the NIBs and the Ethical Investment Advisory Group in their engagement strategy, so that even before the conclusion of the unusually strong speeches it became apparent to most that many synod members had changed their minds and that the amendment would fail, as it did decisively.

In the investment debate, and even more so in the safeguarding debate, we saw the power of stories to change hearts and minds, especially where the lives of vulnerable people are at stake. The stories of LGBTI+ people will not be heard again by this synod. More’s the pity.

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Meg Warner, Sexual abuse | 3 Comments

Conventional Thinking At Its Best…

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham

Rosie Haarper

It could be so different.

The Royal Wedding will be remembered for many things. If you are a ‘Hello’ magazine reader the dresses might be the thing. If you are interested in young talent then the fabulous cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason is certainly one to watch. Most people in church the day after were talking about Michael Curry and his sermon.

What we didn’t realise was that we got the mild version. At the opening Eucharist of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church we were treated to the Full Monty! We had warmth and humour and of course passion, and he covered a lot of ground, but the take-home message for me was when he described a process we all know so well.

In Curry speak the question was ‘How do we help our folk to throw themselves into the arms of Jesus?’

We usually name that in a less florid way as discipleship. As church leaders tend to do, they got a working group together -at Atlanta airport no less! They worked and worked until finally, said Curry, ‘we realised something. We didn’t need to come up with a new program for the Church. We got programs and there’s nothing wrong, but we don’t need a new program. We don’t need a new program. No. We realised that – wait a minute, we don’t have to do any thing new!

He went on to quote Jesus in Matthew: ‘ “The scribe who is fit for the kingdom goes into their treasure box and pulls out something old that becomes something new.” And we realised that we already have what we need in the tradition of the church going back centuries.’

This, I must confess, was music to my ears.

I’m living with the feeling that as a Church in England we have lost our nerve. Lost our confidence in the treasure we have inherited, and are putting all our money and energy into new programmes rather than breathing new life into the riches of our treasure box.

The scariest aspect of this is that our Crown Jewels are the local parishes. It is there that the life-long relationships are built far more deeply than within the more transient inner city communities. It is there that you road test your faith in real life, because the person sitting next to you in the pew will probably be your neighbour and teach your children at the local school.

There were in fact lots of reasons to love that opening Eucharist. It was inclusive in ways that we haven’t begun to tackle. Musically it was extraordinary. There were traditional hymn tunes but they have given up singing words that are nonsense, so the treasure of great tunes have new life breathed into it with sharp and relevant new words. There was a Latino music group, more folk than worship song and culturally spot on. The language was completely free of the generic ‘man’ and the liturgy moved from English to Spanish in a simple and unforced way. The order of service was entirely paperless -you just took along your iPad or phone and you could have French, Spanish or English.

Worship is simply so much more vibrant when the whole body of Christ is free to belong and engage. It was the first time for many years that I felt that the very concept of a ‘service’ wasn’t terminally ill.

After all that diversity it came as a serious wake up call to go to a seminar run by the Center for Anglican Communion Studies on racism. It is, like safeguarding, like the way we treat LGBTI people, like the everyday sexism in the church, an issue about which we say all the right things, and then nothing changes. Here the take-out sentence was ‘Racism is a spiritual problem – we have been spiritually malformed.’

Frankly I have been saying this for a long time now about our response to survivors in the CofE. We have been trying to solve a spiritual problem with structural solutions. It’s really the same point that Michael Curry was making. We don’t need more anti-racism programmes, we need transformational change of heart. We need our hearts, not the lawyers to tell us how to respond in a loving way to those we have damaged, and it seems to me we are a long way off that yet.

Some of the racism conversation was shocking and served as a warning for us in our own  country which is undoubtedly becoming more racist.

’We black folk go to church as a matter of survival, said one contributor. ‘ We have this President, we have police we no longer trust not to be violent towards us, and we experience far more overt and gratuitous verbal and physical racism. We need to go to church because even if no-one else is listening, at least God is listening.’

It is extraordinary how early we internalise this stuff.

There was a classic piece of research. It was run with 5 year old children- both black and white. They were given two dolls, one white and one black and asked to say which one was pretty, which one was good, where did their parents live -and so on. Both black and white children ascribed all the good, positive qualities to the white doll and the bad ones to the black doll.

The Church is made up of the same people as the community, so we transport our prejudice, even when it is unacknowledged or unknown, into our relationships. Where are the black leaders in the CofE either lay or ordained? John Sentamu has ticked that box but it doesn’t let us off the hook, especially as far a black women leaders are concerned.

It is indeed a spiritual problem. A very simple one.

God looked at what he had created and saw that it was good. That gives us absolutely no wriggle room to leave anyone on the fringe. Not someone who is gay, not someone who has been abused, not someone who is black.

The CofE have just kicked the debate about the full inclusion of LGBTI people into the long grass. What is really wrong is that there has to be a debate at all. It’s as if we are saying: This is our party and we will consider whether you might get an invitation. Terms and conditions apply.

In fact it is God’s party and everyone is invited on a completely equal basis.

 

Posted in Church of England, Human Sexuality, James Woodward, Rosie Harper, Social Justice | 4 Comments

Are We Truly a Church “Of the People”?

by the Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge

 

Jeremy Morris

With the Grenfell inquiry under way, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) about to resume its hearings, the ongoing Windrush controversy, and the aftermath of the report of the Gosport Independent Panel – to name but some current stories – once respected or even ‘cherished’ institutions (here local government, the Church, the Home Office, the NHS) remain under scrutiny and criticism for having failed people.

It’s probably true that every situation is different.  In the case of the Windrush scandal, a specific political agenda on immigration forced the pace on a policy originally designed to deal with illegal migrants, and in the process trampled on common sense and natural justice.  In the case of incidents dealt with by IICSA, naiveté and the unwillingness to raise difficult questions with colleagues often conspired with ineffective or inadequate processes and – of course crucially – unscrupulous individuals to perpetuate a cycle of abuse and collusion.

But in all these cases, what emerges is nonetheless a common, cultural theme – people who are failed at so many levels or in so many ways experience those in authority as distant, as ‘other’, ignorant often of the real conditions in which people live and struggle, and unconcerned about them.

It’s particularly distressing, for those of us who are supposed to be ministers of the Gospel, to think that this is how people see the Church.  Of course, the Church isn’t the clergy – it’s everyone, and not just those who think they are members (I’m reminded of those challenging words of Augustine, “in the ineffable foreknowledge of God many who seem to be outside are within: while many who seem to be within are outside”).  And that’s got to be right – indeed, we have to reverse the common assumption that to join the clergy is to ‘enter the Church’.  So those who are visibly and identifiably representatives of the Church, in a paid role perhaps, or at least a role with managerial responsibility, should be those we think of in the last breath as ‘the Church’, rather than the first.

And, again, we can say that the Church is a mixture of the divine and the human – the divine, as Jesus’s body in the world, a means of grace, a vehicle for the Word, or however we might articulate the idea, and the human, as the sheer messy, confused, sinning, and constantly failing stuff of humanity.  But these considerations do not affect – well, in fact they underline – the thought that it’s especially a matter of concern if the Church, the body of Christ, which in Vatican II parlance is ‘the whole people of God’, is spoken of and regarded as something set apart from those who make up its members.

When– as a young man – I was influenced a lot by the work of Marxist or New left historians such as E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill, I found the distinction between ‘institutions for’ and ‘institutions of’ useful.  To be ‘for’ is obviously not the same as to be ‘of’.  Middle class philanthropy was ‘for’ the working class, but it did not originate with the people and emerge from them – it was not ‘of’ the working class.  Trade unions were both ‘for’ and ‘of’ the working class.  Certain kinds of right-wing organization, so it was argued, might very well be ‘of’ the working class, but were not obviously ‘for’ them.

It’s easy to see how the Church is an organization for people.  It exists to serve them, to bring the light of the Gospel to them, to feed them spiritually, and materially if necessary, to nurture them through life from birth through marriage and human relationships to death, to teach them, to support them, and so on.  If it is too narrow or sectarian in its understanding, it becomes an institution for some people – it sets itself too restricted a goal, too unambitious a sense of the scope of God’s love.  Therefore we ought to say the Church is a Church for the people.  The Church exists to serve everyone; no one is automatically excluded from the scope of God’s love.

But the Church should also be of the people.  It should not be set apart from them, or set over them, or aloof from their lives and their concerns.  It needs to be right down amongst them, indeed composed of them and emerging from them.  It needs to live with them and amongst them, because it is, or should be, them.  Of course that doesn’t exclude the rich and famous, the middle class professionals (like me, obviously), because these are all people too, and the Church is also there for them, though it is plainly of them anyway.  But it cannot be the Church for the people realistically if it is only a Church of some people, or at least of a certain kind of person.

Anglicans in particular like to pride themselves on being there for everyone, and it’s true that having the parish system, and having resident clergy in areas of deprivation as well as wealth is a step – perhaps a big one – towards being a Church of the people.  But let’s no fool ourselves about that.  The Church of England might be spread over the country, but it’s spread incredibly thin in places, almost to vanishing point.

And of course it’s not easy to be of the people, not least because the Church is a complex institution and it needs theologians, educators, financial managers, specialists in a wide range of fields including mission, safeguarding, human resources, law, architecture, and overseers (bishops), and almost invariably these people are recruited from the educated and financially secure.  We want competent, experienced and well-trained people in key positions – but that means, if we’re not careful, we’re caught up in the cycle of affluence, education and opportunity that facilitates the rise of a few but excludes the many.  Try how we might – we have a system of lay involvement in decision-making, we have programmes of positive or affirmative action, we try to deal fairly and firmly with those who manipulate or abuse our systems – we plainly fail time and again to do much more than nod in the direction of opening the arms of the Church to all.

So what’s to be done?  Lots of practical things have to be done – a whole programme of them, in fact.  So full steam ahead on all fronts!

But there’s always something more fundamental than practical action, and that’s our conviction in the Lord who was ‘despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’.  The Jesus who emerged from the people, and who suffered and was broken as a common criminal, is also the Lord in his Church: in him, all human life is offered up to God, and the God who loves all people is therefore of all people as well as for all people.

We should look in the mirror, as a Church, and hope we see Jesus looking back at us.  If we don’t, we’re in trouble.

 

Posted in Church of England, Jeremy Morris, Social Justice | 3 Comments

Synod Goes Nuclear

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

In its almost fifty year history, there have been just a tiny number of occasions when the General Synod of the Church of England has been able to host the debate that the rest of society, including the political establishment, has been failing to have. Faith in the City is perhaps the best remembered example, when a well written and deeply researched report challenged both church and society to respond to the increasing impoverishment of both our inner cities and our outer estates. From that same era, with the Cold War between East and West still raging, and MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, as the basis for our defence policies, came a report entitled “The Church and the Bomb”. Both were highly controversial at the time, the Church being accused of meddling in politics by those who disagreed with the thrust of the reports, yet their fates were almost complete opposites. Faith in the City helped inspire a generation of responses to poverty, by both church organisations and wider society. By contrast, almost any attempt during the intervening decades to even discuss nuclear weapons has been at best ignored. So I’m delighted that space has been set aside next weekend for a serious Synod debate about this long neglected, but vitally important, topic. 

I’m a pragmatist at heart. If, on the balance of the evidence, our possession of nuclear weapons makes the risk of war much lower, and markedly reduces the likelihood that others will use such similar armaments as they possess, then I would consider them both moral to possess and a justifiable expenditure of the large amounts of the money we pay in our taxes for them. Given the risks such weapons present, and their huge cost at a time when money is short for many important other causes, I would have expected the arguments to be set out with similar seriousness and frequency to that with which we determine and revise our national position on matters from health and education to who runs our trains. Yet the silence has been deafening.

 

In fact it has been more than just silence. When the House of Bishops suggested, in the midst of a Pastoral Letter ahead of the 2015 General Election, that parties should debate their stance on Britain’s possession of nuclear arms, the response of many in the media and political world seemed to be that anyone doing so must be both a confirmed abolitionist and deeply unpatriotic. It was a reaction that first shocked me, and then convinced me that the need for a proper, informed debate was more urgent than ever.

 

Moreover, I was left with a feeling that perhaps the reason why nuclear weapons are not debated in public is because their justification is not actually about the defence of the realm at all, but something more visceral and far less worthy. In a Britain that has now long lost its Empire, and which struggles to keep up with the pace of development and growth in much of the rest of the world, do we cling to our bomb as some kind of status symbol; that in possession of this horrific armament, if in nothing else, we remain high in the Premier League?

So I’m looking forward to a reasoned and well argued Synod debate. One where the best of arguments around the role of nuclear weapons in both the world and in Britain’s armoury will be deployed and tested. One where the Church of England can show that, irrespective of the particular views of individual members on the subject, we are all passionate about the wellbeing of our country and its role for good in the world. Which is, after all, what true patriotism is about.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Church of England, Social Justice | 6 Comments