This important message to the Anglican Church in Canada from a group of ordained Deacons of that Church emphasises their view of how the Church ought to respond to the failure of a recent move of its General Synod (by a Minority Vote) to amend the Marriage Canon to allow for the Marriage of Same-Sex persons in Church.
Noting that the decision was followed immediately by a document issuing from G.S.: ‘A Note to The Church’; the ADC recognises the encouragement of the ‘Note’ to allow bishops, and congregations in their charge, to make their own decision about the pastoral needs of their members who want to open up the biblical concept of covenantal relationship in marriage to include intentional life-long partnerships by same-sex couples.
The ‘mixed-message’ emerging from the Canadian General Synod expresses a need to accommodate those (a minority) whose theological integrity will not allow them to alter the disciplinary Marriage Canon – while yet acknowledging the need – in today’s society – for a more pastoral approach towards those in the Church (the majority) who believe the Canon to be out of date with a pastoral call for inclusion in the total sacramental life of the Church (including the sacrament of Marriage) of ALL THE BAPTISED.
This latter understanding seeks to put aside the former constraints against the full inclusion of all God’s children in the life and ministry of the Church – putting Grace above the Law, where human thriving is at stake. This attitude matches that of the redoubtable Apostle St. Paul, who declared that: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female… but ALL are born of the One Spirit (in Christ Jesus)”
This lovely reflection of a contributor to the U.S. ‘National Catholic Reporter’ – on the need to live between the iconic authority of the Church and the reality of life as it is lived in this day and age – re-ignites my own clear understanding of the place of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Church and the World of his own day, in 13th century Italy. The influence of Francis, however, has a legitimate and much needed call upon today’s Church and society at large. It is, therefore, very important to try to understand why the present Pontiff – the Head of the Roman Catholic Church – himself a Jesuit, should elect to serve under the patronage and titular influence of of Saint Francis of Assisi, rather than that of Saint Francis Loyola, the well known Jesuit Saint.
St. Francis’ preoccupation with the simplicity of life and its consequent need to acknowledge humanity’s place in the care of, and reverence for, the many-splendoured acts of God in Creation, led him to forake the ‘Easy Life’ of a merchant prince for a vocation of pointing to the sanctity of our common human nature and our part in fostering the common good – not only of ourselves but of everyone we meet on our journey through life.
My own experience of the Franciscan life in the Society of Saint Francis, as an Aspirant and Novice in the Anglican Church of Australia and New Zealand; led, eventually, to my renewed aspiration to a vocation as a priest outside of that Community. I had felt that, by actually living in Community, I was being prepared for a wider calling to bring the Franciscan ethos into a wider context in the Church and the world outside of Community.
In my first parish, I helped to raise up a band of Franciscan Companions (supporters of SSF and with a common cause) whose main preoccupation was to support the Daily Mass in our local parish church – from which we went into the local community with various projects designed to bring people to a better understanding of God in Creation. In that specific context – although I was still a celibate priesit – I was led into a life-long partnership in marriage to Diana, at that time a widow with 2 young children, so that my priestly title of ‘Father’ became a secular reality with my ‘adoption’ of two lively young children.
I still consider myself – at the age of 90 – to be a Franciscan in spirit, believing that St. Francis has accompanied me on my life’s journey – especially in my continuing vocation as a priest in God’s Church – with a yearning for human thriving, a reverence fo all creation, and justice for ALL people. Deo Gratias!
In this latest offering from C. o E. General Synod member Jayne Ozanne’s FaceBook page we have a theological contribution from an English cleric, whose rationale for a covenanted Same Sex relationshi akin to Marriage is quite compelling. I note just one instance of this theory: When Scripture describes the whole human family in the Church – both female and male – as ‘The Bride of Christ’ – a reference to the fact that, as Saint Paul tells us: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female….” Also, there are special same-sex relationships in the Bible that most people are familiar with that need to be taken into account when discussing such matters as marital covenants.
This latest news from the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, written by the former Dean of Durham, Fr. Michael Sadgrove, comes at a time when the Anglican Church in Canada is still dealing with the failure of its recent General Synod to go ahead with a proposal to change its Canon of Marriage.
Although the Canadian House of Clergy and the House of Laity both reached comfortable majorities in favour of the change; the Motion failed through not reaching a two-thirds majority in the House of Bishops. However, the General Syney issued a special ‘Note To The Church’ that, because the Canadian Canon does not specify the requisite gender qualification as being ‘male to female’, this does leave a legal way of individual bishops and diocesan synods in the Anglican Church in Canada to authorise their own rites of marriage for same-sex couples.
This has been offered as a ‘Pastoral Response’ to those dioceses and bishops who intend to go ahead with Equal Marriage in the Canadian Anglican Church.
The problem in the U.K. is that the Book of Common Prayer specifically mentions the different gender identification required of the participants (male and female) in order to qualify for a Christian Marriage. Consequently, any Anglican Church depending on the use of the BCP Marriage Rite for authorisation of its marriage celebrations will be bound by that premise – unless and until other, alternative, marriage rites are authorised by the local bishops.
The rhetoric employed by opponents of same-sex marriage in the Anglican Communion has reached a new stage. To be sure, there is nothing new about the political manoeuvrings in Canadaprior to its General Synod this summer, or at the international level in anticipation of Lambeth 2020. What is new, however, are signs of lost confidence in standard arguments against homosexuality among thoughtful conservative evangelicals.
It is particularly striking to note the extent to which some opponents tie themselves in knots as they seek to prop-up the case against same-sex marriage, even as the theological foundations of the “traditional” position erode around them.
A case in point is a recent blog by Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto, and a colleague of mine in the Toronto School of Theology. Radner’s address leaves me pondering the current state of evangelical Anglican opposition to same-sex marriage. There is evidence that evangelicals like him are experiencing theological disarray, even as they are intensifying their political mobilisation within the churches of the Anglican Communion. I’ll turn to Radner’s argument shortly, but first I want to offer some observations about this trend in evangelical Anglican theology that sets Radner’s approach in a wider context.
Symptoms of theological disarray
Signs of dis-ease over the theological stability of the case against homosexuality have been in evidence for some time. At the outset of the twenty-first century , the British theological ethicist Oliver O’Donovan acknowledged that it had become problematic to claim that the Bible unambiguously rejects homosexuality. The “theological weight” of the debate over homosexuality, he writes, “cannot rest wholly upon biblical exegesis.” Why? Because of the complexities surrounding the exegesis of the seven “controversial texts” that may ― or may not ― refer to what today we mean by the word “homosexuality.” As O’Donovan puts it: “Faced with yet another attempt to get at the meaning of arsenokoites by philology, I cry: Enough!” For this influential evangelical, Scripture does not seem to speak sufficiently clearly and definitively when it comes to same-sex relationships.
Also striking is the obvious discomfort that many evangelical Anglicans express in the face of the blatant homophobia and persecution suffered by LGBTQ peoples. Robert Song laments the way that “the churches now give the impression to many … to be positively immoral [for]their perceived persecution of gays and lesbians.” For him, this has become a form of “anti-witness.” Mark Vasey-Saunders goes even further, arguing that LGBTQ peoples have been used as a “scapegoat” for a “deeper crisis of identity within conservative Christianity.” According to him, “evangelicals have been acting out of fear for some time on this issue, for reasons that go largely unexamined.”
Where have such concerns left conservative evangelical Anglicans who remain uncomfortable with the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church? Unwilling to assert the anachronistic view that Scripture is clearly against the contemporary concept of “homosexuality,” while at the same time concerned to avoid the “scandal” and “anti-witness” of overt “homophobia,” their tactic has shifted to express “love” and “pastoral concern” for LGBTQ Christians, while insisting that marriage must be restricted to a man and a woman.
This is a striking change of strategy on the part of Anglican opponents of LGBTQ inclusion in the church. But how coherent and compelling is it ― on biblical and theological grounds? Not very, as is evident in the attempts of Ephraim Radner to suture a disintegrating coherence in evangelical theology’s approach to homosexuality.
On Radner’s “On Christian Marriage”
Radner’s position sits within the trend of self-described evangelical Anglicans who at least implicitly appear to accept that the debate over homosexuality cannot be settled solely through biblical exegesis, while expressing a desire to avoid demonising LGBTQ persons. Like O’Donovan, Song and Vasey-Saunders, he offers accounts of gay people he knows and likes, and he publicly accepts that LGBTQ people can be members of Anglican congregations. Where he draws the line, however, is at Christian marriage. The reasons for doing so, however, are both intriguingly novel ― itself a remarkable accomplishment in the context of a well-travelled conversation ― and astonishingly obscure.
It is difficult to distil the case he makes in “On Christian Marriage,” but the basic account runs as follows. The “essence” of marriage, according to Radner, is that it is the way in which the human flesh of Jesus Christ was brought into being. Without the existence of this specific human flesh ― the product of specific acts of human procreation ― the Incarnation could not have occurred. As Radner writes, “Without marriage of man and woman, no Messiah.” For this reason, he continues, marriage is “not just a practical arrangement between human beings,” but “it is about how the Messiah comes into his flesh,” and thus determines how “the Church come[s] into the flesh of the Messiah.”
Perhaps this summation is enough to illustrate why, when I first heard this argument in a public address, I had trouble tracking its logic. For, when Radner writes, “what it means for God to become a human being” entails that God comes “that way, just like us,” he is leaping over several inconvenient details.
First, there is a causal fallacy in the emphasised phrase, “that way.” For while it is true that all human beings are products of the procreative combination of male and female gametes ― Radner makes much of gametes ― it’s been rather conclusively substantiated that marriage isn’t required to achieve this. Yet Radner implies that the fact that eggs and sperm are necessary ingredients for reproduction renders the Incarnation of Jesus dependent upon the genealogical accounts in Scripture (“the way Adam [the first Adam] moves to Adam [the second Adam]”). However, while the humanity of Jesus is clearly linked to the reproductive cycles of human life, if Radner really wants to emphasise the biological processes here, it does not follow that marriage is an essential component of this ― but only copulation.
Second, there are some inconvenient details in the birth narratives in the Gospels that problematise Radner’s argument. The first chapter of Luke suggests that Mary wasn’t married when her pregnancy is announced by the angel Gabriel. As such, any theological use of the genealogy rehearsed in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel ― which progresses from Abraham to Joseph the husband of Mary ― must take account of this fact. Moreover, in the biblical account, Joseph can at best be described as the step-father is Jesus. As such, Jesus belongs to this genealogy only by adoption, but not biologically.
It’s puzzling, therefore, that Radner essentially describes this genealogy as the assembly line of the flesh of the Incarnation. Although Radner does gesture at dealing with the notion that Jesus was “born without a human father,” it is only by asserting that the virgin birth “is jumping right in the middle of redemptive genealogy.” All I could make of this statement is that he is suggesting that it’s the exception that proves the rule ― hardly a compelling treatment of the biblical record.
There are additional puzzling surface details in Radner’s defence of the priority of heterosexual marriage in the church (for example, his suggestion that Paul views marriage as a sacrament, which is both anachronistic, but also biblically inaccurate). Yet more significant are deeper theological problems. By seeking to prioritise marriage, Radner essentially divinizes it. It is not simply a “good” or a “gift” from God; it is the “vehicle” of “the divine flesh coming into the world.”
I don’t generally describe myself as a Reformed theologian, but I’ve read enough Calvin and Barth to be deeply uncomfortable with Radner’s emphasis on this point. Is it really appropriate ― biblically and theologically ― to suggest that God needs the institution of heterosexual marriage to conduct God’s work of salvation?
Anticipating that Radner might respond by suggesting that God doesn’t need the “instrument” of marriage, but merely chooses to use it, I expanded my investigation in search of clearer understanding. This led me to an address from 2017, “Talking about how to talk about homosexuality.” Part lament over social change, part nostalgia for the nuclear family ― which is, one might recall, a rather modern development ― the core of this article doubles-down on the theological weight Radner ascribes to heterosexual marriage.
The argument is far from a sentimental portrait of romantic human relations. Whereas in “On Christian Marriage,” Radner suggests that “desire, affection, cohabitation, fidelity” are not essential to marriage because its raison d’être is solely procreation, in the “Talking about” article, Radner describes all of creaturely existence as follows: “everything we have to say about the use of our bodies is also defined by this birthing, conceiving, and dying movement.” He continues, “how our lives are genealogically ordered in struggle, suffering, love, and final endings constitutes the shape of our creaturely character.” Radner highlights what he takes to be the theological significance of this perspective: “this is Jesus’s own life, the life God himself took on.”
In my view, this is not biblical but natural theology. It is a vision of the Christian life based on the rhythm of creaturely procreation and mortality. The “shape” of human life is not described as being rooted in one’s relationship to God and to one’s neighbours, but merely according to one’s biological temporality. According to Radner, human beings are merely “creatures who are part of a network of generations.” While I’ll grant that I’m shaped by my ancestors, surely this has to do with more than gametes; surely the patterns of relations, the lives modelled, the affections shared, all represent a more significant “network” that has formed me than the mere biological “flesh” that I inherit.
An understanding of human life rooted in Christian anthropology, it seems to me, offers a very different understanding than that offered by Radner. A theology of the shape of Christian life should be defined by Christ and the Trinity. As Kathryn Tanner puts it, “United by Christ through the workings of the Spirit, our lives … are to be formed according to the mode of Jesus’ own life.” Such a perspective “understands God as the source and securer of good gifts.” According to Tanner, it is thus not “genealogy” ― that is, procreation in the context of heterosexual marriage ― that constitutes the pattern of creaturely existence, but rather our imitation of “the way that Jesus is constituted,” and “the way that Father, Son, and Spirit are constituted as the ones they are in virtue of their relations with each other.”
Moreover, if the Christian life has to do less with conforming with our “flesh,” but rather with living according to the spirit of the pattern of relations modelled by Jesus (Romans 8:5), then surely LGBTQ people are as capable of taking up this form of life as anyone else, including in the context of Christian marriage. The key to the Gospel is the “saving relation” to Christ, not our biological genealogy.
If it is correct to understand Scripture and doctrine to be teaching that human relations ought to reflect the structure of God’s own relationship with us, then in the two articles under consideration, Radner has things backwards. He would have the Incarnation of Christ conform to the structures of human existence, rather than understand the “essence” of human existence in terms of the movement of divine love modelled to us by the divine triune persons. Christ’s flesh defines out flesh, not the other way around.
Thus, although I disagree profoundly with Radner’s position, after wrestling with it I am left baffled and bemused, rather than annoyed. How can such an accomplished theologian write, unabashedly, that “the Christian church’s role … is to embody and enact the forms of creaturely life that define genealogical faithfulness.” Really? The function and mission of the community of the disciples of Jesus is to safeguard heterosexual marriage? This is a far cry from Micah’s definition: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8); nor does it resonate with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11), the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16-20), or Paul’s description of the identity of the baptised (Galatians 3:28).
Hope and persistence
I could go on, but I trust the point is clear: Ephraim Radner’s definition of the church of Christ and its mission strays quite some distance from both Scripture and the theological tradition. When God’s very capacity to dwell among human creatures is said to be dependent on the patterns and rituals of heterosexual marriage, evangelical theology has arrived at a rather curious place.
Radner, like some of his fellow conservative evangelicals, appears to articulate a position against same-sex marriage that is in search of a theological rationale. Arguments such as his leave me with the impression that, when it comes to human sexuality, evangelical Anglican theology is currently in disarray. I’ll refrain from speculating on the reasons for this. Instead, I simply highlight how unfortunate this is, since tensions in the Anglican Communion are high, and militants are mobilising for a fight.
Granted, conservative evangelical Anglicans don’t have a monopoly on confused and confusing theological arguments. So perhaps the most faithful response I can offer to Radner’s article is to conclude that it’s time for me to call up my learned colleague and ask him whether we can together revisit the debate over the meaning of arsenokoites. Hope and persistence, after all, are Christian virtues.
Christopher Brittain is the Dean of Divinity and Margaret E. Fleck Chair in Anglican Studies at Trinity College, the University of Toronto.
Looking into the area of ethics concerning the various views on the prospect of Same-Sex Marriage in the Anglican Communion, I came across this article from Canada’s Trinity College Faculty of Anglican Studies at the University of Toronto, by the Dean of Divinity, Christopher Brittain.
The author mentions another Anglican theologian, Ephraim Radner, whose own stance in the arguments about SameSex Marriage – though based on what might appear to be a ‘Sola-Scriptura’ view, is (to the author) somewhat ‘in disarray’.
Brittain’s own view is that Radner is actively seeking a ‘theological rationale’ against the concept of S/S Marriage – a situation that does little to clear the air on what would seem to be either a way forward, or a step away from, the wholesale adoption of this burgeoning situation in the Church. The Anglican Church of Canada is shortly to further debate this issue in its forthcoming General Synod.
(My wife, Diana, and I will be sunning ourselves on the North Queensland coast of our neighbouring Island over the month of July, so I will not be posting on this blog – kiwianglo – for a little while. Blessings, Fr. Ron.)
Pope Francis greets indigenous representatives in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, on Jan. 19, 2018. Standing with thousands of indigenous Peruvians, Francis declared the Amazon the “heart of the church” and called for a threefold defense of its life, land and cultures. (AP/Rodrigo Abd)
The synod of bishops on the Amazon, which will meet in Rome this October, will discuss the possibility of ordaining married men in the Catholic Church, according to the working paper released June 17 by the Vatican.
The synod, called by Pope Francis to deal with issues facing the church in the Amazon area, will focus on protection of the environment and the church’s ministry to indigenous people, which necessarily includes talking about the shortage of clergy in this vast region.
The proposal to be discussed in October would be the possibility of ordaining “viri probati,” or mature married men, in exceptional situations. Many of these would probably be married deacons who already have some training.
This is the first time in centuries that the Catholic Church has put the topic of married clergy on the agenda of an international meeting of bishops.
For about half its history, the church did permit married priests. According to tradition, all the Apostles were married except St. John.
The rule of celibacy was gradually imposed, although even today there are exceptions. Married Protestant ministers who become Catholic can be ordained. In addition, Catholic clergy from Eastern churches, like the Ukrainian Catholic Church, have always been permitted to be married before ordination.
Celibacy is not dogma; it is a legal requirement that can be changed.
It has been an open secret that bishops in the Amazon area have raised the issue of married priests with the pope because they have huge dioceses with few priests. Although Francis places a very high value on celibacy, he is also a pragmatist who recognizes that indigenous communities are being denied the Eucharist and the sacraments because they don’t have priests.
After all, which is more important, a celibate priesthood or the Eucharist? At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” not “have a celibate priesthood.”
Even so, conservative Catholics oppose the change as against tradition. For conservatives, this is just another example of Francis giving in to contemporary culture.
Limiting ordination to “mature men” is a classic Catholic compromise aimed at limiting the fears of conservatives. The change will be portrayed as limited and exceptional.
But both traditionalists and progressives believe that once ordination is permitted in exceptional cases, it will spread to more and more situations. After all, there are other places in the world that don’t have enough priests to serve Catholics desiring the Eucharist and the sacraments.
Eventually, as in other churches, married clergy will be the norm rather than the exception.
Those who believe that ordaining married men will solve all of the church’s problems have not been paying attention to our sister churches. Protestant and Orthodox churches have many of the same problems as the Catholic Church, including clericalism and sex abuse.
In addition, how is the priestly education of married men going to be conducted and paid for? A married man with kids cannot abandon his family to spend four years in a diocesan seminary. And once he is working in a parish, will he receive a just salary that supports his family? Too many Protestant clergy have incomes so low they qualify for food stamps.
Finally, what about those who are already ordained?
The Catholic Church is following the Orthodox model, which means that the man must be married before ordination. This is currently the rule for Catholic deacons. If a deacon’s wife dies, he is not allowed to remarry. If the same rule applies to priests, we will end up with some priests raising their children as single parents.
Also, there are currently too many priests in relationships with women that should be legitimized out of justice to the women involved, let alone their children. And then there are the thousands of priests who left to get married. How about letting them back into ministry?
All of these issues must be faced, but that does not mean the church should maintain mandatory celibacy. The Catholic Church has a shortage of priests that is not being resolved under the current rule of celibacy. But we need to recognize that along with the opportunities come challenges. Even if the synod votes in favor of ordaining “viri probati,” it will be only the beginning of a process, not the conclusion.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.]
‘Unity in Diversity’ has long been a claim of the Anglican Church around the world – relating to its breadth of opinions on matters of liturgical and social issues that occur within the different national and international congregations, families and constitutions of its provincial life.
Other parts of the Body of Christ – amongst our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Free Church sisters and brothers in Christ – once thought to be singularly isolated in their separate faith enclosures; are increasingly realising the diversity that exists within their own communities.
For some time now, in the Roman Catholic Church – with the disinclination of young men to dedicate themselves to life-long celibacy as ministers of the sacramental life of the Church – there has been pressure from the laity to promote the idea of a new outlook in the Church towards the ordination of married clergy, in addition to the traditional cadre of celibate priests whose numbers have suffered a decline.
Now the Vatican is looking towards the possibility of allowing for the ordination of men who are already married, in situations where the paucity of celibate vocations to the priesthood has brought about a severe shortage of sacramental ministry in places where the Catholic community is strongest.
In many countries of the global South there is a cultural pressure for men to be married, in order to provide for the ideal of family life that is an expectation of the indigenous people. Celibacy, in such communities, has long been thought to be a denial of the God-given faculty for reproduction. The words: “Be fruitful and multiply” – a biblical injunction – seems to have been overlooked by the Church in order to sustain its need for a ritual purity on the part of its clergy.
For instance, bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in countries of South America – where Pope Francis was once a Cardinal-Archbishop – have long been pressing for a change in the rules requiring celibacy as a primary virtue of Catholic priesthood. It is this new movement in the Church in the Amazon Basin that has occasioned the openness on the part of Pope Francis and the Vatican to discussion on this subject.
Of course, as we Anglicans are aware, there are married priest already ministering in Roman Catholic parishes around the world – where former Anglican Clergy who are married have been re-ordained into the Roman Catholic Church in order to administer the Sacraments in parishes where the shortage of celibate clergy is most acute. Their suitability for ordination in the R.C. Church was based on their isolated opposition to the ordination of women in their own Church. However, for whatever reason they were ordained; the Roman rule of celibate clergy in no longer absolute – prefiguring, perhaps, the willingness of Rome to extend the Sacrament of Holy Orders to married men in their own Church in places of sacramental need.
Sacred Circle as it met in 2018. Photo by Matt Gardner
When members of General Synod gather in Vancouver this July, they will vote on an amendment that could give life to a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.
The proposed amendment to Canon XXII would allow the National Indigenous Ministry to make changes to matters specified by the canon without consulting General Synod; bestow the title of archbishop upon the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop (NIAB); make the NIAB a voting member of Council of General Synod; and change Canon III to specify that “the Primate is always an invited guest at the Sacred Circle, and has voice but no vote.”
These are the institutional means that would lay the foundation for a self-determining Indigenous church. But what would self-determination mean for Indigenous Anglicans and the church as a whole? And how might it help the church to move forward in its journey to reconciliation?
“People often misinterpret what we’re doing as an attempt at independence, away from the church,” National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald says. “We really wish to become an Indigenous expression of the church, and we are only asking for the freedom and dignity that other Anglicans already enjoy.”
As a result of colonization, he suggests, Indigenous people have been denied the ability to receive and live the Word of God, due to the imposition of foreign ways for dealing with the incarnation of the Word.
Self-determination, MacDonald says, is “not a move away from the church, but a move to become more deeply involved in the church from an Indigenous perspective.”
The basic tenets for a self-determining Indigenous church are laid out in the document “An Indigenous Spiritual Movement: Becoming What God Intends us to be,” presented at Sacred Circle 2018. The document presents a vision of a church led by Indigenous people and grounded in gospel-based discipleship, translating the essence of the Christian faith into Indigenous languages and cultural practices.
Sacred Circle, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and the Office of the NIAB represent the beginnings of the structure for a self-determining Indigenous church. While Sacred Circle would have its own constitution and policies, the self-determining church would give priority to the local level, allowing each congregation and community to operate in their own way and in their own time.
“Right now, we’re trying to develop a ministry basically from the ground up,” Bishop Larry Beardy says.
“We need clergy on the ground, and we need clergy that are stipendiary clergy. We need to organize at the local level where our people will take over [our] own local ministries. The ministry will address a healing process for our people, from the effects of things like residential schools and abuses within the church.”
In moving towards self-determination, Indigenous Anglicans in Canada will draw on precedents both internal and external. MacDonald compares the self-determining Indigenous church to the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh (ISMM), albeit “in a broader scope”, including the ISMM while expanding its work to other places.
As leader of the ISMM, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa views the establishment of the first Indigenous diocese in 2014 as one of the earliest expressions of Indigenous self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada.
“As a bishop, the creation of ISMM was a fulfillment of the elders’ vision, and that was a joy to see that,” she says. “Congregations and communities can speak their own language in conversing with the diocesan office. Having one of their own as bishop on the ground is very sacred for them. This is not to say that they do not welcome their non-Indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ to their midst.”
Mamakwa says she sees a self-determining Indigenous church as “part of the Communion, but with its own identity as ‘Indigenous’ using its own traditions, structures and governance as handed down by our elders.”
“Having a self-determining Indigenous church is important for our church to move forward in its journey towards reconciliation because in any reconciliatory work, changes need to take place,” she adds. “What hurt before needs to be removed and not repeated.”
One precedent outside of the Canadian church for Indigenous self-determination is the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP).
Since 1992, the ACANZP has established a parallel leadership model based on three tikanga or cultural streams—Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, each with its own primate. The three primates share authority for the ACANZP. The church constitution guarantees “the right of every person to choose any particular cultural expression of their faith.”
Bishop Kito Pikaahu, general secretary of the Anglican Indigenous Network, says that the revised constitution “gave priority to hearing the voices of all partners equally. That led to the empowerment and advancement of the whole Body of Christ, especially the weak and marginalized, in a spirit of generosity, hospitality, mutuality and reciprocity.”
The three-tikanga system, Pikaahu says, benefits the area of mission and evangelism. The revised constitution “provided for the election and consecration of Māori to Māori bishoprics with their own episcopal authority, independence and jurisdiction within clearly defined boundaries. This enabled the bishops and their synods to determine their own strategic mission and ministry imperatives.”
Since the ACANZP established the three tikanga-system, the church has periodically reviewed its constitution. In 2001 and 2010, it reported on progress that had been achieved and areas of concern that still needed to be addressed.
Comparing the ACANZP experience to Indigenous self-determination in the Anglican Church of Canada, Pikaahu believes that Canada has “a far better model for an Indigenous church,” noting that while New Zealand has overlapping diocesan boundaries of Pākehā (European-descended settlers in New Zealand) and Māori, Canada largely does not.
Having attended Sacred Circle in 2018, the bishop recalls respectful listening and conversations that suggested an encouraging level of support for the Indigenous church. The ongoing consecration of Indigenous bishops and the active involvement and participation of non-Indigenous bishops suggest that “the Indigenous bishops and the Indigenous church as a whole earnestly intend to include the whole of the Anglican Church of Canada in this reformation or reforming of the church.”
MacDonald echoes the assessment of Pikaahu. Describing the ACANZP as “inspiration to us in many, many ways,” he stresses that while the church in Aotearoa-New Zealand-Polynesia has a parallel structure, “our hope is wanting us to be more a part of the national church.”
As an example of what this partnership will look like, Beardy says that as Indigenous suffragan bishop for northern Manitoba, he currently assists both the bishop of the diocese of Brandon and the bishop of Missinipi in Northern Saskatchewan.
For Beardy, the establishment of a self-determining Indigenous church would mark a watershed moment for Indigenous people and the Anglican Church of Canada.
“I think once that happens, there’s going to be a lot of joy from the people,” the bishop says. “It’s like … coming into the Promised Land to focus on self-determination.”
“We’re coming off colonization with missionaries coming in our area, and we have to deal with abandonment and we’re starting to be self-determining,” he adds.
“It’ll be a process. It might take some time. But I think as a people, as a family, we can walk together and others—not only the Indigenous people, but others in the church also—can become self-determining themselves and a people that serve God, in faith and in love.”
It should not be too surprising that the Indigenous people who are members of the Anglican Church in Canada are moving towards the establishment of their own unique sodality – independent of but also part of the local Anglican Church in their own country.
A parallel with the 3-Tikanga Church of ACANZP (New Zealand and the Pacific) has been established with the presence of the New Zealand Maori Tikanga Bishop, Kito Pikaahu (general secretary of the Anglican Indigenous Network) who was invited to explain how the New Zealand Anglican Church has altered its Constitution to form the 3 separate strands of the provincial Church in New and the Pacific Islands to accommodate the spiritual and cultural differences of each tikanga – Maori, Pakeha and Pacific Islander : –
“Since 1992, the ACANZP has established a parallel leadership model based on three tikanga or cultural streams—Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, each with its own primate. The three primates share authority for the ACANZP. The church constitution guarantees “the right of every person to choose any particular cultural expression of their faith.”
It is important to understand that there was some opposition, at first, to bringing in the 3-tikanga system in ACANZP – in the belief that such a measure would divide the Body of Christ into separate sections competing with one another for identity as fellow Anglicans. However, since the introduction of the measure within our Church (ACANZP), there has been a growing realisation that cultural differences can be a matter for celebration based on mutual respect – rather than a barrier to fellowship within the one Body of Christ.
A celebration of different cultures is necessary, in order to rejoice in the many and varied ways in which our Creator God has seen fit to populate the earth with many different cultures, races and nations; whose multiplicity was intentional from the beginning of the human race of which we are all a part.
The Christian Church – which has just celebrated the Tri-Unity of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – needs to be ready to rejoice in and celebrate its unity in the Universal Church – the Body of Christ – that we all are baptized into and are part of.
Richard Hooker’s engagement with the Puritans has much to teach those who debate scripture today, says John Barton
A 1641 woodcut in a tract which shows the godliness of the Puritan, left, holding his Bible, contrasting with the superstitions preached by Laud and his fellow bishops
RICHARD HOOKER (1554-1600) is known as the great defender of the Elizabethan Settlement of theChurch of England. His work Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity offers a detailed apologia for Elizabeth’s ordering of the Church. Few readers, whether they like or dislike this apologia, have seen Hooker as important for biblical interpretation. Yet he has much to teach us.
Hooker tackled the arguments of opponents from what would come to be called the Puritan Party. Despite its clear Protestantism, the Elizabethan Church continued to have bishops and a hierarchical order. Puritans wanted to replace this with a Presbyterian system, such as prevailed in Scotland. Notable representatives of the Puritan tendency were Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603), and Hooker’s own sometime assistant (Reader) at the Temple Church, Walter Travers (1548-1635).
They maintained that a Presbyterian system of church government was mandated by scripture. Hooker, therefore, had not only to argue from philosophical principles, but also to take a position on how to read the Bible.
Hooker’s arguments, and those of his opponents, were not symmetrical. The Puritans maintained that a Presbyterian order was directly commanded in scripture; Hooker argued that episcopacy was not scripturally mandated, but was acceptable, good, and appropriate. He did not criticise other Churches for having a Presbyterian organisation; he simply denied that it was the only system consonant with the New Testament.
IN ACCORDANCE with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1563), Hooker maintained — in complete agreement with the Puritans — that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought necessary or requisite to salvation”. This is an obviously Protestant principle: nothing may be held to be essential to Christianity, except on scriptural warrant.Advertisement
Sometimes, however, two further but unjustified corollaries were drawn from this scripture principle.
First, the belief that only what is commanded in scripture is mandatory can easily lead believers to think that nothing may be done in the Church unless scripture commands it — a subtly different and much “harder” position.
This desire to derive everything from the Bible leads to a distortion of the Bible. Not every human custom, even in the Church, Hooker argued, needs an explicit scriptural warrant:
“That which they took for an oracle, being sifted, was repelled. True it is concerning the Word of God, whether it be by misconstruction of the sense, or by falsification of the words, wittingly to endeavour that any thing may seem divine which is not, or any thing not seem which is, were plainly to abuse and even to falsify divine evidence; which injury offered but unto men, is most worthily counted heinous.
“Which point I wish they did well observe, with whom nothing is more familiar than to plead in these causes [that is, establishing customs in the Church], the Law of God, the Word of the Lord; who notwithstanding, when they come to allege what Word and what Law they mean, their common ordinary practice is, to quote by-speeches in some historical narration or other, and to urge them as if they were written in most exact form of Law.
“What is to add to the Law of God, if this be not? When that which the Word of God doth but deliver historically, we construe without any warrant, as if it were legally meant, and so urge it further than we can prove it was intended; do we not add to the Laws of God, and make them in number seem more than they are? (Laws III.5).”
“By-speeches in some historical narration or other” sounds quite a shocking way to describe a section of the Bible, and will surely have offended Hooker’s more Puritan-leaning readers. It establishes, however, the central importance in interpreting the Bible of not reading against the grain of the text’s intention. Laws cannot be derived from the occasional speeches of characters in the biblical story.
The question of church order is an adiaphoron: a “matter indifferent”. “Indifferent” does not mean trivial or unimportant, but underdetermined: a matter on which there can be legitimate differences of opinion, because scripture provides no certain ruling.
Yet, it is also a matter on which some definite decision is needed (one cannot both have bishops and not have them), and the powers that be have the authority to make such a decision. What they should not do is to treat their human decision as having the authority of the Bible behind it. They should regard it as a fallible human judgement, made in good faith:
“Sundry things may lawfully be done in the Church, so as they be not done against the Scripture, although no Scripture do command them; but the Church only following the light of reason judge them to be in discretion meet. (Laws III.2).”
A SECOND important point is this: the fact that the Bible contains all things “necessary for salvation” does not logically imply that all things contained in the Bible are necessary for salvation. This tended to be overlooked by Puritans. There can be things in the Bible that do not bear on questions of our eternal destiny, and which ought not to be twisted to force them to do so.
The Bible must be read in accordance with reason — and, indeed, common sense. If we exaggerate the perfection of scripture, we actually do it an injustice. In a central passage, which I have used as a kind of motto for my own book, Hooker teaches that the Bible is honoured more when its limitations are allowed for than when it is elevated above what it can bear:
“Whatsoever is spoken of God, or things appertaining to God, otherwise than as the truth is, though it seem an honour, it is an injury. And as incredible praises given unto men do often abate and impair the credit of their deserved commendation, so we must likewise take great heed, lest, in attributing unto Scripture more than it can have, the incredibility of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly, to be less reverently esteemed (Laws, II.8).”
Christians must be content with an adequate book, containing everything they need, and not hanker after absolute perfection. This was a hard message for many Christians to hear in Hooker’s day, and remains so now. Christians have a natural, and laudable, desire to praise the Bible in superlative terms. To be told that it is merely “sufficient” is not easy. Indeed, for Hooker its sufficiency had nothing “mere” about it. He had no desire to undervalue the Bible, but simply wished to insist that it should be properly valued, not unrealistically overrated; interpreted fairly, not over-interpreted.Advertisement
IN ALL this there are features that Hooker shares with what is nowadays known as biblical criticism. Modern biblical study in a critical mode is, in many ways, a child of the Enlightenment, yet the early-modern Hooker strangely anticipated some of its concerns.
First, Hooker’s reading was intentionalist. He deduced that, sometimes, the intention was that of the human author; sometimes of God; sometimes, mysteriously, of the text itself.
Second, Hooker’s reading was rational. He rejected claims that the true meaning of the text had been miraculously revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Sound reason must be appealed to when undertaking biblical interpretation. Sometimes, he argued, scripture was plain in its meaning, sometimes “more dark and doubtful”, and questions of church order belonged to the dark and doubtful realm.
The meaning could be apprehended only “according to the nature of that evidence which Scripture yieldeth”, and, consequently, “it is not the fervent earnestness of their persuasion, but the soundness of those reasons, whereupon the same is built, which must declare their opinions in these things to have been wrought by the Holy Ghost.”
Third, Hooker, argued, biblical texts must be read in accordance with their genre. Law does not follow from speeches in narrative; psalms do not teach doctrine. The relation of the Bible to faith is an oblique one: many parts of the Bible depend on, or suggest, lines of theological thought, but are not direct sources for the doctrine or practice of Christianity. Attention to genre is arguably the foundation of biblical criticism. It deters the reader from finding simply any kind of meaning in the scriptural text, and encourages attention to what types of information a given text is capable of providing
Hooker is diminished if we read him merely as a polemicist, defending the political and religious settlement of Elizabeth I. He was a significant theologian; but he was also an expert in biblical interpretation.
Canon John Barton is Emeritus Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow, Campion Hall, Oxford. A History of the Bible: The book and its faiths by John Barton is published by Allen Lane at £25 (Church Times Bookshop £22.50) (Books, 5 April, Features, 26 April).
The 2 paragraphs that I have hughlighted in the above article, published in last week’s ‘CHURCH TIMES”, have much to say about the intentions of the famous Elizabethan theologian, Charles Hooker, towards what he saw as a defective attitude of Bibliolatry amongst the Puritan Divines of his day.
Described by thedistinguished author of the article, Canon John Barton, as an early advocate of the discipline of ‘biblical criticism’; Hooker would probably have militated against the ‘Sola Scriptura’ protagonists in today’s world – whose view of the Bible of ‘what the Bible says’ on such matters as its treatment of gender and sexuality seems to exclude any consideration of the effects of sociological and scientific research into these important aspects of human life and relationships in today’s world.
For Hooker, the God-given gift of reason was to be applied to every aspect of daily living – whether moral or spiritual – especially in the light of biblical interpretation, where individual judgement needs to be tempered by both context and tradition. To automatically translate a biblical injunction from a vastly different context into an instruction for moral behaviour in today’s world – Hooker suggests – is to bypass both the individual conscience and the purpose for which the teaching role of the Bible can be respected and offered to citizens of today’s world environment.
Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31 Romans 5: 105 John 16: 12-15
Thank you, Father Chris, for the privilege of presiding at this Mass and preaching on this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. I begin by acknowledging my debt to God for the first 90 years of my Baptism into the Christ we celebrate – by using a prayer from ‘New Daylight’ –
“Father, I am sometimes so conscious of my human weakness. Thank you that your surpassing power in the Holy Spirit is at work in me today, Through Christ my Lord”.
After the excitement of Easter, the Ascension of Jesus and the Feast of Pentecost, we come today to the mysterious and mystical Feast of the Holy Trinity – that Three-Personhood of God that has had theologians scratching their heads to explain what seems, to many people, an amazing contradiction. “How can God, The Creator of All that is, be both One – and three very different persons at the same time?”
The fact is, that from the earliest times of the existence of thinking human beings, there has always been a need to name the source of creation. So that, depending on where human beings existed, there have been local names for the gods they presumed were responsible for their known universe. It was not until the beginning of traditional Judaism that the One True God of the Israelites – who was revealed to Abraham as Jehovah or Yahweh – was recognised.
After Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan by John, when the Holy Spirit hovered over the scene, the voice of God was heard to say “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased – listen to Him”. This was the very first reference in the Gospels to the relationship between God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the human Jesus, the voice of the Father, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
What was later in the Church understood to be the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the Three Personhood of the One True God – was not hinted at in the Scriptures until the end of Matthew’s Gospel revealed these words of Jesus to his disciples, on his last appearance to them before his Ascension: “All authority in earth and heaven has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations. Baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”.
I have said that the idea of a triune God was an unknown factor in the earliest development of what would turn out to be the Judaeo-Christian religion. However, when we look back to the origins of the Creation in Genesis, we read of the time when God spoke the word that brought creation into being. We later read about God breathing the word, so that the word (Jesus) was spoken by the breath of God – which later was referred to as the Holy Spirit. And there we have all three discrete elements or Persons of God present at the dawn of Creation. As John was later to describe in his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus); the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning . Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him”. At the beginning of Creation, then, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
From the very beginning, God was a family – a mystical trio of expressions of the One True God. I find it helpful to remember that there are other instances in the created order that reveal three different properties of the one single entity. E.g. at different temperatures, the single element of water can be rendered into ice or steam – all proceeding from a single source. And if God is the creator of water, which can become ice or steam then why should we question the possibility of God being both three and one at the same time.
However, God has an economy of existence, and there is a reason for this Trinity of Persons – a reason that is only revealed to us a we progress along the way of understanding of who God actually is – for us as individuals, and then as the Body of Christ in the world.We know from the Scriptures that the Father, at a time that He decided, sent his Son into the world to become part of the created order – although his Incarnation was effected – not by the usual means of procreation but directly through the work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. As John tells us in the Gospel, it was by this means that ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And here we have the great paradox of Jesus – that he was both the Incarnate Son of God and – because his flesh was derived from that of his Mother Mary – he also became fully human.
The amazing fact of Jesus’ incarnation meant that, as God became a part of our humanity, so our humanity was raised in dignity to become part of God’s divinity.
As we human beings became part of Jesus Christ in our baptism, so we have already died with him and been brought to life again through his resurrection from the dead. When Jesus took our humanity with him at his ascension into heaven so we have been guaranteed a place with him when we leave this world.
Jesus knew that, because of the trials and temptations we are heir to in this world, we would need his help to make our journey from the cradle to the grave. And as we need food and drink to keep our bodies alive, so we would need the spiritual food that only he could give to sustain us on our spiritual pilgrimage. And this is where the Sacraments of the Church are given to us to partake of – as the catechism tells us – so that we may attain to life eternal that can be found in God.
And this is where the work of the Third Person of the Trinity, is brought into practical use. Jesus told his disciples that he had to return to the Father, and that when this took place, they would send the Holy Spirit, God’s Comforter, to strengthen and sustain us on our earthly journey – an event that was described so vividly in the New Testament readings last Sunday on the Feast of Pentecost. All the disciples were gathered together in one place when tongues of fire appeared on their heads, and they were empowered to preach the Good News of God’s deliverance to everyone in the crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem – each hearing in their own language the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We, through our Baptism and Holy Communion, have been given the ongoing task of not just preaching about but becoming the good news of God’s great love to all humanity, and one of the signs of that in our own community here in Christchurch is that, in the wake of the hateful actions that took place in the Muslim places of worship, there has grown up a new spirit of Unity in Diversity, that Fr. Bosco spoke about last week. An amazing raising up – out of a catastrophic act of inhumanity towards a minority group – of an outworking of love and compassion that could only have been wrought by the Holy Spirit of the God who created us in the divine Image and Likeness of Jesus who died for us all – Christians Muslims, Jews, and every other human being that God has created and will create into the future.
Now to God The Father who created us; to Jesus Christ who has redeemed us; and to the Holy Spirit who strengthens us; be all glory majesty and dominion given as is most justly due, now and through all eternity. AMEN.