From the Observer…

A brilliant letter published last Sunday in the Observer newspaper, which speaks volumes. My interjections in red

Dear Archbishop Rowan,

Even though I’m not sending Christmas cards this year – ran out of time – you are not going to escape my seasonal circular letter. It is filled not with the record of my many achievements, holidays taken, operations survived and the GCSE results of my imaginary children, but instead has a few tidings of great joy, because you seem to need them at the moment.

Yes, trying to please the bigots who cannot be pleased only manages to piss off those of us who up until now had been your greatest supporters.

You sounded a bit down the other day when you were talking to the Daily Telegraph, complaining that our government assumes “that religion is a problem, an eccentricity practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities”. Well, the government is often right about that, so if I were you I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’d be more worried if the government didn’tthink religion was a problem.

Good religion should be dangerous. That’s why the authorities  nail the Son of God to a tree.

The Telegraph came up with more why-oh-why material last week, publishing the results of a survey indicating that only half those questioned in this country called themselves Christian. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that either. God will no doubt cope. Let me draw on the words of the Blessed Ian Dury and give you some reasons to be cheerful: one, two, three.

The first reason is the established Church of England. It’s true, as thatTelegraph survey suggests, that it’s not what it was, and the change has been astonishingly quick – encompassing my own still not over-prolonged lifetime. When my father, an Anglican parson, moved in the mid-1950s to become rector of a little country parish in Suffolk, there were still old ladies who would curtsy to him in the street, just because he was the rector.

Worldly power has gone out of the established church, and that is why so many of its adherents have fallen away. Thank goodness for that; churches never handle power well.

I think the worst part of the Church of England is its ‘established’ nature, if not its status. The Gospel calls us to take a radical position, often at odds with State and Government. I long for us to lose those trappings and be able to work in our communities unfettered by such inhibition.

Think what 1950s England was like when you and I were small boys: the stodgy conformity, the sexual hypocrisy, the complacent, monochrome white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. The Church of England, in its funny, messy, unwitting way, helped us to get out of that – giving vital help, for instance, to the tentative and much opposed moves in that same decade to decriminalise homosexuality. Compare the grim-faced, negative reaction of the Roman Catholic church in Spain in recent years to new freedoms as democratic Spain has thrown off General Franco’s legacy; give public thanks for the Church of England’s bumbling liberalism.

The C of E doesn’t deliver strident moral or doctrinal judgments to make an easy headline. Journalists and broadcasters often sneer at such indecisiveness, even though rarely would they be inclined to subject themselves to any system of moral stridency. The history of Anglicanism is confused and contradictory, and because the C of E never succeeded in achieving the monopoly over national religion that it undoubtedly sought, the church has become an icon of diversity and plurality for the nation.

Its doctrinal statement, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of 1563, is pleasantly anchored in past history, fighting ancient battles. Any Anglican would be happy to acknowledge the importance of such history, while not having to believe personally, for instance, that “the laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death for heinous and grievous offences”. Instead, this established church can be a home for those who go to it to express their doubts as well as their faith. It can be a shelter also for the kaleidoscope of culture, faith and no faith that now makes up our cheerfully diverse nation: an inoculation against the fanatics, both religious and anti-religious.

As the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish withdraw into their own search for national identities, please tell the English, whoever they are, to cherish this ecclesiastical symbol of a rainbow nation. At the moment the English church is afflicted by humourless, tidy-minded souls who want everyone in it to think just like them, and who frequently use the Bible to achieve their aim in the manner of a blunt instrument in an Agatha Christie mystery.

Such a brilliant line – and so true!

Resist them, firm in the faith! Remember what Neil Kinnock achieved against the entryism of Militant in the Labour party of the 1980s. You and archbishop John Sentamu could together witness in the same way for sanity in the C of E.

My second reason to be cheerful is the ordination of women in the Anglican priesthood. Anglicans were the first episcopally governed church grouping to ordain women, way back in the Second World War, in a dire emergency in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong, when the only person available to do one priestly job was a woman, Florence Li Tim-Oi. Loud were the condemnations then, and there has been much angry noise since. But what riches the Church of England has gained since it joined sister-Anglican churches in ordaining women in 1994!

Women priests have faced some extraordinarily childish behaviour from many male counterparts: bullying, condescension and frank undervaluing of their ministry. Besides this has been the glass ceiling that prevented them from being eligible for choice as bishops. Now all that is about to change, and not least among the considerations behind the General Synod’s overwhelming vote for change has been the grace so many women have displayed in the face of masculine bad manners. But there is also an everyday grace that women have brought to the ministry: a general reluctance to join in the theological party strife so common among male clergy, who like nothing better than to line up as Anglo-Catholics or evangelicals, as if they were a set of football hooligans out on the streets after the match.

Guilty. I admit. Always my failing.

Consider, Archbishop Rowan, that one of the most positive images of the Anglican parish priest in the English media is the now evergreen Vicar of Dibley. There’s what the Great English Public think of their women clergy: a bit daft, fond of a box of chocolates or two, but, underneath it all, a source of love and common sense for a community that always has the potential to behave badly. When you think of some of the other stereotypes of priests around at the moment in these islands or beyond, just thank your lucky stars for the folksy silliness of the vicar of Dibley.

My third reason is the election of a bishop in a diocese of the American Episcopal Church in California who happens to be a lesbian. There’s maturity for you. Faithful, seriously worshipping Christian folk have made a free decision in an open election that the best candidate for the job is a woman, who has shown by her decisions in life that fidelity, love and honesty are demanded by her practice of the Christian gospel.

These Californian Anglicans are grown-up enough to believe that it is entirely irrelevant that such fidelity, love and honesty are expressed in a same-sex relationship rather than a heterosexual one. Perhaps they have come to the conclusion that it would be a strange sort of supreme being who cared that much for a particular configuration of genitalia in her servants. <- sounds like it has been lifted straight from one of my sermons

The Episcopal Church of the United States of America has been subjected to continuous abuse and carping from fellow Anglicans, attempted poaching of its churches by dissidents and demands that it curb its understanding of love and sexuality to fit in with the sexual mores of an entirely different society. So American Anglicans have decided that enough is enough: that they should just get on with being Anglicans and elect the best person for the job.

It would be nice if the election of bishops in the Church of England were that democratic and so effectively took into consideration the wishes of all the diocesan faithful. That’s a job to be tackled in Lambeth Palace once the mince pies have gone down and the archiepiscopal sherry decanter put back in the sideboard.

In Portsmouth we pray earnestly for the announcement of a new Diocesan Bishop. We pray for leadership, pastorship and vision and pray that they won’t foist on us one of those who will bully, berate and separate: allow us to minister with our own honesty and integrity, and leave our liturgy alone.

Meanwhile, I hope that you may rejoice at Christmas in this multiform church over which you so graciously and thoughtfully preside – give a welcome to the continuing unobtrusive and untrumpeted trickle of converts, not least from your sister church of Rome, join in the worship at one of your cathedrals, so packed to the gills, so well cared for and cherished as never before in their history, and enjoy the heritage of beautiful music that is one of the treasures of Anglicanism.

The steady trickle FROM an increasingly hardcore Rome TO our lovely little liberal and inclusive Church is noticable. The reverse so boldly trumpeted is/will be almost nothing. Rome misjudged this one really badly.

The Christmas story may be expressed in biblical forms that are not very good history and which some of your congregations may find difficult to take literally, but Christmas music can sweep past the puzzles of words to celebrate a new human life, weak, vulnerable and humble, which is glorified precisely for that. You will know the saying of Thomas Aquinas, which a wise old Dominican friar once quoted to me over a great deal of Irish whiskey, that God is not the answer, he is the question. As long as your church, and all other churches, go on asking the question, they will never die.


Diarmaid MacCulloch is professor of the history of the church at Oxford University. His latest book is A History of Christianity: the First Three Thousand years (Allen Lane). His BBC4 television series on the same subject ended last week.

Bravo: Supporting Gay Young People

There is hope out there. Hope and support for people (and especially young people) who strive to deal with their sexuality.

On a recent Boing Boing Post there was:

a rather amusing video created by a Canadian high-school student titled “Hiding Your Sexual Orientation From Your Parents 101.”

One of the many people who commented on that post was an anonymous commenter who wrote:

Ok, my parents found out i was gay by myspace (which i regret for putting my sexual orientation) and my parents will never accept cause my parents are really realigous for our christianity. They are so realigous, that i’m now homeschooled and going to a private school. Also i have no internet unless for emergencies, no friends houses, no phone, no boy friends til i’m 18. The only times i can get out is to christian youth groups so i have no life for the next 5 years ( cause i’m 13). Oh and my parents think all the wrong things in the world about gays, they even use the gay f word. I need help and i’m typing this from my PS3 cause they don’t know it has internet. HELP!!! =O

It’s hard for jaded internet people like me (Xeni Jardin) to know when someone’s pulling your leg online, but I’ll take this one at face value.

So, Dear Anonymous:

Boy, that sucks. I don’t have a way of contacting you privately, so I’ll say it to the world. You are fine just as you are. There is nothing wrong with being gay, and everything right with being true to yourself, no matter who tries to tell you otherwise. But being gay and a teen is very hard when your family isn’t cool with it. My friend Maggie suggests that you might want to check out these helplines and Web resources, so you can talk to someone who can help you sort stuff out:

♦ (a teen LGBTQ site)
♦ (Web chat based teen counseling service)
♦ (National LGBTQ help center, with phone counseling lines manned by other LGBTQ people. They’ve got a special youth line, online peer support and access to local services and organizations.)

If you are reading this post, Anonymous, I bet some other people will be writing suggestions for other good resources in the comments. Check them out. Good luck. There are many of us in the world who welcome you just as you are. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that who you are is anything less than beautiful.

Keep your head held high, little happy mutant.



It’s a lonely path, but I would want to offer my prayers and support to that young person. God created them. God loves him/her as they are. These are important resources, and I repost them here for any who might stumble upon them, and pray they will be useful.

twlohaToday is “To Write Love On Her Arms Day“, which supports young people facing depression, self-harm and other crises of self-identity. There was love on Christ’s Arms as he bore the sin of the world on the Cross. He did not condemn, he loved.

Yes, happy mutant, may God bless you, and all of you.

Across the Tiber some will go… Carrying what with them?

with grateful thanks to Luke Coppen for pulling most of the information together

Firstly, the news itself, the quotes and the reactions:

This morning the Vatican has unveiled the mechanism by which traditionalist Anglicans can be received as a group into the Catholic Church.

The provision is much more far-reaching than previously expected. Rather than creating a personal prelaturefor the Traditional Anglican Communion, along the lines of Opus Dei, the Pope has decided to establish “personal ordinariates”, along the lines of military ordinariates, which could potentially serve all former Anglicans, both clergy and lay.

Disaffected Anglicans must now approach the Holy See, expressing their desire to take up the provision. The Holy See will then contact the local bishops’ conference to discuss whether it is possible to create the personal ordinariate.

Referring to an Apostolic Constitution to be released shortly in Rome, Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, outlined the process that will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion corporately while retaining elements of the Anglican tradition.

The CDF said:

In this Apostolic Constitution the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy.

The forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application. It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy. Historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Constitution therefore stipulates that the Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop. The seminarians in the Ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the Ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony. In this way, the Apostolic Constitution seeks to balance on the one hand the concern to preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony and, on the other hand, the concern that these groups and their clergy will be integrated into the Catholic Church…

The provision of this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

In London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster issued a joint statement on the move.

It said:

Today’s announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church.

Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.

The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. It will now be up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution.

The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) agreements make clear the path we will follow together.

With God’s grace and prayer we are determined that our on-going mutual commitment and consultation on these and other matters should continue to be strengthened. Locally, in the spirit of IARCCUM, we look forward to building on the pattern of shared meetings between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England’s House of Bishops with a focus on our common mission. Joint days of reflection and prayer were begun in Leeds in 2006 and continued in Lambeth in 2008, and further meetings are in preparation. This close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.

Ruth Gledhill has a copy of a letter Dr Williams has sent to his fellow C of E bishops. He says:

I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this; I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage, and we await the text of the Apostolic Constitution itself and its code of practice in the coming weeks…

It remains to be seen what use will be made of this provision, since it is now up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution; but, in the light of recent discussions with senior officials in the Vatican, I can say that this new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine existing relations between our two communions or to be an act of proselytism or aggression. It is described as simply a response to specific enquiries from certain Anglican groups and individuals wishing to find their future within the Roman Catholic Church.

Vatican-watcher John Allen says the announcement will have far-reaching implications:

In a move with potentially sweeping implications for relations between the Catholic church and some 80 million Anglicans worldwide, the Vatican has announced the creation of new ecclesiastical structures to absorb disaffected Anglicans wishing to become Catholics. The structures will allow those Anglicans to hold onto their distinctive spiritual practices, including the ordination of married former Anglican clergy as Catholic priests…

According to a Vatican “note” released this morning, married men may serve as priests in the new ordinariates, but they may not be ordained as bishops. The details will be presented in a new apostolic constitution from Pope Benedict XVI, expected to be issued shortly.
The Vatican note described the new “personal ordinariates” as similar to the structures created throughout the world to provide pastoral care for members of the military and their families. The structures are, in effect, non-territorial dioceses, provided over by a bishop and with their own priests and seminarians.

A personal ordinariate is also similar to the canonical status of “personal prelature,” currently held by only one Catholic group: Opus Dei.

The note said the ordinariates will be created in consultation with the national bishops’ conference of a given country.

Bishop John Broadhurst and Fr Geoffrey Kirk of Forward in Faith UK, an Anglican grouping opposed to women priests and bishops, say:

It has been the frequently expressed hope and fervent desire of Anglican Catholics to be enabled by some means to enter into full communion with the See of Peter whilst retaining in its integrity every aspect of their Anglican inheritance which is not at variance with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We rejoice that the Holy Father intends now to set up structures within the Church which respond to this heartfelt longing. Forward in Faith has always been committed to seeking unity in truth and so warmly welcomes these initiatives as a decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England. Ut unum sint!

My reflection:

This has a number of implications, for the Roman Church, for those who wish to leave the Anglican Church and for the body of Christ. For the latter and the widest possible interpretation, this is a very good thing: those unhappy with the ordination of women, or homosexuals or anything else really, can have a get-out-of-jail card which gives them a spiritual home within the body of Christ and removes their root of disaffection. If we can see that the body of Christ is more important, agree to disagree and move together/alongside each other towards Christ and towards the proclamation of the Gospel, then unity will have been done a service. For Christian Unity is not conditional on homogenity.

I pray that those whom cradle-catholics often refer to as “plastic catholics” (which betrays a good deal of gracelessness in it) will find a free expression of their catholic (small ‘c’) faith, and that they do not find that suddenly, the grass is not quite as green as it might appear. Authority means something in the Roman Church, and despite the creation of quasi-Anglican structures, this means traditional bishops and you will do what you are told. Many will be happy to accept that, but some: especially clergy may find that difficult. We who hold an Anglican freehold have an unprecedented degree of autonomy which Roman Clergy simply do not have. Now from my reading of today’s outline documents, the opening of this gateway is at a personal level, and not a structural one. The structure of the Anglican Church remains intact, and this is not an opportunity for Churches to start behaving like the dissident TEC churches, grabbing the buildings and the silver and trying to cross the Tiber with them. It seems to me to imply that they must seek a personal oversight from Rome, an absorption into the Roman structure and this means that the parochial structure will have to be supported further by the (larger rump of) the remaining Anglican priests like me. This might mean more work.

By all means, if it means that the hugely rich devotional societies (like the CBS and SoM) want to move, take their cash with them then that is fine. If it means that Forward in Faith can have someone else to kick against then fine. If it means that Clergy can move to Rome and take their pensions entitlement with them, then again that is good. If it means that holes start appearing in the parochial structure because (names plucked at random) Paulsgrove or the whole of the Chichester Diocese march towards Rome, then this will be a very bad thing indeed for the Anglican duty of care, the cure of souls that it seeks to provide and which regardless of what the non-conformists or the Romans say, is unique: for Anglicanism is not a Congregationalist Church and is there as a beacon for the whole community, regardless of whether they want it or not.

It will probably also mean that the village of Walsingham will see some drastic changes; because not every pilgrim is destined for Rome with this announcement. I have been thinking about this for a few weeks, but it is difficult to express. As a progressive Catholic, I consider the place of Walsingham to be holy ground: the Anglican Shrine is only a part of that holiness, and if it chooses (as a structure and a building outside the parochial framework it is perfectly entitled) to Pope, then it will not and should not prevent those who wish to see women’s ministry exercised at Walsingham from finding another space within that holy village. Does this mean building a progressive Shrine? Perhaps. After all, the Anglican Shrine is built across the road from the Friary that housed the original, and the Anglican Shrine creates perfectly lovely sacred spaces out of barns and outhouses. There must be somewhere (maybe outside of the Anglican Shrine) that an altar might be set up, where women and men can concelebrate. It might not be as beautifully provided, or generously endowed (as SCP and AffCaff have only a miniscule amount of resources compared to SSC, CBS and SoM) but it will still be as much a part of England’s Nazareth as the Orthodox Churches. I believe the Shrine knows that the ‘traditionalists’ (such an inappropriate word, for I am more traditional than untraditional) are not their only customers and sponsors and that the future of the Shrine lies with progressive parishes (ugh, another inappropriate and ugly word, but we are stuck with these labels and out of convenience only will I use them). I love the Shrine with all my heart, and it is a major part of my spiritual life: I devote much of my energy to the mission and evangelism that is the Children’s and Youth Pilgrimages and promoting the work and witness of the Shrine, but if it moves onto the Left Foot, I will seek to find a space close or alongside where a progressive expression of Anglican worship might be made. I pray that this might not be necessary. I pray hopefully (but not aggressively) that the Anglican Shrine will one day permit me to concelebrate alongside both brothers and sisters in Christ but wish that process to happen organically, and not be forced upon those for whom there must be a lot of prayer and consideration in the months and (maybe) years to come.

I pray that whatever happens, our unity as sacramentally-focused Christians will be paramount and we avoid the hurt and unpleasantness associated with schism. It should not be played out as a schism, as a poaching or proselytising or a kicking-out, but as a mechanism for those with an integrity different to mine to find a proper spiritual home. It should make the deliberations of the committee and the General Synod on the Consecration of Women Bishops a little more straightforward: accommodations which were voted out  need not be reinserted and the Church of England need not be held to ransom by those who demand all kinds of accommodation with no intention of staying. This, at the end, might be a very very good thing.

I might lose a number of good friends from the Church of England in this process, which will make me sad, and I will lose a number of people who have been unnecessarily unpleasant to me since my time at college, which will make me less sad. If we maintain a unity as members of the body of Christ, then all will be well. Amen and Amen.

Sermon: Ordinary 26, Year B – Inclusivity

Text: Mark 9:38-50

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That must be why there is no other community quite like ours, praise the Lord!

Today, we hear the intriguing story of Christ’s disciples trying to stop a man who had been casting out demons in his name. Remember, names have power in biblical times. They seem to have become especially upset because the offender was not one of them. In the eyes of the disciples, he was not part of the inner circle, and he was acting differently from what they considered to be the norm.

As soon as Christ heard about it, he turned the tables on his closest followers and rebuked their blind, unbending exclusiveness. He told them not to stop the man, because whatever good is done in Christ’s name would put him in a situation of not speaking evil of the Lord. And tellingly, Christ concluded, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Christ made it clear that he and his disciples were not a little clique, working in a corner of life, fenced off from others. His world view, his God’s-eye view, made him well aware that God’s actions are not limited to the forms with which his disciples were familiar.

Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Don’t Christ’s words ring true as a rebuke of our often blind and unbending exclusiveness, our arrogant assumptions that God’s action among us is limited to forms with which we are most comfortable and most familiar? Just because we like worship like this, or like that, with choirs or guitars, with incense or tambourines … or dare I suggest like here with a combination of all that and more besides… we should not precociously assume that God only hears our worship, our preaching, our interpretation of Scripture: God is bigger than all that human pettiness.

We cannot fence ourselves off from others who have different ways of following Christ or of finding God. The one who is not against us is for us. The one who is not against Christ is on the side of Christ.

In this, our Lord gives us a model for a broader view. There is an issue of tolerance. Doesn’t Christ’s message to the disciples help us stop short when we fall into the all too common trap of thinking in terms of “us” and “them” – seeing life only from the perspective of our own groups?

Intolerance of the other is certainly an attitude that Christ rejected in today’s gospel reading. Possibly, he realized that the disciples considered the man casting out demons as a threat to their inner-circle status. He was an outsider, so they tried to stop him. Jesus rejected this by making it clear that only in a more narrow sense can one be an outsider.

What was true for the disciples has been true throughout history. The world and the church have fought for centuries in such a fence-building frenzy. The stories of the past schisms and divisions are legion. And living out the tendencies of the same human nature, we still act this way in our time, don’t we? Even in this day and age, there are people (and I’m afraid to say this includes Bishops as well as Churches) who threaten to split the Church and take their ball home over trivial, yes trivial issues over sexuality when the call of the Gospel lies ahead of all of us, and makes this squabbling look, well, petty.

Christ’s words remind us that Christianity is not the preserve of a privileged few. He reminds us that no one seeking to do the Lord’s work is an outsider. He reminds us to welcome all people who are willing to join the journey, following our Lord. Over and over again, Christ’s words remind us to be including – not excluding. Over and over again, Christ’s words rebuke us when we turn against others because they are different. Over and over again, the life Christ lived and the way he taught his first disciples remind us of the scandal of our divisions.

There is another side to this, of course. Sometimes, conscience and practicality dictate that we separate ourselves from others, but the message here, at the very least, is not to do so lightly – not to draw a line in the sand except as a last resort. Christ helps us work against the subtle temptation to think that “for me to be right, anyone who disagrees with me must be wrong.” For in that you judge, and that is not YOUR job, but Christ’s (Matthew 7:1)

Christ seems to be telling the disciples and us: “Look for the commonality. Recognize that there are many among you who might work or think differently, but don’t jump to the conclusion that that makes them against you – or against me.

He warns us against simplistic solutions to complex problems. He causes us to see that truth is always bigger than any one person’s, or any one group’s grasp of it. Christ cautions us against inflexibility of thought or deed. He helps us embrace tolerance of a variety of actions and viewpoints. He helps us re-learn what is so easy to forget: that diversity is not only good; it is absolutely essential for the health of the Body of Christ.

Today’s gospel reinforces a belief that what we need in the church is less “either/or” and more “both/and.”

Where do we find commonality? Why not begin by looking to our earliest roots? Those who can declare that “Christ is Lord” are not against us, and therefore are for us, and for Christ. Those who can follow the steps of Christ, taking up their crosses and denying themselves for the sake of God and God’s children are not against us, and therefore are for us, and for Christ.

The story of today’s gospel is about the disciples’ attempt to draw a circle around Christ and themselves – shutting out the one who was casting out demons in Christ’s name. Perhaps a concise, powerful poem by early 20th Century American Poet Edwin Markham can help us remember that Christ ordered the disciples not to exclude that man and to recall that those who are not against us are for us.

In his poem “Outwitted,” Edwin Markham writes:

“He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

We draw circles, big circles of wit and love, and that encompasses everyone…

In Christ’s name, we all will do powerful things…


Does Inclusivity smack of Moral Relativism?

fire-2007A comment to a recent post suggested that Inclusivity equates to moral relativism. The accusation of moral relativism sits alongside that no-win question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” – say Yes and you say you have beaten in the past, say No and you imply you are still beating… But I want to ask (in my usual, poor standard of theology) whether moral relativism and inclusivity are opposites. I suppose it hinges on whether moral absolutism is used as a euphemism for “swallow the bible whole”. We must recognise Scripture as a variety of writings, divinely inspired, but the work of humans. They are written by humans with agenda, purpose and for different reasons. The Church has embraced some of these ancient writings as canonical, but no-one set out to write anything for the canon itself. This means not that the Bible is not the word of God, but that it contains some of the words of God and some other words as well (Psalm 137:9 – dashing the brains of your enemies babies against a rock as the word of God – hmmm, maybe not). God has continued to say a lot of other words, through the Church, through the Saints, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

I have been thinking about this and I consider that there are absolute truths, and there are cultural layers placed on top of those truths. The key is to separate them out and identify which is which (and that is not the same as saying which ones I like/which ones matter and choosing a set).

Christ’s completion of the law, borne on the cross transcends the cultural norms of that, this or any age and places greater emphasis on our relationship with the divine Godhead which reaches out to us. It all boils down to this: Love God, Love Others.

I don’t see that as relative, rather as absolute.

Tattoos (Lev 19:27), shellfish (Lev 11:10), temple prostitution (Lev 18:22), making your wife sleep in a red tent in the garden for four days a month (Lev 15 19-30), are all cultural things, designed for a nomadic people feeling their way towards God. Jesus completed that, thank God and frees us to encounter God openly.

My reading of Scripture calls me to ask what the text is saying as the word of God and as the word of its time. I pray that the Holy Spirit gives a sense of discernment between what is truly of God, and what is clouded by mankind and his culture.

My proof text is John 10:10 “I came that you may have life, life in all its fulness”. That is an absolute. If any man-made or biblical commandment hinders that, then it fails the Jesus test. If it damages or hurts others, take advantage of the vulnerable or limits our own approach to God, then it cannot be from God. This inclusive approach is actually more challenging because it rejects the implic dishonesty of closeting our true selves (and I think this means far more than just sexuality, for far more of our natures are masked than we care to admit). The non-inclusive approach says “as long as you stay in the closet, denying yourself, you’ll be fine” and all those post-gay movements just seek to perpetuate the dishonesty, where as the inclusive approach says “be as God intended you to be, and live your life right by God”.

That means, I suspect, that I too am a Moral Absolutist, but not like that.

Sermon for Society of Catholic Priests Chapter Mass: Friday of Ordinary 15

Text: Matthew 12:1-8

“Here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple”

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son,and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You might be forgiven for thinking that by the time you get around to opening today’s Church Times, it might be all over.  If you read Bishop Tom Wright’s article in the Times this week, responding to the decision of the Episcopal Church of the USA to recognize that God calls men and women, young and old, black and white, straight, gay, lesbian or transgendered, in fact that God calls everyone to enter into a relationship with him, if you read about his description of the “Train Crash”, then you might be fooled into thinking that this was the end of days…

That the Temple of Anglicanism was finished. Done. Over.

And surprisingly, it is still here. The world has not yet slid into ruin, and even as the Americans find the right words to bless same-sex relationships (rather than just let us make the words up when we gather in secret to perform these rites), the Church remains. Anglicanism, that broad collection of constantly disagreeing and dysfunctional party lines, is still with us.

…and the reason is because the Church, the ekklesia, the people of God have far more to do in the Mission of the Gospel than to sit around arguing about sex and sexuality. My day (and I know yours too) is filled not with diatribes on who can sleep with who, but with schools, and families, and the elderly, the isolated, the alone, the disaffected and the distanced-from-God.

The proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord does not hinge on these matters, these distractions. Our purpose in this society is to look beyond these arguments, rise above the carping of FCA and their ilk, Anglican Mainstream and the Stand Firm blog, go far beyond the threats of schism and concentrate on our purpose here, away from the hurley burley of political churchmanship and get on with the main task of evangelizing, of baptizing and administering the sacraments to the people here who love the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel challenges all that churchliness that we are so fond of as Clergy, challenges all those Pharisaical tendencies which haunt us always and call us to see something greater than the temple of the Church of England.

My dear friends, Christ is indeed in our midst, on this altar in a few minutes, at the hands of the body of concelebrating clergy and made known in broken bread and wine outpoured. Something greater than the institution is present in the most holy sacrament of the altar.

They might split the church I love, they might throw the likes of me out because of my progressive views, they might finally legislate against Blesséd and it’s wildly inclusive, administer-the-sacrament-to-everyone-and-leave-it-to-God subversiveness and yet, because Christ is here, on this altar, doing his saving work, I will not worry.

None of us need worry – worry that the evangelicals and the spikes want us and ECUSA out, because Christ will see us through this, and will heal division, unite factionalism, overcome politics, because Jesus Christ is bigger than all that, and he is present. Here. Now.


So Stonewall actually meant something after all…

Via the Changing Attitude Blog

The Times commissioned a poll, conducted by Populus, to commemorate the Stonewall riots 40 years ago. The riots took place on 27 and 28 July 1969 were a spontaneous resistance to repeated police raids on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York and it was the drag queens who led the resistance. It was a defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and Britain.

The poll reveals a revolution in attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. It shows that a majority of the public want lesbian and gay people to share identical rights to everyone else.

68% of the public back “full equal rights” for gay men and lesbians.

61% want gay couples to be able to marry, not just have civil partnerships.

51% want children to be taught in school that gay relationships are of equal value to marriage with 44% opposed.

49% believe that gay couples should have equal adoption rights.

The Times headlines the poll results “Church ‘out of touch’ as public supports equal rights for homosexuals” and names the Church as the final bastion of formal discrimination.

But I want to suggest not everywhere. There are at least some churches which welcome, and support and promote equality, who are not based on prejudice.

In a separate article, Peter Riddell shows that people have become far more tolerant in the past two decades. The British Social Attitudes survey shows that those who think that homosexuality is always or mostly wrong fell from 75% in 1987 to 32% in 2006.

Since January 2005 those agreeing that gay couples should have exactly the same rights as heterosexual couples has risen from 65% to 68%, the number disagreeing falling from 31% to 27%.

A 1999 Ipsos MORI poll found 37% in favour of gay people being allowed to adopt with 57% opposed. Now, 49% agree that gay couples should have the same rights to adopt with 47% disagreeing.

A year later another Ipsos MORI poll found people evenly divided about whether gay couples should be allowed to get married. Populus now finds almost two thirds support the equal right of gay couples to marry.

Less confident are parental responses to their children coming out as gay. 41% say they would embrace it while 45% would feel upset but try to understand and come to terms with it. 9% said they would not accept it and would reject the child.

There is still so much work to be done, centuries of prejudice (because frankly, until the Victorians started to have a problem with it, it wasn’t an issue) to turn around and a vigorous and honest hermeneutic of Scripture to be applied to counteract the crappy translations and narrow prejudices of a few so insecure about their sexuality that they feel threatened by an honest expression in others. I am glad that society is changing and pray that it might be the work of the Holy Spirit, and so it can be done with grace and charity. Despite the pronounciations of certain Housesof Synod, despite the political manoeverings of some Bishops (supporting Schismatics – be ashamed you Bishops of Lewes and Winchester) and putting Sex far above the Gospel, we will endeavour to continue to be an inclusive, family-friendly Parish, seeking to further shape society and show God’s love to all.


…for the Rev Ed Bacon, of All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California (fierce collar!) for saying what I believe, saying it well (something I am incapable of) and saying it in a very public space – how much more public can the Oprah Winfrey show get?

This is good stuff.

Discussions today with someone included inclusion and exclusion, both physical (as we were speaking of disability) and spiritual and how Scripture has in the past tended to view disability as something to be healed, as though it was wrong; and yet, just like LGBT people, they are complete as they are, and God loves them/us for it.

“I came that you may have life, life in all its fullness” ( John 10:10 )

Mother Elizabeth Kaeton quotes this story:

[Speaking about Homosexuality and the Bible… At one point, someone asked the question about St. Paul’s writing about the sin of men lying with men as if with women, and women lying with women as if with men, which St. Paul named and framed as the sin of ‘acting against your nature’.

I pointed out that I had struggled long and hard with that piece of scripture and had come to understand that my ‘nature’ is to be lesbian; that, in fact, to go against my God-given nature was the sin.

One man stood up. He took a few moments to try to compose himself. When he opened his mouth, his voice started to crack, but he pushed himself to say, “You mean to say, all these years, all the times I read and studied that verse, I was reading it wrong?”

He started to weep uncontrollably, which set off a wave of emotion and tears in the room.

“Oh, my God,” he whispered, hoarsely. “Oh, my God, you have no idea. Something has been unleashed in me.”  He finally got his composure and croaked out, “Thank you, and I’ll take you up on that, but I just want to say this: I think I have finally found a spot in my soul and in my heart where I can begin to heal.”

and this is why those who condemn have got it so wrong, and why they have misinterpreted their Scriptures and drive so many out of the church and away from God’s care and love, because they have failed to see that we are as we are and almost complete, and all of us need God to complete us. I suspect this is just about as far away from Calvin as you can possibly get, and I am comfortable with that; nay, I celebrate that.