Monday, 22 October 2012

On Respect; racism, and yet more about women bishops

There has been something of a furore (three syllables) about racism in football of late. Over this last weekend  the focus has been over the refusal of a number of black footballers to wear t-shirts supporting the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign (see herehere and here for BBC website pieces relating to this).

The fuss has been caused because many people cannot understand why black players would object to an anti-racism campaign - surely they are undermining it's efforts. Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, was critical of Rio Ferdinand's decision not to wear the T-shirt. Easy for him to say - he's surely never experienced racism (and no, having a go at Scots is not racism, though we all know how ugly nationalism can be), and he's very much part of the establishment. There's something rather reactionary about telling someone how he should or shouldn't protest.*

The point of those players not wearing the T-shirt was precisely that they feel Kick It Out is not an effective force against racism in football. They ask serious questions about how seriously the FA takes racism, given the way the whole John Terry fiasco was handled. Then they look at the fact that the FA is a major funder of Kick It Out, and conclude that the public face of the FA is not in line with its actions. They see those funds as a sop, rather than a serious commitment. So they protest. As is their right. Note that the protest is about the football establishment/FA not Kick It Out per se; I don't think any of them are suggesting that Kick It Out has compromised itself - just that the cause isn't being taken seriously enough.

It just won't do to tell players that they out to stay united and show a common front against racism. If they feel the established mode of opposing racism in football is inadequate or undermined, they need to walk away from it. They are refusing to let the FA say "Look, we've got the Kick It Out campaign, what need is there to change?" The question of whether Lick It Out really is inadequate is beyond my competence  but by protesting these players have made people at the highest levels ask the question - or shown themselves up by not being prepared to ask the question.

Whom do we respect more? The FA or the protesting players?

Now, what has this got to do with woman bishops? Well, As Rowan Williams acknowledges in his Church Times article, part of the reason we are having the debate is because of the promptings of secular feminism. And whilst many feminists are having a go at patriarchy, there are many who recognize that it is not just men who can abuse power. Where there is a pyramidal structure of domination and oppression it is better called "kyriarchy" (a term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in 1992). This recognizes that rich black women are perfectly able to oppress poor white men, for example.

But we are all bound up in these structures of domination. The western consumer, however poor, dominates the developing-world farmer, however wealthy. It's all down to the powers and dominions of this world (Ephesians 6.12) - or the sin endemic in humanity, if you prefer to put it that way.The answer must involve a liberation theology - we all need to throw off domination, of ourselves and by ourselves. We need to reject an easy satisfaction with the established way of things.

Which is where the Cross comes in, by utterly rejecting power, by embracing total weakness.

The protesting footballers were refusing to go along with the established(/establishment's) way of doing things. Good on'em, I say. But here's a problem I have over the consecration of women. When women join the establishment, will they simply come to fit in, and become totally establishment themselves? Will they just allow the kyriarchy to say "Look, we've got women bishops, what need is there to change?"

Feminism seems to me most powerful as a much-needed critique, as a prophetic voice, against kyriarchy. When women become bishops in the Church of England, that may be a battle won against patriarchy  but will kyriarchy notice the difference?

*Let me confess an interest here - I'm a City fan; but I don't think I'd see things differently if some other big-name manager had said the same stuff.

On Respect: more about women bishops

Rowan Williams has come out very strongly in favour of passing the measure which will allow women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England. No great surprise there. He had a piece in the Church Times on Friday, which is reproduced on his official website. Given the way that is is written (with"we" throughout referring to Anglicans in general) and published, it seems safe to say that this him writing in his capacity as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England, rather than as the indiviual theologian Rowan Williams.

The key part is where he states that the word "respect" in the new Clause 5(1)c does have legal force:
The truth is that the word does have legal content.  If you’re required to show ‘respect’, you need to be able to demonstrate that what you do takes account in practice of someone’s conviction.  You will need to show that it has made a difference to how you act; it doesn’t just recommend an attitude or state of mind (‘with all due respect…’).
This is one of the concerns that those who are opposed to the consecration of women have; that "respect" means nothing very much, and that the stated aims of WATCH and GRAS are to see provision for "traditionalists" fade away to nothing. The "traditionalists" take this as proof of the kind of respect they'll get.

But when the Archbishop goes on the record to state just what legal force the word "respect" has, we need to take note, and I think we should take him at his word. It does actually change the actions which are required. It is not enough to say "I respect your views," and then to ignore them. Which is what I've been saying all along. ++Rowan has confirmed that this clause means something.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

On Love and Marriage

If you're an avid Church Times reader (and surely, who isn't?), you may have noticed the article in last Friday's edition, reporting the views of Phillip Jensen, the Dean of St Andrew's cathedral in Sydney in Australia. He had expressed his opinions in a piece for the Sydney Diocesan website, in the context of the debate there about a new marriage service, which gives the bride and groom different vows to make..

Dean Jensen was reported as bemoaning the fact that modern marriage services are too much about love rather than commitment and faithfulness. Here's what he wrote in full.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn't be very bothered by the thoughts of someone from the Diocese of Sydney, where  the tendency appears to be so conservative that most British conservative evangelicals would look liberal by comparison. But it just so happened that the readings for Sunday morning's Eucharist were centered around the theme of marriage, so someone from the Anglican communion saying controversial things about marriage seemed an ideal peg to hang my thoughts on. The readings in question were Genesis 2.18-24, and Mark 10.2-16. Jensen refers to two of these in his article (except that he actually cites Matthew 19.3-6 instead of Mark - but the passages are such close parallels that it makes no difference in this context).

Now Jensen wants to say that these passages demonstrate that "Marriage is therefore intended as a lifelong, monogamous, procreative union of a man and a woman." This is based on the "promises of their common agreement or covenant. Faithfulness rather than love lies at the basis of this union." The bemoans the fact that modern services have moved away from giving procreation as the first and foremost reason for marriage, and instead have placed "the romance called love" at the centre.

However, as I argued in my sermon on Sunday morning,it seems that Jensen has failed to read his Bible carefully or seriously, and has instead imported into it the things he wants to read there, that suit his purposes. For there is nothing in either the Genesis 2 passage, or Jesus' use of it, that suggest that procreation has anything at all to do with marriage. Now don't get me wrong, children and family life are certainly important parts of what makes marriage what it is. There's lots of good theology behind saying that. for example, a family of parents plus child(ren) is a model of the Trinity, with love shared more openly then in a binary relationship.

But it's pretty clear from Genesis that God's purpose in creating the woman after the man was for "a helper as his partner" (NRSV) or "a fitting helper for him" (NJPS) (2.18) - this presumably in the task of tilling and keeping the garden of Eden (2.15). Nothing here about procreation. And to prove that procreation is not in mind, we have an account of God creating all the animals and bringing them to the man. Only when none of them are deemed suitable for a "helper as his partner" does God make the man fall into a deep sleep, so that he can take a rib and create woman (by the way, we might note that there's no "common agreement or covenant" between the man and the woman, as Jensen presupposes).

If had been all about procreation, God would surely have made the woman first of all. Or perhaps the man would have seen the giraffe, and said, "Look at the legs on that - that's the one for me!" (lots of species have huge differences between males and females, after all). If it had just been about tending the garden, then surely an ourang-utan would have been ideal for looking after the trees while the man did the ground-level work.

But no. This was about finding a companion; it was about the relationship which should exist between man and woman. In other words love comes first. Which is hardly unexpected when it comes to the Creation of the God who is love, and who has made us in his image. It's not, as they say, rocket-science to work this one out.

Why does this matter? Because Phillip Jensen and his ilk want to use the alleged priority of procreation in marriage to exclude same-sex couples from getting married. If marriage is about procreation, those who cannot procreate have no part in it. Except of course that marriage between a couple where the woman is past child-bearing has always taken place.

If society has moved on, and now wants to place love at the heart of what marriage is, the Church should welcome it. Or perhaps it's that the Church has actually already done this work in creating the newer marriage services. Love is at the heart of Christianity ("God so loved the world" &c. &c.). What the Church cannot afford to do is to misread the Bible in order to bolster prejudice.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Concerning the next Archbishop of Canterbury

I was intending to post something on this last week, when the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) was actually meeting. however, preparations for the arrival of the new students (who seem to be a lovely bunch so far, by the way) rather over-ran all that.

And in my delay in writing, we have now found out that the CNC has given us a delay in appointing. See here for lots of useful links to the various news reports at Thinking Anglicans.

Now obviously (and correctly) the CNC members are sworn to secrecy, so all the speculation is merely speculation. But, just for fun, I'll add my own thoughts and speculation.

I said right a the beginning, when the news broke that Rowan was resigning, that my choice for the next Archbishop would be Richard Chartres, currently Bishop of London.

I'm certainly in the Anyone But York camp, for a variety of reasons - not least because the Daily Mail like him. I felt, and still do, that Richard Chartres would be a good caretaker candidate, sufficient of a statesman to see the Church through a few tricky years, while the next generation of bishops are learning the ropes a bit more. He also has a reasonably good public profile, which counts for something in the "chaplain to the nation" side of the job. Justin Welby of Durham, a leading candidate with many, has only been a bishop for a about a year, and there's a crop of others who perhaps need a bit more proving (Christopher Cocksworth, Stephen Cottrell, and a few others).

Now the fact that the CNC has not been able to make a decision has been interpreted in various ways. It might be that John Sentamu has been taken off the short-list (or "snubbed" depending on whether you like him or not), or it might be that he's one of the three names still in it. It might be that Justin Welby has been agreed upon, but that the deadlock is over the second name to put to the Prime Minister.

It's worth pointing out that just because one name has been agreed, it doesn't mean that he is the first choice. two names must be agreed (by two-thirds of the 16 CNC members - i.e. 11 votes), and then those two names are ranked by a simple majority vote. So my theory, which is probably completely wrong, we'll never know, is that one name has been agreed, but this is the presumed second choice candidate. Quite possibly this is Justin Welby.

On this theory, Justin Welby is considered appointable, but not first choice because of his lack of experience. It's like the CNC saying, "We think he'll be a good choice next time round, but we don't think he's quite ready yet. But if he will be a good choice in the future, he wouldn't be a bad choice now." The deadlock would be over who is to be the shorter-term answer to the Canterbury problem. Perhaps John Sentamu has some support in this, but is disliked by enough CNC members not to get the 11 votes. Perhaps Richard Chartres is in the same position (apparently he has told friends he's out of the running - but how would he know?).

One thing which complicates matters, under this theory, is the tradition of alternating between more catholic and more evangelical Archbishops. Rowan then Chartres would be two catholics in a row, but Sentamu then Welby would be two evangelicals in a row. personally I think the job is too important to be bothered with this kind of turn taking. We need the best man for the job, regardless of which wing of the Church he comes from. - there are much bigger concerns than such internal politics. And let's face it, whoever gets the job will be disliked by pretty large sections of the Church for some reason or other.

A final point to note is that speculation about Richard Chartres being thought unsuitable is based largely on his failure to ordain women to the priesthood. But The Act of Synod of 1993 states :

1. There will be no discrimination against candidates either for ordination or for appointment to senior office in the Church of England on the grounds of their views about the ordination of women to the priesthood.

If Richard Chartres is excluded because of his views, this would be against the rules of the Church. Would any clerical member of the CNC be open to a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure for allowing this to happen? Possibly, except that we'll presumably never see records of the discussions. And if a formal body like the CNC can't keep the rules on this matter relating to the ordination of women, what prospect the Church keeping to a Code of Practice when it comes to women bishops?