Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “church and society”

Speaking the truth to power: two Anglican archbishops

A few days ago the synod of the Church of England failed to approve a measure that would allow women to become bishops, and that has led to a lot of comment in the blogosphere, on social networks, and no doubt elsewhere.

Like Antioch Abouna, I have no wish to comment on the internal affairs of another Christian body. What the Church of England decides about who to have as its bishops does not affect me. Sixty years ago Anglican ecclesiology was perhaps a bit closer to Orthodox ecclesiology than it is now. Back then, at least some Anglicans believed that apostolic succession was important; it strongly affected their relationship with the African Orthodox Church and the Order of Ethiopia, for example. Now, I think hardly any Anglicans regard apostolic succession as important, and the model for episcopacy is perhaps more akin to that of a branch manager of a supermarket chain, and the criteria for selection are probably similar — can they perform the management task adequately? Of course the analogy is not complete; a supermarket manager is not expected to be pastor pastorum to the other members of staff, and I believe there is still that expectation of Anglican bishops. As Antioch Abouna has noted, the discussion has been almost entirely in secular tems, and based on secular criteria. So it is up to Anglicans to decide on the criteria for the selection of their bishops in accordance with their current understanding of what bishops are. It is not for Orthodox, who have a different understanding of bishops, to approve or disapprove of whatever they decide.

But an Orthodox Facebook friend also commented “Orthodox Christians who delight in knocking Anglicans (esp. Rowan Williams) very distasteful. Don’t they have anything better to do?” and cited this post Women Bishops and an Archbishop Agonistes | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:

Well, it seems that the lame duck Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has decided to take his episcopal duty of admonition with some seriousness this week…

Now there may be a cultural difference here. It is possible that the term “lame duck” is inoffensive or neutral to people in the USA, because of their political system, but to people outside the USA it sounds very offensive indeed, and quite uncalled-for.

But, personal insults aside, what Archbishop Rowan Williams said (as opposed to what he is) does seem to be worth commenting on. Church of England in crisis: Archbishop of Canterbury attacks members for voting against women bishops – The Independent:

Speaking in the aftermath of that decision this morning, Dr Williams said the church risked being seen as “willfully blind” to the demands from wider British society that it must do away with institutional and theological sexism.

“We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do,” he told the General Synod. “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.”

He added: ”We have some explaining to do, we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society.“

Perhaps he was speaking as the leader of the Established Church, and believes that the church needs to shape its own priorities according to the trends, priorities and demands of that society.

But if so, I think that reflects the dangers of Establishment. And I cannot help comparing it to another Anglican archbishop, facing a synod, at another place, another time.

The archbishop was Bill Burnett, then the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and the occasion was the 1979 meeting of the provincial synod of the Church of the Province of South Africa (now known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa).

There was a rather dull motion being debated, proposed by a Canon Albertyn of Cape Town, asking that the synod set up a commission to look into and report on all the permits the church was required to apply for in terms of the then-current apartheid legislation. Bill Burnett intervened from the chair, and said that in his position as Archbishop he was often called on to apply for permits for various things, and he disliked doing so. He did it because he thought it was expected of him as part of his role, and that it was expected of him to try to preserve the church as an institution, but that it was a role he disliked, and he disliked having to apply for permits, and was prepared not to do so, if that was what synod wanted. He warned that it could mean the end of the church as an institution. Its property could be confiscated by the government, and worse, but he was prepared to do that if it was what synod wanted. “Is that what you want?” he asked.

There was dead silence.

The moment passed, and the synod went back to its ordinary dull business (you can read more about that here Trapped in apartheid – South African churches | Notes from underground.)

But there you have two Anglican archbishops, more than thirty years apart. One is saying that the church must conform to the demands of the wider society, and the other announcing that he was prepared to resist the demands of society, no matter what it cost.

Tim’s Blog: "Better than Church?"

Tim Norwood (a Church of England vicar) asks if blogging is better than church.

Tim’s Blog: “Better than Church?”:

A friend of mine (who is probably reading this) also commented that reading the blog was ‘better than going to church’ – which I do take as a compliment, but it does raise some interesting questions. To what extent can the blogsphere provide opportunities to ‘be’ church?

A few years ago, I was quite interested in the idea of on-line church and a few of us began to think about how to do it. We started with cell church methodology and looked at ways to do this. I even bought the ‘cybercell’ url (and still own it). When the diocese put money into cutting edge ministries and launched iChurch I was seriously tempted to apply for the job (which unfortunatley was part-time). It’s been interesting to watch iChurch develop in similar directions to CyberCell – which never got off the ground because I didn’t have enough time to invest in it…

And he has some quite interesting thoughts on the topic.

Some of his comments made sense to me. Among other things he said that reading his bishop’s blog made him feel closer to his bishop. And yes, blogging is a way of sharing thoughts with people one doesn’t see every day, and allows one to communicate with people who are geographically out of reach.

But there are also limitations in blogging. Comments allow some interaction, but it is not inherently an interactive medium. It is basically a one to many medium. Some have tried to overcome the limitations by having synchroblogs — many people blogging on the same topic at the same time, but it is still a collection of individual viewpoints. Blogging remains communication without community, and therefore cannot be regarded as a form of church, or “fresh expressions” of church, much less a substitute for church. Though I suppose a lot depends on what you regard as church. If your model of church is the Protestant “preacher-congregation” one, then yes, blogging can be much the same thing. If you go to church primarily to hear sermons, then yes, you can just as easily read them on blogs — but is that all that church is about?

Online worship and prayer, however, seem to me to be an impossibility. But again, that may depend on your understanding of worship. It seems to me that some people regard worship as a kind of holy sing song, and “worship leader” means someone who leads singing — a kind of combination of a choir director and a cheer leader. But even if that were one’s understanding of worship, could you do it online?

The computer on which I am writing this has no speakers connected. I don’t listen to podcasts or watch videos, partly because I’m often surfing the web at 3 am and don’t want to wake the family, and partly because I can’t afford the bandwidth. But if I were to join in singing hymns at 3:00 am the family would soon be very annoyed.

Clash of civilizations redux

A new book on the role of the Orthodox Church in the new Russia seems to confirm Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.

Garrard, J. and Garrard, C.: Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent: Faith and Power in the New Russia.:

In the new Russia, the former KGB who run the country–Vladimir Putin among them–proclaim the cross, not the hammer and sickle. Meanwhile, a majority of Russians now embrace the Orthodox faith with unprecedented fervor. The Garrards trace how Aleksy orchestrated this transformation, positioning his church to inherit power once held by the Communist Party and to become the dominant ethos of the military and government. They show how the revived church under Aleksy prevented mass violence during the post-Soviet turmoil, and how Aleksy astutely linked the church with the army and melded Russian patriotism and faith.

Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent argues that the West must come to grips with this complex and contradictory resurgence of the Orthodox faith, because it is the hidden force behind Russia’s domestic and foreign policies today.

Thus far, however, all the glowing comments and reviews seem to be from Western scholars. It would be interesting to see what Orthodox scholars have to say about it.

Hat tip to Eastern Orthodox Librarian.

Shuck and Jive: Render to my ex-wife what is my ex-wife’s…

This would be a worthy addition to the Synchroblog on The Church and money

Shuck and Jive: Render to my ex-wife what is my ex-wife’s…

The estranged wife of a pastor claims her husband blended his professional and personal finances so thoroughly that his church should be counted as an asset in their divorce.

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