Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Three Cheers for General Synod!

They’ve done it! The General Synod of the Church of England has agreed to the future appointment of women bishops and without the compromise solution introduced by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, that traditionalist opponents be permitted to come under the jurisdiction of a male bishop.

A part of me feels some sympathy for those who would have preferred the compromise. If genuine theological convictions lead one to the view that women should not serve as bishops (and, presumably, not as priests either), is this not a belief that should be accommodated in a ‘broad church’? Yet I can’t help thinking that basic prejudice is also too easily justified as a theological conviction. In other words, we read the Bible through the lens of prejudice without allowing it to speak for itself. I may be doing this too, but Paul’s conviction expressed in Galatians 3:28 seems right: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ This seems to speak to the Church Universal (as opposed to local church situations, where Paul may give local applications on the role of women in the church for his time) and gives the universal principle of equality. Although change takes time, I think that the archbishops’ compromise solution would have undermined the position of those women who will become bishops and perpetuate the injustice of inequality in the Church.

In the end, I suspect the outflow of traditionalists who leave the Church of England will be less than expected, and the Church will be stronger as women rise through the ranks. And as a Baptist, I’m almost a little envious that a representative body can take a decision that is binding on the whole Church!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Honest to God - Distance and Belonging

‘The search for Anglican Unity should not prevent the appointment of gay bishops.’ So says the leader in today’s Times, and it succinctly sums up the thrust of the article, expressing support for Jeffrey John, whose potential candidacy to be Bishop of Southwark appears to have been blocked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, due to the threat posed by Dr John’s homosexual orientation to the unity of the Anglican communion. As tends to be the case, there is an undertone of frustration in the article and the implication that it is about time the Church caught up with Society in its attitude and approach to homosexuality.

I don’t intend to debate here the perceived rights and wrongs of homosexual behaviour! I do see a danger, though, of the Church of England (and other denominations) giving in to popular demand and blending in with the prevailing culture. ‘Society accepts same-sex partnerships,’ the argument might run, ‘and, therefore, so should we.’

I’m currently reading ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ by Miroslav Volf. I was struck by his critique of churches that have sought the easy life of supporting the status quo in their environment. Thus, for example, the Apartheid regime of South Africa was supported and affirmed by church groups, and the Lutheran Church has been roundly criticised for failing to speak out against Fascism under Hitler. Volf suggests that churches need to cultivate a proper relation between distance from the prevailing culture, and belonging to it. He reminds us that ‘at the very core of Christian identity lies an all-encompassing change of loyalty, from a given culture with its gods to the God of all cultures’ (p40).

The Church Universal has a proud history of being counter-cultural and bringing much-needed change. It also has a sad history of acquiescing to injustice in its own ranks and in society. If nothing else, perhaps each Christian denomination, and each local church, needs to take a step back and ask, ‘In which areas is God calling us to show solidarity with public opinion, and in which areas is God wanting us to be different?’ Of course, decisions will be influenced by the balance of appeal to Scripture, tradition and reason in each denomination. But at least we will not be blindly following public opinion and public culture, but instead seeking to follow our Lord.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Preparing for Re-Entry

Only five days of sabbatical leave to go! Where has the rest of it gone? And, more importantly, how do I prepare to return to duties as a pastor of a local Baptist church?

I have a picture in my mind from childhood years. It’s one of watching and waiting ….for the return, as covered in black and white, and very grainy pictures by the BBC, of an Apollo spacecraft. In fact, there was always very little left of what went up. Sections of the original rocket were jettisoned only minutes after take-off, whilst the lunar landing module was left in space. Only a small capsule survived re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere to fall fairly gently, with the aid of parachutes, to ‘splashdown’ into the ocean. After that, the astronauts were recovered and whisked away to face the world’s media before, presumably, being re-united with their families and taken away again for a debrief. There must have some sense of regret and relief: regret at the ending of a unique experience in space, which might never be know again; relief at a safe return to ‘normality’.

I think it is regret and relief that sum up my feelings at this time. Jesus says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28-29). I have enjoyed receiving the rest that Jesus gives: through time with family and good friends, visiting many churches and new places, reading new authors, increasing physical fitness through golf, cycling and a diet. It won’t be quite so easy to do any of those things now, but I hope they all continue. Yet I have missed the day-to-day business and busy-ness that comes with pastoring a church, and I am looking forward to finding out what the church has been up to!

There are obvious things I can do to prepare for re-entry (prayer, preparation, planning), but perhaps it is the rest that has been the preparation? Rested, renewed and refreshed, I’m hoping that a new period of fruitful ministry lies ahead.