A prophet on a donkey?


From Cranmer

Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.

There is something majestic, exhilarating and timeless about the Latin rendering of this supreme moment of joy, as the Son of God, Messiah, the Hope of Israel enters Jerusalem on a donkey.

A prophet on a donkey.

As we enter this Holy Week – the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – it is important to remember that it does indeed begin with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.

To the Romans, palm leaves were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jews who greeted their Messiah were simply echoing this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judæa.

But what kind of prophet of God or victorious king parades in triumph on a donkey?

The One who was born of a woman?

The One who was lain in a manger?

The One who emptied Himself in humility?

The one who was soon to die on a cross, where Christ’s grace simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.

Read here

Archbishop Welby Struggles with a Greater Truth

As the Anglican Curmudgeon, it behooves me now and then to comment f974a-savesyria2upon matters Anglican. And just now, there is a tempest in the Anglican teapot which I have refrained from noticing, because after all, it is still a small storm in a very small teapot.

And indeed, it is a “storm” only if you take its measure by the winds from the West – or (which comes to the same thing, direction-wise) from the left. By all other measures, including one which takes note of the fact that the winds are blowing only from the West, something must be going well in Anglican Land.

For the Archbishop of Canterbury has seen fit to share with Anglicans in the West his insights gained from a visit with Anglicans to the South. And from the reactions in the West, it would appear that neither group can even begin to comprehend why the other proceeds as it does. Even worse, it would appear that each group would prefer that the other did not call itself “Anglican.”

Now, the adjective “Anglican” makes sense from a religious point of view only if one allows it to modify a noun, such as “Communion.” As many from both sides will explain to you at the drop of a name, it makes no sense to call yourself “Anglican” if you are not part of the “Anglican Communion.” (There are other nouns it can modify, but for those who are in it they do not reach the same level as “Communion”.)

So what does it mean for two different groups in the Anglican Communion to treat each other as though they were not really Anglican?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the quintessential Anglican, so he cannot side with the one group against the other. All he can do in the circumstances is urge upon each group mutual respect for the other’s views.

But the Archbishop thereby gives away both the game, and his role as a neutral arbiter – because the opposing views can by no objective means be called equally worthy of respect, at least within the context of the Christian religion, and the particular branch of it of which he is the nominal head.

Here is the problem in a nutshell: the West claims the authority to recognize same-sex relationships based upon its recent experiences with them as coming within the traditional understanding of what is “Anglican.” The South, based upon its traditional reading of Scripture,  rejects that authority outright.

What is worse, the South’s “experience” of same-sex unions is exactly the opposite of the West’s: in the South, even a perceived support of them leads to violence and death. Most often recently, such murder comes from the hands of Islamic terrorists bent on exterminating a Christianity that could conceivably espouse (even if in the South, it doesn’t) what has always been regarded as an abomination among the people of the Book. The West, on the other hand, regards the Islamic terrorists as a local problem of the South – a problem that is traceable largely to tribalism, fear and ignorance.

So the South cries “Help! Stop adding fuel to the fires of our foes!” – while the West largely says “They are your problem, not ours.” (Though that stance does not stop the West from actively intervening to ostracize Southern attempts to legislate on homosexuality, which intervention only exacerbates the tensions between Muslims and Christians in the South.)

This divide, which the Archbishop of Canterbury thought he could bridge by being sensitive to the concerns of both sides, unfortunately has nothing to do with the Anglican Communion in particular. Instead, it has to do with all humankind – and goes to the very essence of being human.

The West argues that Scripture must be interpreted first and foremost in the light of ongoing experience, then by reason, and last by tradition – except when the latter two conflict with experience.

The South argues that Scripture is capable of interpretation only by reason, as guided by tradition (by which it means reason as our forebears expressed it), and that man’s experience is an especially fallible, and at best only local and limited, guide to what Scripture means.

These positions are rooted in a far deeper and older dispute. They relate to who is in charge: man, or someone beyond or outside of man.

The view that man is in charge is reflected in the Bible passages that deal with Adam’s fall, with the Tower of Babel, with the Golden Calf, and numerous later apostasies by the nation of Israel. (Notice that none of those stories turned out well for man.)

The view that someone outside of man is in charge is older than the Bible, and permeates it: before Scripture was ever written, God was in charge. And God remains in charge, no matter what man may think, because God is infinitely greater than man, and indeed, created man in His image – so that man might appreciate, worship, and glorify Him.

The Archbishop’s mistake, or naiveté, was to treat these opposing views as standing upon equal ground.

They do not. The West’s view is (to quote one especially obnoxious proponent of it): “We [i.e., man] wrote the Bible, and we can change it.” The South’s view is: God breathed His Word into Scripture, and God’s message does not change – with time, with experience, with man, or with whatever is currently the fashion.

Experience is grounded in emotion and feelings, i.e., how one interprets experience. And by definition, therefore, one’s experience changes with, and is defined by, the time in which one lives.

In the traditional view, God gave us reason to temper our emotions and feelings – throughout all time. Otherwise, there would be little to distinguish man from the animals.

Thus reason is grounded in God’s image in man; emotions and feelings, however, are grounded in fallen man alone, i.e., in the heritage that he shares with all animals. To quote Blaise Pascal:

Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.

The difference between the West and the South, therefore, is not just particular to the Anglican Communion, but is as old as man himself. The West is currently in the thrall of man (which can for the nonce be exhilarating, but which in the end is always disastrous). The South remains, as best as it is able, obedient to God and His will as expressed through Scripture.

The terrorists who slaughter Southern Christians for (supposedly) tolerating what is an abomination to their religion of Islam are equally in the thrall of Islam – which is to say, a different man’s version of God.

Thus for Western Christians in the thrall of man to call African Islamists “backward, fearful and ignorant” is for the pot to call the kettle black. They may differ in appearance, but they share the same color – i.e., they both despise those who would follow God as he has always spoken through Scripture, rather than God as he “speaks” currently through man.

What does this mean for the Anglican Communion? It means that part of it follows man (or God as seen with man’s experience as paramount), while the other part is trying to follow God (as heard and understood through His timeless Word).

There is no compromise between these views, because man is not God.

There is no bridging the gap when man willfully sets himself apart from God.

The gap can be eliminated only when men agree to let God’s Word be unchanging, and to follow it as best as they can, given their fallenness. He made it unchanging, so that they could never lose their way through anything He said or did, but would always have a straight path to which they could return. Think about that for a moment.

Disputes arise through man’s own fallenness, and not because God wills them to exist. Disputes about God’s word are from Man, not God. Man may not always get it right, but he should never be certain that he is right just because he is man. (See this earlier post on how man can best tell when he is being true to God’s Word.)

Thus the Archbishop should not be surprised that his observations of the reality that divides the West from the South bestirred such a reaction from the West. Far from shrinking from such observations in the face of Western criticism, he should redouble them, and keep on pressing home the message: the South asks only that we return to the path God made for us, while the West insists on charting its own course. It is for the West to change its tack, and not for the South.

I do not envy whoever occupies the see of Canterbury. He can succeed, perhaps, but only with God’s help. Please pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Without Penal Substitution there is Despair in Morality

How the Pinning Works

I want to spend a few moments on why the penal substitution of Christ is the lambthe only possible ground of human happiness. My point is not to defend the doctrine here — that has been ably done by others — but rather to show one of the many glorious outworkings of the doctrine. In our life together, whether that life is being lived in family, church, or town, the substitutionary death of Jesus is the only thing that can keep us from becoming scolds who are impossible to live with.

This is what I mean, and I will use marriage for my example. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Now, whatever it is we believe that He did there, that is what we are going to imitate.

Unless you believe that at the heart of the atonement we find a complete identification of Christ with His people, then what you will imitate is that same failure to identify. But if you understand that the cross was the place where God went “all in,” then your love for your wife and family will likewise be all in.

If Jesus was just setting an example, or just doing some other thing external to us, then our imitation of this will tend toward the bossy and censorious. How many moral examples are crushing examples? How many things done for us, outside of us, designed to make us grateful, are actually burdens that are being tied on our backs by Pharisees? But Christ’s example and Christ’s gifts to us are not like that at all. They are true liberation. Why? Because He died in our place, and only because He died in our place.

If we take that away, then morality ceases to be liberation, and becomes what little we learn in lectures full of scolding and hectoring, and finger pointing. It becomes the kind of righteousness that the devil loves to go on about.

We are never exercising biblical authority over others unless we are identifying with them as we do so. In order to identify this way, we need an example — because we don’t think this way naturally. To use Chesterton’s image, we tend to bestow honor by pinning a cross on a hero, while God did it by pinning a hero on a cross.

And unless our sins were pinned there with him, we have no hope in our lives together. No hope at all.

Gay Anglican priest marries his boyfriend. He’ll be the first of many

By Damian Thompson, Telegaph

Well, that didn’t take long. As my colleague Edward Malnick reports, a gay Church of England priest – a canon, no less – today married his boyfriend. Canon Jeremy Pemberton, 58, a divorced hospital chaplain and father of five, wed his long-term partner Laurence Cunnington, 51. We’re not told where, but obviously it wasn’t in a C of E church. That’s against the law. But they may well be able to have their marriage blessed in church because that’s only “against the rules” as opposed to illegal.
Campaigners predicted that Canon Pemberton would be the first of many. I think they’re right. After all, it’s not as if Mr Pemberton’s boss, the Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, is handing him over to the Inquisition. Over at the Mail, my old friend Jonathan Petre reports that “Bishop Lowson confirmed he had told Canon Pemberton of the House of Bishops’ statement [telling gay priests not to marry] but would not say if he was planning disciplinary action”.
I’m no expert on Anglican canon law, but I’d guess that the punishment facing Mr Pemberton is the withdrawal of his licence to officiate at services (he doesn’t have a parish). Technically he could be defrocked, but that would involve a messy legal process… by which time other priests will have tied the knot. The Rev Andrew Cain, for example, who was the first clergyman to declare his intention to marry, and who explained why in our Telegram podcast (click here).
That will be an interesting case. Mr Cain is the Vicar of St Mary with All Souls in Kilburn and St James in West Hampstead and known to parishioners as “Father Andrew” – ie, he’s an Anglo-Catholic. North London is full of High Church priests with same-sex partners. If only a few of them defy their bishop and get married, then the Diocese of London faces a public relations as well as a legal nightmare.
Likewise, Chichester. I once went to a party in Brighton where a bishop turned up with his much younger Italian boyfriend. None of the other clergy present were bishops but they were all gay. Those were the days of the “gin, lace and backbiting” subculture, which wasn’t a great advertisement for gay men or the C of E. The culture now is more open, but many homosexual clergy are still uncomfortable about their relationships – they feel that the General Synod forces them to be hypocritical or secretive. This is a Church, after all, that enjoins celibacy on gay priests but not gay laity, a compromise that I can’t see surviving for much longer.

Palm Sunday: Let’s talk about Jesus!

By Andrew Symes
Over the last few weeks, all over the country the church has been engaged in mission. Local churches have been running “Real Lives” and “Passion for Life” events, student Christian Unions have followed up the successful one-to-one “Uncover” Gospel reading programme with the traditional Lent mission weeks. Alpha and Christianity Explored courses have continued to draw in those from the fringes and on the outside of church life. Even some Bishops have been leading evangelistic events, talking about Christ from the Scriptures, sharing their own faith in him, and urging listeners to repent and believe. Congregations have also been demonstrating Christ’s love in practical ways, hosting food banks, debt counselling services, cafes, and parent and toddler drop ins. We look forward to hearing stories of lives transformed and numbers increasing in churches! 

As we approach Easter, there is a compelling argument that mission should be the focus of positive news about the church, rather than the internal disputes that give us such a bad name. “Lets stop talking about sex, and rather talk about Jesus! Lets stop criticising the culture, and instead be good news for the culture!” On the other hand, Palm Sunday reminds us that talking about Jesus is not the same as a chaplaincy role that accepts the status quo and steers away from the controversial issues of the day.

As our Lord prepared to enter Jerusalem from Jericho, perhaps he had had the same thoughts about the message and tone of his mission, and maybe even discussed them with his disciples. How are we going to play this? Be affirming of the ruling powers and prevailing philosophies, and leverage them to our advantage? Work within the religious systems and with the current leaders towards a renewed faith?

The Archbishop, Gay Marriage and Violence: What are the issues?

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, Archbishop Justin’s excellent and welby1wide-ranging LBC phone-in (transcript here and recording here) in which he talked about food banks, Jesus as defining who God is for us, poverty, church and politics, climate change has, in reporting, been almost wholly reduced to one short exchange responding to one of a number of questions relating to homosexuality.

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, even that answer has then been seriously misunderstood and distorted in the critiques and led, as usual, to more heat than light (Thinking Anglicans has its usual helpful sample of reactions and less helpful range of comments here and here).  The incident Justin referred to, in which he connected posssible Church of England actions on same-sex relationships to the killing of Christians in Africa, is one which has clearly, and unsurprisingly, impacted him deeply and influences his engagement with the subject.   He has used it before in discussions about sexuality and Church of England policy, but never so publicly.  That it should have hit the headlines when said publicly is unsurprising given the combination of its shocking nature and many people’s ignorance about the reality.  Both elements were captured in almost the final words of the interview:

JO: So, a Christian on the ground in Africa could end up being on the receiving end of violence and abuse because of a decision taken at Lambeth Palace about sexual equality, about gay marriage?

JW: Yes, precisely.

JO: That’s not something I’ve heard before.

JW: I’m afraid it’s only too sadly true.

Thankfully, there does not appear to be any questioning of the truth of his personal testimony as to what he witnessed.  Nor have people disputed the shocking reason he was given to justify the mass murder of hundreds of Nigerian Christians (“if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual and so we’re going to kill the Christians”), of which he clearly said “this is not obviously something I think”.   That rationale highlights just how different our contexts are and how serious ignorance and prejudice towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people remains in many parts of the world.  There has, however, been much misunderstanding and unfair criticism of what he said.  There is a need to set it in context, to engage the broader questions of the nature and the rightness of his pattern of Christian moral reasoning and to consider what place his example should have in our thinking.

The Archbishop’s moral reasoning: what he did and didn’t say

Crude consequentialism or neighbour-love?

Some seem to have heard Archbishop Justin offering a crude form of consequentialism, the view that whether an action is right or wrong is determined solely by whether its consequences are good or bad: a consequence of the Church of England accepting gay marriage is that Christians in Africa will be killed, this is clearly wrong, therefore I am opposed to the Church of England accepting gay marriage. This has happened due to a mix of poor reporting of the interview and to the sad fact that consequentialism is often people’s default line of moral reasoning and so assumed to be the form of moral argument being presented.

It is important to locate the argument in the interview as a whole.  It was not referred to in two earlier exchanges on the substance of church teaching on sexuality at the start of the interview.  It arose in relation to a more specific and practical question from a clergywoman called Kes: given clergy have discretion in relation to remarrying divorced people, “why [in relation to blessing same-sex couples] can’t clergy be left to their own conscience while we’re waiting for the synodical process to happen, if there’s going to be a change with regard to equal marriage in church which so many of us want?”.

Justin’s initial response referred rather abstractly to the fact that in the Church of England “we’re linked to churches all round the world” and so “before we make a major change in how we understand what we should do, we have to listen to people, and go through a process of consultation and talking to people, and listening very carefully and praying, and without predetermined outcomes”. To follow the questioner’s proposal and “just do it now” would, he claimed, have an “absolutely catastrophic” impact on Christians far away and “we have to love them as much as we love the people who are here”.

This was, in short, an appeal to neighbour-love that politely suggested the questioner needed a bigger vision of what this fundamental Christian command required.  Justin made clear that we also have to listen to LGBT communities but we could not “suddenly say” (an emphasis on timing again) our position had changed.

Challenging caricatures

The interviewer then played this careful argument back as being heard to say to a gay Christian that they “can’t marry their partner in their church because of the conniptions it would give to some African, dare we say, less enlightened people in Africa”.  This, with its reduction of “catastrophic” consequences to “conniptions” and its dismissive, bordering on racist, view of opponents of same-sex marriage is what triggered the headline-hitting response.  The Archbishop first strongly rejected the description (“I don’t think we dare say less enlightened actually, I think that’s a neo-colonial approach and it’s one I really object to”) and then countered the view that it was all a matter of hysteria and rage rather than life and death:

I think it’s not about them having conniptions and getting irate, that’s nothing to do with it. It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a grave side in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that and a lot of them had been killed.

The example then is not offered as a determining or even significant factor for defining church teaching on sexuality.  It is a robust counter to a crude and (as the interviewer subsequently confessed) ignorant – though not uncommon – caricature of his appeal to neighbour-love as a reason why the Church of England cannot immediately let clergy bless same-sex marriages.

It has, perhaps, been heard by some as implying that if they support the questioner’s  call for rapid changes they would be the cause of – or at least morally complicit in – any consequent suffering among African Christians.  This is, however, not what was said (although it should be noted that parallel accusations are quite often made against conservatives who are told that their moral teaching is the cause of – and they thus bear some responsibility for – the persecution, murder and suicide of LGBT people).

Open to change?

In fact, the Archbishop did not rule out the Church of England changing its views and practice.  He did make clear his own views, first to Anne Widdecombe (“My position is the historic position of the church, which is in our Canons, which says that sexual relations …should be within marriage and marriage is between a man and a woman”) and then, after his reference to African Christians, to the interviewer who asked about same-sex marriages in Anglican churches: “personally I look at the scriptures, I look at the teaching of the church, I listen to Christians around the world, and I have real hesitations about that”.  He also made clear – in response to Kes – what had to be involved in moving to such a decision, referring not only to listening to Christians in other parts of the world and to LGBT communities but to the fact “we have to look at the tradition of the church, and the teaching of the church, and the teaching of scripture, which is definitive in the end, before we come to a conclusion” (italics added).

In other words, Archbishop Justin is very far from offering a consequentialist argument that the cruel, wholly unjustifiable infliction of suffering on African Christians should determine and fix the church’s stance.  Rather, in the face of a call for a sudden change in church practice, he appealed to the classic Anglican process of patient corporate, reasoned ecclesial reflection which listens to a range of human experience and studies tradition and Scripture, with Scripture as definitive.

Thinking about consequences

The example the Archbishop gave does, however, present a real challenge to those pressing for change, particularly rapid change: what weight should be given to such unintended and unjustifiable but foreseeable and very negative consequences of an action which they judge to be good or permissible?

Without embracing consequentialism, Christian moral reasoning does take consequences seriously in determining whether an action is wise and prudent.  The tradition of double effect reasoning (for example in relation to targeting in war and treatment at the end of life) holds that once it is clear an action is good in itself or not absolutely prohibited, there is still a decision to be made as to whether it is morally justifiable in a particular case where its effects are both good and bad.  If the evil consequences are great (eg the medical treatment has serious damaging side-effects while only doing limited good) then the action – though not wrong and forbidden in itself – may be judged disproportionate and so unjustifed.

The Archbishop’s example is, of course, an even more complex one.  The negative effect here is not caused by our action (in the way a medical intervention causes both negative and positive consequences).  It is caused by others responding to our action with unambiguously evil acts. This is a significant difference and cautions against placing too much weight on this scenario in moral deliberation. Weighing foreseen but unintended and undesired consequences of our own actions is complex enough in moral deliberation.  Factoring in negative consequences we foresee as arising from likely evil actions by other agents in response to our good actions adds in yet another level of complexity.  Clearly here the level of our responsibility and possible moral complicity significantly diminishes, although the question cannot be totally ignored, particularly if the consequences are likely and as serious as mass murder.

Real and difficult moral questions and decisions

Two questions post-Pilling

Having clarified the Archbishop’s own position and noted the place of considering consequences in moral decision-making, what role should scenarios such as that he cited therefore have in our ethical thinking?  They open up at least two important questions for the process of our moral discernment.

First, at what point and with what weight should such negative consequences be considered in relation to the appeal to Scripture, tradition and reason?  The danger is that –particularly now they have been given such a high profile – such circumstantial and consequential factors will be given too prominent and formative a role in the church’s deliberation on the substantive issue.  Such factors should not, I believe, come into play in determining whether the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage is right or wrong (the current focus).  Their place is rather in deciding what, if the church concludes its current prohibition is wrong or at least uncertain, it should then say and do as a result.

Second, we need, therefore to being thinking about what weight should be given to the sort of example cited by the Archbishop if the current post-Pilling process leads the Church of England to discern that Scripture does not require the church to maintain its traditional teaching and practice (and so could perhaps allow clergy the freedom Kes sought) or even that it should change its teaching because it is wrong, unjust and a denial of love of neighbour.

Difficult choices – the costs of doing what we think is right

For those already convinced the church needs to change this is where more work is needed.  During the Reading Crisis, Bishop Richard Harries, in defending the appointment of Jeffrey John, took the admirably anti-consequentialist approach that he was doing what was right even if it was costly: fiat justitia ruat caelum - let justice be done, although the heavens fall.  The difficulty here is that the heavens will fall most heavily not on us but on fellow Christians a long way away from us.  Most of them are clearly committed to such a principled approach to Christian discipleship.  They know – much more than any of us – the reality that a commitment to doing justice and being faithful to Christ may lead to their death.

If – as seems likely – the Church of England changing its stance increases the risk of incidents such as those recounted by Archbishop Justin then, as he stated, love of neighbour must weigh heavily on us.  This reality may lead us to conclude – weighing the good and evil consequences – that we cannot change our stance even though we would wish to do so and believe we are permitted to do so.  Even though the bad consequences are not the consequence of our actions but of evil acts by others in response to our good actions we may consider they are so serious that we must refrain from doing the good we can do because of the greater evil others will then do.  The danger here is that this appears to amount to letting the most morally corrupt succeed in a form of moral blackmail.

We may, therefore, conclude that we have a moral obligation to embrace same-sex marriage or that this is permitted and on balance the suffering which indirectly results for others elsewhere is less significant than the suffering we ourselves directly inflict on people we refuse to marry them to a same-sex partner or to bless their relationships.

Minimising negative consequences of doing what is right

If we do reach such a conclusion, we nevertheless need to take responsibility to minimise, as far as possible, the negative consequences for fellow Christians who will suffer as a result of our moral judgments.  Similarly, if we decide to uphold the current position we must continue to seek to minimise the potential negative consequences on bisexual, gay and lesbian people.  Although often not welcomed as doing so (much as we can expect scepticism or hostility from suffering African Christians were we say to we are doing all we can to mitigate the consequences for them of blessing same-sex marriages) this is perhaps partly why, while upholding traditional teaching, bishops have become more vocal about the qualities of gay relationships and supportive of civil partnerships and made clear that lay Christians who enter same-sex marriages should not be refused the sacraments.  Archbishop Justin in his interview also once again spoke repeatedly, clearly and strongly against the sin of homophobia, with his final words being that the experience of the Nigerian mass grave “burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country”.  Combating hatred and violence that leads to suffering and murder – under whatever guise – must be the primary response to scenarios such as those he described, but that cannot be all that is done. If we foresee our actions could trigger such wrongs, then the situation of potential victims must also be considered.

What options if we proceed with change?

The Archbishop’s horrific example of likely consequences seems to offer the following possible ways forward were the church at some point to change its position.

On the one hand, we could successfully persuade those who will suffer most to see this as another example of their righteous suffering at the hands of evil people because of the church’s faithful pursuit of justice and their solidarity with the marginalised.  On the other hand, if, at least in the short-term, this is unlikely to succeed we must find, with them, a new way of articulating and expressing our ecclesiology and re-defining what it means to be the Anglican Communion.  That will mean enabling them to dissociate themselves from our actions both because they believe the actions are fundamentally wrong in themselves and because they should not be expected to suffer the negative consequences that would follow from their association with us.  As Justin made clear in the interview, that too will not only damage Christian unity but will also have serious negative consequences: “I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago, and the church leaders there were saying, please don’t change what you’re doing because then we couldn’t accept your help, and we need your help desperately”.

Can we have a conversation about this?

Those pressing for change therefore need seriously to attend to these complex realities and questions even though they are not as obvious and pressing for most English Anglicans in their parishes as they are for bishops whose ministry connects them with the wider church.  Those of us upholding the current teaching and discipline similarly have seriously to address the complex realities and questions we face here and now with the introduction of same-sex marriage and ask those in other parts of the Communion to understand our context as we seek to understand theirs.  If we can honestly and humbly acknowledge and wrestle with these challenges then the forthcoming facilitated conversations could, rather than being a belligerent stand-off, still become fruitful dialogues where we might discern together what it means for us to love God and to love our neighbours, both near and distant.

The Book of Common Prayer Is Still a Big Deal

The Book of Common Prayer Is Still a Big Deal

Image: jordanchez / iStock

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) has had an illustrious and checkered career since Archbishop Thomas Cranmer first introduced it to the Church of England back in 1549, almost five hundred years ago. If you’ve ever pledged to be faithful to someone “till death do us part,” mourned to the words “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” or hoped for “peace in our time,” you’ve been shaped by Cranmer’s cadences, perhaps without knowing it. Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University and former professor of English at Wheaton College, has given us a lively recounting of the old Anglican prayer book’s history in this new “biography,” part of Princeton University Press’s Lives of Great Religious Books series. Jordan Hylden, a doctoral candidate in theology and ethics at Duke University Divinity School, corresponded with Jacobs about the BCP’s global reach and its mixed reception by evangelicals.

The Book of Common Prayer is nearly 500 years old. Does it still make a difference for how we worship today?

I suppose that would depend on who you mean by “we”—there are millions of Christians worshipping in ways unaffected by the BCP, except insofar as they share common roots in Jewish and early Christian worship. But the reach of the BCP is more extensive than one might think. It has relatively direct connections to Methodist and Lutheran worship. And the liturgical scholarship that, in the early 20th century, went into possible revisions of the Church of England’s 1662 book eventually made its way not only into modern Anglican prayer books but even had an influence on liturgical developments in the Roman Catholic Church, especially when vernacular Masses were approved at Vatican II.

And then, of course, the BCP’s rite for Holy Matrimony has spread throughout the English-speaking world. I was once a groomsman in a Unitarian wedding that used it—though with all Trinitarian references gently excised.

So all in all, the BCP’s influence on Christian worship is kind of a big deal.

You show how Thomas Cranmer and the evangelicals of his day made some substantial changes to the existing Catholic liturgies. What makes the Book of Common Prayer a distinctively evangelical form of worship?

Well, I’m not sure it is, at least in its liturgies. Cranmer strove to maintain as much continuity with traditional forms of worship as he could, given his commitments to the Reformation. So in the liturgies themselves there is little that a medieval Catholic Christian could find fault with—except that they are in English, which traditionalists thought would distract the congregation from the private devotions they customarily pursued during Mass.

The key differences, I think, lie in two other areas. First, in what Cranmer took away: for instance, the whole panoply of devotion to the saints was cut back tremendously, leaving the saints’ days still in place but emphasizing that they are examples to be followed rather than intercessors.

Second, and for Cranmer most important, is the strong emphasis on a lectionary that took people through the whole Bible—and, if people went to Morning and Evening Prayer, read through the whole of the books of Psalms each month. Cranmer wanted the literate to read the Bible thoroughly and faithfully, and for the illiterate to hear it read every day. (Thus also his emphasis in the prayer book rubrics on the importance of the priests reading the liturgy itself and the Bible readings “in a loud voice.”)

Italian parents push back against ‘gender deconstruction’ project in schools

by Hilary White, LifeSite News

This week, a group of parents told the city administration in the small Tuscan town of Pontassieve that they would not go along with the introduction of the homosexualist “gender” ideology in their schools.

The parents addressed the proposed “ECOS – Deconstructing to build” program that aims to “help eliminate the stereotypes associated with gender.” Parents quoted the Italian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights that say in the area of public education, the state “must respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” The school, they said, “must not invade the field of education within the family.”
The parents said, “The appropriate and necessary fight against bullying and all forms of discrimination cannot be manipulated by anyone or used to spread messages of other kinds, such as the affirmation of gender identity.”
They have launched a petition to stop the ECOS Project, citing the Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Gabriele Toccafondi, who has said that schools cannot be “an ideological battleground” and has blocked a plan to send “gender theory” materials to schools at the national level.

How prophetic were Fulton Sheen’s words 80 years ago

By Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald

Christians must go to the cross for the truth

Having recently blogged about the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, I note an American blogger, Little Catholic Bubble, is reading his “Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues” as a Lenten exercise. Reading one of the excerpts pulled me up short. The book was published as long ago as 1933 but it could be describing with uncanny accuracy the situation today. Sheen wrote, “We are at the end of a tradition and a civilization which believed we could preserve Christianity without Christ, religion without a creed, meditation without sacrifice, family life without moral responsibility, sex without purity and economics without ethics. We have completed our experiment of living without God…”
How prescient he was, though I am surprised that even in 1933, when Christian traditions and values in society and in family life still seemed to be stable and intact, he could see the writing on the wall. I think even Sheen would have been staggered at the speed at which his prophesy has been realised: changes in the definition and meaning of marriage; routine and widespread abortion; increasing pressure to legalise euthanasia – these are only some of the more obvious features of modern life taken for granted in the western world.
[...]  I sometimes think we inside the Church can get so worked up about “issues” – the informal “style” adopted by Pope Francis, whether one form of the liturgy is “better” than another and so on – that we lose sight of the one thing needful, pointed out by Bishop Bossuet. As I write this, the words of Bishop Egan of Portsmouth, who I blogged about last week, echo in my ears: “We will, being Christian, have to suffer and have to go to the Cross… because you have to witness to the truth.”

A brave Catholic blogger, Caroline Farrow of Catholic Voices, also discovered this when she spoke up from the floor in a recent BBC Question Time debate. The Catholic Herald this week relates her experience with the headline, “Blogger “spat at” after debating same-sex marriage on television.” Having watched a Youtube clip of this event, the hostility directed at Caroline is palpable.

Christians who put their head above the parapet and stand up for what they believe will increasingly discover to their cost what it is like to live in the kind of world that Fulton Sheen foretold so prophetically.

Why we need Ugandan Christians (and why they might need us)

By Simon Vibert

As part of the Wycliffe Hall Mission Week I took a small group of Students to Uganda to work with our sister college Bishop Barham Christian University, Kabale. This is located in the South West corner of Uganda, in the District of Kigezi, just an hour from the border with Rwanda. Kabale is about 7,000 feet above sea level and set in lush rolling hills. The air is a little “thin” and temperatures are less oppressive than in the capital Kampala where we began our journey, although the town centre is bustling, noisy and mucky, with red mud over all the roads and in the air. With a population of 50,000 people, Kabale acts as a district hub for an estimated 2 Million people scattered around the nearby villages.

The location itself is significant. Church Missionary Society missionaries brought Christianity to Uganda in 1877, arriving in Kabale in the early 20thC. The impact of the Gospel was enormously accelerated by the East African Revival which crossed over the border from Rwanda. It was warmly received in Kabale and from here emanated throughout East Africa.

The hub from which so much evangelistic zeal and worship emanated is the site where Bishop Barham Christian University now stands. The theological college students make up a small fraction of the 2,700 University cohort, but the Christian ethos pervades throughout.

We had the great pleasure of preaching in the chapel and nearby in the cathedral, teaching the Ordinands and sharing part of their training experience. We also taught in the local prep school and high school and visited local churches.

Why we need Ugandan Christians

The East African Revival lives on! Evidences of revival are strong, revealed for me in at least the following four ways:

Read here

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