Category Archives: Theological ethics

24 Oct

Softly, softly catchee monkee

The county of Herefordshire is one of the most beautiful rural areas of England and its people, being country folk,  are conservative in the broad sense of that word. It’s surprising then to see that the Diocese of Hereford is in the avant garde when it comes to issues of social morality. Hereford Diocesan Synod has put down a motion for the General Synod to debate blessings in church for homosexual “marriages.”

What do the boys and girls in head office think about this outburst of rural progressiveness? A spokesperson for the Church of England said:  

“Clergy of the Church of England are unable to marry couples of the same sex and, under the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on same Sex Marriage, services of blessing should not be provided for those who enter into civil partnerships or same-sex marriages.”

Let’s tidy up that spokesperson’s language a bit. Clergy are not “unable” to marry couples of the same sex. By the Church’s rules, they are not “permitted” to marry them.

The spokesperson added:

“It is recognised, however, that there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality and the House of Bishops has recently embarked on the preparation of a major new teaching document on marriage and sexuality.”

That sentence could do with a bit of tidying up as well. Take the inaccurate statement, “There is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality.” There is in fact no such disagreement, real or unreal, profound or shallow. There can only be rational disagreement when the pertinent facts are in dispute. And here the facts are plain and indisputable: the universal Church from its beginning has always and everywhere declared marriage to be the union of a man and a woman. This it has done on the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ.

So that statement, tidied up, would go something like this: “The Christian Church has always and everywhere declared that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Only very recently, a vociferous sectional interest pressure group has refused to accept this clear and unequivocal teaching of Scripture and tradition. The Church therefore calls this pressure group to order and requests that they desist from suggesting that marriage can be anything other than ecclesiastical authority has always proclaimed.”

The spokesperson further muddies the waters:   

“We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God.”

Yet again there is tidying up to be done.

Why is the General Synod “seeking ways forward rooted in Scripture and the Christian faith” when there are no such ways? Scripture has not changed over the two millennia of Christianity. On the matter of marriage the teaching has always been the same.  What, therefore, could the bishops’ “major new teaching document” possibly have to say when the Church’s doctrine of marriage has never varied?

What is the purpose of the last part of the spokesperson’s statement saying that the General Synod “values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God”?

Of course, Christians value everyone as persons “loved and made in the image of God.” The reason this sentence is added here lies in the subtle policy of the Bishops and the Synod to achieve their ultimate aim of allowing homosexual marriage. Disingenuously, they insist that the rules cannot be changed but that homosexuals must be loved and valued by Christian congregations. Christian congregations knew that already. The valuing, loving and welcoming is being used as the first step in a process which will allow doctrine to be based on practice.

De facto acceptance – give it time – will lead to de jure approval. This is the political device preached and practised by revolutionaries everywhere  from Quintus Fabius Maximus to Vladimir Lenin: gradualism or softly softly catchee monkee.

Priestly blessings for homosexual “marriages” are already being performed by disobedient clerics. These are the storm-troopers in a guerrilla campaign. Bureaucracies such as the Synod prefer “due procedure.” They will get their way. It will just take a bit longer.

How long? I’d guess the Church of England will solemnise homosexual “marriages” within the next three years 

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17 May

Humpty Rules OK?

What are the foundations of morality? The Ten Commandments? Our Lord’s summary of the Law in which we are commanded to love God and to love our neighbour? Does Aristotle “golden mean between the extremes” appeal? Or you might like to try Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only on that maxim which you would will to be a universal law.” In the philosophical bargain basement, you can find the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill which declare that the rightness of an action is to be judged by its consequences. if you fancy a bit of positivism and moral anarchy, you can take your cue from A.J.Ayer and C.L. Stevenson who said that the propositions of ethics are strictly “meaningless” and merely emotive: according to these two gentlemen, when I say, “Slaughtering the innocent is wrong,” all I really mean is, “I don’t like slaughtering the innocent.”

Bewildered, we turn to the church. But what do we find there?

In the Season of Easter edition of Faith in Sussex, the Chichester Diocesan magazine, the Bishop of the Diocese, clearly with the election in mind, writes:

“But essentially the vote is an expression of engagement with a process in which law and taxation provide the foundations of what we believe to be morally right.”

I’m sure that if we were to ask the Bishop to clarify this perplexing utterance, I’m sure he would oblige with a qualification something like this: “Of course, I didn’t mean to say that law and taxation are the foundations of morality; only that what we choose to tax and the sorts of laws we make reveal the things that we value most.”

But, if that’s what you meant, Bishop, why was that not what you said?

There is a foolish notion, widespread particularly in politics and social policy-making, that it is the speaker or the writer who means. As if the same sentence in the same context from two different mouths could carry two different and even contradictory meanings. This is not so. It is not we who mean: it is  words that mean. And, unfortunately even for bishops, the choice of words determines what is being said.

It is no defence to reply to a challenge by saying, “That’s not what I meant!”

Then why did you say it? If you meant something else, why didn’t you choose words which would state that something else?

Unfortunately for all our public conversations, politicians, journalists – and it appears, even bishops – have all been reading Alice Through the Looking Glass and they have become the disciples of Humpty Dumpty:

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less’.”

No wonder Alice became irritated. And so am I!

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27 Mar

“Goose brought back from the dead”

Let no one say that Christians lack seriousness

Church Times informs us that there has just been a conference of Christians in Waterloo about the place of animals in the church’s faith. The discussion was organised by a society calling itself Sarx – which might be considered rather inappropriate as sarx is the Greek word for flesh; specifically it is the derogatory term used by St Paul to refer to the sins of the flesh or the bondage of the flesh. These sarky Christians proclaim their love for animals and complain that the church generally does not regard the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air sufficiently highly. But if these folk insist on a Greek tag, I suggest they might think of renaming themselves Soma – the respectful word for body.

Christians still don’t love animals passionately enough, but we are getting better. David Clough, Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester, argued that “Things are changing in the Church” which was now at a “tipping point”. Those in attendance could be “at the vanguard for providing a new understanding about the place of animals in Christianity.”

He alleged that our concern for animals had been “disenfranchised. . . It is there, but we do not think we have permission for it from our faith or the Church we belong to. For some animal lovers, that puts them on the fringes of the church, or makes them give up on the church altogether.” This was “odd,” he said, as there were “strong biblical and theological reasons” to care.

I really don’t recognise my fellow Christians in Professor Clough’s description. And I have always welcomed well-behaved dogs at our services. Usually the dogs are better behaved than those children encouraged to run around, shout and generally “express their personalities” by modern parents.

Professor Clough complains that Christian animal lovers are often thought to be “cookie” or “weirdoes.” Professor Clough is no weirdo and he can prove it, citing his hero St Werburgh “…who raised a goose from the dead.”

When Professor Clough had sat down, up marched the keynote speaker Dr Tony Campolo, a Baptist minister and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University, Philadelphia. He demonstrated he was no weirdo either as he spoke movingly of “…something sacramental” in his wife’s “spiritual connectedness to our poodle, Jamie.” He added. “Whales have been heard singing a new song every year, which is more than you can say for most Evangelical churches..”

I’m with him on that one!

I’m no cookie weirdo either. I once had a budgie called Steve that could sing the Hallelujah Chorus and Snowball, a lady hamster that could play Beethoven’s Opus 111.

O brave new church that hath such people in it!

I shouldn’t wonder if they ended their conference with the hymn Nearer my dog to thee.

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29 Jan

By mirrors and prevarication…

Slowly but surely, by hint, innuendo and prevarication, by a deathless procession of committee meetings and interim reports, the Church of England is working its way towards changing its teaching on marriage. Three years of “shared conversations” on the subject have just ended and the Bishop of Norwich has published a summary in which he says: “At present clergy are advised that they may offer ‘informal prayer’ to those registering civil partnerships or entering same sex marriage.  The parameters of such pastoral support are unclear.  The House proposes that there should be more guidance for clergy about appropriate pastoral provision for same sex couples.”

Society has, as they say, “moved on” and the church is getting left behind. Archbishop Rowan Williams noticed this fact and referred to it in his last sermon before he retired: “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.” Thus this very modern prelate inverted the teaching of St Paul who, on the subject of pagan values, commanded, “Be ye not conformed to this world.”

But what did St Paul know, living as he did all those centuries ago and long before our great Enlightenment?

The bishops and the synod are hell bent – I choose the words carefully – on catching up with the secularists. How do I know this? Because the bishops and the synod have got form: they have fallen into line with every “reform” in social manners and customs since the 1960s. We can be sure that there will be no point in the process of continuous “reform” at which church leaders will declare: “This is a step too far. Proceed no further. Stop!”

But there will be no explosions, no nasty shocks. The ecclesiastical committees will proceed by stealth and duplicity. Press release will follow press release and memorandum of understanding will begat memorandum of understanding. It will take as long as it takes. Only the result is certain. The Enlightened Ones – Williams’ catchers-up – will not take the decisive vote until they are sure of winning it.

Meanwhile, what? Let the very progressed Bishop of Norwich spell it out:

“No change in doctrine is proposed but it is often pastoral practice – how we treat people – which matters most.  This means establishing across the Church of England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people, for those who experience same sex attraction, and for their families, and continuing to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the Church.  And so we speak in the report about re-examining the existing framework of our pastoral practice to permit maximum freedom within it.  We recognise two areas in particular where advice in relation to the pastoral care and support of lesbian and gay people needs fresh thought.”

Notice at once the trademark double-speak: There will be “no change” but there will be “maximum freedom.” Freedom to do what?

Our Lord’s teaching on marriage remains the same. We have a choice: obey his teaching or disobey it. That is the only “maximum freedom” Christians are permitted: freedom of the will.

The bishops and the synod will proceed with a shifty gradualism of which Fabius Maximus (280-203 BC) would have been envious.

This is the strategy: there  is to be“…a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people.” On the Christian criterion of “hate the sin but love the sinner” this cannot be faulted. But the paradoxical willingness to accept those who deliberately disobey Christ’s teaching – while desperately balancing on one leg to insist that his teaching still stands – will lead to the eventual abandonment of the teaching; not (at first, anyway) by decree but by default.

Then Rowan Williams will be able to rest easy in his retirement, having seen that the church truly has caught up with secular mores. That is only for the time being. For secular mores will soon gallop off again into even more Progressed and Enlightened “reforms.”

And the church will do… Well, we know what the church will do. What it always does and that is to play catch-up, very successfully.

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20 Jan

The massacre of the innocents

Archbishop Justin Welby recently visited Auschwitz and afterwards said, “We must reflect on the human capacity for evil and the need to both recognise and challenge this wherever it appears. We must protest to the limit against evil: before it occurs, as it happens, and in its aftermath.”

That was very well said and profoundly Christian, befitting an Archbishop. Its pertinence is particularly noticeable in his phrase “wherever it {evil} appears.”

The extermination of 1.1 million people by the Germans at Auschwitz was a signal atrocity, but it was not unique. The Germans murdered six million Jews in their death camps, but the Russians under Stalin slaughtered three times that number – and some say even more than that. Still more were killed by the Chinese under Mao.

So this is where we should mark well the Archbishop’s phrase, “wherever it {evil} appears.”

And evil appears everywhere and in all ages “All have sinned and fallen  short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). This is the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, the fact that, while we may strive to do good, our will is inclined to evil. St Paul says, “The good I would, that I do not; and what I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19). We are divided selves. 

Nowadays the doctrine of Original Sin has gone put of fashion. Since the Enlightenment we have thought increasingly well of ourselves and so now the truth of the doctrine of Original Sin has been replaced by the lie of Progress. Modern, “liberal” Christians don’t believe in Original Sin: they think it’s just one of those dismal superstitions held by primitive people in the “pre-scientific” bad old days. Modern types are quite sure that they have grown out of such “negative” views.

The modern “liberal” preacher does not set about to convince us of our sinfulness but to cultivate our sense of self-esteem.

But it is easy to give the lie to the “liberals’” denial of the fact of Original Sin. If we are really so progressed, improved and altogether better than our forebears, why were more people slaughtered in the wars and genocides of the 20th century than in all the preceding centuries put together?

This is where I want to come a bit nearer home. The 1.1 million murders of the Auschwitz atrocity were an unspeakable evil. But since the Abortion “Reform” Act of 1967, 8,2 unborn children have been destroyed in the UK because their existence was. deemed inconvenient for those who procreated them. The legalisation of abortion, we were told, would abolish the dirty and dangerous backstreet clinics and termination would be allowed only within the first 24 weeks of gestation and in cases where the foetus was severely damaged or where there was a danger to the life of the mother.

“Termination,” they say blithely, clinically. They forget there should be an “ex” before that word

But for decades abortion has simply been used as another method of contraception used by the sexually incontinent.

8.2 foetuses destroyed since 1967. Currently at a rate of 200,000 every year in the UK. That’s an Auschwitz every five years.

And you tell me you don’t believe in Original Sin?

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19 Nov

ARCHBISHOP TALKS SENSE!

Indeed, the age of miracles is not dead. Let me write the headline: ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY TALKS SENSE. It’s even better than MAN BITES DOG. Yes, Justin Welby has surprised us by acting entirely out of character. He has said we must accept that the terrorist group Islamic State has some connection with Islam. Here is an extract from the Archbishop’s speech:

“If we treat religiously-motivated violence solely as a security issue, or a political issue, then it will be incredibly difficult – probably impossible – to overcome it.

“A theological voice needs to be part of the response, and we should not be bashful in offering that.

“This requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that Islamic State is ‘nothing to do with Islam’, or that Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity, or Hindu nationalist persecution of Christians in South India is nothing to do with Hinduism.

“Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution.”

I have never heard him say anything remotely sane or sensible before. I ran out of fleshy areas of my body which I might pinch to establish that I was not dreaming. Now I am left wondering why Welby spoke as he did. In the past he was always a fully paid up member of the Islam-is-a-religion-of peace-and-love brigade: those Guardianistas and BBC types who claim that the murderous psychopaths’ shout of “Allahu Akbar!” immediately before they behead you/throw a few bombs into a shopping centre/spray a playground with Kalashnikov bullets/ or perhaps crucify you is an aberration or a mere coincidence.

It was probably too much to expect the Archbishop to take the reasonable next step and declare that the Christian response – in fact the Christian duty – towards those who deliberately kill the innocent should be to fight them. This teaching, derived from Aquinas’ doctrine of the just war, is entirely orthodox. Better still if Welby had followed the example of St Bernard of Clairvaux who, in the Burgundian town of Vézelay on 31st March, 1146, delivered his famous oration on responding to the Muslim threat:

“…Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed on Christian people? …Fly then to arms; let the holy rage animate you in the fight, and let the Christian world resound with these words of the Hebrew prophet: ‘Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood!’ ”

But credit where it’s due: The Archbishop’s words represent movement in the right direction and a welcome change from the usual evasive, euphemistic tosh that churchmen speak concerning the barbarians who perpetrate mass murder in the name of Islam. Who knows where these things might lead? Perhaps next week the Archbishop will ascend the pulpit in Canterbury cathedral and say, “Up, lads, and at ‘em!”

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27 Jul

Is it weak to keep your trap shut?

Prince Harry says: “It is OK to suffer, but as long as you talk about it, It is not a weakness.”

I sympathise. He has had a an emotionally tough start in life since his mother was killed in a car crash when he was only twelve. I’m sure that sometimes it is helpful to talk about one’s sufferings, though I’m suspicious when it comes to the various “talking therapies.” I was once in a drinks reception in a livery hall in the City of London and found myself in conversation with a Freudian psychiatrist. He asked me what it was like to be a priest and I answered as honestly as i could. I said, “But it must be difficult to be a psychiatrist and have to sit there listening to someone’s outpourings for hours.”

He replied, “Who listens!”

It’s good to talk, they say. And perhaps the buttoned-up heart and the stiff upper lip are not always the best responses to our troubles. But over these last few decades we have swung so far in the other direction with our armies of agony aunts and counsellors. There’s something sickening about all this emoting, letting it all hang out.

I remember an accidentally hilarious, and very telling incident, from 1994. A posse of journalists was taken across to Normandy to report on the commemorations of the D-Day landings of fifty years earlier. The commemorations included some re-enactment of the battle. Upon their return, the journalists were offered counselling.

An eighty-year-old veteran commented: “I was there for the real thing in 1944, and we weren’t offered any bloody counselling! We’d have told ‘em where to stick it!”

I cannot stand the way we medicalise human pain and misery.

Actually, I try to take my guidance from a quite different source:

“He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

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27 Mar

Happy Easter Mr Cameron!

The prime minister has taken on something of the job of the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury and given us an Easter message. He says the UK must “stand together and defend its Christian values” in the face of threats from terrorism.

He is hardly expert in the subject of Christian values, having introduced homosexual “marriage” in clear opposition to both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Apart from this atrocity, he has a strange idea about what Christian values are. Among them he includes, “responsibility, hard work and compassion” which are “important to people of every faith and none.”

If these things are shared by every faith and none, in what sense can they be called Christian?

Perhaps I can help clear his head about Christian values. Christian values are inseparable from the Christian truth on which they are based.

The shortest summary of Christian truth is The Apostles’ Creed. You can find this, prime minster, in the order for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer

Happy Easter Dave!

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30 Jan

There’s nowt so queer as queer marriage

Here comes another deceit in the downward spiral into theological and moral chaos

A homosexual pressure group commissioned an opinion poll from You Gov – a respectable and honest outfit – to ask how many Anglicans now support homosexual marriage

Except they didn’t call it homosexual marriage: they called it equal marriage

The conclusion drawn and publicised is that now “a majority of those who would call themselves Church of England” approve of homosexual marriage

This then gets reported in the media to suggest overwhelmingly that this means people in the pews substantially agree with queer marriage

Of course this is not the case

Ask anyone in the street concerning his religion and he is likely to say  say C of E

The fact is that most of those in the pews regularly on Sundays abhor queer marriage

Never mind. It won’t be long. The Church of England has fallen into line with every secular social “reform” since the 1960s

I would give it another three or four years until – under the bizarre and antinomian leadership of the ludicrous Welby figure – the General Synod and the bishops come out in favour of queer marriage

Officially

This is the way the world ends – well, it’s the way the church ends anyhow.

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09 Jan

It’s not just the Gays

Next week in Canterbury cathedral the worldwide Anglican Communion will split into two factions. Except this is not quite correct – for the fact is that the church has split already. Next week’s meeting, called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will at last formalise the split.

The reason for the division is said to be the widely different teachings on sexuality among the churches, and particularly on the subject of homosexuality. This is true, but it is only part of the truth.

The fundamental cause of the split is much broader and deeper and involves not just the matter of sexual morality. It is ethical, certainly, but it is also theological, doctrinal and cultural. In truth, it is an unbridgeable division between traditionalists and modernisers or, to put it bluntly, between believing Christians and secularising liberals. I must apologise here for some terminological inexactness: “Liberal” in this context does not mean “broad-minded, live and let live”; it connotes a theological cultural hegemony which has adopted the secular mores of western societies and which therefore has rejected the historic Christian faith. This account of the matter is not merely my opinion: the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used his final sermon to tell us, “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.”

And these secular mores are not the same thing as historic Christianity. In fact, they are its antipathy.

The fact is that the European and American churches have already caught up with secular mores. Many African and Asian churches reject modern secular mores. And that is the fundamental cause of the split which already exists de facto and which will be formalised at next week’s meeting when Archbishops from believing churches in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Congo are likely to walk out.

“There’s going to be a lot of drama,” said a senior C of E source. “It’s 90% likely that the six will walk out. If we get past Tuesday, we’ll be doing well.”

Of course, the mass media will focus all its attention on the widely differing views on homosexuality among the churches. A typical headline will announce:  CHURCH SPLITS OVER GAYS.

But to claim that the cause of division is disagreement on the ethics of homosexuality is as if we should say that the cause of the First World War was the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. The assassination didn’t help, but the deep causes of that war were international tensions and disagreements which had been brewing for decades.

And that is the case with today’s division among Anglicans worldwide.

For decades the western churches have come more and more to believe less and less. When I say churches, I mean, of course, the elites – bishops, synods and the like with their self-important commissions and reports – who rule these churches. They have demythologised the gospels and they no longer believe in the credal doctrines concerning the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Ascension and the Second Coming of Christ. They also reject the miracle stories in the Bible. The traditional Christians believe that these teachings mean what they say. The liberal elite reduces them to metaphors in which, for example, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen but means  a feeling of new life; the feeding of the five thousand didn’t happen either, but is an acted parable about sharing.

Really, in the Anglican Communion today, there are two creeds.

The believing Christians hold fast the historic creeds and the traditional understanding of the New Testament account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know what these creeds say, for they are written down and have been said daily by the faithful for centuries. So far as I know, the creed of the liberal elite has never been written down, but if it were to be, it would go something like this:

“I believe in God, but only in the metaphorical sense that the doctrines of the secular Enlightenment, Darwin and modern science will allow. I believe in Jesus Christ who was a very special person who went about preaching the gospel of social conscience. I believe in equality and diversity. I believe in climate change. Most important of all, I believe that those who do not believe these things have a lot of catching up to do with what we moderns with our secular mores believe.”

So there you have it: the story behind the headlines.

 

 

 

 

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