I listen to and enjoy a whole range of different types of music. But there are some that I really do not like at all. Most rap and it's Jamaican equivalent, modern dancehall. That heavy metal music where the vocalist just makes primal scream noises into the microphone. Sopranos warbling. My lack of appreciation for these popular art forms does not effect my happiness much. Okay, occasionally I'll be walking down the street and some boy racer will drive by with hip hop blasting out of his car speakers and sometimes I will switch off a classical music station I am listening to because they've decided to play something I find too screechy. But live and let live, people like different stuff and I can live with that. It's part and parcel of living in an enlightened society. The thing is that, unless I set up a cultic militia and hole up in a compound in Waco, nobody is going to force me to listen to music that I find unpleasant or offensive.

So, why can't it be the same with religion?

I intensely dislike most evangelical doctrine and practice. I believe evangelicals to be heretics and far, far, worse, lacking in anything you could call good taste. I avoid them. I do not go to evangelical churches, I don't read evangelical books and I don't watch evangelical television channels. As is the case with my distaste for rap music, not involving myself in anything evangelical does not affect my happiness in the slightest. I put up with the rare occasion that I am accidentally exposed to it because it is part of the enlightened society I live in. Of course, I would prefer it if there was no such thing as Bible based Christianity just as I would prefer it if there was no such thing as death metal. But as long as there are people who enjoy such things, and as long as their practice of it is not harming anyone else, then I will never campaign for its criminalisation or wiping off the face of the earth.

So, why can't evangelicals be more like me and my live and let live co-religionists? Why do they insist that the rest of us have to, by force if necessary, believe what they believe and do what they do? That's not enlightenment, its slavery.

But, I have to admit that my insistence on being allowed to get on with my religious life as I see fit (as long as it doesn't hurt other people) must cut both ways. If I don't want to be told what to think and do then I would be a hypocrite if I insisted on telling other religious people, whose views I strongly disagree with, what to think and do, no matter how much I believe that me doing so would be for their own good. I expect that most of us around here will agree with that statement. The problem is, because of the way everything that we do effects other people, concessions have to be made in a pragmatic way, just as I have to make concessions for tone deaf Norwegians.

But how would this allowing pragmatism work in practice? Specifically, how would it work within the Anglican Communion at this present time in such a way that the Communion would not be destined to self-destruction and eventual oblivion?

Firstly, there is absolutely no reason why people in the same organisation have to all think the same way about stuff. The experience of the Church of England since the days of Elizabeth I has shown that people of, what amounts to, different faiths can exist together in the same church. Of course, there will be squabbling. There is squabbling in the dog club I belong to but this doesn't mean its members don't all love dogs (we may hate each other at times but we never stop loving our canine companions and if that is not a perfect metaphor for the Anglican Communion I don't know what is) and the arguments rarely lead to people storming off in a huff to set up their own dog club somewhere else. Different dog clubs have different constitutions, different priorities, different ways of doing things. But this doesn't mean that we are not all united by our affiliation to the Kennel Club. It doesn't stop us all competing at the same dog shows run under the auspices of the Kennel Club. The same can be true for different congregations and provinces affiliated to the Anglican Communion. The same has been true for many years. There is no need to mend something that isn't broken, especially when such tinkering will lead to more damage not less.

But what about specific examples of disagreement such as the marrying of same sex couples in church? Well, in the Church of England it has been the case for some years now that previously divorced people can marry in one of our churches. There were rules and guidelines set up but in practice what we now have is a situation where each incumbent decides whether or not they will marry such people depending on their personal moral understanding of the remarriage of divorcees. This is not a perfect situation but it is a compromise that works in practice especially when those incumbents against the remarriage of divorcees in church are willing to point any couple they refuse to marry to the nearest parish priest who will do so. I would suggest that this is the way the marriage of same sex couples should be introduced into the practice of Anglican churches. Nobody would have to change their understanding of the Creeds of the Church in order for this to happen. So what's the problem? Live and let live.

I suggest that the same allowance should be made for congregations who do not want a woman priest presiding at the sacraments within their particular church building. It's annoying, it's offensive to women, it's immoral in my view, it would be illegal in England if the Church of England was a secular employer. But it works in practice and I think it is more Christlike for enlightened Anglicans to allow the continuation of this abhorrent situation than to enforce our enlightened understanding of the Gospel of Christ onto those weaker Christians who can't cope with it as yet. We can live together with such a compromise. It is obvious that we can't live together without such a compromise. We have to decide between pragmatism and idealism but we do have a compromising Messiah to help us with our decision. However, I would most emphatically insist that this compromise can only be allowed if it is permitted by the overwhelming majority of the women in the Church of England. It should not be something that is imposed on the Church by men. The ladies have had enough of that already.

Unfortunately, things are not so simple when we look at the issue of female bishops in the Church of England. The problem we have here is that the understanding that it is normative for a diocesan bishop to have authority over all the priests within their geographically local diocese is a primary component of Anglicanism. If we ditch our understanding of the role of the episcopate our church will become something substantially different. I do not think we can allow priests and congregations to opt out of being overseen by their geographical local bishop.

I fully understand how this would be one huge problem for those who do not think women should have any ecclesial authority over men although the views of such people disgust me. I would understand and respect those priests who would leave their parish to move to a diocese where there is a male bishop in charge or even leave the Church of England altogether. That is the sort of choice all employees in any job have at the end of the day. But I don't really see why, in the real world, it should necessarily mean that all misogynist priests should have to leave their parish. For goodness sake, most priests at some time put up with bishops whose theology they disagree with. Out of my last five bishops, two were evangelical, one a gay man who didn't think women should be ordained to the priesthood, one who was so liberal I doubted that he was a realist in any straightforward meaning of the word and one voted for Margaret Thatcher. If I can put up with a tory as my bishop then any priest can put up with a woman telling them what to do occasionally (especially the married men who really should be used to it). It's not like the vast majority of Church of England priests take the blind bit of notice of their bishops. Again, enlightened Anglicans would have to allow some compromises that would be uncomfortable for them such as allowing suffragan, assistant or visiting male bishops to preside at a certain number of confirmations within the diocese and it would regard a lot of inner strength and self confidence from any woman who became a diocesan bishop. But it is workable. However, I do not think we should go down the separate oversight path for the reasons I explained at the beginning of this section. The world changes around us and if we don't like the changes we are sometimes forced into making hard decisions such as shut up or get out.

Freedom of thought is what separates the Anglican Church from Roman Catholicism and the major Orthodox denominations. I think that it is our most important possession, the bit of the good news of Jesus Christ that we are specifically responsible for. We have been practicing and refining this gift of ours for over 400 years and although we haven't quite perfected our tolerance for differing ideas within our communion we are getting there step by step. We absolutely must not allow any power hungry episcopate's thought restricting covenant or the blackmailing of the Church by power hungry evangelicals to overturn and stop forever the great gains we have made as a communion in our quest to live as if we lived in the very kingdom of God. But to maintain our right to think for ourselves we will have to allow others to think for themselves even when their thoughts are contrary to everything enlightened Christians believe to be the thoughts of God.

A huge thank you to Tim Chesterton for helping
me get my thoughts together for this post.


LET THEM GET ON WITH IT! — 22 Comments

  1. This is a very illuminating and powerful essay. It gives me a lot to think about.

    Beautifully written (with a touch of humor every now and then).

    It’s too early in the morning where I am for me to say much more. (I’m currently addressing my caffeine deficiency…)

  2. Yesss! To all of that! Well done!!
    The way it goes here (in US)is that these power hungry folks form a clique in the parish. They volunteer for everything, doing the work with great gusto and soon become in charge. Then they ‘run things’but remain ‘in charge’. Eventually, other folks discover that even if they have a voice, it is never heard, and people leave the parish. Then these zealous people are left trying to maintain the parish on their own work and finances and many times, the parish fails and closes. Been there and seen it happen!

  3. Agreed.

    I discovered that coming out allowed me to experience this freedom at a micro-level. There were those who rejected me (And, in many ways, that has made my life more peace-filled, so I owe them a debt of gratitude for their “sacrifice.”), those who changed their hearts and minds regarding matters related to sexual orientation, and those who realized we thought differently about the matter, that’s the way it was, and got on about with their lives, not feeling the need to cut me off. To think that we would all be at the same place at the same time on any matter is just silly.

    Which brings me to church stuff. One of the things I love about Anglican Land is the diversity of thought, yet gathering around the Table to celebrate one Lord. Those who cannot join that FEast only deprive themselves, and as I’ve mentioned many times before, put me in mind of the disgruntled dwarves in “The Last Battle,” who are unable to live into the reality of a new Narnia. Pity.

  4. I rather agree with this. The trouble is “the religious” (or unco’ guid as Rabbie Burns described them) tend to think that their personal theological position is revealed by God and therefore must be universal and binding on all. That’s when the stramash tends to begin.

  5. It must be something peculiar to evangelicals in the Anglican Communion. Anglo Catholics are just as certain of their superiority over all living beings (I certainly am) but we tend to act all persecuted and go off to play on our own – enjoying every minute of it. Anyway, the last thing we want is a load of oiks who don’t know how to do things properly turning up at our services.

  6. Tim Chesterton? Well if you two are getting on then the rest of us had better get our act together.

    Sadly I’ve seen superiority complexes in all wings of the church, liberal, evangelical, middling, Catholic.

    There has to be something we draw the line under, but what? Even the church in Acts can’t get away with being a free-for-all, though they try to live and let live as much as possible despite vast cultural differences between Jew and Gentile.

    The dog club analogy is superb, permission to recycle?

  7. David, I think there is a touch of irony in Madpriest’s reference to Tim Chesterton. See the comments on this post of Tim’s.

    Madpriest, for once I agree with much of what you say, except that is for some of your opinion of evangelicals. Indeed let each congregation do its own thing, and if anyone turns up who doesn’t like it, suggest they go elsewhere. Don’t let bishops have any authority, just treat them as competing providers of confirmation services (and here I mean “services” in the business sense). If some congregations thrive and others die, let them be. Gamaliel would have approved. But this isn’t very Anglican, is it?

  8. There has to be something we draw the line under

    Yes. And it’s the easiest thing in the world to identify. We draw the line at what we all already say we believe in – The Nicene and Apostles Creed. As long as the evangelicals don’t set up an inquisition to find out exactly how each member of the church “believes” the creeds, this would work perfectly. That is the only doctrine we need. Everything else is about church government and politics. That will remain but at least we won’t be able to bring God into it to back up our personal temporal preferences.

  9. Peter, I promise you that there is no irony in my thanks to Tim.

    I argue for the fun of it and to learn from others in order to make my own mind up about stuff. I do not argue to convince others to believe what I believe. If it ever happens it is purely accidental.

    In my argument with Tim I discovered that he is scared that the evangelical party will be wiped out in Canada by what he believes to be a predominantly liberal church. I understand his fear because my church in England is being taken over by evangelicals and careerist priests. My post above is my attempt to come up with an answer to both our worries and I hope you can see that I have taken Tim’s views very seriously to the point of going against much progressive mainstream policy. Of course, it’s all pie in the sky as I am a nobody. But I have said it, I am comfortable with the common sense of what I suggest and my conscience is now clear. Nobody can say I didn’t try when everything goes pear shaped.

    The Church of England has been a compromise between presbyterianism and episcopalism since its foundation and was present to some extent before the Reformation. At different points in its history one ecclesiology has been more dominant than the other. During the 20th. Century, with Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals not being prosecuted we tended towards being more presbyterian. Now the bishops are pushing us back to rule by bishop and uniformity.

    Personally, I believe bishops should be the person through whom all the sacraments that take place within the diocese are validated. I believe they should be pastors, especially to their priests, and teachers. The laity should take much, perhaps all, administrative tasks away from the office of bishop. Again this is pie in the sky, but if bishops believed themselves to be what I suggest then my recommendations in the above post would be relatively easy to implement without any loss of the Church’s episcopal credentials.

  10. Oh, and another thing. I only ever argue on blogs that are on my bloglist. I’m not a campaigner or an evangelist. I’m just a grumpy old priest.

  11. I can’t find anything to disagree with! [And, per usual w/ a MP post, I searched *determinedly*. ;-p]

  12. Thank you, MadPriest. I think you will find that also in the Church of England many evangelicals, especially the more conservative ones, are scared that their party will be wiped out by a predominantly liberal church. They used to also “tend to act all persecuted and go off to play on our own – enjoying every minute of it”. But now they see the C of E moving in the same direction as the US and Canadian Anglicans. That is why they have been fighting so vociferously in recent years. Personally I think they would do better to leave a church whose dominant ecclesiology they so completely reject.

    I agree with you that given that dominant ecclesiology, which I also have serious issues with, bishops should be pastors more than administrators, and not attempt to impose uniformity.

    As for where to draw the line, as an Anglican priest shouldn’t you be doing that where you vowed to do so when you were ordained, at the Thirty-Nine Articles as well as the creeds? I’m not suggesting an inquisition about how far each individual accepts them, but I do have issues when a priest rejects them as blatantly as you have done concerning the authority of Scripture.

  13. “I do have issues when a priest rejects them as blatantly as you have done concerning the authority of Scripture.”


    (Ignorant Yank here. I have a feeling that’s relevent to my confusion)

  14. You may well find this surprising, Peter, but I am committed to the 39 Articles almost as much as I am committed to the universal creeds. And I’m only more committed to the creeds because of they are a more ancient and more universal statement of catholic belief.

    I find them very helpful. For example they state clearly that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God but that everything we need for our salvation is contained within it.

    I argue with evangelicals from an orthodox Anglican position not from a liberal one. Many of my friends are liberals but I am not. At least, I am not from a doctrine of God point of view. I’m not even a liberal politically. I’m an unreconstructed socialist and as proud of being so as I am of being an Anglican.

  15. Well, MadPriest, on Tim’s blog you did call the evangelical “belief that the Bible is the word of God” (with no mention of “inerrant”) “idolatrous hogwash”. Maybe you meant that as hyperbole. But it does seem somewhat inconsistent with “HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation”, and the word “authority” also used in Article VI. Also in the Thirty-Nine Articles the expression “the word of God” or “God’s word” is used twelve times, apparently of Scripture, and explicitly so in Article XX which has the phrase “God’s Word written”. So I think you should accept that the “belief that the Bible is the word of God” is not “idolatrous hogwash” but the official teaching of the Church of England.

    But I agree with you in preferring to avoid the word “inerrant”, which suggests the wrong teaching that Scripture is to be taken as an authority on matters of history, science etc, and not just concerning “the Faith”.

  16. “God’s written word” is not stated to be every word of the Bible and can also mean that scripture belongs to God rather than scripture was written by God. I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian. I believe that scripture was written by human beings, sometimes inspired, sometimes not (I know not which is which, of course). I believe the word of Jesus Christ was the word of God because Jesus is God. But to say that a human being can utter or write the word of God is idolatry. In fact it’s blasphemy.

    As I said, I am boringly orthodox.

  17. A great post, Mad Priest. I agree with what you say.

    So, why can’t evangelicals be more like me and my live and let live co-religionists?

    Simple reason MP (and I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know) They don’t leave judgement in Gods hands like you. They do the judging and (in a loving fashion) they judge you/me to be dead in our sins if we don’t believe in the Bible as inerrant/Calvin as inerrant/evangelicalism as inerrant etc .

    And when you are trying to save a dying man you’ll do whatever you can. You pump on his chest, you break a few ribs. It’s all in his best interests as you try to resuscitate him.

  18. No worries. I like your bracelet idea but it does make you think.

    Perhaps fundamentalists should have tattooed on their sternum.

    In case of heart attack, do NOT attempt to save me with CPR. I am already saved.