Friday, March 30, 2007

Thoughts following the Quebec elections

In his 2003 Book “Fire and Ice”, Michael Adams reported his research into the changes in social values in North America over recent decades. He reported that Canada in general and Quebec in particular were moving in the direction of post-modernism, while the United States was moving in a different direction. Among the values he charted in the post-modern sector were adaptability to complexity, global consciousness, flexible gender identity, flexible families, and à la carte religion. The popular vote in the recent election in Quebec suggests that the trend tracked by Adams may be somewhat in reverse. There is certainly a move to the right politically, and the campaign had included references to homosexuality, immigration and “reasonable accommodation”.

Although our key concern in Anglicans Really Alive connects to questions around inclusiveness and diversity in the church, together with the place of scholarship and learning in the process of interpreting our scriptures, I believe we must widen that concern to include diversity and inclusiveness in society. We need to bear witness to the possibility of a different way of being society as well as to a different way of being the church.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail:

suggests that the shift in values is also to be seen in the field of intellectual endeavor. It is interesting to note that what is hinted at here is a cause common to Roman Catholicism, Christian fundamentalism and similar sentiments within the diversity if Islam. When I was ordained to the ministry nearly fourty years ago, I assumed that the battle for a Christianity which could take on board scientific knowledge had been largely won. All that was needed were a few mopping up operations. I guess I was way too optimistic. The struggle of the Church to embrace what Marcus Borg calls the new paradigm needs all our effort to support it. The success of the struggle for a new paradigm in society needs even more effort.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

This Week in the Media

A regular feature of this blog will be a weekly link back to our website's "In the Media" page, where links to articles of particular importance or interest are being posted regularly. The articles are gleaned from the Canadian, American and world press.

This week's offerings include an op-ed about homosexuality and science; a piece on the firmly-worded resolutions passed by the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops in response to the Anglican primates' communiqué; an essay about global warming from a spiritual perspective; two pieces on same-sex marriage in Canada; and an article about the Pope's recent affirmation of traditional views. They're all well worth reading; we hope you'll go take a look.

Thank you to Earl Love and Bill Converse for forwarding pieces to Anglican Really Alive. If other readers have articles to suggest for inclusion, please send us the links in an email to our gmail account. We can't publish links to everything but we'll be making a weekly selection of half a dozen or so, covering as many relevant subjects as we can.

-Beth Adams

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thoughts from a courageous Bishop

Bishop Gene Robinson's reflections on the meeting of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops meeting can be read on the Diocese of New Hampshire website:

More about Bible Study

Beth mentions Marcus Borg in her comment about Bible study. There are many other authors, who, over the past decade have added enormously to our understanding of the Bible and offered new ways of looking at these texts which form the foundation of the Christian Tradition. Among them are John Dominic Crossan, Karen Armstrong, Walter Wink, Robert Funk and Elisabeth Schuster Fiorenza. Some of these formed part of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who tackled the perennial question of what we can know of the historical Jesus. In their attempt to make accessible the critical approach to understanding the Bible they were much smeared by conservatives and popular press alike, but I believe they have offered ways of making the Bible an interesting document for twenty first century thinking people.

But we really are faced, as Beth points out, with a huge problem in getting members of more liberal congregations, as well as those outside, interested in Bible Study. It is partly, as Beth points out, a question of dealing with the alienation from the texts arising from the experience of a pre-critical and narrow interpretative approach, which just does not speak to people who have had any exposure to modern education and scientific thinking. But I think there is also the question of the commitment required to undertake critical Biblical study. First even the most enthusiastic beginner has to overcome the pain felt when leaving behind a comfortable corner in their lives and moving out in an unknown direction to a strange land. Secondly a large amount of background reading and study is required. Thirdly, critical study does not deal with short passages, picked thematically from here and there to support particular theological/political positions, but with extended readings, whole books and whole genres of texts. Time and time again we see that even seminary-trained priests and pastors, once they have passed through the hoops of their churches academic requirements, just abandon it all and return to the simple, pre-critical ways of preaching and presenting the Bible.

But I believe it is vital that we pursue every way of making critical Bible understanding known to and welcomed in our congregations. For otherwise we fall back on two alternatives, neither of which is attractive. The first is to return to a pre-reformation situation where only a small elite can understand and use the Bible. The second is even worse, that we leave Bible study to the conservatives and evangelicals.

There is also another problem out there. For those looking for an alternative way of being a Christian, there are some recent works which are very seductive. Among them are The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code, The Jesus Papers and The Tomb of Jesus. While these books go beyond the canonical scriptures, and take into account other documents, artifacts and information, it is all processed through the same pre-critical lens as the fundamentalists use. Unreliable data processed by uncritical thought produces absurd conclusions.

So it is vital to, as I said in another post, to find ways of encouraging thinking Christians to take the leap into the new ways of reading and studying the Bible. We shall be glad to hear from anybody who has stories of successful (or unsuccessful) ventures in such work.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Some Bishops really do have spines

Good news from our colleagues in the United States. The Bishops of ECUSA have demonstrated that they did not have their spines extracted at the time of their consecrations. From their annual retreat in Texas, they have issued three documents refusing to accept some of the major demands of the Tanzania Communiqué, and stating clearly the lengths to which ECUSA has gone in attempting to maintain the cohesion of the Anglican Communion. Congratulations!

The full texts of these documentations can be found at:

I hope this encourages the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada to make a similar stand on other aspects of the communiqué at their forthcoming meeting.

As events unroll, I believe we are seeing that the divisions in our church to be not only theological and pastoral. I am seeing a profound difference between the churches which had their origin within the colonial system of the British Empire, on either side of the colonial process, and those whose very origin and nature is anti-colonial. I believe these differences of origin are still today affecting our ethos, our social psychology and spirituality.

Those who know me personally will realize that while my own roots and a sizeable part of my life and ministry have been spent in the colonial sector, it was a great joy and source of spiritual renewal for me to come to Canada nearly twenty years ago. For, while it is clear that, historically, our church grew up in the colonial system, I believer in ethos it is much closer to that of the United States. I have to add that this is my endorsement only of the anti-colonial nature of ECUSA and should not be read to involve any comment on the politics of our neighboring country!

Monday, March 19, 2007

A note from Earl

One of the topics brought up at Sunday's meeting were the booklets recently received by Synod delegates, containing information about so-called "rescue"ministries aimed at "curing" gay and lesbian people of their homosexuality through religious intervention. The Rev. Canon Joyce Sanchez has given links to two websites, Zacchaeus, and the Anglican Essentials Federation, so that we can be more informed about what these groups are up to and discuss how to address their arguments. She and other delegates ask for our feedback.

Some thoughts from Michael Pitts

A great meeting was held in Montreal yesterday evening. We are aiming to solidify a voice in this diocese, representing those whose theology is critical, liberal, progressive, call it what you will. A fuller report, with some plans for action will be published here in a few days. Meanwhile, a few personal thoughts from me.

In a recent post in his blog, one of our members, David Ore wrote:

“But even more essential, is the need for, and availability of critical scriptural study and commentary which is not afraid of including historical contexts and the events which resulted in the current scriptural cannon.Equally, concerned people of faith need to make scriptural texts, including both the Apocrypha and the Gnostic Gospels their own, through thoughtful reading and study. If the mouth-pieces of the frightened patriarchy quote scripture at us, we need to respond in an articulate informed manner.”

I think David is absolutely right. But I also think it is important not to respond in a way that buys into their view of scripture. Here are a few radical thoughts of my own.

When I am in discussion with more right wing Christians, I frequently get the feeling that we live on different planets. Scripture for them, as I understand it, consists of fixed and inalterable words dictated by God in ancient times, and to be used to delineate all moral and theological discourse ever after. This view of scripture, I believe, arose in an historical context, where the knowledge of reading and writing was confined to a very small number of people (mostly male). Scripture (=what was written) was therefore considered set apart (=holy). Aside from the religious context writing also occurred in the context of commerce and the royal palace. It was therefore part of what Walter Wink calls “the domination system”.

The view I have always held is that Biblical scholarship of the past two centuries has given us a different appreciation of Scripture. The written texts arose as part of a living tradition of faith within the Jewish and later the Christian community. They form a collection of material, some mythical, some legendary, some historical, some legal, some didactic, some poetic, which form a background narrative of the faith of the communities, and a treasury of spiritual material of universal value, mixed with other material of ephemeral importance only to the context in which it was first written. The texts in themselves show the development of faith, and the continual discovery of new meanings for new contexts. Through ongoing critical study, the work of interpretation (hermeneutics) is to discover anew in each generation and social context what is of beauty and value for that time. This is undertaken within the context of a continued living tradition, expressed in the church, in the academy, and increasingly today, more generally in society through literature film and television. Unfortunately some of this interpretative work continues to be based on the pre-critical understanding of scripture.

So, when we are faced with those seeking to impose moral, theological and even legal constraints based on particular Biblical passages, we must avoid their magical view of scripture, which we would fail to do if we tried to answer with other passages of Scripture. I think we should also avoid trying to show how the passages they throw at us really have another meaning. This may be true, but to take this line is to buy into their presuppositions.

Instead, I think we need to disseminate widely the post critical view of scripture (which also takes into account not only non-canonical scripture as David points out, but also the scriptures of other religious traditions.) This is to see scripture, both in its historic and present context as a wrestling between inherited spiritual truths on the one side and living in our current matrix of contexts on the other. Such an approach does not make for good ten second sound byte material, which is perhaps why more conservative Christians have the edge on us. But I hope our initiatives in Montreal, together this blog and website will join with other initiatives to form some counterweight to prevalence of pre-critical discourse.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Our next meeting on Sunday 18th March

All are warmly welcome to the second of our Lent meetings on Sunday 18th March. As before, the meeting place is in Christ Church Cathedral (635 Ste Catherine West), between 5 and 5.15pm. You are of course also warmly welcome at Choral Evensong at 4pm. The reason for meeting in this way is to avoid the necessity of having security at the usual entrance to Fulford Hall. If you are delayed and arrive after the Cathedral is closed, you could call me on 514 847 1316.

At the meeting last Sunday groups defined questions we might discuss this next week. I have brought them together in four sets, and I suggest that we begin this Sunday’s meeting again in groups, each group tackling whichever one of the sets of questions they choose. After a suitable time we will share our findings in the whole group, and then finish with informal discussion over a light supper. As part of our process is to encourage discussion and inter-reaction, I will suggest that we try to form into different groupings.

The following are the questions arising from last week.

Immediate tasks
Do we need to respond to the communiqué of the Primates meeting? How?
What is the most effective way of getting our message out?
Do we believe a covenant is necessary?

Medium term possibilities
What do individuals, small groups want to do?
How can we organize to have numbers and resistance.
How can we deal with undue taking of authority by the Primates?
How much power will we allow the structures to have over us?
Are we witnessing a stealthy take-over by well organized, well funded right wing groups?
How can we become an effective cross-Canada network?

Longer term goals
Do we have a shared vision?
What should our vision be?
What do we want our church to look like in five years time?

Scripture, authority and Interpretation
What is the authority of Scripture?
What is the role of modern scriptural scholarship in reconciling extreme positions?
How can we be honest in Scriptural interpretation?
How do we promote better biblical Scholarship?

ACC Response to Windsor Report

The Windsor Report Response Group of the Anglican Church of Canada today released a draft response to the Windsor Report, for study prior to General Synod.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Notes on the March 11 Meeting

About forty people gathered on Sunday evening to view a webcast of an address by the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, about the recent meeting of the Anglican Primates in Tanzania. Afterwards, during a light supper, we broke into smaller groups and discussed our reactions to the address and to the primates' requests as stated in their official communiqué, as well as the draft of an "Anglican Covenant." At the Dean's suggestion, each table came up with some questions that might guide our discussion at next week's meeting: he asked us to focus especially on whether we felt our group should have a name or not, and what our goals should be, if any, going forward toward the preparations for General Synod. "Can our group add anything to the discussion that is already going on?" he asked.

If the talk at our table was any indication, participants were already thinking deeply about questions of identity, purpose, future action, and transformation of our communities beyond the particular issue of sexuality.