Broad Affirmations

The paper given to the discussion leader can be read below. The discussion as I perceived it was about liberalism.

The presentation had the suggestion that you could look at belief as 1 to 5, and if Richard Dawkins is 5 and fundamentalism is 1, then Anglicanism is at 2, 3 and 4. Yet he sometimes agrees with Dawkins. He read a letter sent to Bishop John Spong about being on the edge.
A question I asked was whether it is possible to be liberal in method but conservative in outcome. The presenter said no. I referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury who perhaps has liberal methods but comes to conservative conclusions, though has now shown historical tendencies. His view that resurrection texts being rough and therefore suggests their truth simply is not so: they are some of the most polished. There was some scepticism about his motives.
One said a history degree had shown her that no one at the time of early Christianity - including Josephus and Tacitus - did history in a proper and critical sense as is done today. And this is before there was theological content.
I told of a landmark chat between a priest and me that whereas I am liberal he comes at it from tradition, is critical about the tradition, and is Benedictine in approach. It impacts on me in terms of possible vocation. We referred to the current situation in Anglicanism, and how the Bishop of Lincoln had (for some of us) put up a non-argument about a gay blessing being all right if a handful come along but not if a large crowd. A blessing is a blessing, we thought, though one thought larger numbers changes the character of the event.
Comment was made that the Windross chapter on liberalism was very weak (not by me but I agreed).
I spoke much about Arians in Anglicanism and Arminians in English Presbyterianism, and the liberalism of the Reformation from Transylvania and Poland, Polish liberalism dispersing including to the Netherlands with Jesuit rule. There was reference to the importance of the printing press: we had seen the programme with Stephen Fry.

The paper given to the discussion leader can be read below. The discussion as I perceived it was about liberalism.

Some weeks back there began a four part presentation on Fulcrum by Craig Uffman, an Anglican Open Evangelical. An Open Evangelical is to be distinguished from a Conservative Evangelical by a broader use of the Biblical text, although an Open Evangelical accepts the view that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation and that it has primacy in that its detailed words when God-breathed give Christian truth.
You may wish to reflect whether this is your position or not. It is not mine, for reasons I will indicate. In the third part Craig Uffman was chewing over 1 Corinthians 5, a key text for evangelicals that deals with excluding those Christians who indulge in sexual immorality:
5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgement 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons- 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13 God will judge those outside. 'Drive out the wicked person from among you.'

[New Revised Standard Version]
So the argument goes that this text has it that the sexually immoral man is cast out for his flesh to be destroyed so that he can be saved, and that he is excluded from eating in the festival, the early form of fellowship meal that became the eucharist, to treated more harshly as an insider than those outsider non-Christians whom God judges.
Now the Conservative Evangelicals, who judge that homosexuality and its acceptance is off limits for the fellowship of Christians, want The Episcopal Church (USA) and increasingly the Anglican Church of Canada thrown out of the Anglican Communion; that there will continue to be border crossings by so-called faithful Anglican Churches to pick up the faithful believers; and that TEC and the ACC should be excluded until they repent and the border crossings can then end. However, what the Open Evangelicals see happening is a set of purist Churches setting up their own Communion freeof those who accept homosexuality, and thus being schismatic, and this schism they oppose. The people acting in an apparently schismatic fashion say that this action is temporary, but given the stance of TEC and the ACC they are unlikely to make such moves temporary. There is, of course, the possibility of an Anglican Covenant that could push TEC and the ACC into a kind of second division communion membership; however, the few responses among Anglican Churches to it have been from lukewarm to resistant, and many provinces are opposed to a Covenant that could actually exclude, and oppose one that transfers powers to the Anglican Communion over and above national Churches. Indeed it would be illegal for the Church of England to pass any of its rule making to an outside body.
It seemed to me that for as long as Craig Uffman continues to chew the fat over the details of the 1 Corinthians 5 text then he gives the argument to the Conservative Evangelicals. There are only two ways out of this, for someone like him going over the detail.
The first is to regard the fellowship of Anglicans as within each national Church and separately. Fulcrum's position rejects this, as it thinks there is an Anglican Communion that joins Anglicans together. It calls the separate Churches option "federal". A federal view allows Anglicans in each country to have their own interpretations of texts, but it does then lay open the possibility of different Anglican denominations within each country. In a Communion view, which Craig Uffman, like Fulcrum, favours, Anglicans respect other Anglicans in the different countries, and they are as one and so don't tread on one anothers' toes. So to respect one another they ought to follow the same rules, and these would be biblical and, I'd say, Craig Uffman loses the argument. The second way is to regard homosexuality as not the sin the Conservative Evangelicals do. To regard it as such a sin Conservative Evangelicals use Paul again, and this is Romans 1 - from verse 18 to 32 in particular:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God´s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die - yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them.
Now the argument from these passages would seem pretty to be straightforward, because the passages say that those who worship the creature rather than the creator and suppress the truth of God end up involved in all kinds of sinful behaviour, including men having sex with men. Men having sex with men is therefore evidence of sinfulness and - back to 1 Corinthians 5 - they are to be cast out, and particularly bishops who consecrate another bishop who has sex with a man should all be cast out.
The answer against all this has to be an argument against biblical literalism. This is that some men have relationships that are faithful and loving with other men, as do women with women. Therefore, as they are showing something faithful, they are showing something of God, and thus idolatry is not involved, and indeed there is no evidence of their idolatry. But to say this is extra-biblical.
An alternative to this is to say that there are orders of doctrine and that homosexuality is a second order issue, and so fellowship should be maintained. I don't quite understand this, if one has a biblical view of the details. The language in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 5 is quite extreme and explicit. It sort of makes itself first order.
Thus we have to not just doubt the text, but argue from principles against it. You can argue part way with it, but there is already a slippage from evangelical credentials when you do this. This is clearly an issue for Craig Uffman, who would yet regard himself as a solid evangelical.
Now this is one form of belief, and it is belief in a text and in the primacy of that text. Some of us say this gives far too much to a text in this fashion, and that - even if finding the Bible important - the text was a creation of the early Churches. Paul is but one opinion, and we see that a kind of inerrancy is being piled upon Paul however important he may be. Some of us will want to say, yes, interesting in confronting situations like this, and there is some potential guidance there, but only some, and we live in the here and now.
Now the Archbishop of Canterbury himself has said that there is no text itself that directly gets us out of the exclusion of homosexuality; indeed he has said that, in keeping with Lambeth 1998 resolution 1:10, there is only one way to read the Bible, which is consistent with the Conservative Evangelical reading. He for one has nailed his colours to the mast.
But before coming to the issue of doubt, there is another form of relevant belief here, and it is the Catholic approach. In this we have the tradition and the Holy Mother Church. Now once we have established the errors of Roman Catholicism and the particular treasures of the Anglicans, there are those of a said Catholic view who think that the Anglican Communion is one, indivisibly part of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. As there should be no differences between Anglican Churches, then in effect the Communion that unites should have special decision making authority. What the Communion does is tell a Church in one country which Anglican Church properly exists in another country, and therefore not to invade its space - for invasion of its space is tantamount to schism. So, on the principle of Catholic Order, which is based on bishops, priests and deacons, there is a tendency towards centralisation in the solving of disputes.
Of course, should the Anlgican Communion decide that an Anglican Church in one country is defective, then it can arrange for other Anglicans to move in - at least until the original Church ceases to be defective in its doctrine and order.
But of course many an Anglican Church regards itself as autonomous, and there is the other Catholic model of Orthodoxy - what are called autocepahlous Churches, where Churches with a unity of Canon Law choose with which other Churches they are in communion. With this approach, however, one would expect a fair amount of boundary crossing and competition between Anglicanisms (as indeed is the case of seeing competing Orthodox Churches in some countries). In the autocephalous approach there would be little function for a centralised Communion. There is no doubt that this Archbishop wishes to centralise, and ecumencially he wants to present a single Anglican identity to the Roman Church, which cannot understand Anglican diversity. Rowan Williams has been attracted to Roman ecclesiology all his life and so he combines both his neo-Roman Catholicism with effective biblical fundamentalism. This so called liberal is nothing of the sort when it comes to institutional ecclesiology. In fact he is not liberal at all: in theology he is a postmodern conserving narrativist, a sort of text in a hall of mirrors of detail, a position potentially consistent with Roman Catholicism and even biblical literalism.
One can invest a great deal of belief in the Church and tradition, in all the major ecumenical Councils, for example. A key Council, for example, is Nicaea in 325 CE, some 13 years after Emperor Constantine became a Christian and who, for the sake of the Empire, wanted to tie together centralising strands in the emerging Church. Traditionalism today usually ends up being denominational and sometimes more than one per denomination.
So tradition and Church is another form of belief - and its negating is another form of doubt.
Some of us, who take on the label Christian, get accused of doubt when we question both of these - both that are cultural and human processes. We are said to doubt the place of God in uniquely guiding these outcomes of orthodoxy. We doubt that God chose the 27 books of the New Testament, and we doubt that God worked his way to fix the Councils of the Church and the outcomes of particular Churches.
Of course there are said to be levels of doubt. There are those who say yes the human influence is there and culture too, but God works through culture, against those who may say, in effect, "We made it all up."
There is also systematic doubt against a systematic philosophical theology. Christianity is a religion of beliefs of the supernatural and metaphysical, and following Paul, there is the kind of trade off some make to keep the Incarnation and Resurrection but be less sure about the details of the virginal conception and bodily resurrection. Systematically, as long as you keep the big bricks of the dogma, you can dispose of the little bricks that might be embarassing or not fit in with a method of doing theology. Now this approach to belief is neither particularly Church nor Bible, but it is a systematic one - if you do not have a unique Incarnation or Resurrection then, following Paul, the system of Christianity fails.
This is a kind of warning to the level of doubt that can be tolerated, though actually what level of doubt is tolerated seems to vary over time. Arguably room for manouvre has been reducing since the 1960s and these days is becoming chronically small.
Tese days we see a number of techniques of sleight of hand. Many a learned preacher, though giving quite a bit of straight biblical criticism, makes a leap to doctrine that somehow does not fit what they have been saying. Another sleight of hand is by the textual manipulator - the preacher who deals with the readings of the day inside their own bubble. They deal with the text in hand - and fine, but can we come out of the bubble and translate any meaning to today please?
Let me try and give my own position. Whilst doubt, or better still, a critical approach to everything, is indeed a spiritual method towards getting rid of the rubbish, and towards the potentially purer and more transcendent, I tend to prefer affirmations of what I do believe and what is a positive method.
The first method is to treat every book of insights without initial special favour. That means the New Testament, it means the Gnostic Gospels, it means the Qur'an, it means the Vedas and the Suttras and books written by Baha'u'llah - and on and on. Secondly, one looks for ethical and spiritual principles that emerge from these - any of these - and what is to be rejected in these - any of these. Applied is a whole raft of historical and textual methods. It needs argument and preferably with someone else, just like the pharisees did in Jesus's day and Jews have since. So this is my approach to texts.
Now of course we are in a Church of a tradition, and it offers a path and that path gives some sort of definition. Out of a path comes a spiritual benefit. It is hard work otherwise, starting with blank sheet. What this does is limit the vastness of the textual universe, which otherwise would be unending. However, the tradition must never be allowed to throttle or constrain - tradition is there for us and we are not here for it. This is why, when I approach Christianity, I approach it in the widest possible form rather than the narrowest. I don't care about heterodoxy and orthodoxy, but rather I am interested in what has been thrown up and therefore how we can discern it. The books of the New Testament themselves are diverse, and are not a unified theology - indeed they show uneven development towards proto-orthodoxy and they struggle with Judaism and Gnosticism. They show a faithfulness to a Jewish Jesus and a leap away from him. They give far too much to the views of Paul and exclude the blood family of Jesus and disciples after his death and the eschatological Jewish faith they will have continued. There is, therefore, no way that I would move around the minutiae of biblical text - it cannot carry that weight. I am no Craig Uffman.
The most restrictive of texts is bound to be liturgical. It is because it is the text that mostly does the spiritual job. There is a difference between the task of liturgy and the task of theology. There is quite a tension here, and it may be getting separated - but there seems to be no solution to this. Theology is now getting ever more diverse.
So for me it is through culture and through humanity that religion emerges, forming into traditions and cross-currents and borrowings. The Church is like several streams forming a river, and the river goes into a delta. The water is the variety of texts that get read and used including oral, incidental and additional. Clearly rivers get named and have characteristics, and there are identity points along the way. But there is a diversity of directions in which the tributaries and delta streams go, and the main river is liturgical.
This is not about doubt regarding scripture or tradition, but about a different method of affirmation. That it is sometimes called "reason" is misleading, because reason is associated with the Enlightenment and rationality. Of course these are crucial, as world views have changed, but my view is cultural - cultures that change and stories that get told before, during and after the Reformation, before, during and after the Enlightenment.
I don't know if this is Anglican. It is sort of parallel with it, and it might be called Liberal Catholicism or Free Catholicism. It is liberal in its broadest sense, and is about affirming this world and not denying it. We are thoughtful, speaking bodies, communicating through cultures and forming institutions, and faith is but one of these communications with institutional help that comes back into our bodies through the practices of ritual as in liturgy.

Uffman, C. (2008), Ecclesiology as Social Ethics: Paul, Corinth and the Practice of Holy Discipline, Online, URL: [,,], Fulcrum and Covenant.

The paper given to the discussion leader can be read above. The discussion as I perceived it was about liberalism.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful