Tuesday, 21 February 2012

'Collegiality' on sexuality

Given the lengthening thread of comments with regard to my previous post on this topic, I want to try to refocus the discussion afresh. I have therefore closed comments on the previous post, but people are welcome to assume others have read what they wrote previously.
Could I remind people that on this blog they are asked to give a full name and location. I know some are accustomed to abbreviations, but in a spirit of openness and ‘speaking the truth to one another’ I would invite them to consider complying with this request.
In the earlier post and subsequent discussion about collegiality, Tim Chesterton makes a comment which goes to the heart of the apparent confusion in the minds of many.
He asks, “Doesn’t collegiality mean that ... bishops who disagreed ... were free to speak their mind, but not free to change their practice until the church as a whole changed its practice?”
The Church of England operates two principles which, I think I am right in saying, have some bearing on this whole business.
The first is expressed in Article XXXIV, ‘Of the Traditions of the Church’ which, whilst recognizing that “Traditions and Ceremonies ... may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word”, nevertheless denies the individual the right just to ‘do his own thing’ in the particular church to which he belongs: “Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.”
In this sense, all Anglican clergy are required to maintain a ‘collegiality’. They may hold certain opinions, but even if those opinions are not repugnant to the Word of God, they are not, as Tim says, free to change their practice.
It does seem on recent performance, however, that there is another way in which ‘collegiality’ has come to operate and be understood, particularly regarding episcopal collegiality. This relates to Article XX, ‘Of the Authority of the Church’, which, whilst acknowledging that, “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies” (as per Article XXXIV), insists that it cannot lawfully “ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written” and “ought not to decree any thing against the same”.
Now regarding the presenting issue, the collective position of the House of Bishops has been (in line with the resolutions of General Synod and of the Lambeth Conference) that same-sex sexual behaviour is, in fact, “contrary to God’s Word written”. Therefore — and here’s the important bit — as an expression of collegiality, people like Rowan Williams have explicitly subsumed their personal views (in his case expressed in The Body’s Grace) to this position of ‘the Church’.
That is slightly different from the lesser ‘collegiality’ of Article XXXIV, which is a ‘what I do’ collegiality. In the second case, which has particularly applied to the House of Bishops, it has been a ‘what I teach’ collegiality — affecting personal views, not just personal practice.
Now it seems to me, which is why I am asking the questions in this post, that Bishop Holtam has explicitly declared that he will ‘break ranks’ on this second collegiality. If it is not clear to anyone what this means, look at Rowan Williams, who (whatever you may think of him as a result, and ‘liberals’ have been very explicit themselves in this regard) has consistently maintained ‘collegiality’ in both word and deed.
Unless I am very much mistaken, however, Bishop Holtam — whatever he may now say or do — has already acted differently from Archbishop Williams.
It is this that needs to be addressed. Is Bishop Holtam still ‘maintaining collegiality’ himself? If he is not (and clearly I believe he is not) then what should other bishops do?
These questions are, I think, appropriate.
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  1. Canon Andrew Godsall21 February 2012 at 10:09

    John - what would you do about bishops who officiate at services of Benediction, and those who allow such servcies in their dioceses?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  2. Andrew, please stay on topic. If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring. But I don't.

  3. Canon Andrew Godsall21 February 2012 at 10:33

    It is on topic John. It's an issue of collegiality. And I'm still trying to discern why you think you can raise this issue without first writing to the people concerned - which in itself is also about collegiality.
    The articles are very clear about the matter of Benediction, yet bishops clearly have a variety of practice and teaching about it. Does collegiality only really matter when it has to do with sexuality?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  4. Andrew, the topic is "Collegiality on sexuality", as per the header. The reason for 'starting again' on a new thread was precisely to focus down on this area. Further, you asked me 'what I would do', not 'what should be done'. I have no powers in this regard.

    The topic is what it says at the top - no more and no less (others please note). We can't keep going off on a tangent. If you wish to start a different discussion, you will have to blog for yourself, I'm afraid.

  5. Canon Andrew Godsall21 February 2012 at 10:53

    John there is no need to be defensive. The discussion is about collegiality - surely you can't just be collegial about sexuality but disregard it when it comes to other things?
    I suspect that you have no powers in regard to collegiality on sexuality do you?
    Your unwillingness to answer speaks volumes, yet at least one of my questions remains even on your over-narrowly defined topic : why are you raising this issue without first writing to those directly concerned?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  6. Andrew, in answer to your last question, both bishops have spoken publicly. Moreover, Bishop Kings was approached directly on just this topic, and has answered the direct question put to him. I did not think my repeating the same question would elicit any different response. I do know that others are in more direct contact with him, but again I do not think anything I could say in that regard would alter the significance of the matters of fact in the public domain.

    That is why I am raising this issue without first writing to those directly concerned.

  7. No one seems to have had the courtesy to write to Bishop Ncholas about this do they.....
    So - is it the case that we just need to be collegial about sexuality, but are free to disregard collegality concerning other matters - especially those about which the 39 Articles are pretty clear?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  8. Andrew, your first point may or may not be true, but certainly Bishop Holtam did not contact his clergy before saying what he did to The Times.

    Your last point would be a 'tu quoque' argument.

  9. Rather amusingly, regarding the above comment of mine, I think my first point about Andrew's first point is itself a 'tu quoque' argument like Andrew's second point! (Suckered!)

  10. Thanks John...I am glad you spotted that and I am smiling whilst drinking my coffee!

    But surely it's much more a point about integrity. We can't argue for collegiality on one topic whilst completely ignoring it on another. That said, we all have our 'hobby horses' and I'm no better or worse in that regard.
    I'm happy to disagree collegially with you......and thanks, as ever, for your collegiality in allowing me to comment.

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  11. P.S Not sure when the folllowing appeared on the Diocese of Salisbury website but it might answer a lot of your question John:

    The Bishop of Salisbury Presidential Address, 18 Feb 2012
    I am sorry my comments about same sex relationships got such elevated treatment by The Times, when reporting a small part of a wider interview. I hope I got the tone and content clearer in the subsequent interview for BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme. When Civil Partnerships were introduced in 2005, I thought their distinction from heterosexual marriage was helpful. They are an important support to faithful love, and faithful love is a distinctive mark of Christianity because it reflects God’s love of us.

    Because the quality and nature of some Civil Partnerships is similar, possibly the same as for married couples, I have come to see that the rapidly adopted name “gay marriage” may be appropriate. As we know, the Government begins its consultation about this next month and that they have already explicitly exempted religious communities from being forced to accept the conduct of homosexual marriage in addition to heterosexual marriage.

    In saying what I did, I am trying to create the space for an honest conversation. We have no option but to recognise our context is changing and that we are talking about people, some of whom are within the life of the Church; that we are talking about ‘us’, not ‘them’.

    For the avoidance of doubt, the position of the Church of England, House of Bishops and Diocese of Salisbury has not changed. There are no authorised services of blessing for same sex partnerships and it is not possible for Civil Partnerships to take place in Church of England churches. I will, of course, keep to the Church’s discipline whilst hoping that we find opportunity to explore the issues which divide us.

    Last Tuesday I met with the Bishop of Sherborne, the Archdeacon of Dorset and 10 clergy who had written expressing their concerns about my reported comments and a short note of that meeting is being drawn up and I will put a statement on the Diocesan web site.

  12. Thanks Andrew, I knew a statement was coming, but it wasn't up yesterday.

    I'm not sure if this should be read as collegiality restored, or collegiality never broken, but it looks a lot like 'Article XX' collegiality nevertheless.

  13. Sorry - Andrew, I am searcing the Salisbury website for that announcement and cannot find it. Do you have a link and could you copy it here please? The previous link I provided was to a different and earlier statement.

  14. John, clearly you were correct to raise this issue, and you did so in an appropriate and responsible manner.

    I note Canon Godsall in a series of posts strongly suggested that you were not entitled to raise the issue, and that you were (for reasons unclear) precluded from raising the issue publicly until you had first raised it with +Holtam privately. These arguments were obviously untenable - the initial report was public, and the onus lay on +Holtam to publicly refute it, if in fact it was incorrect.

    The implications of this issue go far beyond English shores - it was noticed here in Australia also, and no doubt in myriad other places that have Anglican bishops.

    The issue has now been defused in the only way that it could have been defused: By +Holtam publicly clarifying that he will conform to the practice of the Church of England.

  15. Hi John

    The extract is from the Presidential Address and you can see all of it here:

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

    1. Great post, what you said is really helpful to me. I can't agree with you anymore. I have been talking with my friend about, he though it is really interesting as well.