Rowan Williams confronts Richard Dawkins

A man of faith with a firm grip on reality

Rowan Williams has deftly punctured the New Atheists’ accusation that religious belief is at odds with reason

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Gentle nature: the force of Rowan Williams’s views has been widely missed  Photo: Andrew Crowley/The Telegraph

As I researched Rowan Williams’s biography, it became ever clearer that the former Archbishop is the foremost Christian apologist in the English-speaking world. Partly because of his gentle nature, however, the force of his arguments against Richard Dawkins, A C Grayling and the other so-called New Atheists was widely missed.

Two especially dubious assumptions stand out among current attacks on belief in God – that religious faith is all about assenting to dodgy propositions; and that atheism must represent the default stance for a reasonable, “objective” person.

From a Christian or Jewish or Muslim point of view, the response to the first of these assumptions is that religion is a path of understanding (akin to some of the ancient philosophical schools) that can say little to those who have not set out on the journey. Dr Williams was fond of pointing out that disengaged study misses the point: it is like analysing a piece of music in terms of the decibels in its constituent bars.

But this is certainly not to suggest that Christians and others should ignore reason as they seek to elucidate their creeds. On the contrary, Williams added, it is the second assumption that looks especially wobbly from a believer’s point of view.

Anyone out of short theological trousers should know that God is understood in the monotheistic traditions to possess being in itself, and that therefore God is not any part of reality as we understand it. You can’t add up God and the universe and make two. One of Dawkins’s odder refrains is that any creator of the world would need to be complex, that this complexity would need to arise from natural selection, and that there is no evidence that any being more complex than humanity has evolved so far.

The god pictured by Dawkins is therefore a product of nature, as well as its creator. The mind boggles in the face of such elementary confusion.

Dawkins’s intellectual fig leaf is provided by the physicist Lawrence Krauss, whose book A Universe from Nothing is coy in acknowledging that a “self-explaining” cosmos is dependent on the prior existence of a quantum vacuum – out of which the process known as inflation, giving rise to a Big Bang – can emerge. But a quantum vacuum is not “nothing”, or even a static medium. It is marked by a series of chaotic fluctuations in which particles appear and reappear in a manner consistent with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

The uncomfortable reality for an atheist is that it’s impossible, in the terms naturalism allows, to say how anything could exist at all.

So the grounds for maintaining that the universe was created are more robust than sniffier unbelievers allow. Resistance to this sort of argument is indirectly linked to a more solidly based worry among secularists: the misuse of religion as a vehicle for repression and authoritarianism in parts of the Muslim and Christian worlds. Faith is like fire, to cite a sobering analogy. It warms; but it can also burn. No fair-minded observer can deny that religion has sometimes been put to deeply corrupt use. But it is a mistake to infer from this that spirituality must thereby be swept to the sidelines. The desire to muzzle faith communities can reflect an equal and opposite form of secular intolerance.

As my work unfolded, I regularly encountered not only a series of convincing protests against the New Atheism, but also a critical distinction made by Williams between good and bad models of secularism: the “procedural” and the “programmatic”. Procedural secularism grants no special privileges to any particular religious grouping, but denies that faith is merely a matter of private conviction. “Larger commitments and visions” should be allowed to nourish the public conversation.

The former Archbishop views so-called programmatic secularism in a far less positive light, because it insists on a “neutral” public arena and hives religion off into a purely private domain. Far from resolving clashes of world view, Williams warns, procedural secularism risks inflaming social conflict. His recipe for harmony is “interactive pluralism”, which encourages robust dialogue among faith communities and between them and the state. No one has received the whole truth “as God sees it”, so all have something to learn. Such an engagement is held to contrast with the relativism implied by multiculturalist attitudes: “tolerance of diversity” can conceal a multitude of sins. During all the fury over Williams’s ill-advised comments on sharia law in 2008, his broader argument was obscured.

Sane religious voices matter more than ever for two reasons. Firstly, because secularism has gone into reverse. Three-quarters of humanity now professes a religious faith; that figure is projected to reach 80 per cent by 2050. Secondly, because despite religion’s status as the pre-eminent source of social capital on earth, the destabilising effects of religious fanaticism are nevertheless plain to see far from Iraq and Syria.

In his own defence of theism, Williams appeals to the imagination as putting human life in a fresh perspective. This narrative is at once bold and reserved. Bold in seeing a potent pointer to God in this worldly existence. Bold about the resources good religion offers for addressing love and loss, transgression and redemption. Reserved in warning about the risks of saying too much too dogmatically. And Williams can still write of the Communion he led from 2002 to 2012 as a trusty home for visions of this kind. As he put it recently, Anglicanism at its best has tried to evince the Benedictine values of courtesy, hospitality, generosity and a reflective, practical faith. This vision forms a pearl of great price.

The new edition of ‘Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop’, by Rupert Shortt, is published by Hodder

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This paragraph in the article states a resounding truth – about religious belief and the dangers of religious fundamentalism:

“Sane religious voices matter more than ever for two reasons. Firstly, because secularism has gone into reverse. Three-quarters of humanity now professes a religious faith; that figure is projected to reach 80 per cent by 2050. Secondly, because despite religion’s status as the pre-eminent source of social capital on earth, the destabilising effects of religious fanaticism are nevertheless plain to see far from Iraq and Syria.”

Here is plain evidence of the fundamental sanity of the faith of our former Archbishop of Canterbury. What ever his perceived failing as ABC, he is probably one of the most spiritually alert of the bishops of the Anglican Communion. A good match for any atheistic contention against the place of religious faith in the human sphere.

The major point of Rowan’s thesis may be that fundamentalist religion of any flavour can be deleterious of any meaningful  spiritual understanding of a Loving Creator God of ALL.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Giles Fraser – on Religion and Violence

If this is real religion, then you can count me as an atheist

The best way of getting rid of bad religion – and by that, I mainly mean violent religion – is by challenging it in its own terms

A screen grab that puportedly shows the Isis killer of US journalist James Foley: 'If this is real r
A screen grab that puportedly shows the Isis killer of US journalist James Foley

What is it with religion and violence? One man severs the head of another, and in the name of God… If this is real religion, then count me an atheist. But this is real religion, I hear you say. The history of religious belief is a history of horrendous violence: intolerance of others, burnings and lynchings, religious wars in which millions have died, torture, persecution. It’s easy to see the appeal of John Lennon’s imagining no religion.

So why is it that religion often does not have enough moral fortitude to resist its own capacity for violence? At its heart, religion is that category of belief in which the world does not revolve around me but around something other than me. It is a sort of Copernican revolution in which the human being is not at the centre of all things. That is not its only characteristic, but it is essential.

But there are two ways in which this thought can go. It can be a source of humility, a reason to admit that there is much about the world that I do not and cannot know, a basis for a sense of wonder at that which is beyond me that cannot be collapsed into my own plans and schemes. But also, and in total contrast to this, having the belief that we are indexed (and have special access to) to something higher or beyond ourselves can itself serve to make us feel more powerful, more virtuous, more in touch with the truth – the very opposite of the Copernican revolution of the spirit. And being exclusively allied to the truth is always a useful way of excusing one’s own violence, for it is all being done in the name of something else, something other than me. For God, as it were.

I have always argued that there is a difference between good and bad religion. But I am aware, and worry, that the problem with this distinction is that good religion can serve to give bad religion a good name. This is the atheistic complaint against liberal believers: that they provide ideological camouflage for their more murderous brothers, and by so doing keep bad religion going. Against this, I still contend that the most effective way of getting rid of bad religion – and by that I principally mean violent religion – is by challenging it in its own terms, rather than insisting upon the eradication of religion per se.

Anyway, I don’t believe eradication is possible. The old modernist thesis that scientific progress would make us less and less religious has proved to be entirely unfounded. Religion exploded in the 20th century. Indeed, in numerical terms, Christianity (for instance) grew more in the 20th century than in any other century before it. And moreover, what would the eradication of religion mean if not the source of yet further opportunities for violence?

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, said that Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaeda are “enemy number one of Islam”. Just hold those words in your head for a moment. That’s a big deal thing for him to say. The grand mufti in Saudi Arabia is not some soft liberal lefty cleric: Saudi Arabia is the spiritual home of Wahhabi Islam, a brand of Islam that takes inspiration from the 18th-century cleric Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, often credited with being the ideological progenitor of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Isis and al-Qaida have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, says the grand mufti.

This sort of thing is nowhere near enough. But it is a start. If religious belief is to regain its place at the table of civilised humanity, it will have to model a great deal more humility about its own sins and failings.

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Readers may have come to realise that I am quite a fan of most of what Fr. Giles Fraser – former Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, has to say about current affairs vis-a-vis religious culture. In the light of the present stand-off in places like Iraq & Syria; Israel & Palestine; I think that Giles’ comment in the guardian is both timely and apposite.

True religion is not about warfare and violence conducted by elite religionists against those they see as ideological enemies; at its very best, it must be about seeking ways of peaceful co-existence, power-sharing and equality with justice. God could not have created human beings for the purpose of the dominance of competitive ideologies. Rather, each and every human being has been created in the divine image and likeness, deserving of respect and acknowledgement.

Where religious fundamentalism seeks to dominate in the arena of religious thought there is the great danger of ideological warfare – leading to violence and oppression – inimical to the Gospel ethos of a God of Love, basic to the Christian understanding of the Incarnation, life and witness, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Son of God, and Redeemer of ALL who look for redemption.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, N ew Zealand

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Reconciliation in the Middle East – A Christian View

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VIDEO: About to give up on reconciliation in Israel-Palestine? Don’t. Watch this interview with Salim Munayer. – [CMS]

Are you thirsty for a different kind of voice in the maelstrom of voices over Israel-Palestine? How can we look with clear eyes at the conflict? Is there a hopeful path to follow? Has anyone got anything to say that is not ultimately one-sided? Salim Munayer does.

Dr Salim Munayer is director of Musalaha reconciliation ministry in Israel-Palestine and a trustee of the Church Mission Society. He co-authored Through My Enemy’s Eyes, with Lisa Loden.

Here, he discusses the ABC of reconciliation, what might be a Christlike response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and challenges the Church in the West about its apathy and seeming lack of desire to speak up for Christians in the Middle East.

Salim also sheds light on the competing historical narratives and theological frameworks, and the implication of the church in the conflict.

Salim talked to Jeremy Woodham at the CMS offices in Oxford on 11 August 2014.

26 August 2014 | Vimeo | Open media

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The ACNS (Anglican Communion News Service) offers this most enlightening video interview on the complications of any attempt at reconciliation  – first in the middle-East, and then in relation to Christians everywhere. How best do we approach the Christ-given task of reconciliation? This video, is a profound viewpoint of someone deeply involved in the situation.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Muscular Christianity – a Titan’s Fall?

HOLY HIPSTER MARK DRISCOLL CONTINUES TO FALL

 
driscoll2
 

Following the news that 21 ex-Mars Hill Church pastors asked lead pastor Mark Driscoll to step down, he returned from his planned vacation on August 24, 2014 and announced he will be taking at least six weeks off while the charges are being investigated. Mars Hill has retainedevangelical PR strategist Mark DeMoss, son of the religious right funders behind the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation and former advisor to the Romney campaign, to assist the church during this time.

Earlier this month Driscoll suffered a major career blow when the Acts 29 Network, the all-male coalition of over 500 Reformed evangelical church planters that he co-founded, removed him and his Seattle based Mars Hill Church from the organization’s membership, and asked him to step down as a pastor.

Following this news, Lifeway Christian Stores, the second largest distributor of Christian books, announced it will no longer carry his books, and Mars Hill cancelled their annual signature Resurgence Conference scheduled for October 2014. Driscoll continues to find himself persona non grata at events such as the the Act Like Men Conference.

Driscoll’s “difficult season” escalated on August 3, 2014 when approximately 80 ex-members of Mars Hill protested Driscoll’s misogynyongoing plagiarism allegations, and abusive tactics, as well as the church’s overall lack of accountability and financial transparency.

Hailed as a rising young hipster pastor destined to revitalize a graying evangelical leadership, Driscoll, age 43, earned the moniker “the cussing pastor” for his profanity-laced preaching. His ongoing mission to reach “fatherless” young males attracted to muscular Christainity made him an international star within Reformed Christianity with his podcasts ranking among the top 10 in religion in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Norway.

In January 2012, he became a #1 New York Times bestselling author heavily promoted by hispublisher, until Mars Hill removed this designation from his bio following revelations that he had paid ResultSource, a marketing firm that “creates”bestsellers. At present, Driscoll seems to have been dropped by his agent, and his relationship with his current publisher Tyndale remains unclear.

A cursory glance of Mars Hill’s history illuminates a church embroiled in “dissent” since the formation of Mars Hill Church LLC in 1995 (though Driscoll, Leif Moi and Mike Gunn co-founded the church itself the following year, in 1996).

Mars Hill’s growing controversies remained hidden, due in large part to a drastic change to the church’sbylaws in 2007 that shifted oversight from 24 male elders to a select group of executive elders, with Driscoll as the lead pastor. Those few who protested the change, or any subsequent decisions made by the executive elders, found themselves fired and shunned. Also, many employees are prevented from speaking publicly about Mars Hill due to a non-disclosure agreement they had signed as a condition of their employment.

After Wendy Alsup, the former leader of women’s ministry at Mars Hill whom Driscoll truly respected,critiqued Real Marriage in February 2012 and later ex-elder Jeff Bettger felt compelled to share his story online in December 2013, other leaders began to come forward and tell their stories publicly, regardless of the repercussions. This shift from outsider voices critiquing Driscoll to insiders sharing their stories is perhaps best exemplified in a recent piece by The Stranger‘s Brendan Kiley. Unlike previous coverage of Driscoll that focused solely on his bad boy persona, Kiley went out and collected the stories of those who felt victimized by their time at Mars Hill.

Yet despite the growing cacophony of victims seeking justice, Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors & Accountability continues to support Driscoll, recently stating that “There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.”

It doesn’t help that while Mars Hill once claimed to have an open book policy regarding its financial records, it now hides behind the IRS regulations that allow churches to keep financials private. For instance, Mars Hill lists total personnel costs of $12,047,038, though church leaders continue to refuse requests to release the salaries of individual staff members.

According to reliable sources, this breakdown would reveal massive discrepancies between the compensation of executive elders and that of staffers who must supplement their church income with food stamps. Also, a quick review of Mars Hill’s LLCs indicates that the executive elders and not the church are listed as members, thus raising the question: “Who Owns Mars Hill?”

Now that a former employee has gone public with proof that funds donated to the Mars Hill Global Fund were allocated elsewhere, perhaps others will come forward to unearth documents Mars Hill refuses to release despite repeated requests.

But to focus solely on Driscoll and Mars Hill overlooks the other Christian leaders who find themselves mired in similar problems stemming from a lack of accountability structures. For example, among those whose stars also seem to have fallen include Driscoll’s colleague Steve Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte, now under scrutiny for not disclosing the connection between the church’s income and his personal finances; former president C.J. Mahoney of scandal-plagued Sovereign Grace Ministries (and one of Driscoll’s mentors for a brief period of time); and the now defunct Emergent Village, an offshoot of the Young Leaders Network (whose official vision group Driscoll was once a member of), which also has a history of cyberbullying women.

It’s tempting to ask whether there’s something in the masculine Christianity playbook that makes its proponents so scandal prone.

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In direct contrast to my last post – showing Jesus as champion of children – here we have an article from ‘Religious Dispatches’, that details the downfall of a macho-cultural American Pastor, Mark Driscoll of the ‘Mars Hill’ Church in Los Angeles. His recent fall from grace includes criticism – not only for alleged manipulation of his book publications, but also his handling of controversy about the place of women in the Church.

Mars Hill is renowned for its Male Headship policies – obtained, it has been claimed, from a particular exegesis of Scripture that prevents women from tasks of Church leadership. This is not unknown to be a driving force for misogyny, homophobia and a confrontational ethos of Christian proselytization that can be problematic in a multicultural community – such as now exists in most civilised countries of the world.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand 

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“Suffer the little children to come unto me” – Jesus

I nominate these guys

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 01:07 AM PDT

baptismal candidates

Can you change the world by pouring water over someone?

Well, we had a go yesterday in St Mary’s with two lovely baptisms in a great service yesterday morning.

In the course of the service, we were reminded of Moses being scooped from the water of the River Nile and going on to set a whole people free from slavery. Then we heard a bit of St Paul which reminded us that transformation of the heart was connected with accepting that we all have gifts that differ. (What a fabulous reading for a baptism). Then we had a reading from the gospels which told us that in trying to work out who Jesus was, Peter the apostle actually found himself named and commissioned for service.

What will these children do in their lives?

There is so much trouble in the world at the moment that it is important to be reminded of the hope and the joy that isn’t just part of what happens when new life comes into a family with the birth of a child but also the new life  and hope which is intrinsic to our faith.

Yesterday morning was a little Easter for us at St Mary’s. And a packed church was buzzing with the ideas that new life, hope and love are real and for sharing.

I don’t know who is going to sort the world out and allow the kingdom of love to be seen for real. But I nominate these guys, freshly baptized, and all like them who are entering the world anew. May they be a generation that brings faith, hope and love to bear on a world that needs to be baptised with every drop of goodness it can get.

The post I nominate these guys appeared first on What is in Kelvin’s Head?.

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A cheering blog-entry from Provost Kelvin Holdsworth, of St.Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow, shows us just where the future of the Church is coming from. Anglicans around the world are still admitting little children to the Body of Christ in Holy Baptism, and where this is being done – together with the discipling of their young parents – there is no need to worry about the future of the Church. Where little children are gladly and sensitively welcomed, the Body of Christ flourishes.

What needs not to be done with our young people,as they grow into adolescence, is to lure them into the Church with the promise of entertainment. The Church has survived though many centuries without the strident sound of synthesizers, drums and mind-numbing rock-beat, that seems to be employed today in many evangelical centres of spirituality. There is much to be said for prayer and praise that reflects the dignity and solemnity of meeting up with the Creator of all. If we trivialise our worship with rap-like mantras, how can we expect the Spirit of God to speak to us, while we wait upon the Divine Majesty to enfold us? “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” – and sometimes, SILENCE!

Father Kelvin Holdsworth is no fuddy-duddy. He is an openly Gay clergy-person in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and has a lively eclectic congregation of people who are encouraged to worship God in a setting of catholic sacramentalism – in the expectation that God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him can trust in His mercy, love and forgiveness – a paramount need in the hearts of ALL people – regardless of ethnicity, age, gender or sexual-orientation.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

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Global South Anglican Primates welcome S.C. Schismatic Diocese

21 August 2014
Announcement regarding the Diocese of South Carolina
My dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The Global South of the Anglican Communion welcomes the unanimous request of The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, XIV Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, and the Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina to “accept the offer of the newly created Global South Primatial Oversight Council for pastoral oversight of our ministry as a diocese during the temporary period of our discernment of our final provincial affiliation.”

The decision of the Diocese of South Carolina was made in response to the meeting of the Global South Primates Steering Committee in Cairo, Egypt from 14-15 February 2014.1 A recommendation from that
meeting stated that, “we decided to establish a Primatial Oversight Council, in following-through the recommendations taken at Dar es Salam in 2007, to provide pastoral and primatial oversight to dissenting individuals, parishes, and dioceses in order to keep them within the Communion.” Recognizing the faithfulness of Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina, and in appreciation for their contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, the Global South welcomes them as an active and faithful member within the Global South of the Anglican Communion, until such time as a permanent primatial affiliation can be found.

Yours in Christ,
+ Mouneer Egypt + Ian Mauritius
The Most Revd Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Primate of Jerusalem & the Middle East
Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
Chairman, Global South Primates Steering Committee
The Most Revd Ian Ernest Primate of the Indian Ocean, Bishop of Mauritius
Hon. General Secretary, Global South Primates Steering Committee

The full statement of the Global South Primates Steering Committee held in Cairo, Egypt from 14-15 February 2014 may be found on the Global South Anglican website

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This Statement issued by the ‘Global South Anglican Primates Council’ – not officially affiliated with the official ACC Primates Council –  gives a distinctive regional welcome to the schismatic bishop and diocese of  South Carolina (formerly bishop and diocese of South Carolina in TEC) to join its regional ‘G.S.A.’ Church.

The complication arising from such an event, is that Bishop Mark Lawrence and his secessionist Diocese of South Carolina – an entity out of communion with its parent church: The Episcopal Church in the United States of America – have become an associate part of a recently-formed Anglican entity calling itself the ‘Global South Anglican Primates’, which exists only in a selected part of the territorial area of the Southern Hemisphere.

This will provide a testing of relationships between the Anglican Consultative Council, which includes Western Provinces of the Communion that are not part of G.S.A.P.C. and the fore-mentioned ‘Global South Anglican Primates Council’

Although there has been no official severance of the GSAPC from the ACC; the inclusion of a ‘rogue’ diocese into GSAP’s jurisdiction – now ‘de facto’, by this proclamation – without the common consent of the ACC Primates, will obviously present embarrassment at any future meetings of the Lambeth Bishops from all parts of the Communion.

However, it has already been suggested that there might not be another Lambeth Conference, and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself has suggested that it might not happen in 2018 (the normal, projected, date) – so, one wonders, is this the ‘thin end of a wedge’ that spells the division of the world-wide Anglican Communion into two separate entities. This could possibly be compared with the co-existence of the Roman Catholic Church and its Uniate Churches of the East that manage to live together in ecclesial fellowship.

The more militant group in the Global South Anglican Provinces, The GAFCON, which have already declared their own doctrinal structure in their ‘Jerusalem Statement’ of Faith, chose not to attend the last Lambeth and ACC Meetings – in protest against what they have determined is the heterodox praxis of certain Western Provinces of the Communion, in ordaining clergy and bishops in Same-Sex relationships – and have now, seemingly, by this latest action, received the imprimatur of the GSAPC to follow a process of disengagement from those Provinces they see as not signing up to the ‘Jerusalem Statement’. 

We now wait upon the action of the Anglican Consultative Council, in response to this latest development of the GSAPC.

If the Anglican Communion is to remain a fellowship of Anglican Churches in every part of the world, there will need to be some sort of revision of its structure – perhaps based upon regional and cultural affiliations, which may not be a bad thing..

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch

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Pope Francis – Papal Innovator – (‘The Tablet’)

Pope Francis has transformed the Church – it’s time the Church stopped stifling groups who embrace that transformation
22 August 2014 by Chris McDonnell

There are times in all our lives when an event is transformative, when something happens that makes a difference; there is a step-change and the person we were before is radically different from the person we become. There is no going back.

Such a step-change occurred in the life of the Church in March 2013 with the election of Francis as Bishop of Rome. The present successor to previous holders of that office is within the tradition of the Church, there is no argument with that. He has however shown us a willingness to break new ground through his evident easy relationship with people. Over recent months the internet has been littered with his examples of a simple life style that seems natural to him and puts others at their ease.

One key word must be dialogue, not just the dialogue of words but also of relationships. In recent years, groups have been formed in various parts of the world seeking dialogue, bringing together people whose commitment to the Church is faithful, but who also recognise real problems that cannot, must not, be ignored.

Such groups should not be seen as a threat, for their giving voice to current issues is all part of their pilgrimage as Christian people. They often meet with resistance from many directions, from those who seek the holy comfort zone of what used to be, or are fearful of where we might be heading. 

Richard Rohr, in his recent book, Falling Upward, puts it this way. “This resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we come to expect from religious people who tend to love the past more than the future or the present”.

Because some people are willing to take the risk of a journey, to question where we are and where we might be going, that should not make them the subject of suspicion. Their courage in leaving home should be applauded.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland has raised serious questions over the last three years and have often been castigated for it. In the US, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who met this week, who live out their vocation in a real and messy world, has had its integrity challenged by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here in the United Kingdom, the establishment of the group a Call to Action (ACTA) in 2012 following a gathering at Heythrop College in London raised concern in some quarters when the only wish of those involved was to establish open dialogue for the good of the Church.  Likewise, the Movement for Married Clergy, MMaC, has since 1975, sought an honest discussion on the “necessary” relationship between ordination and celibacy. Sincere discussion should be welcomed by both the hierarchy and the laity, for the good of the Church.

In the early days of August, we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We should remember that, now and then, we too are transformed, transfigured even, and the dwelling of God in us is allowed to shine through. Others see it, and are grateful for our being alongside them. Others feel it, in the gentleness of our touch or the carefulness of our hug. Others value it when we truly listen to their words of joy or pain and share with them times of great personal happiness or the darkness of desolation.

We mustn’t be afraid of challenging voices from whatever quarter they come, but ask only questions of their sincerity and then be willing to dialogue a way forward together.

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In these days of fear for the future of the Church, and Christian values, one needs to understand the motivation of Pope Francis towards the opening up of the Roman Catholic Church to the priority of relationships between human beings – made in the Image and Likeness of God. Doctrine needs to be constantly up-dated to keep pace with the reality on the ground.

In today’s appalling situation of religious wars that are prompted by fundamentalist jihadists, who believe that they have the right to overturn the human rights of other people who do not conform to their own standards of religious purity, the Church has an urgent need to re-examine its doctrinal and social connectivity. The God and Father of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has much more to offer humanity than the stark promise of vengeance – based on strict adherence to credal formulae, rather than the eirenic parameters of the Gospel. Freedom from hypocrisy and self-righteousness was one of the battles that Jesus had to fight during his short time on earth. The Church needs to expand its understanding of God’s openness to ALL people – regardless of race, tribe, social class, ethnic purity, gender or sexual-orientation. Pope Francis may yet turn out to be this century’s proclaimer, par excellence, of ‘The great love of God as revealed in the Son’ that this world sorely needs.

Jesu, mercy, Mary, pray!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

Chris McDonnell is the secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy

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