BRAINWAVES
II.  Reports
BRAINWAVES REPORT BW/020 THE CHURCH MUST LEARN TO THINK

INTRODUCTION

In BW/009 'Anglican Gender Debates: Two Suggestions' I offered some initial thoughts on the twin gender problems of homosexuality and the consecration of women bishops which were causing some difficulty at the time. This paper, prompted by the rejection of the proposal for women bishops by General Synod on 20 November 2012, and by the Government's attempt to introduce gay marriage, offers some further thoughts on the same subjects. My starting point is the fact that, over both of the twin issues, the Anglican Church has reached a seemingly impossible impasse. How can this be, and, given that we have got there, how do we escape from it? What lessons are we supposed to be learning? What is God trying to teach us? I believe that what is called for is a fundamental reappraisal of our view of God, of how we set about seeking His will and how we go about our own decision-making process. If present methods are not working - as is clearly the case - where have we gone wrong and how should we backtrack?

SEEKING GOD'S WILL

Traditionally there have been three main avenues through which God's will has been sought: (1) Ask someone wiser, (2) Look it up, and (3) Think it through. These are commonly characterised as tradition, scripture and reason. Historically, all three have - in varying proportions - been employed by the Anglican Church. Let us look at them a little more carefully. The first encapsulates the Catholic approach. The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, seeks to offer its members a hierarchy which has been trained in correct theology, the Magisterium, which looks upwards and ultimately derives from the Pope, who is supported on occasions by a claim to infallibility. The second is more typically Protestant or evangelical. On this view, all significant matters of faith and conduct can be resolved by reference to the scriptures. Advocates of this approach commonly tell us that, whatever we may learn from other approaches, 'God will never contradict His Word'. This can be delivered as a knockout: a suitably chosen Bible passage, or set of passages, trumps all. Here again, a claim to infallibility is often made. (Alternatively, some would seek recourse to canon law.) These first two approaches are both highly dogmatic and both take us back to what has been written in the past. The third is more easily associated with the liberal approach to the faith, and is the least susceptible to the description, dogma. The three approaches are not entirely independent. Part of the force of scripture, for instance, lies in the fact that many of its authors were (presumably) wiser than ourselves. So doubtless were the Early Fathers who laid down the foundations of Catholic theology. And, thus equipped with wisdom, they were unafraid to use their reason in order to thrash out its truths. But there is a difference. Where the Early Church sought to teach what their reason told them was true, today's Catholics are often told to believe that something is true purely because the Church teaches it. This is no encouragement to learn to Think. The question now arises, what guidance do we find in the Bible on seeking God's will? Does it proclaim itself to be a self-contained system, or does it point elsewhere? For me the clearest indication comes in Paul's letter to the Romans. He explains in chapter 1 that the basic effect of what we call the Fall lies in the distortion it has caused to our minds and our thinking (vv.21, 28). So it is fitting that after his long discourse upon the nature and means of salvation, he should in chapter 12 explain that God's intended goal is that we should be able to present ourselves before Him in order to be transformed by the renewing of our minds:  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 TNIV). That is to say that what is on offer is a fresh access to the will of God in the present day. Thus is fulfilled the promise of Jesus recorded by John at the Last Supper: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 TNIV) As John puts it in his First Letter, As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit - just as it has taught you, remain in him (menete en autoi; 1 John 2:27 TNIV). The key lies in the last three words, remain in (wait on) Him. This leads us into a theme of spirituality that pervades the entire Bible and can seldom have found clearer exposition than in Andrew Murray's ageless little book Waiting on God, which consists of thirty-one daily meditations on passages drawn from all parts of scripture on the practice of taking time to be silent before the Lord in order to listen to His voice. So: For God alone my soul waits in silence: From him comes my salvation. (Psalm 62:1 RSV) They who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 RSV) The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:25-26 RSV) I conclude that the Bible sees itself not so much as a closed book but as an open door. Biblical teaching is that we should learn to think straight by presenting our minds to God in silence and allowing Him to enlighten us in His time through the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the path of contemplative, wordless, prayer. It will contribute far more to our personal spiritual growth than will either of the two other methods proposed. We are not therefore dependent upon what God said to somebody else some time ago for our knowledge of His will. At the end of the day the truths for which we are responsible are those which we have learned from Him by being with Him. As I put in Alternative Christianity, Adherents of Christianity fall into two camps: those who believe God speaks personally today and those who don't. Jesus taught that his sheep would follow him because they would know his voice (John10:4).[1] This being so, it is perfectly legitimate to come before God with requests for clarification, as 'Lord, is this really right? Lord, I don’t understand. Do you really mean…?', just as did the disciples ('Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?', Mark 9:11). And we should expect answers. As James tells us, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 TNIV) This process involves the stripping off of much that we thought we knew and a grappling to replace it with a deeper wisdom. And so we learn to Think. Yet crucially, while it is not to be disparaged (as happens) as mere 'human reason', it is equally no guarantee of infallibility. We can always, any of us, mishear what God is saying. All of us have our blind spots. There will always be some things that we are simply incapable of hearing. As Paul says, Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:2 TNIV) This may be one reason why God chose a multiplicity of writers to produce the Bible. And even so, there were apparently some things that none of the Bible writers was capable of hearing, such as the fact that slavery is an unmitigated evil. That was a discovery that took the Church many more centuries to make. It is no shame to have blind spots. As I have argued in BW/017, today's evangelicals have their fair share: quite a number of central evangelical tenets find far more support in evangelical tradition than they do in the New Testament, with which in fact they often conflict.

THE WOMEN BISHOPS DEBATE

The following unpublished email from my wife Barbara to Church Times suggests one possible reason why the problems of the Church of England are proving so intractable. Dear Sir, Listening to the synod deliberations preceding the vote on women bishops, I felt I was drowning in a welter of words from both sides of the debate, most of which had been heard many times before. Having spent some time a few years ago worshipping with a Quaker fellowship, I was never more appreciative of their unique way of seeking consensus under God in matters of disagreement. Their way, as is their customary way of worship, is to wait together in silence before God, rather than to attempt to out-argue one other through any actual or supposed rhetorical skill. During the debate there came a point when the Archbishop of York announced that around 75 speeches had been heard, but as there were many more still to come, each speech remaining would be limited to one minute. And so the torrent of words continued, ever more frantically, as each speaker attempted to cram their argument into such a limited time. What, I wonder, was actually achieved by this? I have no idea whether the mechanism of Synod would have permitted it, but how might things have been if the Archbishop had at that point drawn a line under any further speeches, and called the entire synod to an hour’s silent waiting on God before the vote was taken? If I wait on God in silence, it means that I willingly abdicate any attempt to use my words, however carefully or cleverly crafted, to try and influence the views of others to my way of thinking. It means that I and all those engaged with me in the process choose rather to trust the silent working of the Holy Spirit within each person and between us all. Such an approach may or may not have changed the actual outcome of the Synod vote, but it would surely have had a positive impact on both our continuing relationships with those with whom we disagree, and the substance and nature of our ongoing negotiations. Yours sincerely Barbara Mosse (Revd) [2] We come together before Almighty God, the Creator and King of the universe, to know His will, and spend the entire day except two minutes yattering (Greek battalogesete, Matthew 6:7) to each other. Why is this if not that collectively, as a Church, we do not believe in a God who can talk to us? Not to believe in a God who is worth waiting for is not to believe in the God of the Bible at all. And without the heart of our faith, what use are we to anyone? A.W. Tozer lamented a similar situation among the American evangelicals of his day: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. The present position of Christ in the gospel churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited, constitutional monarchy. The king is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and applauded, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions.[3] Suppose that instead of talking all the time, we had spent the day in silent waiting upon God, listening for Him to speak to us? Who knows what might have transpired? This approach to decision-making by consensus arising from collective silence before God may be unfamiliar to Anglicans, but as Barbara points out, it has served the Quaker movement (Religious Society of Friends) admirably for many centuries. Perhaps we have something to learn from them. Certainly Quakers continue to enjoy the general respect of the world at large where in many quarters Anglicans are treated with growing contempt.

HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY MARRIAGE

There follow some personal reflections on the issues of homosexuality and gay marriage that are currently prominent. The most explicit Bible teaching on the subject of homosexuality is to be found at Leviticus 20:13, which tells us in effect to "stone the buggers to death". This is not particularly helpful. But it sets a poser for those who believe that questions of this magnitude can be resolved by simply 'looking it up', who are usually happier citing Leviticus 18:22, which abominates homosexual acts without requiring the death penalty. But if we are not demanding the death penalty for homosexual practice we are already conceding that some explicit Bible teaching needs to be understood and interpreted before it can be applied. Otherwise, as I pointed out in BW/009, we are back with the slave trade: As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession for ever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you may not rule, one over another, with harshness. (Leviticus 25:44- 6 RSV) As Barclay showed,[4] Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists had to abandon the method of finding proof texts about slavery - 'looking it up' - from the Bible because the overwhelming weight of explicit texts was in favour. Instead they argued from general principles which are in the Bible about tenderness, pity and compassion. If we then ask, by what general principles should we be guided, one answer I propose would be, by what principles has God created us? This requires an understanding of what elsewhere we refer to as nature. And it is here that we are better placed than any of the Bible writers, in view of our knowledge of science which is always increasing. And it seems to me that, every bit as strong as the dogma, 'God will never contradict His Word', is the precept that 'God will never act contrary to the principles He has built into His creation'. And although the last word has not been said, a strong case is now emerging that homosexual orientation is in many cases innate: people are born gay. As to how this happens, an attractive case has been proposed that sexual and gender characteristics are largely a product of hormone levels in the womb at various stages during pregnancy.[5] So if same-sex preference is in most cases not a matter of choice, but the way God has created someone, it can hardly be classified as sin - or a disorder, as Pope Benedict would have it.. In this respect we are ahead of St Paul,[6] just as we are over slavery. Paul saw no need to reject the then universal institution of slavery. Now we know better. As to homosexual practice, the most vehement condemnation of this has most commonly resulted from a charge that this is 'contrary to nature'. However, as readily becomes apparent on Googling 'homosexuality in animals', homosexual behaviour is very much more prevalent in nature than has often been supposed, being recorded among many varieties of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates. So while the appeal to nature was a correct and helpful instinct, what we find there, as to how God has constructed His Creation, does not support the case it was intended to support.[7] This relatively recent understanding of what it is to be gay has led to the institution of civil partnership - the recognition that gay people who have made a lifelong exclusive commitment to each other should be accorded the same legal rights in terms of property, inheritance, taxation and so forth as anyone else. The great benefit of this is the increased stability of society, of which few surely can disapprove. The question then arises, are there any limits beyond which this process of emancipation should not go? The doctrine of total equality is a tempting one in our present age, and lies behind the contemporary move in favour of 'gay marriage'. Yet many people are unhappy at this, even if they cannot articulate quite why. Are there any genuine objections to this redefinition of marriage which are founded on anything more than outdated bigotry? I think there are. Retiring Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks can often be relied upon to guide us through a moral maze, and although I am not aware of any pronouncement of his on the topic of gay marriage, he gives us one principle by which we can learn to steer. Writing about divorce in the context of the breakdown of the traditional family, he begs us to consider what is happening, as Dickens did, from the point of view of the children.[8] And there we have it. As study after study has confirmed, the traditional family headed by a married couple, father and mother, provides the safest, most secure and emotionally complete context in which children can be reared. Human children are so constituted as to need the love and support of parents of both sexes. This is the basis on which the human race has come to be. I therefore believe it is fundamentally wrong for same-sex couples to adopt children as though they were of opposite sexes. In our age, obsessed as it is with the notion of 'human rights', this will not be a popular view. As Pope Benedict XVI has observed, citing an open letter from France's Chief Rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, to lawmakers in Paris, Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.[9] Do not same-sex couples have the same human rights as traditional couples? But I insist, the interests - indeed the human rights - of the children take precedence. And if gay marriage will, as I think is inevitable, lead to claims about the 'human rights' of same-sex couples to adopt, then for the good of those children it should be opposed. Martin Mosse, January 2013.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

References to this website denote www.brainwaves.org.uk . Bagemihl, Bruce, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (St Martin's Press, 1999). Barclay, John M.G., '"Am I not a Man and a Brother?" The Bible and the British Anti-Slavery Campaign', The Expository Times, Volume 119, Number 1, October 2007, 3-14. Moir, Anne and David Jessel, Brainsex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women (London: Arrow, 1998). Mosse, Martin, Alternative Christianity, Section I of this website (1998) (originally published in ARMLink magazine, 1988-9). Mosse, Martin, 'Anglican Gender Debates:Two Suggestion', BRAINWAVES Report BW/009, July 2008 (see Section II of this website). Mosse, Martin, 'The Good News of Jesus Christ', BRAINWAVES Report BW/017, April 2010 (see Section II of this website). Murray, Andrew, Waiting in God (c.1905; Liskeard: Diggory Press, 2007). Sacks, Jonathan, The Politics of Hope (London: Jonathan Cape, 1997). Tozer, A. W., Gems From Tozer, (Send the Light Trust, 1969). [1] Martin Mosse, Alternative Christianity, p.6. [2] Revd Barbara Mosse, 22 November 2012. Used by pemission. [3] A. W. Tozer, 'The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches', quoted in Gems From Tozer, inside cover. [4] John M. G. Barclay, '"Am I not a Man and a Brother?"'. [5] For an accessible presentation of this case see Moir and Jessel, Brainsex, which is notable for its more than sixteen closely typed pages of supporting references to serious scientific publications in the bibliography. [6] For instance at Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9. [7] The locus classicus is Bruce Bagemihl's 1999 book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. [8] Jonathan Sacks, The Politics of Hope, chapter 16 'Family Matters', pp.185-97). [9] Pope Benedict XVI, quoted in 'Modern philosophy of sexuality "undermines our humanity"', The Tablet, 5 January 2013, p.28.