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What Kind of Church are We

Many people, particularly those outside the Christian faith, probably suppose that the thing which is tearing the Anglican church/communion apart is its attitude towards homosexuality; but this is just a symptom, just one of many consequences of a widening division in the Anglican church today.
There is a diverging understanding of Christianity, held between what can be described as “Traditionalists” and “Modernists”, or between “Conservatives” and “Liberals” – if you approve of that kind of language; I don’t, and my preferred “orthodox” and “post-Christian” probably reveals my own position in language which is more neutral than much, but not as neutral as I would like.

The Anglican church – indeed, any Christian denomination – faces an ultimate choice between two kinds of things. One (as I see it) is the historic Christian faith as “once delivered”, and the other is a descendant of historic Christianity, developed (adherents would tellingly say “evolved”) in accordance with western “liberal” thinking, or “Reason”, and, in effect, compliance with the mores of secular society, which is built upon a materialist world-view/value system.

Thus, I have heard of a “Liberal” Christian priest who described himself as a “child of the Enlightenment” – a person, clearly, who thought that he was able to inhabit two mutually contradictory worlds; of course one can be a “child of the Enlightenment”, but only if one is a secularist/materialist/atheist, and not any kind of religious believer.

But for post-Christian “modernists”, such seeming-contradictions are not a problem, since they believe that modern “knowledge” and thought – the ongoing development of human ideas and values – is a process instigated and guided by the Holy Spirit, and that this is the work of a dynamic god, who is likewise evolving as part of the process, which exists in present time, as the one reality that there is.

By the results of these processes, all kinds of things which were thought “wrong” in the past (including same-sex marriages, new understandings of gender, and much besides) are now seen – or, have become, evolved to be – right and true; in particular, feminized re-constructions of the deity are much more radical, in some quarters, than it is commonly realised.

Indeed, there can be a grand vision that may be discerned in descriptions of these processes; we worship a god who is active, dynamic, and ceaselessly involved in endless creation; the Bible tells of the reality of such a god (“Behold, I make all things new!”).

Unfortunately, this grand vision is rather more human than divine; it is like the statue whose feet were of clay. Too much of it – as I have tried, above, to suggest – depends upon thinking developed from evolutionism (a materialist philosophy, which too many Christians were too quick to embrace), itself a product of a scientific theory devised, and now defended, in response to an age-old hubristic urge to dethrone the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition in favour of humankind, a desire which found its fulfilment following the so-called Enlightenment.

Such thinking, also, involves unquestioning belief in the un-alloyed goodness of the products of ceaseless change, as they occur in the world of humans and nature, and, not only of change, but of nature itself.

Such a view involves a monochrome – or, perhaps, rose-tinted – understanding of human nature, and a single-dimensional understanding of time and reality. This is not the world – and people, and the events of history, and destiny – as they really are.

The world is not only the stage upon which the Holy Spirit acts, nor is the “Enlightened” view of humankind the truth. Where man and nature – deceitful, flawed – inhabit a vale of tears, redeemable only by God’s re-creation, no such “progress” is possible, and any process that we could discern would be towards the ending of the present system of things.

The Anglican communion must remain a church which exists in the world as it is, in the world as revelation and Christian tradition have described it, not try to move into the world as we might wish it to be, where reality can be seamlessly re-ordered along the lines of our own desires.

Same-sex marriages are not so much badness as fantasy, a product of a longing to have everything on our own terms, a sure sign of the impossible belief in the essential goodness of a present, un-redeemed, reality. Surely there will be a world in which every human desire and aspiration will be all fulfilled – but not this world.

The fear is that the Anglican church – believing that “unity” is the most important, not the least-important, consideration (as it should be) – will devise some kind of fudge by which separation is (nominally) evaded.

Rather, I recommend separation as soon as possible, separation of those holding one kind of view from those holding the other. They are two different kinds of people, concerned with two different kinds of things, and I see no reason why their adherents might not part with dignity, even with mutual respect.

March 2007