Hope to Wrath – Doing Public Theology in a Time of Public Anger – William Storrer

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From Barrack Obama to Saffiyah Khan, from a moment of hope to someone unafraid in the face of anger.  It’s not just alt-right anger.  There’s liberal anger out there now.

William Storrer took a different approach in his lecture at the University of Otago on Tuesday, May the 9th.  His movement across the world: From the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to Cape Wrath in northern Scotland.  Cape Wrath comes from Norse Hvarf, where the ships from Norway turn to follow down the seaboard of Scotland.  Maybe a pivot or a gyre.  A way of seeing differently.

A place where his people came from, who told him two stories by which to live:  The Gospel “an idle tale told by women”, and “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage”.

The people who voted for Trump are white working class people whose life expectancy is in decline. Their theology and pastoral care has become invisible.  The anglophone world is drifting toward authoritarian democracies.

It’s time to take civic democracy from the grassroots – organise the parish as people of good faith, non-violent faith bases.  The best leaders are those where the people say “we did it ourselves”.  What we do is better than what we don’t do.

“Always leave open the possibility of entering a rightful condition”

– Kant

Living before the messianic age the best we can hope for are provisional goals, our politics is justified by grace.

Changing our mind on the LGBT Issue

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David Gushee, from davidpgushee.com

David Gushee, from davidpgushee.com

A lecture with David Gushee in Dunedin, July 30 2015.  As his positioning himself as an advocate for LGBT inclusion was recent, within the last year I understand, it was interesting to have and hear him on a tour of New Zealand.

LGBT inclusion is dominating political life in USA and New Zealand, among other countries.  It is personal politics.  Gushee is the first Evangelical New Testament Ethicist to break ranks and move into advocacy for acceptance.  He was formerly a subscribed member of the Southern Baptist Church. Gushee uses the LGBT label.

I’m sorry he didn’t dwell on a description of the Southern Baptist Church, both an enormously popular national church, with over 10 million members; and perceived as conservative to the point of being fundamentalist.  Outside of America this can only be a mythical beast, both the paradigm of true Evangelical Christianity that others aspire to emulate, and the paradigm of Christianity’s toxicity to others.

Gushee has been teaching Christian Ethics for 22 years.  Over half that teaching career has been without contact with LGBT people.  This changed when a career move brought him in contact with the First Baptist Church of Mercator, a non-rejecting Baptist Church both accepting of LGBT members and providing them with pastoral care.

The classic paradigm of LGBT within the church is: grow up within the church – discover LGBT identity – face struggle and rejection – go into exile from the church – find ways of safe return.  I find myself reminded that any marginalised and rejected people who choose to remain in a church culture is an act of grace by the rejected.  Mild rejection alienates sexual identify, including relationship and eroticism.  To remain a bystander is to endorse the harm done by alienation.  Even in cultures of toleration degrees of bullying, criminalisation and discrimination continue.

The texts of hate: the gang rape of angels; man on man same sex taboos; the vice lists including the soft and the man-lying-with-man – exploitation and dominance in a slave-based culture without mutuality and reciprocity.  The Romans 1 text written to a church in a capital city where domination sexuality is normal for its emperors (Caligula and Nero), and a male and female binary,  and a heteronormative binary are accepted as the paradigm.  The stubborn fact of the existence of gay people is a road bump in the narrative.

So we try ex-gay therapy, celibacy and moral exclusion.

What if covenant trumps creation design in a broken world.  We proclaim a gospel that god’s love is available to everyone; include the marginalised; be a faithful people to Christ that confounds Romans 1.

Every advance leads to greater reaction.  Fear responds to progress.  It is not enough to legislate, legislation can be reversed, inclusion must become a given fact, intrinsic to society.  Schism may be inevitable and straight flight from inclusive churches may accompany white flight from coloured communities.  Covenantal ethics may prove to be ultimately transitional.  I suspect this to be true, but there is no need to fear what comes.  What comes will test the capacity of Christians to think theologically in an exclusive hermeneutic.  We enter into the shame of the marginalised, which should have been where we were in the first place, not at the seats of power, with the emperors.  Our goal is to be partners in liberation and seek an end to suffering.

Freedom of Speech: Rights and Responsibilities

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We have to carry on until Islam is rendered as banal as Catholicism

Stéphane Charbonnier

Thoughts and notes from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues’ forum on Freedom of Speech, an event from the perspective of the Charlie Hebdo killings.  Lots of thoughts, no definite answers.

There is an ethical obligation against gratuitous offence that allows the right to do wrong in an ethical society, a society that tolerates different moral points of view.  There is no absolute freedom of speech.  “I” want to be censor, we want what should be censored from our perspective, what I say goes (or doesn’t go, it gets stopped).  Taking offense is not a legitimate reason to curtail freedom of expression.  Offense is subjective.  We have no right not to be offended.  Don’t seek out moral outrage.  Encourage civility and respect the other.  Legislation creates an uncivil society.

The law is culturally biased.  In New Zealand it has a heritage in a Christian-dominant society.  Blasphemy in New Zealand was last prosecuted in the 1920s.  We have a hate speech law.  It needs the approval of the Attorney General to prosecute and proof of the intent to incite wider hostility against race.  Especially advantageous to Jews, Gypsies and Arabs.

Christianity has spent the last few centuries being acclimatised into the secular society.  Islam has become used to being an invaded society.  We need to be aware of other world religions.  Question the unquestionable: the sacred practice, the symbols and the doctrines.  Question who has privilege and who has power.

The Marriage Amendment Act: One Year On

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A forum hosted by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, and the University of Otago Queer Support office.  One year after New Zealand amended the marriage act to allow gay marriage, well, what has happened in the response of the churches in New Zealand, and what’s changed?

How many Anglicans does it take to change a light-bulb?  Answer: Change?! CHANGE?!

The Anglican sect is united as a community of shared doctrine which they can mostly agree on, the enduring legacy of one of the earliest Supreme Governors of the church, Queen Elizabeth I of England.  Until recently the policy towards gay priests has been to pretend that they don’t exist while recognising that they are present.  The church cannot lead while maintaining its broad base.  It recognises that the differences over sexuality are irreconcilable while still seeking a way to stay together.  The next project is to work out how to co-exist.

The Methodist sect has worked through opposing opinions that has led the most conservative members to withdraw from the church to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church which affirms that opposition to homosexuality is the biblical standard.  In 2003 the Methodist Church signed a Memorandum of Understanding  that those who hold opposing opinions will stand together with integrity.  It allows gay marriage.  The blog Yes to Love lists churches, ministers and religious groups who will perform gay marriages.

The Roman Catholic sect have a mind for Christ.  Each human being is created in god’s image.  Sexuality is an expression of human tenderness, affection and love, a gift.  Catholic tradition remains that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The Church in the world must be immersed in the world and culture while offering another perspective.  It can’t be guided by culture and public opinion.  Marriage has something to say to culture.

Thank you for bringing theology out of the closet…

The Presbyterian sect (my own) through the General Assembly reaffirmed the traditional definition in opposition to the Marriage Amendment Act.  The next prediction is that the next General Assembly will reject conscientious objection.  The Christ story still influences culture, but the church doesn’t take moral leadership on culture.  So who is going in the right direction?  What are the limits of the traditional definition of marriage on a reforming church.

The speaker, Rev. Bruce Hamil, put out four points in support of re-thinking a reformed position.  I leave them outside this summary while noting they are well worth considering.  I asked if I could have a copy of his paper.

[Update: you can read the transcript of Bruce’s response on Jason Goroncy’s blog here]

The queer Christian is silenced by the church.  Conservative leaders were sought out to address the forum.  They were reluctant, fearful of getting a fair hearing.  Society has become more tolerant than the church.  There is still a way to go.  Gay people are five times more likely to attempt suicide.  Society is schooling the church in morality.  The church should be leading in the inclusive kingdom of god, instead it has become pharisaical gatekeepers making converts who are ten times worse than they are.  In a society we are currently living the church needs to become more inclusive to survive.

Final thoughts from the floor: watching a 6 foot tall cross-dressed Catholic with waist-length hair test Father Mark on whether the Catholic church can change its position.  Considering that in my life-time the Roman Catholic church has reformed the sacrament of reconciliation, seen the decline of monastic orders for both men and women in New Zealand, and reformed the dispensation of eucharist and baptism for practical reasons, including the limited involvement of woman, I felt that there is an argument there to answer.

The New Testament writes about homosexuality from a position that it is immoral.  The Letter to the Romans Chapter One describes heterosexuals practicing depraved acts.  It does not speak of a homosexual orientation.  We live in a society where inclusivity is considered moral.

The church has a way to go.  The end is still uncertain.  It is not the only hetero-normative homophobic institution in our society.

Limitless Living

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This week’s lecture was Future Visions: Ecology and Economics at the End of the World, by Andrew Shepherd.  Notes, thoughts and reactions follow:

We are closing our borders to migrant Pacifica refugees who want to escape the loss of island nations to global climate change to come to New Zealand.

In 15 years, about half a generation, 1 in 4 human beings will be living in metropolises.  Many of theses will be Blade Runner-esque mega-cities.  They risk being zombie towns: lurching forward, but economically dead.

The sixth great extinction of world history is now underway at the hands of human beings.  Natural sound has been archived, some of which cannot be reduced in the wild now.  The chorus of life  praising the creator is systematically killed off.  God may have words with us over that: Wait, after doing that to your first planet, you expect a free pass to my new creation?!

Nature is unconscious to our depredation.  There is no negotiation as we exploit nature.  It is supine.  There will be no negotiation with nature as it changes on us.  We live in a closed system.   Advocates of the market place policies argue we must adapt.  That could prove a rather harsh adaption when the time comes.

Our fantasy, our utopia, may be to image we could return to a pre-scarcity society.  We have become so alienated from place we are talking to each other through remote access, each one of us in our own private cubicules.  Detachment is at the heart of greed.  We want to engage with the simulacrum, not the immediate person.  Our finances have become abstract, numbers on a screen.  Our place is no longer where our feet are standing, it’s a rung up the social ladder.

Our actions are embedded in our grand narratives.  Our survival relies on a consensual response to our crisis.  Who makes the product you buy?  Who recycles the product you dispose?  Build an adequate local culture.

I left wondering.  The new Jerusalem is a dream of the new world, with adequate housing, a just god, life-giving water and an endless supply of fruitful growth.  It is also uninhabited, just out of reach, in the realms of potential.  I am not certain I see the initiative and the dynamic response that could come from communities of faith.  Those who do act remain isolated.  The scale of change to the narrative remains overwhelming.

Lunch in Guiyu, China, where cell phones go to be recycled.

Lunch in Guiyu, China, where cell phones go to be recycled.

A Conversation with John Sentamu

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The Centre for Theology and Public Issues hosted the Anglican Archbishop of York for a chat, along with Archbishop Philip Richardson, the Archbishop of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. 

The conversation started early, 4.30 pm.  I left work and arrived in time for the introduction.  Sentamu proved to be an educated and sharp speaker.  He worked in the Ugandan law-system and eventually had to flee the country to escape the Amin administration.  He entered the priesthood in the Church of England and rose to his current position.  If we could not understand his accent then he advised us pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of interpretation.

On the subject of a living wage: The rises in the minimum wage has not kept up with rises in the top wages in Britain.  While I did not note the figure it was something like a three to four times increase in difference if it had kept up with what it is now.  Every increase in the minimum wage has been grudging.  A living wage is a stipend.  The Churches know about stipends.  They are what ministers of religion are paid to support them in their work for mission.  A living wage is a reminder that in the world to come we will be living in mansions.

On sexuality: St Paul would tell us off for dividing into parties over sexuality.  No party within the body of Christ can save us.  Our identity is baptised in Jesus Christ.  No division between gay or straight, inclusive or exclusive can save us.  The archbishop is no advocate for gay marriage; he reads the Bible as saying marriage is between a man and a woman.  He doesn’t divide himself from people who are in same-sex relationships.  He remains an advocate for unity in the church.  The gay person is not the son of perdition.

On the church: the church in the western world is dying.  It is tired but it is living.  It still can be the body of Christ.  Does it live for the unity of Christ, for the faithfulness of the gospel, for our common witness?  The church of the South may have the numbers.  It has to prove its own community.

The thief on the cross beside Jesus was the first person to enter the kingdom of god.  The first to enter paradise was essentially a terrorist (my description of his quote).

John Sentamu seems to be most famous for during a TV interview he removed his clerical collar, produced a pair of scissors and cut it up to demonstrate visually the impact of tyrants on African people.  The danger of the tyrant is that he has destroyed the identity of the people.

The Common Good: A Question of Style by Will Storrar

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Will Storrar is an occasional visitor to the Centre for Theology and Public Studies.  This is the first of his lectures that I can attend.  (Only two out of three as I will be away from Dunedin for the second half of the week on the back of a motorbike.)  He is not the normal person to which one would listen about style, a roly-poly Scottish academic in a rumpled suit.

And yet enter John the Common Weal leading the poor into the parliament of the three estates.  The king of humanity asks him,

Why is the Common Weal crooked?

Because the Common Weal is overlooked,

Around the world.

The Common Good is on a bender, not in virtue, but to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, welcome the alien, and advocate for the prisoner.  The Common Good is thinking about the banking industry that is more interested in profits than the interests of their customers, and he ain’t thinkin’ nicely about them.

Don’t think about what [New Zealand] can do for you, think about what you can do for [New Zealand].

The Common Good is no longer a single ideal, it is a pluralist and conflicting ensemble of contributors in the public domain.  The mainstream sects, once its custodians, are now in decline and too polite to be heard, or are they the saints and citizens of an ecumenical future, where ecumenical is broad enough to include interfaith and humanist traditions.

John Knox was a bad man

He split the Scottish mind

One half he made cruel

The other half he made unkind

Protestant Style:  It’s not getting there that matters, it’s not the journey that matters; what matter are the arguments we have to get to the point where we are going next.  All goals can be contested by debate for the public good in a pluralist society.  There is a road map.   We can be anti-relativists, prophetic scrutineers.  Everyone is included, let’s turn around declining civic participation.  Be more liberal.

  • We live in ordinary time with the finite, the mundane and the quotidian.  (In New Zealand Pentecost season covers the wintry time of the year.)  Where will god be tomorrow? or we?
  • We live in open space, with mutual consent and equality of power.
  • We live with language, rhetoric, and public opinion — because style matters.

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