Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about why I am frustrated by certain segments of evangelicalism taking on a (supra) structural approach to challenging revisionism (liberalism or what ever you want to call it) within the Church of England. I say supra-structural because there are normal mechanisms within the CofE to challenge revisionism; it’s just that some evangelicals have decided that normal mechanisms are not working, or are not working fast enough for their tastes or personality. For me the problem is one of personal identity, loyalty and how what is being done might relate to how society as a whole sees evangelicals. Moreover I also wander how much of the self-identity of evangelicals is shaped by contesting prioritisation of biblical values, rather than as they might say, a loyalty to the bible as a whole.
The frustration in Southwark
My frustrations stem from church politics. More specifically from developments in the dioceses of Southwark in which a trust has been created, into which evangelical churches within the CofE can put money they would usually send toward the central pot of the dioceses. The Bishop is a liberal catholic (as far as I understand) who has angered broad evangelicals by failing to promote evangelicals into a number of positions of authority on his patch. He has placed his own people into positions of authority thereby ostensibly biasing what balance there is (or was) in leadership positions on the land he has responsibility for. Other more hard line conservative evangelicals denounce him as a heretic over his teaching, or lack of teaching (ostracism) on homosexuality.
The second aspect of the narrative which fuels my frustration is the CoMission which is an evangelical church planting group, headquartered in the Wimbledon area. The CoMission is Anglican at least in that the leadership of the group seek to get new pastors ordained into the Anglican Communion (but not necessarily the Church of England). As they are in “impaired communion” with the Bishop of Southwark and were with his predecessor, specifically over teaching on homosexuality, there has been some kerfuffle over the appropriate mechanisms of ordination. Furthermore, not all of their church plants are a part of the official structures of the Church of England. Some don’t, or can’t even call themselves Anglican because they have been planted within parishes where the local vicar, area Dean or Bishop made it clear they where not welcome (as Anglican). They operate across Diocesan borders as well.
Theirs is a pragmatic approach to evangelism. The structures of the Church of England are optional. As one pastor said in a sermon I heard: “people don’t die for institutions, they die for ideas”, and there is indeed a lot to be said for that. But structures, rituals, and a sense of places (land, boundaries and buildings) are important whether or not you are willing to die for them. People don’t die for any contract but some contracts are more important than others. That’s because they represent ideas, or agreements in relationship. Ideas and more specifically values are fundamental, but the way they are worked out in life, because they are worked out in relationships mean they shape institutions and structures, because institutions and structures are essentially agreements on how to work out those values in practice. Whether or not a relationship between parties existed before, or currently exists.
Therefore when conflict arises between people ‘willing to die for ideas’, as conflict must arise this side of the new creation, the longevity of the structures and institutions can come under threat. But what’s in a name and who gets to define who is “in” and who is “out”? And more importantly, who does a parish vicar serve? In the CoMission it is very clear. Members are prioritised and CoMission money goes to CoMission work.
Factionalism or schism are what some people have called what is going on (or what might happen) in Southwark should evangelicals start paying money into this new trust rather than through the usual processes. Meanwhile all but the in-group at CoMission and some of their more hard line allies outside of Southwark (but in the UK) see the modus operandi of CoMission as by-the-way (without problems). I dare say even some folk within some of their church plants feel uneasy about covert ordination in Kenya without much explanation (at least before the event and not really that much after the event) what this might mean for the way the individual churches could be viewed by outsiders within the CofE or in broader society. There have even been those who argue that pushing the envelop in how it has been pushed, could be against UK law because the CofE is an established church, with some aspects of church order being written into the state legal frameworks in England.
So what’s my beef? Isn’t pragmatism for the sake of saving souls from eternal damnation appropriate? Should it not be the case that working with or under people who are heretics be out of the question because of how they mishandle the bible and thereby threaten the salvation of the people they teach?
I think how you answer these question depends on a number of things. I want to raise two of them here but there are more than two. I freely acknowledge that I am not somebody well qualified to try and tackle all of them, but I can make some observations. The first question I have is whether you think it is important that the Church of England is an established church and what that then means to the relationship vicars, lay leaders or others have with regard to the legal settlements relating to the Queen as the head of both state and the church. The second relates to the first inasmuch as the Church of England straddles Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. I’ll start with the second first but I want to introduce concepts taken from social psychology to enable a broad analysis.
Collectivism vs. Individualism
Social Psychologists who study cultures and their differences have observed that some cultures tent toward and value individualism over collectivism. These terms should not be confused with their economic corollaries. They do not denote individuals working hard over socialist collectivisation of the means of production. Rather what they describe is what cultures value and how they operate.
You should note also that the terms are not value judgements. I believe elements in both are biblical, even reflecting in some sense the mystery of the Trinity. Because cultures are by nature shaped by people and therefore prone to sin, elements of both collectivist cultures and individualist cultures have flaws. But the paradigm is helpful to think about how people within given cultures are shaped.
Put simply, people in collectivist cultures tent to describe themselves first in terms of the group (or collective) they belong to, where as in individualist cultures people will view themselves and talk about themselves as a single unit, not necessarily referencing their ‘tribe’ or place of work and having lower levels of loyalty to them than collectivists might. The individualist’s cultures in-group will be comprised of the nuclear family and a small number of friends while the collectivist family group will be much larger incorporating second cousins and aunts and uncles whose exact blood relation many have been forgotten by most in the ‘family’. Ties between in-group members will be strong in each, but the size of the group will be different. Moreover, and here might be the crux of why I think this is important for the Church of England, collectivist cultures handle conflict privately, while individualist cultures are far more confrontational in public.
Hence shame—for example—is a motivator important in collectivist cultures to keep people in line, but not so much in individualist cultures where guilt (transgression against the law) can denote whether you’re in the in-group, in the out-group, or on the boarder line.
For collectivist cultures the written law is ‘more or less’ mutable. It’s a matter of negotiation in relationship. For the individualistic culture, how a person appears or looks is secondary to whether or not they are conforming to legal standards. Furthermore, what the law is and how people are expected to operate in either culture is contextual. So in collectivist cultures there will be unwritten rules which should simply not be broken, while in individualist cultures people can say things or behave in ways that are non-conformist but will not alienate somebody from the in-group just because non-conformism isn’t a matter to be ashamed of, but loyalty to objective rules should be.
The obvious place to look for an example, perhaps most extreme, is Japanese or Korean culture in comparison with cultures with Northern European heritage in the US. A manger working for Honda will introduce himself first by the name of the company, then by his family name and perhaps only then if appropriate will he say his first name. In the US a salesman for Dodge will speak familiarly to customers, use his first name, offering his opinions freely without worry what his counterpart might think. East and West are different. These are extremes however and variations of collectivism vs. individualism can be found in all societies.
Interestingly in Europe, countries that have a predominantly Protestant heritage tend to measure higher on scales of individualism, while Catholic countries tend to measure higher as collectivist cultures. Whether or not it is religion which has influenced the development of culture in these countries is not clear, but one observer has pointed out that the more protestant the country the more likely that a church split, or public differences within a church exist. The example here is the Puritan move to the US rather than stay in the UK and meddle through the mess of Anglicanism. So you have countries like the US, a safe heaven for ‘non-conformist’ and ‘congregational’ migrants during the religious wars in Europe that have been shaped either by the founding immigrant’s religion, or cultural and personal types inherent in what sort of person is drawn to what sort of Christianity.
Collectivism and Individualism in Southwark
What does all of this have to do with Southwark? The answer is hypothetical and I would love feedback on this. But briefly: is it possible that because of the mixed nature of the Church of England (in that it incorporates elements of both protestant and catholic ‘praxis’) we find a mixture of people within it whose expectations for how the institutions should operate are influenced by their personality affinity towards either collectivist or individualist ways of operating? I am talking about evangelicals primarily now.
The hypothesis is not one which I can test. But there are a number of reasons why it might be so. Most societies are made up of a mixture of cultural expectations which do not readily conform to either a collectivist or individualist culture. There will be a dominant cultural type but elements of collectivism and individualism, say for example in styles of communication, will affect the overall make up of a society. For example in the UK communications tends to be on the collectivist end of things. The passive voice is used more than in the US for example. In reports often the passive voice does not mention who said what but subsumes what somebody may have said, into what the collective might decide is the right way forward. Shame is diverted from an individual and the group takes on the responsibility for what might have been one person’s decision. That’s why psychologists argue that there is a spectrum along which societies can be measured, and there are a number of aspects which need to be taken into considerations such as styles of communication, or the shame vs guild dynamic I mentioned earlier.
British culture, for the most part, tends toward individualistic cultural traits, however in one or two aspects collectivist relationship are still engrained in how society functions. Might this be in part also about more than just the labels that psychologists give cultures, but also about how people have been shaped because of Anglicanism? There could be an overlap between the nonconformist elements of evangelicalism and individualism on the one hand, and the people who are drawn and shaped into that tradition, and on the other, there might be those who feel ambiguous about the social expectations an emphasis found in the more hard line or separatist elements.
These Anglicans might be predisposed to value, much like the Pharisees might have done, strict interpretations of codes derived in various ways from the law, while those of a more collectivist bent might value the need to take a long view and prioritise relationships—how ever messy—before settling on a specific judgement. This is not to say that collectivists do not value traditional evangelical teaching, but rather it is to say that the praxis of how to deal with conflict within the ‘in-group’ broadly defined should be private and done in relationship and community with a recognition that conflict will continue, but things might get better.
This is also born out in the personalities of church leaders. Some of them might find it profoundly uncomfortable to deal with ambiguity or uncertainty and rather than seek an amicable settlement will want a relatively quick answer to a question of responsibility or loyalty. They will like things black and white rather than in shades of gray. Other church leaders will fight for relationships to the point where past behaviour or the current beliefs or teaching of their ‘enemies’ will matter little in comparison with the importance of trying to be winsome for the sake of the gospel, both towards the revisionists in the CofE and towards society more broadly. For the collectivist because the self identity of the individual is found in the in-group, the lengths of time they might be willing to take over coming to a judgement can be significantly longer than their own life time, precisely because their life is bigger then the life of their own body.
Ironically enough, for the individualists who stake their loyalty to a strict reading of the biblical text, pragmatic approaches to institutions and loyalties run somewhat counter to their affinity to teach obedience to the law. This leads me to the other observation I wanted to make.
The established church
If an institutional state church, which the CofE is, has particular ways of organizing itself, pragmatist individualists who teach obedience to the law will have to make a decision about what aspects of obedience are most important. They will have to priorities.
On the one hand being pragmatic about church structure, as the CoMission is, allows them to operate in “impaired communion” with the Bishop of Southwark without compromising their conscience. But on the other this also means that their actions place them outside of the usual legal expectations Church of England vicars have rights and responsibilities to under the law (supra structural, and I say outside not because they are operating illegally—they might be—but because it is a matter of the removal of accountability and responsibility and therefore a loss of rights).
Unilaterally deciding that you are in impaired communion with the person who at least in law sits over you in the authority structure of the church you claim to be a part of will mean that to some degree you come close to, if not de jure, then de facto disrespecting the authority of the House of Bishops and the Archbishops (and Parliament by the way) who have decided this rather than that way is the best way to structure the governance of the Church of England.
In terms of money and the creation of this trust in Southwark which will have the prerequisite of giving and receiving help only to churches willing to (as a body) sign up to the Jerusalem Declaration also seems to run counter to established church structure and therefore against the laws which govern the Church of England. Now I don’t know whether the Diocese then pays forward money to a central pot which funds the retirement or central office costs of Church House and other activities the CofE is involved with nationally (or internationally for that matter), but with holding money at the very least would mean not paying for the retirement of fellow evangelical vicars.
Now I know paying taxes was a contentious issue for the Jews in Jesus time, but his answer to the question can be legitimately drawn on for our purposes now because in our case Caesar is both the head of the church and the state in the sense that the Queen has been appointed by God to head the country and his church. Uncomfortable as that might be for evangelicals. This is the reality and if you are willing to pay for abortion or trident, or the pay MPs you disagree with, at least in some way you should consider thinking about what it means to withhold money from the Dioceses from this perspective. Trying to be evasive by arguing that the particular person who happens to hold the office does not conform to the standards you expect isn’t enough. Yours is a larger and bolder argument which I have not heard anybody yet make in CoMission or by evangelicals in Southwark.
Not a door mat
Evangelicals are doing what they are doing in Southwark because they do not want to be treated like door mats. That is important to remember. The revisionists, or liberal Anglo Catholics should take note and back off. It’s right to make robust representations against the Bishop if he starts behaving inappropriately towards evangelicals. Evangelical bishops such as the Bishop of London should start turning the screw and speak up for evangelicals (as I am pretty sure he will or has done in private already). That authority and power should be used appropriately. Equally it is quite right for Bishops and Archbishops to do the same from outside of the CofE, in the global south. That is what Gafcon is about and more power to that movement. The obedience that faithful evangelicals show towards the structures and institutions where they have done so should not be misinterpreted as weakness by those seeking a revisionist agenda because they might muck things up for themselves.
But evangelicals in Southwark need to first earn the reputation for a loving caring community, speaking publically on behalf of the weak and down trodden. They need to speak loudly and even provocatively of the love that God has for homosexuals as much as he loves King David, the murderer and adulterer. They need to denounce and publically repent of their own sin (as individuals and as a collective) over matters they have in the passed allowed or do not condemn now, such as blind loyalty to the free market which they might have turned a blind eye to before they can speak about the importance of strident biblical interpretation. Thus far, I have not seen evidence of that in most (if any) public writing.
As I said in a comment thread on another blog:
“The following paragraph from the key note contribution of Archbishop Wabukala at the resent GAFCON meeting strikes me as profoundly right:
‘To act justly and to love Mercy includes behaving towards one another with honesty and fairness, as ends and not means, not being infected by cynicism and pragmatism that can creep in when issues of power and influence are at stake. It is true that the FCA is a prophetic movement and God has given us some stern things to say, but the sternness should be all the more striking because of the kindness and generosity for which we are known.’
My understanding is that the CoMission collectively is not always know[n] for its kindness and generosity in the quarters where a message of sternness is needed. I don’t know why that is, nor do I know whether that is a fair assessment all round (peoples views of CoMission will be col[o]ured by all sorts of things, including gossip and lies…)
The archbishop says some other things I have to think more about, and where I feel I don’t know enough about the debate that he is taking part of, but that paragraph strikes me as worth emulating.”
Ad maiorem Dei gloriam