Individualism, Collectivism, Evangelicalism and the Church of England

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

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13 Responses to Individualism, Collectivism, Evangelicalism and the Church of England

  1. Ed Drew says:

    Lauri,
    Many thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading it greatly.
    Some of the areas you touch on, I know little or nothing about, in particular your observations about collectivism and individualism. I feel richer for having taken the time to enjoy your thoughts.
    This is a highly constructive location for you to comment, ponder and critique such things.
    Best wishes

    • Lauri Moyle says:

      Thanks Ed, your last couple of paragraphs are excellent examples of indirect communication. They will likely not be what I chose to do for the most part with regards this topic as that is not what my blog is really for.

  2. Phil C says:

    I don’t think the Bishop of London would say he is an evangelical (and others would not describe him as such). As I understand it, he is a traditionalist who has been friendly to evangelicals in his diocese.

    I think the final section is what counts (sub-titled “Not a door mat”), but it leaves me with some questions. How, for example, have evangelicals in Southwark shown a blind loyalty to the free market? And can you expand on why projecting a particular image is necessary before acting on things such as speaking up to the bishop? I wonder if the problem is that when it comes to church politics, evangelicals are only really affected at a financial and political level – the daily ministry aspect, when such expressions of love are generally shown, doesn’t really come into discussions with and about the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

  3. Lauri Moyle says:

    Thanks Phil. My understanding is that Charters was, but I am happy to be corrected. He has certainly been friendly towards Evangelicals as you say, and on the point about economics has been relatively active in talks with the City.

    I ma not sure that the final section is actually really what counts. I think all of it counts in that it puts forward an argument for the final part, where I was more polemical and less tight because I wanted to end the blog post in that style. Hence the lack of clarity on blind loyalty to the free market. What I meant largely was about how CoMission is funded, what emphasis is given to teaching on consumerism vis-a-vis for example the role of women in church, and the laissez faire approach to church planting.

    Projecting a specific image {being part of the message} is central to the proclamation of the Gospel, its just that particularly {individualist} evangelicals tend to forget that. {Shame vs Guilt}… And its a matter of belonging rather than a matter of my being being changed. Why would I want to be in relationship and explore belong to a group whose image is that way. Speaking up to the Bishop privately or publicly will be easier if you have a more loving, grace-filled image.

    I also think that you are largely right, but for the “opportunity cost” of being able for example to use the building of a liberal church in the afternoon. that is a very practical, local example of failure on opportunity cost. Equally, it is fascinating to me that the churches in Furzdown, work together, Anglican and Baptist, at least two of the Anglican churches are Evangelical, one is a little more high church, one is anglo catholic. They are know as working together in the community, they share some events, where appropriate etc. They are also a lot more diverse, but that might be a matter of sensibility and stability, and the population make up.

    Also, when Andrew Brown writes about this subject it might be local people who would otherwise think about at least venturing into a CoMission church, or St Mars Battersea, but might now no longer be willing to consider it. So the local is effected. Its just that it is less tangible and relates to opportunities lost without being aware of them.

    Thanks for the critical response. Very fair point on the economic point I put forward. That was weaker than it could have been.

    • Phil C says:

      It strikes me that you could frame this point about image as an extended application of Matthew 5:16.

      • Lauri Moyle says:

        Yes indeed. On a side but related note, its interesting to read the bible with somebody who comes from a collectivist background, as they will interpret different segments in the bible slightly differently than you and I might. Was that your experience in Japan?

  4. Lauri Moyle says:

    I would also say that CoMission really does have a reputation. I have had a number of conversations with people from various backgrounds and what CoMission is known for primarily, is not reassuring. One persons demeanour changed towards me when I let slip that we attended a CoMission church, and then changed again for the better when I said we had left. And this person who I don’t know well, is not exactly a ‘heretical liberal’ if you know what I mean.

  5. Phil C says:

    I attended an English-speaking church where the majority of the congregation was ex-pats, so no, not really!

  6. freddy says:

    queridos hermanos aqui se denuncia aqui en america gente cristiana dio la autoridad para persecucin y dice que nos hacen juicio solo oimos algien dando la autoridad para que nos persigan y luego de un año comenzo gente en persecucion a caer muerta y luego pastores de america igual si estoy mitiendo o las congregaciones que tenemos en america no son perseguidas por esta gente o estamos involucrados en esto confesemos todos nosotros que jesucristo ha venido hecho hombre y abren los infiernos contra toda lqa iglesia evangelica en el mundo

  7. cynthia curran says:

    Well, some protestant churches were very collectivist, usually they have an Anabaptist background. In the 16th century had Anabaptist seized a town and communal ownership of goods and wives, no kidding. Luther’s arrival Muntzer was heavily involved in the peasant rebellion and also supported communism. In fact, Lutheran Sweden has a larger welfare state than Catholic Ireland or Italy. Liberal protestant countries are actually the most collectivist. Roman Catholic countries in Latin American even have less of a welfare state than the.US. The only difference is the state sometimes owns the energy company like in Mexico.

    • Lauri Moyle says:

      Indeed Cynthia your right about the collectivist nature of some protestant churches, as with most generalisations… though you will have to outline how Luther supported communism. And I fear you are veering into precisely what I warned against in my opening remarks which is that Individualism and Collectivism as social psychological categories that evaluate cultural dynamics should NOT be confused with capitalism vs communism or more communitarian forms of ownership. For example Japan, one of the most collectivist countries in the world is profoundly capitalist while Holland, which indeed similarly to Sweden has a relativel large socialised welfare system, but is one of the most individualistic countries when it comes to forms of communications. So we need to keep clear the terms as we use them. I think when you say Liberal protestant countries are collectivist, you mean it in the economic sense not the social psychological sense, which I think in economic or political terms I would say would be not collectivist but communitarian, or socialist. Does that make sense?

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