February 21, 2014

Charioteer of Fire

Eric Liddell has the honor of being both a missionary and an Olympian. You can see more about the latter in the film, Chariots of Fire. You can also learn from Holy Women, Holy Men more about his ministry in China, including his internment in the camp at Weihsein, where he died before its liberation.

Here is the collect for his commemoration on February 22:

God whose strength bears us up as on mighty wings: We rejoice in remembering your athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, to whom you gave courage and resolution in contest and in captivity; and we pray that we also may run with endurance the race set before us and persevere in patient witness, until we wear that crown of victory won for us by Jesus our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

quick ikon by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 20, 2014

Prophet With Honor

Almighty God, whose truth makes us free: We bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of a president and a people to a deeper obedience to Christ. Strengthen us also to be outspoken on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

icon by
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 19, 2014


Linda Woodhead writes at Thinking Anglicans to point out the factual error in the English House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance to which I alluded earlier. Contrary to the bishops' assertion, the present day does not mark "the first time" that there has been "a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England and reflected in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer." As Woodhead notes, Archbishop Davidson said almost exactly the same thing over a hundred years ago (1907) in relation the the changes allowing a man to marry a deceased wife's sister. And as Woodhead and I have pointed out, the changes in how divorce was handled, and remarriage allowed, also brought about a dissonance between church and civil practice. (And, one might well add, eventually a dissonance between church practice and the teaching of Christ, about which the Pastoral makes much noise but to which it also appears almost totally oblivious, since Christ "taught" nothing at all about same-sex marriage, but did have something to say about divorce and remarriage, some of which was even read in churches round the Communion just last Sunday!)

To rely upon a falsehood as a point in argument is bad practice. One cannot reason to true results from false premises. Garbage in, garbage out.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 17, 2014

A Form of Prayer for a Same-Sex Marriage

in keeping with the Pastoral Guidance of the Church of England's House of Bishops.

Almighty God, who orderest the world in families, and in furtherance thereof didst make Mankind in thine Image, male and female: We give thee thanks for the couple here standing in thy Presence, who, notwithstanding the immediately preceding invocation, have chosen to enter the estate of civil marriage with each other, in disregard of the fact that one of them is not different in gender to the other. Pour out upon them a rush of common sense and enlightenment to the error of their ways, and guide their feet to safer pastures in fulfillment of what, we do not doubt, is thine actual Will for them. If however they should persist in this Folly, deal mercifully with them, as the poor deluded wretches that they are. Father, forgive them, for — in spite of all our efforts to the contrary — they know not what they do. Amen.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Acid Test

The Donatist wing of US fringe fundamentalism is likely nodding sagely to itself after the passing of Pentacostalist snake-handler Jamie Coots. Obviously he was no true apostle or he would have survived the bite.

Perhaps the Church of England should adopt a new litmus test for clerical worthiness?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

More on the C o E H o B P G

There has been a good bit of reaction, besides my own, to the English House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance regarding marriage.

First, let me note a petition calling for its rescinding. I signed it yesterday and I urge others to do the same.

Second, I want to note that there has been some discussion concerning legalities, including whatever legal standing the Pastoral Guidance itself may, or may not, have.

My understanding of the episcopate is that bishops are essentially executives. That is, they are to carry out the legally agreed-to decisions of the church, to enforce the law of the church, not to act as potentates to order obeisance to their own whims. As Sister Clare Fitzgerald, SNDD, past president of the Roman Catholic League of Women Religious, once told me, in reference to a bishop of the highest authority, "The pope can order the nuns to wear their habit as a witness to their vows, because that is part of the rule of their order; but the pope can't demand that the nuns must eat spaghetti every Thursday."

In England, the bishops can charge clergy under the Clergy Discipline Measure. This gives them considerable scope, but only covers matters of discipline, not of doctrine. So the question seems to revolve to some extent on the meaning of "discipline" and "doctrine." Is a pastoral direction, or even a direct admonition not to do something which is legal under the law of the state and not expressly forbidden under the law of the church, a matter of "discipline?" Being an American I am not familiar with the intricacies of English law beyond knowing how intricate it is! So the questions are:

Does violation of the Pastoral Guidance or demands made in light of it constitute a breach of discipline under the CDM? The explanatory Code of Practice gives this much guidance:

26. These [acts or omissions contrary ecclesiastical la] are not defined in the Measure but reference has to be made to the many principles of ecclesiastical law, which can be found in Acts of Parliament, Measures and Canons of the Church of England, statutory instruments, custom, and case law.

27. There are many duties imposed upon the clergy under ecclesiastical law. Failing to comply with any of those duties or doing something that is forbidden by ecclesiastical law could be a ground for alleging misconduct.

This begs the question, Is there a canon or other actionable statement in place already forbidding a cleric entering a same-sex marriage?

The broader area under which discipline might conceivably be applied is that of "conduct unbecoming or inappropriate" to the clergy. Here the rules are more vague, and it should be noted that the Pastoral Guidance did pick up on some of this language — as the Code of Practice puts it:

29. The Measure does not define unbecoming or inappropriate conduct, but clergy in their conduct and everyday living are expected to be examples of what is acceptable in Christian behaviour. Members of the church and the wider community look towards the clergy to set, and conform to, appropriate standards of morality and behaviour.

30. In particular the clergy should live their lives in a way that is consistent with the Code of Canons (principally C26, C27 and C28). Canon C26 is particularly relevant. It requires the clergy to be diligent to frame and fashion their lives according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make themselves wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ. Furthermore they are not to pursue unsuitable occupations, habits or recreations which do not befit their sacred calling, or which are detrimental to the performance of their duties or justifiably cause offence to others.

This would appear to allow more scope for action against clergy, but for the fact that the "conduct" of entering a marriage with a person of the same sex is not necessarily "unacceptable Christian behaviour" or a "justifiable cause for offence." Why? Because the Pastoral Guideline says that it is perfectly fine of lay Christian members of the church to enter into such a marriage. The P.G. appears to want to have it both ways by appealing to the notion of "higher standard," but surely that which is "acceptable" and gives no "offence" to the church. As the Pastoral Guidance itself states,

18. ...same sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle. Neither they nor any children they care for should be denied access to the sacraments.

Yet the Pastoral Guideline, in what appears to be a somewhat donatistical move, would restrict a cleric who presumes to enter such a marriage from celebrating the sacraments. This is part of the incoherency to which I referred.

There is also the matter of appeals to conscience. I cited Article XXXXII not as a "legal" point as I do not know the standing of the Articles in English church jurisprudence. (Though I'd be interested to know if they still have any application. After all, the P.G. cites the 1662 marriage liturgy.) This highlights the principle that from the time of the Article marriage was held to be a matter of conscience for individuals to frame their lives in a godly fashion. Since the Pastoral Guidance affirms (quoting the position taken prior to the adoption of civil marriage equality) that
“the proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute. Same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity…., two of the virtues which the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage. The Church of England seeks to see those virtues maximised in society.”

then it seems that the church means to penalize, or to declare or describe a relationship (when clergy are involved) as unwholesome merely on the lack one person of each sex. This is why I criticize the Pastoral Guidance for appearing to do just that: fixing virtue on the gender difference.

Getting back to Clergy Discipline, as I noted, that Measure is not to be used in cases of doctrine. Yet the Pastoral Guidance lays out the issue as a doctrinal one, having to do with the "doctrine of marriage" and the "teaching" both of Christ and of the church. At the same time, I note the absence of reference to marriage in the creeds and the [English] catechism, and the fact that Article XXV (on the Sacraments) holds marriage to be "an estate of life allowed in the Scripture." One could argue that same-sex marriage is not "allowed" by Scripture, in that it is nowhere mentioned. But the argument that it is expressly forbidden is not definitive, and to cite Article XX, only that which can be proven can be mandatory. In short, one can allow what cannot be proven, but only require what can be.

I'm sorry to bash away on the Articles, but it does seem to me we need a sort of Traditional Anglican Settlement to all of this, by allowing diversity and letting God sort out all the rest...


Ecclesiastical Law blog has some very fine (and professional!) analysis with references to case law as well as the canonical details.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 15, 2014

Incoherent Hypocrisy

The Church of England continues not to serve its members or itself very well. The latest is a statement of pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops in response to movements towards same-sex marriage. The full text, and much comment is available at Thinking Anglicans.

I call this statement "incoherent" due to its many internal contradictions, as well as its frequent assertions that contradict both received tradition and plain sense. Not being in a mood to "fisk" it (as I've done with things like Some Issues in Human Sexuality), I leave it to knowledgeable readers to do the work themselves. Leave it at this: a church that has come to tolerate remarriage after divorce cites the teaching of Jesus and its own tradition (including the plain text of its own traditional marriage liturgy) as a reason not to include same-sex couples. It is as if we were living on Animal Farm: the values of monogamy, permanent fidelity and mutual love (which the document cites as evident in at least some same-sex relationships) can be erased from the constitution, leaving only "man" and "woman" — the crucial defining adjective "one" no longer being applicable, even, as has been noted, for the likely future governor of the church. The Bishops have hinged the sole significant virtue (fidelity and so on being all very well but not restricted to mixed-sex couples) upon heterosexuality itself. Gender has become a virtue, and virtue insignificant. And they have the gumption to call this the teaching of Christ.

The document also calls upon the notion of a higher standard for clergy. This is a notion with which I am not entirely unsympathetic, as I do think clergy ought to model behavior that attests to a moral and virtuous life. However, in this case we are back to an Animal Farm model whereby all people are equal but clergy are more equal than others, and virtue now resides not in recognizable goods such as fidelity and love, but gender. In a further astounding application of this clerical principle, a cleric can say "informal prayers" for a same-sex couple in church (though not as a special "service of blessing") but cannot be so informally prayed for him or herself — so clergy who are gay or lesbian must remain celibate (which is to say, unmarried), while celebrating (informally!) the very thing they are forbidden to enjoy (because it would be an unwholesome example to the flock before whom they've just invoked their "informal" prayer. Moreover, even that informal prayer must be accompanied by a lecture to the effect that it is all rather out of keeping with the teaching of the church — surely the church giveth and the church taketh away.) I said it was incoherent, and it is.

Moreover, citations from Lambeth 1998 notwithstanding, this requirement of celibacy for gay or lesbian clergy is not in keeping with the church's own proper rule concerning the marriage of ordained persons. Article XXXII states:

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.
The emphasis in the last line is mine, and is intended to remind us that this is a matter of individual conscience, not to be tampered with or tempered by ecclesiastical authority.

It is distressing that a document that so often calls upon Christ should be so blind to his actual teaching, and one that cites tradition so blind to its own history. I shall pray the bishops take a trip to Damascus, and a new bright light shine upon them, as it knocks them for a loop.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 14, 2014

Projection by Bigots

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jos (Nigeria) is complaining that the West forces various things, including homosexuality and condoms "down Africans' throats." The irony here concerns not just the content of what is allegedly being force-fed, but the one making the allegation: whose manner of teaching could fairly be characterized as entailing "requirements" suddenly objecting to the notion of others doing the same... as if they were!

For, of course, the West is not "forcing" homosexuality or condom use on anyone, and definitely not down anyone's throat. We are dealing here with a matter of projection: conservatives such as the Archbishop of Jos really do want everyone to do as they say they ought, and they think everyone is the same as they are with regard to that which they think is good. There is no nuance of "all may, none must, some should," but rather "I've said it, you must do it!" Such folks have no grasp of pluralism, only of mandate, and they project their narrow insistence that all must do as they do upon others who are, instead, content to live and let live. That someone who champions the repressive and regressive Nigerian anti-gay legislation could, with a straight face, complain about people being forced to act in a certain way would be laughable if the laughter didn't stick in, shall I say, one's throat.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 12, 2014

Slave of God

Absalom Jones was born a slave but died a priest of God, making the painful transition from house slave to servant in the House of God. Able to buy his own freedom, he worked with Richard Allen to foster the Free African movement, powered by the Gospel.

The Gospel is strong stuff, and its application can change the world — and the church. And although the church often acts as the brake rather than the engine of change, St Thomas African Episcopal Church was received by the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1794, with Jones as deacon a year later, and a priest in 1802. He continued to build the church he served until his death in 1818. The Collect for his feast day appeals:

SET US FREE, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The icon is from my series of "real people" icons; an effort to portray the subject with as little stylization, and as much humanity, as I can muster.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 11, 2014


I’d lain there many years beside the pool
but never made it; others got there first,
and I was left behind; felt like a fool
who swims a river while he dies of thirst.
“So close and yet so far,” the saying goes.
The churning waters mocking, tantalize,
but I can’t move; the nature of my woes
is just what stops me getting to the prize.

He asked me if I wanted to be cured,
surprised no doubt at how long I’d endured
this state of things; but he — as quick as that —
he told me, “Rise, and carry off your mat.”
An angel stirred the waters of my soul,
and Jesus was the one who made me whole.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
A sonnet after John 5:1-9
February 11, 2013

February 6, 2014

The Role of Reason in Religion, Briefly

Over at Facebook there's a discussion raging about the recent debate between Bill Nye "the Science Guy" and Ken Ham of the "Creation Museum." Some have given the palm to one or the other, or the palm to the face, as in "Why did Nye agree to this and dignify young earth creationism as if it were science?" However, I think the most instructive thing about the debate is that it displays the difference not between science and religion (which is why it may have been unwise for Nye to engage in it) but the difference between science and phoney science, and between true religion and mere dogged belief, what is sometimes called fideism. Ham is guilty of both phoney science and false belief. Does that sound harsh? Let me say more...

The most telling point in the "debate" came when both interlocutors were asked what sort of evidence might change their minds about Evolution or Young Earth Creationism respectively. Nye gave a list of possible pieces of evidence and said that were they presented he would have to change his view. Ham hemmed and hawed a bit, but essentially said that no evidence could cause him to change his beliefs. That is the problem with his view in a nutshell. His "truth" is unrelated to any "facts." And that's neither science nor religion, but folly.

For facts can stand without "truth" but "truth" cannot stand without facts. A faith that fails to take account of reality is based not just on a lack of evidence (which is one thing) but a denial of evidence, (which is falsehood). As Hooker said, Scripture is intended to supply those revealed truths that cannot be derived from nature. That means both that truth can be learned from nature, and that "revealed" truth cannot contradict what is learned from nature. It is a matter of a reasonable faith versus a kind of blind acceptance of the false. Ken Ham's statement that no evidence could convince him that his "truth" is mistaken is not Christian doctrine, at least as Hooker understood the interplay of reason and faith, which is how I understand it.

Here's something from a higher authority than me, if you like, though I don't think the level of authority makes it any more true: Pope Benedict XVI stated, "The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected the so-called 'fideism,' which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd*) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith." (General Audience, November 21, 2012)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
* My note: "I believe because it is absurd" is attributed to Tertullian. Though he did indeed go off the rails with his ultimate reliance on private revelation, it is fair to say that this attribution is out of context, as he was employing a rhetorical device to show how the scandal of the cross was not, in fact, a scandal.

February 4, 2014

Scotland Votes for Marriage Equality

Scotland has now joined England and Wales in adopting marriage equality. Northern Ireland isn't tabling any motions just now, so that leaves a bit of a gap in the UK line-up, but one that will likely be filled in eventually, perhaps sooner than you might think.

In the midst of this all, it strikes me that at least some American conservatives opposed to marriage equality must find it a tad irksome that they are standing against much of the free world and with Vladimir Putin's Russian state.

I'd say, "strange bedfellows," but what they get up to in bed is none of my business.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
A Webster from a Glamis stock, via my paternal grandmother

February 3, 2014

East is East

Over on Facebook, soon-to-be-bishop Matt Gunter has shared a link to my essay on the Eastward Position. The comment stream reminded me of a few of the reasons I prefer that position (except in certain circumstances) both as a celebrant and member of an assembly. One reason is the extent to which the EP tends to downplay any (or most) eccentricities the celebrant might have. I'm particularly reminded of a comment of the late great Canon Richard Norris, with whom I was working at the time the article originally appeared. He smiled in his dear curmudgeonly way, and in a warmly gruff smoker's voice intoned, "Ah Tobias. I'm so tired of looking at smiling priests!" I've learned to save my smiles for sermons and announcements.

Down the years I've collected mental notes about some of the eccentricities I've observed when the celebrant faces the people across the altar, à la Julia Child. I recall in particular a bishop (God rest him) who used to do "The Magic Chalice" — he would hold his hands over the chalice at the words of institution and at the end suddenly pull them back as if some small explosion had gone off. It was rather like the stoner's "blow my mind" gesture, and about as edifying.

Then there was the priest who performed long and laborious ablutions facing the people, ending with what always looked like an attempt to screw the chalice into his face. No, thank you.

Also etched in my memory is the priest who would present the consecrated gifts with a look of astonished eagerness, as if he'd just realized what had happened for the first time; you could almost see the exclamation point after "The Gifts of God!" pulsing over his head in comic-book style. But there was more to come, as he would then give the congregation a startled look and pivot his head from side to side at all present, with eyebrows raised to his hairline, as if also just realizing that they were, in actual fact, and for the first and only time, "the People of God!" Admittedly, this is one place where the celebrant is obviously intended to face the people, but it really shouldn't come as a surprise.

Nor is the Eastward position a refuge from peculiar gestures that to the congregation amount to no more than the rustling of silk and satin vestments in the assault on Dix's aunt's crab let loose from the tabernacle, nor from the sepulchral tones of "sanctuary voice" — I've got a few of these in my catalogue of things to avoid as well. 

In short, anything that calls excessive attention to the celebrant, rather than to what is being celebrated, is wisely to be avoided. 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG