New Ordination Standards for PC(USA)

It’s interesting to note the spin which some members of the mainline Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) are putting on the recent decision of their General Assembly to lift the ban on the ordination of practising homosexuals. They claim that it may actually raise the standards. Many Bible-believing Christians will find that hard to believe.

Theresa Denton, moderator of the PCUSA’s Church Orders and Ministry Committee, is quoted as saying that she does not view the proposed amendment to the ordination standards as lower standards but rather as higher ones.

“The standards that the governing bodies will be held to is to evaluate the totality of a candidate’s life, to interview them and see what their gifts are, what their talents are, what their whole life is about rather than one aspect of their life and … all of this to be done under the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” she contended. “I think that is an incredibly high standard.”

Continue reading “New Ordination Standards for PC(USA)”

What’s wrong with Women Bishops?

The controversial issue of the ordination of women, and especially the appointment of women bishops, continues to be a discussion point within the Anglican communion. A recent blog by Richard Perkins, the minister of a new Anglican church in south-west London is an excellent summary of the position held by many evangelical Anglicans and others who hold to what they believe is the biblical position. He says,

Given that we’ve had a woman Prime Minister, a woman as Head of M15 and we send women to war it’s surely a little anachronistic that an institution like the Church of England should prevent women from having the top jobs. Of course, whether they’re the top jobs is a discussion for another time. ….But people increasingly find the ineligibility of women for the Episcopacy as an act of outrageous and ‘criminal’ discrimination. It may well be that Government Legislation will one day make it a criminal offence to ‘victimize’ women in this way.

To deny positions of authority and leadership to women in the church is not meant to cause offence. But because of where our culture is, it does. But just because the culture is saying something doesn’t necessarily require us to change our position, but it ought to send us back to the Bible to make sure we’ve got it right.

Christ Church, Balham is part of a group of churches in the west end of London known as Co-Mission churches. These churches are vibrant, growing congregations, and are popular among a younger generation of committed Christians. Their position on the issue of women bishops does not seem to detract from their ability to attract and use the gifts of able, talented young men and women.

I had a conversation recently with a senior Anglican cleric, and he was pointing out that, in some English dioceses, if a candidate for the ministry expressed reservations about the ordination of women he would almost certainly be rejected, but another candidate could express concerns about basic Christian doctrines like the resurrection and no eyebrows would be raised. If true, that seems to send out a crazy message: we know exactly what the Bible teaches about the ordination of women, but we aren’t sure what it says about the resurrection.

The ordination of women as ministers or their appointment as bishops is not a gospel issue, but it is one which requires careful biblical reflection. I am sure God does not want us to be confused on such a practical issue.

Civil Partnership Bill in ROI

When I was in Dublin a few months ago, I met Senator Ronan Mullen, the Independent NUI senator in the Seanad. He is a man of strong Christian convictions, and I discovered that we shared a number of concerns about issues of morality that are being debated currently.

Christians in the Republic of Ireland will be interested to know that Senator Mullen plans to table some freedom of conscience amendments to the Civil Partnership Bill which is now being debated by the Seanad.

This Bill would penalise, and in some cases criminalise, photographers,
printers, managers of parish halls or registrars who might, on conscience
grounds, not wish to facilitate civil partnership events. This attacks the
freedom of conscience of those who believe in traditional morality and in
marriage between a man and a woman as the bedrock of society.

My amendments would protect freedom of conscience while avoiding unintended consequences, including any obstruction of the State’s implementation of civil partnership legislation.

In a pluralist society there will be different viewpoints on many ethical issues including the morality of homosexual relationships and the extent to which the State should protect the institution of marriage. It is one thing for citizens to disagree on these matters. It is another thing to use the overwhelming force of the law to punish certain citizens because their beliefs differ from the new State-sponsored outlook.

The Minister for Justice has tried to claim that freedom of conscience
exceptions could lead to undesirable consequences. It was both needlessly
offensive and inaccurate to invoke the ‘fundamentalist Christian garda’ who
might refuse to arrest a person breaching a safety order because he
believed that a husband was entitled to beat his wife. Such weak arguments
hide the fact that our existing equality legislation contains many
sensible, carefully-crafted, exceptions which are not abused.

Senator Mullen argued that, without freedom of conscience amendments, the Civil Partnership Bill may be unconstitutional, given Bunreacht na hÉireann’s strong protection for the practice of religion and the rights of religious institutions.

Article 44.2 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and Article 44.5 provides that every religious denomination shall have the right to manage its own affairs. It is interesting to note that in 1997, the Supreme Court regarded Section 37 of the Employment Equality Bill, which allows religious employers to take action which is reasonably necessary to prevent the undermining of their religious ethos, as necessary to the Bill’s constitutionality. A similar exemption is needed now.

Senator Mullen will also table amendments to tackle a new form of discrimination introduced by the Civil Partnership Bill.

The Bill as it stands discriminates against mutually dependent adults in
non-sexual relationships, such as carers and siblings, by not providing
them with any of the rights and entitlements of would-be civil partners or
cohabitees. There is no objective justification for this. My amendments
will seek to equalise the rights of all mutually-dependent couples while
ensuring the special status of marriage remains intact.

Christians throughout the Republic of Ireland will follow this debate with much interest.

Note: The Civil Partnership Bill has been amended in the Dáil and is now
known as the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of
Cohabitants Bill, 2009.

Seamus the Great

dsc02561Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, has opened the new McClay Library at Queen’s University. It was a great evening for the university as it celebrated this wonderful new addition to its facilities. Named after Sir Alan McClay, the library provides fantastic resources for the students at Queen’s, not least the impressive CS Lewis Reading Room.

In his beautifully crafted speech, Seamus recalled how that words used to describe libraries, like “holdings” and “stacks”, were reminiscent of his rural Ulster upbringing, where one would gather an armful from the stack for fodder or bedding. In the same way, standing among these stacks, there was much to feed the mind and comfort the soul.

Language, literature, learning, the lure and indeed the lair of the library  -in the course of my undergraduate years here, those were things that changed me for life, and they remain to this day essential to the pursuit of a liberal education. However much the technology may have changed in the meantime, however fast and flooded the information stream has become, however many electronic devices the undergraduate and the research student come provided with and  attached to, the library remains at the intellectual and creative centre of any university. Many of the words associated with it have rich and primal associations. Just to speak of ‘holdings’ or ‘stacks’ is to be reminded how indispensable a library is to the garnering and guarding what is most treasured in the culture and most necessary in the pursuit of knowledge. How it remains, in the words of Louis MacNeice’s poem “The British Museum Reading Room’, a ‘hive-like dome’ where the scholars are like busy bees ‘tap[ping] the cells of knowledge -/Honey and wax, the accumulation of years.’ And the fact that the tapping is now done on the keyboard of a pc or by the insertion of a memory stick does not change the nature of the operation.

The first time I entered a library stack was at the beginning of my second year at Queen’s, when I became an honours student in the English Department and was entitled to that privilege. The dim outback of shelves and catwalks that I entered then was very different from the stacks I had grown up among, haystacks and cornstacks higher than the house, harvest holdings, you might say, garnerings of straw and grain. But the stacks in the library still performed a similar function to those in the haggard, for just as the farmer could withdraw hay or straw by the armful and carry it off for fodder or bedding, so the student could emerge with his or her armful of books, fill up the slips at the desk and keep them for a fortnight to extract whatever nurture that was stored In them for mind or imagination.

dsc02569Patricia and I were able to attend the event because the current moderator, Dr Hamilton, and his wife, were away, and we were first reserves. Patricia was particularly pleased to be there because she first met Seamus when she was at school in Cambridge House, Ballymena, and the great man came to a small Irish Literature Society to talk about his work. The teacher who looked after this group hailed from Derrygarve, and Seamus was recalling to us in conversation afterwards how that when he went home from meeting the girls and their teacher in Cambridge House, he put pen to paper: “I met a girl from Derrygarve” in a poem entitled “A New Song” that talks about Upperlands and Castledawson.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Gregson, presented Seamus with a medal to recognise the fact that it was precisely 50 years ago since Seamus had first graduated from Queen’s. I wonder if any of this year’s graduates from Queen’s will go on to make as significant a contribution as Seamus the Great.

Digital Age Delusion

rev_dr_david_b_garner_2_web_shot_wts071907_97Here’s another thought-provoking article by Dave Garner, from Westminster Seminary. It is published in Equip magazine, but it can be read in full below.

In a fast-paced culture, it is so easy to lose one’s bearings and to get lost. Dave reminds us, very eloquently, of a basic commitment which reformed people have to the authority of Scripture which has direct implications for how we think about church and worship, as well as the spiritual realities which underpin our faith.

They thought they were going to die.  Already begrudging the outdated notion of wilderness camp hundreds of miles from home, the vanload of teenagers was jolted by the ground rules at their non-virtual form of distance education. Posted at the wilderness camp’s entrance gate was the media bouncer barking authoritatively, “No MP3 players. No I-Pods.  No DVD players. No cell phones. No laptops.  No kidding.”   The prehistoric demands aroused sleepy youth from their digital slumbers.  Disappointment heated into outrage; outrage ignited panic, and I-Pod toting teens banded into a digitally mastered surround-sound symphony: “How can we possibly survive for 10 days without our music?!” Continue reading “Digital Age Delusion”