Phyllis Tickle at Greenbelt
Last Friday’s Church Times carried an extensive report of the Greenbelt Festival. The talk by Phyllis Tickle interested me. She is a sociologist of religion from the United States who has chronicled the rise of “Emergence Christianity”. Every 500 years, she said, a “great upheaval” occurs. The last was the Great Reformation; now come the Great Emergence, “a time in which everything has so significantly changed that every part of our lives have changed.”
The characteristics of the emergent Church are wisdom; authority derived from the Holy Spirit; a lack of real estate; no centralised authority; a distrust of “Protestant inerrancy”; and a renewed love of serious liturgy. She declared Christendom dead, and spoke of the “community of communities” which is now the driving force within Christianity.
Christendom dead, no centralised authority, wisdom as a prime characteristic – that echoes where my faith is taking me – and I think the emerging vision is far more radical than Emergence Christianity has yet dreamt of. The legalism, fundamentalism and adherence to rationality so beloved of conservatives is not where the creative, Kingdom path lies.
Novelist John Burnside
The previous weekend, an article in the Guardian Saturday review about the novelist John Burnside caught my attention. Burnside is a person who gives short shrift to rationality and its adherents. “I always feel saddened by intelligent people who say, this can’t be true because it doesn’t work in terms of relationality,” he said. “What does? Inspiration? Art? Romantic love?” “Rationality doesn’t carry you all the way. Irrationality interests me more than anything: sometimes it’s very dangerous, but it can be very beautiful.”
In this Saturday’s Guardian, Suzanne Moore wrote about the proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill concerning counselling for those seeking abortion. She advised people to beware the language of care of the anti-abortionists. She wrote: “This is not about care but control. This control absolutely depends on shame: sexual shame. This shame keeps us quiet. Shame keeps us locked into individual guilt. Shame even makes us stupidly grateful that we are allowed to have any choice at all.” “Make no mistake, counselling is the route by which access to abortion is limited. This smokescreen of language is worthy of George Orwell’s Newspeak. In the guise of impartial advice, the opposite will be offered.” “All fundamentalists seek to control female sexuality.”
Fundamentalists seek to control events in a world which is, as Phyllis Tickle describes, is experiencing a time of immense change affecting us at the macro, global level of geo-political power and financial institutions and at the micro level of personal experience.
The response of political and religious institutions is, to put it mildly, inadequate. They allow themselves to be trapped by conservative lobby groups and interests, the Daily Mail, News International (power now waning), the Tea Party movement and right wing Christianity in the States, plus the lesser Anglican conservative anti-gay, anti-women priests and anti-women bishops groups.
John Burnside’s attraction to irrationality can indeed be both dangerous and beautiful, and is far more attractive to me because of the potential for creativity, dynamic change and transformation the energy of irrationality brings.
Suzane Moore’s article is salutary, especially in the light of Anglican Mainstream’s letter to the LGB&T Anglican Coalition. The fundamentalists seek to control LGB&T sexuality as well as women’s sexuality, and do it in a way that seems very rational and reasonable, as Andrea Williams, member of General Synod, the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern for Our Nation demonstrated in a TV news interview on Saturday.
I think the pro-gay Anglican movement has been far too ‘nice’ and accommodating to date, and still succumbs to the trap of the institution, that we have to be ‘nice and respectiful’ as Christians and we can use our relationships with those in positions of authority and power to achieve our goals. I don’t think we can, I think we are all seduced and corrupted and neutered by our fear of change and our fantasy of influence.
The time has arrived when we need to be far more clear about what we expect from our Church and where we stand. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians are mature adults who have come to our self-understanding as a result of a self-awareness and self-interrogation in terms of our faith, spirituality, sexuality and gender identity which has often been far more intensive than those belonging to the heterosexual majority.