Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ecclesial dirt and reputational purity

I have had a number of conversations in the last year or so with new or aspiring Anglican clergy that have revolved around the question of which parish to work in. This in itself is quite unsurprising. I studied at Moore College for four years and so spent much of my time with men and women preparing for a lifetime of service in various Protestant churches, mainly Anglican. At the end of a degree, the question of future ministry looms large: where will I serve God and his people? To talk with one's colleagues and friends while discerning an answer is common sense. Even for those who have decided not to pursue service further afield, the sheer number of churches in Sydney makes for a bewildering variety of options. A range of factors could be taken into account in determining an outcome: the ability to use one's particular gifts in the job description, existing relational ties to a congregation or significant individual, the chance to receive further training, the needs and opportunities of the local area, proximity to family, cultural familiarity, respect for the senior minister, confluence of ministry approach and personality, and many others.

What concerned, irritated and ultimately alarmed me was the extent to which one particular aspect seemed to dominate or feature prominently amongst the selection criteria in more than a few discussions. It wasn't "how much will I be paid?" or "will I get a comfortable house?" If such considerations were functioning consciously or unconsciously, they were rarely admitted. No, the criteria in question was: "will serving at this church damage my reputation and make it more difficult for me to get another position in future?"

The thinking, as best as I can reconstruct it, goes something like this. Some parishes in Sydney are seen by the dominant mindset as "tainted" in various ways. They might be a little more charismatic in worship and tone, a little higher in churchmanship (e.g. they might still celebrate Communion regularly), a little broader in the role of women in ministry, a little more open to certain thinkers (such as He Who Must Not Be Named (let the reader understand)), a little more into eating babies and Satan worship. OK, so maybe not the last one. In any case, and more seriously, such parishes depart from what is perceived to be "Sydney orthodoxy" in one or more respects. For those contemplating future employment opportunities, they represent a dangerous possibility of guilt by association. If I accept a position as catechist (student minister) or assistant there, I will gain a reputation for being charismatic/high church/liberal/soft - better to keep my head down and my name pure.

This is, of course, a caricature, but only just. Such reasoning disturbs me for at least three reasons.

(a) It assumes the world can be divided fairly neatly into white hats and black hats. The former are teachers or churches who are solid, reliable, trustworthy, orthodox, "gospel-centred". The latter are teachers or churches that are dangerously wrong, beyond the pale and from whom nothing ought to be learned lest I endanger my soul (not to mention my future ministry opportunities). Of course, everyone is actually a shade of grey: there is none so pure that I can safely accept her every word; there is none so wicked that in God's grace I have nothing to learn from him. We are all always doubly vulnerable: to sin and to grace.

(b) It assumes that I am passive in the interaction, that I will be infected by their "contagion", rather than their being infected by my "holiness". Jesus was contagiously holy; he touched lepers and made them clean instead of himself becoming unclean (Mark 1.40-42). If I think a certain parish is heading in the wrong direction, might not my presence – my prayer, listening, teaching, sharing, love – in God's grace exert some positive influence?

(c) It is based on fear. This fear is not simply that I might lose my way spiritually or theologically by falling under an unwise influence (a concern which may have some small place in healthy thinking), but a fear that others will think less of me, that I will lose honour by associating with the "dishonourable". And each individual who acts based on this fear feeds it in others by implicitly affirming it as a real fear. Although some interlocutors have claimed that they are "simply being realistic", I can't help feeling there are some parallels to a situation in which a man is being beaten by a small group of thugs and a large crowd watches, each individually using the "realistic" reasoning: "if I were the first to go to the victim's assistance, they would turn on me." What each doesn't realise is that all are waiting for someone to initiate action so they can join in.

I'm not saying that such differences between parishes in theology and practice are irrelevant. But the service of God, his people and his world is too important for us to be distracted by anxiety over reputation.
Fifteen points for each of the buildings.


Matthew Moffitt said...

Thanks Byron for a lovely post.

What do you think first initially caused our fear of reputation?

Unknown said...

Well said Byron.

I would also suggest that the attitude runs deeper through the Diocese working outwardly in the congregations mindset...oh you come from that church...I better not publicly associate with you because of what might be...

Sydney Angs seem to discount the idea of specific calling to if clergy don't feel specifically called as such, it becomes a professional vocation and so ministry placement maybe looked upon as what will be more beneficial for my promotion and long term career.

There could be a underlying fear factor involved as well? Its easier to minister to others when they believe what you do, and so you repeat and do the same muchness.

It could be fearful to minister in a way where you might be rejected for what you think is the right way, and to be challenged that some of what we think and believe might be wrong.

byron smith said...

Moffitt - I suspect that it is a fairly ubiquitous human fear, perhaps based on our (good and created) interdependence, which in turn makes us vulnerable. As for whether there are specific factors in Sydney that have contributed to growth of this particular social pattern, I don't think I know enough about the history of the Diocese to make any further comment.

Craig - yes, this attitude is not limited to the clergy, though being freshly out of college, I was reflecting on the ways that it particularly affects the clergy (and clergy to-be). And you may be onto something re vocation, at least in some cases. If this is a profession, then I have a career that I need to look after (or so we often think).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Byron. This issue can be a serious problem for evangelical churches in otherwise liberal dioceses trying to find staff. I reckon it is easier to get Sydney people to go to Tanzania than to Canberra.
All the talk about mission and taking the gospel to the world is a bit hollow when you have serious problems getting someone to move more than 2 hours drive from the Sydney basin because it could harm their career prospects.
Anyway that's my rant...

Nick said...


Loved your post.

But, I fear you are being a bit disingenuous here :). Surely the issue is not so much some "lack" in the people who are fearing about their reputations. Surely the issue is that there is some culture or climate or system (not sure what you call it) in Sydney that is causing people to think this way. That's the issue.

And you've named it yourself - this isn't about "credal" issues (for want of a better term). To quote from your post - the churches in question ..."might be a little more charismatic in worship and tone, a little higher in churchmanship (e.g. they might still celebrate Communion regularly), a little broader in the role of women in ministry, a little more open to certain thinkers...". If candidates are getting concerned about their reputations because they are going to churches that differ over those issues - then it's not the candidates who have the problem!

Cheers, Nick

Ben Myers said...

An excellent post, Byron. I'm an outsider of course (worse still, I'm in the Brisbane Diocese, where the only thing that could ever taint you is an association with Sydney!) — but my outsider's impression is that Nick is exactly right.

Of course, the most interesting thing about this whole scenario is that, for most of us, the best churches are the ones that are "a little more charismatic in worship and tone, a little higher in churchmanship (e.g. they might still celebrate Communion regularly), a little broader in the role of women in ministry, a little more open to certain thinkers..."

Hey, if that is tainted, then God deliver us from purity!

ang said...

great post thanks byron.

I have totally felt in response to places i have worked and as i have tried to work out where to work in Sydney!!

byron smith said...

JRS - yes, I've heard similar things from elsewhere, even Melbourne!

Nick - no, not disingenuous. Just trying to focus on the bit of the problem over which I might be able to exert a little influence. Of course, there is a broader cultural problem here, but the actions of individuals contribute to this culture. This is why I used the image of the paralysed crowd, where no one wants to draw attention to themselves lest they become the target, but in which if many stepped forward, there would no longer be a problem.

Ben - I don't think I should even be talking to you... :-)
Seriously, I agree with you about the better churches. But my point is that even if people don't (and many in Sydney don't), difference ought not to be a reason for fear.

Ang - Not wanting to get too melodramatic here, but it's people like you who are the ones getting beaten up in the middle of a crowd (i.e. who quite unfairly get the short end of this ugly cultural stick).
Come on people, let's step forward!

Bruce Yabsley said...

Byron I have on several occasions entertained friends with my (rather good) Yoda impersonation, on this very topic: you know the quote, ending in "I sense much fear in you". But nonetheless I'm with Nick on this one: I don't think it's just a matter of individuals not stepping forward.

Much of the problem seems to me to concern mis-description. In your analogy of a crowd watching a beating, everyone at least agrees about what is going on: a guy is getting beaten on by a bunch of thugs, and I (and everyone else) am doing nothing about it. By contrast in the real-world situation we're discussing, people disagree about the phenomena.

This is maybe less of an problem among clergy (or non-ordained ministry professionals: clergy by another name, just not Anglican ministers), since the issue can be discussed frankly among colleagues. But as a layman ... with whom do I have the conversation? I have learned from experience that lay friends who are settled in church may not want to look too closely under the hood of these issues, because (a) what would they do about it anyway, and (b) agreeing with what I am saying would put them in a situation of conflict with discourse in their own churches.

Because this is the point: does such-and-such a phenomenon reflect zeal for the gospel, or contentiousness and controversy-seeking? A heart for the lost, or a weddedness to a particular model of mission? Concern for the truth, or the creation of a shibboleth? Teaching the Bible, or refusing to take anything outside the Bible seriously?

If this town has one problem --- and God knows, it has many --- it is that just about everything gets understood as a matter of doctrine or obedience, when in fact many things are issues of practical discernment, homiletics, or relational style. And as for purity, which you very rightly put in the title: if people named some concern to themselves as "an issue of purity", and found themselves doing it all the time, then they would probably realise something was wrong with their Christian practice whenever they opened the Gospels. So I conclude that people are either not naming the issues in this way, or not paying attention to the Evangelists.

michael jensen said...

Byron: a heartfelt and public apology for contributing to this problem, directly in your case. For which I say: sorry.

I think there is also a tendency for some to define themselves by their over-againstness towards the dominant paradigm: to self-define by being counter-Sydney. I have never seen this in you, I might add. But it is a more than one-sided problem, is all.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Michael wrote that there is also a tendency for some to define themselves by their over-againstness towards the dominant paradigm: to self-define by being counter-Sydney.

For what it is worth I have been struggling with this for fifteen years. [Explanatory note for outsiders: I was a student at the local theological college in the early nineties.] I think the dominant paradigm isn't so much a wrong set of answers to given questions, but more an unhelpful set of questions and habits. However if you've ever been a part of the system, it is very hard to see past the (often very anguished) battles to say: no, the question was wrong all along; let us rethink --- or maybe better, just repent.

This is part of what I mean by saying that it is not just a matter of good people remaining silent, or not acting. The people, good or bad, are not seeing the situation straight. The phenomena are mixed, and simple opposition perpetuates the problem because it reinforces everyone in their view of themselves and the issues.

I will tell an example against myself: your colleague MB recently made a statement in passing that various professional disciplines had their own role and their own valid concerns (by way of arguing that it was not the clergy's business to take a stand on such concerns). Rather than taking this for what it was worth, I immediately challenged him to denounce --- as a matter of consistency --- the cult of full-time ministry that prevailed in my day, and in particular the tactic of denigrating the professions (let alone any calling to a profession other than ministry).

Now I happen to think this is a case where I am unambiguously in the right, for there were some quite insupportable things said and done at that time. However, this does not change the fact that there was a kind of battle, which people like me lost; and that for many folk, these years later, the kind of denunciation I was calling for feels like a denial of other important and necessary insights: the value of dedicated ministry, say, or the emptiness of much popular ambition.

There is a very real problem here, but there is no straightforward way to fix it, and I in particular am not the person to take the matter forward. But the temptation to simple opposition is real and powerful. Part of the temptation, if I may say, comes from the determinedly on-message nature of official Christian discourse in this town: it is a constant provocation, for it bundles up the status quo (to which I'm opposed) with the gospel (to which I can hardly be opposed).

Our parish church gets a lot of ministry trainees, and I talk with them from time to time. I really do make an effort to be edifying --- my God, that sounds pretentious --- and to purge whatever I say of my own preoccupations; for they will have battles enough of their own. But not to issue correctives is not to care ... what I am trying to say is, the matter is difficult, discernment is needed, and it is easy to tip into contributing to the problem, whether one moves to the right or the left.

Anonymous said...

One ... giant ... chill ... pill ... for the lot of you.

Perspective people! Prospective people! Stop being so ... blah!

Bruce Yabsley said...

anonymous I could be infuriated by your remarks, but really it is not worth it: there are enough real problems in the world to get het up about.

So, grace and peace to you ... whoever you are.

michael jensen said...

Yes, Bruce, quite... I think MB would agree with you, knowing him.

Anthony Douglas said...

Well expressed, Byron, as ever. It niggled at me too, though I spent more time being frustrated at the 'I must go where I will be trained' mantra that never seems to become redundant...

As part of my project, I wrote a few pages on the issue of defining evangelicalism, so did a fair bit of reading of various people's efforts in the area. One thing that strikes me as relevant is a longstanding tradition of defining the movement by negation: we don't believe "in justification by works, in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the fallibility of Scripture, in Arian christology, and so on." (Hey, it's nice to quote myself!)

I found an article by Graham Kings that I thought made a worthwhile argument that evangelicalism had a bit of a martyr complex and always wants to see itself as the faithful remnant, so it spends time narrowing the boundaries and thereby increasing its exclusivity. It was in Anvil 20/3 (2003), if you're interested.

byron smith said...

Bruce - thanks for your thoughts and sharing your experience. I found them both illuminating and humbling. Thank you.

I said that I agreed with Nick that the issue at hand is more than simply individuals stepping forward; there is a culture, and there are other individuals who play a larger and more direct role in shaping that culture. I was not aiming to address "The Problem(s!) with Sydney Diocese", simply one small facet of one of them that I have noticed in myself and my peers, namely, what is to my mind an overblown concern for personal theological/ministry reputation. While I do not wish to advocate merely personal piety in the face of an unquestionable culture and there are bigger fish to fry, this one is still important.

I really appreciate your comments about the dangers of simply becoming an opposition and simply mirroring the mistakes of those you oppose. I have more than once felt the temptation to this (and occasionally succumbed), but as you point out, this "solution" is too easy and simply exchanges one disappointment for another. I agree that much more needs to be said than this post, and that the issue is far from obvious and straightforward. There are other considerations: for example, a love of our neighbour that desires us to all live faithfully in the light of the good news, and so the concerned desire to gently correct false and misleading gospels that will not lead us into life together. Or the necessity of those who discern and approve new ministers to ensure that they are trustworthy and will listen to and teach from the Holy Scriptures.

Likewise, I accept that my final image is both unlike as well as like the situation at hand. Perhaps it could have been supplemented with another one or two to indicate this. I intended to highlight the ways in which a culture or system can exist that will "punish" isolated attempts at resisting vice (in this case, a heightened concern for reputation), even if the obviousness of this vice is not apparent.

just about everything gets understood as a matter of doctrine or obedience, when in fact many things are issues of practical discernment, homiletics, or relational style
This is an important point, and I agree.

Thanks again for your insights. I really appreciate your comments.

byron smith said...

Anon: it sounds a little like you are frustrated by this discussion. Could you tell us a little more of why that is the case?

byron smith said...

Anthony - thanks for the reference (and for the quote from a wise scholar!).

byron smith said...

Michael - apology accepted. No problem. I didn't have you in mind at all when I wrote this post and actually had to think what you might have been referring to. And as I said to Bruce, I agree about the problem being far more than one-sided.

Kris said...

Byron, thanks for your post. As a synod rep I've seen these conversations in action at various times. You're right: it's a complex issue.

Unknown said...

You might be interested in what I have posted here

I did an article linking yours with Tim Keller, Mark Dever T4G and a book by Ian Murray on what they have to say on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I just want to know if MPJ will risk 'tainting' himself on his return ;)

Shane said...

Hi Byron
Iago (Shakespeare) said something like
" Reputation is idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving."

There is a status anxiety amongst clergy - I have experienced and propagated it probably.
I wonder if part of the issue isn't my 'functional' justification. That is (ironically) what ever my confessional position might be - my acceptance is based more on what others think than how i stand and serve before the Lord.
Frankly, our fears about ecclesial dirt - no matter how real - is a subtle idolatry.

thanks for the post

byron smith said...

Kris - yes, I should clarify, I do believe there may be other good reasons for accepting or declining offers of ministry positions that make these decisions complex, but reputation ought not to be one of them.

Craig - thanks for the link and some interesting quotes.

Tim - I trust him to make good decisions based on factors other than reputation.

Shane - But of course Iago would say that, since he was the bad guy! Seriously, I like the link to the idea of "status anxiety" and functional justification.

Anonymous said...

There are two traits which I find very ugly in this diocese.

1. a culture of doctrinal bullying

It is true that there is a lot of foolish and oppressive talk that goes around that creates a culture of being pushed into a corner. I find it disgusting when I see someone, for example try and humbly think through the issue of Justification by Faith and before they finish the first page, someone else comes along and slams the book shut, grabs it out of the reader's hand and says, don't bother reading that, it will lead you down the Roman Catholic path.

2. an overall feeling of cynicism and negativity towards current 'mainstream' Sydney Anglicanism.

I also see just as much, perhaps even more, negativity, cynicism and bitterness towards Sydney Anglicanism (whoever they are), by Sydney Anglicans. It may just be my perception. But I can count on my hand the amount of times I have heard anyone give thanks for the rather unique spiritual blessings God has given Christians in Sydney over the last 200 years. It is a massive understatement to say that there is a lot to be thankful for how God has worked in Churches in Sydney recently. Yet I rarely hear it.

Steven Jakopovich
(never met you byron, was put onto this site by a friend)

michael jensen said...

Yo, Tim, I have tainted myself plenty already by hanging out with the Bishop of Ashfield all these years!!! ;-) So what's a little more tainting.

And I appreciate your good faith Byron!

byron smith said...

Steven - thanks for commenting. I agree with both your points. Do you think that this post has slipped into #2?

On a less serious note...
MPJ - I think he's no longer the Bishop of Ashfield. He now prefers to be called the Bishop of the Inner West - or sometimes the Bishop of the Three-in-One.

Gordon Cheng said...

On an even less serious note, my wife works for his wife grooming dogs of a Wednesday morning. The fringe benefits are great, but things can get a bit ruff (arf arf).

I'm in the odd position of being what would probably be described as mainstream Sydney Anglican (though I'm more and more convinced that the mainstream position is, in reality, a small minority, though probably not as small as you NT Wrightians) and also having worked in a number of situations where I've been in theological disagreement with my boss(es).

I've got a few theories based on experience and observation and reason (but definitely not scripture, perish the thought!) as to why the thing you're aspiring towards isn't really as good an idea as you might think. And even though the current situation has all sorts of dodgy features to it, both 'majority' and 'minority' benefit from it, in a wierd sort of way.

Hmm, sorry, my thoughts are becoming so brilliant in my own estimation that I may save them for my blog...

[the dreaded ellipsis! ... ]

byron smith said...

the thing you're aspiring towards isn't really as good an idea as you might think
Gordon - what do you think is the thing I'm aspiring towards? What I have tried to encourage in this post is that people (esp clergy) stop worrying so much about their reputation. Is that a bad thing?

Shane said...

Sorry gordon,

I have no idea what you are suggesting?

1.not sure what you mean by the mainstream being a minority?

2. are you suggesting that aspiring toward not worrying about reputation or reducing ugly stereotyping and guilt by association (e.g 'you NT Wrightians') is folly?

3. or were you using obscurity to advertise your blog?


would love to hear more on this comment of yours
"There are other considerations: for example, a love of our neighbour that desires us to all live faithfully in the light of the good news, and so the concerned desire to gently correct false and misleading gospels that will not lead us into life together. Or the necessity of those who discern and approve new ministers to ensure that they are trustworthy and will listen to and teach from the Holy Scriptures."

having been thinking what defines the ethos and culture of the diocese - confessionalism? theological method? ecclesiology? relational network? collegiality of clergy?

what would you say are the unstated values that shape the culture?

Gordon Cheng said...

What I have tried to encourage in this post is that people (esp clergy) stop worrying so much about their reputation. Is that a bad thing?

No, no, not at all, that is terrific! "And though they take our life, goods honour child and wife..." and so on and so forth.

But presumably you want to not just stop worrying but act in accordance with their new-found lack of worry, and actually move into an employment situation where they may, indeed, differ slightly with their rector on the question of babies offered to Baal, etc.

True? Or should they just stop worrying, and still pretty much always go to parishes of which the mainstream Baal-worshippers approve, for reasons unrelated to reputation but possibly related to homophily (or something else).

Gordon Cheng said...

3. or were you using obscurity to advertise your blog?

Not telling. I have to give it all a bit more thought.

Stuart Heath said...

I've been intrigued by this post, and by the responses to it. While once I would have been quite passionate about this, I suppose I now feel myself a little removed, as one who has left the denomination, the city, and even the country :)

A few thoughts (feel free to can them, Byron, if they're too off-topic!):

1. Granted, some people feel like their reputation is at stake, and that it might be more difficult for them to find work afterwards. Do you think this is a justified fear? I think there are good reasons not to work too closely with someone of different theological/philosophical stripes (since it can lead to irreconcilable conflict, particularly among the kind of 'alpha males' who like to run their own things), and I can understand why some senior pastors wouldn't want to take on someone with whom they thought they couldn't work. But my impression (like Gordon's, if I have properly understood) is that there is a broad range of theologies and philosophies (and ability to flex on those) among senior pastors I've met in Sydney. At least, I feel like 'on the ground' in the churches there is much less uniformity than I encountered among my MTS and MTC colleagues. All anecdotal, of course.

All this to say, while there might be the perception or even the reality of tainted reputation by association, I wonder if it really leads to an inability to find employment. This is a genuine "I wonder" — I don't know! Perhaps it depends how narrowly you're willing to look. There are plenty of churches in less attractive parts of Sydney (not to mention the plethora in the uncharted wilds beyond) that are in need of paid staff. Again, easy enough for me to say: I find Sydney a revolting place to live!

2. I confess that at times I have been too willing to criticise aspects of Sydney Anglicanism without acknowledging that I do so from a position of deep gratitude and indebtedness. After all, Sydney Anglicanism herself gave me the tools I am using to criticise her. The criticisms need to be made, but I for one have not adequately emphasized how thankful I am for the training I received. It's important to say both, because this will help us shape our criticism in a constructive way, rather than ranting as if we were shaking the dust off our feet!

I am anxious, though, that Sydney Anglicanism not come to live up the 'fundamentalist' label with which it is often tagged. Let me cite Murray's Evangelicalism Divided (p. 33) for the kinds of things I hear by 'fundamentalism':

The confusion of courtesy with compromise; the idea that believing the gospel makes a person omniscient, with a monopoly on truth; treating all beliefs as of equal importance as though 'the time of the rapture is as crucial to faith as the substitutionary atonement'; entertaining the illusion that the possession of the Word of God is the same as the possession of virtue; using the Bible as an instrument of self-security but not for self-criticism; enlisting the canons of orthodoxy 'in the service of self-love'; and the propensity to turn minor issues into major battles.

3. Criticism exists in a context. For example, in Sydney I have been critical about a narrow-minded focus on evangelism, to the exclusion of teaching people other forms of godly and wise behaviour. I have also agitated for thinking beyond the very dry, boring, exegesis-only, talking-head sermons that I've not uncommonly heard. Here in Paris, however, I leapt at the chance to join a church which (a) tries to be outsider-friendly at every opportunity with an emphasis on evangelism and (b) teaches through books of the Bible, rather than passages chosen at random from week to week. Both of these are precious rarities in this town! Likewise, I think in Sydney we press too many people (and the wrong kinds of people) into paid ministry, as if that were the only good thing that serious Christians could do. One of the reasons we came to France, however, was to look for opportunities to train people who wanted to work for churches in a paid capacity, because there is a serious lack of this here.

Picking up on some of Bruce's comments, then, it's easy for us to justify ungodly rigid/exclusivist behaviour, because such rigidity is the hypertrophy of godly zeal for the gospel or heart for the lost.

Unknown said...

Me thinketh Gordon in light of your comments on employment and your humble confession of belonging to mainstream ...- that you might be one of those more professionally driven pastors who doesn't really believe or sense they have the calling of God on them to preach to...those who need it...

I wonder if there is a pressure of conformity whether overt or subtle in training students and within the MTS system to choose the right candidate? I would be interested to know the percentage of students / MTS workers who come from the more outside the box type parishes compared to those within the box...

Anonymous said...

Hello Byron,

Actually I think my comments on your post fitted more into trait 2. Unfortunatly.

Steven J.

Bruce Yabsley said...

Gordon: Of course Byron can speak for himself, but here is my answer: you wrote that "presumably [we want ministry candidates] to not just stop worrying but act in accordance with their new-found lack of worry, and actually move into an employment situation where they may, indeed, differ slightly with their rector"

If concern with reputation is this widespread (and you don't seem to dispute it) then many people are just not thinking that clearly about the issues as a result. So to suppose that their description of the issues would remain the same --- whether or not to move into employment with a rector with whom they disagree, in your example --- is to beg the question, or at least to beg part of it. Perception just doesn't work like that. And for every person who is at least able to notice that they are worried on employment grounds, there will be others who misunderstand their own worldly concerns as unmixed zeal for truth, or desire for obedience, or whatever. (The heart is deceitful in all things.) The phenomena we're discussing are bad as such, and also have their own repurcussions, and yes: if there were a change in this matter, all sorts of things around it would shift, in maybe unpredictable ways.

My answer is: So be it!

You've implied, but not stated clearly, that you think all this worldliness either serves some tolerable purpose, or is a byproduct ("a dodgy feature") of some other necessary thing. I could be scandalised by this, but it is not constructive to rail at such implications. What I'd invite you to do is to state, or at least sketch, your position more clearly. It would be welcome from the point of view of clarity ... but of course I do not promise to like it.

stuart: Following my remarks you wrote that it is easy for us to justify ungodly rigid/exclusivist behaviour, because such rigidity is the hypertrophy of godly zeal for the gospel or heart for the lost. Without wishing to get into an unprofitable argument about words, I think this is an unhelpful way of describing the issues.

If someone is being perversely exclusionary then it is not the result of excess of godly zeal: godliness does not admit of excess. Better to think of some behaviour or attitude which, shorn of some wider context or mixed with some personal vice, or maybe applied in the absence of some discernment that gives it its proper meaning, becomes simply wrong. As a cartoon example, if I treat statements by my primary-age nephews the way I treat statements by my graduate students, I am not being zealous for precision and fact: I am being worse than a fool.

I hope I have not misunderstood you. But I think it's important to avoid the street language of "taking [some thing] too far". The real distortions of thought and behaviour are both more subtle and more serious than this sort of language allows.

byron smith said...

But presumably you want to not just stop worrying but act in accordance with their new-found lack of worry, and actually move into an employment situation where they may, indeed, differ slightly with their rector on the question of babies offered to Baal
Gordon, I said in the post (and have elaborated a little in earlier comments) that there are other significant considerations in determining where and how one will serve. I do not imagine that if this concern for reputation were reduced then all other questions about clergy's future ministry would become simple. Nor am I simply advocating difference for difference's sake. I am raising the issue of a culture in which constructive thinking about these differences is muffled by fears of sullied reputations.

Shane - you asked me to elaborate further on the very comments I just mentioned in the previous paragraph. That may require a whole other post (or series), but suffice to say here that I wanted to avoid giving the impression that truth doesn't matter or that I am opposed to the idea of orthodoxy. How much goes into that orthodoxy and how those outside it are dealt with are matters of further complexity. My brief answers are "little" and "with love", though both require much more elaboration at some stage.

As for your questions about the culture and ethos of the Diocese, I imagine that it is a mixture of all the factors you mentioned (and probably more). Culture is always a complex thing and so any attempt to articulate unstated beliefs shaping its manifestation in a particular context will always be provisional and loose. Are such beliefs unstated out of shame or (self-)ignorance? Are there submerged values you've noticed or wondered about?

Stuart - yes, you make some good points. The importance of reputation is heightened if there is an impression of a small number of "desirable" positions in a small geographic and cultural range. Also, it is right to acknowledge and give thanks for what is good, even in the midst of criticism. And our perception of problems is relative to the broader picture of the culture in which the church serves.

That said, I agree with Bruce's caution about describing the problem as "too much of a good thing".

Steven - I'm don't think your comment did what you fear. I give thanks for so many things about the Anglican movement in Sydney and I heard you doing likewise, even if you also made some criticisms.

Craig - I'm a little unclear how you ended up accusing Gordon of not having a clear sense of vocation to preach. To my mind, this charge goes beyond the evidence in this discussion. Could you explain your reasoning?

michael jensen said...

Stuart cited Murray (citing someone else) about the 'confusion of courtesy with compromise'. The flipside is the confusion of rudeness with doctrinal purity.

It is just rudeness.

Unknown said...

Byron and Gordon - I owe you both an apology. Without thinking; I brought a challenge that Gordon made on his blog over to your blog. Sorry about that - craig

Stuart Heath said...

Byron and Bruce: Apologies for my infelicitous phrasing, but I didn't want my comment to die the death of a thousand qualifications, and I already felt I'd trespassed too much on the comments real estate. Of course, this is now undone, because I need a little clarification :)

Firstly, let me say that I am implacably opposed to an ethic that says, "My intentions were good, therefore my behaviour was good." (An ethic that I've encountered all too frequently, and to which I've resorted myself, to my shame.)

A Scriptural example that comes to mind is that of Paul's (good) zeal for God which led to his (evil) persecution of the church.

So my comment was ironic (maybe I should have used inverted commas, or something?): those who are overly rigid/exclusivist will justify their own actions by appeal to passion for the gospel. Obviously I think that's abhorrent.

The more difficult issue, of course (and as Byron has mentioned), is knowing what kinds of differences constitute the kind of false teaching that is so passionately denounced in the NT. Depending on times and places, we'll often find ourselves (and others) too soft or too austere.

Stuart Heath said...

(And of course the flipside is that those who are too soft/inclusivist will justify themselves by appeals to love or unity.)

byron smith said...

Craig and Stuart - no problem. Thanks for clarifying.

Michael - indeed.

Matthew Moffitt said...

"MPJ - I think he's no longer the Bishop of Ashfield. He now prefers to be called the Bishop of the Inner West - or sometimes the Bishop of the Three-in-One."

Although Christ Church Inner West has been advertised as the one, the three, and the many, it has been referred to as the new Austro-Hungarian empire in certain espiscopal cirles.

Thanks MPJ for mentioned the fallacy of defining one self by their over-againstness towards the dominant paradigm. As much as I may whinge about Sydney Anglicans at times, and they angst we may casue it each other, I still love being a Syd Ang. Travelling through some country dioceses this past week for work really re-opened my eyes to how blessed we are here in Sydney.

Photo 1 - Annandale Presy?
Photo 2 - whereever Byron visited on 20/12/05. Maybe Westminster Abbey?

byron smith said...

Ah yes, the return of the house of Hapsburg...

What do you see as the primary blessings of being a SydAng?

And photo #1 = fifteen points.
Photo #2 = none (though you're right about the date, of course).

Matthew Moffitt said...

What defines a SydAng at the basic level is:

1. a Love for Orthodoxy.
2. a Striving for Orthopraxis.
3. Generally, we get along with each and are concerned for each other (even with non-Anglicans).

With these 3 points, SydAngs have been blessed with resources - both in terms of structure and Spirit enriched people. However, it remains to be seen how SydAngs will be a blessing to other Chrisitans (although in my job I have seen a fair bit of this already).

byron smith said...

This thread still has a little way to go to beat the previous record for most comments.

Unknown said...


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. ;)

byron smith said...


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However, I'm not sure that it really "counts".

Matthew Moffitt said...

Lincoln Cathedral?

byron smith said...

No, not Lincoln Cathedral. Here's a hint: not a cathedral at all (guess that might actually make it harder than if it was, hmmm...).

h. goldsmith said...

king's college chapel, cambridge?

byron smith said...

Good guess - the vault is somewhat similar. But no.

h. goldsmith said...

ah... bath abbey? if i may guess again so soon?

byron smith said...

It is indeed Bath Abbey, though the usual rule is one guess per person per post per day. So I'll give you the fifteen points, but then penalise you five. Ten points.

byron smith said...

That still means you've just passed 100 - well done!