Tag Archives: Anglicanism

The Armenian Church in Myanmar: A Follow-Up

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Photo from the BBC

A follow-up to last month’s post on the Armenian Orthodox church in Myanmar: This summer, the BBC did a lovely story about a 150-year old Armenian parish church in the city of Yangon, St. John the Baptist (above). Hardly any parishioners remained, the BBC said, maybe 10 people on a good Sunday. Most of the congregation were not Armenians, either, the Armenians having left Myanmar, with the British, decades before.

A small group of holdouts had continued to maintain the church, however, led by a priest, Father John Felix. Father John was not Armenian Orthodox, the story indicated, but Anglican. Nonetheless, the Armenian Church had, in an ecumenical gesture, invited him to use St. John the Baptist for the small number of faithful who remained, even though he had a very limited knowledge of the Orthodox liturgy. (Most of the parishioners had a very limited knowledge, too). Apparently he was starting to attract a following from among Christian believers of many communions.

The BBC got its information straight from Father John. It turns out, however, that he’s not really “Father” John at all. The Anglican archbishop says that John Felix was never ordained a priest, only a deacon, and that, for unspecified reasons, the Anglican Church no longer allows him to conduct religious services. How he ensconced himself at St. John the Baptist is a mystery. He apparently inserted himself a few years ago, after the last “full” member of the congregation passed away. The Armenian Church hierarchy seems not to have known about it. To be fair, they have many more pressing issues with which to contend.

This summer’s story drew a lot of attention. As I say, once the Anglicans found out about John Felix, they spread the word he wasn’t one of theirs. The story got noticed in Armenia as well. Last week, the Catholicos, or Patriarch, of the Armenian Church, Karekin II, visited Yangon to reconsecrate the altar and conduct a proper liturgy; a large crowd attended. The Catholicos also announced that henceforth an Orthodox priest from Calcutta would fly in on weekends to conduct liturgies at the church. As for John Felix, he’s indicated he intends to remain at the church and has refused to turn over the keys. The BBC says legal action seems likely.

The BBC has posted a video interview with John Felix. He seems like a nice enough man, and gamely tries to chant the Kyrie Eleison (in Armenian, Der Voghormia) to show his bona fides. But, if the BBC is to be believed, he’s been deceiving everyone for years. He has actually purported to conduct weddings and baptisms for unsuspecting parishioners. Is he well-meaning but misguided, or an out-and-out scoundrel? It’s impossible to tell. What a very strange story.

Peter Berger on the Anglican Establishment

At The American Interest, Peter Berger has an interesting post on the benefits of the Anglican establishment. He suggests, citing sociologist Grace Davie, that other countries should consider a soft establishment along Anglican lines, as a way “to combine a specific religious identity with freedom for all those who do not share it”:

Grace Davie, the distinguished British sociologist of religion, has proposed an interesting idea: A strong establishment of a church is bad for both religion and the state–for the former because the association with state policies undermines the credibility of religion, and for the latter because the support of one religion over all others creates resentment and potential instability. But a weak establishment is good for both institutions, because a politically powerless yet still symbolically privileged church can be an influential voice in the public arena, often in defense of moral principles. Davie’s idea nicely fits the history of the Church of England.  In earlier centuries it persecuted Roman Catholics and discriminated against Nonconformist Protestants and Jews. More recently it has used its “bully pulpit” for a number of good causes, not least being the rights of non-Christians. Thus very recently influential Jewish and Muslim figures have voiced strong support for the continuing establishment of the Church of England, among them Jonathan Sacks, the former Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and the Muslim Sayeeda Warsi, currently  Minister of Faith and Communities in David Cameron’s cabinet.

Of course it would be foolish to recommend that the British version of state/church relations be accepted in other countries—as foolish as to expect other countries to adopt the very distinctive American form of the separation of church and state. However, as I have suggested in other posts on this blog, the British arrangement is worth pondering by other countries who wish to combine a specific religious identity with freedom for all those who do not share it. For starters, I’ll mention all countries who want legislation to be based on “Islamic principles” (not full-fledged sharia law); Russia, struggling to define the public role of the Orthodox Church; Israel trying to define the place of Judaism in its democracy; India, similarly seeking to fit hindutva into its constitutional description as a “secular republic”. In a globalizing world, cross-national comparisons can be surprisingly useful.

 

The Death of Tory Anglicanism

That’s the title of this very interesting piece by Eliza Filby (h/t Sam Bray). There is some interesting historical discussion which frames the political and religious issues helpfully for outsiders. It also struck me that the terms in which religion is now considered as a political matter seem to reflect some considerable Americanization. Note as well the influence of libertarianism, also an ascendant feature of American politics of the right. A bit:

In the divorce between Conservatism and Anglicanism, the blame was put on the church. But the truth was that the party had changed too. Even in the 1980s, Anglican Conservatives were a dying breed. The new generation of Conservative MPs were more libertarian. Future Tory MPs would be sourced from a much wider pool both socially and religiously.

True, the Tory party today is not completely secular. While the High Anglican contingent may have dwindled (or converted to Catholicism), there are still prominent Conservative evangelicals. But they tend to hold a more individualistic and moralistic faith and care little for goings-on in the Synod.

Paradoxically, though, the Conservative party has become more secular at a time when religion has become an increasingly prominent issue. But faith is now spoken of in terms of the rights of the religious individual rather than the privileges of the established church.

While the Tory leadership may still sometime say that Britain is a Christian country and send out copies of the King James Bible to schools, there is little sense of a religious underpinning to current Tory thinking. If David Cameron has sought to hark back to a pre-Thatcherite tradition of Tory paternalism, he has done so without reference to its Anglican roots. Indeed, the confusion surrounding his ‘Big Society’ agenda may in part be due to its secular articulation (especially odd given that faith groups are expected to do so much of the work).

Until recently, this secularisation had gone unnoticed, concealed under the broader process of Cameron’s modernisation of the party, but the pushing through of gay marriage has changed all that. If the debate reveals anything, it is that the tables have turned; the Conservative party appears to have out-liberalised the Church of England.

Smith, “A Cautious Enthusiasm”

A Cautious EnthusiasmThis month, University of South Carolina Press will publish A Cautious Enthusiasm by Samuel C. Smith (Liberty University). The publisher’s description follows.

 A Cautious Enthusiasm examines the religious, social, and political interplay between eighteenth-century evangelicalism and the Anglican establishment in the lowcountry South. Samuel C. Smith argues that the subjective spirituality inherent in evangelical religion was a catalyst toward political and social consensus among influential Anglican laymen. Smith finds that a close examination of the writings and actions of religion-minded South Carolinians such as Henry Laurens, Christopher Gadsden, and Anglican clergymen Robert Smith and Richard Clarke reveals the influence of evangelical zeal at the highest levels of society.

Taking his study even deeper into the religious life of low country society, Smith identifies radically pietistic elements, some of which originated in the mystical writings and practices of European Roman Catholics, German Pietists, and Huguenot Calvinists. Central to this study is the recognition of Catholic mysticism’s impact on the experiential side of early evangelicalism, a subject rarely explored in historical works.

A Cautious Enthusiasm provides a rare examination of Great Awakening revivalism among lowcountry Anglicans by tracing the European origins into the lowcountry South. This study demonstrates how elements of mystical religiosity prodded some to associate evangelical revivalists with Catholicism and displays how subjective elements of religion contributed to a unique patriotic consensus among lowcountry Anglicans in the Revolutionary era.

Richard Hooker on Law, the Ancient, and the Good

Richard Hooker was a sixteenth-century Anglican churchman whose Of the LawsRIchard Hooker of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594-1597) is both a masterpiece of Anglican theology and a work of extraordinary stylistic elegance and force.  It was written primarily as a defense of the Church of England against the Puritan challenge, but Hooker ranges over many subjects of more general interest related to law, authority, custom, change, and tradition.  Over the last couple of days, on the recommendation of a friend, I’ve been reading fragments of the Laws here and there (you can access the whole thing for free at the link above).  I cannot recommend it more highly.

Here is my favorite passage (so far!) — from Book V, Chapter 7.  It relates closely to some of the things we think about on CLR Forum, from time to time.  Merry Christmas to those of our readers who are celebrating the holiday.

VII. Neither may we in this case lightly esteem what hath been allowed as fit in the judgment of antiquity, and by the long continued practice of the whole Church; from which unnecessarily to swerve, experience hath never as yet found it safe. For wisdom’s sake we reverence them no less that are young, or not much less, than if they were stricken in years. And therefore of such it is rightly said that their ripeness of understanding is “grey hair,” and their virtues “old age.” But because wisdom and youth are seldom joined in one, and the ordinary course of the world is more according to Job’s observation, who giveth men advice to seek “wisdom amongst the ancient, and in the length of days, understanding;” therefore if the comparison do stand between man and man, which shall hearken unto other; sith the aged for the most part are best experienced, least subject to rash and unadvised passions, it hath been ever judged reasonable that their sentence in matter of counsel should be better trusted, and more relied upon than other men’s. The goodness of God having furnished man with two chief instruments both necessary for this life, hands to execute and a mind to devise great things; the one is not profitable longer than the vigour of youth doth strengthen it, nor the other greatly till age and experience have brought it to perfection. In whom therefore time hath not perfected knowledge, such must be contented to follow them in whom it hath. For this cause none is more attentively heard than they whose speeches are as David’s were, “I have been young and now am old,” much I have seen and observed in the world. Sharp and subtile discourses of wit procure many times very great applause, but being laid in the balance with that which the habit of sound experience plainly delivereth, they are overweighed. God may endue men extraordinarily with understanding as it pleaseth him. But let no man presuming thereupon neglect the instructions, or despise the ordinances of his elders, sith He whose gift wisdom is hath said, “Ask thy father and he will shew thee; thine ancients and they shall tell thee.”

[2.]It is therefore the voice both of God and nature, not of learning only, that especially in matters of action and policy, “The sentences and judgments of men experienced, aged and wise, yea though they speak without any proof or demonstration, are no less to be hearkened unto, than as being demonstrations in themselves; because such men’s long observation is as an eye, wherewith they presently and plainly behold those principles which sway over all actions.” Whereby we are taught both the cause wherefore wise men’s judgments should be credited, and the mean how to use their judgments to the increase of our own wisdom. That which sheweth them to be wise, is the gathering of principles out of their own particular experiments. And the framing of our particular experiments according to the rule of their principles shall make us such as they are.

[3.]If therefore even at the first so great account should be made of wise men’s counsels touching things that are publicly done, as time shall add thereunto continuance and approbation of succeeding ages, their credit and authority must needs be greater. They which do nothing but that which men of account did before them, are, although they do amiss, yet the less faulty, because they are not the authors of harm. And doing well, their actions are freed from prejudice of novelty. To the best and wisest , while they live, the world is continually a froward opposite, a curious observer of their defects and imperfections; their virtues it afterwards as much admireth. And for this cause many times that which most deserveth approbation would hardly be able to find favour, if they which propose it were not content to profess themselves therein scholars and followers of the ancient. For the world will not endure to hear that we are wiser than any have been which went before. In which consideration there is cause why we should be slow and unwilling to change, without very urgent necessity, the ancient ordinances, rites, and long approved customs, of our venerable predecessors. The love of things ancient doth argue stayedness, but levity and want of experience maketh apt unto innovations. That which wisdom did first begin, and hath been with good men long continued, challengeth allowance of them that succeed, although it plead for itself nothing. That which is new, if it promise not much, doth fear condemnation before trial; till trial, no man doth acquit or trust it, what good soever it pretend and promise. So that in this kind there are few things known to be good, till such time as they grow to be ancient. The vain pretence of those glorious names, where they could not be with any truth, neither in reason ought to have been so much alleged, hath wrought such a prejudice against them in the minds of the common sort, as if they had utterly no force at all; whereas (especially for these observances which concern our present question) antiquity, custom, and consent in the Church of God, making with that which law doth establish, are themselves most sufficient reasons to uphold the same, unless some notable public inconvenience enforce the contrary. For a small thing in the eye of law is as nothing.

[4.]We are therefore bold to make our second petition this, That in things the fitness whereof is not of itself apparent, nor easy to be made sufficiently manifest unto all, yet the judgment of antiquity concurring with that which is received may induce them to think it not unfit, who are not able to allege any known weighty inconvenience which it hath, or to take any strong exception against it.

Sowerby, “Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution”

Speaking of the use of religious convictions in the construction of political Making Tolerationarguments, here is a very interesting book in the history of ideas involving the concept of toleration in the era of James II before the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Toleration of 1689 — Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution, by Scott Sowerby (Northwestern), available in early 2013 from Harvard University Press.  The publisher’s description follows.

In the reign of James II, minority groups from across the religious spectrum, led by the Quaker William Penn, rallied together under the Catholic King James in an effort to bring religious toleration to England. Known as repealers, these reformers aimed to convince Parliament to repeal laws that penalized worshippers who failed to conform to the doctrines of the Church of England. Although the movement was destroyed by the Glorious Revolution, it profoundly influenced the post-revolutionary settlement, helping to develop the ideals of tolerance that would define the European Enlightenment.

Based on a rich array of newly discovered archival sources, Scott Sowerby’s groundbreaking history rescues the repealers from undeserved obscurity, telling the forgotten story of men and women who stood up for their beliefs at a formative moment in British history. By restoring the repealer movement to its rightful prominence, Making Toleration also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.

Get with the Programme

At question time in the House of Commons today, UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about yesterday’s decision by the General Synod of the Church of England to reject women bishops. According to the Guardian,

Cameron said he was “very sad” about the result. “On a personal basis I’m a strong supporter of women bishops. I’m very sad about the way the vote went yesterday …. I think it’s important for the Church of England to be a modern church in touch with society as it is today and this was a key step it needed to take.”

Cameron indicated that the government would respect the Church’s self-governing status — although established by law, the Church legislates for itself through the General Synod — while giving the Church “a sharp prod.” It’s not clear what the prod will be. Some MPs are threatening to end the Church’s representation in the House of Lords; others, to remove the Church’s exemption from anti-discrimination laws. Anyway, Cameron made clear, the Church would somehow have to “get with the programme” and reverse yesterday’s decision.

Please note that the Prime Minister’s objections, and the objections of the other MPs, are entirely political. I don’t mean that as a criticism; it’s simply a fact. In essence, what the Prime Minister is saying is this: The Church’s decision is inconsistent with the deepest values of contemporary English society; therefore, the decision is  illegitimate. Now, no doubt, the Prime Minister thinks it is Continue reading

UK Court: Child of Divorced Parents May Convert from Judaism to Christianity Despite Mother’s Objections

What a wrenching — and in its implications for how civil courts understand minority religious traditions, fascinating — case. An English judge has ruled that a 10-year old Jewish girl may be baptized over the objections of her mother, who wishes the girl to remain Jewish. The girl’s father and mother divorced two years ago. Both parents were Jewish, but after the divorce the father converted and joined the Church of England. The parents shared custody of the girl, and, on the weekends he had custody, the father took the girl with him to church. The girl eventually told him she wished to be baptized; unsure of her commitment, he put her off. The girl then approached a minister on her own and also raised the issue with her mother, who quickly filed a court application to stop the process.

In a judgment made public last week, the judge decided that the girl’s interests were best served by allowing baptism to go forward. As in any such case, the judge considered many factors, including the fact that the father and mother had not been observant Jews during the marriage; that since the divorce the mother had neither taken the  girl to synagogue nor arranged for Jewish religious instruction; that the father had not, as the mother and all four grandparents alleged, “brainwashed” the girl; and that baptism, which in the Anglican tradition is only the start of one’s relationship to the church, would not prevent the girl from changing her mind later.

Reading the judgment, one senses how painful this situation has been for all concerned and how hard the judge tried to do the right thing. I don’t wish to intellectualize matters inappropriately, but I was particularly struck by the judge’s reasoning with respect to the girl’s religious upbringing. It seems to me the judge understood Judaism in very Christian terms – or perhaps in very liberal, Western terms, which, in this case, turns out be the same thing. For the Continue reading

Church of England Rejects Proposal to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

In a report today, the Church of England rejected as “flawed, conceptually and legally,” the Cameron government’s proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. Conceptually, the report argues, the proposal would “alter the intrinsic nature” of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Notwithstanding the “genuine mutuality and fidelity” often found in same-sex relationships, the report states, the C of E felt bound to resist the proposal both for reasons of Christian faith and the Church’s “commitment, as the established church in England, to the common good of all society.”

The report argues that the government’s proposal, which purports to apply only to civil marriage, raises serious legal questions. The distinction between “civil” and “religious” marriage, an innovation in English law, is likely to be untenable in the long run, the report predicts. English law grants any resident, regardless of his or her religious affiliation, the right to marry in the local C of E parish (a great illustration, by the way, of Grace Davie’s point about religion’s public role in Europe). Once Parliament defines marriage to include same-sex marriages, could a parish church deny this right to same-sex couples? The C of E is doubtful. Even if Parliament were to allow C of E parishes to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, the ECtHR might not. Under existing ECtHR caselaw, once a state legalizes same-sex marriages, those marriages are covered by article 12 of the European Convention, which grants a right to marry, and article 14, the Convention’s anti-discrimination provision. Under these articles, a state church could justify a distinction between “civil” and “religious” same-sex marriages only by “very weighty reasons.” The report is skeptical that the ECtHR would ultimately allow the distinction to stand.

Critics immediately characterized the report as alarmist. Maybe it is. Given the recent vote of the Danish parliament requiring the Church of Denmark to perform same-sex marriages, though, it’s hard to completely dismiss the report’s concerns. It’s possible that, in time, either Parliament or the ECtHR would require the C of E to solemnize same-sex marriages, whatever the C of E’s religious objections. Of course, the problem may lie in the concept of the state church itself; the autonomy of a private church on religious questions would likely be more secure, particularly in light of the ECtHR’s recent Fernandez Martinez decision. But the Brits decided all that under the Tudors.

Throne and Altar

Judging by church attendance and the percentage of people who say religion plays an important role in their lives, Europe is a secular place. And yet, as sociologists of religion have observed, Christianity continues to have a major cultural and legal role. Nowhere is this clearer than in Britain, where the Monarch is the “Supreme Governor” of the state church. Britain today commemorated the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II with a Thanksgiving service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Prime Minister read from the New Testament and the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a sermon praising the Queen for manifesting the values of St. Paul himself:

Dr Rowan Williams paid tribute to the Queen’s selfless devotion, saying: “I don’t think it’s at all fanciful to say that, in all her public engagements, our Queen has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others; she has responded with just the generosity St Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race.”

One would think such ceremonies, to borrow the phrase from American law, send a message of exclusion and disparagement that religious minorities resent, but that is apparently not the case, or at least not typically. It’s not the American way of doing things, but, as Joseph Weiler has written, “there is something inspiring and optimistic by the fact that even though the Queen is the Titular Head of the Church of England, the many Catholics, Muslims and Jews, not to mention the majority of atheists and agnostics, can genuinely consider her as ‘their Queen’ too.”