Thursday, October 29, 2009

More on Canterbury and Rome

A couple of potential spanners in the works have appeared concerning the Roman overtures/responses to dissident Anglo-Catholic Anglicans. Over at the In All Things blog at America magazine, Austen Ivereigh draws attention to a published interview with Msgr William Stetson, "an Opus Dei canonist who has the snappy title of secretary to the Ecclesiastical Delegate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal priests (does he introduce himself like that at parties?)." In this interview, Stetson lets drop the clanger that while current married Anglican clergy coming into the Roman Catholic church and married Anglican seminarians would be able to be ordained as married clergy in an Anglican use rite, they would be the only exception made to the rule of celibacy for the priesthood. Clearly this is Rome's way of circumventing or minimising the tensions of married and celibate clergy side by side. As Ivereigh himself notes most commentary and news coverage assumed that the proposed Anglican rite would retain a married priesthood as is the case with the various Eastern rite Roman churches. I'd even read a number of comments on various sites praising the presumed retention of a married clergy as a way of maintaining a key element of Anglican church life, the family life of the local priest as a key part of the local parish community. You can read the full interview with Stetson here.

Nevertheless, presuming that there would be a large number of married clergy coming into the Roman fold, there is another issue that could also raise problems. Over at dotCommonweal, the Commonweal group blog, Kathleen Kaveny raises the issue of contraception and the Pill. She points out that:

In 1930, the Lambeth Conference declared that contraception was not always immoral, and could be used (for serious reason) to regulate the number of children that a married couple had. That declaration prompted a negative response from the Roman Catholic Church–the encyclical Casti Connubii, which declared that the use of contraception was never morally permissible. As most people know, that stance was reaffirmed by Humanae Vitae.
And asks:

As far as I am aware, however, the morality of contraception under certain circumstances has been more or less a settled issue among Anglicans–even traditionally minded Anglicans. How will this change work out?

She continues:

It’s true, of course, that many Roman Catholics make their own decisions about this matter, and come to their own private peace with God in the “internal forum” of their conscience. But the new influx of Anglicans will include people who will not be able to come to a purely private peace–the married members of the clergy, who will be required to follow Humanae Vitae no less than other married persons.

Are Anglican priests prepared to balance the demands of a big family with the demands of a big parish? What about the wife of the priest? I know a number of Anglican priests whose wives (and husbands, but that is not an issue here) work full-time to supplement the salary. Are wives willing not only to convert, but to convert on the matter of contraception? Are Roman Catholics willing not only to see, but to support financially and in other ways, married priests with six, seven, or eight children?
As she observes, most Roman Catholics nowadays would probably not follow Papal teaching on contraception. The main factor determining Catholic adherence to Humanae Vitae would appear to be economic as this story from the Philippines shows. But the Church largely turns a blind eye, it has no other choice, to these choices of its parishioners. With its clergy, however, it is much more rigorous. That rigor would also apply to the wives of clerics.

So I am not that certain that Rome's response to the various overtures it has received over the recent years will lead very far at all. Perhaps the independent Traditional Anglican Communion may join and perhaps a number of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England may join but I could only see a handful in Australia. I think most of the Anglo-Catholic opposition here had already left to join the TAC. In this country the Anglican opposition on women's ordination and affirming LGBTQ people is driven by the evangelical and extremely low church Sydney Archdiocese. They will never go to Rome. And neither, I think, would most of the Africans. I get the impression the greater part of Africa's Anglicans are more evangelical than Anglo-Catholic. And in some places they also accept plural marriage/polygamy, at least as a temporary expedient, to prevent the dumping of surplus wives by converts. The notorious Archbishop Akinola in Nigeria has too much to lose both in terms of his faith and his own authority by swimming the Tiber.

I would like to see an Anglican rite in the Roman church but even more I would like to see full communion between the Roman and Anglican communions. It will happen eventually. And it should be pointed out that not all Anglo-Catholic Anglicans and not all evangelical Anglicans are opposed to ordination of women or even to the affirmation and ordination of LGBTQ people. Interestingly, I think the more the Anglican communion moves down that inclusive path, the more and more Catholic in the full sense it sounds and, I would assume, becomes. As an example here is a response to Cardinal Kasper on Women Bishops by Bishops Tom Wright and David Stancliffe. I know of Wright as a biblical scholar and I know he comes from the evangelical wing of the Church of England. I don't know his colleague but the piece was published on an evangelical Anglican website. But I was very impressed and kept thinking just how Catholic in tone this piece is, a superb piece of inclusive Catholic theology, in fact (even citing Greek Orthodox theologian Zizioulas). A far cry from Sydney!

And finally a couple of interesting pieces from the Guardian this past week. Austen Iveriegh argues that the Vatican move will actually have good results for Anglican - Roman Catholic relations while Maggi Dawn cautions Anglo-Catholics not to go rushing into the arms of Rome yet.

UPDATE From this post by Greg Kandra, it would appear that Rome might have been a bit too clever by half and this cleverness is putting a spanner in the works. It's all to do with celibacy. It seems that while Rome will accept and reordain current married Anglican clergy abut ny future clergy in the proposed Anglican rite will be expected to be celibate

So Rome is manouvering to minimise any possible upsets to its established order. I think this will likely put the kybosh on it all. Maybe the Traditional Anglican Communion might join but I think a mass movement from the C of E let alone any other Anglican church is unlikely.

But the desire for full communion is there and on both sides. It's very noticeable here in Australia where apart from Sydney, Anglicans are very similar to Roman Catholics and the two communions are roughly the same size and already collaborate in very many ways.

I think it will come eventually but probably after Rome and the East have restored communion. When that happens it will be a momentous event. Reconciliation with the East will have to mean major changes to the Roman outlook, changes that will make it easier, in the long run for Anglicans and episcopal Lutherans (and maybe even episcopal Methodists) to negotiate full communion too.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A bit of updating on the blogroll

I've been making some additions and removals on my Blog roll. I don't like to remove items because, even if people say they can no longer continue blogging, the stuff they've already written is always worth staying linked to. Some people have also closed theri blogs to outsiders but I keep them in the hope that they will re-open. eventually However, a couple of blogs have gone and deleted themselves altogether including James Harding's Calvinolatry, which despite it's short life span, had some good stuff so I'm sad to see it gone completely.

I've made other positive changes too. First off, Ronald Boer's Stalin's Moustache has now moved to Wordpress so I've added his new site to the roll. He says he's moving all his old content over but I'm not deleting his old blog until I know for sure. I've also added English Eclectic, a new blog by Paul Halsall who self identifies as "an English Historian who happens to be Gay, Catholic and a Democratic Socialist". Paul has been living in the US for the last 20 years but is back in the UK now. He set up the vast resource, the Internet History Sourcebooks Project, which includes the People With a History Online Guide to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans History.

I've also discovered Mary Beard's blog, A Don's Life, over at the Times online blogs. Mary Beard is a Classicist at Cambridge and classics editor for the Times Literary Supplement. She describes herself as " a wickedly subversive commentator on both the modern and the ancient world."

There are some other blogs that have relocated and I intend, over the next few days, to add their new sites to the blog roll as well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crossing the Tiber from Canterbury?

A big news story this week has been Rome's announcement of work on a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution to enable a formal and distinct place for dissident Anglican communities within the Roman communion. What this will do will be to formalise a form of Anglican rite within the Roman Catholic church.

There are two aspects to this that have generated some rather heated commentary. The first is that the dissident Anglicans being catered to are those who reject the ordination of women to priesthood and episcopate and the affirmation of LGBTQ people through the blessing of same sex relationships and ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. Indeed, there is a now a world of Independent Anglicanism which somewhat overlaps with that of Independent Catholicism. Whereas the greater number of Independent Catholic jurisdictions affirm and ordain women and LGBTQ people, the Independent Anglicans tend to the reverse. So the concern is that Rome is exploiting Anglican divisions to draw into itself conservative groups who will reinforce Rome's own internal struggle against Catholics who disagree with the Vatican position on ordination of women and affirmation of LGBTQ folks. And lets face it, there has been a long struggle within the Roman Catholic church on these issues too. Large numbers of Catholics, such as myself, disagree with the official Roman stance on these issues and look forward to the day when change will happen. We also do our bit in whatever way we can to help bring on that day, to bring about a change in Church teachings.

The other issue of concern was that Rome was poaching and exploiting division within the Anglican communion to its own advantage. Consequently the many decades of Anglican and Roman Catholic dialogue and ecumenical relations were being put at risk.

I will return to both these points but first what exactly was the Vatican proposing? Austen Ivereigh over at America's In All Things group blog gives this overview:

The new canonical structure has the technical name of a "Personal Ordinariate", which according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) "will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony". The Ordinary -- canonically, that means the one with power of governance -- would normally be "appointed from among former Anglican clergy", the CDF says.

The Apostolic Constitution establishing these Personal Ordinariates offers "a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application", the statement continues. Among its features:

1. The Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop;

2. The Ordinariate provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy;

3. The Ordinariate allows seminarians to be trained in separate houses of formation in order "to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony".

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster told journalists this morning that the new Apostolic Constitution was a response to various approaches made in the past three or four years by groups in the United States, Australia and the UK. Some were in communion with Lambeth, while others -- such as the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), which claims 400,000 members worldwide -- were not.

The Personal Ordinariates would allow for the pastoral care of lay people, clergy and religious in a corporate body under an Ordinary, but in collaboration with existing dioceses. Their geographical scope would correspond to the territory of a bishops' conference. It would be a "cumulative jurisdiction", meaning that the jurisdictions would overlap -- insofar as the activity pertained to the wider Church, the authority would rest with the bishop of that diocese; insofar as it pertained to an internal activity, it would be a under the Ordinary of the Ordinariate. The process of reception of married Anglican priests would be unlikely to differ much from the current system, he said. Nor would he expect transfers of church property as part of the process of corporate reception.

Important here is that not only existing married Anglican priests be acccepted in the Roman church, but in this effectively Anglican rite in the Roman church celibacy would not be required of its priests only of its bishops. Furthermore, all current Anglican clergy who come into the Roman communion would have to be re-ordained. No matter what they think of their own priesthood, Rome remains unconvinced that Anglican orders are valid.

John Allen points out that this is not a case of Rome poaching from the Anglican communion. Instead this is Rome's response to a variety of approaches from both within the Church of England and from various Independent Anglican jurisdictions, most notably the Traditional Anglican Communion. Here is the response from their Primate, Archbishop John Hepworth. It's clear that they have approached Rome; it is also clear that they welcome this move and that they are setting in motion a response that could lead to their entry into the Roman communion under these terms. Interestng too is Hepworth's comment that "Other Anglican groups have indicated to the Holy See a similar desire and a similar acceptance of Catholic faith."

Nevertheless, the Traditional Anglican Communion claims worldwide some 400,000 adherents. As to the numbers involved in the other traditionalist groups it's unclear. It should also be remembered that not all traditionalists would want to join Rome. The TAC comes out of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican communion. But there are just as many from the evangelical wing, for whom Rome would be an anathema. Within the official Anglican communion, Anglo-Catholics like Roman Catholics are divided on these issues so not all would want to go to Rome anyway. Furthermore, there are quite a few gay Anglican priests within the ranks of the Anglo-Catholics both in the formal Anglican Communion and in the Independent jurisdictions. Mostly closeted and sadly often misogynist but they certainly don't live lives of abstinence. How many of them would feel comfortable in the Roman fold, especially when Rome is keen to prevent gay men being ordained to the preisthood, is hard to say. I should add that the attractions for Anglican bishops who are married are likewise minimal. They can aspire to be a priest but, being married, they will not be consecrated as bishops.

Some have suggested that the Vatican has its eyes especially on the large African Anglican churches. But somehow or other I can't see any of them being interested. Most of their bishops are married for a start and I would think that as autonomous national churches they have a independence and authority that would be lost by any going over to Rome.

John Allen also raises 6 unanswered questions that could prove quite thorny in this process:

all we can do is list six questions (in truth, more like families of questions) that are obviously looming.

1. What's the deal on married priests?

Will be the personal ordinariates be like the Eastern churches, able to ordain married priests in perpetuity?

Jesuit Fr. Tom Reese has raised two related questions along these lines:

  • Could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church?
  • Could married Catholic men from the traditional dioceses join the Anglican ordinariate and become seminarians and priests?

Obviously, the question becomes what impact such allowances might have on the broader debate over priestly celibacy. Whatever happens, it seems likely that the Vatican will be concerned that the opening to Anglicans not evolve into a massive loophole that ends up eroding the discipline of celibacy on a wider basis.

2. What happens to the Pastoral Provision?

Back in 1980, the Vatican approved something called the "Pastoral Provision" for ministers and laity of the Episcopal Church who wanted to become Catholics. It authorized the ordination of married Episcopal ministers as Catholic priests, as well as the creation of "personal parishes" for former Episcopalians that retain some elements of Anglican liturgical practice. Over thirty years, around one hundred former Episcopal ministers have become Catholic priests under the Pastoral Provision, and seven personal parishes or worship communities have been created. (Four are in Texas, one in Massachusetts, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Missouri).

So, what's to become of those folks?

3. What's the relationship between an ordinariate and a local church?

The Vatican announcement said that ordinariates will be created "in consultation with local conferences of bishops," and that "their structure will be similar in some ways to that of the military ordinariates which have been established in most countries." That seems to suggest that the ordinariates will be set up along national or regional lines -- perhaps one for the United States, where there are lots of Episcopalians, but maybe just one for all of Latin America, where the Anglican Communion doesn't have a large sociological footprint.

If so, this would be the major difference between a "personal ordinariate" and a "personal prelature," a canonical category currently occupied only by Opus Dei. A personal prelature, by definition, is global, whereas these ordinariates will seemingly have some sort of tie to a local church.

That prospect raises several questions. First of all, what exactly does "in consultation with" local bishops mean? What if, for example, a given bishops' conference doesn't actually want an ordinariate in its territory, feeling that it would rather integrate former Anglicans into existing pastoral structures?

Once they're in business, will the "ordinary" of these new structures, in most cases a bishop, become a member of the national conference of bishops? How would that work if there's only one ordinariate for a whole region? For example, would the ordinary become a member of CELAM, the Latin American bishops' conference, without belonging to the conference of any Latin American country?

For that matter, how will the ball start rolling? Will it be the case, for example, that whichever group of Anglicans in a given country or region crosses the finish line first, putting in its formal request for an ordinariate, will be in a position to dominate the ordinariate in that area, setting the tone for whoever might follow? (If so, are we in for an ecclesiastical equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush, with various groups scrambling to stake their claims first?)

4. Who gets to join?

The target audience, so to speak, for the new ordinariates is obviously Anglicans (and former Anglicans) wishing to become Catholic. Let's suppose, however, that once these structures are up and running, some current Catholics find they prefer the liturgical style in the Anglican ordinariate, and decide that they want to join -- not a completely improbable scenario, since "high church" Anglican liturgies have long held a strong appeal for some Catholics.

Or, suppose a given Catholic gets to know Fr. Geoff of the Anglican ordinariate, or becomes friends with Jim and Suzy who worship in the ordinariate, and decides that he or she would like to become part of their community -- again, hardly a long-shot prospect, given the way Catholic sociology often works.

Will such Catholics, without any connection to the Anglican tradition, still be able to join? In other words, will prospective members of the ordinariate be required to establish some sort of Anglican bona fides, or will they eventually be opened up to all comers?

A related question: At present, when a given Anglican (or Episcopalian) wishes to become Catholic, he or she generally goes through some sort of catechetical process, which among other things is designed to assess readiness for entry into full communion. Will the Anglicans who form the nucleus of these new ordinariates be asked to go through a similar sort of one-on-one scrutiny, or will their preparation be established on a more collective basis?

5. Which Vatican office will be in charge?

When the Pastoral Provision was created, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was placed in charge, appointing a delegate in the United States to run the show (currently, it's Archbishop John Myers of Newark.) The CDF is also the office that's prepared the new apostolic constitution.

Typically, however, dioceses and other ecclesiastical jurisdictions (such as apostolic administrations, or, for that matter, Opus Dei as a personal prelature) report to the Congregation for Bishops. At this stage, the safe bet seems that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be in charge, but again it's not clear whether that will be styled as a transitional measure until the ordinariates are "normalized," or whether they'll always remain an exception to the usual lines of authority.

6. Will the ordinaries become a kind of bishops' conference?

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that what the dust finally settles, ten personal ordinariates for former Anglicans are established around the world, and that each has a bishop. Will those ten prelates come to think of themselves as forming a bishops' conference? Would they be recognized as such by the Vatican, doing at least some of the things that bishops' conferences usually do -- such as approving translations of liturgical texts, or hammering out policies on sexual abuse and child protection?

Should things develop in that direction, such a conference could become an important force in English-speaking Catholicism -- perhaps especially on liturgical questions, which tends to be a particular preoccupation of Anglicans who come into communion with the Catholic church.

* * *

Overall, I'm not particularly perturbed by this move and I certainly don't think it's going to add large numbers of conservatives to the Roman Catholic church. Indeed if there are relatively large numbers it could put considerable strain on the mandatory celibacy rule in the Roman rite. Mandatory celibacy is actually generating a crisis in the Latin rite priesthood, as the numbers of priests progressively diminish. And if the Vatican is successful in preventing gay men being ordained then that will only exacerbate the crisis further.

On the plus side, the establishment of an effective Anglican rite within the Roman communion could be quite exciting in the long term especially in the English speaking churches. The other rites of the Roman church tend to be more locally based in specific regions, mostly eastern Europe, Middle East and India. But an Anglican rite would have a much greater spread and would give interesting possibilities for us Latin rite folk to move beyond our own terrain, so to speak. Rome maintains some rather silly rules, in my opinion, designed to prevent people from one rite from getting involved in the life of another, presumably designed to sustain Latin prerogatives.

But in the long term, the only real ecumenical possibility will be the establishment of full communion between the Roman and Anglican communions. I would like to think it can happen this century even if not in my lifetime. With the exception of the evangelical wing, world Anglicanism is really not that much different to Roman Catholicism. From where I sit, the main issues pertain to Eucharistic and sacramental theologies plus the matter of the validity of Anglican orders. I think agreement on the former will resolve the question of the latter.

The really big issue remains the Papal office and that is also a question for Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy too. I think if Rome and the East can resolve this then it should have a happy consequences for both the Anglican and Old Catholic communions. By then I will hope that the ordination of women and affirmation of LGBT people will no longer be an issue - the ordained female diaconate, for example is being restored in a number of Eastern churches, inlcuding that of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In which case the Orthodox are leading Rome.

Ultimately it's at the grassroots level that any real work can take place, Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox. I'm a strong believer in intercommunion. I take communion in Anglican churches and welcome Anglicans to share communion with me in Catholic churches. I would love to see the same apply with Eastern Orthodox. Indeed I would have taken communion in an Orthodox setting but their communion practice is so very different to what I'm used to and I don't want to do anything that might cause offence. But one day...

Here is another take on the issue and one that highlights the hypocrisies and injustices in Rome's treatment of women and LGBTQ people.

Update: A good piece by Margaret O'Brien Steinfels in the Washington Post, Catholics and Anglicans: Related but can they live together

And also a news story about a senior Church of England bishop who has publicly announced he is considering taking up Rome's offer. Mind you the details of Rome's offer are still being ironed out so he may well change his mind next year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Book of Genesis Illustrated

In the news today is the story that a graphic novel version of the Book of Genesis has been produced by Robert Crumb, the guy who made the adult comic strip, Fritz the Cat, back in the 60s and 70s and which was made into an X rated (in US) animated film by Ralph Bakshi in 1972. It appears he's using the Robert Alter translation of Genesis.

What I find especially amusing is the response from certain Christian groups, from the sound of them from more evangelical Christian organisations, the type of people termed wryly by Fred Clark over at Slacktivist as Real True Christians. According to the reports, Crumb graphically depicts the biblical characters having sex as well graphic depictions of violence which the report describes as 'gratuitous'. Consequently:

The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb has been criticised by religious groups such as the Christian Institute in Britain. ''It is turning the Bible into titillation,'' said Mike Judge, of institute, a religious think tank. ''It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God's rescue plan for mankind. If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many people.''

These are generally the sort of people who can read wild homosexual orgies into the terse narrative of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They can also find condemnations of same sex love and desire in all manner of biblical texts, which don't read that way to me. They are also very creative in imagining the sexual depredations of the hapless Canaanites too.

Over at Boingboing, there is "an exclusive peek" at Crumb's version of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. It's quite instructive to compare it to say Jack Chick's 1980s tract, Doom Town. Crumb is the epitome of taste compared to that Real True Christian. Doom Town goes beyond titillation to full on homophobic pornography, complete with kiddie porn and snuff all wrapped up in an anti-Catholic framework to boot.

Indeed Doom Town is the ultimate in homophobic snuff porn. It enables all those Real True Christian men, when the anxiety surrounding their intensely intimate same-sex relationship with Jesus, their personal Saviour, gets too overwhelming, to cremate their own inner homosexual after first savoring the frisson of same-sex desire explicitly, albeitly homophobically, displayed. And when you get tired of Doom Town, Chick has at least another three homophobic/pornographic tracts depicting Sodom's destruction and the presumed homosexuality responsible for it.

Crumb's Illustrated Genesis looks like a text worth getting for anyone interested in engaging with the biblical texts unlike the execrable work of Jack Chick.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Good News from Sheffield

This morning I found this message waiting for me from the Facebook site "Don't Shut Down Biblical Studies at Sheffield":

Subject: GREAT NEWS!!!!

Well I said in my last message that I hoped to be in contact soon and with good news and I have to say that we have got massive news to tell you! I'll let the University tell you itself.

Here's an official quote from the University (thanks to our wonderful receptionist Alison!). Read and rejoice!

" University of Sheffield Statement on the Department of Biblical Studies
The University of Sheffield has today confirmed its position with regard to the future of the Department of Biblical Studies. In the light of concerns regarding inadequate consultation, as well as feedback from staff and students, the Department of Biblical Studies is no longer under review and a proposal that it should be reconfigured as a Postgraduate Centre has been withdrawn.
Instead the University has asked the Faculty of Arts and Humanities to consider, as a matter of urgency, a short, medium and longer term plan for the Department. With regard to the undergraduate intake for 2010, the University can confirm that it will recruit students for this year onto single and dual honours degrees in Biblical Studies. The Faculty of Arts and Humanities are working with colleagues to ensure that these students are appropriately supported, including through the recruitment of additional staff.
Looking to the future, the University recognises the outstanding reputation of the Department of Biblical Studies in Sheffield for scholarship and a superb student experience, and has confidence that all concerned will work together to enhance this for future students.

Professor Mike Braddick
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities "

The Biblical Studies Department is essentially back from the dead, well... it spent a few days in the belly of the Uni at least, and it did feel like we had gone down to Sheol at points too!

We are really pleased! Thank you everyone for your support, action and prayers. We have saved the Univeristy an embarassing and awful decision, which would not have done its reputation good in the long run.

Long live Biblical Studies!

Ben Hinks (on behalf of the current students)

Wonderful news! Congratulations to the students and staff at Sheffield's Dept of Biblical Studies!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ideology and translation of biblical texts

(With apologies for some html problems below)
I was amazed, even amused, to discover the Conservative Bible Project recently (thanks to Fred Clark at Slacktivist). I thought all manner of bizarre possibilities when it came to the biblical texts. But this one takes the cake. According to the good folks behind it 'Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in Bible translations'. This Liberal bias is 'the largest source of translation error' And it seems there 's only one way to rectify it - 'conservative principles to reduce and eliminate' this translation error! They list 10 some of which include:

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  1. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity

  1. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
  2. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop; defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
  3. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots", using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
  4. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  5. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  6. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story

As Fred points out these are people who

self-identify not just as Christians, but as "Bible-believing" Christians (that is, Real, True Christians) -- people who proudly differentiate themselves by declaring their "high view of scripture."

The irony here is that they are just as keen on taking the scissors to the scriptures as any historical critic and use the same basis that the problematic texts are apparently additions to an authentic original. In their translation points they cite the pericope of the woman taken in adultery as an example of one which should be excised forever from the New Testament, no doubt because the central principle is mercy rather than retribution. These people don't seem to like the concept of mercy. Perhaps they believe they are without sin (and sadly all too many Real True Christians seem to labour under that delusion) and so eagerly want to pre-empt God by casting the first, second and who knows how many stones.

Reading further through the project blurb it appears they want to excise this verse from Luke 23.34
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

They say that "most authentic manuscripts omit this verse" and then add that "some of Jesus persecutors did know what they were doing". So presumably some first or second century Liberals set out to corrupt the Gospel account. It appears that this conservative Christianity is not a religion in which forgiveness is central. The whole of Christian tradition says otherwise but of course Real True Christians don't know tradition let alone care about it. They probably wouldn't know that newly Christianised Kiev abolished the death penalty 1000 years ago and had a go at some sort of social support scheme for the poor. This latter point shows, too, that the tradition does not show much sympathy to the free market principles these conservatives claim are the key to the parables of Jesus.

As Fred Clark observes:

The American right wing's ability to make parody redundant has gone from being a bitter joke to being a bitter cliché. It's an observation so frequently made because it's so frequently true...
Consider what that joke means. Satire works by exaggeration, but it can't be arbitrary exaggeration. It's only effective (or funny) when it adheres to the trajectory of the idea it lampoons. The target of satire offers a series of points in succession and the satirist ridicules these ideas by continuing down that line, racing ahead to the next logical points in the established progression and demonstrating the inherent absurdity of those ideas by taking them to their logical -- and necessary -- extreme conclusions.

The satirist and the extremist are thus in a kind of footrace. And, as the Conservative Bible Project demonstrates, the extremists these days are winning. They're getting there first -- beating any would-be satirist to the finish line and the punch line.

Thus we have Poe's Law, which states, "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing." The Internet provides dozens of illustrations of this, Web sites that come to function, simultaneously, as parodies and as earnest expressions of the beliefs of extremists. The intent of those sites' creators may not even matter because, if the satirist is doing her job well, she will wind up at precisely the same point further along the trajectory at which the extremist will, sooner or later, arrive. Or vice versa. To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, all that descends into absurdity must converge.

The CBP is a fine example of this. It reads like parody, even though it isn't. It presents an exaggerated, extreme view, but that extremism and exaggeration is not the product of a satirist's mockery. This makes it unintentionally funny but also, more importantly, it makes the CBP useful as a herald of what is to come. Soon. The CBP illustrates the inevitable destiny of the religious right. This is where things are headed, where things are going, possibly faster than you expect.

The CBP is a self-parody in part because it's not even a real translation but appears to be a paraphrase. They use as their base text the King James Bible (without the so-called Apocrypha, these are Real True Christians after all) and then paraphrase the bits they don't like or are too old to conform to such recent concepts as free market principles. So in other words this is a rewriting of the biblical texts to get rid of everything that doesn't fit, that is ideologically unsound, that is challenging. scary, disturbing... Other .

Indeed, this is a far more ambitious attempt at taming the text than anything proposed by the Jesus Seminar. These conservatives don't want a text that is alien at all. What they want is a text that functions as a mirror, a text in which they can see themselves all dressed up in the God drag and bow down before themselves. As Clark says this is idolatry through and through.

If you want to sample a translation that respects the otherness of the text then check out these two posts at The WOMBman's Bible. In the first one, Mother Eve, Anthropos, J K Gayle translates from the Greek Genesis:

And he it created: the god made the mortal human

According to God's likeness, he it created: that person
boy and girl, he them created: those persons

So Adam knew Eve, that wombman of his

and taking it together she

birthed offspring, that Cain,

and said,

I've gotten out a mortal human

through that God

Then in Ancient (Divine & Gendered) Radical Translating Gayle does some very interesting stuff with the Sarah/Hagar/Abraham narratives, this time translating first from the Hebrew

And Princess, the wombman of Father Exalted, bore no babe.

And she had a slave-girl, an Egyptian, named Fly-Away. . . .

And she called the name of Yes-He-Was-Here (who spoke to her) “God sees.”

because she said “'I see him here following him seeing me.”

And then from the Greek "by Jews translating back in Egypt, where Egyptian women are all around. Imagine"

Sara, however, the bride of Abram did not deliver for him.

There was, however, her girl-servant, with the name Hagar. . . .

And Hagar called called the name of Master (who is speaking to her) “You’re the God who Says things to me”

because she said, “And, in fact, in front of my eyes I have seen.”

This is wonderful stuff. The text remains alien, other, and yet hauntingly so. There is also beauty here and an openness that the people of the Conservative Bible Project would suppress. After all they want an ideological text, a text all wrapped up in the cocoon of their circumscribed perspectives. But Gayle plays with and releases the text from such straitjackets and allows it to be revelation no matter how uncomfortable that might be.

That Gayle works with both Greek and Hebrew texts of Genesis is a reminder, too, that there is no such thing as a pure pristine text - there is no original. A pruned-back reconstructed text does not represent such an original, it is merely a pruned-back rec0nstructed text. To play with Bible/Scripture means recognising and working with the multiple texts, their insertions, additions, 'corruptions' all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Some More on Biblical Studies at Sheffield

Jim West has provided more on the crisis at U of Sheffield in particular a statement from Cheryl Exum, one of the Professors in the Bib Studies Dept there (for those of you who don't live and breathe biblical studies). It's being spread around the biblioblogosphere and I'll put it up here too.

End of Biblical Studies at Sheffield

I am writing you, in a personal capacity, to ask for your support in preventing the destruction of the Department …of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield.In its meeting on 7 October, the Senate of the University of Sheffield was asked to approve the following (copied from the Senate papers):

(a) that the 2009-10 entry to undergraduate programmes involving Biblical Studies should be the last and that the Department should cease to function as a single entity: (b) that undergraduate programmes involve Biblical Studies should be maintained for existing students, and that measures should be taken to ensure that they receive the high quality education and student experience which they have been promised; (c) that the Department’s academic staff should be transferred to the departments in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities most suited to supporting their longer term careers; (d) that the development of a Biblical Studies research centre be progressed with a view to providing a focus for postgraduate study and research and a continued point of contact and collaboration for academic staff irrespective of their new home departments, thus ensuring the continuation of scholarship in this area.

These proposals were made in the light of a review of the Department, conducted in the spring and summer of this year, for which I would like to give you a brief background. The Department had lost two members of staff (Loveday Alexander to early retirement and Jorunn Økland to a post in Norway), but had been given permission to fill a post with a senior New Testament scholar in 2009-10. Although this meant a change in staffing from 8 to 6, this kind of fluctuation in staffing has been typical in the Department over the years, and we had hopes of additional staff in future years. Difficulties began when the University decided, at the beginning of the 2008-9 academic year, not to make any appointments in the Faculty of Arts until reconsideration of the University’s financial position in the light of the national Research Assessment Exercise. So we were not allowed to proceed with the New Testament appointment. Then, in the second semester, the University decided to review the Department, citing the reduction in staff and the Department’s fluctuating undergraduate numbers and as major concerns (at the same time, deciding to cap the number of new students we could accept at 20). In fact, undergraduate numbers in the Department have always fluctuated, but Level 3 (i.e. final year) classes in the last two years have had the highest numbers ever.

Another problem for the Department arose when the University, in June of 2009, introduced a Voluntary Severance Scheme as a means of coping with the current economic downturn. Three members of staff are leaving. As someone within only two years of retirement, I am one of them; the others are Keith Whitelam and Barry Matlock. This leaves the Department with three permanent members of staff: Hugh Pyper, and Diana Edelman in Hebrew Bible and James Crossley in New Testament. We have also been given a two-year appointment in New Testament, Mark Finney.

These are the events that led to the proposals above. I did not know until today that the transferal of staff to other departments was being proposed, since I have been excluded from any formal discussions of the future of the Department. At the meeting of Senate, the vote on these proposals was postponed thanks to the intervention of the Sheffield University and College Union and the Union of Students. Our students are currently mounting a strong protest and you can find information about this on a number of sites on the web ( try, for example, As I understand it, the decision has already been made to suspend undergraduate admissions for the coming academic year while the above proposals are being reconsidered. But suspension of the undergraduate programme, in effect, means the end of it. And the notion that there can be any postgraduate ‘centre’ or programme without the existence of an independent Department of Biblical Studies is not wishful thinking, it is a way of subtly dismantling the Department, since the Department and its reputation depends on its distinct identity and its vibrant research culture based on its outstanding undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

I am writing to ask you to support the efforts of our students, alumni/ae, colleagues and friends to reverse what could be the end of an outstanding department by writing to the Vice-Chancellor to urge him not to dismantle the Department (1) by destroying an excellent undergraduate programme, which will inevitably be the effect of a suspension of admissions for the 20010-11 academic year and (2) by setting up a Biblical Studies ‘research centre’ that cannot succeed without an undergraduate programme and its contribution to the Department’s research culture, when one appointment of a senior scholar would enable the Department to maintain its strength in attracting postgraduates.

The Vice-Chancellor is Professor Keith Burnett and his email address is Please copy your message to Professor Paul White (, who, I understand, will be in charge of the ongoing review. For those of you who are willing to write on our behalf, I would be grateful if, in order for us to have a record of the level of response to our plight, you could either send me a blind copy of your message (bcc) or simply reply to this email that you have written to the Vice-Chancellor. Please also consider sending a copy of your letter to the website listed above.

If might be helpful for you to know that the Department ranked 6th in the national Research Assessment Exercise (higher, depending on how one reads the figures), quite an achievement for a small department. We achieved the highest mark in the national Teaching Quality Assessment, and our rating in the national Student Satisfaction Survey was, to my knowledge, the highest in the University, well above that of the Faculty of Arts and the University as a whole. We were at the time the review was undertaken (and may still be) also one of the few departments in the Faculty of Arts not in deficit.

I apologise for any cross-listings. I have combined and split various email lists I have in the interest of reaching as many colleagues as possible. Please feel free to forward this letter to anyone you know who might be willing to help.

Thank you for any support you can offer us,


J Cheryl Exum
Professor of Biblical Studies
Director, Sheffield Phoenix Press

Cheryl Exum's email address is if any of you are planning to send an email of support.

From reading her statement it appears that there may be the usual management skulduggery involved, the kind which we've seen too often in universities in this country. Roland Boer has some worthwhile comments to make. First off re the University's crying poor:

This is bullshit, since state-funded institutions are recession proof: they keep doing their thing largely irrespective of what is happening in the economy. Governments run up deficits during recessions and pay them off during booms. So the university must have other reasons for cutting staff, as they periodically do - new programs, petty political battles, bigger pay for executives, or what have you.

All too often here in Australia, we've seen universities cry poor and sack people and close down disciplines and departments. I suspect in part it might be due to the new managerialism in universities, which never sees very far into the future and in response to any apparent problem always resorts to chopping - they call it, perversely, saving - staff. It's the sort of shortsighted management that led to the Global Financial Crisis. The other thing about crying poor is that, as a very good friend of mine repeatedly says ( and used to teach this stuff too) all budgets are human constructs. There is nothing inevitable or immutable about a budget and to try and hide behind budgetary constraints to justify decisions like this, more often than not show a want of imagination (and when they don't it's more likely to be corrupt self-interest at play). As Roland says

I've learned never to trust institutions - whether university, church or whatever - or give my soul to them, since they'll just trample on it when they see fit.

Roland also notes that:

3 of the existing 6 staff took the money and ran. That is, they accepted golden handshakes and left three staff in the lurch. It is difficult to maintain a department of three. The three who went did so for various and probably good reasons, but they do not find themselves part of what is now called the 'precariat'.

Cheryl is doing her best to raise awareness of the situation, and it's clear that the University has acted very shamefully indeed, but he has a point, nonetheless. It does not take away from the fact that this decision sucks big time and should be reversed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An Outrage

No, I'm not referring to Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize, although giving a Peace Prize to the Warmaker in Chief is a bloody rude slap in the face to all the people around the world bearing the brunt of US military shock and awe or just plain meddling.

No, I'm referring to the news I received this morning via Facebook that the University of Sheffield in the UK is planning to close undergraduate programs in the Department of Biblical Studies there. As Jim West says, "The Department is one of the finest in the UK with a fantastic reputation around the world- staffed, as it is, by many of the leading scholars of the field" It also appears that this is being done on the sly with everyone being kept in the dark by the University. However, the students have been organising. There's a Facebook group here and people are being urged to email the Vice Chancellor at to protest this disgraceful injustice.

The decision is incomprehensible because, again to quote Jim, "The Department is one of the finest in the UK with a fantastic reputation around the world- staffed, as it is, by many of the leading scholars of the field." Such secrecy and willingness to axe a whole undergraduate area seem too much part and parcel of Universities these days. No longer a community of scholars, unversities are all managerialised and corporatised these days.

Here's some more from the Facebook group:

This Facebook group has three main concerns:

1) We have not yet been officially informed, and would not have been until it was too late if it wasn't for the Union of Students. We do not consider the University's 'consultation process' regarding the closure to have been sufficiently thorough, and will are urging the University to choose 'no' at the deciding vote until this process has been properly carried out.

2) Regardless of the promises of the University, the quality of teaching WILL suffer. Take, for example, first-year dual honours students doing four-year degrees. Does the University seriously expect a department catering to one or two students to offer the necessary expertise and teaching? Postgraduate research, which is to continue in the department, will also suffer with staff cuts and the lack of research environment.

3) We are shocked that the University wants to close such a prestigious and internationally recognised department, also home to the JSNT and JSOT journals and Sheffield Phoenix Press. Sheffield offers the only Biblical Studies undergraduate course in the UK, and we believe the department to be a great asset to the University and to the wider field of biblical research.

A lot came up at the meeting today so if there's something you'd like me to put up on this group send me a message and I'll do it. Thanks to the Student Union for their help so far, and also to Alison and the rest of the Bibs staff for being generally awesome (and somewhat caught in the middle of all this)."

There's more at Sans Blogue here and at Baptist Bookworm here.

FURTHER UPDATE You can also check out this site that has been set up in support of the Dept. It gives some more background and you can cast your vote in support of the Dept's undegraduate progreams continuing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Queer Saints day October 7 or maybe today October 8?

Over at Jesus in Love, Kitt Cherry reminds us that yesterday, 7 October, was the feast day of Sts Sergius and Bacchus, who she terms gay saints. I'm a bit reluctant to use the term 'gay' anachronistically to refer to ancient people, nevertheless Sergius and Bacchus are one of the models of same-sex love in the Christian tradition (a model sadly forgotten in the West).

Presumably yesterday's date is the one used in the Eastern Churches where the two saints are still popular and venerated. My old Roman Missal lists today, 8 October, as their feast day.

Kitt has this to say of the pair:

The close bond between the two men has been emphasized since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.

A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.

The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshipping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died.

According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded.

Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. They are recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs and now among GLBT Christians and their allies

I would also question describing adelphopoiesis as ' a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.' In part Kitt is taking a cue from the late John Boswell, who in his groundbreaking study, Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, tried to equate these rituals with marriage, inferring they were an equivalent to marriage for same-sex relationships. However adelphopoiesis was not a form of marriage and, if you read any the rituals, is very unlike marriage. It shares with marriage the status of being a kin-making ritual but otherwise it is a very different institution indeed.

Here's what I had to say about adelphopoieisis earlier this year in my post critiquing the same sex marriage push:

In the days when capitalism was in its infancy, marriage was embedded in a broader network of relationships, biological and non-biological. As well as a network of blood-kin, a person also was part of a network of god-kin. In medieval Europe, there was also a practice of sworn friendships and sworn brotherhoods/sisterhoods. The Church rituals, that the late John Boswell and others uncovered, for making spiritual brothers or spiritual sisters were not rites for joining same sex lovers as such. I would imagine that perhaps the majority of such relationships had no clear homo-erotic component (although many would likely be homo-affectionate) but I can also imagine that many would have been. But most importantly these formalised friendships and forms of non-biological kinship meant that marriage and even parenthood was not the only or even the main significant relationship in a person's life. Marriage was a much more practical institution then, geared around the rearing of children. It was children of course who provided care and support in old age, a situation that still applies in the greater part of the world. If a husband and wife could develop a loving relationship over their lives it was considered a boon but not a requirement for a succesful marriage.

With the development of capitalism this network of relationships was progressively dismantled and done away with. The first to go in the West were the sworn friendships and rites of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood (although they continued on in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans, up until the late 19th century).

One of the features of the adelphopoieisis rituals is their egalitarianism. After all, these are same sex/gender pairings and so would be a bonding of gender equals. Marriage has always been hierarchical, male over the female. Marriage is about male control of the womb and its offspring. Such control issues aren't relevant with same sex relationships and adelphopoieisis. The other interesting thing about this institution and what makes it different to marriage is that, from reading Boswell's account, it is not exclusive in the way marriage is. In other words, Boswell reprts a number of situations where a person contracted adelphopoieisis with more than one other individual. To be a spiritual sibling/cross-brother/cross-sister, appears to be for life - there doesn't seem to be any form of dissolution. So a person could, in theory, have more than one cross-sibling. Possibly this fact is because these relationships are not understood as primarily sexual, again in contrast to marriage which is all about procreation and guaranteeing the paternal lineage.

Ironically, while many adelphopoieisis relationships were no doubt contracted for reasons of status and familial affiliation, it's quite likely that more people entered into adelphopoieisis for reasons of love and affection than was the case with marriage. The modern love-match marriage is a fairly recent invention. In the past a good marriage was one in which love might eventually develop between husband and wife but love was never a prerequisite of marriage. Love, friendship, even, for some, mutual desire were more likely a hallmark of adelphopoieisis and other similar sworn friendships.

Here is an interesting account from a Greek Orthodox perspective on adelphopoieisis.

If my missal is correct then today, for us Westerners, is the day and so Happy Saints Sergius and Bacchus day to you all.