Sunday, May 22, 2016

Books for Bulgaria and a Panikhida

Today, the third anniversary of my father's death, the community of St. Bede and St. Cuthbert Orthodox Church in Durham held a panikhida in his memory. Here are gathered Father Andrew Louth (formerly of the Department of Theology and Religion), Dr. Krastu Banev and his family, Deyan Petrov and my wife Jennifer and myself.


With the kind assistance of Deyan and Krastu, my father's entire patristic collection was catalogued over the past few months and this week shipped to Bulgaria where it will enhance the collections of the University of Sofia. My father was ever committed to the principle that his books should endow an institution that was in genuine need of books and would make good use of them. Given his long association with Eastern Orthodoxy through the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, I believe he would have approved that his collection, built up over more than fifty years, should find its home in the vicinity of Constantinople. Below the collection stands ready for dispatch on May 16.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Pettiness of Home Office Bureaucracy

As one who lived for twenty years as a student and freelance historian in the United States, I know something of the struggle to obtain permanent residency (as a spouse) and at times felt irritation both at the bureaucratic hurdles and at the costs imposed on one whose family had contributed to the well-being of the American economy, both through tuition fees and direct financial support. I clearly didn't know when I was well-off.

It came as a considerable shock to learn of the appalling treatment meted out by the Home Office to Dr. Paul Hamilton, an American scholar who, having completed a doctorate at the University of Birmingham and while applying for fellowships with the Leverhulme and Wellcome Trusts, sought further leave to remain, for which he paid a handsome £650. Not only was this application apparently denied on December 9, but the authorities failed to inform Dr. Hamilton of this fact and had him detained at an immigration centre on January 17 on the grounds that he did not have "enough close ties (eg. family or friends) to make it likely that you will stay in one place." Dr. Hamilton had already purchased an open return ticket to the United States (worth £800) and had he been notified of the denial of his application would have made his own arrangements to depart.

The present government is only too happy to encourage "entrepreneurs" to resettle in the UK if they bring in sufficient assets, but apparently disdains a foreign academic willing to spend upwards of £100,000 of his own money to boost the resources of the British education system but who then seeks - not unreasonably - to secure a postdoctoral fellowship on the same basis as a British academic. The fact that Dr. Hamilton is a Shakespeare scholar only heightens the irony. The only official who comes out of this affair with any credit is the police sergeant at Leamington Spa who called the proceedings "completely ridiculous" and initially refused to process Dr. Hamilton.

Dr. Hamilton is clearly owed both an apology and the return of his visa processing fee as partial compensation for his mistreatment. The precedent that it sets, if this judgment is allowed to stand, is alarming for the academic community at large. I have written to the Vice-Chancellors of my home institution and the University of Birmingham, as well as to the Home Secretary (copied to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education). I hope others will be moved to do the same.

Update, January 29: Carolyn Pike (who appears to be the University of Birmingham's Director of Legal Services) informs me that "the University is not at liberty to discuss personal matters relating to alumni with third parties." I would never have imagined that one academic asking whether or not a Vice Chancellor would offer his support to another academic would provoke such a response (and from a legal officer rather than the official to whom the appeal was addressed to boot). Let us hope that this will not be another case of the "rich" getting the pleasure and the "poor" getting the blame.  

Further Update, January 29: It appears Dr. Hamilton is now a free man. Somehow one doubts that any official apology will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

John 15:13 lived out in Kenya

Shortly before Christmas, the BBC reported from Kenya that the attempted murder by Al-Shabab gunmen of Christians on a bus from Nairobi to Mandera had been thwarted by the refusal of the Muslim passengers to be separated from the Christians. Today there is news that Salah Fareh, a Muslim teacher who took a lead in this incident had died from a bullet wound inflicted at the time. He is quoted as saying:

We are brothers.It's only the religion that is the difference, so I ask my brother Muslims to take care of the Christians so that the Christians also take care of us... and let us help one another and let us live together peacefully.

It has been all too easy in the last few years to become preoccupied with the narrative of Muslims raised in the West who, while not necessarily complicit in the depredations of Islamist radicals, can still treat their actions as excusable in the context of the West's supposed moral decadence and "imperialist" intentions toward Muslim-majority nations. Furthermore, the hostility displayed toward Muslim converts to Christianity in non-Muslim nations (the deplorable case of Nissar Hussein comes to mind) raises justifiable concern about the commitment of Islam to wholehearted religious tolerance.

Nevetheless, Our Lord's declaration that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends is illuminated by the death of Salah Fareh. In his case, a choice was clearly presented, and yet he and his Muslim neighbours preferred death to security at the expense of the lives of their brother Christians. There is a message here that we all do well to contemplate.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Hacker: The statistics are irrefutable...
Humphrey: Statistics? You can prove anything with statistics.
Hacker: Even the truth.
Humphrey: Yes... No!
The above quote from the British comedy, Yes Prime Minister (the episode entitled "The Smoke Screen" for those who are interested) admirably captures the problem that Anglicanism currently faces. Later this year, Ashgate will publish Church Growth and Decline in Global Anglicanism: 1980 to the Present Day to which I have contributed the chapter on the demographics of The Episcopal Church (TEC). Statistics of church growth (and decline) have been the stuff of interdenominational wrangling for the past thirty years and frequently generate more heat than light. TEC is roughly at midpoint in terms of decline among the major mainline Protestant denominations. Furthermore, particularly in the last decade, almost every major denomination except the LDS Church has reported, if not a decline, at least a diminution in growth. A case could thus be made that recent declines in TEC’s membership are part and parcel of the general shedding of the nominally religious from membership rolls in recent decades and a consolidation of the faithful remnant.

While I am not convinced that the loss of the “nominals” is the sole basis for TEC’s decline (particularly since 2003), it is comparatively easy to draw conclusions about the state of the Protestant mainline generally (and TEC in particular) given the efficiency with which statistical data is gathered year by year. Definitions of membership are clearly articulated and congregations and dioceses (or their equivalents) are routinely encouraged to update their statistical returns to take account of recent changes. Compare this with, for example, three of the largest African-American denominations, the Church of God in Christ, the National Baptist Convention, USA and the National Baptist Convention of America, which claim 5.5 million, 5 million and 3.5 million members respectively. In these cases, few local statistics exist to either sustain or refute the accuracy of the national figure (which has not even been updated in recent years).

It is important to acknowledge here that while there are dangers in associating church growth with ecclesiastical health (dysfunctional or spiritually unbalanced churches can be extremely “successful,” as the Prosperity Gospel attests), most observers would agree that church decline, while sometimes inevitable, is problematic, whether in a congregation, a diocese or a denomination. The only sure way to judge growth and decline is by means of statistics that are current, reliable and consistent across the jurisdiction under scrutiny, all of which brings us to a recently published article by Daniel Munoz in the Journal of Anglican Studies.

For conservative Anglicans, “North to South: A Reappraisal of Anglican Communion Membership Figures” will come as a shock in that it questions the narrative of Global South growth and Global North recession (at least in respect of Anglicanism) that has dominated recent debates. Some readers will be familiar with the findings of the 2013 report of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, which shows significant gains for Christianity in Africa and Asia.

What Munoz reveals in his analysis, however, is that if such growth does occur, Anglicanism may not be the main beneficiary. He notes, with some plausibility, that for conservative Anglicans to question the reliability of membership figures for the Church of England, while accepting uncritically those statistics provided by African provinces is to make a mockery of global comparisons, all the more telling when one considers that the Anglican Communion Office lacks current statistical data from 32 of its 38 member provinces. Although his focus is on statistics, Munoz offers some anecdotal – but revealing – evidence from African church leaders about the rise of nominal Christianity within their own flocks as well as the challenge posed by newer Pentecostal groups. His main interest, however, is in exploring a possible gap between what he terms “outer circle” membership (the kind of cultural Anglicanism that lingered on in Britain until at least the Second World War) and “inner circle” membership, or those actively engaged in the life of the Church. To determine the latter, he appealed to national and provincial church offices and also sampled information on websites where those existed. Focusing on Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, and relying on a degree of extrapolation from such data as was publicly available, Munoz estimates that inner circle membership within the Global South may only be about 3.9 million compared to outer circle membership of 41.4 million. Conversely, he estimates the Global North to have 4.6 million inner circle members compared to 35.7 million outer circle members. 

On this basis, the Global South would be considered to have 45.9 percent of inner circle Anglicans as against 53.7 percent of outer circle Anglicans. Such a finding hardly makes the Global South an insignificant presence in Anglican affairs but it serves as a reminder that playing the numbers game is a risky business. Judged in terms of inner circle membership, there would not be nine African provinces with over a million members but only one, Nigeria (which would actually be smaller than TEC). 

If a word of caution is needed it is that Munoz’s estimates suggest that the inner circle constitutes no more than 10 percent of the outer circle in most African provinces, comparable with figures for the Church of England and the Anglican Church of Australia. Were the same approach to be applied to North America, one would expect Canada to have an inner circle membership of no more than 144,000 and the USA of no more than 240,000, but Munoz reports their inner circle membership as 545,957 and 1,588,057 respectively. While one might believe there to be a greater religiosity among American Anglicans than those of Britain and Australia, it seems unlikely to be greater by a factor of between five and seven. [I added the below calculation from the figures in Munoz's article after publishing this post.]

Global South - Outer Circle: 41,451,522
Global South - Inner Circle:    3,952,373
Global South Active Membership Share: 9.5%

Global North (less USA and Canada) - Outer Circle: 32,123,599
Global North (less USA and Canada) - Inner Circle:    2,709,038
Global North (less USA and Canada) Active Membership Share: 8.4%

USA and Canada - Outer Circle: 3,852,080
USA and Canada - Inner Circle:  2,134,014
USA and Canada Active Membership Share: 55.4%

That said, Munoz’s research should serve as a reminder to the Global South that inflated membership figures are ultimately self-defeating. It may be wrong to articulate definitions of membership too narrowly, but definitions are needed and congregations and provinces have a responsibility to report numbers accurately and consistently. Anything else is ultimately a betrayal of the men and women in the pew who look to their leaders not only to proclaim the Gospel but to acknowledge the Church as she is, even while looking for the Church as she should be.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Light not Salt: Michael Nazir-Ali at Durham



The inaugural lecture of the Hensley Henson Lecture on The Church in Politics: Past, Present and Future took place on October 19 in Durham Cathedral and was addressed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, retired diocesan of Rochester, whose interventions on marriage and the family, Christian-Muslim dialogue, homosexuality and multiculturalism have made him as controversial a figure as was Henson in his own day.  

Bishop Michael opened with an account of how - while organizing meetings for Christians to raise issues of concern with parliamentary candidates during the 2010 election - he was informed by several clergy of his acquaintance that this was not an activity that they felt called by God to undertake. Such "pietistic fideism" however, Bishop Michael insisted, is simply not an option for Christians, nor can it be right simply to accept separation of the private and "sacred" from the  public and "secular." Coupled as these notions are with a post-Enlightment celebration of the individual - in the West at least - they run counter to the concept of covenant that underpins a Christian understanding of the moral (if not the civil and ceremonial) law, and it is from the moral law alone that it is possible to discern the common good.

The enduring significance of Matthew 22, vv.15-22, with its implicit separation of secular from sacred, must not be understood as a blanket injunction to deference to civil authority. The Reformation, even as it promoted a degree of distance between church and state, in no sense purported to silence the latter in the public arena. Moreover, there is a clear separation between, as Bishop Michael put it, between the "godly magistrate" of Romans 13 and the "beast" of Revelation 13.  The state necessarily forfeits its authority when forbidding what God commands, or, more concretely, commanding what God forbids (Henson, it might be noted, was an admirer of the Confessing Church under National Socialism).

The default position of the Church of England, Bishop Michael argued, has been to conform to the divine injunction to be "salt of the earth," a pastoral presence "working invisibly" through society. Yet this injunction is coupled with another urging Christians to be "lights of the world." If in the Middle East - and perhaps Africa and Asia also - there is a need for an emphasis on the dignity of the individual as against communal and social mores, in the West it is the bonds of family and community that stand most in need of renewal. Such renewal depends upon a commitment to be a light in the darkness that not only draws others to itself but also casts a light - not always welcome - upon policies, customs and behaviours that detract from the health of the community. Such a critique will - if correctly pursued - be holistic in character, free from political partisanship and conscious of the inevitable shortcomings of all human solutions to social disfunction. As Bishop Michael noted, invoking Richard Niebuhr, Christ is ultimately "above culture," since no temporal culture can exhaus the riches of the Gospel.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Royal Historical Society

On Friday I was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, "the foremost society in the UK working with professional historians and advancing the scholarly study of the past." Fellowships are awarded to those who have made “an original contribution to historical scholarship,”and are subject to peer review. In a year that had its share of disappointments, including failing to find a permanent academic position at Durham, I am obviously pleased at this professional recognition.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Being the Church is Difficult"

Looking outside of oneself. Serving someone beyond the self. Putting aside personal comfort and coming often to the cross. This is what being the church means.

It means worshipping all together without segregating by age or interest (e.g. “contemporary” or “traditional”). It means preaching the whole counsel of God, even the unpopular bits. It means fighting against homogeneity and cultivating diversity as much as possible, even if this makes people uncomfortable. It means prioritizing the values of church membership and tithing, even if it turns people off. It means being OK with the music that is played even if it’s not your favorite style. It means sticking around even when the church goes through hard times. It means building a tight-knit community but not an insular one, engaging the community and sending out members when mission calls them away. It means bearing with one another in love on matters of debate and yet not shying away from discipline. It means preaching truth and love in tension, even when the culture calls it bigotry. It means focusing on long-term healing rather than symptom-fixing medication.

None of this is easy, and none of it is comfortable. But by the grace of God and with the Holy Spirit’s help, uncomfortable church can become something we treasure.

Read it all at Brett McCracken's blog.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

And in South Carolina . . .

Word is just in of Judge Goodstein's decision in The Protestant Episcopal Church in The Diocese of South Carolina et al vs. The Episcopal Church. As in Quincy, so now in South Carolina, the ability of individual dioceses to disassociate from TEC is sustained in a weighty 45-page opinion that has been anxiously awaited for more than six months. The opinion makes much of the lack of indicia of hierarchy within TEC's constitutional structure and the precedent already set in the All Saints, Waccamaw case. "South Carolina," declares the judge, "has made its choice." She also references the earlier Quincy decision: "The sole issue with respect to the Diocese is corporate control.If the Diocese legally withdrew from TEC, then those currently in union with it and its leadership control it." (26) As an unincorporated association operating under the common law, the Diocese of South Carolina was free to withdraw from the national church at any time. Interestingly the suspenseful exchange between Alan Runyan and Bishop Clifton Daniel of East Carolina in which the latter was obliged to concede the lack of a prohibition in the TEC Constitution on diocesan withdrawal appears as a lengthy footnote. (31) The judge also appears to have been struck by the fact that the Dennis Canon was never proposed as an amendment to the TEC Constitution. (35)

Now that the Diocese is confirmed in its legal right to its real, personal and intellectual property, I sincerely hope that the diocesan leadership will think long and hard about a division of assets that reflects the moral claim to a proportion of the endowment by those parishes who elected not to withdraw. A good model might be the process by which assets were distributed between the Diocese of South Carolina and the Diocese of Upper South Carolina in 1922. While the present division is not a territorial one, Episcopalians also helped build the endowment. Whether they would have offered their opponents a share had they triumphed is not the issue in my opinion. It would be better by far to ameliorate the bitterness by behaving magnanimously.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Illinois Supreme Court denies TEC Petition

I have just learned that, with its denial of petition for certiorari, the Illinois Supreme Court has declared Diocese of Quincy vs. The Episcopal Church et al (2013) to be the law in the state of Illinois. A precedent for diocesan disaffiliation now exists in a state previously presumed to favor deference to the hierarchical argument. Interesting times!

Update: November 27

The following are revealing extracts from the Illinois Supreme Court ruling. The reference to the telling "concession" regarding the national church's lack of involvement in diocesan assets in ¶ 50 is revealing about how the courts adjudicate this sort of dispute. While at this remove I am a somewhat hazy as to what I actually said, my point in ¶ 54 was that the legislative history and the language of the Dennis Canon have nothing to say about dioceses. No one arguing the national church position has yet introduced testimony that the implications of the Dennis Canon for diocesan property were discussed at the time of its enactment (Walter Dennis died in 2003 and - apparently - left nothing to indicate what he - as drafter of the canon - intended). Given that most of Dr. Mullin's affidavits have been filled with references to canons mandating dioceses to do something, if dioceses were to be governed by the Dennis Canon surely it would have said so?            

¶ 39 Contrary to the Church’s position, this is not a “documents only” case. In addition to reviewing numerous exhibits, the trial court heard an extensive amount of conflicting testimony and argument from the parties and made factual findings therefrom. Although determining whether to apply a deference or neutral-principles approach may, on its face, appear to be strictly a question of law, the court had to weigh the evidence presented in doing so. As the trier of fact, the trial judge was in a superior position to judge the credibility of the witnesses and determine the weight to be given to their testimony. Buckner v. Causey, 311 Ill. App. 3d 139, 144, 724 N.E.2d 95, 100 (1999). When contradictory testimony that could support conflicting conclusions is given at a bench trial, an appellate court will not disturb the trial court’s factual findings based on that testimony unless a contrary finding is clearly apparent. Buckner, 311 Ill. App. 3d at 144, 724 N.E.2d at 100.

¶ 50 The property in question in this case consists of the funds in the National City account and, although not emphasized by the Church on appeal, a deed to a piece of real property referred to by the Diocese as the “Diocesan House.” The deed has been included in the record on appeal. It is undisputed the Church is not a party to the deed. Instead, the deed reflects title to the property is held by the Trustees. The language of the deed does not provide for an express trust in favor of the Church. The “Discretionary Agency Agreement,” which is the contract between the Trustees and National City, is also contained in the record on appeal. Like the deed, it is undisputed the Church is not a party to that agreement. A review of the agreement does not indicate otherwise. It is also undisputed the Church has never had any involvement with the account, i.e., it never made any deposits or withdrawals, never authorized distributions, and never exercised any type of control over the account at all. In fact, in its brief on appeal before this court, the Church clearly states it “has never asserted that it owns those funds or any of the Diocese’s assets, but rather has consistently asserted that they belong in the hands of the Episcopalians who are the proper leaders of the Diocese.” This is no small concession.

¶ 51 The Church also fails to cite any relevant legal authority to support the removal and substitution of the diocesan corporations’ directors. Instead, it emphasizes the provisions of the Religious Corporation Act (805 ILCS 110/0.01 to 51 (West 2012)), which imposes certain requirements on the incorporating body with regard to trustee membership. See, e.g., 805 ILCS 110/46d (West 2012) (a trustee may be removed from office for, inter alia, abandonment of the denomination). However, it is undisputed the diocesan corporations were not organized under the Religious Corporation Act. Thus, its requirements have no application here.

¶ 52 Moreover, Dr. Mullin, the Church’s own witness, testified he knew of nothing to prevent a diocese from incorporating. Indeed, the Church does not argue the Diocese could not incorporate or was required to do so under the Religious Corporation Act. See 805 ILCS 110/35 (West 2012) (organizations formed for the purpose of religious worship may become incorporated under the Religious Corporation Act). In fact, religious organizations in Illinois may incorporate under either the Religious Corporation Act or the General Not For Profit Corporation Act of 1986 (Not-for-Profit Act) (805 ILCS 105/103.05(a)(8) (West 2012)). While the Not-for-Profit Act provides for the removal of corporate directors, the Church did not attempt any such removal under that act. See 805 ILCS 105/108.35 (West 2012); People ex rel. Muhammad v. Muhammad-Rahmah, 289 Ill. App. 3d 740, 742-43, 682 N.E.2d 336, 338 (1997). (In fairness, it likely lacked any authority or standing with which to do so as it is not a member of either the Trustees or Diocese of Quincy corporations.)

¶ 53 The trial court also found the evidence did not demonstrate the funds were held by National City in trust for the Church. The neutral-principles approach can involve examination of religious documents such as a church constitution for language of a trust in favor of the central church. Jones, 443 U.S. at 604; Maryland & Virginia Eldership of the Churches of God, 396 U.S. at 368 (Brennan, J., concurring, joined by Douglas and Marshall, JJ.). Under a neutral-principles analysis: “the outcome of a church property dispute is not foreordained. At any time before the dispute erupts, the parties can ensure, if they so desire, that the faction loyal to the hierarchical church will retain the church property. They can modify the deeds or the corporate charter to include a right of reversion or trust in favor of the general church. Alternatively, the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form.” Jones, 443 U.S. at 606.

¶ 54 An examination of the evidence reveals nothing to demonstrate an express trust, an implied trust, or any other interest vested in the Church. As stated, neither the deed nor the Discretionary Agency Agreement provides for an express trust in favor of the Church. Further, our review of the Diocese’s constitution and canons does not suggest diocesan assets were ever impliedly held in trust for the Church. After Jones, the Church adopted a trust canon (Title I.7.4, referred to by the parties as the Dennis Canon). That canon provides parish property is held in trust for the Diocese and Church and restricts a parish’s ability to dispose of its property. However, it appears undisputed the Church’s canons do not contain similar language with respect to diocesan property being held in favor of the Church. In addition, Bonner testified the Dennis Canon does not apply to property owned by a diocese. Our review of the record reveals nothing to suggest the opposite conclusion. Accordingly, the trial court’s findings in this regard are not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

¶ 55 In sum, the evidence presented demonstrates title to the funds and real property lies with the Diocese. Following our review of the record, we cannot say the trial court’s findings were arbitrary, unreasonable, or not otherwise based on the evidence. Nor can we say the opposite conclusion is clearly apparent in this case. As a result, the court did not err in finding in favor of the Diocese. We commend the trial court for its detailed order, which we found quite helpful in reviewing this matter.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The New Anglicanism

The best most fruitful incoming parishioners in my neck of the woods have been evangelicals coming to Anglicanism (at least Good Shepherd’s brand of it) for the expositional teaching wedded to liturgical worship (a unique niche I think). I’ve found that many coming in from TEC are looking for a church like the one they grew up…ie. TEC sans “the gays”. And they tend to be angry that “their church” was stolen from them (not seeing how that theft was in part due to complacency and docility in the laity). That - back to the past - ethos is not what Good Shepherd is about and so many of them are disappointed when they find that we expect people to serve, to belong to a small group, to open their bibles during sermons etc. I’ve had more internal strife arising from these folks than from any other.

This comment by the rector of one former Episcopal parish in upstate New York speaks to the issue of an emerging Anglican identity that interests me as a scholar. It reflects the increased emphasis on active discipleship that tends to characterize successful congregations in a post-Christian society. It might also be said to bear comparison with the 19th century Anglo Catholic tendency to eschew the identification of the Anglican tradition with anything other than the practices of the Primitive Church.

Reading this (admittedly off-the-cuff) comment, however, I can't help wondering what it means for the next phase of Anglican development. Granted the ultimate division (in practice, if not in theory) of the Anglican Communion into two provincial federations, will that portion that seeks to resist the pressure to conform historic Christian teaching to the secular culture of the Global North ultimately retain anything that was historically considered distinctively Anglican about it? For many of those who ultimately abandoned Anglicanism across four centuries, of course, it was the precisely the desire to reconcile the irreconcilable that was at the root of their unease. Today's self- identified Anglicans appear to have solved that problem, but I wonder if there won't be an accompanying cost.