Monthly Archives: September 2006

Women’s Ordination Unlikely in Lutheran Church of Australia: Holy Spirit and Tradition direct Lutheran Magisterium…

Tom Pietsch, Lutheran Seminary student and blogger at Unto This Last, has this report on his page:

My sources tell me that Pastors voted 50.9% in favour and 49.1% against the ordination of women. As two thirds are usually needed for a majority, it seems that the Holy Spirit has given no clear indication to proceed.

For those unsure what I’m talking about, every three years the Lutheran Church of Australia holds a General Synod (next week). The week beforehand (this week) is the General Pastors’ Conference where the Pastors determine the direction for Synod. This year the biggest item is whether or not to ordain women, and it seems that the Pastors have given no clear direction to proceed on the issue. My understanding was that many expected a greater vote in favour of women’s ordination.

My comment on this blog was as follows:

I was there last time when this happened six years ago. Then the vote was almost exactly the same, 118 against to 115 for (I think the slight difference in favour of the proposal this time is because in 2000 they were able to truck in a fair number of retired pastors who were included in the vote). So nothing has appeared to change as far as the pastors’ conference is concerned.

What will happen now? The PC advises the Synod on all matters deemed theological, but no change can take place without a 67% majority in Synod.
The unwritten “tradition” was always that any theological matter on which the Pastors’ Conference had not reached a consensus (ie. well over 2/3 in favour) could not be submitted to the Synod for discussion, let alone vote.

That rule was broken when Lance Steicke exercised his powers as chairman of General Synod to take the matter to the 2000 Synod anyway, with the result that 55% voted in favour and 45% voted against. So nothing changed in the life of the LCA, although everything changed in the lives of some of the pastors who attended (I for one).

The hue and cry after the unwritten tradition was broken was so great in some quarters and the confusion so great in the LCA in general after the 2000 debacle, that I would be surprised if the new chairman, Mike Semmler, would open himself up to the same situation again this time. Because of course, if the Synod does vote on the matter, and approves it (the level of education among the laity in Lutheran theology possibly having declined since 2000), then the LCA would be caught in the rather awkward situation of introducing women’s ordination when barely 50% of the pastors accept the idea.

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Home again, home again

Well, we are back in Casa Schütz-Beaton again after two weeks away, which included a delightful stay at Watson’s Bay with Bishop Anthony Fisher (that’s him with my two little inkblots in the picture), an overnight stay in the historic town of Berrima (est. 1831) in the Surveyor General Inn (est. 1834, making it the longest continual hotel licence in Australia), a visit to our nation’s capitol, and travelling home the long way, via Cooma and Orbost. I have never been so far east in Victoria before, and found it delightful country. Glad to be home, but perhaps not so glad to be back in the office on Monday.

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How do you distinquish a sect from a religion?

The Mormons have given Cardinal Cassidy the “John Simpson Standing for Something(?)” award. I wonder how he reacted? I wonder if he had to turn up to the award giving ceremony? I wonder how he felt? If it were me, I would have felt pretty silly.

It is very easy to see what the motivation is in this handing out of awards. There is an ancient saying (or at least there should be) that “giving awards honours the giver”. I have seen other groups use this method as a way of gaining respectability in the Interfaith world.

The difficulty we are facing in this new world of interfaith harmony, is how to distinguish between a religion and a sect. The new VCC document “One Faith – Multifaith” document speaks of “the great religions” that have “stood the test of time”, in such a way as to exclude the newer international sects, such as scientologists, Mormons and (what used to be called) the Unification Church or Moonies. This is what I call the “respectability by longevity” principle, and I have heard it defended on the basis of the Gamaliel Principle from Acts 4 “If it is not of God, it will not last”.

However, at this time, there is an increasing desire on behalf of these new sects to be regarded as venerable traditoins and to take their place at the Interfaith table. How do we react? We need a better theology than the “longevity principle”, which, after all, is not even closely adhered to in the Interfaith club. For some reason, the Club is happy to allow the Bahai religion a place at the table, when they are surely no more “respectable” or “ancient” than the Mormons (just more in touch with the “enlightened” relativistic syncretic modern ideas of religion).

If we are going to start accepting awards from these groups, we better have an answer ready when we fail to invite them to the next interfaith do.

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Finally, an excommunication for someone way over the limit…

My friend, the inestimable and inobscure Fraser Pearce, often asks me why the Holy See doesn’t issue far more excommunications than it does to those who bring its reputation into disrepute by teaching and actions incompatible with the faith. I always point out that the Church demonstrates great patience in its dealings with the erring and the wayward (Thanks be to God!), but of course there are limits. It seems that those limits have finally been reached in regard to Archbishop Milingo.

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Ben Elton on Conscience

You don’t expect high philosophy from television script writers turned comic novelists. But that is what I found only a few pages into Ben Elton’s 2005 novel “The First Casualty” (found on the shelf of mine host). This is a serious historical novel set in the last years of WWI, and I think it way and above his best writing ever. I was bowled over by this simple exchange in the first few pages:

“It is intellect that sets man above the beasts.”
“It is conscience that sets man above the beasts.”
“The two are surely connected, sir. It is intellect that informs a man what is right and conscience that determines if he will act on that information.”

Okay, you philosopher theologians out there (or theolosophers, as my wife called the combined genus this afternoon). What mark do you give him?


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"That they may have life" – Evangelicals and Catholics Together

I said the other day I would give a short review of the new Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement “That they may have life”.

Well, I’ve read it (yes, on the beach again), and I can’t say I’m bowled over by it. It isn’t really very significant ecumenically. It doesn’t break any new ground as far as working out an agreed basis for Catholic and Evangelical pro-life ethics. I mean, we already know that Catholics and Evangelicals are agreed on anti-abortion.

I was slightly interested by the way it began by addressing “those who do not identify with our communities, or with any Christian community” and went on to claim that it would approach the subject on the basis of “a common humanity” and “a Godgiven capacity to reason, to argue, to deliberate, to persuade, and to discover moral truths regarding questions related to the right ordering of our life together.” OK, I thought, so this is rather going to be a joint appeal addressing those outside the Evangelical and Catholic pro-life circles on the basis of rational argumentation. Good.

But what passes for civic discussion and discourse on the basis of reason in the good ol’ US of A is obviously different from the rest of the world.

First, make no mistake that this document is firmly addressed to Americans. They talk about “sustaining the American experiment”, quote “the Declaration of Independance”, propose “to all Americans” that they join in the discussion. But hey, that’s OK, they are, after all, Americans.

More disconcerting is the fact that they can’t really decide who their audience is. Is it non-Christians who need to be persuaded by reason, or is it Christains who will be persuaded by biblical arguments from the commandments and the gospel? They have logical argumentation for the first audience and biblical references for the second, but they mix them up into a rather unconvincing conglomerate. Arguments puporting to be based on pure reason end up using biblical proof texts as their main support. Maybe this works in America. It won’t cut much ice anywhere else.

There are some good bits. They do talk about the difference between the Protestant and Catholic assessments of reason.

“We also affirm together that human reason, despite the consequences of sin, has the capacity for discerning, deliberating, and deciding the questions pertinent to the civil order. Some Evangelicals attribute this capacity of reason to “common grace,” as distinct from “saving grace.” Catholics typically speak of the “natural law,” meaning moral law that is knowable in principle by all human beings, even if it is denied by many (Romans 1 and 2). Thus do we, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, firmly reject the claim that disagreements over the culture of life represent a conflict between faith and reason. Both faith and reason are the gift of the one God. Since all truth has its source in Him, all truth is ultimately one, although our human perception of the fullness of truth is partial and inadequate (1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus do we invite those who disagree, including those who do not share the gift of faith in Christ, to join with us in attempting to move beyond “culture wars” to a reasonable deliberation of the right ordering of our life together.”

There is much here that accords with the Pope’s argument in the Regensburg lecture, but I rather feel that the statements by the Pope on the essential place of Hellenistic culture and philosophy in Christianity would not get much support from the Evangelical signatories to this new ECT statement.

Perhaps that is the problem with the document as a whole. They couldn’t decide who they were addressing, and they couldn’t agree on the method by which to make their argument–faith or philosophy. Perhaps too this is why there is no agreement in this document on “the moral permissibility of artificial contraception”.

Ah well. If nothing else, “That they may have life” is a demonstration of the comeradery that has emerged from the “ecumenism of the trenches” in the ever continuing Culture Wars.

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WHO’S IN CONTROL of the Pope? He is.

An astounding revelation recently on Cathnews. Cathnews carried a story sourced from UCANews, sourced from SperoNews, about comments which appeared in the Turkish political journal Yeni Asya by Jesuit Father Tom Michel. Fr Michel served on the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1981 to 1994, and it is said that at that time he was the Vatican’s “top expert”(?) on Islam.

Apparently, Fr Michel opined that in the old days the Pope would not have been allowed to say what what said in Regensburg. Back then, the PCID “look[ed] over the late Pope John Paul II’s speeches to Muslims to see if there was anything that might be considered offensive in them, and if there was something of that nature, to propose changes for the Pope.”

Then comes the clanger. Michel is reported to have said:

“Had the Pope’s talk been reviewed and controlled by any competent staff person, they would immediately have told the Pope that the citation of Manuel II Paleologus, which was in fact marginal to the Pope’s main point, should not be included in the speech.”

Yes, I am sure that they would have. But would Papa Benny have taken any notice? No doubt there would have been some wisdom in having someone else look over the papal ponderings. And perhaps such a “looker-overer” might suggest that such a comment may not be best in the context. But “controlled”? Does the Holy Father strike you as a person who would submit his theology and writing to be “reviewed and controlled”?

Our new Archbishop in Canberra, Mark Coleridge, has opined that every word of the Regensburg speech was Benedict’s own. And I for one believe him. It was pure Ratzinger. And if there is one thing that this man will not allow his pontificate to be, it is “controlled”. Perhaps the great sadness of JPII’s reign as supreme pontiff is that it was ultimately the Curia that reigned supreme, not the Bishop of Rome.

Great theology, like great poetry, is never written by a committee. Good leadership never comes from a committee either. Viva la Papa. I support the Pope.


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You want to know what you think? I’ll tell you what you think!

Mmm. That seems to be the approach of some Christian commentators re Islam. For that matter, the same approach has a long tradition in Protestant commentary on the errors of Catholicism. John Allen, in this week’s All Things Catholic has an interview with Jesuit Fr Daniel Madigan who makes the following comment:

“Its no use staging a dialogue in the 21st Century on teh basis of perceptions formed six centuries ago. The key is to sit down with individual Muslims and ask, ‘Where do you stand? How do you justify that? What can I expect from you?’ We can’t tell them what we think they believe, and then criticize what we think they believe.”

But that is exactly what I come across again and again. Dialogue does not begin with us telling them what they believe. It begins with listening to them tell us what they believe. And believing them.

I had a dialogue recently with a non-catholic chap who, after a while, started telling me that I was pulling his leg about Catholic doctrine and trying to “fool” him, because he knew what we Catholics believed and it wasn’t what I was telling him. Where had he learnt his “facts” about the Catholic faith? From a website by an ex-priest who left the Church and is now a stridently anti-Catholic Evangelical preacher.

I therefore have some sympathy with those Muslims who complain when Christians use anti-Muslim publications and websites to form their understanding of Islam. These Christians are the ones who, when told of Muslims who promote peace and freedom of religion and who denouce terrorism, respond by saying: “Yeah, but that isn’t true Islam, is it?”

And what about the old “Yeah, but they are taught to lie, aren’t they? You can’t trust them. What they tell you and what they really believe are two different things.” Give me a break. That’s a worse situation than poor Brian in the Monty Python film when he is told that “only the true Messiah would deny his divinity.” As Brian says, what chance does that give us?

Who the bloody hell are we to tell them what is and what is not “true Islam”? And, moreover, who are we (who can’t even read Arabic and have no training whatsoever in Koranic exegesis) to tell them what the Koran does and doesn’t say on the basis of reading a translation (or, as our Islamic friends insist, an “interpretation”)? And when we don’t even take the time to check out whether or not the translation is kosher (or should that be Hallal?). His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, bless his little red cotton socks, learnt the hard way recently how important it is to take note of who the translator is if you are making a reference to an English translation of the Koran.

Dear Catholic friends reading this blog: Please do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you don’t like other people forming their opinion of your faith on the basis of the rantings and ramblings anti-Catholic polemicists, don’t form your notion of their faith on the basis of information clearly biased against them. If you want to find out about Islam, talk to a Muslim (they don’t bite, you know). Or at least read something written by a Muslim (such as this PDF file).

And if the golden rule isn’t enough for you, perhaps the eighth commandment will help: Do not bear false witness against your neighbour–or take note of false witness against them. Learn the truth, and learn to trust that what they say. You might say, “Yeah, I’ll trust them when they start to do x, y and z”, but thank God that it was while we were yet sinners that he began his great dialogue of love with us. As Dan Madigan said to John Allen:

“The message of the New Testament begins with grace, with God’s gratuity towards humanity… It’s the same thing in the Christain approach to dialogue. We must be ready to listen, to discuss. We have to make it clear that we’re going to be there, eveing if you’re not taking notice. We hope that will gradually transform the other.”


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Evangelicals and Catholics Together: New Statement

I have just found a new statement from “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” on the First Things website called “That they may have life”. I am taking it out to read with my pipe now. Commentary soon!

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The Aftermath of the Regensburg Lecture

For someone who earns their bread and butter working in interfaith relations the last seven days has been quite a week. I am very pleased that things have been quiet in Melbourne, and that the many years of hard work that has been put in building a positive relationship between the Catholic and Muslim communities has been paying off.

In particular, the Islamic Council of Victoria has displayed an examplary degree of care about the way in which they have reacted to the current furor over the Pope’s Regensburg lecture. Their spokesman, Waleed Aly, wrote an exemplary piece for The Age. The President of the ICV, Malcolm Thomas, has personally expressed the committment of the ICV to their relationship with the Catholic Church. I must say that such expressions are quite touching.

Our own spokesman, Catholic Interfaith Committee Chairman Rev. Dr John Dupuche, has been busy putting out the flames. He was widely quoted in an article by Barney Zwartz in The Age, and had a letter published also.

I waded through about 30 pages of printout from various sources while sitting on the beach yesterday, and from what I can tell, the world’s press, while generally agreeing that a more PC and diplomatic Pope would not have quoted the passage he did, the reaction from some quarters of the Muslim world has been both hysterical and at the same time irrational–seemingly proving the Pope’s very point.

While one of our Australian prelates has reacted with anger toward this unseemly display, most of the rest of us have reacted with sadness–some sadness directed toward the Pope’s seeming lack of judgement, some toward the reactions that resulted.

But there have been a number of commentators who believe that Papa Benny was not being quite as naive as some would like to make out, and that he really did deliberately choose the statement from Emperor Manuel II Paleologus intentionally. I must say that I tend to agree with this estimation. He did not, and does not, completely share the Emperor’s point of view, nevertheless, he did want this point of view (expressed very often by many Christians) put on the dialogue table. What better way than as a passing remark in an academic address.

Emperor Manuel had good reason to fear the violence of the followers of Muhammad. He had seen his entire kingdom reduced to next to naught by the Ottoman sword. I had to have a real chuckle at the interpretation put on this situation by a letter writer published in the same edition of The Age as Fr John’s letter, on Khatira Anwari of Reservoir. He writes (and I quote):

“The latest comments by Pope Benedict are not only inflammatory but are purely based on historical propaganda generated by some Christian leaders when Islam became rapidly popular as a way of life.

Well. That’s one interpretation, I guess. Islam was becoming rapidly popular in what had been the Christian Byzantine empire because to choose Islam was to chose survival under the new Islamic regime. But if this is what passes for history today, then, in Chesterton’s words, “The Past isn’t what it was”. And I got that little quote from this week’s “All things Catholic” by John Allen, who has a fairly good roundup of the current controversy over the Regensburg lecture as well as a neat piece on Chesterton and Shaw.

Other good reading on the current controversy:
Sandro Magister
Father Richard John Neuhaus
The Stephen Crittenden Show (ABC Religion Report) with Fr Fessio and Andrew Robb
Two articles by Sydney Muslim lawyer and writer Irfan Yusuf: “Papal Free Speech” and “If you cant stand the missionary heat, you should get out of Abraham’s spiritual kitchen”.
More from John Allen in the latest “All things Catholic”


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