‘At the time of the next election, I’ll be 67 or 68, and I believe that is simply too old to lead a party into government.’ So said Mr Michael Howard, leader of the Conservatives, after their third consecutive loss to Labour in the recent British General Election.
If the other Mr Howard (John – Prime Minister of Australia) had been listening, it would have been interesting to know his response. As the second longest serving Australian PM, he will be turning 66 this year and, as has happened in each of his terms of office, the media debate has once again cranked into gear as to whether or not he will see the current term out or hand over to his Treasurer.
Had other leaders shared Michael Howard’s belief, Churchill would never have taken office a second time at 76 and Reagan would have continued to bask in the Californian sunshine at the age of 69. The Petrine succession would also have looked very different. Of the last 51 popes since 1500, 18 of them took office either at or older than 67. All but eight of them finished office at or over that age.
It was widely, and rightly said, that in continuing in office John Paul II showed not only man’s worth in sickness, but also in age. It could also be argued that to have stepped down earlier would not have led to the world ‘standing still’ for his funeral. Certainly it would have been newsworthy, but grief may not have been the same because lives would have moved on.
Australia, like much of the western world, is having to face the reality of ageing. Soon there will be fewer people of working age supporting an ever-increasing body of retirees. Government forecasts here predict that the over 65s will have doubled to 25% of the total population in just 40 years. The UK predictions are that a change of the ratio of workers to pensioners will have moved from 5:1 one hundred years ago to 1:1 very soon.
Retirement villages and nursing homes are big business here, and for some Anglican dioceses, arguably more profitable than schooling! Support and care for the residents mirrors the earlier quoted ratios, with increasing numbers of staff being employed from overseas.
Barry Humphries may best be known for Dame Edna and Sir Les Patterson, but his grandfatherly character of Sandy Stone addresses with immense pathos the realities of Australian cultural change. In Dame Edna’s Back to my roots tour in Melbourne in 2003, Sandy Stone spoke of the nursing home (Tudor Mews) in which his wife resided:
They’ve got a lovely team of Korean carers. They can’t speak a word of English, but Beryl doesn’t mind that because she doesn’t like talking to strangers. But a lot of the other old ladies who can’t speak Asian (that’s all of them), they miss having somebody to talk to when the rellies (relatives) stop coming – that’s after a couple of weeks.
What Sandy recognizes in the nursing home is replicated in so many parts of the Western Church, which itself has an ageing workforce. Religious houses and presbyteries are often being filled from Asia or Africa, not necessarily to minister to their own native communities. The local Roman Catholic church in Fitzroy, for example, is soon to have a Lebanese priest where there is mainly a Vietnamese congregation.
The value of age
Introducing the prophetess Anna in the temple, St Luke cannot emphasize her age enough! Informing us that she was ‘well on in years,’ he confirms, ‘Her days of girlhood (were) over.’ If we have not already accepted the point, he stresses, ‘She had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old.’
Yet Anna in her faithfulness of fasting and prayer recognized the one to whom all would look forwards to deliverance. She, indeed, began her recognition of the Christ at the age John Paul II was when he finished his earthly ministry for the same Lord.
The British Mr Howard has decidedwhat is ‘too old’. The Australian Mr Howard shows no sign of giving into age, but appears to enjoy his position more each year. The true value of age is not so much in who can and cannot continue with this or that job, but how effective our witness can be to Christ regardless of age. The Prophetess Anna would not have had it any other way.
‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted.’ – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.
On April 2, the most articulate spokesman for a ‘culture of life,’ Pope John Paul II, passed quietly and with integrity through the gates to larger life. A few days earlier, in a hospice in central Florida, another Catholic Christian had been forced through those same gates by a judicial system that appears largely to have lost its moorings to the classical and Christian foundations that gave birth to it.
The judicially sanctioned (and enforced) starvation death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo has revealed the uncomfortable fact that legal positivism – the same philosophy that drove the corruption of justice in Nazi Germany – did not perish in the rubble of the ‘Thousand-Year Reich’. It is alive and well in many of the courts, legal systems, and organs of culture in the western world.
This should not be surprising, for natural law jurisprudence appears to have been reduced to minority status in the American legal and judicial community.
The origin of law
It is important to define some terms and concepts. To the question, ‘From where does the law originate?’ there are essentially two answers: ‘from God’s goodness,’ or ‘from man’s will.’ The first is the classical Judaeo-Christian answer. Irrespective of the fact that there is more than one school of thought concerning natural and divine law and the relationship between them, it is an answer that commits the orthodox Christian to some form of natural law jurisprudence.
The second answer is that given by the two basic forms of humanist philosophy: utilitarianism, which defines justice as that which benefits the greatest number of people, and positivism, which, because it implicitly or explicitly denies the possibility of knowing objective truth, defines justice as that which is willed by the lawgiving authority – whether that be monarchic, democratic, aristocratic or judicial.
While both utilitarianism and positivism repose the authority of the law in the will of the lawgiver, rather than in its conformity to the objective goodness of the Creator, it is positivism that has proved the more dangerous, not least because of its ability easily to assume the more humane colouration of utilitarianism.
The fact remains, however, that the fundamental assumption of both positivism and utilitarianism is one that would have been recognized and endorsed by every blood-drenched tyrant of the centuries past. Mao Zedong famously put it this way: ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’ Might makes right.
Dangers of ‘neutrality’
The American legal system has assumed what is often advertised as a ‘values neutral’ approach. People are not supposed to allow their allegedly ‘private’ convictions about the nature of reality influence their decisions in the public arena. If they do, they are seen as a threat to the social and political order, as persons trying to ‘impose their values’ on an unwilling body politic.
This is functional atheism. The existence of a transcendent and immanent God, even if real, is considered a matter for a privatized realm of values, which is held to have no genuine or desirable connection with the ‘real world’ of facts. It is also an exercise in self-deception, for since man is in his nature meant to worship, if he denies and will not worship the true God, the God who was made man through whom alone genuine humanity is achieved – he will worship idols of his own devising. And as a consequence of his idolatry – for we become what we worship – he will become less than human.
Such a viewpoint produces what C.S. Lewis called ‘men without chests’; men who, like the nominally Catholic Supreme Court Justice (Kennedy in Lawrence v. Texas) can write nonsense about liberty being ‘the right to define one’s own concept of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’ At its worst, it produces nice men who love their wives, their dogs and their children but who, when at work, can condone or even order actions which violate the dignity and take the lives of innocents.
Back to our roots
All this the long agony of Terri Schindler-Schiavo brought into focus. It is the task of Catholic Christians and all others who stand with them to sharpen that awareness and carry it into socially transformative action.
It might just be that in God’s providence, the very public but very different passings of Terri Schindler-Schiavo and of John Paul II will serve both as incentive and encouragement for Christians, who are determined not simply to retain a toehold in contemporary American culture, but to return to what the late Russell Kirk called the roots of American order – roots which are sunk deep in a classical vision of justice and good government, baptized with the biblical doctrine of man before God.
It is too soon, perhaps, to tell if this will happen. But whilst Ivan Karamazov was surely right that ‘if God does not exist, everything is permitted,’ the Archangel Gabriel was more so when he told the Blessed Virgin Mary, ‘with God, nothing shall be impossible.’ The dry bones of American jurisprudence may yet live.
New Westminster cull
Whilst the Anglican Communion as a whole has been considering the implications of the Windsor Report, here in Canada some of the actions which occasioned it have been having local and particular consequences. A group of mostly evangelical parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster dissociated itself from the decision of the diocesan synod to permit the blessing of same sex unions. Though wishing to continue with an Anglican identity and in communion with other provinces, the parishes felt that they could not remain as constituent parts of a diocese which had flouted the clear teaching of the last Lambeth Conference.
As in the United States, dispute about the ownership of property has been an important element in their discussions with the bishop and the diocese. As the Canadian House of Bishops was pondering its response to Windsor, things came to a head.
Legal battle too costly
To avoid a drawn-out and costly legal battle, the priests and parishioners of two parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster, who left the Anglican Church of Canada in 2002, announced that they would vacate the church buildings they currently occupy and turn them over to the diocese by May 31.
In early March, George Cadman, diocesan chief legal officer, had served notices to the parishes through their lawyer, Bob Kuhn, asking them to ‘deliver up possession’ of the buildings by April 1 or be faced with court proceedings. The diocese has maintained that the church buildings ‘historically’ belong to the Canadian Anglican church for its ministry in New Westminster.
‘It’s not what we imagined or what we would have wanted, but we just want to be gracious and we believe God will bless us,’ said The Revd Ed Hird, former Rector of St Simon’s, Deep Cove, North Vancouver, who left the diocese and later formed the Anglican Communion in Canada (ACiC) along with The Revd Barclay Mayo, former Rector of St Andrew’s, Pender Harbour.
The eviction notice had ‘upped the stakes,’ said Mr Hird. ‘Our lawyer carefully laid out the options, and even if we have a strong legal case for retention, because we have the title deed and beneficial ownership, the reality is that a legal battle would have been costly.’
He said parishioners voted during Holy Week to turn over the properties. ‘The diocese has deep pockets and we’re just an ordinary congregation. It’s totally unjust but it’s not worth it,’ he said. ‘We want to go on with our ministry. We forgive (diocesan bishop) Michael Ingham for usurping our property. But the church is the people; he hasn’t taken the church away from us, it’s only the property.’
Still, he added, parishioners ‘have an emotional attachment’ to St Simon’s, which was built by a youth group in 1949. ‘It’s an old shack, it’s not worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it has sentimental value.’
Reacting to the parishes’ decision, Mr Cadman said, ‘I’m just pleased to see that there won’t be any legal proceedings.’ Diocesan spokesperson Neale Adams said, ‘It’s a positive thing. We’ve always hoped it could be settled without unnecessary expense on anyone’s part.’
Hird said all worship at his church would be at Lions Gate Christian Academy beginning June 5. He said they started using that facility for one of their services last December. ‘We’re a growing church,’ he said.
Former parishioners of St Andrew’s, who now call their parish Christ the Redeemer Church, Pender Harbour, will also move, June 5, to the Pender Harbour School of Music, Madeira Park.
In a letter to all diocesan clergy and members of the diocesan council, Bishop Ingham explained that the two priests had already ‘abandoned’ their ministry and had formed ‘privately incorporated societies.’
Bishop Ingham added that, ‘There will no doubt be accusations of persecution and victimization levelled against the diocese for these actions.’ But he urged members of his diocese to remember that, ‘No priest or lay person has been asked to act against their conscience in matters of faith, that all attempts at reconciliation by the diocese have been repudiated, and that the clergy and laity involved have voluntarily withdrawn themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada.’
Mr Hird and Mr Mayo and members of their parishes were among those who walked out of a diocesan synod after it voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002. Though the diocese had voted in favour of the blessings two times earlier, it was only in 2002 that Bishop Ingham gave his consent to the vote. He said they would only be authorized by priests who in conscience could perform them and that they would be performed only in parishes where a majority of the membership had voted to be a place of blessings.
Meanwhile, the diocesan synod met from May 13-14, to discuss, among other business, the request made by Primates of the Anglican Communion, and the recommendation made by the Lambeth Commission on Communion, for a moratorium on same-sex blessings.
It was announced that the Panel of Reference, for parishes in dispute with their diocesan bishop on such matters, which was requested by the Primates’ Meeting, had been set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was to be chaired by Archbishop Peter Carnley. ‘That,’ said Mr Hird ‘is a lot too late for us.’