Thursday, December 21, 2006

Frames within the Mind and Divisions within the Church: One approach to understanding the crisis in the Anglican Way.

A discussion starter.

Probably—maybe certainly—we should pay more attention to the profound influence over our thinking, feeling and acting of what have been called frames of reference, existing deep within our minds. Though we are not always or wholly conscious of their presence, these frames provide us with what we call our common sense and affect the way that we perceive and act.
These frames are formed unconsciously in our minds over time and through the influence of dominant messages and images which we receive from the culture and context in which we live. And what we may offer on any particular occasion as the reason for our actions and feeling will probably not be strictly identical with the dominant frame deep in our minds. For the latter work by creating the general structure or shape of our thinking and feeling, not by supplying immediate and conscious reasoning.

What we find within the dysfunctional Anglican Family in North America (as also in the West generally) is a major division which cuts through and across a lot of minor divisions. The major division is expressed publicly and obviously in disagreement over same-sex marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research—and particularly same-sex matters.

Nurturant Parent

It appears that those who in general terms support the blessing of covenanted, long-term, same-sex relations and related matters on religious grounds do so primarily because in their minds is picture/frame of God and the world which may be described in terms of God as the nurturant Parent.

That is, God is not like the old-fashioned bossy and strict father in the human family who insisted on discipline, obedience, and self-help. Rather, he is like the caring parent who wants the best for her/her child and thus affirms the child and provides for his/her well being and in support of his/her freedom and choices. Nurture for freedom is the key.

This deep metaphorically-based frame provides the religious common sense and the drive to be committed to what may be called the liberal, progressive religious agenda, with the extension of human freedoms, choices and rights.

At the conscious level, reasons may be offered for the religious agenda and program which are different from or not identical with the input and pressure of the dominant frame—e.g., God may be presented in terms of Trinitarianism, Panentheism or Process Theology. Here Scripture is read within the context of the dominant frame and so from it God is heard telling them that they are in covenant with him in order to take forward his will for peace and justice in the world, and to affirm the dignity of all.

Thus the common sense of the liberal progressives, fed from the deep frame, simply sees the extension of human freedoms and God’s acceptance and blessing on them as normal, reasonable and required by decent people. Those who oppose these things appear to them as being foolish, or ignorant or having ill-will.

Strict Father

In contrast, the deep frame of those who oppose the liberal progressive agenda and do so passionately, especially same-sex marriage, may be described as that of the holy, righteous and strict Father, the Almighty and the Lord. Here the picture is that of the father in the family who loves his family but is strict, requiring discipline, obedience and commitment to the law. In this picture, male and female are opposites and yet complementary, and the essence and vocation of the male and female are different but their differences point to a unity for procreation and family life.

The frame of the holy and strict Father, deeply embedded in the mind, informs and energizes the agenda and program of the real conservatives in their opposition to the liberal, progressive agenda and program. Again, the specific reasons they give for their opposition may not be identical with the content of the deep frame within their minds; but both unconsciously and consciously they are opposed. And they call themselves “the orthodox” because they believe that what they teach is actually clearly written in the Bible and required by their God. In other words, they read and hear the Bible and confess Christ as Lord in terms of their dominant embedded mental frame.

So there is real division over what appear to be essential matters within the Anglican Way. And there is nothing on the horizon which seems capable of changing this situation for two deeply-embedded frames are in opposition.


Now we need to backtrack a little to note that deep in our minds, alongside the dominant frame, there will be other frames, which may influence and affect our feeling and thinking alongside that of the dominant frame. For example, it appears that not a few in The Anglican Communion Network, while being primarily influenced by the holy, strict Father frame at this time with reference to same-sex matters, are also influenced by the nurturant Parent frame as they enthusiastically embrace women’s ordination and a liberal approach to marriage, divorce and remarriage (these latter are rejected by the strict Father frame). Also, no doubt, there are many Episcopalians in whom both frames are equally embedded and thus their lives seem inconsistent as they move from one position to another, not quite clear as to whether they are liberal or conservative or both.

How are frames formed and how may they be changed? They are formed gradually through the impact of culture, society, family, friends, media, church, and so on. In the secularized West the likelihood of the nurturant Parent frame is more likely than that of the strict Father frame in 2007.

Frames are changed gradually by living in a different context where different influences can impact and the mind be affected by them. (E.g., using the classic BCP of 1662 for 6 months with traditional hymns and reading the Bible in this context would surely begin to impact and modify the nurturant Parent frame in the sincere liberal, progressive bishop!)

So there is no quick way to heal the divisions of the Anglican Family and without any external Anglican Hierarchy to determine what is right and true there is no simple way for any one side to claim it has the whole truth.

Right now one side looks to the liberals in the Western parts of the Anglican Family and the other looks to the Global South parts. It seems that we are on a collision course. Let us hope that the Holy Ghost descends upon the Primates’ Meeting in February 07, the Lambeth Conference in July 08 and upon Lambeth Palace, London, continually in 07 & 08!

What each one of can really do now is to follow the ancient discipline of self-examination in the presence of God, asking that “in thy light we shall see light”—as the Psalmist stated. Each of us needs to have embedded the enlightened frame/paradigm/model deep in our minds so that we conform to the mind of Christ!

Meanwhile the R C Church is working hard to formulate a strategy to capitalize on all this confusion and attract Anglicans into its embrace, where, if the Pope is followed, the strict Father frame in a sophisticated version is certainly clearly in place.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon December 21, 2006

No comments: