[Bumped Obvious Reasons] The Anglican Consultative Council’s Standing Committee: Who Is Janet Trisk?
As most know, Janet Trisk—a Caucasian lawyer turned Anglican priest from South Africa—was recently appointed to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council, one of the four Instruments of Communion.
Already well known as a TEC-gospel-supporting activist, who proposed the amendment to remove Section Four at the Jamaica meeting of the Standing Committee and engaged in the political activism all of us are familiar with in order to attempt to strip the Covenant of enforcement ability, the curious might wonder if there is more to learn about Trisk. And there is.
First, here are the basics of her bio, as found over on the Anglican Communion website:
Janet is a South African and a lecturer in Systematic Theology and Spirituality at the College of the Transfiguration, Grahamstown, South Africa. She is ordained and served for five years in parish ministry. She represented the ACSA at the ACC meeting in 2005. Before training for the ministry, Janet was a lawyer. Her academic interests include women’s theologies, the construction of identity and Christian anthropology. She holds a Masters degree from the University of Cape Town. Her doctoral studies keep getting postponed by activities such as this study process!
Since this bio was written, Trisk has left the College of the Transfiguration as lecturer. It now appears that she is the “Rector of the Parish of St David, Prestbury in Pietermaritzburg, in the Diocese of Natal.”
One can note in her bio and other writings the usual liberal interests—“women’s theologies” [as opposed to truthful theologies, I suppose, and with the typical implication that the theologies found in Holy Scripture are by nature “men’s” theologies]—as well as her need to mention that, though she does not yet have a doctorate, she certainly will acquire one soon if she can be left alone long enough to pursue it. It’s always interesting to view what someone wants put into their biography—and the fact that she is engaged in “doctoral studies” was obviously important to Trisk to communicate.
Trisk is the author or co-author of a number of revisionist statements, journal articles, and reviews of various books, much of those surrounding the issue of homosexuality, and others surrounding the topic of… well, I’ll get to that in a moment.
For starters, she helped create and promote this statement for South African Anglicans that asserted in part: “the time has come to give space for such diversity [of conviction regarding the blessing of same sex unions]” and
“There are members within our church who believe in good faith and conscience that God accepts them as gay, and further that God blesses their commitment to faithful relationship. We believe that our church should be open to such convictions… “
She engaged in interviewing various Anglican gays and documenting those interviews with a purpose of countering the St. Andrew’s Day Statement, in particular countering this paragraph in the St. Andrew’s Day Statement:
There can be no description of human reality, in general or in particular, outside the reality in Christ. We must be on guard, therefore, against constructing any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given us in him. Those who understand themselves as homosexuals, no more and no less than those who do not, are liable to false understandings based on personal or family histories, emotional dispositions, social settings, and solidarities formed by common experiences or ambitions. Our sexual affections can no more define who we are than can our class, race or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is no such thing as ‘a’ homosexual or ‘a’ heterosexual; there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation.
She chaired a discussion on Spirituality and Sexuality at a South African festival at which she commented:
“It is too simplistic to say African culture doesn’t accept homosexuality.
It cannot be denied that for some younger black people, it is becoming easier to come out”. But, aside from some black communities seeing it as taboo, Trisk says that the Church, through a “denial of the body, and denial of sexuality” has been reluctant to come to terms with gayness.
“Ultimately we are a long way from where our Constitution would like us to be,” says Trisk.
The group of women and men was able to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of Indaba in South African political life. The women in particular reflected upon the frequent experience of being ignored in a process that was intended to be inclusive. The group identified particular areas on which they would work to guide Continuing Indaba in the Communion. Janet Trisk, the group convenor, will develop a paper on power, while and Kevin David, Youth Co-Ordinator of the Diocese of Mauritius in the Provice of the Indian Ocean, is to write on the significance of Continuing Indaba for young people.
She co-authored an article for the Journal of Anglican Studies titled “Theological Education and Anglican Identity in South Africa”—here is the abstract for that article:
Theological education should take full account of the context in which it operates and authors share a commitment to a broadly defined liberation theology which takes the experience of the poor as its starting point. Focus is on the College of the Transfiguration in Grahamstown, a city with an unemployment rate of over 50 percent. The College supports not only theological education but also integrates ministerial and spiritual formation. The political context of South Africa has influenced the shape of theology even though students come from many other places. The contextualization thrust of the theology is shaped by a commitment to Outcomes Based Education. Anglican studies curriculum is shaped by this method and aims for a capacity to describe such things as Anglican identity, polity and beliefs. This is carried out in the absence of any sustained robust discourse on Anglican identity in the Anglican Communion.
Here’s another article she authored for yet another journal:
“One of the key foci in the work of Grace Jantzen is an investigation of how we speak about God and who does the speaking. In this article I describe two ideas she investigates, namely God as embodied and God as the divine horizon. A sub-theme is Jantzen’s critique of the Western preoccupation with mortality, death and violence and her suggestion that we instead look for signs and metaphors of flourishing, ‘springs of newness and beauty’.”
“This is a much-needed introduction to feminist theology through the writings, primarily, of women in Africa as well as the rest of the two-thirds world. Susan Rakoczy writes out of a profoundly scholarly position, but in language that is accessible to those who have not had the benefit of the same background. Her own deep spirituality permeates the work, lending it an engagingly personal dimension.”
And then there is her interesting Eucharistic and Christological “theology”—found in her very own Eucharistic Prayer, in which she asserts that we find God in ourselves, and that Jesus was important because…: “We praise you that in Jesus Christ you make known to us the wonder and richness of our humanity.”
Finally… there are several book reviews by Trisk on the website for the “Sea of Faith Network”.
Here is one review on The Greening of Christianity. Note carefully this little paragraph in her book review which gives us a hint of a far more interesting aspect of Trisk than simply her garden-variety revisionist activism:
The first chapter deals with the frightening ecological crisis which faces us. The second traces the links between monotheism and the crisis. The third chapter outlines some ethical responses open to Christians. The fourth chapter is a creative re-imagining of Christian festivals in such a way that they may offer a liturgical basis for an ecological Christian practice.
Here is her review of Paradise on Earth, which includes enthusiastic praise, some typically shallow effusions about collectivism and liberation theology, and some fancies about utopia on earth:
I want so much to believe in Paradise on earth. I also wonder to what extent it is as remote as any other Paradise for which humanity has searched? This should not prevent us from the quest though. Perhaps we will even discover that the quest itself is Paradise.
Here is her rather breathless review of the book Christianity Without God, from which review I have excerpted these comments:
Christianity Without God examines whether it is possible to conceive of Christianity without the traditional theistic belief in God. Geering contends that this is not only possible but that Christianity, since its very origins, was moving towards the rejection of theism, and that in our time not only it is possible to conceive of non-theistic Christianity, but that Christianity should become so. If debates in the SOF Network are anything to go by, this question will be keenly followed by a number of Seafarers.
Geering argues that the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation form the basis for the Christian departure from theism. These inter-related doctrines contradict traditional Jewish monotheism, which sets God against humanity. Geering’s argument of how the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity spelled the beginning of the end of theism is systematic, scholarly and extremely wide-ranging…
Such a reading of Jesus, of course, has profound implications for the church which has modelled itself on imperial hierarchies, claiming the Lord Jesus and his Father God as the source of power and authority for Christian leaders. Geering notes that for “Christianity without God” there is no place for the traditional institutional church, which owes more to the Roman Empire than to Jesus. What does still have a place, he suggests, is the simple gathering of people for a meal, sharing of stories and support, and ritual and festivals celebrating all we have come to value in human existence.
But just what is this “Sea of Faith Network” for whose website Janet Trisk writes book reviews?
It’s an interesting organization founded in the 1980s in the UK based on the writings of Don Cupitt, and with networks in other countries, including New Zealand and Australia. What does the Sea of Faith Network believe? Let’s hear it straight from the website of the Sea of Faith Network:
Its stated aim is to ‘explore and promote religious faith as a human creation’...
SoF is most closely associated with the non-realist approach to religion. This refers to the belief that God has no ‘real’, objective or empirical existence, independent of human language and culture; God is ‘real’ in the sense that he is a potent symbol, metaphor or projection, but He has no objective existence outside and beyond the practice of religion. Non-realism therefore entails a rejection of all supernaturalism - miracles, afterlife and the agency of spirits.
‘God is the sum of our values, representing to us their ideal unity, their claims upon us and their creative power’. (Taking Leave of God, Don Cupitt, SCM, 1980)
Cupitt calls this ‘a voluntarist interpretation of faith’: ‘a fully demythologized version of Christianity’. It entails the claim that even after we have given up the idea that religious beliefs can be grounded in anything beyond the human realm, religion can still be believed and practiced in new ways.
Obviously, the idea that God is nothing more than a human construct, that “He” is nothing more than a potent symbol, and that “He” has no real objective existence is an interesting one, albeit one held by quite a number of atheists and agnostics. Probably the place where Sea of Faith gains in significance is in its interest in and engagement with religion and religious faith, despite its assertions that God is merely a human construct.
The Sea of Faith Network has various local/regional groups in the UK, a quarterly magazine titled Sofia, and an annual conference—at the 2010 conference a part of the agenda was an outdoors “pagan ritual.”
The Sea of Faith Network has spread. From the New Zealand website we learn:
“While there is no formal affiliation between the SOF Networks in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and the United States, these country networks make up an informal worldwide “network of networks” regularly exchanging newsletter material and, on occasions, guest speakers. In addition, members of an internet discussion group of up to about 100 Sea of Faith members from many countries exchange points of view.”
And from the UK website we learn that as of 2004 there are some 2000 members of the SoF Network.
A BBC article from 1999 also takes note of the Sea of Faith network, pointing out that some clergy are members of the Sea of Faith Network while maintaining leadership also in Christian churches, such as the Church of England. The BBC appears to recognize just how unsustainable and lacking in integrity those dual memberships and belief systems must be:
It is some years since David Jenkins, then Bishop of Durham, hit the headlines for saying he did not believe in the physical resurrection of Christ, or the virgin birth.
But the bishop was not alone in thinking things which Church authorities find unpalatable.
There is in particular one group, called Sea of Faith, which has attracted names such as “Godless vicars” and “atheist priests”. It claims it has up to 50 vicars and some Roman Catholic priests in its membership, as well as rank and file church members.
It is easy to see why the organisation has been controversial. Although it has about 700 members in the UK, it draws on several denominations and also other religions. But what binds the members together is that they share the view that religion is a “human creation”.
Some of its members go further and believe that God is also a human creation - a metaphor for human values such as love and forgiveness.
In other words, some of them believe there is no such thing as God in the traditional sense of an independent being.
The group is all the more controversial because some of its members decide to stay within the Church, even as vicars, and to continue to call themselves Christians.
A wikipedia article on the Sea of Faith Network notes “scattered membership in the USA, Northern Ireland, South Africa, France and The Netherlands.”
But what has this to do with Janet Trisk, recently appointed member of the Anglican Consultative Council’s Steering Committee? While it’s clear that she is a progressive/revisionist activist of the most extreme, the Sea of Faith Network is certainly a few steps beyond revisionist Anglican activism—beyond support for non-celibate gay relationships and their affirmation, beyond feminist Marxist liberation theology, beyond manipulation of political processes at ACC meetings, beyond heretical Christology. Other than the Sea of Faith’s interest in the use of religion, it would be hard to find a more antithetically religious organization than one that denies the objective existence of God.
And just because Janet Trisk has had some book reviews posted on the Sea of Faith Network doesn’t mean she’s a member of such an interesting, albeit godless, organization.
But the shocking fact is that Janet Trisk is a member of the Sea of Faith Network. In her review—yet another book review—posted on the Sea of Faith Network site of New Zealand, she is clearly named as a member of the Sea of Faith Network in South Africa.
And in her Amazon review of a book about Don Cupitt, around whose ideas the Sea of Faith Network was founded, Trisk even addresses the idea of church membership and maintaining Cupitt’s positions of “anti-realism,” which recall “refers to the belief that God has no ‘real’, objective or empirical existence, independent of human language and culture”:
“Having outlined the five phases of Cupitt’s ethical journey (in part 1) the author goes on in part 2 to discuss the implications of Cupitt’s ethical positions, especially insofar as they may or may not be compatible with church membership…
In a time when we are faced with religious fundamentalism and nihilism as the two sides of a global coin, Cupitt’s `solar’ ethics offers a lively and life-affirming alternative. For those who don’t have the time to read Cupitt’s prolific writing, “Surfing” is an excellent introduction to one of the most innovative religious thinkers of our time. However, “Surfing” is not just a book about Cupitt. It also stands as an insistent plea for anyone interested in exploring the ethical and ecclesial possibilities of being both anti-realist and a member of the church to investigate the questions for oneself and not to accept the empty rhetoric or of fundamentalism and nihilism.
So this is where we are with the latest member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council.
Janet Trisk is a member of the Sea of Faith Network, which is an organization of people who, despite their varied church memberships, believes that God has no real objective existence. He is merely a human construct and a potent symbol.
Janet Trisk is an appointed member of one of the most powerful bodies in the Anglican Communion. To quote the Sea of Faith Network’s own website, her beliefs entail “the claim that even after we have given up the idea that religious beliefs can be grounded in anything beyond the human realm, religion can still be believed and practiced in new ways.”
It appears that Ms. Trisk is determined to show us all the “new ways” that “religion can still be believed and practiced” within the Anglican Communion.
I have often said over the years that the current leaders of The Episcopal Church can no longer surprise me.
It seems that I will have to acquire that attitude about the Anglican Communion as well.
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