Monday, 26 August 2013

follow-ups to the Archbishop's sermon in Mexico

We reported some time ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Mexico (along with Guatemala and Barbados) and that he preached this sermon in Monterrey. It includes this passage:

…It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church…

This passage is directly referenced in a statement issued today by the American group Communion Partners which continues:

..It is our vocation as Communion Partners to navigate this narrow path between two dangerous extremes as we pursue the mission of the Church “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” To that end, six Communion Partner bishops (Greg Brewer, Paul Lambert, Ed Little, Dan Martins, Ed Salmon and Michael Smith) made a visit to Archbishop Justin Welby at his residence in Canterbury, England last week.

There we prayed together and discussed a range of issues concerning the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church. Also present was the Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, Canon David Porter. We believe the opportunity to build relationships and discuss the ministry of reconciliation we share will bear fruit in this season of our common life. We are encouraged by our experience of the Archbishop as a man of faith and prayer, committed to the reevangelization of increasingly secularized Western cultures. Please keep Archbishop Justin in your prayers and remember us before God “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

It’s also the subject of criticism in this article by Kelvin Holdsworth: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Mexico Sermon.

..It is deeply unhelpful of the Archbishop to use language which appears to suggest that the risk that those who wish to affirm gay people present is one of a lack or loss of core beliefs. That just isn’t true and is a nasty slur against fellow Anglicans. The US and Canadian churches are not places where God is absent and if the Archbishop needs to find that out, he needs to go there and meet them, something that his predecessor seemed to find impossible to do.

People will read the sermon in the US and Canadian churches and take immediate offence. (I find it offensive here in Scotland, but there it will appear to be a judgement on their national churches). Those who wish to affirm the place of LGBT people do so because of their core beliefs as Christians and as Anglicans, not because of any lack of belief or loss of God…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 26 August 2013 at 6:35pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

For what it's worth, my concern is not that there is a narrow ridge with quite obvious precipices to either side, but a fairly wide path that slopes to each side so gently that one can stray to the extremes without realizing it. That is where I sense the real danger, not in the catastrophic bang, but the subtle whimper; the danger we might just "drift" apart if we lose sight of Jesus; who will, I trust, still seek out those who have wandered afar, whichever way they go.

Posted by: Tobias Stanislas Haller on Monday, 26 August 2013 at 7:07pm BST

The Archbishop’s is a pretty standard Anglican reflection on the tension between a tendency to develop tradition which can be the top of a slippery slope leading to placing any cultural norm above the scriptures and a tendency to conserve tradition which can be the top of a slippery slope leading to placing past formulations above God’s call for us today: ‘fall into idolatory…(or) lost in agnostism’ (Doctrine Commission in the 1970s); ‘a tightrope with infallibility on one side and apostasy on the other’ (Paul Avis in the 1980s); ‘the Scylla of free-floating spirituality and the Charybdis of over-reactive fundamentalism’ (a Board of Ministry report in the 1990s); and so on, and so on.

Of course those of us who wish to challenge or depart from the tradition’s apparent opposition to faithful gay relationships should recognise that our theological method puts us in danger of loosening ties with other parts of the faith we inherit, just as those who wish to reaffirm the tradition’s apparent opposition should recognise that their theological method puts them in danger of ossifying it. Recognising any danger isn’t to topple or fall or stumble or slip into it; pointing out any danger isn’t to slur those who recognise it and are mindful of avoiding it.

Posted by: Peter Mullins on Monday, 26 August 2013 at 9:05pm BST

We have a terrible tendency not to focus on God but on each other and to big ourselves up by dismissing the other as un-Christian, not truly Anglican, not believing as they should etc.

To that extent the Archbishop is right, we are in danger of creating a small church.
But by suggesting that there is a falling away from core beliefs (all of them!), and only believing in ourselves he becomes part of the problem.

I do not know any self confessed Christian who would say of themselves that they only trust in themselves and that they have lost all their core beliefs.

They might interpret those beliefs differently from other Christians - but to dismiss them on those grounds as having fallen into a chasm of an absence of core beliefs is doing precisely what the ABC is trying to tell us not to do.

It's particularly sad as it appears to be directed at those Christians who support the full inclusion of lgbt people in all aspects of church life.

Because although he does not mention the gay issue in particular, it is the only one that has caused such a level of division within the Communion.

To that extent, Kelvin Holdsworth's analysis is spot on.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 26 August 2013 at 9:40pm BST

I thank Kelvin+ for his profound empathy.

The "chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message" IS the "ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion."

In contrast---speaking as a (TEC) Episcopalian, despite our sins---we are climbing *closer* to God, INTO God's extravagant *inclusion*.

"Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus Ibi Est"

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 26 August 2013 at 9:40pm BST

The pretentious title 'The Communion Partners', like that of 'The Anglican Communion Institute', when referring to a small group of people in the U.S.A. who are 'out of kilter' with the local Episcopal Church (TEC) polity on Women and Gays, would seem to evoke a more serious attention than either deserves.

Why is it that malcontents often draw to themselves more column inches that all the good work that goes on - without comment - in the Church bodies that are the subject of their all-too-often vitriolic criticism?

"Whatsoever things are good.think on these things"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 1:45am BST

I'd suggest his comments are perhaps the first time an Archbishop has criticised the African Anglican Churches. The previous incumbent sacrificed the gay population and attacked the American and Canadian Churches, but he never criticised the appalling Africans. The man from 'their' side has at least criticised them if in coded fashion.

But it is of the same weakness regarding the other half, the same sidelining by slur.

I have some more general comments to make about the supposed absence of (collective) core beliefs: http://pluralistspeaks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/core-beliefs.html

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 3:50am BST

Kevin+ and JCF nailed it. Inclusion is the result of core believe. And if Justin is saying that the inclusive churches have lost touch with God, he's got it 180 wrong. And that would indeed be highly offensive.

In God there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, slave nor free. There also isn't gay or straight, black or white, American or Ugandan. God created us all in God's image, a diverse world. Inclusion is far closer to our Creator than exclusion.

There is also an insanity here. It is the intolerant churches creating the division, not the inclusive ones. The inclusive ones are not lobbying to throw out or separate from the other. Each province could live with our differences if no one was trying to coerce the other.

What a narrow view Justin has. Is it really two-sided? Really? And is it really that dangerous? What's the danger? Who is in danger? What is in danger? Have some faith! For the record, inclusion seems to be helping TEC get on with mission to the poor. Can't speak for Canada.

It is an odd, quasi paranoid view that the situation is "dangerous." It really depends on where one puts one's faith. Our job is to walk with Integrity. God will sort out the rest. My guess is that if there are break ups in the nearer future, they will come back within 20 years.

I wonder what else Justin is going to throw at TEC? Or if he'll actually come here. I hope he visits. I'd love to take him on a tour of the outreach activity at my parish, and have him meet the people doing it, gay and straight... It would be so nice to have an ABC get to know us before offending us...

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 4:39am BST

I thank Kelvin for his words, and as a fellow priest living in Scotland ; thank God for the Scottish Episcopal Church, our Primus David, and his fellow Bishops.
The ABC seems set on a path of loud extravagant sound bites; which do little to help his fellow Christians.
I agree with the sentiment; when will he visit for a period of time our brothers and sisters in Canada and the USA

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 8:31am BST

Although I don't know the TEC bishops who have gone to confer with ABC or indeed their positions on any issue at all, I can't help noting that there isn't a woman (bishop) among them.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 10:35am BST

I look forward to hearing more about what this 'middle way' actually looks like. Is it close to +Welby's own views on SS 'marriage', for example? Is he asking GS folk to understand the difficult cultural challenge in his own context? Is he asking TEC to stop renouncing people's orders for them? I am genuinely curious what the actual content of this 'middle way' comprises.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 12:12pm BST

The diversity of the Communion is "dangerous" only to an Archbishop of Canterbury who thinks it's his job to enforce a common, Communion-wide understanding of human sexuality.

That's not Canterbury's job. In our Communion, that's not anyone's job.

And the sooner Canterbury tells the GS this, the better.

Posted by: Jeremy on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 1:14pm BST

"Is it close to +Welby's own views on SS 'marriage', for example?"

That horse has left the barn in some dioceses in TEC. Some are doing marriage in states that have legal marriage. That genie isn't going back in the bottle.

The work to do is that of living together with our difference. TEC is not going to go along with some "middle way" and sell out LGBT brothers and sisters. I've heard that the Indaba process is actually making progress in living with difference.

The best way, and indeed the only way with a chance of success, is learning to live with difference, province to province.

As far as I can tell, TEC missionary work in Africa hasn't been particularly curtailed by these issues. There are strong relationships and ongoing good work happening, generally at the grass roots level, partnering with local parishes. It would be very good for Justin to look into that. Somehow, the truth is not the "two sides." The truth is that real people are getting on with it, despite the dithering from above.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 2:57pm BST

"Of course those of us who wish to challenge or depart from the tradition’s apparent opposition to faithful gay relationships should recognise that our theological method puts us in danger of loosening ties with other parts of the faith we inherit, just as those who wish to reaffirm the tradition’s apparent opposition should recognise that their theological method puts them in danger of ossifying"

I continue to be very suspicious of such formulations, which reinforce the notion that it's only the "liberals" who are innovating. Why not just keep it parallel and say " ... just as those who would reaffirm opposition should recognise that their method puts them in danger of loosening ties with yet other parts of the faith" (i.e. Chalcedon, the anthropology in Galatians cited by Cynthia above). Framing it in the way Peter does perpetuates the idea that it's a choice between "innovation" and "ossification", when really "liberals" are just practicing the "conservatives'" values more consistently than they themselves!

As the British PM has noted, there is nothing especially conservative about paying lip service to marriage and family stability whilst seeking to strip large numbers of families of those very values. Neither is there anything "orthodox" about a biblical "orthodoxy" that excises Gal 3.28. But how we do want to get our categories back when we feel our uniqueness (or that of our relationships) is under threat!

Posted by: Geoff on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 3:30pm BST

There is no middle way, just as there is no 'them' only 'us'. Each of us each moment of the day has to call things one way or another. Every day I make calls which depend too much on what my social context thinks is acceptable and self evident, and some of these do really topple into the danger of being faithless. Every day I make calls which depend too much on the established norms of the sects I belong to, and some of these really do topple into the danger of hurting people.

Posted by: Peter Mullins on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 3:43pm BST

So after giving Rowan Williams a good old going-over last week, in sometimes disgraceful terms, it is now Justin Welby's turn in the spotlight for giving real or perceived insults to - well, anyone who feels offended, it seems.
I note that the article by Kelvin Holdsworth, lauded here, has received criticism on his own website, so why has Welby been singled out?
When I read the sermon I thought: this is quite short so perhaps he was allowing as much time again for translation, and it could not be constructed with the finesse of a carefully crafted lecture. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if he had had to prepare it at a late point in his programme. I thought it sounded a bit tired and who would be surprised for that at the end of a fast moving overseas visit, no doubt crammed with appointments from dawn to dusk and more, outside his own time zone.
This archbishop has already shown that he is willing to listen where listening may not have been done previously. The man has only been in post for a few months and has inherited serious issues of CofE and Anglican dysfunction which have eluded his predecessors. He has no more a magic wand than anyone else. Give him some Christian grace, accept that he is not superhuman and will make mistakes like all of us do, that he does not intentionally go out of his way to insult or denigrate anyone, and that he needs our prayers more than our anger. I think he has probably got the message on that last one.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 3:47pm BST

I'm not sure it's necessary to make the direct connection between the sermon's references to absence of core belief and support for LGBT inclusion in the Church. Anyone,like me, who has spent time in the US knows that there is a tendency within the Anglican tradition there for some to slip into an 'issues-driven' heterodoxy. I don't think it is necessary to fall into that position in order to affirm the place of LGBT people within the church or its ordained ministries.
Equally, there is a tendency among some African/GAFCON Anglicans to slip into a 'quasi-fundamentalist' exclusivity.
Neither of these positions it seems to me will do. Kelvin is too sensitive to the LGBT issue to see beyond it and the risk to orthodoxy posed by some American Anglicans. GAFCON are too energised by the same issue to see beyond it to the inclusive love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, which they risk sacrificing for a poor doctrine of scripture and revelation.

Posted by: Simon Butler on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 4:22pm BST

'People will read the sermon in the US and Canadian churches and take immediate offence'

Hmm - rather broad generalization there. I'm a Canadian Anglican and I don't take any kind of offence, immediate or otherwise.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 5:30pm BST

Roger points out that the comments at Kelvin's own blog are critical of his article. I recommend TA readers to look at those comments.

I'm equally interested in the question of *why* the Communion Partner bishops singled out this passage. I have assumed it's because they believe he *was* criticising TEC as others have suggested. As I understand it, that group of bishops exists largely for the purpose of being critical of TEC from within.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 5:38pm BST

Having read Archbishop Welby's, south of the border, down Mexico way, sermon, I can't really see why the Provost of Glasgow is getting so hot under the collar. The address seems pretty bland to me and totally lacking in the depth or profundity of the many Mighty Words delivered by his immediate predecessor.

Posted by: Father David on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 6:55pm BST

I think that strictly speaking, the comments on my blog are mixed, as they are on here.

That does seem to suggest that we don't all see the Archbishop's sermon in the same way. There's nothing new in sermons coming from Canterbury that we don't know how to interpret.

I think that Simon's hunch is right - that passage appears to have been read by Americans as being critical or at least relevent to their situation. I've never said all Americans nor all Canadians would think the same.

The Archbishop may well not have intended to cause offence. He may also not have realised that these words (and we don't know who actually wrote them) could or would be interpreted in that way by some people.

If that is the case, he urgently needs someone on his staff who has a better grasp of how things might be seen by people in the US based Episcopal Church and the Candadian church.

I may indeed feel even more concerned that he and his staff might not realise how this might be read than I feel about the content itself.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 7:02pm BST

"Kelvin is too sensitive to the LGBT issue to see beyond it and the risk to orthodoxy posed by some American Anglicans."

Care to say who you mean, SimonB? [*Without* referencing those bete noirs Bishops Pike (d. 1969) or Spong (retired, 2000)]

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 8:48pm BST

"I'm equally interested in the question of *why* the Communion Partner bishops singled out this passage. I have assumed it's because they believe he *was* criticising TEC as others have suggested. As I understand it, that group of bishops exists largely for the purpose of being critical of TEC from within." - Posted by: Simon Sarmiento -

I agree with your inference, Simon, that the so-called 'Communion Partners' bishops are perhaps more interested in sabotaging the position of TEC than they might be in offering a balanced report. Scripture has something to say about vipers in the nest - more dangerous than cuckoos ?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 at 11:41pm BST

Some things we should keep in mind before we start throwing more worms on Bishop Pike's grave: He lost his son Jim to suicide in 1966. Even that happy apologist CS Lewis endured a very black night of despair and doubt following the death of his beloved wife Joy.
When Bishop Pike found that he could no longer keep his promises as a priest and bishop in the Episcopal Church, he left his office and the Church. In so doing, he did not try to take the diocese or the cathedral with him.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 at 12:30am BST

"Framing it in the way Peter does perpetuates the idea that it's a choice between "innovation" and "ossification"."

Geoff is correct that things are more complicated than this. He might also have pointed out that some conservative positions as much as liberal ones can be as much determined by the norms of the surrounding culture.

Neverthless, my point remains that Englsih Anglican reflection has identified the twin dangers of latitudinarians and sectarianism long before any of the present disputes in the communion became to focal issues.

"He urgently needs someone on his staff who has a better grasp of how things might be seen by people in the US based Episcopal Church and the Candadian church."

Of course he should take care, but I'm not sure any ABC would say anything if he examined how any phrase he used might be seen by someone somewhere in the Communion.

In this sermon he warns against those who "fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion... who claim all truth, and exclude any who question... (who)lose touch with human beings and create a small church... ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside". That is pretty clear, and isn't marked by advisers warning him against what GAFCON members might think of him.

Posted by: Peter Mullins on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 at 9:45am BST

"He has no more a magic wand than anyone else."

Apparently he does, Roger. He's listening. And listening allows for movement of the Spirit. And that movement gives hope.

Of course, I'm responding to the new news where he calls for repentance from homophobia. Even without agreeing on marriage and whatnot, to say that homophobia is something from which the church must repent, is to restore a strong measure of dignity and humanity to his LGBT sisters and brothers. It is healing.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 at 10:07pm BST

Cynthia; how right you are. This latest news of the ABC's call for repentance on behalf of the Church of England's treatment of the LGBT community is not only surprising, but most welcome. Will his call, however, be heeded by those parts of the Church - e.g., the GAFCON provinces - where homophobia is still a defining mark of its separationist culture from the rest of us?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 29 August 2013 at 1:47am BST

"Of course he should take care, but I'm not sure any ABC would say anything if he examined how any phrase he used might be seen by someone somewhere in the Communion."

And that would be a *bad* thing? I'm not being facetious. Look at the results of all our talkity-talk-talk right here. Maybe silence is better, the higher you go. The attempt to "solve" everything (or, rather, every*body*)seems a bit hubristic.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 29 August 2013 at 5:04am BST
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