Thursday, 30 January 2014

College of Bishops statement: GAFCON responds

From GAFCON website

There is urgency about the gospel

To the Faithful of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and friends
from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council

29th January 2014

‘…by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God’ 2 Corinthians 4:2

My dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

I write this first message of 2014 with great hope and confidence for the year ahead. GAFCON 2013 renewed our vision for the Anglican Communion as a global fellowship faithful to the Scriptures and confirmed what many of us had already sensed, that our movement is emerging as the only real answer to the Communion’s problems of fragmentation and confusion.

In the year ahead we must resolve to devote ourselves to the great biblical mandate to make disciples of all nations which was the focus of our gathering in Nairobi. There is urgency about the gospel and it must be proclaimed in word and deed, in season and out of season and it is the same gospel, whether in strife torn nations such as South Sudan or in the affluent but morally disorientated nations of the developed world.

We cannot therefore allow our time and energy to be sapped by debating that which God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Earlier this week, the English College of Bishops met to reflect upon the ‘Pilling Report’, commissioned to reflect on how the Church of England should respond to the question of same sex relationships. Its key recommendations were that informal blessings of such unions should be allowed in parish churches and that a two year process of ‘facilitated conversation’ should be set up to address strongly held differences within the Church on this issue.

While we should be thankful that the College of Bishops did not adopt the idea of services for blessing that which God calls sin, it did unanimously approve the conversation process and this is deeply troubling. There has been intensive debate within the Anglican Communion on the subject of homosexuality since at least the 1998 Lambeth Conference and it is difficult to believe that the bishop’s indecision at this stage is due to lack of information or biblical reflection. The underlying problem is whether or not there is a willingness to accept the bible for what it really is, the Word of God.

At Lambeth 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion, by an overwhelming majority, affirmed in Resolution 1.10 that homosexual relationships were not compatible with Scripture, in line with the Church’s universal teaching through the ages, but the Pilling Report effectively sets this aside. The conversations it proposes are not to commend biblical teaching on marriage and family, but are based on the assumption that we cannot be sure about what the bible says.

I cannot therefore commend the proposal by the College of Bishops that these ‘facilitated conversations ‘ should be introduced across the Communion. This is to project the particular problems of the Church of England onto the Communion as a whole. As with ‘Continuing Indaba’, without a clear understanding of biblical authority and interpretation, such dialogue only spreads confusion and opens the door to a false gospel because the Scriptures no longer function in any meaningful way as a test of what is true and false.

Faced with these challenges, I am reminded of the importance of the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. It places our fellowship under the written word of God, which ‘is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading’. Here we have a solid foundation for the responsible reading of the Bible which preserves its transformative power. As John the Evangelist writes ‘these things are written so that you may believe…..and that by believing you may have life’ (John 20:31).

Plans are already taking shape following GAFCON 2013 to provide our global fellowship with the organisation and communications it needs if the Anglican Communion is to recover its unity by listening to and obeying the Word of God. Using modern communications it is possible for us to experience the connectedness of being a global communion in a way that our predecessors could never have imagined. Each one of us can play a part and so may I conclude by inviting you, if you have not yet done so, to join the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans at http://fca.net. My pastoral messages and other communications can then be sent direct to you by email and together we can serve the cause of the gospel at this critical time.

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Comments

The conversations it proposes are not to commend biblical teaching on marriage and family, but are based on the assumption that we cannot be sure about what the bible says.

Yes. We cannot be sure about what the bible says. We cannot be sure about what it says on so many matters, not just this one. Even the most fundamentalist literal interpreters of scripture disagree about the meaning of such things as the six days of creation (e.g.is it literally six days or can we allow six historic periods of time), or else how to account for the very different resurrection accounts of the evangelists. If we can agree to disagree on these fundamental issues of how the world came to be or on what our resurrection hope is based, surely we can agree to conversations, facilitated or not, as to what the bible also has to say about how we live.

Posted by: paul richardson on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 9:04am GMT

"Plans are already taking shape following GAFCON 2013 to provide our global fellowship with the organisation and communications it needs if the Anglican Communion is to recover its unity by listening to and obeying the Word of God"

That sounds like the start of a schism. To which one can only say, "good". The CofE might be able to function as a church in England, providing moral leadership and a challenge to our government, if it can stop pandering to vile bigoted bishops in Africa.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 9:07am GMT

I am not sure whether it matters or not, but this response is very unlikely to have been written by the Archbishop. It is phrased in British English and idiom, and I would be surprised if it had been written by an American rather than a native of the British Isles - or possibly Australia.

Does it matter? These are clearly the views of Archbishop Eliud Wabukala. However, if a unknown priest of the Church of England is writing speeches in reply to the English College of Bishops using the head of an overseas province as his cipher, this seems a little misleading.

Perhaps it would be better, for the sake of transparency, that it were written in his (very unlikely to be her!) own name.

It is also worth noting that while the English Archbishops have chosen to draw attention to the support given for jailing of gay and lesbian people in Nigeria and Uganda in the most mild and general terms, the Archbishop of Kenya has no such reticence in condemning conversations which only may lead to some small change in acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the Church of England.

Posted by: Iain Baxter on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 9:49am GMT

On the need for more 'facilitated conversations':

"It is difficult to believe that the (college of) bishop's indecision at this stage is due to lack of information or biblical reflection."

It is not often GAFCON say something I agree with but they got that one right!

Posted by: stephen Morgan on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 11:09am GMT

"This is to project the particular problems of the Church of England onto the Communion as a whole. As with ‘Continuing Indaba’, without a clear understanding of biblical authority and interpretation, such dialogue only spreads confusion and opens the door to a false gospel because the Scriptures no longer function in any meaningful way as a test of what is true and false."

This argument - based on the accusation of a faulty hermeneutic on matters of gender and sexuality - cannot hide the fact that GAFCON & FCA are guilty of homophobia, and are intent on taking the moral high-ground from those of us who really believe that LGBT people are children of God, on the same basis as anyone else, and deserving of respect and inclusion.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 11:18am GMT

The author of this hasty document writes well outside the historical custom and practice of the Anglican Communion.

Matters such as remarriage and divorce while often presented as one of united doctrine were in fact subject to diverse practice in member churches from the first Lambeth Conference. While the practice of artificial birth control, once condemned by ALL churches gained gradual acceptance in local churches a fact acknowledged in part by the 1930 Lambeth Conference.

Now only the Roman Catholic Church supports this teaching.

It is no good pretending the Communion is somehow protected from diversity by scripture when the Communion holds hugely differing views on countless key issues like sacraments and authority. Many within the Global South hold progressive views on sexuality.

That is a wicked deception.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 11:38am GMT

The Archbishop needs to explain what the Word of God is.
John's Gospel begins with Jesus being the Word Of God
and this is his theme for the Gospel.
Such matters e.g. the understanding of human sexuality evolve as science reveals to us more and more about the human person.
Paul writes about homosexuality out of his particular cultural and religious understandings. We have moved now beyond those times so can look back at Paul's cultural understanding as limited in this matter.
Therefore I do not believe what Paul said here is an eternal law just as I believe the Scripture contains only one Law that is eternal and applicable to us -esp. Christians: the Law of Love.

Posted by: The Revd Tom Green on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 12:04pm GMT

This is a most disturbing response: 'We cannot therefore allow our time and energy to be sapped by debating that which God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures'.

Essentially it is an endorsement of what is happening in Nigeria scarcely disguised in an obfuscation.

GAFCON is in danger of being seen as a profoundly unpleasant organisation.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 1:09pm GMT

Iain, old readers of this blog will recall how a document was once released in the name of a Primate in the Global South where the authorship and revisions were all too plain to see.

I can't recall exactly whose hands were detected, I think there were three! All white. Was it two Brits and an American?

But the supposed author, I think I recall, had no hand in it at all.

At the time we all had enormous fun at their expense!

But as you say, it hardly matters any longer.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 2:52pm GMT

Ah, yes: Lambeth Resolution 1998 1.10: how convenient to remember sections b and e:

b.in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;...
e.cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;

and forget sections c and d:

c.recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;...
d.while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

But, then, that's nothing new.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 3:23pm GMT

I think I have now completely lost patience with Christianity. I'll just plump for liberal democracy combined with public reason, and hope for the best.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 4:22pm GMT

A propos Iain Baxter's post, Archbishop Wabukala has an Officer for Anglican Communion Affairs who is an English priest, formerly running a schismatic church near Kidderminster. He achieved a degree of notoriety for refusing to accept the authority of the Bishop of Worcester, whom he considered unorthodox on sexual ethics, and took some of his flock into schism.

Posted by: cryptogram on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 5:05pm GMT

"... we should be thankful that the College of Bishops did not adopt the idea of services for blessing that which God calls sin ..."

Paul of Tarsus was many things, but not even he claimed to be God.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 30 January 2014 at 5:40pm GMT

Andrew Wilshere -
I have great sympathy with your point of view. As you cannot enter into dialogue with literalists, your only choice is to oppose the whole edifice, otherwise you put people at risk. It has become a moral duty to safeguard LGBT people and anybody else they have decided is impure. Fortunately at local level things feel very different where folks in the pews are just getting on with loving God and their neighbour. In the end though, you feel schism is the best option, for you feel morally compromised otherwise.

Posted by: sjh on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 7:57am GMT

I guess there will always be those purists in the Church who would rather that The Word had remained in The Book, and never actually 'Taken Flesh'. The trouble with their argument is that this actually occurred at the Incarnation of Jesus. It seems to be the same sort of people who would rather Jesus had turned wine into water - rather than the other way round. LGBT people are part of God's infinitely diverse family of common humanity. Try to live with that fact!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 10:25am GMT

"I think I have now completely lost patience with Christianity."

Isn't this the real point?

Christianity is hard enough to understand or accept--the resurrection, the Trinity, the virgin birth, to name a few--without the additional objection that Christian "leaders" are selling moral hogwash.

By discriminating against women and LGBT people, the Church is shooting itself in the foot.

It's easy enough to say that, as with any human institution or tradition, there are good Christians, and there are bad Christians. That might wash if the good Christians were quicker to distance themselves from the bad.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori's statement is an example of how to do this.

Are all the bishops of the Church of England as mealy-mouthed as its archbishops? . . . . Really?

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 12:17pm GMT

"By discriminating against women and LGBT people, the Church is shooting itself in the foot."

It also means that the evangelical narrative of "oh, it's terrible, Christians are discriminated against" now has _two_ obvious rejoinders. As well as the truth, that Christians simply aren't discriminated against in the UK in any meaningful sense, there is the less high-minded, but nonetheless tempting, "Good, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander". So they lose coming and going: most will conclude that the discrimination of which they complain doesn't exist, but that it's rather a shame that there isn't a bit more...

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 8:27pm GMT

The propositional approach to Christianity that Jeremy describes is linked to the "moral hogwash," since that hogwash is built on dogma.

Being a Christian shouldn't rest on our willingness (or ability) to buy into beliefs shaped by ancient metaphysics. A person can disbelieve in the Trinity, the virgin birth and the physical resurrection, and be a much better Christian that someone who assents to the lot, and nothing else.

Theological liberalism is also shooting itself in the foot if it doesn't frame things in its own terms.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 10:46pm GMT

@sjh: To a certain extent I agree about the "local level", but this is the situation more out of luck and ignorance than the careful moral deliberations of congregations. I went to a church for many years where my sexuality and relationship was not a "problem" (except, I'm sure, for a few quiet detractors).

But it was mainly not a problem because gay people in churches are invisible. We do not have girlfriends or boyfriends or husbands and wives. Instead, we have "friends". We do not have weddings in churches. Instead, we just attend the weddings of straight people. We do not put arms around each other at church garden parties like straight people do. Instead, we pretend that our relationships *should* be invisible, and thus ourselves buy in to the whole culture of ignorance, indifference, and quiet oppression that the CofE hierarchy thinks amounts to "pastoral care".

Gay people in these situations should quite simply leave the church for a more healthy life.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 1:41pm GMT

"But it was mainly not a problem because gay people in churches are invisible. We do not have girlfriends or boyfriends or husbands and wives. Instead, we have "friends". We do not have weddings in churches. Instead, we just attend the weddings of straight people. We do not put arms around each other at church garden parties like straight people do. Instead, we pretend that our relationships *should* be invisible, and thus ourselves buy in to the whole culture of ignorance, indifference, and quiet oppression that the CofE hierarchy thinks amounts to "pastoral care".

Hm. My partner and I have been together almost 23 years. We have never been closeted in church, including in England (we're Americans). We introduce each other as our partners, not "friends." The directness has sometimes taken some English people by surprise, but we've never been treated badly or rudely by anyone, except one bishop. We do not come in with our rainbow flags blazing or anything like that, but we don't hide. After 23 years of seeing each other through sickness and health, death in our families, and the constant reminders of God's blessing in our lives, we have no stomach for hiding, and we're not skipping the sacrament when we're temporarily living abroad.

When the LGBT Episcopalians before us stopped hiding in church, things started to change. Turns out we were normal, we were good citizens, we contributed mightily to church life, we're often funny. And vitally important, many of us sing well.

I'm keenly aware that culturally England is different from us very direct Yanks. But I have to say to my English LGBT brothers and sisters that openness offers straight people an opportunity that they won't have if one stays quiet.

While coming out is a personal decision, it definitely makes an abstract argument "real" to straight people in a church environment.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 6:14pm GMT

There are indeed different cultures, even within the CofE. Oh, I wasn't closeted. It's just in certain church environments identifying yourself as different from others in any way is frowned upon. In this context merely wanting to work in the service of the church, and unintentionally going along with these soft forms of prejudice and marginalization while thinking vaguely about the greater good, can slowly grind you down.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 9:32pm GMT

"My partner and I have been together almost 23 years. We have never been closeted in church, including in England" Cynthia

Good! There are pockets of LGBT acceptance where one might least expect them. Southwell and Nottingham Diocese is known for being one of the worst in terms of its anti-gay bishops (look at their voting record in the House of Lords and support for the Coalition for Marriage, for example), but the Cathedral in that diocese is quite a different matter. My partner and I are entirely open about our relationship - holding hands etc. - and have experienced nothing but complete acceptance from the (very straight!) Dean, Chapter and all the clergy. We're just treated like any other couple.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 11:22pm GMT

Here too - my wife and I live in a small English village and we are completely open. While there are a few people in church who have struggled with us initially, we are fully integrated in all 3 churches in our benefice.
The prejudice and discrimination only came from the bishop.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 8:52pm GMT
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