Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Why unity eludes the Church of England
Press Release from Westminster Faith Debates
In his presidential address to General Synod this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of divisions within the Anglican Communion, and of the prize of being able to develop unity in diversity. Closer to home, he is supporting ‘facilitated conversations’ in the CofE as a way of healing rifts over the issue of gay marriage. What’s the chance of success?
A recent survey of CofE clergy by YouGov, commissioned by the Westminster Faith Debates, reveals a major obstacle in the way of the Archbishop’s goal of ‘disagreeing well’: a relatively small group of the most evangelical male clergy.
When asked where they fall on spectrum from evangelical to catholic, roughly a third of all clergy say they are at the evangelical end, a third at the catholic end, and a third in the middle. The third at the evangelical end hold some distinctive and pronounced views.
For instance, a full 88% of these evangelicals say that same-sex marriage is wrong, compared with just over a third of the rest of the clergy. Similarly, 31% of evangelical clergy would ban abortion altogether, a figure which falls to 16% among Anglican clergy overall.
These differences are not a block to unity – if those who hold them are happy to tolerate different views within the Church. But here comes the rub.
Evangelical men beg to differ
The survey of 1,500 Anglican clergy asked about the most appropriate approach to unity in the Anglican Communion. While the majority of clergy support the aim of ‘maintaining unity by being more tolerant of diverse views,’ two thirds of the evangelical clergy disagree, contending either that the Church should seek greater uniformity of views or else that it should not be afraid of separating amicably along doctrinal and ethical lines.
What the survey also finds, however, is that it is evangelical men not evangelical women who are opposed to the Archbishop’s goal of ‘disagreeing well.’ Most evangelical women clergy (61%) agree with the majority of clergy who support greater toleration. But 68% of evangelical male clergy disagree.
The typical view of evangelical male clergy is both to oppose gay marriage and not to wish the Church to embrace diverse views. Overall this combination of views is held by about 25% of clergy, the majority of whom are male evangelicals. These are a major block to the Archbishop’s dream of unity in the CofE—- clergy who don’t think it a goal worth pursuing—-especially because so many of them belong to the same clergy “tribe”.
The good news for Justin Welby is that he doesn’t have to worry about the majority of clergy. They support his goal. The bad news is that his opponents are not likely to change their minds. His success depends on finding a solution – something which eluded his predecessor Rowan Williams.
Professor Linda Woodhead comments:
These findings are both good and bad news for the Archbishop – good in that his battle is won with most of the clergy and almost certainly an overwhelming majority of lay Anglicans. Bad, in that there is a significant group of male clergy who do not share his vision for the CofE and the Anglican Communion.
Future of the Church Debate
This Thursday the next in the current series of national debates on the Future of the Church of England delves into this issue, asking what kind of unity is appropriate for the Church and how Archbishop Justin’s goal of unity in diversity can be achieved.
Speakers at this public debate in Oxford include Canon David Porter, the Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson, Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream, the Very Revd June Osborne and Rt Revd Dr Trevor Mwamba.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 at 4:25pm GMT
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Church of England
This is the problem. The Archbishop is trying to get along with people--in the CofE and elsewhere--who fundamentally have no desire to be gotten along with.
Gosh, this coincides almost exactly with my life experience over 7 decades. About 25% of the human beings I encounter, both in and outside of Church, demean LGBTI Christians/others and have no need of us! (my own opinion, which I strongly support as real experience, is that the 25% of the evagelical ¨discriminators¨ be sent to Church camp for further enlightenment...it worked for me as I learned how to LIVE and WORSHIP with others (all) at the Anglican Communion.
It was Robert Runcie who said those who swim at the shallow end make the most noise. He could easily have been speaking of that rowdy group at the misnamed REFORM and the ridiculously-named Anglican Mainstream. Why doesn't Archbishop Welby ignore these troublemakers, let them self-destruct and disappear into oblivion?
The problem you have identified is the major problem and always will be: because those you deem 'Evangelicals' contain a huge number who are also Fundamentalists. They will NEVER change; which is why people like me are 'Believers in Exile' (Jack Spong)
Alleluia! You cannot tolerate the intolerant, cannot tolerate people who want to impose their views on everyone else. This desire to get on with people who loathe everything you stand for is liberalism's great and fatal flaw. Too many evangelicals worship the Bible; too many liberals worship tolerance. Idols, both.
As the constitution is not a suicide pact, tolerance is not unlimited. It must, must be selective. Tolerating harmful policies makes us accessories. We would not tolerate racism, regardless of its theological credentials. We should not tolerate homophobia, and the abuse, misery, despair and suicide it bequeathes. These are not good fruits.
Are liberals finally, finally coming around?
Yes, but these evangelical men do grow up. Just look at the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"it should not be afraid of separating amicably along doctrinal and ethical lines"
They SAY that. But then in my (admittedly American) experience, that "separating" comes w/ all sorts of strings attached (of a material nature---property, pensions and such), denial of which delays the separating and decreases the "amicably", PDQ.
IT Do liberals really never take themselves off? I know plenty who have. I know conservatives who endure. And is seceding not an attempt to faithfully endure in the face of perceived crisis or need?
Is this really so surprising? Male conservative evangelicals are resistant to change and don't want to listen to or accommodate the views of those different from themselves: tell us something we don't know!
Although I mostly belong to the liberal 67%, I fear this study is loaded with unhelpful assumptions. By focusing on two issues of particular importance to conservative evangelicals - abortion and gay marriage - the study is able to present this minority as hardline, uncompromising, and separatist, while presenting liberals and the Catholics as just wanting to get along.
But this ignores the fact that there are other issues that liberals and Anglo-Catholics are equally uncompromising about. For me personally, the sanctity of the confessional is just about a bottom-line issue. I would find it very hard indeed to remain in a church that compromised on this, and I'd imagine many other Catholics would feel similarly. Liberals frequently state that they could not remain in a church that tolerates institutionalised sexism, racism, or homophobia. They don't say, "oh we're prepared to tolerate a bit of institutionalised racism in the C of E just for the sake of Christian unity!" When the Church banned members of the BNP from holding holy orders earlier this year, it didn't say "unity is more important than disagreement, so why not let them stay?" And when Justin Welby declared that the church would disinvest in payday lenders, he didn't agree to remain just a bit invested in payday-lenders for the sake of those Anglicans who might actually think disinvestment a bad idea!
We all ultimately have some uncompromising and unbending beliefs about what the church ought to be and how it should embody the person of Jesus. We all value unity, but nobody (I imagine) thinks unity is the sole or even the main value the Church should represent. Ultimately we are all prepared to walk away if the Church departs too far from what we see as core the values of the Gospel. For evangelical conservatives, matters of sexual morality and holiness of life are extremely important. For Catholics like me, the sacraments and the service of the poor are of central importance. For liberals it's social values and equality. All of us are potentially separatists if our own core beliefs are too badly traduced, and only the most cynical relativist would think that all kinds of ‘diversity’ should be embraced uncritically.
So let's not pick on the ConEvos too much, shall we? Or if we do, let's look also at some of the other 'tribes', with their own peculiar totems and taboos.
"Why doesn't Archbishop Welby ignore these troublemakers, let them self-destruct and disappear into oblivion?"
They can only function because the CofE wastes time in attempting to compromise with people whose only interest is in obtaining complete agreement. So that attempted compromise has no effect in terms of improving relationships with evangelicals, but massively harms the CofE in wider society.
Take, as a random example which we have so rarely discussed, same sex marriage. The CofE's attempt to stop it in civil society caused it massive harm, because a large number (indeed, the vast majority) of MPs and peers experienced the liberating experience of completely ignoring the CofE line. The CofE's continuing policy of resisting it within its own polity isn't doing the CofE much good: it still looks homophobic to many outside the church, and a lot of people within the church who would celebrate (in every sense) same sex marriages tomorrow morning if they could are unable to and are unhappy about that.
Meanwhile, the evangelicals are unhappy that Welby didn't fight an entirely futile and multi-dimensionally suicidal last-ditch battle on the issue: it's not clear what that battle could have consisted of, but as a minimum presumably voting against the bill at every stage and loudly condemning everyone that didn't. This would have left the CofE in parliament as an irredeemably toxic single-issue lobby, and would not have delayed same sex marriages in civil society (and, indeed, in Quaker and other Christian gatherings) by one second.
Welby should have told them to shut up or secede. But in a Chamberlain-style policy of appeasement, he is attempting to keep them happy by throwing them small morsels which don't satisfy them, but which make him look ridiculous. Calling the evangelicals' bluff would hurt in the short term, but leave the CofE immeasurably stronger afterwards.
Sounds like the Evangelicals canvassed said exactly what was expected - and aligned themselves very neatly with the so-called Anglican bishops in certain African countries. To me, the most salient aspect of their position is that they hold to the most un-Anglican principle that if you do not walk in lockstep with them they will not come to the Table with you. (Ask the primate of the American church how well that worked at Primates' meetings.) Consistent with this, they oddly cling to the position that those not in lockstep are un-Anglican. (Ask Rowan Williams how successfully he navigated that.) IMHO, a point comes when such arrogant certitude must be called out. Perhaps Jesus was at that point when he said to let the dead letter of the law bury the dead - or something like that.
I think that "unity" is over valued, especially in CoE. It's one thing to minister to lay people who have trouble with women and LGBT people, it's another thing to do actual injustice to appease their intolerance.
Rowan Williams would have had us all collaborating with human rights abusers for the sake of "unity." Hm. Ignoring the harm caused to our people, and especially our LGBT children (suicide, outrageous rates of teen homelessness and teen sexual abuse).
CoE has routinely lifted "unity" above JUSTICE. Above recognizing all people as created in the Image of God.
We all need to get on with the theological questions of the 21st Century. Can we recognize all people as created in the Image of God (including the poor)? And can we include the Good News of Jesus Christ in our governance and economic systems? These systems work well for well heeled Westerners, but often at the expense of vulnerable people. Climate change will disproportionately impact the vulnerable (at first, anyway). Extraction industries, like mines for diamonds, gold, etc., often come at the expense of human rights for indigenous people. Etc., etc.
It's past time to stop navel gazing about "who doesn't belong" and false "unity," and get with the justice program. I believe that our survival as species actually depends on it.
'But in a Chamberlain-style policy of appeasement, he is attempting to keep them happy by throwing them small morsels which don't satisfy them, but which make him look ridiculous.'
And also give the Global South an exaggerated sense of its own power and of the Anglican Communion's usefulness as an instrument of leverage.
The Anglican Communion is a family of independent churches. Nothing more.
Families do not legislate. The Anglican Communion shouldn't either.
Cynthia: Rowan Williams would have had us all collaborating with human rights abusers for the sake of "unity."
As I get older, I get less interested in distinguishing between people who abuse human rights enthusiastically while cackling maniacally in the manner of a James Bond villain, and people who abuse human rights reluctantly and cry themselves to sleep afterwards. Because their victims suffer irrespective of how agonised their abusers are.
'We all ultimately have some uncompromising and unbending beliefs about what the church ought to be and how it should embody the person of Jesus.'
Thank you, RJB. And I also find it interesting that many of those beliefs are not mentioned in the teaching of Jesus (just like gay marriage). Let's see how tolerant and compromising the liberal catholic majority becomes when someone proposes that lay readers be allowed to preside at the Eucharist (a subject on which Jesus did not give his opinion).
'Let's see how tolerant and compromising the liberal catholic majority becomes when someone proposes that lay readers be allowed to preside at the Eucharist.'
I'm a liberal. I have no problem with lay presidency.
But I think the Eucharist is basically a common meal.
Tim, you seem now to be aligning yourself with the former Archbishop of Sydney, who was keen to promote Lay-Presidency at the Eucharist, while yet not allowing a female priest to preside. This seems so odd to me, an Anglo-Catholic, as to be derisory of catholic and apostolic order.
While the discussion continues the lack of tolerance blocks those of us already ordained from fulfilling our call to be ministers to the Church and faithful to those God has given to us in loving relationships.
Interested Observer, the weeping accessories are worse, because they know they're acting wrongly. Liberals went far, far too easily on Rowan Williams, who should've been finished for his surrender over Jeffrey John's enthronement. (I say that without any personal affection for John, who had the nerve to condemn John Shelby Spong for being unorthodox!)
The contemporary example is (sorry, I know I'm picking on him, but he did put himself out there) Nicholas Holtam, who combines support for equal marriage with a willingness to "discipline" any clergy who contract one. His actions betray his words. If you step up, you step up. Have any priests in his diocese confronted him about this?
I think, Tim, one major difference is around exclusion.
As a middle Anglican (I would not call myself 'liberal'), I am used to C of E churches which are considerably more 'Protestant' or 'Catholic' in their worship than I would find comfortable. For instance the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement goes against the official position of the C of E and to me is profoundly unbiblical but those with this view are rightly not excluded from being ordained, and indeed consecrated as bishops. There are however some views which, by consensus, are unacceptable, e.g. overt racism.
If someone not a priest celebrated communion, many (perhaps most) would feel excluded from the table and there is no compelling reason for lay presidency right now. Any reader or other layperson who is regarded as suitable to both preach and preside can be ordained. Indeed some might argue that a layperson chosen to do so by both the local congregation and wider church could be defined as a priest.
The doctrine may change - people should be free to argue in favour of lay presidency - but it does not mean that a whole set of people, because of some aspect of their identity which is unlikely to change (e.g. being women or gay), are debarred.
Ron, I know next to nothing about Jensen and have been in favour of lay presidency at the Eucharist since long, long before he became Archbishop of Sydney.
As for 'catholic and apostolic order' - well, yes, but as I said, it is a subject on which Jesus apparently had no opinion (as I have often been reminded regarding homosexuality).
Savi, if you lived in the wide open spaces of western Canada, or the Arctic, as I have done, you would perhaps feel less sure that there is no compelling reason for lay presidency right now.
As for people feeling excluded from the table - well, I suppose it would all depend on how the decision to authorizer a lay reader to preside had been taken. One would assume that the congregation would need to be in favour.
But that's not my point away. My point is that most (not all, thank you, Jeremy) liberal catholic Anglicans would draw a line in the sand here and would refuse to compromise (despite the fact, I say again, that the subject is never mentioned in the teaching of Jesus or the rest of the New Testament). So criticizing male evangelicals in the Church of England for refusing to compromise on their principles over sexuality in the interests of 'let's all just agree to disagree and get along with each other' is a little inconsistent, I think.
Ron Smith oversimplifies Peter Jensen's (the former Archbishop of Sydney) action over lay presidency. While personally in favour he did not allow a motion by the Diocesan Synod (which voted overwhelmingly in favour) to go into effect. My understanding is that he did this on the grounds that it was most likely illegal, and out of a desire for good relations with members of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican church of Australia. Savi Hensman makes a good point about a lay-person (or deacon) licensed to preside being regarded as a priest. If her suggestion is accepted then "lay" presidency is a non issue.
James Byron, You said "The contemporary example is (sorry, I know I'm picking on him, but he did put himself out there) Nicholas Holtam, who combines support for equal marriage with a willingness to "discipline" any clergy who contract one."
That's not my understanding of his position, so could you please explain why you think he maintains the stance you describe.
I see Tim has recovered his 'voice' here.
Must surely be counted in TA's favour, to a not inconsiderable extent.
In the Church of England it gets exhausting finding which aspect of Catholic faith will be undermined next...
I guess I mean, I have found it too much over the years...
the church is full of contradictions and the CoE is a miracle in keeping widely different theologies under its umbrella. Anglo-Catholics wouldn't agree with many of the evangelical liturgical practices either and would draw a line if they were asked to assume them for themselves.
Whether Lay presidency would be a dividing issue in the CoE is hard to say.
But we're still making a category error.
Because lay presidency is something that, if accepted, would theoretically be open to everyone.
In the lgbt debate we're talking about the church refusing to accept actions by gay people that are considered to be moral and worthy our full support if they are done by straight people.
That is an entirely different issue.
Savi, I realise this wasn't your main point, but penal substitutionary atonement against the official position of the CofE? I realise defining the CofE's 'official position' on any doctrine is a challenge. But let's see: Article 2 "Christ who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men". Article 31 "The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual" (pretty much the same in BCP). How is this not penal substitution? To my mind, Jeffrey John's denial of penal substitution is far more important in ruling him out of consideration for a bishopric than his relationship status.
The path to unity comes through embracing the diversity. Too much of the CofE is all about managed uniformity. Liberals are notably excluded by the Archbishops. But the doors remains open to conservative catholics and evangelicals to somehow get recognized. It would be good to see some decent theological liberalism coming back into the heart and mind of the church.
Erika, I respectfully deny that it's a category error.
The original post (and initial comments) focussed on the intolerance of male evangelical clergy for the viewpoints of others when it came to the two issues of homosexuality and abortion. The Archbishop's goal, we're told, is that we 'disagree well', but male evangelical clergy are standing in his way.
In response, rjb pointed out that 'disagreeing well' is not an absolute value of liberals either. They also have issues on which they are not prepared to compromise. The study focussed on two issues on which conservative evangelicals appear to be intransigent, but it did not cover other issues, on which the intransigence may be on the other foot.
I was simply pointing out one of those issues.
Yes, I agree, lay presidency is a different kind of issue than SSM. But the point is that in the church, everyone has issues that they see as non-negotiable. And I should also point out that in some of the areas where I have served in ministry, restricting eucharistic presidency to ordained ministers has in fact excluded many people from communion, for purely geographic reasons - particularly those who, like myself, agree with the teaching of the 39 articles about the reservation of the sacrament.
yes, thank you, I see what you're saying now.
Still... if we look at the context of this post, we have to say that the only issue that threatens unity is the lgbt question, and if these data are correct, it is a smallish group of evangelical male priests who have drawn a line in the sand.
That other issues might result in other lines drawn in other sands is neither here nor there.
And there are different ways of drawing lines in sand too. In the women bishop's debate, there were those whose lines meant they decamped to the Ordinariate and those whose lines meant that they argued for special provisions within the CoE.
Drawing lines does not automatically mean insisting on unity on my terms only. It can mean finding a way of living with diversity.
Simon, this is Holtam's statement in response to the "pastoral guidance" (which I believe he signed off on): "The pastoral guidance notes the conflict created with Canon Law. Therefore if a person in holy orders contracts a same-sex marriage a complaint could be made against them, which would result in discipline for which the full range of penalties are possible."
He's said nothing to condemn it, nor to disapply it in Salisbury. He's not pledged his support for LGBT clergy who marry, nor has he suspended the homophobic discipline of 'Issues ...' in his bailiwick.
I'm sure there's all kinds of explanations and excuses he could make, probably involving unity and collective responsibility, but they ring hollow. It's not him who's paying the price. If he's a friend and ally to LGBT people, he needs to step up, and publicly challenge his fellow bishops. Just one diocesan having the courage to break ranks would do so, so much to bring about change.
Why can't Holtam be that one?
Erika's point is well made.
I think it would be bad for England if the CofE ripped itself to pieces or became toxic in the eyes of the population at large. Aside from anything else, the CofE is the custodian of buildings, liturgies, music and traditions which help to define "England", and its implosion would not only affect worshippers, but would affect the larger community of for want of a better phrase "cultural Christians".
Issues such as who is empowered to celebrate various offices and, indeed, the ordination of women into various roles are unlikely to result in the church ripping itself to pieces, and the disagreements within the church have not (in general) threatened the CofE's position in society. Occasionally the row over women bishops has got close to that line, but it's never really looked like going over it. The LGBT issues, including things like relationships with GAFCON, do cross that line: within the church there is the serious risk of schism, and without the church there is a serious risk of charities and political parties finding their own anti-discrimination policies make co-operating with the church difficult. That's what makes it an existential threat, and makes the failure of the church to confront the issue as an existential threat so regrettable.
NJ, there have been various understandings of the atonement throughout church history and penal substitution is by no means the earliest. I will not go into the debate here in detail but to me the doctrine appears to contradict the portrayal of the Father by Jesus in the Gospels. That Christ died for our sins is not the issue: that he need not have died if the Father forgave freely without demanding a blood sacrifice is something I do not accept.
At any rate, a 1995 C of E Doctrine Commission report restated the view of the 1938 Commission that 'the notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian'. But the church leadership has rightly allowed space for those who disagree. Yet those who benefit from respect for theological diversity are sometimes unwilling to extend the same courtesy to others.
"That Christ died for our sins is not the issue."
That depends on what the meaning of "for" is.
Thank's for the quote from the Bishop of Salisbury, which I was aware of, and thought would be the one that would be produced.
It seems to me to be a simple factual statement, pointing out the existence of the guidance, and saying that complaint could be made, by person or person's unknown.
He has not disciplined anybody, nor has he said that he will discipline anybody. So I say again - where is your evidence of a willingness to discipline such clergy.
I appreciate that you may be disappointed because he did not go as far as you would have liked in disowning the statement. But that is no reason to attack him unfairly. He is the only Bishop to have openly supported gay marriage in a public statement. Shouldn't we support him for that, rather than criticise him and make his life more difficult because he did not go even further.
Having scrolled through these comments, I think there is only one question left to ask: Do we all love the same Lord? Perhaps this could be a subject for a future debate.
'Do we all love the same Lord?'
When you've managed to define the Lord for all times, for all cultures, and in all places, please let the rest of us know.