Friday, 26 June 2015

GAFCON criticism of Scotland, USA, and England

Two recent releases from GAFCON:

A news report of the recent meeting in Northern Ireland: GAFCON: A moment and a movement says that former Sydney archbishop Peter Jensen, GAFCON general secretary, spoke about recent developments in Scotland and the USA:

…“In the last few days, two Anglican Provinces have spoken words of choice. In Scotland, the General Synod of the Episcopal Church has chosen to omit the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman from its canons, thus signalling an acceptance of so-called gay marriage. It is a choice to rewrite the Bible and so the Christian faith. In Ireland, the House of Bishops, following the referendum, has endorsed once more the teaching of the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman for life. The contrast is stark.” he said.

“Of course there are those who argue that the two positions can be held in tension in a denomination with mutual respect, recognising that sincere people will differ over the interpretation of the Bible. But let me offer a very serious warning: the cost of taking such a position is unacceptably high. It is to say that the Biblical testimony is so unclear that it can be read in several ways, whereas in fact the Biblical position is crystal clear. When the testimony of the bible is rendered so murky, the authority of the Bible is fatally compromised. The middle position is a vote for an unacceptable compromise…”

The June Pastoral Letter from the GAFCON Chairman, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya, includes comment on an event in the Church of England:

In contrast, there are too many examples in the Church of weakness in the face of the subtle challenges of cultural and financial pressure. In Africa we are still too dependent in our thinking on outside agencies. This makes us vulnerable to relationships designed to buy influence and damages the integrity of our witness, while in the more economically developed world there is too often a fear of being out of step with secular culture. In this context I cannot avoid mentioning a very disturbing event in England. On Saturday 20th June, a Canon of York Minster blessed a ‘Gay Pride’ march of homosexual activists from the Minster steps, causing a senior clergyman in the Diocese of York to say “York Minster’s leading the way in the Gay Pride march is symbolic of what the Church of England’s leadership is doing generally on this issue – leading people away from the clear teaching of the Bible and the Gospel.”

Houston McKelvey, the former Dean of Belfast, had written about the Northern Ireland meeting before it happened, see Comment - An unhelpful and unnecessary forthcoming event.

The English event mentioned in the second link above was reported here.

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And as usual the Welsh are left out. This week the bishop of Bangor ( who describes himself as a liberal evangelical) appointed a vocations officer who is in a civil partnership. ( see diocesan web site) When I inquired was it celibate, I was informed that in 2005 the Bishops in Wales (by-passing the Governing Body ) decreed that clergy could be in civil partnerships and there was no need for a celibacy pledge.

Posted by: robert Ian williams on Friday, 26 June 2015 at 5:55pm BST

The arrogance of this Peter Jensen bloke is astonishing. This is a statement lacking in the slightest mote of Jesus' love and is surely anathema to the whole Jesus movement.

Shame.

Posted by: DBD on Friday, 26 June 2015 at 7:24pm BST

and that's what you get when you believe the bible is a magic book.

Really, there's just no excuse for this kind of hermeneutical rubbish.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 26 June 2015 at 11:49pm BST

Well, if the Church of England wants to remain in communion with a bunch of zealots like that, given that same-sex marriage is now legal throughout most of the western world, it is surely doomed to irrelevance in a generation. If the Ireland referendum teaches us anything it is that there is no longer any safe space for homophobia, and same-sex marriage is here to stay with a healthy popular mandate.

Shouting about it and pretending that somehow they will wake up, Pam Ewing-style, and find it was all a dream and same-sex marriage is illegal again doesn't seem like a winning strategy.

If churches say, in essence, "we cannot exist in countries which have same-sex marriage" then, it would appear, the general response will be "cease to exist, then, and see if we care". Those churches will become like Japanese soldiers, stuck in the jungle, unaware that the war is over.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 1:17am BST

"It is to say that the Biblical testimony is so unclear that it can be read in several ways, whereas in fact the Biblical position is crystal clear."

This is what you call "Fundamentalism". In contrast, I am an Anglican (Episcopalian).

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 1:50am BST

In what meaningful sense are we in communion with people like Jensen and Wabukala? Those preaching a gospel of hate founded on phariseeism cannot reasonably be kept in the boat, and it is damaging to try.

Posted by: Jo on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 7:58am BST

Thanks, IO, Pam Ewing made me laugh -

And now the whole of the US has SSM - and Gallup approval ratings that have moved 23 points in ten years to 60% approval.

I do hope the C of E is not going to attempt to ennoble homophobia to the status of a "theological position that deserves an honoured place" in the way that we have canonised misogyny, all in an effort to hold on to a few people. That would be a mistake.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 8:29am BST

Weirdly, Interested Observer, the Church of England's irrelevance is what creates a safe space for its homophobia: most people don't care what it does, as it plays no meaningful role in their lives.

So long as a majority of evangelicals believe homosexuality to be a "salvation issue," the church can stay counter-cultural, and most won't give it a thought, just as they don't worry about Jehova's Witnesses disfellowshipping one another. If you don't like it, they'd say, just leave.

Personally, I consider walling yourself off in a religious ghetto a woeful fate, but I can see the attraction of withdrawal into a close knit community. Life is so much safer in a bubble... just so long as your face fits.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 8:57am BST

This is a huge conscience and justice issue of our age, and it is perfectly clear that the majority of the public are swinging towards affirmation of the love of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, and their right to be married, before God, and before their communities.

Turning to Christian, and Anglican communities, in the UK... if a local Anglican Church, in strong conscience and belief in justice, comes to a decision that there should be no discrimination, no exclusion, and indeed public celebration of anyone's marriage (even their priest's)... and if the designated PCC members, in discussion with their minister, resolve to make a stand on this issue of conscience... to publicly celebrate gay and lesbian and straight marriages equally and without discrimination...

Should that genuine conscience... and generosity of welcome to all people... be trampled over by some central 'imperium'?

If dissenters consciences should be protected over female bishops, then why not dissenters who in all good conscience, as individuals and as a community, feel Christ-bound to love and welcome and, yes, truly celebrate the love, devotion, and fidelity of two people in holy matrimony?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 10:35am BST

"most people don't care what it does, as it plays no meaningful role in their lives." James Byron

The new Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham is being enthroned today and I'm sure the Minster will be filled with all the appropriate worthies. But outside the bubble, I doubt that anyone in this (very small) town knows or cares less that the event is even taking place. Compare that with the enthronements of yesteryear; crowds lining the streets, a civic welcome at the railway station, souvenir picture postcards published and engravings of the event in the national press.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 1:22pm BST

If @Robert Ian Williams has been told that "in 2005 the Bishops in Wales (by-passing the Governing Body ) decreed that clergy could be in civil partnerships and there was no need for a celibacy pledge" why did the Archbishop of Wales tell the episcopal electoral college for Bangor in 2008 that Jeffrey John could not be a candidate? The reason given to the electoral college was that "anyone in a civil partnership is not eligible."

Archiepiscopal double-speak is obviously not just an English phenomenon. It also shows how deeply un-Anglican the Welsh province is in not allowing its elected representatives a voice on the matter. No wonder Justin Welby got the Canterbury job: the present Archbishop of Wales was the ACC rep on the CNC!

Posted by: James A on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 1:27pm BST

Well said Susannah, direct action is exactly what's needed.

Affirming churches whose rectors have freehold protection should marry same-sex couples (symbolically if not legally), bless gay relationships, and withhold their parish share until their bishops drop the party line and speak out for equality. Instead of stopping at the current "we're inclusive" messages, which may be heartfelt, but leave institutional homophobia untouched.

Why do evangelicals win all the time? Simple. They fight for their beliefs, and have no fear of conflict. Why do liberals get steamrolled, on theology, on equality, on all we hold dear? We try to be everyone's friend, and compromise ourselves out of existence.

We can do good, or be nice to everyone. Not both.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 1:30pm BST

Direct action is *exactly* what I advocate, James.

Suppose a local church community decided... that actually in the community where they live, the majority of people love and care for lesbian and gay people and their rights... that LGBT people who approach their church deserve total acceptance, like anyone else... and that, in line with increasing social conscience on the issue, they simply support gay and lesbian marriage, and in all good conscience can't close the church doors on people in *their* community who turn to them for support, blessing and celebration of their most precious, tender love.

What are the bishops - in practice - going to do? Close down the church? Lock the congregation out?

There is therefore huge scope for direct action by people of conscience on this matter, and doubtless all kinds of creative and lateral ways of celebrating these marriages, whatever right other people claim to control their consciences.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 3:43pm BST

I find this liberal belief that in order to be relevant to the world around us we have to believe exactly the same things they do to be rather strange. If we believe exactly the same things they do, why would they bother? They may as well sleep in on Sunday mornings. It's cheaper that way, too.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 4:05pm BST

"I find this liberal belief that in order to be relevant to the world around us we have to believe exactly the same things they do to be rather strange."

I believe that these letters indicate that the coercion to believe the same things is coming from the conservative side, Tim.

Look, exclusion is ugly. If any side exercises power to exclude people, this is oppression, not belief. Whatever people BELIEVE, it is immoral and unjust to continue the oppression of exclusion. In the case of some African countries, exclusion crosses the line into human rights violations.

You can believe in white superiority, but you can no longer enact policies and laws to act upon that belief. And it would be unkind to put up obstacles to those trying to dismantle the policies, laws, and inequalities created by white supremacy. Same thing with LGBTQ people. Believe what you want, but don't stop us from getting married in our churches.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 5:59pm BST

And the American church responds with a "Peter who?" and a big yawning "whatever," gets some coffee, and goes off to vote for sacramental marriage and a new PB.

💕 💕 💕 Love wins!

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 6:14pm BST

Cynthia, I was not responding to the letters but to the statement that 'if the Church of England wants to remain in communion with a bunch of zealots like that, given that same-sex marriage is now legal throughout most of the western world, it is surely doomed to irrelevance in a generation'.

This seems to me to be claiming that in order to be relevant to the world around us we have to believe, live and proclaim exactly what the world around us lives, believes and proclaims. As I said, I find this rather strange.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Saturday, 27 June 2015 at 11:32pm BST

Given the personal choice, I would break communion with " a bunch of zealots like that" at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of my personal choice. I am baptized. So are they. This makes that "bunch of zealots" and me part of the one body of Christ. As Rowan Williams once wrote (in his brilliant Wound of Knowledge) the Gospel calls us to recognise that we are in business of realising virtue against the resistant reality of other people with whom I may profoundly disagree.

My fear is that by breaking off from "a bunch of zealots like that" we then create our own ghetto and become an unchallengeable, self-righteous rump of so-called liberals who are all too keen to close our ears to the voices we don't find congenial. As the Rule of St Benedict reminds us, our most effective teachers may be the very people we dislike most and who tell us what we don't want to hear - precisely because we may discover, in what is profoundly unattractive, a kernel of truth.

I may believe that GAFCON are a bunch of naïve fundamentalists, but are they so incapable of reflecting the glory of God?

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Sunday, 28 June 2015 at 11:14am BST

Agree profoundly with Michael Mulhern and rjb, who writes similar things.

But I do also think the recent American Supreme court decision is going to have welcome theological consequences, as equal marriage in the UK and the Republic of Ireland will also have.

Here in Durham (small place, everybody knows everybody more or less) Robert Song's book has certainly had some impact on the thinking of some Evangelicals. Progress is slow, but it progresses.

Posted by: John on Sunday, 28 June 2015 at 4:21pm BST

I should add that I write from Cavan in the Irish Republic, where our recent referendum result on equal marriage spoke volumes and where I believe, as far as RCs and Anglicans 'South of the Border' are concerned, it will be a case of culture posing a profound challenge to the theological status quo - just as it did after the conversion of Constantine. I rejoiced in the referendum result, of course. But can I really believe there is no place in the kingdom of God for those who did not - and are they not my concern and care, too?

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Sunday, 28 June 2015 at 7:03pm BST

Being concerned for and caring for people is not the same as pandering to and enabling their bigotry.

Posted by: Jo on Sunday, 28 June 2015 at 8:53pm BST

Tim, I think the zealots in question are those who support, and actively helped enable, the "jail the gays" laws in Nigeria, Uganda, and elsewhere. As we've seen, CoE is struggling to hold in tension being in communion with human rights violators while being true to their very own members, let alone the churches you and I belong to.

Shocking as it may seem, even I don't advocate any form of "cutting off the zealots." But having our governments and our churches practice human rights, equality, and inclusion (i.e. God's Radical Love) is not "cutting off the zealots." If that is their response, that's on them. For us to violate our own conscience's because of how they might behave doesn't make sense.

I recommend being in communion to the end, or until they cut us off. Staying engaged is the way to go. Meanwhile, I wrote my delegation to TEC's General Convention that I would like for our ACC funding to be conditional upon development of a Human Rights Task Force. It could bring legs to the Five Marks of Mission and give people perspective on oppression of LGBTQ people, women, etc.

Posted by: Cynthia on Sunday, 28 June 2015 at 9:26pm BST

Cynthia, we appear to be talking past each other. I am trying (apparently not very clearly) to make only one point - that I disagree with people who think our relevance in modern society depends on us being completely in step with its values. On the contrary, I think Jesus calls his followers to be loyal to his teaching whether or not it is in step with the values of the world around them. Your replies to me so far have addressed other points that I was not trying to make.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Monday, 29 June 2015 at 3:09pm BST

"I disagree with people who think our relevance in modern society depends on us being completely in step with its values."

We are closer to realizing certain now--and in 100 years, we will be even closer. But I'm not sure that makes them today's values, or tomorrow's.

Nondiscrimination, fairness, and equality are ideals. They are timeless.

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 29 June 2015 at 7:57pm BST

Sorry if I misunderstood, Tim, you did call it a liberal belief that everyone had to believe the same. Meanwhile, it seems like the fellows from Australia and Kenya are insisting that their view be the one practiced, communion wide. And if US, Canada, and Scotland don't shape up, they want more central power to determine doctrine and punish those of us who don't measure up.

So how, exactly, is that liberal? The reason they are called "zealots" is because some of the GAFCON bishops actively supported and helped enable those "jail the gays laws."

The first of order of business is for the church to stop persecuting anyone. Are you saying that persecution is within the realm of diverse belief that we are all supposed to respect?

I'm not being an America Imperialist. +Rowan and +Sentamu came to our GC to lobby TEC to continue oppressing me and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. American members got asked to step down from some of the committees. Our PB was treated atrociously by +Rowan. So it isn't as if CoE, let alone Nigeria, were respecting diverse views.

So I am going to put up a fuss when you attribute liberals to having "the liberal belief that we all believe the same thing."

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 29 June 2015 at 9:54pm BST

Re Cynthia's posting, above:

And the American church responds with a "Peter who?" and a big yawning "whatever," gets some coffee, and goes off to vote for sacramental marriage and a new PB.

💕 💕 💕 Love wins!

The difference between so-called liberals and so-called conservatives in processing these issues into actual church life is that - correct me if I'm wrong - any African bishop, be he ever so nasty to gay people or female bishops (or what-have-you), they would still be welcome at the altars of the churches they so vehemently vilify. However, I believe Bishop Katharine's experience at Primates' Meetings have proven_that the converse would not be the case.

Schism and Apostasy are regarded as grave sins - not so much, I think, because they may imply doctrinal heterodoxy as because refusing to come to the (same) table removes the possibility of the exercise of the ministry of reconciliation, which, according to Paul, is the reason the church exists.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Monday, 29 June 2015 at 11:02pm BST

"They may as well sleep in on Sunday mornings."

Good God, this meme is tiresome (I've heard it, in much the same form, for decades now). "If you don't believe EXACTLY as I do in my One, True, Faith-Once-Delivered way, you 'may as well sleep in on Sunday morning'".

I *LOVE* the Episcopal Church. I *LOVE* (God help me!) being Anglican. LOVE it. I don't dare boast that I love God, but I have just enough faith to hope & believe God loves (Why?!) me. Believe me, while I *do* love to sleep in mornings (night owl here!), I nevertheless rejoice to get up early (for me) Sunday mornings. Always have, always will. Because I love Christ's Church. So to Tim (et al): I'm not going anywhere. (*)


(*) Well, except following where the Holy Spirit leads, I hope! :-)

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 at 6:42am BST

Cynthia: If you read my original post again you will see that I did not talk about 'this liberal belief that we all have to believe the same thing', but rather, 'this liberal belief that in order to be relevant to the world around us we have to believe exactly the same things they do'.

But I see from JCFs post that my use of the word 'liberal' in there has raised an unnecessary red flag. It will not hurt my argument at all to leave it out. So I will say again: It makes no sense to me when Christians think that in order to be of any use to the people around us, our beliefs and values have to be the same as theirs. In the Sermon on the Mount we are called to be salt and light. Salt and light have to be different to be of any use.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 at 10:51am BST

This conversation about church vs society is full of misunderstandings.
Of course we don't have to believe everything society believes. But we are not talking here about "everything" society believes but about one particular item of belief that happens to be shared by the majority of Christians in our countries too.

There is no "society" out there and "church" in here and never the twain shall meet.
All people of faith are also members of society.

Being countercultural doesn't mean getting hold of the same string but pulling in the other direction.

Our relevance in modern society depends on our integrity and on being a moral voice. But it helps if we are very clear that what we proclaim to be moral actually is moral.

We speak with a moral voice when we deplore homelessness, child poverty, environmental catastrophes, exploitation. There is much wrong with our society where married gay Christians would happily join forces with everyone else in church to become an agent for change.

We really have to think carefully if we still speak with a moral voice when we speak against an expression of love, commitment and faith that even conservative forces in our society are now recognising to be an expression of conservative values.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 at 11:07am BST

It would help debate if contributors didn't keep misunderstanding one another. Tim C's comments were perfectly clear.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 at 11:31am BST

Superbly put, Erika.

The church should embrace equality for LGBT people not because its popular, but because it's right. Portraying its supporters as fickle followers of fashion is a slander, whether intended as such or not.

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 at 7:34pm BST

The church and the culture are not the same; they are always in tension.

But Christians do need to be careful about what values of the culture we adopt, and what values of the church we seek to maintain, in disagreement with the culture.

And in this instance, I would put the problem more strongly than Erika did.

I see no point whatsoever for the church to continue to discriminate against LGBT people, when the culture has come to regard such discrimination as evil.

Let me repeat that. Many, many people are coming to regard Christianity as evil because "it" is homophobic. This attitude is particularly prevalent among the young, who are liable to treat all of Christianity as an "it" without discovering the diversity of Christian thought and tradition. An entire generation is writing the church off.

I don't know why evangelicals, Cantuar included, do not see this reality, or care more about its implications.

Such leaders fail to condemn anti-gay discrimination. Indeed, they themselves discriminate against LGBT people. And then they condemn the fact that the church is getting older and grayer.

Why should young people join an institution that they see as the very opposite of righteous?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 1 July 2015 at 12:06am BST

Just as a point of observation:
I walked as part of the Christians at Pride group at London Pride last weekend.
We were expecting some level of hostility and contempt from the public.
Instead, we were overwhelmed by cheers, by applause, by people wanting to Hi Five us, by shouts of "good on you, guys", "So great to see you do this"....
People carefully read and kept the leaflets given out by Diverse Church, a secret pastoral Facebook group for young lgbt people.
There were a few tears over the Diverse Church Parents banner "Proud Christian Parents". We assume from parents who felt they had failed their own children and from children who wish their own parents could have been so supportive.

There is still time for the church to redeem itself in England. There is still a lot of goodwill for us out there that spills over even during a Pride march. There are still people who wish they could be part of us if only we had it in us to welcome and accept them for who they are, rather than as sinners we want to change.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 1 July 2015 at 9:56am BST

Good for you, Erika, and Christians at Pride. It makes a difference to be out and show up. At our Rally for Marriage Equality to celebrate at the Colorado State Capitol, one politician after another spoke that being out and active helped immensely in the political struggles. And there are more to come.

Similarly, being out and proud as a Christian gives hope to isolated people, especially young people who have only heard the nasty rhetoric.

Our Pride Parades and festivals invariably have church representation. I am sure that this has made a difference politically and in our churches. When our evangelicals under the age of 40 are in support of equal marriage, we know that there's been a shift. Your evangelicals will shift as well, it is inevitable. Even from the immigrants from conservative countries. They will quickly understand that respect for all, including LGBT people, is also the basis for respect for them. That this is part of the formula for peace and prosperity. It is Godly, good, and just a nicer way to live.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 1 July 2015 at 8:41pm BST

I imagine conservative RCs and some others believe the C of E capitulated to the values of the world when it permitted contraception, remarriage after divorce and the ordination of women...after all, historically in many other issues ( like democracy,the abolition of the slave trade and the death penalty) it was the liberal opinion of the day that led... Often Unitarians and Quakers ....interesting that both Churches ( now much smaller than in the 18/19th C) have embraced Equal marriage.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Wednesday, 1 July 2015 at 8:54pm BST
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