The parish I am visiting this Sunday have issued a Press Release. It tells the world that among a series of repairs and improvements to be celebrated is the church?s new toilet, and goes on to declare that, ?The facilities will be put to use fully for the first time at a dedication service led by the Bishop of Dudley?.
I will leave it to my readers to speculate on what specific liturgical actions and movements might be appropriate to fulfil this promise. For me though it has served as a reminder of how significant a role the humble lavatory has played in my spiritual and ministerial formation.
Between school and university I worked six months in a labouring job. As the lowest of the low in the factory it fell to me to cover the jobs nobody else wanted to do. So when the cleaner went off on his fortnight?s holiday every blocked pan and overflowing urinal became my personal responsibility. I learned both that no task is beneath me and that even the most unpleasant duties pass. And I came to understand the gospel truth that engaging with the dirt and mess of life does not in itself defile us.
As a young vicar working in deprived urban areas there was a constant struggle to bring resources into the community. Governments attempted to show concern and interest by authorising a whole series of exceptional funds and programmes to combat poverty, unemployment or whatever the latest target might be. Much of it was well-intentioned but the delivery mechanisms were poorly thought through. I discovered that a proposal to improve church lavatories was the ideal quick spend medium sized project that officers badly needed to land on their desks in January ? just at the moment when they were being pressed to allocate the remainder of their budgets. ?Be wise as serpents?, says the gospel, and the new church loo was its practical outcome.
More problematically, I have learned the value of the comfort break in handling complex issues. I?ve long lost count of the number of occasions on which the breakthrough has occurred not at the negotiating table but in the gents? urinal. The psychological change from confronting across a table to standing side by side whilst engaged in a basic bodily function cannot be underestimated. Indeed I am told that a common ploy of industrial arbitrators in the 1970?s was to ply disputing sides with coffee and then call a strategic break. The problem of course is that it is hard to see how to incorporate gender inclusivity.
I could add other examples, but my point is that Christianity is an earthy religion. Our faith takes seriously that we are bodily beings. We follow one who took our flesh, with all its material nature, and we assert belief in ?the resurrection of the body? not the immortality of the soul. In blunt language we are not only Thinking Anglicans but eating, drinking, and defecating Anglicans. The tendency of religious writers and pundits is to over-spiritualise, to speak in abstracts and to attach labels to human beings that emphasise difference rather than commonality.
As a new teenage Christian in the mid 1970?s I was fortunate to come across the meditations of the French writer Michel Quoist. His ability to reflect theologically on the most prosaic and everyday objects and events continues to inspire me today. So I shall perform my liturgical duties this Sunday with gusto. Knowing that dedicating the church loo is no less important than dedicating a new stained glass window. And giving thanks for the ways in which God uses the ordinary stuff of life to reveal the gospel truth.
The BBC has a major documentary going out tonight on BBC2 television in the UK and next Sunday on World Service Radio. The programme will be broadcast on BBC Two on Thursday 26th February at 21:00 GMT. The programme can also be heard on World Service Radio on Sunday 29th February at 13:06 GMT.
Those who have seen the programme are welcome to write to TA (use the Comments below) to tell us what you thought about it.
The website for this programme is here: What the World thinks of God
As part of this the BBC has conducted a new poll which it is reporting under the headline UK among most secular nations.
A survey of people’s religious beliefs in 10 countries suggests the UK is among the most secular nations in the world.
Ten thousand people were questioned in the poll by research company ICM for The BBC programme What The World Thinks Of God.
More than a quarter of Britons thought the world would be more peaceful with nobody believing in God, but very few people in other countries agreed.
The survey found the highest levels of belief in some of the world’s poorer countries, but also in the world’s richest, America.
Some poll results are available on this page
Full poll results will be published on the programme website after the programme. They are now here in PDF format.
The Church of England has thought fit to issue a press release in advance of the TV broadcast: The Church of England questions BBC analysis of faith poll - 26/02/2004
Update 29 February This survey was discussed in detail by two experts, Grace Davie and Bernard Silverman on the BBC Radio programme Sunday. Listen to that report here with Real Audio.
The Church of England today questioned the BBC’s portrayal of results from a survey of 10,000 people in 10 countries in support of the Corporation’s What the World Thinks of God programme. A spokesman for the Archbishops’ Council Communications Unit criticised the emphasis placed by BBC news reports on 46% of those polled in the UK saying they had always believed in God but ignoring the figure of 67% who said they believed in God or a higher power.
“The BBC has misrepresented the faith communities in the UK by suggesting that less than half the country believe. This is based on only 46% of UK respondents answering “yes” to a question that specifically asked if they had always believed in God: a highly spurious way of defining current belief. I cannot speak for other faith communities but any committed Christian would recognise that many who hold a strong faith today may well have come to faith late in life or lived through periods where they lost their belief. No one could seriously argue that such people are any less believers than those who have believed for as long as they can remember.
“Those people would not say they had “always believed in God”. Therefore, the poll more accurately shows that two-thirds of people in the UK have a belief as recorded in the figure of 67% who said they believed in God or a higher power.”
Rowan Williams delivered a charge to what is now called the Lambeth Commission, during its opening service at Windsor last week. This is available from the ACO website only as a pdf file. Portions of this text are now being quoted in news reports and will no doubt appear in various blogs. Below is the full text as a web page, to show the context of these quotations.
To the Eames Commission
9 February 2004
I must begin by expressing my deep gratitude to you for undertaking this most testing of jobs for the sake of the Communion. The Primates of the Communion have repeatedly asserted that they wish to remain a Communion, rather than becoming a federation of churches; and the task of this Commission is to help make this more of a reality at a time when many pressures seem to be pushing in another direction.
The difficult balance in our Communion as it presently exists is between the deep conviction that we should not look for a single executive authority and the equally deep anxiety about the way in which a single local decision can step beyond what the Communion as whole is committed to, and create division, embarrassment and evangelistic difficulties in other churches. The Pauline principle that in the Body of Christ we should ‘wait for each other’ (I Cor 11.21) at the Lord’s Table needs to be thought about in its relation to our present problems.
But we also have to think about what it means to be a Church existing not by human concord or agreement but by the free choice of God: ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ (Jn 15.16) is a word fundamental to the whole being of the Christian Church. The question is how we hold together the belief that membership in the Church is God’s gift, so that communion always pre-exists ordinary human agreement, and the recognition that a Church faithful to the biblical revelation has to exercise discipline and draw boundaries if it is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and not its own concerns. You will not be dealing with a problem that is simply about biblical faithfulness versus fashionable relativism. There are profound biblical principles involved in all the points so far mentioned, which may point to different emphases and solutions.
You will need to be aware of the danger of those doctrines of the Church which, by isolating one element of the Bible’s teaching, produce distortions - a Church of the perfect or the perfectly unanimous on one side, a Church of general human inspiration or liberation on the other. Anglicanism has had to deal with such tensions from its beginnings - and indeed, so has the Church overall. You will be drawing on a variety of historical and theological resources from every age in confronting the contemporary challenge.
Countless people in the Communion and beyond will be praying for you, so take courage from that fact. I wish you every blessing and every gift of discernment and courage in your vital work, praying that its results will be for God’s glory and the advancement of his Kingdom.
Yours ever in Christ,
I wrote a news article for Anglicans Online this week.
The title is What the Church of England said about ECUSA
At this week’s General Synod, several questions were asked about the relationship between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA in the light of the consecration of Gene Robinson. The answers to these questions have received almost no press attention so far, but they are of considerable importance to ECUSA members. The Archbishop of Canterbury also made some remarks about Anglican Communion matters at the opening session of the synod, which have been widely reported and made available in full on the web, but also seriously misunderstood by some.
Here is the sermon preached at St Matthew’s Westminster on 10 February 2004. The occasion was the service arranged by inclusivechurch.net on the night before the General Synod debate on Some Issues in Human Sexuality.
The preacher was The Reverend Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford.
Text continues below…
“Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit!”
Mary and Joseph were engaged. Joseph had contracted, already held title to exclusive reproductive rights. Then and there, it would have been legitimate for Mary and Joseph to have sexual relations before she came to live in his house permanently. There would have been nothing scandalous about her becoming pregnant with his child. But if she were found to be expecting a child Joseph knew not to be his, how could that spell anything but adultery - a crime that meant public disgrace, even stoning to death. Joseph was a righteous man, evidently not cruel or vindictive, willing to temper justice with mercy. He had decided to divorce her quietly, when in a dream, that liminal space where close encounters with strange kinds are possible, an angel figure ground-shifted the situation for him. What if Mary’s irregular, illegal sexual predicament signalled, not sin, but holiness? What if Mary were pregnant, not with someone else’s bastard, but with Spiritual opportunity, not only for herself and for Joseph, but for the wider community, the nation, and the world?
“Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!”
Joseph wakes up and acts without hesitation. In Matthew’s Gospel, where the disciples characteristically understand but lack faith, Joseph does them one better. With only the vaguest understanding how this could be or why, Joseph has faith, takes Mary to wife, legitimates her child, emigrates to Egypt, returns to the safety of the Galilean margins, all to give holiness a chance.
“Joseph, do not be afraid!”
Tomorrow, the Synod of our Church will receive, discuss, perhaps debate Some Issues in Human Sexuality, a discussion document from the House of Bishops, which attempts a broader theological and biblical context before turning to current controversies about homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexualism. In many ways, the book is informative and reflective of considerable thought and learning. It helps by articulating many issues and arguments, and is especially good at clarifying the reasons of many in our Church who oppose blessing same-sex couplings and ordaining non-celibate homosexuals. The letter of the document serves up substance to chew on. But on my reading, its spirit is an ill wind.
“Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!”
In its historical section, Some Issues recalls what our Church dared in the past. Despite dominical New Testament sayings to the contrary, Synod approved the remarriage of divorced persons in church and lifted the bar against their subsequent ordination. In 1958 and 1968, Lambeth reversed its 1908 ban on contraception. Even though abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, the Church responded to public opinion and supported legalization in 1967. Nevertheless, Some Issues warns, despite relatively rapid, socially and pastorally driven changes on these points, “gay and lesbian relationships may be one area on which the Church should hold fast to its original teaching” lest “serious mistakes” about “crucial moral issues” be made. Chapters that begin as explanatory slide into the defensive demand that “revisionists” establish their case - about the interpretation of Scripture and the psycho-socio-biological roots of homosexuality - beyond reasonable doubt. The burden of proof weighs down so heavily on those who would say “yes” to bless and to ordain, the contrary case from Scripture and tradition presented as so open and shut, that defenders of the status quo feel no urgency about coming to understand fresh arguments and novel methodologies on the other side. Unless and until risk is eliminated, the Church of England shouldn’t budge!
“Joseph, Joseph, why are you so afraid to take Mary as your wife?”
Joseph didn’t have the luxury of delay. Mary was pregnant; all too soon the baby would be born and need care and protection. The Gospels record how the ambiguity about Jesus never went away. All through His ministry, reactions were polarized - was Jesus Son of God, King of Israel? Or was He an agent of the devil? Joseph put faith first in advance of understanding. So also with human sexuality, faith that God is feisty - that God has it in mind to keep on insinuating holiness into places where we least expect it - has to precede if we are ever to have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand.
We know how many in our Church, in the Anglican Communion, would beg to differ. But we who regard gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians, not as the latest problems on the sexuality syllabus, but as spiritual treasures for the whole community, cannot afford to equivocate or temporize. We must act to maintain safe spaces within the Church where they may be celebrated, housed, nurtured, and cared for. We must support them in their life in Christ, when invited accompany them on their spiritual journeys, bear wide and public witness to how we have experienced their partnerships as sacraments of God’s love in a broken and divided world.
Yet, to seasoned gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians, offers of compassion and pastoral care may sound patronizing. Frankly, in our current crises, it is the Church that has need of their expertise. At least since the sixties, popular consensus to traditional institutions and sexual mores has radically eroded. Instead of pointing accusing fingers backward, blaming Enlightenment individualism for current lifestyle diversity, we need to answer our call to dig down deeper into what God and we together might want to mean, what Good News we might be able to proclaim through human sexuality today. It is not a matter of fixing the roof and repainting the stucco, but of building up again from the foundation stone, from that skandalon, the rock of Christ.
Exegeting texts and formulating theories makes a contribution. (God knows how much I value them! I am a philosophical theologian; they comprise a large part of my job!) Certainly, the Church as an institution has responsibility for discerning guidelines, holding up ideals and sacramental signs. But for those who can “pass,” more or less fit in, it is possible to hide behind conventional role definitions and religious regulations and never come out to God or to ourselves as sexual persons at all! By contrast, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians have learned - necessity forced them - to bring their sexual urges, hopes, and fears, their revulsions and frustrations into the centre of their prayer lives. Because they have not super-spiritualized but won through to an embodied faithfulness before God, these veterans can be our guides in this wilderness, block access to false short cuts, alert us to snakes and scorpions and quicksand, teach us how to recognize the manna and squeeze water from a rock.
“Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!”
If there were enough safe spaces in our Church, we could receive instruction from gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians another way. For many have maintained dual citizenship, sharing work and worship with straights while inhabiting subcultures where many experiments in human sexuality have been tried. Even where all things are lawful, not all things are helpful. If our Church were safe enough, if our non-straight brothers and sisters could really be confident that we listened not to judge but to learn, they might come out of the closet, let us profit from their experience. They might teach us to recognize multiple dimensions of intimacy, fidelity, equality and inequality, sameness and difference; force us to complicate our picture of what happens when they are kept together or teased apart. Reflection on subcultural models might loosen up our thinking, stir our imagination, help our Church revitalize its institutions of heterosexual marriage and celibacy as well.
“Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!”
Looming large in all this is the relation between Christ and culture, between the Holy Spirit and human social - and yes, that includes religious - institutions. Some Issues admits that the Church has followed society - in permitting divorce, the remarriage of divorced persons, and abortion - but the bulk of the document insists that Scripture and tradition are and ought to be the valid norms. The Bible shows God meeting individuals over the centuries in dramatically different social systems - from Bedouin tribes to hilltop kingdoms to hellenized cities of the Roman Empire. Divine election of patriarchs, of David and Solomon, did not challenge polygamy or royal harems, but prospered chosen peoples within their social horizons, even though God had something bigger in mind. By contrast, the Gospels represent Jesus shaking the foundations of synagogue and temple. St Paul and other disciples precipitate a schism in Judaism by contradicting the traditions of the elders, by worshipping a Messiah that Deuteronomic scripture would write off as a false prophet, ritually cursed because crucified. On my read, Some Issues does not come close to being radical - down-to-the-roots - enough to help European and North American society win through to a fresh integration of sexual norms, because it is so preoccupied defending its pre-established conclusions. After all of that hard analytical work to nail things down, our Church needs to take a nap with Joseph, walk to Emmaus with the disciples, give the Holy Spirit space to do some figure-ground shifting. The Body of Christ is pregnant with holy opportunity. We shouldn’t want to abort it!
“Joseph, Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!”
The Church of England Newspaper reports that
On Tuesday the lobbying group Inclusive Church, set up as a result of anger over the mishandling of the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John to Reading, handed over a petition to a member of the Archbishop’s staff. The petition, with 8,500 signatures and the support of about 100 parochial church councils, calls for the ministries of the Church to be open to all regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
But the Chairman of Inclusive Church, Dr Giles Fraser, spelt out the message: “The Archbishop must resist those bent on dividing the Church as an authentic response to the consecration of bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire.”
Point of view: the Revd Dr Giles Fraser handing a petition from the InclusiveChurch network to Chris Smith, Dr Williams’s chief of staff, outside the Synod chamber on Tuesday. Photo Richard Watt
The BBC has a short video clip of the handover ceremony, viewable with Real Player here
The covering letter to the petition is reproduced below.
Inclusive Church Petition, February 10, 2004
We write as friends, though many of us are broken-hearted about the direction currently being pursued by the Anglican Church.
We deeply regret the fact that you were forced to overturn your original affirmation of Jeffrey John’s name as chosen candidate for Reading. The message given on that day was that the way to get things done in the church is through organisational muscle and pressure. If Christian theology boils down to little more than the machinations of power politics, block votes at Synods, websites and even petitions, then God help us all.
The other message given out on that day was that gay and lesbian people are not welcome as members of the body of Christ. The Church may weakly insist that gay and lesbian Christians are valuable members of the Church - but its actions say something very different. Indeed, the cost of the current strategy is being paid by some of the most vulnerable members of our Church. This point cannot be passed over with a weary shrug as an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of unity. Faithful gay and lesbian Christians are being scapegoated in the name of a false unity that seems little more than a cover by theological conservatives for claiming possession of the Church.
In her sermon later today, Professor Adams will say:
‘We who regard gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians, not as the latest problems on the sexuality syllabus, but as spiritual treasures for the whole community, cannot afford to equivocate or temporise. We must act to maintain safe spaces within the Church where they may be celebrated, housed, nurtured and cared for. We must support them in their life in Christ, [and] bear wide and public witness to how we have experienced their partnerships as sacraments of God’s love in a broken and divided world.’
But this is not just about any one issue. At stake here is a historic understanding of the Anglican Church as broad, tolerant, generous and inclusive. These values have always shaped the heart of our Church and they are in very real jeopardy.
When you became Archbishop you insisted that the Church must not lose touch with the values of the people of this country. It is clear they will not tolerate a homophobic Church at the centre of our spiritual life, nor will they be edified by a theology born of ecclesiastical expediency rather than theological principle.
With all our prayers and support at this most difficult time,
Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser
The main feature of the first day of the General Synod of the Church of England was Questions. There were 85 of them. Several dealt with matters arising from the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop in ECUSA.
Dr Philip Jeffrey (Chichester) asked the Chairman of the House of Bishops:
Q. What advice, if any, will the House of Bishops be offering in connection with any decision as to whether the Church of England is in full or impaired communion with those bishops of ECUSA who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson and will any such advice be given in time to assist those members of the Church of England who, whilst working or travelling in the United States in the course of this summer, desire to worship in Anglican churches.
Revd Brian Leathers (Derby) asked:
Q. In the light of the world-wide opposition to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, what consideration has the House given to formally breaking communion with the Diocese of New Hampshire and with those parts of ECUSA which endorsed his appointment?
Mrs Margaret Brown (Chichester) also asked:
Q. What steps has the House of Bishops taken to ensure that any bishops involved in the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson should not be allowed to officiate at Confirmations, Ordinations and Consecrations, or to celebrate the Holy Communion in this country?
Revd Brian Leathers (Derby) also asked:
Q. Has the House of Bishops issued, or will it be issuing a policy or guidance for its members on the granting of licenses or permission to minister in their dioceses to those who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson.
Mrs Margaret Brown (Chichester) also asked:
Q. Has the House of Bishops expressed its support for all those in ECUSA and the Canadian Church who remain faithful to traditional Biblical teaching on marriage, homosexual practice and cohabitation.
The Archbishop of Canterbury replied:
A. Chairman, with permission I will respond to the question from Dr Jeffrey and the two questions each from Mrs Brown and Mr Leathers together.
Synod has heard the remarks I made earlier concerning the Anglican Communion. As I said then, I hope we will pray for the work of the Eames Commission looking into related matters.
With regard to arrangements for visitors worshipping in the United States, this is surely a judgement for individuals and not one for the House of Bishops.
On the ministry of Gene Robinson in this country - that is not a question for the House of Bishops, but, in accordance with the Overseas and Other Clergy Measure of 1967 - for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. I have indicated already that I would not be prepared to give my permission under that legislation for Gene Robinson to exercise episcopal functions here.
On the position of others involved in the consecration, the House of Bishops has not thought it appropriate to issue guidance.
Also, the following:
Dr Philip Jeffrey (Chichester) asked the Secretary General:
Q. In view of the fact that a number of Provinces of the Anglican Communion have declared themselves to be out of communion with, or in a state of impaired communion with, those bishops of ECUSA who took part in the consecration of Gene Robinson, what is the competent authority in the Church of England to decide whether or not the Church of England is in full or impaired communion with those bishops?
The Secretary General, Mr William Fittall replied:
A. The Church of England is in communion with Churches, and not separately with individual dioceses - still less with individual bishops - within those churches. For the purposes of the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure and the Church Representation Rules, a decision by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is conclusive in determining whether a Church - as a whole - is in communion with the Church of England.
Inclusivechurch.net hands petition to Archbishop
PRESS RELEASE - Inclusivechurch.net - 5th February 2004
The Archbishop of Canterbury is to be handed a petition signed by over 8,500 individuals and over 100 Parochial Church Councils from the Inclusivechurch network of Anglicans. The petition demonstrates the strong conviction of the majority of grassroots Anglicans that the Church of England must be an inclusive church, open to all. The handing over will take place outside Church House,Westminster on Tuesday 10th February 2004 at 1.30pm, whilst the General Synod is meeting.
‘Inclusivechurch.net is an organisation set up to campaign for an open, honest and generous spirited Anglicanism that has always been the very heart and soul of the Church of England,’ says Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser, chair. ‘It is excellent that so many people have supported the petition in such a short time, and with such little promotion.’
The message of the petition is clear: the Archbishop must resist those bent on dividing the church as an authentic response to the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, U.S.A, and continue to work for a Church that is open to all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
The Inclusivechurch petition contrasts dramatically with the petition handed to the Archbishop last month by evangelicals opposed to a fully inclusive church for gay people. It claimed to include millions of Anglicans but turned out to have been signed by fewer individuals than this new petition from Inclusivechurch. ‘The point is that dioceses and parishes do not operate like unions, with block votes,’ says Fraser. ‘Rather, dioceses and parishes are made up of individuals.’
The vast majority of Inclusivechurch’s signatories belong to the Church of England. In addition to individual Anglicans who have signed the petition over 100 parishes have signed up too, each having passed motions of support through their PCCs. ‘It is important to note that many signatories come from parishes belonging to organisations like Reform,’ adds Fraser. ‘We have also received emails from individuals keen to protest against the actions of their local clergy who make gays or women clergy feel unwelcome, for example in places like Fort Worth or Pittsburgh in the USA, where dioceses have declared themselves to be conservative, non-inclusive zones.’
Inclusivechurch believes that this petition is part of the groundswell of Anglican opinion that is opposed to the sort of intolerance and bigotry that has been threatening the church. ‘The true diversity of Anglicanism is beginning to come through, for all that well-organised, well-funded conservative forces would have it otherwise,’ continues Fraser. ‘We are here to celebrate the true spirit of Anglicanism which is strongest when it is diverse and inclusive.’
Notes to editors:
The petition will be handed to Chris Smith, Chief of Staff at Lambeth Palace, on behalf of the Archbishop outside Church House, Great Smith Street, Westminster on Tuesday 10th February 2004 at 1.30pm.
An Inclusivechurch Eucharist will be celebrated at St Matthew’s Church, Great Peter Street, Westminster at 10th February. The preacher will be the Revd Canon Dr Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Canon of Christ Church.
Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser, the chair of inclusivechurch.net, will be available for comment on 10th February or he can be contacted on 07811 444011.
Inclusivechurch.net is a grassroots network of Anglicans with a campaigning edge, open to anyone who shares the vision of an inclusive church. It began as a group of friends from Southwark, London and Oxford who were increasingly worried about the future direction of the Church of England. Others similarly concerned over recent injustices in the church asked if they could join, including individuals from the evangelical wing of the Church. It snowballed very quickly: many thousands of people have now registered their support. A number of organizations including Changing Attitude, Affirming Catholicism, MCU, GRAS and the Open Synod group are involved.
In August 2003 a petition was launched on the website Inclusivechurch.net. It contains a Statement of Belief written by a group of Oxford theologians. The statement expresses the strong conviction that the Church is for all people regardless of sex, race or sexual orientation. It calls on the Church to act justly, particularly in the appointment of clergy and bishops regardless of sex, race or sexual orientation.
Visitors to the website, be they individuals, PCCs (Parochial Church Councils) or other organizations, are invited to register their support.
The full text of the declaration signed by individuals in the petition reads as follows:
‘We affirm that the Church’s mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation. We acknowledge that this is Good News for people regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation. We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospel’s proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church’s own common life must be justly ordered. To that end, we call on our Church to live out the promise of the Gospel; to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.’
The Primate of Southern Africa, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane preached a sermon at the annual convention (synod) in Washington DC of the Diocese of Washington last weekend. The full text of this sermon is available here. An extract follows.
As was clear from our epistle reading, the rich abundance of God’s love finds expression in creative diversity. We are each formed unique, with different gifts. In this way we complement one another as we contribute to the life of the Church, the one body of Christ and to God’s mission in the world.
Created diversity should not surprise us. We are created in the image of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, each distinct, yet united in communion with one another and united in purpose. This is God’s pattern for God’s people. ‘The body is one unit, though it is made of many parts.’ (1 Cor 12:12)
Recognizing that God creates us for unity in diversity has important consequences for how we construe difference, especially within the body of Christ. We should expect it, and see it as a generous gift from the overflowing love of God. This creative complementarity is at the heart of the life of the Godhead and at the heart of the life of the Church. It gives immeasurable godly potential to the partnership we have between Washington Diocese and the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. The same is true at every level: within congregations, in Diocese and Provinces, across the whole Anglican Communion, and in all our ecumenical relations.
These are fine words, but I am not so spiritually minded that I fail to see that they are a tough challenge to us - especially in the life of the Anglican Communion today.
The Church is little different from human families. Like them, we often find ourselves alongside people with whom it is all too easy to disagree. As you look around this Convention no doubt you can see people here who you would not want to call your good friend. But God says ‘they are your brother and sister in Christ!’ We cannot choose our human family, and we cannot choose our Christian family.
Sometimes, of course, we think we can choose, and we talk of schism. Sometimes congregations split or churches divide. When any human family falls apart, it causes heartbreak, and when brothers and sisters in Christ try to go their separate ways, it grieves the heart of the Lord.
When we are tempted to think life would be easier if we split, we must remind ourselves that Christ died for each one of us and the Holy Spirit wants to give something through each one for the sake of all the others - ‘to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (2 Cor 12:7).
This Gospel imperative urges us to hold together as we work through disagreements. We must face the challenge to develop an ethic of together-in-difference. This is a particular challenge to the Anglican Communion world-wide at present, when there is no clear agreement - indeed, much overheated disagreement - on the question of homosexuality.
Yet I do not think that homosexuality is really the issue at stake. There is a far more important principle, which the political struggles of today’s globalizing world are echoing. It is the question of whether one world view, one political perspective, one theological stance, over-rules, is right, can assert dominance, and renders all other standpoints inferior and illegitimate. Or can we comprehend that none of us has the monopoly on knowledge and understanding, and, more than that, our lives are enriched and our horizons expanded when we encounter other, authentic expressions of human life, culture and spirituality?
Perhaps thinking that every question has only one valid perspective and one right answer is a legacy of the Enlightenment that we need to recognize and lay aside.
Only God sees the whole picture. Only God knows all the answers. And his word tells us that Jesus is the head of the body, and we are just parts.
Our job is to recognize that we belong to God, and we belong together - more than that, we need each other, if the body is to work well. It may be hard for the eye to appreciate the hearing function, or for the ear to comprehend sight, but the body needs both. Each part must respect the rest. God wants us to be united in diversity. He created us that way, and he will help us to develop an ethic of together-in-difference. It is an ethic that the world around us desperately needs.
Anglicanism has great strengths and experience to draw on in facing this challenge. We have never been a denomination based around a single statement of faith or set of rules. Rather, we are a Church that has held together through a shared past of deep historic roots, and through the maintenance and development of these relationships as the Anglican Communion has spread through the world into its many (and still hanging) cultures.
That is what Communion is all about - koinonia, fellowship. Relationship, not rules. We are a communion, a family, of 38 ecclesiastical provinces, bound together by bonds of affection, and mutual commitment and respect.
This means we respect the autonomy of each Province. Yet each Province must also respect the others, and especially the Instruments of Unity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference.
These articles make interesting reading in conjunction with the book, Mission Shaped Church which is to be the basis for a General Synod debate next week.
Theo Hobson talked to a wide range of people including Nicky Gumbel, Mark Oakley, Grace Davie, Rob Gillion, Dave Tomlinson, and Si Jones.