Thinking Anglicans

Stealing the heart of the Church

The BBC referred this morning to the “Battle for the political heart of Anglicanism” being fought out at Armagh between the Anglican primates, over issues about same sex couples.

It is fascinating that this is seen as a particularly Anglican issue, when the same difficulties are found in other churches, as a Baptist observer said at the Church of England’s General Synod last week. The reason must lie in the history of the Anglican Church, the close founding link of Church and state, particularly in the way that relations were defined and described in Richard Hooker’s monumental Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 400 years ago. Since that time, with bishops in the House of Lords, there has been a close correspondence between the laws of Church and State to the extent that it is often difficult to discover which is which. We’re reaping some of the problems associated with this in the upsets over the marriage plans of Prince Charles and Camilla, and it is fascinating to find that European Human Rights legislation needs to be invoked to say they can legally marry in an English register office outside the gates of Windsor Castle.

Whilst the Church of England was little more than a national church (leaving aside the Scottish Episcopal Church and its great legacy to the Episcopal Church of the USA) it might have seemed that laws of Church and State could be seen to correspond. But, with the growth of the British Empire and the exporting of the national church into other cultures, conflicts were bound to arise.

A particular problem was the prevailing polygamy found in of parts of Africa. Whilst Christianity did not allow polygamy, there was a certain tolerance of it for those who were not Christians, and often a blind eye was turned to the ancient droit de seigneur of local rulers to collect a large harem of young women. Things only came to a head when Mwanga, the ruler of Uganda in 1886, wanted boys, not girls, for his bed. The Christian pages began to refuse his advances, so he had them put to death. They included Catholics and Anglicans. On their way to the place of execution, these young Christians sang hymns in honour of the Lord and some were still singing when the flames surrounded them. Since then they have been regarded as founding martyrs of the Christian Church. It is salutary to think, however, that few people would have shed tears over maids in waiting, had the ruler preferred girls. Not surprisingly, the Church of Uganda, in honouring its founding martyrs, strongly opposes homosexual relationships today, as Britain did in the time when Oscar Wilde went to prison.

So long as the Empire continued, many local cultures were suppressed. Today, with the independence of nations which were once British, the differences emerge. Pakistan is a largely Muslim country, competent to make its own laws. In Muslim law it is legal for a man to take four wives. The Christian Church there, whilst holding different views, would never dare to advocate these for anyone outside their own flock. Equally, the Christians there know that the acceptance of homosexual relationships would lead to the burning of Christian churches and the persecution of Christians. The Church is not in a position to advocate different rules from those of the state.

In a worldwide Communion, Anglicans have to accept that we are not in the driving seat when it comes to making laws. There is in Pakistan, in Uganda, and in other places a complete abhorrence of homosexual activity.

Equally, in Europe, it is secular Human Rights law which is in the driving seat, not the laws of national churches. Today the British Navy asks the advice of gay rights groups about the best way to encourage recruitment of homosexual men and women. Gay rights are enshrined in the law of the land. They are seen as just as important as the rights of people of different races, or the rights of women, and all are protected by law.

In much of Europe, in the USA, and in Canada, discrimination against gay people is now being consigned to history, along with slavery and the lack of universal suffrage. It is only shameful that the Church, which was in the forefront of the campaign to free slaves, still treats women and gay people as being less than fully human, with impaired human rights. Speaking out and saying that a faith founded on the incarnation has to be a faith which respects the dignity of all people has required great courage. Fundamentalism still tries to steal the political heart of the Anglican Church. There is a rearguard action against the ordination of women to the episcopate.

In much of the USA, Canada, Britain and Southern Africa, the battle is over. National laws guarantee the rights of women, of gay people and different races. The Church is doing little more than catching up with what governments, nationally and internationally, have agreed.

At the same time it is totally impossible for Anglicans in many other parts of the world to uphold a viewpoint which is so much at odds with their own national culture and laws. Pakistan and Uganda will want to be different. But we need to be grown up enough to accept that.

The Anglican Communion was never intended to be, and cannot be monolithic. We have to accept (Article 34 in the Prayer Book) that there will be national differences. “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies in all places be one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries.”

These articles were honed out of the bitter controversies of the Reformation, out of the martyrdom of John Fisher, Thomas More, Ridley, Latimer, Cranmer and the rest. And in the time of Elizabeth people realised that there had to be an end to blood letting. Christians had to learn to live together in peace, and respect differences of conscience and custom. We need to learn the lesson again.

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Richard
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Richard

>>In much of Europe, in the USA, and in Canada, discrimination against gay people is now being consigned to history, along with slavery and the lack of universal suffrage. It is only shameful that the Church….<< Hmm. We could debate the emotive term “discriminate”. I don’t know of any church that discriminates. We give an unreserved welcome. Having said that, we encourage people to become disciples, and that means obeying holy scripture. With regard to people at large, I very much doubt whether they accept homosexuality as you profess. They might make the right noises – we all have to… Read more »

Austin
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Austin

In sum:
1) The foolish body hath said that we have a conflict about faith, morals, and the will of God.
2) How quaint; we Anglicans did away with such frippery centuries ago.
3) This, and indeed all, debates are about “traditions and ceremonies”, or what we social scientists call “culture”.
4) After all, what else is there?

Jake
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Obeying Holy Scripture…that means the women are silent and wear hats, for example? If not, why do we allow them to disobey the scriptures? I don’t know what part of the states you live in, but I’ve lived in four different ones in the last few years, and the overwhelming majority of folks I know consider equal rights for gays and lesbians to be a no brainer; of course we need to advocate for such rights as Christians. And the need to advocate for the right to chose the life partner of our choice is also the attitude of the… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

There are certain groups that any organisation should exclude from membership. In the Christian church this does not include those who feel homosexual temptation, or indeed any other kind of temptation. It does include those who are overtly unrepentant – it is not that they are excluded by anyone else, but that they actively exclude themselves from this particular organisation/body, by definition.

Milton
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Milton

Differences in traditions and ceremonies are one thing. But differences in doctrine, especially over salvation issues (yes, I mean salvation from SIN) are quite another. In a very real sense, this battle is over which differences make a difference and which ones do not. Over the last 2 years especially, the discussions over this reveal 2 incompatible “faiths” with 2 sets of irreconcilable premises from which they originate.

david rowett
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david rowett

Hmmm “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” has been the cry of the separatist since the time of Tertullian and before — and, of course, it is a scripturally justifiable position (but not the only one) which may be traced back to the anathematising of the Canaanites in parts of the OT (regardless of the fact that Israel owes more to Canaan than it might like to admit – eg the dedication of the Kuntillet ‘Arjud chapel ‘Yahweh and his consort Asherah’). But this separatist modus operandi is incoherent (rumour has it that Christians opposed the use of anaesthesia… Read more »

Jake
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This is a salvation issue? Maybe for you, but can you judge what is a salvation issue for others? An example; I am convicted that it is a sin to charge interest. At its root, I see it as making a profit from the misfortune of others. Scripture clearly teaches that charging interest is sinful; Exodus 22:25; “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.” Deuteronomy 23:19; “You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money,… Read more »

David Huff
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David Huff

“And I am always suspicious of the ease with which comfortable Christians find good reasons to adopt the western secular lifestyle, only condemning the bits which don’t affect them in the slightest….”

Well said! It’s so blindingly obvious that the Biblical “literalists” in these arguments are very much *selective* literalists.

And we so-called “progressives” are supposed to be the only ones caving in to our cultural prejudices and looking for Biblical justification of our desired lifestyle… (harrumph) Eye. Speck. Plank. Enough said 🙂

Annie
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Annie

… and the debate continues. How many times a day do we say the Lord’s prayer? Is it wonder that when we are filled with pride and forgetful of whose will we are seeking, that we are divided? Both sides feel that their faith is the strongest and that they are the most right and both sides continue to insist on not listening to one another, and not walking in Love. When the Archbishops reportedly split into factions and can not share Holy Communion with one another, what hope is there that this is a Holy Communion? We are all… Read more »

Tom Ambrose
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Tom Ambrose

Richard doubts whether people at large accept homosexuality. Indeed, but Britain’s police have admitted being racist, male chauvinism flourishes, and a popular vote on the death penalty would probably bring it back.
Fortunately the law says discrimination against gays, women and other races is wrong, and it’s quite clear that the law was made with the intention of teaching people how to give full human rights to all.
Please don’t dismiss this as “political correctness”. The law reflects the consience and the concern for justice of all who established the legislation.

John Pettigrew
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Good article, Tom 🙂 What is interesting in the comments, ISTM, is what we were talking about this morning – that differences of doctrine are being confused with a supposed need to exclude the “unrighteous”. Jesus preached and practiced a radically inclusive ministry; have a quick look at the Gospels – Jesus got stuck right in with just about every excluded group of His culture: women, children, the disabled, lepers and even homosexuals (although that last isn’t ironclad, it is very likely that this is what was going on with the centurion and his “servant”). Not only did Jesus say… Read more »

R Leggat
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R Leggat

Poor Richard! If people read what he actually said, as opposed to what they think he said, comments might have been somewhat calmer! The word “exclusion” seems to be bandied about. I may be wrong, but I don’t see where anyone is advocating exclusion. We have gays in our church. We welcome them unconditionally, and they are loved as much as any non-gay. We are all sinners, and need to come closer to the One we worship. But there are those who feel that the Bible overall seems to have a negative view towards the practice of homosexuality – namely… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Hi Jake – Which do I see more loyalty to in your comment: God or America? The opinion of Americans is authoritative? We make decisions based on ‘what most of my friends think’? Risky – since often we move among like-minded ppl in the first place. Yet America is built on things like freedom (of the laissez-faire variety) and democracy; and if one has grown up there it seems so normal that it can be a shock to discover that these are not precisely the biblical values, however much the God-and-country amalgam might wish they were. Laissez-faire / live-and-let-live are… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Hi John-

There is a much simpler explanation of the centurion’s servant. Luke -as often- is trying to reconcile his predecessors John and Matthew (see the works of Robert Morgan, Barbara Shellard, Mark Matson).

John speaks of a ‘son’, Matthew of a ‘servant’. There is one word that reconciles both (or hedges its bets, if you like): ‘pais’ (‘boy’/’child’). So this is the word Luke uses.

Dave
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Dave

Jake wrote “This is a salvation issue? Maybe for you, but can you judge what is a salvation issue for others? …” Hi Jake – I really thought you would have realised that Jesus and the Apostles teachings on sex were far from the liberal position that “it’s ok if you are made that way”. They were very tough on all sorts of sexual behaviours and allowed no excuses. I don’t need to judge what is a salvation issue – it’s pretty well defined in the New Testament! Generally I think that the bankrupcy of the “do what you feel”… Read more »

John Pettigrew
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Chris – I did say that it wasn’t ironclad, but it’s certainly suggestive. And “simpler” is an opinion; it’s a possibility but I don’t see it as a “simpler” one (it’s very questionable whether Luke could be balancing Matthew against John when John is usually thought to be by far the last of the Gospels to be written).

And even if this isn’t actually about a homosexual relationship, nor is it about condemning a homosexual relationship. The point remains that Jesus’ ministry was profoundly inclusive rather than exclusive.

pax et bonum

rowan
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rowan

Dave, wasn’t it St Augustine who said ‘love, and do what you like’? Hardly a victim of the encroaching individualism of the last 50 years! But the emphasis here is, as it always should be, on love- wanting the good of the other, in an unselfish way which should protect from harm, exploitation, etc. It isn’t an invitation to change the rules to suit ourselves, or to imagine that there are no rules at all- but to be profoundly other-focussed. The bit that most bothers me about the whole gays-in-the-church debate is that the commitment to listening and learning doesn’t… Read more »

david rowett
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david rowett

Setting aside the fact that the 39 Articles of Religion are hardly the last word in OT theology (or so my missus says), and that we are no longer to do more than nod towards them as past expressions of the faith in ordination, I do find the idea that we can distinguish between ‘ritual’ and ‘moral’ OT precepts entertaining. A quick read of the OT reveals that breaches of the so-called ritual law were seen as being quite as offensive to God as a breach of the moral law, which suggests very strongly to me that the distinction is… Read more »

david rowett
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david rowett

“People who promote that sort of behaviour are responsible for the outcome – real suffering…”

And I wonder how much real suffering has been caused by ‘family values’? My next parish is the birthplace of Chad Varah, who, it will be remembered by UK citizens, founded ‘Samaritans’ after a young girl (on the St Giles’ Local Authority Housing scheme in Lincoln, where many of my family were brought up)committed suicide when she began to menstruate, believing she’d picked up some unmentionable disease. One up for 1950’s respectability….

Dave
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Dave

Hi Rowan – Yes, didn’t Augustine also pray “Make me chaste and continent, but not yet.”. But I hardly think we can start to build a new Christian Theology of sexual morality from one Saint’s comments, taken out of context. Looking at Augustine’s Rule of Life, chapter IV on “Safeguarding Chastity, and Fraternal Correction” our Anglican discipline on sexual chastity looks like a tea party! I hardly think that it is likely that he had freedom of sexual expression in mind when he said “Love God and do as you like!” On listening, I think I have done a lot… Read more »

Dave
Guest
Dave

Hi David – Re the applicability of the OT Law to Christians, I was just trying to keep it simple.. I’m not sure this is the Forum for mega-posts on biblical interpretation. However I think Article VII is not a bad summary. As for family values causing real suffering. I would like to remind you of the point I made – I wasn’t saying that 1950s “Family values” were perfect. I was arguing that, generally, liberal values have turned out to have made things much much worse ! And if you promote them you can’t pretend you have no responsibility… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Hi (again) John Tell you what, I reckon that this ‘inclusive’ is a meaningless slogan. Jesus wasnt very inclusive to Pharisees. Or to the unrepentant. Or to those who corrupt children. Or to those who chose noit to follow him. He rightly picked and chose whom he included. John is hardly ever thought to be ‘by far’ the last gospel to be written, though often it is thought to be marginally the last. It seems to postdate some synoptic material, but that could amount to one synoptic gospel. After all, I could write a synoptic gospel today, so it is… Read more »

david rowett
Guest
david rowett

I wasn’t saying that 1950s “Family values” were perfect. I was arguing that, generally, liberal values have turned out to have made things much much worse! I’m less than totally convinced by that — we should remember how ‘respectability’ forced many a 1960’s woman into (backstreet) abortion because of the ‘shame’ a family would feel if their daughter bore out of wedlock (plenty of hard evidence on that one). And if the response is ‘Haven’t we too many abortions now?’I would suggest it’s less down to ‘liberal’ values (after all, most of northern Europe has better sexual health statistics than… Read more »

John Pettigrew
Guest

Chris, Establishing which Gospels precede which cannot be done simply by comparing their content. Each writer selected from the array of material that they knew those pieces that told the story the way they wanted it told. Lots was omitted – the writers tell us that. It is obviously not a logical necessity for the synoptics to precede John. The reason for believing that they do is based on references in the Gospels themselves and other writings, the dates of known early manuscripts of the Gospels, and similar things. Some scholars may believe that John was written early but most… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

John – ‘God would rather see a gay person in a committed relationship than depressed and cut off from human contact’ – isnt this a false either/or? Why does he have to be either of these 2 things? There are loads of other options available. On debate – we agree utterly. On the gospels – we dont! – (1) ‘Establishing which gospels preceded which cannot be one on the basis of their content’ – In this, you are disagreeing with 90% of Synoptic Problem scholars. Almost every verse has several pieces of data (not always clear-cut) regarding the sequence. (2)… Read more »

John Pettigrew
Guest

Chris, There are other options, of course. I was trying to say that, when taking part in this debate, we must be open to the possibility that we are wrong; and that, if that is so, we must not condemn those who make different choices than we do. On the Gospels 🙂 1) I meant “solely on the basis of their content”. The problem is that the Gospels were not written in isolation but derive from a rich, wide body of oral preaching and teaching that had been around since Jesus was alive. So, two Gospels could resemble one another… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

John- I must disagree on ‘pais’. This word is possibly among the top 100 most common Greek words. Whenever a ‘boy’ or a ‘child’ is mentioned it is probably the first word that springs to mind. What proportion of its uses are you suggesting mean ‘homosexual partner’? How about we check out Liddell and Scott or another Greek dictionary to see how highly this particular meaning ranks? In many substantial dictionaries such a meaning will in fact be completely invisible, since such a meaning is not of the essence of the word ‘pais’ at all. Do homosexual thoughts spring to… Read more »

felicity
Guest
felicity

What is sunday worship like in Anglican churches? what are the rituals, teachings and attitudes that make it different from other denominations?
would love someone to get back to me.
thank you

Jon
Guest
Jon

Like the article a lot. I think in order to fulfill its mission to make disciples the church has to be open to everyone. But a line has to be drawn between “churchgoers”, if you like those who aren’t necessarily christians but attend church and are seeking for God, and “church members”, christian people who are committed to the church. I don’t take issue with church goers who practice an openly homosexual lifestyle (or who practices any other kind of immoral lifestyle)as it makes very little sense to me to force christian morals on non-christian people. Strongarming people into following… Read more »