A Response to the Primates of the Global South
Dear Friends in Christ
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus.
In the statement following the meeting of Anglican Primates from the Global South at Kigali you said you’re your vision is for a “global communion where differences are not affirmed at the expense of faith and truth but within the framework of a common confession of faith and mutual accountability”. You have begun to take initial steps towards the formation of a separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Church in the USA. You received a draft report called ‘The Road to Lambeth’ commissioned by the Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa and commended it to your churches for study and response. You also commended this report “for wider reflection”. This response is part of that process.
“The Road to Lambeth” is based on five assumptions. These assume too much, or too little, or are just plain wrong, and consequently the document cannot support the breadth of traditional Anglicanism. It misquotes and misuses the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral which, ironically, was formulated as the basis for Christian unity and the fulfilment of Christ’s prayer, “that they all may be one”. You assert interpretations of three texts about homosexuality “as a sign of fallenness and a sin separating one from salvation”. In this you are asserting one conclusion to what is now generally recognised as more complex exegesis, thereby ruling out all views but your own. These texts are about homosexuality and abuse associated with idolatry . For at least some Christians they do not settle the matter with regard to what we are now considering, baptised people in loving and faithful same sex relationships. In keeping with your vision for the Communion, faithful exegesis also requires an element of mutual challenge holding us accountable to experiences that differ from our own.
The fifth assumption is simply extraordinary – “the requirement that believers not associate with openly immoral church members (1 Cor 5.1-13; 2 Thes 3.14)”. This universalises specific teaching in a way that could never have been intended by St Paul. One is tempted to ask if it is alright to continue to associate with those who aren’t so open about their immorality; to assert the more significant assumption that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness; and to quote Jesus’ teaching about forgiving the sinner not seven times but seventy times seven.
The Christian Church has a great deal of experience of divisive issues about which faithful Christians disagree strongly. In the first century circumcision and attitudes to Jewish food laws were hotly contested but those issues got resolved within the pages of the New Testament and that settles the matter for us. Many issues did not. For example, the way of peace was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. In the life of the Church this has resulted in two quite distinct and sometimes contradictory strands: Christian pacifism and the Just War tradition. We have learned to live with both and we now recognise the fruitful tensions between these fundamentally different approaches to war and peace. Christians do not see such differences – while significant and having potentially serious implications for ethical decision making – as being detrimental to “a common confession of faith”.
For those Christians who assert “the supreme authority of Scripture” this dispute is about whether the Anglican Church is keeping faith. The difficulty with this approach is that the meaning of Scripture is not always plain and simple and needs interpretation. Further, for Anglicans Christian ethics have never simply been Biblical ethics. We also use as authorities the tradition of Church teaching (a faithful wisdom from the Church down the ages), as well as the authority of our God-given reason and intellect. These three authorities work together to help us discern the work and will of God.
In John’s Gospel Jesus says that the Spirit will lead us into all truth, not that we already have all truth. From Kigali you say in effect that there is no new truth to be discovered in relation to human sexuality. In response many of us, and not just those who are homosexual by nature, and not just those in the rich West or North of the world, will say that we asked for bread and you gave us stones.
The reason homosexuality has become so divisive is because it is the touchstone for other matters. In the current debate these issues that purport to be about the use of scripture have got attached to separate but also fundamental issues about the legacy of colonialism. You assert that “70% of the active membership of the Anglican Communion” is in the Global South. As the Primates of the Global South you observe that your Provinces are under-represented in the senior positions within the Anglican Communion which is still in the control of “the Anglo-American bloc”. History and money are the reasons but you are right and the time to face the new reality is overdue.
However, this sort of structural issue is deeply difficult to resolve. Of course there has to be pressure for change to take place, but there is an evident willingness within the Anglican Communion to listen to and address the experience of the Global South. For example on development issues the Anglo-American bloc of the Anglican Church has led public opinion and many of the political processes that are seeking greater justice.
This is not a simple area of discussion and agreeable debate. There is an aspect of the current dispute which looks as though the Anglo-American bloc has exported its contentious issue of the moment – same sex relationships – to parts of the world where this issue is not particularly pressing and other matters seem more urgent.
I wonder if you realise that the tone and style of your statement is as offensive as the worst aspects of colonialism and neo-colonialism that you oppose? It is bullying to assert the will of the majority of the Communion in ways that permit no disagreement. The majority is not always right. It is also theologically deeply flawed. Jesus taught the significance of the Kingdom of heaven being known in the outcast and in the child. The Global South knows this from its own experience. Might it also be the experience of Christians in the Anglo-American bloc in relation to gender, race and sexual orientation? Perhaps this is why the recent processes of the Anglican Communion have emphasised the need to listen carefully to our differing experiences?
Each Primate represents an autonomous Province within the Communion. In the actions you are proposing the Primates of the Global South have given in to the pressure to interfere in the legitimate business of autonomous Anglican Provinces, thereby offending fundamental principles of Church order. It is a gross breach of Christian discipline for any Primate to organise parallel structures within another Province in the pretence that this furthers “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.
“The Road to Lambeth” begins by saying we are at a crossroads, a parting of two ways. It looks different from Trafalgar Square in London. At St Martin-in-the-Fields we have been able to hold together a very diverse church community including British people with roots in many of your Provinces. We also welcome visitors from around the Communion, including from your Provinces. We have welcomed some of you. Our unity is in Christ and our being in Communion depends not on whether we agree about matters of morality but because Christ calls us, “to do this in memory of him”.
St Martin-in-the-Fields’ experience is unique but every parish church knows what it is to be the world’s local church. That the Provinces are straining apart is contradicted by the daily realities of local church life and ought to give you pause for thought. What we daily see with our eyes and touch with our hands is, even in the imperfect Anglican Communion, an experience of what it is to know Christ and to grow together in greater depth and maturity.
In the past we have based the organisational unity of our Communion on a broad and generous expression of Christianity, such as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. This has created a variety of complementary and overlapping Anglican identities. Just because you choose to define “The Road to Lambeth” from Kigali by the image of our being at a crossroads and the way ahead as a narrow road, does not mean this is the way of Christ. I urge you to recognise that at least some of those with whom you disagree are also seeking to walk faithfully in the light of Christ. Please think and pray very hard as you consult your own Provinces because the arguments you have used are fatally flawed and from where I stand the direction you propose looks deeply misguided.
Revd Nicholas Holtam
Vicar, St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
St Francis’ Day 4th October 2006
The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
The following Articles supply [a basis for Christian unity]:
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2. The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
3. The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
As adopted by the Lambeth Conference of 1888, Resolution 11