From the Church of England Newspaper
Turbulent Times: Continuing our series in which campaigning groups outline their future for the Church. This week: Inclusive Church.
Why it is time to focus on the positive aspects of the Church
by Brian Lewis
The Anglican Communion is a truly remarkable phenomenon, an extraordinary kaleidoscope of churches each embodying its own particular history and engaging with its local community in its own distinctive way. The existence of the Communion has meant that churches that are very different from each other have been able to work together as partners, partners in mission sharing spiritual gifts, and partners in material assistance and development.
Inclusive Church hopes that through the work of the Primates’ meeting and the actions of the other “instruments of unity” the Anglican Communion will come to a renewed understanding of its worth and a deeper historical perspective on its differences. There is much talk of the fractures in the Communion but not enough recognition of the works of partnership and the expressions of unity that still go on in very many places; churches from “the North” (including TEC) and “the South” (including in Africa) are still working as partners in mission, poverty relief and development. We hope for a communion that recovers a broader perspective on the issues of the current day and we dare to hope that the Church of England will contribute to this by developing its own understanding of what it means to be an inclusive church. The Church of England will, by a more honest and tolerant recognition of the divergent views within itself, contribute to the wider Communion discovering ways to hold differences without irrevocable division.
When we speak of our hope for an inclusive church we mean a church that will live out the promise of the Gospel. A church that will celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the Body of Christ, and in the ordering of our common life open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation. The just ordering of the Church’s common life will strengthen its proclamation of the Gospel. Our failure to be inclusive is a real barrier between the church and the wider society we seek to serve and evangelise.
A theology of inclusion is not in opposition to theology that values conversion and sanctification. For us inclusion means that we recognise that God desires salvation for all regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation and that we are all called to lives that are faithful, honest, other enriching and socially responsible again regardless of our race, gender or sexual orientation. It is the church’s task to help the Christian discern a pattern of holy living in response to that Gospel challenge. That response will be based on the serious reading of, and attending, to Scripture in a way that does not confuse the Gospel with either the presuppositions and exclusions of the first century, or an uncritical acceptance of the mores of the culture of today.
The ordination of women to the priesthood is not the church giving up obedience to God and following the culture of the day, it is the church joyfully recognising the leadership gifts God has given to women as well as men and bringing that into the life of our church in our world today. We believe that Scripture teaches us God intends men and women to work in partnership, a partnership expressed in ministry, lay and ordained. This is not a departure from biblical truth it is the church coming to understand it more fully over time, a process encouraged and authenticated by women responding faithfully to God’s call as the church has increasingly opened its lay and ordained ministries to women.
The society in which we live and proclaim the Gospel accepts the right of women to full participation at all levels. So deeply is this part of our society that we have legal sanctions to prevent individuals or organisations denying women the opportunity to advance to all levels of leadership. Yet we have only managed to hesitantly and conditionally recognise what women in the priesthood have brought to the church. Our failure to move easily and speedily to bring women into the episcopate has made us appear strange, irrational, and frankly unwell to the society we hope to evangelise.
We hope for a church that will have the courage to say Yes to women in ministry and leadership. We believe that when our church finally admits women to the episcopate in a way that does not diminish the fullness of that ministry this will not change the essential nature of the episcopate but rather remove an artificial cultural barrier that excludes those whom God has called. It is an uncomfortable truth that some of reactions to the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori to the position of Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church revealed how superficial the Communion claim to agreement on women in the episcopate is. Women bishops in the Church of England will be an encouragement to those parts of the Communion where this is not yet a reality and strengthen the place in the Communion of those churches in which women already take their rightful place.
If attitudes to women bishops (especially primates!) are one apparent challenge to the Communion’s unity, differing approaches to homosexuality seem to be an even greater threat. Then again we are told that the principal cause of division is not homosexuality but the proper place of Scripture in determining the theology and ethical position of the Church. But first let us note that the same level of division has not come from divergent views of how the Bible should determine the church’s position on other issues. For example some churches in the Communion allow those previously divorced to marry in their churches, others regard that as a betrayal of the clear teaching of the Bible but there is no talk of dividing the Communion over it. We are left with the question of why the issue of homosexuality has produced the visceral response, the violence of language and the depth of division that it has.
The issue of homosexuality is not new – not even to the bishops of the Anglican Communion. Nearly thirty years ago, in 1978, the Lambeth Conference resolved:
“While we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm, we recognise the need
for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would
take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and
medical research. The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those
who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them.”
With the notable exception of a few (the Churches in Canada and the USA for example) this study has not been carried out and where it has the results have been ignored in the other parts of the Communion.
The Lambeth Conference of 1988 resolved
1. Reaffirms the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 on homosexuality, recognising the continuing need in the next decade for “deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research.”
2. Urges such study and reflection to take account of biological, genetic and psychological research being undertaken by other agencies, and the socio-cultural factors that lead to the different attitudes in the provinces of our Communion.
3. Calls each province to reassess, in the light of such study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation. “
Could a Lambeth Resolution have been more carefully and studiously ignored?
It is in the context of these resolutions and the complete failure of the Communion to respond to them that we should see the more widely quoted resolution 1.10 of 1998.
We are however, where we are, and Inclusive Church is determined to journey in hope. It is not too late for the Primates to listen to each other with a greater spirit of generosity than they appear to have found in the recent past. The “Windsor process” might achieve greater success if it is broadened to involve the whole Communion at deeper levels. At present it seems to depend on the Bishops indeed the Primates alone. The Lambeth Commission was mandated to report to the Archbishop of Canterbury in preparation for the meetings of the both Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council. It was perhaps a lost opportunity that the Primates acted at Dromantine without waiting for the ACC to meet and bring its wisdom to the table. Their call for members of the ACC to voluntarily suspend their own membership was particularly damaging. The ACC is after all the duly constituted representative body of laity, clergy and bishops in the Communion. When the ACC did meet with the “voluntary” self-suspension of the North American churches it was notable that the suspension was confirmed by a margin less than the votes of the excluded provinces. The Primates decision to exclude would not have been confirmed by the ACC if it had met with its properly constituted membership. May we hope that the Primates will seek ways of acting that are less about determining who may come to the ACC and the Lambeth Conference and more about listening to what might come from those bodies if they are allowed to have their own integrity and purposes.
If the ACC has been somewhat sidelined, how much more the Church of England. With the Archbishop of Canterbury engaged in his delicate role as the “fourth instrument of unity” and choosing to exercise that role in the manner he has, the Church of England has been effectively voiceless. The recent decision to add the Archbishop of York to the Primates meeting may help but it is late in the day and with due respect to the Archbishop of York he was not the one chosen by the due process of the Church of England to represent it.
It is our hope that the Church of England will make a more positive contribution to bringing reconciliation to the Communion by modelling a more irenic and constructive model of debate than we have seen within the Communion to date. At its next meeting General Synod will consider a private members motion that calls for recognition of the diversity of views within the Church of England and the honest and sincere nature of those views. It is a serious attempt to set the ground for a genuine intelligent conversation within the Church of England about the nature of homosexuality, how we read and attend to scripture and how we proclaim the gospel afresh in the society in which we are set. This is not a naive expression of the view that if we can just talk to each other we will discover that we all really agree. We might, but its also very possible we won’t. If we can not come to agreement we still owe it to the people of the church and to the mission of the church to get past caricatures of each other and come to a deeper understanding of what it is the other is really saying. We do not yet know what we might achieve by sitting down to understand the others context, nor should we imagine that we have already heard all that the other has to say, or that we each understand what the other means by the language used. This is not a romantic call to sentimentality it is an invitation to the hard work of dialogue.
The Archbishops’ Council report “Into the New Quinquenium” (General Synod Feb. 06) speaks of the life of the Church being expressed “in its transforming engagement with the society in which it is set”. We journey in hope to the day we become an inclusive church, ordering our common life with justice and celebrating the gifts God has given all his people; while we remain hampered by the cultural presuppositions of a previous age we can not hope to engage and speak to the society in which we are set.
The Rev’d Brian Lewis is a member of the Inclusive Church Executive, a member of General Synod, a parish priest and chairs the Newham Faith Communities Forum.