Thinking Anglicans

Why unity eludes the Church of England

Press Release from Westminster Faith Debates

In his presidential address to General Synod this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of divisions within the Anglican Communion, and of the prize of being able to develop unity in diversity. Closer to home, he is supporting ‘facilitated conversations’ in the CofE as a way of healing rifts over the issue of gay marriage. What’s the chance of success?

A recent survey of CofE clergy by YouGov, commissioned by the Westminster Faith Debates, reveals a major obstacle in the way of the Archbishop’s goal of ‘disagreeing well’: a relatively small group of the most evangelical male clergy.

Evangelical profile

When asked where they fall on spectrum from evangelical to catholic, roughly a third of all clergy say they are at the evangelical end, a third at the catholic end, and a third in the middle. The third at the evangelical end hold some distinctive and pronounced views.

For instance, a full 88% of these evangelicals say that same-sex marriage is wrong, compared with just over a third of the rest of the clergy. Similarly, 31% of evangelical clergy would ban abortion altogether, a figure which falls to 16% among Anglican clergy overall.

These differences are not a block to unity – if those who hold them are happy to tolerate different views within the Church. But here comes the rub.

Evangelical men beg to differ

The survey of 1,500 Anglican clergy asked about the most appropriate approach to unity in the Anglican Communion. While the majority of clergy support the aim of ‘maintaining unity by being more tolerant of diverse views,’ two thirds of the evangelical clergy disagree, contending either that the Church should seek greater uniformity of views or else that it should not be afraid of separating amicably along doctrinal and ethical lines.

What the survey also finds, however, is that it is evangelical men not evangelical women who are opposed to the Archbishop’s goal of ‘disagreeing well.’ Most evangelical women clergy (61%) agree with the majority of clergy who support greater toleration. But 68% of evangelical male clergy disagree.

The typical view of evangelical male clergy is both to oppose gay marriage and not to wish the Church to embrace diverse views. Overall this combination of views is held by about 25% of clergy, the majority of whom are male evangelicals. These are a major block to the Archbishop’s dream of unity in the CofE—- clergy who don’t think it a goal worth pursuing—-especially because so many of them belong to the same clergy “tribe”.

The good news for Justin Welby is that he doesn’t have to worry about the majority of clergy. They support his goal. The bad news is that his opponents are not likely to change their minds. His success depends on finding a solution – something which eluded his predecessor Rowan Williams.

Professor Linda Woodhead comments:
These findings are both good and bad news for the Archbishop – good in that his battle is won with most of the clergy and almost certainly an overwhelming majority of lay Anglicans. Bad, in that there is a significant group of male clergy who do not share his vision for the CofE and the Anglican Communion.

Future of the Church Debate

This Thursday the next in the current series of national debates on the Future of the Church of England delves into this issue, asking what kind of unity is appropriate for the Church and how Archbishop Justin’s goal of unity in diversity can be achieved.

Speakers at this public debate in Oxford include Canon David Porter, the Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson, Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream, the Very Revd June Osborne and Rt Revd Dr Trevor Mwamba.

Ends

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JeremyLorraine CavanaghSimon DawsonSavi HensmanInterested Observer Recent comment authors
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Jeremy
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Jeremy

This is the problem. The Archbishop is trying to get along with people–in the CofE and elsewhere–who fundamentally have no desire to be gotten along with.

Leonardo Ricardo
Guest

Gosh, this coincides almost exactly with my life experience over 7 decades. About 25% of the human beings I encounter, both in and outside of Church, demean LGBTI Christians/others and have no need of us! (my own opinion, which I strongly support as real experience, is that the 25% of the evagelical ¨discriminators¨ be sent to Church camp for further enlightenment…it worked for me as I learned how to LIVE and WORSHIP with others (all) at the Anglican Communion.

FrDavdH
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FrDavdH

It was Robert Runcie who said those who swim at the shallow end make the most noise. He could easily have been speaking of that rowdy group at the misnamed REFORM and the ridiculously-named Anglican Mainstream. Why doesn’t Archbishop Welby ignore these troublemakers, let them self-destruct and disappear into oblivion?

Mark Dyer
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Mark Dyer

The problem you have identified is the major problem and always will be: because those you deem ‘Evangelicals’ contain a huge number who are also Fundamentalists. They will NEVER change; which is why people like me are ‘Believers in Exile’ (Jack Spong)

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Alleluia! You cannot tolerate the intolerant, cannot tolerate people who want to impose their views on everyone else. This desire to get on with people who loathe everything you stand for is liberalism’s great and fatal flaw. Too many evangelicals worship the Bible; too many liberals worship tolerance. Idols, both. As the constitution is not a suicide pact, tolerance is not unlimited. It must, must be selective. Tolerating harmful policies makes us accessories. We would not tolerate racism, regardless of its theological credentials. We should not tolerate homophobia, and the abuse, misery, despair and suicide it bequeathes. These are not… Read more »

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

Yes, but these evangelical men do grow up. Just look at the Archbishop of Canterbury.

JCF
Guest
JCF

“it should not be afraid of separating amicably along doctrinal and ethical lines”

They SAY that. But then in my (admittedly American) experience, that “separating” comes w/ all sorts of strings attached (of a material nature—property, pensions and such), denial of which delays the separating and decreases the “amicably”, PDQ.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

IT Do liberals really never take themselves off? I know plenty who have. I know conservatives who endure. And is seceding not an attempt to faithfully endure in the face of perceived crisis or need?

Alastair Newman
Guest

Is this really so surprising? Male conservative evangelicals are resistant to change and don’t want to listen to or accommodate the views of those different from themselves: tell us something we don’t know!

rjb
Guest
rjb

Although I mostly belong to the liberal 67%, I fear this study is loaded with unhelpful assumptions. By focusing on two issues of particular importance to conservative evangelicals – abortion and gay marriage – the study is able to present this minority as hardline, uncompromising, and separatist, while presenting liberals and the Catholics as just wanting to get along. But this ignores the fact that there are other issues that liberals and Anglo-Catholics are equally uncompromising about. For me personally, the sanctity of the confessional is just about a bottom-line issue. I would find it very hard indeed to remain… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“Why doesn’t Archbishop Welby ignore these troublemakers, let them self-destruct and disappear into oblivion?” They can only function because the CofE wastes time in attempting to compromise with people whose only interest is in obtaining complete agreement. So that attempted compromise has no effect in terms of improving relationships with evangelicals, but massively harms the CofE in wider society. Take, as a random example which we have so rarely discussed, same sex marriage. The CofE’s attempt to stop it in civil society caused it massive harm, because a large number (indeed, the vast majority) of MPs and peers experienced the… Read more »

Daniel Berry, NYC
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Daniel Berry, NYC

Sounds like the Evangelicals canvassed said exactly what was expected – and aligned themselves very neatly with the so-called Anglican bishops in certain African countries. To me, the most salient aspect of their position is that they hold to the most un-Anglican principle that if you do not walk in lockstep with them they will not come to the Table with you. (Ask the primate of the American church how well that worked at Primates’ meetings.) Consistent with this, they oddly cling to the position that those not in lockstep are un-Anglican. (Ask Rowan Williams how successfully he navigated that.)… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I think that “unity” is over valued, especially in CoE. It’s one thing to minister to lay people who have trouble with women and LGBT people, it’s another thing to do actual injustice to appease their intolerance. Rowan Williams would have had us all collaborating with human rights abusers for the sake of “unity.” Hm. Ignoring the harm caused to our people, and especially our LGBT children (suicide, outrageous rates of teen homelessness and teen sexual abuse). CoE has routinely lifted “unity” above JUSTICE. Above recognizing all people as created in the Image of God. We all need to get… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

‘But in a Chamberlain-style policy of appeasement, he is attempting to keep them happy by throwing them small morsels which don’t satisfy them, but which make him look ridiculous.’

And also give the Global South an exaggerated sense of its own power and of the Anglican Communion’s usefulness as an instrument of leverage.

The Anglican Communion is a family of independent churches. Nothing more.

Families do not legislate. The Anglican Communion shouldn’t either.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Cynthia: Rowan Williams would have had us all collaborating with human rights abusers for the sake of “unity.”

As I get older, I get less interested in distinguishing between people who abuse human rights enthusiastically while cackling maniacally in the manner of a James Bond villain, and people who abuse human rights reluctantly and cry themselves to sleep afterwards. Because their victims suffer irrespective of how agonised their abusers are.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘We all ultimately have some uncompromising and unbending beliefs about what the church ought to be and how it should embody the person of Jesus.’

Thank you, RJB. And I also find it interesting that many of those beliefs are not mentioned in the teaching of Jesus (just like gay marriage). Let’s see how tolerant and compromising the liberal catholic majority becomes when someone proposes that lay readers be allowed to preside at the Eucharist (a subject on which Jesus did not give his opinion).

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

‘Let’s see how tolerant and compromising the liberal catholic majority becomes when someone proposes that lay readers be allowed to preside at the Eucharist.’

I’m a liberal. I have no problem with lay presidency.

But I think the Eucharist is basically a common meal.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Tim, you seem now to be aligning yourself with the former Archbishop of Sydney, who was keen to promote Lay-Presidency at the Eucharist, while yet not allowing a female priest to preside. This seems so odd to me, an Anglo-Catholic, as to be derisory of catholic and apostolic order.

LL
Guest
LL

While the discussion continues the lack of tolerance blocks those of us already ordained from fulfilling our call to be ministers to the Church and faithful to those God has given to us in loving relationships.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Interested Observer, the weeping accessories are worse, because they know they’re acting wrongly. Liberals went far, far too easily on Rowan Williams, who should’ve been finished for his surrender over Jeffrey John’s enthronement. (I say that without any personal affection for John, who had the nerve to condemn John Shelby Spong for being unorthodox!) The contemporary example is (sorry, I know I’m picking on him, but he did put himself out there) Nicholas Holtam, who combines support for equal marriage with a willingness to “discipline” any clergy who contract one. His actions betray his words. If you step up, you… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

I think, Tim, one major difference is around exclusion. As a middle Anglican (I would not call myself ‘liberal’), I am used to C of E churches which are considerably more ‘Protestant’ or ‘Catholic’ in their worship than I would find comfortable. For instance the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement goes against the official position of the C of E and to me is profoundly unbiblical but those with this view are rightly not excluded from being ordained, and indeed consecrated as bishops. There are however some views which, by consensus, are unacceptable, e.g. overt racism. If someone not a… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Ron, I know next to nothing about Jensen and have been in favour of lay presidency at the Eucharist since long, long before he became Archbishop of Sydney.

As for ‘catholic and apostolic order’ – well, yes, but as I said, it is a subject on which Jesus apparently had no opinion (as I have often been reminded regarding homosexuality).

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Savi, if you lived in the wide open spaces of western Canada, or the Arctic, as I have done, you would perhaps feel less sure that there is no compelling reason for lay presidency right now. As for people feeling excluded from the table – well, I suppose it would all depend on how the decision to authorizer a lay reader to preside had been taken. One would assume that the congregation would need to be in favour. But that’s not my point away. My point is that most (not all, thank you, Jeremy) liberal catholic Anglicans would draw a… Read more »

John Sandeman
Guest
John Sandeman

Ron Smith oversimplifies Peter Jensen’s (the former Archbishop of Sydney) action over lay presidency. While personally in favour he did not allow a motion by the Diocesan Synod (which voted overwhelmingly in favour) to go into effect. My understanding is that he did this on the grounds that it was most likely illegal, and out of a desire for good relations with members of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican church of Australia. Savi Hensman makes a good point about a lay-person (or deacon) licensed to preside being regarded as a priest. If her suggestion is accepted then “lay” presidency… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

James Byron, You said “The contemporary example is (sorry, I know I’m picking on him, but he did put himself out there) Nicholas Holtam, who combines support for equal marriage with a willingness to “discipline” any clergy who contract one.”

That’s not my understanding of his position, so could you please explain why you think he maintains the stance you describe.

best wishes

Simon

Laurie
Guest
Laurie

I see Tim has recovered his ‘voice’ here.

Must surely be counted in TA’s favour, to a not inconsiderable extent.

Laurie
Guest
Laurie

In the Church of England it gets exhausting finding which aspect of Catholic faith will be undermined next…

I guess I mean, I have found it too much over the years…

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Tim, the church is full of contradictions and the CoE is a miracle in keeping widely different theologies under its umbrella. Anglo-Catholics wouldn’t agree with many of the evangelical liturgical practices either and would draw a line if they were asked to assume them for themselves. Whether Lay presidency would be a dividing issue in the CoE is hard to say. But we’re still making a category error. Because lay presidency is something that, if accepted, would theoretically be open to everyone. In the lgbt debate we’re talking about the church refusing to accept actions by gay people that are… Read more »

NJ
Guest
NJ

Savi, I realise this wasn’t your main point, but penal substitutionary atonement against the official position of the CofE? I realise defining the CofE’s ‘official position’ on any doctrine is a challenge. But let’s see: Article 2 “Christ who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men”. Article 31 “The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual” (pretty much the same… Read more »

Rev Barbara Evans
Guest
Rev Barbara Evans

The path to unity comes through embracing the diversity. Too much of the CofE is all about managed uniformity. Liberals are notably excluded by the Archbishops. But the doors remains open to conservative catholics and evangelicals to somehow get recognized. It would be good to see some decent theological liberalism coming back into the heart and mind of the church.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Erika, I respectfully deny that it’s a category error. The original post (and initial comments) focussed on the intolerance of male evangelical clergy for the viewpoints of others when it came to the two issues of homosexuality and abortion. The Archbishop’s goal, we’re told, is that we ‘disagree well’, but male evangelical clergy are standing in his way. In response, rjb pointed out that ‘disagreeing well’ is not an absolute value of liberals either. They also have issues on which they are not prepared to compromise. The study focussed on two issues on which conservative evangelicals appear to be intransigent,… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Tim, yes, thank you, I see what you’re saying now. Still… if we look at the context of this post, we have to say that the only issue that threatens unity is the lgbt question, and if these data are correct, it is a smallish group of evangelical male priests who have drawn a line in the sand. That other issues might result in other lines drawn in other sands is neither here nor there. And there are different ways of drawing lines in sand too. In the women bishop’s debate, there were those whose lines meant they decamped to… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Simon, this is Holtam’s statement in response to the “pastoral guidance” (which I believe he signed off on): “The pastoral guidance notes the conflict created with Canon Law. Therefore if a person in holy orders contracts a same-sex marriage a complaint could be made against them, which would result in discipline for which the full range of penalties are possible.” He’s said nothing to condemn it, nor to disapply it in Salisbury. He’s not pledged his support for LGBT clergy who marry, nor has he suspended the homophobic discipline of ‘Issues …’ in his bailiwick. I’m sure there’s all kinds… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

Erika’s point is well made. I think it would be bad for England if the CofE ripped itself to pieces or became toxic in the eyes of the population at large. Aside from anything else, the CofE is the custodian of buildings, liturgies, music and traditions which help to define “England”, and its implosion would not only affect worshippers, but would affect the larger community of for want of a better phrase “cultural Christians”. Issues such as who is empowered to celebrate various offices and, indeed, the ordination of women into various roles are unlikely to result in the church… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

NJ, there have been various understandings of the atonement throughout church history and penal substitution is by no means the earliest. I will not go into the debate here in detail but to me the doctrine appears to contradict the portrayal of the Father by Jesus in the Gospels. That Christ died for our sins is not the issue: that he need not have died if the Father forgave freely without demanding a blood sacrifice is something I do not accept. At any rate, a 1995 C of E Doctrine Commission report restated the view of the 1938 Commission that… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“That Christ died for our sins is not the issue.”

That depends on what the meaning of “for” is.

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

James Byron, Thank’s for the quote from the Bishop of Salisbury, which I was aware of, and thought would be the one that would be produced. It seems to me to be a simple factual statement, pointing out the existence of the guidance, and saying that complaint could be made, by person or person’s unknown. He has not disciplined anybody, nor has he said that he will discipline anybody. So I say again – where is your evidence of a willingness to discipline such clergy. I appreciate that you may be disappointed because he did not go as far as… Read more »

Lorraine Cavanagh
Guest

Having scrolled through these comments, I think there is only one question left to ask: Do we all love the same Lord? Perhaps this could be a subject for a future debate.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

‘Do we all love the same Lord?’

When you’ve managed to define the Lord for all times, for all cultures, and in all places, please let the rest of us know.