The Church of England Evangelical Council website is now advertising 'NEAC 2008' - a consultation in continuity with the previous 'National Evangelical Anglican Consultations'. Meanwhile, on the Fulcrum website, there are rumblings about whether this is going to be truly 'representative' of the current state of Anglican Evangelicalism in England.
Personally, I can't help wondering about 'karma' at this point - or at least, a possible episode of My Name is Earl!
Fulcrum was founded in reaction to the direction being taken during the organizing of the last residential NEAC, at Blackpool in 2003. An article on the Fulcrum website speaks of "the restrictive nature of the planning ... and the sharp reaction of some conservative evangelicals to the appointment of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury".
Early in September 2003, the founders of Fulcrum met in St Mary's vicarage, Islington, and decided to launch at NEAC itself. Francis Bridger, the former Principal of Trinity Theological College, Bristol, was appointed as the chair and Elaine Storkey and Tim Dakin (of CMS) as vice chairs. Graham Kings, the Rector of St Mary's was appointed Theological Secretary, Rod Green, a member of St Mary's as Administrator and John Martin (formerly editor of the Church of England Newspaper) as Press Officer. Others involved in the planning included Christina Rees (of WATCH) and Andrew Goddard (of Wycliffe Hall Theological College).
Just three days before the start of NEAC 4, Graham Kings e-mailed the CEEC about the formation of the new organization and used the fact that he had booked the bar at the Conference venue for Fulcrum's informal launch. In addition to Kings himself, speakers over the subsequent evenings included Bishop Tom Wright, Christina Baxter (Principal of St John's Theological College, Nottingham) and Bishop Graham Cray.
Since then, Fulcrum has claimed the 'Evangelical Centre' and, simultaneously, has steadfastly opposed more Conservative groupings such as Reform, and initiatives such as GAFCON. In effect, therefore, it has formalized the divisions in Evangelicalism between its Conservative and Open strands.
Thus Evangelical unity in the Church of England is probably at an all-time low since the end of the Second World War. The old pattern of Evangelical clergy and laity gathering in Diocesan Fellowships - which provide one of the electoral bases for representation on the CEEC itself - has almost disappeared in many areas. There is deep mistrust, exacerbated by what is perceived amongst many Conservatives as a drift of Open Evangelicals into Liberalism. Christina Rees, for example, now seems thoroughly committed, via WATCH, to the 'Inclusive Church' network and agenda, and equally committed to the marginalization of Traditionalists, both Evangelical and Catholic, on the issue of women bishops.
However, one consequence of this disunity is, ironically, that whilst Conservative Evangelicals are doubtless in a minority, they are disproportionately represented within many established bodies and organizations simply because they have continued to be involved, attend meetings and generally do the donkey work. By contrast, the movement of self-confessed 'Fulcrumites' to the supposed 'centre' has been a movement away from identification with an overriding 'Evangelical' identity and therefore leaves them marginalized from the established Evangelical structures.
One thus reads complaints about NEAC and 'representativeness' by Fulcrum supporters with a sense of 'coming back to bite you'.
A possible solution, of course, would be for Open Evangelicals to commit themselves once again to involvement in Evangelical structures. But in the present context that would necessarily be to express a 'distinctiveness' from the rest of the Church of England, and this seems to be something which, by their very nature, Open Evangelicals are not willing to do.
Given the condition of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, the logic of this would seem to lead, inexorably, to the absorption of Open Evangelicalism into a TEC-style denomination, whilst Conservatives are driven to the edge, and perhaps beyond.
That, however, is no doubt one of the reasons for holding NEAC 2008 - to prevent further drift in both the demonination and the constituency. My advice to Fulcrum and to Open Evangelicals would be, "Go back to the old paths. Put your commitment to Evangelicalism, and Evangelicals, above your commitment to the Church of England and you will benefit the Church of England more than by trying to do things the other way round."
But it may be too late for that.
12 August 2008
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