Wednesday, 15 July 2009

After B033, can English Evangelicals unite?

The Bishop of Willesden is not the only one, but given his remarks on the Fulcrum discussion forum, he is wearing his ‘Told You So’ tee-shirt in response to the decision by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church to rescind Resolution B033, which had established a moratorium on ordaining or consecrating people in active same-sex relationships.

“There’s no particular point in saying ‘we told you so’,” said Bishop Pete, whilst understandably doing just that, “but it does make the Windsor process look pretty unfit for purpose, as many of us suspected.”

Almost simultaneously, Bishop Tom Wright has written an article in The Times in which he acknowledges that the Bishops and deputies of TEC in favour of this move, “were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would ‘tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level’.”

And the leadership of Fulcrum itself has published a Press Statement in which they call for a formal expression of the distance TEC has now put between itself and the rest of the Anglican Communion, including the invocation of the Overseas Clergy Measure, whereby TEC clergy might be refused permission to function in this country.

The declamations by Bishop Wright and Fulcrum are truly to be welcomed for their clarity. And yet one cannot help, along with Bishop Broadbent, wondering why it took so long for the penny to drop.

Bishop Wright describes this as yet another phase in a ‘slow moving train crash’ which began, according to him, as long ago as 1996 “when a church court acquitted a bishop who had ordained active homosexuals.” He adds, “Many in TEC have long embraced a theology in which chastity, as universally understood by the wider Christian tradition, has been optional.”

Yet for someone who has been aware of ‘schismatic’ tendencies across the Atlantic for thirteen years, Bishop Wright has been slow to sound the alarm, and even slower to embrace those who have themselves been expressing such alarm for some considerable time.

As one of my personal correspondents put it, “I have not seen so much flak flying west from the CofE before.” Yet over against this we must still set Bishop Wright’s, and Fulcrum’s, attitude to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, GAFCON and Anglican Mainstream. Thus at the end of his piece, Bishop Wright tartly observes,

Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion.

Yet everything he has written prior to that demonstrates this is not so. The Anglican Communion is not (certainly not as FCA understands it) a fellowship with a unifying confession. Rather, it has contained people (in Wright’s words, initiators of schism) who are willing to write their own ‘confession’ and to override the concerns of those committed to the original, and explicitly affirmed, confessional stance. As he continues, “The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship.” Yet, as he fails to acknowledge, it is still within it. True, he concludes,

Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.

But it is not clear whether this a hint at the recognition of the Anglican Communion in North America, precisely at a point where clarity is needed. Similarly, Fulcrum, whilst adamant on the need to do something, is far from explicit in suggesting what should be done. Their press statement calls for,

A formal expression of distance, with consequent limiting of involvement in Communion counsels ...

And possibly,

... actions under the Overseas Clergy Measure and a decision that the Church of England not be represented at future TEC consecrations.

In the context of the Anglican Communion, however, where polite understatement has long been the order of the day, this amounts to little more than ‘harrumphing’ —the expression of annoyance without substance, and something which The Episcopal Church has been neatly sidestepping for years. As I wrote in my own ‘told you so’ moment back in March,

[The revisionists in North America] have called the bluff of the Communion as a whole, and they have simply by-passed the reconciling posture of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Knowing that, in the end, they can do what they like and get away with it they are, unsurprisingly, pressing ahead. (Suddenly it's over for the Anglican Communion)

It is a sad fact that throughout a period when Traditionalist Anglicans should have been united, they have been bitterly at loggerheads, sometimes over policies, but often, one suspects, over personalities. In this, we have seen the besetting sin of Evangelical fissiparity writ large. Thus Bishop Graham Kings has been able to put his hand to the Fulcrum statement calling for action whilst at the same time lambasting Canon Chris Sugden personally and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans generally for the actions they have taken. Opposition is allowable, it seems, so long as we ‘do it my way’:

I believe the way forward for the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion, is through the glacial gravity of the Anglican Covenant rather than through the setting up of opportunist, autonomous fellowships.

The mention of setting up ‘opportunist, autonomous’ fellowships, however, will be greeted with wry amusement (at best) by those who remember how Fulcrum itself was launched on an unsuspecting fourth National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 2003. (For Bishop Kings's own account of this, see here.)

However, at some stage bygones must be bygones. Now is the time to heed the words of another Evangelical Anglican Bishop, J C Ryle, written in a different age, but to similar problems of disunity:

If we would hold fast the truth, we must be ready to unite with all who hold the truth, and love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We must he ready to lay aside all minor questions as things of subordinate importance. Establishment or no establishment, liturgy or no liturgy,—surplice or no surplice,—bishops or presbyters,—all these points of difference ... ought to be regarded as subordinate questions. [...] The Philistines are upon us. Can we make common cause against them, or can we not? ... Surely it is not right to say that we expect to spend eternity with men in heaven, and yet cannot work for a few years with them in this world.

Perhaps it is time for Bishops Kings and Wright to get on the phone, rather than the keyboard, and instead of lobbing more brickbats to speak to the organizers of FCA and ask, “Where do we go together from here?” He will be a truly great man who can do this.

Revd John P Richardson
15 July 2009

When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.


  1. Hi John
    It will certainly take evangelical unity (and common cause with Anglo-Catholocs) if ACNA and the C of E are to be brought into formal communion in February 2010.

  2. Perhaps the best we can all hope for is that FCA will become an irrelevance, as the TEC and other liberals depart from the Anglican Communion and leave only the more-or-less conservatives that FCA can work with.

  3. How come lambath conference in 1998 did not ask the ECUSA to throw out Bishop Spong is like a rattle snake in the ECUSA church. Bishop Spong preaches heresy and that is like snake posion stuart lawrence

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.