The Modern Churchpeople's Union has published a lengthy critique of recent pronouncements by both Archbishop Rowan Williams and Bishop Tom Wright on the present position of The Episcopal Church.
In the light of the latest developments —or non-developments in the evangelical wing of the Church of England —it raises two interesting challenges.
The first is whether the apparent alliance between Williams and Wright is as ‘opportunistic’ as Stephen Kuhrt, a prominent Open Evangelical, suggested was the alliance between Conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
[...] FCAUK’s temporary ‘alliance’ with Forward in Faith suggests a willingness to combine with those with whom they have deep theological disagreements, so long as they have a current objection to authority.
According to MCU,
Both Williams and Wright show themselves to be dogmatic authoritarians. [...]
The current alliance between these two theologies cannot be stable: they disagree with each other about too much.
Of course, both Kuhrt and MCU may be right. It may be that neither the FCA nor the Williams-Wright alliance can survive. However, it is notable that MCU has itself joined an alliance which includes at least three evangelical groups with whom they would doubtless take issue over matters like the atonement, judgement, Christ’s physical return (or maybe even his physical resurrection) and so on. It is all very confusing.
The other challenge, however, is the clear perception within MCU that Open Evangelicalism belongs in the same camp as themselves —which may be why they have no embarrassment about their own alliances. Thus their critique of Williams and Wright continues,
Neither position is characteristic of Anglicanism. Other Anglicans, calling themselves open evangelicals, or liberal catholics, or broad church, or radicals, or liberals, have not been part of this programme to condemn the Americans and introduce an Anglican Covenant.
Now I am sure there will be many Open Evangelicals who would rightly reject this suggestion of comparability as far as they are themselves concerned. However, the perception must be regarded as significant. The problem is that Open Evangelicalism is, by its own definition, a diverse and diffuse movement, and it is clear that it contains —and more importantly is willing to contain —both those for whom the traditionalist view of sexuality is correct and those for whom it is not.
And the very fact that Open Evangelicalism is not split by contradictory views on human sexuality suggests that the MCU is right. The old ‘orthodoxy’ is now optional. There is therefore no reason to split with TEC over this issue, even whilst one may (as a private individual) hold opinions that disagree with the prevalent view within TEC.
I write this not to pick a fight with Open Evangelicals —there are enough of those going on already —but because I find it increasingly difficult to see how we can talk about one ‘Evangelicalism’ with two (or three) ‘aspects’: Conservative, Open and Charismatic. It all depends whether a particular understanding of sexuality is viewed as necessarily Evangelical. Fifty years ago, it would undoubtedly have been so. Today it is undoubtedly not —at least, not by all who regard themselves as ‘Evangelical’.
Yet when orthodox sexuality becomes optional, it is perhaps significant to note who emerges as one’s new bedfellows. Dr Williams is now clearly regarded by his erstwhile friends as little more than a traitor, whilst Dr Wright is described as being Puritan and Calvinist (but in a bad way). Open evangelicalism, however, is embraced as being true to the ‘inclusivity’ of real Anglicanism —along with TEC and so on.
If I were an Open Evangelical, I would be more worried about this than I was about the possible depredations of FCA. It is a fine mess to have been gotten into. The question is, how to get out of it.
21 August 2009
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