According to Ruth Gledhill’s blog,
The liberal fightback against Anglican conservatives and the Archbishop of Canterbury has begun. Open warfare is now declared.
The justification for this is the release of a statement, signed by a number of Anglican groupings, which is highly critical of Dr Rowan Williams’s recent Reflections on events in TEC. In typically English fashion, the criticisms are nuanced, but they go so far as to say he is being “inconsistent with [his] previous statements on committed and faithful same sex relationships”. This, in Anglican-speak, is indeed ‘fighting talk’.
Ruth is sometimes given to exuberance in her reporting, not least because she cares passionately about the issues where they concern the Church of England. I am therefore personally adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach as to whether this is, indeed, part of a greater plan or merely a letting-off-of-steam. I am also aware how often things which, from the inside, are known to be disorganized or barely-organized, may seem far more coordinated from the outside than is really the case.
Nevertheless, the appearance of the statement, and in particular, the list of signatories, raises some very important questions about the state of our already-fragile Church.
First, we may note that at least the ‘liberals’ managed to get their act together enough to issue a joint statement. The orthodox have managed no such thing, and my own efforts to encourage such a statement, despite behind-the-scenes contacts, have run into the sands of, frankly, mutual hostilities between evangelicals. That is not encouraging.
Secondly, though, and relevant to the first point, there are three evangelical groupings listed as signatories, Accepting Evangelicals, Courage and the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Anglicans. This is symptomatic of the ‘drift’ in evangelicalism generally, which now means that in some quarters, the acceptance of same-sex relationships is regarded as a personal matter and a subject for dialogue rather than correction. (We might note, however, that not all dialogues end happily.)
Thirdly, two of the signatory groups are at the forefront of the pressure for the consecration of women bishops, namely the Group for the Rescinding of the Act of Synod (aka GRAS) and the WATCH (Women and the Church) National Committee. And this highlights the fact that, no matter how much some evangelicals (such as myself) might try to treat the ordination of women as a ‘second order’ issue, in our present context in the Church of England, women’s ordination and gay inclusion depend very much on the same arguments and are often supported by the same people.
Fourthly, ‘gay inclusion’ is as much a rallying point for revisionists as other matters are for traditionalists. Some of the criticism of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, (not least the unfortunate article by Revd Stephen Kuhrt in the Church of England Newspaper) is that it is a ‘flag of convenience’, drawing together people who really disagree about everything except homosexuality and women’s ordination. Yet here we apparently have evangelicals and outright liberals doing the same. There is not much, after all, on the Modern Churchpeople’s Union website to encourage an evangelical, if such they are, in Accepting Evangelicals. We must therefore wonder at the principles behind this coalition, as some have about other groupings.
Fifthly, related to the last point, one cannot help pointing out that there are several bishops involved in these organizations: Lincoln, Leicester and Newcastle are listed as being on the Council of the MCU, whilst Hulme, Ripon and Leeds, Lincoln (again) and Salisbury are listed as being patrons of Changing Attitude. If this is indeed a ‘declaration of war’ then for these dioceses it is bound to be of the unhappily ‘civil’ kind we have had in Chelmsford over the past few years. What, for example, will the newly-appointed evangelical Bishop of Sherborne make of his boss’s implicit support for doctrines, practices and campaigns he himself is committed to opposing?
What all this really calls for, however, is immediate and courageous clarity from Evangelicals, and all the orthodox. There are evangelical leaders, including evangelical bishops, who want to ‘resist’ the erosion of orthodox faith and practice, but who at the same time seem to be unwilling to bear the cold winds of rejection. Yet it is they, above all, who have the power to steady the ship and (to mix metaphors) settle the flock. They should call on us in Joshua’s words, “Choose you this day ...”
Revd John P Richardson
5 August 2009
When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.