Anglican divisions harden despite talk of unity

Jul 12, 2016 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Church of England: Synod Conversations end.

I am not a member of General Synod, and so have not been included in the Shared Conversations taking place in York the past two days. Some members with orthodox views have declined to take part, believing that the process is flawed from the start, as it is deliberately designed not to bring resolution on what the Church should be teaching and permitting in the area of same sex relationships, but simply to allow people with different views to listen to each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This assumes a form of ‘pluralism’ where the orthodox and revisionist views are seen to be equally valid, and also places individual experience over historically agreed interpretations of Scripture. [More critiques of the Shared Conversations process can be found here]. I look forward to hearing more from those committed to the historic teaching of the Christian faith on sex and marriage, both those who took part in the Conversations and those who did not.

As soon as the talks finished, a statement was issued by the LGBTI Mission coalition [see my previous assessment of this organisation here] celebrating the Conversations and calling on the House of Bishops to “bring forward bold proposals to move towards LGBTI equality”. In other words, bypassing the Synodical process with its potentially embarrassing debates. The Bishops of the Church in Wales did something similar earlier in the year, so we will wait to see how the English Bishops respond to this call. Meanwhile an official C of E statement affirmed that the radically divergent understandings within the Church of what it means to be a Christian do not harm its mission: rather “the manner in which we express our different views and deep disagreements will bear witness to Jesus”.

Canadian Synod and same sex marriage

The Anglican Church of Canada has, together with TEC, been in the vanguard of efforts to change Anglican doctrine on sex and marriage, and harassing clergy and congregations who hold to the historic teachings. ACoC has permitted the blessing of same sex relationships since 2004. In 2013 their General Synod asked for the writing of a major document supporting the motion ‘to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples’. This document, called “This Holy Estate”, was published in November 2015. Martin Davie wrote a comprehensive review which summarises and analyses this document from an orthodox Anglican perspective. He lists all the familiar revisionist arguments used by the document’s authors, and one by one explains why they are not in line with the Bible and historic Christian faith. This is an excellent resource to counter those in the Church of England and elsewhere who are arguing for a similar radical change in our ethics of sex and marriage.

Davie’s conclusion also highlights an increasingly common argument for accepting same sex marriage which the Canadian document’s authors use:

the report concludes by saying that the decision about same-sex marriage is one ‘that the church will have to reach not by arguments alone, but by prayerful discernment of the movement of the Spirit in our midst.’

Davie rejects this, explaining that if a new teaching contradicts the Word of God it cannot be from the Holy Spirit. But that doesn’t seem to stop senior church leaders, including some in the Church of England, ignoring this basic principle of Christian orthodoxy.

The Anglican Church of Canada has just finished its 2016 Synod, in which the members have voted to adopt the report’s recommendation to celebrate same sex marriages.  Before the vote the Synod heard an address by the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion Office, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, in which he praised the Canadian Church for their contributions towards the work of worldwide Anglican bodies, and then moved to the subject of the debate on sexuality.

He commended the report “This Holy Estate” for wider reading, but admitted that “in so many of our churches, its conclusion will be difficult to receive.”  He then goes on to express hope that this situation will eventually change in time: “This is about changing attitudes, and we need the space and time to do this work on our own.”

Then this:

“In my own African context, and more specifically my Nigerian context, the single most pressing issue around human sexuality is the criminalization of homosexuality…”

How do we interpret this astonishing assertion? One just needs to think about the problems associated with sexuality in Africa for a moment. HIV/AIDS has decimated the continent. Family breakdown and heterosexual promiscuity, often associated with the pressures of poverty and war, and forced migration as men go in search of work far from home. Prostitution; child abuse; rape used as a weapon to punish conquered peoples. Female genital mutilation. Boys permanently disabled from botched ritual circumcisions. It would seem to any impartial observer that these issues which Africa has to face are more pressing than laws about homosexual practice.

It is true that those who want to live openly as gay people in parts of Africa (usually more Westernised, urban areas) do sometimes face strong social disapproval, even incidents of violence, and the threat of arrest. Anglican Primates have consistently spoken out against this (as Idowu-Fearon points out in his address), and in fact on the ground it is the churches which are doing most to encourage tolerance and community harmony, providing pastoral care for the excluded and the hurting, and who are quietly lobbying governments to soften criminal sanctions against gay people.

But we are talking about a tiny minority who are affected, compared, for example, with Christians killed for their faith. It surely cannot be correct to follow the agenda of rich Western lobby groups and prioritise LGBT rights over the urgent need to end war and disease, promote peace and development for hundreds of millions, or support the African church in evangelism and provision of basic needs? Is this what Dr Idowu-Fearon is advocating? We should be prepared for more rhetoric from revisionists about the ‘priority’ of gay rights in Africa as a way of putting pressure on orthodox believers worldwide.

GAFCON holds the line for orthodox Anglicanism

At the same time, another Nigerian, The Primate Archbishop Okoh, released his Pastoral Letter as Chairman of GAFCON. Unlike his fellow countryman, Okoh makes a clear statement based on doctrinal conviction: he sees acceptance of same sex relationships by the Church as evidence of a counterfeit faith, “a Jesus and a Lord who fits with their desires and agrees with what they want as they go with the flow of secular culture.” He goes on to quote from Archbishop Foley Beach from ACNA who directly contradicts the philosophy behind the Shared Conversations. Tolerating different ‘Gospels’ in the same church is not a Spirit-inspired way of demonstrating unity in diversity, but is a form of “false teaching…contrary to the very word of God”, because of which “millions…will not hear the Good News of Jesus Christ”.

As GAFCON, a vibrant multinational Anglican coalition united around a shared message, prepares for its third major gathering in two years time, and as the Church of England slides inevitably towards continued confusion over doctrine and ethics, the faithful in the C of E are faced with difficult choices.

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