Canterbury rebuke to African Primates reveals theological difference and personal animosity

Jun 7, 2022 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The public slap-down of the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda by the Archbishop of Canterbury (press release here, open letter here ) will not do anything to heal the long-running rift or promote the kind of unity that the final paragraph of the letter calls for. It will be viewed by the African leaders as another example of imperialism. The letter from Justin Welby attempts to correct what it sees as false claims while criticising those who say they will not attend the Lambeth Conference, but in doing so only reveals the gulf of worldview between the two sides. Some of the points that are made need further scrutiny.

Comparing the current long running debate on sexuality to the apostolic conference, reported in Acts 15, on admission of gentiles to the church, is specious for a number of reasons. First, that conference came to a united decision, and did not allow the formation of two opposing views in the church as Anglicans have done with sexuality issues. The pro- and anti-gentile factions did not agree to “walk together” with differences on this key topic unresolved. Second, the answer to the problem in Acts 15 was decided by Scripture and agreement on its interpretation – here the Archbishop of Canterbury appeals to Scripture but does not address the fact that its teaching is being blatantly disregarded by leaders in the Western church. Third, one of the conclusions of Acts 15 was that gentile Christians should abstain from sexual immorality -(the parameters of which every Jew and proselyte would have understood clearly) – whereas the Western church appears to see this as unimportant or open to different interpretations.

Archbishop Welby’s letter mentions Lambeth I:10, and says it has not been rescinded. But the implication is that this resolution is of merely academic and historic interest, not morally binding in any way. This is why Provinces which have disregarded its teaching on sex and marriage still take part in the Anglican Communion as if nothing has happened. The disunity in the Communion, the “torn fabric”, has been caused by this arrogant refusal by Western Provinces to obey the mind of the Communion since 1998, not by the current boycott of Lambeth by African Provinces which is its consequence.

There is also a pointed reference to the clause urging compassion for “homosexual people”. The African Anglicans have not done very well on this aspect of Lambeth I:10, the letter implies, so they should not criticise those who are liberal on sexuality and marriage. Is Archbishop Welby suggesting a tit-for-tat, where the Western church is free to officially and liturgically bless gay marriage as long as some African Anglicans are unkind to gay people? Is this how the church should operate, where I justify my own sin and disobedience on the basis of another’s faults being as bad as mine?

There has been a lot of talk about sexuality between conservatives and liberals over the past decades. It suits those who hold the power, who follow the views of the secular West, to accuse less powerful conservatives of not listening, of losing their opportunity to put forward their viewpoint, when in fact the conservatives have listened enough; they do not agree; their re-statement of their own view, patiently again and again has not been heard, they feel that remaining at the table leaves them open to manipulation.

Then, astonishingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury accuses the Africans of not caring enough about poverty and conflict in their own countries; he lectures them on the dangers of climate change and “matters of life and death”, as if somehow he knows more about this and cares more than them. What is going on here? It seems that the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda had said in an earlier letter that the upcoming Lambeth Conference programme was focussing on ‘peripheral’ issues rather than the bible and the gospel. Of course they did not mean that physical suffering is unimportant and that the church’s role is purely ‘spiritual’ – the African and biblical worldviews do not make these dualistic distinctions. They were rather warning that a gathering of church leaders to agree unanimously on something patently uncontroversial – the need to tackle poverty and the effects of climate change – would be of little value without more profound agreement on the spiritual needs of the world and the solution in repentance from sin and faith in Christ. The sexuality debate shows that there is no agreement on this, and therefore no real basis for fellowship.

Ministry to the poor and suffering, which the churches of Nigeria Rwanda and Uganda do all the time, proceeds from their belief in the biblical gospel, not as virtue-signalling to a sceptical secular world. On the day that the Archbishop of Canterbury sent his letter of rebuke, Nigerian Christians were reeling from the latest atrocity, this time an attack on a church leaving dozens dead and seriously injured.

Lastly, the Archbishop of Canterbury insists that the Church of England has not changed its teaching on marriage or the place of sexual relations. Perhaps not yet, technically and legally, in the sense of changing canons and liturgy to permit the blessing of same sex relationships in church. But as this website has recorded over a number of years, in practice the teaching has changed on the ground and is in the process of being changed officially. Archbishop Welby’s “radical inclusion” speech following GS2055 (2017), the Living in Love and Faith process (2020-2022), and various bishops’ charges and Synod resolutions, declare again and again that since there is no consensus on the theological basis of the current teaching, and because of increasing critiques of that teaching from the culture being an obstacle to mission, the teaching can and should be changed when there is sufficient consensus. Meanwhile Bishops openly advocate for change (including the current Archbishop of York), and quietly permit informal breaching of the teaching at local level. Clergy and senior administrators are appointed whose lifestyle is openly at odds with the official teaching. And most recently, Bishops have been in support of an extreme form of a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ which would effectively lead to the criminalisation of those who base their pastoral care on the church’s official teaching.

So when, some time within 24 months after Lambeth, teaching, liturgy and canons do change to accommodate to the spirit of the age, it will be another line crossed in the long process and trajectory of revisionism, not a sudden switch from orthodoxy to heresy. It will further entrench the division between the institutions of the Anglican Communion Office and Western Anglicanism on one hand, and the vibrant Christianity of the global south on the other – a division which will be expressed in the non-attendance of certain Provinces at Lambeth.

See also:

Exclusion of same-sex spouses at Lambeth Conference ‘unfortunate,’ primate says, by Matt Puddister, Anglican Journal

Global South Revolts Against Western Sexual Agenda at World Health Assembly, by Stefano Gennarini JD, C-Fam: Only 61 out of 194 countries voted in favor of a new strategy of the World Health Organization to combat HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, because it promotes the homosexual/trans agenda and sexual autonomy for children.

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