Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Misunderstanding Militant Tendencies in the Anglican Communion

Reactions flow fast and furious across the internet to GAFCON's final statement and ++Williams' and ++Schori's reactions.

Here be utter execrableness. There be thoughtfulness. And, surprisingly for the journalist concerned, over here is a reasonably agreeable piece.

Take the second of the three articles noted above. Its entitled 'Anglicanism's militant tendency must be resisted' and its by Bishop Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark. A fair point is made: when an ultra-extreme organisation gets a foothold on power within a larger organisation it can become the tail wagging the dog, as the Militant Tendency once did within the British Labour Party with savage consequences for its electoral misfortunes through the Thatcher and Major era. The recent success of the BLP is founded on ejecting the Militant Tendency and replacing it with the Blair New Labour movement. (How they will miss Blair at the next election!!). Butler sees GAFCON, via some of its 'extreme' clauses in its final statement, as demonstrating 'militant tendency' character. But this is, I suggest, a misunderstanding on Butler's part. Its an excusable misunderstanding because Butler has had recent experience of 'militant tendency' evangelicalism in his diocese, which, notably, was resisted by other evangelicals (he mentions this in the article).

Nevertheless, it is a misunderstanding of GAFCON, and it reflects a lack of the very 'thoughtfulness' which Butler espouses! A truer understanding of GAFCON would acknowledge that it is a broader party within Anglicanism than a 'militant tendency' (that is, there is a 'militant tendency' within its ranks, but that is not the whole). Its a broader party, for instance, because it includes Anglicans who are simply bewildered and hurt by the oppressive power of liberalism which in its own 'militant tendency' manner has taken control of parts of the Communion: these bewildered Anglicans have no wish to takeover the Communion but have a keen desire to know the Communion is a 'safe' place for them. Its a broader party because it includes Anglicans from places as diverse as Nigeria and Sydney who are utterly open and transparent about the particular approach to mission and ecclesiology to which they are committed. Its also a broader party because it represents a large group of Anglicans who have no vision for gaining control of the Communion (or parts such as the Church of England) but have a great vision for a restoration of the Communion along theological lines consistent and coherent with foundational Anglican and Scripturally orthodox theology. Anglicans, for instance, who would love to find Archbishop Rowan Williams giving a stronger leadership towards such a restoration and into whose heads the thoughts of 'deposing' him have never entered.

What is missing from a number of comments and opinions being expressed from a liberal perspective is any appreciation of GAFCON as a movement of last resort and of late reaction to the power plays of liberal tendencies in the Anglican Communion. With very rare exceptions you will not find a liberal Anglican saying anything like the following, 'Perhaps we have been wrong to push so hard to be a church so relevant to the modern world that we have had to jettison so much theological baggage from our foundations in Scripture and the BCP, 39A, and the Ordinal. And, maybe we should have checked from time to time whether there are limits to diversity, boundaries around Anglican thinking which are more like classic Anglican theology and less like the manifesto of the American Democratic Party or the British/New Zealand Labour Parties.'

Yes, hell could freeze over, and evolution recycle its way back to the dinosaurs before you will find the likes of Desmond Tutu or John Spong acknowledging any contribution at all to GAFCON and its final statement.

UPDATE: John Richardson has done us all a great favour by blogging directly from the important PostGAFCON meeting in All Souls Langham Place, 1 July 2008.


Anonymous said...

Peter, you have a rather benign view of Tom Butler and what has happened in Southwark diocese. The truth is, there are numerous clergy there in gay relationships that he knows about, and numerous 'same sex' blessings that he knows about but has never disciplined. The redoubtable John Richardson of 'The Ugley Vicar' fame has documented this on many occasions, and similarly in the dicoese of Guildford. Of course, this is completely against CoE law, but nothing has ever happened - nor can it when Southwark Cathedral acts as the flagship for the liberal movement, and was the locale of Jeffrey Johns. Just imagine how things would have been if Colin Slee had been elected bishop of Christchurch! You dodged a bullet ther, for sure. England has the same problem of discipline as Tec had 15-20 years ago or so, when lots of 'facts on the ground' were being created, with Bishop Righter and the rampantly bisexual Bishop Paul Moore of New York blazing the trail with lesbian and gay ordinations. The only person Bishop Butler moved against was the conservative evangelical church planter Richard Coeking - who won his appeal (not mentioned in this article, not surprsingly). Several of the clergy who supported Butler against Coeking were indeed 'from an evangelical background' - but so too is Gene Robinson and many others I could mention. Plenty of people have that 'background' - after all, where are the lively churches with youth movements if not in the evangelical world? - but that doesn't mean they really understand evangelicalism in a deep, doctrinal and historical way or even have a very deep grasp of the Bible. There is nothing new at all about people moving away from evangelicalism (if it was ever deeply embraced in the first place). The real stealth or entryist 'Militant Tendency' is not these dreadful evangelicals (and in today's unbelieivng climate, what could be worse than to be -shudder!- an evangelical?) but the liberal leadership which has secretly or tacitly abetted the revisionist agenda for a generation and never sought to enforce the church's own rules? What has happened now is that the unwashed sans culottes have signaled they've had enough.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Agreed, I wrote with a benign view of Butler!
I happen to know at least one of the evangelicals who supported Butler on the particular question of Coekin's initiative: a real evangelical, not just one with 'background' in their biography.
But the point you make re a liberal 'militant tendency' is correct, and a further fault with Butler's article is that he pointed his finger one way and did not acknowledge the fingers pointing back the other.

Anonymous said...

Peter, in my perusal of blogs in the Anglican world (US and UK, as well as NZ), I've often looked through 'Fulcrum', which I think you've contributed to as well. I'm guessing you know there is a huge debate going on there between Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh and many English members of 'Fulcrum' who call themselves 'the evangelical center' and support homosexual relations. Of course, Gagnon is taking no prisoners! My question is, in what sense can they call themselves 'evangelical' when they are being refuted by Scripture? Their arguments are essentially liberal (i.e., drawn from experience and a generalized concept of 'benevolence') and as such, unexceptional in modern secular society. I don't mean thereby that they are ipso facto wrong, just that they are not evangelical, i.e. derived from the consentient teaching of Scripture. These people are the very ones who supported Bishop Butler against Coekin for the 'offense' of facilitating a CESA ordination in England - yet they have never protested against gay clergy relationships there. If this is 'evangelicalism', it's a very a la carte version (like Gerry Adams' Catholicism!). I think it's just another version of the liberal evangelicalism that has ebbed and flowed over the years (remember Bryan Green? - from Holy Trinity Brompton, no less!).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Re Fulcrum and the (highly interesting, wonderful, comprehensive) debate taking place between Gagnon and the rest (more or less), I personally distinguish between (a) participants who show no sign of being any kind of evangelical, but are keen to 'engage' the evangelical centre (e.g. 'Pluralist', part of whose contributions is to chide Fulcrum as ultimately unable to remain in the centre and destined to side with the conservatives), (b) participants who claim to be evangelical but, as you observe, might be more precisely described as 'liberal evangelical', and (c) participants who claim to be evangelical, might prove to be 'liberal evangelicals', but like to think they are mostly conservative (e.g. me!!).