Monday, August 18, 2008

A Down Under Bishop at Lambeth

Its a bit difficult defining the full geographic extent of 'Down Under', but there is a good case for the Church of Melanesia being included in it, not least because of strong and continuing historical links between it and ACANZP. Here are some words spoken at Lambeth by Bishop Terry Brown of Malaita, as published already on Anglicans Online - I have highlighted those words which I think we need to ponder carefully as we work our way through the Anglican crisis:

"Intervention by Bishop Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, in Hearing on Lambeth Reflections Draft, Lambeth Conference, July 30, 2008

I was confirmed in The Episcopal Church, by a black bishop of Massachusetts.

I was made deacon and ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, in the diocese of Fredericton, a Loyalist diocese, by a bishop whose ancestors ran away from the American Revolution because they distrusted liberalism, political and otherwise.

I was consecrated a bishop in the Church of the Province of Melanesia, a global south diocese, where all the Millennium Development Goals score about 3 out of 10, even though we are great dancers.

And to make matters worse, my own sexuality is "dodgy".

I live in and am a part of all four worlds -- The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Melanesia and the pained world of gay and lesbian laity, deacons, priests and bishops.

Yet I am a bishop of a diocese that is full of life and has had much growth. In my last 12 years as bishop, I have confirmed 10,000 candidates. The diocese is deeply involved in evangelism, education, medical work, liturgy and peace and reconciliation.

My life as a bishop in all four worlds is possible only because of my faith in Jesus Christ. I had a conversion experience in which I felt deeply loved by God. That, the Eucharist, the life of Christian friendship and community, and Scripture, have sustained me through thick and thin.

From my perspective, do I have any suggestions for the text of the final Reflection?

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you". There are many other competing kingdoms, do not bow to them.

As much as is in you, try to maintain communion and friendship with all, whether inside or outside the church, however deep the disagreement.

Reject the Puritan option. We are Anglicans, not Puritans.

Exercise restraint and urge others to do so, whether locally or globally. Not everything has to be said or written about.

Be very careful in using typologies to classify people, theologies and churches. We are all the children of God, redeemed, with all of creation, by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you have not done so, accept all the gay and lesbian people in your midst, in all their complexity, pain and celebration.

Finally, let the conversations (even debate) continue. Television has finally come to the Solomon Islands, so we now have the privilege of seeing BBC interview both Gene Robinson and Greg Venables. In our case, I do not think the church will thereby collapse. But in other situations, that may not be the case, and the endless talking to the media of both may be destructive. That is my final suggestion -- remember that whatever you say publicly in this wired age, will go to every corner of the world. Honesty and prudence are both Christian virtues. We need to learn to balance them.

Thank you."

I like the way Bishop Terry can identify across different groupings within our Communion. He reminds us that our crisis is not best accounted for by dividing the Communion into two parts, liberal and conservative. He does not see himself as fitting neatly into any one category. His whole set of reflections on Lambeth can be read here. Hat-tip to Titus One Nine for the alert to their existence.


Anonymous said...

Do we really need to know, or care, that Terry Brown experiences same sex attraction? We are all 'dodgy' in our own way (temptations to porn, a wandering eye, the bottle). All that matters is that he should live according to the law of Christ.
A previous bishop in Melanesia, Derek Rawcliffe, 'came out' after his retirement as Bishop of glasgow and the death of his wife. Maybe Melanesia should start appointing its own bishops from among its own men.

Peter Carrell said...

I agree that what matters is that Christians live by the law of Christ. And one might expect a church to expect its bishops so to live. But Terry Brown challenges us to better understand the situation of gay and lesbian people within the life of the church. If, as conservatives, we had a better grasp through 'listening' of the challenges and difficulties of being gay and lesbian, we would not need that challenge, and I would not feel the need to publish his intervention!

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll try not to be captious - but what do I make of these comments?

'Reject the Puritan option. We are Anglicans, not Puritans.'

'Anglicans' and 'Puritans' (all good CofE men until they were ejected) didn't argue about sexual ethics in the 17th century. So what's his point? Are these terms useful or polemical? (Some of us do think warmly of Anglican Puritans Richard Baxter, John Owen and Jim Packer!)

"Exercise restraint and urge others to do so, whether locally or globally. Not everything has to be said or written about."

Agreed - including talk of one's own 'sexuality'. But 'restraint' must cover actions as well as, even more so than, words.

"Be very careful in using typologies to classify people, theologies and churches. We are all the children of God, redeemed, with all of creation, by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

I thought this is what he'd done with anachronistic talk of 'Anglicans' and 'Puritans' (to use a 19th century typology).

"If you have not done so, accept all the gay and lesbian people in your midst, in all their complexity, pain and celebration."

As the Great Physician requires - but how exactly? Through same-sex unions and 'blessings'? or through Exodus International-type ministry? What about the alcoholic, the philanderer, the gambling addict, and socially unacceptable forms of sexual deviancy? I am sorry if I have ended up sounding captious, but persons are not defined by their desires (willed or unwilled) but their standing in Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
(First, I have lost a comment you or another anonymous made - seems that not all "publish" buttons on Blogger are equal!)
No, I do not think you are being 'captious'! Some questions are are begged by what Terry Brown writes.
Here I just offer three comments in reply:
(i) I liked his Anglican/Puritan comment because I interpreted it as warning us against an Anglicanism which attempts to impose one version of Anglicanism, and a particularly narrow one at that. I accept that there are great Anglican Puritans, including the rightly esteemed J.I. Packer; and I have never taken the likes of Packer to wish to impose their version of Puritanism. But I cannot say the same for all current Puritans!
(ii) You have seen what I did not see, that a rail against typologies is self-contradictory when Puritan typology is negatively invoked!!
(iii) I liked the way in which his talk of acceptance of gay and lesbian people did not make presumption about how this might happen (blessings etc) ... I thought that showed some restraint compared to some statements emanating from TEC.

In an ideal world all Christians would see their identity solely and wholly in terms of Christ and not in terms of sexuality, nationality, gender etc. In the real world on the one hand we have the challenge of teaching the Bible and its implications for identity (and sexuality and ...), and on the other hand we have people entrenched in stable partnerships who are wanting to know what reception they will receive if they walk through the church door next Sunday.

Since I live in a part of the world where gay and lesbian couples are reasonably invisible I am no expert on how 'acceptance, welcome, reception' might work out practically in a church faithful to Christ and the gospel!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, Peter - I appreciate your concern that we constantly extend the love of Christ to all. I had a teaching colleague who told me he had once thought he might have a call to ordination, but being gay he decided not to pursue this, even though he knew of other gays who went ahead to be ordained. Where his own faith is now is very hard to say, and hard to disentangle from his own rather bipolar personality (or 'manic depressive', as we used to say) and his overuse of alcohol. Sounds stereotypical? We never discuss 'the gay issue' - he knows I have an orthodoxy you can set your watch by - but I seek to be as much a friend to him as I can. He is linked somewhat loosely to a declining liberal catholic congregation, the kind of place I iamgine becomes a cave of Adullam for folks on the fringe. The challenge to us so-called biblical Christians is to follow our Lord, in his purity as much as his welcoming love.