Monday, March 1, 2021

I didn't see that coming, did you? [Updated x2]

++CANTERBURY RESPONDS TO ++NIGERIA: ++Justin speaks clearly and firmly.

WORTH READING ALONGSIDE BELOW: Andrew Goddard's carefully considered analysis of the situation.

ORIGINAL POST: A few days ago I became aware of a brewing controversy, initally within ACNA, and now spreading out a little as Nigeria joins the fray and thus making it a controversy within GAFCON. (See documents at the first 5 links below).

I didn't see this coming. The likely "severe to the point of possible division" controversy within ACNA has been the ordination of women to be priests or bishops.

This is my summary of the current controversy rolling through the past few weeks: 

- within the strict (conservative Anglican) orthodoxy of "any and all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful", how might we pastorally care for, welcome and include Christians self-identifying as gay, indeed what language might we use  in talking about these matters, for instance, is it OK to use descriptors such as "gay Christian" or "gay Anglican"? 

- A recent ACNA HOB statement on this set of questions is (unexpectedly) fairly conservative; a challenge from within ACNA to the HOB statement thinks their fairly conservative statement is harsh; a (strongly conservative, unsurprising) reaction from Nigeria thinks ACNA is heading down a slippery slope to a TEC-like end, unless the strictest repentance for their loose-by-Nigerian-standards approach occurs. 

(For other ways of describing what is going on, see the links from 6 onwards below).

This post, spoiler alert, is not about the controversy as a whole intra ACNA, intra GAFCON exploding issue (let alone about That Topic which is at the core of the controversy ... endless reruns on this site from ages beforehand, no need to repeat etc).

I want to reflect on but two aspects of it, of interest to all Anglicans everywhere.

Living together in Christ with disagreement

1. Anglicans from time to time disagree.

2. While all denominations disagree from time to time, there is an arguable special genius or charism to Anglicanism which means our ecclesiastical DNA is distinctive, if not unique, and wires us to live together with disagreement rather than to fly apart.

3. It is profoundly Anglican to exude blood, sweat and tears in all and every attempt to to live with our disagreements.

[4. The deep sadness over the divide in North America which led to the formation of ACNA (from TEC and ACCan), the divide in the Anglican Communion which led to the formation of GAFCON, and, indeed, the divide in my own church, ACANZP which led to the formation of CCAANZ, is not that there is an unreconciled disagreement but that we could not find a way to live together with the disagreement.]

5. ACNA is finding itself this week in a very, very Anglican situation!

6. Ironically, ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion and seems able to contemplate living with disagreement whereas Nigeria (which remains formally a member of the Communion) seems unable to comprehend the possibility of living with disagreement.

If you are an Anglican reading this, and would like a contructive vision of living within disagreement, then I urge you to read this brilliant sermon, delivered at a recent ordination of an Australian bishop.

It is not possible to secure complete agreement among Christians (let alone Anglicans) on matters of human sexuality

Whatever we make of the ACNA HOB initial statement, the published reaction to that statement, and ++Foley Beach's response to that reaction (see links below), we are seeing evidence of the thesis that: 

It is not possible to secure complete agreement among Christians (let alone Anglicans) on matters of human sexuality.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on divorce and remarriage after divorce?

Answer: No. Roman Catholic teaching and practice disagrees with Eastern Orthodox teaching and practice disagrees with Protestant teaching and practice.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on the use of artificial contraception?

Answer: No. Roman Catholic teaching is unique to itself, and (it would appear) practice among Roman Catholic Christians does not uniformly follow that teaching.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on abortion?

Answer: No. While most churches teach that life begins at conception and the taking of life in the womb after conception is wrong, in practice Christians take a variety of positions, notably, we might observe, prominent Catholic politicians in the United States (Biden and Pelosi spring to mind) faithfully participate in Mass while consistently supporting liberal laws on abortion.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on homosexuality?

Answer: No. Even where there is significant agreement that marriage is between a man and a women, there is disagreement over the pastoral response to gay and lesbian Christians. Again, this is profoundly illustrated in the various statements of Pope Francis over recent years where he assiduously avoids challenging official Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality while creatively voiding aspects of that teaching with his constructive, compassionate statements on the church's welcome and inclusion of its homosexual parishioners.

That is, sexuality within the phenomenon of human life is a complex matter and gives rise to endless disagreement among Christians.

Within its defining theological constraints, ACNA is completely correct to allow that there is disagreement within its own ranks.

The Nigerian Anglican church, frankly, is an Anglican outlier with its refusal to entertain even the slightest amount of divergence of views.

Yes, I know that the Nigerian Anglican church is the largest Anglican church in the world.

Necessary Links:

1. ACNA HOB initial statement.

2. Dear Gay Anglicans response (from within ACNA).

3. Archbishop Foley's response to 2.

4. Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria's response to 1, 2, 3.

5. An ACNA repudiation of 2 [which I think was published before 4].

6. The Living Church's report.

7. Eternity's report.


Anonymous said...

There are two OPs here. On the first.

Among evangelicals here up yonder, those who believe both that the Bible is a fixed standard of behaviour, and also that this standard forever excludes gay sex have a disagreement among themselves that is arcane to other readers. Is SSA itself proscribed, both acts and sensibility, or are the acts banned and the sensibility welcomed?

Albert P Mohler (Southern Baptist) argues the former, Wesley Hill (and among Catholics Eve Tushnet) the latter. If Mohler is right, then it is wrong to refer to a Christian (indeed a person) in a way that defines him or her as gay. But if Hill is right, then it is right and even urgent to accept a celibate person's self-understanding as gay.

The ACNA HoB style advice to clergy is to use language that avoids assigning a composite identity (eg "Gay Christian"). To assist that, they suggest follow the therapeutic usage that speaks of "persons who have experienced X" (eg "person who has experienced narcissistic megalomania").

That is, they sided with Mohler. The Dear Gay Anglican letter pushed back from Hill's Side B.

So the controversy reveals that ACNA is a mostly evangelical denomination in North America. What we did not see coming were the trolls who wanted to globalize a private discussion of local pastoral language. Foley Beach implies that they did not understand it.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, thank you for the link to the thought-provoking article by Andrew Goddard. I had the privilege of meeting Andrew in London during the meeting of Lambeth 2008, when a prallel meeting of 'Inclusive Church' met in London to consider what was going on in the Anglican world about the issues of Gender and Sexuality. His was one of the addresses that really interested me.

In the recent kerfuffle with the Archbishop of Nigeria's statement that one cannot be Gay and, at the same time, a Christian - which at the samwe time criticised the Presiding Bishop of ACNA, Foley Beech, who also happens to be the current Chair of the Gafcon - one realised that even Foley Beech (who presided at the episcopal ordination of GAFCON's representative church here in New Zealand, recently) appears not to entirely agree with his Nigerian counterpart that there is no such thing as a Christian person who is gay!

In direct contrast, here is an excerpt from the message of the Archbishop of York addressing the Church of England Synod, recently:

"...Thirdly, we believe God is calling us to be younger and more diverse. We need to look like the communities we serve in all areas of age and diversity. And this does mean all areas of diversity; and it does mean believing in and supporting children and young people in ministry; and it does mean facing up to our own failings to welcome and include many under-represented groups, particularly people with disability, supporting the recent launch of the Anti-Racism Task Force, committing ourselves to the LLF process and our already agreed pastoral principles so that LGBTI+ people are in no doubt that they, along with everyone, are equally welcome in the Church of England."

These words are, to my simple mind, more in tune with the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ than this latest outrage from a GAFCON Archybsihop.
One wonders if this is not a sign of further schism amongst the conservative Provinces of the Church that have separated out from the Anglican Communion on an issue Jesus never actually discussed.- in his own teaching.

jonathan said...

Perhaps both Christians that experience revisionist or conservative understandings of Scripture have difficulty at times giving the other lot the credit of seeking to be faithful to Scripture. There doesn't seem much difference between this and the recent(ish) response to the LLF resources from the CEEC, which suggests those who hold differing views to their own should have a millstone tied around their necks and be thrown into the sea.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Jonathan. Moral possibility-- especially in the Bible-- is wider than most individuals and societies are equipped to understand. Centrists see more in every direction, extremists much less. It is hard for the latter to see that their antagonists have moral motivations. Unable to detect these, they search for vicious ones.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman, Jonathan and Ron

Ron: I wonder if you are thinking of Giles Goddard rather than Andrew Goddard. The former is more likely to have been a speaker at that conference than the latter.

Jonathan: The real "rot" in 21st century Anglicanism is not that there are homosexuals in our midst but that we have allowed ourselves the thought that some Anglicans are not actually Anglican. From that divisive thought much division has flowed.

Bowman: thank you for clarity which clarifies the various "sides" of the matter.

Anonymous said...

On the second OP, I suggest two alternate expressions of + Peter's point that may make more sense to readers who hear a nescient nihilism where he mentions a charitable diversity.

(1) If a body is bound together by agape, then it is in the Body. Joined to the Head who is the only source of that love, its members are in his truth, although (see my reply to Jonathan) their imaginations may fall far short of articulating that on every matter in every context under the Son. When Anglicans have quarrels, we cannot be more stoutly for truth than SS Paul and John were when they criticised the lovelessness behind the disagreements of their day.

(2) Let us thank the Holy Spirit for this mercy: he has led Anglicans to be more dogmatic-- to care more about mere Christianity-- than most more systematic, confessional, or founder-following bodies. A thought grounded in the revealed creeds has some appeal, but none of us believes anything simply to save the face of a venerable system. We try new things, not because we accept whatever floats in the window, but because mere Christianity comprises a few dogmas that happen to be true, and the seed of those truths can bud in many soils.


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- When + Peter is being so faithful and reasonable, how could any reader possibly hear that as nescient nihilism? As I explained to Jonathan, s/he could lack the equipment to detect the moral insights behind views that differ from their own. In that condition, cheery tolerance can sound, misleadingly, like an indifference to evil or worse.

Any of us in the usual centre do see those insights. Often a choice is not starkly between a good idea and an evil one, but between one that fits a situation and another that does not. In these cases, it makes no sense to us to demonize others for having understandings that do solve some problems not at hand. So we don't. But we nonetheless choose decisively, presumably more rightly.

Those less well-equipped are not capable of doing what we do. They frame their alternatives between "goods" that they get and "evils" that they don't. They demonize because they sincerely think that they see demons. They are right so far as they know, but have no idea what they do not know. They may have great intelligence, but lack commensurate imagination. God loves them; their souls may abound with virtue; they have not the gift of discernment.

So centrists find it much easier to trust those who choose differently than extremists do. Indeed, a capacity for trust may be what makes so many sides of complex matters intelligible to us. Without agape, discernment cannot flourish.

What we centrists do find difficult is remembering that, because trust is so hard for extremists, most wide collaboration must therefore make some concession to the weaknesses that make extremists extreme. For example, we might pass on meat sacrificed to idols.

And although centrists can see more of the whole of problems, crises, and controversies, this is only the beginning of serious thought about them. That can take time. More partial minds are more benighted, but also quicker when speed matters.

Are there traditional Anglican accommodations to the weaknesses of those with one ey'd imaginations? And how does the tradition buy time for deliberation? Do these arrangements suffice in our own day?


Peter Carrell said...

Isn't it the case, Bowman, that "traditionally" Anglicanism has not - in the end - been able to hold all extremes (or "extremes", many do not consider themselves extreme!) together with the broad centre?

At various points in history Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Brethren and Pentecostals have peeled away from the broad centre. Yes, there is an argument that some greater tolerance for Methodists might have seen Wesleyanism as a movement within and not without the CofE.

On the other hand, Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics have found a "niche" - arguably by having as little to do with bishops and synods as possible :).

Is it fair to say that there has always been room found for those who wish to stay?

Perhaps or perhaps not. I am aware that many departing from TEC have felt that the room offered was not at all roomy!

Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bishop Peter, for your timely correction. I had indeed mistaken Andrew for Giles. I do realise the gap between their two theologies on the matter of 'you know what'. However, it seems, from the link you pointed to on this thread that the gap might have lessened of late! Well, that's something to be thankful for!

Unknown said...

Peter, the *hospitable centre* of your 7:41 is an appealing ideal. I'm thinking about it.

Meanwhile, the merely dogmatic centre of the CoE enabled it to absorb something from each of the movements that left it. On this side of the C20, it is much easier to see family resemblances among them than it once was.


Anonymous said...

"I am aware that many departing from TEC have felt that the room offered was not at all roomy!"

Indeed, Peter, most felt that they were being frozen out, and when they volunteered to leave a church that did not want them, they were deposed from holy orders and denied their pensions. The Affirmation of St Louis, to which Foley Beach et al subscribe, is stark raving mad. But what else would one expect after such trauma?

Oliver O'Donovan has it right: Anglican liberals, formerly the centrists mediating between evangelicals and anglo-catholics, were radicalized to a certain fanaticism in the 1960s. It would be interesting to see a solidly researched account of that change, but as a rough draft we could say that in the US they were (a) indignant at racial sin and escalating war, (b) resiling from the fuddy duddy protestantism of the 1950s to the personal ferment of the time, (c) excited by the iconoclastic temper of the moment's theology, and (d) hoping that adapting TEC to what they saw as the new mainstream would keep Episcopalians in the pews.

For perspective, it is worth remembering the breadth the front of the cultural liberalism sweeping the West. It included Richard John Neuhaus, then known as a celibate Lutheran pastor active in the Civil Rights Movement. Until the German students struck in 1968, a Catholic scholar-prelate soon to be named Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was an enthusiastic Vatican II liberal. When I began reading the trinitarian theology of Robert W Jenson in college, my pleased advisor remembered him as an Oxford man who had written an excellent *death of God* book. Even in the mountains of Virginia, my grandfather, a patriarchal country preacher, had Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, Teilhard de Chardin, and all the ^death of God* theologians on his bookshelves.

In retrospect, do TEC's reforming liberals seem absurdly self-righteous? Yes. They had the class confidence of the old liberal WASP establishment. Some were accustomed to defying segregationist racists with badges, guns, and dogs. None knew of credible rivals to their point of view.

Who then became the ACNA? After the sixth of January, I am less sure that we have the language to answer that question well. Broadly, inland Americans began in the '70s to opt out of what coastal elites assumed was the national culture. Rather than arguing with the liberals who governed the nation's institutions, they began creating institutions of their own. The bishops and clergy of ACNA often seem to reflect that milieu.


Father Ron said...

Good Morning Bishop Peter. May I draw your readers' attention to an address given at Grace Cathedral (Anglican) in San Francisco, by The Revd.Peter Gomes, Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University, on the subject of "What would Jesus say" (about 'You Know What') in comparing gay to straight marriage:

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, may I have the favour of your list of about five Anglican figures of the past half century that, although admirable and interesting, are seldom mentioned? They could be from any church or tribe, but I am hoping that you will recall some liberals who did interesting work, especially in England during the '60s and '70s.


Anonymous said...

"I am not a pope."

-- Justin Welby, in interviews from time to time.

"I am a senior archbishop, like Canterbury."

-- Francis, as heard by his Catholic critics.

The petrine ministry founded by the Lord is not easily confined to a box on an org chart. So, from time to time, even a + + Justin who rides London subways dressed as a Justin + must act as a + + + Justin. And + + + Francis, who is no anarchist, can drive his own car about the Vatican and leave a few things open to discussion like a Francis +, lest his petrine authority in a living church be degraded into conformity to convention.


Peter Carrell said...

Precisely, Bowman!

At a much lower level of leadership/authority, the Covid situation here, as “levels” constricting group behaviour chop and change to combat community transmission, I have found myself in the unusual position of being very directive on some matters, when the norm is for bishops in Kiwiland is to restrain themselves to “guidance” only :).

Father Ron said...

Dear Bowman, I'm afraid I am not able to fulfil your request of me - the supply the names of "five Anglican figures of the past half century that, although admirable and interesting, are seldom mentioned?"

The reason is that I gather my sources, mostly, from people who are well known public figures in the Anglican fraternity who have influenced my own moral theological thinking.Perhaps the most important of these has been the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

On another question - your recent remarks about the relative anonymity of the ABC and Pope Francis - this is one of the distinctive marks, I believe of Pope Francis' Petrine ministry; his desire to be part of the flock of Christ, as well as an elected shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church. He uses his position as a means of entering into the lives of ordinary people like himself and benefitting them by his friendship. It is difficult for the ABC to emulate this position - restricted as he is by State governance.

Anonymous said...

Well, Father Ron,

Thank you for mentioning Richard Holloway last year. He is not so famous or notorious on this side of the pond, just as friends in the CoE tend not to have heard of such American liberals as William Stringfellow or William Wendt. So I am indebted to you for my first serious acquaintance with him.

That sparked a broader meditation on the cohort of Anglicans who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s and found themselves tugged by life and their times into varying degrees of heterodoxy.

As happened here, they tend to be evaluated when their names come up. The appraisers settle their value by estimating the worth of their stock of opinions, much as one might audit a hardware store by counting its saws, hammers, and nails.

But if people surviving earthquakes frame opinions at all, it is for their own survival, not for the perfection of libraries or the applause of others. Holloway's opinions, for instance, tell us more about his journey than about the state of the questions that he addresses. Critics and fans of those opinions are not all wrong, but then they too are thinking on the run.

Still, even if we map them in ways that surprise the pilgrims, journeys like his are interesting. If you think of any more, please do mention them here.

BTW there is a fine biography of Rowan Williams by Andrew Goddard.