Anglican Turmoil

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The Anglican Communion is a voluntary association of churches which trace their origins back to the Church of England, and which maintain a relationship with one-another through the Archbishop of Canterbury, presently the Most Rev’d Rowan Williams. I’m a member of the Anglican Church of Australia, which is part of the Communion. Anglicanism has historically been a diverse set of expressions of Christianity, with many strands of theology and culture running through it – I fall into the more liberal and catholic end of the strands, but am proud that my undergraduate theological education was at an evangelical theological college – it has stood me in good stead and given me an appreciation of other ways of being Anglican and Christian.

The Anglican Communion is in a state of great turmoil right now, and has been for at least the last ten years. The reasons are manifold, but if I were to summarise them as I see them they would include (but not be limited to, and I accept other peoples’ lists would vary from mine in emphasis and content!):

• A clash between theological liberalism and conservatism
• A clash between centralism and decentralism in leadership and governance of the church
• Differences in how the Bible is interpreted, how authoritative interpretations are arrived at, and how changes to church life can be based on such interpretations
• The role of women in the church, predominately in the ordained ministry
• The role of homosexual people in the church, whether or not there is a place for the non-celibate gay person in ordained ministry, and whether gay relationships can be sanctioned in any way, or even blessed

My own positions on these issues would be unsurprising, and the following is a brief sketch upon which I’ll elaborate in time. On women in ministry, I believe that there stands no Biblical or other impediment to women being ordained to all orders of ministry. I believe that the Bible is a document inspired by God, but with cultural overlays that need to be understood and factored into interpretation. Because it is a document made up of various texts from different times and places, we need to understand those when seeking to work with doctrine and theology. I believe that gay people are loved by God, made by God as they are, and have the capacity to function at all levels in the church. I would argue that gay people should seek sexual fidelity in their relationships, just as heterosexual people should, but to deny us those relationships seems to me a denial of a source of truth and grace from God (at least, that is how my relationship has been for me).

A significant development happened in the life of the Anglican Communion in February, when the primates (most senior bishops) from each province (usually a national church) met together to respond to some of these issues. By all accounts it was a difficult meeting, at the end of which a communique was produced, along with a draft covenant. For those of us hoping (but not expecting) more, the communique was disappointing. It essentially sought to ensure that the Episcopal Church does not continue to proceed with further ordinations to the order of bishop where the candidate is gay, and to ensure that no further sanctioned blessings of gay relationships occur. There was little in the communique for gay people – little comfort or offering of hope. I would characterise the document as an exercise in exerting power with the desired end of a sort of unity. What sort of unity, I wonder? Unity borne out of fear seems to me not to be terribly worthwhile or consistent with the call of God to unity. The document displayed little compassion. All such documents are compromises, and it would be interesting to know how the development of it proceeded.

I realise, well, that for many of my sister and brother Christians the ‘gay issue’ is vexing, troublesome and a distraction. I receive no real joy from the whole thing, I don’t like the fighting, and I wish we could get on with following Jesus more closely instead of endlessly debating these things. But I ask you to consider the pain of exclusion, the pain of being compared to murderers and paedophiles, and the pain of needing to consider that the person you are is a symbol of disunity and conflict for so many.

Time for a cup of tea.

(Here is a letter I wrote to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, the Most Rev’d Phillip Aspinall, and the Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Rev’d Phillip Freier. Both Archbishop Aspinall and Archbishop Freier have responded – Archbishop Aspinall with a most pastoral and engaged letter. Archbishop Freier’s response I found less helpful.)

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