Comments: Two more articles about the primates gathering

This looks like being the Mother of all Indabas. Let us hope and pray that as a result of this gathering of Primates a way forward may be found for our currently divided Anglican Communion.

Posted by Father David at Monday, 4 January 2016 at 6:23pm GMT

Here is the comment I left on the Brittain piece, responding more to the initial commenter than the article itself:

The previous commenter is very selective with his facts. The Church of England, which has taken a more conservative position on the presenting issues, is declining even faster than either the Anglican Church of Canada or the Episcopal Church. Indeed, while there are growing congregations of various sorts all over, every Christian formation in the developed world is facing numerical decline - except for the Roman Catholic Church, whose numbers are buoyed by immigration from the two-thirds world.

Evangelical formations (and, arguably, the ACNA), unburdened by declining legacy congregations in areas of declining population, are in a slightly better position to focus resources more effectively. The fact that their members are more likely to be joiners / converts as opposed to inheretance members also means they likely have less trouble persuading their congregations to "invitational evangelism."

But these two factors are demographic, not theological. At the end of the day, Christianity is in decline in the developed world, and no Christian body - liberal or conservative, evangelical or catholic, liturgical or free form, traditionalist or modernist - has come up with an effective response to the end of Christendom.

Posted by Malcolm French at Monday, 4 January 2016 at 7:17pm GMT

Martyn Percy's article is well worth reading in it's entirety. He fairly succinctly lays out a beautiful theological argument for love with no exceptions. He is a real moral leader who is preaching the truth of God's Love, poured out for ALL.

More of the article addresses the theological issues than the issues of polity, though the main point is that our polity requires a new vocabulary. The vocabulary that he offers is that of Jesus.

He suggests that appeasement with human rights violators is not the way of love. That we should be more concerned about LGBTQ who are suffering, and those longing for "bread not stone" from the church.

An inspirational message.

Posted by Cynthia at Monday, 4 January 2016 at 7:25pm GMT

Christopher Brittain's article was fun to read. Perhaps we might say, wryly, here is man in whom there is no ( or little) guile. Thanks so much.

You realize of course his analysis is almost certain to be rejected. Indeed the first comment posted under the article on the originating page suggests as much. It will be ignored because the church is a silo wherein perspectives from outside disciplines are usually rejected.

Whatever the plot twists it is increasingly clear that the hierarchy are putting on kabuki theater.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 4 January 2016 at 8:07pm GMT

@ Malcolm French, great comment, concise, to the point, right on.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 12:10am GMT

Martyn Percy says, "We cannot have Archbishops presiding over congregations several continents away, planting at will."

We already do.

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 12:24am GMT

Well done Martyn Percy for making the orthodox case so clearly. I doubt the GAFCON faction will be moved a millimetre but it makes me feel less alienated when someone makes the effort.

But then, I'm more interested in re-imagining the Church of England as a Church *for* England. Rather than one institution among many run by anglicans for anglicans. Taking a stand for LGBTI equality, however necessary, is not addressing the wider problem. Martyn touches on the need for serious theological work to move the Communion forward, *almost* inviting the kind of theology I find attractive, but then retreats into the language of biblicisms. Maybe that's negotiating wisdom, looking still for common ground. I think it's a lost cause, but that's just me. It is the message that even thoughtful articulate "liberal" church leaders appear to still think in those terms that I find disappointing.

Philosophical theology based on God as a metaphysical reality is something else. As a credible foundation to underpin the stories of Christianity it offers a new paradigm for connecting human spirituality with a scientific world view. Christian connectivity, perhaps, instead of Christendom. The old orthodoxy, salvation by right belief in a body of Christ mythology, is killing incentive and possibilities for the rest of us with every public use the Church makes of it. I appreciate a good argument well made. But when it implicitly endorses a perspective that looks set to permanently divorce the Church from England, I struggle to raise a cheer.

Posted by Dave Marshall at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 1:56am GMT

I agree with Malcolm that some conservative denominations like the Church of England are also in decline, but others are growing, notably the pentecostal Assemblies of God in America, which just recorded growth for an incredible 25th year running.

Its secret? Evangelism and church planting, obviously, but also, unique selling point (gifts of the spirit) combined with just the right level of compromise with surrounding culture: just like the runaway successes of London's HTB and Chicago's Willow Creek, while it's conservative on homosexuality, it embraces women's ministry. The Southern Baptists, by contrast, still ban women from the pastorate, and are declining. Correlation isn't causation, of course, and there's other factors, such as being viewed as the GOP at prayer, but the SBC being too at-odds with social mores is likely one cause of its decline.

Liberal churches also have a USP (liturgical worship in inclusive communities committed to social justice), but don't have anything like the same passion for evangelism and church planting. They have something good, but to their own cost, they’re barely advertising it.

As state welfare crumbles under the relentless march of neoliberalism, and churches become a substitute safety net, Christianity will once again grow in the West. Question is, which kind?

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 9:09am GMT

Fantastic point from Dave Marshall: what many in our nation might really value, if such a new paradigm could be imagined into being, is a Church FOR England, not a Church for Anglicans.

It is increasingly popular to decry the idea of a 'national' church. This is sometimes linked to cries for 'disestablishment' (a separate issue).

But what seems to have happened is a dislocation, and the historic identification of many English people with their 'national' Church has broken down.

That is partly due to the inexorable and long-term march of Enlightenment thinking and its consequences - the tearing down of old authorities claimed by the Church.

But it is also significantly due to the way the Church has become a comforting place for its own kind - a social meeting place in some ways affirming a particular social outlook.

As the Church has failed on justice issues like LGBTQ rights, it has been 'shamed' (in the public's eyes) by the way the British public has led the way, and it has alienated people who simply find the discriminatory differentiation astonishing and offensive.

The Church of England (at least at its public and leadership level) has become out of sync with the nation that once identified with it as 'their' church. Now we are at a point where identification is haemorrhaging, and active repulsion is taking place.

A significant part of this has been caused by a failure to reinterpret how the bible should be read and understood, in post-enlightenment contexts. Quite a few of the bible's narratives have already been tangibly disproved, and that should have set a pattern for understanding the bible as fallible and contextual, but an almost kind of idolatry has taken place instead, with biblical inerrancy effectively becoming a resort to 'magic', and the last stand bunker of an outdated brand of Christianity that risks becoming a sect.

Of course, not everyone would agree with my analysis. But then again, as the Christian 'remnant' making their stand for the old paradigm have demonstrated, their brand of quasi-fundamentalist Christianity has effectively 'lost' large parts of the British public. So what would critics of my analysis suggest is the solution?

Renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit, but people are often averse to change, if it threatens their own comfort zones and philosophies. There is a nation, crying out for a spirituality and deeper meaning than the Church of England seems to project.

Is the Church of England basically a club for its own members? A bit like a local golf club. Where 'nice' people can meet because they can socialise with other 'nice' people?

Clearly a huge amount of good work gets done in local communities, but the core 'club' still seems fatally compromised by values and styles and dogma that basically makes the rest of the nation 'outsiders' - because the nation no longer accepts the dogmatic conclusions and claims of the Church.

I long for the day when a new generation of people across the nation actually, deep down, identify and see the Church as 'their' Church - because it is a champion of justice, and is critical of values taken out of their historic contexts, and because it is recognised as decent to all people, and a champion of the poor and marginalised.

Thank you, Dave Marshall, for that thought of a Church FOR England.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 9:18am GMT

With today's news about a Free Vote even for Government Ministers it looks like Politics is following Religion in seeking looser ties with Europe. For once the Anglican Communion is leading the way with the forthcoming Primates Indaba which looks like transforming the Communion into a much looser Federation of provinces. But surely the British people will see sense when it comes to our membership of the EU and vote to remain as full members? Similarly a Communion is much stronger than a mere Federation. Better Together, that's what I say!

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 6:41pm GMT

I'd have to hear more about this philosophy that Dave Marshall mentions.

Some of us liberals actually find the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus, to be a radical document that still provides revelation. I think most of us believe that modern scholarship on language and culture can inform us even more. But finally, even while respecting the Scriptures and tradition, not too many of us are fundamentalists. I think there's an understanding that it came down to us through human beings who were as flawed as we are, and whose cultural lenses were just as influential and distorting as ours may be.

So are you proposing a theology that is completely removed from Scripture?

I note that conservatives and liberals cherry pick from Scripture, but progressives are more open and honest about the need for discernment. You are talking about something else altogether? What's this new paradigm?

Posted by Cynthia at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 1:23am GMT

Father David, why do you think the Anglican Communion, as it now exists, is anything more than a "loose federation of provinces"?

I would have thought it's even less than that--nothing more than a family of independent churches.

Posted by Jeremy at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 11:53am GMT

@ James Byron, "...the pentecostal Assemblies of God in America, which just recorded growth for an incredible 25th year running. ...Its secret? Evangelism and church planting..."

Hi James, question. I'm, wondering if immigration is a factor?

I gather that one of the factors that may account for their reported growth trend is that they are attractive to Hispanic communities. Pentecostalism has been very successful in Latin America where it is a strong competitor with Roman Catholicism last I heard.

In Canada the R.C. church is in a much stronger position demographically than Anglicans and Protestants all of which are experiencing a demographic crisis. Immigration is a positive for Canadian Catholicism. ACNA remains a boutique religious sect for disgruntled conservatives.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 2:01pm GMT

I think there is a widespread misunderstanding about authority in relation to discussions about the continued unity (or lack thereof) of the Anglican Communion. GAFCON obviously thinks of authority in the old way, where bishops laid down the law in a way consistent with the theological and liturgical traditions of the church, and the rest dutifully followed, meekly kneeling upon their knees. Unless you have a structure like the Roman Catholic Church, which has retained its grasp on its own authority, and pits it against its own radicals, no matter what anyone may think, this kind of unity is no longer possible. And, indeed, when the church exercised such authority in the fullest sense, the church was cruel and dictatorial. The tit for tat burnings of people at the stake during the dying days of the late Tudors, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, is a good example of that. Now, as Don Cupitt points out, the state has largely taken over the humanitarian work of the church, while part of the church spends its time trying to preserve bits of the past for good as well as bad reasons, and in another part Christian faith has been reduced largely to issues of social justice and their fulfilment. The heirs of the bad old authoritarianism of the past can be found largely in once distant mission outposts of the Empire, where they really are preserving aspects of orthodoxy that within living memory were considered almost universally to define the church's faith and its mission, but are now considered heterodox and unfaithful to the example of Christ.

Martyn Percy speaks eloquently of the changes that have overcome the church, so neatly expressed in the words “‘[i]nclusive’ has come to mean ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’; ‘exclusive’ has come to mean ‘conservative’ and ‘traditionalist’; and ‘orthodoxy’ [is] now claimed by all.” And then, not surprisingly, he suggests that moving the church forward will take some serious theological work. But surely theology itself is as fragmented as the church. How, in that case, is this theological work to be done?

Cynthia says that conservatives cherry pick from Scripture, and progressives are more open and honest about the need for discernment. As one who was once a very conservative Anglo-Catholic priest, who gradually transitioned to someone more progressive (and some would say overly liberal), I can assure Cynthia that conservatives look at matters down the other end of the telescope. I may deplore them, but I sympathise with them. The liberals and progressives are the ones who use the Bible as a smorgasbord (and it is hard to question that in relation to the tradition), while the conservatives are those who try to exercise wisdom and discernment in upholding the faith once delivered to the saints. If theology is really the sticking point here, how are we to distinguish what is true, good and worthy from what is not? Conservatives will tell you that if you do not preserve the old certainties, and enforce some canonical discipline, the church will simply sink into the sand of endless qualifications. Progressives will tell you that if you do not put the emphasis on justice in ordering the church, there may as well not be a church at all, which it seems is what we might achieve. How, short of creating a quasi-papal office, will we avoid either consequence?

And do, please, stop thinking that this is all about England. It is about the Church, universal and apostolic, or it's about nothing.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 9:33pm GMT

Jeremy - the clue is in the title!

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 11:02pm GMT

We do see a lot about cherry-picking on both sides of some issues; but what's not being said is that the bible is not a science book. Anglicans started coming to terms with that early 18th Century insight in the middle of the 19th Century. Some Christians still try to squeeze the bible into that role, but most of us know we can't use the bible as a natural science text - not for geology, biology, chemistry, astronomy, botany zoology or physics. Even so, some modern folk still believe the bible can be used as a reference for the behavioral sciences to define, explain and rule on same-sex attraction. However, the fact is that the people responsible for the biblical texts had no more idea what a gay person is than they understood what the moon and the stars are. I don't know that disagreements about this come under the rubric of cherry picking.

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 11:08pm GMT

"And do, please, stop thinking that this is all about England."

But it is largely about the Church of England's inability to stop trying to control the Anglican Communion, a last vestige of Empire.

The CofE likes its present metropolitan role in the Communion and wants to maintain it. This results, at present, in the CofE trying to have it both ways--to be a church for England and also a church for Uganda.

As for "the Church, universal and apostolic," that is a Platonic ideal. It is certainly not the Anglican Communion. We should not confuse the two.

Nor should we sacrifice justice for real people on the altar of an abstraction.

Posted by Jeremy at Wednesday, 6 January 2016 at 11:50pm GMT

@ Eric MacDonald, "But surely theology itself is as fragmented as the church." Even more so I would say. Theology is done not just within the church but within the academy where it is often deliberately, perhaps necessarily, split off from faith.

Theological scholarship is now imported from the academic world into the church where it is deployed as a hedge around socio-politcal perspectives. Conservatives to liberals all apply the work of academic theologians selectively as a kind of proof text, much in the way scripture has been misused.

"How, in that case, is this theological work to be done?" Good question. I don't know that there is a clear answer to the question on the horizon,; but I think some outlines may be discernible.

For one thing the church has to accept that we now live in an inter-disciplinary world. There needs to be a willingness in the church for open dialogue among people in a variety of fields, science, medicine, humanities, social sciences, and on it goes. The sexuality controversies are a good example of theological thinking done from inside a silo.

It was hailed as a big deal that Anglican bishops attended the Paris Climate Change Conference. Hope they went to learn something. But where was the news that Anglican scientists and climatologists were in attendance? Where is collaboration to be found among religious leaders, theologians, scientists, psychologists, artists and so forth? Not a secular gathering necessarily, but in the church, as an inter-disciplinary way of looking at and developing a response to the issues of our age?

The forth coming meeting of Primates may as well be a meeting of primae donnae.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 12:22am GMT

Sorry Eric but "the Church, universal and apostolic" is a fiction. It always has been if the biblical record is anything to go by; there is no settled, theological agreement in the New Testament beyond the assumption, inherited from Judaism, that there is only one God. Christ became the early Church's totem, but only as memories of Jesus the man died with those who knew him. The adoption of trinitarian belief as a mark of orthodoxy was a political convenience; it may have made theological sense at the time, but I suspect mythology worked differently then.

Now we know so much more about so much that we can, if we want to, step outside those inherited limits to theology. We can recognise that "right belief" in a community context is inherently coercive, and that "traditional Christian belief" has no more value in itself than any other artifact of history. We can if we choose make church a community and an institution that rebuilds Christian theology for minds that, for example, take television and internet technology for granted. We could, if we were serious, rediscover philosophy and God as the metaphysical reality that seems to have inspired Jesus.

The activities of such a church need not look much different to those we have now, although I suspect over time they would undergo a radical transformation. The difference, the paradigm shift, would have occurred in the minds of the priesthood. The bible would be a resource alongside contemporary works selected on the basis of their illumination of the Christian values that define the institution. Discrimination on the basis of any other human characteristic would be grounds for exclusion.

I'm fairly sure church communities leaning this way already exist. There are too many voices on blogs and social media for it not be the case. Maybe they're official Fresh Expressions that don't dare come out for fear the bishop will pull their funding. Maybe they're informal groups who can't be bothered with the bureaucracy. Either way, it's not "Anglicanism" that can address this disconnect; only the autonomous institutions with authority to amend a constitution for a geographical area can do that. When that happens, and only then, Anglicanism changes.

Posted by Dave Marshall at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 1:43am GMT

"I can assure Cynthia that conservatives look at matters down the other end of the telescope. I may deplore them, but I sympathise with them. The liberals and progressives are the ones who use the Bible as a smorgasbord (and it is hard to question that in relation to the tradition), while the conservatives are those who try to exercise wisdom and discernment in upholding the faith once delivered to the saints."

I won't deny that liberals use Scripture as a smorgasbord. After all, who can really think that Sodom was more ghastly for wanting to "know" Lot's guests rather than Lot's daughters who were on offer?

But still, I can't see that the conservatives are much better. On the gay issue, if you use Leviticus, there's a range of things that go with it, like stoning adulterers, let alone eating seafood, sporting tatoos, and wearing mixed fibres. Conservatives will point to passages that refer to rape or prostitution to justify oppression of LGBTQ people.

I can't see that conservatives have more integrity to their readings of Scripture. I actually believe that the interpretations of radical love, justice, inclusion, and Good News from oppression have much more integrity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can't see that the Jesus who said "love thy neighbor," "don't judge," and "feed the hungry..." etc. is a Jesus who would stand behind criminalization of gays, or discriminatory behaviour like that of some CoE bishops towards gay, married, clergy.

No way that the conservatives have more integrity to Jesus when they spew their bigotry.

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 2:37am GMT

Why is a communion anything more than a loose federation?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 5:04am GMT

Why is a communion any more than a loose federation?
The ties and the bonds of love are much stronger in a Communion. Those who are part of the Communion have much in common and the unity is far more evident. Within a Communion impaired communion is far less likely to be the case than it is in a loose federation.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 9:01am GMT

I'm with Cynthia - the idea that liberals use a "smorgasbord" and conservatives "exercise wisdom and discernment" is ridiculous. I have no problem with the idea that both are capable of error, but that proceeds from the exact same place - conservatives are exactly as adept at using the incredibly complex and beautiful abilities of the mind to arrive at whatever conclusion their impulses and desires dictated from the start.

It is exactly the same, and both are prone to err to the same degree, in the same way. The key is not to build on some fictional basis of who is right, but to build on the basis, in true humility, that both are probably wrong, only God knows the fullness of Truth, that nothing captured on paper, in words, or in the human mind can fully comprehend the Truth, and that the need to use Scripture and show oneself "right" is the deadly sin of Pride.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 9:19am GMT

MarkBrunson - because the majority of the communion still want it to be more than a loose grouping. No point pretending tht isn't the case and we can expect an easy tolerance of all views. Was Gene Robinson invited to Lambeth 08? Did Tec accept that (disgracefully)? That alone shows you that wishful thinking about a loose federation is pointless. Now, ACNA is in.... Expecting them to argue fr a loose federation?

Posted by S Cooper at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 9:41am GMT

But what makes a communion as opposed to a loose federation?

It seems to me that the idea that "communion" means rigid control and unalterable definitions *rather than* a loose federation is creating "facts on the ground" as the CofE leadership is so very fond of accusing others of doing.

You need to stop letting the power-grabbers make the definitions in their own image.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 11:59am GMT

Well, friends (if I may so call you), I don't question what you have to say in response to my little gadfly (which it was intended to be). It seems to me that we have a tendency to put each other into comfortable little cubby-holes (each with its own deprecatory label), and keep the kudos for ourselves. We are more discerning, less bigoted, more true to the attempt to model Christ in our lives. They cherry pick, unwarrantedly exclude those whom Christ would have welcomed, are wedded to an outworn paradigm.

But, just referring to Africa and India, for example, the faith that they proclaim with such fervour was taught them by generations of faithful missionaries, who issued Jesus' call to them to come from amongst the nations as a holy people. And now we are telling them it was all a lie, that faith doesn't remain stable, and that it responds to the surrounding culture with approbation. (As chairman of a diocesan sexuality task force, I have seen people walk from the room in great distress because of things I said about sexuality and justice.) I know from whence they come, because I've been there. They may not have greater integrity than "thinking Anglicans", but recall that the church has consistently thought itself (for all its faults) as people gathered at Jesus' feet, trying to exemplify his teaching in their lives. It had its sexual hangups, to be sure, but those hangups (and associated injustices) were consistent with the cultures everyone inhabited until very recently (and are still embedded in the cultures from which many GAFCON members come). Perhaps, as David says, the catholic and apostolic church was always a myth, but until very recently Anglicans in general would not have been prepared to say that. Indeed, I would not be an Anglican now, had the church not made that claim.

However, as Martyn Percy says, we all lay claim to orthodoxy, and use the same word to condemn others. No doubt theology is now interdisciplinary, but that means very little to an Indian villager, for example, or to the many in Africa who live at the interface between Islam and Christianity. I deplore bigotry with the rest of you, but I am sympathetic to those who have found the fast-paced changes of the last few decades difficult to reconcile with what they were taught as unquestioned truth, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the still point of the turning world. Perhaps contemporary liberal interpretations of scripture are more consistent with Jesus' teachings, but it took us 2000 years to get there. It's bound to take some a little longer.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 12:11pm GMT

When Cynthia writes, " ...conservatives and liberals cherry pick from Scripture, but progressives are more open and honest about the need for discernment." I agree with Cynthia on that generally speaking. The only caveat I would add is that discernment requires a lot of work if its to draw on Christian traditions
(of which scripture is only one) in order to frame an adequate contemporary response.

As Lonergan once noted, there is a solid right determined to live in a world that no longer exists, and a scattered left captivated by this and that; but what is needed is a centre at home in both the old and the new painstakingly working out the required transitions. I read echoes of that in Cynthia's comment.

Church leaders must listen more closely to the various theological disciplines which in turn need to listen more closely to one another. Continuing with that, theologians and pastors have to listen to what people in other fields are saying.

For example any one who starts a conversation on human sexuality with phrases like "bible truth" is doomed to live in a ghetto. We have to come to terms with a current understanding of the phenomena of human sexuality which means listening to experts and also listening closely to LGBT folks as they articulate their experience. Only then can we develop pastoral responses that draw on the values of Christian faith--values which are often not unique but shared with other religious traditions and even with those who have none. The good news is that contemporary religious thinking is capable of being both reflexive ( in the good sense) and reflective. It can no longer gain a hearing being dogmatic.

Church types often imagine we are "good listeners". The reality is that people in other disciplines and walks of life find often we don't listen at all.

In this sense it is a problem for the whole church, a church which must recognize that it cannot presume to live in one normative culture from the past.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 2:35pm GMT

@ Eric, "And now we are telling them it was all a lie, that faith doesn't remain stable, and that it responds to the surrounding culture with approbation." Perhaps worth repeating what I've noted before, that in the Canadian Church, some Indigenous leaders are saying exactly the same thing to us. Canada is in some ways a microcosm of the wider Communion on this. One needs to try a strike a difficult balance, and it is difficult, of dealing justly with First Nations concerns around governance and decision making while acting justly toward GLBTQ members. I would have thought that the Primates' meeting would have been enhanced by including Canada's National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald. If ACNA can be there, why not Bishop Mark?

Inter-disciplinary work doesn't mean a lot, on the face of it, to the existential situation of lots of folks. You don't have to travel to India to find that. Notwithstanding, it is important for theologians and pastors, as it is for other disciplines, to engage in a collaborative way of problem solving. The approach of engaging in debates, so as to blow your opponent out of the water and leave his/her framework a debris field, something I've been accused of doing, sometimes justly, from time to time, doesn't usually serve conviviality.

Do we want to find ways of solving problems and building up community, or, do we want to continually thwart all proposals because they don't sufficiently address our particular grievances about the past? After a certain point iconoclasm can degrade into a kind of petulance.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 3:45pm GMT

"However, as Martyn Percy says, we all lay claim to orthodoxy, and use the same word to condemn others."

Personally, Eric, I don't, and oppose the very concept as oppressive authoritarianism, not to mention self-refuting. Most every Christian alive is unorthodox by earlier standards.

Heterodoxy for the win!

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 4:27pm GMT

Eric, that is precisely why we need 'unity in diversity' with accommodation of people's consciences, rather than trying to impose uniformity on everyone.

The reason why so-called liberal Christians may be defensive about their progressive views on sexuality is because Gafcon, and C of E bishops, seem to be trying to impose uniformity on the consciences of others.

If people would only stop trying to dominate, and let individual churches and Christians follow their own sincerely-held consciences, then we could get on to more of the 'other things' that Andrew argues we should focus on.

'Unity in diversity' - seeking grace to love and co-exist - is far preferable to dominative efforts like 'The Covenant' or the Bishops 'Pastoral' letter. Conscience should not be imposed upon.

Our communion - our union in Jesus Christ - is based on Him. Living in love and diversity, we need to recognise that instead of trying to dominate with one view.

It is as simple as that. Stop dominating. Respect one another's conscience.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 5:14pm GMT

Words do of course have varying meanings, but it seems to me that what the GAFCON party wants IS a Federation -- a centrally controlled collection of entities whose individual autonomy is regulated by some central authority -- rather than a Communion -- a collection of autonomous churches who share elements of common doctrine, liturgy, history and so on.

The only major point of disagreement between GAFCON and TEC has to do with sexuality -- which is not now and has never been a credal or dogmatic issue. They have raised it to that level, and have broken communion (in the altar sense) by refusing to join even in meetings, let alone at the altar, over just this issue. The elevation of a third-order question in moral theology to a communion-breaking dogma is the central problem here. Why can we disagree about the Atonement and the nature of the Eucharist, but not about marriage? The wrong end of the telescope indeed...

Posted by Tobias Haller at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 5:34pm GMT

"The ties and the bonds of love are much stronger in a Communion. Those who are part of the Communion have much in common and the unity is far more evident. Within a Communion impaired communion is far less likely to be the case than it is in a loose federation."

I'm not sure I see any logic here, other than this is how Father David understands the term "Communion."

My understanding is different.

To me a federation is stronger than a communion, because a federation implies some federal authority.

A communion, by contrast, is a common meal--and by extension the churches that gather for a common meal together. But such gatherings can take place without any central authority at all.

Posted by Jeremy at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 6:04pm GMT

"We are more discerning, less bigoted, more true to the attempt to model Christ in our lives. They cherry pick, unwarrantedly exclude those whom Christ would have welcomed, are wedded to an outworn paradigm."

Jesus helps us out here. He told us that we can tell the true prophets from the false ones by the fruits of their labor. The fruits of the nasty, "Biblically based" homophobic rhetoric includes:
LGBTQ teen bullying
LGBTQ teen suicide
LGBTQ teen homelessness (outcasts from "religious" homes and accounting for around 40 percent of the homeless teen population in both of our countries)
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people
Economic hardship from discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Human Rights violations against LGBTQ people in parts of the world, including parts (but not all) of GAFCON's member countries.

The fruits of LGBTQ inclusion and justice, based on my marriage here in Colorado:
And people who are troubled by the joy of others.

Please spare me the suggestion that both the liberal and conservative sides are equally bigoted and equally self righteous and equally problematic. The fruits speak volumes and Jesus asks us to listen.

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 6:53pm GMT

"It's bound to take some a little longer."

I can actually agree on this. I've been around the block and can empathize that we don't all get to the Promised Land on every issue simultaneously.

The problem is what do we do in the meantime. It seems to me that the Hippocratic Oath might be helpful "first, do no harm." The human rights violations have to stop. People may not be ready for gay marriage, but they can stop jailing and killing our gay sisters and brothers.

What unites us in communion is Holy Communion, the Eucharist! What also unites us is the Gospel of Jesus and Jesus said nothing about gays. Surely we can unite on Jesus' call to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, pay just wages (Vineyard Workers), etc. Jesus is quite clear about compassion and mercy and right use of resources. In this troubled world, why would the church get hung up over me and my lovely wife when Jesus' issues so clearly need to be addressed?

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 7:08pm GMT

I'd be interested to know what Jeremy understands by "federal authority" other than everyone does whatever they like in their own particular Province caring naught about whatever happens in all the other Provinces?
When it comes to "Authority" that surely is part of the problem within Anglicanism because no one seems to have any in that we lack an Anglican Pope. The only authority Justin Welby has is the power of persuasion and it seems to me that will be tested to the absolute limit next week.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 7 January 2016 at 10:26pm GMT

GAFCON have issued their own Collect:

Posted by James at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 8:25am GMT

I don't really understand how calling it either a Communion or a Federation makes any material difference. The only question is whether whichever structure is chosen can accommodate different views on same sex sexuality. And those that want to walk away because they need the same standards of purity among those they associate with, will not hang around just because we give the baby a different name.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 9:23am GMT

The comment re national churches in a federation is exactly correct.

A communion implies sharing a common meal in the Body of Christ. Clearly that has broken down, and just repeating the word will not make it less so.

Perhaps what is meant is a Communion for those who judge their progressive stance the correct way ahead; and another for those who judge this a dubious step into time and space, as a Christian Body.

But of course, that is what this meeting is about.

The use of the term 'federation' has had wide range (LWF) but it has not typically been nomenclature of the Anglican Communion. But we are entering new territory...

Posted by cseitz at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 9:35am GMT

Eric: "And now we are telling them it was all a lie, that faith doesn't remain stable, and that it responds to the surrounding culture with approbation."

As is so often the case, how one expresses the debate becomes part of arguing one's own case.

On sexuality, the faith embraced by liberals has indeed changed. But to say it has changed in response to the surrounding culture - as opposed to changing in response to the Holy Spirit - is surely accepting a conservative perception of the issue.

Posted by John Swanson at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 9:36am GMT

I've been looking up the meaning of the word "federation" and I have come across two definitions:-
1. a group of states with a central government but independence in internal affairs.
e.g. "the Russian Federation"
2. the action of forming states or organisations into a single group with centralised control.
e.g. "a first step in the Federation of Europe"
Both of these definitions are more political than either spiritual or religious and so it seems to me that "federation" is a totally inappropriate word to use in describing the future of the Anglican Communion. As a world wide Communion we are totally lacking in what might be described as "a central government" and we most certainly do not have any "centralised control" as each Province continues to do exactly what it wants to do without any real reference to any other Province. So I hope that the Primates at next week's meeting come up with a more appropriate descriptive word than "Federation" to describe the Brave New World that may or may not emerge from their deliberations and discussions. I wish them well in the task before them.

Posted by Father David at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 1:20pm GMT

I am interested at the range of responses to my little firecracker. I deliberately posed the issues sharply, hoping to prompt some thought on this matter. I'm not sure I was successful, but it took us part of the way.

I think I was probably one of the first in the Diocese of Nova Scotia who began speaking publicly about gay and lesbian rights (the wilderness of sexualities has, I think, confused that central issue, and it is not altogether clear how the Church should respond to a cause which keeps adding letters to its acronym). However, I did so on the basis of justice considerations, not on the basis of what Christian tradition or scripture had to say, which seemed to me at the time, and still does, simply a red herring. If scripture sides with injustice, then so much the worse for scripture.

Having said this, however, I am a bit surprised at Cynthia's response: "Please spare me the suggestion that both the liberal and conservative sides are equally bigoted and equally self righteous and equally problematic. The fruits speak volumes and Jesus asks us to listen." I thought I made it clear that I was not equating conservative and liberal. Nevertheless, what the church regarded (and what most of the church still regards) as normative ethics regarding sexuality, and regarded it so for nearly 2000 years, is not something that you can reasonably expect people to abandon in a few decades. What I find most troubling is that neither conservatives nor liberals are ready to accept each other without accusations of bigotry or betrayal. As Rod Gillis says: "The approach of engaging in debates, so as to blow your opponent out of the water and leave his/her framework a debris field, something I've been accused of doing, sometimes justly, from time to time, doesn't usually serve conviviality." And it makes a mockery of the Eucharist too, as a sign and seal of our oneness in Christ.

As for being unable to "presume to live in [a] normative culture from the past," it needs to be said that we always do. Just as soldiers always begin the next war by fighting the last, we are always a step behind normative change taking place in our society. And if we weren't, we'd be justly thought to be taking normative issues all too unseriously, as though changing one's values is a matter of adopting the latest fad or fashion. And in some parts of the world, the church's traditional views on sexuality are present reality, and those out of tune with the fast paced change in the West think they have found a haven of sanity there.

Another thing regarding the conservative side of the ledger is that all of this grew out of the sexual revolution of the 1960's, which to many was a deeply anti-Christian movement (which it was), and in many cases nihilistic. With due respect to John Swanson, that seems to me to be true. (I'm not prepared to attribute to the Holy Spirit something that we can explain otherwise.) And it is no coincidence that sexuality is the sticking point between liberals and conservatives, since sexuality is in one way or another central to practically every religion, mainly, I think, because there are very few consequential reasons for proscribing many sexual practices. But it should occasion no surprise that conservatives tend to identify the new sexual freedom as Augustine regarded Carthage, "where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves."

I suspect that Welby has invited GAFCON to the Primates meeting precisely because Anglicans have begun to look at each other as not fully Christian, and that there are historical, theological and sociological reasons for that. Nothing may come of it, since disagreements today are so politicised (as Rod Gillis points out), and arguments are carried out on the last man standing principle. If the church is to survive this must change.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 2:27pm GMT

@ James and the GAFCON collect, ah yes, "I thank thee Lord that I am not like other people". Reminds me of the prayers of the faithful that lapse into a sermon. Weaponizing piety is a long standing religious practice. Think of the collect for the conversion of the Jews which in Canada at least has been struck from the BCP.

Re Federation v. Communion, the terms can be but are not usually mutually exclusive. See for example the website of Lutheran World Federation which also describes itself as a Communion. What we have at the moment is schism.

@ John Swanson, "...surrounding culture ..a conservative perception.." The conservatives are largely correct if they are saying The Canadian and American change on sexuality is a response to culture; but they are wrong to say this is bad thing, or a thing that cannot be supported theologically.

Being timid with GAFCON bishops as result of colonialism is to let them off the hook. The bishops in GAFCON are entitled to address their domestic situations. They are not entitled to pontificate to Canadians or Americans how we ought to respond to ours, or to engage in a turf war.

And,in response to Eric MacDonald's point, its not just about what missionaries from the west taught in days of yore. We are passed that in the sense that we live in a world increasingly aware of human rights. And while human rights concerns can be as controversial as theology, the concept does provide an international frame work for contending with these kinds of issues.

But here again, the church engages in special pleading. Who needs human rights when God has our ear, and what God has whispered in our ear is recorded in a book that is obviously clearly understood and binding for all times and places. It's just a matter of aligning our social policy with the marginal notes of a God conceived of as ancient middle eastern despot.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 4:02pm GMT

Exactly so, Father David. The Anglican Communion has never had a federal polity -- it has never really had a polity at all! The Anglican Covenant and GAFCON appear to be pressing towards a Federal structure: limiting the autonomy that provinces have enjoyed up to now by some kind of central reference process.

I only raise this because some seem to be inverting the terms, implying that a federation is somehow "looser" than a communion, and that it is a federation that the progressives seek.

I think what the majority really want is a Communion, in which each province governs its own internal affairs and recognizes that right in other provinces even when one might disagree with the particulars of those internal actions. Communion transcends these differences; federation seeks to suppress or regulate them. The movement in that direction began with the disaster of Lambeth 1998. It may be too late to reverse course, but I remain hopeful and prayerful that a renewed focus on the centrality of Christ rather than obsession with the pelvic issues might triumph.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 4:02pm GMT

Tobias Heller sums it up succinctly and with more theological authority than I can muster. GAFCON has raised a 3rd level issue above all others.

It seems to me that this naming, federation vs communion, is not helpful. The Anglican Covenant is what we need to refer too. We called ourselves an Anglican Communion before the covenant failed, we've called ourselves that since.

The crucial point is that the Covenant was designed to empower more central control to Lambeth or other Anglican entity. In short, it was a referendum on whether or not the "world wide Anglican Communion" wanted to do what GAFCON wants. It was rejected overwhelmingly.

GAFACON needs to understand that their wishes have already been put to a vote and they lost. They lost by 42 out of 44 diocese in England alone.

Asked and answered. By the Anglican Communion, not some federation. Because it's been asked and answered, the primates can not continue in the way of Lambeth's past, where they overstepped their authority. The referendum failed, they don't have the authority. So +Justin's idea of a less formal gathering is appropriate.

I pray that GAFCON leaders recognize that the rejection of the Covenant is a game changer. They have not the power, nor will they be granted the power, to dictate. Asked and answered.

Posted by Cynthia at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 5:26pm GMT

Thank you Tobias, I share your hope and plea that there be "a renewed focus on the centrality of Christ rather than obsession with the pelvic issues". That wonderful euphemism deserves an entry into the Hall of Fame alongside "tired and emotional". The phrase "The Anglican Federation" will never catch on, so let us stick with "The Anglican Communion".

Posted by Father David at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 6:41pm GMT

"(the wilderness of sexualities has, I think, confused that central issue, and it is not altogether clear how the Church should respond to a cause which keeps adding letters to its acronym)"

That's a strange comment.
If same sex sexuality isn't immoral, then any added letters to the acronym make not the slightest bit of difference to the response the church should make.
Whatever gender or sexuality individuals may be, the morality lies in the way they conduct their relationships, not in the external bits and pieces they employ.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 6:44pm GMT

@ Eric, "...all of this grew out of the sexual revolution of the 1960's, which to many was a deeply anti-Christian movement (which it was), and in many cases nihilistic. " The first part is certainly true. All of this did come out of the sexual revolution in the post world war II era.

The availability of reliable birth control technology which allowed for a breaking off of sexual inter-course from reproduction changed the cultural frame on sexual expression, which contributed eventually to a cultural re-framing of homosexuality. Reproduction as destiny (for women) came to be seen as oppressive while a wider range of consensual sexual expression of all types as something distinct from reproduction came to be understood as liberating, as a right, and as something grounded in the human sexual response more accurately understood as a continuum. It is an example of how technology makes a contribution to our self understanding when it becomes an extension of self.

The sexual revolution as anti-Christian requires nuance. A heavily patriarchal Christian religious tradition cannot but understand the issue that way. Conversely reproductive choice as advocated by feminists has had to assert itself against patriarchal ideology which more often than not aligns with religion.

At the root of the issue is whether technology has created a situation that is alienating or liberating.

There is a further question about where the locus of decision making ought to reside i.e. does it reside with the autonomous self, or with the decision makers for the group, which in religion are usually men, or even perhaps with the state?

In any event, Eric has identified one of the reasons why I believe that starting with notions of "bible truth", with the bible as dogma, is misguided.

An additional feature of this debate, at least in America, is the legacy of the struggle for civil rights which occurred simultaneously with the sexual revolution, and which featured religious polarization. No one elsewhere in The Communion should underestimate the degree to which it continues to shape the formation of those seeking justice and equality for the GLBTQ communities.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 7:33pm GMT

Eric, for all your writing on behalf of legal justice for LGBTQ people, but theological conservatism, I think you're missing the main point here. This isn't about theology, this is about power.

And you are missing the big picture. The Anglican Covenant was defeated, and it was defeated by plenty of Anglicans holding a traditional view of sexuality. Regardless of their traditional position, they VOTED not to have a central authority imposing views on each other.

The Anglican Communion has had an opportunity to vote on whether they wanted GAFCON to have the power to ostracize TEC and they said no.

So apparently, many Anglicans with traditional views have no problem living without imposing their views on others. Laissez faire is a viable option.

GAFCON has not received the teaching of the defeat of the Anglican Covenant.

Posted by Cynthia at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 7:55pm GMT

Rod, it is true that we now talk about human rights, but it is precisely on these grounds that the African bishops are expressing themselves as excluded from the church of liberal white culture, which cares more for a peculiarly white culture of liberal freedoms than it does for belief in Christ. This speaks both to memories of colonialism as well as to the gospel that was preached to them "in days of yore." And just remember who heads the UN Human Rights Council!

I have just been reading the New Year's letter of the Archbishop of Kenya, where he spells out his concerns, especially a concern for the non-implementation of the 2007 Dar es Salaam agreement of Anglican Primates. I had other things on my mind in 2007, so do not know what that is. Beneath his letter are related posts, one about a letter from a black Anglican in Oxford who writes a letter which concludes with these words:

"I wonder if it is time for the non-white members of the Anglican Church to reject the leadership of Lambeth Palace, let the white Anglican Churches depart to their secular “heaven”; while the non-white Christians can continue to cherish the example and teaching of Jesus and the Gospels. Is it time to “come out of her,” as the book of Revelation instructs, because of the perversion, which has taken control of the Church?"

Of course, we know what "the perversion" is, and many people who comment on Thinking Anglicans would call this plain bigotry, though I was reminded, today, that others might see this accusation as similar to naming someone a heretic in the early Church. I was just reading an article by Edward Feser (Catholic philosopher from California) about the relationship between Islam and liberalism, very clearly argued, by the way, and fairly powerful. But one comment stayed with me: "Hence epithets like “bigot” play, within liberalism, the same role that words like “heretic” often do within religion." Which is what I was trying to say in a roundabout way in my last comment.

And as for power, Cynthia, which is scarcely a good basis upon which to establish relationships within the church, what power had you in mind? Financially, yes, the Western, mainly white, churches, are probably more powerful, but in numbers of Anglicans, and faithful church-going Anglicans at that, GAFCON is probably more powerful. And in Kenya, as in Nigeria, and other countries that interface with Islam, you sometimes have to be ready to die to publicly demonstrate your faith in Christ. And surely that's undoubted power. Besides, do you think, in Kenya or Nigeria, the acceptance of homosexuality by Christians would be seen as justice and faithfulness, or an invitation to people to give Islam another look? I don't know, and I'm not claiming that that is so, but I think you must see that, if the rejection of the Covenant was a game changer, then it may have made the schism in global Anglicanism deep and permanent.

And don't underestimate the issue of race here. I spent three years as Rector of a parish in Bermuda, where colour mattered, and mattered deeply. In one church, white people always received communion before black, until I unilaterally changed the rules. Colour matters, and in Africa, where honour and shame are often more important than liberal ideals of justice and freedom, the idea that you are associated with a white church that teaches its children "the principles of Stonewall" is deeply shaming (I think this refers to the Stonewall riots, but I'm not clear on this - this from the man in Oxford: "The Anglican leadership is prepared to destroy the unity of the Anglican Family worldwide in order to follow the instructions of Stonewall."). That shame will win out over power any day.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 10:03pm GMT


The vote against the Covenant in England wasn't quite as overwhelming as you state. It was was approved in eighteen dioceses and not approved in twenty-six dioceses.

You may have been thinking of the first reference to dioceses of legislation to allow women to be bishops, when 42 out of 44 were in favour.

Posted by Peter Owen at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 10:33pm GMT

Cynthia, while not underestimating the significance of the Anglican Covenant vote in England, it is worth noting that the Covenant was not a Gafcon initiative nor as far as I can tell supported by them. The idea behind the Covenant of strengthening the central instruments of the Anglican Communon is not what Gafcon is after. They see the birth of new networks not the repair of the old as far as I understand it.

Posted by john sandeman at Friday, 8 January 2016 at 10:55pm GMT

I'm wary of saying much about the Anglican Communion Covenant. It was defeated in England (by 26 dioceses to 18, not 42 out of 44) and it was a close run thing. If a little less work had been done by a handful of people to make the case against it known, it might well have been forced through. Justin Welby may be a realist, but he seems no less theologically conservative than Rowan Williams and perhaps more politically astute. He might at least have a Covenant-type initiative up his sleeve in case it looks viable.

As for Communion or federation, I think someone almost said it: we don't want *a* Communion (of Churches), just communion (among Churches). Thinking of the Anglican Communion as if it were an entity is making the same mistake at an inter-church level as saying "What unites us in communion is Holy Communion, the Eucharist". At least in England, if we're not willing to take communion on a regular basis we cannot hold a position of authority in the Church, however active or useful we might be or how good our reasons. Whatever the legal justification, it misses the essentially relational nature of the ritual.

As someone has already said, this not about sexuality. It's about power. "The Anglican Communion" is a description of a family of related Churches when they were "in communion" (willing to have a ritual meal) with each other. Now some are not. Of course that hurts, for them and their friends; that's relationship breakups. But the Anglican Communion idea has been (at least in recent years) little more than a device by which power-hungry church people attempt to extend their authority. I wouldn't mourn its passing, because it won't make a scrap of difference to real friendships.

Posted by Dave Marshall at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 12:39am GMT

Erika - "If same sex sexuality isn't immoral, then any added letters to the acronym make not the slightest bit of difference to the response the church should make." And yet I'm troubled by the easy tacking on (by Changing Attitude, in particular) of "TI" as if the issues were the same.

I'm all for standing in solidarity with a safe place in the church for everyone. But lots of trans people are straight and present no direct challenge to "traditional" Christian teaching on "sexual activity." Antigay Christians can point to a long tradition of negative Biblical and Apostolic witness against "homosexual activity": antitrans Christians have to engage in rather more creative speculation for addressing a phenomenon that has even less of a direct precedent in the Ancient Near East than same-sex sex. And intersexuality is a medical condition, plain and simple. I'm not aware of any major Christian body that treats it as a moral issue. This is not to say that trans and intersex people can't face stigma and misunderstanding within the Church as well as without, but I don't think we do any justice to their distinct issues by collapsing them together, much less treating them as an afterthought to "LGB".

Posted by Geoff at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 4:30am GMT

"let the white [sic] Anglican Churches depart to their secular “heaven”"

[paraphrase] "...while we GAFCONians sentence LGBTs in our countries to earthly HELL."


I don't know where such hateful behavior comes from (I smell sulfur), but I know it does NOT come from "cherish[ing] the example and teaching of Jesus and the Gospels"!

Posted by JCF at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 4:50am GMT

"liberal white culture, which cares more for a peculiarly white culture of liberal freedoms than it does for belief in Christ."

Well, this is the most outrageous thing I have ever seen written on Thinking Anglican.

I'm gay. I have been pulled out of a deep hole by Christ Himself who loves me as I was created, loves my spouse, and loves us together in a grace filled and sacramental marriage. Jesus is at the heart of our life together, praise be to God.

Many TEC liberals are all about the love of Christ, it is a clear tenant of our faith. In TEC, we have a Baptismal Covenant that we renew yearly and it asks us: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? And: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? It is preceded by the question: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Cornel West, an eminent scholar, philosopher, and activist, says that "justice is the public expression of love." Martin Luther King would likely agree (he and his wife, Coretta Scott, were pro-gay). Jesus is at the heart of that love.

In following Jesus, in March, I will gather with other women of faith to be a delegate at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Our leading statement is this: As Christians, we believe that all of humanity is created in God’s image and equal before God. Our scriptures, the way of Jesus Christ and our Baptismal Covenant call us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”, regardless of gender. These values lead us to affirm and uphold the progress made by member states and United Nations agencies in empowering women and girls...

The love of Christ is at the heart of our work for inclusion and human rights, for gays, for women and girls, and for people of color. This goes back to our prophet and martyr MLK, who forms us to this day.

What exactly is your Christology, Eric? That if you can tick off the right boxes under "Personal Sin" it means you love Jesus more than people busting our butts to move the dial on social justice?

Is GAFCON spreading the Good News of Jesus with this OCD like obsession with sexuality. Wouldn't the Good News to the poor and oppressed look somewhat different?

Your attempts to use racism and colonialism to shame people into hating me, my spouse, and my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in places has been noted.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 6:11am GMT

"I spent three years as Rector of a parish in Bermuda, where colour mattered, and mattered deeply."

And I've been going to Haiti for nearly 12 years. Yes, I've seen how much race matters, not only in black/white, but also "shading." The legacy of slavery in the New World is horrific and there is blood on nearly everyone's white hands. I'm not being facetious. If GAFCON was stepping up to cry "forgive our national debts and pay us reparations for the wealth our people created for you" I would be the first to stand up and cry YES! [In England, Barclay's Bank, Lloyd's of London, in the US lots of northern factories got their wealth from slavery].

I understand exactly where you are coming from on the racial matters. Exactly. However, I am keenly aware of the abuse of women and girls as well as LGBTQ people in places where patriarchy leads. The data show that where ever women have more prosperity and equality, the more prosperous the country. So women and girls were written into the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals...

I'm sorry, African priority on honor and shame promotes abuses against girls, women, and LGBTQ people. And there is no amount of white guilt you can heap on me that I won't reject and send back your way with the realities of the abuse it creates. There is no way that this abuse and poverty it supports, is in the interests of Jesus.

Your vision is male and thinks only of the men.

"And as for power..." Again, you are misguided. TEC is not demanding LGBTQ liberation world wide. It is GAFCON who is trying to use the power of their wildly inflated numbers to isolate TEC and justify their atrocious human rights record.

Your apology for some of the African archbishops falls short. In the Muslim vs Christian bit, I note that in the West we aren't going to stop educating girls because Boko Harum doesn't like it!!! Similarly, there's no reason to curb any other rights.

NOTE: If you read some of the Human Rights Watch reports on the Muslim-Christian conflicts, you will find that there are many practical and pocket book issues fueling some of the conflict. Much would be resolved wit functional justice systems, alas.

Your opinions are strong, you are trying to side with the truly oppressed. I appreciate that. But as an LGBTQ person and an activist for women and girls, I am telling you that you have missed the mark.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 6:30am GMT

@ Peter Owen - 26/44 is actually a pretty solid result. But I'll add another layer. In 17 of the 18 dioceses that DID approve the Anglican Covenant, the process was manipulated by diocesan officials to diminish the opportunity for Covenant critics to make their case. Only pro-Covenant materials were distributed to synod members, for example.

In one particularly idiots case, the diocesan synod allocated 90 minutes to the Covenant debate. The first 30 minutes was a "background" presentation by an avid pro-Covenant bishop, followed by a ten minute speech from the person moving the pro-Covenant motion. In other words, with 90 minutes allocated, a full 40 minutes elapsed before anyone critical of the Covenant was permitted to say a word. In the end, pro-Covenant speakers were allocated 65/90 minutes to make their case and the Covenant's critics only 25/90.

That's typical of what constituted open discussion in 17/18 dioceses that endorsed the Covenant (and 1/26 that didn't.) By contrast, where open debate was permitted, the Covenant routinely went down to defeat.

In light of that, 26/44 looks even better.

Posted by Malcolm French at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 7:08am GMT

Back in the 19th century the more progressive Unitarian figures like James Martineau and JJ Tayler advocated a confederal Church in England, probably disestablished but retaining most assets. There were sympathisers among Anglican liberal intellectuals of the time. But these days it wouldn't work because the general Christian culture than would underpin such an enterprise has gone, and also in those days people knew what the Trinity meant (on both sides) and were more likely to exclude others who had other kinds of Christianity. Martineau understood Church as comprehension, a theological opinion as transitory and sect. Decades before Troeltsch, Troeltsch nevertheless realised that Martineau's subjective individualism wasn't Church but Mysticism. And now Mysticism is interfaith, spirituality rather than religion, and secular, and lots of texts and conversations.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 7:14am GMT

"a peculiarly white culture of liberal freedoms"

So you've never heard of African gay activists? They would be intrigued by the idea that their activism for their own liberation is "white."

You might want to view the movie Voices of Witness: Africa. You could talk with gay activists in the UK, US, or Canada. One Nigerian activist living in London comments here on Thinking Anglican from time to time. It wouldn't take much effort to find out that there are Gay Pride parades in Uganda, and very brave souls who actually show up.

Gay liberation is white? This is precisely why we need to hear the voices of the many. Gay people were in Africa before, during, and after colonialism.

By the way, one of the things I've heard from gay African activists is that they ask us to keep speaking up for them, like we ultimately did with aparteid in South Africa. So who should I respect, my gay sisters and brothers who ask me to pray and speak up for them? Or a Western man who insists that their liberation is a racist conceit by Western Liberals?

Can you use your finely honed lens for racism and apply it to the different world view some may hold if they listened to African gay sisters and brothers, rather than presumed?

For a Western, black, theological perspective from a straight black man who has digested all this, I refer you to TEC's PB +Michael Curry. He might also have something to say about your suggestion that gay liberation is a white liberal thing.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 7:55am GMT

The 1930 Lambeth Conference described the Anglican Communion as " a federation without a federal government." I quoted that in my essay in the Study of Anglicanism ( 1998 ) ed Sykes and Booty...but not having the Conference report to hand now I cant check the context.

Posted by Perry Butler at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 9:29am GMT

yes, a lot of trans people are straight, and a lot of gay people are single.
That's not the point.
The church traces its resistance to same sex sexuality back to Genesis. To "male and female he created them".
This also hurts trans people because many conservatives don't accept the idea of gender dysphoria as anything but an aberration, a result of the Fall. Same as same sex sexuality.

Culturally, gender and sexuality have always been linked - (subservient) female sexuality is being much more controlled, and one of the reasons men in particular struggle so much with gay men is because their idea of the kind of sexual relationship all gay men have upsets the boundaries of what being a man should be about. They are not remotely worried about straight people engaged in the same practice.

Talk to trans people in our lgbt support groups and you'll discover that they suffer as much, if not more, abuse from Christians because of their seeming inability or rebellious unwillingness to accept God's plan for them.

Gender and sexuality are linked and the topic can ultimately only be resolved together.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 11:42am GMT

"The legacy of slavery in the New World is horrific and there is blood on nearly everyone's white hands."

Cynthia, why should most living Caucasian people feel an ounce of guilt over slavery? They've never owned slaves, dealt in slaves, nor profited from slavery. It's like the original sin of progressiveism. Even if I'm wrong, and white people are collectively guilty, guilt also attaches to the Africans who first captured and enslaved people from rival kingdoms.

Same goes for the post-Colonial guilt played on with England.

Posted by James Byron at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 12:07pm GMT

"A federation without a federal government"?
Sounds like a contradiction in terms to me but so very Anglican!

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 12:46pm GMT

I am trying to find the figures for the adoption/rejection of the Anglican Covenant in the whole of the Anglican Communion. I can't find them on the "No Anglican Covenant" blog.
Do you have them somewhere?

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 1:30pm GMT

Well, I did disturb a hornets' nest! And I am not surprised, nor do I suggest that the question of of the rights of gay Nigerians or Kenyans is not a real issue of justice that needs to be faced, but it will continue to be so for some time to come. But that doesn't mean that the church should simply ignore the cultural background from which church leaders come, and what is politically possible for them to endorse. It is obviously difficult for Justin Welby to give unquestioned support for gay liberation in the Church of England. It is much more difficult for those who come from places where the church is in competition with Islam, and where the local culture is not prepared to welcome gay liberation, for theological/biblical as well as for cultural reasons.

Of course gay people in Africa want us to go on fighting on their behalf, just as women would like us to defend their equality rights. But when we allow immigrants to come to the West and retain their misogynistic customs and beliefs without any legal restraints, it is hard for people in, say, Kenya or Nigeria to believe that we are wholly serious about such rights. They're okay for "white" people, perhaps, but not for Muslims, who can go on settling their disputes in age-old Shar'ia courts, as well as living in religiously or racially closed enclaves where the law of the land does not reach, and where the influence of the surrounding culture within which they choose to make their homes is excluded.

I think we have to recognise that the imperial ties that kept the Anglican communion loosely together are now broken, and that people in the global South, as it has come to be called, are no longer prepared to be dictated to by the white church from which they derive their foundation. Indeed, so changed is the faith as understood in the West from the faith that was promulgated to the global South that there no longer seems to be a common bond that can possible hold us together. And we must remember that we are only a small percentage of Anglicans who do consider gay liberation to be an integral part of the human rights mandate that Christians must acknowledge. The Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and many evangelical expressions of Anglicanism even in the global North, do not share this particular commitment to human rights. It is not at all surprising that raising to the episcopate someone who is living in a gay relationship should have thrown a small bomb into the assembly at the Lambeth Conference in 1998. Given the known opinion of many African bishops at the time, was that not simply saying that they did not count? Notwithstanding TEC's right to do so, was it right for them to do so at such a sensitive point in the Communion's history?

Nor did I suggest that gay liberation was only a white liberal thing, but it is from amongst white liberals that it has got most of its energy. Don't get me wrong. I fully support gay liberation, but I also think that cultural change is occurring with greater celerity in the North than in the South, and the Anglican Communion, dominated as it has been by the white global North, has been moving too fast for those who think otherwise, many of whom live in the global South.

I know so little about the Anglican Church in Africa, so I don't know when the transition from English bishops to indigenous bishops occurred, though I think it is relatively recent. I know that the United Church of Canada mission in India was almost entirely controlled by Canadian missionaries until the 1950s, and probably somewhat longer. That may or may not be a benchmark. But supposing the changeover began somewhere around mid-twentieth century, that is relatively recent. Tribal customs and divisions are still very strong, even amongst Christians. Social change is relatively slow, and we in the North are expecting people in such cultural conditions to move much faster than their people can move, notwithstanding black gay activists. Things have moved quickly in the North since the revolutionary sixties, which had little impact on the global South. Indeed, Sayyid Qutb, the famous Egyptian Islamist, returned from a study visit to America in the 1950's (of all times!) and returned with the impression that the United States was a seething cauldron of forbidden lusts! Can we be surprised that contemporary Africans and others see North American and British culture, generally, as plagued by immorality and sin, or that they should think that the church in those cultures has given way to the immorality and sin that has besieged them?

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 2:24pm GMT

@ Cynthia, re your comment posted on Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 7:55am GMT, good post, good observations.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 2:51pm GMT

Erika: I am not Malcolm but found these pages still on the Modern Church site:

I didn't think there had been any official progress report since then.

Posted by Dave Marshall at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 3:11pm GMT

"why should most living Caucasian people feel an ounce of guilt over slavery? They've never ... nor profited from slavery."

I think that guilt is unproductive, self-indulgent, and debilitating. What's needed is an awakening to the continuing legacy of that evil. White people still profit mightily. A great deal of wealth was created, but you could attribute that to the 1 percent, as if that capital never helped white people get loans for businesses, homes, and education...

England and the US have surprisingly similar manifestations of the legacy of slavery. Both countries had housing policies that ghettoized black people and fed into cycles of poverty. This happened when white people were getting unprecedented access to mortgages to buy homes, a real driver of upward mobility into a solid middle class. Both countries ended legal discrimination in housing in 1968, but the practice was often continued privately. Mobility and housing are fundamental to economic well being.

If your forbears were slave traders, say in Bristol, or plantation owners, say in Bermuda or South Carolina, then wealth and land ownership was brought to your family. Land ownership has generational consequences. In the US, when the freed slaves didn't get their 40 acres and a mule, it was a missed opportunity to pay them for their labor... Alas. When the UK eliminated slavery, it compensated the plantation owners, but not the slaves for their labor!

Capital, who has it and who can get it, is a mover.

I dearly wish that GAFCON would ask for justice rather than this gay hate agenda. But I'm not naive, this justice would have far more resistance than the anti-gay one, because I'm suggesting a certain re-distribution of wealth, and people will fight to the death over that.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 4:07pm GMT

Erika - I agree strongly that gender and sexual orientation are linked, which is why I despair of cis gay activists who imagine that trans people have nothing to do with them. (One colleague asked me, "Why does everything have to be LGBT now? Why can't we have organizations that are just 'gay'?" to which I responded that the struggles had been inseparable since Stonewall). And in many ways I believe that the transphobia and misogyny are the "fathers" of heterosexism.

But I also don't want to concede to "conservatives" more than is warranted. Those who oppose homosexualities can, for better or worse, point to an "unbroken, 2000 year witness" of negative church responses. Those who "don't accept the idea of gender dysphoria as anything but an aberration" cannot do the same, because there isn't 2000 years of modern transgender/transsexuality for the church to have had any witness about one way or another. And intersexuality is a horse of another colour: there is AFAIK no "moral debate" on the question within Christianity, any more than there is on appendicitis. Even anti-trans Christian voices tend IME to go out of their way to underscore that their rhetoric does not apply to "genuine hermaphrodites" [sic]. (At the same time, I recognize that many trans people also have intersex conditions - indeed I have long suspected that I have a mild androgen insensitivity myself).

My concern is that some of those voices you refer to do indeed treat trans people more or less by analogy with gays and lesbians. And in affirming with you that the topics can "only be resolved together" I still want to respect the uniqueness of trans people's experiences and not (as some "conservatives") simply treat them as variations on my own. Perhaps that is a very Anglican muddle!

Posted by Geoff M. at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 4:11pm GMT

'A federation without a federal government' is a bit like an episcopal church without bishops. This is at its best, wordplay, or at its worst logomachia. The issue is polity: and whether the Anglican Communion wishes to adopt a polity with a central 'federal' structure or not. There are different 'parties' on this issue -- including those who wish to see even the Communion model collapse into an even looser network of like-minded subgroupings of the former Communion. (One could argue this is actually the fact on the ground for a few years now; so the question becomes, can we live with this Venn diagram sort of misnamed 'communion' in which not all are in communion with all others, or shall we excise one of the 'networks' or shall one 'walk apart' or shall we adopt a new central constitution to manage things?

The real point for me in all of this is that true communion does not require 'instruments' -- the instruments are good for assisting in mission work and practical matters, but communion comes from mutual recognition of the presence of God at work, not some administrative body.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 4:31pm GMT

"Notwithstanding TEC's right to do so, was it right for them to do so at such a sensitive point in the Communion's history?"

Yes, it was right for us to do it. In the country of Martin Luther King we could do no less.

Your definition of human rights is a bit muddled. LGBTQ people are being persecuted by the state with the support and enthusiasm of the church in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the RC's and the Orthodox (I was raised Greek Orthodox) may never adopt gay marriage, but they don't support killing and jailing gay people, either. That's the difference. Clearer? Here's a good explanation from Amnesty International:

It's true that in the US (and perhaps some other places, I don't want to speak for others), equality is often associated with human rights. I think this is proper but that it is an evolution that is not in broader world at this time. That isn't exactly the definition from the UN or Amnesty.

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 9 January 2016 at 11:13pm GMT

"Notwithstanding TEC's right to do so, was it right for them to do so at such a sensitive point in the Communion's history?"

Methinks you have the chronology mixed up.

Don't you think that the historical moment became "sensitive" only *after* the Diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson as bishop?

Besides, what are you saying, really? Are you suggesting that 2016 would have been a better time?

If not now, when?

Or do you really mean that there was never, and never will be, a good time for an openly gay person to become a bishop?

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 2:07am GMT

On the sexual orientation / gender identity topic ... consider an hypothetical example.

"Paul" was born with an outwardly male body (and assigned male at birth) but with female brain structures.

Properly regarded as intersex, Paul is likely to be wrongly categorised as "transgender" by many people. This is the first indignity. Rather than being recognised as being an individual who has both male and female physiology, s/he is regarded as a man with a mental disorder (gender dysphoria) - still in the UK a mental disorder for the purposes of mental health legislation.

Paul is attracted to men and faces the rejections in church common to many gay men. Paul becomes a priest, marries a man, Andrew, and faces rejection.

After a lifetime of internal struggle, Paul accepts her true nature and changes her name to Paula, her legal gender and physical sex to female. Paula and Andrew remain married.

Paula still finds many still reject her priesthood, seeing her as a man married to another man. Doubly hurtful because it is not just discrimination but a refusal to even see Paula as a woman.

Geoff, those who cross the gender divide face all of the troubles of LGB and more. Unless bi, then either before or after transition (and quite possibly both) they will suffer because of their sexual orientation in at least one gender role and in addition they suffer a whole host of indignities unique to changing gender presentation.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 4:48am GMT

And another example...

A couple gave birth to a baby with ambiguous genitalia. After some debate the doctors decided that, on balance, the baby was more female than male and declared it female. She was named Fiona.

In another hospital a few miles away another couple gave birth to a baby physically almost identical to Fiona. Perhaps swayed by the parents' wish for a son, the doctors in this hospital declared the baby a boy. He was named Martin.

If in due course, Martin marries a woman, he is a straight male with all the perquisites and standing that involves. He can become a respected bishop.

If Fiona marries a woman, she is in a same sex relationship. Many will reject her as a priest or bishop.

Yet physically, Martin and Fiona are identical. The ONLY difference between them is whether a doctor put M or F on a form. Can how a form is filled in really change someone from being acceptable to GAFCON to being unacceptable?

Geoff says "intersexuality is a horse of another colour". I would disagree. Considering cuspal, intersex, cases like Martin and Fiona might offer the key to understanding everything.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 5:44am GMT

Cynthia, I don't think I'm in the least confused about human rights. Indeed, in your quote from me I clearly said it was TEC's right to do what it did. The question I asked whether it should have done so 'at that time', when it was well known that the issue was such a flammable one in the Anglican Communion. Consecrating a gay, divorced bishop living in a gay relationship, was by no means a necessity for upholding the rights of gay people, but it was guaranteed to be a deal breaker with many Anglican provinces in Africa. Now it is less likely that the rights of gay people in Africa will be recognised than before. since it entrenched anti-gay belief and rhetoric in the Anglican conversation. How does this contribute to the liberation of gay and lesbian Africans? Achieving the recognition of rights is deeply political. The consecration of Gene Robinson might be seen as "cocking a snook" at conservative US episcopalians. It has a very different resonance in much of Africa, where it likely set back the liberation of gay people by decades. Obviously that's just a guess on my part, but traditions that have lasted for hundreds or thousands of years, especially in places which the Enlightenment has only sketchily reached, are not going to change overnight. Are we really being fair to our brothers and sisters in Christ (whether straight or gay) in Africa, by going full speed ahead when it was clear that these changes would not or could not be accepted by much of the African church? Can you not see that respect for rights (which always require general social and political support) may have demanded a principle of gradualism that allowed others to come to see that this was really a matter of human rights that the gospel Jesus, given his words and actions, would likely have supported. Instead of which, we have driven ahead with irreversible actions that cannot be accepted by many in the church, and have hardened their hearts against any such change in the future.

MLK was the right person at the right time with the right message. Had he lived at another time, he might not have been listened to at all. Besides, he acted in the United States, where confrontational politics is simply part of the culture. Jeremy thinks I have my chronology mixed up. Maybe so, but now it is too late to tell, and many African bishops are so deeply entrenched in opposition that it certainly doesn't look, from an Anglican Communion standpoint, like the right time. Perhaps had people been allowed to digest the significance of gay activists in Africa, and to come to recognise that human rights issues were involved at a very fundamental level of faith, the global picture might look very different (or at least be in the course of looking very different), instead of entrenching people in their supposedly "gospel" or "biblical" Christianity where there is even less likelihood of their coming to a more "liberal" or "progressive" stance on these issues.

In the present cultural context, where issues are simply black and white without any intermediate staging places, the kind of openness in which Archbishop Hiltz places so much trust is much more likely to end up as a shouting match, like the unseemly activities at Lambeth 1998, which drove Richard Holloway from the church, and led to him calling himself post-Christian.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 1:55pm GMT

"[I]t certainly doesn't look, from an Anglican Communion standpoint, like the right time."

Eric, the hundreds of thousands of LGBTI Anglicans around the world are not going to wait for--as you put it--the Enlightenment to reach parts of Africa less sketchily. How long will that take?

Besides, if the Anglican Communion threatens to become an instrument of oppression, then the Anglican Communion must be cast off. The Church of England effectively decided this, when it voted down the so-called Anglican Covenant, which was neither Anglican nor a covenant.

Interestingly, of course, that is not what is about to happen. The people who are about to cast off the Anglican Communion are the people who want to make their churches instruments of discrimination and oppression.

As a result, this week may be a truly liberating moment for the Anglican Communion. The Communion will soon become more moral, more pleasant, and more effective in its (limited) role.

The Anglican Communion is about to become much more free to move forward, and to achieve justice for all God's children.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 4:03pm GMT

Eric, you are not understanding the American context, either or on the practical side or the moral side.

Moral side. We don't do injustice to appease people who are doing worse injustice. MLK.

Practical side. Dioceses elect their bishops. Being gay and living in a committed relationship (because marriage wasn't available then) was not misconduct. In our polity, there were no grounds to say no to New Hampshire.

Our authority comes from a General Convention of over 500 people, hearing hugely diverse voices. They establish the "mind of the church." And it can't be overthrown for the reasons you suggest.

Your assertion that gay liberation in the US is setting back gay rights in Africa is woefully misguided and another example of you presuming much. MLK said that this kind of moderate voice is detrimental to justice and he was right. There is NEVER a "good time" for justice.

Ask the African gay activists themselves if our liberation gives them hope or fear. They ask us to keep speaking up. The Incarnation came for all people everywhere. The problem is not that people want justice, the problem is that power structures oppress them. You have this 180 backwards.

Just so you know, what I hear as a gay person is that my life isn't worth as much as straight lives. In your world view, my life, my liberation, my inclusion, my rights, my happiness, my sense of well being and affirmation as sister in Christ, equally loved, isn't worth nearly as much as the fragile archbishops who are complicit in human rights violations.

That's what I hear. I'm just not worth it. My gay sisters and brothers aren't worth it. Given the number of dead LGBTQ teens who committed suicide because they felt worthless, it's not over the top to say that in this view, saving the next generation isn't worth it. Preserving the dignity of human rights violators is more important than preserving the well being of our gay children, relatives, etc.

I find this worldview appalling. Our lives should remain in second class status, vulnerable to discrimination, bullying, and hate, unaffirmed by God via our faith communities, for the sake of concord among people who could opt to mind their own business!

There really is a limit to how much I can listen to being told how my life is worth less than others and how my well being needed to be set aside for the sake of intolerant jerks. So I won't be responding anymore.

Posted by Cynthia at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 5:27pm GMT

"Geoff, those who cross the gender divide face all of the troubles of LGB and more."

I'm not sure why this is directed at me: I've made this very clear in my posts. That is not under dispute.

Posted by Geoff at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 5:47pm GMT

Dear Eric. Good luck.

Posted by cseitz at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 6:57pm GMT

Eric, a case can be made that to have rejected consent to the election of Gene Robinson on the basis of his sexuality would have been a violation of the Canon Law of The Episcopal Church.

If what you are saying is that he should not have allowed his name to go forward, that is a different matter. There were, in fact, many who counseled MLK to do the same, even though they supported his cause, suggesting the time was not right.

Times are right when things happen. I think we will look back and see that the arc of God was quite well fixed at its beginning, even though we have yet to arrive at the other end.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 7:15pm GMT

Cynthia, I deeply resent the implications of your last comment. I have a daughter who is gay and has been living in a relationship with another young woman for several years. I support them implicitly, and do not question their right to be treated equally with all others in Canadian society. This is not in question, has never been in question, and the suggestion that I am devaluing you by my remarks is simply a slander. I have not said anything which indicated that you or any other gay person is not a person of worth, with the right to live out their lives without harm. So my worldview is very little different from yours, despite all the qualifications I have all along been trying to make to make this clear to you.

Nor am I talking about the American situation. No doubt MLK was quite right to say what he said to Americans when he did, beginning in the 1950's until his murder in the revolutionary sixties. It does not follow that his advice is going to be helpful in every situation or at any time. I simply don't know, and can't tell you what the socio-political situation is in the African provinces of the Anglican Chruch which have been so opposed to the acceptance of gay people as equal and worthy citizens of their country and members of Christ. I am quite ready to see the church schism should this be felt in the end to be necessary, though I would regret it were it to come to that. I also do not know whether it would be possible to reach some agreement with African church leaders regarding the differences in culture between the (largely white) West and the (largely coloured) developing world. Nor do I know what is politically possible for the church in those countries. They are very different societies with very different outlooks on the world, some of it shaped by their indigenous cultures, and some of it by their colonial past. The refusal to take this into consideration seems to me to show a lack of care for those whose outlook you so deplore. However, recognition of rights is limited by context, and it may (I don't know this, because no one seems to be discussing it from this point of view) not be possible at this stage to recognise the rights of gay people in the church without doing greater harm to the long term cause of gay rights in those places. As I say, and as I have said all along, this is my concern. You may sneer at that concern, but if MLK had spoken at some other time in American history, it might well be that the cause of black liberation in the United States (to the extent that it has occurred, and that is obviously limited still) would have been hampered by such campaigning.

You might with some profit reflect on Brutus' words:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures."

MLK cuaght the flood and his cause prospered, though he had to compromise his principles by agreeing to distance himself from Bayard Rustin, who made no secret of his homosexuality. That is significant, for failing to do so might have been an obstacle at that time to his appeal for civil rights. My only question is: Is there now a floodtide in the affairs of gay people in Africa which will lead to fortune? Or is there no such floodtide that can be caught to take you out to sea? I just don't know, but I think it is still a worthwhile question to ask.

I deplore the fact that in some places, like the Islamic State, gay people are being thrown off high buildings to their deaths, or that gay people in the US are still subject to ridicule, discrimination and second class status by conservatives who cannot recognise the importance of such recognition to the American dream of liberty. However (and I will say it again) it is not clear to me (and I may be entirely wrong) that people in Africa are living with the same cultural forces and the same dreams. I could quite well be that the acceptance by church leadership of gay relationships as an expression of Christ's love could lead to a mass exodus from the church, and a worsening of the situation in those countries. I am quite prepared to hold the Canadian Church to account for its failures towards gay and lesbian people, and for its refusal to accept that those who are experiencing terminal suffering should have the right to receive help to end their lives, and I do. But I am not so confident in speaking about other countries or other cultures with which I am not familiar. You may be right, and a change of mind of the Anglican leadership in Africa might make all the difference to the lives of gay people in Africa. However, I don't know, and I doubt that you do either. Just as Justin Welby is reluctant to express his support for gay and lesbian clergy in the church, I suspect it is more difficult for African bishops to do so, for political, cultural and personal reasons, and I fear that it is simply entrenching their opposition by rubbing their noses in the fact that in the West we are much more easy about these things than they are.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 7:55pm GMT

Geoff, I apologise if I misunderstood what you were saying

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 10 January 2016 at 10:31pm GMT

Eric, you might be making a good (tactical) argument--if the Anglican Communion were in some way requiring African provinces to change.

It is not.

Rather, African provinces are trying to require other provinces--entirely independent provinces, mind you--to continue to discriminate.

Why local African circumstances require that the Church of England continue to discriminate is something explainable only by valuing Communion unity over justice at home.

Whatever remains of Communion unity, however, is about to break in the most formal and obvious way. This week, insistence on discrimination is about to become a mark of schism.

As a result, we can now expect the pace of change in England to pick up.

Posted by Jeremy at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 12:18am GMT

Eric, you don't get to tell me how I should feel, nor tell gay Africans that their pressing needs must wait. The presumption and disregard for well being is unfortunate.

+Gene was nominated at a time of great personal difficulty. His election meant a lot to me, affirming me as Child of God and making me feel welcome in church.

I will never take kindly to being told that justice and well being for me and my sisters and brothers was unworthy. We will not be patronized and told that our liberation has to wait, it's the wrong time. We've all seen the movie and know how it ends.

Enough of this homophobic, patronizing stuff.

Posted by Cynthia at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 12:48am GMT

Well, Cynthia, nor do you get to tell me how I should feel either. And nothing that I said was homophobic or patronising. Certainly, I was at pains to tell you that it was not so, and you have not pointed to one patronising or homophobic thing that I said. Jeremy may be right, and the only way the African bishops will be brought on board will be if we kowtow to them and their ill-informed ideas about sexuality. If so, they should be shown the door. All I was suggesting was that if they misunderstood the cultural context from which our recognition and welcome to gay Anglicans in the church derived, perhaps we are misunderstanding a situation in which such an action was for them culturally impossible. If that is not so, then nothing that I said applies, as I made clear repeatedly by saying that I just don't know enough about the cultural context of the African Church. Nor, I suspect, do you. But nothing that I said was homophobic or patronising, and I still find the sting of those words unacceptable as a response to what I said, not to speak of uncharitable. The culture of "you must agree to everything that I say or else you are justly accused of everything I hate" is destroying our ability to talk to one another, and I find myself in a situation in which, while I would like to try to find a way through the impasse in the church, you appear not to give a thought about church unity, or what disunity might mean for gay African Christians, who if they have no relationships with the wider church, will continue to hear only from genuinely homophobic, patronising schismatic Anglicans in the West. I spent the last twenty years of my active ministry fighting for the rights of gay and lesbian Christians, and my reward was a gradual shift in the way gay people were treated in the church. The parish church where I served became known as the "gay church" and was both respected and maligned because we welcomed gay people into fellowship of the church. I find it just a bit too much to be told, by someone who does not know me, that I am homophobic and patronising, especially when I went to great lengths to qualify what I said so as not to be. I thought this website was for thinking Anglicans, and not for those who emote recklessly, and are so prickly it is impossible to say something with which they are in disagreement, although making no effort to try to understand. Sure, as Jeremy says, I may not only be wrong, but have badly misjudged what is possible regarding the African bishops. I was just pleading for some mutual understanding between us and them. If they won't play ball, well they can go off into their corner and sulk, but I don't think I deserve your abuse. You have done nothing but accuse me of being homophobic, with an appalling world view, but you have yet to tell me what is so appalling about anything that I have said.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 1:42pm GMT

Cynthia and Eric, let's be sure to practise good disagreement here :-)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 3:48pm GMT

Not just for this thread -

Could those making long posts please use some paragraphing, so that we actually might want make the effort to read the posts?


Posted by John Roch at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 4:17pm GMT

Thank you Simon. I really am trying. My point, which I perhaps could have made a bit more clearly, is simply this. We tell the African bishops that they simply do not understand the way our culture has developed, and how, in fact, in terms of that development, we now consider gay and lesbian people differently than they were regarded in biblical times, because we now know more about sexuality. And we call them bullies because they do not understand this. However, if you went to Holy Trinity Brompton, you would find a very similar biblical understanding of homosexuality, and this applies to a number of American, Canadian and Australian Anglicans as well. Let's not fool ourselves. The sexual revolution and its limits are not clearly understood, and some people are very uncertain about how far they are expected to go in accepting different sexualities, and the implications of that acceptance for values and a way of life that they hold dear. This uncertainty is quite obviously on show in some of the things that ++Justin has said in interviews.

Now, our perception of the African bishops, in particular, as bullies may seem appropriate, since they do seem to be saying "My way or the highway." But no one that I know of has actually considered the limits of what they can be held reasonably to say in their own cultures, and the struggles they would face if they were to adopt moral points of view which are increasingly taken for granted in the West. We can't have it both ways. We can't say that they simply do not understand why these developments in our understanding of Christianity and homosexuality are as they are, if we are not prepared to look at their way of looking at these issues, ways that are determined by their cultural circumstances, and may be, in fact, for the survival of the church there, even necessary at present. I simply don't know, and I do not know of anyone who has even raised the question. I know that this sounds homophobic to Cynthia, but it is not. At least it is certainly not intended in that sense. It is just to say that if we want them to respect our theological decisions because of the cultural revolution that has taken place in our societies, then we must at least show some respect for their cultural sensitivities. We can also set some limits for that sensitivity. If the African Church holds that homosexuality should be held to be criminal, and subject to criminal sanctions, then we have to say that we cannot accept as Anglican a church which holds such a view. But if we expect them to respect our decisions, we have to try to accept (for the time being) what makes these decisions culturally impossible for them, if that is really what is at issue (even though we all make the point by quoting the Bible).

In any event, in the course of this week, I guess, we will know one way or another what resolution to the schism in the Anglican Communion is possible. This may even determine whether we need to set up parallel jurisdictions in Africa to provide justice for gay and lesbian Christians who are not welcomed by what used to be Provinces of the Anglican Communion in Africa.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 5:03pm GMT

Thank you to Martyn Percy. It is rare that as a left hander I feel fully included in theological debates.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 5:42pm GMT

My apologies, John Roch, if you were referring to my one paragraph response to Cynthia. But I didn't really want others to read that, so if the solid block of print put you off, that's all to the good.

I do, in general, try to divide what I say into paragraphs, though my paragraphs are often longer than those of others. I still can't adapt to the telegraphic way of communicating that is common on the web.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 6:47pm GMT

Eric, personally, I don't believe that what you said was homophobic, and I agree that we need to empathize with the majority African perspective.

Whenever I criticize Gafcon, I'm aware that most of its ordinary members are far braver, and more devout, than I'll ever be. They daily face down hardships that most of us are lucky enough to be spared, and under which most of us would be crushed. We're in no position to judge them.

That said, I believe in unalienable and universal human rights, amongst which is the right not to be subjected to arbitrary and unjustified discrimination. I can accept that Kenyans, Nigerians and Ugandans are generally better people and better Christians, and have earned the right to call out the West for its arrogance and social decline; but I can't, and won't, retreat from that position.

And apologies to Rod Gillis for missing your post about Pentecostal growth. I agree that immigration's a factor in growth, and appreciate the corrective. To build an accurate picture, it's crucial to ensure that all factors are considered.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 11 January 2016 at 11:02pm GMT

I've been thinking about ways to say this that can be easily understood, not necessarily agreed with, but understood.

Language that attacks my well being (and many of our sisters and brothers) explicitly because I'm gay, to me is homophobic. I know that to some people, discussing whether or not +Gene should have been consecrated is an abstract or academic argument. To me and my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in TEC (as you can learn from our group Integrity) this lifted us out of third class status and affirmed us as Children of God.

Personally, at that time I was out of a job (thanks to discrimination). There had been numerous heinous hate crimes, and it was the peak of hateful rhetoric in the public realm, and it was getting to me. I was in a deep depression. The news that the Episcopal Church would not break their canons (which is what it would have taken to reject New Hampshire's choice) and go ahead with the consecration was a watershed moment for me.

The news that God loved me and my church was including me was the Good News and a turn around moment in the pain that I was in at the time.

The idea that my liberation from this agony should have put off for the sake of an abusive culture in another hemisphere is not the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Oppressed people want liberation, it is not up to the white establishment to decide the right time to discuss their liberation. African gay activists ask us to keep speaking up and say that the example of TEC inspires them.

Supporting and appeasing abusers in the name of "cultural sensitivity" is certainly not the Good News of Jesus Christ who came to to the poor and oppressed.

I have unprecedented liberation. It would be atrocious of me to tell anyone "sorry, you just have to keep enduring this horror because of cultural sensitivity towards your abusers."

It isn't an abstract argument. It is real flesh and blood people who are at risk. Jesus asks us to be concerned for them.

Posted by Cynthia at Tuesday, 12 January 2016 at 6:19pm GMT

Cynthia, I for one absolutely agree that justice delayed is justice denied, and was overjoyed that TEC didn't attempt to overturn Gene Robinson's election. However much I may empathize with the majority perspective in African provinces, I'd never use it to argue for "gracious restraint."

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 12 January 2016 at 7:50pm GMT

I would agree, James, that some empathy for the majority position (if that's what it is, Africa is a very large and diverse continent) is warranted. But empathy doesn't mean going along with, or being silent about the abuses.

The first order of business is to stop the abuses that are an affront to the Body of Christ.

Posted by Cynthia at Wednesday, 13 January 2016 at 3:47am GMT
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