THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 167
Aggravating the tension?
There has been talk recently in the media that Jeffrey John may be in the running for a bishopric in Wales. Apparently the Bishopric of Bangor is coming up and Jeffrey John is eminently suitable for it - including being able to speak Welsh! There are several names proposed - and so there is no certainty, but the very idea has been enough to get the rumour mill working!
According to the Times correspondent, conservatives have warned that such an appointment could ‘aggravate the tensions’ over sexuality in the Anglican Communion.
When I read this report I could hardly restrain myself from laughing out loud! They talk of the appointment of an eminently suitable churchman to the job of bishop in Wales - a man who actually speaks Welsh - as aggravating tension in the Communion, when we have the Gafcon faction rampaging away with a completely rebel movement. Lets examine this more closely
Gafcon issued their communiqué and in that document in effect they declared war on the existing Anglican Leadership. In it they declare that they intend to form a new Anglican Body from inside out - that is, remaining within the existing structure but creating an entirely different group with different loyalties and different beliefs. Furthermore they state that they intend to start up new churches wherever they see fit - anywhere in the world - irrespective of what existing Anglican Churches may already be on the ground. They justify such rebel behaviour by stating that they wish to provide for those people who believe as they do on certain issues.
In addition they also have decided that they no longer regard the Archbishop of Canterbury in the way they have regarded him hitherto - and as all the other churches in the Communion regard him. Henceforth they will be responsible to their own governing group which will replace the Archbishop in any decision making that they find necessary!
Could any action be more calculated to disrupt and even destroy the existing set-up? Could there be a more blatant disregard for an existing leader? Could there be a more autocratic and domineering attitude towards systems that have stood the test of centuries? And could one have a more blatant insult to the titular head of the Anglican Communion?
Now it is perfectly reasonable to argue about what sort of response this rebellion calls for. It is perfectly right to discuss various ways of going forward in the hope that unity somehow at some point can be pulled out of the fire - although many if not most would say that it is too late, seeing any such unity is already diminished to nothing.
But then to argue that the placing of a good man - whether gay, heterosexual, asexual or whatever - in the post of a bishop in Wales is aggravating the position is farcical! It is completely shutting one’s eyes to the reality of the situation.
The reality of the situation in which we find ourselves is that there has been a break away by the Gafcon churches. It is a clear breakaway - although they go on maintaining that they are still part of the Anglican Communion, as indeed they are - no doubt at least partly for legal reasons and property reasons. They are maintaining that they are the true Anglicans. They have the ‘true faith’ and all the rest have gone astray. So far astray indeed, that the Gafcon churches refuse to have any dealings or communion with some of them! As far as Gafcon is concerned they are apostates!
The situation in which we find ourselves is therefore that we have a broken Communion. However much the Archbishop of Canterbury may attempt to heal the breach, the fact is that the two sides could not be further apart and there are no signs of any weakening of resolve. We have to recognise what has already happened. One can shut one’s eyes to it if one wishes - but that does not alter the fact of what has happened. There is a de facto schism.
I would add here that the separating action has only been on the part of the Gafcon churches. The other side - I will call this the liberal side - stands ready to find a way forward.
Now, in the light of the reality of such a division, despite whatever is being said by those wishing to find a way to heal the breach, lets look at the three criteria laid down for alL Anglican Churches. We have to bear in mind that people on both sides have said they have no intention of following these three conditions.
These three conditions, applicable to the whole of the Anglican Communion, are: no new gay bishops, no gay blessings, no crossing of church boundaries. It is hypocritical for anyone to say that a breaking of one of these three conditions will aggravate tension when their own Churches (Gafcon) are clearly breaking another of the conditions - the one concerning the crossing of boundaries.
The American Church some time ago ceased installing new gay bishops - but they will surely now decide that the time has come to allow a gay man or woman to be made a bishop if they are the appropriate person for the job. Other gay bishops may pop up anywhere - Canada for example, or Wales.
The second condition - that there will be no gay blessings in churches - is also a non starter! There will certainly continue to be gay blessings. And I guess there will continue to be some blessings in churches too. Why should a group of mainly African Churches create rules for everyone else when they themselves are refusing to follow the rules?
As regards the third condition - that there shall be no trespassing over boundaries of one church by another church - Gafcon have stated in the plainest possible manner that they intend to trespass when and where they like. They will pay no regard to existing boundaries - if they think a church of the Gafcon sort is needed somewhere then they will plant such a church and provide the oversight necessary. That means there will be more and more places where there will be two churches, each considering themselves as part of the Anglican Communion, while they are preaching and teaching diametrically opposite doctrines and practices! It could be a nasty mess!
Let me try to summarise what I have been saying. The Gafcon faction has declared rebellion against the existing rules and practices of the Anglican Communion. It has also declared itself out of communion with certain other churches in the Communion. The more liberal churches regard themselves still in communion with all of the Communion - whether they are in or out of Gafcon. The Archbishop of Canterbury, fresh from a successful Lambeth, where those attending caught a vision of what remaining in fellowship with each other, even when they disagreed, really means, is trying to broker a way forward that will hold the various parties together, however tenuously. The word ‘schism’ is on everybody’s lips - but the idea is refuted by the Archbishop as he still believes a way forward can be found.
The three conditions that have been stipulated for all the churches in the Communion are likely to be broken in whole or in part by a number of churches. In the light of all of this it is surely unrealistic for anyone to say that the possibility of Jeffrey John being made a bishop (of wherever) is aggravating the situation! What is aggravating the situation - and has aggravated the situation from day one - is the intransigence of the Gafcon type churches in their withdrawal from ordinary fellowship with their fellow Anglicans in the Communion.
And what is the basis for their refusing to have any fellowship with other churches in the Anglican Communion? Refusing to have holy communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Archbishops in the Communion? It is because of the importance they place on something that St Paul said. In 1 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 11 he says:
“But actually I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler - not even to eat with such a one.’
Paul explains to the Corinthian Christians that in his first letter (which we do not have) he had said that they should not associate with immoral people. Here he explains that he did not mean immoral people in the world generally, but ‘any so-called brother’ i.e. someone who calls himself a Christian who acted immorally. But the basis of his suggestion is immorality, not a disagreement about doctrine or practice such as is now the case.
As far as I can see it is on this and any similar verses that the Gafcon churches are breaking up the Anglican Communion. Instead of staying in the same Communion, they are calling some of their fellow Anglicans apostates (someone who has left the true faith) and then cutting themselves off from them.
There are, of course, other issues and many gallons of ink will flow explaining it all. But basically we are up against a literal application of the bible which is causing the break up of the world wide fellowship.
So I hope that Jeffrey John is made Bishop of Bangor or is put up for some other bishopric. He deserves it - as everyone agrees, he is ideally suited and has had a very raw deal when he was persuaded by the Archbishop of Canterbury to withdraw from being given the previous position as Bishop.
So lets not have any more of this aggravation nonsense! The three conditions will be honoured by some and transgressed by others. We shall have to wait to see what the outcome will eventually be. But make no mistake - we already have division amounting to schism in all but legal recognition. But while the Archbishop says there is hope I for one am going to go on hoping - and praying for God’s will to be done.