It’s been a week full of bad hair days for Anglican liberals. Their worst nightmare came to pass. Not one but two of Anglicanism’s world-renowned theologians made statements that had liberals fulminating, frothing and spitting in rage.
Firstly, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s surprisingly strong reaction to The Episcopal Church’s General Convention dealt a final blow to the bizarre pretence by the American leadership that their controversial resolutions were merely descriptive. Dr Williams realized that ”˜pastoral generosity’ amounted to a green light for same-sex blessings, and that the reference to ”˜no’ extra-canonical restraints on Episcopal elections was a turning away from an already very weak moratorium on the consecration of practising homosexuals.
Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s clear recognition that the Episcopal Church was walking even further apart from the Anglican Communion was followed by strong language of a twin-track communion ”” with the Episcopal Church on the outside track.
Many liberals can scarcely conceal their sense of betrayal at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s defence of the ecumenical, traditional and biblical consensus on human sexuality. They thought he was one of them when he was appointed. After seeing off Carey, they were certain that good old Rowan would support a gradual overturning of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. Instead, he has supported Lambeth Resolution 1.10 as the ”˜mind of the Communion’ at every stage. Perhaps he is now more aware than ever that the novel, liberal teaching on homosexuality would represent a massive departure from universal Christian norms and our ecumenical partners?
And then the worst nightmare came, the New Testament theologian, NT Wright, added his voice to the Archbishop’s censure of The Episcopal Church. Let’s not forget that this is a theologian who demolishes weak, tendentious and dishonest theologies for breakfast while the rest of us are blearily chewing our Weetabix. The Bishop of Durham both supported the Archbishop of Canterbury’s analysis but also called for immediate action to twin-track the Communion now. Don’t wait for the Covenant and the endless delaying tactics of The Episcopal Church, he warned, the Communion can be restructured tomorrow allowing a substantial and faithful remnant within The Episcopal Church to rally around the Anaheim statement with its declaration of loyalty to the Communion.
He was described as ”˜megalomaniacal’ by Colin Coward of Changing Attitude for this contribution to the debate. But an even clearer sign that the archiepiscopal broadside had rattled the liberals was the knee-jerk statement by 13 liberal organizations, including Inclusive Church.
The statement’s muttering about strengthening bonds of affection “with those ”¦ who share our commitment to the full inclusion of all of God’s faithful”, together with their criticism of a “two-track communion” amounted to a declaration of guerrilla warfare in the Church of England.
The initial thinking is not just to strengthen ties with liberals in North America, but to encourage the creation of an Episcopal chaplaincy in England along the lines of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.
But they are also intent on planting more facts on the ground. It has worked in North America, so why not here? The first initiative is a survey of gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of England in an attempt to demonstrate that far from being anomalous these relationships and civil partnerships are widely accepted. This might amount to a massive exercise in ”˜outing’ clergy, but it could, in fact, be groups like Inclusive Church who are exaggerating the numbers of practising homosexuals
in ministry. The other declaration in the statement is that they will “continue to work towards liturgical and sacramental recognition of the God-given love which enables many LGBT couples to thrive”. This is another aspect of planting facts on the ground, with the stepping up of same-sex blessings despite the fact that these are not permitted in the Church of England.
In other words, lawlessness on the part of those who claim to uphold the law of the Church of England and who have criticized evangelicals and others for undermining canon law.
Why the liberals are less of a threat than they think
So should we be concerned about this new ”˜militancy’ on the part of liberal Anglicans? Not really. Firstly, the numbers involved are very small. Many of these 13 organizations amount to little more than a man and his dog. There are also duplicated memberships. Furthermore, for a campaign to come to anything it has to be a genuine cause and you have to be principled in support of your cause.
Liberals have been a victim of their own success, they are ensconced comfortably in the Church of England, they’ve dominated the hierarchy for decades and they’ve had it too comfortable. Furthermore, they now preside over mostly moribund churches and they don’t believe anything terribly much. If you’re really going to make a difference you have to believe in it as though it’s a matter of life and death, even eternal life and death.
–This article appears in the Church of England Newspaper, August 14, 2009 edition, on page 15