Archbishop Justin Welby's Presidential Address to the General Synod

The Church of England is not tidy, nor efficiently hierarchical. There are no popes, but there is a College of Bishops and there are Synods and collections and lobbies and groups and pressure and struggle. When it works well it works because love overcomes fear. When it works badly it is because fear overcomes love. The resources for more fear lie within us and the resources for more love lie within God and are readily available to all those who in repentance and humility stretch out and seek them. With Jesus every imperative rests on an indicative, every command springs from a promise. Do not fear.

Already I can hear the arguments being pushed back at me, about compromise, about the wishy-washiness of reconciliation, to quote something I read recently. But this sort of love, and the reconciliation between differing groups that it demands and implies, is not comfortable and soft and wishy-washy. Facilitated conversations may be a clumsy phrase, but it has at its heart a search for good disagreement. It is exceptionally hard edged, extraordinarily demanding and likely to lead in parts of the world around us to profound unpopularity or dismissal….

We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling. There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, --Justin Welby, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

16 comments on “Archbishop Justin Welby's Presidential Address to the General Synod

  1. Karen B. says:

    Have only skimmed this, as I’m extremely busy and also quite sick today, leaving me little to no energy or time. But figured this was something I should at least give a bit of time to.

    What I read did not impress or encourage me. The themes of fear vs. flourishing don’t seem particularly Scriptural to me. In fact, as best as I could tell from a quick skim, there was no Scripture cited at all, except perhaps for the portion of the verse in 1 John which talks about perfect love driving out fear which was tossed out as a kind of proof text. “Human flourishing” is secular-humanist talk. All this talk of the church flourishing, and the insistence that it is fear that motivates every disagreement or division is just wrong and wearying in the extreme. It seems like Welby is saying that it’s up to us to make the church flourish… that it requires a human agenda. It seems to me that the church flourishes when filled with the Holy Spirit and people are living holy lives, being conformed from glory into glory evermore into the image of Christ,and growing into maturity in Him. I didn’t see much talk of holiness or Christ-likeness or sanctification or even sacrifice and suffering in Welby’s talk. It seems those are what truly cause the church to flourish.

    Can’t bear to really read it all. Sorry.

  2. Sarah says:

    Yeh . . . it takes me back to 2004 and 2005 TEC rhetoric — back when they had realized that things weren’t gonna be *quite* as simple and easy as they had thought in 2003, but hadn’t yet realized that the entire church would rip apart. They were attempting to browbeat us as “fearful of change” — remember those days?

    Good times! ; > )

    *Now* of course they talk about “the cost of discipleship” in referring to their failed churches and shrinking diocesan budgets.

  3. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Karen B. (#1),

    Sorry to hear that you’re feeling sick today. I suspect that you’re not the only one who will feel sick after they’ve read or heard ++Welby’s address today. My reaction to this important speech was somewhat different from yours, and my critique of it is for perhaps somewhat different reasons.

    IF, and that’s a big IF, if you grant certain axiomatic assumptions, then the ABoC’s speech is fairly impressive and helpful. For example, IF you accept the premise that it’s important, desireable, or even necessary that ALL parts of the current CoE should “flourish,” then ++Welby’s speech can be taken as showing strong support for protecting a safe and valued place for the opponents of WO in the CoE. As an outspoken supporter of WO in princiiple, I’m happy to assure my many friends and colleagues in the ACNA and the rest of the orthodox Anglican world that I do indeed treasure their counter-cultural witness and want to see it preserved within Anglicanism. For example, I support the ACNA’s decision to allow owmen to be ordained only to the diaconate and the priesthood, but NOT to the episcopate. That has nothing whatsoever to do with “headship,” but rather it has evwerything to do with the Romans 14 principle that we shouldn’t cause stricter brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble over the liberties we feel free to enjoy but they don’t (similar to the eating of meat offered to idols issue back then).

    However, it is precisely the unquestioned assumptions that underlie ++Welby’s speech that I find most disturbing and unacceptable. That is, I categorically reject the false assumption that all parts of the current CoE should be allowed to flourish. That simple isn’t so. For there is intolerable heresy and immorality that has reached epidemic levels within the CoE, and we should no more allow such heresy and imm0orality to flourish within Anglicanism than we allow gangrene or cancer to spread unchecked in our physical bodies.

    Which takes us to the real heart of this vexed, prolonged dispute that has torn the fabric of the Anglican Communion at the deepesst level, and the tear just keeps getting worse and worse, precisely because the perpetrators of that tear arae being allowed to continue to act in intolerable ways. My biggest problem with this speech is that ++Welby treats the whole problem as if it were a psychological problem, rooted in fear, rather than a theological problem. That analysis, common and tempting as it might be, simply misses the point.

    The point is that there are two mutually exclusive gospels and ideologies that are warring against each other in contemporary Angliucanism, two incompatible worldviews and theological systems that are contending for dominance in our time, and there is only room for one of them in the end. One will eventually triumph and drive out the other, inevitably and inexorably. And rightly too. “It is meet and right so to do.”

    That is, my basic gripe is that ++Welby has PRESUMED the very thing that has to be proven, which is known in academic circles as “begging the question.” He has assumed, without warrant, the extremely dubious notion that the differences that have torn Anglicanism apart are merely Romans 14 type issues, rather than Galatians 1 type issues.

    Furthermore, ++Welby has also made another wrong assumption, which is that the CoE, as a national and legally established church, simply must make room for whatever the majority of the English population hold to be true at any given time, even if the masses have come to buy into notions that are clearly contrary to the clear and consistent teaching of both Holy Scripture and the universal consensus of the Church since its founding 200o years ago. That also is an extremely dubious assumption, although a very common one.

    Sorry to be so typically verbose, but I’ll stop here and continue shortly.

    David Handy+

  4. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Continuing my long #3,

    So far I’ve contended that the biggest problems with this speech lie at the presuppositional level. ++Welby has fallen into the common trap of assuming that ALL parts of the current CoE should be extended toleration and assured of a safe, honorable, and valued place within the Church, and that all parts can simultaneously flourish when their values are so utterly opposed to each other that they are mutually exclusive. That simply isn’t true. ++Welby simply takes such an assumption for granted, and doesn’t even try to argue in favor of that stance. Furthermore, ++Welby has assumed that a national church like the CoE, established by law and intended to be as socially inclusive as possible, either inevitably will, or worse yet, MUST by definition, include the vast bulk of the English population, even if the bulk of the citizenry have ceased to be Christians in any recognizable sense (based on biblical, credal, and historic standards). That too is an unwarranted assumption which the ABoC simply takes for granted, and for which he offers no supporting argument at all.

    Moving on then, I want to highlight two or three issues which the ABoC doesn’t even address, but which must be raised and squarely faced, or else this wearisome dispute can never be resolved.

    Neglected Issue #1. HOW do we tell the all-important difference between Rom. 14 issues and Gal. 1 issues?? (Namely, I assume, like St. Paul, that there are in fact such issues as Paul says there are in Gal. 1:8-9, where two rival gospels are competing for dominance). As I’ve noted at T19 before, the blue-ribbon Windsor Report ten years ago called attention to that key question, but then proceeded to punt the ball and offer no help or guiance whatsoever in how that crucial question was to be answered. Worse yet, there has been virtually no serious discussion of that vital matter during the decade since the Windsor Report came out in October, 2004. And ++Welby continues that bad habit of ignoring the elephant in the living room.

    Negkected Issue #2. Even more crucial is the pragmatic question that follows from #1, i.e., WHO gets to decide which disputes are Romans 14 issues where we should all agree to disagree, and which are Galatians 1 issues where heresy is involved? WHO gets to make that final decision, in a way that is binding on us all?
    Note: I’m well aware that there are many Anglicans, including faithful orthodox ones, who take it for granted that there is no such final authority within Anglicanism and that it’s a good thing that there is no such central magisterium. I totally and vehemently disagree. The lack of a credible and faithful central magisterium is killing us. We are stuck in the miserable situation described at the end of the book of Judges. Precisely because there was no king in Israel, “every man (or bishop or province) did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

    Finally, last but not least, for in the end this is the ultimate problem, there is Neglected Issue #3. Ix the CoE even capable of morphing into a truly counter-cultural church Or is it inevitable that as a national established church, the CoE will continue its futile attempt to be all things to all people in England, and to include even millions of unbelieving, unregenerate skeptics and neo-pagans within itself?? Put another way, is the CoE even capable of going against the powerful relativistic currents of the dominant culture?? Will the CoE be able to go upstream against the antinomial and permissive currents that have driven millions of English inhabitants into scandalously unChristian behaviors, especially in the realm of sexual behavior outside of marriage, or is the CoE simply so weak, confused, and compromised that it is unable to even conceive of such a thing?

    Those are the questions that haunt me, and this speech doesn’t even begin to address or acknowledge such root issues, much less begin to propose a solution to the fundamental problems I’ve highlighted. That is the really discouraging thing to me.

    David Handy+
    (As an American, I dislike and distrust state churches anyway)

  5. dwstroudmd+ says:

    “When it works well it works because love overcomes fear. When it works badly it is because fear overcomes love.”

    Here’s the hinge. Those who do not go with the flow are unloving and fearful, period, full stop. Guess who that will be? Right, those who hold to the revelation of God’s intent for human sexuality between a man and a woman.

    This is the EcUSA Playbook, item #2.
    #1) Allege tolerance.
    #2) Call those who hold to the revelation of God’s intent for human sexuality between a man and a woman unloving and fearful.
    #3) Donate lots of money to further ideas #1 and #2.
    #4) Get a Doctorate of Depositions of Divinity for the Chief Litigator.

    See, history does repeat itself per Thucydides.

  6. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Ugh. Let me correct those glaring typo’s at the end of my #4. I’m asserting vigorously that in the end, the ultimate issue is this one, that I call Neglected Issue #3. Is the CoE even capable of morphing into a truly counter-cultural church??

    I seriously doubt it. I suspect the answer is NO, and if so, the CoE is doomed. Can a leopard change its spots? Can a state church be transformed into a gathered church?

    Only God knows, for only He could pull off such a miraculous feat, such a radical metamorphesis. But if the catepillar of the current mixed body that is the CoE is to become a glorious, winged butterfly, what’s clear is that it will take divine intervention of the most dramatic and virtually unprecendent sort.

    OTOH, it does call to memory the haunting question that the Lord posed to the prophet Ezekiel in the famous passage in Ezekiel 37, when he had the vision of the valley of dry bones: Can these bones live?

    My answer: Maybe. But the CoE will have to die first, before it can be resurrected! Just like ancient Judah had to go into exile for its persistent rebellion and idolatry, before it could be rescued and brought back, renewed and purified. There is no empty tomb, without a crucifixion first.

    David Handy+

  7. Karen B. says:

    Cranmer blog has a Wordle of the address:

    There are also some good comments there….

    David+ I’ve read your #3 and fully agree with what you wrote:

    [i]++Welby treats the whole problem as if it were a psychological problem, rooted in fear, rather than a theological problem.[/i]

    BINGO. Yes, exactly. That’s what I was trying to get at but couldn’t quite put into words today.

    I also found your comment [i]”I categorically reject the false assumption that all parts of the current CoE should be allowed to flourish”[/i] to be clear and helpful in identifying what was so disturbing about Welby’s speech. It’s “Can’t we all just get along” all over again.

    You hit a third nail on the head when you wrote:
    [i]++Welby has also made another wrong assumption, which is that the CoE, as a national and legally established church, simply must make room for whatever the majority of the English population hold to be true at any given time, even if the masses have come to buy into notions that are clearly contrary to the clear and consistent teaching of both Holy Scripture and the universal consensus of the Church[/i]

    Indeed, Welby’s seeming genuine distress at how far the British culture has moved and his confusion about how the CoE should respond suggest a belief that Christ and the Church are somehow subservient to culture rather than speaking into culture and transforming culture to reflect the values of the Kingdom.

  8. Karen B. says:

    Given that the main Scripture on which Welby hangs his whole talk, about perfect love casting out fear, and being perfected in love, is from 1 John 4, I thought I’d just make two comments.

    1) It’s always helpful to read a proof-text passage in its full context. I wonder how many who love to quote the snippet of 1 John 4:18 “perfect love casts out fear” would be able to add their Amen to 1 John 4:1-6 about truth and error and Christian teachers’ responsibility to test & discern whether someone speaking is from God or from the evil one, and a false prophet.

    2) All the talk of a church perfected in love sounds so nice, but if ++Welby assumes that somehow just loving one another better will be possible, he misses the point John is making that love comes from God and being in right relationship with Him. It’s not about our human emotions or attempts to be nicer to others or make space for them.

    Love is tied to right relationship with God, which is made possible by BELIEVING in who Christ is and what He did to reconcile us:

    [blockquote]Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be pthe propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:7-12, ESV) [/blockquote]
    If ++Welby wants the CoE to be more loving, he should be praying for and preaching on repentance and revival.

    3) Finally: I heard an excellent teaching focused on I John 5 recently. The speaker summarized the early verses of chapter 5 in a way I found helpful and memorable. In drawing on pastor Gary Chapman’s work on love languages, he said “God’s love language towards us is mercy and grace. Our love language towards Him is obedience.”
    So all these mushy calls for love, apart from any mention of obedience to Scripture and what God commands ring very hollow and unScriptural.

    Here’s 1 John 5:1-5
    [blockquote]Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5, ESV)[/blockquote]

    True faith overcomes the world, it’s not captive to culture.

  9. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Thanks for the support and kind words, Karen B.

    I hope that is an indication that you’re beginning to feel better. Thanks also, on behalf of all the readers of this thread, for providing the link to the Cranmer blog.

    Personally, reading ++Welby’s speech doesn’t make me feel sick to my stomch so much as just depressed. He just doesn’t get what the real issues are, or else he feels trapped by his position as ABoC and unable to call the Church to undertake the momentous shift I’ve described as the change to becoming a “gathered church.”

    I think his heart is in the right place, but his mind is clouded by traditional assumptions that adopting a sectarian stance vis-avis the wider society would be the very worst of evils.

    You’re a woman of prayer, Karen. We all need to be praying, earnestly and persistently, that the Lord would open ++Welby’s eyes. You know, like William Tyndale’s famous prayer as he was being burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” And miraculously, within a few years, Henry VIII did allow the Holy Scriptures to be translated into English and he ordered that a vernacular Bible was to be put in every English church building. So stranger things have happened.

    I have much more hope for ++Welby coming to see the light than I ever had for Rowan Williams. But it will take a miracle for the veil over the eyes of the ABoC (and over the other orthodox bishops in the CoE) to be lifted (ala 2 Cor. 4).

    David Handy+

    P.S. I also thank Dr. Stroud for making the same point that I did above, regarding the tactical propoganda ploy of asserting that the whole conflict tearing the CoE apart is at root a psychologial problem, based on fear overcoming love, rather than a theological problem. His succinct #5 nails it.

  10. New Reformation Advocate says:

    You’re right, Karen, about the need to interpret the Scriptures properly by being careful to pay attention to the whole context and thrust of any given passage.

    Personally, however, I’d rather call attention to the need to keep in mind the even fuller context of the teaching of the Bible as a whole (the full canonical context). For it’s all too easy to distort and twist a short, isolated text to mean whatever we want it to mean, especially by assuming, even unconsciously, a very different overall gist to such an isolated text by presuming a very different overall message (derived from our environment or our own experience) than the biblical writer had in mind.

    Take the much-loved, much quoted, but also much abused short text, about the need for “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). I am so sick of hearing that familiar text be misused, by both reappaisers and reasserts, by both well-meaning liberals and conservatives alike, who long for peace at almost any price. All too often that famous text is presumed to mean something culturally acceptable like this: “Let’s all just calm down and slpeak honestly with one another in loving ways.” That is, the biblical call is merely the trite appeal to “speak truthfully” to each other in love, with the expectation that such frank but polite dialogue and indaba will at least lead to better, more irenic relations, even if no agreement results.

    But just as you’ve noted, Karen, paying attention to the context of Eph. 4:15 immediately dispels such pleasant illusions. For “the truth” that we’re urged to speak in love to each in Eph. 4 has a very definite content, and that content is doctrinal. Do you recall it?

    Although the thrust of Eph. 4:1-16 as a whole is a fervent call to unity, there is a specific problem the writer has in mind that comes to the fore in verse 14:
    so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of DOCTRINE, by the cunning of men, by their CRAFTINESS IN DECEITFUL WILES. Rather, speaking THE TRUTH in love, we are to grow up…

    IOW, the writer (whether Paul himself or a later Pauline admirer writing in his name) is insisting that we speak TRUE DOCTRINE to each other in love, i.e., the true Pauline gospel.

    The beloved and familiar text about speaking the truth in love thus turns out to be highly relevant and timely indeed, because we face a very similar situation today. All too many Christians in the Global North are being blown about by every wind of doctrine in the ever-shifting winds of a theologically relativistic and morally antinomian culture, where there are no absolutes, except of course, as the ABoC rightly noted, the absolute claim that no absolutes exist.

    We too are moreover faced with the dire and disturbing situation where multitudes of poorly taught Christians are being deliberately misled by human cunning, by the craftiness and deceitful wiles of clergy and lay leaders who willfully attempt to manipulate as many people as possible to achieve their unholy aims. There are such wolves in sheep’s clothing in the CoE. And they are the unrepentant adovocates of the pro-gay agenda, and of sexual license in all its many forms (and cohabitation by large numbers of heterosexual men and women is a far bigger and worse problem than homosexual behavior by the 2-4% of the population that is afflicted by strong same sex attractions).

    Are wolves in sheep’s clothing to be allowed to flourish?? Are such deceptive workers of evil to be allowed to thrive, in the name of being tolerant and reasonable and irenic?

    Paul’s emphatic answer to that would be a vigorous Greek expression: mey genoito! Which the late, great Anglican Bible translator J. B. Phillips accurately rendered with the appropriately crude, and I quote, “Hell, no!!

    David Handy+

  11. Katherine says:

    It is not clear to me that the Archbishop wants the parts of the church which cannot accept the ministry of ordained women to flourish. Nor is it clear that he wishes flourishing to the parts which cannot accept the ministry of ordained persons living in sexual relations outside of traditional marriage, or those parts of the the church which will continue to preach that such relations are wrong.

  12. Karen B. says:

    Lots of good comments here, and I’d love to respond further, but I’m fading fast. The cold medicine is making me D-R-O-W-S-Y….

    But I do want to highlight an excellent comment at SF by Boring Bloke:
    who homes in on Welby’s conclusion:

    [blockquote] So I come back to where I started. We live in a world of courageous churches, not only the ones I saw last week but churches like the Church of Nigeria and the Church of Kenya and the Church of Uganda and many, many others, South Africa, I could go on and on who live out the reality of a costly discipleship and somehow managed to find love in the midst of it. They are not sinless but they are heroic. We are called to be a heroic church: before us the great demons of poverty, ignorance, need, human suffering. [/blockquote]

    Boring Bloke asks:
    [i]Why doesn’t he mention the greatest problem of our age: human corruption, sin, lack of holiness?[/i]

    EXACTLY. As with some of David’s comments above, in that one line BoringBloke crystallized another aspect of what was troubling me about this speech, that my drugged brain couldn’t quite articulate clearly on it’s own.

    So I responded:

    I’ll crosspost my comment here:
    #3, Boring Bloke, I so totally agree with your last sentence.

    I was quite appalled by Welby’s focus only on “the great demons of poverty, ignorance, need, human suffering” without any mention of immorality, human evil, sin – made all the more glaring by that line’s proximity to his mention of “heroic” global south churches.

    I was catapulted back in my mind to the Lausanne 3 Congress in Cape Town South Africa in October 2010 and John Piper’s passionate exhortation to the Church that we care about all human suffering, especially eternal suffering. Here’s an excerpt:

    [blockquote] One truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it impels us out toward the alleviation of all unjust suffering in this age. That’s what love does!

    The other truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it awakens us to the horrible reality of eternal suffering in hell, under the wrath of a just and omnipotent God. And it impels us to rescue the perishing, and to warn people to flee from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).

    I plead with you. Don’t choose between those two truths. Embrace them both. It doesn’t mean we all spend our time in the same way. God forbid. But it means we let the Bible define reality and define love.

    Could Lausanne say—could the evangelical church say—we Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering? I hope we can say that. But if we feel resistant to saying “especially eternal suffering,” or if we feel resistant to saying “we care about all suffering in this age,” then either we have a defective view of hell or a defective heart.

    I pray that Lausanne would have neither.[/blockquote]

    Welby seems to be neglecting any thought or mention of eternal lostness / eternal suffering in his exhortation to the CoE, or in his analysis of the true problems the church must confront. Therefore it is very hard to consider him to be truly evangelical, no matter how much his HTB credentials might lead us to hope otherwise. I’d love to hope that in his heart he knows the real problem is sin and rebellion against God and that broken relationship with God leads to all broken earthly relationships and systems. But I don’t hear him ever proclaiming the need to repent or the need of revival, and that troubles me deeply.

  13. jpt175 says:

    Is it time to get behind AMiE?

  14. Jill Woodliff says:

    I counted the word ‘fear’ fifteen times. It was all in the context of fear amongst ourselves, with no reference to the fear of God. Therein is the rub.

  15. Karen B. says:

    Great observation Jill!

    There is an excellent analysis of Welby’s address at Anglican Mainstream’s-presidential-address-to-general-synod/

    here’s an excerpt, but go read the whole thing:

    [blockquote]This brings me to my second reservation. I do not think that the fear by conservatives about this issue to which he refers can or should be set aside. If there is a possibility that the Pilling process will lead to the acceptance of same sex sexual activity in the Church of England (and there is) and if, as the Bible and the Christian tradition have consistently taught, such behavior is a serious sin which if not repented of will exclude someone from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) then there is every reason to be afraid of the outcome of the process. As we have seen, St Paul was fearful that the Corinthian church would fail to repent of the ‘impurity, immorality and licentiousness which they have practiced’ and those on the orthodox side who are concerned about the Pilling process share exactly the same sort of fear.

    Furthermore, the example of St. Paul shows that love and fear are not, as the Archbishop suggests, incompatible. St. Paul was fearful for the Corinthians because he loved them. In a similar way, conservative Anglicans can and do have a fear about the acceptance of same-sex relationships that is rooted in a love for those involved and a desire for their flourishing. [/blockquote]

  16. Karen B. says:

    Another great excerpt from the piece at Anglican Mainstream:

    [blockquote]What traditional Anglican theology does not recognize is the possibility that people can flourish while living a life marked by sin without repentance. This is because human beings can only truly flourish by living lives that are in accordance with the will of God and a life of unrepentant sin is necessarily incompatible with this.[/blockquote]