Sunday, December 17, 2006

InclusiveChurch replies to Reform

1.0 Conservative Evangelicals are clearly trying to create a defining moment for the Anglican Communion. The declaration by the Anglican Church of Tanzania separating itself from all who ordain, who are, or who support homosexual people, together with Reform’s “Covenant” are the next stages in the rolling out of a strategy which will, if allowed to proceed destroy the Anglican Communion.

2.0 We are seeing the development of a long term plan developed by various people on various continents which is intended to bring the Anglican Communion out of its historically generous and open position, into a narrowly defined, confessional group of churches rooted in the religious right of the United States and extending from there across the world.

2.1 We understand that the Tanzania declaration was produced at the behest of others with the specific aims of undermining the Presiding Bishop of the United States, challenging the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and derailing the moves towards an inclusive Covenant which the Communion is beginning to make. It is a deliberately incendiary move. The intention is to pre-empt any decisions the Primates’ Meeting in February might make so that elements from the Global South and disaffected elements of the Episcopal Church rebels can proceed with their plan to set up an alternative Communion.

3.0 Reform’s “Covenant” brings this strategy into England. The authors of the “Covenant” (all male, all white) and their cohorts are, simply, using the politics of the playground, issuing financial threats and huffing and puffing in an attempt to bring the Church of England into line. The most cursory reading demonstrates a startlingly inadequate ecclesiology and a deep misunderstanding of the role of bishops. They are showing increasing militancy and becoming more and more vocal, because those of us who support the orthodox, historic and open tradition of Anglicanism are, unexpectedly, refusing to lie down and be trampled on.

4.0 Underlying all this is an obsession with homosexuality which flies in the face of human understanding, of natural law and of the Gospel; fundamentally, the labelling of homosexuality as “intrinsically sinful” offers the only chance for unity that these groups can find. It means that Biblical scholarship is distorted to justify the anathematising of homosexuals, and that the Gospel is reduced to a message where the rejection of lesbian and gay people lies millimetres below the surface.

5.0 InclusiveChurch has always, from the beginning, tried to be open to those with whom we disagree. We have sought meetings with conservative groups, and have tried to ensure that the breadth, generosity and openness of Anglicanism is extended to those who would reject that breadth and generosity. But we find that these groups, in the end, do not wish to engage. They wish to set up a separate structure which will keep them safe from taint. In the first place, the taint of homosexuality. Beyond that, the taint of women as bishops (or indeed as priests); and beyond that, the risk of change.

5.1 InclusiveChurch is committed to orthodox Anglicanism, which preaches the gospel of the liberating love of God. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. Nowhere in the statements of these conservative groups and churches do we hear of the boundless love of God. The theology of the Reform “Covenant” bears as much relation to Anglican theology as that of Calvin and Zwingli did to Hooker and Andrewes.

6.0 We ask the people of Reform: “Why do you not have the courage of your convictions and leave the Church of England altogether? When your actions and your statements display so clearly your wish to distort the church of the Elizabethan Settlement, the Protestant revival, the Oxford Movement and the innovations of the twentieth century, why do you not simply realign yourselves with other churches? Why do you want to remain Anglican if that Anglicanism is a travesty of the gift we have been given?

The logic of your statement is you should secede from the Church of England altogether, not have it restructured to accommodate your narrow views of who may or may not be an Anglican. Inclusivity is written into the title deeds of the Church of England and we ask you to respect it.

But if you leave, you may not take the name “Anglican”; for the church you create will not be an Anglican church.

6.1 Or, if you wish to remain in the Church of England, then remain in the knowledge that we are all required, in love, to engage with each other. We inclusive Christians undoubtedly have a great deal to learn from you; we all, undoubtedly have a great deal in common. Stay in the knowledge that engagement will bring about change. And that God speaks not just to you but to others as well. And that all our understanding of God’s will – yours and ours – is flawed, because we are all flawed.”

7.0 We say to the senior hierarchy of the Church, to Archbishops, Primates and senior staff of the church: “Enough is enough. This squabbling needs to be brought to an end. There is no justification for a Bishop from the province of Nigeria exercising jurisdiction in the United States. There is no justification for Alternative Episcopal Oversight or Extended Primatial Oversight or any other terms used to cloak intolerance. There is no way a province can declare itself to be “out of communion” with another province. We ask you to say to the rebels, whether they are provinces or parishes - ‘leave or engage: if you engage, respect the structures: and listen to the spirit as it speaks to the whole church’. This bullying and hectoring must cease, so that the Gospel can be proclaimed anew. If that means that this generation oversees a split in the Communion, so be it. We trust in God for the future of the Church.”

8.0 To laity and clergy throughout the Communion we say: “You are the future. The Gospel we have been given lies with you to pass on. Are you willing to allow that Gospel to be distorted and broken, to allow the Communion to be torn into something it is not, for the sake of a concept of tradition, biblical truth and God which is exclusive and condemnatory? Are you willing to allow the Communion to go the way of all sects, into marginal oblivion?

We need, all of us, to speak, to pray and to love. We need to seek ways to engage with those with whom we disagree, in worship, in prayer and in our daily lives. We need also to engage with all the structures of the Communion – the Instruments of Unity, Synods, Bishops and officers, making our passion and our commitment known.

But, in the end, we need to be willing to say to those who would undermine the Gospel we proclaim: leave, if you will. Taking your money with you. We are all diminished by division but if division comes, so be it. God’s love will not be constrained.”

Giles Goddard: Chair, InclusiveChurch


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