Sunday, December 17, 2006

Response to Reform

The English group Reform, a coalition of Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in England, has just released what it calls a covenant for the Church of England. While specific to the English Church the report nonetheless claims also to be "responding to widespread concerns in the ... global church." and can thus be seen as part of a wider effort to shape the "new" Anglicanism along specifically evangelical lines.

The signature of the document is commitment to "faithful biblical orthodoxy" and the further affirmation that the Church of England is a "confessing church," mantras by now familiar to all in this continuing struggle within Anglicanism. On this basis the report spends much time calling for a number of institutional adjustments: greater focus on the congregation, redirection of funding, the necessity of alternate episcopal oversight, and disassociation from those who in the eyes of the report act "contrary to the clear teaching of Scriptures" (here gender sex and marriage are mentioned).

Much of this constitutes the program of right-wing evangelicals here in the United States and in parts of the Global South. By now it has become a rather tired iteration; the hope apparently being that if these matters are repeated over and over they will wear down all opposition.

What concerns us here and what gives the document a wider cast is the assertion made about the Church of England but clearly intended to be universally applicable to Anglicanism that there is a polarization "into two churches: the one submitting to God’s revelation, Gospel- focused, Christ-centered, cross-shaped and Spirit-empowered; the other holding a progressive view of revelation, giving priority to human reason over Scripture, shaped primarily by western secular culture..."

This caricature appears over and over in right-wing evangelical writing. It is irresponsible, reckless and utterly false. It is also, crucially, without charity. We support the Consecration of Gene Robinson but consider ourselves orthodox. We uphold the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Trinity. We believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence and Apostolic Succession. We subscribe to the ancient creeds. We believe in the supremacy of Scripture while allowing that the passage of time (what Archbishop Williams has alluded to as to as cultural developments) does effect and indeed enlarge our understanding of Christian faith. We ask these questions of the Reform group: Do you wish, in the name of biblical orthodoxy, to reinstate usury? Do you wish to abolish democracy in favor or monarchy? Do you wish to bring back slavery and the subjugation of women? Are you now opposed to equal rights? And if you do not wish to reinstate these clear biblical mandates, then on what grounds do you justify their alteration?

Those of us who support the full inclusion of homosexuals believe that the Apostle Paul had no idea about homosexual affect when he opposed homosexual acts – that that the absence of choice as to affect alters the ethical grounds on which the prohibition of homosexual acts has traditionally rested. We believe that our openness in this mater is fully in accordance with the two deepest strains of the Gospel: Jesus’ own openness to all manner of persons and to Jesus’ death which put to death the power of idols.

We remind our friends in Reform of the danger of ideology, that pernicious means by which purely human views are elevated and given a sacral status. What the Hebrew Scripture calls idols and what Paul refers to as "the principalities and powers" inhabit this earth with a devastating effect. They ensnare many, especially those of a rigid ideological bias. It was this dynamic that Jesus' death and resurrection brought to an end. It is by faith in him that we are freed from their beguiling and yet harmful hold. And it is in loyalty to this Jesus known in the Scriptures that we uphold the full inclusion of gays and lesbians. And it is in this way we consider ourselves orthodox.

No, Reform, you have not made your case.

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