Warning this blog is probably only of interest to those interested in the politics of the Anglican Church!!
On the 30 June 2017 the Revd Canon Andy Lines was ordained a ‘missionary, bishop to the UK and Europe at an assembly of the ‘Anglican Church of North America’. This Church and its assembly has arisen in protest against what its adherents understand to be a rejection of scripture, or worse, a rejection of the teaching of Christ, by those who support the ordination of women, the ordination of candidates with a homosexual orientation and finally those who support same sex marriage. This action took place despite the fact the Church of England has made its own provisions to care for those who for conscience sake are disturbed by these matters and yet wish to remain within the family of the Church. Apparently what triggered this move by the breakaway Church of North America and its supporters was a recent decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to support same sex marriage.
Five hundred years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in protest against the claim of the Roman Church that salvation for ordinary men and women was only possible through the sacerdotal mechanisms of the Church. It was only the Church, so it was claimed, that could save the faithful from the flames of eternal damnation.
Martin Luther took his stand on two pillars, sola fidei and sola scriptura (faith alone and scripture alone). The Church had controlled, at a whim, the lives and destiny (and pockets) of the people of Europe. Luther lit a fire which came to be known as the Reformation, the Western Church would never again be unified and the inheritors of the Reformation came to understand that salvation was a matter of their life of faith, and scripture their authority.
Fast forward to the present era. Where and for what reason should Christians take a stand and as a consequence cause further division in the Church? That nothing can be taught as necessary for salvation that cannot be proved from scripture is the first of the fundamental declarations of the Anglican Church. Because the Anglican Church is both Catholic and Reformed the fundamental declaration also declares that the Church must be episcopally led in a manner that is culturally sensitive to the place in which it serves. This has been taken to mean that the style, authority and decisions of that local or Diocesan Church should be respected by the whole Church even while others disagree, as long as the fundamentals are adhered to.
Are those who support same sex union departing from the fundamentals? Clearly this group of Churches under the umbrella of what is known as GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) thinks so – passionately. Indeed so passionately that this is the issue over which they would cause a break in the Church. Why choose to stand on this issue and not on a multitude of others? Why make this issue a badge of faith?
There is no question that scripture has quite a bit to say about personal morality, but it does so in the context of what I might call an overarching biblical ethic. This ethic is fundamentally concerned with relationships, relationship first of all with God, secondly with others and thirdly with the whole created order. Scripture does not understand humans to be independent or autonomous; it understands us all to be interdependent, needing to live in fellowship and harmony with the creator and the whole of creation.
Scripture is therefore strident in its condemnation of actions taken for personal gain which impact negatively on others. A modern word for this is abuse. Abuse of any kind is abhorred in scripture. In our time various forms of fundamentalism or extremism are abuse. They corral folk into artificial constructs which diminish life and cause division. Self-serving leadership, secular or spiritual, is abuse. A capitalist system that enables the wealthy to acquire more wealth and the poor to be neglected is abuse. Political systems which prioritise the need to win over policy which serves common good, is abuse. Those whose influence causes enmity and strife are guilty of abuse. Those who hold onto power for its sake rather than being jealous to serve are guilty of abuse. Sexual gratification at the expense of others, most tragically at the expense of children is shocking abuse. Abuse is a matter of injustice. Inequity is the fruit of injustice. These matters are played out in the public square of human life where so often the Church is cowered into silence for fear of upsetting those with political influence. Abuse, injustice, alienation, exclusion are expressions of harm about which the Church of Jesus Christ cannot afford to be silent if it is true to him. Here the Church should take a stand, but most often does not.
Personal morality is also a matter which scripture takes seriously. It does so because the biblical narrative assumes that intimacy is fundamental to humans made in the image of God. “It is not good for man to live alone”. Scripture is concerned that this intimacy dignifies honours and blesses. Scripture assumes intimacy will be between a man and a woman and that it will be lifelong. When the bible makes reference to homosexual acts the assumption is that these acts are being performed by heterosexuals for perverted reasons of gratification and for this reason are condemned. Understanding that some people’s gender orientation is ambiguous while a few are born with an inability for intimacy with a person of the opposite gender is relatively new.
How the Church should respond in a caring and life giving manner within this situation and in the wider community is one issue, how it should care for people within its own community and particularly its leadership, is another.
I can see that a range of responses could be considered legitimate based on the primary biblical injunction of ‘love of neighbour’. Understanding who our neighbour to be is an evolving responsibility in every generation and within every culture. Few if any families with a homosexual member would do any less than support the happiness and wellbeing of this person.
As I have said in a previous blog, Marriage the Law and the Church I am now convinced the State should make its own decisions about those who are eligible for marriage and should make its own provision for licence and register. This would free the Church to respond appropriately with Gospel imperatives within its own cultural context.
Same sex unions within a loving and committed relationship may or may not be considered morally acceptable within a Christian context, depending on whether the starting point is safeguarding intimacy and care for all, or whether the starting point is particular biblical verse(s) and their interpretation. But what is clear is that a secure and enduring relationship of intimacy which is life giving for the people concerned cannot be described as abusive. To deny this possibility should itself be considered abusive.
It is therefore very difficult to be sympathetic to those within the Church who make a judgement resulting in severance on the basis of personal intimacy that may have about it all the hallmarks of sacrificial love. Worse, taking a stand on this issue while being mute on local, national, and international situations of manipulation and abuse is utterly hypocritical.
As a Bishop in the Anglican Church I have accepted that although Dioceses and Provinces may live out of different theological priorities, nevertheless we can enjoy trust and fellowship through our instruments of unity.
Those Bishops (two from Australia) who attended the ordaining of Andy Lines as a bishop against the wishes and without the invitation of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have crossed a boundary of fellowship and have made their stand on a matter of personal morality, not on a matter of abuse. They have done so knowing that those who have supported same-sex unions also do so in obedience to their understanding of the primacy of scripture; and its unequivocal mandate to safeguard love based and enduring intimacy for all.