GAFCON, the Global South, the Diocese of Sydney, the Bible, and Sex
Appropriately, little if any publicity has been given by the secular press to a claim made on 23rd April by a conference held in Kigali, Rwanda, supposedly "representing 85%" of the Anglican Communion that they no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion’s instruments of unity.
The Conference was called by GAFCON and the Global South, a network of Anglican Churches that are seeking to establish an ʹalternativeʹ structure of communion. Unsurprisingly representatives of the Diocese of Sydney Australia led the charge. Michael Stead, one of its Bishops, chaired the committee formulating the conference statement.
What needs to be clearly appreciated is that this group makes two claims:
Let me endeavour to explain.
The Diocese of Sydney’s starting point is not openness to walk the path of Jesus, but obligatory commitment to a dogma, namely the penal substitutional theory of the atonement. For members of the Diocese of Sydney scripture must be read through this lens. Now if you want a full-throated demolition of this theory may I refer you to the writings of the acclaimed New Testament scholar and self-proclaimed English Evangelical, Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright. This theory relies upon an assumed historicity of a ʹfirstʹ human, Adam, and is fundamentally dualistic. To claim historicity to ʹAdamʹ is not to take the Bible seriously. Essential truths of the creation narratives are diminished when read in this way, frankly, leaving the interpreter open to deserved ridicule. Ridicule from those with no faith and ridicule from those with faith who take these passages very seriously. Dualism can find no home in Christianity.
God cannot be reduced to the image of a truculent parent who demands some form of payment for past and present ills. The theory casts God in the image of needy humanity, not the other way around. There are many biblical images/metaphors/characterisations of the atonement. Among the most compelling and confronting is Philippians 2: 5 – 11. Here we are presented with the extraordinary truth that service and sacrifice, are of the very nature of God, and whatever we may think of Kingship or Lordship we have to think of these concepts through this lens. We are challenged to believe that this is also the true nature of humanity. It is not right to say that God sent his Son to die on the cross. It is more correct to say that, extraordinarily, God is on the cross – and so must we be.
There is one overriding truth in the New Testament, a truth that shaped and formed the first Christians – the resurrection. What did the first Christians make of the resurrection? – a new Creation. As in the first creation narrative, life is imparted through the breath of God, so in the new creation the breath of the resurrected Christ transforms and renews. This is what is meant when it is said we are baptised into Jesus through water and the spirit. We are free, but that freedom will not be fully realised until what is mortal dies. 2 Cor. 4: 16, while our outer nature is wasting away our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
So, GAFCON, Global South, Diocese of Sydney, do I take the bible seriously? absolutely I do. So seriously in fact that I know the Bible teaches Jesus is the Living Word of God, to whom the Written Word, the Bible, bears testimony. The Written word has no authority to do anything other than bear witness to the Living Word.
Now, for first order issues of human behaviour in response to the Living Word - Jesus. The Bible, in bearing testimony to Jesus makes it clear there is no such entity as the individual, all individuals are inextricably part of community, we are responsible for and to the wellbeing of ʹneighboursʹ. First order issues of recalcitrant human behaviour are those that diminish others, undermine community. This conference was held in Kigali Rwanda. I visited the Church in Rwanda a few years after the genocide. Some of its Bishops had been so implicated in the slaughter they could not return to office. I found it incomprehensible then and I find it incomprehensible now, that a decision to demonise people of homosexual orientation was made while embers from the genocide had not even cooled. Consciously or unconsciously, it appears to have been a strategy of distraction for a Church too disempowered to deal adequately with a darker and more primary issue.
Unredeemed capitalism is a form of usuary. It has disempowered and impoverished millions. In the spirit of capitalism colonisers have raped and are raping the colonised and their resources, in much of the world. Should you expect a peep out of Sydney in relation to this abuse – sadly no. Usuary and greed is also the major contributor to global warming, the dire threat facing Pacific Islands and ultimately the planet. Will there be a peep out Sydney Diocese in relation to this, of course not, sadly in the reverse, we can expect an insinuation that those who care for the environment have abandoned Christianity and are following a new age religion. This is the position of the political arm of conservative Christians, the Australian Christian Lobby.
The Bible is unequivocally clear that any activity that seeks power over others is abuse and must be condemned. Sexual activity can be, and sadly often is, a channel of such abuse. Abusive sexual activity is present in the lives of males and females, homosexuals and heterosexuals, married people, and single people. It is only in relatively recent times that we have come to understand that a percentage of the population are born homosexual. People so born are no more likely to be abusive than heterosexual people. No one can, or should, be expected to deny who they are. In reality of course, homosexual people have been terribly abused and isolated by the judgement of others – especially by people claiming a Christian prerogative to do so.
In the Roman Empire much of what presented as homosexual activity, rightly suffering biblical condemnation was in fact abuse of vulnerable members of the population, and children, by heterosexuals. Of course, it had to be called out. Any sexual activity which is abusive must be condemned for it diminishes others. Sexual activity which diminishes self should also be condemned. Sexual promiscuity is self-diminishing. Intimacy that fulfils the life of another and nourishes commitment is neither abusive of others nor is it self-diminishing.
The Kigali statement implores those who do not agree to repent. The word ʹrepentʹ is the English translation of the Greek ʹmetanoiaʹ. This literally means to see afresh, or to see with new eyes. Is it not those who claim to be conservative Christians who need to repent, to see that homosexual people are being who they are? With knowledge that being gay is an accident of birth, how can Christians not want equal opportunity for intimacy and fulfilment?