American ‘traditionalists’ have drawn, at Plano Texas, another line in the sand. They have established the Network of Anglican Communion Parishes and Dioceses (see ‘Letter from America’, page 25). The foundation document of this new association (which claims to have been formed with the encouragement of the Archbishop of Canterbury) offers, amongst other things, an ‘orthodox’ bishop to dissenting parishes in liberal regimes. The question is: will NACPD deliver?
In a brave and timely letter to the members of FiF/NA David Moyer its President has written:
I … believe that there will be no fundamental change until diocesan bishops are willing to cross diocesan boundaries, and orthodox priests are willing to refuse the sacramental ministry of revisionist bishops. I would hope that in conscience leaders will increasingly be unable to accede to the misuse of Canon Law, false teaching, and the tyranny of revisionist bishops.
It is wise for us to appropriate the declaration of the Council of Constantinople: ‘They who separate themselves from communion with their bishop on account of any heresy condemned by the Holy Synods of the Fathers, while he evidently proclaims the heresy publicly, and teaches it with brave front in Church – such persons, in excluding themselves from communion with their so-called bishop before Synodical cognizance, not only shall not be subject to canonical censure, but shall be deemed worthy, by the Orthodox, of becoming honour; for they condemn as teachers, not bishops but pseudo-bishops; and they do not cut up the unity of the Church by schism, but hasten to deliver her from schisms and divisions.’
We agree with Fr Moyer. There is one factor and one factor alone which would radically alter the position of Anglican traditionalists in America. And that is direct action by bishops. Orthodox bishops need now to cross diocesan boundaries (without the agreement of incumbent diocesans where necessary) and bring succour and support to parishes which have bravely stood out against their revisionist overseers. And those parishes need boldly and publicly to repudiate the oversight of aberrant diocesans.
The clergy and people of parishes like the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, have been waiting for over three decades for bishops to show the kind of courage which they themselves have consistently shown. And the oversight offered to Forward in Faith parishes must come from Forward in Faith bishops.
The issue of women’s ordination predictably divides NACPD internally and from the many groupings outside ECUSA, including the recently formed Anglican Mission in America. ‘We have agreed’, said the Revd Mary Hays, assistant to the newly elected Moderator of NACPD, Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh, at a closing press conference in Plano, ‘that this is an issue that divides us – I mean that we disagree about, but that will not divide us.’
But mere bonhomie cannot bury an issue of such fundamental significance. FiF/NA owes it to the new Network to witness faithfully against an innovation as serious as the election of practising gay bishop and more fundamental to the life and doctrine of the Church.
The proposal to appoint Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading provoked a furore in the Church and a vigorous debate in the national media. Dr John’s commitment to the homosexual agenda, despite his own declared celibacy in his relationship with his life partner (a fellow priest), was seen by many opponents to be sufficient to disqualify him from the post. In the event he was ‘stood down’ by his friend and co-founder of Affirming Catholicism, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The reason for this volte-face was that the Archbishop believed it was wrong to appoint a bishop whom a significant number of the flock could not accept.
A brief truce ensued while the Archbishop, the Bishop of Oxford and the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary took stock. Now the new new Bishop of Reading has been announced. He is Canon Stephen Cottrell and his appointment has been greeted with rapture by many of those who were so vehemently opposed to the unfortunate Dr John. Canon Cottrell was widely trailed as ‘happily married’ and ‘a nice man’ and ‘friendly to Evangelicals’. This is all very cheering and no doubt laudable. But it is far from the whole story.
Canon Cottrell is himself a fully paid-up member of Affirming Catholicism, the Archbishop’s liberal lobby group that has dominated the appointments system in recent years. Canon Cottrell was unashamedly in favour of Dr John’s appointment to Reading. Indeed, on the presenting issues that separate orthodox from liberals, Canon Cottrell is firmly on Dr John’s side of the fence. Like Archbishop Williams and Dr John, Canon Cottrell has agreed to stand by the Church’s current teaching on sexuality. This too is fine and dandy, though how much authority a man has representing a position he is on record as opposing is a considerable question. And, at the present rate, it will not be very long anyway before the Affirming Catholics have a majority in the House of Bishops. What then will the Church’s teaching be?
The current teaching simply points up the unfolding farce of the Reading appointment. To be married (Canon Cottrell’s position) is fine. To be celibate (Dr John’s position) is fine too. They appear to hold the same ethical and doctrinal positions. The orthodox believe their proclaimed lifestyles to be acceptable but their ethical and doctrinal positions (and those of their patrons) to be in error. Those, however, who have damned the one candidate and welcomed the other have some serious explaining to do. To applaud the appointment of one heterodox because he is married while rejecting another because he is celibate is, in Christian terms, a double nonsense. Those who do so will not have a leg to stand on in future disputes. for, to their liberal opponents, they will have demonstrated incontrovertibly that what motivated their rejection of Dr John was a hatred of homosexuals rather than a love of the truth. Think again, gentlemen.