Gerry O’Brien on the gathering storm
Consensus has never been easy to achieve. Some might say that in the fallen world in which we live it is unachievable.
Some starry eyed idealists seem to think that if only we could return to the practice of the early church, all would be well. They look back to the church described in the Acts and the Epistles as a model to emulate and long for a return to the simplicity of things that they find there.
Sadly such Alice in Wonderland stuff flies in the face of the facts. You don’t have to read Paul’s epistles too closely to realize that far from commending the activities of the churches as a pure manifestation of the Christian faith, Paul would not have written in the way that he did unless things were seriously awry.
One senses Paul writing to the Corinthians more in sorry than anger, ‘it is actually being said that there is sexual immorality amongst you, so terrible that not even the heathen would be guilty of it.’ He observes that, ‘a little bit of yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise.’
He lambasts them, ‘if one of you has a dispute with a fellow Christian, how dare he go before heathen judges instead of letting God’s people settle the matter.’
Finally he takes them to task about their worship. ‘Your meetings for worship actually do more harm than good,’ he says. He delivers a withering judgement saying, ‘when you meet together as a group it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.’
Clearly the agenda for church reform has a very long pedigree. Whatever they got right or wrong in Corinth, things continued to go wrong and correctives had to be applied. At the time of the Reformation things had come to a pretty sorry pass but the Holy Spirit was able to use men like Luther to rediscover the truths that had become obscured over the centuries.
So perhaps we should not be surprised by the fault lines appearing in the Church today. There is an implicit assumption that we should not only learn to live with diversity – by which we mean not just different slants on the same truth but affirmation and outright rejection of the same truth – but that we should positively celebrate it as a virtue.
Such an assumption shows more than a contempt for church history, it is a classic ostrich approach to problem solving. If the present management of the Anglican Church had been in charge two millennia ago, what chance would there have been of stamping out the Arian and Gnostic heresies?
One cannot but feel sympathy for the Irish Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, who has drawn the short straw of trying to square the circle in the current sexuality debate. There does seem to be more than a strand of cynicism in the methodology of dealing with an impossible conundrum by putting an Irishman in charge of devising a solution. In saying that I intend no disrespect to the Archbishop; after all, I do have an Irish name myself.
The Archbishop has pleaded for a halt to actions and statements that ‘express definitive positions’ while his commission considers the issues, but one can only observe that the liberals in North America and England seem to be paying scant regard to his entreaties.
ECUSA proceeded with the consecration of Gene Robinson, notwithstanding the furore of worldwide Anglicanism. The Canadian Church seems to be moving in the direction of allowing diocesan autonomy on the question of blessing same sex unions. It does sound remarkably like everyone doing what is right in their own eyes – and when that happened in biblical times the outcome was not a particularly happy one.
Here at home, Jeffrey John withdraws his acceptance of the office of Bishop of Reading, in the face of worldwide disapproval. Within a few months however, the liberal mafia, who never take no for an answer, have found a compliant bishop at St Albans who is prepared to make him Dean.
Small wonder then, that one of the members of the Eames Commission, the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, has challenged Archbishop Eames to apply the same censure to liberals as conservatives.
According to the Church of England Newspaper, Archbishop Gomez is among eighteen Primates from the Global South who have warned that there will be a ‘tragic realignment’ if the American Church is not expelled from the Communion for refusing to repent and rescind the consecration of a gay bishop.
The CEN observes that ‘the rifts are widening at the heart of the Eames Commission.’
Only a fool, in the full biblical sense of the word, would see a major split in the Anglican Communion as a good thing. One suspects therefore that the liberals are either fools or have calculated that the protests of orthodox Anglicans are merely fluster and bluster and that we will eventually knuckle under and concede all the changes they wish to impose.
The spurious injured innocence of liberals continues to surprise me. A letter recently appeared in The Times from a clergyman in the Diocese of Peterborough. He berated the editor thus, ‘Some of us are tried by your reference to the illiberality of liberals. When did you last hear of liberals refusing to work with their colleagues in the traditionalist group Forward in Faith, refusing to pay their parish share in dioceses which adopt the Reform line on sexuality, or which encourage church planting within the boundaries of their parishes?’
It does rather beg the question of how many liberal clergy are obliged to swear oaths of canonical obedience to Forward in Faith bishops. It would be interesting to know which dioceses he imagines have adopted the Reform line on sexuality (whatever that is) and whether he has bothered to read the excellent report Mission Shaped Church that General Synod recently approved.
As Charlie Brown once observed in a rather profound Peanuts cartoon, ‘My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.’
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.