THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT about Bishop Jack Spong’s intentions for Lambeth 1998. He sees it as a contest and he is sure he can win it. And thus far the Bishop of Newark has made excellent progress.
Round one was about human sexuality.
He began a correspondence with Dr. Carey in which it is clear that he came off best. To wrong-foot the Archbishop he had only to point out that the biblical prohibitions against women exercising authority in the Church are at least as conclusive as those against homosexual practice; which is, of course, true.
Round two was about dogma.
Aware that the first Lambeth Conference had been called as a result of anxieties about disagreement between Gray of Cape Town and Colenso of Natal on scriptural interpretation, Spong posted on the internet twelve theses [see New Directions, page 24] systematically repudiating every major scriptural dogma, including the existence of God.
The confident insolence of this posting, and its timing, should not be underestimated. Spong is clearly persuaded that Lambeth 1998 will not have the stomach to expel him (he is almost certainly right); and he knows that by not expelling him the Conference will have admitted his opinions under the comfortable comprehensiveness of the Anglican umbrella.
Round three neatly links doctrine and ethics.
At the request of Archbishop Carey (whose naive good intentions cannot be questioned), Spong and Bishop Peter Lee (of the diocese of Christ the King, Province of Southern Africa) have produced a joint statement which looks set to provide the formula of agreement on homosexuality for which the Anglican Communion establishment is now desperate. The paper is called a ‘Catechesis’ – ‘A Dialogue between Believers’.
This is a bold imposture on Spong’s part. Having so recently, and carefully, established the extent of his own infidelity, the Bishop of Newark has lured the Bishop of Christ the King into conniving in it. To describe Jack Spong as a Christian believer and to debate with him as though he were, is to betray virtually every doctrine which the New Testament, the Fathers, the Schoolmen, the Reformation, the Caroline Divines, the Evangelical Revival and the Oxford Movement held dear. Which, of course, is Bishop Spong’s point.
Even that epitome of establishment compliance, Canon Colin Craston, has opined in The Church of England Newspaper, that Spong can no longer claim to be an Anglican. But will the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the assembled Lambeth bishops on their seventies campus (in whom Craston has heretofore placed his trust) now have the courage to pronounce the anathema? We doubt it.
And will our own Affirming Catholics, who (apparently quite sincerely) believe that Spong’s sexual agenda (women’s ordination and the equal acceptance of same sex relationships) can be divorced from his doctrinal heterodoxy, now denounce him as roundly as they denounced the opponents of women priests six years ago? We doubt that too.
Jack is the king of the castle. Punching way beyond his weight, he has the heavy-weights cowering.
Who is the giant who will have the courage to slay this impudent Jack? Not George, certainly – he will probably claim that his role as primus inter pares demands neutrality. But Rowan could do it, if he had a mind to. And even David could land the occasional wounding blow. That they will not is the abiding tragedy of Anglicanism.
This crippled, limping, ‘impaired’ Communion (aka koinonia – a term which always claims to be more; and which always proves, in practice, to be less) has simply to put up with Jack and his like – of whom there will be many. For it has foolishly chosen to have no means of dissociating itself from them.
A sure sign of terminal decline in an institution, is when it proves unequal to the challenge of its own bullies.
OUR FRIENDS at The Church of England Newspaper, we note with interest, have been selling themselves as the journal Jack Spong loves to hate. For all we know he may well hate it. But might his hatred (though clearly well-merited) not have something to do with the fact that CEN was mid-wife at the birth of New Directions, we modestly ask ourselves?