Dr C. K. Tan as an Evangelical member of General Synod writes a letter to his Catholic friends and allies, with confidence in a new province if its purpose is sufficiently positive and inclusive

May I express how delighted I was to make many new friends and acquaintances from Forward in Faith at the recent General Synod’s February sessions in London? I would like to reflect on an issue close to the hearts of my new friends – the creation of a new province. As you know, General Synod has rejected this option.

Firstly, whilst it is true that there is little current support for a new province on the floor of the General Synod, it does not mean there is not a growing support. Support will increase commensurate with the attempts to force women bishops on those who are conscientious objectors. In early March, the Diocesan Synod of Hereford rejected the General Synod’s compromise agreement (the Transferred Episcopal Arrangements), backing instead a single clause measure (which many view as a ‘shut up or get out’ option).

Growing support

Then the former Australian Archbishop Peter Carnley, head of the Archbishop’s Panel of Reference, stated that Australia is likely to have women bishops in less than two years, remarking that theological objections to the innovation ‘don’t amount to much’. What with the above, and the persistent attempts of organizations like GRAS to scupper the Act of Synod, surely it is unsurprising that none of us trusts the ‘code of practice’ so beloved of supporters of the single clause measure.

Support for a new province will rise with every gauntlet thrown down by the innovators. Liberal theology, whilst losing its power and authority at parish level, continues to be embedded at structural and administrative level. Only recently, the Bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, helped to launch a gay Christian support group, but he is only one of Changing Attitude’s thirteen episcopal patrons. (Changing Attitude is an organization that works for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to be fully integrated into the church). A Private Member’s Motion supporting homosexuality was gathering support during February’s General Synod sessions.

Again, Peter Carnley said it was only a matter of time before gay marriages and gay priests gain wider acceptance by the Anglican Church. He opined that the Anglican Communion ‘can tolerate a fair bit of difference. We just have to agree to differ on some issues.’ He heads the Panel so strongly urged by primates globally to facilitate alternate episcopal oversight for faithful Anglicans in hostile situations. Closer to home, the Church of Sweden has now authorized a blessing service for homosexual partnerships. And on it goes. But so is the conviction that there really is no practical alternative to a new province!

Agreeing to differ?

Supporters of the single clause measure who are attempting to destroy or dilute the TEA option should understand this: the alternative to TEA will never be the single clause measure but a new province. The really creative act is whether evangelicals, traditionalists and orthodox Anglo-Catholics could work together towards (and live together in) a new province. If there could be agreement, no force would be able to obstruct us and, in my opinion, the new province would, in due course, overshadow York and Canterbury.

Secondly, a new province must be one which you choose to opt into. By this I mean the province should not be one which you escape into because you could not, in all conscience, accept women bishops. It has to be far more than that! History shows that a one-issue, inward-looking, protectionist constituency (and I’m not implying FiF is!), whether political or ecclesiastical, will eventually self-destruct. Nothing less than a revival and growth of orthodox Anglo-Catholicism will do.

Decline in the Sixties

In this respect, Peter Corney’s (not to be mistaken with the other Peter!) insightful address on the Anglo-Catholic decline in Australia, which appeared in the December 2002 edition of Essentials, is a must-read. ‘By the 1960s it [Anglo-Catholicism] had become the dominant force in most dioceses in Australia, even assuming its style as the ‘Anglican norm.’ They had a very high view of Scripture and the creeds and were deeply orthodox and theologically conservative on credal fundamentals. They were not a theologically liberal or reductionist movement. But by the 1960s it began to run out of steam as a movement and has now lost its vitality and momentum.’

He then charted how the movement had degenerated into the kind of liberal Catholicism which ‘retained some of the outward expressions of the movement but departed from its core theological ideas.’ It is important to realize that this speech was given with a heavy heart, because the demise of the Anglo-Catholic movement, according to him, was ‘another unique and very important factor that has accelerated and contributed to our [the Anglican Church of Australia’s] decline.’ He laments the decline of Anglo-Catholics who were, at the start, ‘concerned about personal holiness and committed discipleship and the recovery of the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life.’

Call to action

As Stephen Covey, the world-renowned author of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People put it, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Be the irresistible force for doctrinal, theological and moral orthodoxy. So I would encourage you to go on developing the new province concept, as it may be forced to come to fruition quicker than you anticipate. Engage in debate within your constituency on the wider issues of a new province.

The Church of England, along with the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is facing realignment. The Anglican Communion, three years from now, will look nothing like what it is today. What the conservative evangelical and Anglo-Catholic groupings need to do is not merely to fight alongside each other for the heart and soul of the Church, but to grow our respective constituencies! Unless we grow spiritually and numerically, we will surely die, and deservedly so.

Theologically orthodox bodies like Reform, Church Society, and Forward in Faith, have been associated with an anti-stance (anti-women’s ordination, anti-homosexuality, anti-liberal theology and such), and quite rightly so! But we need to go beyond this. We need to reclaim the church and nation for Christ. Generations to come will never forgive us if we fail. Let it not be said of us that our moral courage failed when our obedience to Christ and Scripture counted most.