Sunday, 16 November 2008

Evangelical Don't Knows

It seems that the National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC) was something of a non-event on Saturday. That or a death event. The Church of England evangelicals are something of an divided undecided bunch these days, in the manner that it is better not to vote than to vote and expose divisions further.

Three streams are usually identified these days: Open, Charismatic and Conservative. Some Conservatives are of the view that all three cannot be right, rather as more view the wider Church of England and Anglican Communion. If the Church of England Evangelical Council, that heads the NEAC day, is somewhat Conservative dominated, it is because they are the remaining ones to give this Council most commitment. The CEEC President is Wallace Benn and the Chairman is Richard Turnbull, both prominent and arguably narrow Conservative Evangelicals. This domination tends to frustrate the others, presumably a vicious circle for them. John Richardson, another Conservative Evangelical, thinks the leadership is not representative whereas Richard Turnbull, who once wanted liberal evangelicals tackling first in order to overcome weaknesses to get at the real enemy, liberals, thinks the leadership is representative. (a comment about Richard Turnbull in Church Times).

It seems that the meeting was too brief, that it could have been reflective but was not, and that an attempt to push a vote to support the Jerusalem Declaration at GAFCON failed amongst the gathered. A broader representation of evangelicals obviously did gather compared with the leadership, because they felt bounced and declined to vote.

GAFCON alone, it seems, is not adequate for the broader representation, even if it may (for some of them) ask the right questions. It needs to mix more with other Evangelical and Global South elements. The danger is that Evangelicals end up being identifiable as for and against GAFCON.

My thought on this is that it will just underline to the GAFCON people that their strategy is correct. They will see that once again the Evangelical constituency plucks failure out of success. It is even losing faith in the too long to implement and unlikely to be any good Anglican Communion Covenant (told them that a long time ago) so it has no broader Communion strategy. Nick Jones thinks from Bradford it's about too many old men in blazers and ties going on about the glory days and he would prefer to organise using groups via GAFCON. The only answer, thinks the GAFCON Conservatives, will be to proceed with their Religious Trotskyism, that is to say a core group pressing on, keeping and making the agenda and forcing people to come in with it or stay out. Richard Turnbull will think that his Reform lecture was correct, that first the "liberal evangelicals" have to be sorted out before there is any progress possible.

It is odd, really, because there has been a sense over twenty years that the boundaries of believing have been shrinking within Anglicanism. Yet, if the evangelicals are growing in percentage terms, they are rather lousy at pressing home this apparent advantage. Presumably it is the doctrinal spirit that causes them to pick holes in the details, and they fall out when it comes to implementing anything. Liberals and their doubts put up with more grey areas and can tend to discuss more and for longer. However, issues arise that can be effective in implementation.

The key issue is ordaining women as bishops. There is no doubt that as Evangelicals argue amongst themselves, this will be a huge blow to those who insist upon biblical male only headship. It will cause structural failure among Conservative Evangelicals, just as it will finish off the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. This is why the GAFCON types will press on, because no one is going to hand out separate dioceses and it will be up to separatists themselves to produce new male headship only provinces. GAFCON pressing ahead forces the Open Evangelicals to decide which bed is best - that of Evangelicalism with a Conservative thrust, or that of Openness with a liberal thrust.

The advantage for the liberals is that GAFCON takes the worst of the dogma and even the homophobia with it. No one likes, say, Fort Worth congregations and individuals going elsewhere, but it does lance the boil in that locality. If people can't live together, it is up to those who cannot to do something about it and GAFCON gives every indication of doing so. After all, if it does not, then it becomes just one more Evangelical failure and would prove to be the most deflationary for its constituents. The effect of it as a false start would be to set back Evangelicalism for some decades. GAFCON's active separatism (and it will drop its fellow travelling Anglo-Catholics if need be) means less confusion all round. What NEAC shows, however, is that confusion is right inside the broad Evangelical caucus, never mind the wider Anglican body.


Here is a further report posted after I wrote the above. It seems that it started all right and then went wrong later on. A Conservative Evangelical motion was pushed by Richard Turnbull and rejected. Wim Houtman in this report says that many are:

not prepared to give way to liberalism by - as they perceive the line of the conservative 'Fellowship' to be - retreating [to] strongholds of their own.

Which is why Richard Turnbull and those like him will conclude a need to press on. Like this:

"If you don't want a vote, fine", said Turnbull from the chair. "In that case the Church of England Evangelical Council will take its own decision."
From the audience: "Then why consult us?"
Turnbull: "I would appreciate if you did not interrupt me."
Someone else in the audience: "Depends what you say."

So GAFCON carries on! Get those Softy Evangelicals out of the way!

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