Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Thirteen Unsure

So, thirteen groups connected with the Church of England reflect on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Reflections in On the Archbishop's Reflections. These are: Accepting Evangelicals, Changing Attitude, The Clergy Consultation, Courage, Ekklesia, Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Anglicans, General Synod Human Sexuality Group, Group for the Rescinding of the Act of Synod, Inclusive Church, Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (Anglican Matters), Modern Churchpeople’s Union, Sibyls and WATCH National Committee. Affirming Catholicism is not one of them, which puzzles as to why not, and nor is Affirming Liberalism included (though that is a very loose grouping).

The statement is carried on Thinking Anglicans and Inclusive Church.

It questions first whether Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender voices have been adequately heard, by way of summary introduction. Then it sees the need - why does this need to be said? - to affirm loyalty to Jesus Christ and the Anglican way, and that the Church of England "is called to live out the Gospel values of love and justice" consistent with Christ.

To answer my own question, perhaps it is because other people doubt this statement or its implications, and define the Anglican way either not to pursue love and justice (but to pursue, instead, a greater worldwide Church organisation) or consider love and justice to have a different content from "liturgical and sacramental recognition of the God-given love which enables many LGBT couples to thrive".

This argument has not been won: and it needs at least restating, that there is no ethical purpose other than a negative one in pursuing towards a greater worldwide Anglican Church, if it involves such leaders engaged in this project sacrificing a section of the membership who do no other than practise faithful love in their relationships. The argument must demonstrate that Anglicanism and its responsiveness comes because it is decentralised in worldwide terms, and because it consists of Churches and not a Church, and that creating a tighter Communion more like a Church is an innovation that these leaders have no right to produce. You can theologise this, if you like, by saying something like the decentralisation and cultural sensitivity gives institutional responsiveness and sensitivity towards the work of the Holy Spirit. Personally I think this is so much gloss, and I am suspicious of all these 'God on our side' statements including in this On the Archbishop's Reflections.

Of course I agree with the third paragraph, and would state it more strongly: it is offensive to call gay relationships a chosen lifestyle especially as, implied in the defence in the fourth paragraph, this goes on to exclude as representative of the Church those who have relationships outside heterosexual marriage when it comes to people for whom this is not an option (and, incidentally, this should include bisexual and transgender people when the person they come to love is a person of the same biological sex -where there is, ostensibly, choice). It is right too to refer to the Nordic Churches where progress is being made regarding liturgical and ministerial inclusion.

Here is my 'but', and it is as if these organisations do not yet get it. It is this:
We will work to ensure that if the Church of England is to sign up to the Covenant, it has potential for rapid progress on this and other issues.

No! Work to ensure the Church of England does not sign up to the Covenant. The Covenant is no good for anyone interested in Anglican flexibility and the inclusion of all its people liturgically and in ministry. If you sign the Covenant, you get the two track approach at the very least, which this joint statement rightly rejects. It would mean having to defy the Covenant and linking up with those Churches that are more flexible, which would not be possible structurally in the Church of England. Also if the Covenant fails in the Church of England, it means it won't constrain other parts of Anglicanism either, except those Churches that want to draw up agreements with others (and nothing surely wrong with that - part of the decentralised or confederal way of doing things).

But these organisations, at least in terms of this statement, seem not to have turned the corner that the Archbishop turned in the other direction. He is at least clear on this: that LGBT people are excluded as representative regarding all ministry, and so there is no liturgical recognition either for these relationships. That is the basis of a Covenant, and any Anglicanism that does the other thing is on a different track. So he is clear, but these organisations are not: they still think there is such a thing as an inclusive Covenant. No there isn't, because if there are inclusive Churches they would not need a Covenant. Existing Anglican statements are adequate.

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