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July 26, 2008

Lambeth - hot air or real debate?

Rapproachment. I think we need some of that following on from Lambeth and all the debates about "the plain meaning of scripture" in relation to women priests, gay clergy and a host of other "matters of faith". The difficulty I have with some of that is that the same biblical books which are so passionately against homosexual relationships also condone slavery and a range of measures which could be described as "anti-women" or, at the very least, discriminatory. While I do agree with the traditionalists that culture should be modified by faith and not faith by culture, I find I cannot ignore the scientific findings, reported in the Church Times, that suggest that homosexuals do not have a "choice" in their sexuality. Does this place them outside of God's all embracing love? I don't think so, so the question is not "can they be active members of the church?" but, can the church find ways to recognise their existence and their right to the Gospel?

I feel for the Archbishop of Sudan when he tells the Conference that the leaders of Islam in his country seize upon the openly gay activities of the Church in the US and Canada to condemn him, as a member of the Anglican Church as "Apostate and the enemy of God". The fact is, in my view, that if they did not have that excuse these same Muslim clerics would find another. That said, the Church in the US and in Canada does need to take account of the impact of their activities outside of their own little sphere - that is the essence of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10: 32 - 33) - if something causes offence to other Christians, don't do it! If it causes difficulties for others - in Paul's words, whether Greek, Jew or something else - don't do it! Which probably means that the General Synod may need to revisit the recent decision on Woman Bishops ...... A letter in this weeks Church Times suggests that the House of Laity opponents to the creation of Women Bishops without legal safeguards for those unable to accept their oversight is growing and even worse, a poll of laity suggests that the the "people in the pew" are not behind this move either.

There is a serious question underlying most of this. It concerns the ministry of women, traditionally seen as "nurturing, child bearing and home centred," but it seems that it may not have always been so. There is evidence that women, certainly in the first years of the church (Up to around 400AD) may have had roles as Deacons, Priests (Then called Presbyters) and possibly even as bishops. Why are there no records of this? Probably because the creation of a heirarchy from 313AD onwards saw it become increasingly a reflection of the dynastic ambitions of the landowning and political classes. The entire Papal structure is a direct descendant of the Imperial Roman administration, yet it was not until the early 600's that the Bishop of Rome managed to persuade everyone to follow his authority and even then the Eastern branch of the Church refused to do so. Of course the Papal claim to being the supreme ruler of the Church is based on the words of Christ, "You are the rock on which I shall build my church ..." but there is little evidence to support the view that the intention was that anyone beyond Peter would have the same status. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that the other apostles took any notice of what Peter was doing or wanted as they fanned out across the globe spreading the gospel.

So, back to Lambeth. This Conference is the first on record to not have any major resolutions on the table. Some would say that the reason for that is to avoid a damaging and permanent split, a typically Anglican fudge. This is probably close to the truth. The fact is that many "traditionalist" Bishops simply aren't prepared to make any accomodation - and the liberal Bishops are in the same boat. They cannot admit that their liberal approach is causing a problem for anyone else without recognising that it has probably alienated many in their own flocks. And it is certainly not helped by the openly "humanist/socialist" secularising agenda of most of the media and the political classes here and in other Western countries.

Can a real debate on these issues take place? I sometimes doubt it, entrenched views are very difficult to break down and almost impossible to change, but I do pray that those attending Lambeth (And some at least of those who stayed away but attended the Jerusalem alternate) will actually shut up and listen to one another. If they do not, they, and not the "people in the pew" will become increasingly the cause of the demise of the Anglican church in all its diversity. This is evidenced by the manner in which the debates in General Synod have gone recently. Far to often one hears the expression "we recognise your views and feel your pain, but ..." as yet another unpopular motion is rammed through without compromise or even attempt at compromise. Real debate seeks compromise or at least explores common ground and many feel that this is not happening either at Lambeth or in General Synod. Two weeks ago the Church Times ran a leader article which said "save us from the anoraks" - suggesting that far too many Synod members are there because they have an agenda or issue which may, or may not, have anything to do with the Gospel.

That, of course, is the weakness of any elected system of governance, not least in churches. Lambeth stands outside of that arena in one sense, though, outside of the Church of England, Bishops are generally chosen by their Diocese and elected by the Electoral College of the Diocese. That too is open to abuse, but generally works reasonably well. So, when over six hundred Bishops gather to discuss the matters which concern the mission of the Church throughout the world, one hopes above all else, that the Holy Spirit is opening their ears and their eyes to the matters which really affect the mission and ministry of the church. I agree in one thing with the Archbishop of Sudan, what we do in England affects the church in Sudan, in Australia and everywhere else. Likewise what is done in the name of Christ and his Church in the US and Canada affects us all. We have to be more alert to that and we do have to recover the concept that faith alters culture - not the other way round.

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 26, 2008 12:23 PM

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