Participating in The Big Questions debate yesterday morning about the division or unity of the Anglican Communion reinforced my sense of confidence in the signs that I picked up in General Synod last week.
I was seated next to Lorna Ashworth in the studio. Lorna had tabled the private member’s motion about ACNA which was debated in General Synod on Wednesday afternoon. To her far right was Charles Raven from Kidderminster, the priest who was inhibited by Bishop Peter Selby when he challenged Peter’s authority. Between them was a conservative Christian lawyer who contributed to the opening debate about the torture of terrorism suspects and the second debate about fidelity in marriage. In both the views he expressed were not unreasonable, but when he joined in the debate about the Anglican Communion he suddenly inhabited an extreme world of sin and judgement in which any person who was neither married nor celibate like him was destined for hell.
There was intense heat in the debate between those who were arguing for inclusion and generosity and the conservatives who revealed more and more extreme views as the debate proceeded. Although the programme researchers had clearly been disappointed that all of us seemed to agree that the unity of the Communion should be maintained, it became apparent in the studio that this is not what the conservatives want. They want to be split from people like me who believe in a generous, forgiving, loving, ultimately inclusive God.
If they want to push this to its logical conclusion, all we need to do is stay. They have to decide whether to leave. I know it isn’t quite as easy or simple as this – staying in a Church where people express such prejudiced, hostile views and feelings isn’t comfortable. Sometimes the homophobia and the prejudice against women becomes intolerable.
Several people in the audience approached me afterwards and expressed astonishment at the views held by the conservatives. They had no idea that this is what an extreme minority in the Church of England believe. They wondered what had happened to what they remembered as the traditional Anglican ethos of generosity and welcome to all, whatever degree of faith people have.
There is a fault line in the UK more dangerous than the fault line within the Church between conservatives and liberals. It is the fault line between those who think it’s more important for Christianity to be doctrinally pure than it is for Christianity to model God’s generous love. An exclusive Church is not just the kiss of death for gays and women priests and bishops, it’s the kiss of death for a lively, loving, healthy, evangelistic Church of England which has any chance of connecting with real people and real lives. Why would anyone watching The Big Questions and hearing the conservatives bother to enter a church which is so judgmental and intolerant?
A friend sent me a text after the programme saying they think we have a mountain to climb. We are climbing it, and the further up the mountain we climb, the more the clouds begin to clear and the potential for a glorious view becomes apparent. Both global forces and history are against the conservatives.
I’ve now had time to read in detail the comments on and reactions to the debate on Lorna Ashworth’s motion in Synod. I was in the public gallery for the ACNA debate and present at the fringe meeting on Tuesday lunchtime when the ACNA case was presented.
There were a considerable number of people at the fringe meeting who were not taken in by the confident presentation, and several asked firmly probing questions, which did not receive honest answers and some weren’t answered at all. The voting figures on the motion tell the true story. The majority of members in each House voted consistently against Lorna’s motion – which was there to be accepted if Synod really wanted to state its desire to be in Communion with ACNA. Some comments on Thinking Anglicans still seem uncertain about this.
There may well be attempts to set up a parallel to ACNA in England. There will be further attempts to marginalize TEC and Canada. There will be attempts to inflate the success and importance of ACNA. Some leaders in the Communion will continue to vilify LGBT people while at the same time claiming they want the best for us.
I think Lorna’s motion was a disaster for ACNA. They were firmly rejected by the Church of England and the whole idea kicked into touch. The large contingent which had flown over and were much in evidence at Synod got nothing for their trouble, but seem to have been flattered into a false sense of success by our English ‘niceness’. We nod and smile sweetly and agree, whilst holding to a totally different view inside.
Lorna’s motion was lost.
Greater pension equality for Civil Partners was passed.
Archbishop Rowan apologised to LGBT people and described the Uganda Bill as repugnant.
The studio audience though conservative Christian views were shocking.
The conservative leaders in the Communion are not making the progress they claim. Their reports are grossly inaccurate and they misrepresent reality continually. No group confident of their position would do this. I receive many more reports in confidence that tell me the Communion is not with them. Bishops are not with their Primates. The Church of England is not with the bishops who support ACNA. International opinion is against the Uganda Bill. The UK Government is against repressive homosexuality legislation in the Commonwealth.
Most importantly, Christ is risen, God is love and Creation is good. Truth, justice and love shine in people’s hearts and lives whether or not conservative Anglicans think that the 39 Articles, the Ten Commandments and a literal interpretation of the Bible are fundamental to salvation.
If the Christian lawyer in the audience really thinks my eternal salvation is at risk because I love another man, well, bully for the celibate him. Me – I’m for life with a joyous God.