The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Mexico Sermon

The Short Version

  • The Anglican Communion is in a mess
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury is in Mexico and he has preached a sermon
  • It isn’t really a very helpful sermon and is quite offensive

The Long Version

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury (I think we can stop calling him the new Archbishop of Canterbury now) has been preaching in Mexico. He preached a sermon earlier this week which was aimed at the troubles of the Anglican Communion. Though its conclusion is that we must all “walk in the light” which is pretty untroublesome, he has used language to get there which stigmatises fellow Anglicans and which I don’t really think is helpful at all.

The troublesome bit is this, where he speaks of the Anglican Communion in this way:

Like a drunk man walking near the edge of a cliff, we trip and totter and slip and wander, ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.

It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church.

It isn’t really helpful to characterize the troubles of the Communion as being “sides” in any case and neither of these images is remotely helpful.

The basic trouble in the Communion is that some of us think that gay people should be treated like anyone else and have our reasons for doing so. Others think that is wrong and have their own reasons for taking that view. The latter sometimes think that they alone believe a view consonant with the bible.

It is deeply unhelpful of the Archbishop to use language which appears to suggest that the risk that those who wish to affirm gay people present is one of a lack or loss of core beliefs. That just isn’t true and is a nasty slur against fellow Anglicans. The US and Canadian churches are not places where God is absent and if the Archbishop needs to find that out, he needs to go there and meet them, something that his predecessor seemed to find impossible to do.

People will read the sermon in the US and Canadian churches and take immediate offence. (I find it offensive here in Scotland, but there it will appear to be a judgement on their national churches). Those who wish to affirm the place of LGBT people do so because of their core beliefs as Christians and as Anglicans, not because of any lack of belief or loss of God.

Does the Archbishop of Canterbury not have anyone on staff from the US or Canada or someone who knows those churches who could look at this kind of stuff and say, “hang on a minute, Father, that might not go down too well?”

I suspect also that those who do not wish to affirm the place of LGBT people in the church may well say that intolerance is something that they experience from those who do. Neither “side” has the monopoly on that trait.

The other uncomfortable notion in this sermon is that it looks as though the Archbishop is painting a scene where there are these two squabbling factions and the bishops tentatively walk a narrow path of balance and moderation between them. Innocently tripping along the cliff edge, fearful of being dragged down one side or the other. (Do cliffs normally have two sides anyway?)

That is not my experience. Bishops are part of our problems. Indeed, the Episcopate is the place where a very great deal of these problems occur in the communion.

Here in Scotland, it sometimes seems as though the Bishops think they should present themselves as only possible “honest” brokers amidst naughty disagreement amongst others. It isn’t true and we all know it isn’t true. Our bishops are not of one mind yet appear entirely unable to model their diversity in a healthy way. What might help would be if they could come out and say, “Well we don’t agree about this but we still respect one another and work together and that is the answer to the Communion’s problems – Anglicans of different views are part of one organic whole, we need one another and are getting on with it”. That would be honest, helpful modelling of how to manage conflict. Instead of which we get a corrosive, conservative silence which is damaging the church and relations within it.

The basic question that bishops need to answer is a simple one and it is this:

Do gay people in their loving relationships have the potential to experience love that can be described as sacramental?

All else will follow from the answer to that question.

The Archbishop of Canterbury needs to be asked that question again and again and again. He seems to think gay relationships are something to be admired – describing some couples as living relationships of “stunning quality”. But does he think they can be godly?

Bishops (and yes, Archbishops) failing to answer basic questions about the godly potential of gay lives  is at the core of the problem the Anglican Communion has. That’s true here in Scotland and appears to be true for the Archbishop in Mexico on his travels.

We all deserve answers to those questions.


  1. From outside your Communion (in an English dissenting church) I have to say that I think Welby is a Very Good Thing and your response to what he said is (to borrow your term) unhelpful. He nowhere mentions the specific issue of attitudes to gay relationships (although I agree that we all know that this is a key symptom of the divisions in not only your but in other denominations). Neither does he anywhere claim the special status and role for bishops that you put into his mouth (although I have no reason to doubt they behave as you describe in both England and Scotland).

    The unhelpful aspects of your response (from where I sit) are
    1) refusing to take seriously what is actually said and instead ascribing positions not taken (the identification of being in favour of the affirmation of gay relationships with lack of core beliefs is not there, it has to be read in, and my feeling is that it was not intended – a feeling that has as much or as little basis as yours that it was)
    2) the insistence that attitudes to gay people and relationships must always be front and centre – given how polarised and polarising this now is it is a recipe for the hardening of party lines and for division to the point of separation

    I’m not an Anglican but I agree with the ABC that your Communion has a particular vocation of bridge building (as does mine as a united denomination). Others have calls to build bridges across different gaps or to do other things altogether but your intentional broadness (the via media) is definitive of what you are and do on behalf of the Church catholic and Welby is right about that.

    He is right, too, to think that some of those who are engaged in the current “debates” inside and beyond your Communion run the risk of abandoning core beliefs (and these are NOT anything to do with sexuality) while others run the risk of defining these so that almost nobody could agree with agree with them.

    Patience is a key Christian virtue and sometimes what it requires of us is that we listen to what people say, even when they’re not saying what we would like them to, either in agreement with us or in a disagreement that we find easy to dismiss and that leaves our own positions untouched.

    • Thanks for your response Nick.

      I don’t see how any Anglican could read the Archbishop’s words and not think he was talking about the divisions regarding sexuality. The fact that he doesn’t mention it doesn’t mean that the sermon is about anything else.

      Anglicans generally have in recent decades managed to live together reasonably peaceably with hugely different views about all manner of issues of faith except one.

      This sermon is about that issue and our responses to it.

      Looking at the sermon again, I think it is very much about the place of bishops in relation to this conflict and particularly trying to falsely posit the episcopate as being outside these divisions.

      The archbishop says clearly:

      Archbishops and their wives can go round the world trying to encourage people to be nice, but it does not really work. In the readings is the theme of light and darkness, whether physical or emotional. In the great East African Revival they used the expression, ‘walk in the light’.

      I’m glad that he recognising that it doesn’t work. My comments above are an attempt to illuminate some of the reasons why.

      What this has to do with Archbishops’s wives is something of a mystery to me. However, following these comments, the views of bishops partners should not be regarded as off limits by any of us.

      • To read it as “divisions regarding sexuality” is already to take sides. Those who disagree with you (on this issue) will say that what is really at stake is “the authority of Scripture” or of the “tradition”. They may be wrong (I think they’re as wrong as you are about what the real issues are) but that’s what they say and I believe that’s what they think.

        I read Welby’s intervention as deliberately bracketing what the “real issues” are and trying to come up with a formulation that does justice to all. You may think he’s failed in this but I believe he has made an honest attempt to mediate.

        • I think he is demonising people who are good Anglicans. Indeed, he is suggesting that folk whom I believe to be good Anglicans are in fact not good Anglicans. Perhaps not even good Christians.

          And we’ve had enough of that in the past.

        • Erika Baker says

          Only that the Authority of Scripture and Tradition are only ever evoked to that Communion breaking extent when the issue under discussion is homosexuality.
          Marriage after divorce, which is also an issue of Authority of Scripture, has not broken the AC, nor have women priests.

          We all know that this has absolutely nothing to do with Authority of Scripture – or the concept would be evoked much more often.
          In the English women bishop’s debate, which is causing a serious internal schism, many many arguments are used by those who oppose the change. Authority of Scripture is not one of them. The expression is simply not used in any other context.

          • So what’s your diagnosis of those who disagree with you? Are they lying? Are they deluded?

            I have certainly heard people use the Scriptural argument in relation to women’s ministry (again I think they’re wrong) and also heard people invoke the authority of tradition in regard to sexuality. (My experience here though isn’t of anglicanism since I’m not an anglican so maybe things are different in your world.)

            Insofar as Welby is demonising anybody it looks to me as if he’s targeting both sides (but I don’t think he is demonising, more warning).

          • I think those who disagree with me on LGBT issues simply disagree with me on those issues.

            I don’t think they are lying or that they are deluded. I’ve generally had harsher words for those who offer me support in private which doesn’t show up in public rather than those who disagree with me, with whom, generally, I find I have friendly relationships.

            Once upon a time, I might well have agreed with those believing this to be all about how we read the bible. However, the Evangelicals who are now espousing the cause of same-sex marriage do rather give the lie to that interpretation. There is considerable diversity of view on the bible amongst those who are in favour of treating LGBT people equally. That’s a change and one worth noting.

          • Erika Baker says

            Nick, what I meant is that the argument that those who are in favour of gay equality are denying the Authority of Scripture is exclusively reserved for the gay debate.
            People make lots of scriptural arguments against women’s ordination but they do not charge the proponents with denying the Authority of Scripture.
            That sledgehammer is only used in the lgbt discussion.

          • AMPisAnglican says

            I have to disagree with you Erika,
            Woman’s ordination in Canada did result in about a dozen Parishes leaving the Anglican Church of Canada. And the reasons given by those who were opposed to it were entirely based upon Holy Scripture, such as 1 Timothy 3.

          • I maintain my view that the ordination of women has caused all kinds of disagreements some very bitter in some churches of the Anglican Communion but at no stage has it resulted in much conflict within the structures of the Anglican Communion itself.

  2. Erika Baker says

    the only topic that has been “tearing at the fabric of the Anglican Communion” to use a very tired but often repeated phrase, is homosexuality.
    There has not been any public debate, far less disagreement, about the Trinity, about the Incarnation, Resurrection etc., in short, about all those things that are core beliefs.

    It stretches credibility if we are to assume that the Archbishop meant that different thoughts about Transubstantiation have brought the Communion to breaking point.

    But I agree – he did not mention homosexuality. It’s the big elephant in the room that all the bishops traipse around. Which is precisely what Kelvin said. This is the only topic that has exercised the Communion in the last decade. It is the one that has brought about GAFCON and all the other new acronymic splinters who call themselves true Anglicans.

    And unless we address it constructively and in a more grown up way than we have to date we will still be tearing ourselves apart during the next decade.

  3. Steven says

    “Sit, be still, and listen,
    because you’re drunk
    and we’re at
    the edge of the roof.”

    Not sure if the ABC meant to allude to Rumi but perhaps it might have been more helpful if he followed that advice on behalf of the Anglican Communion.

    He should sit down, be still [like a Quaker] and simply listen.

    He might then find that the still small voice that reveals to him the gay relationships of “striking quality” in his own experience need now to be publicly affirmed as holy.

    Not sure what the word “holy” means when divorced from loving relationships of striking quality?

  4. I think the ABC was really on a ridgewalk – the Aonach Eagach above Glencoe springs to mind. I get the impression that the bishops of the SEC at the moment are so busy assuming that all the rest of us are novice mountaineers that they won’t actually let us out onto the hills any more – regardless of the fact that some of us have been quite high already.

    See the dangers of metaphor? You can get so carried away …

  5. Kelvin, the paragraph you quote is appalling. Two sides, either or, if you don’t walk the very narrow ridge following in the footsteps the the archbishop, then the cliff is on one side and the ravine on the other. And his “we”, as though Anglicans are all of the same mind or ever were. Erika, is correct. None of the core beliefs of Anglicanism are the source of the disagreements within the communion. He certainly appears to me to hint that the churches that have decided in favor of inclusion and equality for LGTB persons are in danger of falling into the “chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message.” The archbishop might try building at least a small footbridge to connect with the churches in Canada and the US.

    • Thanks Mimi – I know it is appalling and I know exactly how some of those reading it in the US will feel – “same old, same old”.

      This is a sermon that speaks of not only of bad judgement but also bad advice.

      • Erika Baker says

        I had so hoped we might have left the era of appalling diplomacy behind when we got an ABC who has substantial experience in working in the commercial sector. How quickly church politics seems to obscure everything else.

        • Why is there such division right here about what Justin “really said” or “really meant”? That’s what I mean by archbishopspeak We heard it for 10 years, and now we’re hearing it again. Why can’t we have forthrightness in speech?

  6. You might call me in denial, but I don’t quite see the offensive language as some may see it. I see a lot of hope in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon.

    It’s not a matter of giving someone the “most favourable construction” when interpreting their public discourse. I don’t think the Archbishop of Canterbury (hereinafter referred to the “ABC”) targeted any particular group, but the Anglican Communion as a whole. One can be smug and say, “Aha! That’s for you!” Another might say, “Ouch! That’s so offensive!” and play the victim. I can see the rebuke that others might see, but I can also see some honest evaluation – truth that has the power to set us free if we heed its wisdom.

    So the question begs to be asked: What exactly is the Anglican Communion drunk on? Is the Anglican Communion drunk on the wine of the world, forgetting its mission and call to be a reconciling force in world? Or has the Anglican Communion found some new wine in the undercroft and some hard liquor in the abbey cellarium that both pack a good punch?

    I think it just might be the latter. The American Episcopal priest, the Revd Robert Farrar Capon wrote on pp 114-115 of Between Noon and Three:

    “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two hundred proof grace – of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps – suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started… Grace has to be drunk straight [=neat]: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed into enter into the case.”

    The ABC said in his sermon, “It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present.” YES! Rightly so! The ABC answered what another American Episcopal priest, the Revd Stephanie Spellers, preached at last year’s General Convention:

    “The prayer to be like Benedict will shatter our well-drawn boundaries, it breaks our hearts, it grows our capacity to love and to fail, and sends us humble as beggars into the arms of Jesus and the arms of the stranger. It is a dangerous prayer. Pray it anyway. And then watch out. God might just give you what you prayed for.”

    It’s a wonderfully dangerous place that we are in, to hold a variety of opinions and yet find ourselves bound together by grace and love. We are drunk with grace – full of grace – and it can only send us staggering into the breach to share as partners in Christ’s mission as priestly intercessors in the gap. Not to worry, Christ has filled the gap already by his life, death, and resurrection – any bridgebuilding we do is but a continuation of his work.

    Saint Paul writes: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NRSV)

    Anyone falls into that gap will find themselves held by the power of the incarnate Christ working in a grace-filled Communion of love and prayer. We can never lose hope that all will gathered by the Spirit into that one bread and one cup, as grains of wheat and grapes are gathered on the Lord’s table as one. In the gap, outside the gap, beyond the gap, before the gap, on the bridge – we belong to the Lord. We are held by love wherever we go. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, we are not alone.

    We are broken and poured out for the life of the word, but we all share in one Body and one Cup.

    Somehow I’m thinking now of Panis Angelicus:

    The angelic bread
    becomes the bread of men;
    The heavenly bread
    ends all prefigurations:
    What wonder!
    The Lord is eaten
    by a poor and humble servant.

    The “poor” can be anyone – gay, straight, female, male, non-White, White, Anglophone, Francophone, Allophone, even the rich – everyone.

    But here’s the catch, and I don’t think the ABC meant to be insulting about it: We were once poor. We now richly feast on Christ. Be so full of grace that you do not forget to share that grace with others. When we forget to do that, we fall. When we exclude others or lose sight of God’s love for us (and others), we fall. But even if one falls, such a person is still held by love. And we will do everything we can to get that person out – to raise that person’s dignity that all may know the power of Christ’s love.

    I think that’s what the ABC really said about Romans 14:7-12 and Psalm 139:1-10: As we are held by this love wherever we go and despite what we do, why bother fighting with our sisters and brothers? We can only move forward on a united front as we follow Jesus together.

    So the question the ABC asks of us is simply this: Honey darling, WHAT chutzpah are you drinkin’?!

    Mind the gap. And don’t be afraid to step into the gap, in Christ’s name, to pull somebody out. Amen.

    *starts singing the hymn All My Hope On God Is Founded*

  7. In the long run, today’s debate over human sexuality is a sideshow. It’ll seem as much of an odd discussion, tied to a particular place and time, as the late-tenth-century frenzy over Christ’s imminent return seems today.

    The Sydney project to renegotiate the terms of the Eucharist / Holy Communion, however, is of far greater centrality to Christian faith and worship, and receives very little coverage. Personal relationships trumping the Eucharist is a sad state of affairs.

  8. As an Australian priest serving for a short period in the Episcopal Church I am interested in how TEC is coping. I suggest that it seems to me that they are moving on, certainly not all roses and light. Would that the Australian Church would have some courage in this regard.
    I certainly agree with you that the Bishops think they are the solution and are possibly the fontanel of the problem. I think that was/is the problem with the Covenant Proposal. An Episcopal/bureaucratic solution which will ultimately solve nothing.
    In the meantime my time in my little American backwater has this little insight. The priest in the neighbouring parish is gay and has a partner. (I asked him if he was married…and he said Yes…but in this State we can’t be!)
    That parish is plainly one of the liveliest in the region. A Priest (and dare I say his spouse) who love their people…and the church thrives.

  9. Melissa says

    Funny, I think I have heard this bit of sermon before. There weren’t any cliffs, but there were definitely ‘sides’ and a ‘middle’ and the people in the middle were the good guys.

  10. phil saunders says

    Not surprising that ++Justin would talk about the danger of extremes
    I have read the whole sermon and I can’t see that it refers necessarily to the issue of sexuality, although you can certainly read it into the text.
    I am also an Australian priest and have enjoyed my times in worship in Episcopal churches in the US, as well as with Nigerians – both places of joy and christian faith.
    One of my greatest joys in being Anglican. has been our respect for each other, respect for diversity. This seems to be destroyed now. A great sadness.

  11. Keith Battarbee says

    Granted, the debate about same-sex relations is acutely prominent in the Anglican Communion, as in many other churches, at present. It is far from being the sole issue of significance, even with regard to gender: the role of women in ordained ministry is also painfully unresolved in the Church of England and in fact, if less prominently, in the wider Communion. Moreover, as Alex comments above, there are also issues of church praxis in Sydney diocese (and maybe in church plantings elsewhere) which are potentially of major impact for the future of Anglicanism.

    I have to agree with Nick Brindley’s and Josh’s Comments. It seems to me that Provost Kelvin goes too far too quickly in reading Abp Justin’s “stigmatising of fellow Anglicans” as specifically and by default an offensive condemnation of the pro-LGBT position. In fact Kelvin (and Grandmère Mimi) are themselves falling into the reductionism of seeing this as the ONLY issue that matters. That’s not what Justin said, and it is dangerously exacerbating to read everything through this one contested issue.

    • There simply isn’t a controversy in the Communion about the ordination of women. There is in individual churches but not the wider communion. Those who think that there is seem generally to come from England.

      Sydney is another matter. In that respect, I tend to feel that there isn’t that much controversy in the Communion about it but that there should be.

      I’d be interested to hear from anyone who felt that they were in danger of falling into “an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message”.

      I don’t think you’ll find many Anglicans owning up to feeling that might be true about themselves. It is inherrently an accusation.

      It comes from the office and person of the Archbishop of Canterbury and fits a well established Communion narrative.

      Even allowing for the fact that Justin Welby may not have intended it to have been read this way (and I’m obviously far from convinced of that) I’d say that using such language was dangerously careless and indicates someone ill-advised and not coming close to understanding the issues as they are seen in the US and Canada.

      • I really do think it’s dangerous to read everything with this one issue (important though it understandably is to some) as the centre of everything. I had the great privilege of having my Master’s dissertation supervised by Prof. Oliver O’Donovan, because it was concerned with sexual ethics and this is a domain where he has been a prominent conservative voice in the Anglican communion. While we disagreed on almost everything I came to see that his positions on this were based squarely on what he saw as core beliefs and not on mere prejudice or unthinking attachment to the past.

        In particular Prof. O’Donovan has a set of beliefs about the relationship of Church and the civil authority and on the nature and sources of authority that are radically different from mine, clearly founded (for me) in what makes Anglicanism a distinctive and coherent current and articulated through a Christology that I can recognise even if I don’t agree with it. Similarly John Milbank, another Anglican I can admire with agreeing with him, has a set of nuanced but in some respects conservative positionson sexuality that are based on what, to him, are core beliefs. These originate in a different part of the Anglican tradition but have a remarkable amount in common with O’Donovan’s from my, non-conformist, perspective.

        It seems to me fair enough that those of you within the Anglican Communion who want to follow those of us in the liberal Reformed tradition towards a more accepting position on matters of sexuality should be challenged to show how that is consistent with Anglican distinctives (just as we Reformed types have a responsibility to work the same things through our own tradition or give up the label).

        • Erika Baker says

          I’m not sure what you’re saying, Nick.
          You seem to be saying that it’s not about sexuality but about core beliefs that require a different view of sexuality and that if we want a more accepting position on sexuality we need to show that they are consistent with those core beliefs.

          So it is about sexuality.
          It’s about elevating sexuality to a first order issue and linking it to core beliefs to the extent that it becomes a Communion breaker.

          As we’ve had the sexuality debate and the Authority of Scripture debate you are asking for for decades, the only possible option would be to get to a stage where we no longer see it as a first order issue. Something it should never have been elevated to in the first place.

        • It is perhaps worth saying that people like me tend not to believe in there being an Anglican Church nor give a huge amount of credence to Anglican distinctiveness. We are simply a local expression of the church catholic.

          I know that isn’t everyone’s position, but it is mine.

          The only distinctive “Anglican Teaching” that anyone has ever tried to get me to buy into is the attempt by the last Archbishop of Canterbury to speak of the Communion as having a “teaching” with regards to gay people.

          It isn’t simply that I think he was wrong, it is also that I don’t believe in the church having such teaching and don’t think he had the authority to impose such a thing.

          I didn’t become an Anglican because I believed in Anglicanism. Such an idea is absurd. I joined because of where I found God.

          • Erika Baker says

            And there is no Anglican Church, there is only an Anglican Communion made up of various national churches. They are independent and there is no requirement for them to share “teachings”.

          • Amen to Erika’s statement that there is no such entity as a worldwide Anglican Church. Justin is the second Archbishop of Canterbury to use the name, and it rankles. There is an Anglican Communion consisting of autonomous Anglican churches throughout the world. The archbishops may wish they had a church to rival the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, but they do not.

          • I can see that, Kelvin, and I didn’t suggest that there was an Anglican Church. All I’m saying is that I have had dealings with two Anglican theologians on this matter and have been much struck, as someone outside your tradition, by how similar their basic orientation is, despite their belonging to different strands of Anglicanism (admittedly they’re both English, but the importance of England to Anglicanism is clear).

            It is quite possible to argue that the Anglican distinctives I see (which as I say have more to do with the relationship between Church and civil power than anything else, although the episcopacy and related matters to do with the apostolic succession is also important) do have consequences for the sexuality question (among others) and it isn’t unreasonable for Welby to call them “core beliefs” (although you might disagree it may be incumbent on you to explain and defend this rather than to insist simply that the sexuality questions on their own are so foundational that everyone should talk about them all the time).

          • Nick, if you are seeing Anglican distinctiveness as being something to do with a relationship to civil power then you really are talking about the Church of England and not any of the other parts of the Communion.

            As in so many ways, it is England which is the odd one out, however important the C of E might be.

          • In which case it would be well worth asking what the “core beliefs” in question are and whether there is really such a thing as “Anglicanism” since English Anglican theologians seem (to me) to be pretty consistent in their view of the relationship between Church and the civil authority and in particular about the responsibilities of the Church in regard to civil society. If English Anglicanism is so unlike the rest of the Communion then your Communion-wide debate needs to be radically reshaped, surely.

            This would probably be quite particularly difficult in Scotland, given the large numbers of English people, formed in and by the Church of England, in your pews.

          • As I said some time ago, the only issue that the communion is breaking over is how LGBT people are treated. Other ways of speaking of trouble in the communion are simply euphemisms.

            That isn’t to say that the Communion would be perfect if that debate didn’t exist. It needed reform anyway. But the issue remains the LGBT issue all the same.

            English Anglican theologians may well be consistent in how they speak about the relationship between the church and civil authority. They are perhaps less famous for being able to speak of that outside the English constitutional settlement. What they have to say about that is pretty irrelevant to the church I belong to. One fancies that we all know that in Scotland but that many don’t in England.

            I think that the notion that people who come to Anglican churches (of any kind) have had their opinions formed by Anglican theologians is a charming one.

          • It seems to me equally possible to say (as I suspect Welby is) that the issues about the treatment of LGBT people are presenting symptoms of an illness with other causes (which is not to say they are unimportant, symptoms are never trivial).

            On this analogy the theological debates would be a matter of seeking to diagnose what is wrong that is causing this symptom (and perhaps other symptoms like numerical decline and the mess over female bishops). If one accepted this then it wouldn’t need to be the case that anyone’s opinion was formed by those theologians for their ideas to be of the greatest importance to those trying to discern the correct course of action (on my analogy treatment).

          • So, what’s the illness?

          • It would, I suspect, be rather presumptuous of me as a non-conformist to claim to be able to diagnose the ills of Anglicanism but I think that the right place to start might be by asking what justifies its persistence as a separate denomination (a question every denomination should always be asking itself, in my view).

            Historically the denomination has a number of characteristics (as far as I can see):
            close association with the English crown and empire (look at where it exists);
            commitment to the episcopacy as the embodiment of the apostolic succession;
            liturgical forms as a major component of denominational identity;
            a high value placed on tradition and continuity.

            The underlying problems might be:
            these characteristics no longer command widespread instinctive loyalty meaning that many have no real reason to be Anglicans rather than something else and a consequent lack of deep cohesion;
            they are increasingly out of step with the realities of both Church and society (who values the Empire connections?) so that Anglicanism makes relatively little sense to anybody;
            in any case the historical denominations are a smaller and smaller proportion of the Church catholic with influences from the more dynamic (principally Pentecostal/charismatic) section being disruptive of their unity (HTB?!).

          • I think that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral offers a better place to start trying to work out what Anglicanism is, Nick.

            Again, your definition of Anglicanism as associating it with the Crown really does show how hard it is for you to work out what Anglicanism outside England (ie most of it) is like.

            The Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t really fit well into your theory. Neither does the US based Episcopal Church when you think about its relationship with England over the consecration of its first bishop.

          • I might be prepared to buy the idea that one of the great underlying troubles of the Anglican Communion is that most people connected with the Church of England don’t appear to have much of a clue as to what it is like being Anglican elsewhere, mind.

            That might indeed be a cause of the trouble.

          • I’ve never thought the quadrilateral worked very well as a definition of Anglicanism (especially as a historical phenomenon). As an inheritor of a mixed Reformed-Anabaptist tradition (through English Presbyterianism and Congregationalism and Scottish Congregationalism) I have no problem with 3 of the 4. The only one that’s at all distinctive is the historical episcopate and even that is shared with the Lutherans. The relationship with the crown in England is absolutely essential to understanding where you come from and hence who you are.

          • The relationship with the crown in Scotland is absolutely essential to understanding where me and my church come from. The Crown in England is a foreign matter.

            1689 and all that.

          • Fair enough, although the Covenanters and their successors might well prefer my formulation and it’s very possible to argue that the post-Reformation episcopacy is an English institution imposed across the border into Scotland.

          • Erika Baker says

            No no no, this won’t work.
            A young Nigerian doesn’t join the church because of its ancient links with the English crown.
            We join churches because we like the services and the congregations. And if we stay long enough we might absorb the preaching, the music, the liturgy and some of the theology.
            What I, as a foreigner and adult joiner of the CoE liked was its ability to be an umbrella for Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and more liberal parishes and to unite all of that under one Diocesan and under one Archbishop.

            You can analyse some historic and theoretical differences between churches but they are not what make people today join those churches. They are not defining characteristics.

          • What gives a denomination its identity and cohesion and what makes any individual or group join it are two (or actually many more than two) different things. One of the things that goes disastrously wrong in intra-denominational discussion, debate or argument is that people confuse “what I like about my denomination” with “what my denomination is or should be”, leading to other people feeling that they are being disrespected, having their existence and identity denied, or that their denomination is being stolen from them.

          • Erika Baker says

            Well, that’s an interesting question.
            It might explain why so few in the pews get worked up about the hot button issues.
            I do struggle to understand, though, how you can really separate the individuals who make up a group of people who worship together from some abstract historic statements about their denomination.

            If it were really about relationships between church and state and about historic links with the crown then the Communion would have dissolved long ago as different national churches have different links with their state and as the British Empire recedes into memory. I’m even sure that there are all that many established churches within the Communion.
            What they share, to some extent, is that they are Catholic and Reformed, neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant.
            The rest is down to the meaning and expression individual national churches and individual congregations give it.

            Today’s church facing today’s problems is made up of today’s congregations.

        • Erika, all I’m saying is that there is a defense of Welby’s statement on “core beliefs” that:
          a) says that there are distinctively Anglican core beliefs and
          b) that these do impact on the sexuality debate as it has been conducted

          I should stress that I fully support the ordination of gay people and that the denomination in which I am a minister (the URC) has a permissive stance on this matter, with which I am in total agreement.

          • Erika Baker says

            I can see where we differ.
            You hear that there are some core beliefs which remain unexplained but which impact on the sexuality debate, and that this is the root of the problems.

            I look at his actual words here:
            “On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message.”
            and I see an accusation that some of us have lost the plot completely, are no longer Christians in any meaningful way because we only rely on ourselves…
            This goes way beyond “some core beliefs that impact on the sexuality debate”.

            And the only thing we have so comprehensively lost our Christianity over that we cannot possibly be acceptable to the rest of the Anglican Communion is the sexuality debate.
            It must be. Because he supports women priests and bishops and I assume he does not include himself among the new heathens.
            And Lay Presidency really has never been a major bone of contention anywhere.

          • I don’t see that he has to be saying that anyone in the Communion has lost touch with God. He could be (I think he is) saying that such loss is possible. Do you not think it is?

          • Erika Baker says

            Nick, I suppose one must at least accept the possibility that that is what he meant to say.
            Even then, the alternatives are stark. Is that really what we’re facing? A complete loss of all core beliefs and a turning away from God vs. complete intolerance of everything?

            Nothing in your measured explanations of what the “illness” facing the Communion suggests such drastic alternatives as a likely outcome of a narrow path.
            It’s never been that narrow before. And it is only that narrow now if you locate the problems in one single issue that becomes a unite or fall question.

          • Or alternatively one might conclude that this has become such a pressing symptom that it betrays the presence of a really serious illness. After all who would have imagined that indulgences would be the issue on which the Roman church would suffer schism? My impression is that there are people on BOTH sides of this particular issue who think it is so important that it is a communion breaker (there certainly are in my denomination). All I’m saying is that this almost certainly is because there are fundamental differences on core beliefs underlying it for these people (among whom I do not number myself).

          • Erika Baker says

            I think what we really need is a return to accepting that local problems have local solutions. One of the strengths of Anglicanism was always that we could each express is according to the culture we live in. That’s why women priests never became a Communion breaker.

            Yes, if we are expecting Nigeria to conduct same sex weddings or TEC to shun gay people we will break the Communion.

            There is no reason for that. We could still try to get back to accepting that different Provinces do different things. And we could still step back and recognise that same sex relationships are not a first order issue.

          • Would that not beg that question of in what sense you are a single entity? What is it that makes Anglicans Anglican and not either “mere Christians” or something else (Roman Catholic, Reformed or Lutheran for example)?

          • But we are mere Christians. That is what we are.

          • If you are “mere Christians” and not, in fact, Anglicans, doesn’t that rather confirm Welby’s fears (assuming he thinks that there’s something important about Anglicanism, which one feels he must to have got and to have taken the job he’s in.

          • I’m happy to be a mere Christian who happens to be an Anglican.

            As I’ve said above, I’m just a catholic Christian. Anglicanism is just where I does it.

          • Erika Baker says

            But I still don’t understand where the godlessness is supposed to come from, the rejection of all core beliefs.

            That is a serious misunderstanding of the participants in this debate at worst, unwarranted hyperbole at least.

    • Erika Baker says

      Keith, I have not noticed a major move to break the Anglican Communion because some Provinces have women priests and others don’t. It’s straining the CoE to breaking point but not the Communion.
      Neither is lay presidency a hot button issue. There have been no heated debates about it in Nigeria, no accusations of falling away from the one true faith in the CoE etc.
      They are important issues but they are not what has brought the Communion to breaking point.

      My real problem here is that I agree with the ABC that we are in danger of becoming a small church. But that danger is the result of excluding “them” and dismissing “them” when we do not agree with them.
      And by saying that there is only a small path and that there is an abyss on either side, one that is so steep that people lose all (!) of their core beliefs he is becoming a part of the problem.

      Many of those so accused (usually liberals) are guilty of nothing more than supporting the full inclusion of women and gay people at all levels of church. They are being accused of no longer believing in anything but if you talk to them, their core beliefs are generally fairly orthodox, certainly frequently more conventional than my own.

      That is not what the ABC is trying to do, but he is speaking into a situation where accusing people of having lost their core beliefs is associated with the lgbt debate, especially in America and where it is an accusation also often heard from conservative within the CoE. He must have known that this is how his words would be interpreted.

      You do not reconcile groups to each other by saying that there is only one narrow path, that you’re the one who knows what that path is, that people on either side have fallen away from it and that they had better find ways of toeing the line.

    • “Even allowing for the fact that Justin Welby may not have intended it to have been read this way (and I’m obviously far from convinced of that) I’d say that using such language was dangerously careless and indicates someone ill-advised and not coming close to understanding the issues as they are seen in the US and Canada.”

      As a lay person who regularly preaches at services, I am always being reminded of the importance of considering what people might take from what I say, and of ensuring that I don’t imply anything I’m not happy to stand up for. I expect no less of the professionals, let alone a figurehead like the ABC.

  12. Robin says

    Imagine this:

    Two men are at Harthill Services. They are, therefore, equally far from Glasgow. One, however, is travelling from Edinburgh to Glasgow and the other from Glasgow to Edinburgh. One of them is, therefore, on a journey which is taking him nearer and nearer to Glasgow, while the other is on a journey that is taking him further and further away. That’s a major difference.

    I would suggest that ++Justin is on a journey from somewhere far away (HTB Evangelicalism) that is taking him nearer and nearer to understanding and affirmation of gay people, whereas his predecessor, ++Rowan, was on a journey taking him further and further away from his original understanding and affirmation.

    This is why I feel ++Justin is deserving of our patience and support as well as our prayers. He may not yet be where we want him to be, but he is moving in the right direction and so I feel both thankfulness and hope.

  13. A warm welcome to brothers and sisters being referred here from Kendall Harmon’s blog.

    I’d like to respond to one or two comments there but it is a closed community, not accepting new commenters at this time.

    In particular, I’d like to respond to the person who said, “Well, I suspect that the writer of this blog, not being an American, has simply not had much opportunity to see up close the universalist, marcionite and other current TEC beliefs that are today more the norm than an exception in almost every TEC parish, particularly those in the cities. ”

    Clearly I didn’t go *everywhere* in the USA last year on my sabbatical, but I did manage to engage with Episcopal parishes in Seattle, Portland, SF, Chattanooga & others in rural Tennessee, DC, Chicago, Boston, Florida and NY, NY.

    I didn’t do badly at getting my way around the US based Episcopal Church and know a little whereof I speak.

  14. SeekTruthFromFacts says

    “If it were really about relationships between church and state and about historic links with the crown then the Communion would have dissolved long ago as different national churches have different links with their state and as the British Empire recedes into memory.”
    Isn’t that what’s happening now? It’s just happened over several decades because Anglicans tend to be conservative (in personality, not theology or politics). Many provinces are only in the first or second generation of home-grown bishops and metropolitans.

    “A young Nigerian doesn’t join the church because of its ancient links with the English crown.
    We join churches because we like the services and the congregations. And if we stay long enough we might absorb the preaching, the music, the liturgy and some of the theology.
    What I, as a foreigner and adult joiner of the CoE liked was its ability to be an umbrella for Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and more liberal parishes and to unite all of that under one Diocesan and under one Archbishop.”
    This comment suggests that sociology, not theology, explains why people joins churches. I think that sociology supports Mr Brindley’s contentions. If you read the analysis of English attitudes to religion in Kate Fox’s ‘Watching the English’, you’ll see it’s that apathy about theological questions is characteristic of (post)modern English society. In many cultures that is not a valued characteristic at all.
    Regarding Nigerians – why would a Nigerian become an Anglican? The liturgical style is very different from many Nigerian churches. I am not an expert, but I wonder whether its erstwhile association with the British authorities has made it appealing to the aspirational middle classes (which have given it the funds to gather a broader range of society).

    [Name withheld because of frequent travel to a country where nasty things happen to Christians]

  15. Gavin White says

    But sexcuality opnly came up in this debate rather late on – The Archbishop of Rwanda, the Archbishop of Singapore, another bishop from Rwanda consecrqtred Mur0hy and Rogers as bishops of the Anglicacn Mission in America in 2000, three yearsw before the election of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. Of course that made a wonderful excuse for the British to start conmplain ing about North Americans not understanding the damage they did to the poor Africans – -the Bishop pf Gloucester has written that Acfricans cannot understand hiomosexuality ! The real issue is tax. In America. And the notion that a highly taxed America is due to the liberals in the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyteiran churches – -who must be ousted. It is notewaorthy that the people running this campaign do not really care about Canada – – – the General Synod affirmed the integrity and sanctity of committed adulat same-sex relations, and nobody said boo — and on July 5 of this year by two thirds of each house ordered Council to prepare legislation for 2016 allowing same-sex marriage in Anglicanc churches in Canada. Nobody noticed. And Africans had this thing about AMerica long before Gene RObinson – -when I taught in a Kenya theological college in teh 1960s our American Episcopal NT lecturer aroused fury by mild biblical criticism, and the cry went up in Synod, “No more EPiscopals from America”.

  16. Ken Tonge says

    I am concerned that no account is taken of the difficulties caused, when assigning a gender to a person, through ambiguous sexual characteristics. The well-known example of the athelete Santhi Soundarajan should have alerted tha Canon Law makers to the problems of gender assignment. The issue of intersexuality has not been addressed so far as I can see. I have written on several occasions to various church bodies on this issue. But have had only one, non-committal, response. I find it quite discourteous not to acknowledge receipt of communications, let alone show that they have been read and understood. I get the impression that minds are already made up and any input counter the established position will be ignored.

  17. Interesting to watch the former Primus’s recent interview on BBC Hard Talk
    I am struck by his critical perception that so much of the church has been cruel in regard to the treatment of gay people…and continues to be so.

Speak Your Mind