The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope

There’s currently a petition doing the rounds demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York make some kind of statement deploring the support the Church of Nigerian (Anglican Communion) has given to recent anti-gay laws. Similar calls have been made in regard to Uganda.

I’m refusing to sign it. We should not make that demand of Archbishop Justin, it is entirely misplaced.

The first place that people in the UK should go to with objections about the Nigerian anti-gay legislation is their MP, with a demand that the Foreign Office exerts further pressure on Nigeria.

To demand that the Archbishop of Canterbury discipline or criticise Nigerian bishops is unhelpful because it plays right into the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury has some kind of papal role within the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope and we would be wise not to treat him as though he is.

I get very cross if Archbishops of Canterbury make statements about Scotland. I’ve been very hot under the collar when they’ve made statements about Scottish Independence, for example without reference to the Scottish College of Bishops. Indeed, I took a sharp intake of breath when I heard that the Church Commissioners of the Church of England have been buying up land in Bishop John’s Diocese of Edinburgh to use for wind farms.

Primates commenting on the political affairs of another country is always going to undermine collegial relationships amongst bishops and we should never impute authority to archbishops that they don’t have within our polity. One Anglican church meddling in the affairs of another’s patch is a serious business indeed.

It is particularly the case that US Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans need to be very wary of demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury should interfere in Nigeria. Do they want the same thing to happen to them when the wind blows in the other direction? When it happened in the past, did they think it was legitimate?

The Archbishop of Canterbury may well be making contact with the Nigerian church in private. Indeed, I’d be surprised if he were not. The demand that he rebuke that church in public is misplaced.

Having said that, any bishops who are members of the House of Lords might well add their voices to those of other parliamentarians supporting the statements that the UK government is making in relation to the way LGBT people are treated abroad, particularly in Nigeria or Uganda. The relevant statement from the Foreign Secretary is here: Increasingly, I suspect that there will be a moral focus on the Church of England which is sharpest in parliament rather than in Synod. That Church seems to have departed from the morals of decent people in England and parliament is probably the place where that will play out. However, that is to digress and perhaps for another day.

Incidently I think that the Archbishop of York is in a different position to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He might well be expected to say something regarding Uganda but not because he is an Archbishop but because he is Ugandan. One suspects, given his lack of support for gay rights in this country that we might be waiting quite a while for him to offer much support to gay and lesbian Ugandans back in that country though.

And locally, what about Scotland? Well, we’ve a personal connection with Uganda in that our Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth went to the consecration of the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali as Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. I thought that he was unwise to attend this event. However it now presents him with the opportunity of speaking as an episcopal friend of that country and saying clearly that when proposals are made to kill gay and lesbian Ugandas, lock up gay and lesbian Ugandans for life or risk a exacerbating the AIDS pandemic by making it impossible for gay and lesbian Ugandans to assemble and distribute information then these proposals are unacceptable. Support for such proposals from the Church of Uganda alienates that Church from Christian fellowship around the world.

It is not unreasonable to expect David Chillingworth to do this for two reasons – firstly that he personally chose to go to Uganda and associate himself with that country and secondly because no-one would mistake him for a pope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is another matter altogether.

Oh, and whilst I’m thinking about it, the Anglican Communion Office is another legitimate place where pressure could and should  be applied. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Secretary General to comment on the business of the churches of the communion. It is particularly important that we state often and loudly that there can be no “indaba” process with churches who are encouraging the oppression of LGBT people.

None at all.

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.