by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of Human Sexuality Group on General Synod
As I reflect on the forthcoming Primates’ Meeting two words sound loudly in my head; loyalty and obsession. I can’t imagine that there is any Anglican, anywhere, who does not recognise the Anglican Communion as flawed and imperfect – but the vast majority of us hang on in there, speaking and preaching and attempting to live out the Gospel despite years and years of frustration and, often, harsh and cruel exclusion.
Because we believe in the possibility of redemption, and we understand that all institutions need to constantly renew themselves in order to flourish. Faithful and loyal Anglicans, spending most of our time working in the vineyard, trying to get on with those around us doing the same.
But it seems to me that conservative evangelicals in the C of E and the Anglican Communion are wrapped in an obsession that has affected their entire relationship with the C of E and the Anglican Communion. In a statement issued by AMiE after the consecration of Andy Lines, the group said:
“A new generation of Anglican church leaders is being identified, trained and sent out to share the good news of Jesus and bring people together in new local churches. These churches and their ministers require the support and example of missionary bishops who themselves both proclaim and defend the Gospel, and will encourage others to do the same.”
It’s sad. There’s a clear implication that the thousands of Christians working hard and faithfully within the Church of England to witness to the gospel – including many loyal, faithful conservative evangelicals – are in some sense tainted, their ministry undermined by the very fact of their association with those who believe the gospel calls us to welcome LGBTI people.
It sets up a false dichotomy between ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘inclusion,’ diminishing the Christian call to preach the love of God to, as Desmond Tutu says, ‘all, all, ALL!’, and has fundamentally distracted the C of E from its core mission for decades.
However, the obsession seems to ride a coach and horses through attempts to live and love and learn together. We see it in the behaviour of the primates who have decided to absent themselves from next week’s meeting and set up alternative structures.
We see it in the behaviour of Church of England bishops – particularly the diocesan bishop of Blackburn, recently returned from the GAFCON meeting in Egypt – who have welcomed the arrival of an AMiE bishop in England. We see it in the behaviour of conservative evangelicals like Jane Patterson who sit on the CNC and at the same time act as trustees for AMiE- affiliated churches. It’s so counterproductive.
I was asked by the Archbishops to be a consultant to the group of bishops charged with putting together a Teaching Document on Human Sexuality. I know that there is a some scepticism about the usefulness of the proposed document. Long grass and fudge has been much in evidence in the comments.
But I am clear that this document has the potential to be a game changer, if it’s produced with care and carefulness. At the moment we have nothing, within our core documents, which expresses inclusive theology as part of the Anglican deposit of faith. We have not yet formally acknowledged that it is possible to be a loyal and faithful Anglican and at the same time allow the love of God to flow wherever it will.
I have a Muslim friend who, recently, told me how impressed he was by the speed the Church of England changes. Really? I said, doesn’t feel like that to me. But he had a point; things don’t happen overnight.
It’s the loyalty and faithfulness of those of us who seek to help the Church of England to grow into its own fullness of being which enable change to happen. The resistance to change make the process more painful, and distorts the generosity and beauty of the gospel. I wish conservatives would stop obsessing and, instead, work for the growth of the whole body of Christ in all its glorious diversity. I pray for the Primates meeting next week.