TEC Presiding Bishop addresses dissenting Bishop

Presiding Bishop’s statement on Bishop William Love’s November 10 Pastoral Letter and Directive

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has issued the following statement:

I have read the recent statement from Bishop Bill Love of the Diocese of Albany and am aware of the deep hurt on all sides of the issues it addresses. I have been, and will continue to be, in conversation with Bishop Love about this matter. Along with other leaders in The Episcopal Church, I am assessing the implications of the statement and will make determinations about appropriate actions soon.

We are committed to the principle of full and equal access to, and inclusion in, the sacraments for all of the baptized children of God, including our LGBTQ siblings. For as St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 3, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

As members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12), we also are committed to respecting the conscience of those who hold opinions that differ from the official policy of The Episcopal Church regarding the sacrament of marriage. It should be noted that the canons of The Episcopal Church give authority to all members of the clergy to decline to officiate a marriage for reasons of conscience, and Resolution B012 of the 79th General Convention does not change this fact.

In all matters, those of us who have taken vows to obey the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church must act in ways that reflect and uphold the discernment and decisions of the General Convention of the Church.

I ask the prayers of all in the Church at this time, as we move forward.

The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop and Primate


The first diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (TEC) to issue a Pastoral Directive that contravene’s TEC’s General Convention’s facilitation of S/S Marriage and  S/S Marriage Blessings – Bishop William Love, of the diocese of Albany, TEC – faces the legal sanctions that could accrue to him (like the former TEC Bishop of South Carolina) as a diocesan leader trying to coerce his diocese to act in contravention of a recent determination of the TEC General Convention to allow for Same/Sex Marriage/Blessings to members of every diocese of that Church.

The Resolution of the TEC General Convention does not mean that every bishop or clergy person in every diocese must be prepared to marry or bless a Same-Sex Couple, but it does mean that each diocese must make proper provision – if necessary by delegation –  for a rite which has become officially part of the services provided for the welcome and formal recognition of same-sex committed couples  of each diocese desirous of using its provisions.

Bishop Love is part of the minority of bishops in TEC who have agreed to comply with the resolution allowing for Same-Sex Marriage/Blessings in their dioceses, but who have expressed an unwillingness to conduct such rites themselves. Most ‘Communion Partner’ Bishops – of whom Bishop Love is one – are thus staying within the polity of TEC, without necessarily being in favour of this Resolution permitting S/S Marriage/blessings.

However, in his issuing of a Pastoral Letter to the effect that he feels such Marriage Blessings are ‘the work of The Devil’ and that he and his diocese will have nothing to do with them; the Bishop is resiling from the agreement made with TEC that the minority Communion Partners will ‘live with’ the effects of the Resolution. He is also, effectively, committing the Diocese of Albany to a course of institutional severance from its parent body, TEC. The Presiding Bishop has no recourse but to take some action against him.

Will Bishop Love decide to leave TEC and to join up with other schismatics belonging to ACNA as a result of the Presiding Bishop’s warning? This would weaken the case for the continuing resistance of the Communion Partner Bishops. However, it is hoped they will stay within the jurisdiction of TEC, proving that dissent on a personal conviction basis is not necessarily an excuse for schism. Unity in diversity is an Anglican Tradition.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Homosexuality and Hermeneutical Process

Why I changed my mind about homosexuality and the church

I have the honor of sitting in the same little office that Bishop Ken Carder vacated when he left Duke.  I also teach the class that Ken helped to create on mission.  Stanley Hauerwas and I dedicated one of our books to Ken, as a sign of our admiration for him and his ministry.

As usual, Ken thinks clearly and theologically in this piece on “Why I changed My Mind.”  As we slouch toward our historic special General Conference in February of 2020, it’s good to see a bishop stand up and speak up in helping he church think clearly about these matters.  I commend Ken’s thoughtful witness to you.

Will Willimon


As a delegate to the United Methodist General Conferences in 1984 and 1988, I voted to reaffirm and expand the restrictive language regarding homosexuality. I did so out of sincere conviction as the right thing to do, even though the issue was an abstraction to me. I knew no one who was admittedly gay, and the notion of same-sex attraction was foreign to my experience.

I now deeply regret those votes! Over the intervening thirty years, I have changed my mind and now support the removal of all restrictive language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline here. The following are the factors that contribute to my change of mind.

First, I got to know people who fall into the category of “homosexual.” I came to realize that many of them had long been in my circle of relationships but were afraid to share this important component of their identity. Some are beloved members of my own family!

Many are faithful, devoted, life-long church members who can’t be open within the body of Christ for fear of rejection and condemnation. Some are parents of LGBTQ children who shared stories of bullying and abuse of their kids.

A few were colleagues on the staff of congregations I served, and their ministries reflected the qualifications identified by John Wesley—grace, gifts, and fruits. Many were exceptionally gifted, devoted seminary students whose call to ordained ministry seemed evident to me.

Some are people in same-sex marriages who are committed Christians and faithful to the church, faithful to one another, and faithful to Christ, and who possess “the gifts of the Spirit.”

Hearing the painful stories of these beloved children of God cut me to the quick. The issue of sexual orientation was no longer a theological or ethical abstraction. It became embodied in people I loved, from whom I learned, in whom I experienced God’s grace-filled presence!

Secondly, the evidence is overwhelming that sexual orientation is not a choice. I have yet to meet a heterosexual who can tell me when he/she decided to be attracted to the opposite sex; nor have I met a gay person who decided to be attracted to persons of the same sex.

Sexual identity and desire are complex realities with biological, social, environmental, and psychological components. While the Discipline labels “the practice” of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” the implication is that a person’s being is contrary to the Christian gospel. That is incompatible with our doctrine of creation.

Thirdly, by the 1992 General Conference I had not only begun to change my mind about the language of incompatibility and exclusion, I had become convinced that legislation is the wrong way to deal with the issue.

The pivotal decision was made in 1972 when the language of incompatibility was added to the Social Principles Study Commission Report, by an amendment from the floor with limited debate.

The consequence of that political parliamentary action has disproportionately dominated subsequent General Conference agendas and expanded legislative restrictions. It now threatens to split the denomination.

We have legislated ourselves into a box, maybe into a regrettable schism. Whatever our position on this issue, legislative action will not resolve it!

Fourthly, I came to realize more fully the meaning of Martin Luther King’s words in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

During my first eight years as a member of the Council of Bishops, I was deeply immersed in the Initiative on Children and Poverty. I felt that the persistent discussion of homosexuality within the Council and other denominational circles was distracting us from fully addressing economic injustice.

I shared my concern with a friend, a theological consultant to the Initiative. His response lodged my conscience: “But, Ken, you can’t portion God’s justice for one group and ignore it for another.”

I realize that some injustices are beyond our ability to remedy immediately, but to ignore those that are within our immediate sphere of influence cannot be excused. By removing the discriminatory language, we can take an immediate step toward correcting an injustice inflicted on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Fifthly, I’m convinced that the discrimination against LGBTQ people is being justified by inadequate biblical interpretation. I’ve read arguments from the Bible used by southern preachers to justify slavery, and I see a similar hermeneutic operating in support exclusion of gay persons.

Using the Bible to support misguided causes is a long-standing scandal in the church. Scripture has been used to justify such evils as the Crusades, genocide, slavery, the subordination of women, persecution of scientists, and burning of “heretics.”

I firmly, unapologetically believe in the primacy and authority of Scripture! What we mean by “the authority of Scripture” determines how we use it.

Here is my understanding: The authority of Scripture lies in its authentic witness to God’s mighty acts of salvation supremely in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in its power through the Holy Spirit within community to transform individuals, communities, nations, and the entire cosmos into the likeness of Christ.

The test of commitment to the authority of Scripture is this: Is it shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ and enabling us to love as Christ loves and to witness to his present and coming reign of compassion, justice, generosity, hospitality, and joy?

The influence of the Gospel over the centuries has enabled us to see Scripture through the lens of the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ. Such a lens enables us to avoid misusing some troubling passages in the Bible.

Three glaring examples: massacring of religious opponents as did Elijah with the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:40); slavery which was taken for granted in many Old and New Testament narratives; and women keeping silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34).

Finally, my understanding and experience of what it means to love as Christ loves has deepened and widened over the years. People whom society relegates to the margins have taught me about the nature, depth, and expanse of God’s love. I have experienced profound faith among the incarcerated, the homeless, the frail elderly, orphans, immigrants, the poor, and LGBTQ persons.

I have met the Crucified and Risen Christ in my relationships with those whom society treats as “outcasts.” I know from experiences with them that Christ has broken down ALL dividing walls between us. Paul makes it clear:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

ALL includes gays and straights, LGBTQ and heterosexuals, “progressives” and “traditionalists.” Christ died for ALL, includes ALL, and invites ALL to “love one another as I have loved you.”

It is the quality of our love and its imitation of Christ’s love that is definitive, not gender or sexual orientation. As committed couples, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters should be able to love each other in ways mutually fulfilling to them, as surely as we who are heterosexual.

I’m still growing in my understanding and my ability to love as Christ loves. God grant me the humility to keep learning and growing toward the fullness of God’s perfect love!

“Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church” originally appeared at Shifting Margins.


Thanks to Will Willimon’s blog for this item revealing U.S. Methodist Bishop Ken Carder’s epic turnaround on his view of what many conservative Evangelicals still consider to be the ‘Biblical perspective’ on homosexuality and other aspects of the gender/sexuality debate taking place in the Church today. Here is an important expression of Bishop Ken’s understanding of the way in which traditional Biblical hermeneutic has often misrepresented the  case for a warranted inclusion of LGBT+  people in the Body of Christ, the Church:

I’m convinced that the discrimination against LGBTQ people is being justified by inadequate biblical interpretation. I’ve read arguments from the Bible used by southern preachers to justify slavery, and I see a similar hermeneutic operating in support exclusion of gay persons.

“Using the Bible to support misguided causes is a long-standing scandal in the church. Scripture has been used to justify such evils as the Crusades, genocide, slavery, the subordination of women, persecution of scientists, and burning of “heretics.”

One of the problems with moral judgements against the LGBT+ community is the basic unwillingness to accept the fact that – despite the history of the Church’s infelicitous support for injustices of the past –  it continues to foster an outdated puritanical ethic and understanding of what the Bible says (or does not say) about the incidence of gender and sexuality differences that are being recognised in today’s world as concomitant with what has now been discovered to be the natural order in both the human and the animal worlds. Sex seems to have become a predominant battle-ground for theological dispute.

Until the actual lived experience of Christian LGBT+ people – whose lives, otherwise, are little different from their binary heterosexual peers – is listened to and understood by the theologians in the Church (whose business it ought to be to keep abreast with the social and scientific evidence on the diversity of innate human sexual responses available today) is both listened to and compared with the eirenic message of Christ in the Gospels; there will still be a lack of justice and inequality – based on an outdated process of biblical hermeneutic.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand



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Life, Death and the End Game

Podcast: Robert McCrum on Every Third Thought: On Life, Death and the End Game

Robert McCrum is an associate editor of The Observer and was the paper’s literary editor for 12 years. Before that, he was editor-in-chief of Faber & Faber, where he edited writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, and Peter Carey. His books include The Story of English and a definitive life of PG Woodhouse.

Robert McCrum’s latest book is Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame, published by Picador.

The book confronts an existential question: in a world where we have learnt to live well at all costs, can we make peace with what Freud calls ‘the necessity of dying’? Searching for answers leads him to others for advice and wisdom, and Every Third Thought is populated by the voices of brain surgeons, psychologists, cancer patients, hospice workers, writers and poets.

“Historically, the oldie turned to God in the search for fulfilment during his or her later years,” McCrum writes. “Today, with the idea of God under assault from belligerent atheists, and an indifferent majority of committed agnostics, there’s still a hunger for a dialogue with something bigger and richer than individualistic materialism.”


Reading the latest CHURCH TIMES online, I came across this fascinating dialogue with the former editor-in-chief for the publisher, Faber and Faber, Robert McCrum, who is now an associate editor of the Observer in the U.K.

Listening to the interview (linked here above the picture) I was struck by Robert’s inability to have a substantive faith in the existence of God – although brought up in a Christian family and educated in a Church school and involved in church activities into his early teen years. Since then, he became involved in intellectual pursuits which obviously led him into the state of agnosticism which he has maintained to this day.

In his book, ‘Every Third Thought: On life, death and the endgame’, the author explores the situation surrounding the problems of facing the indisputable fact of human death – without necessarily entertaining any positive belief in an afterlife, which is the profound preoccupation of most religious – certainly Christian – thought and philosophy.

One wonders how many people – even ‘Christian’ believers in God – are actually agnostic about thoughts of life after death, a prospect on which subscription to the Christian faith is dependent? St. Paul speaks of it in this way – in the 15th chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians – “Someone may ask, ‘How are dead people raised and what sort of body do they have when they come back?” He then goes on to say: “They are stupid questions” – and go on to explain his own understanding of what ensues in the life of the believer after the death of the body.

One of the key elements of my own understanding of this conundrum of life after death is answered by the recorded saying of Jesus, Himself: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day”. Exactly how and when this will happen is God’s business rather than mine and I am content, by faith, to leave it there. Faith, I remember, is a gift from God, and one has to be willing to believe in its provenance and then, actively, to receive and exercise it.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Fake Participation: what is wrong with Living in Love and Faith?

via Fake Participation: what is wrong with Living in Love and Faith?


The Revd. Jeremy Pemberton (C. of E.) – in the above-linked article – mentions the difficulties associated with the Church of England’s new attempt to come to terms with the phenomenon of LGBT+ people in the Church – after the original House of Bishops’ proposal to deal with this issue was resoundingly defeated by the General Synod because of its inadequacy in actual involvement of LGBT+ in the process. Here, towards the end of Jeremy’s blog-piece, is a relevant statement:

” We live in a world of all kinds of fakery. Fake news, fake goods, fake politicians, faked votes, fake blogs and postings on social media.  Living in Love and Faith is the vehicle that our church is using to forward its engagement with its own LGBTI+ faithful. For the reasons I identify, I think it is methodologically suspect and highly biased to produce results that will not be too difficult for the commissioning bishops to handle. It is fake participation. I think the whole church deserves better. I don’t dare hope for that, but I do hope that someone is listening and thinking about the kinds of concerns that I am raising”.

It would appear that, in the new presentation of the H. of B.s’ original intention, there has still been no attempt to seriously involve people whose lives are intimately connected with the subject of its workings.

If the Bishops are not prepared to involve people with actual experience of being intrinsically gay (or LGBT+), then what real purpose will be served by the exercise of trying to understand their situation in the promotion of ‘Living in Love and Faith’?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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U.S. Democrats secure the House of Representatives

In the wake of the American mid-term Election, here is a video link describing what now needs to be done after the Democrats secured control of the House of Representatives.

What is exciting about this turnaround is that more women and people and different ethnic origins have been added to the mix of representatives in the House, which will surely bring a more balanced view of the problems facing the future of politics in the U.S.

Matters like the scourge of gerrymandering (the calculated re-distribution of electoral boundaries to suit mostly the Republican Party); the rising cost of pharmaceuticals and of health care; deteriorating international trade relationships; and immigration restrictions – that threaten the expansion of the workforce necessary to maintain the national infrastructure; all need to be addressed urgently. The Democrats have promised to work cooperatively with the Senate (still dominated by the Republicans) in order to improve the situation which, since President Trump’s election, has divided the nation.

See:  https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/distinctly-catholic/2018-midterm-elections-blue-sigh-relief

See, also, the New York Times Video link, below.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Democrats Won the House. Here’s What’s Next.

VideoVIDEO: Democrats Won the House. Here’s What’s Next.


The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, adding several women to their ranks. The party now has the power to investigate President Trump. Here’s how else Democrats may challenge the president.

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Christchurch, Oxford, Dons versus Dean Percy

Modernising Oxford University dean is taken ill after alleged ‘hellish bullying campaign by dons to oust him’

  • The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy has been on sick leave for a fortnight
  • Claimed rebellious academics at Christ Church college are trying to oust him
  • Plotters believe they can force him out through a complaint about their pay
The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy (pictured) has been off sick for a fortnight after the 'bullying campaign' to oust him as dean of Christ Church college started

The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy (pictured) has been off sick for a fortnight after the ‘bullying campaign’ to oust him as dean of Christ Church college started

It has all the intrigue of an episode of Inspector Morse, but The Mail on Sunday can reveal a real-life drama involving feuding dons and an attempted ‘coup’ at Oxford University.

The bitter row centres on The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy, who has taken sick leave and is facing financial ruin after a ‘hellish bullying campaign’ to oust him as Dean of Christ Church college.

It is claimed the college’s rebellious academics have been ‘combing the statutes’ of Christ Church – founded by Henry VIII in 1546 – to find legal justification to get rid of Prof Percy, who has been tipped as a future Archbishop of Canterbury.

One way the plotters believe they can force him out is through a formal complaint about their pay, which is set by the dean.

That complaint will now be judged by an internal tribunal.

Prof Percy, 56, is also said to have received a stream of legal letters that an insider said risked ‘financially breaking him’ after he was forced to hire his own lawyers. The insider added: ‘So consumed are the dons that the everyday governance of the College has all but ground to a stop. It’s a tragedy, embarrassing and a disgrace.

Rebellious academics at Christ Church college are said to be trying to force him out through a formal complaint about their pay, which is set by the dean Prof Percy.

‘The dean has done nothing wrong apart from upset a number of academics close to retirement.’

Sources close to the dean, a moderniser who has spoken in support of gay rights and backs women bishops, believe the animosity has been fuelled by an ‘anti-clerical feeling’ among some dons who want to reduce the influence of the Church over the college.

It is the only academic institution in the world that has a cathedral.

The insider said: ‘The dean is a reformer but the idea of change has long been a joke at Christ Church and Oxford. He started to make life uncomfortable and now a group of fellows has been plotting to remove him and will stop at nothing to succeed in their aims.’

Prof Percy, who was elected in 2014 and whose wife is the chaplain of Trinity College, has been off work for the past fortnight and was last week at a remote farmhouse in Wales. He declined to comment last night.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend Dr Steven Croft, and Christ Church college expressed concern at the crisis.

A spokesman for the bishop said: ‘Any allegation of bullying is extremely concerning and would need to be followed up by appropriate authorities. The bishop is praying for all those involved.’

A spokesman for Christ Church said: ‘The Governing Body and Chapter of Christ Church have agreed to set up an internal tribunal with an independent chair in accordance with the college’s statutes. The tribunal will review a formal complaint made against the dean. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.’


This episode in the life of a prestigious English University  – Christchurch, Oxford – (where my own brother-in-law studied for his ‘Greats’) – is obviously a concern not only for the wider Church of England but also for those who value the integrity of the process of employment of staff at English universities. 

As Dean of Christchurch, Dr. Martyn Percy has been recognised throughout the Church as a cleric concerned with the reform of the Church of England in matters of social justice for women and the LGBT+ community. Bearing in mind the fact that Christchurch, Oxford,  has played a significant part in the academic and cultural formation of many of the clergy of the Church of England, there can be little doubt that – like the Church itself – the College has retained many of the institutional prejudices against any alteration to the status quo that might threaten the tradition and privileges of the College faculty.

A corollary of the situation might well be seen in the situation of Pope Francis and his tenure at the Roman Vatican, where the institutional culture of tenure might be in any way threatened by the reforming zeal of a new incumbent. As with the cardinals resident in the Vatican whose lives have been in some way disrupted by the changes in culture that have been brought about by the new arrival; it could well be that some of the academic faculty of Christchurch, Oxford, could find themselves out of kilter with the authority or cultural ethos of the new Dean.

As a Church of England ‘Peculiar’ – being the only College at Oxford with its own Dean and Cathedral Chapter – the academic/religious ethos is rather different from that of other colleges at the University; a situation which undoubtedly offers a particular spiritual challenge to the relationship between the Dean and the rest of the Faculty of the University College. As the Dean is also the authority involved in the administration of faculty salaries, this has now become an area of contention in which faculty members can protest against the Dean’s tenure. Thus, any staff members who disagree with the Dean’s reforming activity or, in this case, with his liberal philosophy; have a legitimate (though maybe morally questionable) way in which to challenge his right of tenure.

My prayers go up on behalf of Dr Percy (and his wife) as they battle against what seems to be a culture of conservative anti-Church sentiment among a number of the University staff who want to secure his removal from office. The concept of bullying – like that of the U.S. Presidency at this particular time – seems not only unbefitting but also dangerous to the freedom of speech of those who seek justice and basic human rights in their respective communities.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Lambeth 2020 – to Define ‘Anglicanism’ ?

Challenges for Lambeth 2020. The end of the Anglican Communion?

In 2020 Anglican bishops from around the world are coming to Canterbury for the great gathering of the Lambeth Conference. A lot of work is even now going on to try to make sure that this meeting is an occasion of mutual encouragement for all these bishops. It is always a positive thing if a Christian leader is allowed time out, with the opportunity to look at the Christian faith from a different cultural perspective. Our British dependence on the English language and a Western world-view through which to apprehend the Christian faith, creates a somewhat narrow perspective. African or Asian perspectives can enrich the outlook of our British bishops just as we hope that the bishops from overseas will take something of our culture back home with them.

Lambeth 2020 should be an outburst of joyful celebration of this diversity of the international Anglican witness to the Christian faith. But there are various clouds that have appeared. In the first place, following the lead taken by the Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, a contingent of African bishops are declining the invitation to attend. A similar boycott took place at Lambeth 2008. An alternative assembly of Anglicans gathered in Jerusalem to coincide with Lambeth and formed what came to be known as GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference). This was supported by bishops from Africa and Asia and there was considerable practical and financial support from Australia and the States. One English Diocesan, the Bishop of Rochester, supported the event. The issue that was then said to be dividing Anglicans was the failure by many parts of the Communion to adhere to traditional doctrine and Scripture. This was a coded way of saying that some Anglicans did not agree with conservative perspectives on the gay issue. This has long been a key stumbling block across the Anglican world, especially since the consecration of an openly gay Bishop in the States in 2003.

The issue of gay marriage is probably peripheral to the lives of most ordinary lay Anglicans, especially in places like Africa. But it has been made a cause celèbre by Christian leaders across the Anglican world because it is the chosen arena of conflict for the so-called culture wars in the States. Enormous sums of money, much of it provided by wealthy American Right-wing foundations, have been spent on convincing as many as possible across the Christian world that the gay issue is a salvation matter. In summary we could claim that the same energy that is going into supporting the dubious right-wing Christian causes backed by President Trump is being expended on undermining and dividing the Anglican Communion. Anglican leaders are constantly being pressured to agree with conservative views on Scripture.

The dilemma for our Archbishop of Canterbury is acute. One line he might take is to say that Anglican Church is founded on principles that have nothing in common with the crude political theology of the American conservative Right. Anglicanism has always tolerated fundamentalism in its midst but, at the same time, it has always rejected any attempt ever to make this the compulsory option for everyone. Any Anglican appeal to Scripture has always been coupled with a balancing recourse to tradition and reason. Thus, Anglicanism is always open to newness and an evolving articulation of the Christian faith. The GAFCON conservative approach has always wanted to shut down discussion by saying that Scripture is always decisive and clear in its teaching. To deviate in any way from what the conservative leaders declare to be in Scripture is to fall into heresy and error. The matter on the agenda is at present, not the remarriage of divorced people or the ordination of women, but the single matter of gay marriage.

Many liberals in the Church of England have been taken by surprise by the way that this one issue of gay marriage has come to dominate so much discussion over the past 50 years. Far from being a core topic, it simply was not even discussed when I was a student in the 60s. It might have been aired in an ethics lecture, but no one, not even among conservatives, would have elevated it to the level of a doctrine or a salvation issue. It is hard for clergy of my generation to see the debate as anything other than as an attempt by conservative Christians to create divisions as a way of obtaining dominance within the Anglican Communion.

We spoke earlier of the culture wars in the States which have brought together right-wing politicians and fundamentalist Christians in a messy alliance. Happily, the conditions for such an unholy marriage do not exist in this country. Nevertheless, we still see growing confidence of conservative Christians within the Anglican Church. Trumpian politics may have indirectly seeded itself into a growing incivility in the debates between Christians. It used to be said that the Anglican Church was moving to a place of ‘good disagreement’ but this term seems to be becoming redundant. What is left is an increasingly rancorous struggle between ideologies. Lambeth 2020 is likely to be the last such conference if these wounds cannot in any way be healed.

Archbishop Welby is encountering an increasingly bitter rhetoric among some members of the Anglican Communion. He faces threats to the unity of the Communion from two sides. On the one side there are the GAFCON churches of Africa, Asia, Australia and both American continents. His aides will be in constant communication with provinces and dioceses, seeking to encourage their attendance. Then there are dissident bishops and groups within the Church of England itself. We have already noted the letter from eleven bishops which was expressing an identification with the GAFCON position over gay marriage. Only four diocesans signed this letter and so it can be assumed that the majority of the English diocesan bishops still support a broader position. But the problem is not just about bishops and dioceses. GAFCON’s supporters are not to be found in particular dioceses in this country but are located in the powerful and wealthy network of individuals and parishes which count themselves as part of the organisation, REFORM. This is a very conservative bloc within the Church of England which maintains ties with a variety of non-Anglican conservative groupings which use the Anglican label. Most of the clergy in REFORM were nurtured and trained within the same theological and social networks which used to support the disgraced Christian leader, John Smyth. Welby has never been identified with a REFORM label but he will have known many of their supporters through his own Iwerne and Christian Union contacts when a student. It is in fact sometimes quite hard to see ‘clear water’ between the REFORM world typified by St Helen’s Bishopsgate and Welby’s original spiritual home of Holy Trinity Brompton. The Iwerne camps certainly seemed to have endorsed both establishments as ‘sound’ and thus suitable for their ‘campers’.

Archbishop Welby is faced with a difficult problem in planning for Lambeth 2020. He is caught between two expressions of Anglicanism. The one that he has embraced since ordination is what we would describe as a flexible and even liberal version of the Anglican tradition. At the same time he is still the product of a tradition which is inflexible and strongly into intransigent Church politics. The right-wing model of politics in church and state knows only the need to dominate and control. Bodies like GAFCON want to create the whole Communion in their own image – a uniformly monochrome body, affirming the ‘unchangeable’ message of Scripture. The fundamentalism espoused by GAFCON (and the 11 bishops) cannot and will not tolerate differences. The problem for Welby is that, while he can claim to belong to a broader form of Anglicanism today, these older strands of thinking still claim part of his loyalty. His major task must be now to try and reconcile the warring factions which exist in the wider church but these rivalries also struggle inside himself. Can he provide the leadership that will hold things together? Will he be tempted to succumb to the intense lobbying and pressure from his old conservative friends? The battles being fought before and during Lambeth 2020 will define the nature of the Anglican Communion for ever. Will it become more like a conservative right-wing sect as many desire, or, will it be the place of inclusion and generosity which many of us also long for? The stakes are high, and we must pray that Archbishop Welby rises to the challenge of providing the leadership that Anglican Communion needs at this critical time.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.


Thanks to ‘Thinking Anglicans’ for this article by Stephen Parsons.

The main thrust of the article is summed up in this single paragraph:

” The battles being fought before and during Lambeth 2020 will define the nature of the Anglican Communion for ever. Will it become more like a conservative right-wing sect as many desire, or, will it be the place of inclusion and generosity which many of us also long for? The stakes are high, and we must pray that Archbishop Welby rises to the challenge of providing the leadership that Anglican Communion needs at this critical time.”

The writer, Stephen Parsons, while acknowledging the conservative Evangelical (HTB) provenance of the Archbishop of Canterbury – The Rt. Revd. Justin Welby – also points to the ABC’s openness to change in the attitude of the Church towards the LGBT+ people in the Church’s clergy and laity. In his tenure as Archbishop, Justin has proved himself to be open to a new understanding of scriptural interpretation on matters of gender and sexuality that is more in line with the proactive attitudes prevailing in the world outside of the Church – both in the social and the scientific arenas.

With the rise of conservative fundamentalism – aided and abetted by the far right elements of American politics and other influences from the world of conservative religion – the Church of England, together with other Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has had to come to terms with a radically different understanding of the place of sexuality within the legitimate sphere of human thriving and wholeness.

Contrary to this latter understanding, however, some Churches in Africa and Asia (and in other ex-colonial places like North America) have re-grouped into a para-Anglican rival organisation (GAFCON/FOCA) which  is determined to assert a more spiritually fundamentalist position, that can be best described as ‘Sola Scripture’ – with a dependence on Scripture alone as the sole arbiter of how human life is conditioned to behave in a still-evolving creation.

However, scientific observation methods have grown exponentially since the days when the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures were first written. Modern cosmology, for example, has exponentially superceded the original biblical world-view of a 3-tier universe – with earth at the centre. Also, in the ethical arena, we have progressed from the era of the culture of slavery and female subordination – to the more humane understanding where patriarchal privilege is recognised as being out of kilter with the tenets of the Gospel, which ushered in a more Christ-like understanding of a need for justice and equality.

The new and radical understanding of creation – which allows for variations in gender-sexuality identity different from the hitherto binary definition confined to procreation of the species – has led to the emergence of a new openness to gender & sexuality differences  where sexuality is understood to be something more than just the production of progeny, but also to do with the provision of faithful, monogamous, loving, life-long relationships akin to – but not restricted to – heterosexual marriage

The FACT that members of the LGBT+ community have now been discovered to be a minority sector of the Body of Christ (whether recognised as such or not) has been more readily accepted by the more open-to-the-world religious communities – including the hierarchy of the Church of England – should not be too surprising. The world of socio-scientific research has made important new discoveries in the areas of gender and sexual evolution in both the human and the animal species, which have overturned age-old shibboleths of excessive puritanical sexism and homophobia that have long inhibited humanity against a proper understanding of creation’s ongoing evolution from its first beginnings.

What is being discovered by the Church Universal is that the Holy Spirit is still engaged in the task of teaching & enlightenment that Jesus promised would be duly inaugurated on the First Day of Pentecost – all with the explicit purpose of revealing the purposes of God at work in ALL creation. Our fullest human thriving in relationship to Christ and one another is part of that process. Thanks be to God!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand



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