Conservative Episcopalian for U.S. Supreme Court

Guest opinion column: Episcopal Church a fitting place for conservative Neil Gorsuch

“The Episcopal Church welcomes you” is a low-key marketing slogan used by my denomination. To outsiders, especially the more doctrinally pure, it may seem like the epitome of anything goes. But I like it. And I am a conservative. I like it because I know that this message hangs on a sign outside the church of one of my colleagues, who is a staunch traditionalist on all the social and moral issues of the day, and who puts on the most splendid old-fashioned service you will find in Christendom.

My friend, like Robinson Crusoe, is making do. He knows that you either rescue the best of the shipwreck where you are, or else find another vessel with more to salvage somewhere else. There are no perfectly seaworthy boats. As long as “The Episcopal Church welcomes you,” it is a fine place to be a conservative, despite the headlines of moral and doctrinal decay.

Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, is noteworthy as the first Protestant nominated to the court in a long time. Should he be confirmed, the new makeup will be three Jews, five Catholics, and one Episcopalian. Judge Gorsuch and his family belong to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colo., whose website describes the church as “an inclusive, Christ-centered community reaching out to all who are seeking a deeper spirituality and relationship with God and one another.”

“Inclusive?” That’s a liberal word, right? Is this really the house of worship for a man in whom pro-lifers have pinned so much hope? Of all the flavors of Protestantism, surely a great conservative mind would know better than to stick with a largely progressive denomination.

On the contrary, the Episcopal Church is still a reasonable place to be an ideological conservative. Likewise, it is a place to cultivate humility. It is the radicals and activists who, rightly or wrongly, dive out into the open sea looking to be thrown a lifeline. A conservative prepares for a long exile, no doubt accompanied by a fair number of completely incapable fellow castaways. Amazingly, the Episcopal Church continues to include people who unassumingly stand for the Gospel and against the spirit of the age. I hope I am one of them. Neil Gorsuch’s resume suggests that he is one, too.

Sir Roger Scruton, a giant of modern conservative thought, helps us understand this phenomenon. Scruton, like Gorsuch, remains an Anglican (the English version of an Episcopalian). He even wrote a book, “Our Church,” to explain why. To Scruton, the Christian faith is our ancestors’ gift to us and our gift to our progeny. Tradition witnesses to us of the superiority of the past over the present, and the duty of the present to the future. Walking away from even a severely injured part of the body of Christ runs the risk of deepening the wound to the body as a whole. It dishonors the past and jeopardizes the future. It widens rather than bridges the chasm of denominationalism.

Scruton admires the Anglican divine Richard Hooker, whose level-headed views foreshadow another Anglican, Edmund Burke, whom Neil Gorsuch has certainly studied. From them we realize that the perfect church, like the perfect society, is always just out of reach. Anglicanism, on the other hand, is about being comfortable with a perfect God in an imperfect assembly, “a place of refuge from the undisciplined world,” as Scruton puts it.

Even if the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are broken homes, they are as decently equipped with sacraments and Scripture as any other, and better than most. We are ideally both Catholic and Evangelical, but in practice we are neither one nor the other. Our canons may allow gay marriage in some places, but they insist upon the Nicene Creed in every place. Even the most liberal, establishment Episcopalians are forced into relative conservatism. No one gets everything they want, and everyone makes do with what they have. As Scruton puts it: “I rejoice that the Church to which I belong offers an antidote to every kind of utopian thinking.”

Utopianism can manifest itself on the right or the left; and few people of either side would want a Supreme Court justice known to be a dreamer. Nor would a strict constitutionalist likely be known as a church hopper. There may be perfectly respectable reasons to convert; but there is always something to conserve where you already are.

I hope the Episcopal Church will continue to welcome the likes of Neil Gorsuch. I, for one, am grateful to see him represent us at the pinnacle of American jurisprudence.


Thanks to ‘Anglican Taonga’ for this link – to the news that the new member of the U.S. Supreme court, Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, is noteworthy as the first Protestant nominated to that body. The surprise may be that Mr. Gorsuch is actually an Anglican – an American Episcopalian (TEC) – who, despite his conservative background, is determined to remain in the ranks of TEC, because, as the article writer here affirms, he believes the Episcopal Church really does welcome all sorts of people to its worship and life.

From this perspective, one can be hopeful that he will not necessarily be a Trump advocate but will use his new position to uphold justice for all in the United States of America. Judge Gorsuch is not interested, obviously, in fermenting schism on the basis of politics – either in Church or State. This may send a message to those in the U.S. who are interested in stirring up division in either area. Unity in the best guarantee for universal peace and justice – in both Church and State.

Here is another journalists opinion:

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter From and To Evangelicals in the C. of E.

February 2nd 2017

Dear Evangelical Brothers and Sisters in Christ

We write as evangelicals who share grave concerns about the hardening public stance on sexuality taken by many senior evangelicals in the Church of England.  A growing number of us believe that the Church should review its teaching as well as its liturgical and pastoral practice in relation to same-sex relationships.  Others of us are not yet clear about what we think should happen. However, we are all agreed that the present stance of evangelicals is creating severe problems for our mission and ministry in today’s world.

There is wide recognition on all sides that one of the central issues revolves around how Scripture is interpreted both in and across cultures. It is our conviction that the hermeneutic task is not simply a matter of ‘correctly’ interpreting Scriptural texts, but must involve reading any given text in the light of the whole gospel, with a heart that is open to what the Spirit is saying to the Church in each and every generation.  The Reformation principle of scriptura sui ipsius interpres (scripture interprets itself) must give us cause to pause and consider such texts in the light of Jesus’ overriding call to ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Luke 10:27)

There are three issues that we believe we, the evangelical community, need to be honest about.

The first, which causes us significant concern, is that of the high levels of homophobia that appear to go unacknowledged and unchallenged.  Obviously, we understand that to assert a traditionalist position on same-sex relationships is not in itself homophobic, and that those who take a conservative line may not be individually hostile towards LGBT people.   However, we would plead for some recognition, reflection and repentance of the fact that Christian teaching on this continues to function as the lynchpin, not just in the Church but also in secular society, of a widespread and sometimes subterranean nexus of negative attitudes that frequently manifest in overt homophobic behaviour.  LGBT people are all too familiar with the impact of this, and whilst some are able to withstand it, many find themselves internalising feelings of shame and self-hatred, which all too frequently then result in depression, self-destructive behaviours, and even suicide.  Are these really to be seen as the side-effects of the good news of Jesus Christ?  Credible Christian witness cannot just be a matter of repeated verbal denials of homophobia but must involve active steps to combat it.  Should not the churches be as well known for their efforts in this area as they are for, say, supporting issues of social justice?  The issue is even more pronounced in countries across the world where Christians are known to be condoning and at times positively supporting proposals for severe penalties, including capital punishment, for homosexual behaviour.  Should not the repudiation of this by churches in this country be immediate, public, and categorical?

Our second concern relates to our pastoral response to those who are same-sex attracted.  We would love to see more honesty about the effectiveness of sexual orientation change efforts.  Whilst there are undoubtedly certain individuals who do experience a change in their sexual orientation as a result of such therapies, the vast bulk of scientific evidence – as well as the repeated experience of many individuals – suggests they are vanishingly rare.  If there is change it is usually at most along a single point or two on the Kinsey scale, and normally amongst those with a bisexual disposition.  If we are honest, the impact of the “therapy” is far more about repudiating an LGB identity or renouncing same-sex sexual behaviour, rather than a change in a person’s sexual orientation itself.  We must not be ignorant of the fact that all of the major professional psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, and counselling organizations have placed a moratorium on their members attempting such therapies – not because they have been pressurized by lobbyists with a political correctness agenda, but because they have witnessed all too often the profoundly destructive consequences for LGBT people themselves.  The failure of evangelical practice in this area, and the continued refusal to recognise the damage caused by this abuse needs acknowledging.  Indeed, we believe this is a matter not just for passing regret but for deep repentance for the harm done.

Finally, we would urge evangelicals to address directly the desperate consequences for Christian mission of the Church’s current teaching on sexuality.  As has been well documented, many people in wider society, particularly in the younger age groups, find the Church’s attitudes on sexuality completely incomprehensible.  Of course, that is no reason as such for the Church to change its views: it is bound to obedience to Christ, not to the norms of the world.  But how are we to assess the fact that many people in secular society regard the Church’s views on sexuality not just as bewildering, but as positively morally deficient, and so fail to see the gospel as a potential source of Good News?  Many – not least the young – have decided they have no wish to even engage with a Church they perceive as unjust and hypocritical.

We would therefore ask you reflect on and address three critical questions moving forward:

1.     What is God’s “Good News” for LGBT people?

If the gospel is good news for all people, how is the gospel good news for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people?  How do we convince them that Christ came to bring them life and life abundant, when their experience of Christian teaching and pastoral practice all too often suggests exactly the opposite?  Can evangelicals give an account of why their teaching on gay and lesbian relationships is actually good for gay and lesbian people?

2.    How do we respond to the mounting scientific evidence that sexuality is neither chosen nor changeable, and that gender is non-binary?

Evangelical attitudes have for too long encouraged the belief that sexual orientation is something that people either choose or have some control over.  This damaging and erroneous thinking must be challenged.  Even if there is still much that is unknown about the nature and origins of different sexual orientations and gender, the existence of those who are intersex should at least cause us to reconsider our traditional binary approach to gender and gender norms.

3.     How do we deal with the reality of an increasing number of LGBT married couples with children who wish to worship in our churches?

Whatever our views on this issue, we cannot avoid the reality that there is an increasing number in society who fall within the categories we most disagree about.  They too need to be ministered to, and their children welcomed, baptised and affirmed in our communities.

We do not think that the burden of proof in terms of scriptural reasoning rests entirely on the affirming side.  On the contrary, given the incredulity with which the Church’s teaching is now greeted in the society with which we are called to share God’s love, there is a strong case for thinking the reverse.

Moreover, we would add that we remain unpersuaded that this is a first-order or salvation issue.  We find nothing in the Bible to imply that it is so: indeed, quite the reverse.  There have been many areas of doctrine where the Church has been able to disagree – such as the use of military force and the ethics of killing in a ‘just war’, the remarriage of divorcees, the use of contraception, and the role of women in the ministries of the Church. We believe that this is now a similar issue.

Nothing said here denies the shared responsibility for faithful interpretation of Scripture which lies on all Christians.  But what it does suggest is that until we have begun to address these urgent issues together, our credibility as interpreters of Scripture may itself be in question.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Anthony Archer, St Albans

The Revd Canon Simon Butler, Southwark

The Ven Gavin Collins, Portsmouth

Dr Angus Goudie, Durham

Jayne Ozanne, Oxford

Other evangelicals on Synod who are not members of EGGS have also shown strong support for this letter

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

14 Retired Bishops petition England’s H.O.B.

Church faces new split over attitude to gay relationships

Attempts to uphold traditional teaching on marriage likely to provoke dissent
A meeting of the general synod in London.
A meeting of the general synod in London. Photograph: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

The Church of England is facing a fresh crisis over its stance on gay relationships following unprecedented criticism by a group of leading retired bishops over its failure to provide leadership on the issue, and its marginalisation of LGBT members.

The highly unconventional intervention comes before this week’s synod, which will be dominated by rancorous divisions over sexuality. Officials hope the 500-plus members of the church’s general assembly will approve a recent report from bishops which upholds the traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman.

But a rebellion is being orchestrated by supporters of LGBT rights who are dismayed at the bishops’ restatement of doctrine. The church insists that gay clergy must be celibate, and clergy are forbidden from conducting same-sex marriage services. An open letter from 14 retired bishops, led by Peter Selby, the former bishop of Worcester, and including Richard Harries, former bishop of Oxford, urges their successors to think again. They say serving bishops have sought to manage a conflict “rather than perhaps enabling or leading”.

The letter rebukes the former bishops’ successors for marginalising the views of LGBT members of the church. “Our perception is that, while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in your report, we do not hear its authentic voice,” it says.

The letter – sent to all serving bishops this weekend – acknowledges that an immediate change in church law to allow same-sex marriage would be unrealistic, given the depths of division on the issue. But, it adds, “your call for change of tone and culture, while absolutely right, does not carry conviction”.

It also criticises the bishops for not allowing “the theological voice of some of us to be heard properly” – a reference to those who argue for an inclusive interpretation of scripture.

The retired bishops’ intervention was very unusual, Selby told the Observer. “There will be some [serving bishops] who think ‘why don’t these dinosaurs shut up, it’s none of their business’. But I hope there will also be some who are glad we have put this on the record.”

Since “shared conversations” on sexuality ended last July, the House of Bishops has met four times to discuss the next steps. In a bid to avoid a split, the synod will not be asked to accept its report but merely “take note” of it.

This procedure is usually a formality, but campaigners are fomenting a challenge. They plan to demand separate votes on the “take note” motion in each section of the synod: bishops, clergy and laity. A rejection by one section – most likely the clergy – would mean the motion would be lost, in what would be an extraordinary rebuff.

Although the bishops said their report represented a consensus rather than a unanimous view, Selby said it was “regrettable that what’s come out is a kind of compromised document, with no indication that there was a struggle and there are alternative views I know there is very, very strong pressure to limit the damage that a conflict can cause.”

He added: “We felt we needed to say something, so that’s what we’ve done. I’ve no doubt I’ll get some flak, both from people who disagree and from people who think I shouldn’t open my mouth.”

While upholding a traditional definition of marriage, the bishops’ report said church law and guidance should be interpreted with “maximum freedom” without indicating what might be permitted. Conservatives in the church have welcomed the restatement of traditional doctrine but some have warned the report could lead to “theological incoherence”.

The Church of England said: “The purpose of the shared conversations process was not to change the view of participants or to seek to change the views of others, but rather to recognise Jesus in the face, story and view of those with whom they might disagree.

“There are no formal proposals being debated at general synod. The ‘take note’ debate will be an opportunity for those with differing opinions on this issue to have their views aired.”


“An open letter from 14 retired bishops, led by Peter Selby, the former bishop of Worcester, and including Richard Harries, former bishop of Oxford, urges their successors to think again. They say serving bishops have sought to manage a conflict “rather than perhaps enabling or leading”. The letter rebukes the former bishops’ successors for marginalising the views of LGBT members of the church. “Our perception is that, while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in your report, we do not hear its authentic voice,” it says.

The fact that as many as 14 retired Bishops of the Church of England should send a letter to the Church of England House of Bishops (serving), on a matter affecting a significant minority in the Church (LGBTI people), should alert the serving Bishops to the fact that some of their illustrious predecessors are very concerned about the ‘Bishops Report’ – on ‘Conversations on Human Sexuality’ and its refusal to recognise those members of the Church – both clerical and lay – who have entered into legal Same-Sex Partnerships – either by means of the extant Civil Partnership route, or by the newly legalised means of what has been called ‘Equal Marriage’. Despite the Report’s statement that Gay People should be respected and welcomed by the Church, the refusal to open up ways of recognizing their monogamous legal relationships seem uncharitable –  if not outright contradictory.

Here is the full text of the Letter of the 14 Retired Bishops:

This is the second Letter of Protest received by the House of Bishops about their Report – the first being from the members of various groups in the Church who have petitioned the membership of the General Synod (meeting this week) to boycott the official ‘Noting’ of the Report in Synod. Whatever happens at General Synod in the Church of England, the outcome will seriously affect the general public’s understanding of the Church of England’s view of the LGBTI community – especially in the H.o.B.’s condemnation of the State’s provision of ‘Equal Marriage’ for law-abiding citizens whose God-given sexual orientation  and affinity is ‘different’ and who wish to live their lives together in peace.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

‘Church Times’ report on Synod Protest Vote

Critics of Bishops’ sexuality report plan a Synod protest vote

by Madeleine Davies – ‘CHURCH TIMES’ – Posted: 10 Feb 2017 @ 12:05

Progress: Two months ago, Malta became the first European nation to ban gay conversion therapy, establishing fines of up to €10,000 and jail terms of up to one year for offenders’

IN THE MEANTIME – In the Church of England:

THE House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships (News, 3 February) is a “morally reprehensible document that needs to be rejected by the Synod”, the Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler, said on Wednesday.

Describing it as a “betrayal of trust” that left “weapons on the table”, he expected a “very close vote” after the take-note debate scheduled to take place on Wednesday evening.

“If it is defeated, that is a clear signal to the House of Bishops that Synod is unwilling to progress in the direction they are taking,” he said. “If it is a narrow vote, the Bishops would be very unwise to continue down this course, because the whole of the Church’s wider agenda will be subsumed into a conflict that will last for the next period of the life of the Church. That would be a disaster.”

The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of York, the Ven. Cherry Vann, said on Wednesday that she was “very aware of deep unhappiness about this report from across a wide spectrum of the Church”. Conversations with clergy and laity in the diocese of Manchester, and emails from people beyond, indicated a “strong call” for the Synod not to take note.

This week, LGBT groups began mobilizing their supporters. Canon Butler said that he had “never encountered such unity” among them. LGCM, Changing Attitude, and Inclusive Church, all part of the LGBTI Mission coalition, have also urged supporters to write to representatives of the Synod urging them to vote against taking note.

“We are looking for a substantial vote against this dangerous and inadequate report”, the letter says.

LGCM is advising members to vote against taking note because the report fails to reflect “the mind or expectations of the Church of England’s synod, that at least minimal change take place”.

“Our understanding is that the majority of members of (General) Synod were looking to the College and House of Bishops, when they took the initiative to respond to the Shared Conversations process, to lay a path for a process of change,” a memorandum says. The report was a “betrayal of the trust vested in the House of Bishops during the Shared Conversations process”. It “opens the way to a single, very conservative interpretation of these matters being introduced”.

Canon Butler agreed: “The document we have is so different from the process up till now, and does not recognize that we were talking about the possibility of good disagreement up till now. The Bishops do not reflect that.”

LGBT groups were not expecting a new sexual ethic or change in the canons, he said, but “that our place in the Church would be honoured”. The report meant that “the threat of discipline is still on the table, and I do not negotiate with weapons on the table; so they need to go back and do their work again, so that we can have an adult conversation that represents the breadth of the C of E, and not the fears of the Bishops. I do not want maximum generosity. I want my baptismal and ordination vows honoured like everyone else’s.”

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, has argued that there is “no point trying to change the law if we don’t think that we can achieve it. . . We would not get the two-thirds majority needed in each of the three Houses of the General Synod in order to make a legal change. Offering a legal change we couldn’t deliver — that would be a betrayal.”

This argument is backed by the Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Dr. Malcolm Brown, in the Church Times this week.

“How pastoral would it be to initiate a long process with all the continued pain it would cause with no serious likelihood (in the present state of the church) of success?” he writes.

Canon Butler described this argument as “bait and switch” and a “smokescreen”.

“The issue is not the changing of the Canons, or a two-thirds majority, but the Bishops’ having the courage to acknowledge the difference that exists in the House of Bishops that mirrors that in the C of E, allowing people to get on with their lives and ministry without the fear of being hounded by Bishops, just for being who they are and for loving their partners.”

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, has described the debate as a “neutral motion” that “allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in the report; but a vote in favour of the motion does not commit the Synod to the acceptance of any matter in the report”.

The debate, though, is being seen by both sides as an opportunity to send a message to the House of Bishops. The Revd Sam Allberry, an Evangelical Synod member, said on Wednesday: “I am planning to vote positively at the take-note debate on the recent Bishops’ report. The report is not perfect (we need to be more explicit in seeking the wellbeing of members of the LGBTQ community in our churches), but I am thankful that it continues to recognise that marriage is male-female, as reflected in scripture and tradition.

“The report is not the final answer, but it is a very helpful starting-point as we continue to move forward in proclaiming Christ to an ever-changing world. I am grateful to the bishops for their work.”

The Evangelical group Fulcrum, whose leadership includes members of the Synod, welcomed the report, this week. Disagreements should be addressed “within this clearly defined framework”, a statement said. The Bishops had “clearly sought and struggled to hold us together”. After quoting from the report — there “needs to be a fundamental trust in the clergy to know and be faithful to the teaching of the Church, in their own lives and in their ministry to others” — the statement said that Fulcrum was “deeply concerned that some of the responses to the Bishops’ report have made it even more difficult for those of us who wholeheartedly affirm that teaching as good news to have such trust in some clergy”.

Before the debate on Wednesday, group work will take place, focusing on case-studies introduced by Bishop Broadbent, and described as an opportunity for members to “consider the lived experience of people within our Church”.

LGCM is advising members not to take part, arguing that it is “pointless and insulting”. Canon Butler is currently planning not to participate.

“Why go back to talking about the abstract? I am not a subject of people’s discussion; I’m a person. . . Perhaps it says something about the inability of Bishops to talk to each other about their lives.”

Archdeacon Vann believes that, if the groups go ahead, a “significant number will choose not to attend”.

LGCM is advising members to use the debate to ask the Bishops to “respond to the priorities of the LGBTI Mission” (News, 5 February 2016).

“In particular, we ask for a guarantee that acceptance and approval of theological diversity amongst members of the Church of England in these matters will be formally recognised. To enable this small move forwards we ask not for further reports, but that the House of Bishops devise a commended liturgy which recognises and affirms LGBT partnerships as a blessing and gift of God.”

It was announced this week that LGCM will change its name to OneBodyOneFaith.

“We are increasingly aware that the new generation who want to get involved in making change happen — people on the edges of church, people who share our vision but don’t call themselves Christian, people who identify as bi or trans or non-gender conforming — don’t feel they have a place in our movement,” the chief executive, Tracey Byrne, said. “Now, more than ever, we need to send out a clear message that we need every single person of good will as part of our work — part of OneBody.”


Predictably, the Church of England conservative think-tank ‘FULCRUM’ has greeted the Bishops’ Report ‘s affirmation of the doctrine of heterosexual marriage, defending it against any extension of the Doctrine of Marriage to include that of same-gender people.

In issuing their statement, the Committee of Bishops charged with the task of expressly commenting on the fruits of the year-long ‘Conversations on Human Sexuality’ seem to promise no hope of any change in attitude towards the fact that ‘Equal Marriage’ is now authorized by the British government. The prospect of a possible change in the C. of E. Doctrine of Marriage – as being for heterosexual couples only – with the prospect of  its extension to include same- sex couples in either Legal Civil Partnerships or Equal Marriage, seem to have been summarily dismissed in the bishops’ communique, which will be presented to General Synod later this month.

However, the LGBTI community in the Church – including clergy and laity – are obviously not happy with the bishops’ report, and are being encouraged (together with all G.S. Members interested in their welfare) to boycott the ‘Reception’ of the Bishops’ Report when it is presented for notation at the General Synod. It remains to be seen just how many G.S. members will be prepared to show their sympathy with the LGBTI community in this way. No doubt the House of Bishops will, in any event, take not of the general sense of unease at their seeming inertia on a matter which demands their urgent attention.

It is difficult for people outside of the Church to see the reason behind the Bishops’ Report in not making some practical arrangement for those in the Church who have registered their faithful same-sex relationships – either in Civil Partnerships or the recently-instituted legal marriage provision for same-sex partners – as a sign of their total commitment to a life-long monogamous relationship. One would have thought that such partnerships would have been a sign of stability – rather than promiscuity – in the realm of human relationships that surely would find favour with God if not the Church!  While pressing the need for the accptance of such relationship for Gay people, here we have the Church saying – virtually – we accept your relationships, but do not approve of them!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pope Francis & ‘Amoris Laetitia’

Pope Francis avoids doctrinal nitty-gritty but goes straight to the people
doctrinal nitty gritty

Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro says the Pope’s refusal to directly answer the questions put to him by four cardinals is emblematic of how Francis effects change in the Catholic Church: he doesn’t deal in the doctrinal nitty-gritty but goes straight to the people — via his priests — regardless of the rules.

In an op-ed Spadaro, defended Francis from the criticism that he had not answered the questions put to him by 4 cardinals.

“I think that Amoris Laetitia has created an open and interesting debate within the Catholic Church thanks to Francis, a Pope who never blocks dialogue if it is loyal and motivated by the good of the Church.”

Pope Francis has responded to the letters indirectly. He has criticized “a certain legalism” in the response to his document.

“Some continue not to understand,” he said in an interview November 17 with the Italian Catholic newspaper, Avvenire. “Think about certain responses to Amoris Laetitia — it’s either black or white, even though it’s in the flow of life that one must discern.”

But the cardinals’ letter, called a dubia, is an official request for a Yes or No answer from the Pope.

Not having received a such a direct response the cardinals published their letter on various Catholic news sites.

The questions focus particularly on the issue of giving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, which footnote (#351) in Amoris Laetitia says could be allowed “in certain cases.”

Spadaro said the questions had already raised during the Synod, “where the dialogue was deep, extensive and most of all, frank.”

Amoris Laetitia is only the mature fruit of Francis’ reflection after listening to everyone and reading the Synod’s final document.

It is the result of a Synod and not just a personal idea of the Pontiff, as some might think.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the signers of the letter, told the National Catholic Register that if Francis does not answer, he will spearhead a “formal act of correction” of the Pontiff — something that has never happened for 100s of years.

New Zealand’s CATHNEWS offers this article from Roman Catholic Sources in the press; which clearly show the concern by some of the Church’s conservative Cardinals and Bishops who are not happy with the interpretation of Pope Francis’ most recent document ‘Amoris Laetitia’ that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to be re-admitted to the Eucharist – without having to pledge their relationship to being celibate.

In his defence of the Pope’s openness to re-admission to Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics: “Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro says the Pope’s refusal to directly answer the questions put to him by four cardinals is emblematic of how Francis effects change in the Catholic Church: he doesn’t deal in the doctrinal nitty-gritty but goes straight to the people — via his priests — regardless of the rules.”

This is just one sign of Pope Francis’ determination to put pastoral needs before doctrines of the Church that seem to insist on discipline rather than the Gospel exercise of mercy – the charism that this Pope has emphasized as one of the great gifts of Christ in the Gospel.

One is reminded of the Shakespearean quotation: “The quality of mercy is not strained, it falleth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth beneath. It is thrice blessed”. Better that the Church, the Body of Christ, is celebrated for Mercy rather than dry legalism, perhaps? – Especially for those people who know their need of God in the complexity of their lives.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

St.Martin-in-the-Fields – a Response to the Bishops’ Report

A statement from St Martin-in-the-Fields

A Fresh Tone and Culture:
A Response to Marriage and Same Sex Relationships
after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops

At St Martin-in-the-Fields we value inclusivity. That means we particularly cherish those whose gifts the church has wastefully long neglected and whose identity it has shamefully often oppressed. We believe the reason the church so frequently experiences its life as scarcity is because it has failed to receive and honour those angels and blessings that God has consistently sent its way. Meanwhile we recognise that inclusivity requires us to find ways to listen with humility to those whose perspective, we fear, seems to shrink the wideness of God’s mercy. They dwell in God’s heart too.

We welcome the bishops’ commitment to listening, embodied in the Shared Conversations. We wonder in what respects the document shows evidence of having truly heard the experience of those whose lives and callings the church has so long suppressed and vilified. We look forward to the promised signs that the church has indeed had a change of heart.

We welcome the bishops’ reluctance to be drawn into sweeping ‘solutions’ or idle ‘resolutions.’ We wonder why one part of the body of Christ continues to be regarded as a problem rather than as a gift. We look forward to a genuine transformation of tone and culture away from one that rejects people simply for the way God has made them.

We welcome the bishops’ call for maximum freedom within the current legal constraints. We wonder if the bishops really want to endorse such an uncomfortable contrast between love and law, covenant fidelity and ecclesiastical disapproval, the manifest grace of God and a precise reading of select scriptural texts, the increasingly warm embrace of society and the apparently inexplicable inhibition of the church. We look forward to a time when pastoral care is not invoked to tend wounds the church has so often itself inflicted.

We welcome the call for a new teaching document on marriage and relationships. We wonder in what sense, if there is no conception of any alteration to the existing teaching on marriage, such a document could genuinely be described as ‘new.’ We look forward to a truly open, honest, fresh and gracious shared conversation in the church about God’s gifts of love, fidelity, relationship, family and marriage.

Seeking the healing of the church we love.

Sam Wells, Vicar
Gail Elkington and Adrian Harris, Churchwardens

St Martin-in-the-Fields, 8 February 2017

“We welcome the bishops’ reluctance to be drawn into sweeping ‘solutions’ or idle ‘resolutions.’ We wonder why one part of the body of Christ continues to be regarded as a problem rather than as a gift. We look forward to a genuine transformation of tone and culture away from one that rejects people simply for the way God has made them.” – Sam Wells –

The Vicar andChurchwardens of the historic Anglican Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, in the heart of the City of London in the U.K., are probably more aware than most Anglicans of the need for the Church of England to ‘welcome the stranger in the midst’. Having attended one of the weekly mid-day Concerts of classical music in that lovely church building, I was quickly aware of the eclectic audience of people who came in their lunch break – together with a few tourists like myself – to drink in the ambience of this beautiful inner-city sanctuary.

Descending into the crypt for a light lunch, one realised the breadth and depth of the types of people who frequent this place – not only as music lovers bur also as those who are looking for a place of refuge in the busy life of the London streets. There are always people on deck to deal with those looking for spiritual help or guidance, and the busy foyer is full of information about Church and other activities designed to inspire and encourage involvement in the local community

The city churches of London are places where ‘the rubber hits the road’ and St. Martin’s is one of those that attracts an eclectic congregation and the sort of people ‘on the edges of society’ – some of whom are LGBTI people, for whom the ministry of Saint Martin’s is both a place to pray and to reflect on their specific place in society. An openness to ‘all sorts and conditions’ of men, women and children is one of the distinguishing marks of mission here, and one which the Church, worldwide, could well emulate.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sermon at Evensong – 06 Feb. 2017

AMOS 2: 4 – 16 EPHESIANS 4: 17 32

The Prophet Amos, in our first lesson this evening, warns Israel of its decadence and depravity that can only lead to disaster. Having been rescued by God from slavery in Egypt, the leaders of the people have taken advantage of their subjects by robbing them of their rightful possessions, by unjust taxation and other means of extortion that lead to injustice and new forms of slavery. This was not what God had in mind for his chosen people, the Jews.

In the New Testament Lesson, from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he warns the people of Ephesus that their lifestyle – despite the teaching and example of the prophets of old and the Christian teachers who had brought them the freedom of the Gospel – their lives were not being lived in the true Spirit of Christ, to whom they had been joined by their Baptism. Speaking mainly to those of the Greco-Roman community who had already converted to the life of Christ; Paul warns them not to become backsliders in their living out of the consequences of their faith. Their old pagan way of life had been rejected once, and they needed to make sure that they did not return to it.

The theme of this passage in chapter 4 of Paul’s Letter has been given the title of ‘The New Life in Christ’ – indicating the difference that should accompany those who have accepted the discipleship of Jesus in their everyday lives. And what does Paul’s instructions here have to do with us, in the twenty-first century of the Christian era? How should it impact on our lives – the lives of us who have come together this evening to learn of the Christ who is present in the Blessed Sacrament we focus on in our worship at Benediction?

One important area of our lives, an area that affects all of us, even though we find it difficult to talk about, is the disposition of our human sexual affections. In fact, the Anglican Church around the world is fraught with tensions on how best to utilize this natural gift in our most intimate relationships. The Church teaches that the proper place to exercise this precious gift is within the bonds of Holy Matrimony – between one man and one woman – for the purpose of propagation of the species. However, most adults realize that things are not quite as simple as the Church would have them be on this matter. For instance, divorce has become a real challenge in the life of the Church, affecting not only the faithful laity but also the clergy, and even some bishops; whose married life has turned out to be no longer bearable, for many different reasons, so that the only reasonable course is for both parties to be set free from a situation of mutual destruction of one another in a continuing struggle for co-existence. The Church now recognizes that there is such a thing as the need to dissolve a marriage that no longer has any redeeming features and is virtually deprived of love.

The realisation that there is a minority of people who are unable to sustain an intimate opposite-sex relationship has, for some time now, been recognised by both the civil authorities and parts of the Western Church – most notably in North America – in the provision by the State of, firstly, Civil Partnerships and, secondly, of ‘Equal Marriage’ for two people of the same gender who are faithful to one another and seek to live together in the bonds of a legally recognised relationship of fidelity and commitment to one another.. The problem for the Church is now; how do we relate to such people who want to dedicate their lives together as a couple – even though they have no ability to produce their own children. Does such a relationship come under the category of the equivalence of an infertile heterosexual marriage? Or should it be totally banned, as being contrary to what some Christians consider against Biblical Tradition; the will of God and the authority of the Church?

The Church of England, recognising the need to abandon its former dismissal of the phenomenon of homosexuality – as a legitimate and wholesome way of life for a minority of human beings – no longer forbidden as either anti-social or intrinsically evil – has spent the last year engaged in what they have been pleased to call ‘ Conversation on Human Sexuality’, with a view to finding out how best to meet the needs of those people in the Church who have elected to live together in legal same-sex relationships akin to heterosexual marriage – a situation now perfectly legal and above-board for a minority of couples. In view of the British Government’s approval of ‘Equal Marriage’ provisions for such relationships, the Bishops have issued a statement that, although the doctrine of marriage has not been changed, they now recommend further study on the best way to provide some sort of policy of recognising such relationships, without actually endorsing them as necessarily consonant with what the Bishops consider to be the greater good of the Church and its teaching authority.

I might say, here, that this cautious approach on the part of the C. of E. Bishops, seems to me and to many other Anglicans, to be not what is needed in the Anglican Communion at this time – when the Anglican Churches of the United States and Canada have accepted the legal situation of Equal Marriage, and have decided to honour such couples in their own congregations by allowing the liturgical Blessing of such faithful committed relationships in their Churches. Our Church in New Zealand will be looking at some such provision at our General Synod in 2018.

When we look again at Paul’s Letter, although it contains warnings about sexual misconduct, it obviously has to be seen in the context of the time in which it was given – a time of Greco-Roman laxity on matters of sexual expression – where homosexual, as well as heterosexual prostitution, was rife, and there was no understanding of monogamous and faithful same-sex relationships. Furthermore, the context of heterosexual activity was open to behaviour that was not in accord with what might be considered as conducive to the constraints of Christian Marriage. If Paul were alive today, his teaching might be more in accordance with modern scientific understanding of the phenomenon of Same-Sex relationships which – like those of the predominant heterosexual norm – are best placed within the setting of a faithful, monogamous commitment, free from the dangers of promiscuity, that otherwise might threaten both the civil; and the religious sense of propriety.

It has long been acknowledged that the Bible needs to be read and understood in the context in which the various parts of it were written and understood by the people for whom it was written. Certainly, the Old Testament shibboleths about refraining from the use of certain types of food and clothing were meant for that particular time and place. Some of Saint Paul’s teaching has to be understood in the light of his own Jewish background and culture – needing to be translated for its particular relevance to the social and scientific discoveries of our own time and situation. And it is in this light that we need, constantly, to be aware of how Jesus, himself, met the particular situation of his own day and age – noting his amazing openness to the specific needs and special circumstances of the individuals who came across his path in the outworking of the Gospel as He, Himself, interpreted it. His outreach to the ordinary people who came to him for the extraordinary ministry that was His to give, in loving forgiveness and mercy to the outcast and poor; was often the cause of consternation to the Scribes and Pharisees, whose insistence on judgement by the religious laws of the day was often condemned by Jesus as being outside of the tenets of the love and mercy of the God they affected to serve.

The prophetic call to The People of God – whether in the Old or the New Testaments of the Bible, has always leaned towards to the extension of Justice and Mercy – rather than punishment and enforcement of the Law. When Jesus was asked to explain the meaning of the Jewish Law, he simplified its application in the declaration of the basic call: To love God with all one’s heart and mind and soul; and then, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self. His New Commandment – “To love one another as I have loved you”, can only be interpreted as a commandment to Love without limits – in the way that Jesus Himself gave his own life, in order that love may prevail in a world where selfishness, self-fulfilment, and self-regard is the watchword. True love is that which regard the good of the other as paramount. And the Antiphon on Maundy Thursday, when the Church considers the words of Jesus to his disciples as he washed their feet at the last Supper, says it all: “Where charity and love are, there is God”.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment