AM on Advent Letter - 1st Critique
AM interpret the Archbishop’s words that “we need to honour the hard work done by the bishops of TEC… and determine a way forward” as meaning that “he accepts that TEC is not going to change and therefore, apparently, should not be required to change”.It is, however, unclear what exactly they mean by this.
It is not so much that “he accepts that TEC is not going to change” as that it has changed (certainly since GC 2003) in certain respects but that it remains unclear how much it has changed. He “accepts” where TEC is now (and so that it “is not going to change” further) only in the sense that he sees no point in once more pressing TEC either to change more or to clarify the extent of their change.
I am unclear in what sense AM therefore thinks that he apparently accepts TEC “should not be required to change”. The obvious question is “required by whom and required in what manner?”. The Archbishop is clear – and has provided the evidence in his support – that there is no current consensus in the Communion as a whole as to whether or not TEC has changed enough. The nature of the Communion is such that there is no mechanism by which the Communion can “require” a member church to change. This in part explains the importance of the covenant process (which AM – as in their response to Dar – again fails to mention!)
The next line in the argument – It follows that, if the rest of the Communion are to be able to continue to receive TEC in some way as part of their Christian fellowship, it is the rest of the Communion who will have to change” – is similarly unclear. For example, nothing in the letter or any of the Archbishop’s statements state or imply that the rest of the Communion is going to have to change its teaching. In fact quite the contrary, in a clear aim at those violating Windsor and the mind of the Communion, the Archbishop states
At the moment, the question of ’who speaks for the Communion?’ is surrounded by much unclarity and urgently needs resolution; the people of the Communion need to be sure that they are not placed in unsustainable and damaging positions by any vagueness as to what the Communion as a whole believes and endorses, and so the issue of who represents the Communion cannot be evaded….Not everyone carrying the name of Anglican can claim to speak authentically for the identity we share as a global fellowship.
It would appear that the “change” that AM believes the Communion “will have to” undergo in the light of the Advent letter is “to accept those who promote immoral behaviour”. This “acceptance” is expressed by refusing to withhold fellowship or to instruct them “for the purpose of repentance and restoration to fellowship”. Such a “change”, it is said, “would not be acceptable” as it “is contrary to biblical teaching and practice”. However, no justification is offered for this and no explanation is given of how past practice in this area is being changed.
This issue is perhaps becoming the heart of the matter at the moment (not least in relation to GAFCON, supported by both Chris Sugden and Bishop Wallace Benn who is on the AM Steering Committee). There are important questions here about relating to those Christians with whom one is in a serious moral disagreement. These need to be a matter of urgent and careful theological discussion among those opposed to TEC’s behaviour but they risk getting lost in political manoeuvres and party polemics. Four questions in particular need to be considered –
1.“what is biblical teaching and practice on this matter?”
2.“how would it relate to the current situation and homosexuality?”,
3.“how could it be implemented given the current structures of the Communion?”
4.“what should the response be if the Communion’s structures fail and so act contrary to Scripture?”.
Time and space prevent them being considered here – the article by Craig Uffman on the Covenant site offers an alternative perspective to that of AM and has engendered some debate on various blogs.The complexity of the issues is illustrated simply with reference to the first of the six New Testament passages which AM cites (John 8:7; 1 Cor 5: 9-13; 2 Cor 7: 8-11; 2 Timothy 2.25; Titus 1. 9-11; 2 John 10-11). [Addition: Note comment below on subsequent changes to this list on AM site]. It is not immediately obvious how the story of the woman caught in adultery, and in particular the words of Jesus in John 8:7 ("If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”) help AM’s case. How does Jesus’ refusal to condemn someone caught in the immoral behaviour of adultery and to apply the Mosaic penalty against her (and there are numerous other similar examples in the gospels of similar responses by Jesus) show that “to accept those who promote immoral behaviour is contrary to biblical teaching and practice which withholds fellowship and commends instruction for the purpose of repentance and restoration to fellowship”?