Launch of the Religious Liberty Commission to defend freedom of religion

Set Gods People Free

(LtoR) Mervyn Thomas of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Justin Welby and Paul Robinson of Release International at the RLC launch

There are acts of religious intolerance all over the world, however it is rarely top billing on the ten o’clock news.

The world recoiled in horror as images of armed extremists attacking the office of satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine were widely broadcast. Commentators condemned the murder of a dozen journalists as observers from outraged communities the world over declared ‘Je suis Charlie’ in a show of solidarity with the stricken magazine.

But days after the Paris attacks, churches in the capital of Niger were torched during riots protesting against Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. This was hardly mentioned in the media.

Millions of Christians are persecuted every day because of their faith. In Syria, it is believed that 40% of the Christian population has fled the country*. In Nigeria, Boko Haram militants are attacking Christian communities, with up to 2,000 people feared dead after a massacre in the northeastern town of Baga in January.

Defending Article 18

The persecution of Christians worldwide has become such a vast issue that… (click here to read more)

Jon Nurse

This article was first published in the March issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Anglican update: Locating Lambeth?

Anglican Update

(view online version here)

Transition of leadership is always a testing time for organisations.

This is certainly true for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which came into being in 2009. Following the consecration to the office of bishop of a man who was in a samesex relationship, those who could not accept this within a Christian church formed a new church, faithful to Anglican teaching. It was recognised by the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON), which first met in 2008 in Jerusalem.

Not a proper Anglican

Their first archbishop, the Most Revd Robert Duncan, had been Bishop of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church (of the United States of America) prior to ACNA’s split from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and so was already a fully ‘recognised’ Anglican bishop. His elected successor, the Most Revd Dr Foley Beach, was not a bishop in TEC or anywhere else. So some could argue that he was not a proper Anglican bishop.

Archbishop Welby’s advisers appear to have taken such a view. Only days before Archbishop Beach’s investiture on 9 October the Church of Ireland Gazette published an interview with Archbishop Welby.

Welby pulls plug

In 2010 the Church of England General Synod had recognised and affirmed the desire of those who formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family. Since ACNA is not yet a member in the formal list of the churches of the Anglican Communion, the Synod agreed to explore what relationship ACNA might have with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

The smoke signals were thought to be favourable. But it appeared that Archbishop Welby held that ACNA was an ‘ecumenical’ partner and therefore closed the explorations. Some suggest that Archbishop Welby was misquoted and that there is more to say. ACNA was so ‘upset’ about this that Archbishop Welby’s letter of ‘greeting’ to Archbishop Beach was left unread at his investiture.

Instead Bishop Greg Venables, former primate of the Southern Cone of Latin America brought warm greetings from the Pope. ‘He wrote to me just a few days ago and said when you go to the United States please, in my name, give my personal congratulations and greetings to Archbishop Foley.

‘Assure him of my prayers and support at this moment and in the future as he leads the Church at this very important moment of revival and mission’.

This is, of course a greeting to an ecumenical partner and one of the ‘separated brethren’. Archbishop Welby’s view appears to be much the same. His statement may have been determined by lawyers for whom the question is whether ACNA clergy and bishops are ‘proper’ Anglican clergy.

Archbishop or Confession

To emphasise the point made in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration that Anglican identity does not depend on recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury – but is rather a matter of biblically faithful confession – seven primates of the Anglican Communion (Kenya – chairman of GAFCON Primates Council, Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda Jerusalem and the Middle East – chairman of the Anglican Global South network, Myanmar, and Southern Cone) present at the service received Archbishop Beach ‘ as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion’.

Following the installation, these primates issued this statement: ‘We, the undersigned primates, were honoured to participate in the joyful investiture of the Most Revd Dr Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and to receive him as a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion … the heart of our calling is to share the transforming love of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that the Anglican Church in North America shares in that same mission and purpose. We and our Provinces will continue to share in gospel work together, and pledge our continued partnership with the Anglican Church in North America to pursue the work of Christ’.

Prebendary Charles Marnham, rector of St Michael’s Chester Square, London said at the investiture: ‘ACNA should be in no doubt that you have many friends in the Church of England who admire and respect your costly, courageous and principled stand in recent years’.

Archbishop’s real view

What is the real view of Archbishop Welby? He strongly affirms his opposition to same sex marriage. ACNA has stood for this Anglican teaching, in the USA, often at great cost to their clergy and to the loss of their church buildings. Yet institutionally Lambeth seems unwilling to recognise them as a Church which is a member of the Anglican Communion.

What might lie behind Justin Welby’s apparent uncertainty about ACNA? Membership of the Anglican Communion is not an administrative issue but a confessional one. The bodies that can make such a decision are the Lambeth Conference, or the Primates Council on its behalf. Due to the disfunctionality of both the Lambeth Conference (not being held in 2018) and the Primates Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the only current functioning locus of the Anglican Communion. He is trying to make it more collaborative by consulting personally with all the primates and until that is done he will not take these confessional decisions.

Right route

Vinay Samuel writes: ‘The GAFCON primates, as the only visible group at the moment, are following the right route in taking that decision. But more than ad hoc recognition is needed. The Anglican Communion Primates Council needs to be properly constituted so that such decisions can be made. The question is whether the Anglican Communion Primates Council can meet any time soon’.

 Chris Sugden

This article was first published in the December 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates

Anglican update: The beat of the wrong drum

Anglican Update

(view online version here)

On July 13, in anticipation of the vote of the York General Synod on women bishops the next day, the Archbishop of Canterbury took to the airwaves via the medium of The Andrew Marr Show. He declared that: ‘theologically the church has been wrong not to ordain women as priests and bishops over the centuries’.

In those few words Justin Welby isolated himself from, as I would see it, the teaching and practice of the Lord Jesus and the apostles as well as the understanding of the Church Fathers and the thinking of the best theologians of the centuries since.

He also isolated himself from large parts of his own church, including countless millions of godly women who have rendered the most faithful service to the Church of England in the past and at least 25% of the present membership who, in opinion polls and local and national synod votes, consistently take the opposite view.

The archbishop even stands isolated from the vast majority of the Anglican communion – for almost all of the provinces who do ordain and consecrate women nonetheless respect the theological integrity of those who disagree and avoid declaring that one point of view is right and the other wrong. That was the view reaffirmed at the Global Anglican Futures Conference last year.

Lastly, of course, Justin Welby has isolated himself from the understanding of Scripture on the issues of gender and church order held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Losing father figures

He will find some who share his view – in Methodism in England and in the Episcopal Church of the USA, for example, and in some other churches, pretty much the entirety of whom have seen the abandonment of complementarian thinking accompanied by precipitate decline in membership to levels of near oblivion.

Remarkably however, given that the new legislation was passed almost entirely on the basis of the need to be ‘relevant’, the archbishop also finds himself isolated from our society. That is true of the bluff northern taxi drivers of York, a group of whom were mystified by the Church’s obsession with political correctness. It is also true more widely: early July saw the publication of the Centre for Social Justice’s report on fatherless families which revealed that 15-year-olds are significantly more likely to own a smart-phone than live with their fathers. Only 57% of such teenagers have their fathers living with them, at huge cost to society.

At a time when our society is waking up to the cost of ‘disposable dads’ the Church of England is busy dispensing with the need for church families to have a spiritual father at their head, or even involved in their leadership in any way. An immense price is likely to be paid for that too.

Driving away error?

How Justin Welby squares his statement to the nation on TV with his statement to Synod that he will ensure that complementarians flourish is anyone’s guess. On one reading it would appear that he is committing himself to the flourishing of that which he knows to be wrong – a strange position to be in as a bishop who has taken a solemn oath to ‘drive away error’. It is more likely, that he has a definition of ‘flourishing’ that I and other com-plementarians wouldn’t recognise as such.

The Archbishop of Canterbury would have us believe that he is only isolated because he is stepping boldly into a brave new future but sometimes being out of step is just that – marching to the beat of the wrong drum.

Susie Leafe, Director of Reform

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates

Anglican update: Why the fear?

When being reminded of the deadline for my Anglican Update this month, I was asked, among other things, to stay off the already much reported topic of gay marriage. This, however, is actually quite hard to do.
One of the websites I regularly visit to get a ‘feel’ for what is going on in the Church of England is grandiosely titled ‘Thinking Anglicans’. It is resoundingly liberal in its theology and utterly persuaded of its own wisdom, but it is depressingly short on variety when it comes to content. Thus their coverage of the recent election of a new Archbishop of Sydney focussed ultimately on his attitude to women’s ordination and samesex relations. But then that is true of the website as a whole, where these two issues provide the mainstay of news and comment.
However, this is not just a problem for outright liberals. The other website I dip into for a contrary view to my own is that of Fulcrum, the open evangelical group founded back in 2003. Here there is more interest in the wider Anglican Communion, but still the focal interests are the same. Indeed, earlier this year Fulcrum sponsored a conference in support of women bishops titled ‘Church in all its fullness’. The verbal parallel to Jesus’s offer of ‘life in all its fullness’ suggests, consciously or unconsciously, the status accorded to this issue.

Church growth
The question this focus raises, however, is what else is on offer if those two issues are resolved? Recently, the General Synod produced two important documents addressing church growth: Challenges for the Quinquennium (GS Misc 1895) and Making New Disciples: the Growth of the Church of England (GS Misc 1054). Both documents are essential reading for Anglicans and, although they have their flaws, they indicate a commitment to growth that has hitherto been lacking. Indeed, during the debates in General Synod, Archbishop Justin Welby was apparently seen waving a copy of Towards the Conversion of England, and there are even rumours that this may be officially reprinted.
The problem is, as the obsession with issues of ordination and sexuality indicate, that the Church of England is simply not equipped for the task of evangelising the nation with the gospel. Not that we are in a bad position to do so. We have a vast network of buildings and personnel with an established presence in almost every community. The trouble is that, institutionally, we don’t agree on what we’re there to do or how to do it.

What are you left with?
Take away the current campaigning issues of the liberal wing and you are left with social action. Interest in spiritual matters, or even theology per se, seems to be at a low ebb — at least judging from the website of SCM, one of the oldest liberal publishers. Yet the Church of England remains dominated by liberal ideology, most notably in its official tendency to treat variant ‘gospels’ as ultimately compatible with ‘being Anglican’ and therefore indifferent when it comes to planning and policy.
Yet, in the midst of this ‘Rodney King’ theology (so named after the individual who famously asked ‘Can’t we all get along?’), there is still a suspicion of evangelicalism. As one of the documents noted above says: ‘In some circles there is a latent fear that a commitment to evangelism is about advancing Evangelicalism … This fear must be acknowledged, since it is real’ (GS Misc 1054).
The question that must be asked if we are to understand the Church of England in the present and plan effectively for its future therefore is this: ‘Why the fear and who feels it?’ If we could answer that, we’d be in a better position to plan and act.

John Richardson, associate minister of the churches at Henham, Elsenham & Ugley, near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Worldwide Anglican update: Women Bishops – power and trust

July WorldThe Church of England Synod in July will take up the unfinished agenda of the consecration of women to the Episcopate.
This is not just an English but also as an international issue. There are already woman bishops in the Anglican Communion. But the position of the Church of England in the Communion still means that the stance it takes defines for many (but not all) provinces what is acceptably Anglican.

The real issue
The issue in England is not whether there will be women bishops, but whether those with principled and theological issues on the matter will continue to have an equal and honoured place in the Church of England.
The November 2011 Synod rejected the legislation then before it. In early 2013 representatives of all interested parties took part in mediated conversations about how best to proceed. The results were summed up in a report to the House of Bishops which highlighted five principles (abbreviated below).

  1. The CofE will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office … deserve due respect and canonical obedience.
  2. Anyone who ministers within the CofE must then be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  3. …The CofE will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  4. The CofE will remain committed to enabling those within the CofE who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops to flourish within its life and structures.
  5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the CofE will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that … contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole CofE.

Four forms of legislation
On the basis of those principles, the working group identified four possible forms of legislation, ranging from the simplest, relying on adherence to a non-statutory declaration from the House of Bishops, to including on the face of the statute the ways in which those who could not accept this development would be accommodated.
In July the synod will meet first in group discussions to consider the report. Then, on the Monday, they will be given the chance to debate and vote on the House of Bishops’ recommendation accepting the five principles but proposing the simplest possible legislation be chosen.
The Catholic Group in General Synod have given this response to the bishops’ proposal: The selection of … the simplest possible legislation by the House of Bishops …. feels like a step backwards in the process, closing down debate before it has started, and rendering facilitated conversations between Synod members pointless. Option one will not help to achieve a consensus; it will not create legislation capable of achieving the required majorities. It would tear up the current settlement over women priests, and replace it with arrangements which no one would be obliged to follow. The option … relies simply on trust to provide for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops and priests. We regulate other areas of church life in great detail by law — measures, canons and regulations — and we see no justification for abandoning that approach in relation to one of the most controversial areas of our church life.
The way forward lies in holding together all of the five propositions, without giving any of them more prominence than the others … the arrangements need to be secure, and not dependent on the discretionary decisions of individual bishops, clergy, PCCs, patrons and parish representatives.

Not doing what should be done
A key issue for the debate is the relation between trust and power. Those with the power in these matters (bishops) are asking the clergy and churches to trust them to provide an ‘honoured’ place to those who cannot receive the ministry of women bishops, without the benefit of a legal structure spelling out what they are required to do. The difficulty of this approach can be seen in areas in which there is no disagreement about what should be done, but some people nevertheless fail to do what they should.

Chris Sugden,
Anglican Mainstream

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Anglican update: sex, truth and love

How does the Church of England manifest genuine truth and love in its public handling of issues to do with sex?
Of course we do not need a ‘balance’ of truth and love — but, rather, a full-on measure of both, together, at the same time. But that is easier said than done. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was right to meet gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and spend time with him recently. In a way, given the exhortations to love both our neighbour and our enemy — in other words, everyone — it is surprising that none of his predecessors have done so. Peter Tatchell had written a critical letter in the press. Justin Welby’s move was a direct response to this.
It seems to me that in countering Tatchell’s words of hostility with a gracious invitation to meet, the Archbishop was acting far more in line with biblical ethics than the counterproductive and unchristlike ‘tit for tat’ actions of those who responded to the ‘some people are gay — get over it’ bus adverts with a like-for-like slap-in-the-face response from some Christian groups.
The Archbishop has described the meeting as private. But Peter Tatchell was quoted as saying: ‘I got the impression that he wants to support gay equality, but feels bound by church tradition’.

Holding firm
Very recently, Justin Welby told the BBC: ‘The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman. At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human, is the essential dignity of the human being. And so we have to be very clear about homophobia’. And in an interview with The Sunday Times he has also said: ‘My understanding of sexual ethics has been that, regardless of whether it’s gay or straight, sex outside marriage is wrong’.
Recent weeks have also seen the publication of a report from the church’s Faith and Order Commission (FAOC). Commenting on the document, entitled Men and Women in Marriage, evangelical ethicist Dr. Andrew Goddard commented: ‘Some erroneously claimed the church was now more flexible on blessing gay partnerships, but the press release made clear this was false’. However, he did add: ‘The report fails to make clear that the first and major hurdle facing those challenging the doctrine that marriage is between one man and one woman is that they are proposing that marriage embrace a pattern of sexual relationship [which] Scripture never commends and always identifies as sin’.

John and Durham?
Meanwhile, it was reported that Jeffery John was among candidates to be Bishop of Durham. Writing elsewhere, Dr. Goddard wrote: ‘The Church of England cannot now run away from examination of its teaching in relation to same-sex relationships… The danger is that it will instead simply embrace civil partnerships through playing catch-up with social changes… It would be much better were the Church of England to reaffirm traditional teaching and communicate that vision of human flourishing positively. It could then put its energies into commending those with same-sex attraction who embrace that teaching and pursue that vision, and developing good forms of pastoral support for them, while continuing to explore the appropriate pastoral responses to those who in conscience reject traditional and biblical teaching’. A full measure of truth and love?

David Baker,
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex

This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Anglican update: Praying for the Archbishop

I try and pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, most days — and I hope that you do as well.
Quite apart from any biblical imperatives in this regard, there are so many pressing issues with which he has to deal.
For one thing, there is the matter of speaking biblically to the nation in the realm of politics and government. We’ve seen this recently with the support both he and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, gave to a letter signed by 43 bishops criticising planned benefits cuts. (By convention, the two Archbishops themselves do not sign such letters — but in this case they have indicated their support.) Archbishop Welby said: ‘As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish’.

Then there is the matter of handling and responding to all the other bishops, be they active or retired. Recently there has been good advice from the retired Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who said: ‘Resources need to be released away from lawyers, experts and civil servants towards … the equipping of those in the pew. This will lead to a lightening of bureaucracy at every level and to church gatherings which are characterised by prayerfulness and attention to God’s word rather than the “dead hand” of parliamentary procedure’. And there’s also been more complex advice from the retiring Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Price, who reportedly described the church as ‘perfect in all its imperfections’.

Internal Anglican issues
There are also, of course, the obvious internal Anglican issues for Archbishop Welby to deal with. In February, the House of Bishops ‘expressed its encouragement and support for new robust processes and steps in bringing forward to General Synod the necessary legislation to consecrate women to the episcopate’, following the most recent meeting of its working party on this subject. Church Society, which has been involved in the latest round of discussions, asks, among other things that we ‘pray for the wider church, for a conciliatory tone and catholic spirit as we continue to work out how to work together despite our disagreements over this issue’.
The other obvious internal issue is the Pilling Report due to be published during 2013, which was set up to advise the House of Bishops about human sexuality. In the newlypublished biography of Archbishop Welby by Andrew Atherstone, The Road To Canterbury, he is quoted from his days in parish ministry as saying: ‘Throughout the Bible it is clear that the right place for sex is only within a committed heterosexual marriage’. There will be enormous pressure on him to change.

‘Left-field’ issues
And then there are the ‘left-field’ issues — the unforeseen ones — with which he has to deal. One wonders what he makes of the recent decision by an independent church plant in Sheffield (itself planted by another independent, non-Anglican church) to have its minister ordained as deacon of the Anglican Church in Kenya (while continuing to work in Sheffield) by an African bishop. Confused? You’re not the only one. When previously Bishop of Durham, Archbishop Welby told his diocesan synod that he believed in ‘holy anarchy’, which he described as ‘anarchy within an organisation, a sense of diversity, of freedom, and empowering that must move us away from a topdown, centralising, managerial approach that is the curse of the Church of England’. But would that include such ordinations, one wonders? Either way, let’s continue to pray for him.

David Baker,
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex

This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057