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Comment > Letters to the editor >

Primates meet in Newry: first responses to outcome

From the Dean of Durham
Sir, — On consecutive days at the General Synod, I sat through the debates about women bishops and the Windsor report. I was bemused at how little the clear connection between these two key debates was recognised.

The Windsor report has been consistently presented as an issue not of homosexuality per se, but of ecclesiology: how far diversity of belief and practice can be contained within our Communion, and indeed our fellowship with partner Churches. But precisely this question lies at the heart of the debate on women bishops: whether any province should act autonomously and risk damaging relations both within the Anglican Communion and beyond it.

Women bishops are a “deal-breaker” for some; for others, homosexuality is. Both are problematic in the developing world. Yet the General Synod seems more willing to embrace the risk to communion posed by women bishops than that posed by committed homosexual relationships, even though in each case where a change of discipline has happened, it has been according to the due process of the province concerned.

The Windsor report’s ecclesiology suggests that those provinces that have ordained women bishops ought to express “regret” for their actions in at least testing the bonds of communion, if not placing them under real strain. To my mind, these are theological and ecclesial issues of the same sort. To treat them differently is to land ourselves in an ecclesiological bog of illogic.

Maybe homosexuality is coloured by such a degree of “shame” in our Church as to make it next to impossible for us to debate it in the same way as we are now beginning to debate women in the episcopate.
MICHAEL SADGROVE
The Deanery, The College
Durham DH1 3EQ

From Mr Stuart Gullan-Steel
Sir, — I noted with interest the decision of the Primates to ask their Canadian and American brothers and sisters in Christ to withdraw from certain meetings because of the ordination of an openly gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions.

The concept of homosexuality is a 19th-century one, and scripture, in so far as it deals with the subject at all, refers only to acts, not sexual orientation. The only texts that deal with such acts are in Leviticus and St Paul, and scholars differ about whether the condemnation is of the acts per se or only of abusive practices associated with them. On the other hand, there are numerous condemnations of adultery in both the Old and New Testaments and in the Gospels themselves.

Why is it, therefore, that the Church of England is prepared to bless the forthcoming civil union between the Prince of Wales and Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles, whose very public affair contributed to the break-up of both their marriages, and yet the C of E will not bless unions between same-sex couples who have harmed no one? Is this not a double standard?
STUART GULLAN-STEEL
648 Jay Street, Utica
New York, 13501 USA

From the Revd Mike Howes
Sir, — After last week’s events concerning the position of the American and Canadian Anglican Churches, I find myself, as a retired English priest, in a wilderness, facing a conservative and fearful Church I fail to recognise.

Where now is the loving and caring Church I felt I had belonged to and served for the past 62 years? Why has the gospel of God’s love been hijacked, perverted, and twisted, into homophobia and hate? Why has the Church of England been placed so firmly in support of the conservative and reactionary right by our leadership? Is there an evil at work here?

Shouldn’t we of the more moderate variety of Anglicans in the Church of England ask that our Church also be given the chance to withdraw for a time of consideration and prayer with the North American Churches rather than be automatically associated with the forces of right-wing reactionaries seeking to grasp power? I consider that this would be more in keeping with Christ’s gospel than what is now being presented to us as an accomplished fact by the Primates of our Communion.

Is there anyone out there listening, please?
MIKE HOWES
182 Rookery Lane
Lincoln LN6 7PH

From the Revd Jean Mayland
Sir, — We are told that as the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Canadian Anglican Church were asked to withdraw from attendance at the Anglican Consultative Council, the leaders of some of the reactionary and so-called “traditional” provinces were celebrating. Many of us were shocked and saddened.

We have not threatened to withdraw our small incomes or take our bat and ball elsewhere, but we nevertheless care intensely for our gay brothers and sisters, and long for our Church to be welcoming, open, and inclusive.

Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters bear the full weight of the pain. They also suffer the patronising comments that, of course, they are cared for pastorally by the very people who refuse to listen to what they are saying about their sexuality and their commitment!

Those of us who are “straight” are deeply hurt by what is being done to our Church by the reactionary forces who seem to want us to become a people of a Book and not a people of a Person.

The Archbishop of Canterbury says wistfully that he wishes that this problem would go away, and the Church could once more engage creatively with the imagination of people in this country. This “problem” will not go away until it is seized as a possibility. The way in which we handle this possibility is the way in which we can engage imaginatively with people in our nation today.
JEAN M. MAYLAND
Minster Cottage, 51 Sands Lane
Barmston, East Yorks YO25 8PQ

From the Revd Dr Ross Thompson
Sir, — The divisions with which the Windsor report strives to cope are not reconcilable, since, as Archbishop Rowan Williams once pointed out, neither side can recognise the other as Church.

For radicals and liberals, inclusiveness comes first: Jesus accepts all manner of people, and this forgiveness enables them to grow in accord with his teaching. For conservatives, repentance comes first, and is the precondition of acceptance.

There is an ultimate unity here, in that both parties would agree that acceptance and repentance are vital. In that unity we ought to rejoice more. But there is no way we can express it institutionally.

Deep differences in pastoral care, sacramental order and teaching depend on which is seen as coming first, acceptance or repentance. Who should minister or receive the sacraments; whether there should be heresy trials; whether it is for the institutional Church to decide, or the guided individual within the Church to discover, what needs to be repented of — these and all manner of other issues will be answered differently depending on your view. It is not surprising that the Anglican Communion has now begun to split.

The split is not geographical, however, but theological; and I am worried about those who find themselves geographically on the wrong side of where their faith is. In particular, what pastoral care and oversight will now be given to those on either side who find their geographical province has taken an official line they can regard only as incompatible with the gospel?

The Church has been generous in providing such things for conservatives. Now, in this land, it will be the liberals and radicals who need them. Will they be provided, and, if so, how?
ROSS THOMPSON
36 Richard Lewis Close
Danescourt, Cardiff CF5 2TB

From Mr Kevin Carey
Sir, — The Dromantine communiqué, and the Windsor report before it, fail to tackle the central issue raised by homosexuality: where does it rank in the superstructure of our common purpose?

What the Anglican Communion lacks is a moral counterpart of the Lambeth Quadrilateral on doctrine. It is not good enough for Evangelicals to say that all biblical pronouncements are of equal weight and relevance. We might argue that sins against God, our neighbour and simply ourselves rank in descending order. We might want to distinguish between motive and outcome; and we might even conclude that scripture is equivocal or silent on some moral issues.

The discussion of such a framework would force Evangelicals to explain why public schism in Christ’s Church — or even the refusal to worship with those who reach different moral conclusions — is less sinful than private sexual behaviour.

The Evangelicals are being given an easy ride because the official response to them has been administrative and majoritarian rather than theological and principled, an inadequate precursor to schism.
KEVIN CAREY (Reader)
112a High Street, Hurstpierpoint
West Sussex BN6 9PX

From Canon Paul Oestreicher
Sir, — For centuries, the Church of England and, derivatively, Anglicanism worldwide have contained and held in full communion Christians of widely differing and sometimes incompatible theological and ethical convictions.

To suspend from full membership — with an implied view to expulsion — those who hold an innovative conviction on a single ethical issue flies in the face of our Church’s ethos, makes us look ridiculous, and, much more importantly, is, in more senses than one, a denial of charity.

Religious intolerance is a global threat. We join that bandwagon at our spiritual peril.
PAUL OESTREICHER
97 Furze Croft, Furze Hill
Brighton BN3 1PE




 

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