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Letters to the Editor

10 May 2019

GAFCON and TEC, scriptural interpretation, and help for churchwardens


The GAFCON ethos and the US Episcopal Church

From Prebendary Desmond Tillyer

Sir, — The speech of the secretary-general of the Anglican Consultative Council (News, 3 May) expresses precisely the issue that the Communion faces when dealing with GAFCON, namely that the latter is un-Anglican. Its approach to ecclesiology is a reflection of the most extreme Roman Catholic practice, not an Anglican approach at all.

Sadly, this does not only apply to GAFCON, but has been infiltrating the Church of England through the work of the Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG). In 2000, then under the leadership of a former Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd Dr John Hind, it published a booklet as a House of Bishops Occasional Paper: Bishops in Communion: Collegiality in the service of the koinonia of the Church. This promoted an ecclesiology quite foreign to Anglican tradition, in which the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury was elevated into something like an Anglican papacy.

Shorn of its theological language, the proposal was that the Archbishop of Canterbury chair all meetings of the Primates and tell them what he required them to do. They would then do as they were told. They would convene a meeting of the bishops in their Provinces and tell them what the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted them to do, and they would leave and set out to do it. The bishops then tell their clergy what to do and the clergy then tell the the laity what to do. The laity then do what they were told.

The extreme Ultramone centralised ecclesiology of this booklet is the origin of the attempt to impose the Anglican Covenant on the Communion; fortunately, this failed. The irony is that this document had no authority, not having been authorised by the General Synod of the Church of England; but GAFCON has somehow managed to reproduce its approach to the governance of the Church.

Its influence still seems to be present in England. It is rumoured that a bishop-designate, besides assenting to Issues in Human Sexuality, also has to assent to this FOAG booklet before being consecrated. It would be helpful if we could be told whether this rumour is true.

The idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury could tell the Primates what to do and they would do it is absurd, but it would be good to know whether the attempt is being made to implement the booklet at the level of the bishops of the Church of England. If so, this would certainly explain why, except for a few brave voices, the bishops today in England are silent in a way that has not been so in the past, when faith and doctrine were debated vigorously by bishops in the public arena.

85 Claremont House
14 Aerodrome Road
London NW9 5NW

From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — It was with interest that I read that the Episcopal Church in the United States contributes 22 per cent of the Anglican Communion’s budget and is the second largest contributor.

The Episcopal Church is, so its critics say, a small and diminishing Church, owing to its progressive stance on marriage equality. What is now clear is that it is a generous Church, which makes a significant and perhaps disproportionate contribution to the Communion. It is, therefore, sad to witness a reciprocal lack of charity towards it and its bishops, both gay and straight.

The Episcopal Church in the US appears to be giving out of its poverty of spirit, and for this should be applauded. It is, however, a tragic fact of church life that those who shout loudest often exercise the greatest sway, invoking a spirit of fear. The Anglican Communion and her leaders need to do honour the Episcopal Church in the US for its generosity of both spirit and wallet.

The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Buckinghamshire MK18 3BJ

Scriptural interpretation and the place of criticism

From the Revd Paul S. Nicholson

Sir, — In his letter (3 May), the Revd Dr Ian Paul presented a rather negative polarity between academia and the Church regarding the Bible. I find it more helpful to see them as complementary. The certain thing is that academic study and church worship are quite different activities; the “tension” arises when we confuse them.

We can be certain that Professor John Barton — a churchman himself — is quite sincere when he writes of the Bible “When it speaks, we must listen” — despite his commitment to critical scholarship. In whatever tradition, when the Church is truly faithful in its proclamation and preaching, I suggest that it neither “lectures” nor “debunks”, but, rather, seeks to give its hearers an encounter with the Word.

I’m grateful that my ministerial training impressed that upon me, and it is surely the challenge and privilege that those of us who preach are given.

St Saviour’s Vicarage
30 Eton Villas
London NW3 4SQ

From the Revd Andy Myers

Sir, — The Revd Dr Ian Paul’s letter reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the position of critical biblical scholarship, which has been developed for at least the past 200 years and surely is so accepted in the world of academia and the thinking of many Christians that it deserves respect as part of the “historic tradition of the faith”.

He seems to have fallen into the trap that many make in every school of scriptural interpretation of implying that their own way of reading the Bible is the only one that is sanctioned by God or of value, when he boldly says that modern scholarship “robs the church of scripture as its primary resource for ethics, doctrine, and spiritual formation”.

Hans-Georg Gadamer, the great critical philosopher, affirmed that one’s interpretation of every text (and this includes the Bible) is conditioned by one’s own subjective context: he famously spoke of this as one’s “horizon of discourse”, and said that the hermeneutic act of reading any text led to a “fusion of horizons”, yours and that of the writers of the text, who, like the reader, were situated in a particular historical, religious, and social context that conditioned how they understood the text that they produced, to produce an interpretation that can never have absolute status.

Every reading of the Bible is an act of interpretation. Gadamer’s understanding of the process is just one widely accepted hermeneutical theory. But scholars on very sound critical, historical, sociological, and other grounds agree that every reading of the Bible from “fundamentalist” to “liberal” involves a process in which the reader in adopting a particular stance in relation to the text commits an act of interpretation.

Dr Paul implies, in his last paragraph, that all who have been educated in academic theology and who deeply respect and value the integrity of scholars such as Professor Barton uniquely suffer from the problem of living out the “easier to understand” sayings of the Bible. The very act of selecting which these are involves interpretation. I agree with Rowan Williams that the best interpretation of the Bible is the interpretation of life, but both liberal and conservative theologians equally fail and succeed in this endeavour from different integrities, which equally deserve respect.

St Cross Vicarage
Middleton Park Avenue
Leeds LS10 4HT

From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian

Sir, — Dr Paul, like all of us, is himself an “autonomous interpreter and evaluator of the text”. He will “stand above” scripture and select his own armoury of proof-texts to support his theology. All preachers interpret and use scripture in their own particular way: we simply can’t escape it. Professor Barton at least has the self-knowledge and honesty to admit it.

The Rectory, Church Lane
Earl Soham, Woodbridge
Suffolk IP13 7SD

Nail-bomber’s motive 

From Mr Richard Ashby

Sir, — It is good to see the photo (News, 3 May) of the act of remembrance in Soho for the 20th anniversary of the London nail-bomb attacks. What is missing is any reminder of what those attacks were about.

The nail-bomber exploded three bombs; while the first two, at Brick Lane and Brixton Market, caused horrific injuries, the third, at the Admiral Duncan pub, a favourite meeting place of the LGBT+ community, killed three people, including a pregnant woman, besides inflicting many life-changing injuries. The bomber said afterwards that he wanted to start a race war and that he would “bomb the blacks, Pakis, degenerates”.

It is important to remember why he chose a Soho gay pub as well as his other targets. Homophobia, along with racism, is deeply ingrained in parts of our society. In extremis, it leads to murder. Condemnation from the Church is not enough. Solidary is good. But better by far is a change of heart which acknowledges the full inclusion of all LGBT+ people within the people of God, and an end to the hypocrisy and homophobia that are ingrained within parts of the Church, too.

11 Jubilee Mews
Emsworth PO10 8EA

Help for churchwardens, and a banking matter 

From Mr Harry Marsh

Sir, — The article by Matthew Clements on his experiences as a churchwarden over many years (Features, 3 May) was interesting and helpful. While, personally, my service over the past 50 years in three dioceses has been more as a PCC treasurer than as a churchwarden, I take issue with his comment that the priest should not be a signatory on the bank accounts.

Being a signatory does not mean the priest should be expected to sign any cheques, and I would agree that others should share that task; but it does empower the priest to visit the bank to discuss any misgivings about the operation of the church’s banking. The bank staff will refuse to discuss any such matter with a priest who is not included on the PCC’s mandate.

Fortunately, “problems with a treasurer” are rare, but they could happen, and the PCC should have this assurance that their chairman or -woman can call in at the bank branch, should this ever be required.

5 Vicarage Lane
Chelmsford CM2 8HY

From Mr Derek Wellman

Sir, — Matthew Clements states that “no diocese has the staff available to provide an on-call help desk for hundreds of churchwardens.” Every diocese does in fact have at least two such facilities: diocesan registrars for legal matters, and archdeacons for everything else.

52 Nettleham Road
Lincoln LN2 1RH

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