In 1992 I was an Anglican country vicar on the Isle of Wight. The Church of England was debating the question of women’s ordination. After due consideration I had come down on the side of those opposed to this innovation.
As we discussed the matter in my parish council it emerged that most of my people were on the other side. They either had no objection or they were positively in favor of women’s ordination. I said at that time, “You are debating this question now. Ten years from now you will be debating whether homosexual people may get married or not.”
My suggestion was met with incredulity, shock and dismay. “The two issues are not connected!” they cried. “We would never consent to something like that! Why the whole idea is preposterous!” I was wrong. It took twenty years, not ten. The Anglicans had to take time off from the progressive agenda to get women bishops first.
Now that women are lined up for the pointy hat, the progressives are rolling up their sleeves for the next battle: full acceptance of same sex marriage. My father in law once joked that he had no objection to same sex marriage as long as they didn’t make it mandatory. We laughed. It will soon be mandatory. Of course they will not make anyone marry someone of the same sex, but they’ll make you approve and conduct those marriages in church.
Earlier this week Archbishop Justin Welby prepped his team for the next big game. The lights are on, the stadium is packed and the coin is about to be tossed. Time for the great Anglican same sex marriage debate to begin. Be prepared for all the usual game tactics: sob stories from all those who are “wounded”, “deeply concerned” and “saddened” by how homophobic and backward the Church of England is. Those who uphold Christian marriage will be cast as medieval puritanical funamentalists while the progressives are up to date, compassionate and open minded smart people.
Progressive bishops (are there any other kind?) will go through the motions of due process with the General Synod while they are making back room deals with the activists. Oodles of time and money will be spent conducting ‘indabas’ — Zulu sort of pow wows where everyone is supposed to go in frowning and come out crying and hugging one another. Meanwhile, sincere Anglican ladies in the shires will be teaming up with Bible clutching Evangelicals to try to convince people that same sex marriage is not Biblical. Meanwhile the homosexual and feminist activists will be publishing learned articles about how “a conservative Biblical hermeneutic is implicitly homophobic” and how “we need to explore new and radically challenging readings of Scripture.” British politicians of no religion or any religion will weigh in to pressure the Church of England to “get with the times” and “speak with a voice that does not alienate the British people”–all code for “get with the establishment agenda or we’ll kick your bishops out of the House of Lords.
Most alarming (but not surprising) is how quickly Archbishop Welby (who appeared to be a Bible believing, Alpha course upper class Eton educated Evangelical) has caved to the progressive agenda. He crowed congratulations to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori when she recently received an honorary degree from Oxford, praising her “remarkable gifts of intellect and compassion” all the time discreetly overlooking her tyrannical governance of the The Episcopal Church and her obsession with pursuing, persecuting, deposing, inhibiting and suing everybody who dares to question the new femi-hom orthodoxy.
On February 17, 2011, The American Anglican Council published a documented report of how Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC had violated the very text of its canons, due process and natural justice to inhibit and depose (at that time) 12 bishops and 404 deacons and priests. Since then, the estimate of total inhibitions and depositions of bishops, priests and deacons has risen to 700. This represents the largest exercise of penal discipline by any Presiding Bishop in the history of the TEC—and perhaps in the history of any Church in the Anglican Communion.
In one notable case, Bishop Jefferts Schori deposed Bishop Henry Scriven of the Church of England! In another notable case, her “compassion” led her to inhibit retired Bishop Edward MacBurney (VII Quincy) on April 2, 2008. On April 4, his son died, leaving the grieving father and bishop unable to conduct his son’s funeral rites.
Through her Chancellor, Bishop Jefferts Schori authorized and continues to authorize litigation against volunteer vestry (parish council) members and other volunteer leaders in church property cases. Although volunteers do not hold title to the property of the departing congregations, we documented at least 48 instances (as of the date of our report) where such volunteer vestry members have been sued by TEC or the diocese—in some cases, seeking the personal assets of these volunteers for monetary punitive damages in excess of the value of the property at issue. Such claims represent a position by Episcopal bishops and attorneys that a volunteer vestry member‘s vote to leave TEC is oppressive and malicious illegal behavior that justifies the forfeiture of a volunteer‘s personal assets. In addition to suffering the intentional infliction of emotional distress at the possibility of losing their personal assets, volunteer vestry members and other leaders have suffered damages by the mere filing of such claims including difficulty in refinancing their homes, difficulty in obtaining security clearances for new jobs, and prejudice to their credit reports.
When “Christian compassion” might have moved Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC to accept the Primates call for a moratorium on litigation at their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori chose instead to accelerate the litigation. In 2009 when TEC cut staff and program by 30%, it increased the line items in the budget for litigation. We documented at least 56 complaints filed by TEC and its Dioceses against individual churches, clergy and volunteer vestry members. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori led a delegation of bishops to Lambeth 2008 who demonstrated reckless indifference to the truth by telling other Anglican bishops in their “indaba groups” that TEC was being sued by local churches—when precisely the opposite was true. The Episcopal Church has continued to stonewall every request for an accounting of the funds it has expended on such litigation, and conservative estimates based on public records indicate that the cost is already in excess of $30 million.
Really-Is this “compassion dedicated to the service of Christ?”
The short version is that if you stand up for traditional Christian morality and uphold a Biblical understanding of marriage in the Anglican Church you will be hounded, sued, dragged through the courts and persecuted by your own Church hierarchy. It is happening now in the United States. It will happen in England, too, but it will all be done with more tact, diplomacy and British upper class hauteur. They will look down on you with distaste–as if you had just farted in Buckingham Palace. In England they won’t need to sue you. They’ll just exclude you. You will be tolerated and patronized–treated as the crazy aunty in the attic.
The other remarkable thing in the Anglican Church is how the Evangelicals–who do believe in historic Christianity–continually wring their hands over the plight of the Church of England. After all the indabas and group hugs are finished they conclude that there is not really any room for compromise. Peter Ould quotes Evangelical Matt Kennedy on the same sex marriage issue:
There is no “middle road” here. There is no reconciliation ground between these two viewpoints. None. If those who believe #1 above are correct, then then those who believe #2 are leading people God loves to hell. These leaders must be called to recant or be subject to discipline and expulsion. What Archbishop Welby wants to do, and he does it clearly in this speech, is re-cast the question as if it were tantamount to “should Christians drink wine?” or “What is the appropriate length for women’s skirts?”. He wants to reduce the question to “adiaphora”, to the level of a matter about which God does not speak. This is a lie as anyone equipped with reason, a bible, and the ability to understand human language ought to know. To promote this notion is to sully and obscure the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ould then goes on to quote a progressive who agrees that there can be no compromise. The problem facing Anglicans on this issue is the same problem they have faced over all the big fights in their church: the root problem is that there is no agreed final authority. Without the successor of Peter to make the final call all they can do is fire Bible proof texts and sociological, theological, psychological and philosophical arguments back and forth at each other. After all the “listening” and “sharing our stories” is done the two sides are irreconcilable.
What on earth are they to do?
Learn more about my book The Path to Rome–Modern Journeys to the Catholic Church here.