Talking Together, Staying Together

By now some of you may be aware of the fallout that is occuring from last Saturday’s NEAC 5 gathering in London. Called by the CEEC leadership in the aftermath of the GAFCON conference, the day conference was billed as a chance for Anglican Evangelicals of all shades (the speaker list reflected a good cross-section of Evangelical style) to work out how to move forward in the light of recent developments.

Unfortunately it appears that the afternoon was spent engaging in a highly contentious debate on a motion that was sprung on the conference at very short notice. Here’s one report from an open evangelical perspective:

Those who took part had been expecting a day of talking – ‘consultation’, was the official phrase – but on entry they were greeted to their surprise by the sight of a draft resolution on their seats (and not even all of them). It expressed support for one specific – let’s call it the ‘right wing’ – line in seeking a way out of the crisis in the Anglican Church.

Part of the audience, which were given the floor in the afternoon, were unhappy with that. Critical speakers formed a neat and quiet line – they remained English, after all. “This motion is being forced on us”, one said. “This will only deepen division”, said another. But Richard Turnbull, the CEEC chair, refused to withdraw the resolution.

Then somebody tabled a motion from the floor calling for the resolution not to be put. This was carried, by raising of hands, with 123 in favour and 104 against. Which, in itself, did not exactly produce a picture of unity either.

Saturday’s draft resolution now suggested that English evangelicals endorse the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’. That in itself contains very little which evangelicals, whatever their colour, would feel uncomfortable to adhere to. It’s about salvation through Jesus, mission, helping the poor, sexual ethics, Anglican essentials. “I cannot for the life of me understand why an evangelical meeting could not subscribe to this”, Turnbull summed up his feelings. “That would be very sad.”

 

But critics say that with the Declaration comes the entire context of that conference in Jerusalem, which in effect turned its back on the rest of the Anglican Communion preferring its own basis of faith and Church leadership.

Temperatures soared at some moments last Saturday. “If you don’t want a vote, fine”, said Turnbull from the chair. “In that case the Church of England Evangelical Council will take its own decision.” From the audience: “Then why consult us?” Turnbull: “I would appreciate if you did not interrupt me.” Someone else in the audience: “Depends what you say.”

There were other speakers who pleaded for the resolution. One reason given was to support beleaguered American and Canadian churches and dioceses. Four dioceses have left the US Episcopal Church, as have tens of congregations in the US and Canada. Some of them are being persecuted by their Church leadership with court cases around Church property and the defrocking of their clergy.

“Those churches are living in the wilderness”, said one congress-goer. “ ‘Jerusalem’ has given them a feeling that they belonged again. In the Jerusalem Declaration they recognize their ordinary orthodox faith, and the African Church leaders provide them with oversight. Let us support them by endorsing that declaration, too.”

But the majority wouldn’t have that. In spite of pleas for unity, mistrust and resentment appeared to run deep. ‘Off the record’ reproaches were being exchanged. Critics of the resolution said the CEEC leadership were deploying surprise assault tactics, to press through the conservative line. One supporter of the resolution said, while packing up after the conference had ended, that he felt the outcome had been ‘engineered’ by the critics.

According to Turnbull, the Church of England Evangelical Council will now take its own vote on the resolution. That will not mean a split away from the Church of England, but it does mean the right of orthodox churches to break away from their liberal bishops.

I think that Wim highlights very clearly that there is a split amongst Evangelicals in the Church of England in how to approach the rampant march of liberalism in the US and the perceived revisionist agenda here in England. The Fulcrum forums have been alive this weekend discussing what happened and what the next move forward might be, and the Anglican Mainstream forums are rapidly catching up.

Let me offer a generous interpretation of what happened on Saturday (I wasn’t there so I can only comment on reading the speeches and other people’s reports). I then want to offer some ideas as to how Anglican Evangelicals move forward.

Firstly, I think the speaker list was highly commendable, and as I have mentioned above, a very good reflection of the different strands of evangelicalism in the Church of England. There was though one name curiously missing in any attempt to reflect English evangelicalism, and that was John Coles, the head of New Wine. I don’t know whether John Coles was invited to contribute, but I believe that the lack of any formal representation at the conference from New Wine was a major opportunity missed.

Secondly the motion, and why it caused so much upset. Some of those involved in the leadership of CEEC have also been involved in the international struggles, especially in the US and Canada, to defend orthodox parishes and dioceses against a massive revisionist attack. I think that often evangelicals here in the UK forget that the situation in the US is remarkably different to here in England. Here in Blighty we have Bishops who, while being questionable on some of their moral teaching, are broadly creedally orthodox. In TEC the revisionist lobby (including some bishops) are not just lax on traditional biblical morality, but in some places seem to tear up the catholic faith with broad impunity. The struggle here in England is to help the church see that it cannot revise its moral teaching. In the US the struggle is in some dioceses to find anything vaguely orthodox in some bishops’ teaching.

Out of this disquiet in the US came border crossing, parishes (and now dioceses) leaving, and eventually GAFCON, an amazing gathering of traditional orthodox anglicans from around the globe, evangelicals and anglo-catholics gathering to affirm their common  catholic faith and to plan for the future, specifically how to defend the orthodox in North America. This resulted in the Jerusalem Statement, which contains within it a magnificent statement of orthodoxy which no evangelical or anglo-catholic should have any problem signing up to.

However, the Jerusalem Statement also contains the following two paragraphs:

We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons.

We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America. The actions of these Primates have been a positive response to pastoral necessities and mission opportunities. We believe that such actions will continue to be necessary and we support them in offering help around the world.

These two paragraphs are the ones that caused the problems on Saturday. Graham Kings sums up the dilemma in a piece published today:

At the consultation, our unity was clear in that we are committed to the teaching of the Communion on sexuality and opposed to the developments in North America which have caused this crisis. However, we differed on ecclesiology, the shape of the church. Some spoke up for GAFCON and others for the Lambeth process. The difficulty of the motion was that it seemed to be trying to force this division by being sprung on us at the last minute without opportunity for amendment.

This is the nub of the problem, not that Evangelicals are not united in their rejection of the revisionist agenda of the North American heretics (for there is no better word to describe the leadership of TEC), but rather what to do about it. Some want to simply continue the practice of abandoning TEC and pushing forward with a new province. Indeed, given the announcement that such a province is about to be formed, it is likely that the leadership of CEEC put forward the motion supporting the Jerusalem Statement in the knowledge that Bob Duncan’s news would be strengthened by a clear public show of support by English Anglican Evangelicals. However such support was not forthcoming.

Here’s why. The motion as put forward is divisive, in particular the two final resolutions:

That this National Evangelical Anglican Consultation,

acknowledging that the Church of England professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and bears witness to this truth in her historic formularies (the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Ordinal) and as set out in Canon A5, Article 6 and the Declaration of Assent

and mindful, as members of the Anglican Communion, of our obligations to faithful Anglicans across the globe,

(a) express our support for the Jerusalem Declaration

and

(b) recognising that Evangelical Anglicans will pursue a variety of strategies, support our brothers and sisters in their strategic decisions including those set out in the GAFCON Statement made in Jerusalem on 29th June 2008 at the Global Anglican Future Conference gathering attended by 1148 people, including 291 Bishops of the Anglican Communion

Let me explain. Assume that I’m an English evangelical who is ecclesiologically committed to the Lambeth Process. I simply cannot support clause (b) because it commits me to a border crossing strategy which I don’t agree with. I simply can’t support such a motion, however much I sign up to the fourteen point creedal/doctrinal statement which comprises the core of the Jerusalem Declaration. By agreeing to this motion I am compromising my understand of how to seek a catholic solution.

The leadership of CEEC should have realised this, and the fact that they didn’t is a cause for concern, because it indicates a leadership that is not speaking to its constituency in its widest form. Perhaps they thought that there would only be a small amount of opposition to the motion, but the reality on the ground was that a huge number of people, including some stalwarts of the movement like St Albans diocese’s Philip Lovegrove, saw the clear problem in the motion as presented (which was ruled not amendable by the chair).

But there is one more problem with the motion (as was highlighted on the day) in that it edges English evangelicals towards a border crossing solution for issues here. I believe personally that such a move would be a massive mistake, because whilst I am not prepared to accept the ministry of a Bishop who openly denies the creeds, that is not the situation in the Church of England. Here we have bishops we disagree with, but we disagree with them mainly on moral issues, not issues of basic orthodoxy. By allowing English parishes to dissent and leave on a matter of moral disagreement we open up the church to all kinds of problems. For example, what about a liberal parish that wants to leave because they want to bless same-sex unions and their bishop won’t let them? Should they be allowed to find alternative oversight?

The leadership of CEEC should have thought through these issues before presenting a motion that was not on the agenda for the day.

So, and thirdly, what is the route forward? Well, let me suggest what it is not. If the CEEC council meets and approves the motion as presented (and rejected by the consultation) then that would be an absolute disaster. At that point CEEC would have lost any credibility and the argument that NEAC 2008 was a "consultation" would be shown to be a sham. By passing the motion the CEEC council would be in effect sticking two fingers up at the vast majority of the English Anglican Evangelical community. CEEC would be perceived as abandoning any sense that it was a representative body and it, together with any council members who voted for the motion, would lose all credibility in the eyes of other Evangelicals. I cannot spell this out in any stronger language – such a vote would be the nightmare scenario.

What is needed instead is a motion that can be agreed on unanimously by the council and the leaders of the main Evangelical bodies (including Fulcrum, New Wine and Reform). I can’t believe that it’s not possible to put together such a motion, possibly something like the following:

The Church of England Evangelical Council, representing the wide range of Evangelicals in the Church of England,

acknowledging that the Church of England professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and bears witness to this truth in her historic formularies (the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Ordinal) and as set out in Canon A5, Article 6 and the Declaration of Assent,

(a) expresses our support for the fourteen points of the Jerusalem Declaration

and

(b) recognising that Evangelical Anglicans will pursue a variety of strategies, expresses our support for our orthodox brothers and sisters in North America

and

(c) seeks to work with our orthodox brothers and sisters in North America through a variety of measures to ensure that those churches remain fully integrated within the life of the Anglican Communion

Such a motion shows a very clear line that backs the orthodox in the US and Canada, but doesn’t back any one single solution to the problems over there. It allows those who back the GAFCON and the Lambeth tracks to be united in their opposition to revisionism while respecting their differences on ecclesiology (in fact, the very thing that point 12 of the Jerusalem Declaration itself declares). It is a motion around which evangelicals can come together and around which the work of CEEC as a body that represents all evangelicals in the Church of England can be renewed.

Will it happen? Don’t count on it.

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