Saturday 24 January 2009

Conservative evangelical disagreements

This week the Church of England Newspaper carries a story about the Ven Michael Lawson, the Archdeacon of Hampstead. He has said: “Rowan’s theological method is reflective and in a sense poetic. It’s a valuable contribution to the discussion. But there is a distinction to be drawn between even the best kind of speculative theology and the leadership required of an Archbishop.”

Archdeacon Lawson has inherited what the CEN describes as “a troubled position” after his predecessor, Dr Richard Turnbull, resigned amid acrimony after being faced with rebellion over a vote on the Jerusalem Declaration at the fifth National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC) at All Souls, London, in November 2008.

Michael Lawson says that Rowan Williams’ actions as Archbishop of Canterbury have “created difficulties for people who are struggling with sexual temptations.” In view of what the CEN report goes on to say, this might be described as an attempt to divert attention from the CEEC’s problems by putting the Archbishop of Canterbury in the blame frame.

Conservative divisions
Archdeacon Lawson is reported as admitting that the CEEC is unrepresentative of the body of Anglican evangelicals. However, he is said to discourage the talk of division and denies the existence of separate camps within the evangelical community. The Rt Revd Peter Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, contradicts the Archdeacon. He is quoted as saying: “I think there are major divisions. I think there is a denial on the part of some of the more conservative people that there are divisions. Unless they can get a bit of honesty about facing those things, it can’t be solved.”
Changing Attitude might be tempted to find satisfaction in the public embarrassment that divisions between, on the one hand, conservative evangelical groups such as Reform and Anglican Mainstream and more open evangelical groups and events such as Fulcrum, New Wine and Spring Harvest. Changing Attitude has a very positive relationship with Fulcrum and warm friendships with key Fulcrum leaders.

Although we differ about the church’s teaching for LGBT people, we are committed to friendship and dialogue with all who are members with us in the Body of Christ and participants in the church’s dialogue on human sexuality. These disagreements weaken the evangelical position. Any group experiencing inner conflict and division loses energy and authority as energy and attention is diverted to the internal dynamic. This is true whenever there is a failure to maintain good relationships and a common heart and mind, whether the groups are evangelical, traditional, liberal or radical.

Changing Attitude is committed to the goal of the full inclusion of LGBT people in every Province of the Anglican Communion. We are committed to work towards that goal in relationship with those who support and those who oppose our goal. Whenever divisions, failure of communication and trust, and rivalries exist in any part of our Communion, the work of reconciliation within the Body of Christ is inhibited or diminished.

The way in which what we in CA would see as extreme groups within the Communion behave looks to us as being very far from the Anglican way of doing things and from the pattern of behaviour expected of us by Jesus Christ. The behaviour of some of those involved with the CEEC in the UK and ACNA in North America often feels abusive, manipulative and divisive.
We suspect the Archdeacon Lawson thinks he includes all LGBT people when he writes of those ‘struggling with sexual temptations’. Archdeacon, you are not ignorant of parish life. You know, I hope, perfectly well that heterosexual people struggle with sexual temptation just as much as LGBT people. It is not a temptation to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, nor to fall in love, nor to express that love in an committed, intimate relationship. The temptation is to be unfaithful or to lust.

What the majority of LGBT Christians struggle with is staying faithful to the church and finding people and congregations who will nourish their faith and affirm their sexuality when parts of the Communion devote so much time and energy to attacking us. Archdeacon Michael, your comment is made in ignorance of faithful LGBT Christian lives.

We know we create difficulties for the Archbishop of Canterbury because we represent a minority around whom intense controversy rages and who are blamed, in the person of Bishop Gene Robinson, for the chaos in the Communion. We can see that conservatives also create difficulty for the Archbishop, obsessing as they do about homosexuality, undermining his authority and setting out to destroy not the Anglican ethos (though they do) but the very nature of what it is to be a church committed to following Jesus in love through the crucifixion of false beliefs about human sexuality to the resurrection of all in transformed and transfigured relationships of love and deep, holy intimacy.

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