Thursday 11 February 2010

Lorna Ashworth’s motion about the Anglican Church in North America

Suffragan Bishop David Anderson, President and CEO of the American Anglican Council based in Atlanta, has been present at General Synod this week and I’ve enjoyed two lengthy conversations with him. We had met previously at TEC General Conventions and ACC meetings. I start with David because we had a genuinely easy conversation, but I want to write about the distortion of reality which characterises the conservative reporting of events.

Bishop David was here with the four ACNA leaders who spoke at a fringe meeting organised by Anglican Mainstream on Tuesday lunchtime. I was present at the meeting, illicitly because the Bishop of Winchester who chaired said at the beginning (looking directly at me, I thought), this meeting is open only to members of General Synod, asking anyone else present to leave. I remained in my seat, waiting to be named. I’m sorry, bishop, for having ignored your request.

The four speakers at the meeting representing the Anglican Church in North America were Bishop Donald Harvey, Mrs. Cynthia Brust, Dr. Michael Howell, and the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum. They were confident and convincing in their presentations and any one not knowing better would have been convinced by what they said. Speakers from The Episcopal Church would have been equally passionate and convincing. That’s what North Americans are like.

Yesterday I met one of the BBC reporters covering Synod. What they said isn’t true, he commented, having visited both TEC and ACNA parishes. ACNA distorts statistics to their advantage and are riven with tensions and disagreements. ACNA is an unstable network. This is very different from the idealised picture presented on Tuesday of a network which is modelling Anglican breadth and inclusiveness with far more success than we in the Church of England have ever been able to achieve.

Could their picture be true? Let’s look at the way conservative groups, including ACNA itself, are reporting yesterday’s debate on Lorna Ashworth’s Private Member’s Motion.

The Anglican Mainstream headline is ‘ACNA a member of the Anglican Family says Church of England General Synod’.

David Virtue headlines his article: ‘ACNA recognised in spirited debate by Church of England Synod’.

The ACNA website reports: ‘General Synod affirms Anglican Church in North America’.

The Bishop of Bristol’s amendment does none of the above. It recognises and affirms the desire of ACNA to remain in the Anglican family; it does not recognise ACNA nor say ACNA is a member of the Anglican family nor affirms ACNA.

The conservative reports reveal their desperation to be recognised as members of the Anglican family and the lengths to which they will go to convince themselves by totally distorting the truth. This is a repeated characteristic of conservative groupings.

Comments on the Stand Firm web site reinforce this inability to tell the truth. Baby Blue, who has generously acknowledged me in the past, writes that “the Church of England recognizes the ACNA. We are not ‘schismatics.’” Sorry, but no, the Church of England did not do that yesterday. Baby Blue claims it is brilliant and changes the whole conversation because ACNA remain Anglicans in the eyes of the Church of England. I think she and other commentators are grasping at straws. Many of those asking questions at the fringe meeting on Tuesday were critical of what they had heard. The first questioner asked whether those on the panel were all in denial about what is happening in North America. Another asked whether they were saying the Episcopal Church is not now part of the Anglican Communion, such was the distorted impression they created. Cynthia Brust pointedly refused to answer the question.

Still on Patrol’s analysis on Stand Firm started with the thought that “the C of E passed something expressing generally positive sentiments toward ACNA which probably infuriated the Presiding Heretic which by definition is a good thing.” This kind of abuse towards the Presiding Bishop and The Episcopal Church is characteristic of the attitudes held by conservatives and revealed by Stand Firm and VirtueOnline. They are not Christian. They are poisonous.

The debate itself was brutally interrupted by a malfunction of the electronic voting system which caused a long hiatus while arrangements were made to vote through the lobby doors. It was a mess in the middle of a debate was something of a mess, avoiding the underlying issues and the ultimate need for Christians to be reconciled with each other.

I asked Bishop David Anderson where he thought ACNA and TEC would be in North America in 10 or 20 years. He had no idea. If we are not working towards a reconciliation and reintegration of churches and ministries, then we are failing to pursue fundamental Christian ideals. At the same time, I affirm that Changing Attitude can envisage nothing other than a fully inclusive Church in which the ministries of women and LGBT people are fully integrated into the life of the Church.

At the moment, there is a visceral hatred of women priests and bishops and a loathing of gay people in ministry among certain groups and networks. Thank goodness for John Ward, lay member for the Diocese of London, who brought personal reality into yesterday’s debate when he spoke to his amendment. We are talking about people who have left and walked away from the Communion, he said. He talked of his 14 year relationship with the man who is now his Civil Partner and linked the gay issue and Gene Robinson’s ordination with those he cannot affirm because they have split over the issue. He asked permission to withdraw his amendment and received the warmest applause of the afternoon for his honesty and generosity.

At the moment, all groups in North America are finding it impossibly difficult to be honest and generous towards each other. My conversations with David Anderson told me that we can be friends and acknowledge each other’s humanity, but only when we set aside differences over gender and sexuality. One-to-one we can do that, but in the arena of Church politics and structures it is at present impossible. People prefer to carry their prejudices, projections and demands for a Communion that excludes certain categories of people.

It isn’t difficult for Changing Attitude to stand firm with those who want women and gay people fully included in our Communion. It’s much more difficult to work and pray for an outcome in which present divisions are reconciled and all are united in one Communion. It is a dream which we have to try and turn into reality. We must refuse to be corrupted by the distortions of reality which characterise conservative campaign strategy.


  1. I ran into one of their "bishops", a local fellow, once-rector in my diocese, strutting about in his purple shirt. I had to behave myself, as I was with one of the choirboys. Their pomposity befits them, and I think deep down that they have made a terrible mistake.

  2. Well done Colin for accurate and honest reporting, blog post like yours don’t get to hit the headlines.
    You are so right is everything you have said and I like this part, They were confident and convincing in their presentations and any one not knowing better would have been convinced by what they said. Speakers from The Episcopal Church would have been equally passionate and convincing. That’s what North Americans are like.

  3. My conversations with David Anderson told me that we can be friends and acknowledge each other’s humanity, but only when we set aside differences over gender and sexuality.

    Colin I fear you view this through rose tinted glasses. I seriously doubt that David considers you a friend. Perhaps an acquaintance to whom he is publicly cordial. But they speak of us among themselves as unrepentant sinners, unchristian, apostate and heretic.

    All badges that I hope you wear with distinction!

  4. David, I'm not viewing through rose tinted glasses, I know what the American conservatives are like and I use friend in the loosest way. I know what he thinks of me, and that's up to him. If we can stand together at the General Synod of the Church of England and hold a very cordial conversation, that also is significant for me.

    We hold prejudices and judgements about each other. Prejduice and judgements will not bring about the Kingdom of God. We are engaged in something far bigger than winning legal or theological wars.

  5. Colin, what a terrific post. Thank you.

    On another blog the host, Doorman-Priest, spoke the following words about receiving Communion from ministers who wish to exclude LGTB persons in various ways:

    I think I’d be saying “It’s not for me to judge you but I’m not receiving Communion from you out of solidarity for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

    I fully understand such a decision, but if I were in such a situation, as I said in the comments at DP's blog:

    DP, I would receive the Lord's Supper with anyone and let the Lord sort things out. It's the Lord's body and blood, after all, not mine or yours or the possession of any one church or any sect within a church.

    I realize that I'm off topic introducing Communion into the conversation, but I believe that I address the subject of bringing about the Kingdom of God and Jesus' teaching that we, his followers, are to be one.

    Just my 2 cents.