TEC and Friends: Inclusion with Attitude

Although TEC’s Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, avoided an explicit attack on Rowan Williams in her sermon at Southwark Cathedral yesterday, it is clear that TEC and its allies are becoming more militant and that far from suggesting that the Windsor Covenant process has at last found teeth, the Archbishop’s attempt to discipline TEC only underlines its ineffectiveness.

Mrs Schori did not expand upon the accusation of ‘colonial control’ she made in her reply to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter, but she did warn about Simon the ‘curmudgeonly host’ as she preached on the lectionary reading from Luke’s gospel about the dinner which is disrupted by the lavish gratitude of a notorious woman overwhelmed by Jesus’ forgiveness (Luke 7: 36ff). To help us join the dots, ‘Inclusive Church’, effectively an outpost of TEC within the Church of England, has given some pointers as to whom she might have had in mind as one of Simon’s modern day equivalents.

Inclusive Church called on its supporters to attend the Southwark service in order to demonstrate that ‘it’s not just in the States that open, generous Anglicanism is thriving’. It also recommended a new Facebook group ‘The Anglican Resistance Movement ‘ created by the Rev’d Susan Russell, one of TEC’s leading gay activists. The Chair of Inclusive Church, Giles Goddard, had already written an open letter to the Presiding Bishop to assure her that ‘We do not support the Archbishop’s position that only those in agreement with the majority view can be participants as Anglicans in ecumenical dialogue’ and for good measure also wrote an open letter to Rowan Williams, chiding him for setting up ‘exclusionary structures’ and reminding him somewhat loftily that ‘Supporters of Inclusive Church have spoken with you on a number of occasions about the vital urgency of speaking generously about the breadth of Christian experience’.

There is no doubt that TEC and its allies in the British Isles are becoming more militant. As soon as the Archbishop deviates from the gay activist agenda he supported so wholeheartedly before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, he is subjected to stinging criticism from erstwhile friends. It began with his withdrawal of support for Canon Jeffery John’s appointment as bishop of Reading in 2003 and since his proposal of a ‘two track’ Communion in response to TEC’s repudiation of the Windsor moratorium on the consecration as bishops of those in same sex unions at its General Convention last summer, it has taken on an air of menace.

At that time, Giles Goddard spoke of the need for a ‘progressive alliance’ between TEC and the Church of England, believing that now was the time to change tactics. In a revealing statement he called for a more direct approach and admitted ‘As my American friends have often observed, we’re not as open as you; there’s a different relationship with the hierarchy and we tend to get on with things without being too public about them, while trying to work with the structures to bring about change. I don’t defend that – it’s just the way we are. But that’s changing now. Not a moment too soon, you might say.’

In a similar vein, Peter Selby, the retired Church of England Bishop of Worcester, gave an address at an Inclusive Church Conference in October 2009 provocatively entitled ‘When the Word on the Street is Resist’ which directly attacked Rowan Williams for ‘false consciousness’ because of the way he had split off his personal view on homosexuality from the teaching he articulated in virtue of his office.

Such double mindedness invites double standards and it was this almost institutionalised hypocrisy in the Church of England that was forcefully challenged in the Presiding Bishop’s response to Dr Williams’ Pentecost letter when she wrote that the sanctions being proposed do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a “failure of nerve.”’

This is one point where orthodox Anglicans can agree with the leader of TEC. Sanctions based on the Windsor Covenant process lack theological and moral integrity because they are being applied through the authority of an Archbishop who himself does not believe in the position he is required to uphold and is therefore unable to enforce church discipline in his own Church and beyond with any credibility. And although the Presiding Bishop is profoundly in error to argue in her defence that the Holy Spirit could lead the church into the acceptance of a sexual practices which are precisely the opposite of that which Scripture teaches, we can also agree with her in so far as she understands that the role of the Holy Spirit involves bringing a sense of conviction to our consciences, not just the orchestration of a shifting institutional consensus as is implied by the Windsor understanding of the ‘listening process’.

Now, the Windsor process is being revealed as a kind of game in which participants colluded to the extent that they believed that their mutually incompatible aims could stand a chance of being reached. The concept of ‘listening’ allowed TEC to maintain its official standing without sacrificing the sexual inclusion agenda after Lambeth 1998, while pragmatic conservatives saw it as a way of being able to preserve conscience without losing TEC money or having to confront the consequences for their own security and comfort of the growing gap between formal teaching and informal practice.

As ideas increasing taking shape in formal practice, the need to try and retain some credibility with the Global South has forced Dr Williams to act against TEC, albeit largely symbolically, but the Covenant game is increasingly irrelevant to TEC and easily discredited. In fact, during her address to the USPG Annual Conference on 10th June the Presiding Bishop gave a strong hint that TEC could simply form its own Communion now, referring to TEC’s presence in 16 nations and implying a special affinity with other communion Churches which describe themselves as ‘Episcopal.

So Dr Philip Turner of the Anglican Communion Institute is right when he argues that by insisting on continued recognition by the Communion, despite the innovations it has introduced unilaterally, the TEC tail is seeking to wag the Anglican dog. However, he has succumbed to the unreliable logic that my enemy’s enemy must be my friend when he concludes that ‘The Covenant supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury is a means of maintaining commonly recognized forms of belief and life.’ This statement flies in the face of the evidence of the past six years and overlooks the basic methodological flaw of the Covenant – that it is based on the ‘listening process’ which is so essential to Rowan Williams because on the key issues of Scripture and sexuality he cannot say ‘here I stand’. In contrast, Mrs Schori and her friends have an ideology of radical inclusion which means they can say with conviction ‘Here we stand’ and the only effective response to that false gospel is Confessing Anglicanism which says with equal conviction, but on the one apostolic and biblical foundation ‘Here we stand’. As TEC and its friends become increasingly militant in England, they are likely to force upon the Church of England this uncharacteristic, but very necessary, degree of clarity.

Charles Raven

14th June 2010

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