Transitioning into his new role, the recently elected Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) kindly shared some of his time to explain his vision for the ACNA’s social engagement in an interview with Jacob Stubbs for IRD.
Jacob: “Can you tell us a brief version of your testimony? How did the situation in which you grew up shape your call to pastoral ministry? How has it shaped your social vision for the Anglican Church?”
Abp. Beach: “Well, I think the simplest way is, I was raised in a broken home. Out of that brokenness, I got involved in the Baptist church where I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I then went off to high school and got involved in the ministry of Young Life, which really helped shape me and get my relationship with the Lord on track. This influenced me in many different ways. Because I was in and out of so many different schools, I learned how to relate to many people. So, when people are walking in a crowd or seeing people come into our church that I don’t know, it’s not difficult for me to meet them. I think another aspect is that it has given me a sensitivity to the brokenness in our families and the need of the church, in the name of Jesus, try to minister and care for the broken people in our midst. Of course, in the culture, that brokenness exists as well. And so, trying to have a heart for people in pain and bringing God’s healing touch through Jesus, I think that’s a big part of how the situation in which I grew up shaped me.”
Jacob: “Who are your models or inspirations for your ministry as both a priest and bishop?
Abp. Beach: “To have one person is really impossible. I think one modern person I would say that’s had a good impact is a man by the name of Sam Shoemaker. He was an Episcopal priest in Pittsburgh, and was really behind the emphasis of “let’s let Pittsburgh be known more for God than for steel.” He was a spiritual leader who created a lot of social ministries and family ministries to reach people with the Gospel. He was the person who was behind AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). But, there’s a book he wrote and a poem out of that book called “I Stand at the Door.” The whole thesis is about a person who comes to the Lord and into the door of the House of God. The poem talks about all of these vast rooms in the House of God. Some go down the theological wing, and some get involved in ecstatic experiences. But, Shoemaker said, ‘My place is by the door. I stand near the door.’ This theme weaves throughout the whole poem: ‘To help people put their hands on the doorknob. To help people get in the door. To help people find their way into the House of God.’ I would say this theme is something that’s at the center of all of my ministry – helping people find the Lord wherever they may be.”
Jacob: “What thinker (apart from the Bible) has played the biggest role in the development of your thought, both pastorally and in terms of your vision of the social/political role of the Church?”
Abp. Beach: “Again, when you talk theologically, everybody from the Apostles, and the Apostle Paul – Romans is probably one of the best theological works. But, outside of the Bible, there are the Church Fathers. A lot of the Anglican Reformers really impacted my thinking. Again, a modern person would be John Stott – his Bible expositions and his ability to explain hard things in simple clarity has spoken to me again and again and again.”
Jacob: “How would you define the “Anglican identity”? What does ACNA distinctively have to offer both Christians and non-Christians in America? Should Anglicans have more of a “confessional” identity? Is the new catechism an attempt to develop a more confessional identity, especially given Dr. Packer’s recommendation to teach it in ACNA parishes at the Provincial Assembly?”
Abp. Beach: “Let me answer that last question first. I think a lot of us get in trouble when we think we have the Anglican identity, because we’re a diverse lot. From our formation days back in the Reformation, we’ve been a diverse group. Currently – and this is something I think that’s very distinctive about who we are – we are a group that is Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and Charismatic. Some call that the ‘Three Streams,’ and that’s a simple way of explaining it. But, even some of our most Anglo-Catholic folks would be more charismatic than I am. All of us tend to have those three streams somewhere in our mix. I think that’s very unique for American Christianity today. All of us have our core; my core would be evangelical. Although I have the other two pieces, my core or default is evangelical. But, these streams enable us to bring the richness of the breadth of Christianity, and it’s truly powerful when these streams are together.
Jacob: “Should Anglicans have more of a “confessional” identity? Is the new catechism an attempt to develop a more confessional identity, especially given Dr. Packer’s recommendation to teach it in ACNA parishes at the Provincial Assembly?”
Abp. Beach: “Anglicans are pretty confessional already. If you say Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, we confess the Apostles’ Creed. On Sundays, we confess the Nicene Creed. The Anglican Church in North America is a product of the Jerusalem Declaration, which is a very confessional statement. I would say we’re already very confessional. The purpose of the catechism is to introduce Christianity to a culture that is no longer a Christian culture, and the intent is to bring the basic teaching of the faith this culture.”
Jacob: “Does this catechism represent a more ‘missional outlook,’ would you say?”
Abp. Beach: “More than any other catechism we’ve had in history, our catechism very missional. All of the other catechisms were written for cultures that were already Christian. Ours begins by describing how you even become a Christian. And then, all throughout it, there are references to the faith and prayers to pray. With the online version, there will be links to deeper articles. Again, the intent is to be missional. But at the same time, we want Anglicans to be disciples. We want Anglicans who understand not only what we believe, but why we believe it.”
Jacob: “Are ACNA’s trial liturgies an attempt to bring about more unity in worship? How does this relate to the theological diversity found in ACNA?”
Abp. Beach: “I think the liturgies are an attempt to offer another resource to the Church, not really mandate a specific liturgy we have to use. Everybody is free to use all of the other liturgies that are out there. But, with our trial liturgies, we’re attempting to bring a lot of the historic richness of our heritage into contemporary language. We have some contemporary liturgies that a lot of people believe miss out on the depth our theological heritage. So, the Texts for Common Prayer represents an attempt to capture our heritage. We’re still working on it; we haven’t arrived yet. But, that’s the attempt.”
Jacob: “Can you give an example of one of those liturgies that some people think may have missed our theological history?”
Abp. Beach: “As some would argue, certain parts of the 1979 liturgies have missed the depth of our theological heritage.”
Jacob: “In a Q&A at the Provincial Assembly, you were asked how you will be treating the issue of women’s ordination. As bishop of ADOTS, you did not ordain women. In your response during the Q&A, you demonstrated great charity toward both sides of the debate. Would a voluntary moratorium on the ordination of women help ease tensions until the task force finishes its work? Does the question of women’s ordination show the limit of charity in theological disagreement?”
Abp. Beach: “You asked a lot in those two questions. First, let me say that I think a voluntary moratorium would actually not ease the tension; I think it would pour gasoline in the fire. Part of that is, in our constitution and canons, we have left the issue of women’s ordination for each diocese to decide. A lot of people came into the ACNA in good faith that their perspective – including those who ordain women – would be protected and guarded. And, people who believe in ordaining women hold their position by conscience and can Biblically argue it, although I disagree with them. This issue is a very important thing to them, and so I think it would create a lot of tension. A lot of the women priests in ACNA have stood side-by-side with a number of our bishops and clergy who are against women’s ordination when they were in The Episcopal Church. These women argued for the right of these bishops to have the freedom to not ordain women. Women’s ordination is a very complicated issue, because we’ve got people who have given their heart and soul on each side. And, these people are sincere; they’re godly. And so, I think a voluntary moratorium on women’s ordination would add so many more flames to the fire.
Abp. Beach: “As far as the limit of charity, I think women’s ordination does the opposite; I think it gives us the ability to be charitable. Because, here you have someone who you, in your core, disagree with on an issue; and yet, they’re a believer in Jesus. How am I going to treat them? How am I going to act toward them? How am I going to respond to them? I think women’s ordination gives us the opportunity to be charitable.”
Jacob: “In this document, you mention your reasons for leaving the Episcopal Church. Additionally, in your testimony given in Latrobe, you mention you performed the “burial rite” for the Episcopal Church. In the Q&A after your testimony, you mention that recognition from Canterbury would be nice, though may be an unhealthy move depending on how Canterbury handles certain issues. How do you balance having a separate identity from TEC and Canterbury while being a renewal movement? Has the recent synod vote allowing the consecration women bishops changed your assessment of receiving recognition from Canterbury?”
Abp. Beach: “The last question, no the vote on women bishops has not changed my assessment.”
Abp. Beach: “On the previous question about being a renewal movement, we are not actually a renewal movement, we’re a church; ACNA is a church. We’re part of a renewal movement called the GAFCON – Global Movement of Confessing Anglicans. It’s a renewal movement to bring reform and revival in the Anglican Communion. But we’re actually a church, and so I would maybe disagree with how you asked that question.”
Jacob: “In the new ACNA Morning Prayer Trial Rite, the Church prays for “the nations,” while earlier rites (The 1979 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer) pray for the “this land,” specifically naming the President of the US and the Governor. Is this shift influenced as confessing Anglicans recognize the global aspects of their identity? How does this prayer shape ACNA’s social action as a church?”
Abp. Beach: “Actually, it’s a very practical reason. In 1 Timothy, we are exhorted to pray for our leaders. We are the Anglican Church in North America. We are not the Anglican Church of the United States. So, we have three nations: Canada, United States, and Mexico; this is why it’s nations. When we have our gatherings we usually pray for the leaders of each of those. But, if you are in the United States, you would pray for President Obama. This is the very practical reason for this change.”
Jacob: “ACNA has a Task Force on Religious Freedom and Islam. I know that certain groups of Roman Catholic monks have worked with non-radicalized Islamic sects. Certainly, radicalized Islamic groups and states such as ISIS do pose a grave threat to Christian’s religious freedom in the Middle East; however, do you see possible avenues of work with non-radicalized Islamic groups?”
Abp. Beach: “I’m sure there will always be times where issues of human rights and religious freedom that we can work with non-radicalized groups as you describe. But, the core of our faiths are so different, we will always want to share Jesus with them, because He is the Way for salvation. The issue is how far along we will want to work together. Right now, because of what we’re seeing in Mosul and in other parts of Iraq and in Syria – the violence that’s being done against Christians – we would hope that some of these folks would be willing to stand up, but the violence is so horrific that nobody is willing to take a stand. In the uprisings we saw in Egypt, there were a number of Islamic groups that started attacking Christians, and many Muslims – there’s actually pictures in some places – formed circles around the Christians and protected them. In some places in the Middle East, there’s always been a good relationship, but because of the radicalization of Islam, that’s becoming more and more difficult to do.”
Jacob: “ACNA’s Ecumenical Relations Task Force has opened up dialogues with the Orthodox Church in America, sent a delegation to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, and has worked with a new coalition of Messianic Jews, evangelical Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. Additionally, I have heard that there were representatives from the Catholic Conference of Bishops, Orthodox Church in America, Presbyterian Church of America, and Missouri Synod Lutheran Church were all present at the Provincial Assembly in Latrobe. The assembly itself was held at the oldest Benedictine Arch-abbey in America and the Arch-Abbot attended one of the Eucharistic services. What role do you see ACNA playing in ecumenical relations in the upcoming years? How is ACNA distinctively positioned to work in ecumenical relations in America? How do you see ACNA’s ecumenical efforts providing strength to an orthodoxly Christian social witness in America?”
Abp. Beach: “First of all, because of our constituencies and our emphasis on the Three Streams of Christianity, we have natural affinity with different groups, and we are able to build bridges that a lot of other denominations maybe cannot or do not want to do. It is very important to us to be working together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because of that, if we are able establish good relationships, then we can have more of an impact in reaching this country for Jesus Christ. If we try to do impact in our country by ourselves, we are not going to make a big difference. But, if we do this with everybody, we can have a tremendous impact on not only the United States and Canada but Mexico as well.”
Jacob: “You have been involved with the Right to Life movement, and ACNA, along with the Roman Catholic Church and Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, has been publicly critical of the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Do you see an increasing hostility toward conservative and orthodox Christianity in the public square? How is ACNA currently involved in protecting its parishioners’ and corporate rights of conscience? In what political efforts is ACNA currently involved?”
Abp. Beach: “Well, I think, first of all regarding the hostility, as the culture continues to stray and stray more and more from our Biblical roots, it is becoming more hostile. In different parts of the country, the culture is becoming outright mean. What we have seen in some of the college campuses and even in some of the public schools, it’s just not right. But, some people seem to think that because we’re Christians, we can’t talk about God or it’s okay to put us down and exclude us from things. So, the culture is becoming more hostile, which says to me the more and more need for a spiritual awakening in the country.”
Abp. Beach: “In ACNA, we don’t have ‘a political arm’ or ‘an activist group’ but we do support our ministry friends and other denominations who find themselves taking stands; we will support them in that and do what we can to help. Our focus has been on church planting, evangelizing, and catechizing. My personal opinion on this is, we can get laws changed, we can try to elect new politicians, we can try to do those kinds of things, but that’s not going to solve the problem. We need a true spiritual awakening in the land, and that’s what’s going to change it, not a political process. Yes, we should be involved. Yes, we should do what we can to speak up and speak out. But, our efforts should be bringing true spiritual awakening to the United States, to Canada, and to Mexico. If you look at the early days of the United States, before the Revolution, there was a major awakening here that transformed the whole culture. Before the Civil War, a similar kind of event. We need another Great Awakening in our country.”
Jacob: “At the Provincial Assembly, ACNA created a new chaplaincy diocese for over 159 chaplains who are currently ministering, around 57% of which are military. How do you see the work of this diocese working within higher education and college ministry? Can this diocese help provide an avenue that can enrich the theological education and catechal efforts in ACNA?”
Abp. Beach: “My understanding of what this diocese is for is military chaplains, hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, and hospice chaplains. It really isn’t focusing on college ministry. That falls in another area, and we do have some efforts underway to really have some dynamic college ministry going on. My understanding of the province is that college ministry ought to be something every diocese is a part of. For example, in this diocese, there are a number of major universities, and this diocese ought to be doing what it can to have strong ministries present or nearby those college campuses to be reaching those folks. So, it’s not so much the role of this specific chaplaincy diocese, but really the role of every diocese.
Jacob: “What are some specific ways the parishioners of ACNA can bear a better social witness to the Gospel?”
Abp. Beach: “I want to say, I think they are already, and I just don’t think we’re talking about them. I was thinking some of the examples in this diocese. Holy Trinity in Flowery Branch, GA, they discovered that in Gainesville, some homeless people lived in an underpass. They developed a ministry to those homeless people, by taking food and creating a presence there. This was led by parishioners; this wasn’t led by priests. I think of Christ the King in Hiawassee, up in the mountains of north Georgia. They were going to plant a new church. They targeted a community to do that and realized that the local nursing home did not have a spiritual presence. So, they’ve planted a church in the local nursing home, and it’s mostly run by the local parishioners. These parishioners go and have church for them every week, and minister to these folks in the nursing home. I think that this is a really neat thing. With Village Church in Vinings, GA, some parishioners – I don’t know how this happened – went to Uganda and discovered that orphans, which they have hundreds of thousands of orphans, are being kept in the prisons unsupervised. There was no place to put these orphans, so they got them off the street and put them in the prisons. You can imagine what’s happening to these children in the prisons. So, the parishioners of Village Church created a ministry called 60 Feet, and groups of parishioners every month go to Uganda and are doing ministry for these orphans, by helping them find places to live and by providing for their needs. It’s just amazing. Again, this is all lay driven. So, our normal parishioners are doing ministry. I just don’t think we know what’s happening. A lady in this church, Holy Cross in Loganville, GA, got a burden for Haitian children after the big earthquakes down there. So, she’s created a whole ministry – a lay person – where they make clothes and then she takes them down there once or twice a year and have a tremendous ministry in Haiti. Really, there’s some neat things. Old North Abbey in Knoxville, TN, is in an inner city area. They got somebody to let them use a piece of land, and they’ve created a community garden and are getting the neighbors and people to take ownership. Again, it’s lay driven with parishioners in the Church. So, I think some great things are happening, they just aren’t being talked about.”
Reprinted with permission of Juicy Ecumenism.