The Swanson diocese

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At their recent Synod this weekend, the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle passed two bills to enable clergy to bless what God in His Word deems to be sinful, to bless what the Bible says is an expression of an anti-God state of mind (see Romans 1:18ff), to declare holy what God states keeps people out of the Kingdom of God, and redefined the doctrine of marriage. This move mirrors that of a similar proposal passed by Wangaratta diocese in Victoria.

The Bishop of Newcastle in a letter that was made public a month before describes the first bill as follows:

“A Bill for Blessing of Persons Married According to the Marriage Act Regulation 2019 which would provide for a form of service for the blessing of a marriage conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act. The Bill proposes that the Bishop would have to stipulate a date on which the Regulation would come into effect.” This would allow the diocese to wait until the Appellate Tribunal rules on the Wangaratta matter before offering blessings.

A second bill was also introduced that “would remove any disciplinary process for a member of the clergy who pronounces or declines to pronounce a blessing of a marriage in which the persons being married are of the same sex and would remove any disciplinary process for a member of the clergy who is married to a person of the same sex.”

I am very saddened by this. For it was was in the Newcastle Diocese that I was ordained to the diaconate and to the priesthood. It was a very moving experience. (I am the man in the chasuble that is is almost all white). It was very powerful hearing the exhortation to both in my public and private ministry oppose and set aside teaching that is contrary to God’s Word, to be told to encourage and build up the body of Christ, to preach the Word of God, lead God’s people in prayer, declare God’s forgiveness and blessing. Also the reminder to pastor after the pattern of Christ the great Shepherd, to lead the people of God as a servant of Christ; to love and serve the people with whom you work, caring alike for young and old, rich and poor, weak and strong; to studying the Scriptures wholeheartedly, reflecting with God’s people upon their meaning, so that my ministry and life may be shaped by Christ. I was reminded of how great a treasure has been placed in my care and that I will be called to give an account before Jesus Christ. It was in the Newcastle Diocese that I openly declared my conviction that the Holy Scriptures contains all doctrine necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and declared by God’s grace determination and intention and desire to instruct from these Scriptures the people committed to my care, teaching nothing as essential to salvation which cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures.

It was in the Newcastle Diocese that I served as the Chaplain for Scone Grammar School and was given the platform to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to hundreds of students on a weekly basis. It was in that capacity that I was able to preach the Gospel to hundreds of teenagers and the senior leadership of the Diocese at a Newcastle Anglican Schools combined service at Christchurch Cathedral in Newcastle  (right pic).

It was in the Newcastle Diocese that I discovered and Cranmer’s jewels of Scripture soaked liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer; the rhythm of liturgy and the church calendar; the encouragement of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper).

But I am not at all suprised but this. The Newcastle Diocese is infected with a condition, a sickness. A sickness whose symptoms are apparent in almost every media item that pertains to the Newcastle diocese in recent years. A sickness that reminds me of my late Father’s yacht.

I grew up around yachts, and remember my Father bought a Swanson 32 (see top pic) which was moored out the back of our place in Drummoyne on the Parramatta River (left pic). It was a lovely upgrade from his previous heavy PR25. However, the Swanson had a sickness. Deep down under the surface, the fiberglass hull would bubble due to a condition called Osmosis. My Father would have to have the boat put in dry-dock and have it treated, more than once. He was told that they got it all but it always seemed to come back and end up back in dry-dock.

I asked an old Yachtie about it and he told me that it was due to the ratios of the fiber-glass resin being incorrect due to the builders transitioning from using wood to fiber-glass not getting the mixing ratios correct in the first place. I  had no way of knowing if this were true, but if it was true then no amount of treatment on the surface would fix the problem as the problem was at the fundamental level. They had to in essence “go back to formula”.

Just as my Father’s old Swanson had osmosis, the Newcastle Diocese has theological osmosis, indicative of mistakes made at the fundamental level. Two examples stand out for me during my four years in the diocese that highlight this sickness and the necessity for it to go back to formula:

Example 1: Interviews for ordination

The first year serving in the diocese consisted of being discerned for ordination. I was interviewed several times, was required to take a rather extensive independent psychological profile testing, and then undertake further interviews – with the one goal – to assess my suitability for ordination. At these interviews, various questions were asked of me as part of my ordination discernment. They were not all asked by the Bishop and the newly appointed Assistant Bishop of the time (who is now the current Bishop) but also various (yet key) people within the diocese, lay and ordained, at that time. However, I believe the questions speak for themselves as to the nature of this sickness that the diocese is infected with, thus I have deliberately chosen not to provide my answers (though it is helpful to add that my answers were often the basis for the proceeding question).

Questions asked:

  • What do you think of homosexuality?
  • Do you think homosexuals can be Christians?
  • What do you think of GAFCON?
  • Are you anti-gay?
  • What is your view on women’s ordination?
  • Could you work with a woman rector?
  • Do you think it is right for women to be Bishops?
  • It is likely that the Newcastle Diocese could elect a woman bishop, what do you think about that?
  • How do you feel about the fact that the majority of clergy in this diocese don’t believe in Penal Substitutionary atonement?
  • Do you feel that you have an obligation to correct other clergy when it comes to their different views, particularly when it comes to penal substitutionary atonement?
  • Do you think you can serve in a diocese where your view is the minority?
  • How do you think you would go serving in a parish where: a)Your Bishop is a woman b)Your Rector is a woman and a lesbian c)Your Rector also does not believe in penal substitutionary atonement d) The majority of people in the parish don’t believe in penal substitutionary atonement e)There are homosexual couples in the church?
  • How do you feel about serving in a diocese that is sacramental?
  • What are your views about wearing robes?
  • If you were visiting a patient in a hospital who was a Muslim and they died? Do you believe that they would go to heaven?
  • What if the person was a Buddhist?
  • How you would respond to the fact that many clergy in the diocese would find your views to be OFFENSIVE ZENOPHOBIC?

What was apparent to me then, and even more so now eleven years later, are the questions that I was never asked:

  • Will the gospel be faithfully preached by you?
  • What is your understanding of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?
  • Will you aim to ensure that the Bible is taught with clarity and passion?
  • Are your sermons manifestly rooted in the text of Scripture?
  • Will you exercise personal care over the flock? How will you do this?
  • Do you believe in the complete trustworthiness of all of Scripture?
  • Do you devote adequate time for study and preparation?
  • How is your personal godliness going?
  • How is your prayer and Bible reading?

Instead of discerning whether I met the qualifications for the church office laid out in the New Testament and the Ordinal; instead of asking me if I believe and eagerly rejoice in my denomination’s (Anglican) statements of faith, creeds, and confessions, the concern of the diocese were primarily my views on homosexuality, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, women’s ordination (to the priesthood and especially to the episcopate); and how I would respond to clergy who are either female and/or gay and/or do not believe Penal Substitutionary Atonement and laypeople who are gay and/or do not believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

Example 2: Discernment Retreat

Towards the end of my discernment year, the Bishop invited me (along with other candidates) to attend a discernment retreat over a weekend.

Two things stood out. Firstly, I remember the week leading up to the Discernment retreat, the then Director of Ordinands rang me rather late at night me in a stupor over the fact that I did not send the certificate proving that I was baptised in the Anglican Church (because I did not keep the certificate when I was 16 years old), and referring to my other material (papers I had to submit pertaining to what I believed to be the essence of Anglicanism – I wrote extensively as I recall on the prime authority of Scripture, the saving death of Christ, his physical resurrection from the dead, the 39 Articles, the Ordinal, the BCP, the Anglican Constitution of Australia) as “all this s**t!” .

Secondly, on arrival at the retreat, all candidates were given an envelope and told not to open it until the final day. The contents of the envelope turned about to be a hypothetical scenario and we had to sit in a circle and discuss as a group how we should deal with it. Our circle was surrounded by another circle consisting of clergy and laypeople whose role was to take notes and assess our responses. It was rather intimidating, but I could see the logic behind it. It was designed to see how we would respond in a group context dealing with an issue that we may not be prepared to answer, which in my years of ministry makes sense as parish ministry is not always predictable.

As we opened our envelopes, my scenario was not a surprise – teenagers throwing rocks at the church building;  because it is a situation I had already encountered in real-life ministry. As the candidates went through their hypotheticals, they were all predictable in my view, (with one or two being pastorally tricky) but then… the last candidate read out her scenario:

Anthony and Stephen have come to church seeking…

I knew what was coming next…

… to have their relationship blessed by the Rector, what advice would you give your Rector?

I remember inwardly groaning and thinking this was the end of the ordination journey for me. Everyone had their say, and I said nothing, hoping to get out of it. But the candidate who was leading this discussion said these fateful words to me:

“Joshua, what do you think?”

I could have retreated to cowards corner and have said “no comment” or attempt to obfuscate around the issue. But there was no evading the question. I knew I had to respond. So I answered by saying that what matters is not what I think or what anybody else thinks, but what matters is what God thinks and furthermore, we can know God’s mind on this issue as He has revealed it in Holy Scripture. I then very briefly summarised how God endorses and blesses only two types of sexual expression; heterosexual sex between a married couple and celibacy for those who are not married. I also mentioned that for the Rector (or any clergy) to bless the union between these two men was not only in violation of Holy Scripture but also went against the Lambeth 1:10 resolution. Thus the right thing to do was to point this out to the Rector and say to him:

“It is obvious that Scripture is very clear on this issue”.

I said nothing further and the poor candidate who was given this hypothetical thanked me for my contribution and then concluded that if this were a real situation, the best way forward would be to form a committee to meet with the Rector to talk about it further.

After this final exercise, it was not hard to see amongst some of the examiners what they thought of me. Though there was some orthodox clergy in that group who gave me supportive subtle smiles.

Fitting In over Fidelity

When I reflect on my four years in the Newcastle Diocese, and on my journey from ordination candidate to priest, what is clear to me now is the Newcastle Diocese’ concerns regarding my suitability for holy orders were not based on my fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ (and to Scripture, the BCP, the Ordinal, the Creeds, and the vows I would make at my ordination), but on my fitting in – fitting into a diocese that appeared to have very specific views and agendas pertaining to:

  • Homosexuality (gay clergy, lesbian clergy and homosexual couples in church)
  • Women’s ordination (to the priesthood and especially to the episcopacy)
  • Penal Substitutionary Atonement (chiefly, its denial)
  • The wearing of robes (in particular anglo-catholic vestments)

Other Symptoms 

I have a friend named David Ould. He too is an Anglican priest, and his website has a far-reaching national global readership and David blogs extensively about current Anglican matters pertaining to the National church. One time he wrote about the decision of the Newcastle Diocese to appoint a priest to the role of Archdeacon on the Central Coast. (Pictured here promoting a “fabulous pride mass” in October 2016.)

The inference behind his post was that this appointment was controversial or perhaps radical due to the fact that the newly to be appointed Archdeacon is a man who openly denies the very things he promised to believe, affirm, uphold, teach and defend at his ordination. I rarely disagree with Rev Ould, though this time I did, as I believe that this appointment was neither controversial or radical.

Although the appointment was made by their Bishop who was relatively new to the role at the time (and has since resigned), with all fairness and due respect to him, he was acting in line with the dominant theological stance, ethos, emphasis of the very diocese that elected him as Bishop. The appointed Archdeacon is very much an advocate of LGBTQIA+ ETC rights and the lifestyles that goes with those who identify themselves as such.  He affirms women’s ordination to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. He denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement and the authority of Scripture as God’s Word Written, denies the Biblical teaching of the future state of believers and unbelievers. He holds to the centrality of the Eucharist, and he loves wearing vestments. In short, he fits in.

Fast forward to August this year; the Newcastle Diocese approved and promoted Newcastle Pride Week and with it yet again, another ‘Pride Mass’. This is what it said:Next Friday 23 August Saint Luke’s Wallsend is hosting a ‘Pride Mass’ in conjunction with Equal Voices Anglican as an opportunity for this parish and the broader Anglican church to celebrate and affirm LGBTIQA+ people in Newcastle and the Hunter during Newcastle Pride Week, especially within the church.

“We intentionally used the word affirm, as that is the place we believe the church needs to move to if it has yet to do so,” says Reverend Canon Andrew Eaton, Minister of St
Luke’s.

“An affirming church is one that says we are not just including you in our community, as if we were doing you a favour by not excluding you. We are affirming your presence in the community, and your equality in the eyes of God. We value what you bring, all of you. We would be diminished if you are not part of this community, this expression of the body of Christ.”

The preacher at the Pride Mass will be Fr Stuart Soley, vicar of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Fitzroy in Melbourne. Fr Stuart is a fearless advocate for the LGBTIQA+ community both in the Anglican Church and wider community. He comes to Newcastle Diocese from a parish with a proud history of affirming LGBTIQA+ Christians and working with the marginalised in their community.

“This Eucharist, like all services at St Luke’s is open to all people,” says Rev’d Canon Andrew. “It also must be a safe place for the LGBTIQA+ community, many of whom have suffered terrible bigotry and exclusion by the church.”

Newcastle Pride Week runs from 22 August to 26 August, 2019. The ‘Pride Mass’ is taking place at Saint Luke’s Wallsend on Friday 23 August at 7pm. Refreshments to follow.

The Newcastle Diocese has a sickness. It has the wrong formula, it has rejected the Apostolic gospel for a false gospel, a gospel that says “come as you are and stay as you are”; a gospel devoid of repentance. With the exception of some faithful orthodox parishes, clergy and, laity, the Newcastle Diocese has turned its ears away from the voice of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures and has listened to the voice of this age; replacing the infallible Word of God with the fallible words of men. The Newcastle Diocese has swallowed hook, line and sinker, the pan-sexual zeitgeist of our time which is ruining lives in the present and will ruin souls eternally. .

Incredulously the diocese desires and prays “to be seen to be making a valuable contribution to the region and people they serve”, however, unless the sickness is removed at the theological fundamental level (i.e. the diocese repents and submits to the Word of God and the Apostolic Gospel ) and “goes back to formula”,  any contribution the Newcastle Diocese makes will be akin to putting a boat in dry dock and merely scraping off the bubbles and relaunching it to the water.  That being the case, barring a miraculous intervention from God, the Newcastle Diocese will continue to sail further and further towards the horizon of irrelevancy on the currents of the western pan-sexual zeitgeist it has embraced, driven by the winds of a secular culture it vainly attempts to harness; whilst under the waterline, the hull will continue to bubble away and rot away leading to its eventual sinking.

The Newcastle Diocese is the Swanson Diocese.