The Times doesn’t get religion

Gavin Ashenden responds to The Times leader of 17 Sept 2015 on the Primates gathering

Sir: Your leader (“Church at Bay,” Sept 17) offers a flawed analysis of the crisis besetting Anglicanism. It is unhelpfully patronising to African Anglicans. Your assumption of post-colonial resentment and prejudice fails to account for why so many American, Australian and English Anglicans share their views.

A better analysis would be tto take into account the tension between a faith that recognises the integrity of the Bible in a way that saves it from the colonialism of passing cultures (nothing to do with literalism), and a secularized faith which prefers so-called “progressive” values antithetic to the faith. The present ominious decline of progressive CofE Anglicans in relation to the flourishing of orthodox traditional Anglicans demonstrates the difference.

The archbishop is to be wished well in his attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable. But for as long as the Church of England chooses to prefer the Marxist meme of “egalitarianism” to the countercultural values of the gospels, it risks both the collapse it presently faces and the bringing into being in England of an alternative, renewed Anglican orthodoxy, which stands with the majority of Anglicans across the globe.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Gavin Ashenden — Chaplain to the Queen

Dr Ashenden’s letter was written in response to The Times leader “The Church at Bay” of 17 Sept 2015

For more than a decade the Church of England has been consumed by backbiting and threats of schism as it debated the contentious issues of women bishops, gay clergy and scriptural literalism. This has been a depressing and unedifying spectacle. It has severely weakened the authority of the church at a time when faith has become an ever more controversial political issue. In the process it has obscured the valuable work that the church still does in education, social care and pastoral support for millions.

The arguments have gone far beyond the seminaries and pulpits of Britain. They have wrought havoc throughout the Anglican communion, the family of 38 churches in communion with each other and with Canterbury. Worse, church doctrine, especially on such divisive issues as human sexuality, has become entangled in growing resentment at the continued dominance of the Church of England. In African and other developing countries this dominance is seen as a quasi-imperial hangover from a bygone age. Seizing on an issue that appeals to widespread prejudice, some African churches have denounced the liberalism of western churches as flawed and decadent. For many, the consecration of an openly gay bishop by the Episcopal Church in the United States in 2003 was the last straw.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation yesterday to all primates to meet in January to thrash out their differences is a bold attempt to end the arguments that have brought the Anglican church to the brink of schism. It is also a high-risk strategy, with splits and walkouts more likely than agreement or even agreement to disagree. Why has he taken this step now?

First, he is determined to focus Anglicans on the most serious issues confronting Christians today, from violence and persecution in the Middle East to poverty and the protection of vulnerable children throughout the developing world. This is impossible as long as they are wasting their energies quarrelling among themselves. Like Rowan Williams, his predecessor, he wants to keep the 80 million-strong communion together, but not at any price. So he is proposing a looser, less imperial structure. A church can decide not to remain in communion with every other one, as long as it retains a clear link with Canterbury. As a source at Lambeth Palace suggests, it is not a divorce; more like sleeping in separate beds.

Second, the archbishop, a former oil executive, likes clarity. The communion cannot go on pretending that all is well when it is not. Better to part, if only temporarily, than fudge moral, doctrinal and structural disagreements. He has prepared the ground. His marathon visits over the past two years to the primates of all 37 other provinces have been as shrewd as they were exhausting. He went abroad to listen rather than summoning the faithful to Canterbury. The resulting insights and goodwill may be crucial in resolving differences.

Finally, the archbishop is determined that the church should play a more visible role in resolving conflict. This is within its own congregations, with other Anglican churches and with other religions, especially Islam. The circles are overlapping and interlocking. His determination to get women bishops approved at home has paid off. He now needs to find a common focus within the communion. Only then can he begin to make reconciliation between faiths a global goal.

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