Hans Christian Anderson’s children’s’ story is about a vain emperor who is swindled by two men who offer to weave him a magnificent set of new clothes. These new clothes they say are invisible to stupid and incompetent people. The emperor agrees to hire them, and the men go to work. When they are finished the emperor inspects the empty looms but says nothing in order not to be thought a fool. He then gets dressed in the ‘invisible clothes’ and sets out in a procession through the city. Crowds of townspeople turn out to see the emperor in his new clothes. They all go along with the charade, not wanting to appear stupid or foolish. Then a child blurts out the embarrassing truth “The emperor has no clothes!” The emperor however holds his head up and processes proudly onwards.

Modernism was still at its height when I and my contemporaries were at theological seminary and many of us were taught by divines who had been educated in the elite educational institutions of the United Kingdom and the United States. Most of the present leaders of western Anglicanism were also educated at that time.

The prevailing powerful ideas that drove modernism such as scientific materialism (which denied the existence of the spiritual realm and promoted the conceit that science can explain everything), individual autonomy, the narrative of unstoppable progress, all contributed to the devaluing of the supernatural. The historical-critical method in Biblical Studies was arguably a development made possible by modernism. While valuable in uncovering the world in which Biblical writers lived it also seems to have led to a sense of superiority among western scholars who at the least devalued the supernatural in scripture and at worst dismissed it. Scientific rationalism was the one true way of understanding the world and if parts of the bible did not fit that paradigm they were glossed over or discarded.

Global South bishops and Primates are often dismissed by the power elite of western church as intellectually backward. The notorious Bishop John Spong once said of Africans “They’ve moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity. They’ve yet to face the intellectual revolution of Copernicus and Einstein that we’ve had to face in the developing world: that is just not on their radar screen.”[i] In 2008 John Chane, Bishop of Washington railed against accusations that his church was leading people into error by their revisionist stance saying that the African bishops’ claim to interpret scripture rightly was ‘dangerous’ and ‘demonic’[ii].

A colleague and friend who was ordained with me, was a few years into his pastoral ministry offered a chance to experience parish ministry in a Church of England Diocese. He gladly accepted and for several weeks preached, conducted services, and visited the homes of appreciative parochial families. On one occasion he encountered a severe case of demonic influence in a young man. This man had been through medical and psychiatric assessments and treatments to no avail. My colleague approached his bishop for permission to perform a needed deliverance, but the bishop denied the request indicating that he did not believe in the demonic realm! My friend was flabbergasted.

In essence this is a refusal to assign authority to the scriptural account of reality and especially the spiritual realm. If this is the case, are we really assigning authority to the Bible as we maintain? The Old and New Testaments agree on the nature of reality. That salvation is not just a ‘religious’ concept pertaining to the personal and private realm the on the one hand or a social programme on the other, but that Christ’s death and resurrection is a victory in a spiritual war between God’s kingdom and forces of darkness[iii]. That we, the Church are in a continuing spiritual battle until Christ returns. That powerful demonic forces are behind many of the pastoral problems we encounter, but also the errant teachings that arise from time to time[iv].

Here in Southern Africa, it is not uncommon to encounter instances of demonic influence in the lives of individuals which range from a mild oppression to outright possession. In the Diocese of Zululand priests and evangelists often experience quite serious spiritual opposition. A parish that I served in was situated in a region where there were known spirit mediums (or shamanistic practitioners) who could call down lightning from the heavens on a cloudless day.

African Christians can bring a much-needed spiritual discernment where matters of faith and doctrine are in question – especially in the areas of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of creation. Many African scholars, among them Yusufu Turaki and Afrika Mhlope have highlighted the Biblical worldview and also shown how it differs from African Traditional Religions.

The errant nature of gender ideology is a total denial of the creation order and the high doctrine of human beings. One of its main characteristics is the attack on the normativity of heterosexual marriage and thus on the bonds which undergird the family, secondly the polymorphic sexuality which blurs and destroys the creational boundaries defining male and female. Its dissolving of both the boundaries and the bonds that are the framework of the Creators design for human flourishing shows how anti-human and anti-God this ideology is.[v]

Jesus noted that the Pharisees were in error because they knew not “the scriptures nor the power of God”. That is, the intellectual Biblical study needed a spiritual discernment that was missing in their case. Gregory of Nazianzus stressed the connection between the intellectual and the spiritual in all theological endeavours and said that there could be no true theology without true holiness and its concomitant spiritual discernment.

Western Anglicanism represented by the Church of England, the Church of Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church (USA), and the Anglican Church of Canada, have set a course away from orthodoxy and the rest of the Communion and their leaders have like the emperor of Andersen’s tale donned the ‘new clothing’ of an errant gender doctrine. This ‘clothing’, they believe is invisible to the lesser mortals of Africa and the Global South, so they process on stubbornly. They ignore the prophetic pleadings of their brothers and sisters in the South at their peril.

[i] https://episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/the_living_church/TLCarticle.pl?volume=217&issue=7&article_id=12

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/jul/17/religion

[iii] see especially Ephesians, Colossians, and Revelation.

[iv] 1 Timothy 4:1.

[v] This is also characteristic of ancient Greco-Roman belief systems, and we can thus characterise gender ideology as undoubtedly neo-pagan.