These resources have been provided to assist parishes respond to this week’s announcement of the “Diocese of Southern Cross.” Please find below a letter to parish family, and some lectionary reflections in light of our current context. (See also, To All Who Are Hurt and Confused and Prayer for the ACA.)
Dear Parish family,
The ‘Split’ in the Anglican Church? Isn’t happening….
I write because you may have heard stories in the press about the Anglican Church ‘splitting’. I want to assure you that this is, in large part, not true. You need not be concerned about the church you love tearing itself apart. Not yet at least. These stories come and go.
Who are we? We are loved.
You know that I fully understand the fact that not everyone who attends our parish church agrees with me (or with one another) about every aspect of our Christian faith. And yet we muddle along together, rubbing up against ideas that might unsettle us and learning from one another. It is in diverse and accepting community that we discern together what the Gospel means and what the Spirit is saying. There is no ‘perfect’ church. Since Jesus choose the first disciples, there has only ever been a bunch of inadequate human beings, trying desperately hard to love and serve a God who is both imminent and awesome. Of course, we get things wrong. Have done and will do. God copes with this and has always done so. Will always do so. God opens God’s arms and calls us to walk towards light and life, lifting us as we stumble and teaching as we struggle. In our corporate brokenness we discover the first and main reason for humility, as we recognise that we are all far short of perfection, so we learn to lift and encourage one another to continue the journey.
And God loves and laughs with us, rejoicing that we long to follow Jesus authentically.
A bit of historical background.
Many of you will know that there have long been arguments within the Anglican Church about any change we have made. It took a long time for the church to recognise that slavery was a sin. Bishops were once slave owners and defended their position from scripture. Changing the translation of the Bible that we use has caused huge ructions and debate. The ordination of women led some to leave the Anglican Church and either join the Roman Catholic Church or start a breakaway new denomination. Some of you will know that in some parishes, even moving a pew is anathema! We’re quite good at disagreement.
It has always been the Anglican goal to try and walk the middle way (the Via Media), attempting to embrace diversity of opinion and belief and concentrating on what unites rather than what divides. We have always looked to the Anglican ‘three-legged stool’ of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as we have dealt with questions raised; as we have lived out our faith in a changing world and in diverse cultures and places. Many would say that the seat of that stool is a fourth source of knowledge and revelation, Lived Experience.
Despite this, we do not always agree. And, generally, we have jogged along together with the sort of love-hate relationships a family always has. This has now, sadly, changed.
You probably know that in recent decades, we have spoken broadly about two ‘sides’ of the church. It is always impossible to define exactly what these sides are and so whatever I write next will be inadequate. Within each of those ‘sides’ are people of deep faith who might not agree with one another on certain points. It’s a spectrum, not unlike political views and beliefs.
Who and what is GAFCON?
Out of this power-struggle has risen a group called GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference), which has brought together many of the more biblically fundamentalist, socially and culturally conservative members of the communion. This group (possibly representing a majority of global Anglicans) is calling on the more progressive members of the Anglican Communion to repent and return to the “traditional” teaching of the Anglican Church on issues of gender, sexuality and male headship. GAFCON members say that they understand and interpret the Bible correctly and the other ‘side’ is in error. Naturally, the other ‘side’ disagrees.
In this last week, the Australian branch of GAFCON met in Canberra and announced the formation of a new denomination (the ‘Diocese’ of the Southern Cross) which has been set up specifically to give clergy and parishes who agree with them – but serve in dioceses with bishops who do not – a ‘safe’ place to move to. They have called this an ‘alternative Anglican Diocese’. As the Primate of the Australian Church has stated, this new denomination (or company) is neither a diocese, nor Anglican. It is simply one more ‘breakaway’ church of disgruntled people who can no longer abide living alongside those with whom they disagree.
GAFCON has decided that they – and only they – know the right way to read the Bible and follow Jesus. They have decided that even though they are members of the Anglican Church of Australia, they must call on fellow Anglicans to leave the denomination and join this new church. They have plainly said that – in their opinion – many Australian bishops within the Anglican Church do not respect the authority of scripture. They believe that many clergy are unfit for office unless they repent and agree to agree with them.
Are you feeling safe and loved and sure of your place?
What concerns me most is what impact this might have on you, and the many other faithful Anglicans who turn up to worship in our churches each week. Will you hear about this move to destabilise the church and begin to question the faithfulness of your bishops and priests? What impact will that have? Hearing GAFCON suggest that a particular bishop or priest does not respect the authority of scripture might lead you to think that – if you have enjoyed that persons’ preaching and teaching and found them to be someone you can trust – your own faith is suspect and your discernment faulty. This would awful. It would also be untrue.
I am also deeply concerned that LGBTIQ+ people of faith (and those with questions) will hear about this debate and action as yet another kick in the teeth. Once again, their lives and loves are being used as a political football and their genuine faith is being besmirched by people who, on the whole, do not know, respect or love them. It is so important that we affirm people of diverse sexualities of God’s love for them, the integrity of their relationships, and their rightful place in the full life of the church..
God has not changed. God still loves us.
From the moment you placed your trust in God, God has been faithful to you. This will not stop. Any priest or bishop might be in error on any number of points – but – none (or very few) of us do this wilfully. As Bishop Jeremy Greaves stated, “I do not know any Anglican who does not love the scriptures and take the bible seriously”. But we will not always agree about what it means and none of us has the mind of God.
Has the Anglican Church in Australia split. No.
Are your bishops and priests untrustworthy and ignoring the authority of scripture? No.
Are we all still learning to follow Jesus and build the kingdom of God on earth? Yes.
Let us do that gracefully, with courage and humility. Let us include rather than exclude. We have chosen the way of love. It is narrow and rocky and risky and often confusing, but it is the way of life.
Be at peace. God is with us.
Reflections on the Lectionary for 21 August 2022
It has been a tumultuous week for the Anglican Church of Australia. The readings offer many angles to reflect on in our context. Here are just three ideas that might be considered.
- The story of the woman who “was bent over and could not straighten up” is strikingly powerful.
- She is healed in a public place (the synagogue), in sight of religious leaders who disagreed with what they were seeing. This week, we have been very much in the public places.
- Jesus healed her with words “Woman, you are set free!” and actions “He called her forward… he put his hands on her”. He responds to her as soon as he sees her, “When Jesus saw her….”
- The impact was instant: “Immediately, she striaghtened up and praised God”
- This visible sign of God’s grace was met with indignation (v14), and this in turn was countered by Jesus
- Here is a quote from an Anglican LGBTQIA+ FB page:
“This is a moment when the lives and ministries of queer Anglicans need to be celebrated and affirmed publically and joyfully. This is a moment when queer Anglicans are yet again being made unjustly to feel shame and as though somehow this fracture is ‘their fault’. It is absolutely not their fault and we can all make that abundantly clear by the flags we choose to fly, the songs we choose to sing, the readings and words we offer on our sign boards and in our pulpits. The woman bent double as in Sunday’s forthcoming gospel needs to be invited to stand tall and straight and proud and the crowds need to be encouraged to rejoice. For enough is enough.” (Penny Jones, shared with permission).
- Here is a quote from an Anglican LGBTQIA+ FB page:
- The Psalm echoes this: “In you Lord I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame” (71:1)
- Jeremiah and the Psalm note “from birth” – an opportunity to speak of people being as God intends them to be from birth (and all the implications of this for queer theology).
- The events of this week have a long history, to disputes around the ordination of women, etc.
- The recent census data reinforces our sense of struggle and challenge, and many Anglicans are feeling anxious, heavy, uncertain.
- The gospel reading constrasts “eighteen long years” of struggle with “immediately she straightened up”, reminding us that with God, things can change unexpectedly and quickly.
- Moreover, the catalyst for change is Jesus: “..he put his hands on her”, an echo of the God’s transformation of Jeremiah: “The Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth…” and from that encounter, Jeremiah overcame his fear of being too young and too inarticulate.
- In all of life’s upheavals, the Psalm speaks of God’s solidarity and presence: “Be my rock of refuge”.
Speaking Out/Speaking Up
- This week has seen a LOT of speaking out, speaking loudly, speaking up
- Speaking out/up is a prominent theme in the texts:
- Jer 1:7 “You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you”
- Jer 1:9 “… I have put my words in your mouth”
- Psa 71 “Deliver me!…You have been my hope… I will ever praise you.”
- Luke 10:12 “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity”
- Luke 10:15-16 “Should not this woman…be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
- Speech is central to Christian theology, from creation “Let there be light”, to Incarnation “In the beginning was the Word”, to death and resurrection “It is finished…He is Risen!” and so forth
- Speaking out is costly and can lead to conflict (seen in both texts), but is ultimately transformative “uproot…plant”, “…she straightened up and praised God”
- Speaking up/out is a dynamic present in many ways: conversion, repentance, salvation etc.
- Enabling queer voices and agency in our churches is critical in moving forward.