Anglican Myth 6: The Louder The Better
Updated: Mar 7
It seems to be little appreciated just how much the Archbishops of Canterbury and York can welcome the dissent over the House of Bishop’s proposed prayers of blessing for sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage.
Yet, that is what the Archbishop of York said this week in New Directions magazine:
"We live in a culture and inherit a history where disagreement usually leads to division, division to conflict, and conflict to schism. I'm sure I will be called naive, but I dream of a better story. On the night before Jesus died, he didn't say to his disciples that they would be known as his followers by their agreement with one another, but by their love."
The greater the diversity of same and opposite-sex attracted people, conservatives, charismatics, catholics all engaged together in vocal or even activist rebellion, the warmer the welcome of it may be in the Palaces of Bishopthorpe and Lambeth.
The louder, more fulsome, and more assertive the voices are, the more it could sound like lovely music to the ears of the Archbishops.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in the Press Release announcing the House of Bishops' proposals,
“This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage – I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church."
If the threats of militancy - financial and otherwise - become yet more aggressive, that may actually be fine and dandy in the mind of the two Metropolitans. They can rejoice even more.
There is a strange dichotomy in operation - the stronger the insurrection, the more likely the prospect of defeat.
If Justin Welby had one primary goal for his now nearly decade-long arch-episcopate it is what he set out back in 2014. Speaking to General Synod about the disagreements in the Anglican Communion he said,
“There is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. That prize is visible unity in Christ, despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve. Yet, if we even get near it, we can at last speak with authority to a world where, over the last year, we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with the other.”
For Justin Welby the greater the disagreement, the greater even the “functional diversity”, the superior the witness to the world provided, always provided there is visible unity.
Welby concluded his 2014 address by saying this,
“The challenge is that there is a prize of being able to develop unity and diversity and, also, with deeper and deeper ecumenical relations, to demonstrate the power of Christ to break down barriers and to provide hope for a broken world. We must grasp that challenge. It is the prize of a world seeing Christ loved and obeyed in his Church, a world hearing the good news of his salvation. So let us here in the Church of England, above all in its General Synod, be amongst those who take a lead in our sacrificial, truthful and committed love for the sake of Christ for His mission in His world.
His meaning is clear- the more diversity of belief and practice developed in the Church, the more effective it is in showing Christ to the world, as long as the world sees it as essentially united. The more barriers that are broken down, the more hope there is for the world seeing Christ loved and obeyed and in that the good news of salvation.
For the Archbishops it matters not if the family are at war provided they don't divide for that is the obedience to which they are called. At Lambeth, Justin Welby did entertain the possibility of some family falling out, but only within very limited bounds. In a press conference he described global Anglicanism as a “messy family” where,
“Some families argue quietly in the dining room and others shout at each other in the garden, we are the latter”.
This is all profoundly counter-intuitive to those who understand real unity in the church to be unity in the truth, but that is not the paradigm in which the Archbishops operate. In his second keynote address to last year’s Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury explained his understanding of John 17 in this way,
“I often joke that if you read John’s Gospel there are only three problems with disunity: First, it hinders our prayers. God says when we’re one at prayer, God says in the scriptures, that God will hear our prayers. Secondly it diminished profoundly our sense of God’s love. God said in the scriptures than when we’re united we will know the love of God. Third it absolutely trips up, and slows down, and sometimes stops our mission and evangelism. The Bible says in John 17:21 that the world will know that Jesus came from the Father when we are one. So, apart from prayer, the assurance of Salvation, and mission and evangelism. Disunity is not a problem.”
To Welby, it is staying together that is the route to answered prayer, the assurance of the love of God and evangelism that testifies to the incarnation.
This is unity as the way to truth and discipleship rather than truth and discipleship as the way to unity.
But nonetheless, this is the Archbishops’ view - if ever greater disagreement in belief and action can be kept together, that creates an ever better version of the greatest possible miracle, and thus the most powerful possible demonstration of the gospel.
It follows from this that the greater the diversity held together the more truth itself can be known. Again, this is something Justin Welby explored at the Lambeth Conference, where the Call for Reconciliation “affirmed” that,
“We believe in God who is both three and one, who holds difference and unity in the heart of God’s being, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.... Our differences embodied in the Anglican Communion both challenge and deepen our experience of God in the other. As we join in God’s mission of reconciliation through Jesus and in the power of the Spirit, our differences are celebrated and redeemed, as we are made whole in the body of Christ. In that diverse whole, we more fully reflect the image of God.”
To put it very simply, the wider, deeper and even more painful the disputation, the greater the triumph if “unity” is preserved and the greater the impact of the gospel on the world.
Accordingly, for as long as “visible unity” is preserved ever more strident and radical dissent simply feeds the Archbishops' narrative. It makes their project stronger, not weaker, which it has to be said leaves the orthodox in something of a bind - the opposition is self-defeating.
How can the orthodox get out of this bind?
First, naturally, is to challenge the unbiblical view of unity that is at its heart. Amidst the focus on trying to present a proper hermeneutic of sexuality, there does not seen to have been very much of that going on.
The chance, while the church is being watched, to hold out in the power of the Spirit of Truth a counter-narrative of what true unity, peace and reconciliation means is, of course, a heaven-sent opportunity for the renewal of Christianity. The crisis might be an untold blessing.
Certainly, if the faithful are to be equipped for the immediate weeks and months ahead, it will be helpful to unravel the false version of “unity” that through synods, speeches, shared conversations, sermons and the like, has been peddled so relentlessly, for so long.
Second, is to ensure that no member of the public could ever see any of the orthodox as in any way visibly united with Church of England.
It is the visibly that matters- it is about optics, not words, strategy or even money. The challenge is not to stage only a battle of what is heard, but more so, a battle of what is seen.
To be truly militant therefore is to do whatever is most obvious to the onlooker to show that there is no “walking together” with error. It is to do whatever is most disruptive to the picture of the happy family.
Will that mean taking the argument not just out of the drawing room, not just into the garden but leaving the family home as publicly as possible with no intention of returning?
Will it mean rejecting the family name because of the family’s behaviour?
Will it mean total and very public divorce, regardless of the terms on offer?
Will it mean not going back to the occasional family party or event?
Will it mean avoiding being trapped in endless negotiations, as if there is merit on all sides?
Such a prospect is horrible to contemplate, but perhaps it is to be expected -
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53).
Anglican Futures blogs that might interest you:
Plural Truth: The Prize of Infinite Value
Plural Truth: How Might It Work Out?
Photo by Juliana Romão on Unsplash
Anglican Futures offers practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans
If you would like to hear more:
subscribe to our regular emails at http://eepurl.com/him4BT
or download our App from Spaces by Wix