Comprehension test: can the Anglicans accept both sides of the same sex debate?

“Comprehensive Anglicanism” is a new banner under which some in the Anglican Church of Australia are gathering. While the term “comprehensive” has been used before to describe the sprawling mix of views that is Anglicanism, it has been given new impetus by Phillip Aspinall until recently, the Archbishop of Brisbane and a new movement called the National Comprehensive Anglicanism Network (NCAN is in formation. I say “in formation” because ncan.org.au is still parked at GoDaddy, their internet provider.

“To cherish and strive for a Church that welcomes all shades of faith and keeps the sacramental table open for all – the proud, the foolish, the misguided and the over-zealous – takes courage, tenacity and perseverance,” Professor Stephen Pickard, a retired bishop writes in advocating for the network for the Brisbane’s Anglican Focus magazine  “In a fractious and divided world; in a time of great uncertainty beset by a pandemic and ‘alternative facts’, the Church of God needs to return to the Jesus of the Gospels.

“They bear witness to a saviour who relentlessly kept the doors of the Kingdom open to so many, much to the chagrin and offence of the self-appointed good and righteous in his day. A comprehensive Church is a uniquely and inherently messy and challenging church. It is never the soft option; it is the road less travelled. This is the vocation and mission of those who travel the Anglican Way.”

Peter Judge-Mears explained his decision to leave his Brisbane church in the  Diocese of Southern Queensland to join the Diocese of the Southern Cross breakaway. He told a Sydney meeting that the “comprehensive” label was questionable. “I have two questions about Comprehensive Anglicanism. I’m going to define it in a second, but with their bare words. But I have two questions you need to ask about comprehensive Anglicanism. Is it comprehensive? Can you guess what the second question is? 

“Comprehensive Anglicanism, and this is from the National Comprehensive Anglicanism Network. ‘Comprehensive Anglicanism seeks to promote inclusive, generous, and open-hearted Anglicanism. It is a movement valuing all the traditions of Anglicanism where differences are seen as gifts from God to be valued and treasured.'”  Judge- Mears began. “Now, that’s a statement that sounds like one of those motherhood statements, quite hard to argue with, but let’s just sit with it for a second. Is it actually comprehensive? In the statement released by Stephen Pickard, who’s the chair of the National Comprehensive Anglicanism Network- the statement came out as a response to the Kigali Commitment from Gafcon 2023 – Pickard uses a sort of prima facie argument that the Kigali statement is flawed because people from the Sydney diocese were involved. So comprehensive Anglicanism cannot have any of the members of the largest Anglican diocese in the country.

“How comprehensive is it? As in Aspinall’s Synod address [here Judge Mears references the Archbishop of Brisbane’s 2022 Synod address, which was critical, like Packard, of the evangelical Sydney diocese]. The diversity of voices is not a diversity that allows for the presence of anybody who was trained at Moore College or Ridley College. The voices of those who hold the theological position that most, a lot of evangelicals around the country hold, including many members of those particular dioceses, where this is being said. 

“In the words of Inigo Montoya [a character from The Princess Bride]. He keeps using these words, and I do not think they mean what he thinks they mean. Or, to borrow from Animal Farm: “All Anglicans are equal, but some are more equal than others…”

“So the problem with Comprehensive Anglicanism, apart from the fact that I think there’s an illogical thing about it, is that they don’t actually mean it. It’s actually deceptive because it argues for togetherness whilst excluding. It argues for inclusivity whilst excluding. 

“Now, I’m not arguing for including everything myself. I actually don’t think we include everything, but they are. 

“Second question, is it Anglican? My brain goes to Article 20 [in the 39 Articles, an Anglican confession]. ‘It is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word, written. Neither may it so expound one place of scripture that it be repugnant to another.’ And how does that square with saying that the ethical commands of scripture are no longer prescriptive? [referencing a statement in Aspinall’s Synod address that caused Judge-Mears to leave his church. [The Judge-Mears decision to leave is here. The Pickard statement critical of Gafcon and Sydney Anglicanism is here. ]

“Because presumed in that [Aspinall] statement is that scripture denies what he wants to affirm, and that we need to reject its denial in allowing equal validity to those who reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus; in allowing equal validity to those who would discard our formularies; in our allowing equal validity to everybody who’s at the table, regardless of what they believe, unless they’re evangelical.

 “You have to ask whether this is upholding the theology that we are supposed to be grounded on as Anglicans.

“Clause two of the Anglican [Church of Australia’s]constitution, ‘the church receives all the canonical scriptures of the Old New Testaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation.’ And it’s funny that they’ll latch onto those last words and say, yes, it’s got everything necessary for salvation. The rest of the stuff can throw out. That’s it. That’s not what that says, says. It says it’s the ultimate rule and standard of faith, not as rule and standard that needs to give way to the zeitgeist, the latest mood of our culture.”

So is Comphrehensive Anglicanism as practised in the Diocese of Southern Queensland truly comprehensive?

The Other Cheek gave Bishop Jeremy Greaves, from the Diocese of Southern Queensland, the opportunity to respond to issues raised by Judge Mears. 

The Other Cheek asked, “Does the Anglican Diocese of Southern Queensland accept ministers who have trained at Moore or Ridley colleges?”

Bishop Greaves: “It is not true that clergy who have been trained at Moore or Ridley are automatically excluded from appointment in this Diocese – there are currently clergy who trained at both Moore and Ridley active in the life of this Diocese. It is true, however, that we are very mindful of how people will “fit” in this diocese given the broad spread of theological and liturgical traditions and our concern to promote “Anglican comprehensiveness.” This is particularly true with regard to the ministry of women in this Diocese, and it would be unworkable to appoint anyone in this diocese who could not accept the episcopal ministry of a woman or could not work alongside women clergy as equal partners in ministry.

“As Archbishop Phillip Aspinall has said previously, “Comprehensive Anglicanism tries to live with paradox and ambiguity by affirming the truth present in various perspectives which are in tension with one another. It tries to ensure that all the voices and perspectives are at the table and heard empathetically, even though that means living with tensions, diverse views, apparent contradictions and paradoxes. The instinct is to “include” in the belief that God’s spirit will lead us more fully into the larger truth in which, ultimately, differences will be resolved. This comprehensive approach is underpinned by particular spiritual dispositions of the heart and soul. It’s difficult to remain engaged with those with whom you differ. It requires maturity to maintain respect, openness to the truth of their insights, preparedness to disagree and to stay in relationship.”

“There are people from both the more progressive and more conservative parts of the tradition who feel unable to live with the “paradox and ambiguity” of this understanding of “Anglican Comprehensiveness” and who would not be a good “fit” in this diocese.”

The other cheek also asked Are clergy joining the diocese asked if they have had anything to do with Gafcon?

Bishop Greaves: “The ‘Expression of Interest’ form on the Diocesan Website does include a question that asks, ‘“’Do you support GAFCON?’”

The Other Cheek also asked “the question behind the questions” whether Comprehensive Anglicanism welcomes Evangelicals; – you might like to comment on that,

Bishop Greaves: “Anglicanism is at its best when all of the strands of our tradition are strong – catholic, evangelical, charismatic – and the Diocese of Brisbane has clergy and parishes from all of these ‘strands.’ Comprehensive Anglicanism welcomes those from every part of the tradition on the basis of the understanding above. When appointing clergy to parishes we are always mindful of the existing ‘tradition’”’ within those parishes and seek to find suitable clergy on that basis – Evangelical clergy for evangelical parishes and catholic clergy for catholic parishes etc. There is no intention to change or destabilise evangelical parishes; thus, we are always looking for evangelical clergy to work in this Diocese.

“We are understandably careful with appointments given statements such as this from Glenn Davies, ‘“’a split is nigh impossible because of our Constitution… so one option is to become ghetto-like… to protect ourselves with right doctrine and let the rest go their merry way… the next option is to continue to influence the national church and to actually call them to repentance… Well, what Sydney does best is to continue to proclaim Christ and to do so far and wide without fear and without favour, and so therefore, we need to continue to populate the country with lay people and clergy. Sometimes Archbishops in the past have not wanted to send their best clergy out of the Diocese… but that’s not the best way.’ That comment, in Glenn’s speech in September 2022 to the ACL, suggests an agenda of colonisation from some parts of the church that is not sympathetic to ‘comprehensiveness’ in any way.”

Both Judge Mears and Greaves score some points. Judge-Mears is an example of a Moore graduate who was accepted to work as a minister in the Diocese of Southern Queensland. But asked about this, he points out that it took some convincing to be let in; it was the fact that he had worked in New Zealand, where he would have been alongside progressive Anglicans, that convinced the archbishop to let him serve.

Michael Calder, who succeeded Judge Mears at the St Johns Wishart church in Brisbane was a sensitive appointment of an evangelical to a traditionally evangelical parish. Still, he was trained at Queensland Theological College – a conservative Presbyterian college in Brisbane and St Marks Canberra, so neither Moore nor Ridley.

Greaves raised support for women in ordained ministry as a criterion for acceptance in the diocese. This does mean that a Moore College graduate who followed the teaching of that avowed complementation seminary is ruled out. Not every Moore graduate is against women priests or bishops, but the majority would be. 

So rather than a Comprehensive Anglicanism that simply keeps graduates from the two largest Anglican theological colleges out – the border is porous to some extent – there is a ban on those Anglicans who, as conservative Anglo Catholics or conservative Evangelicals, do not accept the ordination of women.

Is that less than comprehensive? – it would seem to be.

The question of Gafcon can’t reasonably relate to women’s ordination. Gafcon includes Anglican provinces that ordain women, such as Uganda, and those like Nigeria that do not. Two Gafcon provinces, South Sudan and Kenya, have Woman Bishops. 

The objection to Gafcon might be because it has supported breakaways, including the local Diocese of the Southern Cross, which Judge-Mears has joined. But on the women minister issue, of the six churches currently in the Diocese of the Southern Cross, two would not have joined it if it did not accept women ministers: New Beginnings in Lakelands, WA, is headed by Linley Matthews-Want, and Faith Church in the Sunshine Coast, coming from a Uniting Church background would not have joined a complementarian church network.

One way of describing the possible viewpoints on issues like same-sex blessing or marriage is a tool first used by evangelicals and later by progressives in the United Methodist Church, where just over 20 per cent of local churches in the US have voted to leave. These conservative churches have voted to leave a denomination where rules against same-sex marriage or clergy have been broken, causing conservatives to depart.

But in the UMC, there’s been four groups, not two. These are described as conservatives and progressives, with each subdivided into “compatibilists” who want to live with those of the opposite view and “incompatibilists”, who want the church to take a stand.

So you end up with the four groups:
• Conservative Incompatibilists (who have voted to leave)
• Conservative Compatibilists
• Progressive Compatibilists and
• Progressive Incompatibilists.

The emergence of a “centrist” lobby has been significant in the UMC.

What of the Anglican Church in Australia? The Comprehensive Anglicanism discussion would seem to be aimed at creating a similar dynamic to the UMC, building up a “compatibilist” centre, and as in the UMC, effectively allied with the progressives in seeking a church where same-sex blessings and perhaps marriage is allowed.

However, to this observer the striking feature of the last General Synod, besides the advance of the conservative vote – becoming a sizeable majority in the houses of clergy and laity – was the absence of a middle ground.

The proposed statement supporting the man-woman marriage, defeated by the House of Bishops, had clear majorities in the other houses. In the Laity – the vote was 63-47 and Clergy 70-39, but the motion failed in the House of Bishops 10-12. The total votes were 143 to 98.

A motion to affirm same-sex marriage “as a moral good and a gift to be celebrated, providing an enrichment of the Christian understanding of marriage and a witness to God’s grace and love, consistent with the testimony of Scripture and Anglican tradition as expressed in the historic Creeds” moved by progressive Prof Matthew Anstey was defeated 153 to 82.

Anstey wrote, “The so-called ‘middle ground’ – traditionally a large portion of GS – is diminishing. No one spoke to oppose same-sex marriage and maintain fellowship with those who support it.
“GS18 brought a much clearer presentation of two alternative narratives, each claiming to represent the heart and soul of the ACA, articulating for their community who they are and what they hope for, and including a rich repertoire of emotional responses and behaviours, an ‘ethos’ as it were.” It may be that the Comprehensive Anglican movement does draw an audience for a middle-ground compatibility position. Or, as previously reported by The Other Cheek, a possibility raised by Bishop Administrator Cameron Venables at this year’s Brisbane synod might emerge.

“It is not impossible to imagine a future Primate of the National Anglican Church of Australia rejecting the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and not attending the Primates meeting convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. And, a future in which the Anglican Consultative Council’s work is ignored in favour of the work and direction of Gafcon councils.” 

One Comment

  1. Where is God’s love in all this- Love God, love neighbour? See how these Christian’s love one another! Or more “see how Christian’s are destroying one another”😰😰😰😰😰😰😰

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