A diagnosis by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the crisis within Anglicanism has received a stinging critique from Rev. Canon Phil Ashey, chief operating officer of the American Anglican Council.
In a sermon delivered in Mexico on 13 August, Justin Welby had said that the Anglican Communion was moving in the opposite direction to toleration, and disintegrating into chaos and disputes between traditionalists and progressives.
But, in his blog (www.americananglican.org/what-is-the-problem), Canon Ashey contrasts Welby’s analysis with the 2012 statement of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA).
The FCA, comprising 200 archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders from 30 countries and 25 Anglican provinces, said then: ‘The conflict in the Anglican Communion since 1998 is a crisis of gospel truth, not only regarding matters of human sexuality, but the authority of Holy Scripture as God’s inspired Word, and the unique person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation’.
The chairman of the FCA, the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, primate of Kenya, had affirmed, ‘The heart of the crisis we face is not only institutional, but spiritual’. Anglicans are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Canon Ashey writes: ‘Judge for yourself: which of these two analyses of the problem is more faithful to the facts and underlying causes of the crisis in the Anglican Communion, unfolding and accelerating over the last 10 years?
‘Which of these two analyses — the Archbishop of Canterbury’s or the 200 leaders representing the majority of Anglicans worldwide — is more faithful to both gospel truth and the fulfilment of gospel mission in Christ’s great commission?’
Ashey also takes exception to Welby’s reference to Anglicans’ dangerous ‘absence of any core beliefs’. He writes: ‘The issue has never, ever been an absence of core beliefs. Rather, it has been about changing the core beliefs of Anglicanism — indeed of Christianity itself — on the essentials of the catholic and apostolic faith.
‘From the supremacy of Christ alone as “the way, the truth and the life”, to Christ the great teacher as a way, a truth and a life; from the creeds and councils of the apostolic church and the 39 Articles, to the millennium development goals; from baptism as initiation into new life through the blood of Jesus Christ, to baptism as a bill of rights for access to any office within the church … and the list goes on’.
In his sermon Welby described one extreme, as he saw it: ‘On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth and exclude any who question.
‘When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches — divided; ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering; incapable of living with each other and incomprehensible to those outside the church’.
But, Ashey writes, this caricature by Welby was ‘hurtful’ for those who described themselves as ‘traditional, biblical, evangelical, catholic and confessing’ Anglicans. ‘We do not know of any place or practice among ourselves which excludes any who question.
‘If it were not so, we would not intentionally create such opportunities for people to ask the questions worth asking about life in places and practices like Alpha, Christianity Rediscovered and a host of other process-evangelistic opportunities.
‘If he were to walk about the vibrant, growing Anglican churches in places like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Argentina, Peru and the Anglican Church in North America, I am sure that the Archbishop would discover people who are neither divided nor ineffective in serving the poor, the suffering and the hungry.
‘He would find them seeking to contextualize the gospel without sacrificing the content of the Bible in the face of increasing secularisation, religious pluralism and even outright persecution’.
Ashey said it was ‘sad’ that the Archbishop has chosen to thus caricature faithful Anglicans, having come to office with the expectation that his deep experience in reconciliation would bring people together.
He added, ‘The Archbishop’s failure to fairly represent either side of the “precipice” makes one wonder the extent to which he has carefully listened to all sides’.
Picking out Welby’s statement that there must not be ‘politics in dark places’, Ashey points out the faithfulness of east African Anglicans, compared to the ‘duplicities’ of Welby’s fellow western archbishops, who promised in Primate meetings not to ‘tear the fabric of the Anglican Communion at its deepest levels’, and then ‘went ahead and did so by ordaining practising homosexuals and lesbians as bishops, sanctioning same-sex blessings and seeking to change the core beliefs of the Christian faith up to this present moment’.
What the Communion needs on all sides, Phil Ashey says, is forgiveness and cleansing, requiring public confession and public repentance.
‘So far, the Archbishop of Canterbury has reserved the call to confession and repentance for pernicious pay day lenders and homophobics.
‘Based on his analysis of the problems within the Anglican Communion, how far will confession and repentance go in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s agenda?’