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Andrea Williams: William Nye, GAFCON UK and the Archbishops' Council

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Last week the Church of England Secretary General William Nye wrote an open letter to Andy Lines of GAFCON UK, criticising the publication of its briefing paper, 'The Church of England and Lambeth I:10'

Below, Andrea Williams and Wilberforce Academy Director Dr Joe Boot respond to the Secretary General's letter, saying that he "misses the weighty matters of the law in favour of disputing over the intricacies of the letter, which has the effect of distracting from the real issues." 
 

Last week (25 Nov), William Nye, Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council for the Church of England, wrote an open letter to Rev. Canon Andy Lines, Chairman of GAFCON UK Task Force, in response to the briefing paper, "The Church of England and Lambeth 1:10", in which serious concern is expressed about the irregular homosexual activities in the Church of England. It would be somewhat wearisome to rehearse the full content of Secretary General Nye’s rather punctilious response [1] to this important briefing paper which is faithfully seeking the preservation of the historic teaching of the Anglican Church.

What is troubling is that for the Archbishops’ Council it would seem that, once again, the leaders in the Church concerned with the upholding of scriptural principle and canonical duty are perceived as just stirring up much ado about very little. William Nye clearly opposes GAFCON UK as he effectively argues that there is ‘nothing to see here’ on the matter of human sexuality in the church. His open letter tends to fog the real issues with learned excursions into the fascinating procedural details of the jurisdiction, power and character of resolutions made at the Lambeth Conference, along with reminders about changes in British law, ecclesiastical law and the disorienting track record of the bishops. In 2004 the bishops voted in favour of same-sex civil partnerships and yet, according to William Nye, ‘defended marriage’ when the recent move was made by the British government to amend the meaning of marriage in British law.

I must have missed the public, robust defence of biblical marriage by the twenty-six Anglican Bishops in the Lords. At the key vote to deny the Same Sex Marriage Act (c.30) at the second reading, only fourteen bishops showed up and five of those abstained - hardly the most robust defence of marriage by the church. Secretary General Nye’s letter risks straining out gnats whilst swallowing camels given the prime concern of GAFCON UK that some Church of England clergy are flouting church rules with impunity.

Clearly what William Nye’s missive purports to do is correct what he calls the ‘erroneous assertions’ of leading and scripture-upholding Anglican clergy (GAFCON UK) who have served the Church for many years and are by no means ignorant of the workings of their own Anglican Communion. These leaders have often had to watch in dismay as Church of England clergy have violated the scriptures and the historic teaching of the Church, especially in its ongoing and seemingly inexorable drift toward sexual libertinism in the wake of the juggernaut of Sexual Revolution. Yet, just as GAFCON UK seeks to draw a line in the sand (where the majority of global Anglican leaders do), they are rewarded with a clear rebuke in this dispatch from the Archbishops’ office - at the conclusion of which, despite Secretary General Nye’s assertion to the contrary, we are not really much clearer as to the Council’s understanding of "the teaching and practice in the Church of England"regarding human sexuality than we were when he started.

William Nye’s letter is, by any reasonable judgment, a bureaucratic masterpiece. I have no doubt that as to the letter of Anglican law, he is right about the non-binding character of Resolution 1:10, but the heart of the issue for GAFCON UK (as the Bishops well know) is the scriptural, canonical and authoritative teaching of the Anglican Church on marriage and human sexuality which many Anglicans clearly recognise has been under threat for decades. William Nye thus misses the weighty matters of the law in favour of disputing over the intricacies of the letter, which has the effect of distracting from the real issues.

The Revd. David Holloway has written a competent and clear open response to William Nye, addressing both the procedural matters and the overarching concern of GAFCON UK and Anglicans around the world [2]. Surely the Archbishops’ council can see what truly troubles GAFCON and the global south? They must by now understand that a further shift on the issue of human sexuality will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The Secretary General’s central arguments over procedure and the non-binding character of resolutions actually mask a much deeper problem - the Church of England is steadily succumbing to European relativism and some of its Bishops are leading the way. GAFCON UK is not blowing matters out of proportion but has every reason to be concerned and to ask where the discipline of the church is to be found when last month, on 23 November 2016, James Jones, former Bishop of Liverpool, argued in a public lecture (Ebor Lectures) that homosexual behavior is not only an identity and not a choice, but is a ‘special grace.’ In this context he then proceeded to deliberately imply that what have always been seen as close brotherly friendships between our Lord Jesus and the apostle John (who was in fact Jesus’ first cousin) and David and Jonathan in Scripture, had in fact an erotic character based in same-sex attraction [3]. This is all argued in the name of his discovery of true ‘justice’ and tolerance, as he testifies to having been changed by his dealings with the LGBTQ community and a ‘re-examining’ of Scripture in this new light.

These now common ‘conversion’ stories to a relativistic approach to both church history and the Bible - an approach rooted in the false philosophy of historicism - do not herald a new future characterised by peace and tolerance, but simply denote a change in the justification of conflict; many clergy are now simply joining the struggles between new ‘identity groups'. The rejection by many churchmen of scripturally-grounded doctrinal certitudes and a cohesive Christian worldview has brought relativism into the Church of England pulpit and with that relativism a tangible intolerance. This is inevitable because without a common foundation for discourse there can be no possibility of agreement; indeed the revolutionaries in the Church of England will countenance no dissent. As the philosopher Chantal Delsol has aptly pointed out:

That there are many points of view, however, does not in fact bring peace because relativism is by nature intolerant: it destroys the foundation on which any common discourse must be based... In the society of late modernity, abuse is hurled no longer in the name of ideologies, but in the name of identities. Individuals rally around their lifestyle preferences, their cultural attachments, or their status as historical victims. [4]

Churchmen who believe that surrendering to the relativism inherent in the modern individualism of particular identities will somehow save their ‘institution’ or in any way heal society are frankly self-deluded - such capitulation will do and is doing the opposite. These identity collectives which some clergy are enthusiastically joining - groups that demand the church bend to celebrate their lifestyles - are little more than echoes of individual narcissism expressed at the social level.

Modern relativistic churchmen defy God and His law by ascribing equal value to the particularities of various identity groups and then with the rest of society, acceding to their endless demand for laws, regulations and liturgies that suit their lifestyle - everyone with their own norm. Here each group wants its own good and evil, its own law and morality, so that a common discourse is rendered inherently impossible. Without a recovery of the common certainties about human beings made known in Jesus Christ and his gospel, we are condemned to a tyranny of the loudest and most powerful idiosyncratic group.

When the Christian Church deliberates over and discusses revising its most foundational scriptural convictions and truths in order to give place to contemporary relativism and the demands of various groups in society there is no logical stopping point to the process. Furthermore, the ‘tolerance’ they believe they are achieving by this action proves to be a utopian mirage. There is no holding the Church together and bringing true peace among people without vigorously contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3); this alone establishes the foundation for gospel peace. Delsol’s comment on the emptiness of the modern doctrine of tolerance could have been written for the Archbishops’ Council in its futile efforts to ‘preserve unity’ without the concurrent, unambiguous restatement of scriptural certitudes:

Relationships between identity groups are relationships of tolerance in its most basic form of indifference: procedures are put into place so that each can do what it pleases without interfering with others and without being judged by the others. In this way, tolerance creates a collection of individual solitudes...; it creates nothing that can be shared. Identity groups divide society in two: us and them. They barely communicate with one another. How could they? For there to be dialogue, there must be a minimum of common truth. But there is none. [5]

The absence of war is not the same as true peace. A Church whose goal is only non-war is an empty society. It is the truth of the law-word of God that ensures true peace amidst the diversity of the Christian community in its various expressions. The common bond between us is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our lives who brings us into glad conformity to the image of Christ, the truly obedient Son, who obeyed every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The kingdom of God is not a collection of identity groups demanding its own laws and rights, but a common culture of Christ - a structure of meaning that reflects the scriptural understanding of human persons in their earthly existence as image and office-bearers.

If William Nye and the Archbishops’ Council ignore this rudimentary reality and fail to act in terms of it, then the Anglican Communion will not last much longer in its current form. God will nonetheless forge true peace by His gospel, whilst the radical lie of relativism will fall on its own sword.

 


Footnotes:

[1] William Nye, Secretary General Responds to GAFCON UK, last modified 22 November, 2016, https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2016/11/secretary-general-responds-to-gafcon-uk.aspx.
[2] Rev. David Holloway, An Open Letter to the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, last modified 29 November, 2016, http://www.gafconuk.org/news/open-letter-secretary-general-archbishops%E2%80%99-council.
[3] The Rt Rev. James Jones, ‘A Journey Around Justice,’ Tenth Anniversary Ebor Lecture, 23 November 2016, http://bishopjamesjones.com/speeches/ebor_lecture.pdf.
[4] Chantal Delsol, The Unlearned Lessons of the Twentieth Century: An Essay on Later Modernity, trans. Robin Dick (Delaware: ISI Books, 2006), 127.
[5] Delsol, The Unlearned Lessons, 130.

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