Not so out of touch

by Tony Copple
30 June 2007

Blair Williams' piece in the Thursday 28 June 2007 edition of The Ottawa Citizen, Anglican bishops are out of touch looks reasonable at first glance, in the wake of the apparently contradictory votes at the Canadian General Synod recently concluded.

However as I read on I found myself in disagreement with many of the comments and conclusions of this professor of political science. Now that is grounds for trepidation indeed.

The first question is this. Since when was it "out of touch" to provide leadership that does not merely reflect the collective views of those who elected you? I don't want or expect my bishop merely to gauge the opinions of clergy and laity and then act as the majority wishes. (Neither do I want my prime minister to measure public opinion and then legislate in accordance with it.)

We elect bishops for their wisdom, experience and closeness to God. If the whole diocese votes one way, and that would be wrong, I trust the bishop would either convince us it is wrong or resign. A bishop that follows the wishes of the clergy and laity regardless of right or wrong is a follower not a leader, and could in theory be replaced by a computer. The lyric of "Here's to the Leaders" written May 2004 makes this point:

    Here's to the leaders of Anglicans in Canada,
    Whose guidelines for wisdom come from polsters in the press,
    Who lead from behind to where their flock thinks may be best
    Whose influence is activists who are seeking some redress
    from social negativity for being gay and les.
    Well here's to the Faith you're part of the heart of
    Go and find yourself another synod to be part of. Williams begins by implying that the decision by Synod that individual bishops may not immediately authorize ceremonies to bless same sex unions is "lamentable." That may be his opinion but it does not follow that the bishops are out of touch, at least not with God. And if they are not out of touch much of the rest of his article falls by the wayside, for he casts aspersions on the "overly rigid patriachal system" by which their selection was made.

    In his second paragraph he jumps right into that common non-sequitur that the precipitous decline in congregations is the failure to be attuned to the human environment in which we find ourselves including the mishandling of the homosexual issue over the years. Yet it is the "orthodox" churches whose pews are being filled right now with refugees from the Anglican and United Churches as they have strayed from scriptural interpretations of homosexual behaviour and many of the supernatural aspects of our faith. Statistics show that churches that maintain biblical teaching tend to grow while progressive and liberal churches suffer falling membership - a serious issue in the Anglican Church of Canada. If  "thinking through what a modern Christian church ought to be" means adjusting our doctrine to the falling ethical standard of the secular world, where in a recent example it is no longer officially so wrong to cheat and plagiarize in school, then I would prefer a church led by Jesus: the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

    Let's get back to those errant bishops. It was devastating to many of us that the first motion was passed, approving same-sex blessings as henceforward to be considered part of core doctrine, against Lambeth 1998 which was re-affirmed in a bishops’ statement of October 16, 2003. In other words, social and sexual needs of gays and lesbians trumped God's word. Nearly half our bishops concurred. What a terrible shock to the others! It was such a blow to the established order that I suspect that the two who switched their views in the second motion, David Torraville of the diocese of Central Newfoundland and James Cowan of the Vancouver Island diocese realized that they held the key to slowing the landslide that they had never expected. Bishop Cowan said after the vote that, while he favoured same-sex unions, he was still "asking for the theological rationale." Bishop Torraville is known to have faced strong opposition from among his clergy to the blessings. Looking for a theological rationale will take forever, but one sees the writing on the wall. Canon Garth Bulmer sees it too and as the final speaker in the debate (I saw this with my own eyes on the web-feed) stated that he cared not what was the vote, he would be blessing unions anyway. One remembers the bombshell he ignited in the closing moments of the debate in 2004 with his amendment to A134.

    Williams suggests that bishops should be selected based on content, ideas and track record, rather than image and style. He feels every church member should have a hand in choosing a new bishop. He should be careful what he wishes for; it is quite possible that proportional representation would yeild a traditional result. I would prefer they be judged on whether they are filled with the Holy Spirit. This would increase the likelihood of their having received the spiritual gift of wisdom. In fact in the current climate they are being chosen on where they stand on the liberal - orthodox continuum. Williams wants to shift the trend towards liberal, becaude he thinks he knows the answer in the current sexuality debate. All he knows is what the majority of clergy and active lay leaders seem to want.

    Not discussed at Synod or sadly anywhere else was the background to why the Bible writers, inspired by God, warned so diligently against homosexual practices. God had made us male and female as part of his design for the propagation of species. Other (per)mutations of the pursuit of sexual indulgence were not suggested in God's design of our bodies, and, when indulged in, can cause all manner of social and health issues, mental and physical. See here and here. Our gay friends will deny this; it is too much of an obstacle for them to be frank about.

    Tony Copple

    Anglican Essentials Ottawa