Global South response to Pilling Report shows missiological gulf

The Global South of the Anglican Communion Secretariat have issued a statement in response to the Pilling Report. Some will find it profoundly encouraging in its clear and prophetic expression of sound doctrine; others will be exasperated by its ungodly recalcitrance and loveless intransigence. It is reproduced in its entirety in case the pdf should disappear, but His Grace wants only to deal with the bold (his bold) in the third paragraph:

We are writing to express our serious concerns in regard to the Pilling Report. We know that the House of Bishops of the Church of England will be discussing this and we would like to assure them of our prayers so that the Holy Spirit would guide them to the right decisions.

First, we would like to say that we believe that the church of Christ should not in any way be homophobic or have any kind of phobia. We should follow in the steps of Jesus Christ who embraced all the marginalized of his society; having said that, we must say that we did not read of any homophobic statement from any bishop or clergy in the Church of England. It is sad that anyone who does not support the ministry of gay and lesbians, as well as same-sex marriages, is considered homophobic. Obviously there is a big difference between those who refuse to recognize the presence of homosexuals in the church, i.e. homophobic, and those who do support Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 and do not support the ministry and ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbians, as well as same-sex marriages.

The Pilling Report raises an important question which requires an answer: will the Church of England conform to its context, i.e. will the Church of England allow the society to shape its faith and practice in such a way in order to be acceptable by the society, or will the Church of England recognize that its distinctive mission is to transform the society?

The Pilling Report suggests, that while the Church of England should not change its teaching, it should give a space to provide pastoral care to gay and lesbians such as doing same-sex blessing with unauthorized liturgies. It is similar to what some churches in North America called “a local option” and now has become a standard practice in these churches. In the pretext of providing pastoral care, the suggestion in a very subtle way, encourages the turning of a blind eye to a major alteration of the teaching of the church. This suggestion, of a local option, likewise ignores an historic Anglican approach to doctrine, namely lex orandi, lex credendi – what we pray is what we believe. A pastoral provision, while not officially changing the church’s teaching, does, in practice and in fact, change the church’s teaching. The Global South are resolutely opposed to this.

The Global South considers forward movement on the Pilling Report’s recommendations as equal to what the North American churches did ten years ago which caused much confusion in the Communion. This reminds us of Eli the High Priest who turned a blind eye to the wrongdoings of his sons which led to a period of spiritual dryness when the Spirit of God departed from the midst of His people (Ichabod).

The Church of England should not worry about the gap, or the principled tension, between the church and society, especially after the House of Lords and House of Commons accepted same-sex marriages. The Church should not allow the state to put pressure on it. Indeed, the Church needs to respond to the demands of the society, but not at the expense of its faith, practice, and unity. In fact, the Church needs to be the conscious (sic?) of the society, providing spiritual leadership and guidance. A faithful church will always have a principled tension between her and the society. This gap makes the church distinct as salt and light. Especially at this season of Advent, we need to repent and call people to repentance in order to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was never “politically correct.” He never compromised the message he came to deliver. He risked, and even lost his life, to stay true to this message.

The Pilling Report correctly recognizes that the Church of England is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It therefore obligates the Church of England to humbly consult and seek the counsel of sister Provinces on such a grave matter, in light of the spirit of the Windsor Report. There is an implication of this fact which is: if the Church of England wants to keep such unity, there must be wider consultation in order to avoid divisive decisions. Whatever decisions the Church of England will take will have an impact on its relation with the wider Anglican Communion, especially the Global South, and also the relation with its ecumenical partners and interfaith dialogues with other religions. It would be difficult to comprehend how we affirm our faith by saying the words of the Nicene Creed, “we believe in one , holy, catholic and apostolic church,” when we take unilateral actions that disrupt this oneness. Our hope and prayer is that the House of Bishops would give serious attention to the relation between the Church of England and the wider Communion, as well as other churches and other faith communities.

The Pilling Report recognizes that this issue is a divisive issue. It is astonishing that the Report makes the Church of England’s observations and recommendations without reference to the same practices by the North American churches in 2002 and 2003 that tore the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level, and continue to do so . It would be very sad, indeed, for the Church of England to follow in the steps of those in North America whose similar unilateral decisions led to further division and tore the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level.

Surely, after all the Primates meetings that have discussed the divisions in the Communion and provided ways forward, the Windsor Report, the absence of one-third of the Bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and the absence of many Primates from 2011 Primates meetings, the Pilling Report does not acknowledge that extensive consultations in the Communion have already been done. We regret that greater attention to these reports and Primates statements did not provide more guidance in the recommendations of the Pilling Report as representing recent, existing consultations. Most of us in the Global South have already participated in the Listening Process. After more than 10 years of listening and conversation, we do not see a value of endless conversations and indabas.

We are clear on what the Bible teaches about sexual relationships outside of the marriage of one man and one woman, and the need for pastoral care for those who find themselves in relationships outside of this. The dissenting view written by the Bishop of Birkenhead captures well our position. For us in the Global South, his view is the majority view, and we hope the Church of England Bishops will recognize this. The Church of England needs to be cautious in taking decisions that will compromise faith and the position of the Church of England within the Anglican Communion as well as the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury who tries hard to heal the torn fabric of the Communion.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be trans formed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”                                                               Romans 12:1-2

May the Lord bless you!

Yours in Christ,

+ Mouneer Egypt                                                      + +Ian Mauritius
The Most Revd Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis                The Most Revd Ian Ernest
Chairman of the Global South                                                     Honorable General Secretary of the Global South of the Anglican Communion                                               of the Anglican Communion

What irritates His Grace most about this is that we are about to celebrate the birth of Christ, and this issue is a colossal diabolical distraction. Five centuries ago, Church of England bishops were burned at the stake for the gospel of salvation; now they meet over cheese and wine to discuss sexuality.

The paragraph in bold type evidences the missiological diversity that exists across the Anglican Communion, and it requires a little unpacking, for therein lies the taproot of division and a possible branch on which may sprout a degree of unity.

The Church has always struggled with the tension between the affirmation and assimilation of culture, and the call of the gospel to confront and transform it. Richard Niebuhr outlined five possible relationships between the gospel and culture, which are the typical approaches taken throughout Christian history.

He identified Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ with culture in paradox; and Christ the transformer of culture. Each generates different understandings of the mission of the Church, and each finds its expression in the broad church that is the Church of England – which incorporates Protestants, Evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, Anglo-Catholics and permutations of various fusions of these held ‘in tension’.

Some essentially view culture as antagonistic to the gospel, and adopt a confrontational approach. The model of contextualisation (if there is one) will be the translation model, challenging the culture with a direct presentation of the unchanging gospel. Those who see culture as being ‘on our side’ adopt the anthropological model of contextualisation, looking for ways in which God has revealed himself in culture and builds on those. Those who adopt the ‘Christ above culture’ model have a synthetic approach and adopt a mediating third way, keeping culture and faith in creative tension.

And for those – like our Global South brothers – who see Christ as the transformer of culture, adopt a critical contextualisation which by no means rejects culture, but is prepared to be critical both of the context and of the way we ourselves perceive the gospel and its meaning. Thus culture itself needs to be addressed by the gospel, not simply the individuals within it, and truth is mediated through cultural spectacles, including our own.

This model mitigates cultural arrogance or easy identification of the gospel with English culture. It also permits one to see how mission relates to every aspect of a culture in its political, economic and social dimensions. David Bosch is an advocate of mission that is as inclusive as possible. He says:

Mission is a multifaceted ministry, in respect of witness, service, justice, healing, reconciliation, liberation, peace, evangelism, fellowship, church planting, contextualisation, and much more… mission has to be multidimensional.

Such a model is demanded by the postmodern plurality which now presents the Church of England with a melting pot of cultures and ideas to which it needs to respond in different ways: there cannot be one model of mission which is inflexible and unresponsive; each situation must be met on its merits and the response must be appropriate. Essentially, the context of each region of the Communion, and each diocese within each region, and each parish within each diocese must make them sift, test, reformulate and transform mission in order that the response can be relevant and dynamic for those who are being lost.

According to Lesslie Newbigin, ‘there is not and cannot be a gospel which is not culturally embodied.’ He maintains that the missionary task is to challenge the ‘reigning plausibility structure’ by examining it in light of the revealed purposes of God contained in the biblical narrative. He advocates a scepticism which enables one to take part in the life of society without being deluded by its own beliefs about itself.

The distinctive mission of the Church of England, while based upon the principle of inculturation, cannot endorse uncritical acceptance of the totality of English culture. And yet it operates a territorial ‘church in community’ type of ecclesiology which works with the state to define its worship, and through dioceses, parishes and chaplaincies to effect its pastoral care and compassionate service. Establishment commits the Church of England to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications.

By concerning itself with the pastoral dimensions of wholeness and healing, the mission of the Church of England accords with people’s quest for meaning and an assurance of identity which cannot be found without community, without fellowship. Its fundamental weaknesses, in common with many churches in Europe, is its tendency to demand that people do not merely acknowledge the Lordship of Christ but also abandon their former way of life in favour of that of a peculiar middle-class sub-culture. Notwithstanding some of the excellent work going on in some of the most impoverished parishes in the country, the public perception of the Church of England remains one of middle-class privilege and an élitism which has little relevance to a modern, pluralist, multi-ethnic society.

And it is also one which has very little relevance to most gays and lesbians, and therein lies the missiological challenge.

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