By David W. Virtue DD
The outspoken General Secretary of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a movement of orthodox Anglicans who have distanced themselves from liberally-driven mostly Western Anglican provinces, says pressure is being exerted within the Church of Ireland to change its teaching on sexual morality – in common with other Provinces in the British Isles – and, as a consequence, weaken her commitment to Biblical authority.
Dr. Peter Jensen, the former Archbishop of Sydney, an evangelical, told the Church of Ireland Gazettenewspaper that the GAFCON Primates are deeply concerned about this pressure to change the Church’s traditional and biblical stance on sexual morality, but that he was encouraged by orthodox Anglicans on the island of Ireland. These orthodox Anglicans are encouraged that Biblical leadership is being shown by the Primates of GAFCON, and they are delighted to know that there are people willing to stand with them.
“Each party looks forward to a future of Gospel mission, growth, mutual interest and support, under God.”
The issue at stake is that of same-sex relationships. Dr Jensen’s remarks followed comments made by Nigerian Primate, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, in his June Pastoral Letter as Chair of the GAFCON Primates’ Council, in which he stated: “In the beginning, the focus of our concern was North America and we thank God that he has raised up the Anglican Church in North America as a new wineskin in that continent. Now our concern is increasingly with the British Isles.”
A Select Committee of the Church of Ireland General Synod, chaired by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev. John Mann, is overseeing dialogue on the subject of “human sexuality in the context of Christian belief”. It was established in 2013 and its term concludes in 2017.
Earlier this year, the Select Committee published resources “to assist the process of listening, learning and dialogue in the wider Church”. The General Synod of 2012 affirmed the Church’s Canon 31 teaching on marriage.
C. OF E. GENERAL SYNOD HOLDS ‘CONVERSATIONS’ ON HUMAN SEXUALITY
At last week’s meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod in York, members spent two days in behind-closed doors ‘Shared Conversations’ on the issue of human sexuality. A statement indicated that the talks had been “in an informal setting” and that Synod members had “listened and been heard as they have reflected together on Scripture and a changing culture in relation to their understanding of human sexuality”.
The statement continued: “Throughout these conversations, deep convictions have been shared and profound differences better understood. The Shared Conversations over the last two years now come to a conclusion, with over 1,300 members of the Church directly involved. “It is our hope that what has been learned through the relationships developed will inform the way the Church conducts whatever further formal discussions may be necessary in the future.
“It is our prayer that the manner in which we express our different views and deep disagreements will bear witness to Jesus who calls us to love as he has loved us.” In comments to the Synod at the end of the Shared Conversations, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, urged Synod members to go with confidence “in the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead”.
However, some 32 Synod delegates, both clergy and laity, publicly expressed their “lack of confidence” in the “shared conversations” and released a statement saying that the process was flawed.
Among them was the Rev. Dr. Ian Paul, a member of Archbishop’s Council, who has written consistently to explain and defend the church’s historic teaching, and has strongly criticized the Conversations process.
If a significant section of the Church’s governing body are prepared to publicly dissent in this way, then serious questions remain about the viability of maintaining surface unity in the church while allowing contradictory doctrinal positions.
Their statement read: “We, the undersigned members of the General Synod, wish to express our lack of confidence in the process of the Shared Conversations. Whatever their stated purposes, the outcome has not led to a greater confidence that the Church will be guided by the authoritative voice of the Scriptures, and its decisive shaping of traditional Anglican teaching, in any forthcoming discussions.”
In Scotland, and, more recently, Canada, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada passed an initial motion to amend its marriage Canon to include same-sex couples, by one vote. It now has three years to consider the matter. In 2019, the General Synod will hold its second reading on the issue. The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church last month passed a first reading of a change to its Canon on marriage to remove from it the doctrinal statement that marriage is to be understood as a union “of one man and one woman”. Following Church-wide discussions, the matter will return to the General Synod in June, 2017, for its second reading.