GAFCON & culture.

Well GAFCON have now responded to William Nye’s open letter of ‘rebuke,’ (Crossing the Rubicon  Presumably they feel a tad sore for having been corrected so publicly?

Maybe GAFCON’s initial salvo, William Nye’s response, and GAFCON’s subsequent return set of shots do at least bring into light that which the Church of England has so for so long sought to manage through carefully controlled processes?

GAFCON have claimed that many members, ordained and lay, in the Church of England refuse to accept the theological legitimacy Lambeth 1.10. They are right.  A significant number of folk have contacted GAFCON U.K. asking to be included on their next wall of shame; me included.

Maybe the recent exchanges between GAFCON and Nye are analogous to the Advent theme of ‘darkness to light?’

The problem is that one sides darkness is the other sides light. And, yes many would align their own position as more akin to dawn, or dusk. Not everyone has fully made up their minds on the issue of same-sex relationships and, the church’s response. This is why the stakes are so incredibly high.

Many would also want to critique the insistence that the only rightful place for heterosexual sexual relationships is within a Christianly defined and celebrated marriage, allowing for the notion that virtues such as fidelity and monogamy frequently precede marriage. Marriage in some senses seals a pre-existing state. It is very rare in this day and age to marry folk who are not already co-habiting.

Lambeth 1.10 isn’t only concerned with homo and heterosexuality, it is concerned with the entirety of the Christian doctrine of marriage. GAFCON are right on this point! Where I think they are wrong is in their conclusions – but, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Nobody, GAFCON or Progressives alike can be 100% sure what kind of light those who ‘dwell in the shadow of darkness,’ will move towards. We can guess and theorize, but should perhaps take into account that in 2016 professional guessers (pollsters) have tended to get their predictions very badly wrong. The fact that no one knows which way those currently remaining quiet, in the shadowlands, will move is what makes the stakes so incredibly high.

What GAFCON and progressives alike know is this: that it is the movement of travel that will determine the path for either a restatement of, or movement away from, the historic position. (I prefer to use the word historic rather than traditional in the belief that tradition can be understood as the dynamic relationship between acceptance of that which has been handed down through history alongside a legitimate critique of that same history.)

GAFCON and progressives alike will continue to trade Scriptures, continue to appeal to tradition (defining tradition in their own terms – just as I have done), continue to debate what the science does or doesn’t say about issues of human sexuality and, continue to hold very different perceptions on issues such as love, justice, inclusivity and so on. For my part I find it really difficult to relate to, and experience, the kind of God the GAFCON folk seem to relate to. I simply don’t understand how they regard God as loving , just, impartial and, kind.

I can’t quite see how their notion of  God can be described in the language of virtue. And, it is perhaps worth remembering that Holy Scripture describes God in the language of virtue. Virtue is part of God’s self-disclosure. Scripture variously describes God as loving, just, impartial and, kind.

‘God is love,’ (1 John 4, 8)

‘God is just,’ (2 Thessalonians 1, 6)

‘God shows no partiality,’ (Romans 2, 11)

‘The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works,’ (Psalm 145, 17). Human beings are said to be the epitome of God’s work and, ergo, his kindness (Genesis 1, 26).

But maybe I am missing something? What I do know is that I will surely be accused of taking these verses out of context (their historical context that is). Fair cop, but there again I strongly believe that the Scripture has to be read in and for our context. I also strongly believe that those arguing for a continuation of the historic position have failed to do so at the level of virtue, or even the Doctrine of God.

Another GAFCON argument that I would want to hold under the light of critical scrutiny is that those arguing for a change in the church’s teaching and practice have simply capitulated to secular culture. Is GAFCON to be regarded as a beacon standing up to secular culture? I don’t think so.

In many GAFCON territories homosexual practice is illegal. So how is GAFCON counter cultural? If GAFCON U.K. wants to be seen as radically counter cultural (as if this is a universal virtue in itself; surely God is perfectly capable of working in and through culture and cultures) it should surely be devoting considerable energy to encouraging a whole raft of governments to radically change policy?

And, what of western governments and the rise of the populist right?

Surely GAFCON U.K. should be standing firmly alongside those determined to block any retrograde steps such governments may seek to bring to the statue book; that is if it wants to be considered to be truly counter-cultural?

The reality is that GAFCON isn’t counter cultural; not one bit. It should at least have the integrity to stop playing the capitulation to culture card.

Yes, progressive theologies may be informed by engaging with culture, but to argue that conservative theologies, such as the ones held by GAFCON, stand over and above cultural norms and trends simply isn’t true.





2 thoughts on “GAFCON & culture.

  1. As so often with GAFCON, they are also (I think) betrayed by their emphases. There are all sorts of ways the Church of England has “capitulated” to culture that GAFCON seems much less concerned about. This suggests to me that something else is also at stake.

    Where are the letter denouncing infant baptism (or denouncing refusing infant baptism, depending what you think is biblical and what cultural)? The Church of England has capitulated to culture in allowing “Christenings” of small babies, separate from the main church’s worship (in certain circumstances and at the discretion of the local priest). And this isn’t a fringe issue, either (which e.g. guitars in worship – another capitulation to modern culture – might be regarded as). Who we baptise and why goes to the heart of salvation. It is clearly a ‘salvation issue’.

    In the sphere of “human sexuality” the Church of England has also capitulated to culture in allowing (in certain circumstances and at the discretion of the local priest) divorced people to remarry while their partner is still living. Often without enforcing ‘remorse’ about the previous marriage. This clearly contravenes Lambeth I.10.

    The fact that GAFCON singles out equal marriage (and fair treatment of LGBT clergy) as THE issue suggests that there are other motivations than simply a desire to be ‘biblical’ rather than ‘capitulate to culture’.

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