GAFCON & the paradox of ‘cultural captivity.’

It seems that plans are under way to consecrate a ‘missionary bishop’ to provide alternative episcopal leadership to conservative churches that simply cannot accept any movement away from the status quo in respect of the offering of rites and prayers recognizing same-sex relationships many of which, as Archbishop Justin has pointed out, are of ‘stunning quality;’ why wouldn’t they be?

These plans are not being drawn up in Lambeth, Edinburgh or Cardiff  by the U.K’s domestic archbishops and their advisers, but by a group of  overseas (or should I say oversees?) GAFCON primates and are a direct snub to the leadership of the Anglican churches in England, Scotland, and, Wales. GAFCON, we should be clear, is no longer a movement or ecclesial pressure group but, rather a self-appointed cross border province, responsible only to itself and its members.

GAFCON are clearly worried about the health, or as they see it ill-health, of the Anglican churches in these lands. In the short-term their concern would appear to be more for the Church of England’s Celtic neighbours in Scotland and Wales but there can be no doubt that the notion of ‘radical new inclusivity,’ and the willingness of several diocesan bishops to explore what this may mean in the life of their diocese is also a major source of concern.

I share GAFCON’s concern that individual dioceses now seem at liberty to work out what ‘radical new inclusivity means.’ Could it be some dioceses end up producing their own localized liturgy? Would this undermine the concept of common prayer? Are we, in the Church of England, in danger of establishing (or at least explicitly acknowledging) a job market for clergy in dioceses? These for me are real concerns.

I suspect that with the arrival of a para Bishop, appointed by a pressure group turned self-created see or province,  and responsibility for working out what ‘radical new inclusivity’ actually means being given to diocesan bishops historians will look back and conclude that 2017 was the year that a new reformation, or re-formation, of the church in the U.K. formally began. Maybe such a reformation is required? Maybe it is required for renewal in the church? Maybe the Church of England’s Renewal and Reform initiative will head off in an entirely unexpected direction with Renewal and Reform being far less about strategy and finance than about ecclesiology and doctrine? Lot’s of maybe’s!

GAFCON’s critique of any form of progressive stance is based on the claim that progressives have failed to place themselves fully under the authority of scripture, the consequence of which is a life lived in ‘cultural captivity.’ This I would want to suggest is a staggeringly weak line of argument, based on a superficial analysis of history and, reinforced through the use of a politicized  soundbite or slogan. The soundbite is necessary because the argument is weak.

Many of those arguing in favour of rites  for LGBTI couples have spent years arguing against the prevailing, dominant and, domineering culture. I have met and sat alongside gay ‘rites’ Christians who have been imprisoned for homosexual acts and yet who continued to stand up to a culture whose basic message was ‘you are repugnant.’

Sadly I also know, or should I say have known, people who simply couldn’t live with being reminded that society and sub cultures within society believed them to be less than fully human, unnatural and, repugnant. Such folk lost life or identity because they couldn’t adhere to cultural norms. The choice of either ending life or living a phony, make-believe, life is a poor and toxic choice. Those who have lost life, liberty and, identity based on the fact of their sexuality are the true captives of culture and, victims of injustice and exclusion. Conservative cultures don’t come scot-free. Conservative cultures impose their own punishments and injuries; just consider the potential cost of being out and proud in many GAFCON territories.

I would like to suggest the church owes a huge debt of thanks to minority groups and, especially minority groups who have experienced the pain of exclusion and the pill of injustice, for reminding the church time and time again of one of our foundational scriptures. I am of course talking of Genesis 1, 26 where we read that God said (yes, God said) ‘let us make humankind in our image.’  

To remind the church, and society, that each and every person irrespective of sexuality, gender, color or physical ability is made in the image of God is to be both radically counter cultural and profoundly Christian.  To remain committed to standing at the church door and knocking even when you are knocked back time and time again is not to succumb to secular  culture but to live in hope, hope for a better more inclusive, more loving, church.

To stand in solidarity with LGBTI Christians cannot be caricatured as a simple and straightforward capitulation to secular culture. Such analysis is both trite and, consequentially,  patronizing. Many, perhaps most,  of those who have argued for greater inclusion have wrestled hard with issues such as distributive justice, often at the cost of knowing that their views are not welcome in the church which they have historically regarded as home. It is not so much a case as capitulating to culture but standing up to a powerful and closed sub culture.

To rank people and put them into nice neat little boxes, some of which are given house room, some of which are kept in the garage or still worse thrown on the skip (I have just moved house!) is to exist in a state of ‘cultural captivity.’  To isolate, exclude, or seek to throw out any of the treasured people of the church is an act of supreme and cultural violence. Isolation and exclusion should always be antithetical to the culture of the church.

So GAFCON’s reading of history, and their preferred soundbite, must be dismissed at every turn. They must be dismissed and rejected because they simply aren’t true.

Maybe, paradoxically, it is GAFCON (UK) and their followers who are the real voices of those held culturally captive?

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