The Canterbury Bait and Switch

by The Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll

 

The recent announcement of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s visit to Kenya is a classic case of bait and switch. For those unfamiliar with the term, “bait and switch” refers to a tactic by which a customer is lured to a product by something enticing (the bait) and then sold something different than what he expected. Bait and switch can take commercial and legal forms, but I am referring to it here as a rhetorical device to lure people who approve one laudable action to approve another action, which is unconnected to and unlike the first.

 

So the laudable action is this. Archbishop Welby went to Kenya in the aftermath of the contentious presidential election there, met with the re-elected President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opponent Raila Odinga, and preached a sermon in their presence on the importance of reconciliation.

 

There is a long history of religious leaders seeking to follow Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) in the church and wider society. As the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishops of Canterbury have in the past sought to mediate crises, as in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide. This is all to the good, and I hope that Archbishop Welby’s mediation may have a positive effect on the tense political climate in Kenya.

 

My problem is with the reporting of this visit and particularly Welby’s own further comments drawing an analogy between his role in Kenya and his role in the wider Anglican Communion. That was the switch.

 

In a follow-up interview, he claimed that his entire ministry is one of reconciliation and then applied that to the divisions within the Anglican Communion over sexuality. “Our challenge” he said, “is to work our way forward, holding on to the truths that are given to us through Jesus and in the Scriptures; and yet never sinking to the level of demonising or hating people because they are homosexual.”

 

So what precisely are the truths given to us through Jesus and in the Scriptures? At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, 570 bishops stated that “[this Conference] in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage” and that “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation” (Resolution I.10).

 

Justin Welby has refused to commend this Resolution and, so I argue, intends to relegate it to the dustbin of history. This Resolution - repeatedly affirmed by Global South churches, including the Anglican Church of Kenya, and repeatedly violated by the Episcopal Church USA and others – notably went missing from the October 2017 Lambeth Primates’ Communiqué.

 

In his interview, Justin Welby proceeded to laud this Primates’ Meeting as an example of unity in difference, skipping over the fact that three of the major Primates from Africa (Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria), representing about 40% of the Anglicans in the world, had refused to attend. He continues to refuse any recognition of the Gafcon movement, which is planning a third major conference in June 2018. Is this because these Anglicans are the ones considered to be demonizing and hating homosexuals?

 

I have argued elsewhere that the October Primates’ Meeting was anything but a love-fest for some Anglicans. The Primates’ Communiqué declares that the Anglican Church in North America is “not part of the Anglican Communion,” which flies in the face of Gafcon and the Global South Network seating its Primate in their councils. Presumably, Canterbury and his cohorts in the “official” Episcopal Church USA are not losing any sleep over the emptying of dozens of churches in South Carolina, not to mention hundreds before that. The Communiqué also berated the many churches in the Global South for what it called “border-crossing.” Compare that treatment with the gentle slap on the wrist to the “official” Scottish Episcopal Church for resolving to marry same-sex couples in church.

 

Archbishop Welby stated that it would be “difficult to come to a single view” within the Anglican Communion on matters of sexuality because “the cultural differences are so great” and because Anglican Archbishops don’t have Pope-like authority to impose doctrine on the Communion. Funny, I live in one of the “cultures” in which Christians are being discriminated against for opposing the LGBT agenda. Which culture is he speaking of?

 

True, the Anglican Communion has not relied on a Pope but rather on “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith” (Lambeth Quadrilateral). Likewise, the Anglican Articles of Religion state: “The Church has power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written (Article XX). It is on this authority that Resolution I.10 claimed that homosexual practice was “incompatible with Scripture” and could not be advised.

 

So, what if Justin Welby did have papal powers? What would he say? Well, in a recent interview, he admitted he did not have an answer.

 

This brings me back to the bait and switch. It is a good thing for religious leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury to bring their influence to bear in political crises like that in Kenya when asked. However, their fundamental calling, according to their ordination oath, is “to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same.”

 

In the same Sermon on the Mount where Jesus praises peace-makers, he says: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). What does the Church teach? This is the primary issue facing the Anglican Communion, and it should not be distracted by shiny objects, however laudable they may be.

 

Addendum: Archbishop Welby’s Visit to Moscow

 

No sooner had I finished the essay above when news broke of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit with Metropolitan Hilarion in Moscow and the Joint Statement on Persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

 

Who can possibly object to prominent ecumenical leaders addressing an issue of great importance: the tide of militant Islam which has driven Jews and now Christians out of their homelands.

 

However, what was not said in the Joint Declaration and Anglican news release is of equal importance. The Russian report of the meeting gives a hint that militant secularism might have been a topic as well. According to this report, the Patriarch raised other “topics of global significance, and quite rightly noted that many of these issues are related to anthropology, to the nature of the human being”:

 

What can be seen now in the world, especially in West, is more terrible than what happened to religion in the Soviet Union, stated the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“There is an expulsion of God from human life, ignoring the Divine moral law. And especially devastating is the fact that ignoring the Divine moral law is clothed in the form of state law. This is a very dangerous trend. If people force the state law to try to commit a sin or to associate themselves with sin, then we will enter into some kind of apocalyptic reality,” he said.

 

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill raised the question: are Christian communities able to stop this process today, are they capable of prophetic ministry?

 

This is the same Metropolitan Kirill who addressed the previous Archbishop of Canterbury:

 

We are also extremely concerned and disappointed by other processes that are manifesting themselves in churches of the Anglican Communion. Some Protestant and Anglican churches have repudiated basic Christian moral values by giving a public blessing to same-sex unions and ordaining homosexuals as priests and bishops. Many Protestant and Anglican communities refuse to preach Christian moral values in secular society and prefer to adjust to worldly standards.

Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture.

 

Supposedly, Justin Welby agreed with the Hilarion’s concern about “the hegemony of atheism and secularism” in the West, but somehow this concern did not make it into the official statement.

 

Once again, here is the bait and switch. The Archbishop of Canterbury makes a public visit with the Patriarch of Moscow (who, by the way, had earlier welcomed the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America) and issues a statement regarding an important topic in the news – the persecution of Christians worldwide – while avoiding mention of the secularist attack on the basic Christian doctrine of man in the image of God, male and female. I wonder why.

 

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus of Trinity School for Ministry (USA) and former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University. His book The Global Anglican Communion: Contending for Anglicanism 1993-2018 will be published in 2018.

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