This week at Lambeth, the Archbishop of Canterbury confirmed there are two sets of beliefs about human nature and sexuality in the Anglican Communion. He also committed the Communion not to affirming either one. It was a great success of pluriform truth in Anglicanism. Get your lifeboats ready; the captain has set sail and the iceberg is straight ahead. Wisdom would recall what happened to the first ship that attempted this passage and map out a safe route after studying the dangers ahead. Instead, the Archbishop is heading towards the same fateful end. Like Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic, he’s just staying the course.
Anglicans in North America were on the original Titanic, spiritually speaking, and already hit the iceberg. As water poured in, thousands of faithful Anglicans got in lifeboats from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, the Southern Cone, and elsewhere. Fellow Anglicans in biblically faithful churches saw our plight, rolled up their sleeves, and rowed toward us despite the threats and outrage of western liberals. We thank God for the way they rescued us from drowning in despair and litigation.
The new Titanic 2 of the Anglican Communion, captained by Abp Welby, now heads off to cold, dangerous water like its predecessor. Those who sail upon its waves don’t seem to understand what lies beneath its dark surface. Progressive voices hailed the archbishop’s decisive stance on dual integrity as a victory and as the next step toward an inclusive, evolving church, calling it “truly non-binary,” just like many of its members. They ignore the real issue raised by the Global South that sex is simply the tip of the iceberg (see the diagram below)! For the Global South and other biblically faithful Anglicans, the denial of the doctrinal essentials below the surface of sexuality—what God created and called good, human identity and flourishing according to the Bible, marriage between a man and a woman, the nature of discipleship, and especially the ultimate authority of the Scriptures—are the very issues at the heart of our divisions.
Those who reduce this conflict to the issue of sex do not grasp the danger lying ahead. They are blind to the emptying of God’s Church of the truth and power of the Gospel to overcome sin and death. When the North American Anglican ship (TEC and Canada) began its journey towards the iceberg, the American Anglican Council was there to ready the lifeboats. At that time, others in North America were asking why God cares about who we sleep with and what we do with our bodies when what he really cares about is social justice; however, what we believe about sex subsequently reflects what we believe about the Scriptures, the Church, God, and the nature of reality. That is the rest of the iceberg. If we seek to minimize the presenting issue, we eventually end up with an entirely new religion.
The God of Israel cares about how humans conduct themselves in this world with their bodies. To say that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t care about what we do with our bodies is to simply reject God’s self-revelation and His good creation. To say that God does not care about the boundaries set in Creation for the sake of humanity is to leave behind the Christian faith as it was received for two thousand years. It robs millions of the faith that anchors their souls.
As many archbishops and bishops in the Global South shared with Canon Phil [listen to the Anglican Perspective podcast here], the issue is simply this: Do we take the Bible as our ultimate authority in all matters of faith and life? If we do, will we obey God’s Word? The meta-narrative of the Bible—creation, fall, redemption, and the restoration of all things— guides us as we seek to obey all that God commands through scripture. Sexual ethics are a part of these commandments, and for those who read, mark, and inwardly digest them, one consistent interpretation emerges: What we do with our bodies is a big deal in God’s plan of salvation, and sexual immorality as defined by the Church is a cause for discipline, repentance, and transformation. In addition, homosexuality and other sexual identities and behaviors like transgenderism challenge the very definition of what it means to be human, so the issue at stake runs much deeper than who God wants us to have sex with and how. The iceberg looms large but just out of sight, tempting Anglicans who are already drifting away from the clarity and authority of the Scriptures to navigate around it despite the dangers.
Archbishop Welby made it clear this week that he’ll try to do just that, perhaps getting as close to the iceberg as he can through “listening and good disagreement.” With this attitude, there will be no course correction for those who follow him on the Titanic 2, and it will sink in the frigid waters of doubt, confusion, and heresy, dragging many souls down with it. The good news is that there are other boats upon which biblically faithful Anglicans can make the passage, whose captains and navigators are firmly committed to the compass that the Scriptures provide.
For a European perspective with a similar theme, written about the Anglican Network in Europe’s experience, we recommend reading The Good Ship ANiE on the Anglican Convocation Europe website.