The following is a transcription of the Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon’s speech to the American Anglican Council’s Nehemiah Society on October 30, 2018 in Atlanta, GA.
Canon Harmon: It’s good to be with you, and I just want to offer a few reflections on my experience in the Anglican mess and in a particular with the AAC. If you want a way to think about this address, it’s basically Deuteronomy 8, the first 10 verses, which is an interesting passage of scripture and basically goes in three directions, look back, look around and look ahead. So, three sections under each of those headings. The Lord be with you.
Congregation: And with your spirit.
Canon Harmon: Let us pray. Heavenly Father and gracious God, we thank you for your presence with us, for your love for us, that you love us so much that even the very hairs on our head are numbered in your sight. We thank you for your sustaining grace that has enabled the Anglican community to be sustained as the third largest Christian family in the world, in your grace and in your mercy. We thank you for the North American branch of Anglicans and we thank you for the American Anglican Council—for its founding, for all the ways that you blessed it and for all ways that you are blessing it and for all the ways that you will bless it. We just pray tonight, Lord, that you would challenge us but also that you would encourage us. Lead us by your Spirit and build your kingdom in our very midst for we pray it in Jesus name.
Canon Harmon: Amen. Well, first of all look back. It’s an interesting challenge for me because everybody associates me with the General Convention of 2003 because of its publicity and because of its significance in the popular press. But my experience with the American Anglican Council actually goes all the way back to a group called Episcopalians United For Renewal, Reformation and various other Rs, when John Throop was the head of it. I mention this to you because this happened in the late mid-1980s. The reason I mention it is because it’s already a precursor of what was to come.
As I look back, I want to make sure that we’re all clear on something as we begin tonight, and that is the fight that the Episcopal church got engaged in, and that many of us were engaged in, was actually a fight over something which is very basic but very important, that is, are we going to have a Christian or are we going to have a pagan anthropology?
The question in the west at the beginning of the 21st century, brothers and sisters, is “What is man?” Right out of Psalm 8. What is man? This is actually the question that’s up for grabs. Don’t assume that the person you’re talking to has the same answer as you.
As Christians, we believe that there is such a thing as human nature. We actually believe that there’s only two kinds of people, men and women, and also, two kinds of people, married and single. That’s actually the biblical worldview. Way back in the 1980s, there was a curriculum called Sexuality: A Divine Gift which the national church’s headquarters was using and various Episcopal churches, that promoted a perspective on human sexuality and human anthropology that was utterly different than that, that actually basically goes back to a guy named Alfred Kinsey and a group called SIECUS. For those of you who are American wiz people, you know about SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
I won’t take you through the whole sordid tale of Sexuality: A Divine Gift, but Episcopalians United actually helped me write a booklet which pointed out to everybody what was actually in this curriculum that everybody was pretending didn’t exist, that the national church was pushing all over the Episcopal church. The Bishop of Colorado at the time, Bishop Frey, marvelously described this curriculum once as, and I quote, “Dr. Ruth in disguise.” Which is a very good way to think about it. It was pagan anthropology masquerading as Christian anthropology, and it was being promoted by the Episcopal church. That was just a little precursor to what was to come thereafter.
Then came the battle, convention by convention ’97, 2000, 2003. The thing to understand about the 2003 convention is, we were fighting over marriage, we were fighting over anthropology and we were fighting over biblical truth. That fight continues to this day. One of the things that I find interesting when I talk to people is people tell me, “We’ve moved on.” We’re still battling about this. The thing that the Episcopal church was battling about in 2003 has actually become the battle at the elite level of our society after the Episcopal church has been embattled on it.
I want to remind you of how it resolved itself in one significant way. That is this, in 2003, when we probably had our most successful General Convention as the American Anglican Council ever, and that’s one of the interesting things in retrospect, by the way, we never had so many people in so many positions of influence in both of the houses of convention. We never had so much opportunity, to tell the truth, and yet at the same time, we didn’t quite have enough to win the vote at the end of the day.
What I want to remind everybody of, is something that I mentioned in my Plano address immediately after the convention, which is the little teeny detail of what happened toward the end of the convention. They stuck me on this committee that had to do with liturgy and they wanted to do something with liturgy that had to do with blessing same-sex unions in a kind of a creative way. There were 45 members on the committee and the vote on the committee for the resolution that they put on the floor was 44 to 1. I know this because I was the one. I chose because of my AAC compatriots.
One of the things I want to say to you all is, the AAC is about lots of things but one of the things the AAC is about is strategy. We learned a lot about strategy. I was clearly taught that even as a one person on a committee, I had the prerogative to make a minority report. I actually made a one person minority report, which meant when it got to the floor of convention, I got a chance, after the committee chair spoke to the convention, to speak my perspective of the convention.
The reason I mentioned this to you is because, after the vote, and after all the controversy, the next day, this actually happened, and everybody forgets about it but it’s an important detail for our purposes tonight. They actually had a debate on the floor as to whether to expunge my minority report from existence. It was actually right out of George Orwell’s 1984.
The reason why I mentioned that is because when there was a switch from fully Christian to fully pagan anthropology, the important thing to remember is the Christian anthropology was no longer simply tolerated, it was obliterated. That is to say, the only sufficient position is not simply to tolerate the new morality, you must support it. That was the message that was clearly conveyed. If you don’t support it, you actually don’t exist, we will erase you. That was actually what happened at the level of national leadership. So, it was about anthropology, it was about marriage, it was about scripture. It created a new orthodoxy and the new orthodoxy was so opposed to Christian anthropology, that the old orthodoxy, i.e. us, were to be eliminated. You could do a whole talk just on that.
That’s why we got driven out of the church, because we were espousing something which simply couldn’t be abided in the new worldview because we were a living contradiction to the new theology that had been embraced. That’s my experience. It never would have been my experience without all the help of the AAC and many of the people in this room lived to be with me at that time. Many of them are here and I thank them for their support and their witness.
Second, look around, now we get a little closer from preaching to meddling, I suggest. If you look around after 2003, the Anglican Communion had an unprecedented period of growth worldwide, the Global South had exploded, and we had four instruments of Anglican Communion or Anglican unity, as they’re sometimes called, to try to find a way to hold the Anglican Communion together. Basically, over a period of time, all four of those Anglican instruments of unity utterly failed. Canada failed, and America failed. The instruments that we had to exercise some kind of discipline were unable to exercise the discipline that would have held us together as a worldwide body. That is a true tragedy.
The reason I mentioned that is because, as Anglicans, I believe, you actually have to go through two deaths, if you’re going to live as a North American Anglican, to see the world correctly. I want to belabor this point because lots of my friends haven’t died either of these deaths or they’ve only died one of these deaths. You all know the Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. You’ve got to go all the way through from initial dealing with it to battling it out and bargaining and all the way through depression and get all the way out past denial at the beginning, all the way to acceptance at the end.
The first death is, the Episcopal church as a whole is an effective vehicle for the gospel. That’s number one. That has to die. Now, I stated that very precisely because I know there’s brothers and sisters here who are still in the Episcopal church and we have friends who are still in the Episcopal church. I believe you have to argue from the perspective of something like Revelation two, in the New Testament, that God has withheld His lampstand or taken away His lampstand from the Episcopal church. It’s no longer as a whole an effective vehicle for the gospel. But that’s only one death.
The second death was equally tragic. That is, these four instruments had to deal with it. They had the opportunity to deal with it and they didn’t. I don’t have time tonight to go into all the detail but what I do want to credit is the American Anglican Council behind the scenes put a lot of money and a lot of travel miles into a lot of people going to a lot of international Anglican meetings, to try as hard as they possibly could to get the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primates, the Anglican Consultative Council, and furthermore, anybody else who would listen to try to do something about the North American problem. That opportunity was still there and ultimately fell through the fingers of the primates.
The symbolism that I want to make sure you’re aware of, if you’re not, in terms of the history, is the Primates’ Meeting itself and the ones that were immediately in the aftermath of General Convention, as contrasted with the one that happened in Dromantine under Rowan Williams’ leadership in 2011. There were two Primates’ Meetings in 2003. There was another Primates’ Meeting in 2005, there’s another Primates’ Meeting in 2007.
The reality was that at all of those, at least in theory, the North American problem could have been handled by the primates. There were valiant efforts made behind the scenes by brothers and sisters, some of whom are in this room, trying desperately to enable the Communion to exercise the discipline that it should have. The Tanzania statement, which is in the 2007 Primates’ Meeting stands to this day as a valiant attempt in print as trying to exercise the discipline that is necessary. The problem is, as soon as it was laid down on paper, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Rowan Williams, came over to the House of Bishop’s meeting in New Orleans at the Episcopal church and proceeded to actually undo the very words of the documents that the primates have worked so hard on.
When Rowan Williams had a Primates’ Meeting in 2011, if you’re following me on all these dates, remember, the Primates’ Meeting is a gathering of all the heads of the member communions of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It happens at the Archbishop of Canterbury. Never in history had there been a communion opportunity like this where everybody didn’t at least come or have a very good reason for giving their regrets, like a civil war or famine or something like this. There were only 23 provinces represented at the 2011 Dromantine Primates’ Meeting. That was the first time in the history of the Anglican Communion that the Archbishop of Canterbury gave 38 invitations, and a huge number of primates didn’t come. It was the final failure of the instruments of communion.
The communion itself was unable to deal with the North American problem. What happened as a result of it is, you and I are looking at a situation where, and it’s very hard to say this because of all the pain we’ve lived through, all that’s happened is the cancer that was in North American Anglicanism has been exported into the communion. The communion is actually going through exactly the same stages that we went through as a member province in America leading up to 2003, because we’ve exported our cancerous theology into the entire structure of the communion, because the instruments have failed.
Now, that’s just a comment about Anglicanism. I’m not just looking at Anglicanism, I’m also looking at our culture, and I’m looking at Christianity. I have to mention the fact that GAFCON was born in this period in 2008. We could talk all day about the importance of GAFCON. Three meetings now. I was privileged to be at Jerusalem. It was fantastic, it was electrifying, it was encouraging. It definitely represents the future of the communion.
There are lots of things to say about the GAFCON movement, but for our purposes, I feel strongly it’s important to say tonight without the AAC that GAFCON wouldn’t be here. That’s the kind of muscle and behind-the-scenes effort that the group here gave to enable that to take place. It’s absolutely crucial for the future of Anglicanism. The Global South is rising while the communion is dealing with this metastasized theology and struggling.
At the same time, in the west as a whole, Christianity is struggling, and Christianity is increasingly struggling. I have to say to you tonight, from my perspective as a lifelong Anglican observer, England is a goner. I think you have to honestly own the degree to which that’s true but also tragic. Three reasons for that, one is secularism is leaning on England like crazy because it’s coming across the channel from the EU. If you want to see aggressive secularism, read EU documents. Try to take some time to look at what’s actually happening in European culture.
You do know by the way that one of the many things about European Christianity now is that it’s so weak that in many graveyards there are grave markers with nothing on them. They’re simply anonymous graves. Think about what that says about the spiritual failure of the church that somebody actually was here, and he’s no longer here and actually chooses to be buried in an anonymous grave. Back in Paul’s day, we have epitaphs before Christianity came into pagan culture and they read this way, “I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care.” That’s actually an exact quote of an ancient Greek epitaph. It’s a good illustration of the culture into which Paul brought the gospel. I submit to you that Europe is right back into that situation, “I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care.” That’s when you get anonymous graves.
Europe is exporting its secularism. There’s North American pressure from the elites and from the money that’s piling into Lambeth, in particular, the Anglican Communion Office and the Episcopal churchs’ money is pushing away within England.
The third thing that a lot of people aren’t paying any attention to is what I call the dangerous dance of establishment. That is, if you go back 20 years, maybe even 25 years, there’s just a little thin tiny little wisp of a wind toward disestablishment, but now it’s growing. You have this crazy situation where England as a country has approved same-sex marriage, and the established church has said, “We don’t approve same-sex marriage, but you can be a lay person and be in a same-sex marriage. You can have sort of full rights and status within our parishes.” It’s a completely unsustainable situation and you add to that the fact that a lot of the English elite are pushing more and more on this question.
If there are so many people in this country that aren’t Christians and so many people in the country who are Christians who aren’t Anglicans, what is the reason that we have this established church anyway? Between those three forces you could just feel the English church crumbling under the force of all of this pressure that’s being brought to bear. They are in exactly the situation we were in Denver in 2000, which is, at the level of faith on the ground, they’ve already embraced pagan anthropology. All over the Church of England, in practice, they’ve already got pagan anthropology.
It’s only at the level of the teaching that it hasn’t yet come. If you’re following the bouncing ball, you may have noticed that there’s a group of people working very hard on a teaching document that’s going to come out, that’s going to solve the whole problem by cutting the knife between two impossible things to reconcile and somehow hold everybody together. You and I both know what’s going to happen and that is they’re going to come up with a form of masqueraded local option where they can pretend that they’re somehow holding on to ancient Christianity, but they’re actually marching further and further into pagan anthropology. That’s the situation in England.
By the way, can I say a word about Western culture where you and I live and move and have our being, that is to say North America? I hope you with me will say North America because I always try to bring in our Canadian brothers and sisters, as someone who lived in Canada for two years. Brothers and sisters, you and I live in a very, very sick culture. We don’t know what a man is, we don’t know what a woman is, we don’t know what health is. If I had time, I could talk about the degree to which this culture has lost its mind on health. I’ll just read you three headlines from my own blog over the past year. Legal marijuana is on pace to match US soda sales by 2030. Marijuana is now as common among baby boomers as it is among teens, new federal data shows.
My personal favorite from a group called the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, who just came out with a study, this just came out. They decided to study all the neighboring states to the states that legalized marijuana at the level of highway safety. So, are you all with me? The next state over from Colorado who didn’t legalize marijuana compared their accident safety to Colorado, which did. Right, you follow? They found every state that legalized marijuana had 6% more traffic accidents and fatalities than the neighboring state that didn’t.
We’ve lost our minds. We don’t know what a healthy institution is, we don’t know what trust is, we don’t know what politics and leadership is. As a result, politics is subsuming more and more of everything in our society. I promise I’m not making this up, this actually came across the computer screen this afternoon. Ben & Jerry’s, that distinguished company of Vermont origin, the ice cream makers, came out today, and no I’m not making this up, with a new brand of ice cream. It’s called Pecan Resistance, I’m not kidding, to resist the president. That’s what the name of the ice cream is. A brand of ice cream in America has been subsumed within our political culture. This is not a culture that is a healthy place.
Here’s the key point for our purposes as I look around. When you have a culture that is deteriorating, where do you place the responsibility and the blame? I love asking Christians this question because they always place it in the wrong place, right? Media, education, the political leaders, all these things. You look at the New Testament, you read what Jesus says, Jesus says, “The church is to be salt and light.”
Salt and light are preservatives and sources of flavor and sources of sustaining life. If you have a room and there’s no light in it and it’s dark, is it the fault of the room that it’s dark? No, it’s dark because the light’s not working. If you had salt back in Jesus’ day it gave the meat flavor, but it also preserved the meat. If you didn’t have salt in the meat, it decayed. A culture which is losing its Christian flavor and becoming more and more pagan and less and less attractive and more and more sick is failing because the church is failing to be the church.
I’ll go further, the pew never rises higher than the pulpit. Not only is the church failing, but in particular, the church is failing at the level of her preaching ministry. The state of American preaching as a whole is so woefully inadequate, I can scarcely put it into words. What is a good sermon? A good sermon is organized, a good sermon is biblical, and a good sermon takes the Bible and applies it to your daily life. Those three things. This is Charles Simeon 101, for those of you who are evangelical church historians, my preaching hero who lived from 1759 to 1836.
It has to have its primary content from the Bible. It has to be clearly structured so that as a listener you can follow it, you all know what I mean by that. You know the difference between reader-based prose and writer-based prose, you all know this, right? If you’re reading an article that was written as reader-based prose the article actually reaches out, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you into the article.
You look at the average American congregation, the person’s had a long week, they’re tired, they’re stressed out. They had a fight with their spouse, their kid got sick, they didn’t have a good night’s sleep, they’re worried about their health insurance. You take them to the average American pulpit and the guy gets up there and he’s mumbling this strange amorphous set of pithy sayings and interesting jokes as if it’s some kind of entertainment seminar, and the person’s already hit the off button. They’re stressed out enough as it is. You look at somebody like John Calvin or Martin Luther or when preaching has been great in the church, somebody like Ambrose, they just reach right into somebody’s gut and drag them out and force them to listen because they put so much into the sermon.
This is the pitiful state of the American church and you and I are right in the midst of it. If that’s looking around, and I concede that it’s depressing, but it’s only depressing if you don’t believe it’s the truth because if it is the truth, for our God every obstacle is always an opportunity. I really like the scene in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo was standing there with Gandalf and things are really going horribly and they’re kind of looking out over Mordor. Frodo says, “I hate our time. I don’t want to live in our time. It’s such a miserable time.”
Gandalf looks at Frodo and says, “Frodo, it’s not given to us to choose the time in which we live. The question is what we do with the time in which we’ve been placed.” That’s why this is a tremendous challenge. We have to come to grips with the degree to which the church is failing in the west and not blame the culture and the cultural institutions but understand that the reason this is happening is because the church is failing to be the church.
Now here’s the last and the most important question, what is it that we have if we honestly look ahead? Well, at the beginning of the 21st century, what are the two great challenges to the gospel? Militant secularism and militant Islam. They’re both tremendously on the rise with organization and money and skill and influence and power. The only thing that’s going to combat militant secularism and militant Islam is what in the old day used to be called “muscular Christianity.” It was interesting to me when I was reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, which was actually written in 1981, After Virtue. He actually wrote this in 1981. It’s much more true now than when he wrote it at that time, but I wanted to make sure to read it to you tonight to let him tell you what the situation is as we begin the 21st century. “It’s always dangerous,” he says, “to be too precise in drawing a parallel between one historical period and another. Among the most leading parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages.
Nonetheless,” he says, “certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of goodwill turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuity of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead, often not recognizing fully what they were doing, was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of the moral condition is correct, we ought to conclude that for some time now, we too have reached that turning point.”
Quite incredible that he wrote this in 1981. He’s arguing that we’ve turned into the new Dark Ages. “What matters,” he says, “at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new Dark Ages, which are 1981, already upon us.”
If the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last Dark Ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers. They have already been governing us for quite some time. It is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes a very big part of our predicament. We are waiting not for Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”
Quite an amazing quote about the situation. It was Billy Abraham, who said in the 1980s, “We’re either on a verge of a new great awakening or the new Dark Ages.” I think the jury is in now, we’re sliding toward the new Dark Ages because the Church is failing. We have to own the fact that that is where we find ourselves.
The question is, as Anglicans, but also as Christians, if the church is failing to be the church, and we’re heading into the 21st century in the midst of sliding into what looks like the new Dark Ages, what is our task? Here, I conclude with this encouragement, but also this challenge. If you actually, honestly look at the evidence, brothers and sisters, and think carefully about where we find ourselves, we’re right back in the first three to four centuries in the Christian church. We’re right back to the early church struggling in that pluralistic, and completely, in many ways, spiritually crazy Roman Empire, where they had to compete for people’s attention and compete in the midst of all sorts of other worldviews in addition to the Christian worldview and make the case that Christians need to choose Christ. After making the case that you choose Christ, if you actually do choose Christ, to go through, drum-roll please, a three-year catechumenate to actually become a Christian.
That is to say, the challenge is evangelism, apologetics, church planting, and, drum-roll, catechesis. We’ve been here before, this is not new territory. I preached an ordination on Saturday and I spent some time preaching about my hero, Charles Simeon. I brought with me a story from 1757, just so that we don’t utterly despair. Things have been this bad in the church before. In 1757, at the University of Cambridge, the university sermon that year in great St. Mary’s Anglican Church was given one Sunday morning. You all have the picture, right?
There’s the university sermon once a year at Oxford and Cambridge. This is Cambridge in 1757. It’s in this huge distinguished Anglican church, St. Mary’s in Cambridge. How many people were there? I’ll tell you, three; the preacher, a duke and his son. Guess why the duke and his son were there? He was taking his son to visit Cambridge to see if he wanted to attend. He was so scared that he wouldn’t have the right approach, the father decided to take his son to chapel. [laughs] That’s why he was there. It was an ocean of spiritual depth. This is after the First Great Awakening. We’ve been here before and what does Simeon do? He sets up a ministry of evangelistic preaching, and he creates this catechetical school, even goes early on in his ministry since the church wardens, drum roll, church wardens and vestry are persecuting him so much, he can’t even find a room in his own parish, he has to rent a room in the next parish over to do individual Bible studies. But so much does he do catechesis that the church historians say that he had the influence of two or three popes. Sixty missionaries with the Church Missionary Society alone came from under Charles Simeon’s ministry.
Catechesis, apologetics, church planting—right up the AAC’s alley, the kind of thing that Phil Ashey and company are on to, the kind of thing that was happening at that bishops’ conference that we just saw the video on, and the kind of thing that we need to keep doing.
I commend the current focus and dedication of the AAC. I also commend the fact that I don’t think it’s an accident that Archbishop Foley Beach is on the Archbishop’s Council for GAFCON in the coming years because I think the overlap between GAFCON and North America and your place there as kind of a hinge figure is a quite important thing.
I really want to hammer this point of catechesis. I spent some time this week looking back over the Jerusalem Declaration. Anybody read that anymore? It’s a good document. One of the things I noticed about it was both the 1662 Prayer Book and the 39 Articles feature prominently in that declaration. So, here’s an example of the kind of thing I think we need to start ruminating about catechetically. We need a catechesis on the North American Anglican catechism from ACNA. I actually taught the ACNA catechism for the last year and a half, it’s pretty darn good. I have my own quibbles about it, it’s not perfect, but what if we put out a set of videos for every parish in ACNA where you actually had the North American catechism, you had classes for. What about catechetical tools for the 39 Articles? If they’re in the Jerusalem Declaration, we’re supposed to know it. What about catechetical articles for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which nobody knows, but we all say is very important and I could go on all day. We could do with some books on the creed too.
The opportunity is there. It’s back to basics. It’s back to the sources and it’s being totally unafraid to be about the gospel in the most creative and serious way possible. We’re on the right track, we have an impossible task and we’ve got to own honestly the difficult place in which we find ourselves.
We’re sliding into the new Dark Ages, but God is looking to us and even Anglicanism and saying, “Maybe here, maybe here is one of the places where the sprouts of a genuine future that takes us past this incipient new Dark Ages lies.”
It’s very interesting, isn’t it? The struggles of the other worldwide global families. It was different 10 years ago compared to now. Did you all notice that the Orthodox church just had a very nasty recent split? Have you been paying attention to the Roman Catholic Church and what’s happened? Have you noticed that the Evangelical community that used to be so clear with its clarion call when Billy Graham was around as to what they believed and what they actually stood for, has actually disappeared? Between the Me-Too movement and things like what’s happened with Bill Hybels and that church and between the fact that there is at least so far as I can see no Billy Graham right now.
All of the Anglican Communion is struggling but so are all the other Christian communities in ways that they never have before, at least in recent history. The challenge is on and God is calling us.
I echo what MacIntyre said, and I just put Charles Simeon in instead of Benedict because I’m an Anglican. We’re not waiting for Godot we’re waiting for a whole series of mini Charles Simeons. There are probably some in this room, but I believe it’s incumbent upon us to raise up more Charles Simeon-like figures that can creatively go about the gospel ministry because it makes all the difference in the world.
Thank you very much.