Monday, June 12, 2006

A Church at War

From chapter 8 of A Church at War – Anglicans and homosexuality, by Stephen Bates, published by Hodder & Stoughton 2005 [updated edition]

The liberals did not respond well to these increasingly belligerent assertions [from the English Evangelicals]. The most outspoken among them was Jack Spong, the Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, a man out on a limb theologically even among his colleagues and one who was seemingly as little able as David Jenkins to know when or how to keep quiet. He produced ‘Twelve Theses’ of sufficient radicalism to cause the English Evangelicals of Reform to demand the cancellation of his invitation to Lambeth as well as that of other bishops of whom they disapproved. Spong’s document claimed, among other things, that Christ’s death to atone for the sins of the world was a barbarian idea, that the bodily resurrection never happened and that the concept of Original Sin was nonsense. It was a deliberate provocation. In the Church Times, Rowan Williams, still Bishop of Monmouth, described the document as empty and sterile: ‘I cannot in any way see [this] as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future.’

Spong followed up this triumph by sending a paper on homosexuality to all the African bishops, accusing Archbishop Carey of showing no moral credibility and being ill-informed on the subject, and the Southern Cone Archbishop, Sinclair, of using the Bible as a weapon of oppression. He demanded that the issue be ‘openly and authentically’ discussed at the Lambeth Conference.

As a method of persuasion, Spong’s approach had its shortcomings. Carey accused him of a hectoring and intemperate tone and, in a letter to the world’s bishops, warned of a ‘very negative and destructive conflict’ at Lambeth if the issue was pressed in such terms: ‘Do come in peace, do come to learn, do come to share – and leave behind the campaigning tactics which are inappropriate and unproductive, whoever employs them.’ Not one to quit while he was behind, Spong responded by accusing his opponents of ecclesiastical blackmail, adding to Carey: ‘By your silence in the face of these affronts’ – he meant he Kuala Lumpur and Dallas statements – ‘you reveal quite clearly where your own convictions lie. That makes it quite difficult to have confidence in your willingness to handle this debate in an even-handed way.’

Many American bishops themselves were furious with Spong, not just because many of them were hostile to his views and knew their congregations were too, but because they felt he was undermining anything that they themselves might want to say at the conference. He was successfully stirring up anti-americanism and arousing old anti-colonial resentments.
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