Questions to the Archbishop of Canterbury

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Questions to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Human sexuality and authority
Q1. We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and we should never use language that demeans another human being. Granting all these, do you believe that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed? If so, on what authority do you base this belief?

A1: The church overall, the church of England in particular, the Anglican communion has not been persuaded that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed. Were it to decide that by some process - unimaginable to most of you - it would be by an overwhelming consensus and only at that point would it be possible to say in the name of the church, this is holy and blessed. So I take my stand with the church of England, with the Communion, with the majority of Christians through the ages.

I have in the past raised questions about this. I was a theological teacher for 17 years and along with other theological teachers raised this issue and discussed it. I have advanced ideas on this in the past, but the fact remains that the church is not persuaded, and the church is not William’s personal political parties, or any particular persons. I am loyal to the Church which has asked me to serve, and I myself hold if I am asked about doctrine and discipline, this is what the Church upholds. So, the authority that I accept has to be the authority of the whole body and that part of the body which is the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has made its determination.

I’ll add two things to that. One is to welcome the statement that we should never use language that demeans another human being. In London, we have had another extraordinary brutal murder of a gay man in the last couple of weeks by a group of extremely violent people. I am loathed, indeed I cannot bring myself to use any language which could condone such behaviour and I’m sure that is true for all of you. That is something which I have to take very much to heart. The second is, I think I need to put on the table, is theologians will go on discussing this and it would not, I think, be possible to stop them. We ask theologians to look at difficult questions. They come up with different answers. For nearly a century in the 4th century in this country of Egypt, the conflict over the doctrine of the trinity raged between theologians and bishops and was not resolved overnight. But I distinguish as clearly as I can between a question a theologian may ask and an action or determination the church may take, or only the bishop may take. I think that is a necessary distinction for the life and health of the church. It would be a tragedy if the church sought to suppress questions. But it is equally a tragedy when the church creates facts on the ground that foreclose discussions and reflections on such questions.

The Civil Partnership Act in the UK.

Q2.  Why did you and the other bishops in the church of England leadership not withdraw from the civil partnership agreement as did the Roman Catholic church? This has had a seriously negative impact on the church here.

Q3.  Some of us come from Muslim countries where it is legal to have four wives yet the church has maintained its strong teaching and witness to monogamy. Why then couldn’t the church of England house of bishops also make a strong witness against the civil partnership act and uphold, through deed as well as word, the teaching and witness of the church to heterosexual unions?

A2: Thank you. I am very glad to have the opportunity to talk about this extremely sensitive subject and I must say at the beginning there are two views in England as well as elsewhere on this.

First of all then, some clarifications. You’ll be aware that the documents produced by the church of England on the subject state it very clearly that no change in our doctrine or discipline was intended by this disciplinary guideline. Some have said that encourages hypocrisy or it’s double-speak, or something like that. I understand where those concerns come from. But we spent, I suppose, the best part of the year at the house of bishops debating how we should respond to a legal situation which none of us, none of us, was very happy with. We could have sought exemptions on the ground that allowing a civil partnership to be contracted by a clergyman was contrary to our doctrine. But to establish that, we would have to establish that a civil partnership in British law was indeed equivalent, legally and morally to a marriage. We would have to establish that a civil partnership in British law necessarily involve sexual union. Now since some of us have spent quite a lot of time in the House of Lords prior to the bill being passed, arguing that a civil partnership must not be so defined, and had moderate success in getting that accepted, it would have been rather strange for us then to say a civil partnership is necessarily a sexual union. In law, a civil partnership is a legal arrangement about property and inheritance. It would certainly be taken advantage of by same-sex couples who want to regularize their union. But we have from one of the leading family lawyers in England, a recent public statement, that the civil partnership legislation cannot be regarded as in any sense marriage because it leaves the question of sexual union entirely open. He, like many others on the pro-gay side of the argument, has been deeply critical of the civil partnership legislation because it does not give what was asked. They have also been extremely critical of the House of Bishops for not sanctioning what they want sanctioned. So we find ourselves in the House of Bishops in a rather odd situation being criticized by absolutely everybody, but that of course is not an unusual position for bishops. That’s part of the background, and I think it is important that you should be aware of how serious and strong are the legal opinions which has said this is not marriage and cannot be regarded in the same light despite the fact that the media and some activists have liked to present it as such.

A3: The follow-up on that is of course about our discipline. I’ll explain why we were reluctant simply to opt out of this, because as I said we would have to establish something that we had fought to have outside the provision of the Act, that is, that it was necessarily a sexual union. But we had a discussion at the House of Bishops, I think two, three weeks ago, on the question of how we would approach the issue of discipline here. And we have a common opinion, we have guidelines prepared for us by our advisors and if it can be established that a priest seeking to register a civil partnership is in fact active in a sexual union, then that priest is liable to the discipline of the church. That is said very clearly and the bishops have discussed this. What form the disciplines takes, since we are in the middle of revising our disciplinary provision, I can’t at this moment say with precision, but I’ll simply mention that it is recognized as a disciplinary offence if priests either refuse to declare that his civil partnership is not a sexual union, or if they volunteer to the bishop that it is a sexual union. So, we are seeking ways of giving our overall statement, credibility in terms of disciplinary practice.

Instrument of unity in the communion and authority
Q4.  The first question focuses on the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the Instruments of Unity. Can you show us your clear and unequivocal stand on the intransigent of ECUSA and Canada on the matter of human sexuality so that the rest of us in the communion may be able prayerfully to decide whether we can continue to look up to you as the focus of unity or whether we need to take such other unilateral or collective decisions as we deem fit.

A4. As I said, in the course of my presentation, the Archbishop of Canterbury is a servant of the unity of the church, and I put my neck on the block here:  if the Archbishop of Canterbury ceases to be a servant of unity, then there is a question for the communion. I recognize that. Meanwhile, I try to be a servant of unity. I’ve said that I cannot endorse or approve the election that took place in the ECUSA. I have been seeking through the various means available to me, and not least in the wake of the Windsor report, to hold, as I’ve said earlier, a line of practice in common in the Anglican communion, which does not, in my earlier words, create facts in the ground which foreclose the issue. Now, since I do not have canonical power outside my province, my freedom is limited. And I don’t say that because I am constitutionally indecisive, or even constitutionally nice, or anything like that. I say it as a matter of actual fact. I do not have authority over the canons and constitution of another province. Sometimes I wish I had, and sometimes I’m very glad I haven’t, because there will not just be one or two provinces involved in problems here. My mailbag gives me evidences of difficulties and conflicts absolutely everywhere. You know this, I know this, let’s be candid. And I don’t particularly want to be a kind of pope seeking to solve the problems of every province.

So, we have a problem but this leaves us as a communion in a very difficult and unsatisfactory place, because as somebody asked me earlier, “What is the executive authority of the Anglican communion?” The answer is we do not have an executive authority. And if we don’t have instruments of communion that serves us adequately, we ought to be asking how we get them. And for me, the prospect of an Anglican Covenant or the prospect of a convergent system of canon law is the best hope we have. That being said, many provinces as you know are very deeply wedded to the notion of an absolute constitutional independence. What I’m trying to say I think is I’m quite clear that actions taken have been outside the fellowship and proper discipline of the communion. That seems to be plain to me. At the same time, the practical response to that is quite a complex business, and we are not very well resourced in dealing with it. And I’m still wondering, with your fellowship and advice, how we best react.
The problem of ECUSA and Canada
Q5.  Archbishop Eames have declared that the bishops of the Episcopal church USA met and even exceeded the requirement laid down by the Windsor report.

A5. I think the bishop of the Episcopal church has been attempting to respond. I don’t think that we can say they have satisfied in a simple direct way what Windsor asks because that process is still continuing and will continue until the general convention next year. That being one of the roots, one of the means that Windsor wanted to see used. What I have been aware of is the extraordinary amount of activity among American bishops in the last few months and there are those here who can speak more fully to it than I can. Attempting to talk this through, to steer to more of a common mind, I know it has been very costly, very time consuming, probably would wear out many people. So, a process is still going on.

Archbishop Eames gave an optimistic reading of this. I’m waiting to see.

Q6.  By what date do the invitation to Lambeth 2008 have to be sent out? Will this information be made public, by whom and when? Will there be categories of participants in the Lambeth Conference, for example, full participants or some other category?

A6. That gives me an opportunity to say two things which I hope will be helpful here. One is simply a matter of fact. I shall very shortly an advent this year be sending out a first formal notice of the dates of the Lambeth Conference with a very general statement about where I hope its work will be focused. And I hope very much that it will be focused precisely on those issues about the bishop in Mission that I touched on earlier. They are not exclusively that. So, that will be landing on your desks within a few weeks’ time. Specific invitations are not going to be issued until late next year at the earliest. There are, as you will know from what I have said already, is it still being considered in various councils.

And as for categories of participants, again I can’t mortgage myself to answer it at this moment. But this and many other questions are under review by the groups that are now beginning to assemble. I can say that we are in the process in the next two months of putting together further working and design groups to examine the contents and focus and process of the Conference. This is the point of which will be of crucial importance to hear from the provinces, what their priorities and expectations are. I think its very helpful that we have regional configurations in the communion, a growing number of configurations from whom we will hope and expect to hear suggestions of that sort. So, the processes is moving on in fact in this advent to a further state of definition with my letter with the dates. The next meeting I think of a small design group that has been working so far will be in December. They will be expanding their numbers and working forward from there. That’s roughly where we are.

Q7.  We have welcomed the Anglican communion networks in ECUSA and Canada as legitimate expressions of Anglicanism in North America. When can we expect you to acknowledge them as full members of the Anglican communion?

A7. There is no doubt in my mind at all that these networks are full members of the Anglican communion. That is to say, they are bishops, they are clergy, they are people that are involved in the life of the communion which I share with them, which I will share with them. Formal ecclesial recognition of a network as if it were a province is not simply in my hands or in the hands of any individual. I do want to say it quite simply, of course, these are part of our Anglican fellowship and I welcome that.

Q8. We have heard inspired, deep and articulate presentations during this conference and that very effective leaders throughout the Global South. How is it that you have not been able to find any qualified people from the Global South to appoint to positions of senior leadership and authority in the Anglican communion office in London?

A8. I think you have to ask others involved in the appointments as well as myself for an answer to this, and I fully accept that this is a major cause of, I might as well be honest, a level of mistrust of our needs, felt by many people towards the Communion Office in London. I don’t conceal that or deny it. The process of appointment to the job of the Secretary General was one in which we attempted, with what success you may judge, to cast the net as widely as we could. You may very well disagree with the decision that’s finally arrived at but we were seeking somebody who would serve the whole communion as effectively as possible. So, without going into details of appointment processes, I do think that those involved in this task genuinely sought the interest of the communion and did not seek to promote the interest of one group within it. I think that behind this, and I touch on a delicate matter here, behind this is a question which the last Lambeth Conference brought to light which often recurs and that is, it’s a point which some have made to me, is it the case that the processes and the structures of our communion privilege native English speakers, there it is again, or Northerners or Westerners, simply because of the complexity of procedural matters and others things that have to be gone through. Is it therefore the case of the procedures where the last Lambeth Conference or the ACC or whatever else disadvantage those coming from outside the North Atlantic world? The answer to that may well be yes, that they do, and we have a challenge there, to put it mildly. So, I can only say in response to the question I truly believe that no one has tried to further a sectional interest here. I also believe that we are a meshed in procedures that do not do full justice to majority of the communion people and that we are faced with a lot of work on that front not least with the Lambeth people. Which is why I said earlier I think it’s crucial that the views and priorities of those of you here should be involved in the shaping of the Conference program.

Q9. Why should the youth stay in the Anglican church when the Pentecostal churches offer better music, more practical preaching and prayer that works?

A9. My first answer has to be that they ought to stay in the Anglican church because the Anglican church offers more resources for growing up and maturing in the faith. Now I don’t want to make a vast judgment on Pentecostals by saying that but you know better than I that there are many Christian groups whose spirituality and discipleship and discipline seem to exist on a rather superficial level and where there is emphasis on immediate experience and feeling good. Not so? And indeed Bishop John Chew was saying something about this indirectly this morning. This is another feature of the post-modern cultural world, isn’t it? People look for immediate and dramatic experience. And so, my deepest level of reply will have to be, “We believe that the Anglican church is an environment in which by discipline prayer, by the use of the mind and heart, we grow into Christ in that Catholic wholeness that I spoke of earlier.

At another level, it has to be said of course that many of our churches, certainly in England, are just not attractive to a lot of younger people. About 18 months ago, I initiated a program in England under the title of “Fresh Expressions.” Some of you may have heard of this. And this was a 5-year program whose intention was to find out what was actually happening in and around Anglican congregations in Britain in terms of generating new congregations with a new style of worship. Many churches already have a youth congregation or a young mother’s congregation, many have engaged in very creative outreach taking the church to pubs and cafes and Christian communities have grown up around parish life in a very varied way. I was concerned when I first became Archbishop that we should have better and fuller knowledge of what was being done, and that we should be able to resource these new congregations with training, with conferences, with a sort of general encouragement that pushes them forward. Now we had to raise about a million pounds to get this going. Well, we got it going, the money is there and there is more we have to raise. We have a full-time Archbishop missioner and we also have a Methodist partner working full-time on this job. We have a team of 5 or 6 experts in the field who joined in the work and in the last year or so we have registered 300 new congregations of the kind I’ve described and it’s estimated, and this surprises me, that this means the church through these new congregations have made contacts with about 20,000 new people.

Now, this is not selling out to a Pentecostalism model because we expect local churches, mainstream parish churches to be involved in this work, we expect bishops and others to take responsibility for fostering it, pushing it forward, and we have also looked at how the national institutions of the church can help in terms of training, resourcing and also loosening up some of the regulations so that new things can happen. I feel hugely encouraged by this. I feel we are beginning to make contact now with 60% of the population in Britain for the moment, who have no contact with the church. But this is all part of how we respond to a real challenge, not selling out to an easy or simple model of church life but just trying to keep the door open to those who don’t easily come in to the life of the church which we have received it.
Q10.  Your grace, you have been a strong Christian leader for Muslim dialogue. When, if ever, is it appropriate to share the gospel with others?

A10. It is always appropriate to share the gospel but the challenge we have is to find ways to sharing it that it can be heard effectively. If the sharing of the gospel is to have its effect, we must find a language that does not immediately alienate, that does not immediately lead to misunderstanding, and for that we have to begin by listening, listening very carefully to the language that others speak. That’s a very general answer. When I’m involved in dialogue with Muslims, I don’t feel I’m under any obligation to deny my fundamental conviction, which is, that Jesus is the eternal incarnation of the Son of God, and that in him is life. It has been very interesting that at times in Muslim-Christian dialogue, a Muslim will say to me, “What exactly do you mean by Son of God, or what exactly do you mean by salvation? And that is important because if I just go to a Muslim and say, “Jesus is the Son of God and in him alone is salvation, I may not be communicating anything. I may not even be beginning to get on the wavelength. So, as I’m sure many of you know better than I there is a lot of patience required to find how we communicate with effectiveness here. I think it can be done, I think it’s very different from a crude, threatening proselytizing. We need sensitivity and we need confidence and many exercises. It is possible that God has given great gifts to individual Muslims and that through their devotion, we may yet learn something of what obedience to God looks like. Now we have to say finally obedience to God looks like Jesus and nothing else. And yet there are things in our understanding that can be filled out, challenged, illuminated and enriched in the presence of dialogue. So I don’t think it’s dialogue or mission. I think it’s dialogue partly so that we may understand the language of those that we are involved in. 

Q11.  Please share with us your testimony of how you came to faith in Christ.

A11. I don’t find those obtrusive or difficult at all! I think it’s appropriate question for anyone in a Christian assembly such as this. I grew up in a Christian household and therefore the name of Christ was familiar to me from my earliest childhood. When I was about 11, we moved house and we moved into another Christian family. We became Anglicans and I’ve never been sorry about that. And it was in my teenage years that my faith was nurtured by a wonderful pastor and a wonderful congregation. I think there were 2 moments in my teenage years when I felt I met the living God. Not just words or rituals, but the living God.

The first, and you would be entirely surprised knowing my interest, was the first time I attended a Russian Orthodox service. An elderly priest came to my town in South Wales in Swansea to celebrate a Russian Orthodox liturgy – the mass. And the curate in my parish said to me, “You might be interested in this. Come with me.” And I went, and when I came away I felt I had seen glory and praise for the first time. I felt I had seen and heard people who were behaving as if God were real. And that it’s the only way, I know it’s not the only way, but I came away with the sense of absolute objectivity and majesty and beauty of God which I have never forgotten. If people worshipped like this, I felt God must be a great deal more real even I have learned him so far. I have a long journey to make into that reality. And that is why ever since then I have often asked when people wants to discuss mission, I’ve often asked “Does our worship look as if we took God seriously?” because that’s what makes a difference to me. This had to be serious, this had to be real.

And the second experience was not unlikely in a way. It was 3 years later when I was 17, and I used to go sometimes at that period to a Baptist church in Swansea as well as to my own Anglican church. I went on Saturday evenings for the services which they held there which were very direct and challenging mission services, and that is where I learnt most of my choruses and my Moody and Sanky’s hymns. And that is where I learnt how to sing Blessed Assurance with love and delight, and heard very blunt evangelistic preaching. I also went because some very nice girls from the Grammar school went there on Saturday evenings too, but there we are, God works through all sorts of motivations. And one of those young ladies said in her own chapel they were going to have a visit from somebody I might want to listen to, and his name was Richard Wurmbrandt, a name which some of you would know, I think, a Lutheran pastor who has suffered appallingly for his faith in Romania in the 50s and the 60s. He’s been many, many years in prison and tortured. He wrote a book which some of you would know called Tortured for Christ, and also an extraordinary little volume of meditations and sermons in solitary confinements. If you’ve never read that book, read it. So I went to hear Richard Wurmbrandt and it was the first time I had met a Christian martyr, a confessor of the faith. He spoke about what he’d endured in prison and he spoke about God and about Jesus Christ. And once again I came away thinking I’ve seen the reality, the words about something true, but now I’ve seen the truth. Again, it was as if I was seeing a life that so obviously took God and Jesus Christ so seriously. And I came away thinking I cannot deny the reality and my own life looks very hollow by comparison. And just on that first occasion when I went to the Russian service, I found myself that evening kneeling at prayer in tears and feeling that I’ve been taken somewhere new. I had to change, I had to grow, I had to repent. I had to let that reality become more real for me.

Those were 2 moments in a long journey of faith, beginning at my mother’s knees.