The good thing about blogging is that the conversation forces me to think through what I think I think in the light of other people’s perspectives on what they think I think. I have been critical of the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in recent posts and – as I don’t believe in playing games with words – have offered what have clearly been considered to be ‘robust’ observations. For that I do not apologise. Indeed, one of the things I get fed up with as a bishop is the generalised criticism that bishops don’t ‘lead’ or don’t ‘speak out’. Of course, what usually lies behind these criticisms is an assumption that a bishop ‘leads’ by saying loudly what ‘I’ want to hear (and, by implication, does not lead if taking a different view from ‘me’) and is only ‘speaking out’ when loudly agreeing with ‘my’ view on things.
But, given that I am happy to say what I think and take the flak, how do I respond to Andrew Carey’s response to my critique of FCA? Here is what he said:
However your posts on FCA will be perceived as pretty insulting really by your targets. There’s no qualification of what you’re saying. I always try to use the terms ’some’ and ‘many’, for example when imputing views to groups such as ‘evangelicals’ or ‘liberals’ because there’s always diversity. So it’s unfair to make implications about the honesty or integrity of people in FCA by extrapolating from a situation you were close to. Furthermore the idea that FCA supporters view you as unChristian or dodgy might be true of some but not others.
But you yourself also said that people tend to be more suspicious of those close to them (ie the same tradition). Does that explain your hostility and defensiveness as well as that of some of the FCA people you have encountered).
The unity thing is a serious question, given the fact that you’ve accused them of ‘fracturing’ the Church despite their denials of that. Answering a question with a question is all very well, but I’m not a bishop, and don’t have the specific gifts, responsibility and calling to the Church you have. You’re entitled to think me a hypocrite, though I don’t concede that I am on this particular issue, but I think that you and Graham Kings now both have an uphill struggle in your ministry with FCA-types now.
Is FCA a distraction? Well at a time when the views of someone like +Michael Nazir-Ali are seen as extremist when they were entirely acceptable only a decade or so ago, then there’s definitely a need for movements/organisations of this kind. I support loyal but robust protest in response to some trends both in society and the Church. FCA has the potential to a focal point for that. If they ever become separatist they’ll leave me behind.
Andrew has a point about me generalising and tarring all FCA people with the same brush – a brush shaped by particular experience of certain leading FCA people. I know there were many who went tothe FCA launch out of curiosity and that many of those present do not deserve the accusations of dishonesty that I have levelled. So, Andrew is right to draw attention to the generalised nature of my polemic and I plead guilty. There are many evangelicals who do not behave as others and who are not as arrogant or economical with the truth as others.
But it is important to understand where I stand. I am an evangelical bishop whose concern is to equip, encourage and resource my clergy and parishes to learn, believe and promote the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means engaging robustly and with a confident humility in the public space, representing and arguing for the truth of God in Jesus Christ. But I also believe that the church is there to create the space in which all people can find (in different ways and at different paces) that they have been found by God. The glorious Diocese of Southwark is one in which this mission is promoted, defended and in which I have had nothing but encouragement in the six years I have been here.
My experience in the Diocese of Southwark has, however, taught me that there are those who claim to be ‘biblical’ whose behaviour is not. These same people talk down the Church of England and the Diocese of Southwark all the time. They also are not hesitant about behaving in ways that cannot be described other than as dishonest. Consider, for example, the way the ‘irregular ordinations’ were planned for and executed a couple of years ago – raising questions that were never pursued by outsiders as they should have been. And, the lot of the Bishop of Southwark? He played (and continues to play) a completely above-board straight bat in the face of what looks to me like subterfuge. So, he waits three months for a response from Richard Coekin on (a) processing Coekin’s curates for ordination and (b) regularising the Co-Mission (known locally as ‘the Diocese of Dundonald) church plants within our church-planting guidelines… only to get a letter giving him two weeks’ notice (conveniently ending at the launch of FCA) and threatening him with consequences if Tom didn’t agree to Coekin’s demands.
Now, how would you describe that?
So, I hope that explains my personal anger in the face of what then seems to me to characterise a driving element in FCA. Does this blind me to other elements? Possibly, yes. And I will give further thought to that.
And maybe that is why I consider FCA to be ‘fracturing’ of the church and do not believe their denials. I see it at close quarters and I don’t like what I see. If I didn’t take the Bible so seriously, I wouldn’t have so many problems with those who claim the loudest to be ‘biblical’. But, to be on the receiving end of criticism with such blatant hypocrisy is, I think, worthy of exposure. So, I don’t retract my criticisms of FCA, their direction or what lies (politically) behind them, but I do accept the criticism that I have generalised where I should have been more nuanced.
I don’t accept that Graham Kings and I have any more uphill battle with ‘FCA types’ now than we did before. I would further note that in terms of ministry in this diocese no distinction is made between clergy of any ecclesiological complexion. I visit every parish on the same basis – whether they be liberal catholic, conservative evangelical, charismatic, ‘anglican’, Forward in Faith or anything else. I look to resource, encourage, etc without distinction and regardless of my own views on their stances on particular issues. I also make myself available to them without discrimination.
But, it needs to be noted that many ‘ordinary’ evangelicals keep asking for leadership against the FCA types. Evangelicals do not take kindly to finding churches planted in their parishes on the basis that ‘there is no Bible-based ministry there’. How should I respond to these requests from evangelicals? I would be interested to hear advice – when the bishop is called to be the focus of unity (among other things).
As for Michael Nazir-Ali, I have known him for a long time and have massive respect for him. I don’t agree with him on some issues, but his integrity is never something I would question. I don’t agree with his stance on FCA and associated matters, but that is a difference of view and not a dispute about integrity.
This has got long enough. I can amplify other matters separately, if anyone is interested. But I hope this is an adequate response to Andrew Carey and provides a little more background to my own position.