“It is unbelievable to me that a church has such a vital mission is s tearing itself apart over what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms' (BBC 1, The Big Question)
Canon Gavin Ashenden was on BBC Radio Jersey this morning talking about the summit in Canterbury
This summit of the Bishops of the Anglican Communion has been called by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby to try and resolve issues dividing the church. The issue is between the more liberal wing of the church, and the more conservative wing. This is not a division on political grounds but on theological ones.
Liberals support an inclusive church, gay and transgender people, while this is anathema to the conservative wing, some of whom regard gay people as suffering from a curable affliction. Liberals also support women priests and women bishops, while conservatives do not. Liberals tend to be ecumenical, and for interfaith dialogue, conservatives tend to regard some denominations as less than true to the apostolic tradition, and a less friendly approach to other faiths.
Gavin Ashenden is a clear conservative. As I understand it, he does not really accept the validity of his fellow priests in the Island if they are female. As he has stated, the Church of England: “overthrew 2,000 years of apostolic teaching, and ordained women into the place of the Bishop and priest, the representatives of the risen Christ at the Eucharist, saying that gender was of no consequence in the narrative of salvation.”
In an open blog directed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, this man also stated: “Your successor as Archbishop stood in the House of Lords to praise the couplings of the homosexuals. It didn’t matter to him that they were biologically sterile and pursued romantic and sexual values that Holy Scripture warned against."
And of course, his hostile attacks on Islam have gained him pages of column ink in the tabloids like “The Daily Mail”.
On BBC Radio, he was fulminating against the liberal wing, and also loading the argument by calling his own views “the biblical story” while accusing the liberals of giving way to “the secular story”. When you start by demonising your opponents as wrong, and not real Christians, or not following Christ’s teachings, there is really not much opportunity for dialogue, although I suspect he would enjoy the cut and thrust of debate.
In a recent statement, he has gone one step further and made comparisons between the past situation in Germany and the present:
“Some parts of the Church saw what was coming and stood against it. They became known as ‘the Confessing Church’. Other parts of the Church cooperated with the secular agenda of the new regime, hoping to buy political credit and claiming it gave them an invaluable influence.”
Hence by his argument, the conservative wing is like the confessing church, and the liberal wing of the church is more like the German church which assimilated to the Nazi regime. But then Gavin Ashenden sees Western society as fast losing its Christian values.
I’ve heard a lot of that kind of argument from people, some friends on Facebook who are not specifically Christian, but take it for granted that our current society was nurtured in a background of Christian values.
Watching “The Big Question” with Nicky Campbell on TV, I was struck by one coloured woman, who remarked that for many years the church connived with society to treat coloured people as less than human. The Calvinist church in South Africa provided a theological justification for apartheid.
And I know from my own studies in the 16th and 17th centuries that the belief in witches was promulgated by the church, even if they relied on the secular authorities to commit legalised murder of those found guilty. In earlier times, heretics were burnt if they would not recant, a view even espoused by Sir Thomas More.
In fact, tolerance for other values was more of an enlightenment value than a Christian one, which is probably why Gavin Ashenden doesn’t share it. Historically religious tolerance emerged in the aftermath of the Civil War and Commonwealth, as it gradually become apparent that it was not politically expedient to return to a monolithic Church of England in which non-attendance was punishable by fines.
In a way, Gavin Ashenden would like to turn the clock back to a more uniform church, where dissenting views would be silenced. Whether those sorts of views should have what appears to be largely unchallenged airtime is another matter.
He appears to be treated as a kind of resident expert, possibly because he is articulate, and sounds convincing and persuasive on Radio (he has a background in Sussex radio religious broadcasting). But should he have as much airtime for his own particular agenda? Or should he be challenged rather more robustly?
One thing is certain: as one speaker said on “The Big Question” – in a world in which famines, global warming, a migrant crisis, wars in the Middle East and the threat of ISIS all loom large, the Anglican Church chooses to once again get hung up on issues of sexuality.
Gavin Ashenden says: “At Canterbury the orthodox Archbishops will invite those stranded on the doomed and dying ship to be rescued and take to the boats which will ferry them to safety. Some will go, and some, fantasizing they that they will continue to float, will stay.”
In fact, it is his wing of the church, pushing the agenda to consider matters like sexuality that is more akin to wanting to play deck quoits while the Titanic is going down.