Anglican Church

The Anglican Churches in Canada and the United States have been involved in a long and spiritually destructive debate around a vague new Liberal Theology which has been evolving since the Enlightenment in Europe and Great Britain. The discussion became more public in the U.S, in 1937 with the publication of Kingdom of God in America by H. R. Niebuhr in 1937 and Christianity and Liberalism  by J. G. Machen in 1923. Niebuhr catches the essence of the challenge of this vague and largely undocumented new Liberal Theology with the following description: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." (p. 193) Machen argues (see below) that theological liberalism is nothing less than a deconstruction of the essence of Biblical Theology.

I first became aware of the problems in the Anglican Church through Pierre Burton's The Comfortable Pew published in 1962 which challenged the leaders of Protestant churches in Canada to stop compromising with the culture to maintain their positions of influence and prestige
and instead use their influence to challenge popular culture by proclaiming a more radical and Biblical version of Christianity. This strategic choice by Canadian Anglican Bishops and Primates has continued as they have continued to accommodate and affirm various sexually confused pressure groups rather than risking persecution by proclaiming the Good News of forgiveness, healing and an eternal spiritual life of joy for those who believe in Jesus and turn away from what the Bible repeatedly refers to as sexual immorality. My heart has been broken by the way in which our church leaders have  not only abandoned their Baptismal and Ordination promised to proclaim this Good News (historically in the face of persecution and death) and maintain the 'doctrine, unity and discipline' (Bishops) of the Anglican Church; but even more by the destructive way in which they have manipulated the discussions over the last two decades to avoid this duty, avoid conflict and appease the culture. For example the Editors of the Anglican Journal have refused to publish the following writings, which have been sincere attempts to present the alternative of going back to the historical Biblical Theology of the holiness of God, human separation by sin and the need for redemption through faith in Jesus Christ:

1. "What's Wrong With Same Sex Blessings" gives the theological and Biblical reasons for not proceeding in this direction and proposes the alternative of healing prayer ministry. It argues the authority of the Bible and faith in the healing power of the Holy Spirit is being downgraded and replaced by the New Age value of inclusiveness. (See full text below)

2. "Skating With Victoria" is a theological response to the St. Michael's Report which argued same-sex blessing is a non-core doctrinal issue (whatever that means) and provided the basis for Synod affirming the sanctity and integrity of same-sex blessings. This Synod motion has offended  many Anglicans, caused over 30 parishes to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and led to additional Canadian dioceses proceeding with Episcopal approved same-sex blessing ceremonies. (See full text below)

3. "Transforming the Anglican Church of Canada - A Proposal to the Primate" was submitted to the Primate personally in 2012 prior to a major review of how to cope with declining attendance and funds and later revised and submitted to The Anglican Journal (and not published). This is a serious if exaggerated (for simplicity) overview of the where the Anglican Church has gone off-message in the past 30 years. (Please click link following to view)

4. "Same-Sex Marriage and the Challenge and Opportunity of Liberal Theology" was submitted in August 2014 to the Anglican Church Commission on Revising the Marriage Commission in preparation for the 2016 Synod which will vote on a motion to authorize same-sex marriage in the Church. This is a detailed comparison of Liberal vs Biblical Theology based on J. Gresham Machens' "Christianity and Liberalism" published in 1923 and available free online. (Click on title link above to view)

5. Proclaiming Truth To a Post-truth Culture Would Be A Better Way Forward
In June 2016 the Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada approved (by one vote) first Reading of a motion to change the Marriage Canon to allow same-sex marriage with a two-thirds majority in all three houses (Bishops, Clergy and Laity). Delegates opposed to the motion felt manipulated. bullied and emotionally abused in discussion circles where they were required to publicly revealing how they would vote. Archbishop Kerr-Wilson was moved to write a pastoral letter to the Diocese of Calgary suggesting there must be a better way forward than Bishops delegating their Episcopal responsibility for doctrine to a highly politicized General Synod. This was my (unpublished proposal to the Primate). (Click title above to see full text)

1. What’s Wrong With Same-Sex Blessings?
(2011-05-06 by The Rev. John Gishler B.A., M.L.S., M.Div.)

Anglicans in Canada and the United States have been involved in a long and painful debate over the question of whether the civil unions of same-sex couples should be formally blessed by the Church. This came to a head when one Bishop in Canada agreed to go ahead with this despite international and Canadian agreement that this should wait until there was more of a consensus. Seven parishes decided to leave the Diocese and over 30 others have since left the Anglican Church of Canada to join the new Anglican Coalition in Canada and Anglican Network in Canada. Those who support same-sex blessings by churches argue this is the loving and inclusive thing to do. Those who oppose same-sex blessings by churches argue that this is clearly contrary to Scripture and the teaching of all Christian churches in all places at all times.

As someone who has been on both sides of this debate, earned a graduate degree in Divinity, read the whole Bible several times and had experience in the healing ministry; I feel qualified to comment on this issue. The most compelling and least heard argument in this whole debate has been personally hearing the stories of gay and lesbian Christians who have been healed through prayer ministry. The more I become involved in the healing ministry, the more I become aware that our sexuality is a spiritual issue rather than a Legal, Medical or Psychological issue.

Unfortunately the debate so far has been focused on the political “rights” aspect of this issue. This is of course not what I am talking about. I have no problem with “civil unions”, “partnerships” and people sharing in employment or government benefits. For me, as a priest, the issue is “blessing” these relationships in a church setting. Once we cross over from civil unions, which are the jurisdiction of civil governments to “blessings”, we cross over into the jurisdiction of the Church and authorities bound by Biblical teachings and traditions.

“Blessings” comes down to a religious official saying that God - however we understand God, approves of the relationship. This becomes impossible if the religious official is “orthodox” and suspects that the relationship will include genital sexual relationships. Most religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism, teach that genital sexual relationships outside of a marriage between a man and a woman are sinful. They are against what the tradition understands to be God’s will. It is impossible to bless something that is not holy and is against Gods’ received teachings. The real issue here is the authority of the Bible texts and the long sad work of more liberal theologians since the Enlightenment to dismiss inconvenient texts related to sexual morals as either “Jewish culural” or “homophobic” interpretations.

The former crime of “sodomy” is named after the Biblical account of God destroying the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for same-sex, sexual activity (see Genesis 19.1-29). There is of course a great deal of debate in modern Christian churches over the authority of the Old Testament. Some clergy believe we can disregard the teachings of the Old Testament and even some of the teachings in the New Testament on sexual immorality, as Hebrew nationalism and “homophobic”. A brochure claiming that Jesus had said nothing on homosexuality was on display at a recent Synod of the Diocese of Calgary. While Jesus of course did not use the English word “homosexuality”, He did specifically condemn “...murder, adultery, sexual immorality...” which must mean same-sex, sex as differentiated from adultery. (Matthew 15.19) The Greek word usually translated as “sexual immorality” is 'pornea'. This is where our word pornographic comes from. Contrary to some teachers, Jesus did uphold the Old Testament teachings on sexual morality and say He had come”...not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5.17b) His offer of forgiveness to those who repented and confessed sins was a fulfillment, or way out of the consequences of breaking the spiritual Law. It was not a license to sin. Another time, speaking again of adultery, Jesus says “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5.30b)

For both Christians and Jews, the Law of Moses in the Bible is the spiritual law. This goes way beyond cultural or moral “best practices”. These are very serious rules for maintaining personal spiritual holiness. People can disregard them or not take them seriously; but the spiritual consequences are just as destructive as the physical consequences of ignoring the Law of Gravity. For clergy to “bless” a relationship that is likely to include what the Bible calls sexual immorality is blasphemy - the most serious of all religious crimes, the one that Jesus was crucified for.

Of course some clergy believe we should bless same-sex relationships ‘for pastoral reasons’. They claim it is cruel and discriminatory to refuse. They point to Jesus as the one who taught us to love one another (John 13.34) They argue that this very clear command of Jesus must be interpreted as “not Judging others” and as a requirement to “include others” who may have a different sexual orientation. This argument reflects 1960's fuzzy thinking about God’s love as being “unconditional”. Unconditional love is an oxymoron. Love is an emotional response to something or someone which is by definition conditional. We tend to miss the rest of Jesus sentence quoted above to love “as I have loved you”. Jesus love was demonstrated in self-sacrifice and in obedience to the spiritual rules of the Old Testament. The first Commandment “ love the Lord our God with all your heart...”, sets a fairly clear condition for God’s love. In fact the Bible tells us that only those who accept God’s (conditional) offer of salvation through personal faith in Jesus will “ saved from God’s wrath through Him.”“ (Romans 5.9b)

The problem is that religious leaders are very tempted to be liked and to avoid saying hard things that will lead to persecution. But Jesus did not teach His followers to be popular or adjust to local culture and values. He very clearly taught them to “...proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,...” (Luke 4.18b) The blessing of same-sex relationships is in direct contradiction to this mission. It is a denial of the possibility of releasing gay and lesbian oriented individuals from their particular spiritual prison and spiritual oppression. It denies the clear evidence that some people have been have been set free to enjoy sexual relationships in a man - woman marriage. It is a denial of the good news of Scripture.

Those who really care about the pain of gay and lesbian people will do more than give a phony blessing. They will love them enough to offer the gifts of the love, joy, peace, healing, inclusion and strengthening of the Holy Spirit.

2. Skating With Victoria: A Response to the St. Michael Report

By The Rev. John R. Gishler, B.A., M.L.S., M.Div., Calgary, April, 2007

This is an important document that has served us well by coming to the hardly surprising conclusion that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine. Unfortunately the authors then go on to muddy the waters by throwing out the red herring of "core doctrine" as opposed to non-core doctrine. While this is a helpful approach it seems to have distracted the authors from dealing with the 'elephant in the room'. They have sadly chosen to skate around the central issue of whether sexual relations between same sex partners are or are not inherently sinful and hence either bless able or not bless able by the Church. Their admirable goal of fostering "…a dialogue where participants agree to pay full, careful and transparent attention to the whole witness of Holy Scripture and its' claim upon the Church." (Para. 23) is only partially met. What we have in this Report is more like a one sided (but clever) deconstruction of Scripture that is incomplete, Biblically simplistic and deceptive.

1. The Report is Incomplete
Our dear brothers and sisters in Christ have failed to discuss the central theological issue of what the Bible repeatedly and consistently refers to as "sin". I know this is a sensitive issue and that it is offensive to label an identifiable group as possibly engaged in sinful behaviour. The fact is we are all sinners and this is supposed to be a serious theological discussion - not a pastoral care letter. So let us set aside our pastoral and political roles and engage in a dialogue that does not obscure the question out of deference to interpretations of Scripture that might be painful to some. Let us not let "sensitivity" be used as a weapon to distort the discussion. For example it is so interesting that the authors managed to find the Greek word for "doctrine" but did not find or explore the very clear and graphic Greek word used in the Bible (very often) for sexual immorality which is translated as "pornography" and "disgusting".

A complete dialogue would also have to deal with the experience of the Church in healing individuals with same-sex attractions. There are a number of such people, including a Canadian ordained Anglican priest, who will witness to the fact that they have had prayer ministry and been freed from what they considered to be a sexual bondage. Luke 4: 18 informs us that Jesus' mission - and ours is to "…proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed." This is real love as opposed to the fuzzy love of political correctness. Apparently the authors failed to consider the whole alternative of prayer ministry for the physical and emotional healing for dysfunctional sexual orientations. The reason is perhaps that if you believe a condition can be healed by prayer, it is offensive and illogical to suggest blessing it. This is a serious omission in the dialogue .

Finally there is the "H" word. No, not that "H" word. The "H" word that is in all the Creeds, 39 Articles, prayers, Bible etc. - "Holy". Surely the holiness of God is a core doctrine. If so the holiness of marriage should also be core doctrine. Holy means whole, complete and not broken. Scripture is very clear that same sex relationships of a sexual nature are not holy - and therefore not blessable. This is where the opponents of same-sex blessings are coming from. They see the proponents of same-sex blessings as refusing to accept the authority of Scripture and dismissing passages they find inconvenient as the influences of 'Hebrew culture', as opposed to the authoritative 'word of God'. It would have been very helpful to the dialogue if the authors had helped us sort this out. The dialogue is incomplete.

2. The Report is Biblically simplistic
Out of courtesy to the reader I should note that yes I have been to a real University, know the dangers of taking Scripture literally and have gone through a 'liberal interpretation phase' myself. The discussion of the doctrine of salvation is an example of muddled academic Biblically simplistic thinking. (Paras. 23, 24) By using the "some Anglicans think…" approach, the authors quickly dismisses about 90% of the Anglican Communion who think sexual relationships outside of the marriage of a man and woman puts salvation at risk. This one sentence could have been expanded into a serious theological discussion and become the heart of the Report. Instead we are moved quickly on to what the "other (10%) Anglicans" think. The Report presents a warm fuzzy God who loves us and redeems us unconditionally. There is a very deep paradox here that is ignored. God loves us unconditionally but God does not redeem us unconditionally. There is nothing about sin, no mention of spiritual pollution and nothing about the repentance, confession and absolution that are at the heart of the Bible and our liturgies - where liberal clergy have not omitted them. Suffice it to say the Bible is very clear about salvation. This treatment is simplistic and scary, given the credentials of the authors. If this is the salvation we are offering as a Church we are all in trouble.
The treatment of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (notice that "H" word again) is also Biblically simplistic. The authors do not seem to have understood Paul's letters at a spiritually deep level. Perhaps they just dismissed them as Hebrew culture. Paul is very clear about the possibility of the Holy Spirit not being able to live in a person who has polluted their body by what the Bible defines as wrongful sexual unions. The authors use the word "sin" but fail to relate this to the Biblical passages that explain the consequences of sin. They get completely muddled when they say "while human sinfulness has destructive consequences, it does not destroy a human being's identity as a creature of God, made in God's image." (Para.26) This directly contradicts Romans 6.21b "…The result of those things is death." and 6.23 "For sin pays its wage - death…". The point is not identity. The point is spiritual life.

3. The Report is Deceptive
There is no joy in describing the work of ones brothers and sisters in Christ as deceptive. The problem is we are all dealing with a Deceiver who often fools us into thinking we are doing the right thing when in fact we are doing the opposite. At times like these we need someone who loves us in a deep way to challenge us and expose the deception. This Report is deceptive as it is an official statement of a Commission that pretends to "… pay full, careful and transparent attention to the whole witness of Holy Scripture and its' claim upon the Church." (Para. 23) and yet subjugates this witness to the two un-scriptural values of cultural accommodation and inclusion. Anyone who read this Report without a good foundation of Bible study would be easily deceived into thinking that sexual sin was not as important (i.e. "core") as being relevant to the culture and including people. The most dangerous lies are half-truths.
In fact our Church has been moving away from the historic "Sin / Redemption" model of the Bible for some time. Some clergy have begun omitting the Confession and Absolution from services which many people regard as the most helpful and spiritually healing part of our worship. It is a long slow process but we are like the frogs in the pan of nice warm water - and the water is getting hotter. Transparency demands that the authors confess that they either do not accept the historic Biblical requirement of confessing sins up front - or not pretend to represent the 'whole witness' of Scripture. This is what we as a church really need to dialogue about. The authority for doctrine in our Church has always been first Scripture, then tradition (liturgy) and last reason. It is very dangerous to reverse this order and use reason to set aside the parts of Scripture we find difficult.

The Report is in response to a popular and sensitive cultural and political issue. It reflects an incomplete biblical view that suggests we adjust our theology to new times. It suggests the authors may be more focused on political correctness and avoiding conflict with pressure groups than on the text of the Bible. The gay and lesbian lobby has been incredibly effective. For example they threatened and disrupted meetings of the American Psychology Association until they dropped the definition of Homosexuality as a form of mental illness. In contrast Jesus did not adapt His message to the culture. Like many of our ancestors He chose to die rather than change His message so that it would not offend people.

Finally the Report is steeped in the new non-biblical value of inclusion. There is nothing in the Bible about including people who are not willing to give up their rebellion against God. We need to be very clear that we love everyone as a child of God; but there are clear rules and conditions for being included in the New Covenant of forgiveness of Jesus proclaimed. This Report is deceptive in that it fails to mention these rules and conditions and gives the false impression that we are all just forgiven by grace without any action of repentance or faith on our part.

The good news is that by skating around these issues the Primate's Commission has given us a starting point for a real dialogue on what we believe as Canadian Anglicans. Let us not just skate around these issues to keep everyone politically happy. Let us have some courage and transparency. Let us have a real dialogue that actually pays "full, careful and transparent attention to the whole witness of Holy Scripture and its' claim upon the Church." Then we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. (John 8.32)

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