Reproduced with permission from
the Church of England Newspaper 10 November 2006
In South London recently, a prominent Evangelical minister asked that the microphones and recording equipment in his church be switched off. To a hushed congregation he announced that, with a split in the Anglican Communion imminent, his church would need to decide with whom they were going to 'sit'. This, he said, was to have particular implications for the finances of the church, which may need to be redirected towards the 'Global South'. He asked his congregation to trust his lead on this matter. Consultation was clearly not on the agenda.
In Sydney last month Revd. Richard Coekin spoke at St Andrew's Cathedral at a conference entitled "Proclamation and Protest". In an exposition of Jude 4 ("certain intruders have stolen in among you...who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master, Jesus Christ"), he made reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury, most English bishops (including his own with whom he had recently been exhorted to be reconciled) and other senior clergy. This was all done with notes and visual aids. News of this address recently reached South London and Mr Coekin was asked twice by one of those mentioned in the address to provide a transcript of his comments for reference. To date, no transcript has been received.
In Kigali, the Bishops of the selectively self-styled 'Global South' announced a declaration in mid-September, stating their intention to continue to create their own structures and networks. In responding to the communiqué, the Archbishop of Capetown said "I was not made aware even of the possibility of a communiqué in the name of the Primates of the Global South prior to its release".
Why all this secrecy? Why are conservatives appearing to say one thing to one audience and another to a different one? Why risk the accusation of dissembling, or even downright lying?
I am one of those evangelicals who is constantly drawn to what might be called evangelical essentials, but who, since ordination, has never ministered in the evangelical subculture. I don't go to the big conferences; I don't just read the 'approved' authors; and I see the Church of England as much more than 'the best boat to fish from.' Along with many others in the tradition I am uncomfortable with that self-limiting proper noun "Evangelical", preferring the freedom and life-giving adjective 'evangelical'.
I have come to the conclusion that some of my brothers (and generally they are brothers) are in danger of becoming so focused on being Evangelical that they are in danger of forgetting something central to being Christian. I have come to think that their commitment to theological truth runs the risk of sidelining the idea - and maybe the practice - of moral truth. In part this is due to an Evangelical worldview that sees itself as an embattled minority, striving to keep the church pure when all around are capitulating to the spirit of the age. In such conflict, perhaps they think that the end justifies the means.
In any battle - and there's no doubt that these Evangelicals see themselves as in a battle - it is those who 'betray the cause' that come in for the most criticism. Conservative Evangelicals are so locked into their small world that they find it hard to acknowledge even the existence of other ways of being evangelical. Of course, when the battle is with the 'liberal' diocesan bishop, then other evangelicals are expected to take to the barricades along with the conservatives. "Stand together, chaps - we know who the real enemy is." Yet when the boot is on the other foot, when moderate or liberal evangelicals choose not to stand with conservatives, then we are accused of not being true evangelicals or of 'selling out the gospel'. We evangelicals in South London who recently supported our diocesan bishop in the 'Coekin affair' find ourselves referred to by Mr Coekin "as some who claim to speak for Evangelicals but do not." He ignores the fact that we were only speaking for ourselves.
It is the hubris of public prominence or notoriety that causes some to imagine themselves speaking on behalf of whole groups of people. It is hubris that makes clergy avoid consulting their parishioners and simply say "trust me". It is hubris that enables some bishops in the Global South to claim they are speaking for the entire southern hemisphere, when it is abundantly clear that they only speak for themselves and like-minded people. There are people in many conservative-led congregations and in the Global South who do not think the same as their leaders. Even in the "Co-Mission" Churches, which one Baptist leader described to me as 'not famous for encouraging independent thinking', there is a feeling among some of being cannon-fodder in a battle which they do not feel is theirs.
Conservatives are circling the wagons, rallying the troops and forging international alliances. It is a particular tragedy to me that, while this happens, the evangelical centre and left sit quietly and let the conservatives make all the running, allowing their narrow definition of Gospel and faith to dominate the debate. Where are the evangelicals standing up and declaring that the conservatives don't speak for them? Are they too cowed by the fear of being tarred as apostate? Are they scared of being seen to break ranks? Are they frightened of losing their friends? All of this presents a challenge to groups, such as Fulcrum, which represent the 'evangelical centre'. It would be wonderful to hear a ringing commitment to Anglican unity at a time when all too many seem only concerned with shoring up a narrowly-defined party unity. Many of us know there are plenty of conservatives who have never been interested in Anglican unity. It is high time someone said that.
The Dean of Southwark got into trouble a while ago for likening conservative Evangelicals to the Taliban. At the moment, I feel a better analogy - though less contemporary - is that of the Militant Tendency. Some Evangelicals are entryists to the Anglican fold who seem very happy to take a stipend from the church and then slag it off when they think no one's looking. The tragedy appears that few in the wider evangelical fold appear ready to 'do a Neil Kinnock' and take them on. For the sake of moral, Biblical and theological truth, it is desperately needed.
Simon Butler is the Associate Rector of St Giles’ and St George’s, Ashtead.