Anglican wrangling about sexuality and authority in the church is missing the big picture about how the relationship between religion and society is changing, says a new book from the think tank Ekklesia to be published next week.
Christians need to be beacons of hope, not signs of decay, it argues, suggesting that the 'conservative versus liberal' stereotype disguises a deeper tension between establishment religion and the Christian message of radical transformation.
With a preface by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who declares, "in God's family, there are no outsiders, no enemies", Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, is edited by Ekklesia co- director Simon Barrow.
The book contains essays by clergy, a peace activist, an equalities adviser and two New Testament professors. It is aimed at substantially challenging the argument that will take place at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July.
"Many Christians and other onlookers are completely baffled by the nasty arguments within Anglicanism right now", explains Simon Barrow. "These rows are missing four key ingredients - an understanding that 'top-down' models of the church are dying, that the world needs examples of reconciliation and peacemaking rather than animosity, that many want to affirm gay Christians on deeply traditional grounds, and that disagreement without courtesy and love is destroying the credibility of the church's message."
"Even the most cursory glance at the historical engagement of churches in public life shows that the love of enemies, forgiveness, hospitality, repentance, social equality and 'turning the other cheek' urged by the founder of the Christian faith has often been embarrassingly conspicuous by its absence", says Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley in his chapter.
Ekklesia says that the attempt by some Anglican leaders to exclude women, gay people and those they disagree with from church life disguises two larger crises. First, the end of the Christendom era, where Christianity could expect a privileged position in society, and which has been 'exported' around the world. Second, a global challenge to the use of religion to sanction oppression - which leaves many people feeling that Christians behave less morally than others.
'Fear or Freedom?' will be on sale at the Lambeth Conference and is available online from Metanoia Books. The authors include Deirdre Good (Professor of New Testament, General Theological Seminary, New York), Savi Hensman (equalities adviser and writer, UK and Sri Lanka), Tim Nafziger (Christian peacemaker, USA), Christopher Rowland (Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford), Glynn Cardy (St Matthew's-in-the- City, Auckland, New Zealand) and David Wood (parish priest and university chaplain, Western Australia).
Simon Barrow (ed.), Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change. ISBN: 9781905565146, 139pp, £12.95 (Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia, 2008).