Anglicans challenged on power, sex and ‘traditionalism’

EKKLESIA, London: According to the standard script, the current war in Anglicanism over sexuality, scripture and authority is one between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’, ‘liberals’ versus ‘evangelicals’.

But new research from the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia suggests that those who want to keep the church defined by very narrow parameters are straying from well established Christian tradition.

It points out that ‘Anglican wars’ are about power as much as sex, and that evangelicals and others are to be found on all sides of the debate rather than just one.

In a research essay entitled ‘Tradition, Change and the new Anglicanism’, author Savitri Hensman, who was born in Sri Lanka but lives and works in Britain as an equalities adviser in the community sector, looks carefully at past Anglican formulations and biblical traditions.

She says that the arguments prefiguring the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July 2008 are not just a family squabble. They are about the nature of Christianity in a fast-changing contemporary world, the dangers of simplistic readings of the Bible, the historic threat of authoritarianism, the challenge of human rights, and the tension between the establishment instincts of many Christians institutions and the radical roots of the Gospel.

The message echoes a new book edited by Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow, with a preface from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, called Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, which is published this week.

“Christians caught up in endless internecine strife and politics are not furthering their message in the wider world,” says Barrow. “Organised Christianity is dying in some places not because it isn’t judgemental enough, but because it doesn’t seem to make a positive difference to people’s lives. Similarly, a lust for certainty will not touch the hearts of the great majority.”

Another contributor to ‘Fear or Freedom?’, Australian priest and author Dr David Wood, says in his chapter: “The table of Christ demands that we grow up, and growing up means learning to live with those we find awkward and uncongenial as well as those we warm to naturally.”

Ms Hensman agrees, suggesting that exploring the depth of disagreements with hope and honesty, rather than proceeding by dictat, would be a sign that Christianity has something positive to offer a divided world.

“It’s not more resolutions and structures that are needed, but a change of heart,” comments Ekklesia’s Simon Barrow. “The Christendom church models its procedures on the standard political culture of confrontation. That’s why it’s tearing itself apart.”

Notes

1. Ekklesia is a think-tank, founded in 2002, which promotes transformative theological ideas in public life.

2. It was listed amongst the top 20 think-tanks in Britain in 2005, by the Independent newspaper. It has been profiled by London's Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph.

3. Ekklesia is independent of all church denominations, and operates on a self-financing, not- for-profit basis. It has one of most visited religious websites in the UK, and raised over £250,000 last year for peace, justice and development work.

4. Simon Barrow (ed.), Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change. ISBN: 9781905565146, 139pp, £12.95 (Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia, 2008). To order: http://books.ekklesia.co.uk/product _info.php?products_id=2255

5. Requests for interviews and review copies to: Simon Barrow, 07904 376514, simon.barrow@ekklesia.co.uk

6. Savitri Hensman's paper can be found at: http://www .ekklesia.co.uk/node/7386