The global Anglican communion is blowing apart, as we speak. N.T. Wright is unhappy about it, as he ought to be, but unfortunately he analyzes the situation wrongly, almost from top to bottom. I wrote about this some years ago, as one who appreciates much of Wright’s scholarship. But I noted then that his anti-gnostic scholarship would only be able to survive if it was accompanied by an anti-gnostic approach to church discipline. That is not happening.
In Wright’s response to the GAFCON conservative revolt, his central point is that America and Canada are NOT England, and that the abuses going on over here in North America are not typical of what is going on in England. Two points to make with that. First, they are too, in glaring and obvious ways. Second, the liberalism that worldwide Anglicans see as pervasive throughout the ecclesiastical structures of these three nations is seen that way because England has done nothing to distance herself from the excesses of New Hampshire. If you don’t want to be confused as somebody’s friend, then don’t stand so close to them. Don’t tell the officer that the other five guys in the car were smoking dope, while you were just sitting lawfully in the middle of the back seat.
Wright is very clear how distressed he personally has been at the persecution of orthodox Episcopalians here in North America, and I take him completely and utterly at his word. But the Church of England just yesterday launched the proceedings by signing off on women bishops while simultaneously closing the door on any compromises that would make it possible for traditionalists to stay (e.g. through the creation of male-only “superbishops” that traditionalists could submit to). Incidentally, I am not saying that such compromises are a good idea from the conservative side, but I am saying that discipline is inescapable. An Anglican communion that cannot figure out a way to discipline a homosexual bishop and those who ordained him, as it now appears, is up to the task of disciplining errant conservatives, requiring them to fall into line. You’re going to discipline somebody, and you are going to make room and excuses for somebody else. Wright objects to the discipline being applied in North America to those who object to homosexual ordination, but in the midst of this crisis, The CoE chose to do the very same kind of thing to those who object to women’s ordination.
Now Wright wants to say that these things do not compare. He says that homosexual behavior is a violation of “traditional ethics,” which is quite true. It is. And he also wants to say that behaving as a woman is not a violation of traditional ethics. Feminine behavior and homosexual behavior are not the same kind of thing. Right again. But this sidesteps the question neatly, because putting on a bishop’s mitre is not behaving like a woman. It is behaving like an ecclesiastical dyke.
The issue is obedience, and not traditionalist ick factors. The issue is not convex/convex sexual behavior considered in the abstract, but rather the clarity of God’s word. When God speaks clearly, as He has, then to set that word aside as a matter of little importance is to completely misconstrue the nature of Christian ethics. How important is one piece of fruit? In isolation, it is insignificant, but it was because of one piece of fruit that the history of the human race has been full of wars, hatred, oppression, malice, envy, and genocide. Adam and Eve ate when they were told not to, and here we are. But the issue wasn’t the fruit, but rather the high rebellion explicit in the rebellion against a clear word.
“Such [is] the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness” (Prov. 30:20).
God has spoken with equal clarity on the question of homosexual ordination and women’s ordination. There is no ambiguity in what He has said, apart from any ambiguity we bring to the texts ourselves. For those exegetes with a fog machine in their hearts, there is always plenty of ambiguity and to spare. If the response to this is that, “Yes, but scholars have marshalled weighty arguments in favor of women’s ordination,” my response is that they have done the same thing with homosexual ordination. But, as it turns out, I still have my Bible and however many times I open it, these things remain clear. There they are, big as life — pikestaff texts.
Wright is just fine with women priests (which alone should preclude him as the arbiter of all things Pauline), and he is now fine with women bishops. He is a bishop in a communion that refuses to allow Anglicans to read Paul rightly, and will discipline them if they continue to read Paul rightly. That same communion is rife with openly homosexual priests, and when was the last time an openly homosexual priest was defrocked for sodomy? Why is the line in the Church of England now drawn at bishops? Why not priests? Why not seminarians? Why not members? Is it because there are no openly homosexual priests in the Church of England? You’re kidding, right? Maybe they are as rare as homosexuals in Iran.
This is all going to take a little bit of time to shake out, but the thing appears to be done. The explosion has happened, and the pieces will be falling out of the sky for a while. As it unfolds, the Anglo/Catholics will be going to Rome, and the evangelicals will head for Africa. The liberals will make a brave show for a short time, as they try to live in the ruin that they have created. But the cathedral roof has fallen in, a cold rain has begun, and the night is coming.