Open Letter to Brian Farran, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle

From Sandy Grant, St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, Wollongong

Monday 11 February, 2008

 

Dear Bishop Farran,

 

I write concerning your public Statement regarding the GAFCON conference (which I viewed at http://www.angdon.com/gafcon/) organised by conservative Anglicans and critical of the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen’s involvement in it.

 

I appreciate the fact that your diocesan website invited responses.

 

So I raise several matters of concern.

 

Firstly, there is a surprising reliance on pejorative language in a letter where you commend “grace” and “respectful exploration” and “conversation” regarding the issues being debated. So that others can assess for themselves, I will simply list the descriptors used to characterise the position of the Global South conservatives with whom you disagree:

 

 

An argument could easily be made that every single one of those phrases is either begs the question or is inaccurate or at the least misleading and overblown. It is certainly highly pejorative. That is your choice. And one can understand slipping into some such language in the height of a live debate. But in a settled public statement from a bishop in God’s church, is this really the language that will aid the gracious and respectful conversation you desire?

 

Secondly, I was amazed by your choice to describe the Global South’s position as the “pursuit of the homosexual agenda”. For a start, it would be more accurate to describe the conservative position as the “heterosexual marriage agenda”. (Your ‘spin’ seems akin to describing the Liberal Party as having a ‘union agenda’.)

 

More important than the label though, is the fact that conservatives have not especially sought to raise the matter of homosexual marriage or ordination in the Anglican Communion. Rather it has been persistently pushed by those on the more liberal wing of the Communion. Conversatives have reluctantly responded because of their deep convictions in regards to the threat to faithfulness to what we see as the plain and consistent reading of God’s Holy Word, the Bible.

 

I also note that by and large – to my knowledge – it has been liberals who have locked conservative parishes out of their church buildings and deposed conservative clergy via legal action. Would that be at all analogous to a “strategy of exclusion” or a “police-state approach”? 

 

Thirdly, you characterise the “heart of the Gospel” as “God’s gracious unconditional gift of communion”, and speak of “the key New Testament understanding of unconditional acceptance so evident in the encounters with Jesus in the gospels”.

 

Such language, by itself, is an incomplete account of the biblical gospel.

 

I can often understand Peter in regards to the time when he asked Jesus to depart from him, because “I am a sinful man”. And I am incredibly grateful that Jesus did not depart. I am so glad to have received a welcome from the ‘Waiting Father’ of Luke 15. And I wish I could better follow Christ’s example of being the “friend of sinners” like he was with the tax collectors and prostitutes.

 

I regularly thank God via the liturgy and my own personal prayers that, as Article XI of the Thirty Nine Articles say, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings.”

 

In that sense I can agree that God’s acceptance is unconditional – unconditional on any of my own works of merit. But (although faith and repentance be no works of merit in themselves) did Jesus teach that God’s acceptance is unconditional in regards to faith and repentance?

 

Consistent with John the Baptist, Jesus’ central message was the challenge to repent because of the kingdom of God was near (Matt 4:17/Mark 1:15; cf. Matt 21:31-32, Luke 3:7-20). Note how John’s preaching of repentance included the call to desist from specific sins, including Herod’s sexual sin with Herodias. Likewise, Zaccheus demonstrated his repentance by his actions in reparation (Luke 19:1-10).

 

And could Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:19-31) of Lazarus and ‘Dives’ (the rich man) be characterised as a message of “unconditional acceptance” towards Dives for his neglect of the poor at his gate, even though he had the Law and the Prophets to guide him? And was Jesus extending a “ gracious unconditional gift of communion” to the Pharisees in Matthew 23?

 

Jesus’ ministry to people in John’s Gospel also included the explicit pointing out of the sexual sin of the Samaritan woman at the well (4:16-18); along with warnings to others to stop sinning (5:14).

 

And although most likely not original to the Gospel writer, there is a much loved incident related in John 8:1-11, widely accepted as portraying the authentic Jesus. This records Jesus’ wise dismissal of the crowd baying for blood, along with his subsequent tender dealings with the woman taken in adultery. Certainly this included a message of acceptance – “neither do I condemn you”. But immediately associated with it was Christ’s firm charge to “Go and sin no more” which surely includes reference to her sexual sin. 

 

Along with the reminder in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ words in Luke 13:3-4 make it clear that there is an element of conditionality in regards to the forgiveness of sins. He said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (NIV, my emphasis.)

 

Sinners like myself can be comforted by the knowledge that the Waiting Father is so willing to forgive and welcome us home. But we must repent, as indeed the prodigal son did in regards to his father. Bishop Farran, I believe your account of the gospel expressed in your statement on GAFCON is disturbing by its apparent omission of this key New Testament motif of repentance.

 

Finally you accuse the Global South alignment of ignoring the secondary requirements of the 1998 Lambeth Conference calling for a listening process with gay and lesbian Christians. Obviously I am not aware of the extent of such efforts from various conservative Anglicans around the world on this matter. However the remarks seem to ignore the fact that at our recent session of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia last October, there was an evening given over to just such a listening process in the spirit of Lambeth 98’s resolution 1:10, where we listened respectifully to the various perspectives of 4 such persons. This was organised by Muriel Porter, and led by Bishop John Harrrower, and was attended by Archbishop Jensen and almost all delegates of the Diocese of Sydney.

 

However when you raise what you call this “secondary provision” and approvingly cite resolutions of earlier Lambeth conferences, it seems highly selective to fail to mention that the very same Lambeth resolution of 1998 (1:10) stated that

(See http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm

 

Yet this latter is exactly what parts of the North American Anglican scene have since done, and persisted in, despite repeated calls to stop. Who’s really not listening? Who’s really pushing a “homosexual agenda”? It is not nearly as clear-cut as your pejorative language suggests. Certainly it would be good to abide by Lambeth resolution 1:10 in its entirety and to heed what the Scriptures say to us on these matters of human sexuality.

 

Rev Sandy Grant

St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral

Wollongong