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A Year of Sex, Money and Politics (2013): The Church of England Newspaper, January 3, 2014 January 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church News, Church of England Newspaper.
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Sex, money and politics dominated the news of the Anglican world outside of England last year.

Disputes over doctrine and discipline surrounding questions on human sexuality animated overseas church discussions in 2013. The political battles over gay marriage in England, France, New Zealand and a number of American states had their counterparts within the Anglican world.

Pressure by Western to liberalize sodomy laws in Africa and the West Indies prompted a back lash from the bishops of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, which denounced the sexual “colonialism” being forced upon them by London and Washington. The Church of Nigeria and bishops in Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and other African nations joined their governments in denouncing the linkage of foreign aid to reform of their constitutions and cultures to accommodate the new thinking on sex.

Not all the talk was about gay marriage, however. At year’s end, a U.S. federal court struck down portions of a Utah law banning polygamy, prompting one Episcopal priest to celebrate. The Rev. Danielle Tumminio, writing for CNN argued that “as a Christian, it makes sense to support healthy polygamous practices. It’s a natural extension for those Christians who support same-sex marriage on theological grounds. But even for those opposed to same-sex marriage, polygamy is documented in the Bible, thereby giving its existence warrant.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, also challenged the church’s doctrinal boundaries in a May sermon in when she denounced the Apostle Paul as a jealous bigot for not seeing the gifts of God at work in the slave girl whom he released from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34.

Salvation comes not from being cleansed of our sins by the atoning sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Presiding Bishop argued in her sermon, but through the divinization of humanity through the work of the human will.

Bishop Jefferts Schori offered an equally impassioned sermon in South Carolina in February, likening her opponents in the schism in that diocese to terrorists and murderers. “It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage,” she said.

The Episcopal Church’s property wars saw an upswing of activity, while a local court in California ruled against a breakaway parish in favor of the Diocese of Los Angeles in one long-running case, and the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled against a breakaway parish in its dispute with a diocese, the Supreme Court of Texas and a local court in Illinois held there was no bar under civil or ecclesial law to a diocese withdrawing from the national Episcopal Church.

In South Carolina, the diocese won several early rounds in the fight with the national church in its bid to quit the Episcopal Church, while in Recife the breakaway diocese successfully appealed a lower court ruling that would have turned over its property to the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. Brazil also witnessed a schism from the left in 2013, as the largest Anglican Church in South America, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Brasilia, quit the province to resume its historical status as a Church of England chaplaincy.

Church splits in Central Africa were almost brought to a conclusion in 2013. At the Church of the Province of Central Africa’s synod in November, Archbishop Albert Chama reported the Kunonga schism had been successfully concluded with the country’s Supreme Court ruling against the bid by breakaway bishop Dr. Nolbert Kunonga to seize the property of the dioceses of Harare, Masvingo and Manicaland for his “Anglican Church of Zimbabwe”. While the cathedral in Harare and most of the province’s schools, churches, hospitals and other properties were restored to them by the courts, reports of Kunonga die-hards holding on to properties with the connivance of local police officials were reported at year’s end.

The provinces of Central Africa and Sudan voted against dividing into national churches in 2013. Delegates to the November synod meeting in Lusaka voted against spitting Central Africa into three provinces – Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, while the November synod meeting in Bor of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan voted against splitting the church into a northern and southern province. It did however vote to rename itself the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan.

Central Africa was the hold out, however, in a year that saw considerable gains for women clergy. While the Central African synod voted down a motion put forward by the Diocese of Harare to allow women clergy, women bishops were appointed and elected across the globe. The Church of Ireland appointed its first woman bishop, while the Anglican Church of Australia saw its first women diocesan bishop elected, as did the Church of South India. An English female priest was elected a bishop in New Zealand and two women took their place in the House of Bishops in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.  The Diocese of Ballarat, one of the last hold outs against allowing women clergy in Australia, ordained its first female priests at year’s end – while commentators predict a woman priest will be elected a bishop in Uganda.

Secular issues also animated the life and the work of the church in 2013. Bishops in the Church of Ceylon backed their government in a spat with the Commonwealth over human rights abuse claims – leading Archbishop Desmond Tutu to call for a boycott of the November CHOGM meeting in Colombo.  Archbishop Tutu played a prominent role in the ceremonies marking the death of Nelson Mandela in December, while the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, played a prominent role in Egypt’s second Arab Spring.

Corruption remained a problem in parts of the Communion, the Churches of North and South India saw two bishops removed from office, and retired bishops arrested for fraud and corruption. Corruption allegations paralyzed the Diocese of Sabah, and led to police questioning of bishops in South Africa and Zambia, while the election of a new primate of Tanzania was marred by charges of vote buying.

Abuse investigations animated the secular press in Australia, as a Royal Commission investigated institutional responses to child abuse. Mishandling of Australian abuse claims led the Bishop of Grafton to resign, and saw church leaders admit before the commission that they did not follow the church’s published guidelines on abuse reporting.

Census reports and statistical studies published in 2013 painted a picture of a church in decline in some parts of the Communion. The Episcopal Church reported that while its losses appeared to have stabilized, over the past ten years there were 24 per cent fewer people in church on Sundays. New Zealand census figures reported an even steeper decline in that country, with Anglicans declining by 17 per cent in seven years.

Persecution was a constant factor in the life of Anglicans in Nigeria, the Sudan, Zanzibar, Pakistan and the Middle East in 2013. Over 105,000 Christians were killed because of their faith in 2012, an Italian sociologist reported in January, with reports from Africa, India and Asia showing a surge in anti-Christian persecution over the Christmas holidays.

 

The depredations of Boko Haram, which has vowed to drive out all Christians from Northern Nigeria – either by death or expulsion – has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, while the Taliban has ramped up its campaign in Pakistan against religious minorities – Christians, Shi’ites, Ahmadiya and Hindus.

 

Concerns over the global “war on Christians” were not restricted to church circles, however. In the United States Sen. Rand Paul – a conservative Republican leader – sounded the alarm, as did a Westminster Hall debate in November.  “In virtually every country in and around the [Middle East], Christians report suffering either high, high to extreme, or extreme persecution,” MP Fiona Bruce warned, while other MPs reported on persecution facing Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

 

“We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht and on other occasions during the Second World War,” she said.

 

The Prince of Wales added his voice to the chorus of concern, telling an Advent gathering at Clarence House warning that Christianity may “disappear” in the Middle East because of a wave of “organised persecution.” Prince Charles said he was “deeply troubled” by the plight of our “brothers and sisters in Christ” and urged intensive inter-faith dialogue to stop the persecution.

 

However, the single largest gathering of overseas Anglicans, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) held in Nairobi in October, saw a new enthusiasm for mission, evangelism and renewal. The collapse of the authority and relevance of the existing instruments of unity for the Anglican Church – a point conceded by the Archbishop of Canterbury – since Lambeth 2008, and the retreat by Archbishop Justin Welby from the world scene, has seen a more aggressive overseas policy from the Episcopal Church and conservative global south Anglicans.

 

The old ways of the Anglican Communion were as “dead as the British Empire”, Dr Peter Jensen, the Gafcon general secretary said, at the start of the conference. The “future” of Anglicanism had “arrived” – and it was Gafcon, he observed.

 

Dr Jensen characterised the communion’s problem as a failure of commitment. “We have failed to make disciples through teaching the commands of Jesus found in the Bible at depth. That is why so much of the Church in the West has simply collapsed, capitulated, and compromised before a virulent, antagonistic secularism.”

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