I’ve just read what is a pretty ordinary piece of opinion writing The Age. The approach isn’t uncommon, but it’s not particularly helpful. It is another attempt to deride Anglicans who wish to hold onto Anglican beliefs. Let’s remember, the beliefs in question (human sexuality), aren’t particular to Anglicans but are shared by Christians Churches globally and ever since Jesus inaugurated the church.
Dr Kate Milner writes about some of her experiences growing up in churches, including an inner city Anglican Church in Melbourne. As the headline states, As a woman, I am glad to be free of the Anglican Church, Dr Milner is ‘relieved’ to be no longer part of the Anglican Church. Why?
“When I read about schisms within the Anglican church and anger about the breakaway Diocese of the Southern Cross, which does not support same-sex marriage, I feel both sadness and relief. I feel sad that it has taken so long for the fundamentalist, ultra-orthodoxy of this emergent network and their extreme values to be called-out. While I lived it every day for decades, in the midst of it I was never able to find words for the bigotry of what has been described as a “network of ultra-conservative, fundamentalist, patriarchal, schismatic Anglicans who, predictably, claim to be the only truly orthodox Anglican Church.”“
Dr Milner doesn’t engage with the theological convictions that have given rise to the Southern Cross Diocese. She doesn’t offer any alternative other than a passing reference to a few Bible words, although with no consideration for their Bible meaning. Instead, she mounts a verbal attack on her previous church and any like it (which apparently includes the newly formed Southern Cross Diocese). Dr Milner’s approach is simple and effective in a superficial sense. She unloads a barrage of insults. It doesn’t matter whether the words are true of these churches or not. It doesn’t matter whether she has even understood the meaning of her chosen words. Just throwing them at churches is sufficient. Obviously, someone thinks her tactic succeed, after all, it made the opinion page of a national newspaper!
I get how today’s rhetorical bamboozling works. Words are power and power brings influence and change. And so if I look inside the garbage bin of words and find the right ones to bring emotional charge to an issue, then that’s what I’ll use. The thing is, when one takes a look at Milner’s chosen language, one quickly realises that she’s firing blanks: loud but empty.
Ultra Conservative? No.
Kate Milner may not like the fact (and it is a fact), but churches associated with GAFCON (and now with Southern Cross) hold to mainstream normal orthodox Christianity. There is nothing outrageous or ‘ultra’ anything about what these churches believe and practice. Indeed, the belief that men and women are men and women, and that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman, is as normal as it comes. These Anglican Churches affirm the same Christianity that is growing around the world today and which conforms to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. It’s the same Christianity preached by the Apostles and which comes from the lips and life of Jesus.
By the sounds of it, Dr Milner prefers to align with a religion that is not those things, but (mis)using words because they come from the bag marked ‘terrible religious words’ and because it garners the ‘right’ kind of angry allies, is far from cultivating reasonable and important conversation. Therein lies a problem. If critics (and yes, there are also a few Anglican bishops who belong to this cheer squad) rely on spurious insults and slander to push for the downfall of orthodox Christianity, then their cause is already faulty.
I’m not privy to Dr Milner’s story beyond what she has written but I hope and pray that with time she changes her mind, because Christianity is good news. It’s the greatest message we can ever embrace. Sure, Christianity doesn’t swing along with the ever changing sexual revolution and all its latest iterations; Jesus offers a better story, a more secure hope.
I’ve read a lot of nonsense recently with people attacking Churches for doing the very thing churches are meant to do: believe and live out the Bible. But there is also danger here for Christians. Yes, we grieve when people defame the name of Jesus and insult our churches, but we must also guard our own hearts and tongues. We mustn’t copy those who oppose us and resort to their patterns of speech. When we fail, we ought to repent and ask for forgiveness. It’s easy to respond when you’re angry or hurt with the same low level verbal artillery, but we mustn’t.
Sometimes the wise decision is to say nothing in response; you cop the flack and ask God to sort it out. I’ve had to repeatedly learn that important lesson over the years. At other times it is prudent to speak and correct the allegations. It’s the Proverbs 26 dilemma:
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
There is also a time and place for strong words. After all, Jesus cursed the Pharisees and the Apostle Paul could say of the false teaches infiltrating the Galatian churches,
“If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse”
Such language however should never be used lightly or inappropriately. Too often even Christians begin at 9 and dial up the rhetoric from there. The problem is, public discourse doesn’t encourage meekness and reasonableness and patience. We desperately need such approaches, but today’s world of white noise gives little attention to careful, fair, and important argument. Outrage and derogatory superlatives is the staple diet. If you want to be heard, use bigger meaner words. As it happens, words like ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘bigot’ have become the religious version of Godwin’s law. They’re lazy and often untrue insults, but use them and the Colosseum crowd will lap it up.
My advice is this, avoid the mud and don’t forget the long game. If responding to every misrepresentation endangers us of jumping into the Colosseum and swinging our sharpest rhetorical swords, it is probably better to practice patience and joyfully take the hit. Other times, for example, when my neighbour is being slandered, speaking on their behalf may be a loving action. When ecclesial leaders promote a gospel that is no gospel at all, and there is an opportunity for us to speak with the manner of Jesus, then faithful church leaders ought to speak up so that God’s good news isn’t muddied. If we are looking for examples to follow at this present time, of how to speak truth with grace and clarity, look no further than to how evangelical bishops have conducted themselves in the public space over the past month, including Kanishka Raffal and Richard Condie.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 2:29)
“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:14).
Let’s keep learning to respond and engage in a Christ like way.