Classical Anglican teaching is held to be rooted in the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason based on Richard Hooker’s teaching in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. More recently, some have argued for the addition of a fourth leg, that of experience. Conservatives opposed to the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the church rely primarily on Scripture, arguing that the other two legs are utterly dependent on this. They deny that experience can be legitimately added as a fourth leg. We live in a society where experience is accepted as a given, an essential component of life. Conservative Christians argue against this cultural change.
The outcome of the debate at Synod last week on the Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations report was positive from my point of view. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech at the end of the debate communicated that he knew change had to happen and his awareness was communicated in the statement issued soon after. Subsequently several bishops made statements or issued letters indicating that they also understood the need to think and do things differently. Did the culture and understanding of the bishops and archbishops undergo a sudden conversion? I doubt it.
We may think that there is just one version of Christianity that we who are Anglicans share with every denomination and all Christians. Not so - we are living with many versions of Christianity, not just within the variety of denominations, but within each denomination and within the Church of England. Within the church there is an invisible, underground, disconnected, boundary-crossing set of people who are letting go of orthodoxy and dogma. In my dreams this group will reach a critical mass as the reality of the ways in which people are reconfiguring faith becomes more widely known. It’s the great secret of the current decade that dare not speak its name, though it has been emerging for decades.
I’ve been lamenting for a number of years the loss of quality of life in the Church of England compared with my experience in the 1960s and early 1970s. They were adventurous, exciting, imaginative, creative times. I was introduced to the work of theologians, prophets and mystics that continues to nourish my faith. Where has that energy and risk-taking exploration of faith gone? Because gone it certainly has. The centre of energy is shifting away from the orthodox, traditional patterns of church life and faith. I have a core of friends who are really living, living into God and the future, energised and inspired. I have no doubt they are being inspired by the same teacher and energised by the same Spirit and loved, intensely, gloriously, tenderly, unconditionally loved by the same God.
My faith has been questioned by a number of people as a result of the last two bogs I posted. The number of questioners is small but the range is wide, from gay and radical to conservative, catholic, evangelical and members of General Synod. What they are asking, I think, in different ways, is: What is required for someone to be recognised as a bona fide Anglican or as a Christian? I think some are saying that my faith has been found wanting essential, traditional, orthodox ingredients. I am indeed setting out to question and challenge that so-called ‘authorised version’. I didn’t ask to get myself involved in this drama. It was a calling from that in which I wasn’t sure I believed, thirty years ago, a vocation to change attitudes.