It is the task of the Church to preach and teach the Gospel, and to point people in the direction of Christ. The Gospel imperative to love God and our neighbour should remind us that whereas religion is always personal, it is never just a private affair. So that the deepening of our spiritual life must go hand in hand with practical concern for our neighbour, and thus with social action. In our age of individualism when we hear so much about “saving our soul”, and “putting myself right with God”, we might be surprised to discover how over the centuries the Church has reflected upon the social dimension of the Gospel. This series of lectures should remind us of the continuing duty of the church to apply the values of the Gospel to the problems of society – to play an active role in the building of a just and compassionate social order – to respect and honour one another in view of our shared humanity – to denounce whatever threatens the fostering of human dignity.

But does Anglicanism have a distinctive body of social teaching? It is generally accepted that there is no official body of teaching which permits us to speak of Anglican Social Teaching, Anglican Moral Theology, Anglican Spirituality, in the same way that we can speak, for example, of Roman Catholic Teaching; and there is no single dominant figure in Anglicanism, like Luther or Calvin, whose work should enable us to point to a body of Anglican teaching comparable to that of Lutherans and Calvinists. We can however point to a number of contributions made by individuals, groups and movements, all claiming Anglican allegiance. Since Pope Leo XIII (d. 1903) there has existed in Roman Catholicism a body of official teaching on social issues. Papal encyclical letters addressed to the whole Church have been the means of such teaching.

The complaint has often been made that in the Anglican Church there is no absolute voice, there are no definite decisions made to which members must adhere. There is the charge that Anglicans are incoherent, and that the Church is held together by its institutional structure, rather than by internal unity. And because there are often many conflicting views being expressed, we have been accused of washing our dirty linen in public. The English poet and writer, T. S. Elliott, responded to this charge in these words, “In contrast to some other institutions, both civil and ecclesiastical, the linen does get washed. To have linen to wash is something; and to assert that one’s linen never needs washing would be a suspicious boast.”

Questions have been raised about the role of the Lambeth Conference and the Resolutions which are made at those meetings. First it must be stated that the Lambeth Conference is a meeting of Bishops, and not a Synod where the three Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity are represented. So there is a fundamental difference between a Lambeth Conference and a Papal Encyclical. The Reports are not intended to be absolute decrees on questions of faith and morals. The opinions expressed have no force unless they are ratified by the local or Provincial Synod. A Report is rather an expression of the way the Church is moving – a search for a common mind and common policies, rather than instructions to the faithful on belief and conduct.

Let me here add something about the structure of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is recognized as the spiritual head – the first among equals – it is a role of influence and not of power.

You might well ask the question: “Is there anything which binds us together?

The nature of our unity is expressed in four elements, known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral:

1. Common submission to Scripture as the Word of God.

2. Common Profession of faith expressed in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.

3. Common acceptance of the divinely instituted Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

4. Common acceptance of the historic ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

It is commonly accepted that the sources of our authority are Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

Our identity is defined not by any confessional formula or subjection to some legal system but by communion – belonging together, interdependence, by respecting differences within a family. After all, unity does not mean uniformity. The tolerance of different shades of beliefs and practices has led to much criticism, but I prefer to live in creative tension than to merely exist in harmonious dishonesty. St. Paul was referring to this creative tension when in speaking about the unity of the Church in Ephesus, he said, “…. With all humility and gentleness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

This introduction was necessary to enable us to understand the Anglican approach to social issues.

Archbishop William Temple in his book, “Christianity and Social Order” had this to say: “The claim of the Christian Church to make its voice heard in matters of politics and economics is very widely resented, even by those who are Christian in personal belief and in devotional practice. It is commonly assumed that Religion is one department of life like Art or Science, and that it is playing the part of a busy body when it lays down principles for the guidance of other departments, whether Art and Science or Business and Politics.” The Archbishop was accused of interfering in matters which were not of his business.

In the 1980s Archbishop Robert Runcie was castigated by a Member of Parliament for meddling in politics, calling him a “mindless muddled old man, naïve and foolish.” The Report “Faith in the City” which was commissioned by the Archbishop signaled further antagonism – one Member of Parliament calling it “out of date, out of time, out of touch and unwelcome.”

Does the Church have any right to speak on social issues? Let us turn to the Scriptures. In Old Testament times it would have been difficult to draw any clear distinction between religion and society. Faith in God touched the lives of people at every point – from International Politics to the tilling of the soil.

Christianity inherited this dualism. A faith based on God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ – that is, God revealed in human life – cannot ignore the world in which he was incarnate, and which he loved so much that he died for it. But neither can a faith based on the death and resurrection of Christ ignore the fact that it was the powers of this world which rejected and crucified him. Jesus was concerned about the ordinary life of ordinary people, especially those who were despised and rejected.

The Anglican Church has always seen itself as having responsibility towards the whole nation – thus our parochial system which defined a parish in terms of geographical area and not just the worshipping community. It exercised a comprehensive system of pastoral care. What we today call social services were once in the hands of the Clergy. The Church’s record in the areas of health and education is well known. Christian values were regarded as under-girding public life. Since the 19th Century the Church has been very active in social reform – and at times had to be critical of government and the social order.

- William Wilberforce, Anglican Member of Parliament, pursued his campaign to abolish the Slave Trade.

- F. D. Maurice, Anglican Clergyman and Theologian, founded a movement known as Christian Socialism – he was reacting against social conditions in England at that time.

- Lord Shaftesbury, Anglican layman, was responsible for reforms regulating conditions in factories.

- Archbishop William Temple’s writings and speeches helped to lay the foundations of the welfare State. He was  careful not to put forward detailed social policies (these he said should be left to the experts) but he laid down Christian principles on which these policies should be based.

- Archbishop Michael Ramsey became very unpopular with many when he was prepared to support the use of force to establish justice in South Africa.

The relationship between Church and State in England has been summed up in the phrase “Critical Solidarity”. “Solidarity” implies a willingness to work together towards meeting the needs and aims of society, while “critical” refers to the role of the Church to be true to itself – to be the conscience of the nation.

This principle is not peculiar to the Church of England, but is an expression of the Anglican ethos. Two examples will suffice:

The Church of Uganda was founded on the blood of martyrs (June 3, 1886 thirty two young men were burnt to death because they refused to renounce Christianity). The martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum in 1977 under Idi Amin was but a continuation of that tradition.

In South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s role was both prophetic and conciliatory – condemning the injustices of apartheid, but also presiding over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Following the sitting of that Commission he wrote the book, “No future without forgiveness.”

Successive Lambeth Conferences have given a substantial part of their time to social issues. The first meeting was held in 1867; no meetings were held during the years of the two World Wars.

1958 Family in Contemporary Society gave its approval to the use of artificial methods of contraception.

1968 Endorsed work done at the World Council of Churches Conference on Church and Society. This dealt with the responsible society, economic justice, racism and other related issues.

1978 Homosexuality made its first appearance. The shaping of human life by technological advances – the priority of ethics over technology – of persons over things.

1988 Poverty and the abuse of Human Rights. AIDS was the new topic.

1998 The Call to Full Humanity;

Holding and Sharing the Faith;

Living as Anglicans in a Pluralistic World;

Seeking Full Visible Unity.

The Anglican Church, seeking to be faithful to the Gospel, must deal with the moral, doctrinal, social and economic issues which demand a response from us. Our response to the various issues mentioned above are conditioned by our cultural context (the belief that God acts in our situation) and by our way of interpreting the Bible. We are aware of those individuals and branches of the Church who claim that religion and politics do not mix, and then there are those who respond to the many moral and social issues by simply quoting Biblical texts. There is the old saying: “The Church to teach and the Bible to prove.” While we believe that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation, it is the interpretation of the Bible which prevents persons from speaking with a unanimous voice. Let me give three examples:

1. A Roman Catholic cannot be remarried after Divorce. The only hope is to persuade the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities that the first marriage was defective in purpose and can therefore be declared null and void.

2. When the official Catholic teaching forbidding artificial means of birth control was released, some Roman Catholic English priests issued a statement declaring: “One listens with respect to the Holy Father, but we are not expected to renounce our will to think for ourselves”.

3. Human Sexuality and the homosexual debate which is threatening to divide the Anglican Communion. At the moment the CPWI is in a state of “impaired” relationship with the ECUSA – we have not broken ties, but we check the credibility of persons wishing to function in the Province.

The CPWI has adopted the Lambeth Resolution on Human Sexuality which states in part:

1. In view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.

2. Recognises that there are persons who experience themselves as having homosexual orientation.

Many are members of the Church, and are seeking pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. Commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons, assure them that they are loved by God, and are full members of the Body of Christ.

3. Calls on all persons to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation, and to condemn homophobia, violence within marriage, trivialisation and commercialism of sex.

4. Cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions or ordaining those involved in same gender unions.

This is the position of CPWI and of course the Diocese of Barbados.

Because of the status of the Lambeth Conference it is not binding on any Diocese, so ECUSA and the Anglican Church in Canada are not violating any Laws. They simply have not accepted the Recommendations of Lambeth. This is one of the weaknesses of the Anglican Church. It is also one of our strong points. We should always be sensitive to the cultural diversity of the Communion. We should always respect the local Church and the local Church must always bear in mind that it is meant to be a microcosm of the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, often said to the people: “When you become a member of the Church, God does not expect you to leave your brain at the door.” There are many issues which can be left to individual consciences without being unfaithful to the Gospel. (There are for example differing views about abortion, divorce and the ordination of women).

Some people have often asked: “Why is it that Anglican Churches are so different from each other? There are differences in forms of worship, ritual, music; differences in Churchmanship – high, low, liberal, evangelical, charismatic.

There are so many decisions to be made in this complex world in which we are living, that it is very difficult simply to quote Biblical texts or to say right or wrong. There are so many medical issues with which people are grappling. Any decision based on emotion, ignorance or guess work can be useless and dangerous.

Jesus did not give us commandments of dos and don’ts, but he laid down principles based on the love of God and love of neighbour, he illustrated these principles in his parables and miracles. He left his disciples in succeeding generations to work out, in the context of their own time, how these principles should be put into practice. This demands of us all the intelligence, sensitivity, responsibility and humility we are able to command. This is how the Anglican Church has tried to respond to the social issues it encounters every day.

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