Who Blinks First? Rejecting the Archbishop of Canterbury as the ‘First Among Equals’ - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Who Blinks First? Rejecting the Archbishop of Canterbury as the ‘First Among Equals’

Recently, a dozen archbishops from the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches signed a letter rejecting the traditional notion that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the “first among equals” and the “focus of unity” in the Global Anglican Communion. They’d had enough, for, under Justin Welby’s leadership, the denomination had endorsed the blessing of same-sex partnerships stopping short, at least for the moment, of okaying the performance of same-sex weddings. (This strikes me as slicing the baloney pretty thinly.) We’re taught plausibly that slippery-slope projections are fallacious and insufficient to establish one’s point. But it’s fair to note that the resident of Lambeth Palace and his cohort are well down the slope on a slide that’s been underway for decades.

In both 2006 and 2007, Time magazine counted Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola as one of “the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world.” The 2006 issue credits him with “leading the worldwide revolt of evangelical Anglicans against the ordination of gay bishops in the U.S. by the Episcopal Church.” In doing so, Akinola underscored the fact that much of Christianity’s vitality had shifted to the Global South.

Picking up on these developments before Time did, Kairos Journal hosted a 2005 banquet in New York to honor Akinola and three other archbishops from the Global South — Henry Orombi of Uganda, Datuk Yong Ping Chung of Southeast Asia, and Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone of South America — calling them men who “demonstrate exemplary fidelity to the authority of Scripture and exceptional pastoral courage in their efforts to restore the prophetic voice of the Church.”

It was an extraordinary event at the Metropolitan Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with around 200 guests in attendance. Eminent “Global North” Anglicans J. I. Packer and Os Guinness spoke to contextualize the awards. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life (recently and absurdly defrocked by Pope Francis) offered the invocation. And each of the honorees — forerunners for such present-day stalwarts as South Sudan’s Justin Badi and the Indian Ocean’s James Wong — addressed the issues at hand.

Stirred by the earlier, incremental decline in devotion to heterosexual marriage — with, yes, the blessing of gay partnerships in Vancouver’s Diocese of Westminster in 2002 — the rebellion began in earnest 2003 when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams appointed Jeffrey John as bishop of Reading in the Oxford diocese and consecrated Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in the U.S. Both men had come out as gay.

Robinson had divorced his wife and mother of his kids and, in 1988, moved into a new house with his male partner, Mark Andrew, whom he later married and subsequently divorced. (The fact that Douglas Theuner, Robinson’s predecessor as bishop, blessed their house signaled that the arrangement was copacetic in the eyes of New Hampshire Anglican leadership.)

Back in England, Jeffrey John had also had a homosexual partner. The relationship dated back to the 1970s, but, unlike Robinson, John said they were now celibate. Nevertheless, Archbishop Williams got pushback on this appointment, and it was withdrawn.

It’s been a tumultuous two decades since the revolt of the Global South, a period fastidiously chronicled by Nigerian journalist Gbenga Gbesan in his book Peter Akinola: Who Blinks First? The title comes from a remark made by Williams to Akinola in one-on-one huddle in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania at one of the meetings called to smooth things over in 2007. Though simulating the role of mediator, Williams was doing what he could to protect the standing of the church’s “progressive” elements. As if he were above it all, he observed, “We shall see who blinks first.”

As it’s turned out, neither side has given in. Welby has just demonstrated that the gay agenda is still at work in Canterbury, but the traditionalists — indeed, the biblicists — have not sat still. With the formation of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), the faithful have rallied at meetings in Jerusalem and Nairobi and issued strong statements of resolve. In America, around a thousand Anglican churches have emerged as conservatives and fled the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) system, preferring association with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). As such, they join the majority of Anglicans worldwide in GAFCON.

Of course, the cultural elites in the Northern Hemisphere have done what they can to normalize homosexuality (and, indeed, transsexuality) and abnormalize dissent. Evidence of their success is reflected everywhere, from corporate DEI contortions to campus and broadcast speech codes to yard signs proclaiming, “Science is Real, Black Lives Matter, Love is Love…”

Well, if sexual orientation is a trivial matter — like, say, a preference for rocky road over pralines and cream ice cream at Baskin-Robbins — then let’s honor, not just accommodate, all appetites — even if it means leper status for hockey players declining to wear pride jerseys on Pride Night, corporate sponsorship of floats at gay pride parades, or the rainbow illumination of the White House to celebrate the 2015 Obergefell decision.

It’s said that, today, the world has gotten into the church more than the church has gotten into the world. Much of this is due to what I call ecclesiastical “ingratiationism,” which is driven by the conviction that we can’t reach them if we alienate them. So we turn our backs on Amos’s call to hold a plumb line up against whatever the culture is building.

Somehow, some clerics lose track of, interest in, or nerve over the Bible’s plain teaching against homosexuality as expressed in Leviticus 18, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6. And they ignore the counsel of such towering theologians as Thomas Aquinas and evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry — as well as the writings of many outside the Judeo-Christian camp, from Plato to Kant to the Dalai Lama.

Yes, we can be thankful for the contributions of individual homosexuals, whether WWII codebreaker Alan Turing or Ian Charleson, the actor who winsomely portrayed Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. But that doesn’t mean that we must applaud all their initiatives in the public square or any of their initiatives in the Church. Otherwise, we convert our construction plumb line into a sounding line with which to plumb the depths of our cultural waterway, pleased to find the channel going deeper and deeper.

This is especially grievous as we shift our focus from jerseys, parades, and outdoor lighting, to marriage. As we learn in Genesis 2, it was the first God-ordained institution, fundamental to the created order and predating civil government, the military, the arts, academia, commerce, the sports world, and every other enterprise, including the Church. Get it wrong, and your culture is on the road to ruin. And woe to ministers who serve as an accelerant for this disaster.

Then what should we say about same-sex-attracted men and women who argue that they are Bible-honoring Christians who won’t “do” gay even though they “be” gay? They agree that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Scripture, so they resolve to not act on their impulses. (This doesn’t fit the Jeffrey John template since he didn’t repent of his earlier homosexual acts.) Their commitment is admirable. And we can all identify with their plight, in that we all have had — and currently have — unholy and destructive appetites and struggles. Indeed, each of us can sing, with integrity, the old hymn line, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it …”

Some of us have gluttonous tendencies; others are worry warts. Some have a weakness for booze, heterosexual pornography, crippling resentment, or simmering road rage. The list goes on and on, and, this side of heaven — where we’ll be free of danger from “the world, the flesh, and the devil” — we’ll have such challenges. But I’d suggest that we have no business settling in to an internal identity associated with an external sin. It’s as if you’re on your way as a pilgrim to Jerusalem, but then, at a layover in Barcelona, you decide that that’ll suffice and that you’ll start identifying as a Spaniard. But wasn’t Jerusalem your destination?

Furthermore, the implications just don’t compute. What if one were to say, “I know pedophilia is wrong, and I won’t engage in it, but I do have man-boy attractions; that’s just the kind of guy I am.” Or imagine a prospective pastor telling a pulpit committee, “In all candor, I feel like slugging anyone who disagrees with me, but I won’t do that, I promise.” See the problem?

The Bible doesn’t just address misbehavior; it speaks to inner transformation, as in “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). The ten commandments don’t just forbid external stealing; they also proscribe internal coveting. The Sermon on the Mount condemns both external adultery and internal lust. And 1 Corinthians 13 — the “Love Chapter” — teaches that both bad behaviors, such as boasting, and internal dispositions, such as envy, are wrong. We need upgrades in both arenas, and the church needs to keep that ideal alive.

But how do you change your spiritual innards? Are we, like the determined “Little Engine that Could,” chanting “I think I can, I think I can” as it strains to top the peak? Well, in short, the Bible speaks of regeneration (being “born again”) with a new nature; of the work of the Holy Spirit in us; of the power of prayer; and of God’s fatherly arrangement of circumstances to engineer shifts in perspective. And, of course, we have countless testimonies of heart change throughout church history — of short-tempered folks become long-tempered; of racists becoming color-blind; of addicts stopping cold-turkey. Miracles happen. Let’s not limit them to the visible world.

Trusting in the reliability of the biblical plumb line, the outer+inner reach of God’s authority and power, and the millennia-old tradition of the Church, Akinola and his cohort rode to the sound of the guns instead of ducking for cover or going wobbly over the cultural hubbub. And they did it with flair. I enjoyed hearing of at least one archbishop’s response to a patronizing transfer of missionary funds from America. The support came with a scolding, explaining that the primitives down South had better listen to their sophisticated brothers up North. When the Africans returned the money with a big “No, thank you,” I was reminded of the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley field who toss the other team’s home run balls back on the field instead of hoarding them as souvenirs. And one archbishop observed, in essence, “Hey, you came to our people with a Bible, telling us it was true and vital; now you’re saying it’s deficient. What gives?!”

Archbishop Williams asked, “Who blinks first?” The better questions are “Who shrinks first?” and “Who sinks first?” (And, beg your pardon, “Who stinks first?”) I think the answer is clear, even as Canterbury continues to stare unblinkingly into the abyss.

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