Indomitable Sydney? The Challenge of Sydney Anglicanism

Religion and Ethics:

The famous Asterix the Gaul comic books that I read when I was a kid begin in this way.

“The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely … One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanam and Compendium …”

The Gauls gain their fabulous strength from a magic potion brewed by their druid, Getafix. But the secret of their ability to defy the odds, and the Romans, comes from somewhere else. They are possessed of a remarkable inner fortitude. They have an almost casual confidence about them that drives their opponents to distraction. They have a clear sense of shared identity in the face of what seems like insurmountable opposition. They love to eat wild boar.

The way the story of the Anglican diocese of Sydney has been told by her supporters and critics alike often sounds like the opening to Asterix. In the view of Melbourne journalist and Anglican laywoman Muriel Porter, for example, the evangelical variety of Anglicanism that in general characterizes the diocese of Sydney is defiantly peculiar.

As Porter reads it, an Anglicanism that is Catholic in liturgy and liberal in theology has triumphed everywhere. It is the dominant form, and reigns unchecked and unchallenged across Australia and even across the globe. This one small diocese of indomitable, very conservative and (to be frank) completely unhinged evangelical Anglicans holds out against the onward march of liberal Catholic Anglicanism. And life is, as a result, not easy for those who surround it and have to deal with it. Sydney’s commitment to lay presidency at the Lord’s Supper and its objection to the ordination of women to the priesthood are symptoms of the baffling and stubborn irrationality that characterizes the diocese. They simply get in the way of what would be a normal development in other places.

The same story can be told from within the gates of the Sydney Anglican village as well. While all around, Anglicanism has capitulated almost totally to the liberal, broad-church paradigm – with the exception a few parishes in each diocese that are allowed to remain traditional Anglo-Catholic or conservative evangelical – Sydney is the only diocese in which an evangelical form of Anglicanism holds sway. Alone it holds the torch against the onslaught of darkness. Alone it defies the complete capitulation of Anglican Christianity to Western cultural mores. Alone it holds to priority of Scripture over culture as authoritative for church belief and practice. Splendidly, nobly alone.

The uniqueness of Sydney Anglicanism…

Do read on here.



Evangelicals Becoming More Devout, Catholics Less So

Live Science:

Evangelical Protestants have become more devoted to their religious beliefs over the last three decades, even as Catholics have become less attached to their faith, new research finds.

The denominational differences come even as religious affiliations have decreased overall in America, with the number of people who claim no religious affiliation at all doubling from 7 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2000, said study researcher Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Nevertheless, Schwadel said, these unaffiliated individuals seem to be dropping out of religious institutions that they were previously ambivalent about. People who feel strongly about their faith are as numerous as ever.

“The proportion of Americans who say they have a very strong religious affiliation over time is very stable,” Schwadel told LiveScience.

Strength of faith

Schwadel based his findings on a major questionnaire called the General Social Survey, which has been administered to a cross-section of Americans yearly or every other year since 1974. Among the questions on this survey are several about religion, including one that asks how strongly affiliated people feel about their denomination.

By analyzing about 40,000 responses over the decades, Schwadel was able to track changes in how strongly tied people felt to their religion. He found that the total number of strongly affiliated people stayed basically steady around 37 percent, with a small, short-lived bump to 43 percent in 1984 and 1985.

The people who identified as religious but said they weren’t strongly tied to their religion became less common over time, however, dropping from 56 percent in 1990 and 1991 down to 45 percent between 2008 and 2010. This coincided with the uptick in unaffiliated Americans.

“The tremendous growth in being unaffiliated came, I think not very surprisingly, from the relatively uncommitted Americans,” Schwadel said.

Changing attitudes

On a denomination-by-denomination level, the picture gets more complex. While the overall number of strongly affiliated people has stayed stable, that’s because Evangelical Protestants have become more tied to their churches, while Catholics identify less strongly with their faith.

In the 1970s, there was only about a 5-percentage-point difference in how strongly Catholics and Evangelicals felt about their religion, Schwadel said. Today, it’s around 20 percentage points. About 56 percent of Evangelicals currently say they’re strongly affiliated with their religion, while only 35 percent of Catholics say the same.

A few things could be driving these trends, Schwadel said, though the survey did not ask people for their reasons behind their religious devotion. Priest sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church could have shaken people’s trust in the institution, so that they still call themselves Catholic but distance themselves from the Church. Likewise, the demographics of Catholicism are changing, Schwadel said. There are more Latino Catholics in America today than in the past, and Latinos may be less likely to strongly identify with the institution of the Church than white Catholics.

On the Protestant side, Evangelicals became more visible during the 1990s, as well as more politicized, Schwadel said. It’s possible that broader social influence encouraged more people to identify strongly with the faith.

Both the increase in Protestant devotion and the decrease in Catholic faith happened gradually over time rather than sharply from generation to generation, Schwadel noted in the Autumn 2012 issue of the journal Sociology of Religion. That should offer some reassurance to Catholic leaders disappointed to see their flock less devout.

“When it’s that rapid and not really generationally motivated, it may be possible to reverse people’s views,” Schwadel said.



A Coming Evangelical Collapse?

Over at Near Emmaus:

In the last week I have read three interesting blog posts that mention people exiling from evangelicalism (or Reformed thinking) that I have found interesting:

– Jason Stellman discusses his controversial departure from the Presbyterian Church of America to the Roman Catholic Church in “I Fought the Church, and the Church Won”–a guest post for the blog Called to Communion. He says that Catholicism was not alluring to him, but that he found it to be “the truth,” especially when he began to doubt the reformational language regarding Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. Remember, this is the man who lead the trial against Peter Leithart for the Pacific Northwest Presbytery because Leithart was suspected of teachings that were close to those of Rome.

– Roman Catholics are not alone in anticipating more people to flee evangelical and reformed community. The Orthodox Church is asking themselves if they are ready for the “coming evangelical collapse.” Kevin Allen provides a self-diagnosis for this communion in “Are We Ready for the Coming Evangelical Collapse?” He believes that the Orthodox will be “short-term beneficiaries, but that there are many hinderances to people joining their ranks as well.

– Peter Enns has written many blog posts providing an “in-house” critique of evangelicalism’s shrinking boarders warning that there are many who no longer feel at home in evangelicalism as it is self-defined currently. In “Outgrowing Evangelicalism: It’s Not Just for Scholars Anymore” he shows that it isn’t academics alone who are feeling marginalized within evangelical circles. Of course, the so-called “emerging church” has been saying this for sometime now. I think evangelicals seeking to realign and redefine evangelicalism may have a harder time than Roman Catholics and Orthodox because there has yet to “emerge” an alternative to evangelicalism than doesn’t have the feel of evangelicalism run amok with individualism or the type of church that seeks to be “ancient-future” in practice while being liberal-progressive Protestant in theology (something that may lack staying power).

Pentecostalism continues to expand globally and domestically (I think the Assemblies of God are one of the few larger denominations in this country that have seen growth over recent years). There remain many problems there as well. When the energy declines and the emotionalism dries many “thinkers” in Pentecostal ranks wonder what they are doing with their time. At least that was my experience.

Do you foresee a “coming evangelical collapse?” If so, where will evangelicals go? If not, what reforms do you think need to be made?


Eastern Orthodox Lose Two Evangelical Bridges

Christianity Today:

Metropolitan Jonah, by most accounts the highest-ranking, evangelical-friendly archpriest in North America’s Eastern Orthodox Church, resigned under duress in July.

His removal has observers less concerned about his leadership shortcomings, which allegedly led to his removal, than about the widening gap between conservatives and the Orthodox Church.

“His efforts were the most explicit attempt by any Orthodox hierarch to join with evangelicals and other conservatives in a common social agenda,” North Park University professor Brad Nassif said of Jonah’s nearly four-year tenure as primate.

Jonah, a former Episcopalian, was especially popular among the convert wing of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA), which in 2008 constituted 51 percent of the denomination’s 85,000 North American adherents, according to the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute.

His ecumenical social efforts also endeared him to a wider conservative audience. In 2009, he linked arms with prominent evangelicals and conservative Catholics in signing the Manhattan Declaration, which defended a traditional definition of marriage and denounced abortion.

His bold social stances drew the ire of members of his own community, according to conservative pundit and Orthodox convert Rod Dreher.

Dreher, who broke the news of Jonah’s resignation, compared the OCA synod in a blog post to “a pack of ravening wolves” that he said has long been trying to unseat its leader.

The New York-based synod countered the Internet buzz with a statement outlining the allegations that led to Jonah’s forced resignation, including that Jonah knowingly harbored a priest accused of rape in his diocese.

The synod said its request “came at the end of a rather long list of questionable, unilateral decisions and actions, demonstrating the inability of the Metropolitan to always be truthful and accountable to his peers.”

Jonah’s resignation came only five days after the death of 73-year-old Peter Gillquist, who infused evangelical fervor into the Antiochian Orthodox Church beginning in 1987, when he led some 2,000 of his Protestant followers into Eastern Orthodoxy.

“If he had not come into the church and brought those people in, our church would have atrophied to the point of near extinction,” Nassif said. “Gillquist came along at the right moment in American Orthodox history.”

Among his many accomplishments, Gillquist helped create the first Orthodox study Bible and served for a quarter of a century as chairman of the archdiocese’s department of missions and evangelism.

Gillquist, like Jonah, served as a critical bridge for relations between evangelicals and Orthodox, having spent the majority of his career on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ before his conversion.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, a prominent Orthodox author and speaker, called the losses a “double blow” to American Orthodoxy. However, she doesn’t believe this will affect relations between the two groups.

“The change that has taken place so steadily over the years can’t be undone by these two losses,” she said. “And yet, they are losses we regret all the same.”



Sydney’s Anglican Church Introduces ‘Submit’ Wedding Vows ‘After Fifty Shades of Grey’

Sydney’s Anglican Church has been criticised after changing the marriage ceremony to include a vow by the wife to “submit” to her husband – a pledge likened by critics to “reading Fifty Shades of Grey”.

The Telegraph:

The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, known as one of the world’s most conservative Anglican bishops, defended the new vow as an attempt to combat the destructive rise of egalitarianism and individualism.

He said the vow was “not an invitation to bossiness, let alone abuse”.

“In the last three or four decades a certain egalitarianism has crept into society and the way people think and I understand that’s the reigning philosophy,” he told ABC television.

“I just happen to think it’s wrong, unhelpful, and in the end we will find it’s better to recognise that men and women are different, that we have at certain points different responsibilities and men will be better men if we acknowledge that.”

The new ceremony, expected to be approved by the diocese of Sydney at its synod in October, requires the minister to ask the bride: “Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?”. The bride then pledges “to love and submit” to her husband.

Though the church will allow couples to choose a vow which does not include the controversial pledge, the new wording has already been used in some ceremonies.

Stephanie Judd, 26, a Christian studies teacher, opted for the new vow at her wedding in January.

“The husband’s love is one of sacrificial love, and to submit to that kind of love is not oppressive, but is actually a joy and a great freedom,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

But the new vow triggered furious public criticism and prompted questions about its legality because it had not been approved by the church’s national governing body. The Sydney diocese is notorious for its staunch conservatism and does not allow the full ordination of women.

“People criticise the Sydney Anglicans for being out of touch, so how wonderful to see the success of Fifty Shades of Grey being so rapidly reflected in the service,” wrote Richard Glover, a Fairfax Media columnist.

“The only question: will fluffy handcuffs now be a mandatory part of bridal wear?”



‘Evangelical’ or ‘evangelical’? To Capitalize or Not?

Interesting, given that I opted for the capitalisation of the word just yesterday.

Matthew Schmitz writes over at First Things.

Evangelical writer Daniel Silliman tackles a problem familiar to this editor: Is it “Evangelical” or “evangelical,” majuscule or miniscule, capitalized or not? The problem encompasses other terms like “deist,” “atheist,” and “charismatic.”

In the chart above, Silliman shows how preferences have swung dramatically through the sixteen- and seventeen-hundreds. Nor, as he points out, do things get any clearer in the twentieth century.


Silliman concludes, “I don’t know how much can really be drawn from these graphs. Maybe there are some social facts to be cited as explaining one style or the other at one time or another. The bigger picture, I suspect, is that we just fuddle along. Which I take some peace in.”

That sounds right. We here at First Things capitalize “Evangelical,” not least because it so often appears alongside Catholic and we want a kind of visual parity, and also because they should not have the word to themselves. Catholics and Orthodox also can be evangelical, as we have long insisted.

Anyway, do read all of Silliman’s post (and browse the rest of his blog) here.


Wycliffe Hall Principal Out

Anglican Link:

The Principal of one of the Church of England’s leading evangelical theological colleges has taken a leave of absence. While this week’s announcement by the Wycliffe Hall council that Dr. Richard Turnbull’s duties would be assumed by Vice-Principal Simon Vibert follows reports of discord within the school, Anglican Ink has been told the principal’s departure is not related to the wider Anglican Communion’s political wars.

The last six years have been difficult for the school, Anglican Ink was told, and concerns over leadership style and management – not churchmanship – had led to this announcement.

Founded in 1877 to train Anglican clergy, Wycliffe Hall is a permanent private hall of Oxford University, that been able to matriculate its own theology students as members of the university since 1996.  Among its former members are Lord Coggan, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. N.T. Wright the former Bishop of Durham, and the Rev. Nicky Gumbel of Alpha Course fame…

A press release from the bishops on the college council, Bishops James Jones of Liverpool, Peter Forster of Chester and David Urquhart of Birmingham stated:

“We regret that the inspectors have judged it right to declare that they have no confidence in one area of the Hall’s life, in relation to aspects of Practical and Pastoral Theology. We doubt that the evidence which the Inspectors adduce merits such a stark assessment, but we will ensure that the recommendations which are made in relation to this area are given speedy and particular attention.”

Dr. Turnbull’s leave of absence came as a surprise to many outside observers as the college appeared to have recovered from its difficulties.  However, an insider who asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the council said the departure of Dr. Turnbull centered round issues of trust and management.

On 23 May the council, led by the Bishop Forster of Chester, released a statement saying:

“Staff and students at Wycliffe were told last week that Principal Richard Turnbull is to take a leave of absence from the Hall. The Council wishes to make it clear that the Principal has not been dismissed.  The Council and Richard are now in ongoing discussions over his future role at Wycliffe, with Vice-Principal Simon Vibert assuming the position of Acting Principal. We have every confidence in Simon, and in the rest of the staff, to ensure continuity and the efficient functioning of the Hall during this time.

The outcome of the discussions with Richard will be communicated to staff and students in due course. However, our overriding priority is to ensure Wycliffe remains unequivocally committed to equipping men and women as leaders, preachers, church planters and evangelists in the mission of proclaiming and living the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a deeply biblical understanding of the nature of the Kingdom of God.”