The church usually only gets a mention in the media if it’s being homophobic or being accused of abuse. After the Christchurch massacre we had the opportunity to see a faith community respond with love and care to the deepest sorrow that a community could imagine. For a while anyway it seemed that we had a different conversation about the positive role of faith in people’s lives. In an article on the Spinoff Alex Brae usefully highlighted that the loud conservative voices are not the only ones out there. It is tragic that it took such an atrocity to wake people up to the positives of faith.
A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Kim Hill on the Saturday Morning programme. It was refreshing to have a longer conversation covering a wide range of topics. One question Kim asked me was: “in your idea of paradise would there be one big church accommodating everybody?” I said “no, I think diversity is paradise; different expressions of the ways we come to God.”
A new Pentecost?
This week the church celebrated the feast of Pentecost, which is said to have been the founding of the church: it shows us the church being founded on diversity. At Pentecost the followers of Jesus find that they can speak the language of others in the multicultural city of Jerusalem. Sixteen languages and cultures are mentioned in the account in the Book of Acts. This amazing mix of peoples and cultures -this diversity -was at the heart of the beginning of the church. The Holy Spirit made it so. At Pentecost the Spirit came and threw open the doors and hearts and minds of our ancestors and said “dream big, go wide, speak the truth to anyone, everywhere”.
How is it then that churches who often label themselves “pentecostal” are the very ones who want to exclude people who do not fit within their tight definition of acceptability. Destiny Church has recently tried to redeem itself by offering an “apology” to the LGBT community, but how can an apology be genuine when you are not changing your belief system?
In recent weeks in our Anglican Church in New Zealand some clergy and lay people have departed our community to set up a new “church” which they also want to label “Anglican,” affiliated with a worldwide movement called Gafcon, funded from the extremely reactionary Diocese of Sydney.
These “no longer Anglicans” have elected someone they say will be a “bishop” to lead them. They have not said much about who is actually part of this new church nor who participated in the election of the new “bishop”. In fact their own website says nothing about the election. But the Gafcon website does and it was headline news for the Diocese of Sydney.
Already Maori colleagues have called them out over having no Treaty statement in their founding principles.
The most recent statement on their website from November 2018 said they were still debating “complementarianism and egalitarianism” which is code for what leadership women will be permitted to have. If the Diocese of Sydney get their way women will have no priestly or teaching roles in this new “church.”
If people want to live in an exclusionary bubble, they can, I suppose, but they do not at the same time get to call themselves Anglican and be given credibility in the media.
What will our response be?
Our Anglican Church needs to be clear that Gafcon is not needed here and is not part of the Anglican Communion as known in these islands. It also needs to be clear that people who are leading or supporting this new venture cannot claim a place in the continuing Anglican church.
I fear that in all the handwringing and worrying about those who have chosen to leave that our bishops and dioceses will not be bold enough to move forward even more strongly now.
As we move into the Synods of our church in the second half of this year we should ask in each Synod for reassurance that no one who participated in the election of the NZ Gafcon “bishop” still holds a licence in our church. If people want to leave they can and should, but then they have no place in the decision making of the church they leave behind.
This Pentecost we reject the sinful forces in our church who would shut down difference and force everyone into a straightjacket of doctrine. This Pentecost we instead lay claim to our heritage, our biblical heritage of difference and diversity. At St Matthew-in-the-City we want to that say we too are a Pentecostal church – a church of the Spirit who comes with a noisy wind and burning fire and gives us words to say and dreams to dream.
We are ready to move forward into a new future and we will not be held back by those who have left or are threatening to leave our church. Like the followers in Jerusalem waiting for the Spirit we claim our place this Pentecost amongst the rainbow children of God.