We can't "rely on others"

by Michael Ford last modified 09 Jul, 2019 04:54 PM

The Archbishop of York has told General Synod that the Church of England has lost the habit of reading the Bible consistently and relies on others to do its "serious thinking for it."

Delivering what will be his last presidential address before his retirement next year, Dr Sentamu took as his text Philippians 2:1-11:

Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Read the full address here.

He told Synod:

"Our debates on human sexuality, gender, and human identity - which began in 1987 - have had a chilling effect on all of us, as we have participated in patient empathy and patient listening and by God’s grace digested hurt. The urgent task before us is to find a trusting and tending way for the Church overall to support people on all sides who are experiencing the damage the debates have caused.

"The kind of disagreement we have is exactly the kind of disagreement one would expect to find in a Church where the old habits of reading the Bible consistently and thoroughly, as part of a liturgical pattern or a pattern of private devotion, had broken down.

"The expectations we have of biblical literacy - not only of laity but of clergy, too - would strike most earlier generations of Christians as sadly low."

He said this was characteristic of "a Church which has got used to jumping to conclusions quickly, driven by the need for a crisp sound-bite, a Church no longer capable of pursuing a question patiently and in hope."

The Church had "come to rely on others to do its serious thinking for it - whether they are theologians, philosophers, scientists, sociologists, statisticians, or simply those with a story to tell. The Church acts as an echo-chamber instead of an interpreter and guide to the problems others in our time face."

Dr Sentamu began by recalling the presidential address of Archbishop Rowan Williams in 2010, in which he had asked: "How can people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism come to strongly diverse conclusions about human sexuality?"

The Archbishop of York said that nine years on from that address there had been "little, if any, progress" in answering the question.

Dr Sentamu said:

"We cannot read well if we read only to solve a crisis, driven by anxiety. This anxiety is kept stoked up by the context of a world around us which simply does not believe in anything very much. In a disagreement such as this, each side suspects the other of colluding with this loss of faith - of substituting one or another kind of moralism for belief. To understand our opponents, then, we need to be able to understand how they believe the faith of Christ before we can question them on how they reach conclusions that strike us as false."

He exhorted people to engage "with the whole of scripture, and scripture as a whole. In doing this, the Holy Spirit brings our minds and wills onto a convergent path."

He concluded: "May this General Synod continue to think and act in catholic communion with the wider Church and in the pursuit of Christian unity, and especially in partnership with the Anglican Communion as it expresses its unity and humility through the Lambeth Conferences. And when we disagree, to disagree Christianly, in a Jesus Christ-shaped life."

The full text of the Archbishop's address can be found here.

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