Bishop William Anderson, one of the few remaining conservative bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada, will be retiring next year:
Bishop William: Should I buy an iPad now, or wait?
David: It’s the first generation of the hardware and the software: it’s not yet multi-tasking. The next generation will have a new OS which will multi-task and also, probably hardware improvements based on what was learned from the first release. So I’m waiting for that. But you do what you like!
Bishop William: I love the tech stuff – OK.
David: I thought we’d start with something easy: how do you think synod is going so far; what’s you general impression?
Bishop William: I’m not sure that’s an easy question. There have been things about the synod that I’ve been impressed with. The conversations in the discussion groups that I’ve been involved with have been very gracious – people have exercised the discipline of listening and trying to speak honestly. So those are always good things. What I have been less than happy about is that – this is my 3rd General Synod where my sense, speaking personally, is that there has been a tilt one way.
The primate in a couple of his addresses has been very quick to point out issues that support one side in the debate and has been absolutely silent with respect to corresponding issues on the orthodox side. It has left me offended that I don’t think he’s represented what a number of Anglicans, myself included, believe. I don’t begrudge him the right to speak his mind, but if you have a primate of the whole church, you have to represent the whole church and, I’m really sorry to say it, I don’t think he’s done that.
David: Archbishop Hiltz mentioned the havoc caused by cross-border interventions and didn’t mention – and perhaps this is what you’re getting at – the fact that cross-border interventions only happened because some parishes simply could not go along with the direction their dioceses were taking.
Bishop William: That is exactly what I’m looking at – that’s a very good example. The cross border issues he refers to don’t happen in a vacuum. It would have been useful for him to remind the synod of that, in part because, if we’re going to make any kind of comment as a synod on the Covenant or on the moratoria, one of the issues that has bedevilled the church is the fact there have been violations on both sides. It isn’t helpful for any bishop to ignore one half of the reality of what seems to be going on. Bishops are supposed to reflect, for the church, the whole reality that the church has to deal with. Yes, bishops need to be prepared to take a position on issues, but the primate’s a bit different: the primate is the chair of the House of Bishops, but he’s not our boss.
I would argue that it’s extremely important that he represent all the positions, not only within the house, but, by extension, in the rest of the church. Similarly, when he spoke about the dioceses that have passed resolutions asking their synod to go ahead [with SSBs], that’s fair as far as it goes. The problem is he didn’t say anything about those dioceses which either have not passed those kind of resolutions or which have said, “no”. So again, he provided half the story and stopped. That can sway a synod because it creates an impression: I think that was very unfortunate.
David: A few questions on the sanctions that have started to come out. In the interview with Archbishop Hiltz, he expressed quite clearly his belief on how the sanctions would work, depending on what is decided here. The 3 things he mentioned were: if synod passed a motion to bless same-sex unions or passed a motion to allow dioceses the local option, that would provoke sanctions. If synod passes no motion, yet dioceses decide independently to continue or to start with SSBs, that would not provoke sanctions. That, apparently, is the way things stand at the moment. That seems to me to be hypocrisy.
Bishop William: Anyone who thinks that by not passing any kind of resolution and then just quietly going ahead and doing local option – anyone who thinks that that is somehow going to fly in the rest of the Communion, I think is daydreaming. That’s just the worst kind of wishful thinking. But worse than that, from a Christian perspective, it’s irresponsible. The communion has said – and Canon Kearon described the communion quite correctly as a family – and the family has said, “we have a problem and right now, we have one tool for trying to fix the problem: that’s to move towards covenant and for everyone to stop shooting at each other by observing the moratoria. If our synod, with or without the instigation of any of the bishops, says, “let’s see if we can pull the wool over their eyes, lets play a technical game – we won’t pass anything, but we’ll go on doing it anyway”. That, to me is not much different to the husband who says, “well, I really want to keep my marriage intact, but I’m going to cheat on my wife – as long as I don’t get discovered, it’s OK.” Cheating’s cheating. And damaging the family is damaging the family. I think it would be grossly irresponsible if we played that kind of a game.
David: Another question that came up with canon Kearon was whether there was moral equivalence between the moratoria – SSBs and cross-border interventions – with little regard to the fact that one caused the other. He did say that they are not viewed as morally equivalent, but that both are equally damaging. Would you agree?
Bishop William: Yes, I would. Theologically they are not in the same category: doing the blessings is offering something on behalf of the whole church which the church has not said is offerable. So in essence, it’s offering a fraud to people, whereas the border crossings is an administrative issue. Nowhere in the new or old testament are you going to find something that says bishops can’t cross diocesan borders – it doesn’t talk about that. It’s in a different category. So I appreciate that distinction that canon Kearon has raised. However, like most conflicts, things have now become so heated, whatever the niceties at an academic level, emotionally they are seen as equivalent: it’s like kids fighting in a sandbox – it doesn’t matter who started it or who is right or wrong, one does something and the other is going to react. So the damage gets done. I would agree with canon Kearon on that.
David: A corollary to that: on the cross-border interventions, for dioceses such as ANiC who are now a part of ACNA (with ties to the global south diminishing), there is really no longer a cross border factor. But something else was brought up in canon Kearon’s letter and that was it still has to be decided whether a bishop who is operating in a diocese without the permission of the diocesan bishop of the “official” Anglican Church, could be construed as a conducting a cross-border intervention. Any thoughts?
Bishop William: Yes, it’s why the whole thing’s a mess. ACNA and ANiC didn’t come into being in a vacuum: they came into existence out of a context that the Canadian church failed – and failed quite badly – to deal with: that was the initiation of doing the blessings in New Westminster. I’ve now been at 2 synods where the synod chose not to deal with the issue – although they came close in the last one when they did not approve the local option – the Canadian Church has sailed along and allowed the bishops to continue. They said, general synod has no authority to stop them. That being the case, the primate and the synod of the Canadian church can’t have it both ways. They can’t say, “shame on ANiC and shame on ACNA, you should not be crossing the border” and still countenance blessings being done within Canadian dioceses.
The question is, is there going to be a ceasefire where everyone holds their position; that would be one way of preventing the contagion from spreading. But – and this goes back to my original comments about what the primate said – those complaining about cross-border incursions and its causing pain – that’s fine, but what about all the problems and all the pain created by the situation that gave rise to the incursions. Those are pains that are still being felt in this synod.
David: what is the most important issue facing the ACoC now and is it being addressed in synod? Is it perhaps not SSBs, but, say, the questioning of Biblical authority which has given rise to the fact that people feel free to perform SSBs? Or even other basics of the faith such as the Resurrection. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Bishop William: I have a great many thoughts on this. Is it being addressed? – no, it’s not being addressed at all…. that I’ve heard. A lot of church-speak goes on at these things [David – I noticed]. People talk about doing more evangelism, we need to love, but there’s absolutely no depth to those comments. If you’re going to do evangelism, you have to have a message to give. And that message has to be clear and it has to be focussed. If you want people to develop the discipline of love, you have to teach them, what it means to love. For a Christian church, that should look something like what Jesus taught. Because we’ve gone down the road of being very simplistic about those things, we have an incredibly confused unfocussed message.
It’s a bit like, if I owned a franchise of McDonalds and I decide I don’t like the way corporate headquarters makes Big Macs, so I’m going to make my own kind of hamburgers and I’ll serve them any way I want. That might be fulfilling personally, but you’re going to lose customers as people go there expecting one thing and get something else. We’re heading down that road very fast in the ACoC. We want everybody’s opinion to be of equal weight, of equal value – it doesn’t matter whether it’s theologically sound or Biblically sound – you just want people to feel good. In my experience most people – young people in particular – see through that as a fraud. Why would I lay my life down for that? I can sleep in bed on Sunday morning if every thought that rumbles around my head is of equal value.
You’re right, we’re in this mess, in part, because, as a church we’ve become very unfocussed, we’ve lost our moorings; to get out of this mess, we have to find those commonalities in the faith that are the foundation for community. We’re not talking about that: we’re skating away from that as fast as we can. You used the phrase “Biblical authority” –we aren’t in agreement on Biblical authority [David – even on what that phrase means] – yes, exactly.
From a personal perspective, as a bishop, I’m called to teach the apostolic faith as best I can. When I’m looking at a complex issue, I don’t just sit down and say, “well, Bill what do you think.” I do the best Biblical exegesis I can – and part of that is informed by taking a look at what the church Fathers said about it; what have the great theologians through the centuries said about it; what do the best scholars in the current age say about it. So I’m informed by the voice of all the saints through the centuries. It doesn’t mean I always get it right, but at least I’m trying. We haven’t taught people to do that.
There was a curious heresy I heard at some point in this synod: that the God of the Old Testament is one God and the God of the New Testament is another God, and the Holy Spirit is doing something brand new now. That’s a heresy that was condemned in the early centuries of the church. We have a Triune God – the idea that we can dismiss elements in the church’s history or its expressions of God as if somehow, the Holy Spirit is doing something new because suddenly God the Father and God the Son are wrong – that’s a strange notion.
David: My Christian background is one of charismatic Anglicanism. During the late 70s and early 80s when some parishes were experiencing renewal, the Holy Spirit was given a lot of attention. During that period our diocese and national church never mentioned the Holy Spirit. Now you don’t hear 2 sentences without someone saying “the Spirit is leading us to….” or “the Spirit is working in…..”. Is this the same Spirit?
Bishop William: (laughs) Well, yes. If you take that point one step further, the challenge for the Canadian church is this: are we so spiritually arrogant, that we would say, we here in Canada, as Anglicans, who are a tiny minority within the Anglican Communion and an even tinier minority within worldwide Christendom, are we so spiritually arrogant that we think the Holy Spirit is only speaking to us, but is not speaking to the rest of the Anglican family and to Roman Catholics and to orthodox Christians? If the Spirit’s speaking, I’m pretty sure he’s speaking to all of us. It takes humility to be able to say, I’m not at the centre of the universe. That’s why St. Paul cautions to test the spirits, because people can confuse what they emotionally want, they can confuse that with the Holy Spirit – and you can’t argue, because the Holy Spirit is calling me to do that.
David: Katherine Jefferts-Schori’s Pentecost letter said “we’re hearing different messages from the Spirit”; it strikes me that you can’t hear different messages: you may be mishearing, but there are no different messages.
Bishop William: I would say there aren’t.
David: You may not want to answer this. I dug some ASA number out from various places: in 1961 there were about 1.2 million people attending, in 2001, 625,000 and, there is no official figure for 2009, but there was an article in the Journal that said in 2009, the number of people attending church more than twice a month had fallen to 325,000. Is the Anglican Church of Canada going to survive?
Bishop William: This is something I’ve thought about a lot. I don’t think we’re going to survive unless we start dealing seriously with why that decline is happening and we’ve done a very good job of ducking that issue. We haven’t really taken a hard look at what’s causing it, instead we try to react to it. I’ve had 20 years in the civil service when working as a non-stipendiary priest, and one of the things that I learned is that when people are faced with a problem, they very often jump to solutions without stopping and really ensuring they understand what the nature of the problem is.
I hear some echoes of that here. When I joined the church, back in the 60s, already people were seeing the beginning of decline. The cry was, “there are no young people in the parishes” and right away the jump was, if we update the prayer book, they’ll come; if we have a new hymn book, they’ll come. So those became huge issues. Then it was, if we ordain women – those things may all have been good, but they missed the point as to why people were starting to drift away. The church, at that point, was already starting to lose its focus in terms of theologically engaging society on a variety of moral issues.
Now we’re in an even worse space and what do we hear talked about here: we need a new prayer book because the BAS rites are stale, they’re out of date. There is some magical thinking going on that, if we do that, it’s going to solve the problem. It’ll only solve the problem if that’s the reason people aren’t coming – and I don’t think that’s the reason they aren’t coming. Our message is confused, we are not teaching people, we’re not giving them something substantive, and we’re not teaching the people who still are there how to engage, how to share their faith. It’s become too unfocussed.
David: So it’s not going to survive unless we see some radical changes to address the real problem.
Bishop William: Yes. All the governance change that’s being talked about, it’s not going to make a difference. In fact, I think, quite the contrary, I think it’s going to hasten the decline: if you have three years in a diocese that doesn’t have a seat at the table in COGS, people are pretty quickly going to say, “We’ve been disenfranchised. Why do we want to support this organisation?” all the rationale in the world is not going to counter that.
David: One of the things that liberals are inclined to believe is that there are many paths to God and we happen to be on one of them. The problem with that, if you’re trying to keep the church alive, is that, if we’re fading away, there is absolutely no reason to resist that fading, other than to preserve clergy pensions – because there are many other paths to God. So liberalism is a self-defeating version of Christianity.
Bishop William: I would agree. It doesn’t make sense. But the one element I appreciate is that there have been times in the church’s history when we’ve had a triumphalist attitude which has been unbecoming for Christians because it wasn’t the attitude of our Lord. I have no problems, though with saying, “Jesus Christ is the Way – he’s the one Way.” Everything else is up to God; I don’t presume to judge others, but as a Christian I’m convicted and I’m called to preach Christ as the Way. But to do it in a way that’s respectful. A number of the great church fathers demonstrated that quite well. [David – even St. Paul did – the unknown god] – yes. But we ought not to be shying away from it, otherwise how do you make believers of all nations.
David: Do you think “inclusivity” has been turned into an idol?
Bishop William: The problem with inclusivity is that it’s come to be one of those words that automatically has a lot of emotional and intellectual baggage attached to it. On the one hand, I’d say I’m all for an inclusive church, and by that I mean the Gospel is there for everybody: we are all sinners. But if inclusivity means I can do anything I want and nobody’s got a right to chastise me, or correct me, I’m sorry, that doesn’t line up with anything I see in the Bible – Old testament or New Testament. Paul certainly was chastised when he was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. Because what Paul was doing was wrong. So “inclusive” in the way it’s sometimes used would have Paul continue slaughtering the Christian. That wouldn’t make sense.
We live in a real world and sometimes it’s difficult to discern what is Godly and what is not, what is good and what is evil. To suggest that we need to be inclusive and loving sometimes means we should never exercise judgement. I’ve got three kids; raising kids taught me that you love them all even when they’re being little turkeys, but parents have to exercise judgement because sometimes their kids do bad things, injurious things. An inclusive church that doesn’t understand that is peddling a fraud.
David: I’ll make this the last one. Although no-one wants to come out and say it, I suspect that many clergy in leadership don’t mean the same thing as I do when using certain words. The Resurrection, for example, they will say things like, “why didn’t people recognise him”, “did he really walk through walls”, “it all depends what you mean by the Resurrection” and so on [bishop – would you want to buy a used car from someone like that] – they are slippery. Have I got that wrong?
Bishop William: I think you’re right. That’s part of the why the church can’t do good evangelism. We want to qualify everything, let’s not say anything that might be offensive, let’s not say anything that might appear mediaeval. Let’s not say anything that doesn’t sound scientific. The problem is, when you go down that road, you end up not being able to say anything; and I understand the pressures that are there on clergy and bishops not to ever say anything particularly declarative about their faith because you know, as soon as you do, somebody’s going to smack you on the side of the head for doing it. But part of being a leader is being prepared to stand up and take a position. I regularly sit down and go through the consecration service for a bishop, particularly when I’m under pressure to conform to what is politically correct – I look through the service, and I remind myself, “what is it I was called to do, what is it any bishop is called to do”. We’re called to teach the faith of the church – not what we want the church’s faith to be, but what is the church’s faith. We’re called to uphold the discipline and the unity of the church; that goes with leadership.
If you’ve got an organisation that is chaotically spinning off in all directions, you’ve failed as a leader. We’ve got a church that is madly spinning off in all directions; I think that represents a failure of leadership over decades. It’s a corporate failure. One of the things that I learned early on, as a priest, was there was a blessing in being a working priest – I had a secular job – because I never fell into talking church-speak. When I talked to people on Sundays or other church activities, I was using the same language as during the week. People who live within the culture of the church often forget how to talk plainly to people. Even I sometimes sit and I think, I’ve got a graduate degree in theology, and I have a hard time figuring out what is being said sometimes. [David – imagine how I feel] There’s something wrong with that, because we should be able to articulate the faith in a way that somebody who’s got no education can hear the gospel. Jesus did it. If our church is not able to raise up people to lead ministry and testify to their faith and explain and teach in a way that is comprehensible, then we deserve to die because we’ve failed.
David: I swear this will be the last question. Clearly you take positions that are unlikely to be popular in the national church: do you get a lot of flak?
Bishop William: I don’t get a lot of flak; what I get is a lot of being ignored. People are very good at going through the motions [David- you are the ignored token conservative, perhaps?] – yes. Except that I’m not the only conservative in the house. Part of it is that I think it is really hard for some people to deal with me. I have a great deal of difficulty going along with something just because it’s the expedient thing to do. I was taught, if you believe something, you need to translate that belief into action. So to do things that confuse the message of what I believe –that’s very, very difficult for me. But if you don’t like it, then you shouldn’t be doing the job.
The part that’s unfortunate – and I say this not for myself, but for a number of other people- as much as we talk about being welcoming and inclusive etc. Over the last many years, I’ve seen the pain and the anguish that orthodox Anglicans have experienced, where they’ve been made to feel silly, or just reactive, and nobody has actually looked at how deeply they’ve been hurt by some of the things that have gone on. And they’re just dismissed. When bishops say something like, “if you don’t like the changes that are going on in the church, then leave.” How could any bishop ever say something like that?
That’s the part that I’ve found, probably the hardest – I’ve seen a number of good friends who have left [David – the Anglican church completely?] – yes. And bishop Harvey was a good friend and a guide to me when I joined the HOB, I see him as someone who has been a man of incredible courage, and I know that it hurt him so deeply to be forced by conscience to do what he did. And there was nothing from this side: it was – “you’ve got a problem… too bad”. There was no sense of, my gosh, what have we done wrong, that a man of that calibre would feel he had to do what he did. We haven’t done that, and that, to me, is one of the great sins that we’re going to pay for.
David: I’ve heard intimations of remarks like: “ well, now they’re gone we can get on with what we were intending to do all along”
Bishop William: Yes, I think there tends to be that kind of attitude in some quarters. At the same time, God has raised up some Godly new bishops in the church – and I don’t use that phrase lightly. They are really trying to be faithful and to do the right thing. What will happen? I don’t know.
David: Bishop, thank you very much for your time and candour.
I was right about the iPad.