The Sydney Morning Herald has today run an article about an upcoming defamation case in the Supreme Court involving the Annandale Anglican Church and an aggrieved former member.
Easily succumbing to the temptation to take a swipe at Sydney Anglicans and conservative Christian belief in general, the story almost entirely advocates the former member’s position. While that may be in part due to the reluctance of the Anglican Church to comment on specifics, the emotive language chosen and widening of the target to include the “strict Anglican doctrine of the Sydney diocese” shows another agenda at work.
Even the heading places responsibility for the “Anglican stoush” with the “Pastor’s ban” when in reality the ban came only after a long period during which concerns escalated.The former member’s views include, according to the article, “the Bible contains factual errors, that women should enjoy equality in worship and marriage and that Jesus was not born of a virgin”. The lumping together of these issues, as if to say the Anglican Church is opposed to all of these things, is a deliberate distortion.
The article is self-contradictory when it reveals that the emotively described “punishment”, “vicious campaign”, and “bitter battle” seem to relate to a long period of tolerance and just one email and one meeting. The rest of the article consists of one-sided, and as yet, unsubstantiated claims.
Another issue is the idea that churches should not be allowed to protect the integrity of their belief and relationship structure. Surely this is vital for a body where belief and relationship is central to everything else. No one is compelled to believe these things – they can find other church communities that suit them better, or not attend church at all. I imagine if I joined an atheist’s society I almost certainly would be asked to leave, and rightly so, if I insisted on pushing my belief in God – especially if I’d garnered a position of influence.
The former member complains that, ”It’s deeply disturbing that a church can demand compliance with a narrow set of doctrines then go to such extraordinary lengths to silence dissent.” But when difference in belief is so fundamental (the beliveability of the Bible and the origins of Jesus) then a church (or any organisation) has to make clear for what it stands, especially among people responsible for representing it as a welcomer or other capacity. There are no extraordinary lengths visible here.
Putting aside the rhetoric, the issue seems plain: A member makes it clear he has radically different beliefs to the church he serves in and is prepared to make these views widely known. He is someone who wants ministry responsibility and yet he is at odds with the core beliefs of the church. To avoid the divisiveness this could cause, he is relieved of his place of influence but allowed to stay in the church for a further two years. When the situation deteriorates further he is asked not to attend and, according the the SMH, formally expelled. A core group of members is also notified of these matters this by email.
Is this a “vicious campaign” or a gradual process of addressing a difficult and increasingly complex rift in a community? In the long run, a simple ‘agree to disagree’ stance and willingness to go separate ways would have been most appropriate.
For the record, I like the SMH in general, am not an Anglican, and have never spoken to any of the people involved. PH