There's been criticism by gay rights defenders of the Queen's message of good wishes to the newly-formed Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) meeting in London this week. And some Anglicans too might feel dismayed that the Governor of the Church of England appears to be endorsing a breakaway group. But I think the Queen has pulled off a rather wonderful diplomatic coup. By sending this message she's neutralising the threat and danger this group might be perceived to present to the rest of the Church. Here is yet another grouping in the wonderful diversity of the broad river of Anglicanism alongside all the others like Forward in Faith, Affirming Catholicism, or Affirming Liberalism.
It's like a loving mother who quietly and persistently affirms her enduring compassion for her rebellious teenage son even though he says the most horrible things about his family of origin all the while continuing to crave his mother's love. After all FCA appears to sought an endorsement from the Queen.
There's no doubt the FCA are saying "horrible" things about its family of origin, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion. Though it's opinions are profoundly false and widely regarded as such by the majority of members of the Church of England, the difficulty the FCA presents is that it regards itself as the true bearers of apostolic Christianity in the Anglican tradition and the rest of us, who do not share its particular interpretations, as apostate. This is a tricky situation because some of the opinions the FCA hold, such as its rejection of homosexual love, were previously held by the whole Church as self-evident interpretations of the biblical tradition. And still are by many Anglicans the world over.
This is a re-visiting of contests which were fought at the beginning of the Church of England in the late sixteenth century; about whether all the laws of Scripture are binding on the Church and Christians, or whether there is an essential core of revealed laws which are necessary to be followed for salvation, whilst many other issues of Christian practice and church order are matters to be decided by the mind of the Christian community. Since the magisterial work of Richard Hooker (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 8 vols c 1600)the mainstream position of the Church of England has been the latter view.
The FCA and similar groupings argue that those Anglicans who have revised the earlier position of the Church on homosexuality and the role of women in the ordained ministry have allowed the truths of the faith to be captured by secular cultural beliefs. In reality, the reverse is the case. Repression of homosexuality and the prescription of roles based on gender are cultural expressions which were elevated wrongly though understandably to the status of gospel truth; and are now being abandoned by many Anglicans who recognise this.
The Queen's tactic is a re-assertion of the mainstream Anglican tradition; that there are many secondary issues upon which Anglicans may disagree as times change, but that does not mean we must vilify one another as apostates and heretics, or still less ignore one another either. This is the genius of the Anglican Spirit. We must not lose it. And St Paul appears to have given it a good start when he wrote in his Letter to the Romans:
"Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?" (Rom 14: 10)