Gay debate could foreshadow split, says book

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Two “incompatible and competing religions” within the Anglican Church of Canada make schism a real possibility, warns a new book aimed at influencing General Synod in May – but an open split could be averted, it says, if present church policy on homosexuality is unchanged.

In Two Religions, One Church: Division and Destiny in the Anglican Church of Canada, Rev. George Eves of Saint John claims the church is in crisis, citing falling membership and income, confusion about worship and Christian education, homosexuality and uncertain leadership by bishops anxious to act “collegially.”

Acceptance by the church of homosexual practice would be the immediate cause of a break, he says, but only the final issue between the two religions of the title: liberalism and orthodoxy and their conflicting views on the authority of Scripture. The defining difference is that the orthodox claim the judgment of Scripture is the final authority over the church, while liberals view the church as the judge of Scripture.

The 170-page book is being sent free to all delegates to General Synod. It also invites church members to join a letter-writing campaign and provides a sample urging General Synod delegates to:

  • Support the House of Bishops’ October 1997 statement that continues the ban on ordination of practising homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions;

  • Support initiatives to address the “full dimensions of our crisis, the extent and causes of our divisions” and ways to resolve them;

  • Call for fresh articulation of, and recommitment to, “those basic Christian beliefs which hold us together.”

Mr. Eves said the two groups within the church are like trains on a collision course and his book is an effort to head this off. “I don’t want this notoriety,” he told the Anglican Journal, “but I felt someone had to speak out. The things I say are not just me, they’re shared by a lot of people. We are in crisis but won’t admit it.”

Conflicting beliefs of liberalism and orthodoxy could co-exist in one church, Mr. Eves said, as long as there is no direct repudiation of Scripture. An official statement condoning homosexual activity, however, would amount to such a repudiation. Another would be a formal endorsement of Bishop Michael Ingham’s book, Mansions of the Spirit, which suggests the way to God can be found in many religions, rather than exclusively through Jesus Christ.

His book claims this unacknowledged conflict has created “gridlock” in the church: “Both sides have found themselves backed into opposite corners over the secondary issue of homosexual practice. Each side rightly sees its fundamental principles at stake…both are willing to go to the wall over it.”

To a suggestion that his book could be divisive for the church, Mr. Eves countered: “The division is already there. I love my church and I want it to heal before it becomes an open break.”

Asked if he is actually seeking surrender by the liberals, Mr. Eves responded – “yes.”

The $14,000 bill to print 3,500 copies was covered in one week in the author’s parish, through a series of forgivable loans. An organization was formed to handle publication of the book, selling for $10, and staff a toll-free order line.

A volunteer group, VOICE (Vocalizing Our Interest in Church Endeavours), will receive and cat-alogue copies of letters from parishioners to General Synod delegates. Mr. Eves says the book is his own effort, and is not sponsored by any formal group.

A native of Windsor, Ont., 51-year-old George Eves was raised in a Pentecostal home and became an Anglican as a young adult. He holds degrees from Toronto’s Wycliffe College and was ordained in 1980 in Winnipeg. He is also rector of the historic Stone Church in Saint John, long a stronghold of traditional evangelical Anglicanism.

William Portman is the book reviews editor for the Anglican Journal.

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