Saturday, 13 October 2007

Minister hints at tax reforms for marriage

(Ed: Next thing you know, they'll be saying sex outside marriage is a bad thing.)

Labour today signals a major shift in policy as a cabinet minister calls for married couples to get tax incentives from the Government in recognition of the benefits their children and society gain as a result of the union.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, says there is a “moral case” for promoting the traditional family through the tax system. “I think marriage is best for kids,” he says. “It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.”

His comments will be seen as a sign that Gordon Brown intends to seize another area of policy from David Cameron, following his raids on Tory proposals for cutting inheritance tax, penalising non-domiciled workers and introducing a flight levy. Read more
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Friday, 12 October 2007

Gene Robinson addresses lesbian and gay Mormons

Religious beliefs may differ from one denomination to another, but the experience of gays in their places of worship is similar across the board, according to the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, who delivered the keynote address at a gay Mormon conference Saturday.

“We are both connected to institutions that we both love and are so frustrated with,” said Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. “[They are] institutions that have oppressed us, and yet somewhere in the middle of them we know lies the truth of God.”

Robinson spoke at the Affirmation Conference, a gathering of gay outcasts from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. Robinson is on a three-month sabbatical from his post as bishop and will leave in early November to meet with Anglican primates in Asia’s Pacific Rim.

His audience was made up of about 160 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mormons and ex-Mormons from across the United States, Canada and Europe. Other speakers at the conference included authors Carol Lynn Pearson, Jonathan Rauch, Buck Jeppson and representatives from Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and Equality Maryland. Local speakers included Sgt. Brett Parson, a gay officer with D.C. Metro Police, and Lisa Polyak and Gita Deane, a lesbian couple who lost a lawsuit against Maryland last month seeking marriage rights. Read more
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Chelmsford's age profile in 2001

In 2001 the Diocese of Chelmsford took part in the National Church Life Survey, which revealed the following percentages of church membership (based on 1,955 responses).

Age Range
Up to 19 ...... 3%
20-29 ...... 5%
30-39 ...... 12%
40-49 ...... 14%
50-59 ...... 19%
60-69 ...... 19%
70 plus ...... 28%

A survey of 3,500 members conducted in 2002/3 revealed, as might be expected, an increase in the 61-plus age-groups and a decline in the younger age groups:

Age Range
Up to 20 ...... 1.3%
21-30 ...... 3.7%
31-40 ...... 8.7%
41-50 ...... 13.1%
51-60 ...... 17.7%
61-70 ...... 21.2%
71 plus ...... 34.3%

By comparison, the age profile of the Diocese was as follows in 2001:

Age Range
Up to 19 ...... 6.1%
20-29 ...... 16.3%
30-44 ...... 29.0%
45-59 ...... 23.4%
60-74 ...... 15.9%
75 plus ...... 9.3%

If anyone can add further figures based on age-profiling, please contact me at the e-mail address to the right.

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Falling numbers put churches under threat

Just two per cent of people attend church in Brighton and Hove.

Of those, 60 per cent are aged 65 or over.

As a result of the statistics, the Diocesan Pastoral Committee has earmarked several churches for closure in the city.

The committee said: "Change is never easy and there are many people who would like things to continue much as they have always been. This is not an option."

The Archdeacon of Chichester, the Venerable Douglas McKittrick, chaired a working party on the issue.

He estimates each vicar in Brighton and Hove costs more than £50,000 a year, taking into account rent, pensions and other costs.
click here

In 2002 the cost of clergy in the city came to about £2 million, exceeding congregational funds by about £800,000.

Meanwhile, with low congregational collections, the Rev Richard Rushforth, of St Andrew's Church in Portslade, said: "Having a church in Brighton is like having a mortgage you can't pay off or having a credit card you've spent too much money on." Read more
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BBC fights AIDS with 'GI Jonny' in student SHAG weeks

(Ed: Confused? I know I am. Not least by the fact that I'm involuntarily helping to pay for it.)

G.I. Jonny is a viral information campaign produced by the BBC to raise awareness about HIV in the UK.

The campaign runs from 1 October until World AIDS Day on 1 December 2007.

The aim is to empower teenagers and young people with the facts about HIV and encourage them to protect each other from infection by sharing this information.

You can support the campaign in a number of different ways. Customise your own G.I. Jonny action figure here on the campaign website, download the G.I. Jonny Facebook application or attend an awareness event in your town or at your college or university. However you choose to get involved with G.I. Jonny, we want you to inform yourself with vital HIV facts and protect your friends by passing this information on.

G.I. Jonny has been developed in partnership with and is supported by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), a leading HIV and sexual health charity

The BBC and THT would like to thank Durex for assisting this campaign by providing 150,000 free condoms for distribution at events throughout the UK. Go to the site

For SHAG week events, go here.

All in the best possible taste!

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Muslim letter to the Pope: A Common Word between Us and You

[...] Finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders. Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively. Together they make up more than 55% of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.

And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony. God says in the Holy Qur’an: Lo! God enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed (Al Nahl, 16:90). Jesus Christ u said: Blessed are the peacemakers ….(Matthew 5:9), and also: For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26).

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill. God says in the Holy Qur’an:

And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which God hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a law and a way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (Al-Ma’idah, 5:48)

Wal-Salaamu ‘Alaykum,
Pax Vobiscum.

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Muslim scholars reach out to Pope

(Ed: My hermeneutic of suspicion notes the BBC's use of lower case 'god')

More than 130 Muslim scholars have written to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders urging greater understanding between the two faiths.

The letter says that world peace could depend on improved relations between Muslims and Christians.

It identifies the principles of accepting only one god and living in peace with one's neighbours as common ground between the two religions.

It also insists that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Read more
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Bishop of Exeter calls for 'clarity' on Lambeth 2008

The Church of England Newspaper reports that the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish, said he backed Bishop Nazir-Ali. He said: “I agree with the Bishop of Rochester about both the need for greater clarity about the purpose and nature of next summer’s gathering.” He added he was concerned about the possibility the Conference could make Gene Robinson a scapegoat, ‘rather than focusing on the action of those who, through their decision to act in disregard of the pleas and mind of the rest of the Anglican Communion, precipitated this crisis’.
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Thursday, 11 October 2007

Church of England Evangelical Council issues statement on TEC response to Primates' requests

"The Church of England Evangelical Council has met and considered the responses of The Episcopal Church (TEC) to the questions asked of it from the Primates′ Meeting in Tanzania. We wish to report back to the Anglican Evangelical churches we represent the results of our consultation.

We are committed to the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

We believe TEC′s response does not meet the requests of the Primates from Dar es Salaam, not merely for clarification but for repentance and turning back from their clear intention to affirm same-sex blessings and the consecration of practising homosexuals to the episcopate. They have continued to widen a gap of their own making. As a result the fabric of the Communion is torn almost beyond repair. Read more
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Australia's Uniting Church has 'one foot in the grave'

(Ed: And six years ago, 31% of Anglican churchgoers in the Diocese of Chelmsford were over 70.)

AUSTRALIA'S third-largest Christian denomination wants senior church leaders to make way for a more youthful flock to arrest a numbers crisis and reverse the effect of a congregation ageing so rapidly that half the membership could be dead within 15 years.

Thirty years after the church deliberately pushed women to the fore of its leadership councils, the Uniting Church in NSW has approved a proposal to discriminate in favour of leaders aged 50 and younger in order to encourage youth into the greying church.

The church wants to bring to its next synod in 2008 plans to allocate half of its key representative positions to those aged under 50 - or at least 60 years - during the next seven years. Read more
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TEC pause is 'blasphemy against the Holy Spirit'

(Ed: Reminds me of the line by Dire Straits, "Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong.")

[...] Two weeks ago, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) replayed the scenario, to its--at any rate, to my--shame. Evidently, their conversations with the Archbishop began by celebrating the uniqueness of the ‘79 prayer book’s baptismal covenant in which, besides renouncing Satan and turning to Christ, besides pledging faithfulness in common prayer and Christian service, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.” The Presiding Bishop reports that while the majority interpret this to mean that gays and lesbians are deserving of “the fullest regard of the church,” the House of Bishops showed itself “willing to pause” in “its consideration of full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life and ministries of the Episcopal Church.” Bishops reaffirmed 2006 General Convention resolution to exercize restraint by withholding consents to episcopal elections of persons whose lifestyle would pose a serious problem for other members of the Anglican communion. Bishops went further by promising not to authorize rites for the blessing of same sex partnerships until the communion is of a different mind or a future General Convention decides otherwise. (The American House of Bishops has no authority to bind future General Conventions.)

For some bishops, these resolutions were a matter of conscience. It’s no secret that I disagree with them, but that is not my point right now. My focus is instead on the spiritual danger of “going along to get along,” of willingly sacrificing what one believes to be the dignity and well-being of real and present persons on the altar of institutional objectives. The lust for institutional harmony and stability is strong. It repeatedly seduces us, whether the issue is race, gender, sexual orientation, fair trade and wages, immigration and asylum, or something else. But Jesus Christ did not show Himself “willing to pause”: Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, the woman with scoliosis, the lame and the blind on the Sabbath day! Jesus warns, “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven!” Read more
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Boris Johnson: "How can we let children live in fear?"

(Ed: In this important article, Boris Johnson notes that school assemblies thirty years ago would not have been about avoiding shooting people. Perhaps it is worth noting that thirty years ago the following statement might also not have been made about the group taking the assembly: "It would be tragic if good organisations such as this were not funded, just because some of its members are Christian in their inspiration ...". The clear implication is that their funding is under threat, and for just that reason!)

[...] It would be an exaggeration to say that I understood every word of the lyrics. But I certainly understood the chorus, and I can still hear it in my head. "Brah-ka-kah", sang Wizdom, ducking and weaving his body like a man dodging bullets, and I looked at the singers making their Eminem gestures, flicking their fingers as though trying to rid them of a particularly irritating piece of Sellotape.

I looked at the sign on the stage behind them, proclaiming that the project was called Gunz Down; and then I looked out again at that sea of rapt and innocent faces.

And I had a flashback, and I remembered when I used to sit, just like these 11- to 13-year-olds, in the morning assembly of my inner-London school, and like them we all squatted in rows, cross-legged, and like them we chorused obediently at whatever the head teacher said.

But I tell you something, folks. When we had morning assembly at my ILEA school in 1970s' Camden, we didn't have songs like Brah-kah-kah, all about what happens when someone starts firing a sub-machine gun – and nor, I bet, did any other pupils across the Greater London area. We had All Things Bright and Beautiful by Mrs C F Alexander and Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens. We didn't have people imploring us not to shoot each other. Read more

To read more about Gunz Down, click here.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Bishop of Willesden 'lone voice' welcoming tax breaks for married couples

(Ed: from Ruth Gledhill's blog, "Church fails to welcome Gordon's married couple tax break)

We laughed in The Times office as Gordon Brown spoke today. There are such fun political times ahead. Anyway, for the first time that I can remember in decades, a Prime Minister has actually introduced a tax break for married couples. Yippee! And can I find a bishop to welcome this? A bishop from an established Church that has for as many decades been bewailing the manifold sins and wickednesses of successive governments' anti-marriage tax policies? Of course I can't. Ha ha ha. As if. Normally, when big political stories are breaking, religion correspondents are left on the sidelines. Here was a chance to get in on the action! But no such luck. Our church is, sometimes, just pathetic. Anway, read on for what Gordon said. I'm welcoming it, even if the bishops aren't. I guess I'll have to do. (Update: Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, has said this ... Read more

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CAM Core Group meets

The 'Core Group' of Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream met on Monday this week. A number of matters were discussed, including an update on the situation regarding the non-ordination of Richard Wood at Dagenham Parish Church.

It is planned to write to the list of contacts in Diocese in the near future, appraising them of a number of issues and identifying the potential need for financial support for Richard whilst his future status is still under consideration.

Concern was expressed that although the House of Bishop's guidelines on Civil Partnerships state that partnered gay clergy should expect to be asked whether their relationship is in accordance with the standards set out in Issues in Human Sexuality, no public assurance has to be given. It was felt that the impression would inevitably be created that the Church of England now accepted behaviour which it in fact continues to hold is contrary to God's will.

It was also pointed out that, since some people would not, in conscience, be able to attend the installation or licensing of clergy in such relationships, this was creating de facto a structural breach in the fellowship of the Church.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Big turnout for CABC 2007

The seventh Chelmsford Anglican Bible Conference on October 6th was a great success, with almost 200 people gathered at the Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, to hear Christopher Ash speaking on the book of Job.

CABC was set up by members of the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association, after a series of consultations around the Diocese at the end of the 1990s. The first Conference took place at the Cathedral in May 2001 and was opened by the then-Bishop, the Rt Revd John Perry.

The Conference moved to Central Baptist Church the following year, due to the excellent facilities, and has stayed there almost every year since.

The declared aim of CABC is ‘to put the Bible at the heart of our diocesan life’. Whilst there are a number of diocesan gatherings, ranging from special services, through Synod, up to residential conferences, they do not tend to focus on Bible teaching. The conviction of the organisers of CABC has always been that God speaks to us uniquely in and through the Bible, and that therefore it is important for us to gather together as a diocese specifically to hear that word read and taught.

Christopher Ash, the Director of the Cornhill Training Course, is thus the latest in a succession of top-quality speakers who have opened up the Bible to us in a variety of ways. Christopher has made a detailed study of Job and is the author of a small commentary, published by IVP.

As usual, the day included praise and prayer, led this time by Chris Taylor. There was also personal testimony from Deborah Kelly who, despite suffering from MS, has a personal ministry of Bible teaching, which she exercises at Grace Church, Wanstead.

Next year’s Bible Conference is scheduled for the 4th October and will be on the book of Romans.

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Bishop of Rochester: What is Lambeth 2008 for?

[...] I ordain people. If I ordain someone who should not be ordained I am more responsible than the person ordained for what has been done. I was present at General Convention 2003 where approval was given for Gene Robinson’s consecration. The next day, I had been worshipping with people, I felt I could not go to the convention eucharist. I made my way to the Forward in Faith eucharist in a Methodist Church, and when I got there I discovered 100s of people had made the same decision, women, men evangelicals, catholics - to such an extent people were standing three deep outside on the pavement. That was a consensus fidelium that such a decision was wrong. Read more
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Bishop of Rochester: "Difficulty" over attending Lambeth 2008

A senior Church of England conservative has intensified the storm over homosexuals in the clergy by warning he will boycott next summer's Lambeth Conference if liberal American bishops are invited.

The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, said he would find it difficult to attend a Church council alongside those who consecrated or approved the appointment of Anglicanism's first openly gay bishop.

His comments are fresh evidence of the divisions within the Church of England over the issues and will exacerbate the difficulties facing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in maintaining unity. Read more
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Monday, 8 October 2007

Archbishop of Sydney: "Sexual rights are gospel" for TEC

The Next Twenty Years
for Anglican Christians

‘Crisis’, ‘schism’, ‘division’, ‘break-up’ – this has been the language of the last five years in the Anglican Communion. Again and again we have reached ‘defining moments’, ‘crucial meetings’ and ‘turning points’, only to discover that they simply lead into another period of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is now over. The decisive moments have passed. Irreversible actions have occurred. The time has come for sustained thought about a different future. The Anglican Communion will never be the same again. The Windsor process has failed, largely because it refused to grapple with the key issue of the truth. A new and more biblical vision is required to help biblically faithful Anglican churches survive and grow in the contemporary world.

Some have still set their hopes on the Lambeth Conference. But that is to misunderstand the significance of our time. It can no longer either unify Anglicanism or speak with authority. The invitations have gone to virtually all, and it is likely that some of those not invited will still attend as guests. There are faithful Anglican bishops who are not invited, and there are others who cannot be present in good conscience. The solemn words of the 1998 Conference were ignored by the American Church in 2003, and any authority which we may have ascribed to the deliberations of the Bishops has been lost permanently. Not surprisingly, Lambeth 2008 is not going to attempt a similar exercise in conciliar pronouncements. Why would it? There is no vision here.

The key defining moment on the liberal side was the consecration of Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire. At first it was hoped that this was a mere aberration, that it could be dealt with by returning to where we were. In fact it was a permanent action with permanent consequences. It truly expressed the heart-felt views of the greater part of the leadership of the American Episcopal Church. The only way in which steps can be retraced is by repudiating the action itself, a development impossible to contemplate. That was the year of decision for the American church, and the decision was made in the clear light of day. They knew what they were doing.

The American House of Bishops has now responded to the Primates. Many have seen in their pronouncements sufficient conformity to the request of the Primates to enable the Communion to continue on its way. I do not read their statement like that. I think that they have failed to meet the hopes of the Primates. But the significance of the document at this level hardly matters. The document taken as a whole makes the real issue abundantly clear. Sexual rights are gospel.

The Americans are firmly committed to the view that the practice of homosexual sex in a long term relationship is morally acceptable. Not only is it acceptable, it is demanded by the gospel itself that we endorse this lifestyle as Christian. They are prepared to wait for a short time while the rest of the Communion catches up. But they do not intend to reverse their decisions about this and they do intend to proclaim this message wherever possible. They want to persuade us that they are right, and that the rest of us should embrace this development. Here is a missionary faith.

The biblical conservatives and their allies in Africa and Asia knew this. They did not need to wait for the House of Bishops. They took irreversible steps to secure the future of some of the biblical Anglicans in North America. I say ‘some’, because it is often forgotten that faithful Canadian Anglicans are living in a Diocese where the blessing of same sex unions is diocesan policy. What if TEC has been judged to conform to the Primates wishes? The Diocese of New Westminster certainly has not. What is to be done for the orthodox in that Diocese? What will happen if British Anglicans follow this route? This sort of question shows why a new vision and further action will be needed.

The response of the Primates has involved the provision of episcopal oversight. This, too, has changed the nature of the Anglican Communion. From now on there will inevitably be boundary crossing and the days of sacrosanct diocesan boundaries are over. Anglican episcopacy now includes overlapping jurisdictions and personal rather than merely geographical oversight. If the sexual revolution becomes more broadly accepted elsewhere, so other Bishops will be appointed as they have been in the USA. This is the new fact of Anglican polity. How are these developments going to be incorporated into world-Anglicanism? What future should we be thinking of? Where is our vision for them? Hand-wringing is not the answer.

The aim of the Archbishop of Canterbury was to retain the highest level of fellowship in the Communion. He believed that truth will be found in communion, in inclusion rather than exclusion. From his point of view, an extended passage of time is vital. What matters for the Archbishop is not this Lambeth, but the next one and the one after that. Will those who have initiated this novelty relent and give up their commitments? Or will the objectors tire of their fuss and concede the point? Since the likelihood of the American church repenting of its action is remote, the hope must be that those who now protest will eventually weary of their protest and learn to live with the novelty of active gay bishops.

The Archbishop has revealed his hopes through a lecture on biblical interpretation, ‘The Bible Today: Reading and Hearing’. delivered in Canada in April 2007. In this lecture he addresses the very heart of the controversy, by challenging conservative interpretations of Romans 1 and John 14, and thus raising the issues of interpretation, human sexuality and the uniqueness of Christ as Mediator. He has signalled the importance of hermeneutics for our future. His lecture shows that there is an unavoidable contest about the meaning of the Bible in these crucial areas ahead of us. It is a challenge which must be met at a theological level. We may think that this whole business is about politics and border-crossing and ultimatums and conferences, but in fact it is about theology and especially the authority and interpretation of Scripture.

That leads to this fundamental conclusion. Those who believe that the American development is wrong must also plan for the next decades, not the next few months. There is every reason to think that the Western view of sexuality will eventually permeate other parts of the world. After all, it has done so spectacularly in the West, and the modern communication revolution has opened the way for everyone to be aware of what happens in New York, London, San Francisco and Brighton.

Thus the question before the biblically orthodox in the Communion is this: what new vision of the Anglican Communion should we embrace? Where should it be in the next twenty years? How can we ensure that the word of God rules our lives? How are we going to guard ourselves effectively against the sexual agenda of the West and begin to turn back the tide of Western liberalism? What theological education must we have? How can we now best network with each other? Who is going to care for Episcopalians in other western provinces who are going to be objecting to the official acceptance of non-biblical practices? The need for high level discussion of these issues is urgent.

As an initial step I look to the Global South leadership to call for another ‘Blast of the Trumpet.’ The ensuing consultation must start with the reality of where we are now, and look steadfastly to a future in which the bonds of Communion have been permanently loosened. It has to strengthen the fellowship by which churches will help each other to guard their theological good health while engaging together with the task of preaching the gospel to an unbelieving world.

In any case, the basic issue is no longer how can the communion be kept together. It is, within the Communion as it has now become, how can biblical Anglicans help each other survive and mission effectively in the contemporary world? The Africans have shown a commendable concern for this very issue and taken steps to assist the western church. They have recognised that the gospel sometimes divides and sometimes requires new and startling initatives. We must now all take the actions and do the thinking required to safeguard biblical truth, not merely in the West but throughout the Anglican world. To fail here, will be to waste the time and effort which has brought us to this fateful hour.

Dr Peter Jensen is the Archbishop of Sydney

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