I thought it was over. I thought we had come to the end of this painful process of Anglicans splitting from their church and going off to form independent communities. I was wrong.

Anglicans have not stopped splitting; the splits have just moved to different parts of the world. New Zealand is the latest jurisdiction to fall prey to the on-going divisions that have afflicted much of the Anglican Church around the world for the past decade.

One of those who has felt called to depart from his errant Anglican Church is the Rev. Michael Hewat who until this week was the vicar of West Hamilton Anglican Parish on the north Island of New Zealand south of Auckland.

Hewat has explained his reasons for leaving in an opinion piece in the Waikato Times at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/opinion/10297877/Once-were-Anglicans

I am sure Mr. Hewat’s expression of pain in the face of a decision he feels compelled to take is genuine. It must hurt to walk away from an institutional expression of faith that has shaped one’s life for generations.

I am less convinced about the sincerity of Hewat’s reason for his decision. Mr. Hewat explains he feels driven from the Anglican church because,

what this comes down to is a disagreement within the Church over authority: is the authority of the Bible paramount, or is the authority of the Church (and its bishops) paramount?

It would be more honest to write – what this comes down to is a disagreement within the Church over the interpretation and application of the Bible whose authority we all still honour.

Every ordination of a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada I have attended over the past 35 years has included the priest saying some form of,

I solemnly declare that I do  believe the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.

Is there disagreement in the church about the precise nature of what it might mean to hold that the Bible is “the word of God” and how the teachings in the Bible should be applied in some parts of our life and practice? Absolutely! Has there ever been a time in the history of the church when there was not some disagreement over how the teachings in Scripture should be applied to certain areas of life and doctrine? Absolutely not!

So what is the problem here? What is the Rubicon Mr. Hewat believes the Anglican Church in New Zealand has crossed? Why has the New Zealand Church’s decision on the conduct of people in same-gender relationships suddenly led Mr. Hewat to believe that the Anglican Church in New Zealand is in

breach of its doctrine and the Fundamental Provisions of both its own Constitution and the Church of England Empowering Act (1928)?

It is difficult for me to answer this question.

I believe absolutely in the authority of Scripture as a vehicle through which God’s Spirit guides my life, shapes the Church, and communicates profound wisdom. But, I know that, in my understanding of the Bible, I always depend upon my understanding. Over the years my understanding of certain parts of the Bible has changed. The fact that I may have changed my mind on the Bible’s teaching for example on the role of women in the church or on the remarriage of people who are divorced, does not mean I have abandoned the authority of Scripture.

Although I happen to wear my hair quite short, I do not agree with Paul’s contention that

nature itself teaches you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory. (I Corinthians 11:14,15).

Does this mean I have abandoned the authority of Scripture or simply that my cultural reality leads me to a different understanding of what “nature itself teaches”?

After all the years of leave-taking, as Anglicans I have known and loved have walked away from the Church in which I still serve, I remain confused about what is really going on here. I am puzzled about why we cannot still worship and work together for the glory of God. I find it hard to imagine how the work of God is well-served by yet another fracture in the visible Body of Christ as it has been expressed through the Anglican Church.

I remain saddened by the fact that, in a world which is so often fragmented and in which disagreements so often explode into violent confrontation, the Anglican Church has been unable to embody the unity that Scripture urges upon us. It is hard for me to understand what might excuse any of us from feeling bound by the injunction to

clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness (meekness), and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

It puzzles me how firmly those who attest most strongly their adherence to the “authority of Scripture” are determined to assert certain portions of the Bible, but seem to sit more lightly to those parts that speak of our relationships with one another within the church. What mandate is there to walk away from a fellow believer, simply because we disagree on a secondary issue of biblical interpretation, when we read:

with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2,3)

Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. (I Peter 4:9)

Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. (Romans 14:19)

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. ( I Thessalonians 5:11)

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)


If you have any interest in examining further the biblical texts usually sited to support a conservative position on same-gender relationships, you might be interested in my reading of these texts which can be seen at: