Is the Australian Anglican Church in the Throes of Schism?
Bishop of Newcastle, Greg Thompson, openly brands Sydney Diocese and its archbishop as "divisive"
By David W. Virtue DD
February 25, 2016
The Australian Anglican Church is deeply fractured on the issue of gay clergy, and it is set to boil over at a national meeting of bishops in early March, prompting Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson to miss the event, accusing Sydney diocese of leading a breakaway conservative movement.
Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson wrote in a letter to Anglican Primate Archbishop Philip Freier in December, saying he would not attend the annual bishops' conference in South Australia on March 6, because it would give the impression of a united church that conflicted with reality.
The "para Anglican Communion" is a reference to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in Australia.
In a privately leaked letter by Thompson to the Primate, Philip Freier, the Newcastle bishop is putting pressure on Sydney Archbishop Glenn Davies and placing embattled Freier in a much more difficult position.
"Thompson has attempted to recast the current tensions in the Anglican Church in Australia as something caused by Sydney. The reality of the situation is that the disquiet over denial of Christian doctrine is a much wider phenomenon. There are a large number of diocesan bishops who are very unhappy about some of their fellow bishop who have made public statements and actions which openly challenge orthodox teaching," writes Ould.
"The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (the movement to which Thompson is referred to as "a breakaway conservative movement") is headed up not by Archbishop Davies, but by Bishop-elect of Tasmania, Richard Condie. It has wide support across the country amongst both evangelicals and traditional Anglo-Catholics, including a number of prominent clergy of some of the larger churches in the Diocese of Newcastle. Its opening conference in Melbourne last year was attended by hundreds of delegates from across the country."
In his December letter to Archbishop Freier, Bishop Thompson said, while the fellowship of bishops was important, "the environment at the bishops' conference is not conducive for furthering our shared sense of ministry together in the Anglican Church".
Bishop Thompson noted that Sydney Diocese had actively supported the development of conservative and evangelical churches on the Central Coast and in the Hunter without consulting Newcastle Diocese.
A number of evangelical ministries within the geographical boundaries of the Diocese of Newcastle were budded out of Sydney Anglican churches. At the time they were seen as a response to the lack of (and even hostility to) gospel ministry available in those areas. There are no specific bishops' protocols addressing such arrangements.
"Bishop Thompson's extraordinary actions in publicly criticizing his own Metropolitan Archbishop has led to many church members, both laity and clergy, within and without the Diocese of Newcastle has resulted in a number expressing their incredulity at what they see as a large contradiction in Thompson's position," says Ould.
"In recent months he has worked very hard to portray himself as acting responsibly in the area of safe ministry and in particular in the Newcastle Diocese's response to abuse of vulnerable people in church organizations. Yet he is now complaining that others are insisting that bishops abide by an agreement already made between them to uphold Faithfulness in Service, the national church's guidelines for dealing with, amongst other things, appropriate ministry to vulnerable people as well as matters of conduct (personal, sexual and other) of clergy and other ministers."
Ould said there was much irony in the choice of journalist for this leak; the very highly regarded Joanne McCarthy who has worked tirelessly to expose the poor practices and responses of Anglican dioceses and bishops to issues surrounding safe ministry.
"Bishop Thompson has chosen not only a time when Safe Ministry is in the news but also a journalist who is well-known for reporting the subject, to publicly complain that his Metropolitan bishop is insisting that fellow bishops keep the protocol they have unanimously agreed upon that itself upholds the Anglican Church of Australia's best practice in the area."
Bishop Thompson's intervention comes at a time where there are reported rising levels of centralization and an "authoritarian culture" in the Diocese of Newcastle and a growing experience of action against any disagreement that is flowing from very senior leadership and an insistence that clergy and parishes conform to top-down stipulations on a wide range of matters ranging from where their parish finances are banked to very narrowly-prescribed Eucharistic practice (the subject of a recent ad clerum). "There is also discussion surrounding a recently legislated disciplinary ordinance which was passed in meetings outside of the full synod, but of which no minutes are available publicly. The general sentiment is not positive and is expressed by individuals from a wide range of theological persuasions."
STATEMENT FROM THE RT. REV. GREG THOMPSON, BISHOP OF NEWCASTLE
Bishop Greg Thompson is responding to the story in the Newcastle Herald from Kuala Lumpur where he was an invited guest at the installation of the new Anglican Primate for South East Asia. Bishop Thompson met with Archbishop Glenn Davies (the Archbishop of Sydney) in Kuala Lumpur earlier today.
Bishop Thompson says --
I am pleased that the Archbishop of Sydney and I were able to have a long and constructive conversation today. We have clear goodwill for each other but it is also clear that there is a long way to go before the significant issues facing our Church are resolved.
The Archbishop and I have very different Dioceses. He leads a diocese where many members hold very conservative views. They oppose gender equity within the Church and oppose marriage equality in the church and in the community. I lead a Diocese that has a long tradition of promoting inclusion. We affirm the leadership of women at every level of church ministry. We are committed to ensuring that gay and lesbian Christians are welcome in our churches.
For over twenty years, we have experienced Anglicans from the Diocese of Sydney establishing church activities in the Diocese of Newcastle in direct competition with our ministries. We have learnt to accommodate ourselves to this but look with great concern on movements such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans that are designed to elevate an alternate Anglican jurisdiction in Australia and New Zealand.
Last year, when the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney sought to make the Bishops of Gippsland and Wangaratta accountable to their Synod I could not simply stand by.
I am looking to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia to affirm the importance of being able to express divergent views in common fellowship, as the Anglican Primates did in January. I am also looking to the bishops to affirm the leadership of each bishop within their own diocese.
Bishop Peter Stuart, the Assistant Bishop, will be attending the national bishop's meeting in March. We will continue to consult with other bishops and within the Diocese of Newcastle about the best way forward from here.
FOOTNOTE: This story has had some minor corrections made to it.
VOL Reports: What the Anglican Church in Australia is experiencing with liberal and revisionist bishops is precisely what went on (and still continues in some dioceses) in The Episcopal Church, resulting in the formation of the Anglican Church in North America. The illiberal and fascist behavior of progressive bishops over women's ordination, the whole pansexual agenda driving TEC for three decades leading to gay marriage, has been fully chronicled by VOL www.virtueonline.org over the years. Welcome to the Episcopal Church of Australasia.
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