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ACNA Archbishop Challenges Neo-Paganism in the Anglican Communion

ACNA Archbishop Challenges Neo-Paganism in the Anglican Communion

The following is a condensed talk between Dr. Gerald McDermott, theologian and Chair of Divinity and Director of The Institute of Anglican Studies at Beeson Divinity School and ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach

Submitted by David W. Virtue, DD
April 14, 2020

McDermott: I want to talk to you today about this hard-hitting chapter you have in a new book titled, "The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism." The chapter is titled, "Neo-pagan Anglicanism," a provocative title. Archbishop Foley, can you tell us this thing that you call "neo-pagan Anglicanism?" When did this first arise?

Beach: Well, it's been happening for a while. I began to notice that a lot of the practices in modern Anglicanism and teaching of modern Anglicanism, and actually, we could say more of Western Christianity as well, seemed to be getting more in common with what was known as pagan religion than what the Bible calls the faith.

In North America it's been going 40, 50, 60 years. It started in the seminaries with a gradual withdrawal from the authority of the Word of God, the holy Bible, the scriptures. And because of that, there began an acceptance of all kinds of things that I would say are non-Christian but are now treated as Christian.

Neo-paganism, or what I call Neo-pagan Anglicanism.

I define as a modern form of Anglicanism which practices and performs the historic forms of worship within the ecclesial structures of Anglicanism, but at the same time it embraces theological beliefs and practices which Christians once considered pagan, non-Christian. Its modern emphasis is on reinterpreting non-Christian beliefs and practices into forms that Christians find acceptable. Theological beliefs once considered unbiblical and even heretical are taught as Christian doctrine. And just to take it one step further, moral practices that were once believed to be sin and an offense to God are now really taught and embraced as Christian in the name of love, compassion, unbridled acceptance, on and on we go.

McDermott: In this country it was called the Episcopal Church for so long, and the Episcopal is now not the only Anglican Church in America. We have this ACNA, the Anglican Church in North America. What caused the rise of this neo-paganism within a church that is otherwise Christian?

Beach: I think I could probably give the best example of when I was in my early 20s and I was discipling some young high school guys. We were memorizing scripture together. I remember we were working on the first chapter of 1 John. We came in and we quoted our verses we were supposed to have. I quoted mine and this young man looks me in the eye and says, "Hey Foley, you messed up. You need to do better." I said, 'what? I am supposed to be discipling him.' He says, "You had a question here and a question here, and he went on to explain how I had messed up. He said, 'The problem is you get off the Word of God just a little bit and you're right off."

That is what's happened in too many places in the Western Church, especially in the Western Anglican Church. It is the departure from the Word of God and once you're off, you're off, and before long you've lost your bearings.

Another analogy I use is that the Church is often described as a ship. But the ship is tied into the anchor, which is the Word of God. The winds of culture will blow the ship certain directions, but as long as it's anchored, tethered to the Word of God it will blow a little side to side, or whatever direction the wind is blowing, but it's still tied in. But in many places, they've now cut themselves off from the authority of the Word of God, so they're just floating with the culture.

McDermott: Now, you say in your chapter, that often this neo-paganism is missed for being something else. Of course, it's missed from being Anglican, it's missed for being Christian, or maybe for simply being a good person. Why is it often missed for these other things?

Beach: I think because it's couched in words of love and acceptance and tolerance and oftentimes the words that are used, that evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics would use are reinterpreted and mean something else. If you listen carefully now, they might give a sermon and an evangelical or an Anglo-Catholic would hear it, listening through ears of traditional Christianity, "Oh, that was a good sermon," but then you ask the preacher what he meant by these words and it's something totally different.

So, I think that's part of what's going on. We're also living in a time where nobody wants to offend anybody or challenge anybody. And you cannot disagree anymore without people hating you. So, people so often won't challenge what they think is wrong.

McDermott: Can you define, with a little bit of precision, what you're describing here as neo-pagan Anglicanism? I mean, what essentially is at the heart of it?

Beach: It's rejection of the breadth of classical Anglicanism's historical embodiment of the catholic, evangelical and charismatic, or what's historically been called enthusiastic. But these are theological traditions. That which is orthodox in belief and practice, that's rooted in the plain teaching of scripture and the historical catholic faith, the English Reformation, the Oxford Movement, the Book of Common Prayer, and all of it with an emphasis on ministering to, what I would say is an on-going relevance to the cultural context. That is what is most important.

McDermott: You talk in your chapter about how this neo-pagan Anglicanism has affected Anglican views of the Bible. Can you tell us about that?

Beach: Sure. Neo-pagan Anglicanism would view the Bible as probably a moral guide; maybe a way to be in touch with our historical roots. They would even go as far as to say that the Church created the Bible so the Church can re-create the Bible. As one Episcopal Bishop in Pennsylvania said, "We wrote the Bible, we can re-write the Bible." And in another sermon, he preached that scriptures are internally contradictory on the surface, their interpretation varies according to the needs of the moment.

When I am speaking to lay folks about this, I'll say that we've traditionally believed that the Bible is the Word of God. What neo-pagan Anglicanism teaches is that it contains the Word of God. Now, if it contains the Word of God, then who determines what is the Word of God and what isn't the Word of God? That's where the problems come.

In many places the Bible is treated as the same as other holy books. I mean, we've had some Episcopal churches in the US that have had readings from the Koran amidst their readings from the Bible in church. Does that help?

McDermott: Now, you also say in this chapter that neo-pagan Anglicanism has a different view of God. What is this different view that neo-pagan Anglicans hold?

Beach: Well, we really see this in much of Western Christianity as well, not just Anglicanism, but basically our understanding of God as Father, that's considered patriarchal. They say calling on God as Father is too limiting for God. It's too discriminatory. So, they'll use other forms, like Mother, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. I remember one professor in seminary that I went to said if you ... and we were writing a paper on theological foundations ... he said if you refer to God as "Father" and you don't turn around and refer to God as "Mother" or "she", I will demote you a letter grade. That God is beyond gender.

I ran across a quote from Bishop Rachel Treweek, who is a senior female bishop in the Church of England. She said in The Daily Mail, "I don't want young girls and boys to hear us constantly refer to God as "He." She went on to say that non-Christians feel an alienation from the Church if the image of God is painted only as male.

So, there's this sense that how we've constantly referred to God, how Jesus constantly referred to God, as Father or as any kind of masculine figure, is no longer appropriate. Obviously, we Christians believe God is beyond gender, but God has revealed himself as Father. And Jesus made that pretty clear.

Let me give you just a couple of examples. A friend of mine attended a church, an Episcopal Church, in Clayton, Georgia. The priest changed the Lord's Prayer from "Our Father in Heaven," to "Our Mother in Heaven." She could no longer attend after that. Another friend left his Fredericksburg, Virginia Episcopal Church, when the priest changed the words to the Lord's Prayer to reflect mother earth and the created being of the universe.

My point is that this is pagan theology, it's not Christian, and it's not Anglican.

McDermott: Archbishop, I tell my students, and I tell parishioners that I think the most fitting verse in the whole Bible for much of the Church today, and what you describe as neo-pagan Anglicanism, is 2 Corinthians 11:4 where Paul says if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you receive, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

So, I tell students and parishioners that in many churches in this country and in the global north, you hear about Jesus, but it's what Paul calls "another Jesus." You hear about spirit or the spirit, but it's a different spirit from the Holy Spirit. You hear about the gospel, but it's not the gospel of the New Testament, it's another gospel, it's a different gospel, as Paul puts it.

Now, how about Jesus?

Beach: Just one comment to add to what you said. I used to wonder why the Epistle of Jude was in the Bible. That one little chapter. That one little page. And now when you read it in this context, it is amazing how they were experiencing similar things and having to deal with it even back then. It's amazing how it speaks to where we are. As far as Jesus, neo-pagan Anglicans would say Jesus is the Christian way to God. But he shouldn't be pushed on or required to believe in by other faith traditions. He's not the way to God for Muslims or Hindus or Jews.

They would say these are all expressions of worship and they're worshiping the same God and they're all valid. We Christians shouldn't be so imperialistic in our religious perspective to push this on others and impose this on others.

I remember reading about the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles issuing an apology to Hindus, worldwide, for what he called "centuries old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them." So, he gave a statement to which he read to over 100 Hindu spiritual leaders at a mass, a ceremony that they were at. It started with a Hindu priestess blowing a conch shell three times and included the sacred chants in the Hindu religion.

So, they would say Jesus is a way to God, not the way to God. He's the way for us Christians, but he's not the way for everybody. So, when Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," they don't agree with that. They would say that applies to Christians.

The other thing that they end up saying a lot is that Jesus is a teacher, he's a lover, he's a joy giver, he's a redeemer, but they don't always necessarily see him as divine, being the divine Son of God. There's this whole emphasis about Jesus coming to judge the world. They really downplay that.

McDermott: How about the Holy Spirit? What does neo-pagan Anglicanism do with the Holy Spirit?

Beach: What I have observed is, it's kind of like the Holy Spirit is what feels right for me at the moment. [He is] not an actual distinct person of the Godhead who has specific characteristics, specific ministries, specific roles, who calls the believer to repentance from sin and he transforms the believer to biblical holiness and righteousness in life.

As I wrote in the book, there seems to be no boundaries for the Holy Spirit. I remember the bishop of Atlanta explaining why he voted for the consecration of the bishop who had divorced his wife and was partnered with another man. The church was debating whether or not they should consecrate this man in this leadership role in the church as a bishop. I remember his response, he said, "I follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

This neo-pagan understanding of the Holy Spirit really sees the Holy Spirit as some kind of motivator to help people love, accept, and welcome everybody without judging them or insisting on repentance from their sins. You rarely hear a neo-pagan Anglican call people from their sins, unless it's the sin of trying to convert somebody else to the faith in Jesus Christ.

McDermott: I like your comment in the chapter, where you note that historical Anglicans say the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. He inspired scripture, so he won't inspire actions that contradict scripture. And yet when that bishop of Atlanta was saying he was following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in approving the consecration of a bishop who had divorced his wife and partnered with another man, he was implying that the Holy Spirit contradicts himself. I like that.

Then you have a section on evangelism. What does evangelism look like in neo-pagan Anglicanism?

Beach: I view evangelism as leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and they come to eternal salvation, but for a neo-pagan Anglican it's getting folks into the church, that's what evangelism is. How can we reach out to folks in our neighborhood and get them to come to church? It's not calling people to Jesus, to repentance of their sins and faith in Christ.

The current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has this thing going right now called "The Jesus Movement," where he's calling people to Jesus. And he calls ... I guess the way to say it, the Jesus he calls people to is based upon love and acceptance of people in their sinfulness. I would agree with that, but rather love and acceptance, which calls people out of their sins and out of the ways of their sinful life, which traditionally Christians would call repentance. In other words, God loves you just as you are, just come to church and you're going to be fine. Whereas the gospel calls people to repent of their sin. God loves you, but you need to repent of your sin and live in a way that the Lord wants you to live so that you can receive his blessing and love and all acceptance. Does that make sense?

McDermott: It's a version of the love of God, without the holiness of God.

Beach: That's a good way to say it. I would also add, too, for them, evangelism is tied in with what traditionally has been called social justice, helping people in their needs, which the scriptures are clear that we are to help the poor, the needy, and reach out and help people in their need. But that's it. There's no message with it to come to the Lord and turn from your sin, that sort of thing.

McDermott: No repentance of a biblical sort. Maybe a kind of repentance of another sort, but not biblical repentance.

Beach: Correct.

McDermott: We all know that the issue ... it's not just one issue, but a host of issues that has divided Anglicans around the world, and has divided every other denomination on the planet, is the host of issues involved with marriage and sexuality. Moral and sexual ethics. Tell us about neo-pagan Anglicanism as it has treated it in the last 40, 50, 60 years of moral and sexual ethics.

Beach: Well, Jesus's new commandment was to love one another, and so they interpret this as we are to love everyone, accept everyone as they are. This isn't a bad thing at all to do, but the gospel ... their gospel message stops there. There's no call to repentance from personal sin, like when Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."

So, they've set aside all the moral ethics of the Bible regarding marriage and sexuality and traded them in for what I call the sexual enlightenment of the 1960s. So, divorce is not really considered a sin anymore. Premarital sex isn't a sin. Homosexuality, my sexuality, transgenderism and all kinds of these other non-biblical practices are now embraced as Christian and they're promoted as Christian.

The Church of England, right now, is working on a study of ... I forget the exact name of it, but it's on sex and the church, sexual practices in the Church, and they're treating these non-biblical practices of sexual behavior as Christian. It's just the way these Christians believe, and this is the way these other Christians believe. And there's been a departure from the clear scriptural teaching. It goes on to other things like life issues, dealing with abortion, dealing with euthanasia, dealing with assisted suicide, it's all these kinds of things that are being embraced from a world perspective and not from a biblical perspective.

McDermott: How have orthodox Anglicans tried to bring reform to the communion in the last number of years?

Beach: Well, I need to begin that by saying that in the Anglican Communion the Global South vastly outnumbers the rest of the Anglican communion. I mean, millions and millions and millions more. And back in 1998 when people began to see that this was beginning to encroach its way into the communion, specifically homosexuality and all that goes with it, they passed a resolution at a large bishops' conference called the Lambeth Conference, which is held every ten years.

Basically, they said that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with scripture. That was in 1998. Since that time, western churches have nibbled and nibbled away at that. Eventually it got to the point where churches of the Global South began to meet on their own and attempt to address these issues. They would call special primates' meetings, (the primate is a leader of an Anglican province,) and they would call these primates' meetings and agree that they were going to discipline these churches that were departing from the faith, specifically the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada at that time, and they'd get right up to the edge and the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the time, would say he would enforce it, but then wouldn't do what he said he would do.

Things came to a head in the year 2008 with invitations to the next Lambeth conference. Because all of those bishops that consecrated the homosexual bishops were being invited and because there was no discipline, these Global South leaders said, "enough is enough" and we've got to meet and decide what are we going to do about the future of the Anglican communion? So, the first GAFCON was held. (Global Anglican Future Conference) That's why they met. What's the future going to be like?

And out of that came numerous things, but basically a movement to reform, revive, and renew the Anglican communion, calling it to repentance. The GAFCON movement has continued to grow. It's exciting to see how many people around the world have been touched and come to Christ because of it. Parallel to the GAFCON movement is another movement within the Global South called the Global South Fellowship. Just recently they met in Cairo. I was a part of it as well.

We agreed on basically a new structure, which will bring together orthodox provinces around the communion that can fellowship with each other and affirm each other and have some boundaries, some forms of discipline in place, because the Anglican communion is now very fractured, because of these moral and sexual issues.

I need to say that that the presenting issue, the real issues are what we started with: the authority of scripture and who is Jesus Christ. Those things are presenting issues which are the ones causing all of the attention. So that's what we're attempting to deal with.

McDermott: What do you think are the best ways for the Anglican communion to move forward to secure orthodoxy?

Beach: Well, I think those who are orthodox have got to continue to stand tall and not compromise. The problem that we're also facing is that the West seems to have all the money and because of all the historical connections with England, with Canada, with the US, it's hard for a lot of these provinces, who for so many years have been what I call been in "economic dependence," really it's economic slavery, on these provinces to say "no" all of a sudden to the money.

For example, when the Province of Uganda said, "No, we're not going to be in communion anymore with the Episcopal Church until they repent," they lost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in funding for their schools, some of their churches and their nurseries. They were really put in a bad spot. They've now come through it. The Lord has provided, but it was really hard. It was hard for them to walk through that. A lot of folks are not willing to do that. So, it's really tough.

There are three things.

Number one, the orthodox leaders need to stand tall, continue to preach the Word, remain in the Word. Secondly, find other ways of sustainability, financial sustainability for their own provinces, break the economic slavery that they are under by finding alternative means in their own ways. One of the things we're trying to do is help them find alternative income sources, whether it's creating businesses within their own province ... for example, Uganda built a skyscraper and they use one floor of it and the rest of it is rented out. So, the income from that goes to help pay for salaries and that sort of thing for clergy throughout the province and schools and day care centers, and that sort of thing.

Third, is that Global South folks and the orthodox around the world have got to continue to be united, working together. We don't all agree on everything. We've got different views about a lot of minor issues. We've got a lot of cultural differences that could easily get in the way. But we need to remain focused on the main thing, and that's Jesus Christ and sharing him with a needy world.

McDermott: We are talking as the plague of coronavirus is still continuing to rise around the world. Do Anglicans have anything in particular to contribute to our needy world as it faces this plague?

Beach: We have a long history of caring for the sick and risking our lives to do so. And seeing God heal the sick. That's one thing. Secondly, it seems now in the online world that we are in, that so many of our churches are able to broadcast through the internet and other sources. Our wonderful Anglican liturgies, which so many of them have such rich and deep prayers, are really ministering to people during this time.

In many of our Anglican places, the Anglican archbishop is a leader in his country, one of the main leaders; works closely with the president. And in many of the places around the world, our Anglican leaders are actually working with their governments to help the people, to save people and to protect people in the midst of this crisis. So, that's huge. It really is.

I just saw a great video by Archbishop Ben Kwashi, he's the General Secretary of GAFCON and the Bishop of Jos in Nigeria. He did about a five-minute video on how to wash your hands and keep your faith in the midst of all of this. It's really good. That's being broadcast around the world.

Lastly, is I think to continue pointing to God; that He is faithful, He is trustworthy, to not only call people to faith in him, but to get people to trust in him so that no matter what happens that he's determined the number of days for us to exist on this earth and then we're going to continue to be with him in heaven, and to be at peace with that. In the meantime, we are to serve the best we can while we're here.


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