Independence Day reflections: The Bible or laws of the land?


Church governance and Anglicanism

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

In our Universities Act, there is provision for a University Council to forward three names for the post of Vice Chancellor and for the President to pick any one of the three. It is a necessary check and balance since a Council tends to favour its own and can make egregious choices against the well-being of the university. For example, at Peradeniya there were once only three applicants – the incumbent VC, an eminent Professor from Singapore with a higher doctorate, and a civil servant with political connections. The Council panicked since they had no choice but to forward all three names. So, after the closing date, they got two of their own members to apply and forwarded the names of the incumbent and the two new applicants. It is for such a situation that the President is given the power to exercise discernment and pick any of the three rather than the number one vote getter. In that case the President picked the incumbent, not recognising the skullduggery the Council was capable of.

Likewise, in the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also the Archbishop (Moderator) of the Church of Ceylon, it is written that “Since Henry VIII broke with Rome, the Archbishops of Canterbury have been selected by the English (latterly British) monarch.” The similarity is that today the choice is made in the name of the Sovereign by the Prime Minister, from a shortlist of two selected by an ad-hoc committee called the Crown Nominations Commission.” It has 15 members, all full communicants of the Church.

However, according to y Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The King sends the Dean and Canons a leave to elect, but also sends them the name of the person whom they are to elect. They go into the Cathedral, chant and pray; and after these invocations invariably find that the dictates of the Holy Ghost agree with the recommendation of the King.” It is like the incumbent VC being elected.

After Margaret thatcher refused to appoint a Bishop put up by the Commission because she considered him to be too liberal and left-wing, there is said to be a convention that the Prime minister does not interfere. It is only a convention though and not the law. It remains to be flouted by a future Prime Minister or indeed the Sovereign who presently, as “Defender of the Faith,” is in an adulterous marriage by Church definition insofar as his wife has a living husband in Andrew Parker Bowles.

Thus, the current Archbishop, Justin Welby, who was appointed in 2013, was chosen by David Cameron, an Anglican. However, should the See fall vacant now, the appointment will be decided by Rishi Sunak, a devout Hindu.

Likewise, the Bishop of Colombo is chosen by the Archbishop from a list of three elected by us. Last time when Bishop Dushantha Rodrigo was selected, Archbishop Welby hummed and hawed although Rodrigo had the most votes. Welby offered the post to the Thomian Warden the Rev. Marc Bilimoria, who declined. Then Welby came back to Rodrigo, who was against expanding the Church to three dioceses to make it a full member of the Anglican fraternity, and extracted from Rodrigo a promise to form another diocese and become a Province of the Anglican Communion. Said Welby as reported in the Anglican Communion News Service (28 Sept. 2020),

“I should say that although I regard it as a privilege to have been entrusted with this important function in the life of the Church of Ceylon, as its ‘Metropolitan’ [i.e., Archbishop], it is not a role I have sought, or feel comfortable having to exercise. In my view, it carries too many reminders of a colonial past. I have therefore sought and obtained from Fr Dushantha his assurance that he will give urgent priority to enabling the Church of Ceylon to take its proper place as a fully independent province in the life of the wider Anglican Communion.

To become a Province, we had to start a new diocese to make us a three-diocese Church (now with only two in Colombo and Kurunegala). This despite our numbers having dwindled from over 100,000 at independence overseen by one bishop, to 25,000 which it is claimed needs a third bishop now. The reality is the actual numbers are around 20,000 because many like me go to the Roman Catholic Church (as permitted to dissatisfied Anglicans by Pope Benedict XVI) because of its unchanging Magisterium confirming our sacraments. These are the actual reasons why many like Bishop Rodrigo himself (said at the time to be an Anglo-Catholic explaining why I campaigned for him) opposed expanding the church to three dioceses.

Indeed, if the connection to Canterbury smacked of colonialism, there was the option to have a non-White Archbishop from the Church of South India or Nigeria or Burma instead of forming another Bishop and diocese with correspondingly higher expenses.

Rodrigo somersaulted before his boss the Archbishop to be made Bishop. Similarly, like good Anglicans, when our new Bishop and Boss Rodrigo asked for another diocese, the Church overwhelmingly had the Holy Spirit guiding it as the new Boss wanted as in Waldo Emerson’s paradigm. Almost all senior priests who opposed another diocese at public meetings in 2018 voted for it.

Church Independence as we Celebrate Independence

The scenario, however, is a lot worse than in the appointment of Bishops. As in the appointment of the Archbishop, prayers to the Holy Spirit, mysteriously yield the man the top dog wants. That obedience of the Church to British political authorities remains. We now want another diocese in obeisance to our English Archbishop

In England, where statistics is available, church attendance, like in the Church of Ceylon, is abysmally down – from 11.1% of the UK population in 1980 to 6.3% in 2005 and an estimated 5% in 2015. In the face of similar statistics, it is far more important for the Church of Ceylon to focus on faith and church attendance rather than on the number of Bishops and getting a local Archbishop. But given the obedient promise extracted by the Archbishop, we are on a path where faith is neglected in exchange for the grandeur of ceremony parading bishops and an Archbishop – preferring obedience to British authorities rather our own interests in independent Sri Lanka.

Faith Versus Ceremonial Grandeur of the Church

The British Church has been consistently holding up the biblical teaching that marriage is for life, between one man and one woman. That is divorcee-remarriage and homosexual marriage are disallowed.

Some Bishops in the UK, America and Canada, however, are themselves in homosexual unions. This has angered the rest of Anglicanism especially in Africa. Many of them refused to participate in the prestigious Lambeth Conference, where all bishops gather every ten years. Their anger was because Welby took no disciplinary action and many of these clergymen and their husbands (and clergywomen and their wives) were invited to Lambeth.

That boycott ensures that the next head of the Anglican Communion is likely to be an African. For, The Church of Nigeria that boycotted Lambeth is the largest Anglican province. Together with the Churches of Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, those representing a firm stand against homosexuality form the majority of Anglicans worldwide numbering 42 million members while the whole communion has only 80 million members spread over 38 Provinces. England has only some 825,000 Anglicans many of whom do not go to church on a Sunday unlike the Africans. With the next appointment of the Archbishop, the English tail may have to stop wagging the Anglican dog, unless the Prime Minister, whoever he is, breaks convention and refuses to accept either of the two nominees.

As a Church, the Church of Ceylon is committed to being guided by biblical principles which clearly are against homosexual relationships. Being western in orientation, our church elders have not alerted the congregants to the raging debates in the worldwide church on sexuality. Instead, they divert the discussion to the environment, poverty. and racism towards Estate Tamils, skirting around the racism against Ceylon Tamils inherent to opposing the 13th Amendment.

Obedience to British Government

International human rights instruments on the other hand, protect homosexual rights – and rightly so since we are not a theocracy and society has accepted aberrations from Biblical teachings such as England’s Defender of the Faith being married to a divorcee. From a British standpoint therefore, there are no grounds for condemning homosexuality while promoting divorcee-remarriage as between King Charles and Camilla his Consort.

So, it was that Penny Morduant, leader of the House of Commons, recently (16 Jan. 2023, Guardian) urged Church of England bishops to back same-sex marriage in critical talks this past week, saying the church’s current stance causes “pain and trauma” to LGBTQ+ people.

Says The Guardian, the choice before the Church was stark: “to change its stance, based on biblical teaching, to reflect the law of the land and the weight of public opinions.”

In response, according to Religious News Service (3 Feb. 2023), “After years of wrangling over how the church should deal with homosexuality, its bishops announced in mid-January that they would not agree to same-sex marriage but were prepared to bless civil unions. They followed with an apology for the way that LGBTQI+ people were treated by the Church of England.

With our Archbishop promising to bless homosexual unions and apologizing for unspecified bad treatment of homosexuals, would we follow as we do in all things from England? Surely, the Anglican communion is dead. The question for us in Sri Lanka is this: Are we truly independent? Will we follow our boss, the Archbishop? Or will we assert our faith independently of him? Are we truly free of racism to identify with African Anglicans in breaking off from our English masters and joining African leaders who reflect our faith?

The writer’s family traces its roots to Anglicanism in 1845, to the America Ceylon Mission in 1825 and to the Roman Catholic Church well before that.

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