This is the second part of an ongoing series on the churches and pro-life issues. Part one, the United Church, appeared in the April issue.
On August 28, 1985, Dr. Lewis Garnsworthy, with the glare of media publicity around him, appeared before the Ontario Provincial Legislature Committee holding hearings on full funding for Catholic schools. He was accompanied by Dr. Clarke MacDonald, past Moderator of the United Church. They handed in a combined Brief protesting the completion of government support for separate schools.
Four months earlier both men had held a press conference, one week before the provincial election, at which Archbishop Garnsworthy caused a shock wave. “This is the way Hitler changed education in Germany …by decree,” he charged against former Premier William Davis. While Rev. MacDonald would not compare Davis to Hitler, he called the handling of the funding question “repulsive and repugnant” to the democratic process. This accusation of undemocratic behaviour found favour among press commentators.
One of them, Sunday Star columnist Tom Harpur, claimed that “it was not bigotry” but “concern and outrage over a lack of fair play” that motivated the prelate and later on, the voters. The record shows, Harpur said, that immediately after Davis’ funding announcement a year earlier he (Garnsworthy) “complained bitterly about the lack of consultation and said Ontario is in danger of establishing a state church!” This, Harpur said, is the nub of the matter, the root of the Archbishop’s frustration.
Harpur left out two other earlier objections to Catholic education philosophy, both of them repeated in August 1985. They are of interest to a survey on pro-child, pro-family matters because they show what was, and is, uppermost in the minds of these two religious leaders.
“As an Anglican,” the Archbishop had written on June 19, 1984, “I do not agree with Roman Catholic teaching on planned parenthood, nor the negative attitude the Roman Catholic Church has toward contraception. I do not agree with the Roman Catholic position on abortion, nor that the Roman Catholic Church is the sole arbiter of religious or moral truth.”
In the August 1985 Brief, the Archbishop fully supported by Rev. MacDonald, objected to the customary declaration to be signed (by a teacher) concerning Catholic principles. “What does this mean?” he asked. “I assume it means a teacher, who believes in birth control, or does not agree with the Roman Catholic position on abortion or divorce, is not acceptable to the system.” (italics mine)
The above shows how important pro-life issues have become among Christians. One can only note how the Prelate rejects and describes as “Roman Catholic,” moral values which, until a few decades ago, were the shared convictions of all Christians and almost of all society.
Dr. Garnsworthy’s other major complaint in June of 1984 had been that, while 150 years ago the Anglican Church dominated the educational scene with its religious and moral concepts, “it was only after a long battle that this was changed.” Approving the change, he added: “it would be quite tragic that, 150 years later, we are reproducing almost exactly the same kind of situation in a society that is becoming increasingly pluralistic.” One reporter summed up this criticism as saying, “non-religious schools are the wave of the future, because of our pluralistic society. Religious schools, in fact, are a thing of the past.”
The same theme reappears in the 1985 Brief where the Archbishop notes that we live “in a pluralistic, secular, technological society and in my view fostering old religious divisions in education will not solve that matter.”
Once more, similar criticism, including the objections to the so-called “Catholic” moral values and the presumed requirements of the pluralistic society, are repeated in the section of the Brief written by Rev. Clarke MacDonald. As he put it, what society needs is “to promote understanding … rather than accentuate dogmatic differences,” seek an education system “carried out in a non-dogmatic and non-proselytizing manner,” and “not to take us back into the divisive, narrow-minded interpretations of life and history…”
Why do I draw attention to this? Well, it seems that in the minds of Archbishop Garnsworthy and former Moderator MacDonald, notwithstanding some pleading for more religion in the public schools on the part of the Archbishop, pluralism means secularism. One week after their submission, another former United Church Moderator, Rev. Bruce McLeod, expressed the same point in a newspaper column entitled: “Our publicly-funded schools are no place to promote religion.”
This attitude has the same practical effect, even if it does not coincide in theory, as requests from such groups as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and CARAL, the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League, that Christian teaching be banned from all public schools. In fact, it is this attitude which has caused the public school to become thoroughly secularized in the first place. Today it encourages a sex-education programme diametrically opposed to traditional Christian principles.
I hasten to add that various briefs submitted to the Committee indicate that there are groups of Anglicans who disagree with their Toronto Archbishop. Yet, they seem a minority. In October 1985, the Synod of Anglicans in Ontario approved Dr. Garnsworthy’s stand whole-heartedly.
Last month’s article on the United Church also touched upon the Anglican attitude to “reproductive choice.” In Canada, I noted, “the feminists’ demand for ‘reproductive choice’ did not invade mainline Protestantism; rather it was embraced by it. This is clear from the 1966 House of Commons hearing on legalized contraceptives.” I added:
“Within one year of the briefs demanding the legalization of contraceptives, all three ‘mainline’ churches (United, Presbyterian, Anglican) had submitted briefs in favour of the legalization of abortion.”
The previous article illustrated the shift from one set of values to another and explained the nature of this shift as one adopting secular standards. Before proceeding further, we should examine some relevant points.
First, one may well ask: do articles such as these not emphasize divisions among pro-life people rather than heal them? Aren’t we washing our dirty laundry in public and aren’t we further discouraging people already overwhelmed by moral standards collapsing all around them?
There is only one answer: the virtue of charity itself demands truth. It is always difficult and painful to admit error, but the more profound the error, the greater the need to face and acknowledge it. This is true for an individual as well as an institution. Without that, progress or healing is impossible. When serious errors are sloughed off the cancer continues to fester.
Pro-lifers can’t close their eyes to what has been going on in the religious community. From this source they should have obtained their strongest support; sometimes they obtained it, but at other times they found division or hostility, even betrayal. The latter should be unmasked, the hostility eliminated, the divisions healed, and support restored and strengthened.
Well, one may ask, are the preceding and following g remarks perhaps just a pre-Vatican II, anti-United Church, anti-Anglican polemic? I would hope not. Surely one must be able to examine and analyze without being accused of hostility. Otherwise, what motives are we to ascribe to those United Church members and Anglicans who, both in the media and at synods, have objected – and objected strongly – to the accommodations with worldly principles within their own communities of faith?
Anglicans who reject abortion and other anti-family measures appear to be few in numbers. Instead of allowing them to founder, Pro-life should support them in their church, encourage them to face the issues in public, aim them in overcoming ignorance, assist them in reversing wrong policies. Ecumenism remains only a façade unless we help one another seek and find the truth, if necessary by shouting a little. Let us be wary of that civil religion of mistaken politeness which threatens to smother every religious principle, indeed truth itself, while we congratulate ourselves on being meek and mild.
This series will also cover accommodations with anti-life, anti-family thinking among Catholics. Their situation is theoretically different from that prevailing among the mainline Protestant-Anglican communities. However, in practice, certainly in Canada, it is also troublesome, especially with respect to aspects of ecumenism, schools of theology, feminism and anti-Vaticanism.
At this point it may be useful to make a final point relevant to the general overview. Often divergent ideas and positions among Christians are designated conservative and liberal, the former with a pejorative, the latter with an appreciative quality attached. Even aside from the debatable overtones, the terms do not belong in a religious context. They are appropriate enough to designate different attitudes in the political process – but unsuitable when speaking of Christian doctrine or morality. If “conservative” is used at all in a church context, its opposite should be “missionary,” representing the Biblical model of “shepherd” and “fisherman,” the one conserving, the other setting out to bring in a new harvest. But on question of revealed religion, the proper terms are not conservative and liberal, but orthodoxy and dissent. The latter, on grave matters, designates views incompatible with Christian teaching and the Christian life.
As noted before, dissent from age-old moral standards has been the result of an accommodation with secularism. But what is secularism? And how, by what methods, has it penetrated the Christian (and, other religious) communities?
In society at large, secularism is the ideology which opposes religious influences in public issues. Its principles are these: religious authority is outmoded; human reason has no need of Revelation; there is no unchanging truth; the human person is fully autonomous; utilitarianism is a sufficient motive for human action; and law is whatever the majority in society decides it is.
Within Christianity, secularism attempts to transfer the above principles to religion as best it can. Here it insists on the following: authority should be democratic, not sacramental; doctrine and creeds account for little; Sacred Scriptures are not sacred; religious truth is historically conditioned and relative; the individual conscience is self-sufficient; love is the only necessary principle; the Church is a society of people only; and Jesus is a nice man but not God.
How has secularism come to dominate United Church and Anglican bureaucracies and synods over the last 25 years? How has it influenced individual Christians in the street, Catholics as well as Protestants? The answer: by replacing theology, the science of God, with sociology, the science which has man for its chief object.
The Anglicans are ostensibly an international Church with 28 provinces; in reality, there are 28 autonomous Anglican Churches, whose members may consult with one another but who have no obligation to adhere to the same policies or beliefs. Thus in the 40’s the Hong Kong Church ordained a woman as minister without reference to the others; similarly, earlier this year, the American Anglicans (called Episcopalians) announced their intent to install a woman as bishop within a year or two, at a time when Anglicans in Britain have not yet agreed that the ordination of women is compatible with Christian theology. Such autonomy, then, indicates the ability of the local “church” to do as it sees fit. From a different perspective it marks the absence of unity and authority and confirmation of the view that in these circumstances the concept of “Church” has primarily become sociological. People get together and “create” a “Church.”
This autonomous character explains why Canadian Anglicans in the 60’s could seriously consider a merger with a strictly local Protestant community, the United Church. In theory, of course, the latter is very different from the Anglican Church with its “Catholic” superstructure of bishops and archbishops. Indeed, there are Anglicans who claim their Church to be a branch of the Catholic Church – together with “Roman” Catholics and the Orthodox – something which no United Church pastor would dream of claiming.
In practice the two faith communities may not be far apart at all. Certainly, in the 60’s and 70’s. Canadian Anglican and United Church thinking and decision-making bore a close resemblance. With regard to the 1966 hearings on the legalization of contraceptives, for example, I observed “like-minded people emphasize similar views.” As explained there, the reasons given for legalization were basically three: the law is being broken anyway; the world is threatened with overpopulation; and there are too many battered children because there is too much poverty. What are these three arguments but sociological in nature.
As for the theology of the argument, that is, whether or not artificial contraceptives are, or are not, in conformity with the will of God, it was never so much as mentioned by these Church delegations even though that debate was very prominent at the time.
Further similarities to the United Church position are found in the Anglican stand on abortion. One difference is that there seem to be more Anglicans who object to their Church’s stand than United Church members vis-à-vis the position of their church. Another difference is – as readers of The Interim know from letters to the editor in previous issues – that some Anglicans insist that their position is much more restrictive than that of the United Church and that, for example, the stand of their national monthly, the Canadian Churchman, in favour of abortion on demand, is not representative of the wider community.
In the March 1986 issue The Interim printed the documents relevant to the Anglican position. Two points stand out: little has changed since 1967; and the 1967 position is still as contradictory today as it was then. Parties can use whatever set of phrases they desire.
This, it seems to me, is still the case today. In 1979 Phyllis Creighton, who researched and edited the 1967 Anglican Brief on abortion, responded to my article in the Chelsea Journal entitled The Worst Law Ever (Nov. Dec. 1979), via the media officer of the Anglican Church. She charged that I had distorted the Church’s stand. She thought that my passing observation regarding the use of sociology rather than theology meant that I had not read the documents, or that I was unaware that its authors included clergymen, theologians, no less. Thus she thought that all that was needed to correct my views was to quote the section of the 1967 Brief, which speaks about “the sacredness of human life” and pointing out that in 1967 the Anglican Church “defended as a first principle the right of the foetus to live.”
But, these statements only represent half the 1967 presentation. As I wrote in 1974, (Morality and Law in Canadian Politics), the House of Commons Committee hearing with the Anglicans was spent in an attempt to discover the exact meaning of the Church’s brief and position. The brief noted the Church’s responsibility both to uphold and to interpret the long-standing Christian tradition in opposition to abortion.”
I then go on to say:
“But the authors claimed change was needed in view of the ‘impact of medical science,’ ‘an increase in biological knowledge’ and the ‘recognition of the place of women’. Is this not sociology rather than theology?
The book also observes that:
“… Their dilemma was summed up by clause 11 of the brief which rejected as ‘indefensible positions’ both abortion on demand and the absolute prohibition of all abortion.”
And again I note:
“The difficulty came with the description of the actual changes the delegation proposed: Clause 9 of the brief stated that ‘abortion should not be used to solve those social problems which should be dealt with by social and economic measures…’ Clause 10 asserted ‘the general inviolability of the foetus.’ Clause 12 requested that due consideration be given to the sacredness of human life.
“But Clause 13 recommended that termination of pregnancy be permissible whenever life or health was threatened, with health understood, the brief pointed out, ‘in the broadest sense,’ including the ‘relationship of the expectant mother to her total environment and her ability to cope with the problems within it.” Participants in the hearing indicated this definition as the key line in the brief.” In other words, Clause 13 adopted what Clause 9 had said should not be done.
Is it possible to reconcile the assertion of “general inviolability” in Clause 10 with the recommendations of Clause 13? The answer is NO. How so we know the answer is No? If nothing else, the number of abortions today ought to convince us of its impossibility. But the facts of today, including the knowledge that these abortions are done for socio-economic reasons, only confirm what philosophy and theology had stated at the time.
Theology tells us that every human being has an immortal soul given by God at the time of conception. This is what makes human life sacred. This is the theological ground which cannot be denied by utilitarianism except on pain of undermining the whole of the Christian faith. But instead of speaking or discussing the nature of unborn human life, the Task Force avoided these issues by employing phrases such as “termination of pregnancy,” putting the emphasis on the presumed (sociological) needs of the mother rather than on the rights of the unborn baby.
The Anglican and United Church Task Forces specifically claim to speak as Christian bodies. But, I repeat, their argumentation has very little to do with Christian theology.
Death and dying
The very same issue came to the fore in 1977 when both churches discussed reports on death and dying. The Anglican report, prepared by its “Task Force on Human Life” caused headlines across the country such as “Severely retarded babies should be killed, Anglican report suggested.”
There followed the usual set of denials as well as recognition of the Report’s honourable intentions and difficult subject (dealing with the many problems caused by technology and the medical ability to keep people alive, problems with which many people are now somewhat familiar).
Still, good intentions are no guarantee of correct theological views. As I noted in 1977, the Report went much further and touched much more basic issues than its defenders would allow. It devoted all of the second chapter to an exploration of “what if means to be human.” It was a direct consequence of this reasoning – a reasoning which had nothing to say about the spiritual side of the human person or soul, but only about physiological functioning – that the authors concluded in the next chapter that “newborn babies with gross neurological defects” were not human.
Let me repeat: “the Report did not discuss when or for how long to keep them alive. It denied that they were human …It denied that they were human on the grounds that their lives had “no meaning” and “meaning” in turn, was described in the language of the utilitarians, as the ‘ability to contribute’ to the lives of those associated with them. While the Report stated this openly with respect to certain babies at the beginning of life, it clearly implied this also with respect to the terminally ill, that is, those who will live no more “than three months or at the most six months.” Thus the Report laid the basis for a justification of suicide and ‘mercy’-killing at the end of life as well.
Again I stick to my original assertion, namely that if the Anglican Task Force had viewed these matters from a theological point of view, taking into account in particular what orthodox Christian theology teaches about the creation and immortality of the soul. It would not even entertain the thought of submitting such a Report.
Unfortunately, neither the furor in the press, nor the opposition of Anglican critics at the Winnipeg Synod, nor the rebuff by the Synod itself which ordered the report returned for further study, did much good. Archbishop Edward Scott whose thinking apparently was reflected in the Report, did not ask a new group of people to rewrite it, but had it returned to the same Committee. They reintroduced it without much change two years later in Calgary, where it was accepted.
On other issues Anglicans have taken views similar to those of the United Church.
In 1979 the Anglican bishops recommended ordination of admitted homosexuals, after they first promised “to abstain from sexual acts with persons from the same sex.” Explained Archbishop Edward Scott: “The bishops, who have been engaged in a deep and intensive study … since 1976, came to their decision because homosexuality is a reality in society.” Once more, this is sociology, not theology. The letter reflects upon the human situation from within the perspective and principles of the Christian faith.
Only two years earlier, in 1977, the Episcopal House of Bishops in the United States – in order to unify the Church after the controversial ordination of a professed lesbian woman earlier in the year – had ruled that homosexuals should neither be ordained nor married in the Church. However, the Canadian decision garnered the support of the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury F.D. Coggan. Did it stop with this decision?
In the fall of 1979, the parent Church of England published a four-year study which recommended lifting the ban against homosexual clergymen, adding that it could not condemn all homosexual acts. Stated the Report: the Church should recognize it can be justified for individuals “to enter into a homosexual relationship involving the physical expression of free love.” The following year, 1980, the British Council of Churches issued a statement explaining that “we ourselves find it impossible to reckon homosexuality as a vice or even as a disorder of nature.”
The topic re-appeared in the February 1981 General synod of the Church of England when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, refused to consider homosexuality a moral disorder. Making light of the opposing views, he expressed the hope that the Report would be used to combat “the silly insinuations and innuendoes, the casual contempt and unthinking mockery of homosexuality which so often passes for discussion of the subject even, alas, in church circles.” He preferred to see homosexuality as a handicap.
Two clergy members of the synod – both professed homosexuals – requested that the debate cease on the grounds that the problem lay not with homosexuals but with the homophobia – the dislike and the distaste – exhibited by heterosexuals. Thereupon the synod voted to move to new business.
In Canada, in November 1985, the national executive council announced another study guide on sex behaviour. It let it be known right away that the report would be “controversial.” Assuming, as always, that controversy is a good thing, Archbishop Scott thought that the guide could be used by people “to explore and understand more deeply.” Among the contributors is Phyllis Creighton (researched Anglican abortion brief), this time defending homosexuality.
In April 1971, a commission of the Church of England unanimously proposed that divorced persons be allowed to remarry in church. This report had been preceded, of course, by changing Anglican attitudes towards civil divorce. By 1971 civil divorce was generally accepted by Church authorities. Many others, meanwhile, were prepared to accept extra-marital and pre-marital relations as well. In October 1966 the British Council of Churches, for example, with the Anglican Church as the main participants, published a book which condoned sexual intercourse outside of marriage – or at least refused to condemn it. It also approved contraceptives for the unwed. However, re-marriage of the divorced in church would mean a further sharp change from a tradition which had vigorously rejected it until then.
Ten years later, in 1981, the issue was still debated, though by that time, as Anglican Bishop Mervyn Stockwood pointed out in The (London) Times of February 13, 1981, the discussion had become purely theoretical. What had happened?
In England, the Anglican church (known as the Church of England) is the officially “recognized” and “established” Church. Ministers are also agents of the state, so to speak. Consequently, the Church cannot adopt regulations contrary to the law of the land. But when the country adopted new and wider grounds for divorce in the mid-sixties, divorce and re-marriage escalated rapidly, just as they did here in Canada after the law was amended in 1967.
In England it is up to the individual Anglican minister to decide whether or not to exercise his legal right to perform weddings, solely in his capacity as an agent of the state (as distinct from his Churchly ministerial duties). He is supposed to consult his bishop if he does. But even if he were to consult his bishop, the latter cannot insist legally that he not exercise this right.
Bishop Stockwood himself declared that from his point of view – as one who had remarried divorced people himself – it would be nice if the General Synod were to accept civil divorce and re-marriage in Church without further ado. However, he said, it really didn’t matter because several of the sister churches in the Anglican communion now permitted these re-marriages, and how could the mother church not go along except by pretending to a special revelation on moral issues?
Logical as Bishop Stockwood may have been, the Church of England Synod decided first to go one step forward and then two backwards. At its February 1983 synod it deferred the central question – whether re-marriage of divorced people should be allowed – to the summer synod. But then it adopted another resolution whereby divorce and re-marriage were declared to be no longer a barrier to ordination or to appointments as vicar or rector of a parish.
Church re-marriage for the divorced, finally, was approved formally in the summer of 1983 by what The Times described as “a reluctant and divided synod.” The Provost of Southwark, who had favoured the change all along, was himself re-married in his own Cathedral in 1984. The move also had the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Runcie, who, on his return from his Canadian tour in September 1985, blessed his son’s marriage to a divorcee in Canterbury Cathedral.
Just how acceptable the new “theology” of re-marriage had become in Canada, which was one of the “sister churches” which went ahead on her own, is best illustrated by the marriage of two CBC luminaries, Lorraine Thompson and Knowlton Nash, in the chapel of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Toronto, in April 1982. Both were divorced, with Mr. Nash getting married for the fourth time.
Today a number of Anglican and United Church ministers have become veritable marriage offices. They will marry or re-marry anyone, at any time, without questions asked, church membership being the least of their worries. Needless to say, the whole enterprise ridicules the religious concept of marriage.
Finally, one more brief example to help clarify what is happening. In July 1984, the Anglican Archbishop of Vancouver, Douglas Hambridge, permitted his cathedral to be used “as a sanctuary of the oppressed” for three days. Who were these “oppressed”? Fifteen prostitutes protesting “police harassment” after a court injunction banned them from Vancouver’s West End. When church members angrily complained, the diocesan communications’ officer commented, “so far God hasn’t phoned yet.”
The ruling thought which underlies the above developments is clear: a mistaken compassion has set the Anglican Church adrift to the point of threatening it with shipwreck. Cultivating one virtue, compassion, at the expense of all others, it has forgotten that the protection of a religious heritage requires more than giving, conceding and accommodating itself to the cry of the moment. The process must be stopped; the practices must be reversed; theology must be restored. Whatever pro-lifers can do to help bring this about will be efforts well spent.
To be continued…