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6 bishops visit the Archbishop of Canterbury

6 bishops visit the Archbishop of Canterbury

The Rt Rev. Michael Smith, Bishop of the Diocese of North Dakota writes to the Communion Partners regarding the visit of 6 bishops to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He references the ABC’s Mexico sermon

August 26, 2013

Dear Communion Partner Sisters and Brothers:

The Archbishop of Canterbury preached recently in Monterey, Mexico:

“It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church. We struggle with each other at a time when the Anglican Communion’s great vocation as bridge builder is more needed than ever.”

It is our vocation as Communion Partners to navigate this narrow path between two dangerous extremes as we pursue the mission of the Church “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” To that end, six Communion Partner bishops (Greg Brewer, Paul Lambert, Ed Little, Dan Martins, Ed Salmon and Michael Smith) made a visit to Archbishop Justin Welby at his residence in Canterbury, England last week.

There we prayed together and discussed a range of issues concerning the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church. Also present was the Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, Canon David Porter. We believe the opportunity to build relationships and discuss the ministry of reconciliation we share will bear fruit in this season of our common life. We are encouraged by our experience of the Archbishop as a man of faith and prayer, committed to the re- evangelization of increasingly secularized Western cultures. Please keep Archbishop Justin in your prayers and remember us before God “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Yours in Christ,

+Michael G. Smith

Bishop of North Dakota

Chair, Communion Partner Bishops’ Advisory Committee


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That last sentence was really unclear. I mean that those who set out to refute the Church’s teaching often write as if the Church taught what’s presented in Chick Tracts. For example, the book I mentioned has several passages given over to “proving” that there is no such thing as Original Sin by asserting that since there was no actual Adam and Eve and no physical Garden, there is no Original Sin. As if the Church taught that doctrine because of a lliteral reading of Genesis.

Bill Dilworth


“Moreover, this is undergirded by recourse to the most immature conceptions of heaven and hell I’ve ever seen. ”

I think you’ve hit a major nail on the head. For some reason, Episcopal clergy who deny the Church’s historical teaching often attack a single version of a doctrine and, having defeated it, act as if they have vanquished the doctrine in its entirety. For example, the author book I referenced attacks the Penal Substitutionary theory of the Atonement as a cruel, bloody, abusive thing. The God who would demand that sort of sacrifice would be evil – and therefore we can dump the whole notion of Christ’s Passion as redemptive in the dustbin of ecclesiastical history. Leaving aside the fact that the theory as he explains it is flawed because its Jesus is simply a human rather than also God Incarnate, PSA does not exhaust the possible meanings of the Atonement. Spong often does much the same thing, knocking over a theological straw man and declaring victory. (For the record, I have not read George Clifford’s writings and am taking Adam’s word for their content).

I don’t know why these members of the clergy do this. The possible explanations – that they are too stupid or ill-educated as to know that disproving, say, the existence of a place underneath the surace of the Earth where dead sinners roast in eternal but physical flames isn’t the same as disproving the existence of Hell, or so dishonest that they are setting up these straw men on purpose – seem untenable. I don’t know why they do it – but it seems to be a common thread in their work to treat the Jack Chick version of Christianity as if it were the only genuine one.

Bill Dilworth


For me, inquiring into clerical beliefs mostly pertains to the clergy’s teaching function. Those who would be taught deserve to know what the teacher thinks/believes about the subject matter. I’m a high school language teacher, and although most of my profession isn’t concerned with belief, some of it is. A student (or their parent) would be within their rights to know if I believed that grammar is prescriptive, or descriptive. Who do i believe is the real final arbiter of what Spanish is – the Royal Spanish Academy and the other national Academies, or Juan Q. Público? What do I believe about the cultures and ethnicities of the people who speak the languages I teach – do I think that they are just as valid as my own? Do i really think every student can learn? All of these things affect my teaching, and my position on any one of them might be unacceptable to someone.

Similarly. It seems obvious to me that what a priest believes is important for somebody who wants to know what the Church teaches. Asking about a clergyperson’s own beliefs helps me to assess what they are teaching me, including their pastoral advice. It might even be the deciding factor as to whether I want a teaching or pastoral relationship with that cleric at all. Besides the obvious question as to whether what a priest presents as Christianity is really what the Church as a whole adheres to or their own version, there are issues of the morality based on that faith; for example, I would not willingly take spiritual or moral advice from a Gnostic, for fear that their beliefs might result in dangerous, body-negative advice.

Bill Dilworth

Adam Wood

To put it another way…

I’ve been reading GC’s blog archives, particularly his posts about life after death.

He contends that it is NOT necessary for an afterlife (of any sort) to exist for him to be a Christian and live a good and moral life following the teachings of Christ.

I agree with this.

I have no idea about the afterlife. For a long time I was pretty much a universalist (everyone saved), and I lean that way now.

The most I can say about the afterlife is that I really, truly don’t know.

What I suspect is the case is that the stories that Holy Spirit has inspired us to tell about the afterlife are essentially metaphorical.

Where I become deeply bothered by GC’s claims are the (it seems) complete certainty that there is, in fact, NO heaven and hell. Moreover, this is undergirded by recourse to the most immature conceptions of heaven and hell I’ve ever seen. Right, okay- I don’t believe in Baptist heaven and Baptist hell either.

But that’s not the only conception of “afterlife” which makes sense. You don’t have to have a medieval understanding of “soul” (like it’s some “thing”) or an Egyptian understanding of body in order to believe in a physical resurrection. GC’s claim that “science” disproves the resurrection of the body is… baffling. (GC: It’s the pattern of the molecules that make something what it is, not the specific molecules.)

But alternate interpretation of orthodoxy and faith seems off-limits, because the starting point is that traditional orthodoxy must be wrong. And people who believe that Jesus really did die and then really did walk out of the tomb are silly, backwards bumpkins who haven’t been fully educated.

Adam Wood

Clearly we’re talking past each other.

>> What is it to you if other people in this church don’t share your certainty?

No. That’s not what I said.

I take issue with precisely the CERTAINTY of modern rationalism.

>>If you are fine with a wide range of theological beliefs then why would you want theological tests for orthodoxy?

I also said exactly the opposite of that.

>>I will tell you again that you and all of us are welcome in an inclusive church.

Also why I am here.

I grew up Roman Catholic, but I have a deeply-rooted theological issue with the notion that women are ontologically unfit for ordination. It betrays a vastly incomplete and broken Christology.

But I was never instilled with anything like a sense of fundamentalism growing up. I remember attending classes (with my mother) on “Demythologizing Scripture.” In elementary school.

Your assumptions about my personal narrative are way off.

I’m not offended by unbelief, though I do find it hypocritical among practicing clergy. I think we can learn a lot from honest atheism- I’m a big fan of people like Penn Jillete and Tim Minchin.

But, again- for all the lip-service paid to liberality and openness and questioning: I find that that the “religious but not spiritual” materialism of (just for example) George Clifford to have replaced one form of fundamentalism with another.

To say that something CAN’T be supernatural is just as limiting as saying it MUST BE.

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