The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, read the riot act to the warring factions in the Church of England last night, warning them that their squabbling was destroying the Church’s credibility.
“If people out there – the world beyond the Church – are only able to perceive ‘Church’ in terms of politics, controversy, party spirit, then what hope is there that the Gospel of reconciliation with which we have been entrusted is likely even to be heard, let alone taken seriously?”
“And if the Gospel . . . becomes mired in our divisions and our fallings-out, then we shall all stand condemned.”
Dr Hope, an Anglo-Catholic who has often expressed his exasperation at the proliferation of ecclesiastical meetings and committees, urged delegates to listen, both to God and to other people.
“The truth is that we have become altogether too busy and too noisy, too wordy and too chatty,” he said. “Does our worship really have to be wall-to-wall words and music? Do our prayer meetings and Bible studies have to be a series of monologues that the Lord will do this, that or the other thing?”
Complaining that even looking at the Congress’s packed agenda had left him exhausted, he continued: “We need to redress the imbalance between words and actions on the one hand and the lack of listening on the other.”
His hope for the conference was that “the flame of the divine compassion” would be rekindled among Church leaders. “But that cannot happen and it will not happen unless we make time to stop, to look, to listen to God.”
Dr Hope was speaking two days after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, faced a boycott by a group of conservative evangelicals when he opened the Congress. Although Dr Williams was warmly applauded by the 2,000-strong audience in the main hall at the Winter Gardens, a group of about 30 who were opposed to his being invited to the gathering, staged a simultaneous meeting in a nearby room.
A number in the increasingly influential evangelical wing are wary of him because of his liberal views, and they are waiting to see whether he will discipline the liberal American Episcopal Church over its appointment of Anglicanism’s first openly active homosexual bishop, Bishop-elect Gene Robinson.
Later, a leading conservative evangelical vicar and critic of Dr Williams, the Rev David Holloway, further inflamed passions by describing liberals who promoted a homosexual agenda as latter-day “Jezebels”, a reference to the Old Testament harlot.
Mr Holloway told a fringe meeting that “sexual activity outside marriage is sinful and homosexual practice is especially condemned. Modern Jezebels have to be disciplined.”
Tensions at the five-day Congress have been further intensified with the launch of Fulcrum, a group of “open” evangelicals who have distanced themselves from the hardline public stance of many of their fellows.
The timing of the move dismayed some at the conference who are connected to Anglican Mainstream, an organisation formed during the Jeffrey John furore and which has been outspoken in its criticism of homosexuality.