Bishop Jay Behan’s ACL Dinner Address

On 19 October 2019, Jay Behan was consecrated Bishop of CCAANZ in Christchurch, New Zealand. ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach and Chairman of GAFCON Primates Council presided, former Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen preached, and various others, such as Dean Kanishka Raffel of Sydney were involved in this important occasion. One month earlier, the then Rev Behan addressed the Anglican Church League Sydney Dinner, published here with permission of the ACL and Bishop Behan.

It is a real privilege to be invited to speak tonight at the ACL Dinner, so I’d like to thank Andrew Bruce and the ACL for the invitation. Not least because it allows me to personally thank the Diocese of Sydney for the incredible hand of friendship and fellowship you’ve extended to us in New Zealand for a long time but especially recently. In the midst of a General Synod decision that has left many Anglicans in NZ confused, distraught and isolated, the encouragement and support we’ve received from here has been humbling and a great blessing. I have been asked to speak about the situation in NZ and what I’ll do is give a very brief overview of what’s happened, then offer some reflections or thoughts that have been important to us, and outline how we’re still learning to respond in this difficult situation.

Last year at our General Synod, Motion 7 was passed. This motion allowed canonically the blessing of same-sex marriages and civil unions. It also allowed, by silence, the future ordination of those in such a relationship since it was deemed to be a relationship blessed by God. The doctrine of marriage remained technically untouched (although it is hard to argue we’ve not at least diminished or confused the doctrine as we bless marriages unknown to our formularies). There was no compulsion for clergy to bless same-sex marriages, and none of these marriages were to be blessed without episcopal consent. However, it’s sparked a crisis for Anglicans within our province. There was confusion, hurt, feelings of betrayal, anger, sadness. Through the process of wrestling with what to do, and how to respond, the Church of Confessing Anglicans in Aotearoa and New Zealand (CCAANZ) came into being.

Four key issues have come out of this, and the first is that the principle is clear, but how we respond is cloudy.

As we know, the main principle at play in this debate is not primarily human sexuality, as important and personal as that is. The main principle is the authority of the Bible. Are the Scriptures our authority in all matters of faith and conduct or do they compete with culture, public opinion or personal preference? Because the Scriptures are clear. There’s very little ambiguity or room for debate over it, not if you examine the Bible honestly. We had a diocesan presentation on human sexuality in Christchurch a couple of years ago which demonstrated this. The presenter outlined what he called the Progressive position and Traditional position. Six PowerPoint slides were used to teach the Progressive position but only one slide to teach the Traditional. Afterwards, some evangelicals were outraged saying it wasn’t balanced, more time and effort went into putting forward the Progressive position. But I was relaxed. The discrepancy occurred because, in essence, the one slide on the Traditional position said, the Bible means what it says. The Progressive slides had so many caveats and qualifications that it needed six slides. The principle on these issues is clear. How we respond in the current crisis, however, is cloudy. It’s not at all straightforward. How do you know when a line has been crossed? How do you know what the right reaction to a line being crossed is? Do you countenance separation or not, if so, when, how? We must respond, not by just sticking our heads in the sand and abdicating the responsibilities we have to God’s flock. So, how? The Scriptures help but don’t give definitive answers to these exact questions. We know how seriously Jesus took the unity of believers. He prayed it for us the night before his death. To separate or divide is no small thing and if we ever treat it lightly or can’t wait for it, shame on us. But the Bible also tells us there are times when continuing to be in fellowship with those who are in unrepentant sin or causing division can also be wrong. Which takes precedence, when? This is hard to work out! Our consciences respond differently. One minister can sign, another cannot. Some ministers felt they could remain if they can still preach and practice the truth, other ministers felt they cannot stay if the structure now allows false teaching and another gospel. I hope my next three points will help on how to respond, but it’s cloudy!

The principle is clear and we must therefore be inflexible on it. We do ourselves and the people we’re called to love and serve no favours when we ignore it, or attempt to make it more palatable, or give the impression it’s complicated or more nuanced than it is… no, it’s clear. Sin needs to be called for what it is, warnings need to be given if they are required, and that is loving. But the response can be cloudy. Therefore, we must have a level of flexibility on our responses and how we view the responses of others. So, the principle is clear (inflexibility) but how we respond is cloudy (flexible). Must be careful not to do the opposite.

This brings us me to the second issue: recalibration or realignment means that maintaining relationships is crucial. In the Anglican provinces that have made unbiblical decisions promoting a false gospel, lay-people, clergy, churches and dioceses have had to work out how to respond. And so, in North America, in Scotland, and Brazil, and now New Zealand, as the national church has made decisions there has been schism, a forming of new structures. And that strains relationships. It’s happened in New Zealand when orthodox Christians who believe the same on the issue respond in different ways. Blame, pain, anger, frustration come all too quickly and we become in danger of falling out with the very people we should be in fellowship with. So now, in NZ you have orthodox, Jesus loving, Bible believing Christians in the ACANZP structure and in the new extra provincial diocese we’ve just created (CCA). That brings relational difficulties. For us it’s been painful and difficult. Those who’ve remained feel like we’ve abandoned them, left them weaker, caused division: how could you do that just when we need you? And then we who’ve left can be just as bad as we act and speak judgmentally with moral superiority: how could you remain part of a compromised church? People have made difficult, costly, principled decisions on both sides and they feel strongly they’ve done the right thing (principled), so a very flammable situation. I have a younger brother who was ordained earlier this year in ACANZP, and he has remained in. My brother loves the Lord, is faithful and is totally orthodox on this issue but he’s responded differently. At his ordination service there was a split amongst those from CCA who felt they could go and support his ACANZP ordination (taken by the bishop of Christchurch who has permitted the blessing of same-sex marriages) and those who couldn’t. But remember the principle is clear, but the way we respond is cloudy. We’re going to have to bear with one another as people work out their responses… and conscience and circumstances play a huge part. We must exercise patience and respect. And things are still shifting. North America has changed hugely since 2002 and the decision of the Diocese of New Westminster to authorize the blessing of same-sex marriages; it’s changing in Australia, and it will keep changing in NZ. Continued change means responses will continue to change and if our relationships are in tatters now it’ll be hard to reconcile later. In this ever-changing context, recalibration and realignment will continue. This means we must work hard on our relationships, because we need each other and the witness to Jesus will be greater. If we’ve fallen out with our orthodox brethren because we’ve responded differently at different times, we will be the weaker for it. I think this period of recalibration is going to last a while. During it we must make an extra effort with the faithful who respond differently, by not adding fuel to the fire, not looking down on others, forgiving quickly when we’ve been slighted, carving out time for fellowship. So, the principle is clear, the response is cloudy and recalibration means maintaining relationships is crucial.

Thirdly, beware the danger of selfishness and comfort. These have been the two biggest impediments for us as we’ve made responses. Selfishness, meaning we think if we are okay, it’s okay. Comfort, meaning we allow our comforts to adversely affect our decisions. One of the big selling points of Motion 7 when it passed at General Synod was that it allows all of us to hold our position, to teach our position, and to practice our position. I was taken aside before the vote and told that I don’t need to worry about what others are doing, for you can hold, teach and practice your integrity. Do you see the problem with the second half of that sentence? That’s a scarily similar sentiment to one found in the Old Testament when Cain with breathtaking arrogance said to God, Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes! We’re not to just worry about what we can live with, what we’re doing, what our consciences can cope with. We’re to care for others, their situation, supposed to look out for their consciences. We’re supposed to hold each other to account, supposed to love others enough to care what they do and teach. In other words, what happens in Wangaratta and what happens in Scotland concerns you. But the selfishness in Motion 7 is also very possible to be in us as we make our responses to it. The danger is that we make decisions that suit us, and that we only work with the people who are closest to us and we do things that benefit us. One of the principles I speak about a lot that guided us in our decision-making process was “not just us, not just now”. This was important so we were not just making decisions for us or that worked only in the present. Our decisions were guided by what others need and by what will last. Remaining Anglican was, in part, not because it is the only way, but because of the proven capacity to last over 500 years regardless of personalities. That’s meant for us as a Diocese being broader in theology and practice on secondary issues than is the preference of some of us. That’s tricky to navigate and has a whole host of related issues with it. We want to hold the line on biblical authority, but we must avoid selfishness. And comfort also plays a part. I’ve had to lose very little in my life of following Jesus, embarrassingly little when I look at our brothers and sisters who live in fear for their own lives and loved ones. Yet I still baulk at the thought of walking away from the comfort of buildings or pensions or a good reputation with outsiders. And these things can unduly affect our responses—they can trip us up. The danger with selfishness and comfort is we drift into them, without even realizing, passively. So, we must beware and be alert to the dangers of selfishness and comfort in our responses.

Which brings us lastly to Jesus first, trust him. It sounds clichéd and redundant, but it’s the most important and it brings everything else I’ve mentioned and all I haven’t mentioned into the right perspective. In this context we have problems of selfishness affecting our responses, problems of getting obsessed in denominational infighting, problems of despair and bitterness, problems of losing heart at the rising secularism around us and the capitulation of the church. All of them find their solution when we remember Jesus, who he is and what he has done. It is hard to be selfish when you follow the one who came to serve and give his life as a ransom. It is hard to become obsessed with structural arguments when you know that God so loved the world He gave His Son, so our core business is preaching Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him. It is hard to lose heart when we follow the one who builds His church. And it is hard to not be thankful when you know the privilege and joy of knowing Jesus as saviour and Lord. So, keep Jesus first, trust him. The Diocese of Sydney will have a huge role to play in the coming days. I am very thankful to you for your faithfulness over so many years and the inspiration and example it is to so many of us. You will need to continue to be clear on the principle moving forward but you will also have to exhibit patience and forbearance, because within the diocese you have different opinions on how to respond, and because others within the Australian province respond differently. And as the context continues to change, as Wangaratta is joined by others, as other lines are rubbed out or moved or drawn more vividly, this ongoing recalibration will mean that fellowship will need to be more intentionally developed and maintained. And that will be a blessing to all and a great witness to the Lord. And you too will need to beware the dangers of selfishness and comfort. Remember your privilege and responsibility is not just to make decisions and take actions that will suit yourselves but serve others. We in NZ have been blessed by you already in this way; please continue to do it for others. And that will be enabled and strengthened as you continue to put Jesus first. Once again thanks for the privilege of sharing with you tonight.

ACR Journal: This article was originally published in the ACR’s Journal for Summer 2019.