The Most Rev’d Nicholas Okoh is the Archbishop of Abuja Province and Primate of the Church of Nigeria in the Anglican Communion. A glance at his biography establishes his fraught journey into faith, his manifest learning and expertise. He was the son of poor peasant farmers, became a business entrepreneur, had a conversion experience, was steeped in Scripture, became an evangelist, catechist, scholar, deacon, priest, chaplain, bishop, archbishop; rose to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the Nigerian Army, and is now Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council.
In an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury inter alia, he politely explains that he will not be attending October’s gathering of Anglican Primates owing to “broken fellowship, over homosexual practice, same sex marriage and the blurring of gender identity”. He is of the view that The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA is in error on these matters, and previous assurances supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury relating to discipline are not being honoured.
The Rev’d Nick Jones is the Rector of Acton. A glance at his Twitter biography establishes that he is a “Mental Health champion; advocate for a Progressive Christianity; Restorative Justice specialist”. His response to the Archbishop of Nigeria was tersely monosyllabic: “Twat”.
Twat: vulgar slang 1. A woman’s genitals; 2. A person regarded as stupid or obnoxious.
So, as far as the Rev’d Nick Jones is concerned, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh is somewhere between a cretin and another ‘c’ word, which isn’t very charitable or civil, is it?
The attitude is redolent of that expressed by the Rev’d Andrew Foreshew-Cain, following the measured response of Anglican Mainstream to the Joint Statement issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts:
‘And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you…‘ (1Cor 12:21), unless, of course, the eye is liberal and ‘progressive’ and the hand is conservative and ‘bigoted’. No doubt proponents of same-sex marriage would insist that conservatives ‘abuse’ them by denying them equality (ie ‘equal marriage’), but it would be interesting to hear if any conservative Christians have hurled ‘Twat’ at any liberals, or told them to leave the Church so the faithful remnant can get on with being more righteous and holier than thou.
What happened to ‘Good Disagreement’? Honestly, whenever did a humble parish priest get to call an archbishop a ‘twat’? O, sure, such exasperating thoughts are certainly expressed in private (and, it seems, rather more robustly expressed), but the public abuse of Christians by other Christians isn’t exactly great for mission, is it?
And here we must distinguish between robust, rational, thoughtful, intelligent debate, and ad hominem abuse: the former is manifestly not the latter, though the pervasive media narrative has turned mere questioning into a ‘phobia’, and to be a ‘phobe’ is to be bigoted. To call someone a ‘twat’ is abusive. To tell millions of Christians to leave the Church of England is abusive. To reason about sexual ethics and moral orthodoxy is iron sharpening iron (Prov 27:17). It is what mature Christians do: they walk with one another, and talk to one another. They don’t have to agree about every matter because we are all blinded by doubts and lost in bewildering mazes. But if we love one another, there is no place for ‘Twat’ or ‘FFS. When are they leaving?’, because our feelings, intuition and experience are subsumed to the command of Christ to love one another.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me (Rom 15:1-3).
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? (1Cor 3:1ff).
If there is neither male nor female in Christ (Gal 3:28), there is no ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Christian: there are only Christians, for we are all one in Christ. What we believe about Christ of course has consequences upon church life and Christian living, but we who believe in Christ do not cease belonging to the Church just because someone doesn’t agree with us. If some are not on the same wavelength as others, the exhortation is to ‘bear the infirmities of the weak‘, not tweet longingly for the day when the pathetic weak depart forever so the strong don’t have to carry them any longer.
Faith in the gospel brings spiritual unity: wherever the gospel ceases to be believed, unity ceases to exist. Those who say ‘I am of progressive Paul’ and ‘I am of conservative Apollos’ are being carnal.
Carnal: Gr sarkikos, 1. pertaining to or characterised by the flesh or the body, its passions and appetites; 2. not spiritual; merely human; temporal; worldly.
Conflict between Christians is, of course, nothing new: divergent doctrines, mutually-exclusive ecclesiologies and competing attitudes have been disastrous for Church unity as each faction is more persuaded than the last they are in possession of the Truth. Is creative tension preferable to schism? When does creative tension become the accommodation of heresy? If there is no place for conservative Christians in the Church of England, what does that church become? What does Anglican identity become? What does the Worldwide Anglican Communion become? Who made liberal clergy pope?
John Stott once observed: “Evangelicals have dared to maintain that they are the Church of England in its purest form” (in A Global Ministry, p219), but he never noted any of them saying: ‘FFS. When are the liberals leaving?’ The problem comes when you talk about Christian faith and Evangelical faith as being one and the same thing; and of gospel unity as being the only unity. For if the Evangelical faith is nothing other than the historic Christian faith, as Stott averred (ibid. p15), then what are those who eschew Evangelicalism? What is real Anglicanism? What is the limit of the toleration of difference? What does it mean to be one in Christ?
Wouldn’t such discussions be preferable to ‘Twat’ and ‘FFS. When are they leaving?’?