Dr Ian Spry QC is a former Chairman of the Association for the Apostolic Ministry of the Anglican Church. He is presently the Editor of 'National Observer', a journal of current affairs.
All of the features that are seen in the decline of the Anglican Church of Australia appear to a pre-eminent degree in the newly-elected Primate, Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth.
The Anglican Church has in one sense been an historic anomaly, the product of differences between an English king and a Pope. Its survival has been contingent, and has been dependant on an adherence to the orthodox doctrines that it took over in its formation.
Regrettably, however, its structure - involving governance by synods which have often adopted unsound doctrine and almost invariably selected inferior bishops and archbishops - has led to its recent penetration by liberals whose vision is less religious than secular. So the ordination of women priests has occurred, largely in view of a lack of strength on the part of some bishops, who were cowed by feminists, and in view of disruptive activities by other bishops (of whom Spong, in the United States, is a notable example).
The membership - and indeed the credibility - of the Anglican Church has been diminishing rapidly. Most of its churches are almost empty, with the exception of the evangelical Sydney Diocese; its finances are generally disastrous, again with the exception of the Sydney Diocese, and in Melbourne valuable inner-city churches are being sold off to finance wasteful episcopal establishments.
In this context, the election as Primate of the extreme liberal, Peter Carnley, represents an almost suicidal gesture by an already moribund body. The Archbishop has continually supported extreme liberal and politically-correct causes. He was, for example, in the forefront of the radical elements that favoured the ordination of women, contrary to orthodox Anglican doctrine, and went so far as to ordain women in Perth without the approval of the General Synod.
Archbishop Carnley's election as Primate could hardly have been more controversial. Prior to his installation he was criticised by Archbishop Goodhew of Sydney on the basis that his "progressive" views on the Resurrection were "unhelpful and misleading." Many members of the Church considered those views contrary to the most essential Christian doctrines and had doubts whether Carnley really believes in the Resurrection.
It was doubtless inevitable that Carnley would move on the subject of homosexuality and that he would follow the lead of American Anglicans (the Episcopal Church) in advancing their interests.
In The Bulletin of 22 May 2001, he wrote in favour of homosexual relationships based on committed "friendship", and in many cases equated such relationships with marriage. He even went so far as to say of such homosexual relationships, "While some physical contact may be seen as innocuous, it may be felt that to specify limits of touch [i.e., sexual acts] would be as inappropriate for the relationship between couples of the same gender as within the heterosexual marriage."
The Archbishop claimed that there is nothing in the Bible or in the biblical tradition "explicitly directed towards homosexual persons in long-term committed relationships". (It may be seen that this is so only in so far as all homosexuality was disapproved biblically, without any need to distinguish between one form and another).
Carnley was also reported as having said less cautiously in favour of recreational homosexual sex, "Some physical expression of ... friendship could be countenanced within same-gender relationships as a degree of recreational sexual activity". He suggested that the Church should moreover "bless" same-sex relationships if publicly expressed through a covenant or a formal life-long commitment.
These remarkable statements have been the cause of further dismay. South Sydney Bishop Robert Forsyth restated orthodoxy, saying that "any suggestion that the Anglican Church should bless a sexual relationship that is not fully marriage of a man and a woman is not possible if we are to remain faithful to Lord Jesus Christ and the Scriptures"; and Canon Peter Jensen, the Principal of Moore Theological College, said that if Carnley "is suggesting this [blessing a committed homosexual union] is a good thing for us to do, he has gone beyond the border ... and left the biblical witness."
With Anglican church attendances falling drastically since the feminist-inspired ordinations of women priests, and a general lack of moral direction in that Church (except in the Sydney Diocese), white-anting from liberals within has produced a very serious threat to its viability. In this context Carnley's support of aberrational committed "faithful" relationships is further evidence of a moral decline and a preparedness to ignore biblical tradition.
The Archbishop's comments leave him very close to saying "anything goes", and that if a person maintains that he is "committed" or "faithful" the Church will "bless" any relationship. Of course, the subversion by Carnley of traditional Church moral teachings in this case can, if successful, be followed by further subversions of other teachings as they appear convenient from time to time. What is in fact relativism and a lack of moral belief may be concealed by tendentious "interpretations" of biblical authority that are intended merely as a pretext for permissive or immoral behaviour.
The unfortunate appointment of Carnley as Primate could not have come at a worse time for the Anglican Church. There is already a general suspicion that, save in the Sydney Diocese and some few outposts, the Anglican Church now stands for nothing and has no moral authority: merely a gathering for mutually-supporting social purposes.