Gregory Venables, presiding bishop of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, spoke to a convocation of our diocesan convention today.
I had a previous commitment and could not be there. But I've interviewed several people who were there, and a couple have given me their notes and gone over them with me. Here's their take on what happened.
Bishop Jack Iker opened by emphasizing that Archbishop [That's what they call him, although their canons call him "presiding bishop." Some priests here also call him "Your Grace.”] Venables was here at Bp. Iker's invitation and that he was not going to try to convince the diocese to join the Southern Cone.
Iker also said that he, John David Schofield, Robert Duncan and Keith Ackerman initiated the action by going to Buenos Aires last year to visit Venables at his home.
When Venables got up to speak, he said he just wanted to give the meeting information about the Anglican Communion to help the diocese in making its decisions.
Both were making the case that this was not an incursion into this province by the primate of another province. [Well, you can put your boots in the oven but that don't make 'em biscuits. I grew up in West Texas. I know a poacher when I see one.]
Everyone agreed that Venables is an urbane charming man who can be hard -- not unlike Jack Iker. Don't kid yourself. There is a steel fist in that velvet glove.
Venables is quick thinking and uses humor -- he spent a bit of time ridiculing ambiguity, for instance. As in -- if a sign says, "No Smoking," what is there about "no" that you don't understand? Should we have a discussion of what "no" means?
His little jokes were met with gales of laughter from the friendly audience. Only elected delegates and clergy were allowed to speak. Visitors and observers were allowed to watch but not ask questions. Those delegates/clergy who disagreed with him were either silent or very polite when they spoke.
Turns out that our Gregory is an old hippie. Played in a band, loved the '60s, but one day while walking on the beach he found a piece of paper asking what was his relationship to Jesus. He hasn't looked back since.
Venables said that the Southern Cone "believes in freedom," that people should have the freedom to have the church like they want it. He painted a picture of an idyllic province where they have a little bit of everything, from high masses to morning prayer parishes. According to him, the Southern Cone isn't all about rules. The only rules are God's rules, and we all know what they are, so there's no problem.
He frequently waved a bible in the air as he spoke. He said he hoped the audience had bibles with them -- turns out maybe one delegate did. He referenced Acts 2 -- [When the day of Pentecost had come,] they were all together in one place.
It all comes down, he said, to experience of Jesus. When you're following Jesus, you get to be able to recognize other people who are following Jesus. The subtext of this was quite clear -- because they look just like you.
He downplayed the issues of women and homosexuality, focusing instead on measuring orthodoxy by adherence to a biblical literalism that leaves no room for interpretation. [Or for the work of the Holy Spirit.]
He went to some pains to make it clear that the issue is NOT schism. He went back to the Reformation, which he says was over essential issues, and so was not schism. All splits since then have been over non-essential items and so were schism, and thus sinful.
What's he's talking about is NOT SCHISM. It's separation. This is separation, and "they are separating. They've walked away from us."
He made the case for the existence of Absolute Truth. Some people think differently, but there is A Truth. Jesus made this clear because he made intolerant statements, such as "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Venables said that you can no longer be free to do what you want to do once you accept Jesus. If you doubt, you are with Satan. Just look at the Garden of Eden -- Satan sows doubt. Got in a dig at Eve: “My husband may believe all that, but I’m modern!”
Venables is a biblical literalist. Sola Scriptorum. According to Venables, biblical scholarship is all just word games. The message is clear -- every time Jesus answered the question of who he is, he responds with statements that begin "I am."
Venables said that after the Reformation the West [to which he referred often, speaking as if he, a British-born and educated prelate, is not part of the West] turned to Science, to a belief in an "open universe," to "rationalism," in a drive to find a unified vision of the universe. The West made the mistake of separating what you feel in your heart with what you know with your mind. Theologians in the West followed the same false path, which led them to only two choices -- nihilism and relativism.
He said that people talk about Jesus without meaning what HE means when he says Jesus. “You sit beside another primate, and you know he’s not thinking the same things you are when he speaks of Jesus.” He talked about Christianity versus culture, about how the church has given in to the culture. He made the point that doctrinal impurity leads to moral impurity.
Why do we talk so much about sexuality? It's not "essential," but it is very important, he said.
God made male and female. Marriage is Holy Matrimony. It's all about God and what God ordained. [He made no reference to the Old Testament norm of marriage -- which was polygamy.]
He referenced Hebrews -- What we have heard. We have to be careful that we are listening to God's voice or we will drift. He made it clear that to disagree with him is moving away from what God says.
He talked about how he is treated by the "other side" [poorly] and said that while "we" have been totally aboveboard, "they" lie and are deceitful. When he asks "them" to explain what they believe, they can't do it.
[Not sure how he missed the Episcopal Church's presentation to the Anglican Consultative Council or "To Set Our Hope in Christ," written by seven theologians for the Episcopal Church in response to the Windsor Report. And he obviously hasn't talked to Susan Russell, Michael Hopkins, Elizabeth Kaeton, or Gene Robinson, who all can very eloquently talk about what they believe.]
He lamented that the Anglican Communion has no authority over us so we can resolve things. He clearly wants some power to enforce. [He did state that The Episcopal Church has no authority over Jack Iker. Hmmm. I think the House of Bishops might have something to say about that. ]
He said, "Democracy is not good when it contradicts the word of God." Jesus is the ONLY WAY.
Remember earlier he had stated that the Southern Cone believes in the freedom to have church the way you want it? Well, not if you want ordained women.
In response to a question, he said that the ordination of women is not an "essential thing." He thinks the ordination of women "happened too fast" [several hundred years is too fast?] and that the Southern Cone has not resolved that issue yet.
He believes in a physical resurrection and those who do not are not orthodox. Also made it clear that those differing from "orthodox Anglicans" don't believe in the divinity of Christ.
He doesn't think a Covenant will do what he wants -- set up an authority that can demand accountability and mete out punishments -- because it's like the Creed. People don't all believe the same things. People can say the Creeds, but you don't know if they really believe in it the same way you do. A Covenant would be open to "interpretation."
He dismissed property issues as unimportant, saying "We'll do all we can to work it out."
He said we all are not really part of the same Body. The West cannot agree with "us." The West just believes too differently from the way people like him believe.
He talked about how "they" vilify "us" and how the media always gets it wrong.
But not to worry, he said. God has not lost control. God is in control.
Control was the subtext of everything he said -- control by the proper authorities is what Venables wants, and those proper authorities clearly include him.
As a friend pointed out, "the bishop's arguments are not new. They're a rehash of the old argument between Jerusalem and Athens, between revelation and reason, a tension both St. Paul and St. John saw at once as a wonderful motor to spread the new--and mostly undefined--gospel through the Europe of their day, indeed a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
"Bishop Venables, loth to deal with ambiguity and awash in certainty, chooses to lop off half that engine and fall back on revelation--as he understands it. That has happened regularly throughout the history of the West, every timesome hitherto unchallenged 'truth'--like the divine approval of slavery--has been challenged."
NOTE: The inspiration for the title of this blog came from a song by the Austin Lounge Lizards, entitled Jesus Loves Me, But He Can't Stand You. You can read the lyrics here. As one bishop noted, "It preaches."