Most speakers at the Sept. 18 conference that marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Toronto Congress came from the more conservative side of the Anglican theological and political spectrum, particularly on issues that have divided the international Communion, such as same-sex marriages. At the close of the day of lectures, when Wycliffe principal George Sumner asked for responses from those attending, Bishop Patrick Yu of the diocese of Toronto, offered comments from the perspective of a conference participant, a Canadian conservative and the convener of the Evangelism and Church Growth Initiative of the Anglican Communion, now known as Anglican Witness.
Yu began by saying he had been moved by the presentation by Christopher Seitz, a professor of biblical interpretation at Wycliffe College and a theologian at the Cranmer Institute in Dallas. Seitz spoke about conservatives accepting that they had lost the theological battle to liberals, following what they believe are prophetic new directions for the church; now, conservatives just want to know if there will be room for them within the church to follow what they consider to be the traditional beliefs and practices of the faith. Yu said that while he was not familiar with the church in America and couldn’t speak to conditions there, certainly in the diocese of Toronto in Canada, “people are not judged or driven out by their theological convictions, so we have canons and we have bishops who self-identify as conservatives…So I don’t want students or clergy or international guests to think that here in the diocese of Toronto we persecute conservatives.”
Yu cautioned conference participants to be wary of listening to and using victim narratives on either side of the debate about who is in the church and who is not. “It is a very tempting short-term tool, but in the long term, it is very damaging. It helps you to think of yourself always as the outsider…My counsel is to go into the church and act as if you own it because this church is a church for conservatives and liberals,” he said, mentioning the St. Andrew’s Day Statement as an invitation to everyone who confesses the Trinitarian formulation of the church. (The statement, issued on November 30, 1995, was a response by a working group to a request by the Church of England Theological Council to examine the theological principles affecting the homosexuality debate.) “When we protest about being excluded, let us be aware not to exclude others in the conversation,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the primate of Burundi, had told participants that there is no such thing as “African culture”-great diversity and differences among countries exists there. Yu reminded those present that the church in North America is also diverse. “I have personally suffered being a conservative who did not leave the church, and there was a guilt by association internationally,” he said. “I think that when we castigate people in the United States and Canada all in one boat and say, ‘If you are there, you must be in the ranks of sinners,’ it makes [it] very difficult for conservatives who decided to stay in this church.” Speaking as the first and only Chinese bishop in Canada, Yu said that all four Chinese churches in Toronto have adopted a conservative stance on the issue of homosexuality. Those congregations have been upset by interventions from bishops from other provinces and attempts to plant churches that will “lure their Christians away,” he said.
Finally, speaking as the convener of Anglican Witness, Yu said that while most people associate the last Lambeth meeting in 2008 with the issue of sexuality, a commitment to evangelism was also very prominent; Anglican Witness is a result of that commitment. “When you talk about evangelism with people from Nigeria and Canada and the Solomon Islands and South Africa and Burundi,” he said, “there is very little disagreement, even though our perspectives on certain theological issues must be very different.”
That, Yu said, persuades him that “the things that divide us, the problems that seem intractable, may not be so intractable after all.” His prayer for the Communion is that even “with our differences and with our imperfect instruments, we will take into account and deeply embrace the mission and evangelism that is God’s call to us. Then we may discover that we have a commitment, after all.”