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SINGAPORE: Archbishop John Chew: An Anglican Leader For A Time Such As This

SINGAPORE: Archbishop John Chew: An Anglican Leader For A Time Such As This

By David W. Virtue in Singapore
April 24, 2010

Malcolm Muggeridge, the 20th Century's doyen of British journalism, once told me that England chooses its leaders based on what the nation is going through at any particular historical moment. During wartime, it chooses bulldog types (Winston Churchill); during peacetime they pick a clergy type (Anthony Eden).

Something like this might be said of Archbishop John Chew, the Anglican Primate of South East Asia. Dr. Chew is a deeply rooted Anglican. He studied for ordination at Trinity College, Bristol. For his Old Testament Ph.D., he attended the University of Sheffield. He is considered a bridge-builder between Evangelical and ecumenical movements, and an interpreter of the Evangelical movement within Anglicanism.

A first reading of this man could be misleading; that is to say, he looks, because of his genial and gentle style and smile like Archbishop Rowan Williams the putative head of the Anglican Communion might easily manipulate him.

Such a reading would be misplaced.

When I met him briefly on my first Sunday morning following an English-speaking church service in the cathedral, he was effusive, warm and wanted to make it very clear to me that we all have to work together and not allow a liberal or revisionist wedge find its way into the Global South Anglican bishops and other leaders. (There were, in fact, several liberal bishops here at the Fourth Global South to South Encounter in Singapore, but they were silent, outnumbered and outflanked. They did not dare raise their heads above the ramparts with cries of inclusivity or diversity, the much bally-hoed nomenclature of TEC liberals.)

Chew is a tall, lean man, over six feet. His full name is John Chew Hiang Chea. To his friends, he is known simply as Archbishop John. He was at one time a national basketball champion, which comes as no surprise to this writer. He seems to have a permanent smile on his face and a warm word for everyone he meets. This should not fool anyone.

He is a man solidly grounded in the Word of God. This, in part, comes from his long association with British Anglican teacher/preacher John Stott. He is a theologically solid Evangelical. Because of his gentle personality, he is conflict averse, preferring to get along as best as possible in awkward situations.

His rise to the church's top was not meteoric. He came by it, steadily earning it. He was the former Dean and Principal of Singapore's Trinity Theological College before being elevated to the church's top position.

He is different in style and personality from his predecessor, The Most Rev. Moses Tay (more of a Churchill type). Chew is closer in personality type with Tay's successor Archbishop Yong Ping Chung who was the chaplain to this Encounter.

Chew is a pastor and a theologian. He may not be deemed as brilliant as Dr. Rowan Williams (who is), but Chew's theology is outspokenly evangelical in faith and morals. He has more in common with theologian Jane Williams (Rowan's wife) than with Rowan.

There is not the careful nuancing of words and language that Williams so brilliantly parades leaving people to scratch their heads wondering what the blazes he just said. Williams' video speech to this assembled gather of 130 Global South leaders left Canon Gary L'Hommedieu opining, "As always, we will be wondering what Dr. Williams said for days, if not for the rest of our natural lives. His erudition translates directly to obscurantism, and one suspects that he is hiding his 'real' intentions and commitments. In spite of his remarkable intelligence, he may really have nothing to say. There may be no reality upon which to fix his eloquence." You can read L'Hommedieu's brilliant analysis here: http://tinyurl.com/249ctnh

No such obscurantism can be found in Archbishop Chew's public or private statements. He made that abundantly clear on more than one occasion when he was in the pulpit. Chew is steeped in Holy Scripture and will not depart or deviate from it, whether he is talking about salvation or sodomy. He is a man of The Word and the Word made flesh.

Some Westerners mistakenly see him as a man too close to Archbishop Rowan Williams and therefore open to manipulation by Williams. This would be to misread the queue cards. The Archbishop of Canterbury is looking for any (liberal) wedge or weak links into the Global South that he, Williams and the Anglican Consultative Council can exploit in order to keep TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada at the table. The ABC is looking for the next generation of young African bishops whom he hopes he can schmooze with his power and the authority of his office, and who are just not smart enough or know what he is up to, to oppose him. Williams has the gravitas of his office to manipulate and persuade even if he doesn't have the evangelical theology to which the vast majority of Global South Anglicans subscribe. .

One has to understand that there is a deep visceral and historical association with Canterbury that gives Anglicanism its identity, even in a postcolonial world. Global South Anglicans do not want to lose that. They may entertain doubts about the theology of Rowan Williams, but (like Catholics who see Rome as their center) Anglicans believe they must have a See or spiritual center they can call their own, even if they profoundly disagree with the theology of the current holder of the Lambeth keys. (Does everyone agree with the Pope?)

If there is any lingering suspicion that Chew is Rowan's man, let me disabuse you of that. His irenic nature and obvious humility should not be construed as acquiescence to the liberalism of Williams, especially on such salvation-denying issues as homosexual behavior. The Diocese of Singapore and the three other dioceses that make up the Province of South East Asia will not even allow a divorced and/or remarried person to be a priest. They most certainly do not ordain women except to the Diaconate. Homosexuality is not even on their radar screen. The standards here are high and they won't compromise them for any archbishop, even if he sits on the throne of Canterbury or in a high rise in New York City.

One of his closest friends told VOL that John Chew is the man for "our times". He is articulate, brilliant, and theologically orthodox in faith and morals and will not deviate one iota. Williams and Kenneth Kearon (Anglican Consultative Council) will have to look elsewhere for a weak link in the Global South armor if they want to penetrate this orthodox gathering. It is not surprising that Chew was elected the new Chairman of the Global South Primates Steering Committee this week.

Furthermore, these Anglican leaders will not be bought by TEC money. Some African bishops take TEC's money to feed their people and that is understandable, but if push comes to shove, they won't cave in on salvation issues, not for a single American dollar.

A leader from Polynesia told this gathering that TEC's influence in his far-flung corner of the world almost succeeded in the election of a bishop sympathetic to them, but it failed and they now have an orthodox Archbishop in place. Ditto for Myanmar. TEC tried to get the one weak link bishop elected as the new archbishop of Burma, but that, too, failed. Today they have Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo, a solidly orthodox man who spoke here and at the New Wineskins conference recently in North Carolina. Would a man who spent two years in jail for his faith cave into Mrs. Jefferts Schori's brand of religion? Not a chance.

A week with these global Anglican leaders has convinced me that they are solidly united under the authority of Holy Scripture, the apostolic preaching of the gospel and nothing, but nothing will shake them. Theological heavyweights like Peter Jensen of Sydney and Michael Poon of Singapore, as well as archbishops like Robert Duncan of ACNA, a man who has undergone his own baptism of fire, will never again consider anything TEC says or does. They are done with her. All these orthodox provinces and dioceses are in impaired or broken communion with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. The final draft of the communiqué calls for more archbishops and bishops to come out and declare themselves against TEC. One hopes they do.

I have learned never to underestimate TEC's use of money and proffered educational opportunities in the US to get the people they want in place to undermine them. The occasional African bishop that surfaces in a liberal American diocese gives truth to that. Liberal TEC bishops look for legitimacy by flaunting an African bishop in their diocese from time to time. That will not continue indefinitely. As the Global South galvanizes and discipline sets in place (as called for by the Anglican Covenant), that too will change.

You will never see Archbishop John Chew in an American TEC pulpit. He has cast his lot with the Global South. If and when an Ecumenical Council is called to declare what it is Anglicans believe, you can rest assured that Archbishop John Chew will be right there.

As Anglican writer Charles Raven http://tinyurl.com/2cvp6tn put it so succinctly about this Global South Encounter and the certain trumpet that sounded forth, is that what we are seeing is the emergence of a global Anglicanism of substance, displacing the shadow Anglicanism of institutional pragmatism. He is right. Archbishop John Chew can take a lot of the credit for that.


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