New UK Government sparks fear among marriage supporters

“Sir Keir Starmer has been in office less than two weeks and the evident shift in support for LGBT ideology amongst senior Government figures is already sparking concern from real marriage supporters and more widely.

The last Government’s crackdown on rainbow lanyards in the civil service has already been dropped, according to inews.co.uk. Whitehall diversity and objectivity guidance is also being reviewed.

Now, a group of church leaders representing more than 1,300 churches has written to the Prime Minister warning that Labour’s proposed conversion therapy laws could criminalise them as they put into practice their teaching on marriage. …”

Anglican Mainstream has re-posted this message from the Coalition for Marriage.

Synod: what happened and why does it matter? — Benjamin John

Christian Concern’s Communications Officer Benjamin John breaks down what happened at Synod this week in the debate about clergy entering into same-sex civil marriages…

“On Monday 8 July, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to proceed with blessings for same-sex couples and to explore allowing clergy to enter same-sex civil marriages and engage in homosexual sexual activity.

Significantly, the motion passed will allow standalone services of blessing for same sex ‘marriages’. These will look and feel exactly like weddings even though they will not be weddings in law.

The motion passed also in practice asks the Faith and Order Commission – which advises on theology and doctrine – if there is a way for clergy to be allowed to enter into same sex civil ‘marriages’ and be allowed to have homosexual intercourse. Currently, clergy are allowed to enter into same-sex civil partnerships, on the basis that they abstain from homosexual ‘sex’. This ‘discipline’ now looks set to be relaxed in 2025.

This motion in support of all these changes only narrowly passed in the final vote:

For Against Abstain
Bishops 22 12 5
Clergy 99 88 2
Laity 95 91 2

 

Read his full report at Christian Concern.

Image: Ben John at the Church of England’s General Synod in February 2023.

CEEC commissions first set of overseers

On Thursday night, the Church of England Evangelical Council commissioned its first set of overseers, in a service at All Souls Langham Place in London:

“The introduction of the Ephesian Fund and Alternative Spiritual Oversight (ASO), followed the General Synod decision in November 2023 to approve the bishops’ proposals to change the position and practice of the Church of England with regards to sexual ethics and marriage, by blessing same sex couples as part of normal services.

At a subsequent Synod meeting earlier this week, standalone services of blessing for same sex couples received General Synod support and a timetable to work towards clergy same sex marriages was endorsed. As a result of these decisions, many clergy and PCCs have lost confidence in those bishops supporting change.

At the service, the first 20 overseers were commissioned (with more to be commissioned in due course).

The overseers comprise a group of Honorary Assistant Bishops, alongside other clergy from across the evangelical constituency (spanning charismatics and conservatives, egalitarians and complementarians). They will provide informal oversight to clergy and PCCs who feel a loss of confidence in the spiritual leadership of their bishop(s).

This informal and temporary oversight, facilitated by CEEC, does not in any way undermine or replace the legal and safeguarding responsibilities of clergy and PCCs to their bishops and/or diocese. …”

Read the full report, with names of those commissioned, from CEEC.

To note:

“The CEEC stressed that the liturgy is neither a service of ordination nor consecration. …

Together, they were commissioned by the congregation, on behalf of CEEC, to provide spiritual care and counsel to those who are now bereft of the oversight that should properly be offered by their bishop.”

Call from the Presbyterian Moderator General to “Walk for Life”

“David Burke, the moderator general for the Presbyterian Church of Australia, has called on all people of Christian faith to defend the rights of the unborn by participating in ‘Walk for Life’.

Rev. Dr. Burke argued that there is a parallel with the abuse relating to domestic violence, vulnerable people such as children and people with disabilities as well as child abuse in all its forms. Burke said:

‘To my mind, one of the great unmentioned forms of child abuse is the fact that there is a capacity in Australia to kill a child still in its mother’s womb – a living human being with all its actuality and potential made in the image of God.’”

– See the video message from David Burke at AP, the Presbyterian Church’s national journal.

The Walk for Life to which he is referring is planned for September 21st 2024, 2:00pm – 4:00pm Hyde Park, Sydney. Tickets here.

From the ticketing website:

“Love Sydney exists to stand for truth and intercede for the preborn through gathering together with others who are in agreement with our mission.

As we walk, may our countenance and attitude of our faith be evident with all interactions with each other. We welcome everyone who wishes to stand for life with us in this respectful way, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, age or gender.

We ask that you not engage with anyone that is expressing their opposition to our peaceful Walk for Life event. Our trained marshals, professional security and police are all here to keep our event safe. Anyone making nuisance noise will be asked to leave.

Please remember no megaphones or signs. Our official signs will be available for you to carry while at this event. Please obey the marshals, security team and police on the walk.

Our role is simple – to stand in the gap and be a voice for the voiceless, as we cover Sydney in prayer and love.”

Church Society Podcast — Post-Synod discussion

From Church Society:

“Lee Gatiss talks to Chris Moore and Ros Clarke about their experiences of the recent meeting of General Synod, what was agreed and some of the further implications of that.”

Listen here.

Statement from the Alliance after July 2024 General Synod

From The Alliance:

“10th July 2024

We were saddened that, on 8th July, General Synod approved the latest LLF motion. Despite assurances that this is just one more step in an unfolding process, we believe this was in fact a decisive moment. Stand-alone services were approved and are at the very least indicative of a change in the doctrine of marriage. A pathway to clergy entering same-sex marriage was initiated, and clergy SSM is a definitive change in doctrine. Indeed, it is clear that some members of the House of Bishops are openly advocating such a change.

Voting was again very close, the motion being passed by just 56% of bishops, 52% of clergy and 51% of laity – a very weak mandate for change. Significantly, more bishops than ever before felt unable to support the motion: while 22 voted in favour, 17 either voted against (12) or abstained (5). As we wrote to the Archbishops in a letter on 26th June, we therefore “have no choice but rapidly to establish what would in effect be a new de facto ‘parallel Province’ within the Church of England and to seek pastoral oversight from bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality”.

We are not without hope. The Archbishops and the Bishop of Leicester (Lead LLF Bishop) all stated in the debate that they want the Alliance to know we are a valued part of the Church of England; and we are thankful to them for their warm words. However, we do not believe it is possible for us to flourish within the Church of England’s current structures. We need a structurally secure space for the over 2000 clergy supporting the Alliance, and the churches they represent (some 37% of total C of E church attendance and 57% of attendance of those under the age of 18). We have asked the Archbishops and the Bishop of Leicester to demonstrate their desire for us to feel a valued part of the Church of England through actions and not just words, however warm.

Stand-alone services will not be authorised for use until provision has been more fully developed – at the earliest, this will come back to Synod in February 2025. In the coming months, at the invitation of the Bishop of Leicester, we will be engaging in direct negotiations with the House of Bishops. We have made clear that we are not leaving the Church of England or the Anglican Communion. We are hopeful for what will take place in the coming months, and we look to the God of hope to fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in him (Romans 15:13).”

Source.

Where does the C of E go on sexuality after July Synod?

“Not everything was bad at the session of General Synod last weekend.

There was an important discussion about ‘rest periods for office holders’ (C of E language for vicars taking their days off), a very important debate about the human dignity of disabled children, during which Justin Welby shared that his wife had felt pressured to abort their child, and debates about food banks and the persecuted church. Surprisingly, two potentially incendiary issues—how the inquiry into Mike Pilavachi at Soul Survivor has been handled, and response to the Jay report into our safeguarding strategy—went off more smoothly than they might have done.

But there were three moments that made this session of Synod the most dispiriting that I have experienced in my nearly 15 years attending. …”

– Ian Paul, who spoke at Monday’s meeting of the General Synod, shares the three dispiriting moments and then shares six thoughts about what Bible-believing Christians in the Church of England can do.

CofE evangelicals “start parallel province” in dispute over same-sex marriage

“One of the loudest evangelical groups in the Church of England says it will start a parallel province over Synod’s decision to move towards approval of prayers for same-sex blessings in ‘stand-alone services’.

John Dunnett [pictured], national director of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), said: ‘It is deeply disappointing that despite hearing repeatedly in speeches of the need to build trust by avoiding bad process …  synod passed the motion, and the prayers of love and faith bus continues to move forward. General Synod’s decision will sadly trigger the launch of a de facto parallel province … and CEEC will work with our partners in the Alliance to make this a reality’.

The CEEC has already started a fund in which churches opposed to same-sex blessings can deposit their money, rather than with the CofE. It has also already organised a service this Friday, at All Souls Church, Langham Place, to create ‘overseers’, who will take over the bishops’ role of pastoral oversight and spiritual help to clergy opposed to same sex blessings.

But the CEEC says it is not leaving the church: ‘We are committed to remaining within the Church of England and hope that the bishops will come to the table to negotiate an acceptable settlement.’ Full statement here.”

– From Religion Media Centre in the UK. (Formatting added.)

Updates from the Church of England General Synod Monday 8th July 2024

Anglican Futures has updated yesterday’s post on the Living in Love and Faith debate at the Church of England’s General Synod  on July 8th, 2024.

It’s a good summary of a tragic move by the Church of England, with excerpts from some of the key speeches.

Image: Ian Paul addresses the General Synod (link to video):

“If you are thinking of voting for this proposal, please do it with your eyes wide open. Knowing it will destroy trust. Knowing it will divide the Church. Knowing it will lead to greater decline. Personally, I don’t feel that any of these things are a demonstration of the love of God. Vote for this only if you think that distrust, disunity and decline are the price worth paying.”

See also:

CEEC expresses deep disappointment on ‘milestone day’ as Synod approves bishops’ Living in Love and Faith proposals 

The General Synod of the Church of England has approved the Living in Love and Faith proposals, brought forward by Bishop Martyn Snow, which will see standalone blessings for same sex couples taking place and a timetable agreed towards clergy same sex marriages.

John Dunnett, National Director, Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), said:

“Yesterday was a milestone in that standalone services have received General Synod support and a timetable to work towards clergy same sex marriages has been endorsed.

“It is deeply disappointing that despite hearing repeatedly in speeches of the need to build trust by avoiding bad process, and CEEC’s continued advocacy of the insufficiency of delegated arrangements, Synod passed the Motion, and the Prayers of Love and Faith bus continues to move forward.

“The leaders of the Church of England seem intent on leading the church away from the biblical teaching and doctrine passed down through the centuries and shared by millions of Christians in the Anglican Communion today.

“CEEC continues to believe that structural reorganisation is the only provision that will guarantee orthodoxy going forward. General Synod’s decision will sadly trigger the launch of a de facto parallel province, as outlined by the recent Alliance letter to the archbishops and bishops, and CEEC will work with our partners in the Alliance to make this a reality. We are committed to remaining within the Church of England and hope that the bishops will come to the table to negotiate an acceptable settlement.”

The motion was carried narrowly by a vote by Houses – Bishops 22 for, 12 against; Clergy 99 for, 88 against; and Laity 95 for, 91 against. The General Synod heard from a range of speakers standing for orthodoxy, including CEEC members – Helen Lamb, Aneal Appadoo, Vaughan Roberts, and Bishop Paul Williams. The speeches tackled bad process and the resulting loss of trust, the likelihood that this motion amounts to a change of doctrine, and the need for a safe space for orthodoxy.

CEEC remains committed to Jesus’s commission to his local church to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20).

We dare to pray that even in these challenging times God will grant a revival harvest in this country.

– Source: CEEC – July 9 2024. Bold added.

LLF – The Decision Point?

From Anglican Futures:

“Today at 2pm the General Synod of the Church of England will, once again, debate whether to accept the House of Bishops’ proposals for the introduction of standalone services of blessing for same-sex couples.

For those not able to follow the debate in person or on the livestream, this blog will be updated during the debate with information about amendments, votes and quotes from those called to speak.

The Bishop of Leicester has been very clear:

The Alliance and CEEC have been very clear that this position is unsustainable for them and are praying for a last minute intervention. …”

A good page to check as the debate proceeds.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in conversation with Glen Scrivener

“My spiritual awakening came from mental agony”, Ayaan Hirsi Ali opens up about finding Christian faith in the darkest of places.

Glen Scrivener speaks with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Fascinating.

The Alliance responds to Bishop Steven Croft’s letter

The Alliance, which published this letter on June 26, now responds (July 4) to the Bishop of Oxford’s letter in reply.

“Dear Bishop Steven,

Thank you for your response to our letter to the Archbishops which we were grateful to receive. However, we have to say that we were saddened and not a little surprised by some of the tone and content of your letter. Your letter amplifies rather than assuages the concerns we have.

Below is a short response to each of the headings to your letter which we hope you will find helpful. However, we would also be glad to continue this dialogue further in person so that we can engage with each other in a more eirenic tone as we look to work out a better way forward. …”

– Read the Response to the Bishop of Oxford (PDF file) on the Alliance website.

Church Society Responds to The Bishop of Oxford

Rev. Dr. Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society.

03 July 2024.

This important Response to the Bishop of Oxford has been released Church Society.

It’s worth quoting in full:

In June, the bishops of the Church of England told us what their way “forward” is on the vexed issues of same-sex marriage for clergy and the introduction of blessing services for people already in such relationships. Church Society responded to these proposals.

On 26th June, eleven bishops called on their colleagues to re-think their proposals, to do some actual doctrinal work, and bring back proposals that could be properly considered under the governance of the necessary canons.

That same day, The Alliance (which describes itself as “a broad coalition of leaders of networks across different traditions supported by more than 2,000 clergy within the Church of England”) released a public letter supporting those bishops “in their endeavours to remain faithful to the orthodox teaching of the Church of England.” They made it clear that “What is proposed is clearly indicative of ‘a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in an essential matter,’” and expressed disappointment that the House of Bishops had reneged on their previous decision to follow the correct canonical processes. Further, they said that:

“If the further departure from the Church’s doctrine suggested by the Synod papers does go ahead, we will have no choice but rapidly to establish what would in effect be a new de facto “parallel Province” within the Church of England and to seek pastoral oversight from bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality…. We are not leaving the Church of England or the Anglican Communion. We wish to stay loyal to the one holy catholic and apostolic Church throughout the world rather than be part of a schismatic move which departs from the teaching received and upheld not only by the vast majority of the Anglican Communion (representing around 75% of the Anglican Communion’s 80 million members), the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches but also the vast majority of other churches around the world.”

“We urge you,” they said, “even at this late stage, to honour your oaths as archbishops and bishops in England and to follow the lawful constitutional path to preserve the unity of the Church throughout the Anglican Communion.” The letter was signed by leaders from the Church Commissioners, General Synod, Archdeacons, New Wine, the HTB Network, the Evangelical Group on General Synod, the CEEC, ReNew, church planting networks, the Orthodox Female Clergy Group, Living Out, and Church Society. See their whole letter.

The Alliance also contains several bishops, and some Anglo-Catholic leaders, who wrote their own statement in support. 

Numbers

There has been a certain level of pushback to the Alliance letter, not least from the Bishop of Oxford who angrily rejects what they say and calls on everyone to “unite behind our compromise”.  In a rather undignified and aggressive response, he questions whether there really is support from 2000+ clergy for the Alliance stance, asking in a somewhat belittling way for the evidence of this. The Alliance, as many will know, has a website(https://alliancecofe.org/) and the first thing one is confronted with there is a “Join with us” button. That is where they have been able to gather signatures and church details for such a large group of clergy. I think the bishops who dismissively question the support the Alliance has would be taken aback by the breadth of this and the number of parishioners (including a very sizeable proportion of the under 18s in the entire Church of England) who are represented here. It is not for me to release such figures, but it is also not clear to me why the bishop feels the need to suggest that we are lying about the numbers who have expressed concern and joined with us.

The Bishop also disparagingly questions whether the Anglo-Catholic members of the Alliance (with whom I had good conversations at the last meeting of The Alliance, and with whom I am in regular touch) are really behind it. They themselves have released a statement about this for the avoidance of any doubt there.

The Bishop condescendingly suggests that those concerned about the Bishops’ proposals are really a very small number. That is not so. He says there is “literally no risk whatsoever that churches and ministers who support the Church’s current teaching would have to act against their conscience or depart from that doctrine.” But this is naive at best, or disingenuous, and neglects to tell us how we might obey Scripture’s very clear injunction to avoid those who introduce false teaching into the church. We all know that today’s compromise is tomorrow’s baseline for further changes. The Bishop even tells us what his end goal is: full acceptance of gay marriages in church.

Not a change of doctrine

The Bishop claims that “This is not a watershed moment”, and that introducing blessings for same-sex marriages and allowing clergy to marry their same-sex partners, is not (as the Canons state) a departure from or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter. It takes a huge amount of chutzpah to assert such a thing and expect to be taken seriously. The fact that people in authority are doing so, is one of the main reasons why there is a huge dearth of trust in our church at the moment. Institutional gaslighting is an abuse of power.

The Bishop of Oxford lecturing a group of concerned individuals for meeting in a closed room (it wasn’t actually, the door was never locked) is a bit rich given that the House of Bishops (which is a legislative body of the General Synod) routinely votes explicitly to close off all its discussions and doesn’t release any of the legal advice on which its revolutionary diktats to the rest of us are supposedly based.

Using power to arbitrarily push novel practices against long-established and repeated laws, is a form of tyranny — that our bishops would no doubt complain about if it were the Government or a foreign president doing it. So what is the long-established and repeated law here? What is our doctrine? Surely if these things are written down in constitutionally valid documents, then no temporary majority of bishops could simply override it in an attempted coup, as part of a bid for control? Surely they don’t think that whatever they want is Anglican doctrine, regardless of what is written down for us all to abide by?

Ten things can be said. Forgive the length and repetition here, but that is actually part of the point:

1. Canon Law says that our doctrine is defined by Scripture, the teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils which are accordance with Scripture, and the 39 Articles, Prayer Book, and Ordinal. There is literally zero support for blessing same-sex marriage or allowing clergy to be in such relationships, in those documents.

Article 20 indeed states that “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” This is what the bishops are literally hell-bent on doing. 

Article 7  says that no Christian is free to disobey the moral commandments of God. Jesus declared all foods clean for us, but he did not declare all sexual practices clean; indeed he stated that sexual immorality (along with other sins) defiles us (Mark 7). Even schoolboys would hoot at the impudence of anyone who tried to claim Jesus meant to exclude same-sex relationships from his definition of sexual immorality. 

2. The Book of Common Prayer depicts marriage as between one man and one woman. It also says: “be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God.”

How it can be asserted now that same-sex marriages are lawful and good according to God’s word, we are not told. Apparently we have to wait until the Faith and Order Commission can do some theology and let us know, or until we’ve had the compromise in place for a 3 year period of “discernment”. As we’ve already said, this is a curious thing. It is normally considered more prudent to discern whether something is right or wrong before you do it. When crossing the road it is wise to check there is no traffic before you step out. True, just heading onto the road and being struck by a car would help you discern it was not safe, but would it not be better to have looked for traffic first? Especially when others on the pavement are shouting: “Stop”!

3. Canon B30 says “The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

If the Church of England now also declares that marriage between two people of the same sex is fine, how on earth is that not a change of doctrine? Why does the law of non-contradiction not apply? Is this really what those who passed Canon B30 meant?

4. The motion passed overwhelmingly by General Synod in November 1987 states:

“This Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and expression of, God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:

1. that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;

2. that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;

3. that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;

4. that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders.”

How is LLF not a change of this doctrine? Surely to assert that what the bishops are suggesting is no big deal, requires such casuistry, such mental gymnastics, that it could almost be an Olympic sport.

5. The 1991 House of Bishops report Issues in Human Sexuality argues that what it calls a ‘homophile’ orientation and attraction could not be endorsed by the Church as:

“…a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual. The convergence of Scripture, Tradition and reasoned reflection on experience, even including the newly sympathetic and perceptive thinking of our own day, make it impossible for the Church to come with integrity to any other conclusion. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry.”

How is LLF therefore not a change of doctrine? If it isn’t a change of doctrine, why are activists and bishops furiously trying to get rid of Issues in Human Sexuality?

6. Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference (of all bishops in the Anglican Communion) declares that the Conference: “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.” It also declares that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

How can legitimising same sex unions by blessing them and allowing clergy to be in them, not be a change of doctrine at odds with the mind of the worldwide church?

7. The 1999 House of Bishops teaching document Marriage states that: “Marriage is a pattern that God has given in creation, deeply rooted in our social instincts, through which a man and a woman may learn love together over the course of their lives”, and that “Sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy belongs within marriage exclusively.”

Surely this is contradicted by what the bishops now propose? 

8. The Preface to the modern Common Worship marriage service marriage tells the congregation that: “Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”

If marriage is also for husband and husband, or wife and wife, surely Common Worship is wrong, and that would be a change of doctrine? You can see why intelligent people might be confused.

9. The 2005 House of Bishops Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships states:

“It has always been the position of the Church of England that marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society. It continues to provide the best context for the raising of children.”

“The Church of England’s teaching is classically summarised in The Book of Common Prayer, where the marriage service lists the causes for which marriage was ordained, namely: ‘for the procreation of children, …for a remedy against sin [and]…. for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.”

“In the light of this understanding the Church of England teaches that ‘sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively’… Sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.”

This teaching was reiterated (word for word) in the December 2019 Pastoral Statement on same-sex and opposite sex civil partnerships.

What is now being proposed is directly the opposite of that. Who could say it is not a change of doctrine, and keep a straight face?

10. Finally, the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same-sex Marriage (2014) stated that the same principles should apply with same-sex marriages as with Civil Partnerships and that in consequence: “Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.” It also stated that “Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England… it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage.” 

How is it a “modest” change, to reverse this completely? How? We must be forgiven for being somewhat bemused. The Bishop of Oxford wants us to believe this is a modest step to bring things in line with what is actually happening. But it is actually a wholesale reversal of everything above. Besides, if it was a modest change as he suggests, and he really did care about preserving unity and avoiding schism, surely the most statesmanlike and pastoral response would be to not go ahead with the proposals causing all the problems. Anyone in ordinary parish ministry would certainly consider such a diplomatic course if they were pushing something so controversial against the established laws and the strong opposition of a sizeable number of their most active members.

In the light of all these doctrinal statements and repeated declarations, the only way that the Church of England could permit with integrity services of blessing for same-sex couples, including same-sex marriages for clergy  — would be to repudiate all the statements just listed above and declare that it now believes something else instead. Only in this way could the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, that the Church of England prays as it believes, be maintained. Only in this way could anybody believe anything the bishops tell us. It would at least be honest.

Trying to openly overturn it all, honestly and clearly, would have some integrity, even if it would be seriously in error. But that’s clearly not what they want to do. They want to pretend that nothing has changed, and that the new proposals simply regularise what’s been happening for years anyway, according to the Bishop of Oxford, and which we have been “content” with, he astonishingly claims. Despite the fact that even a secular employment tribunal has recognised that the Church’s doctrine of marriage is clear and does exclude same-sex marriages for clergy (and therefore upheld the withholding of a license from a clergyman who entered into one). If clergy have been ordained and permitted to live outside the current guidelines listed above, it is the fault of those very bishops who are now trying to get us to accept all this as not a change of doctrine. We should not be coerced into passively accepting their past (and possibly deliberate) failures in disciplinary safeguarding, which is one of their core tasks as bishops. Who knows what other guidelines and doctrines they might fail or be failing to uphold. 

The world

Both GAFCON and The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans have repudiated the bishops’ proposals. Indeed, the GSFA said that it “deeply regrets the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod today, supporting the House of Bishops’ proposals to ‘bless’ Same Sex Unions – which goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.”

To claim as the Bishop of Oxford tries to that many provinces contain a variety of views or that there is no consensus, is tendentious in the extreme, and ignores the blatantly clear consensus of the vast majority of the Anglican world that what our bishops are doing is wrong. And this, the Global South says, “has now triggered a widespread loss of confidence” in the Church of England’s leadership of the Communion. It is very hard to resist a charge of western elitism, when one notes where all the pressure is coming from to liberalise on these matters. The snobbish, Anglo-centric, and dictatorial behaviour that my non-Western friends tell me they observed at recent Lambeth conferences and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council is not reassuring.

Crisis, what crisis?

The Alliance letter is criticised by the Bishop of Oxford for “catasrophising language” because it talks of “incalculable damage to the structure, integrity and mission of the national church”. Only the most blinkered could fail to see that this is exactly what is happening because of LLF. According to the Church of England’s own figures, attendance is down 29% since 2015, ordinand numbers are down 40% since 2019, and most dioceses are now in a structural deficit position. Though obviously there are several factors at play here, the confusion and catastrophic loss of trust caused by LLF is certainly responsible for a great deal of this. One would have to be trapped in a deluded bubble not to see that. Major leaders and networks within the growing and thriving parts of the church have consistently and publicly expressed deep regret and concern at developments. The global Anglican Communion has even rejected the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On what definition is this not a leadership crisis, of the most epic proportions? Surely the bishop needs to get his head out of the sand. It’s like the House of Bishops are trying to build a massive extension without planning permission, in the hope that everything will be alright once it’s up, fait accompli. But as Captain Tom’s family discovered recently, that isn’t always what happens.

The early church flourished in a time of confusion and persecution by being clear on the gospel, refuting heresy, and acting to counter it ecclesiologically where necessary, even if that seemed “irregular”. That’s the way forward here.

Schism?

The Bishop of Oxford labels The Alliance approach “a deep and disproportionate schism”. Schism is a heavily-loaded term that is too easily thrown about in the current debate. Some theology or history might be of assistance in helping to understand what it actually means. Obviously I would point to Fight Valiantly: Contending for the Faith against False Teaching in the Church if anyone wants to explore this whole area in detail. But there’s also Gerald Bray’s very useful book, Heresy, Schism, and Apostasy.

The Lutheran Confessions are very helpful on this. They say:

“The impiety and tyranny of bishops cause schism and discord. Therefore, if the bishops are heretics, or will not ordain suitable persons, the churches are in duty bound before God, according to divine law, to ordain for themselves pastors and ministers. Even though this is now called an irregularity or schism, it should be known that the godless doctrine and tyranny of bishops is chargeable with it. Paul commands that bishops who teach and defend a godless doctrine and godless services should be considered accursed (Galatians 1:7-9).”

Further, they add:

“The adversaries also quote Hebrews 13:17, ‘Obey your leaders.’ This passage requires obedience to the Gospel. It does not establish a dominion for the bishops apart from the Gospel. Neither should the bishops enact traditions contrary to the Gospel or interpret their traditions contrary to the Gospel. When they do this, obedience is prohibited, according to Galatians 1:9, ‘If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.’”

In addition, the Augsburg Confession says clearly that when bishops “teach or establish anything against the Gospel, then the congregations are forbidden by God’s command to obey them… The Canonical Laws also command this… And Augustine writes: ‘Neither must we submit to catholic bishops if they chance to err, or hold anything contrary to the canonical Scriptures of God.’ (Contra Petiliani Epistolam).”

The biblical book of Jude is quite clear where schism originates. “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

So if there is schism, it is caused by those who do not follow the Bible. It is emphatically notcaused by those who seek to uphold it and follow it and reject innovations. This must be especially the case where the teaching and practices being proposed are said by the Scriptures to exclude people from the kingdom of God, as is the case here (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-7). Surely to redefine the sins mentioned here as things which are actually good and appropriate for Christians, would be the very definition of a salvation issue, one on which our eternal destiny turns? It would be, as Jude puts it, to “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). 

The Bishop uncharitably accuses The Alliance of a lack of perspective and of neglecting “mercy, love and joy and the priority of gospel proclamation.” He and I would not agree on what the gospel is that we are proclaiming, because we preach different versions of Jesus. It is not Anglican to preach just the mercy, love, and joy bits of scripture and ignore these stark warnings. Indeed, the mercy, love, and joy spoken of in the Bible are always in the context of God’s holiness and judgment, and don’t make sense without those. He is merciful to sinners who repent. He loves those who turn back to him from rebellion. He gives joy to those who turn from their disordered desires and embrace him by faith alone. That’s the whole reason for “gospel proclamation” in the first place, to save us from our sin. Unless one believes that everybody is saved in the end anyway. Which I suspect many clergy and bishops actually do, quite contrary to what the Bible and the Articles say. That’s not an Anglican theology.

Tolerance of disagreement and error here would not be “wisely allowing a diversity of interpretations in a disputed area” as some might say, a sign of Anglicanism’s supposedly secure ability to embrace a diversity of views. It would not be spiritually loving or pastorally accommodating: it would be literally soul-destroying. We should no more tolerate this than we would tolerate a drop or two of poison in our afternoon tea. No-one with compassion for those caught in sin can simply affirm it unquestioningly without showing the better way — peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to “Repent and believe.” With him there is forgiveness, a fresh start, and the power of the Spirit to enable us to live for him.

I have quoted this before, more than once, but it remains relevant: as the theologian John Calvin put it, “How can any one have the effrontery to expect that God will aid him in accomplishing desires at variance with his word? What God with his own lips pronounces cursed, never can be prosecuted with his blessing.” (Institutes 3.7.9).

So, no, bishop; we will not be uniting behind your compromise (even if it was more pleasantly and graciously presented). Instead, we will pray:

Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.*

 * The Church of England’s collect for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year C).

Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.

First published at Church Society, 3rd July 2024.

Bishop of Oxford names the Alliance proposal – “disproportionate schism”.

“Dear Colleague,

I write to make a number of points in response to your letter to the Archbishops of 26th June. Your letter makes a series of charges against the bishops of the Church of England and I have no doubt has caused hurt to LGBTQIA+ Christians and their friends and family. Your threat of schism means that we find ourselves on the front pages of the national press on this issue even in the midst of a General Election campaign when the world faces so many challenges and problems. …”

– Unsurprisingly, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Steven Croft, doesn’t like the letter from The Alliance and believes they are exaggerating the problem and the number of people who are unhappy. (via Anglican Mainstream. PDF of the letter here via Anglican.ink.)

Among other things he writes,

“You level against the bishops again the charge of Western elitism and ignoring the views of the Global South. However, your own letters pay no attention to the very considerable consensus at the Lambeth Conference in 2022 about accepting different views on sexuality yet still walking together. …”

For background, here are some articles about the claimed “very considerable consensus” at Lambeth 2022:

Archbishop Welby denounces as un-biblical the decision of African Primates to skip the Lambeth Conference – 13 June 2022.

Orthodox bishops to offer their own ‘Lambeth Resolution’ — won’t receive Holy Communion with gay-partnered bishops – 29 July 2022.

Clarity out of Confusion: Lambeth 2022 – 08 August 2022.

Peter Jensen on Lambeth — Repentance is needed – 09 August 2022.

Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches responds to C of E General Synod vote – 10 February 2023.

Read the Letter from The Alliance to which the Bishop of Oxford is responding.

Update:

Comment from Susie Leafe at Christian Today:

“It seems that, just like the Archbishop of Canterbury before him, Bishop Croft would rather forget that hundreds of bishops boycotted the Lambeth Conference because they could not walk together with those who have departed from the teaching of the Church. It also seems to have slipped his mind that many who did attend were also very clear that they too could not walk together.

The truth is, there was no vote at Lambeth and there was no opportunity for bishops to dissent from the party line espoused by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Bishop of Oxford may have forgotten the events of 2022, but surely he cannot have missed the more recent statements from Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, who between them represent about 75 per cent of the Anglican Communion. Again and again they have said that in seeking to change the teaching and practice of the Church, the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury have forfeited their leadership role of the global Communion. …”

A Paper Province or a Proper Province?

“With the announcement of a ‘Parallel Province’, Anglican Futures asks, has The Alliance found the answers to the intractable problems of providing orthodox episcopal oversight within the Church of England? …”

– In the latest post at Anglican Futures, the question is asked how a ‘Parallel Province’ might actually work. The post reminds us how important it is for members of The Alliance to tease out how their goal, if it is needed, would be achieved.

It’s also a good reminder that wisdom would be a good thing to pay for.

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