A chilling strategy
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By Andrew Carey, CEN
There is something chilling about the way Christian liberals are using secular orthodoxies to stamp out traditional and biblical beliefs in their own church. Canon Giles Fraser told government minister, Maria Eagle, at last week’s ‘Faith, Homophobia and Human Rights’ conference that there was absolutely no difference between these traditional beliefs on homosexuality and abusive homophobic chanting on the football terraces.
Think about it again — surely it’s beyond belief that the newly-appointed Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s equates the Church of England’s well-argued statement on the Equality Bill with the obscenities of the football hooligan? Furthermore, at the same conference we had the spectacle of the same government minister, together with Trevor Phillips of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, depicting the Evangelical Alliance as an ‘extremist’ group.
Let us not forget that the government has in the recent past courted religious groups such as the Evangelical Alliance because of their key contribution to ‘social capital’. Suddenly almost overnight a whole swathe of the population are religious extremists.
Looking at it another way, it’s clear that what we once considered extreme only a few years ago is now apparently mainstream. Thus Peter Tatchell who ‘outed’ public figures, stormed pulpits and advocated an age of consent at 14, is now seen as a moderate. Fringe groups such as the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement are apparently in greater favour with the government than the Archbishops’ Council. While views which were absolutely mainstream only a decade ago about marriage and sexuality, are now regarded as homophobic heresies.
Melanie Phillips points out that when something is considered a heresy, persecution can’t be far behind (www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips). She writes: “One of the key tenets —possibly the key tenet—of a liberal society is that it grants religious groups the freedom to practise their religious faith and live by its precepts. Preventing them from doing so is profoundly illiberal and oppressive — and it is not made any less so by the fact that ‘progressive’ voices inside the church themselves deem such precepts to be ‘homophobic’.”
The trouble is that the alliance of the government with so-called ‘progressive’ Christian groups represents the breakdown of trust in the Church. When you have Christians seeking to curtail the freedom of their co-religionists through instruments like the Equality Bill and the Equality and Human Rights Commission then you have a return to the religious persecutions of the past. I always find it disconcerting to hear liberal Anglicans describe evangelicals as ‘puritans’ because the trouble is that Puritans were indeed persecuted using the law of the day, and eventually ejected from the Church of England. And impatient with their slow rate of progress in winning the theological argument on human sexuality in the Church of England, liberal Anglicans resort instead to placing facts on the ground, and ultimately imposing change through Parliament and the courts on the Church of England, bypassing Synods and proper theological decision-making. Make no mistake about it, the Equality Bill will represent a victory for liberal Anglicans.
Previously the government has allowed exemptions from equalities legislation for any role deemed necessary for the ‘purposes’ of an organized exemption. But Maria Eagle has now said that the new bill will cover almost all church employees. “The circumstances in which religious institutions can practice anything less than full equality are few and far between,” she said. Only clergy, it seems, will now be exempt, though how long that will last, given the pressure from liberal Christian groups on an able and willing government, is anyone’s guess.
Life without evangelicals
Yet how can this be anything other than a Pyrrhic victory for liberal Anglicans? Having imposed a secular orthodoxy on their fellow Christians, having silenced or ejected the evangelicals what will be left? Interestingly enough on Monday, Ruth Gledhill addressed precisely this question in The Times (‘Kindness and charity are needed—from both sides’) after the Church of Scotland’s decision to support the appointment of a practising homosexual minister. She welcomed a liberal victory in the Presbyterian church, but counselled liberals not to gloat in their victory! “They must resolve to be kind. Beyond the sheer goodness of that approach, there is a financial imperative. There is spiritual and material capital in the thriving evangelical communities that could, if there is too much cruelty in victory, be lost to mission.”
This statement by a prominent Anglican liberal is an admission that without the evangelical presence in the mainstream denominations, there can only be loss. This would amount to a huge loss of numbers, money and energy in both the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. The loss of evangelical provinces to the Anglican Communion would cancel out any growth whatsoever and leave the Communion impoverished in terms of its significance and outreach worldwide. The loss of significant numbers of evangelicals in the Church of England would lead to the bankruptcy of dioceses and the large-scale closure of churches. The fact is that in pressing for victory, liberals are making an unholy gamble because they are likely ! to lose it all.