Editorial Blog

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream. Having accepted Christ as a teenager he has always been concerned for the church maintaining right belief and practice as the foundation of its mission in the world. He is ordained and has wide experience of English Anglican churches, including serving for seven years in a church plant in Northampton. From 1994-2006 he worked in South Africa in pastoral ministry, grassroots theological education and community development. He is married with two children.

The new threat to freedom of belief

Posted by on Jan 15, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Freedom Of Speech | Comments Off on The new threat to freedom of belief

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The secondary school I attended was founded in 1870. It had a Methodist foundation, and was set up in anticipation of the Universities Test Act of the following year, which eventually removed the ban on those who were not communicants in the Church of England from attending Oxford and Cambridge University. I was not from a Methodist family and was confirmed in the C of E during that time, but the story of the school’s founding always reminded me of the severe restrictions on religious freedom which used to occur on a daily basis in this country. Also, it speaks of the cost that many of our godly forebears in the ‘nonconformist’ churches paid for following Christ according to their conscience.

Before the repeal of the old laws, those who had a different worldview from the nominal Anglican male elite, whether Roman Catholic, Jewish, nonconformist or even atheist (there were not many Muslims in Britain at that time), simply did not have access to senior positions, or the means to achieve the highest levels of education. In other words, there was a restriction on freedom of belief. The many factors which brought about change, and led to eventual full democracy and the freedoms taken for granted a century later is part of a long and involved history, rightly celebrated, part of which is a tolerance based on shared belief in God and the dignity of all human beings as set out in the Bible.

In recent years many commentators have pointed out a new threat to these hard-won freedoms. We are now familiar with various well-publicised cases showing how freedom of thought and expression is now increasingly restricted, not now by attempts to preserve Anglican hegemony, but by a new political correctness tied to the sexual revolution. While 60 years ago limitations on what could be expressed in public derived from Christian morality and sensibilities (for example the ban on certain kinds of obscene publications), today the ideology governing the new censorship is anti-Christian.

So for example, sexually explicit and blasphemous “comedy” with foul language as a staple is regularly aired on TV, but street preachers are arrested for quoting the Bible, Christian bakers receive large fines for refusing to decorate a cake with pro LGBT slogans, trainee social workers are dismissed from university courses and teachers are blacklisted for expressing traditional Christian views on marriage and gender. Speakers at University societies, even lecturers, are no-platformed, and judges are disciplined for expressing what are deemed politically incorrect views on abortion and marriage.

The way we lose our freedoms happens gradually, and subtly. It doesn’t necessarily begin with laws; there just needs to be enough social disapproval against expressing certain views. Then, as Christians, we find that our thoughts are regulated not just by the police investigating “hate speech” allegations, disciplinary procedures at work, or by furious attacks on social media, but by others in the church. In fact, the censorship can come first from our theologically orthodox friends. “I see you’re planning to do a sermon on sex and marriage”, a vicar is told by a supportive member of his PCC, perhaps even his wife. “Please don’t say anything controversial that might upset people”. A teacher faces a gross misconduct charge for ‘misgendering’ a pupil at school, or a social worker is sacked after asking to be excused from decisions allocating foster children to same sex couples – and they find they receive no support from their church, rather an embarrassed turning away. These examples, all based on true incidents, show how the free expression of biblical truth in public is curtailed by a fearful and image-conscious Christian community as much as by the postmodern neo-Marxist campaigners in the media and the academy.

At General Synod in July it was not just the liberals who supported the call for a ban on ‘conversion therapy’, an ill-defined phrase which ends up including any counselling or prayer ministry sought by those who want to move away from same sex desire (see this clearly written recent account). Some evangelicals, and theologically orthodox Bishops voted for the motion, thereby voting in favour of LGBT ideology and the restriction of biblical Christian sexual ethics and pastoral practice. Perhaps they wanted to show their opposition to unkindness towards people identifying as gay (which all right-minded Christians share), but believed that they would be free to retain their understandings of sex and marriage in the private sphere as long as it’s not ‘imposed’ on anyone else.

How wrong they are. The new missionary-imperialists of pansexuality will not stop at “full inclusion” of sexually active LGBT people in the leadership of the church, blessing of gay relationships and same sex marriage in church services, just as they will not stop at teaching children to accept and celebrate gender fluidity and transition. It is not just the lack of welcome and bullying experienced by the LGBT minority which is seen as the problem, but the beliefs behind it, which lead to the actions – for example ‘misgendering’ a ‘transgender’ child.   According to an increasingly prevalent view, traditional beliefs that biological sex corresponds to gender, that heterosexual marriage or celibate singleness is good while homosexual practice is sinful, are in themselves harmful. The fact that some people believe these things causes distress, and so these beliefs should be ‘stamped out’.

American academic Christopher Rosik, reviewing a recent influential paper which appeared in the journal of the American Psychological Association, shows how LGBT campaigners use the findings of ‘research’ to state categorically that religious beliefs showing “a basic lack of approval” of homosexual practice cause “minority stress” even among those who have no contact with those who hold these beliefs. The newly formed Ozanne Foundation appears to hold a similar view. Rosik’s piece should be read carefully, as he concludes that it will soon be difficult to “hide from the social and policy implications of research that declares their historic Judeo-Christian sexual ethic to be a severe threat to the health and wellbeing of LGB persons.”

LGBT people feel a lack of full validation for their identity and behaviour, because of the existence of conservative religious beliefs in society. This causes distress, and so the belief system should be discouraged. This is the basis of the new attack on freedom of thought and expression. It should be challenged at the highest levels, and this is why Anglican Mainstream is supporting a new campaign to “reclaim religious freedom” through a new Act of Parliament.

 

New Year’s resolution: encourage each other to be faithful

Posted by on Jan 2, 2018 in Church life, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on New Year’s resolution: encourage each other to be faithful

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Just before Christmas, on the shortest day of the year, a senior and well respected clergyman, vicar of a central London church, gave a powerful ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4. So many elements of the Christmas story, he told us, are about poverty and exclusion. No welcome, no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph – who then became refugees. The shepherds were those on minimum wage, perhaps the first century equivalent of zero hours contracts; the Magi from the East may have experienced racism and suspicion as they travelled in Judaea. Reflecting on the Christmas story should make us more compassionate towards the ‘other’ and work for a more just society; we should not sanitise the nativity, for example by focusing on scenes which “idolise the nuclear family”.

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, in a talk to supporters of Christian Concern which became an article published in Church of England Newspaper on the same day, 21st December, came to a very different conclusion. The traditional family pattern has not been unfairly promoted at the expense of other domestic arrangements. Rather, “The family has been under sustained attack in this country for the last 50 years. The family is the basis of a stable society”, said the Bishop, going on to highlight the dangers to children of changes in marriage and divorce laws, and in the promotion of radical gender ideology in schools.

Is the London clergyman, Sam Wells, simply giving one aspect of the Christian message, and the former Bishop of Rochester another? Certainly, Christians should constantly be open to challenge from God’s word about how we are caring for the poor and outcast personally and as churches. We should be concerned about the desperate, urgent and tragic plight of refugees, asking whether the government is being held to account on its policies, and acting in generosity. While not exactly original, it’s good that this is related to the Christmas story in the public area. But why did Revd Dr Wells think it necessary to have a dig at those who think the nuclear family is important?

Bishop Michael goes on to talk about other important issues of concern, such as abortion and the sanctity of life, and calls on Christians to assert their right to continue to express their beliefs publicly on these and other issues. This might be seen as a ‘conservative’ position, much as Wells’ is ‘progressive’. But unlike Wells, who saw an opportunity to attack conservatives, Bishop Michael did not attack those who are concerned about homelessness and refugees, because for him, care for the poor and care for the family are both important aspects of Christian teaching.

However, one is currently more fashionable than the other. Talking publicly about social justice will win applause (and rightly so), but sharing ‘traditional’ views on marriage, family and sexuality, even privately on social media, can be unpopular and even cause people to lose their jobs.

Wells’s sideswipe at Christians concerned about the rapid changes to family life was unfair and completely unnecessary. Perhaps he felt that he could ingratiate himself with a section of the metropolitan elite, both inside and outside the church? In doing so he, and those in the church leadership who say similar things, will only continue to alienate many ordinary people, who want the church to be Christian and to speak up for marriage and family, even if they are struggling in that area, and they don’t attend church themselves.

It needs to be pointed out, of course, that Wells, as a senior clergyman destined for higher office within the Church, is not alone in his views. In November the C of E leadership enthusiastically endorsed ‘Valuing All God’s Children’, a guidance document for Church of England schools, which appears to suggest that anything other than the full acceptance and promotion of LGBT and particularly transgender ideology can amount to ‘transphobic bullying’. In the same month the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a speech in Moscow that instead of promoting a biblical vision of marriage and family, the church should simply accept the reality that there are different views and different types of relationships. One commentator calls the ABC’s views “deeply concerning”.

How should biblically orthodox Anglicans respond to the secularisation of society and, increasingly, its influence on the Church institutions? In his article in CEN, Bishop Michael goes on to suggest: “We should strengthen our churches and enable believers to be faithful. But the Bible also calls us to witness for the good of society. We cannot abandon this call and withdraw into a holy huddle.”

The holy huddle is not necessarily just the church which worships behind closed doors and makes no impact in the community. It may be looking to project a friendly face to society but keeps its doctrinal and ethical views and practices to itself, afraid to witness to the lordship of Christ outside the church, believing that the lives and behaviour of those outside are none of its business.

As we face the New Year, we need to develop plans for how we can move forward in publicly and counter-culturally witnessing to Christ, with the aim of producing not just church growth, but transformation in society. Here are some suggestions on how we can encourage each other to be more faithful and outward looking:

  • develop Spirit-empowered disciples with a Word-based worldview through preaching and teaching, so we can assess issues and act biblically, rather than tribally (ie basing our opinions on political or church group affiliation)
  • pray more comprehensively and with more insight; to pray about individuals and issues; to identify the spiritual powers and false philosophies behind the problems we are asking God to solve
  • help Christians already involved in the community through family life, work or volunteering (most of us) how to reflect biblically and theologically on what we’re doing, to consciously bring Christ into our speech and actions
  • celebrate and support the courage and good efforts of others in their work and witness, especially those who stand against the flow of secular culture in Christ’s name.

Editorial Blog Selection 2017

Posted by on Dec 28, 2017 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Editorial Blog Selection 2017

Editorial Blog Selection 2017

2017 Anglican Mainstream analysis and comment: A selection of editorial blog posts from Andrew Symes

 

The Church of England: The increasing dominance of revisionist theology. Reports and comment

Bishop of Chelmsford calls for “prayers of thanksgiving” for same sex relationships. A report and comment on the way Stephen Cotterell used his Charge to Diocesan Synod to promote his vision of “radical inclusion”.

Encountering contemporary liberal theology – in its own words. What is the vision of the Christian faith offered by the ‘Modern Church’ organisation? Should it be accepted as valid by evangelicals as part of ‘good disagreement’?

The ongoing influence of new Gnosticism among C of E evangelicals. Ten years ago it was Chalke, McClaren and Bell. Now a new popular spirituality for those who have ‘grown up and moved on ‘ from the old certainties of evangelical faith: the writings of Richard Rohr.

Transgender liturgies – why are we even asking the question? The call for Synod to approve prayers in church to mark ‘gender transition’ ceremonies is not evidence of new levels of compassion, but capitulation to pressure from the secular culture.

Synod supports ban on ‘conversion therapy’ – what it means. “This decision…was not made for reasons of Christian theology. It was made on the basis of fake science… fear of the LGBT lobby …and emotional manipulation by apostate activists within the church leadership.”

C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim. A guidance document for church schools, appearing to fully endorse radical gender ideology, is released just after Lorna Ashworth’s resignation from General Synod and Archbishops’ Council, citing ‘erosion of faithfulness’.

 

Some responses of biblically faithful Anglicans to what’s happening in the C of E 

Call to continue Gospel vision at thanksgiving service. A large gathering at All Souls remembers Mike Ovey, celebrates his life and pledges to continue building on his legacy. A report.

Unofficial Bishops, non-C of E Anglicans: fragmentation and schism, or new reformation? Analysis in the wake of the announcement of the consecration of Jonathan Pryke (Jesmond) and Andy Lines (Gafcon Missionary Bishop).

Following an apparent triumph by revisionists at the July General Synod: England’s orthodox Anglicans: agreed on Synod’s implications, divided on what to do.

A robust document is critical of the direction of the Church of England:  Have C of E evangelical leaders suggested that a Rubicon has been crossed?

“Don’t abandon the flock” – command from the Lord, or excuse for inaction? Examining the arguments of those determined to stay in the C of E whatever happens, who are critical of those exploring other options.

An option for ‘differentiation’ between orthodox and revisionists becomes clearer: Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations 

Imagine: future conversations about differentiation – A fictional account of a meeting of orthodox Anglicans in England in January 2019

 

The global Anglican Communion, Gafcon and mission

Reading the Bible upside down. The global fellowship of Gafcon provides affluent Anglicans with an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at Scripture, still as God’s word, but from the perspective of the poor.

Local church and global mission. A couple return from long term service in Africa to teach their new English congregation about mission (fictional account, based on true stories).

Growth and decline in the Anglican Communion: a review of a book edited by David Goodhew. Much of interest, but the book refuses to mention Gafcon, or admit that growth and decline are linked to theology.

Gafcon events in England and USA. Report on the consecration of Andy Lines, and successful open meetings to promote Gafcon.

Faithfulness to Christ against the odds: the Anglican Communion and the global sexual revolution. A preview of the Canterbury Primates meeting, with some background to the challenges faced by theologically orthodox Primates.

Myths, misinformation or parallel realities? The thinking behind the Primates’ Communique. Given the divisions within the Communion, where does the language of ‘walking together’ comes from?

Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections. What biblically faithful Anglicans in Britain can learn from the Anglican Network in Canada

 

Gospel and culture 

Responding to Islam and religious pluralism. A report on Christian Concern’s ‘Cultural Leadership Symposium’ on mission in the context of living among people of other faiths.

After Pentecost: small miracle, big implications. Acts 3 gives the first example of  powerful religious institutions trying to control and domesticate Spirit-empowered Gospel ministry, but the apostles say “we must obey God rather than men”.

Learning from the parable of Tim Farron.  “Christians should be true to what the Bible believes and what Christ commands, and not try to water these things down to try to be more popular.”

Can biblical faith flourish in an intolerant secular society? Tim Farron and Bishop Tim Dakin give their answers.

Bishop-elect’s radio interview struggle reveals Church’s unresolved dilemmas

Posted by on Dec 19, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Women Bishops | Comments Off on Bishop-elect’s radio interview struggle reveals Church’s unresolved dilemmas

Bishop-elect’s radio interview struggle reveals Church’s unresolved dilemmas

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

She would have known that it would come. She would have prepared for it, rehearsing her lines, perhaps with coaches, wanting to appear wise, generous, compassionate, authoritative. It came, finally, at the end of the interview; the dreaded “Tim Farron question” – “do you think homosexual relationships are sinful?”

Like an England batsman in the nets in Australia she had practiced for this moment (apologies to American and mainland European readers at this point – please see here for background). Like the player who finds himself out in the middle, in a hostile environment, with the pressure on, the ball when it comes is no different from hundreds he has faced in training. But mentally, the batsman is not the same. Less relaxed, more tense, his feet , head and hands don’t move as they should. In practice, he’s confident. Now, he can be caught out at any time, with a nasty crowd ready to laugh and jeer as he trudges back to the dressing room. In practice he hits sweetly; now facing the real thing, he pokes and prods nervously.

I’ve been in that situation (with a radio interview, not playing cricket – I don’t think my stint in the Diocesan clergy team games brought quite the same pressure as The Ashes). And of course on the issue of homosexuality Bishop Sarah Mullally is going to cause disappointment and anger to one or even both sides, in the church and the country as a whole, whatever she says. So I’m loathe to criticize her for her performance on Radio 4 at breakfast time the day after her announcement as Bishop of London. I felt for her as she attempted to answer the inevitable question, and she flannelled and waffled, a combination of the cringeworthy and the hilarious (see transcript below).

Many will be relieved that at least she had previously re-stated the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman. Unlike other male Bishops in the frame for this high office, such as Stephen Cottrell of Chelmsford, she had not used her position to publicly advocate for a change in the Church’s teaching. She didn’t answer the question like Theresa May (“no of course it’s not a sin”), or like Tim Farron (initially “I’m not here to discuss theology”; later “no of course it’s not a sin”). But Sarah Mullally can’t sit on the fence forever, “managing difference”. And should that be the Bishop’s job anyway? We will see eventually what her theological and ethical views actually are, on this and other key questions of Christian orthodoxy.

The new Bishop of London is such a high profile and civic position, and the British establishment so converted to the new illiberal social liberalism (or cultural Marxism), that taking a position seen as anti-LGBT would be simply unacceptable and impossible, as Tim Farron showed. Those biblically faithful Anglicans who are determined to stay in the Church of England without conditions will have to face up to this reality, that even theologically orthodox Bishops are constrained in what they can publicly teach in this area. But at the very least it’s disappointing that Rt Revd Mullally was not able to deflect the focus on to the Gospel; to say something like: “I know you’re interested in my views on sex, but I don’t want to talk about that now. I want to talk about the good news of Jesus Christ which we all remember this Christmas”.

 

***************************************

 

For some in the C of E, the appointment of a woman to the Bishopric of London will have already crossed a line. But the majority of conservatives who believe in male ‘headship’ have already decided, it seems, not to complain about Dame Sarah’s gender, to trust in the idea of ‘mutual flourishing’, perhaps recognizing the administrative authority of the new Bishop but turning to others for spiritual oversight.

Anglican Mainstream, like Gafcon, has always seen the issue of women clergy and Bishops to be secondary to the more serious issues of what constitutes sin that separates us from God and neighbour, and how we can be reconciled to God through Christ. Questions such as “is it OK for a woman to be the Bishop of London?”, or to highlight a debate from last week, “does an Anglican have to be recognized as such by Canterbury?” are pressing, but not of primary importance. Committed young Christians from Anglican backgrounds, or those finding faith for the first time, looking for a spiritual home at university or in their new workplace, are by and large not interested in the arguments about who is really an Anglican, or who the Bishop of London is. They want to know rather, are Anglicans Christians? Is the local Anglican congregation part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and do their leaders rightly believe and preach the word and rightly administer the sacraments; are they open to the Holy Spirit?

Some decide to leave the Anglican church because its alignment with historic apostolic Christian faith appears to be muted or unclear, and Bishop-elect Sarah in her radio interview is by no means the first or only senior leader in the C of E to give that impression. But thanks to God’s grace, and the vision and courage of great leaders around the world in the Gafcon movement, it is possible to be genuinely Anglican and biblically Christian, whether part of the official structures or not, united by shared understanding and experience of faith in Christ, respectful of history, tradition and polity, even of Canterbury, but not primarily defined by these things.

 

Transcript excerpt: Interview of the Bishop of London-elect, Dame Sarah Mullally, by BBC’s Mishal Husain, Radio 4 Today Programme, Tuesday 19th December, 7.54am:

MH: How would you vote when Synod debates blessings for same sex relationships?

SM: Well, at that point I won’t be in Synod, so I won’t have a vote. But what we haveto remember is…

MH: How would you vote?

SM: What we have to remember is that this is about people, and, um, the church seeks to demonstrate love to all, because it reflects the God of love, who loves everybody, and obviously this issue isn’t just an issue for London, not just for us in the Church of England, but also the Anglican Community, um and at the moment the church is taking a period to reflect, there is work that is going on, er, and I’m involved in that, and, er, for me that is important that we take a time of reflection, whilst, you know, standing on the traditions of the Church of England…

MH: Would you bless a same sex marriage?

SM: At the moment there is no provision to do that

MH: Would you like there to be that provision?

SM: As I said there is a period of reflection that is going on at the moment, and I am part of that…

MH: Have you not decided how you feel about blessing a same sex marriage?

SM: I think that, what we have to recognize is a real diversity within the Church of England, and if we are going to take seriously the wish of the two Archbishops to take a period of reflection, then we need to allow that process to go ahead, and I have been very encouraged by those who wish to work with us on that. And at the same time we do have to recognize that this is a challenge for all people, and we do this as we have always done it in the past, we manage difference…

MH: [Interrupts] I recognize that this is difficult…a sensitive issue…[continues, then mentions] St Helen’s Bishopsgate where the vicar has said he is looking to the new Bishop to condemn homosexual relationships as sinful, otherwise there will be some kind of break. [Deep breath]. Do you think homosexual relationships are sinful?

SM: Er, well, the comment came across in the press, and one the things I’m doing is meeting those people that reflect the whole diversity across the Church of England. And in a sense it’s not avoiding the subject but it’s recognizing that there is a difference, that the Church of England, um, is taking a period of reflection, and recognizing that it does involve people, so there is a sense in which you have to compassionately, um, deal with these issues, and, er, I am forever encouraged that the church across London is undertaking a whole series of things in communities, to be, er, welcoming to that diversity. And one of the wonderful things yesterday was being out in Hackney, and seeing, er, a church that is welcoming people…

Interviewer interrupts and asks about the possibility of a female Archbishop in her lifetime.

SM replies about focusing on the job in hand.

Interview ends. Programme moves to the weather forecast.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09jbs55

1.54.10

Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations

Posted by on Dec 11, 2017 in Anglican Mission in England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations

Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The focus for the first ordination service conducted by Gafcon missionary Bishop Andy Lines on 7th December was on the universal scope of Christ’s authority, and his commission to make disciples across national and cultural barriers. Taking Matthew 28:16-20 as his text, guest preacher Rico Tice reminded the ordinands and congregation of how Jesus’ victory deriving from his cross and resurrection, and his authority over the nations, derives from his identity: divine Son and co-creator of the universe. The command to those who believe in him remains the same as it was to his first followers: to go, communicate the good news and make Jesus known. This is difficult and involves suffering, partly because many of those who hear refuse to repent and believe, but Jesus promises an eternal close relationship: “I will be with you always”.

In the lead-up to the ordination of 8 deacons and one presbyter for ministry in congregations of the Anglican Mission in England, Bishop Andy Lines and AMiE Mission Director Lee McMunn had stressed that contrary to some earlier headlines, the core identity of this emerging ministry is found not in opposition to certain cultural trends or schism from the Church of England. Rather it’s a way of providing local Episcopal oversight from ministry which already exists and is growing, wants to be Anglican but is not part of ‘official’ structures. And the motivation is the need for new patterns of mission, given the spiritual situation in Britain, where only a tiny percentage know Jesus and worship in church regularly.

The service took place at East London Tabernacle, a Baptist church in Mile End, and was attended by friends, congregants and family of the ordinands, as well as several dozen supporters from within the Church of England, including well-known names. It followed the liturgy of the Anglican Church in North America, the Province under whose auspices Bishop Andy was consecrated in June. Bishop Trevor Walters from the Anglican Network in Canada, and Canon Dan Alger who heads the ACNA church planting initiative, were present and gave greetings and prayers, as did four Gafcon Primates via video link.

It was noticeable, and encouraging, that most of those ordained serve new churches in the north of England. All have completed theological study by various means; all are already fully involved in pastoral and evangelistic ministry, and most are helping to support themselves and their families by working part time.

This model of church planting does not involve expensive up front investment before the work has even started; nor are there concerns about parish boundaries. The groups meeting in school halls, cafes or front rooms, often not in the smartest neighbourhoods, may at first sight look independent rather than Anglican, or to use terminology from a previous generation, ‘chapel’ rather than ‘church’. But now, because of Gafcon, communities of mission-minded disciples like this can emerge under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, with the flexibility of light structures, the doctrinal stability that comes from a clear confessional basis, and yet Anglican: episcopally led and globally connected.

So while the focus at the ordination was on biblically faithful local church ministry, the implications are wider when such ministry aligns with a global movement which seeks to build fellowship around the truth of God’s word. While the primary ministry of the Bishop and the newly ordained clergy may be pastoral and evangelistic, the new alignment of which they’re a part has a clear prophetic role in giving a godly alternative to false ideologies in the broader culture.

Can biblical faith flourish in an intolerant secular society?

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Christianity, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Intolerance, Liberalism | Comments Off on Can biblical faith flourish in an intolerant secular society?

Politician (Tim Farron) and Bishop (Tim Dakin) call for new relationship between minority orthodox Christianity and dominant liberalism.

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The main hall at the Law Society in Chancery Lane was packed. TV cameras were in attendance, and bloggers and tweeters were poised over ipads as Tim Farron was introduced as the speaker for last week’s annual Theos lecture (full text here).

Farron is a fascinating anomaly for the governing classes who dominate the establishment and the media. He is politically left-leaning and philosophically liberal; passionately anti-Brexit, in favour of more government spending on public services and benefits for the disadvantaged; critical of conservatism. Yet he is an evangelical Christian, whose faith, as he says, is more than just cultural – he is a true believer. His resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats in June, saying that it was not possible for him to be faithful to Christ and hold that particular public office, led to a large volume of comment some of which can be found here.

My guess was that given the niche in which Theos positions itself, the number sharing Farron’s genuine evangelical faith would have been a minority in the audience including eminent academics, hard bitten journalists, politicians, theologically liberal Christian leaders and perhaps even LGBT activists. Now free of the shackles of political leadership, and aware that people are genuinely interested in what he thinks, Farron did not miss the opportunity to be absolutely clear about the key elements of his bible-based faith. He gave a testimony about how he came to personal knowledge of Christ and saw the reasonableness of a Christian world view. He spoke of his regular attendance with his family at a church where “my pastor preaches faithfully from the Bible without compromising…”. As no-one can doubt his commitment to social justice, he was able to say that the Gospel “tells us that we are not good, that our biggest need is not food, water, money, relationships, success or acceptance by society… our greatest need is forgiveness from the God who made us.” While this would have made revisionist Christians in the audience cringe, it surely also caused a thought to cross the mind of more than one listener how great it would be if certain prominent church leaders were able to speak as clearly as this!

For Farron, authentic Christian faith must be counter-cultural. He compared the “Babylon” of Revelation 17 with the godless, self-serving Western culture of today, and that as Christians put God first, they will not only turn their back on contemporary idols and false ideologies, but also be a shunned minority (although he was at pains to point out the relative freedoms which Christians still enjoy in Britain today.)

The threat to religious freedom, democracy and cohesion today comes from an increasingly intolerant secularism which is the result of the victory of liberalism. In Farron’s account, British liberalism emerged from the battle for religious liberty and the freedom of ideas in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But today, according to Farron, that doctrine of liberalism has become dominant, and like state-sponsored Christianity, instead of being ‘emancipationist’, has become oppressive. Liberalism has today become like the ‘established church’ of Constantinian or post-Reformation times, wanting a monopoly of power, no longer a philosophy which challenges the human tendency to lord it over others. For Farron, the foundation of liberalism is Christianity (and particularly non-conformist evangelicalism), not political correctness masquerading as a kind of self-evident ‘liberalism’. “Secularism is a totalising creed that reduces everyone down to either consumer or regulatory units”, he says, and cannot be a basis for ‘shared values’.

At the same time, Christianity must be ‘liberal’, sticking to the Bible’s teaching, but not seeking to impose this on society in such a way as to restrict freedom of thought and action within the law. Farron isn’t saying, as some evangelicals do, that Christians should just focus on the local church, and be indifferent to the lives and choices of society outside the Christian community and those being evangelised on the fringe. As he said: “God will judge…it is not unloving or judgmental for Christians to point that out”. But he warns against the kind of close association of church and state:

“That in Britain we have a church trapped as part of the furniture of the state is a waste of a church.  A boat in the water is good.  Water in the boat, is bad.  A church in the state is good, the state in the church is bad.  Really bad.  It pollutes the message of that church.  It compromises it.  Weakens its witness.”

This serious criticism of the Church of England’s basic DNA, which Tim Farron did not develop in his argument, puts a finger on a key issue for thinking about the future of Anglicanism in Britain. Bible believing Christians in the C of E have always argued that Establishment ensures a place for influence at the high table, and an open door into communities at the grassroots. But if Farron is right, and the state is no longer Christian-liberal, and instead has become increasingly secular-authoritarian, then the state church no longer influences positively for Christianity. It must conform to secularism in order to stay at the high table – and in doing so must of necessity shed much of its Christian character, and collude in the persecution of orthodox Christianity.

This problem begins to be identified and addressed in an article by Tim Dakin, ironically as Bishop of Winchester the holder of one of the most ancient positions of church-state Establishment! Writing for the Fulcrum website, Dakin argues for a ‘principled pluralism’ – a benign public square which recognises and encourages the ways that different faith communities and other groups with diverse beliefs and  values can contribute to the common good. Traditional Christian teaching need not be a threat to a liberal society or a source of tension and negativity, but can be seen as making a positive confident contribution to society.

Dakin’s piece, entitled ‘Traditional Christians contribute to society”, is clearly aimed a rebutting the view expressed not just in secular government and media but also in increasingly powerful revisionist church leadership circles, that orthodox Christian faith is to be seen as harmful. Like Farron, Dakin is concerned about this, and even gives an example from the recent Church of England document on bullying of ‘transgender’ children in schools:

“What is not explained [in the document] is the Church of England’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. Instead it’s acknowledged that there’s a range of views on marriage and gender…without the positive reiteration of the Church’s traditional teaching the implication may be drawn that this teaching is linked to bullying behaviour.”

Like Farron, Dakin believes that biblical Christianity can be accommodated in a new culture of tolerant liberalism, but unlike Farron he appears not to recognise the reason for why his own Church has capitulated to LGBT lobbyist-inspired government diktats on gender ideology, namely that it is a state church, compromised with state policy. Also, unlike Farron, Dakin seems much more diffident in commending biblical faith in Christ from the perspective of personal commitment. He prefers to say, more ‘objectively’, what traditional Christians believe, and ends up pleading for a space for these people in a plural public square because of the good they might do, rather than because of the truth of the message. Again, as a C of E Bishop, he has to do this, mindful of the way his role has morphed from defender of the faith to being a kind of mediator of “a vision for social responsibility, for collaborating across differences….tolerance… respect for others, an appreciation of difference…social cohesion…to create the conditions for a flourishing society.”

Tim Farron’s speech, as this review points out, was a great encouragement, although he was perhaps over-optimistic about the prospects of renewing liberalism in the way he outlined, and in particular did not address the hegemony of the LGBT lobby. Tim Dakin’s article, while containing some thought provoking ideas, only serves to illustrate the increasing tension facing the Church of England seeking to hold on to its role as the ‘faith’ component of a secular state. If the thinking in this article is the best that biblically faithful Christians can hope for from an evangelical Bishop, it’s not surprising that more people are either following Tim Farron into ‘nonconformist’ churches, or exploring alternative ways of being Anglican but not Church of England.

 

 

Advent: the quiet arrival of the Kingdom into the republic

Posted by on Nov 28, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Anglican Church in North America, Editorial Blog, Scottish Episcopal Church | Comments Off on Advent: the quiet arrival of the Kingdom into the republic

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Christ is the King, as many of us remembered and celebrated this past Sunday. To quote the wonderful Psalm 2, God has installed his Son as sovereign in Zion; the nations are his inheritance, the ends of the earth his possession. That is the reality, and the powers on the earth are warned that the best way to abundant life is to “celebrate his rule” and “take refuge in Him”.

But of course they don’t: the first part of the Psalm gives a vivid picture of how arrogant human authorities “rise up… against the Lord and against his anointed”, wanting what they think is freedom from God’s “chains” and “shackles”. Christ is the King, but they – we – want independence: we want a republic.

The question asked at the beginning of the Psalm: why do human beings do this? Is not answered here, but the rest of the Bible explains. Original sin is described by Paul in Romans 1:25 as our innate tendency to exchange the truth, the reality of a universe under God’s gracious rule, for the lie of our own autonomy. We justify this either by atheism (pretending that God doesn’t exist), or psychologically re-making him in our own image, creating new gods to justify and validate our rebellion.

This Sunday we begin to celebrate God’s response to the declaring of independence, new republics in human hearts, communities and nations. As in Barcelona earlier this year, the people of the earth have voted to throw off the shackles of the Kingdom and declare a republic. The legitimate central government responds by restoring order under its rightful authority. But while we give thanks for (so far) peaceful resolution in Spain, spiritually and globally the rebellion is deeper and much more serious. The republic has set itself up over centuries, its structures and values entrenched over generations. As time passes, the authority of the true King and his Kingdom is a distant memory.

Has God given up on us and retreated to heaven? Or perhaps he has made peace with the new republic, made compromises, focused on things in common – perhaps God has even blessed the authorities of the earth and the spiritual powers behind them, as reserves his judgement for the conservatives still clinging to the outdated idea of a kingdom? Psalm 2 is clear that this is not the case, and explains what will happen in the end, as does Jesus in many of his parables. The owner of the vineyard, the master of the house, the King will return with wrath and power, to destroy evil, punish rebels, and fully re-establish his perfect rule.

That is the final, visible Advent. But before that there are others, often small, often unseen, unspectacular, even secret, seen only with the eyes of faith. Supremely, Christ is born as a baby, weak, vulnerable, as C.S.Lewis said, into “enemy-occupied territory”, like a capsule arriving from outer space and landing on the rebel-held planet. But there is also the advent of the Spirit in the life of believers, creating the Church. And the advent of the Gospel and the Church into every community around the world, as the nations become the inheritance of Christ, not by violence, but by infiltration into the republic by the secret agents of the Kingdom.

Often in human history this results in hearts renouncing allegiance to the republic and turning back to the Kingdom. This is conversion, as we receive a full pardon for our rebellion through the self-sacrificial ministry of the King himself. The results are seen not just in growing churches, but communities and even nations transformed, embracing the values of God’s rule which are reflected in laws and customs, even if not every individual acknowledges the King.

 

But sadly, it sometimes works the other way. As the Bible shows in excoriating detail with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, human systems of government and religion set up to reflect and promote the rule of God can become corrupt, maintaining the form and language of the Kingdom but transferring spiritual allegiance to the republic. The surrounding culture just seems too powerful, its promises too alluring, its apparent prosperity too tempting, the consequences of non-compliance too uncomfortable. The result is that the leaders and the people pray with their lips “thy Kingdom come” but believe in their hearts and preach the worldviews and ideologies of those who do not acknowledge the true God and his rightful authority.

It’s difficult enough to live in a ‘republic’ society while being inwardly loyal to the Kingdom. When leaders of what is supposed to be the Kingdom community gradually shift their allegiance to the republic, what are the options for the faithful other than intercession to the King himself? Writing letters to rebel Bishops, penning carefully argued books – even blogs! – will not work as a way of persuading them to come back under the authority to which they originally pledged themselves, because they have decided to “throw off the chains”, and that the new republic is their kingdom. When the human structures of the church go the way of the world, embracing the ideology of rebellion and republic, God acts in the way he always has, the Advent way: the quiet and small-scale establishment of a new Kingdom bridgehead.

This is why the story of Christ Church, Harris is so significant. A tiny congregation is prepared to say to a Bishop: “the Scottish Episcopal Church has made itself its own republic…it is now therefore outside the Kingdom”. The Harris congregation remains Anglican, but are now under the oversight of Bishop Andy Lines, ACNA and Gafcon rather than SEC. Those loyal to the King cannot compromise, perhaps negotiating, finding ways of ensuring minimal discomfort and retention of assets, keeping a seat at the table. This congregation has rather opted for “full Kingdom”, rather than something that exists by permission of a church which no longer considers allegiance to the King and his word as of first importance. They have fully differentiated, separated, even to the point of giving up their building.

This small group of people taking action on a remote island may not seem like much, but it bears powerful witness to spiritual realities. It’s an example of faith and courage which will reverberate out of all proportion to its apparent insignificance in terms of numbers and location. We could see it as part of a new quiet advent of Kingdom Anglicanism in the British Isles.

 

Acknowledgement: The idea of an apostate church becoming a republic, or part of the republic, is not the author’s but comes entirely from the Reverend Daniel Davies, priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Harris, and his statement to the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles.

C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim

Posted by on Nov 14, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Transgender | Comments Off on C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim

C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In late 2013, there were a number of reports in the media about failures in RE in schools leaving many children ignorant about the basic facts of the Christian faith. In November of that year, a senior Bishop speaking at General Synod celebrated the high academic standards and good OFSTED reports of many C of E schools, but said that children are not being educated fully unless they are cared for pastorally and “begin to explore a relationship with Jesus Christ” (see here, p106). This commitment to enabling children to have a foundational exposure to the Gospel through schools for which the Church has responsibility was reiterated the following year by the Archbishop of York.

But this seems to have changed. It’s true that at local level, many C of E schools have good relationships with local churches, and ensure that the Bible is opened and children learn what orthodox Christianity is as part of their education, in assemblies and RE classes. However, increasingly, this cannot be guaranteed. Sometimes C of E schools appoint Principals who are experienced heads but with no personal faith or even who are antagonistic towards Christianity.

Other schools face lobbying from groups of parents who object to favourable and clear portrayals of Christianity. Recently a primary school in Tunbridge Wells capitulated to such pressure, agreeing to stop assemblies provided by the Christian Youth ministry Crossteach. The Diocese of Rochester, rather than insisting that parents accept the Christian element of the curriculum because it is a church school, backed the head in implementing a dumbed-down faith and religion policy in which the distinctive elements of the Gospel are removed to avoid ‘offense’.

The Diocese of Oxford has just brought out a Guidance Paper on Chaplaincy in Church Schools (not yet on its website). Surely here there should be some reference to the Archbishop of York’s call for children to know Jesus Christ in the role of a chaplain? But no – the 17 page document does not mention Christ or the Bible. It specifically warns against any kind of ‘proselytisation’ in the activities of the chaplain. It describes mission in the following terms:

“The concept of Missio Dei – God’s Mission – recognizes God is at work in the world, seeking to bring life in all its fullness (e.g. reconciliation, good relationships, wholeness and human flourishing).”

It suggests that some of the spiritual ministry of the chaplain could include “creation of opportunities to reflect upon and consider life choices and behaviours”, and to “support faith development”:

“This extends even to ‘faith in no faith’, it cannot be said that some adherents of atheist humanism or secularism do not show great faith in their endeavours.”

This is a document supposedly encouraging Church schools to consider appointing chaplains, and encouraging clergy, or youth workers, to apply for such roles. But because it will be read by secular government education officials, any genuine Christian element is not just watered down – it has been excised completely. One has to ask, if this is the price of being allowed to continue to manage schools, what is the point of pouring resources and expertise into the church schools structure? And what has happened to enabling children to know Jesus?

The Church of England’s complete capitulation to a secular government agenda was on show to the nation on the morning of Monday 13th November. Astonished viewers and listeners all over the country choked on their breakfast as the C of E’s chief education officer explained the new policy to accommodate ‘transgender’ children. (More media reports and comment can be found here).

As this website has pointed out repeatedly, schools already have robust anti-bullying policies, and already work hard to instill a culture of civility. They already teach children not to pick on those are different, whether it’s the tiny percentage of cross-dressing children who may have gender dysphoria, or the much more numerous minorities: those with ginger hair, those who are racially different, with glasses, slightly overweight, who have an unfashionable bag or shoes, etc. But this new directive from the C of E, trumpeted with a big media launch, appears to be based on the belief that some children can be identified as ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ from an early age; that if a girl wears a batman cloak or a boy wears a tiara this is to be celebrated and encouraged as part of the new exciting world of gender fluidity.

The leadership of the C of E claims that nothing has changed in terms of its doctrine, how it understands the Christian faith. That this new directive on affirming ‘trans’ children is simply a pastoral response to young people in distress. But according to the new guidelines, when a little boy comes to school wearing a dress and wanting to be called Alice, not only must other children all call him ‘Alice’ with love and welcome, with severe punishments for not complying, but all children, parents and staff must believe that this is in fact not a boy, but a trans girl, and that such gender fluidity is normal and good. Archbishop Justin Welby repeats his assertion made in the February Synod ‘radical inclusion’ speech, that there are no ‘issues or problems’, only young people loved by God. And according to the report, the imposition of gender ideology in schools is not a problem or an issue – we just need to love children and obey the new government regulations.

At a stroke, it seems, the Archbishop and the senior leadership of the Church of England have crossed out the biblical doctrine that “male and female he made them”, that the church’s mission is to introduce people to Jesus Christ so they can turn away from sin and be reconciled to God, and oppose evil and injustice. Rather, according to the new Stonewall-assisted directive, it’s all about enabling children to ‘discover who they really are’. The Gospel is reduced to “love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.” The C of E leadership have embraced a radical neo-gnostic ideology and then denied that there is such a thing; they have bought into the idea that worldviews which disagree with gender fluidity, for example biblical Christianity, are harmful and must be ‘stamped out’.

It’s not just the Christian social conservatives, the people most despised by the metropolitan elites of Lambeth palace and Church House, who think this is barmy. Increasingly, people in the secular world, including a growing number of feminists and others on the left, are very concerned about the rush to embrace the ideology of transgender, allowing extremist lobby groups to push through policies in health, education and law which have not been properly thought through. Shrill voices speak of the mental health problems caused by ‘transphobia’, but now more sane voices are daring to speak out about the permanent damage being done to teenagers who think that the drastic surgery of sex change can alleviate their mental distress, only to find that it becomes much worse. So in trying desperately to be ahead of the curve in rejoicing in the Emperor’s new clothes and making this compulsory in their schools, the Church of England leadership is not just wrong, it could find itself embarrassingly out of date, backing an ideology which many secular people regard as reckless and irresponsible.

With unfortunate timing on its part, the C of E launched its new gender fluid policy just after the resignation of Lorna Ashworth from General Synod and Archbishops’ Council. The well-respected conservative evangelical had warned of the policy of ‘good disagreement’ being a front for a slide into heresy. This was brushed off on Friday as a complete exaggeration by Bishops, and also by many evangelical clergy on social media. She does not need to say anything more. The headlines on Monday morning about ‘Valuing all God’s Children’ have proved her point.

What can be done? Many faithful clergy and lay people are governors at their local C of E schools. Will they simply apply the new guidelines uncritically, or will some quietly refuse to comply? Will there be passive acceptance, or protests and resignations? Will fear lead to silence and compliance, or will some follow Lorna’s lead?

More articles on the C of E’s policy and its implications here

More recent articles and resources on gender ideology, church and culture here.

Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Anglican Network in Canada, Canada, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

I have recently returned from Canada where I attended the tenth Synod of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), which was held in Burlington, near Toronto. It was a great experience over four days, with bible exposition, Eucharistic worship and band-led praise, seminar-style teaching on the primacy of grace in clergy self-care (day one), and the ‘solas’ of the Reformation (day two); fervent prayer for evangelism, testimonies about local mission initiatives – and some administrative business – all in the context of warm fellowship based on shared understanding of faith. ANiC is an important part of the slow but inexorable global Anglican realignment. As the historic ‘control centres’ of the denomination in the West lose confidence in the foundational elements of the Christian faith, and look to align with powerful forces of secularism, so new centres of decision making, new church groupings and missional movements have emerged, based on remarkable church growth in the global South, and courageous counter-cultural witness in north America.

In some cases the realignment takes the form of actual separation and the forming of new, confessing, Anglican ecclesial bodies. Even then, the process has been slow. For example, the Diocese of New Westminster (British Columbia) voted to provide services of blessing for same sex couples in 2002. But despite the immediate protest by faithful congregations and clergy, impaired communion and lawsuits, ANiC was not formally constituted as a separate body until 5 years later, and that with only two congregations which had formally separated from the Anglican Church of Canada and come under the oversight of Archbishop Venables of Southern Cone. Today there are around 70 congregations of Anglicans in Canada who form a Diocese as part of Anglican Church of North America, which is a member of Gafcon.

Earlier this year it became clear that the Scottish Episcopal Church was intent on changing its canons on marriage, in opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture and in violation of agreements made by the Anglican Communion. Gafcon decided to respond by consecrating a ‘missionary Bishop’ to minister to faithful Anglicans in Scotland. The consecration of Andy Lines took place in Wheaton Illinois in June, under the auspices of ACNA, after +Andy, the Mission Director of Crosslinks who lives in London, had been received as ‘canonically resident’ in Canada as part of ANiC. I was able to represent Gafcon UK at the ANiC Synod, and bring greetings from Britain. The Canadian Bishops told me that just as faithful Anglican leaders from overseas had reached out to them in their hour of need, providing oversight when their own Bishops had decided to pursue a different ‘gospel’, so they were delighted now to be able to provide the same service, to assist the emerging realignment in Britain.

In other cases, the realignment takes the form of informal broken fellowship within the official structures, for example, Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda not being represented at the recent Primates’ Meeting, or in England, a number of parishes operating semi-independently from their Dioceses, which they regard as convenient centres of administration but not providers of spiritual oversight. New ecclesial structures in England are at the moment embryonic but growing. Anglican Mission in England, Free Church of England and others are taking new initiatives, but so far appear unattractive for various reasons to the majority of biblically faithful Anglicans concerned about the direction of the C of E. There is much debate on whether this may change as more ‘rubicons’ are crossed. What strategies for staying in and being faithful might be sustainable? How many might be tempted to follow the path of compromise, like one large evangelical church I heard of in Canada which stayed in ACoC (the Canterbury-aligned denomination) to ‘witness from within’, and then earlier this year agreed to host the consecration of the new same sex-partnered Bishop.

The ANiC clergy I met had been unable to live with the dissonance of being part of a church which speaks positively about people with diverse views coming together in unity, when in practice this means accepting the dominance of theological revisionism. A woman in her 60’s, now ordained and looking after two small congregations, left ACoC after she heard her Bishop say in a packed Cathedral service that all religions lead to God. One Rector in his early 50’s had convinced himself that he could keep his head down in the ACoC, focusing on his local church. In 2016 the Diocesan Synod voted on same sex marriage, did not quite manage to obtain the two thirds majority, but the Bishop said he would permit it anyway as a ‘prophetic act’. For this clergyman and his congregation, that was the last straw: most followed him as he left his ‘living’ and the building, and began a new ANiC congregation.

But ANiC is also being joined by a new generation who have been attracted by the history, biblically-based liturgy and polity and global fellowship that Anglicanism offers. Young leaders from ‘Via Apostolica’, a small group of (originally) independent charismatic churches who have taken on elements of worship style that we might call ‘high Anglican’, were at the ANiC Synod. Meanwhile there is a real commitment within ANiC, spearheaded by the growing number of young clergy from an East Asian heritage, to reach out to the growing immigrant populations, and reflect racial and cultural diversity within theological unity (but not uniformity).

In his parable of the new wineskins, Jesus warned that the fermenting, fizzing juice of the Gospel can’t be contained in the dry and cracked containers of religious structures which have become self-serving and human-centred. He demonstrated this visibly by cleansing the temple, having shown his followers on Palm Sunday that there was no need to collude with the values of secular authority because its sovereignty is temporary and limited compared to the Kingship of Jesus himself. But still, for many years after his death, resurrection and ascension, after the explosion of church growth among the Gentiles, some believers from Jewish backgrounds in Jerusalem and elsewhere remained tied to the temple structures, unwilling to associate with the new Gentile congregations, and seemingly turning away from Paul after his arrest and imprisonment (Acts 21-26; 2 Timothy 4:16-17), but spreading the Good News of Jesus among Jewish communities.

Similarly, in the early days of the Reformation, many across Europe would have been convinced of the truth of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith, but remained in churches loyal to Rome rather than associating with the new ‘toxic’, ‘divisive’ and ‘political’ movement of Protestantism. It took some years – in England, perhaps not until after the persecution and burning of martyrs by Queen Mary in the 1550’s and the terrifying fleet of the Spanish Armada sailing up the channel in 1588 – before many bible-believing Christians felt comfortable in the new Protestant Church of England (remembering that in those days, “to protest” meant “to hold forth and confess a truth”, as Fred Sanders reminds us in this excellent article about how reformed Christians should be more ‘catholic’).

The early church and the Reformation teach us that realignment among the people of God is necessary at key times in history to preserve faithfulness to the truth, and to release Gospel workers for mission in new contexts. The ‘early adopters’ may need patience and wisdom, while those naturally cautious need courage and vision.

Albion leaders walking a tightrope

Posted by on Oct 26, 2017 in Anglican Communion, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Albion leaders walking a tightrope

Albion leaders walking a tightrope

By Andrew Symes, Church of England Newspaper.

The Principal and Governing Body of Albion Middle School were walking a tightrope. Seeing themselves as reconcilers and peacemakers, they found themselves in an impossible position, trying to find a via media between radically different views.

Albion was a large school franchise in England, but it also had major international interests, and still chaired the growing Albion Academy Federation, an international body of educational establishments who still looked to Albion as the ‘mother school’.

But there was now major conflict. Albion’s philosophy had always been: no conditions for entry to school (motto: ‘by grace alone’), but then education involves teaching children essential knowledge and skills. In recent years, however, some schools in the affluent north, influenced by new liberal philosophies, had changed to ‘self-actualization centres’, with the priority being on student ‘wellbeing’, based on facilitating young people to have good self-esteem.

At the 2016 meeting of global Academy Principals, it was agreed that the United States branch of Albion Academy should face ‘consequences’ for violating basic common understandings of education, and in particular for their decision to make academic work optional. Commentators had noted that these measures, intended to boost student numbers by making scholarship easier, was actually having the opposite effect. In fact a new body, the Albion Real Education Federation of North America, had formed in 2009 and was recognized by a number of schools in the global south as their preferred partner.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument, the English leadership of Albion was facing increasing pressure from Parliament, educationalists and even its own teachers. The new progressive philosophies of education were now fully accepted in England. What began with schools being allowed to ditch coursework and exams, replacing Maths with mindfulness and science with scented candles – became increasingly de rigeur. Schools were encouraged to embrace the liberal methods, and soon traditional education became a permitted minority position.

Senior establishment figures had begun to question whether knowledge based study of traditional subjects should be allowed as a valid educational option, as it can be oppressive, causing low self-esteem and mental health problems. The deputy head of Albion’s Oxfordshire Academy has been particularly outspoken, recently giving an interview in The Times in which he called for an end to the concessions which allow schools to opt out of the ‘safe space’ legislation.

So Albion’s leadership has been in a bind. If they clearly side with the ‘teach and learn’ traditionalists, the majority of Albionites across the world, they would find themselves in deep trouble at home; they may even have their license to run educational establishments taken away by the government. Some conservative teachers within the Albion group are advocating this anyway, and small numbers have left or are planning to leave, and set up their own independent after-hours schools.

But siding with the progressives would also cause problems. The English Albion Academy would find itself subject to the same ‘consequences’ in terms of the global movement, perhaps having to withdraw from participation in governance of its own organization. There would be a major strain in relationships between England and the rapidly growing school movements of the global south. In the short term, the English branch of Albion could only articulate a holding position. So in answer to questions such as “does an education where you don’t actually learn anything have any value?”, they had to equivocate, saying “I haven’t made up my mind”, or “we’re having a conversation on this”.

The 2017 global meeting required a masterful balancing act facilitated by skilful diplomacy as evidenced in the final communiqué. Behind closed doors the heads of the various Albion branches around the world discussed the ‘internal’ issue of Scotland’s decision to follow USA (and, some said, Canada) in embracing a fully progressive education policy. “There are deep disagreements on this issue”, said the Statement, “but we continue to walk together as an Albion family”. It was not explained how an educational organization can coherently hold together when some of its schools believe in teaching and learning, and others do not.

The Communique spoke of the “sadness” felt by those present at the consequences imposed on the Scottish branch having to withdraw from the ‘paperclips and coffee replenishment committee’ for the next three years. This was following a similar punishment faced by the progressive Americans who were initially told they could not be selected for some global decision making bodies, only to find that there was no real power to block them from the most important committees because they come under different governance.

The progressive-dominated organizers of the global meeting have made sure that the important issue of “what is education?” is not resolved. Can Albion really keep working together in their mission to help children, despite radically different views about what they most need?

Read in CEN here