Manipulative, domineering revisionists must be opposed, not appeased
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream
I can already hear the shocked gasps from some as they read this title. “Oh, can’t we have a nicer tone in this debate?”, some are thinking, as they cover their ears, desperately thinking happy thoughts and hoping the whole nasty issue will go away.
It has been said to me that just as Jesus was silent before his accusers, so that should be our example. Well, he was silent at key moments in his trial, but in his ministry there were plenty of times when he confronted and exposed the falsehood and hypocrisy of his opponents. And he did it publicly, not quietly in a corner. Peter and John courageously looked their accusers in the eye and told them that Jesus, whom they crucified, was risen, and was the only Saviour and Lord. Later, the apostle Paul was not afraid to confront those in Galatia who were following a false Gospel, and told of how “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face”. This year we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther who called out the corruption and heresy in the church leadership and teaching of his day.
In all of these cases and many more, when the people of God are being led astray by “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8), the sad but necessary requirement is not “peace, peace, where there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14) but conflict: Ephesians 6:10-18. It is true that our battle is not against flesh and blood in the sense of physically taking up arms against individuals, but as the previous paragraph has shown, this cannot mean avoiding all contact with human opposition, nor that we should just engage with tea and empathy. “Stand your ground…with the belt of truth…and the sword of the Spirit” says to me that there are times in the Christian life where strong words and combined principled action are needed as well as the essential of prayer.
The revisionists are still pretending on one level to be operating in a very reasonable way, in the domain of mild disagreement resolved by polite conversation within the church. The LGBT activists on the TV and radio are saying “we just want the church to recognize diversity and different theologies – can’t we just be neutral about same sex blessings and gay marriage, and allow churches which want to conduct them to do so?” But then, often in the same breath, they show their own contempt for diversity, insisting not just that the Church’s teaching on marriage is discriminatory, but that conservative theology per se causes harm to gay people.
Examples of this can be found in the ‘Open Letter to EGGS Members’ (EGGS = Evangelical Group on General Synod). This begins with an appeal to evangelicals to think again about their biblical interpretation, and ends with a denial that the issue of sexuality is “first order”. But then it goes on the attack. Evangelicals are complicit in ‘homophobia’. They all support “sexual orientation change efforts” despite “mounting scientific evidence that sexuality is not chosen nor changeable” (both assertions are patently false: most evangelicals are not aware of counselling programmes for sexual orientation change, and recent evidence shows sexual orientation to be often fluid rather than fixed). Evangelicals are apparently damaging the mission of the church because of being perceived as lacking in love and welcome – a very serious accusation for Gospel-minded followers of Christ, and hardly a second-order issue!
In this exchange on TV, Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain (prominent member of General Synod, married to his same sex partner) claims that he is simply asking for toleration of his views and quiet acceptance and blessing of same sex couples as part of ‘diversity’, and yet within the same five minute period is insisting that the conservative view of sex and marriage causes young people to self-harm and even to commit suicide, despite the fact that research disproves this.
Others have gone further, widening the attack. Bishop Alan Wilson has called the universal Christian belief in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross a “secretive and violent theology”, and has explicitly linked the appalling and inexcusable actions of John Smyth, a unique case dating back more than 35 years, with all who believe that Christ took the penalty for our sin. In this he has been followed by Angela Tilby on the Radio, and Martyn Percy and Giles Fraser in print.
So what we have seen over the past few days, and particularly now during Synod, is that pro LGBT activists have embarked on an attempt to force the Church of England to change its teachings on sex and marriage, firstly by means of appeal to the rational and reasonable middle ground in the church, branding conservatives as extremists and proposing an alternative conclusion to the Bishops GS 2055 report (eg here).
And then, the fist inside the velvet glove: an all-out assault on the tenets of basic Christian orthodoxy in the public domain outside the church, through the parading of pain and fury at every opportunity on the floor of Synod, and through the secular media. The aim here is to appeal to the public at large, particularly the powerful and influential figures in Government, law and the media, to force change on the church from the outside.
How can this powerful lobby with its emotional force be resisted? In the short term, we can perhaps pray that the Bishops and the majority of Synod members would see through and refute the hypocrisy of the campaigners, who claim to want diversity, when in fact they want to eradicate orthodox faith; they claim to be powerless victims or standing on their behalf, when in fact they stand with the most powerful lobby in the nation. They speak with the language of Christian faith but have imbibed a philosophy that is implacably hostile to the teachings of the bible about the human person, sexuality, marriage, self-control and chastity – and ultimately, as we have seen, hostile to the idea of a Saviour who takes away sin’s deserved consequences.
But what of the longer term? It should be obvious that a church which allows such views with their bullying tactics to flourish as part of legitimate theological diversity, has abandoned any concept of apostolic deposit based on divine revelation. Such a church will soon be forced to reflect the secular ideology of the powerful lobby group more and more, as has happened in north America. The orthodox can agree to being one view among many, and be gradually erased. A better option: stand firm and if necessary force a schism, and at the same time plan for an alternative jurisdiction.