Bishop Alan Wilson: Please stick to the day job!

Sep 30, 2014 by

by Andrew Symes:

Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham and a Suffragan in the Diocese of Oxford, has written a book, published this week, in which he argues that the Church of England should fully support gay sexual relationships and same sex marriage. No surprise there, for anyone who has been following the recent career of the maverick Bishop who has also recently embraced the cause of  legalization of assisted suicide.

Scarcely a week goes by without Bishop Wilson appearing in the media giving us his views, repeating the mantras of the metropolitan chattering classes. Meanwhile the Bishop of Oxford is in the process of retiring, leaving a transitional power vacuum, and many decent clergy in the Diocese who are appalled at Wilson’s views are too busy doing the work they are called and paid to do – ie preaching the Gospel and caring for their parishioners – to mount any kind of organized protest against the Bishop’s heterodox but hardly original ideas.

The recent article in the Telegraph  focuses on Bishop Wilson’s claim that 10% of Bishops are gay, and are being forced to stay in the closet by the C of E’s outdated and homophobic doctrines on sex and marriage. Peter Ould has done  an excellent job   of exposing this unpleasant little trick. Bishop Wilson makes no distinction between men in active homosexual relationships who may or may not be campaigning for a change in the church’s teaching, those who have had gay relationships in the past and repented of them before or since ordination (and who may have since enjoyed happy marriage and had children), and those who live celibate lives out of a conviction that this is the faithfulness Christ requires.

I look forward to the publication of Bishop Wilson’s book which I have pre-ordered (although it pains me to think of contributing to his royalties) but in the meantime we need to look at some of the things that he has said in the promotion of his campaign, and what we know will be in the book from the publishers’ previews.

The Bishop says in his Telegraph interview that the Church’s official teaching is largely based on “our grandparents’ cultural dictates rather than the teaching of Jesus”. Now firstly, he must surely realize that the cultural opposition to homosexual practice did not only exist in our grandparents’ day. There has never been another culture in history like the affluent, self-indulgent West of today, and even now there is a large silent minority – or even a majority – who are unhappy with the relentless promotion of this agenda to remove sexual taboos, but dare not speak out. But more importantly it is a myth that Jesus said nothing about, or even approved of homosexual practice as Bishop Wilson and many others claim. This has been shown before on this blog and in a myriad of much better resources (see for example here).

If Alan Wilson and others dismiss all the clear evidence of Scripture about marriage and sex, and claim that same sex relationships are blessed by God, what reason do they give for other boundaries about sexual conduct? If the plain meaning of the Bible cannot be trusted, then why should a relationship be “permanent, faithful and stable”? Why should the number of people in a relationship be limited to two? And why should there be a lower age limit? And then of course, were all the great Christian minds down the ages stupid or bigoted, and only in these last days have we seen the light? I hope he can answer these questions in his book. Bishop Wilson will have to do a lot better in his biblical exegesis and not just rely on clichéd insults about people who don’t agree with him being old-fashioned.

Now on to the Press Release from the publishers of the Bishop’s book, “Perfect Union? Understanding Same Sex Marriage”.  The Press Release summarises Bishop Wilson’s view that the official C of E position is only opposed to gay marriage because of ‘entrenched stereotypes about gay people, and… the struggle to understand the changes in [attitudes to] sex around them today.’ If this is really how liberal revisionists think, then bring on the facilitated conversations. Clearly Bishop Wilson and his ilk need to spend time ‘listening’ to the views and experiences of conservative Christians, some of whom are same sex attracted, who have studied the bible, read many books, talked to and listened to people of different views including those in gay relationships, and who are fully aware of the radical sexual revolution, perhaps more so than many armchair liberals who have not yet had the shock of, for example, seeing what their 12 year old child or grandchild is watching on the internet late at night, or being taught in sex education at school. For a Bishop to dismiss the view of the majority of faithful churchgoers in his Diocese as being homophobic and ignorant shows that perhaps he should spend more time on his day job, preaching the Gospel of repentance, faith in Christ and transformation of life, and supporting faithful Christians as chief pastor in his local area, and less on undermining the teaching of the church and the collegiality of his Episcopal colleagues.

Later in the Press Release, Bishop Wilson gives evidence of his mission theology. Same sex marriage has been passed into law. Clergy and lay people in the Church who are in same sex relationships are really delightful people; they want to get married and to have their lifestyle blessed by the Church. When we ask what God might want for such people, the answer must be “faith, hope, love…and inclusion”. While the majority of churchgoers’ hearts are in favour of change, “their heads lag behind”. The purpose of Bishop Wilson’s argument is to “unite head and heart in a fully positive response to gay people marrying”, and shake off the “years of stereotyping, fear and discrimination”. It’s probably unfair to suggest that this summarises Wilson’s main argument, and one would need to read the whole book to see what else is being said. But if this represents the gist of the book, in a world where reason and truth hold sway, there would be nothing to fear from such shallow thinking. Sadly though we don’t live in such a world. There will be much applause for the Bishop’s book. Many people will be taken in by it and/or have their unbiblical thinking confirmed, so it makes it all the more important that faithful orthodox Christian leaders teach the truth about sexuality and marriage in church and make the arguments in the public square as well.

There will be those who question what the fuss is about. “David Jenkins (former Bishop of Durham) said heretical things and the C of E didn’t split”. Is Wilson the new Jenkins? When Jenkins said that Jesus did not literally rise from the dead, he was largely acting alone in the public eye on behalf of a few academics, and did not have the whole government and media machines behind him pressurizing the church to take the supernatural out of the Christian faith, as Alan Wilson has.  Maybe Bishop Alan is the John Shelby Spong of the C of E, following the pioneering pro-gay campaigning Bishop in ECUSA in the 1980’s and 1990’s? Unlike Spong, Bishop Wilson has not made racist comments as far as I know, and also he is a follower of the cultural sexual revolution not a leader as Spong was. But like Spong, Bishop Wilson is in the vanguard of the campaign to remove basic Christian doctrine from the national Anglican church, and like Spong, if he is successful, he will bring about a major split in the denomination. There may of course be another scenario: the C of E does not split, because not enough orthodox Anglicans have the courage to stand firm against error.


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