C of E: Rainbow revolution progresses as Bishop of Taunton announced as celebrant at Cathedral LGBT Eucharist

Sep 11, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Wells Cathedral in Somerset is the latest to show its allegiance to the cause of LGBT ‘radical inclusion’. The What’s On section of its website advertises a “Rainbow Church Eucharist”, under the banner of a stylized rainbow coloured cross:

‘Rainbow Church’ is a new grouping being established in Bath and Wells diocese, with a view to promoting greater inclusion for gay people. ‘Rainbow Church’ will launch their new initiative with a Eucharist at Wells Cathedral on Saturday 22nd September at 11 am. The Bishop of Taunton will preside, and the speaker is Jayne Ozanne, a well known author and activist. All who wish to support the growing inclusion of gay people will be very welcome indeed. This service will be held in the Quire with a packed lunch and Q&A session to follow.

Over the past few weeks there has been a definite progression in the onward march of the rainbow flag in the Church of England. It is now normal for Cathedrals to fly the flag during the ‘Pride’ season in Dioceses with openly revisionist leadership such as Liverpool and Southwark. This year it was the turn of Ely, a Diocese with a strong conservative evangelical constituency, and where the Bishop has not in the past been known for openly promoting the LGBT cause.

A number of commentators responded to the rainbow flag at Ely, pointing out the nature of flags in general, and the meaning of the rainbow in particular, with its origins in angry protests against what was perceived as the domination of society by heteronormativity and patriarchy, and the desire to remove all cultural and legal restraints on adult sexual identity and behaviour. As such, the flag is a divisive political statement (blogger Archbishop Cranmer made this point brilliantly with his spoof report on the Cathedral flying the UKIP flag).

As I summarized in an earlier postMartin Davie points out that the rainbow flag is clearly a symbol of an “LGBTI programme” which “goes against what is revealed in nature and Scripture”, and that  flying any flag (apart from national and Diocesan banners) is actually not permitted by church regulations. For Ian Paul “the cathedral was therefore signalling their rejection of the Church’s current teaching”, and asks, by implication, why Bishops who believe in this teaching are not prepared to publicly defend it. Lee Gatiss says memorably “in reality it is a white flag, signalling their [the Cathedral leadership’s] surrender of Christianity in favour of a completely different gospel, which is divisive in the church and endangering to the soul.” 

At this point the flag remained outside the Cathedrals, ‘virtue signalling’ to the world their solidarity with the world’s values. One could say this demonstrates the opposite of gospel proclamation, which is a call to repent from allegiance to the world’s values and believe the good news of Jesus. But having subverted the church’s mission, the next stage has been to subvert its worship and teaching. The flag flying outside the church building says something to the world; the flag in the sanctuary says something to those inside, those coming to meet with God.

And so we heard about an “inclusive Eucharist to celebrate Reading Pride”, which took place in the Minster church of St Mary Reading on 30th August. The details were reported last week here. Significantly, in the case of Ely, the Bishop did not take responsibility and hid behind the excuse of autonomy for the Cathedral Dean and Chapter (the Archbishop of York made a similar excuse, and defended the right of Christians to hold different views, following York Minster’s active participation in the Gay Pride festival of 2015).

But in Reading the news emerged that permission for the LGBT eucharist had been given by the Bishop of Reading, Andrew Proud, a Suffragan of Oxford due to retire in 2019. The question has to be asked: how many other ‘inclusive’ Holy Communion services are taking place, with the tacit or overt approval of the Bishop, where the rainbow flag is draped over the Communion table and God’s blessing is invoked and pronounced over what the church officially believes to be a sinful lifestyle?

And now to Wells. This time, on 22nd September, the Bishop of Taunton will preside at a service at which the symbol of pride, immorality and rebellion has been coopted to stand alongside the cross, in fact even to be the cross. By sleight of hand, the rainbow flag has been transformed from a symbol of rebellion against God’s good created order, to a symbol of God’s love and kindness, especially towards marginalised people.

The preacher will be Jayne Ozanne, a long time campaigner not just for church acceptance of same sex relationships, but the removal of biblical teaching on sex and marriage from church and society, and the elimination of prayer and counselling to help people (should they so wish) move away from same sex attraction and homosexual practice.

Where are the bible-believing evangelicals in all this?  The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, is an evangelical. Should we accept that what happens in the Cathedral has nothing to do with him? Does his role as the lead Bishop in the national child abuse inquiry IICSA mean that he has been too busy to see what’s happening in his own Diocese? Or has he given permission for this eucharist to take place because of his involvement in that inquiry? There is a prevailing secular view that traditional Christian sexual ethics, rather than the sinful failure to live up to them in all sections of church and society, are somehow to blame for child abuse, so perhaps the feeling is that demonstrating solidarity with the LGBT cause will deflect some of the criticism?

To summarise, here is the progression we have seen recently:

  1. Rainbow flag flies outside cathedral. Bishop claims it’s the Dean’s decision and nothing to do with him (we don’t know if he approved privately).
  2. Rainbow flag inside a church operating as a Minster or minor Cathedral, covering communion table. Presiding Vicar says Bishop gave permission.
  3. Rainbow flag covering communion table in major Cathedral. Suffragan Bishop presides at communion.

As far as I can tell, while there is much chatter on social media about these events and the powerful symbolic message they send about the Church of England, there has been little in the way of public response from other Bishops, or leaders of evangelical networks inside the Church of England. But it’s significant that at next week’s ReNew conference, a number of clergy have already signed up for a seminar on how to establish Gafcon-aligned Anglican churches outside the Church of England.

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