Editorial Blog

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, and Senior Editor of this website. These articles are mostly concerned with authentic, biblically orthodox Christian faith and its interaction with the Anglican Church, especially the Church of England, and the wider culture. Please press the ‘Refresh’ or “reload’ button to ensure you see the latest blog post at the top of this column.

Netherlands: therapists appeal to Parliament to take seriously new allegations of ritual abuse

Posted by on Oct 7, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Abuse, Editorial Blog, Paedophilia | Comments Off on Netherlands: therapists appeal to Parliament to take seriously new allegations of ritual abuse

Netherlands: therapists appeal to Parliament to take seriously new allegations of ritual abuse

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

A group of mental health practitioners in Holland have taken the courageous step of going public with their belief that organised networks exist within which “paedosexual ritual abuse” takes place.

Following an in-depth report by investigative journalists with the radio programme Argos, questions were asked in the Parliament of the Netherlands. The Minister of Justice and Security replied with the now standard line in most Western democracies, that ritual abuse is the product of internet-fuelled over-active imaginations and discredited “repressed memory” syndrome; that it results in false accusations beings levelled at senior figures without sufficient evidence, blighting their lives; that “only three cases of such abuse have been reported in the last seven years”, and that laws are already in place to prevent abuse.

The therapists have taken action to write a letter [PDF copy here] publicly refuting the Minister’s statements, risking their reputations and careers, because they have all encountered a number of clients whose accounts of suffering the trauma of ritual abuse contain very similar themes of horrific sexual violence combined with occultic rituals, and as respected psychiatric practitioners they are convinced that the accounts they hear are consistent with true events, not autosuggestion or some other form of group deception.

The Argos report in fact results from interviews with 140 such survivors, and can be found here. [A warning to readers: some of the experiences described are extremely disturbing.] The interviewers address the question of whether the abuse could have been imagined or vastly exaggerated. The therapists agree that a constant theme is that the victims are not believed by doctors or police, because “there’s a dominant view within society that these things don’t exist.”

However, the evidence is not just the obvious mental trauma suffered by those who have experienced this abuse, and the similarities in accounts of the practices done to them. There is also physical evidence, including interviews with four gynaecologists who, speaking anonymously, confirm that they have seen horrific injuries to the private parts of girls and women consistent with accounts of mutilation as part of occult ceremonies. The whole hidden practice of satanic ritual abuse appears to be connected with drugs, prostitution and internet pornography, and thrives on secrecy, fear-based control of its victims, and denial of its existence at a high level.

The official body of ‘experts’ responsible for dealing with claims of ritual abuse (LEBZ in Dutch) has consistently taken the view that ritual abuse does not exist, and so the main need is to protect those accused of being perpetrators. As the letter from the therapists to parliament says by way of illustration, this is the equivalent of a body set up to deal with the issue of car theft, starting with the presumption that such a crime never occurs, and has an in built bias in terms of assessing any evidence to the contrary. The LEBZ in turn oversees the training of police forces in relation to issues of abuse, which means that the opportunity of obtaining justice for victims of these crimes is very low.

The letter to Parliament from the therapists accuses the LEBZ, a government body, of being complicit in a “cover up” which allows the mental and physical torture of women to continue without investigation, and which even costs the lives of children, as there are reports of children being abducted and killed as part of a system of organised sexual violence and paedophilia which stretches throughout Europe and the world.

In the UK, a government sponsored report released in 1994, succeeded in squashing growing media accounts at the time, of ritual or satanic abuse. Most mainstream media accepted the view that the real problem was poverty and lack of education leading to a prevalence of physical and emotional abuse in certain sections of society; that “belief in evil cults” and attributing a ritual and dark spiritual element to the abuse shows prejudice against the marginal poor, who need more conventional social services support not investigations into “manifestations of evil”. This view, led by the secular elites, prevails to this day.

Another reason why most privileged classes in the West – including Christians – reject the idea of organised ritual abuse, is that exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about this are common in certain circles on the internet, and especially among right-wing conspiracy theory groups such as Q-anon. This politicises the issue, saying that ritual abuse is part of a vast “deep state” agenda to overturn cherished democracy and freedoms, connected only with politically progressive politicians and their billionaire backers. This very informative piece shows the danger of such conspiracy theories, but seems to err on the side of saying that because Q-anon warns about ritual abuse, and Q-anon can’t be trusted, therefore all reports of this kind of crime are not to be taken seriously. (The author of the Q-anon article similarly discredited the idea of “cultural Marxism” in an earlier piece, suggesting that because a disturbed young man who attacked a synagogue complained about cultural Marxism on social media, all who share a similar concern about a contemporary mix of secular ideologies are inherently associated with violent fascists.)

This ‘tarnishing by association’ emphasises the courage of the Dutch therapists who have written to their Parliament and adds more evidence to the case. Which respected European professionals would risk being linked with an American far right group at this time, unless they are utterly convinced of the truth of what they are saying? We look forward with interest to hearing the outcome of this intervention.

Meanwhile, the exhaustive report into abuse of adults and especially children by those in leadership positions in the Church of England has just been published. One of the conclusions is that abusers have been able to continue their destructive activities and “hide in plain sight” because of a culture of denial. A refusal to look at the clear evidence, instead dismissing it on the basis that “this could not happen”, was one factor resulting in corrupt clergy and even Bishops abusing children and not facing justice, thankfully mostly in the days before the current stricter safeguarding procedures were introduced. It would be tragic if, as many in wider society delight in pointing the finger at the church and absolving themselves from sin, their own similar refusal to believe in the existence of organised ritual abuse results in more lives blighted and lost.

Bishop’s progressive vision: church combining humble presence with “prophetic edge”

Posted by on Sep 24, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Revisionism | Comments Off on Bishop’s progressive vision: church combining humble presence with “prophetic edge”

Bishop’s progressive vision: church combining humble presence with “prophetic edge”

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

What’s the best way of diagnosing the state of the Church of England? For some, we look at its canons and liturgy and conclude that if they have not changed, then nor has the church. This is a bit like judging the current effectiveness and ethical practices of a company just by reading its Articles of Association.  A much richer and more accurate picture is built up from finding out what the organisation is actually doing day to day, and what those responsible are saying, from which we can deduce what they believe and where they are likely to lead the organisation.

The recent Presidential address to virtual Diocesan Synod by the Bishop of Oxford is a typical case study. 

He begins by talking about “rebuilding and regathering” after lockdown. Of course at the time of his speech (5th September) he was not to know that infection rates would rapidly rise, leading to a return to restrictions which may yet extend again to physical church gatherings. But there is no attempt here to review the way that the C of E initially responded to the pandemic. Later in his talk Bishop Steven refers to the importance of physical meeting rather than worshipping as “disembodied minds”, but he does not question the church’s policy from late March to June of  prioritising the complete closure of churches, banning of public worship and repeating of government health and safety instructions, while obscuring the gospel message of hope in the resurrection in the face of death, and omitting any call to repentance and intercession on behalf of the nation.

So how does Bishop Steven describe the mission of the church? He says:

“We will be playing our part in sustaining villages and towns and cities across our Diocese as disciples as well as hospitals and universities and businesses and civic life.”

This understanding does not see the geographical area of Oxford Diocese as a mission field, most of whose inhabitants don’t have a relationship with God. The bishop’s focus is not on the church as distinct from the world, a worshipping and witnessing community with different ethics and worldview. Rather, the focus is on what is seen as an essentially benign society, and how the presence of Christians and the church “sustains” it.

Where does this idea come from? Reflecting on this, I remembered an essay I wrote a number of years ago for a study course, on the nature of the church. One of the theologians I looked at briefly was an American who spent many years in England. Here’s my summary:

It is instructive to consider the method of influential theologian Daniel Hardy …In Hardy’s essay “Worship and the Formation of a Holy People” [2001, pp7-23] he does not begin with biblical models for defining the church – in fact he is critical of those “employing bland conceptions of ‘knowing God’ through God’s ‘self-communication” [17]. Rather he begins with a philosophical exploration of the concept of “holiness” which God enacts in the world, and the result is the good that we see in society: law and justice, civil society, the arts, education and so on. In other writing Hardy uses language of redemption to describe this as “redeemed sociality” [eg Hardy, 1989, 21-47] in which God is working in all that is good in society, and the church is that part of society which intentionally faces the holiness of God and celebrates it in worship. Hardy does not see the missionary essence and activity of the church as over against the world or rescued/rescuing from the world, but a prototype within the world in which God is working to bring unity and harmony, or “godly sociality” among all people.

Whether or not Bishop Steven is consciously echoing the thought of Hardy, his understanding of the church and its mission is very similar.

He goes on to summarise the two problems facing the nation as he sees it: the pandemic, with risk of infection, illness and death, and the government’s response, with disruption to the economy and mental/emotional fallout. He asks:

“How then should we minister and serve our communities and God’s world in this next season, in a world in continuing crisis? How can we play our part as disciples and as citizens and play that part together as part of the Church of Jesus Christ?”

Good questions. One would hope they could be answered

  1. by pointing out that the pandemic and its effects are not the only problem facing us as human beings. We are alienated from God and neighbour, increasingly so as secularism takes hold; we need forgiveness, redirection and power to live better
  2. by reference to the good news of God’s invitation to enter his kingdom and the task given to the church to proclaim it

But because like Hardy he does not start with a biblical diagnosis and solution, but rather a humanist vision for a harmonious or “holy” society, Bishop Steven’s understanding of the church’s mission reflects this. This involves being alongside and part of society, doing good in it while facing God, but definitely not preaching to society or individuals within it, certainly not in a way which calls them to believe something different, or to change, except in certain ways defined by the world (see below).

He does bring in two biblical passages for reflection, from which he derives pointers for how the church should act:

From Isaiah 42

He will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street.

A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench (42.3)

“This is the kind of leadership which draws alongside people, which gathers the fragments, which liberates the gifts of others, which does not overwhelm, which listens and waits patiently to see what is emerging”, he says

And from Philippians 2

…he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.6-8)

The Bishop expounds: “The humility of Christ will be needed as we seek to rebuild together…to continue his life-giving work in the world, a gentle, tender community of grace…we continue to centre ourselves on Jesus Christ, on his character, on the pattern of the incarnation and on serving the needs of the communities around us with the gentleness and tenderness of the servant.”

He rightly draws attention to the example of Jesus’ humility and gentleness for us to imitate, but appears to ignore what the passage goes on to say about the status of Jesus: triumphant Lord before whom all must bow the knee – a vivid image which if true, surely shapes the church’s idea of mission as something more distinctive than just wordless service.

But then the Bishop goes on to say that the call to imitate Christ’s humility and submit to his Lordship must be balanced with the need to give voice to victims and resist oppression:

“Philippians 2 has sometimes been wrongly used… to suppress dissent and to resist change. This message in turn has supported the continued oppression of women or black people or the LGBTQI+ community…Embracing the humility of Christ does not mean muzzling our prophetic voice or edge.”

This isn’t unpacked in the rest of the address, so it’s open to interpretation. The Bishop appears to be saying that society is full of systems of oppression in which the church has often colluded, by advocating meekness and submission for the oppressed instead of “prophetically” advocating for justice in society. So, while in general the church should quietly serve, not confidently proclaiming a message of the Lordship of Christ and the need to submit to him and orient our lives around him, but rather live alongside people in a humble, loving and caring way, where it encounters “oppression”, it should “seek change for the sake of the kingdom”.

It’s clear that Bishop Steven’s understanding of “oppression” is defined in a politically progressive way, using the language of identity politics. He mentions certain groups as experiencing oppression but not others. Not for example, children and parents with orthodox Christian views on the family as they face compulsory ideological RSE in schools, or unborn children as DIY abortion pills are sent to hundreds of thousands of women through the post, or Christians in Muslim-majority parts of the world and even cities in the UK.

He has chosen to carefully avoid expressing an understanding of Christian mission which entails some privilege or power attributed to the church. Engagement should be tentative, based on listening, not claiming knowledge or utilising power, “tending this continuous reflection and development as the new community emerges by the grace of God”. But there is no such diffidence as he is keen to show full solidarity and support for the “LGBTQI community’’. Once again (see below for past examples just from Oxford Diocese), a senior C of E leader struggles to clearly articulate the Christian faith, while much more confidently demonstrating the alignment of his institution with contemporary secular ideology. And yet the canons have not changed – so perhaps all is well?

See also: Previous blogs about Oxford Diocese

2014: Anglican Mainstream questions Oxford’s ‘neutrality’ in Shared Conversation process

Bishop Alan Wilson: please stick to the day job!

2016: Oxford Clergywoman conducts celebration of same sex marriage 

Journeys in, or moving away from, Grace and Truth? (A review of a compilation of essays edited by Jayne Ozanne)

2018: “Clothe yourselves with love” – a response to the pastoral letter from the Bishops of Oxford Diocese

Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

2020: Bishop offers orthodox Anglicans hope of retaining protected minority status as Diocese takes progressive route

What might growth in “online worship” mean for the church?

Posted by on Aug 26, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Church life, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on What might growth in “online worship” mean for the church?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

What should we make of a new report, claiming that polling data shows how one in four people in the UK have engaged in some kind of “online worship” since the start of the pandemic lockdown? This went up to nearly 30% of the population in August, apparently, which of course is much higher than the number who normally attend churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship – probably less than 10%. From the report, whose findings are summarised in an article on the Premier websitewe learn that in particular, nearly half of all Londoners have participated in some form of internet-assisted religious activity, and most amazingly, “half of the country’s young people (18-34) indicated that they regularly engage in online faith-related activity, including regular prayer and regular engagement with online corporate worship”.

One of the authors of the report concludes that this data challenges the church to think of new ways of gathering and of pastoral care in the future, using technology to ensure that more people are included through a combination of physical and online meeting. But if these statistics are true, surely they mean far more than this – they indicate that there should be huge optimism about the future of the church; that there is obviously unusual openness in the population to spiritual things, and perhaps the deadening effects of secularism are already beginning to be reversed. This is now the moment, not for pessimism and defensiveness, trying to hold on to models of Christian believing and belonging from the past, but for grasping hold of exciting opportunities for evangelism and exponential church growth.

But a closer look at the article gives hints that at the very least, further questions need to be asked before concluding that the UK church is about to enter a golden age of rapid growth without any inconvenient downsides such as societal conflict and persecution which historically often accompanies such awakenings.

Firstly, the report doesn’t explain how the poll was conducted in ways which could eliminate bias. I’m not a statistician, but I’d like to know how the organisers could be certain that those members of the public, presumably chosen at random, who responded to requests for information were not disproportionately more religious than those who chose not to respond. And then, while anecdotal evidence and impressions are not always reliable, my experience, and those of young people I know, would question the idea that if half of all 18-34 year olds have done some kind of online religious activity in the past few months, the churches have seen any benefit. Just the other day I was hearing in an online prayer meeting of pastors and lay people from across the country, how many churches are struggling to keep their young people engaging with church or faith-related materials.

So what exactly was this research, from the University of Durham, measuring? We are told: “The study focused on six faith-related activities — prayer, meditation, corporate or organised worship, reflection on nature, choir and yoga…” Ah. The first three are common to all religions, and we know from previous surveys that many people pray and meditate who are not part of any church or other religious group (perhaps half the population), including a substantial number of those who don’t believe in God.

But then, “reflection on nature”. This is not explained. Would it include watching Countryfile, or Gardener’s World, or a David Attenborough documentary? By this criterion, anyone on holiday in the Lake District or walking by the sea, taking a deep breath and marvelling at a sunset, feeling an inner stirring at the magnificence of creation which could be described as almost a spiritual experience – this would presumably count, and perhaps this explains the higher August figure when people are on holiday?

The report goes on to admit that while by their broad criteria of ‘online worship’ there are 19 million religious people in the UK, nearly a third of those who normally attended church before lockdown have not engaged with online services, or presumably returned to physical gatherings. It would seem sensible – and urgent – for further research to be carried out to establish the true extent of this rapid ‘cliff-edge’ drop off in church engagement which will surely be of crisis proportions, no matter how much it can be dressed up with optimistic conclusions drawn from how many people are gardening or doing yoga during lockdown.

I have not read the full report summarised in the Premier article. But it seems to me that its conclusions largely confirm what we already know, and certainly can’t be used to support the idea that we are on the cusp of a new genuinely Christian revival. Over the past ten years, the consensus of research has shown a decline in religious faith in the West: more than half say they have no religion, and 1% of young people identify as churchgoing Christians. At the same time the public influence of religion in the West has declined, the secular humanist worldview has been increasingly assumed and promoted – a worldview which is increasingly being described as ‘religious’, as it involves faith commitments, has its own rules and rituals, and even forms of worship (this article shows how atheists are becoming ‘religious’, while Christians are becoming secular).

Meanwhile in other parts of the world, religion continues to thrive and sometimes be used as a political rallying point;. So for example historian Tom Holland explains how in two of the most rapidly modernising states with recent commitments to secularism, Turkey and India, appeals to religion by populist leadership are becoming more common.

There is also genuine church growth and sacrificial Christian discipleship in the face of persecution, despite the influence of secularism, particularly in the global south.

In short, statistics and sociological analysis can be used to show that our nation – and our world – is becoming more secular, and more religious at the same time. That may mean that more people are questioning the secular narrative, and could be more open to the gospel, but it could also lead them to alternative spiritualities hostile to Christian faith. Surveys of how many are engaging in ‘online worship’ do not prove much, especially if it is not specifically measuring those engaging with church fellowship and teaching from Scripture, genuinely worshipping in spirit and in truth according to Jesus, and growing in faith and love.

See also: Covid 19: The church in response. The results of a survey by American Anglican Council of church attendance trends since the beginning of the pandemic, seeking to measure elements of faith commitment not just online viewing.

House of Bishops asked to withdraw ban on individual cups at Communion

Posted by on Aug 13, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Holy Communion | Comments Off on House of Bishops asked to withdraw ban on individual cups at Communion

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

A member of General Synod who asked the Bishops to reconsider the prohibition on individual cups, and was rebuffed by the reiteration of the view that it is “contrary to law”, has presented a detailed Opinion from barristers which concludes that there is in fact no legal barrier to the practice.

Mary Durlacher, a lay member from the Diocese of Chelmsford, has sent the Opinion to the House of Bishops and all officers of General Synod, for distribution to the membership, following growing concern about the continued restriction of Communion to ‘one kind’ (ie bread only). In her covering letter she references  articles by influential evangelical theologians on the Psephizo website (here and here), challenging the theological and legal reasoning behind the continued prohibition on church members from receiving the full sacrament, and urges the church to follow a “common sense pro tem way of sharing the Communion wine while current constraints remain.”

The Opinion, entitled “The legality of the use of individual cups for communion wine in the Church of England”, has been prepared under the editorship of Stephen Hofmeyr QC, a member of General Synod. Other contributors include Mark Cawson and Andrew Wales, also QC’s, and Carolyn Johnson a Manchester-based barrister. It gives a detailed overview of the context: the Church of England’s instructions on the matter since the outbreak of the pandemic in March, the questions which arose at the July session of Synod especially Mrs Durlacher’s question no. 68, and some statutory background going back to the Sacrament Act of 1547 which established a Protestant understanding of communion whereby both elements should be taken by all communicants.

The Durlacher Opinion holds that the Bishops and their legal advisors are in error. The question of how many cups should be used is not mentioned in the 1547 Act:

“The present global health pandemic does not give rise to a necessity to cease to distribute wine. The issue is not the element, but the fact that the cup is common.”

The document goes on to challenge other reasons for the ban: that the single cup is the “norm”; the idea that individuals cups were “not envisaged” in the rubrics of the BCP, and that Canon F3 does not refer to individual cups. The document concludes that the reasoning of the Bishops’ legal advisors is “fundamentally flawed”, and that

“There is no way in which a prohibition on the use of individual cups can be read into or derived from Canon F 3.”

Concerns about disposal of leftover consecrated wine and ritual washing of vessels are similarly dismissed:

“There is no canon, rubric or regulation which governs this (and practice is diverse within the Church of England). While it may be a matter of concern for individual clergy or parishes, it is not the basis for a legal prohibition.”

The argument  that the common cup is essential for the symbolism of one body is countered by the obvious question about why individual wafers are permitted and the single loaf is not mandatory.

The paper concludes that while during a pandemic it might be wise to suspend Holy Communion for a time, it is erroneous to argue from law that bread might be consumed but not wine in individual cups:

“The House of Bishops’ present position that the use of individual cups for distributing communion is illegal is incorrect as a matter of law. There is no legal barrier to the use of individual cups.”

This debate has a number of important implications. It does bring back long-buried controversies between anglo catholics and evangelicals about the meaning of the sacraments and their proper use. But it could also be interpreted as another example of authoritarian overreach by church authorities, who appear to be thinking only of ‘health and safety’ concerns rather than using common sense to enable worshippers to receive the word and sacrament in practical and safe ways.

The full legal opinion prepared by the senior barristers can be found here Opinion on individual cups 12 August 2020[2].

 

Attack on Christian freedom by state and business agencies should warn the faithful church to re-think ministry strategy

Posted by on Jul 28, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Freedom Of Speech, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on Attack on Christian freedom by state and business agencies should warn the faithful church to re-think ministry strategy

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The well-funded, carefully orchestrated and determined campaign to foster disapproval of, and then to ban, so-called ‘conversion therapy’ across nations of the developed world, has been a key component in driving the massive cultural change that has been called the global sexual revolution. This campaign has achieved its latest ‘success’ in persuading a number of multinational corporations (Barclays, Paypal, Twitter, Mailchimp) to suspend services and accounts used by Core Issues Trust. The way this was done, obviously coordinated, in response to aggressive lobbying on social media accompanied by a deluge of personal insults and even death threats to Mike Davidson and colleagues (see report here)is sinister and has implications for all faithful Christian ministries and individuals who dare to challenge the narrative of celebration of sex and gender chaos, and who try to help individuals caught up in it find wholeness.

The detailed and comprehensive entry on ‘Conversion therapy’ in Wikipedia is an example of how supposedly neutral sources of facts and news (which now includes academic research) has been entirely taken over by one ideological position. The Wikipedia report blatantly breaks the site’s own rules by being entirely one-sided, making assertions which ignore any evidence to the contrary. As part of its own evidence to support the consensus that any attempt to change sexual or gender orientation, for whatever reason, is ‘harmful’, it cites the number of national psychological associations and now governments which have banned the practice, not mentioning that these bans have come about as a result of intense, aggressive lobbying, and suppression of alternative views. This is now a familiar practice in a number of fields: the distortion of science and blocking essential freedoms, by preventing academics, publishers and legislators from producing evidence contrary to the “politically correct” answer.

Wikipedia says: “On 3 July 2018, the UK Government announced it would work towards a total ban on ‘conversion therapy’ across medical, non-medical, and religious settings. However, by the time of the 2019 general election, the issue was no longer a priority for the governing Conservative Party.” It is not difficult to see how, once the new government has dealt with its main political and economic priorities, opportunities would arise again for LGBT activists and their allies to push for profoundly illiberal legislation which would threaten freedom of speech and religion in almost a mirror image of jurisdictions informed by extreme Islamic ideology. There, LGBT people are persecuted and one may not change one’s religion; here, we are fast approaching a place where those holding to traditional sexual ethics are persecuted, and one may not change one’s sexual orientation.

It is absurd that at a time when the UK government is struggling to deal with serious crises of public health and economic slump, it is devoting time and energy to ban a niche practice which mostly involves a programme of talking and listening for those wanting to explore the possibility of moving away from unwanted sexual orientations and identities. Over the past few years, disapproval and intimidation has proved so successful that there are almost no organisations which openly provide this therapy apart from Core Issues Trust. To use parliamentary time to legislate purely to ban one tiny organisation would really be a sledgehammer cracking a nut – but of course once such a legal ban has gone through, it can be used to witch-hunt other more low key practices such as ‘recovery’ courses and one to one pastoral care and prayer offered by many churches.

Anglican Mainstream has over many years rehearsed the arguments for freedom of choice in terms of seeking counselling in sexual matters; why it is totally dishonest to conflate practices such as electric shock aversion therapy, often administered by state-sponsored organisations without client agreement and discontinued decades ago, with counselling and prayer for those distressed by same sex attraction, addictive and harmful sexual behaviour, gender dysphoria and who seek change voluntarily. We don’t need to go over again the many examples of bans on the latter forms of therapy and pastoral care being based on flawed academic research and in some cases, blatant lies (such as the case in USA where a key piece of evidence, a testimony of abuse at a ‘conversion therapy camp’ for young people, turned out to be based on an entirely fictional comic movie).

Abuses have occurred in this area  just as they have in every field of therapy and pastoral care, which is why groups like Core Issues Trust have consistently argued that those who provide talking-therapy assistance for those wanting to explore the possibly of sexual orientation or gender identity change need proper training and supervision, rather than the practice being driven underground.

Some Christian groups, otherwise in agreement with the bible’s clear teaching on sexual morality, have distanced themselves from Core Issues, the therapy it advocates and the ex-gay movement. They argue instead for a pastoral approach within church in the context of discipleship, helping those with same sex attraction to come to terms with their orientation and pursue a life of celibate singleness in a supportive Christian community. But such an approach, which may be excellent in itself,  is not in any way incompatible with also providing prayer and counselling for those seeking change of orientation – which might include people in a heterosexual marriage. The testimony of a single gay man or woman guided by the bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live chastely is indeed a “better story” than the one offered by the secular culture, but so is a testimony of re-orientation of self-image as a man or woman, and transformation of sexual desire. And that counter-cultural narrative of living according to biblical faith can help Christians to understand and address false ideologies prevalent in the culture.

The attack on Core Issues Trust is a warning that the faithful church does not exist in a benign or neutral space, but in a culture where hostile forces want to silence the voice of God when it becomes too challenging. If the church turns its back on those making a stand like Mike Davidson, or evangelists ‘cancelled’ from university campuses, or evangelical adoption agencies forced to place children with foster parents with sexually immoral lifestyles, or clergy resigning their posts in the face of theologically revisionist Bishops, is it being faithful? If the church glosses over the seriousness of the threat of the contemporary ideological revolution for the sake of presenting a ‘winsome’ face for evangelism, is it being biblical? It may be that a church which refuses to fulfil its calling to prophetic ministry in order to try to protect its evangelistic and pastoral work, is actually not being properly evangelistic or pastoral at all.

On a practical level, the faithful local church needs to do three things urgently.

First, to offer support, in prayer, finance and encouragement, to those facing attack from the new ‘thought police’. Second, to teach congregations regularly and thoroughly about the context of hostile and restrictive secularism in which we live, to pray and work out together how to live differently not just as passive exiles with a different message, but actively as resistance, seeking to challenge and undermine false ideologies and the suppression of truth. Thirdly, to look to a bigger movement which is combining the evangelistic, pastoral and prophetic, such as Gafcon and its regional branches, and to join it.

See also:

The flawed logic of the ‘conversion therapy’ inquisition, by Paul Huxley, Christian Concern

Ozanne YouGov Poll Challenged: Letter in the Church of England Newspaper

Tell Barclays Bank to respect religious freedomPetition from CitizenGo

Why don’t ex-gays’ stories count? by Michael Brown, Christian Post

‘Gay conversion therapy should not be banned’from Christian Today:

 

 

 

‘Pregnancy and abortion’ – review of a new resource

Posted by on Jul 12, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Abortion, Book Reviews, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on ‘Pregnancy and abortion’ – review of a new resource

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

If every abortion constitutes the deliberate killing of a tiny human life, then this is a terrible evil and a stain on our society comparable to the slave trade and the holocaust. If we defend abortion on the grounds of ‘women’s reproductive rights’, or perhaps by arguing that the foetus/embryo is not really a person, then we open the door to serious philosophical problems. Why should an adult’s decision about what is convenient (the main reason for most abortions) take precedence over a child’s right to life? If we can declare a human being in the womb to be a non-person, why not go on to make similar radical decisions, for example about what constitutes male and female?

And then, is it not highly irresponsible, and certainly undemocratic, for the Westminster government to use the excuse of Coronavirus to impose liberal abortion legislation on Northern Ireland, and to permit the use of drugs at home, potentially dangerous to women as well as lethal for unborn children, without adequate supervision? In the words of blogger Archbishop Cranmer, why isn’t there more public protest; “why is the concern left to Christian Concern”?

On the other hand, while we need the brave voices being raised against the powerful pro-abortion lobbies controlling the establishment, we also need effective pastoral care for women at local level. It may be, as has been said before in this column, that many church leaders say nothing about abortion because they have imbibed the progressive worldview, or they are afraid of controversy, or they think the issue isn’t relevant for their congregation, or because they think it’s a social justice rather than a ‘gospel’ issue. But it may also be because of the effect a public debate can have on an individual struggling with an agonising decision or with guilt about the past, who may hear the statement “abortion is a great evil” as “you are evil”.

Churches, counselling organisations and pro-life healthcare workers need resources to help pregnant women on the road to making and owning an informed choice for life; having a baby rather than an abortion, with as much heat taken out of the decision as possible. Abortion has been a choice for women for more than 50 years, but increasingly abortion is presented as a simple, morally neutral and consequence-free procedure. Women can experience pressure to have a termination from partners, family, social media and even medical professionals. Legal restrictions on anti-abortion advertising, and offering prayer and counselling outside abortion clinics have made it even more difficult for women outside faith communities to have access to information that is factual but gently makes the case for considering options other than abortion.

A new book admirably fulfils this role. “Pregnancy and Abortion: A practical guide for making decisions” (Grace and Down, 2020) is an excellent handbook put together by a GP specialising in mother and child health, a physician for internal medicine, and an experienced pregnancy counsellor. It does not begin with Christian faith, or a moral position on abortion, but with an ordinary woman experiencing an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted pregnancy.

The reader is taken through clear and simple steps, not assuming any medical knowledge: from confirming that there is a pregnancy, through a “journey of decision”. Using a combination of short case studies, visual models, questions, tables and fact-based explanations, the reader is helped to think clearly about emotions and where they might come from, and then the three main options, parenting, adoption and abortion. Detailed information is then provided what to expect during the entire period of pregnancy, and on the development of the embryo/foetus. It’s here that difficult questions begin to be raised, such as: does the little life feel pain?

Short chapters on things to consider in being a parent, or giving up a baby for adoption are followed by a series of chapters on abortion itself: how it is carried out, what the law says, and potential immediate and later after-effects, physical and psychological. These feature latest research on links between abortion and early death in women, including detail on breast cancer. The reader is led by the carefully arranged presentation of facts, combined with stories and testimonies, to the inevitable and obvious conclusion that abortion is not the easy or best option that is often presented to pregnant women.

Brief chapters on the discovery of disabilities in the unborn child, special needs of pregnant teenage girls, and the role of men in the decision making process complete the main part of the book. Appendices on ‘spiritual beliefs’ and a comprehensive list of organisations providing specialist help provide pointers to the Christian gospel in ways that would not be seen as ‘proselytising’ were this book to be recommended by doctors or secular counsellors.

A couple of areas where I feel the book could be improved is more on the joy and wonder of having a baby and being a mother, and something on the benefits of marriage as the best environment to bring up children. Also, it was pointed out to me when discussing the book with others that a woman in a pregnancy crisis is not always in the best frame of mind to read it (in the same way that a book about bereavement and dealing emotionally and practically with an unexpected death needs to be read before the event, or by those coming alongside to assist). But overall, ’Pregnancy and Abortion’ is a book which impresses the reader with its careful tone. practical, helpful approach full of information geared for the non-specialist, and gentle but clear steer to consider giving birth and caring for a child rather than abortion. It will be really useful as a resource, particularly for young people and those who counsel them – the book begins with a quote showing the levels of ignorance and false information around the issue which is fully addressed by the preparation of the manual:

“Everyone should have this guide. We young people don’t know this stuff”.

 

See also: Abortion: what on earth is going on? by Will Jones, Faith and Politics:

 

Repenting of privilege, signalling virtue, following the crowd

Posted by on Jun 16, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Political Correctness, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Repenting of privilege, signalling virtue, following the crowd

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

We are in very challenging times, when ‘the madness of crowds’ threatens to sweep us all along in its wake.

We’re hoping for leadership from the spiritual elders of our institutional church, who can guide us through our cultural crisis with wise guidance from the word of God. Instead we continue to get capitulation to the secular zeitgeist. Just yesterday: on the prominent Thought for the Day slot on the Radio 4 Today programme, a Church of England theological college Principal spoke, in the context of reopening of shops and restarting of Premier League football, of the importance of leisure for human wellbeing, even in a time of national emergency. I waited for the punchline, where he would say that, like sport and shopping, corporate worship is also essential – but it never came. There was no reference to church or faith at all. Perhaps the message is that… the church is relevant because it cares about what everyone else cares about?

And last week, a photo opportunity for Bishops and clergy in front of a locked Cathedral door, as, carefully distanced from each other by the required minimum two metres, facing away from the consecrated place, they ‘take the knee’. For them, this is symbolising their support for the anti-racism movement, but it could also be interpreted as a powerful symbol of how the priority of God has been displaced by obeisance to the ‘health and safety’ response to the pandemic, and to a secular ideology driven by social media.

This was emphasised again by an article by a Bishop (it doesn’t matter which one – the problem is not individuals, but a corporate culture) who wrote in the Church Times of the need for all white Christians to follow his example, and repent of their “quiet privilege”. What are we to make of this?

I don’t see anything in the bible that says we have to ‘repent of privilege’, and certainly not to repent of the colour of our skin, or our biological sex. We certainly have to repent of sin (and that includes searching our hearts for prejudice and misuse of power, apologising for it and making amends), and we are called to use any privilege we have in the service of God and others. To some much is given. Of them, much is expected. One could contradict this, and argue that the very fact that some are born with and receive more than others is itself unjust and must be remedied by revolution and enforced redistribution, but this is Marxism not biblical Christianity.

Rather, privilege, like a talent in the parable, is a blessing from God for which we’re to give thanks and invest wisely and humbly. Again and again in Scripture the privileged, whether spiritually: God’s people saved and brought into a covenant with him, or materially: those satisfied with food and good things, are warned not to take these things for granted, or to think that “the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (Deut 8:18), but rather to attribute all we have to God’s grace. And because of this, from the recognition of undeserved privilege must flow not eternal signalling of admission of guilt, but sacrificial generosity and commitment to the upliftment of others.

Jesus gives a challenging take on this when he says that privilege is not just about being comfortable – in fact it might involve being profoundly uncomfortable and powerless. “Blessed [one might say ‘privileged’] are the poor in spirit…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…those persecuted for my sake”, and even more shockingly “woe to you who are rich”. There are the obvious, material things which confer advantages, but also unseen and eternal blessings for the disadvantaged and uninfluential who are “rich towards God”.

What does this mean for the affluent white Christian in the West? It may be that he grew up in a loving family, with hard working parents who provided him with a good education, self-confidence, the ability to manage money, and other key life skills. Should he repent of this “privilege”? No because these are blessings from God, but he should be careful not to be arrogant or selfish. His entry into the kingdom of God, and that of his children, is made more difficult by the allure of his wealth. He may be called to repentance from greed and lack of concern for the poor, and to take action in the form of sacrificial personal giving, working to change the company’s social responsibility policies and targeting the church’s mission policies to reflect a bias to the materially poor. But what no-one is called to do is despise and be ashamed of God’s good gifts, or worse, one’s cultural and racial identity.

What about the structures of power, the unseen matrix of white Western hegemony, entrenching injustice? Is it a myth to be dismissed, or a reality requiring universal ‘conscientisation’ and revolutionary change? Certainly in Scripture’s portrayal of life under Egyptian or Roman rule, and the bigger picture of the rise and fall of kingdoms, we can trace the dynamics of political power and we’re given insight into the spiritual forces behind them. But in their encounters with the living God, privileged individuals who represent forces oppressing Israel – Naaman, the rulers of Nineveh, the Centurion of Capernaum, Zacchaeus, the wealthy cloth merchant of Philippi – are not asked to repent of their ethnicity or their unwitting complicity in the power structures of the day, but to recognise the Lord’s authority, submit to him, receive forgiveness for wrongdoing and live lives of love. It may be that societal change needs to come about, either by tweaking what is basically a good and just system, or more profoundly, but this is best effected by the Lord according to his sovereign will in response to the crying out of his people – violent godless revolutions do not have good historical pedigree.

This tradition is at the heart of the response of God’s people to racist and other forms of unjust oppression throughout history. It is not apolitical and pietist, because when God arises to come to the aid of his oppressed people the result is society-wide not something that is just restricted to church. It is not secular and human-centred in its philosophy, because the casting down of the mighty, if that’s necessary, and the lifting up of the humble is of the Lord. And the result is not increased enmity between peoples and the collapse of society, but reconciliation and peace.

The frantic self-abasement by the white middle class as part of their ‘great awokening’ is a disturbing thing. It brings to mind an image of a schoolteacher in a north Vietnam village in the 1960’s, his spectacles lying broken in the dust, confessing his bourgeois privilege and pleading for mercy before the revolutionary guards – it’s the influence of Robespierre and Lenin and Mao rather than a movement of the Holy Spirit. The Bishops have clearly been attending well to their seminars on white privilege and unconscious bias. They have swallowed the progressive worldview and their mission now appears to be not to bring the gospel of Christ to the world, but the doctrine of intersectionality to their flock, by giving it a Christian veneer.

We can do much better than this!

Let’s not repent of privilege. Let’s repent of sin, which may include misuse of privilege, or the worship of society’s idols, or the toxic blaming of the ‘other’.

Let’s not signal virtue, but be secretly virtuous. Not kneeling to Black Lives Matter,  but supporting ministries which uplift black lives, and perhaps even looking to godly black leadership through the Gafcon movement.

Let’s not follow the crowd, but follow the one who has compassion on the crowd, who was condemned by the crowd, who rules over the crowd.

 

See also: Clergy kneel to those who’d trample over themby Alice Williams, The Conservative Woman

When Everyone Kneels, Who Will Stand Up for Western History and Culture? by Giulio Meotti, Gatestone Institute

 

What should good Anglicans do: stay at home, or join a crowd?

Posted by on Jun 8, 2020 in Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on What should good Anglicans do: stay at home, or join a crowd?

What should good Anglicans do: stay at home, or join a crowd?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I confess I don’t understand what is going on here. Perhaps that marks me out straight away as too cerebral, too linear in my thinking, too wedded to an outdated ‘modernist’ mentality. To me it seems like a contradiction that doesn’t make sense, but no doubt I can be educated as to my straitjacket thinking.

Up until now, the Church of England leadership has been extremely cautious about permitting any action which might potentially contribute to the spread of Covid 19. The regulations (later downgraded to ”guidance”) made it clear that church buildings initially should not be used at all, for gatherings of any kind, or even for the private prayer or recording of services by clergy. This was to ensure that churches could in no way incubate the virus, and to show solidarity with the rest of the population who were having to stay away from all but essential work.

As the lockdown has begun to be eased, other sectors in society, and indeed some church groups have lobbied the government to allow churches to open for funerals, weddings and carefully controlled worship services, but the Church of England has been reticent, preferring to listen more to the voices of those concerned that any unnecessary face to face meeting of people could risk the lives of the vulnerable.

A letter to clergy from the Archbishop of York on 7th May gives detail on how individuals can enter churches for cleaning and essential maintenance, urging clergy to alway remember that “safety is paramount”. Then, as recently as June 3rd a document was released from Church House, for “planning purposes”, on how churches might be reopened “when circumstances allow” – now thought to be 15th June.

“It is anticipated that only individual prayer will be allowed when the church is open to the public. No public worship, streamed or otherwise, should take place whilst the building is open to visitors…Please put notices on the door reminding people about hygiene and physical distancing measures, including stressing the critical importance of using the hand sanitiser…It is best not to leave out things that can be touched repeatedly by different individuals [eg bibles and leaflets]… The lighting of candles with reusable lighters or similar should not be encouraged”.

Two comments can be made on this initially. First, since when has the priority of hygiene been applied to the work of the church and the mission of the gospel ? Even if we accept that churches have been right to close for a season, it surely is theologically incorrect and a poor witness at the very least to say that our physical safety should be our primary concern? There has been a plethora of criticism on this blanket ‘close all churches’ policy, much of which can be found here.

Secondly, the Church’s official advice on prayer in church buildings says nothing about the purpose of prayer or offers any kind of acknowledgement of God. It reads as if it has been written by a health and safety officer with no knowledge of, or interest in Christian faith other than the trappings of the physical sanctuary space. Or perhaps it has not been written primarily for vicars and lay people who attend church, but for government and healthcare officials, to demonstrate the church’s compliance with the lockdown regulations.

The Church of England’s main official message to the nation, then, has not been to resist secular narratives by pointing to God and encourage faith in Christ, hope in life beyond the grave, and prayer in the midst of the pandemic. Rather it has been to communicate the seriousness of the health emergency and the part the church is playing in locking down, being alert and saving lives, even if it means denying thousands of people all over the country the chance to quietly make use of church buildings for prayer and worship.

But now, in parallel with this extreme almost paranoid caution which has shut churches and caused millions to stay indoors for weeks, we are told by a Bishop that a “greater pandemic” – racism – means that it’s suddenly OK to join thousands of other people in close proximity on the streets. The Bishop of Dover Rose Hudson Wilkin claimed in an interview on Sunday that “Most people have responsibly weighed up the risk that they would be taking in order to stand up,”

The global lockdown caused by the pandemic has devastated lives and caused huge economic worry. Faithful Christians are praying for the world, working hard to keep worship and preaching alive online, standing with friends and neighbours in the midst of suffering, witnessing to Christ; doctors and nurses are working round the clock to care for the sick and are desperate to avoid another spike. But according to this Bishop, now is the time to push for the overturn of the current social order by flouting the regulations so carefully observed up till now. You can’t go into a church building in case you touch something and pass on the virus; you can’t even have Holy Communion online, perhaps in case you upset someone with a mystical-professional view of the priesthood and sacraments, but you can join a crush of thousands as long as it is for a right-on cause.

This is the contradiction that doesn’t compute for me. I understand the concept of the church simply following public opinion rather than giving a specifically Christian response, but when it tries to follow two opposing opinions at the same time: “avoid any physical meeting” and “join a crowd”, is it just me or does this take incoherence to a new level?

 

 

As an epilogue:

As far as the protests are concerned, let me just say a few things about racism, politics and Christian faith. I acknowledge my own privileged background. I spent more than ten years of my life working with black people in the cause of upliftment in South Africa in the years immediately before and then following the end of the apartheid system. During that time I saw individual examples of racist attitudes, and genuine ‘systemic’ racism i.e. unjust and discriminatory laws, and I experienced being part of a nation expressing joy at the removal of those laws. I saw church leaders trying to justify racism, or turning a blind eye to it, saying this is a ‘political’ issue which has nothing to do with the gospel. I saw church and political leaders using the stirring up of racial grievance as a cover for their own financial corruption, power plays, and sexual immorality. I saw humble and deeply repentant local church leaders guiding their congregations towards reconciliation and interracial harmony, and national Christian leaders being prominent in Spirit-led programmes of transformation.

So racism and injustice exist, as do all the sins of the human heart until the final judgement. In the meantime, we pray and work for a solution not based on variations of secular humanism and revolutionary Marxism, but on forms of just, peaceful and democratic government underpinned by the vision of the gospel and the church given to us by Scripture. Gafcon with its genuinely multi cultural leadership and fellowship must continue to guide us here.

“Turn the other cheek” – how should churches respond to domination?

Posted by on May 19, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Bible, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on “Turn the other cheek” – how should churches respond to domination?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Jesus’ command to his disciples to “turn the other cheek” is traditionally interpreted as backing down from conflict for the sake of peace. The NIV translation of Matthew 5:39 begins: “Do not resist an evil person”. This is usually applied to individuals in community, although some have applied it to nations as a basis for pacifism. The injunction is not often applied to churches. Whether Christian communities should resist attack, perhaps from armed Fulani Islamists in northern Nigeria, or baton-wielding mobs in rural India, is an important debate for those with detailed knowledge of those situations, but I’m not sure this is what Jesus is talking about in this verse.

The detail is important: “If someone strikes you on the right cheek”. Unless the person doing the striking is left handed, this almost certainly refers not to an overt, front-on attack, but a backhanded slap in the face. Commentator Walter Wink says[1] that this “was not a blow to injure, but to insult, humiliate, degrade. It was not administered to an equal, but to an inferior. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; Romans, Jews. The whole point of the blow was to force someone who was out of line back into place.”

The context, then, is one of a power differential, where Jesus assumes that his disciples will be predominantly from the lower echelons of society. They will be used to being despised and put down by those above them; they and others from a higher status background will together begin to receive this treatment because of their faith. This gives us a clue to relevant application for today. Christians in the West very rarely face direct threat to life (some who convert from Islam being an only possible exception); they do not come disproportionately from the working class, but they do increasingly face subtle intimidation, overriding of their values, and being put in their place, slapped down by a powerful secular system.

Some examples might be: YouTube takes down the audio version of a popular book by a well respected veteran Christian author and speaker because it “violates community standards”; Christian MPs are assured that the Coronavirus bill will not permit “DIY abortions” without parliamentary debate, and then are told that in fact this has happened; a teacher is removed from post for expressing privately her concerns about relationships and sex education policy; a counselling organisation is warned that it will be investigated for practicing ‘conversion therapy’; A church can be investigated for allowing more than ten worshippers inside the building, while a strip club down the street is allowed 50. A Christian group at a university is accused of right wing bias as it attempts to highlight the persecuted church at the students union.

Of course there is a view denying that Christians are under pressure in the West; that all of these recent examples and the many similar ones can all be explained as Christians failing to be ‘winsome’. Others might admit that Christianity no longer has the respect it once did in society, but the end of Christendom is no bad thing; there might be minor incidents of inconvenience but this is not ‘persecution’ as other Christians face around the world, and so should not be a concern. But this is like saying that making comments with sexual innuendo to women in the office, or persistent nasty teasing and joshing of a boy in school, are not a concern because rape or physical bullying is not occurring.

The regular ignoring or denigration of Christian views, the intimidation and low level punishments meted out by authorities – this is not full-on attack like government sponsored bulldozing of churches and imprisonment of pastors. Rather it is exactly what Jesus describes – the backhanded slap by the one in charge to the one beneath, who needs to be reminded that he only exists by permission and should not step out of line.

How should Christians respond?

Firstly, there needs to be a recognition of what is happening. Advocates of social change under unjust regimes, or those wanting to shine the light on abusive relationships and bring abuse to an end, would agree that the slap on the right cheek, metaphorical or literal, should not just be accepted as normal. It is not right; the situation is not just, and the person whose dignity is being abused has a choice how to respond.

Similarly, with the church in an increasingly dominant secular society, an environment more and more hostile to expression of orthodox Christian views, Christians need to identify when a line is being crossed between normal applications of a just system, and a backhanded slap to Christians, a contemptuous misuse of power, to say “get back in your box.”

When it’s clear what’s happening, what then?

Back to Matthew 5:39: Jesus said “do not stand against (‘antistenai’) the one who does evil”. This is a military term, referring to taking up weapons of war. In Ephesians 6:10f where this word is used, we are called to take this attitude of armed resistance against spiritual powers, but not to oppose the hit on the right cheek, the expression of dominance and call to subservience by human beings in the material realm, with violent aggression. However that does not mean, as the NIV and other translations imply, avoiding any resistance to evil other than prayer.

So what do we do? What does “offer him the other cheek” mean? Certainly Jesus is not advocating these common responses:

  1. Collude with the dominant power in such a way that they would never slap us – we are on their side! We could even do the master’s work for him, giving the message that faith should not be taken too seriously, and keeping the troublesome fellow Christians in line.
  2. Flee, by avoiding any situation where we might come into conflict with the powers. This is seen in a pietist churchianity which focuses on worship and teaching in church (or online, as permitted by regulations); does not publicly address controversial issues such as abortion or sexual morality, certainly not in any way which could be seen as protest.
  3. Submit – if we do have a run in with the powers and get the slap on the right cheek. Head down, mumble an apology, get back into line, say or do nothing more.

Jesus’s advice is rather to turn the other cheek. Not collusion, believing that there is no evil involved and the powers will be reasonable if we are on their side. Not running away, meekly submitting or fighting back, but inviting the dominant power to hit again, this time having shifted the power dynamic.

Walter Wink again:

“The left cheek now offers a perfect target for a blow with the right fist; but only equals fought with fists, as we know from Jewish sources, and the last thing the master wishes to do is to establish this underling’s equality. This act of defiance renders the master incapable of asserting his dominance in this relationship…By turning the cheek, then, the “inferior” is saying: “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God. I won’t take it anymore.”

How might this work in practice? Some case studies:

a) A clergyman’s PTO (licence from the Bishop giving permission to officiate at services) needing to be renewed, in a Diocese with relentless liberal drift, culminating in Bishops apologising for the church’s teaching on marriage and setting up LGBT services in the cathedral. Allowing the PTO to lapse and retiring from ministry is perhaps an example of ‘flight’. Renewing the PTO and continuing with ministry with no protest is submission. Perhaps the “other cheek” option would be to continue to minister without PTO, and force the Bishop to issue a disciplinary measure?

b) A Church of England school with godly head teacher and a group of Christian parents are concerned about introduction of the new RSE curriculum. Do they
:

  • Follow the practice of other schools in the area, teaching RSE as prescribed, to stay on good terms with the education authorities?
  • Do the minimum; don’t make any fuss, don’t involve parents in the issue.
  • Draw up curriculum compatible with the official teaching of C of E in consultation with parents. Face down threats politely, with legal knowledge. Work with local churches to inform congregations for prayer.

c) Pushing back against overreach by governments: there are times when taking court action is a visible sign of insisting on equal treatment before the law, not submitting to injustice based on bias. Recent cases involving Cornerstone adoption agency and the ‘DIY abortion bill’ are good examples.

These actions of non-violent resistance combined with spiritual warfare are not trying to reinstate Christendom where Christianity is dominant, but a degree of justice where Christian views are of equal worth to others in a democratic system. The freedoms to practice and communicate our faith we have taken for granted for so long will continue to be eroded unless we put into practice Jesus’ teaching on how to resist evil.

Footnote: [1] Walter Wink was an influential American theologian best known for his analysis of the NT teaching on Principalities and Powers. His explanations of the spiritual dynamics and psychological processes behind power structures which keep oppressed people in subjugation are compelling. His romantic idealising of leftist political movements, and his ‘demythologising’ of the spiritual realm ultimately undermine many of his conclusions – but this exegesis on Matthew 5:39 is I believe a good one – AS.

Challenges for the Church of England

Posted by on May 5, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Challenges for the Church of England

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Should churches reopen, and what are they for? 

The day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ‘lockdown’ on March 23rd, the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England ordered that all churches should immediately close and not be used even for private prayer by clergy.

The main reason given was to set an example in taking seriously the danger of the virus and slowing down its spread: just as sports venues, theatres, restaurants and garden centres were closing, and many people were no longer able to work or having to work from home, so the church should not be an exception. Anglicans should suffer the deprivations of the lockdown along with the rest of the population; they should also show that they are obedient to the authorities. Clergy were encouraged to use technology to broadcast worship, prayer and teaching from their homes, and to find creative ways, within government guidelines, to continue to support the most vulnerable.

It will be interesting to see the effects of this as researchers investigate what has happened. Anecdotal evidence suggests that churches with existing programmes to support the vulnerable, such as running foodbanks, have been able to continue with this, though with restricted opportunities for the personal contact that is so essential. Churches with tech-savvy clergy and/or motivated laity, with less focus on the building as an essential aid to worship and whose congregations are more used to interacting through screens, have adapted best. More traditional churches, especially smaller and rural congregations have probably struggled. While some parishioners in these churches may have been listening to occasional services on the radio, new material on phonelines or even through the internet, there must be many who have had no contact with church since late March and as the habit of regular worship has been broken, they may be difficult to win back.

In other words, the churches with already most potential for growth and mission – generally more evangelical and with younger congregations – are surviving and even thriving through this lockdown, while those already in decline: multi-parish benefices with small, elderly congregations for whom the practice of faith is inseparable from being in a building with others, are in danger of losing even the small amount that they have. Given the inevitable serious economic impact of the lockdown, the Dioceses of the Church of England will find sustaining regular ministry in these declining parishes even more of a challenge.

Voices calling for churches to open in some form, and be more visible, have been heard since the start of the lockdown and have grown louder in recent days. In early April Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali suggested that church buildings should be open for private prayer, using responsible social distancing measures, and that Christians should find ways of testifying publicly to the gospel, for example with small street processions during Holy Week.

When it became clear that churches would be closed for Easter even for clergy, criticism of the Archbishop’s instruction grew, and after he said on TV that clergy had only been given ‘guidance’ not legally enforceable instructionsome clergy began to livestream services from their church buildings in contravention of the guidance.

Articles by heavyweights such as former Bishop of Worcester Peter Selby (The Tablet) and historian Tom Holland (Daily Telegraph) bemoaned the Church’s retreat from public witness and argued for a relaxation of the rules, and on 4th May a letter signed by more than 500 clergy and laity was published in The Times, calling the clergy church ban a “failure of the Church’s responsibility to the nation”.

Why should churches have remained open in some form, and be first to benefit from relaxing of lockdown procedures? Those in favour argue that unlike watching football or going to the pub, corporate worship in a sacred space is an essential activity, like keeping school open for children of key workers. It is the outworking of living in the reality of life under the creator and Saviour God, not being part of a club for like minded people. It is part of the national fabric. To close the church doors is a powerful symbol of the irrelevance and decline of religion (as Melvin Tinker argues here); to keep them open, even in a restricted form using methods to prevent transmission of infection, is a witness to the primacy of the Christian faith as public truth, to faith in God who heals and protects, and to hope in the future.

While some Anglicans have argued this from a perspective of attributing more importance to the physical and visual aspects of a church building in worship, others have expressed nervousness about the church leadership’s hasty and unquestioned acceptance of state control as symptomatic of an acceptance of growing restrictions on freedom of religion generally.

It seems unlikely that the Bishops will push for a more rapid easing of the lockdown as business leaders are doing. But it would not be a surprise to see a phased opening of church buildings in line with what the government permits across the country as a whole. If as a start, church gatherings are limited to say 20 people, observing two metre distance, it would be interesting to see whether larger churches open for services every day, perhaps encouraging those who can do so to attend on a day other than Sunday. We could see a ‘back to basics’ approach; less reliant on polished performance and more on liturgy, ministry of the Word, prayer and lay involvement. Initially worship may have to take place with worshippers wearing face coverings and without communal singing as is being proposed in Germany. My own view is that a creative solution must be found to the problem of Holy Communion – if taking the elements physically cannot be made safe, then some kind of online sharing must be permitted.

Not yet Living in Love and Faith

At the time of writing we’re waiting for the Bishops to give a lead on these issues, and also on  final decisions about General Synod: whether the July session can be held online, and then the election of new delegates originally scheduled for September. We know already that the publication of Living in Love and Faith, which was expected for June in time for the Lambeth Conference and Synod, has been postponed indefinitely.

The statement stressed that this does not mean the issue of the Church’s teaching on same sex relationships and transgenderism has been “parked” or kicked into the long grass, but that it would be better to wait until the planned process of “whole church engagement” with the materials, and “episcopal discernment and decision-making”, eventually under leadership of Bishop of London, will be possible in the light of pandemic restrictions. There is also a hint that “the context” i.e. the global medical emergency and associated economic crisis may result in changes to the original document and process.

For many, it will be a great relief that the pandemic has provided a reason to indefinitely push into the background the ongoing bitter debate about the issue of LGBT inclusion in the Church. Those campaigning for change in the church’s teaching are not happy about the delay. It’s not difficult to have an educated guess about what will happen. Assuming that the world gets control of the virus transmission and death toll, LLF could be published in summer 2021, just before the delayed Lambeth Conference. The aim of the document and the process that follows will be to ensure more informal acceptance of the LGBT agenda among the majority of churches, but without formal changes to canons and liturgy, in order to avoid large scale protest and even departure by theologically conservative clergy and laity. The formal changes will be brought before Synod when there is sufficient momentum to do so.

While CoVid has dominated the news and brought people together to a large extent, the culture wars, based on different understandings of reality, still exist. Orthodox Anglicans will need to be prepared for the LLF process in advance, rather than just waiting and reacting.

 

See also (since this article was written):

House of Bishops backs phased approach to revising access to church buildings, from Church of England website

General Synod July residential cancelled; options for online meeting proposed, from Church of England website