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.

The secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

Posted by on Dec 11, 2018 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gay Activism, Philosophy | Comments Off on The secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

The secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

A detailed and helpful article on Wikipedia begins by describing propaganda as information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented”.

Saturday’s Times [£] featured a story about senior Church of England figures partnering with Government in an Orwellian-style drive to eliminate any means by which people might seek to change their sexual orientation or behaviour if they are not happy with it. The way the story is written bears careful scrutiny as an example of manipulation by subtle propaganda and overt threat.

“Senior Church of England bishops are to begin an inquiry into ‘gay cure’ therapy amid claims that it is still prevalent among religious groups”, we are told, with quotes from the Bishops of Liverpool and Manchester. The implication: something sinister is going on, and who would question the judgement of such eminent Lords Spiritual? The survey will be organised by the Ozanne Foundation, “a Westminster-based charity that promotes equality and diversity in religious organisations worldwide”. It is ironic that Jayne Ozanne, the founder of this charity, has made no secret of her belief that orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage is psychologically harmful to LGBT people and should be considered abusive and ‘hate speech’ – in other words, the opposite of a culture of liberal tolerance of the ‘diversity’ of different views. 

We’re then reminded of the way the full force of the establishment is behind the crackdown on ‘gay conversion’ practices; the government plans to ban it and the C of E’s General Synod supported this in a vote in 2017. But what are we talking about?

“The practice, otherwise known as conversion therapy, ranges from private prayer, fasting and counselling to deliverance ministry, hormone treatment and, according to the government, ‘corrective’ rape.”

In this sentence, a simple everyday religious practice, prayer, is seen as something potentially dangerous to society. ‘Private prayer’ if it relates to change in the area of sexual orientation, should be banned. Then, the sentence conflates such prayer, offered for example in a gentle church setting in response to a request, with a brutal practice associated with poor and lawless slums in Africa where violence against women is tragically and outrageously a daily reality whether they are lesbian or, much more commonly, not. The issue is ‘conversion therapy’ but the sentence doesn’t actually mention trained professional psychotherapy at all, or any of the carefully researched weight of evidence that sexual orientation is fluid and change is experienced by many people, whether mediated through counselling/therapy, or not.

Campaigners say conversion therapy has done serious harm, the report continues. This is a serious accusation which one would expect would be backed up by some kind of scientifically verifiable evidence. Instead, we hear again of Jayne Ozanne’s no doubt genuine experiences of trauma associated with the tension between sexual identity and the Christian faith she was taught. We are reminded of the recent Hollywood movie ‘Boy Erased’ with its negative portrayal of a supposedly typical examples of ‘gay conversion’ techniques in the US in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And then a quote from Government Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt, who promises to stop practices which ‘cause self-loathing’. It’s not difficult to see that this ‘evidence’ is at best extremely subjective and at worst, based on a work of fiction (a film). This is surely an example of propaganda in its purest form, being used to curtail a basic freedom to seek help with personal change. 

It has long been noted that as human beings we respond at a deep psychological level to images and stories, particularly when we connect to characters with whom we can empathise. This is first a good thing. It has been built into us from creation, and is evidence for the existence of a personal God in whose image we are made. Relationship with him, more than just cerebral understanding about him and the universe, is what we are created for. But from Genesis 3 the human delight in the visual, the complexity of psychology around relationships, and our capacity to envision a future has been manipulated to steer us away from truth and what’s objectively best for us, so that we serve ourselves, and ultimately evil forces, rather than God. Propaganda and fake news began with the snake in the Garden of Eden.

 

I had nearly finished this piece when I was alerted to a major new development in the Church of England: the publication of liturgies to mark ‘gender transition’. (Press release, and my comment here.) Well that wasn’t such a surprise, as this was accepted by General Synod last year, and then agreed again in February 2018. What is alarming is that the new services, which have been developed by clergy who are transgender activists, have been commended for use by a leading evangelical Bishop. No doubt he will argue that while he believes that God created us male and female, this is a way of offering welcome to those who don’t feel they fit into the traditional gender categories. But in speaking about ‘trans people’ and supporting the liturgies in this way, this Bishop has inevitably accepted the validity of the new ideology of gender, which is incompatible with Christian anthropology, colluding with a fiction which cannot ultimately be pastorally helpful, and based on propaganda and fake science rather than evidence.

Should faithful Christians just accept the decisions of their leaders in these matters, and keep quiet, perhaps focusing on evangelistic courses and foodbanks? Or can we counter this trend? If so, perhaps our challenge is to tell a “better story”. We know that heterosexual marriage and sexually abstinent singleness, living within the physical sex God gave us, are the most effective ways of living a flourishing life as individuals and communities, and for our future. Numerous studies prove that stable marriage and family life, and sexual self-control are beneficial for individuals and society; likewise it is clear that family breakdown is linked to crime and mental health issues, and immorality to sexually transmitted disease. The Judaeo-Christian ethic is commanded and explained in Scripture and has been taught by Christians and Jews for millennia. It makes sense. It is the truth. Surely, if the church demonstrates an attitude of love, and tells a positive and exciting counter-story, society will be convinced of the truth of the gospel and how we are supposed to live our lives?

In this paradigm, ‘truth’ is contained in God’s word, backed up by scientific research based on observation of an ordered world. Truth must be communicated clearly, imaginatively, winsomely with love, but it exists as an entity in itself, like a Platonic ideal, or indeed God himself. God exists and his word is true whether or not we communicate it effectively with love. One plus one equals two, regardless of how effectively and relationally it is taught, or how I feel about it and about myself.

But in the secular postmodern paradigm, things have changed. God, and truth, do not exist outside of the reality which is the interweaved matrix made up of millions of human beings’ individual consciousness and experience. The personal story, and the emotions it evokes, is not just a method of communicating truth. It is truth. If feelings of same sex attraction or gender dysphoria lead someone to embrace a gay or trans identity, this is a discovery of truth, and the church’s job is to affirm it through liturgies. To suggest that someone with these feelings might be able to explore a different direction is seen as hurtful, even abusive, and should be suppressed by law. 

Because of this tendency in us to be drawn to personal constructions of reality and reject Reality, the biblical writers insist that it’s not enough to simply repeat God’s true message, and to find better ways of communicating it, including demonstrating God’s nature through acts of love and mercy. It’s also necessary to enable the faithful community to reject the false messages they are being fed constantly in the world around them. Jesus said “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” Faith must be accompanied by repentance, which is not just a decision to say sorry for bad habits, but a constant turning away from false views about oneself and the world, often inculcated subliminally and on the emotional level.

So a vital aspect of prophetic ministry among the people of God, and from the community of the faithful to the world, has been to be aware of the ease with which we can be deceived, to unmask the false messages with which we are being shaped, and the methods of communication that are used. To turn away from them, and to consciously embrace and be shaped by genuine, objective Truth, even if it involves rejection and even persecution.

Advent reflections: God’s intervention

Posted by on Dec 4, 2018 in Advent, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Advent reflections: God’s intervention

Advent reflections: God’s intervention

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Over the next four weeks I’m going to post reflections on key themes for Advent and Christmas. They’ll be based mostly on past sermons, so they’ll be evangelistic and/or devotional rather than scholarly or journalistic. The first one is too late for the First Sunday of Advent but hopefully I’ll catch up before the Second Sunday.

Isaiah 64: the prophet’s impassioned plea for God to intervene, sort out the world’s problems and come to the aid of his people.

  1. God’s intervention demanded

Every one could see that the people of God were in trouble: “Zion is a wasteland; Jerusalem is a desolation” (v10) is a compact and arresting visual image of hearth, home and geographical focus of faith damaged beyond recognition. Humanly speaking, it seems that all is lost. How these verses must resonate with Christians fleeing from their homes and destroyed churches in some parts of the world today. In the affluent West we do not face the same visual evidence of defeat and loss. But those with eyes to see know that while we may not face economic collapse or violent attack, there are concerns about the sustainability of the world’s environment, there is moral and spiritual breakdown in the nation, while numbers attending church continue to fall and there is confusion about what it teaches.

Who is to blame? The prophet is clear that the cause of the desolation is losing the ability to relate to God and one another. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…no-one calls on your name…you have hidden your face from us, and have given us over to our sins” (v6-7). So while sin, that internal attitude of rebellion against our creator, is the cause of our spiritual problems in church and nation, blaming others is a symptom, not a solution. The prophet continues to identify and analyse the issues in society which result from sin, but he does not point the finger at others and absolve himself, rather he includes himself as needing to repent.

The prophet recognizes that as the underlying problem is the mis-orientation of the human heart, resulting in God’s judgement. The desperate need is not for economic or political solutions, or programmes of self-improvement, but forgiveness, and spiritual and moral transformation in response to divine ‘ad-vention’ and intervention. We are powerless to make ourselves acceptable to God, and to change our hearts. “How can we be saved?” the prophet asks in anguish in verse 5. He pleads: “do not remember our sins forever”, but forgiveness alone, the removal of the sentence of punishment and the cleansing of conscience, is only one aspect of the salvation that is needed. We need God to visit in person: “Come down to make your name known to your enemies” (v2).

  1. God’s intervention defined

Who is God, and where is he, that a man can ask him to come down? At Christmas we sing “he came down to earth from heaven” – what does this mean? Is it like science fiction – something coming from another planet? Isaiah sees that there is the visible world in which we live and see and touch, and the invisible world, which is spiritual. God is spirit and can’t be seen – he lives in the invisible, but very real, spiritual realm. How can we describe what and where this is? Perhaps an analogy might be when two people fall in love. The mutual combination of emotions does not literally come “from above”, but all around; and yet invisible, so it’s like a million miles away for those who don’t have it. But this analogy can be misleading. The unseen spiritual realm is not simply a metaphor for human emotions. The Trinitarian God, angels, satan and demons exist and operate before, after and outside the realm of human psychology, as well as within it.

So when Isaiah cries “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down”, he is not showing a primitive understanding of astronomy as if he thought God was somewhere in space. Nor are we free to ‘demythologize’ and psychologise his cosmology, and say what Isaiah really meant was “wouldn’t it be great if we could all love one another as if an arrow came from above, and feel hope not hate”. Rather he’s pleading with God, who really exists outside time and human thought and feeling, “break through into our world! Tear open the barrier between this world that we see and the unseen heaven where you live – and let some of your heavenly power come and help us!”

God’s intervention delayed

Isaiah seems a little frustrated with God’s apparent lack of activity. He yearns for the Lord to do something with power to change the situation, showing himself like fire from the sky, or perhaps an earthquake. He remembers stories of what God did in the past like in the days of Elijah, when God demonstrated his divine authority and love for his people with overwhelming force and undeniable miracles. Similar thoughts come to us today. Either “why does God allow evil people to prosper – why doesn’t he just destroy them?” or perhaps more positively – “why doesn’t God do some amazing miracles so everyone believes in him?”

Authentic faith in the Bible is not portrayed as a fatalistic acceptance that whatever will be will be, or a cool, detached, cerebral understanding of God’s character with no expectation of change. The prophet knows that God has acted in the past and does sometimes today with supernatural power. God answers prayer, and seems to respond to our desperate yearning for salvation rather than our self-righteousness and indifference. But there is a risk in asking for God to bring judgement in the form of blessing the righteous and destroying evil, because all have sinned and deserve judgement. And as we plead with God to act in power there is no guarantee that people will believe and humbly submit to and follow Jesus if they see miracles – even with Jesus himself this did not always happen.

The prophet yearns for God’s intervention, but there is a delay, leading to a serious questioning. Is God going to sit back and not do anything as if he doesn’t care? Or will he act? Will he keep silent? Or will he speak? Will he continue to punish? Or will he forgive?

  1. God’s Intervention displayed

The answer to these questions comes in three ways. Firstly, an affirmation of God’s total commitment to his people: “no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him…you Lord are our Father”. Secondly, the next chapter (65) shows God responding, saying he has been there all along, holding out his hands to “an obstinate people” who have turned their backs on him in a number of ways. Thirdly, a promise to create a new Jerusalem, in fact a new heaven and earth (65:17-18). God is going to intervene in human history in a final way, eliminating evil, gathering up his forgiven people, and ruling visibly over an eternal domain of peace.

 

Of course as Christians we have seen clearly what Isaiah only glimpsed: the birth, death, resurrection and ascension to divine glory of Jesus the Messiah. We know that God’s response to the anguished pleas of his people for his visitation, intervention, judgement, salvation was not angelic armies or earthquakes, but the baby in the manger, and then the man on the cross.

But Isaiah teaches us not to go straight to Christmas (let alone bypass Christmas and go straight to Easter), but to dwell for a while in Advent, observing the desolations of the world around us, and our own sin, pleading with God to come down; remembering his holy character and the reality of judgement before resting in the truths of the incarnation in Bethlehem and the final Appearance in the future.

Sex and the new generation: education and the gospel in a secular society

Posted by on Nov 27, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Christianity, Editorial Blog, Education, Sex education | Comments Off on Sex and the new generation: education and the gospel in a secular society

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

There is evidence that British schoolchildren are falling behind their international counterparts, in terms of, for example, mastering basic language and maths skills. Despite this, many schools seem determined to spend more time and energy instilling politically correct concepts of ‘equality and diversity’, shaming and punishing parents who raise objections. This amounts to a new form of “proselytism” and even “ideological colonialism” in education, especially in areas with large ethnic minority populations. Meanwhile, teachers with conservative views increasingly “self-censor”, afraid to give their own opinions to pupils, and even having to teach material with which they profoundly disagree, such as books which promote same sex parenting or gender transition.

This overview was presented by Roger Kiska of Christian Concern as he led one of the seminars at the Conference entitled ‘Identity, Sexuality and the Gospel’ in Oxford on Saturday 24 November.

Kiska gave the recent example of a Primary school in South London which ran a gay pride event for all pupils, and then bullied parents who expressed concerns this was indoctrination rather than education. He also cited the well-publicised cases [here and here] of parents and teachers who were unable to sufficiently affirm and celebrate transgender ideology. Given such a context, it’s vital that parents and teachers know their rights and obtain legal assistance if necessary, said Kiska, who insists that the law still gives protections to parents against indoctrination of their children.

The conference was hosted by the Christian Coalition for Education; it was opened and later concluded by Bishop Michael Nazir Ali who has long been a champion of retaining Christian influence and ethos in education. He warned about the reduction of education to imparting of skills for the economy, and seeing it as a commercial product to be bought and sold, rather than a means to impart wholeness of knowledge and personhood.

Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Church where the conference was held, gave the day’s first address, an exposition of Daniel 1. Comparing the situation of the faithful church today to that of Daniel and his friends in exile in Babylon, Roberts suggested that Christians should not withdraw from society and refuse to be a continued influence of salt and light amid the corruption and darkness. It’s helpful to study the culture we live in, and be a help and transforming influence where we can, as Daniel was, and as Jeremiah later urged the exiles.

But then, nor should believers compromise, perhaps for the sake of advantage or avoiding discomfort and unpopularity or even persecution. And meanwhile, we should continue to trust in God, not being afraid, as he is in control.

The majority of delegates were either teachers and other professionals needing help with working out their Christian faith in a secular education setting, or those from schools with a specific Christian ethos. Both spheres are facing increasing pressure to conform to the new ideologies of the sexual revolution. Rather than ignoring the difficult subject and ‘trusting in the Lord’, or even blaming conservative Christians for highlighting the problem as some do, most present at the Conference assumed that education is a battleground for ideological control of the next generation.

The keynote address was given by Stanton Jones, Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College, Illinois, and author of a number of books and articles on sexuality issues. Beginning with Judaeo-Christian principles of parenting and education derived initially from Deuteronomy 6 and the need to impart wisdom and shape moral character, he moved on to describe key aspects of the contemporary sexual revolution and its historical origins.

The Greco-Roman world saw human sexuality as reflecting capricious characteristics of spiritual powers. There was little concept of equality of the sexes in society: girls and women were often seen as little more than the property of fathers and husbands, especially among the upper classes; women were expected to be chaste while different standards were applied to men. The Christian gospel challenged this with the then revolutionary idea of both sexes bearing the divine image equally (just as both slaves and free people are of equal value). The one flesh union of marriage signified love and partnership in stewardship, while sexual expression outside marriage was seen as defiling. Judaeo-Christian sexual morality involved mastery of one’s body and instincts, and the concept of loving consent and lifelong mutual faithfulness with the other.

The idea of men and women living under God’s rule shaped the culture of the West, and was only seriously challenged many centuries later by the rise of the concept of the autonomous human being, free from any supposed divine rule. While human reason was enthroned in the ‘enlightenment’ period, in recent decades the idea of our sexual desire and gender identity as being central to our being has become foregrounded in our culture. Our authentic selves can only be truly free, we are told, if we throw off constraints of imposed morality from religion and tradition, or even the restrictions of our physical body.

Dr Jones noted the influence of the Confessions of St Augustine, which focussed on the thoughts of the individual self not as an end in themselves, but as a way of showing an example of each unique person seeking meaning and salvation in relationship with God. By contrast today, when God is rejected, and finding and promoting oneself becomes the goal, “fragile identities” are attached to “ephemera…[such as] examination of inner sexual yearnings” which are thought to constitute “essential reality”. The result: while the sexual revolution has promised freedom, pleasure and flourishing, it has delivered unstable relationships with less sex, less contentment, and fewer and more unhappy children.

Drawing on the popular book by Glynn Harrison, Dr Jones then proposed that the church can turn the situation around by better communication of the “better story” of the biblical teaching of sex, marriage and singleness, which points to the relational love of the Trinity in which we are called to dwell and which we can display as God’s male and female image bearers. In particular, sex and relationships education for children needs to take place in a framework of recognising and catering for the child’s needs for healthy relationships and a sense of their own value, and teaching a worldview with God at the centre.

Jones’ address was clear and comprehensive, and was certainly useful in giving an overview of the radical differences between the philosophies behind secular views of sex and their outcomes, and the Christian ideal. One criticism might be: an impression may be given that the solution to the crisis is simply encouraging the church to improve its censorious image and communicate its message better.  This underestimates the extent to which the culture no longer listens to the “better story”, and that the church itself either does not believe it or is too afraid to tell it.

A pastoral fantasy – or could it happen?

Posted by on Nov 22, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Marriage | Comments Off on A pastoral fantasy – or could it happen?

By Andrew Symes,  Church of England Newspaper.

“So pleased you can be here at last after all the difficulty of arranging a meeting”, said John as he ushered the young couple into his book-lined study. He followed them carrying the tea tray.  “Now, how do you like it? Milk? Sugar?”

After a few sips and some small talk, John decided to turn to business. “It’s wonderful that you want to get married in church. We get… fewer of these requests nowadays. I got your forms – many thanks. We can look at dates and so on in a minute, but first, where have you got to in your planning for the big day?”

“Well actually…” began Hannah, looking at Mark, who nodded and smiled as if to say she could express it better than him, “we don’t just want to talk about the day. We want to talk about the rest of our life together.”

The Vicar was taken by surprise and his mind started working furiously. They had never come to church, and contacted the office via the website. He’d assumed that they were just another cohabiting couple, recently moved into a newbuild together in the parish, but unusual because of a) wanting to formalise their relationship and b) going for the tradition of a church service rather than the fancy Country Park Hotel, or even, Vegas. He had been preparing himself for the usual awkwardness of having to introduce something spiritual into the conversation. But it was they who initiated going beyond the admin.

A wash of relief flooded over John as he remembered he had a few copies of a Church of England booklet on “Getting married in church”, with lots of pictures, some helpful guidance on planning, and, yes, a bit at the end about married life after the wedding. “Here”, he said, after he’d taken one from his bookshelf and surrepticiously wiped the dust off the top.

“Thanks”, said Mark nervously, “we’ve seen this online. It’s OK, but, oh dear, we might as well come clean. When we started thinking about marriage in church, we felt guilty that we didn’t know much about it. We knew a church isn’t just there for weddings and funerals. There are Sunday services. But why? And that sort of went together with our thinking about the wedding. Why? What does it mean? A party with friends and family, a sort of symbol that we’re grown up? Or is there something more?”

“And then”, chimed in Hannah, “I’ve been thinking, is marriage a prison for me as a woman, stopping me fulfilling my potential? Is the idea of having a family with children a false idol, when so many of my friends are free to stay out late and travel and stuff? And so this may sound really weird and nerdy, but we started looking at the words of the wedding service…”

“Ah”, said John, reaching for his battered copy of “Common Worship Pastoral Services”.

“Er, no, not that one, the small one”, offered Mark apologetically. “I think one of those royal weddings had something to do with it…we found her mum’s old Prayer Book that she got for confirmation. I’d always thought that the wedding service was something you had to get through. All a bit excruciating…with a Rowan Atkinson-type vicar – no offence!”

“Mark!” laughed Hannah. “I do apologise, John. Anyway, when we looked at the words, we just thought they’re amazing. Its only a few years ago that I left uni, and there it was just assumed that marriage is patriarchal, about entrenching male control of property and gender inequality, masked by the myth of the romantic happy ending. And Christianity! That was just assumed to be nerdy at best, and backward and dangerous at worst.”

“My younger brother’s at uni now”, chimed in Mark. His lot are so far removed from anything to do with church, they wouldn’t even know that Christians are supposed to be bigots.”

Hannah continued: “So there’s this amazing message, about men and women putting the other first, coming together in partnership, being a kind of picture for how God works with human beings. It’s about being fruitful, about the future. And that bit about the wedding at Cana – and it’s water into wine. To me that’s hope – and we’d never heard about it – we had to Google it!”

“It’s been so successfully erased and forgotten, like that film the Book of Eli when that cool dude protects the bible from the baddies  – have you seen it John?” asked Mark.

By now the Vicar’s eyes were wide as saucers, his jaw was actually hanging open, and he had to consciously snap it shut. The Holy Spirit working in a secular young couple; the gospel through the old Marriage Service? Impossible, surely incredible?

Brexit – what now?

Posted by on Nov 20, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Politics | Comments Off on Brexit – what now?

Brexit – what now?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

It’s the most important thing happening in our country at the moment, if the news headlines are to be believed. The UK voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, and ever since then there has been a deepening crisis as our governing party and the wider political class are utterly divided over how to manage the exit, or even whether we can reverse the decision an stay in the EU after all. Every day the ordinary citizens hear the same arguments, which began nearly three years ago, being rehashed over and over again. Some are committed to a particular vision which they think can be achieved; perhaps the majority are experiencing a gamut of emotions, from despair to apathy to hope, often coping with tragicomic gallows humour.

We took an editorial decision at Anglican Mainstream not to take a party line on Brexit, because there is not an obvious biblical position on it. The push to normalize new humanist understandings of gender, sex and marriage in churches and schools is clearly in opposition to primary Christian doctrines on what it means to be human, and go directly against clear biblical ethical teaching. Likewise, the increasing promotion of Islam in the public square and even in church settings goes way beyond good community relations; it denies the uniqueness of Christ and undermines the Christian heritage of the nation. But membership of the European Union, or leaving it, can’t be shown to be either biblical or a serious error in the same way.

There are philosophies behind both the EU and Brexit which conform to the gospel, and those which are opposed to it. Christians who are united on the basics of Christian faith have been divided on Brexit, with some saying it is a stupid mistake, likely to cause economic recession and international instability, others convinced that it will result in new opportunities for prosperity and bringing an independent nation back to God.

The vote in 2016, and subsequent events, have told us a great deal about ourselves as a nation. 51.9% of people voted to leave the EU for many different reasons: patriotism, and suspicion of an increasingly powerful supra-national organization which appeared to be taking away national self-determination. Worries about the scale and poor planning of immigration and failure of integration, especially from non-European cultures. A feeling that the Westminster politicians running the country are an out-of-touch elite like the EU bureaucracy itself; a sense that change is necessary because the status quo is not delivering contentment.

It’s often assumed that ‘vote leave’ won because of false promises (for example, “£350 million per week for the NHS instead of membership fees for the EU”). It has even been alleged that interference from foreign powers on social media persuaded many undecided voters to back the Leave campaign at the last moment. But against this must be balanced the undeniable fact that the Leave vote was secured despite huge social stigma against that position in certain circles. 48.1% voted to remain, many despite seeing many disadvantages in EU membership. I can come clean here – I voted Remain, mainly because I thought it would take such a huge amount of time and energy to work out the complications of how to disentangle our laws and agreements from the EU, for an uncertain future (and so it has proved, so far). I didn’t believe that leaving the EU would rid us of political correctness, because this ideology is firmly embedded in our institutions and can’t be blamed just on Europe’s influence. There must have been many like me – and yet Leave still won the vote, supported by a silent, largely older population, keeping their opinions to themselves until the ballot box.

Most Anglicans, and in fact most Christians voted to Leave, despite most Bishops and senior church leaders being in favour of remaining. As the Archbishop of Canterbury to his credit recognized early on, many of these ordinary Christian Leavers were not grumpy isolationists or right-wing racists, but pillars of their communities, people of prayer who put love of neighbour into practice. They were feeling uncomfortable about what the UK was becoming under a liberal Western technocratic system. But at the same time, large numbers of Christians voted to remain who were not theological liberals who believe in a sinister leftist one world government, but born-again evangelicals concerned about the impact of an unnecessary major change.

For ardent supporters of Brexit, the divorce from the EU will have been a success if it results in the UK leaving the EU with no formal deal except agreements to trade on WTO rules, and some other essential cooperations. But for the majority, the whole process has been deeply unsatisfactory and exposed the lamentable failure of politics in the UK. People were given a binary choice: remain or leave. They expected politicians to be able to deliver. But the binary choice was not a balanced choice: to deliver one was always going to be a hundred times more difficult and mind-bogglingly complex than the other.

As I write, we are still no closer to knowing what will happen to our country, even though we are due to leave the EU in less than four months. Do we leave without a deal and forge a new exciting path as a fully independent nation, or can we have a new referendum, agree to stay in after all, and see the past three years as a bad dream? Do we accept Mrs May’s negotiated compromise, or unseat her and hammer out a new deal – and then even if that were possible, would it be ‘harder’ or ‘softer’?

The vote in 2016 told us that most people want to leave the EU. Since then we are no closer to reaching any agreement on how it should be done. At a time of national crisis, leaders sometimes emerge who can articulate a vision which the majority can share, and lead us through the difficult time ahead. But so far, while one can admire the hard work and dedication of some of our politicians who are trying to make the best of an almost impossible brief, it’s difficult to see who the people are who will go down in history as those who can unite, inspire and direct.

How do we interpret this from a Christian perspective? Is the Brexit confusion a sign of God’s judgement on the nation, like the collapse of the tower of Babel? Or are we in the darkest hour before the dawn, with a complete break from Europe the beginning of a new era of blessing? Perhaps, as the New Testament seems to teach, the shape of Brexit (or not) will ultimately not matter: the political colour of a government, it’s macro-economic and international relations policies, are not as important as the faithfulness and holiness of the church, its ongoing witness to the gospel of Jesus to all communities, and its care for the needy. We can’t agree with each other on what form our nation  should take, but we should be able to unite to pray for the government and the country in the days ahead, modelling humility and hope in God’s mercy in place of human ingenuity and hubris. Is this a model for solving church debates on sexuality? No, because there are many possible paths for a nation and its inhabitants to take, but only one Christian faith.

See also: Anglican Bishop says second referendum would make things worse, by Marcus Jones, Premier

Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

Posted by on Nov 13, 2018 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gay Activism | Comments Off on Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In 2003 Jeffrey John was put forward by the Crown Nominations Commission as Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. John[1] had for some time been publicly arguing for the church to accept and bless same sex relationships. His good friends the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries were delighted. But opponents in the Diocese formed a coalition of churches from conservative evangelical, charismatic and anglo-catholic traditions; they strongly opposed the move to appoint John as Bishop, and he withdrew.

Having learned their lesson from the Jeffrey John incident in England, and the much more divisive saga of Gene Robinson in the US, from 2013 Archbishop Justin Welby and his team developed a new policy of gradually making the church more LGBT friendly while avoiding stirring up opposition through symbolic ‘red line’ change events such as gay Bishops or official prayers for same sex couples.

Two key phrases that sum up this policy are “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion”. The first saw the debate on homosexuality in the church as like a nation having two opposing groups with strong political and religious allegiances. No-one can adjudicate who is right or wrong, but we can get people with different views to live together in peace. The problem with using this analogy is that the church does officially have a view on what is right and wrong! It should be teaching what the bible and its own Prayer Books say, and refute ideas which do not align with this. But the “good disagreement’ and ‘Shared Conversations’ process was specifically designed to undermine the “this is true, this is false” nature of the church’s official teaching, not contradicting or changing it, but saying that people were free to agree or disagree with it as long as they stayed together in the same church.

In February 2017 General Synod debated a report which had taken up hundreds of hours of work by Bishops, concluding that while bible interpretation is disputed, and the church needs to be more welcoming to LGBT people, it cannot approve blessing of same sex relationships or gay marriage. This was voted down. The Archbishop of Canterbury, chastened by this liberal revolt, promised a policy of ‘radical inclusion’ which was warmly welcomed by LGBT campaigners.

Afterwards a number of Bishops openly declared their support for this progressive agenda, appointing its advocates to senior Diocesan posts, turning a blind eye to gay wedding lookalikes in churches, Cathedrals flying the rainbow pride flag, and then, most recently, ‘rainbow eucharists’ where the communion table is draped with the rainbow flag and the message of love and inclusion for all is preached.

Recently the Bishops of Oxford Diocese sent out a pastoral letter to all clergy and lay ministers, interpreting how radical inclusion would work. (See here for the letter, and responses, including my own from last week).

Discussion is still going on about future policy of the church regarding blessing of same sex relationships and gay marriage in church, the Bishops say, but in the meantime “LGBTI+ people” must feel welcome in any church. Clergy should certainly not question gay people about their lifestyles, the letter continues, nor suggest that sexual orientation/behaviour might change through prayer and counselling, link receiving the sacraments to the necessity of repentance from what the bible calls sin, or deny LGBT people wanting to take leadership positions in the church from doing so.

So the official position of the church remains the same: doctrine and liturgy about sex and marriage have not been changed. But on the ground things have changed – so much so that in carefully constructed language, this Bishops’ letter in promoting ‘inclusion’ effectively warns clergy against ways of teaching and offering welcome, pastoral care and the opportunity of discipleship guided by the church’s official doctrinal position.

When the Diocese of Lichfield sent out a similar letter in May this year, one of its partner Dioceses in South East Asia immediately terminated its link. The fact that Lichfield’s main points were copied by the Oxford  Bishops and leadership really raises questions about their interest in any relationship with the majority Anglican world in the global South, apart from those areas which have imbibed a Western world view.

Why have Oxford done this? The Bishop of Oxford is in the House of Lords, and of course Oxford University is a prominent seat of learning – there would be constant strong influences in a liberal direction from these bastions of the establishment. But also there are some key players in the leadership of the Diocese. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, is a leading LGBT advocate who has written a book arguing for same sex marriage in church. Jayne Ozanne is a prominent member of Oxford’s Diocesan Synod as well as General Synod; Colin Fletcher Bishop of Dorchester wrote the forward to the book she edited in 2016. Martyn Percy, veteran revisionist campaigner, is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford’s Cathedral.

Where is the opposition? The appointment of Justin Welby, a charismatic evangelical, as Archbishop, has effectively divided conservatives, bringing ‘moderates’ on board with the establishment (in return for continued mission opportunities), and marginalizing those who are prepared to publicly oppose the LGBT agenda as ‘extremists’.

True, a small number of Bishops, including some Diocesans, were recently prepared to go on public record as indicating their continued belief in the historic, bible-based Christian teaching on sexual ethics and marriage. They did this by way of urging the Chairman of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project to include this teaching in the proposed Teaching Document due to be released in 2020, and warning the C of E against changing its teaching in this area. But as we’ve seen, its possible to create a culture of full acceptance of LGBT ideology in the church without the need to cross “red lines” of official liturgies and canons; and “good disagreement” means that anyone can state their own position as long as they see it as provisional and second-order, for the sake of unity.

In Oxford Diocese, the original conservative coalition which successfully stopped the appointment of a gay Bishop and the acceptance of the LGBT agenda in 2003 had fractured ten years later. A number of the churches which opposed Jeffrey John’s appointment in 2003 would not do so today; some perhaps would even welcome the Bishops’ letter. Many conservative evangelical churches have been persuaded over the past five years to view the sexuality issue as a pastoral concern for individuals in the church, and not to see or understand the global ideological revolution of which it is a part. During the past 15 years society has seen the normalization and celebration of gay identities and relationships, and now transgenderism; opposing this trend is too difficult for churches to contemplate when there would be opposition in their own congregations, and bills to pay.

So while some churches in Oxford Diocese are concerned about this latest letter from the Bishops, it is unlikely that any public action will be taken. Some who recognize the true nature of the letter from the Bishops and its infringement on freedom to minister according to the bible’s teaching, can at least follow the example of the Bishop of Albany in TEC, who recently said publicly that he would not accept the directive of General Convention allowing for same sex marriage, if it meant going against his vows to uphold truth and oppose error. Might some churches in Oxford be prepared to send at least a private letter to their Bishop, thanking him for his directive but politely declining to implement its contents?

Such an approach would require courage but would not alter the overall trajectory. In my view what has happened in Oxford serves as a case study for how the Church of England as an institution has now been taken over completely by the specific mutation of the combination of consumerist individualism and cultural Marxism (political correctness) peculiar to our nation. It will be possible for a few years to retain orthodox faithful Christian witness in some of the more secure evangelical churches in the C of E, but this will become more difficult when the politicians have Brexit behind them and start to put more pressure on the established church to ‘get with the programme’.

Another hope for the future is to establish small independent Anglican congregations, not under the authority of the Church of England but linked to the global movement of biblically orthodox Anglicanism known as Gafcon. This does not mean immediately ‘abandoning ship’; it can be done in parallel to pursuing a rearguard ministry in the C of E. Then, increasingly, Anglicans will find themselves with a choice, having to decide which is the priority: aesthetics, the beauty of the parish church or Cathedral, with a ‘progressive’ message; or truth, the beauty of the biblical gospel, still authentically Anglican, in a front room or school hall.

[1] An openly gay man, John has always maintained that his own domestic arrangements conform to the Church of England’s teaching.

Anglican Mainstream blogs about Gafcon in 2018:

The visit of Archbishop Foley Beach: ACNA, Gafcon, and lessons for the UK church

Faint praise for Gafcon offers no solution for the C of E or the Communion

Gafcon’s “Letter to the Churches” encapsulates authentic Christianity with clarity, firmness and grace

Authentic Anglicanism: global with boundaries, or ‘inclusive’ and Western?

Unstable C of E shows need for Gafcon vision

Evangelicals, ‘differentiation’ and the global church

 

 

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

Posted by on Nov 5, 2018 in Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on “Clothe yourselves with love” – a response to the pastoral letter from the Bishops of Oxford Diocese

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

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

On Wednesday 31st October a long pastoral letter from the Bishop of Oxford and the three Suffragan Bishops was sent to all clergy and licensed lay ministers in the Diocese. The Bishops begin with a verse from Paul’s letter to the Colossians about the need for love. I’ll return to this at the end of this piece, because Colossians as a whole, rather than individual verses taken out of context, has a lot to teach today’s church as we seek to be faithful to the Lord in the current context of serious division over doctrine, and particularly sexual ethics.

The letter continues: “It is not easy to make a meaningful contribution to the present debate for a number of reasons” (para 2). Given that a huge amount of thinking has gone into this subject over the past decades, from many different perspectives, and the Bishops’ role in leading and teaching, this is a curiously diffident way to begin. Perhaps they mean that whatever they say, they will upset some people. They have now decided to speak out after “many requests for guidance”. It appears they see their role not as explaining and commending the church’s bible-based teaching on sex and marriage, but instead, seeing this teaching as temporary and restrictive, they are giving a steer on how ‘inclusive’ the church can be during this current period of working towards dismantling the ‘restrictions’ and changing the teaching in the future.

As a summary of the process, the Bishops mention Pilling, the Shared Conversations, the 2017 GS2055 report, the Archbishops’ pastoral letter following Synod’s rejection of the report, and the setting up of the Pastoral Advisory Group and the Living in Love and Faith document process. They highlight the call for “radical inclusion” and the universality of God’s love. They do not mention the historic Christian view of the liberating and life-giving bible-based boundaries on marriage and sexual expression – the need to help Christians to live a life of holiness and commend God’s good plan for singleness and marriage in a world where sexual immorality, gender confusion and relationship breakdown is harming society and leading people away from the gospel.

Para 8 gives the clearest indication yet of what we have long suspected: that the Church of England Bishops are planning to “issue new pastoral guidance within the Church of England’s current legal, doctrinal and liturgical frameworks”. This is not explained, but is likely to mean guidance as to how same sex relationships can be marked and celebrated in a church setting without using the word ‘blessing’, and without changing the Church’s official liturgy or doctrine. The word “current” implies that this situation will be temporary, and the longer term plan is to change canons and liturgy.

In the section “the wider debate”, the entire focus is not on sexual ethics or the nature of marriage in the context of our discipleship of a gracious Saviour who has freed his people from sin and gives the Holy Spirit for distinctive living. Rather the subject is “LGBTI+ people” and their place in the life of the church. This is deliberate, and flows directly from the Archbishops’ letter, previously quoted, which in stating “there are no ‘problems’. There are simply people…” excludes discussion of the wider secular humanist cultural context which has given rise to the concept of LGBTI+, and reduces the issue to pastoral care for a particular group of people who have created an identity for themselves according to their sexual orientation and behaviour.

There is no explanation of who “LGBTI+ people” / “LGBTI+ Christians” are. Does this phrase refer to those with same sex attraction and gender dysphoria, who are nevertheless striving to follow Christ according to the teaching of the Bible? Does it include those who self-identify with one or more of these labels with all their socio-political connotations, who reject clear biblical teaching on sexual behaviour and are campaigning to change the teaching of the church? Those who are actively involved in same sex relationships and/or gender transitioning?

These distinctions are important. To say, for example, that same-sex attracted Christians “are actively involved in church life…bullying and harassment are not acceptable…their sexual orientation does not exclude them from leadership in the church” is orthodox Christian teaching. It is no different from saying that all Christians have weaknesses which may lead to sin (requiring repentance and forgiveness), but which can also be used by God for his greater glory. No Christian should bully or harass another human being, regardless of who they are. If this is what the Bishops meant, then they should have made it clear.

But the Bishops’ letter will be read to say that people who publicly identify as gay, bisexual or transgender, who do not consider homosexual practice or sex outside of marriage to be sinful, who may be in same sex relationships – such people should not be invited to explore and submit to what the bible clearly says, should be able to receive the sacraments without question, can and should be leaders in the church. This interpretation of the full inclusion of LGBTI+ people in the church, then, is not simply about love of neighbour, and welcoming those who are different. It involves a radical change in Christian anthropology and sexual ethics.

In talking about the debate in the church on sexual ethics, the Bishops make no attempt to ground what they say theologically. Instead, their focus is on the pain felt by LGBTI+ people. Para 14 refers to the different views held and the emotions of those on different sides of the debate. This framing of the debate around different groups and their feelings, rather than on an objective standard of truth to which we are all asked to conform regardless of our feelings, is typical of a form of manipulation, whereby when conservatives appeal to biblical truth, this carries no weight other than their strong feelings around their own particular commitments.

Para 15 sets Scripture not as the overriding guide, but as one thing to be mindful of in the debate, along with reason, tradition, prayer, worship, experience and love. This section assumes that there is no definitive Christian teaching on the subject, ignoring the consistent and clear witness of the Scriptures, and the teaching of almost all Christian denominations through the ages, reiterated at various Lambeth Conferences.

The reference to the “five principles” from the Diocese of Lichfield is particularly unfortunate, as the Lichfield document caused controversy and division when it was released in May. The first problem with the Lichfield document, echoed by Oxford, is what is set out as the theological foundation: “the basic principle that all people are welcomed in God’s Church: everyone has a place at the table”. If this is how the Bishops are summarising the gospel of Jesus, it is a dangerous half-truth at best. They have omitted key elements without which the gospel is incoherent: alienation from God, the need for the atoning sacrifice of Christ, repentance and faith, regeneration, and the work of the Spirit leading to commitment to obedience and discipleship.

The second problem is pastoral. A policy of unconditional welcome, access to the sacraments and leadership positions to a particular group of people who are not expected to conform to the same gospel requirements as the rest of us, can only be brought about by a strict curtailing of the normal pastoral gatekeeping role of the ministers. Normally, clergy and other church leaders, while warmly welcoming all who come to church, seek to inform those wanting to find faith and grow in it of the contours of Christian faith regarding doctrine and behaviour. All would agree that “nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity…nobody should be told that their sexual orientation… in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.” Responsible evangelism and disciple-making would want to ensure that such orientation was not leading to sub-Christian ideologies, or relationships which as the Bishops admit, cannot be blessed.

But the second of the Bishops’ five principles specifically excludes such careful pastoral work in relation to those who identify as LGBT. Bishop Rod Thomas publicly questioned whether this can be consistent with Anglican canons in his open letter of May this year.

Some godly leaders in the church may now find themselves seriously conflicted: obeying the Bishops’ guidance in these matters may involve going against their understanding of Scripture and their conscience.

Thirdly, in terms of global relationships: the Dioceses of Singapore and Sabah broke off their relationship with the Diocese of Lichfield because of concerns about a departure from orthodoxy seen in the Lichfield ad clerum on “welcoming and honouring LGBT+ people”.

Given that the letter draws so overtly on the Lichfield model which tore another strand of the fabric of the Anglican Communion, and that the stance of C of E Bishops is causing alarm among overseas partners, serious questions need to be asked about whether the Bishops of Oxford Diocese have any commitment to the preserving of full fellowship with the majority of Anglicans in the global South.

The letter continues with the announcement of a new chaplaincy team for LGBTI+ people and their families, to “advise local clergy…in our welcome and support”, and an informal group of LGBTI+ people to advise the Diocesan Bishop. Although they suggest that this will include “a variety of perspectives”, and will operate “within the Bishops’ guidelines”, it is difficult to see this as anything other than the privileging of LGBT advocacy rather than gospel perspectives at the heart of Diocesan ministry. One wonder, for example, what the results might be if as much energy went into planting churches in urban council estates as has gone into the campaign for LGBT inclusion.

The Bishops’ letter begins with a verse from Colossians (3:12). It’s worth noting that a few verses earlier (3:5), the apostle warns his readers:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming”.

In other words, our sexual desires should not be trusted as a basis for our identity as human beings, or given free expression outside the boundaries that God has graciously given, because this leads to judgement, and alienation from God. Sadly, though, the Bishops appear to pay no heed to this and many other injunctions in Scripture about the need for holiness in the area of sexual morality. Similarly, in the previous chapter of Colossians (2:8), the apostle warns the church against being taken captive “through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental forces of this world, rather than Christ”. The LGBT ideology is such a philosophy; directly opposing the bible’s vision for gender, sex, marriage and family through a combination of ancient pagan tradition and unseen spiritual forces. It is sadly unsurprising that the Bishops of Oxford Diocese have seen fit to open the door of the church to this “hollow and deceptive philosophy”, less than a fortnight after they approved the invitation given to a Muslim cleric to preach at a Holy Communion service in an Oxford church.

 

The visit of Archbishop Foley Beach: ACNA, Gafcon, and lessons for the UK church

Posted by on Oct 23, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Anglican Church in North America, Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on The visit of Archbishop Foley Beach: ACNA, Gafcon, and lessons for the UK church

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

As part of Gafcon UK’s team organizing the visit of Foley Beach to Britain, last week I had the privilege of  travelling with him and hearing him speak several times. Archbishop Beach was consecrated Primate of the Anglican Church in North America in 2014, and then at Gafcon in Jerusalem earlier this year it was announced that in 2019 he will take over from Nicholas Okoh as the Chairman of the Gafcon Primates Council, effectively leading this significant global renewal movement in Anglicanism. So his visit to these shores was very significant.

For eight days, concluding on Sunday 21st October, Archbishop Foley undertook a varied programme of events in England, Wales and Scotland, speaking to congregations in the Church of England and Scottish Episcopal Church, as well as AMiE and Scottish Anglican Network groups. During his visit he had private meetings with Anglican bishops ministering outside and inside the Church of England, including a trip to Coventry where he met Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, to discuss the work of the ‘Living in Love & Faith’ project.

This latter meeting was unscheduled and hastily arranged in the wake of a letter, signed by a small group of evangelical Bishops and published just after Archbishop Beach arrived, urging the authors of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ document to ensure that the historic, bible-based teaching of the church on issues of sex and marriage should be included and adequately explained. The Bishops also insist that the LLF report, due to be published around the time of the Lambeth Conference in 2020, should not result in any change to the church’s current teaching.

Foley Beach of course leads a church which is not constrained by the need to find diplomatic ways of including and balancing mutually exclusive views on basic Christian doctrine in official church documents, or giving leadership positions to advocates of different sides of the debate on the nature of the gospel as well as fence-sitters. The ACNA is unashamedly conservative in its theology and evangelical in its mission practice (and recognised as part of the Anglican Communion by the Primates of Gafcon and the Global South movement). Who is its leader? And why are there two (main) Anglican Church groupings in North America? In a number of his talks and interviews on his trip, Archbishop Beach explained his own background and that of ACNA and Gafcon to us.

Why a Christian?

His conversion story is one of redemption. As a young boy in Atlanta he experienced a broken and traumatic home life until his father and stepmother were able to get custody of Foley and his siblings. Through a church summer camp he heard the gospel of God’s love, Jesus’ death for our salvation, and the hope of heaven. Later as an older teenager he was challenged about the Lordship of Christ and offered his life wholeheartedly to the Saviour’s service. After a season of youth ministry in church and in schools, he began training for ordination in the Episcopal Church.

Why leave the Episcopal Church USA?

It was there that he encountered for the first time the radical disconnect between the bible-based faith of his local church and interdenominational evangelical ministry, and the revisionist theology of the seminary and the denomination’s leadership, seeking to deconstruct the Scriptures and provide religious support for a secular progressive vision. After ordination and curacy, Foley began ministry in a small suburban congregation and experienced God’s hand of blessing as the church grew from 30 to 300 in 11 years. But during that time the theological crisis in the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada became more acute. Bishops and Archbishops openly declared that the Bible only contains the word of God – much of it can be discarded as not constituting ‘the Word of the Lord’. Jesus is a way to God, the way for Christians perhaps but not others. God loves us as we are, and so the church can become a vehicle for blessing the sexual revolution rather than calling sinners to repentance, forgiveness and holiness.

As Archbishop Beach relates the story, the Gene Robinson consecration in 2003 was the final straw for him and many other Episcopalians. Taking time out to mourn and pray, he saw that to remain in the denomination would be spiritually dangerous for him. In tears he announced his decision to leave ECUSA to the congregation; more than half came with him, and within a short time the new independent Anglican church, now under the oversight of the Bishop of Bolivia, had grown back to its former size.

Why remain Anglican?

The experience of pastoral concern, practical rescue and warm fellowship in this relationship with Anglicans in the global South was being replicated in biblically orthodox churches all over USA and Canada, as Primates from South America, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and South East Asia courageously authorised the interventions. When the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was unable to address the profound tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion and in fact made it worse by inviting the revisionist Episcopalians to Lambeth in 2008 as if nothing was wrong, the global orthodox fellowship formed around rescue for faithful churches and Dioceses in the US was already in place. That was the basis for Gafcon: a global Anglican movement for orthodox faith and mission. It’s difficult to think of any other denomination which has this same genius.

Participating in the global nature of orthodox Anglicanism, culturally diverse but centred around shared understandings of faith, is a key reason for remaining in this family of churches even when local expressions of it, especially in the West, are in theological crisis. In response to the question “why remain Anglican”, Archbishop Foley also mentioned the rich heritage of history, liturgy and practical mission which is shared throughout the Communion.

Why hope for the future?

Faced with rapidly declining numbers and increasing pressure from secularism, the future of faithful Anglicanism in the West might look bleak. The development and growth of ACNA offers hope, as does the maturing of the Gafcon movement. Archbishop Foley did not come to tell his audiences what to do, but to find out more first hand about the complex situation of Anglicanism in Britain, to tell us what he did and remind us what Gafcon have done. It was significant also that in the two midweek open meetings, in Kent and Sheffield, he focused on another reason for hope: God’s clear guidance on how to live.

For his topic ‘The character of a Christian leader’ he drew on verses from 1 and 2 Timothy. He issued a challenge to his hearers: to be continually dependent on the Lord through a developing relationship based on prayer and bible study, and to pursue holiness of lifestyle with regular confession of sin. Just as a soldier should look to please his commanding officer (2 Tim 2:4), so obedience to God’s call is crucial.

This touches perhaps on differences in analysis and strategy: orthodox Anglicans can agree on what the bible teaches, but how do I know what God is saying I should do in a particular context; for example, whether to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church over the redefinition of marriage? This will often be down to individual conscience. But whatever decisions we come to, they should not be based on compromise with what is wrong, as a result of fear (2 Tim 1:7). Rather, the Archbishop’s reminded us of the need for personal courage, to say and do what is right, and so inspire others to similar faithfulness.

IFTCC launched as so-called liberal society closes off some choices and enforces others

Posted by on Oct 16, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Ex-gay movement, Gay Activism, Transgender | Comments Off on IFTCC launched as so-called liberal society closes off some choices and enforces others

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

An audience in London heard on Monday how a small group of activists have succeeded in spreading a new cult across the Western world, corrupting principles of scientific research, and in particular have threatened the integrity of medical understanding and practice. Doctors are now living in fear, either hoping that the issue won’t come their way, or in some cases going against their conscience and known medical facts to carry out harmful procedures because of intimidation and threat to their livelihood.

What has happened? The ideology of ‘gender’ holds that how a person feels about their gender identity is much more important and real than their physical, biological sex. So the condition previously known as gender dysphoria, whereby someone is uncomfortable or distressed by conforming their identity to their biological sex, should, according to the new orthodoxy, always be diagnosed as an irrefutable sign that the person is ‘trans’, living in the wrong body, and so the body must be altered to conform to the person’s self-perceived gender.

Dr Quentin van Meter is an American endocrinologist who during his early training saw at first hand the work of the notorious and disgraced psychologist John Money. At the conference launching the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice, Van Meter explained how Money, like Kinsey before him, was fascinated by the sexuality of children, and carried out ethically dubious research into the statistically rare but distressing cases of intersex conditions. It was men such as this who saw the need to bring these ancient pagan ideas about gender and sexuality from the fringes of literature and philosophy into the mainstream of science and particularly, medical practice. 40 years later their disciples have revived and popularized their ideas today, with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health now dominating the discourse, using bullying tactics to promote the trans ideology in academia and suppress more sensible, rigorous science such as the research of McHugh and more recently, Littman.

Transgender clinics are now flourishing. In the US, childrens’ hospitals are now routinely rated in terms of quality of care as to the extent of their affirmation of the trans agenda. As increasing numbers of children show confusion about their gender (discovery of new deep truth about humanity, or internet-fuelled hysteria?), in many cases medical guidelines now do not recommend careful psychological evaluations but only pro-trans indoctrination to parents, and rapid moves to assist transition. In the UK, the government appears to have caved in to trans demands for self-declared gender to trump biological sex in law (see here for how to respond to the government consultation).

Before Dr van Meter’s presentation, the conference heard a moving account of a German woman who had undergone medical procedures to enable her to live as a man after years of distressing gender dysphoria. After initial relief, her depression and intense self-hatred was not resolved, and she sought help. Amazingly, she became a Christian. Following many years of careful therapy, she was able to face the childhood traumas which had led to her wanting to erase her female identity; as part of her journey to wholeness she was able to joyfully accept her creation as female, and live as a woman. One of the psychiatrists who had originally evaluated her, diagnosed her as transgender and recommended hormone and surgical sex change, admitted later in relation to his many cases that he had never seen the drastic and mutilating procedure actually make any of his patients happy.

Dr Christl Vonholdt, who related the story, concluded that professional help and informal counselling to help people live according to their birth sex (if they so wish) is under threat as Western governments are being pressurized by LGBT lobby groups to ban any kind of ‘conversion therapy’. Another speaker, Laura Haynes PhD, explained how the new ‘orthodoxy’ says that feelings of gender dysphoria are clear signs of a ‘trans’ identity, should be affirmed, and should face no barriers in society whether it is public toilets or medical transition procedures.

In the same way, according to LGBT ideology, same sex attraction indicates that a person is ‘gay’; this should be celebrated with encouragement to be ‘out and proud’ in identity and practice. If the person experiencing these feelings wants to follow a different path, and seeks help to find possible causes of same sex attraction and explore heterosexual potential, this is seen as ‘internalized homophobia’ or ‘transphobia’. Counselling or therapy which is not LGBT affirming is seen as trying to change ‘who you really are’; this must be harmful, according to this dogma, for which there is no scientific basis.

Dr Haynes referred briefly to her participation in campaigns in the US to prevent government bans on so-called conversion therapy, most recently in California. She warned that if such a ban is applied in the UK, it would not just affect therapists (of whom very few practice any form of reparative therapy openly), but bible-believing pastors, church-based counsellors and even parents may be in danger of being criminalized. More and more research shows sexuality is not binary but fluid. New peer reviewed studies show change in sexual orientation can occur with therapy; there is little or no evidence of harm, rather the opposite, as long as the client’s aims are respected. The proposed ban is totalitarian: it makes a mockery of the UK government’s claim to be a “diverse and tolerant society”.

Dr Haynes’ presentation built on the conference’s opening paper delivered by Carys Moseley, who works as researcher in public policy for Christian Concern. Dr Moseley has written several articles critiquing the government’s proposed legislation on so-called ‘gay cure therapies’. She outlined the dangerous conflation of ‘hate speech’ and ‘counter-extremism’ legislation which seeks to control how people think and speak, punishing politically incorrect opinion by treating it as equivalent to terrorist ideology. A ban on the vague and undefined concept of ‘conversion therapy’ could violate several principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, for example freedom of speech, academic freedom (the right to pursue knowledge where research leads), freedom of association, the right to marriage and family life, and religious freedom. Enforcing such a ban would require giving authority to the police to intercept private conversations over telephone and electronic media.

The conference had opened with a welcome and introductory remarks by IFTCC’s Chairman Dr Mike Davidson, who has worked tirelessly to keep in the public domain the question of therapeutic choice for people concerned about sexuality and gender identity issues . Video clips from Core Issues Trust’s film “Voices of the Silenced”, released earlier in the year, were shown throughout the day. In one of the clips he described IFTCC as more than an organization providing an umbrella for professional therapists working in a restricted field. It can also become a movement of people holding on to Judaeo-Christian understandings of gender and sexuality, marriage and family, in a context of increasing “sexual anarchy” deriving from the normalization of secular ideologies.

Why is this of particular relevance to Anglicans? In 2017, General Synod voted for a motion calling on a ban of so-called ‘conversion therapies’, and another motion requesting that baptism liturgies be used to celebrate gender transition. ‘Valuing all God’s Children’, a document aimed at preventing bullying in schools, was written in partnership with Stonewall and opens the door to LGBT advocacy in Church of England schools. Confusingly, some of those Bishops who endorsed these moves are at the same time claiming to stand for the maintaining of traditional bible-based sexual ethics in the church.

Did we witness social action / evangelism ‘holy grail’ on BBC documentary?

Posted by on Oct 9, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Mission, Poverty | Comments Off on Did we witness social action / evangelism ‘holy grail’ on BBC documentary?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Every few years the church’s ministry among the urban poor in Britain comes into renewed focus. It can take the form of church leaders in advocacy mode for social action, looking at the big picture, addressing government policy on issues such as housing and benefits, and setting up a nationwide fund to assist local development projects. This was largely the legacy of the “Faith in the City” report of 1985. Or it can look more at the local level: how to strengthen often small and struggling churches on Britain’s deprived housing estates, and how to establish new communities or worship and witness where there is much social and psychological need, but no visible Christian presence.

The Church of England has again gone on to the front foot on this issue, with Bishop Philip North receiving considerable media coverage for his championing of church investment in previously neglected urban areas. In a recent talk at a meeting of the National Estate Churches Network, Bishop North gave a very positive overview of a number of ordinands preparing for ministry in tough urban areas, and commended new church planting initiatives funded by considerable sums released by the Church Commissioners. However he remains critical of blockages in leadership development which is still dominated by a “middle class” mentality, and suggests that a paternalistic attitude will lead to the church preaching a gospel which de-churched people living on estates will not connect with.

Coincidentally, just three days after North’s talk, the conservative evangelical independent church-planting network Acts 29 held its own conference, provocatively entitled “The gospel and class”. Christians have failed to address the ‘elephant in the room’ of the connection between entrenched social class divisions in society and the failure of churches of all denominations to thrive or even survive in low cost urban housing estates, the conference heard. In a series of blog posts leading up to the conference, Mez McConnell, an experienced pastor in Edinburgh from a working class background and one of the speakers, pulled no punches in his criticisms of the at-a-distance paternalism (at best) and complete detachment at worst which characterizes the affluent church’s engagement with the poor on the other side of town. He advocates a “bottom-up” approach, where professional people move into urban estates and seek to humbly serve their communities and the (often small and poorly run) churches there, rather than offer handouts from the large well resourced church in the well-to-do area. But is this unrealistic?

During the Acts 29 conference, and in blogs and social media which followed it, there was also comment on the Anglican approach. Respect for Bishop North for getting ministry to the poor back on the agenda, and for those clergy actually prepared to live and minister in difficult areas, but warnings about liberal theologies of ‘presence’ and ‘community’ in disadvantaged areas which affirms, comes alongside and talks about justice, but does not require individual repentance and faith in Christ.

 

What does genuine gospel ministry among the poor look like? The quest for a perfect balance or integration of evangelism and social action has been something of a holy grail – has the BBC unwittingly provided a glimpse of it? Less than a week after the conferences on urban mission, BBC2 screened an hour long documentary entitled ‘The Debt Saviours’. The focus was the work of John Kirkby and Christians against Poverty, the Bradford-based organization he set up and whose methods are now followed around the world. I had been aware of CAP, and wrongly believed it to merely provide useful social action programmes which churches could use in their communities, with no evangelistic aspect. Instead, the BBC documentary showed clearly the roots of CAP in Kirkby’s charismatic evangelical faith, which still informs the charity’s practice.

We saw the start of the day at the CAP offices in Bradford: Kirkby gathers the staff for reading of Scripture, a short message, and then prayer in groups for the clients being helped with their debt problems. We were then taken into the bedsit homes of individuals as ‘debt coaches’ went to visit them; we heard their stories, and saw how the debt counselling and practical help is followed up with prayer, and after a relationship develops, an invitation to church.

“Being a Christian is a good way to live”, explains John Kirkby, “but we haven’t been good at explaining and showing it”. Christians Against Poverty is his answer, providing a trained lay advocate who comes alongside individuals often in desperate circumstances, assisting with accessing benefits, budgeting and repayment plans, and helping to take away debt burdens (through money raised from donations). But also giving a clear invitation to clients to explore and experience Christian faith – which includes teaching and prayer during a free weekend away.

Kirkby notes that although more than 6000 clients have professed faith in Jesus nationwide as a result of the programme, this is only a fraction of the number who have not progressed on a faith journey, but have been helped out of debt and crushing poverty. “Why introduce Christianity at all? Why not just offer practical help?” asks the interviewer. Once or twice there is a hint of a suggestion, but not unfairly so, that people in such a vulnerable position might be manipulated into professions of faith. The responses from Kirkby are guileless: “helping people in need is a good thing, whether from a faith perspective or not. But in heaven there will be no poverty or the stress of debt, and it would be selfish not to share that good news”.

No doubt there are those on the secular left who are appalled by the combination of private charity and ‘proselytism’ with help for the poor which in their view should be provided by the non-religious State. Others are critical from a theological perspective. Charismatic churches such as the one seen in the documentary showing passionate praise and worship might teach a form of prosperity theology, some say, promising that faith in God will solve all our financial problems. There was no evidence of this at all – the song with which the programme closed was about faith in the crucifixion, resurrection and coming again of Christ in the face of desperation doubt and fear.

And yet those singing it were not pietists, theorizing about spiritual poverty and praying for the poor from a distance. Nor were they social justice warriors, signalling their supposed virtue but forgetting that Jesus died because we all lack it, or even humbly doing good deeds but not knowing how to speak God’s words. Rather, while I’m sure Kirkby and his colleagues would be the first to admit their sins and flaws and over-enthusiasm and missed opportunities, they came across as broken-and-mended servants whom we had witnessed giving lifechanging practical assistance to downtrodden individuals, and also started the walk of faith with them. The holy grail of mission? Maybe not, but certainly an example of good mission practice which has impressed unbelievers as well as Christians.

See also: I was worried the BBC wouldn’t be kind to Christians Against Poverty. Thankfully I was wrong. By Tim Bechervaise, Premier