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.

Christian freedoms must be protected, (ordinary) church leaders tell government

Posted by on Dec 14, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Conversion Therapy, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism | Comments Off on Christian freedoms must be protected, (ordinary) church leaders tell government

Why the ‘Ministers’ Consultation Response’ to the proposed ‘conversion therapy’ ban is a sign of a major shift in evangelical approach to secular culture.

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The government consultation on bringing in new laws to ban ‘conversion therapy’ was extended at the last minute until 4 February. One reason for this, it seems, was the perceived exclusion of certain groups because of the complexity of the supporting documents to the consultation response form; an ‘easy-read’ document was hastily published the day before the original date for the closure of the consultation. But reports also suggest that the civil servants responsible for collating the responses were overwhelmed by the number and strength of feeling of those opposed to the plans. Many of those criticising the proposed ban are not from a religious background at all; they are mainly concerned about the potential impact on free speech, and counselling of young people particularly in the area of gender identity. But it seems that a large number of Christians from a wide variety of denominations have also used the consultation to express dismay at the government’s proposals.

The Open Letter from church ministers to the government minister responsible for the process, Liz Truss, has at the time of writing garnered over 2200 signatures. This could be a fraction of the total number of orthodox Christians who have responded to the government consultation. It is worth looking in more detail at the ‘Minister’s Consultation Response’ in terms of what it says and who has signed it, as it could  indicate a shift away from a “steer clear of politics” approach among British evangelicals, or compliance with the ruling establishment, towards a more robust and critical engagement with secular society and culture, its values and ideologies.

The letter begins with affirmation of a posture of “welcome” for those with “different experience and views” from the historic Christian norms, including in the area of sexuality and gender; it expresses intention to act with love, gentleness and respect, and rejects the use of coercion and control. It then moves on to the main point: the proposed ban will impact the everyday pastoral work of churches, and potentially criminalise pastors and other Christians, including parents for teaching the faith and giving “loving advice”. What is immediately noticeable here is that there is a refreshing absence of apology for the church’s “homophobia”, past or present. Perhaps the authors felt that they, speaking on behalf of orthodox Christianity now rather than some church attitudes and practices of the past, have nothing to apologise for; perhaps they realise that such apologies have done nothing to prevent the onward march of the LGBT agenda in recent years.

The fourth paragraph addresses head on the false category of ‘conversion therapy’. The focus here is on the unfair and caricatured equivalence of careful pastoral practice, therapy or private conversations, with “evil and disreputable past practices which are already illegal”. One effect of the proposed ban would be to criminalise the former, which would breach a universally agreed right to manifest one’s religion.

The next paragraphs summarise what Christianity has always believed and taught about sexual ethics. It does not, either here or in the accompanying ‘Background and Analysis’ document (eg points 6-14) attempt to answer the objection that many who call themselves Christians do not believe this. This is a bold strategy – to assert aspects of Christian doctrine and assume an agreed biblical basis without attempting to add detailed theological reasoning. It is very different from the ‘let’s weigh up different views equally’ approach of Living in Love and Faith – and it has clearly struck a chord with the signatories. Many are no doubt fed up with church leaders who equivocate publicly on this issue.

The Open Letter goes on to describe a key aspect of Christian ministry often neglected in typical evangelical treatments of sexuality and gender. A common approach, particularly in evangelical Anglican circles, is to reaffirm the bible’s teaching on sex, to affirm the value of people with same sex attraction and gender dysphoria, and to emphasise ministry which helps such people remain celibate and/or live according to their biological sex. This letter goes further in identifying a false ideology within the culture, which encourages people to “believe that their identity is found purely in their feelings” and “best guided by self”.

The background analysis continues: “great harm arises from following our internal desires when they are contrary to the design and commands of God”. A key aspect of the work of ministry, then, is not simply helping people not to act on sinful desires, but to identify and reject the false worldviews which encourage them to see those desires good and an intrinsic part of their being; to elevate self and its public expression as providing meaning and identity. This is a central component of ‘conversion’: a change of allegiance, away from false gods and ideologies to Christ and his kingdom, and change of behaviour. People can change, and part of Christian ministry is to urge people to do so (Letter para 7; Background point 12).

There is an explicit appeal at the end of the letter to the Christian foundations of British society and even government. “It should not be a criminal offence”, the letter repeats, for the church or parents to teach Christian ethics. This contains an implied question – in what kind of state might such activities be criminalised? Surely a totalitarian one? The letter ends by appealing to the role of the Monarch, warning that the bill as proposed would legislate “against the very faith of which she has been appointed defender”.

The Letter is significant for a number of reasons. Here we see:

A new unity among theologically orthodox leaders of  a number of different denominations, including Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, independent evangelical and Pentecostal.

A new boldness in proclaiming Christian doctrine in the public square, including sexual ethics, sin, guilt and judgement. The writers of the document clearly will not restrict the ministry of the church to the in-house local gathering, or limited evangelistic initiatives around the fringe. Rather, Christian ethics are assumed to be for the good of all, and the church’s responsibility is to the whole community not just believers. The strong critique of transgender ideology resulting in the “appalling crime” of “genital mutilation” (Background, points 30 and 31) are not statements associated with a pietist church, but one seeing the relevance of the gospel to the whole of life, and to church members and unbelievers alike. Anglicans should be the first to affirm this understanding of the church and its mission.

A new confidence in critiquing culture, ideology and worldview, seeing Christian doctrine of marriage as counter to secular “expressive individualism”, and calling people to be transformed by the renewing of their mind according to God’s word, especially on how they view what it means to be human (eg Background, point 6).

A new willingness to be unpopular, and even disobey the law . This is in marked contrast to the strategy of other evangelical groups, who attempt to gain respect from the ruling establishment and avoid being targeted by LGBT lobby groups, seeking to avoid a reputation for censoriousness, developing an image of apologetic winsomeness. As such the letter will not cause division among evangelicals but reveals existing divisions on how to respond to the pressures of secularism.

A new resistance by orthodox Anglicans to the pro-LGBT stance of their leaders. In 2017 General Synod voted to support a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ so to sign this letter as many Church of England clergy have done, is a signal of opposition to the official policy of their own church.

A new voice for the ordinary church leaders. The burgeoning list of signatories does not feature many ‘stand-out’ names, well-known leaders of large churches, and as such as an example of a grassroots movement, not one directed from those normally seen as leaders of the constituency. They have more to lose, of course, from being associated with such a bold and clear initiative. Meanwhile the group who composed the letter and launched this initiative should be commended for their work.

Mary shows how to do “expressive individualism”

Posted by on Dec 7, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Bible, Editorial Blog, Philosophy | Comments Off on Mary shows how to do “expressive individualism”

Mary shows how to do “expressive individualism”

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

There is a view of history which sees human progress as a linear journey of improvement from backwardness and ignorance to enlightenment and global justice and peace. In this view, though there are brief periods of reversal, the ‘arc of history’ always heads in the same direction. Not only are conditions better now than they were 100 or 200 years ago, but according to this view, people are better.

So or example, we often hear that before the Reformation and the period of ‘Enlightenment’ – huge flowering of exploration, knowledge and new technologies in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, people saw themselves, not as individuals with rights, but as part of a collective, members of a community who had no choice but to follow the customs of their time. It was only when Martin Luther said “Here I stand”, Rene Descartes said “I think therefore I am”, and Rousseau advocated breaking free from the prison of social convention, that the West cleverly invented the individual. Societies were patriarchal; women were seen and carried out their duties but were voiceless. It took the suffragettes and then the feminists to make us realise that women are actually quite important. So the argument goes.

But a cursory reading of the bible should tell us straight away that this reading of history is a narcissistic Western myth. Three thousand years ago David and other poets were composing songs focussed intensely on the individual, his feelings and his God. In the 6th century BC the prophet Ezekiel warned against taking refuge in communal responsibility, insisting “the soul who sins will die” (33:18-20). Even further back, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, the Daughters of Zelophehad were engaged in a test case for women’s inheritance rights (Numbers 27:1-8). We have a number of other vignettes of women showing their individuality and speaking out (eg Joshua 15:16-19, 1 Samuel 2). So the very modern ideas of the expressive self and the platformed female voice were not invented in the enlightenment or the 20th century.

The difference is that in contemporary secular ideology, the individual and his/her feelings has become the centre of the universe, the ultimate arbiter of reality. As Carl Trueman has pointed out, once God was declared far away and irrelevant (the Deists), or even dead (Nietzsche), and the conventions of society and repression of sexual desire were seen as restrictive of individuality (Rousseau and Freud), the framework of reference which we as human beings need for identity and in order to function, in particular the cosmic and the social, disappears. For some this creates a blank canvas of exciting possibilities in which even the restraints of biology can be overthrown; for most it opens us up to psychological and mental crisis.

In the bible, the individual self, my inner thoughts and feelings is not autonomous, the centre of everything, worthy of pampering and worship. Rather the ‘I’ only exists because of the Creator and only finds meaning in relationship to him, who needs to be rediscovered as personal rescuer from sin (the tendency to self-worship), enemies bent on my destruction, and death. This is seen supremely in the short poem recorded near the beginning of Luke’s gospel, known as the Magnificat or Mary’s song.

In the ‘progressive’ view of history outlined above, a woman in the first century bc would never have referred to “my soul”, let alone have this expression of individuality recorded for posterity. But it’s the wrong view of history. People are the same, the issues we face are the same, and God is the same, even if the outward trappings of human life change. Here a peasant girl confidently expresses her identity just like any girl of a similar age today on social media. Except that for Mary, her standing comes in relationship to the Lord, whose character she understands, and expounds in her song of praise. She is an individual, but she didn’t make up her truth or create her own identity. She is aware that she stands in a tradition controlled by Word and cycles of worship in community, though not a dead convention focussed on idols as the prophets warned, but a warm day to day relationship with the same divine Person as encountered by Abraham, Moses and David before her.

This God is not remote or tyrannical, but is “mindful” of the ordinary person. He is opposed to what our sinful selves love: human power, pride in our selves constructed without reference to him. He is in control of history. And he works through “generations”. The system God has created of history as humanity propagating itself through having children is mentioned three times in the song (v49, 50, 55).

In contrast to Western society, whose cultural leaders consider past generations to be irrelevant and who assume or even despise the heteronormativity needed to produce future descendants. Who have replaced the “social justice” God of the Magnificat with the State as Saviour, redistributor of wealth and power, and punisher of today’s ‘sinners’ – those who have not got with the programme. And who, paradoxically, in seeking to free people from the chains of religion and tradition and encouraging an alphabet soup of individual identities based on feelings, actually make people more like cogs in a machine, an NHS number, an Amazon account, an Instagram post saying what everyone else is saying.

“My soul magnifies the Lord…he has done great things for me” said the empowered individual after hearing that she would have to endure the shame of a pregnancy as as unmarried woman. But today, the mantra is “My heart tries to magnify myself; my soul is broken; it’s the fault of others”.

Then, “his mercy endures to those who fear him”; today “I deserve more according to my rights”.

Then, “he has scattered the proud”; today “be proud of who you are”.

Then “he remembers Abraham and his descendants”; now “it’s all about me in the present”.

The Magnificat as a prophetic critique of the contemporary secular ideology of the self? That’s surely too controversial!

see also

The Autonomous Self Is a Coercive Godby Casey Chalk, The Public Discourse: While ‘Cancel culture’ – “hypersensitivity to any perceived offense against the autonomous, sexualized self – is a fairly recent phenomenon… its roots are not antithetical to the modern West, but deeply embedded in its self-identity, beginning with the Reformation.”

 

The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual

Posted by on Oct 23, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual

The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“No church is perfect”, admitted Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, explaining why he was leaving the Church of England to be admitted into the Roman Catholic Church – despite the recent record on child abuse and subsequent mismanagement, and despite historic theological question marks for those from a reformed Protestant background. He is answering his critics, and that discussion goes on.

But “no church is perfect”. Every local expression and every denomination is flawed, made up as it is of sinful human beings. In fact we should be amazed and thankful that the church in its various forms exists at all, given the widespread indifference, misunderstanding and hostility that Christians regularly encounter from those outside the church, and given the low levels of virtue among those inside it (including ourselves first). It is a miracle when one person comes to Christ and when another is still going as a faithful disciple after many years, and yet somehow the worldwide church is full of millions of such miracles!

“No church is perfect” – “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed” – and yet, somehow, at the end, this fallen woman in the gutter will be a radiant, flawless bride, brought into full union with the perfect Bridegroom. “No church is perfect”, because the denominations, while being part of God’s mysterious purpose to broadcast his purpose and plan to all that is, visible and invisible (Eph 3:10), are also human institutions, subject to the same structural weaknesses, forces of group psychology, and spiritual powers (or ‘angels’, Rev 2-3) as other secular organisations.

“No church is perfect”, and yet that can’t mean we just shrug our shoulders and say “they’re all as bad as each other (an attitude which often leads to drifting away from Christian community and regular worship). Nor can it mean complacency, “they’re all as good as each other”, meaning that no discernment is needed about what different churches believe, teach and practice, and all that matters is love and unity.

For Bishop Michael, the problem appears to be not just the Church of England, but Protestantism, otherwise he could have joined a ‘continuing’ Anglican entity, a newly authorised Gafcon jurisdiction, or an independent evangelical church. The Bishop has drawn attention to a deficit of catholicity (small c) – a sense of one universal church believing and doing the same thing with authority to enforce it – which is lacking in Protestantism. Perhaps it is an inherent Lutheran individualism (“here I stand…”) which is at the root of tendency to break away and do our own thing.

See more articles on Dr Nazir-Ali’s pivot to Roman Catholicism, here.

Responding to Bishop Michael’s choice in a gracious and friendly spirit, Phil Ashey of ACNA points to the development (frustratingly slow for some) of a ‘conciliar’ approach within Gafcon and the Global South. Here a genuine attempt is being made to create an authentic Anglicanism which is genuinely catholic (global, rooted in history, mutually accountable), evangelical (based on the authority of Scripture and affirming the necessity of personal repentance and faith), and charismatic (Spirit-led before institutional/managerial).

In the post-Christian West, being part of a church is a choice. It is no longer “default”, an accident of birth or geography. Some may disagree, pointing to baptism, and the significance of this as a sacrament of incorporation into the church should not be minimised. But unless we are universalists, we must always affirm the importance of personal faith and active participation in the life of the local fellowship and the global body of Christ. And this is under increasing threat in our current context. As Gafcon GBE reminded us in their statement following Bishop Michael’s move, “the pressures of secularism in the West are causing many faithful Christians to re-evaluate their relationship with historic denominations, and different decisions will be made about which spiritual home can offer safety and the best opportunities for witness.”

“No church is perfect”, but some spiritual homes can offer more “safety” than others. This is not just about protection, for example from false teaching, abusive leadership, internal division, attacks from outside, financial mismanagement. Many churches in the global south have these problems, often much worse than those in the West, but in the minds of many, they are “safer”. It’s not that they are necessarily more committed to orthodoxy, but perhaps the threats to the church’s very existence are worse in a secular culture even than in places where there is extreme violence, poverty and corruption. At least there, people believe in God and the spiritual realm.

Rod Dreher addresses these problems of the threat of secularism to the church in his latest piece about the ‘Benedict Option’ idea. Drawing on the insights of an Eastern Orthodox theologian and also quoting from a Protestant one, Dreher shows that secularism does not just obscure the spiritual aspects of reality while affirming the material and psychological aspects. Ultimately secularism has allowed people to define reality by their own feelings and desires, which then undermines even the truth of objectively observable, physical reality. Conversely, the fullness of reality can only be apprehended by an appreciation of the spiritual realm. He says authentic Christians “believe that all of reality is undergirded, and founded, in a sacred order of which we are a part. We can’t make it up as we go along; we must instead be open to divine revelation, and organize our lives from what has been revealed from God, because it tells us what is really Real.”

The challenge provided by respected thinkers such as Nazir Ali and Dreher for faithful, biblically orthodox Anglicans and independent evangelicals in the West, is not just how to communicate theological truth better, to organise ourselves more efficiently, or care for others more compassionately (all compatible with a secular worldview). Rather, whichever church we’re in (because none is perfect), we also need that other dimension of reality that comes from “the sacred”; encounter with the Holy Trinity: “That is the Benedict Option: to recognize that the force of chaos of the world in the present moment is so overwhelming that in order to avoid being torn apart by it, Christians need to step back somewhat to strengthen ourselves spiritually — so that when we enter the world, we will be steady icons of light and order, bringing God’s cosmos to the chaos.”

So, while I myself remain convinced about the benefits of an evangelical and global Anglicanism, the important thing is not the label on the denomination, but the extent to which a network of the faithful can promote the gospel while understanding secularism’s threat and intentionally withstanding it.

 

Calling colours by their real names

Posted by on Sep 28, 2021 in Editorial Blog, Gender ideology | Comments Off on Calling colours by their real names

Calling colours by their real names

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

[Editor’s note: this allegory was first posted on this website in September 2015, but was inadvertently deleted as the site was undergoing malware cleaning. We thought it would be relevant to post again, in the light of Sir Keir Starmer’s insistence that it’s not right to say that only women have a cervix.]

As little Johnny stood in the crowd, holding tight to his mother’s hand, waiting for the emperor to arrive, he reflected on how confusing things were nowadays. When he had started in reception at Primary School, he had gone over the names of the colours with the other children. The houses that they painted were simple: a red square box with windows and a door, green grass, blue sky, yellow sun.

But then things changed in his second year. The teachers started talking about people who saw things differently. For them, grass is blue and the sky is green and the sun is purple. Even though Johnny and his classmates had never met anyone who believed this, they were told solemnly never to make fun of such people. In fact even though some children got bullied mercilessly for having ginger hair, unfashionable trainers or being slightly overweight, the teachers seemed to ignore that, but were always on the look out for comments about colour awareness.

In the third year it changed again. The teachers got them to do interesting things in class. First, they pointed to the colour which Johnny had always known was blue, and as a group they intoned “green”. They learned to call colours by words which they had always applied to other colours. And then they were told to paint pictures with blue grass, green sky and black sun, except they were still to call the colours by their original names. This, the school principal said, was all part of “diversity”.

Johnny noticed that all around him people were talking about the different colours. On TV, presenters would call colours by their wrong names – at least he thought they were, but then the presenters would laugh and say there was no right and wrong when it came to the names of colours.

On Sundays Johnny went to church with his parents and his little sister. They didn’t always have a Sunday school but Johnny found it interesting to sit with his parents and listen to the sermon. On one occasion the preacher referred to the story of the feeding of the 5000. “It says in the text that the grass that the people sat on was green”, he said, “but of course the writers at that time were very primitive and didn’t have our level of understanding. We know that the grass may well have been blue, or ‘colour-fluid’. As a church we have too often failed to listen with compassion to the views of people with diverse colour awareness. We must repent and become more inclusive. Our casual use of colour designation can cause real pain to some people.”

His family moved to a different church after that.

And now here they were waiting for the emperor to arrive. They had all been told that he would be wearing a special suit and robe of red and yellow, and a song had been composed:

Our emperor, our valiant king

Peace and prosperity you bring

Red and yellow, yellow and red

We fly our flag, by you we are led.

Many people had arrived holding red and yellow flags. But they had all been confiscated, and replaced with black and white ones. Announcements over the speaker system up and down the streets explained: we are celebrating diversity! When the Emperor comes, please hold your red and yellow flags high and sing the song together!

Twitter nearly crashed as millions of people around the country watching on TV joined with the crowds on the streets to send in pictures of a black and white flag with the hashtag “red and yellow”.

“But mum”, said Johnny, “these flags are black and white”. His mother was appalled as people standing around them looked frowning at Johnny. “Shhh” she said. At that point the music started up, and the song rang out through the streets. The cavalcade with the Emperor at the centre made its way slowly along, as people cheered, waved their flags, sang and shouted the song. Johnny was too small to see what colour suit the emperor was really wearing. Did it matter?

In the sermon that Sunday, the Vicar did refer to the issue of colour. “In this place we still refer to the colours by their traditional names”, he said, “and that may sometimes make us feel uncomfortable in the world outside. But it’s not our business to criticize those who have different views, even less to try to change them as if we could return to a golden age. We just want to talk about God and his love!”

Johnny had limited experience and understanding, but he knew that he was living in a world of adults most of whom had taken leave of reality, and those who hadn’t, even those who believed in God, were just passively compliant. What could he do? He was just a little boy. At school the next day, he and two of his friends decided that they would start a secret society called “true colours”.

The future of the Church of England: Synod, wider culture, and challenges for evangelicals

Posted by on Sep 25, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The future of the Church of England: Synod, wider culture, and challenges for evangelicals

The future of the Church of England: Synod, wider culture, and challenges for evangelicals

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Different wings of the Church of England have been mobilising to ensure sufficient representation of their distinctive points of view in the new General Synod, elections for which are currently taking place. While Synod candidates understand their responsibility for governance of the organisation in a broad sense, they are aware that if elected, their votes will affect crucial decisions to be made by the church, not just in matters of finance, administration and mission strategy, but in areas which touch on fundamental theological issues. How the specific headline question is answered: “should the church bless and celebrate same sex relationships or not?” – depends on how the church understands its own nature and purpose; God, his word to his people and the world; what we should believe and how we should behave.

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), and its representative Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) has achieved a remarkable degree of unity and agreement on clear answers to the above questions. Its members agree that the church should not bless same sex relationships, because to do so would be in contravention of the clear teaching of Scripture, which is the word of God, provided for our instruction and guidance, for our flourishing in relationship with him. English Evangelical Anglicans agree on the content of the gospel and the importance of the task of proclaiming it, and building up disciples in faith, holiness and love. So C of E evangelicals are together on theology. But differences are apparent among evangelicals in analysis and strategy: how to interpret the current situation, and what action to take and when.

For example, some evangelical leaders are pessimistic about the immediate future, believing that  we are heading for a crisis of doctrine and pastoral practice in the Church of England, as the make-up of the new Synod may contain large majorities in favour of a progressive approach to sex and gender ethics, and could vote through major changes to follow those made by Anglican churches in the US and Canada, Scotland, Brazil, New Zealand and most recently, Wales. Others are less convinced about the ‘crisis’ analysis and believe that things are largely safe for now; the focus should be on positive engagement with the institution. Either way, most evangelicals are in favour of continuing to witness in parishes and remain in C of E structures of governance, hoping to maintain influence in the organisation.

What are the main arguments used by these ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’? How should they be evaluated?

  1. There is no crisis – the Church of England will never depart from Christian orthodoxy, because of its historic formularies / the bishops as guardians of the faith / the C of E’s unique position as leader of the Anglican Communion / God’s faithfulness.

Canon A5 says

“The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.” The Book of Common Prayer and its subsequent revisions are clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.

However, these seemingly simple and unchangeable formularies can be changed by episcopal leadership and synodical majority vote: Article 7 of the General Synod’s constitution requires any “provision touching doctrinal formulae or the services or ceremonies of the Church of England or the administration of the sacraments or sacred rites thereof” to be voted on at final approval in a form submitted by the House of Bishops. 

We have just seen this happen in Wales. It can happen in the C of E, hence the urgency (for some) in the forthcoming canvassing and votes for candidates for GS.

But even if General Synod is prevented from making these changes, the orthodox formularies are increasingly being ignored anyway on the ground by parishes where heterodox teaching and practice is carried out regularly while bishops turn a blind eye and in some cases, advocate for change. As the acceptance of same sex relationships, transgender and other  progressive agendas are normalised in the church it will be impossible to ‘put the genie back in the bottle’ – instead canons and liturgy will be seen as having to catch up.

     2. Talk of a crisis and planning for potentially unfavourable outcomes is negative / shows lack of faith / promotes disunity / gives evangelicals a bad image of disloyalty and extremism.

However, is a pessimistic outlook always wrong? Biblical writers were often negative in their assessment of human sin and its consequences, while remaining confident in God carrying out his sovereign purposes with justice and love. The book of Jeremiah shows a man warning about a coming disaster for God’s people. His analysis is refuted by the ‘optimists’, who accuse the prophet of negativity, stirring up disunity, and being disloyal to the official decision-makers.The optimists of Jeremiah’s day could not believe that God would allow an invasion and exile to happen – didn’t they have the temple as the sign of God’s protection? Similarly today some evangelical leaders refuse to accept a realistic analysis of the Church of England’s plight, despite mounting evidence.

 

What of those with a more pessimistic view, which sees the Church of England as inexorably heading towards revisionist theology and practice? Often this pessimism about the present is combined with hope about the future:

3. A “win-win” solution will be found to protect the orthodox, with the formation of an officially recognised system of differentiation, such as a ‘third province’.

This is based on confidence that a united evangelical voice has sufficient numbers and power to push this solution through. However, if the majority of leadership of the Church of England believe, as the bishops, senior clergy and laity believe in the Church in Wales, that the current teaching of the C of E on sex and marriage, along with other doctrines, are outdated and unsustainable, why would they want to give a ‘win’ to conservatives trying to hold on to these teachings? Only if they fear that the orthodox would all leave en bloc, causing a split. They now know that this would never happen: the majority of conservatives have shown in the face of incremental change, that even mild protest is kept to a minimum.

A ‘third province’ would need to be approved by Parliament. Why would this body, committed to LGBT rights, about to discuss possible legal restrictions on pastoral counselling and even prayer, approve the creation of what would be seen as an official ‘homophobic enclave’ in the national church? Even if such a thing could happen, negotiations should have begun at least ten years ago. The best the orthodox can hope for, following institutional and liturgical approval of same sex blessings, will be delegated and limited episcopal oversight, which depends on good relations and compromises with the liberal Diocesan bishop in order to be permitted a fig leaf of an orthodox Bishop coming in for ceremonial occasions.

4. The situation looks bad, but it can be turned around.

Some “middle ground” churches are not engaging with the battle, and even embracing liberal teaching, the argument goes, because of failure in communication and/or compassion from orthodox conservatives. A programme of clear and winsome bible teaching, together with a posture of humility and contrition, e.g. for our complicity in homophobia and abuse, will win over the majority.

This analysis tends to come from a pastoral focus on the church, and a lack of awareness of the power and influence of the wider Western culture in which the church is set. A broader view understands that the crisis evangelicals face is worse than a temporary ascendancy of liberal theology and embrace of wokeness in the church. These are symptoms of deeper malaise – with the advance of secularism, and the triumph of the identity and needs of the self as the ultimate centre of truth and reality, we live in a society in the process of tearing up of roots which make human existence meaningful. This can’t be turned around by tweaks in internal communication strategy by some C of E evangelicals.

 

The church in the wider cultural context

Paul in Romans 1 identified sex and gender dysfunction not just as a problem of breaking of biblical injunctions among the people of God, but as a symptom of a wider context – the whole of humanity’s rebellion against our created identity and purpose – embracing idolatry and narcissism instead of orientation towards God. Homosexual acts, along with other sins mentioned in Rom 1:29-31, are a result of God “giving over” godless human culture to what it wants to do. But, Paul goes on to say immediately, this cannot lead to any complacency or sense of superiority among those who acknowledge the bible’s verdict on these sins, because all have sinned, fallen short and deserve wrath, from which we are delivered only by the sacrificial death and imparted righteousness of the Saviour. This is why C of E evangelicals are right to stress humility and recognition of their own sins. We advocate this challenging and in today’s world, offensive interpretation of God’s word about issues such as sexuality from ‘below’ rather than ‘above’, not as a marketing ploy, as a way of getting people to like us, but out of the truth of the gospel.

The problem, then, is much worse than potential change of liturgies in the C of E. It is the Christian church in the West abandoning its mandate and joining the world in its rebellion against God. So the solution cannot just be one of survival of the evangelical brand, electing Synod reps and political negotiations to create orthodox enclaves in a revisionist church. It must be stepping out of that church and recovering the true purpose of church as counter-cultural witness, nurturing rooted and worshipping communities which are prepared for marginalisation. This should be the aim of evangelical bible teaching.

For the majority, the essential ‘differentiation’ will be internal, psychological and spiritual while remaining in the institution of the C of E – but questions remain about the feasibility of defending and promoting orthodoxy in the wider sense of witness to the culture, in a church where the leadership has a contrary agenda. A small but growing number have already come to the conclusion that the Church of England has “crossed the line”, citing recent incidents such as Synod’s rejection of moderate statements affirming the traditional view of marriage (GS2055, 2017); Synod’s affirmation of a call to ban ‘conversion therapy’ (2017), Bishops’ approval of liturgies and school policies affirming transgender ideology (2018), and bishops’ regular virtue-signalling over woke causes at the expense of giving clear teaching of the gospel. The formation of the Anglican Network in Europe, under the auspices of Gafcon in 2020-21, has provided a home for those who want to remain Anglican but not in the Canterbury/York- aligned structures of Britain and the continent.

 

See also: Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionismBy Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream: Unlike CEEC’s more gentle advocacy of “no change” to doctrine and practice from a place of good relationships with the institution, Gafcon Australia takes a more robust line.

Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionism

Posted by on Jul 30, 2021 in CEEC, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionism

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

On the same day (19th July) that Gafcon Australia publicly unveiled their plans to establish an alternative Anglican jurisdiction in response to the trajectory of revisionism in the Church of Australia, the Church of England Evangelical Council issued a statement about the Bishop of Liverpool’s address to the MOSAIC campaign group, in which he called for same sex marriage in the Church of England. The difference in the two statements is symptomatic of more general differences between the way that orthodox Anglicans are engaging with the national church in both countries.

The CEEC statement begins with an appreciation of  Bishop Bayes’ subsequent apology for his attack on those who believe the historic teaching of the church on sex and marriage, and says that humility and forgiveness on both sides of the debate are important “as we engage…during the LLF process”. The statement goes on to question the substance of Bishop Bayes’ remarks. To call for a change to the teaching of the church in the context of ordinations is at odds with the Bishop’s role as a teacher of the faith. The LLF guidance shows the Bishops calling for unity: Bishop Bayes risks undermining that unity.

CEEC, which is made up of representatives from a number of evangelical organisations in the C of E as well as elected members from the Dioceses, is within itself not in agreement about how to respond to LLF. The majority position, as espoused by those who were part of the LLF drafting process, and by evangelical Bishops on CEEC, is to encourage evangelicals to engage winsomely with LLF, putting forward the historic biblical position as articulated in the video The Beautiful Story, but with gentleness, respect and humbly listening to other points of view.

A minority position, as put forward by theologian Martin Davie and as represented by Anglican Mainstream (eg here and here) , is that LLF is a flawed project, in which erroneous teaching, deriving from the sexual revolution and its malign philosophical roots, is put on equal footing with historic Christianity. The weight of the cultural zeitgeist, the privileging of experience over doctrine and of liberal academic theology over universally agreed plain readings of Scripture, the constant threat that even to utter conservative views on sexuality may be harmful and should be suppressed like racism, makes the LLF discussion process potentially biased and therefore to be avoided; there is an increasing feeling that the results are predetermined anyway in the form of planned changes to church teaching and practice in this area.

Some position papers on the CEEC website (never formally endorsed as policy by its membership) have pointed to a crisis in doctrine and order in the C of E, requiring decisions about options for ‘differentiation’, or separation of orthodox Anglicans from a revisionist institution. The statement about Paul Bayes appears to row back from this, preferring to see the problem in terms of one rogue Bishop threatening unity by ‘jumping the gun’ before the church has been through a proper process of discussion and reflection.

Meanwhile, CEEC’s energies are centred on ensuring good representation of conservative candidates in the forthcoming General Synod elections. But there does not appear to be any plan for what to do if, for example, the Bishops issue some kind of pastoral guidance permitting blessing of same sex relationships, by-passing Synod (as happened with the ‘transgender baptism’ guidance), or if Synod itself approves major changes, which many evangelicals would find unacceptable, at some point in the next quinquennium.

The statement by Gafcon Australia, on the surface, comes from a very similar place theologically to CEEC. While Gafcon is broader in the sense that it includes those from the anglo catholic and Prayer Book traditions who would not call themselves evangelical but nevertheless share the orthodox convictions expressed in the Jerusalem Declaration, its Australian membership and leadership would be predominantly evangelical, and many have a long history of close relationships with English Anglican evangelicals.

Unlike CEEC’s more gentle advocacy of “no change” to doctrine and practice from a place of good relationships with the institution, Gafcon Australia takes a more robust line. They explicitly refuse to accept church authority which contradicts the bible (for example, the Appellate Tribunal’s official ruling on same sex blessing services 2020). They are taking a first step in providing an Anglican home for those who in conscience cannot remain in the denomination, and in so doing, create an option to leave the denomination in future. The way they have done this is not only to align fully with the global Gafcon movement, but to recognise the authority of the Gafcon Primates to step in and provide oversight in situations where local Anglican leaders no longer accept basic teachings and practice of the Christian faith (as per clause 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration). By contrast CEEC has not questioned the spiritual authority of the Bishop of Liverpool or any other revisionist leader in the Church of England, has not made any moves to provide oversight for faithful Anglicans out of fellowship with their Dioceses, and seems reluctant to recognise the importance of Gafcon in its role of contending for orthodox Anglican belief.

Gafcon Australia’s plan to create an extra-Provincial Diocese is being endorsed and carried out by senior leaders currently in the ACA, such as the bishop of Tasmania and Archbishop of Sydney. They have appointed as the Executive Officer of the new entity a clergyman who has previously served as the head of Freedom for Faith, a think tank on religious freedom similar to Christian Institute and Christian Concern in the UK. This is a sign that Australian evangelicals involved in this project see understanding of the broader cultural context as a vital component of leadership of such an initiative. By contrast, when Gafcon authorised the formation of the Anglican Network in Europe, a similar initiative, the significant leadership, pastoral and administrative work involved was carried out almost entirely without the help of any evangelical leadership in the Church of England. Meanwhile advocates for more awareness and critique of the broader cultural context remain as outliers in English Anglican evangelicalism, in contrast with the situation in Australia.

There have been times in the last few years when evangelical leaders in the Church of England could have taken a more proactive stance, for example by developing closer relationships with Gafcon leadership around the world, by actively supporting Anglicans alienated from the denomination, by being involved in the development of an alternative Anglican jurisdiction. This could have happened in 2017, when Synod voted not to ‘take note’ of a report advocating retaining the historic teaching on marriage, Archbishop Welby called for ‘radical inclusion’ and Synod voted for a ban on ‘conversion therapy’. Or it could have happened in 2018 when around 150 evangelical C of E leaders attended Gafcon in Jerusalem, or later that year when the Bishops endorsed transgender ‘baptism’ services and a number of clergy and congregations expressed interest in a more secure Anglican home.

But these opportunities were missed. There were some letters of complaint, some private meetings in Bishops’ offices, some papers written. Then, after some time, evangelical policy seems to have switched to support for LLF, and re-commitment to the dysfunctional processes of a church whose Bishops see their role not as teaching the faith, but at best as trying to keep the peace between people who believe completely different things, and at worst publicly contradicting that faith. 

The good news is that Gafcon Great Britain and Europe (formerly Gafcon UK) exists, as a fellowship and source of information for all in our region who align with the Gafcon vision. As with Gafcon Australia, Gafcon GBE is not calling for all orthodox to leave the liberal-leaning historic denomination. However, there must be support and provision, both for those faithful individuals and congregations who wish to stay in to promote authentic Christianity in its classical Anglican expression but not to engage in friendly dialogue with the revisionist trajectory, and for those who feel it is necessary to leave and remain Anglican. So, the Anglican Network in Europe has been formed for Anglicans outside historic structures: small beginnings but new congregations will be established in the coming months.

It’s not too late for CEEC to develop better links with Gafcon, and more intentionally focus on the vision of “proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations” rather than expending energy on endless negotiating with those in the shared space with a different agenda.

Church in Wales Bishops endorse ban on “gay conversion therapy in all its forms”

Posted by on Jul 29, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church In Wales, Editorial Blog, Gay activism | Comments Off on Church in Wales Bishops endorse ban on “gay conversion therapy in all its forms”

Church in Wales Bishops endorse ban on “gay conversion therapy in all its forms”

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The Bishops of the Church in Wales have made it clear that any Christian teaching, counselling or prayer which implies preference towards “heterosexual norms”, or which is not positive towards homosexual practice and gay or transgender identity, should be included in a legal ban. The UK government has already committed to “ban conversion therapy”; the definitions of the practice and the scope of the ban is due for public consultation in September and debate in Parliament soon after that.

In a letter responding to a query from the Chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales about their original statement, the Bishops deny that they are “affirming all and any expressions of sexuality”, but they suggest the “traditional reading of Scripture” on sexuality and marriage held by the church for centuries is unsustainable, and “needs to be revisited”. They go on to say that discussion, prayer and exploration of biblical teaching around sexuality from a “predefined” standpoint can be used to “disguise practices” which are coercive and abusive towards “LGBTQIA persons”.

This statement by the CiW bishops follows on from similar sentiments expressed by the Bishop of Manchester, of whom an Anglican Mainstream editorial recently said: “It’s one thing for the Bishop to disagree with the sexual ethics of the Christian church down the ages. He is going much further than that – he is campaigning for the criminalisation of many of his own faithful clergy who hold to the traditional view.” 

Welsh bishops and some senior English bishops now feel secure and unopposed enough to articulate their position clearly, in which they side with progressive secularists to lobby lawmakers against their own conservative clergy and parishioners. This will further weaken confidence in the ability of the national Anglican churches of Britain to defend and promote historic Christianity. The Scottish Episcopal Church permitted same sex marriage in 2017.

The Governing Body of the Church in Wales meets in early September, and it is believed that a vote will be taken on whether to introduce rites for the marriage of two people of the same sex in church. Meanwhile many senior figures in the Church of England who might not be in favour of such a move in either national church, appear unwilling to speak out while the Living in Love and Faith process is not yet completed.

The text of the letter from the CiW bishops to EFCW is below:

Thank you for your letter of July 2021 concerning gay conversion therapy. We are glad that EFCW joins us in recognising that coercive and abusive practices associated with gay conversion therapy are wrong. We cannot accept, however, that by describing human sexuality as a gift from God to be cherished and honoured this necessarily opens the gate to affirming all and any expressions of sexuality, as you posit interpreting our words. The statement says what is plainly and explicitly articulated, and does not go beyond that.

You ask what we mean by opposing gay conversion therapy in all its forms. Again, we believe this to be straightforward and plain – any supposed therapy which purports or claims to convert a person’s sexuality is, in our opinion, abusive and should be banned. You ask whether “open discussion and grace-filled prayer with someone who wants to explore biblical teaching on the issue of sexuality” should, in the opinion of the bishops, fall under such a ban. Sadly, this positive sounding phrase leaves far too much to individual interpretation.

In the first place, biblical teaching on sexuality is precisely what is being debated in the current discussions around sexuality and Christian faith. As bishops, we freely admit that the traditional reading of Scripture sees it as condemning all sexual conduct outside a man and a woman’s committed lifelong and single heterosexual marriage. It is the sustainability of that traditional reading that we believe needs to be revisited.

If you are asking whether open discussion – that is, without a predefined answer – and grace-filled prayer – that is without implying knowledge of how God might answer that prayer, and without it being oriented necessarily towards a conversion of sexuality but graciously open, affirming and hospitable – with someone who wants to explore – which implies that they are uncertain and again that there is no predefined outcome – biblical teaching on the issue of sexuality – then that would seem to be the sort of open ended discernment upon which the Church in Wales is currently embarked.

Unfortunately, these seemingly innocuous words can be used to disguise practices in which pressure is brought upon vulnerable LGBTQIA persons to submit to efforts aimed at the conversion of their sexuality, attempted exorcisms and worse. Such practices can be designed – consciously or unconsciously – to play on people’s sense of shame or anxiety, and signal that unless they conform to heterosexual norms they can neither be true disciples of Jesus, nor accepted members of the congregation with which they wish to become associated. A toxic mixture of motivation – to avoid embarrassment, to please a revered spiritual leader, to assuage long-standing guilt and shame – can be triggered which we, as bishops, believe would be abusive.

Our advice to members of EFCW is that they ought to avoid any practice which comes close to being capable of being interpreted as abusive in this way. Indeed, given the deep psychology of human sexuality, we believe that it should be left to the specialist to intervene, if indeed that is necessary. The Church’s role is to offer welcome, acceptance and friendship and, if requested, prayer that God’s grace can be operative in the situation and that a person would know God’s guidance and blessing – with no defined outcome.

We affirm and stand by a simple and plain reading of our statement as originally drafted.

Yours in Christ,

+Andrew Bangor

+Gregory Llanelwy

+June Landav

+Cherry Mynwy

Post-evangelical theologian reveals humanistic roots of LLF

Posted by on Jun 25, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Post-evangelical theologian reveals humanistic roots of LLF

Post-evangelical theologian reveals humanistic roots of LLF

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Many theories begin as a corrective to other dominant ideas. This tendency to challenge existing generally accepted narratives is important, as it can lead to positive progress. From a Christian point of view it is an important trait in our human make-up – while Christianity is often seen as on the side of conservatism, its founder figures, Abraham, Moses, Paul and the other apostles, and supremely Jesus himself, often questioned and led people away from prevailing worldviews and introduced thinking which appeared revolutionary (although it was a re-newal of what had always been true). Without this ability to interrogate existing thinking, to offer an alternative vision, and to change, there would be no repentance and conversion, and no new initiatives in mission.

But not all change is good; discernment and wisdom, informed by the Scriptures, need to be applied, often to tease out what is beneficial and what is potentially erroneous and harmful in a theory of change. So for example, socialism began by questioning why most of a nation’s resources end up in the hands of a small elite. “How can more equitable distribution be achieved; how can poverty be reduced” are questions which can be found in the Scriptures (eg some of the social laws in the Pentateuch); this had led to developments such as Western-style democracy, fair systems of taxation, financial support for the disadvantaged, free services such as health and education. But the French revolutionaries, Marx , Lenin and Mao went much further, devising a fully orbed system of class antagonism and revolution, and state control, which explicitly denied God, removed personal freedoms, and unleashed violence and cruelty.

In education too, there were always those who questioned the reliance on ‘teacher tell’ methods of imparting information to students. Rote learning of notes and regurgitating information in exams may be easier to mark by judging memory retention, but this does not encourage creative thought and cooperation, or take into account different learning styles of students; it may foster unhealthy dependence on authority figures, who might abuse their position of power. Christians would agree, and point to Jesus’ methods of using parables and actions (such as healing), as ways of encouraging discipleship based on relationship, discovery, personal reflection and response, rather than just repeating ‘right’ answers and lists of facts.

But, many ‘humanistic’ theories of education which developed in the twentieth century, associated with thinkers such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers went much further. They denied the need to teach at all, believing that as human beings are essentially good, if their basic needs are met they will co-operate harmoniously and discover the information they need for themselves. The humanists rejected the ‘behaviourist’ theories of using reward and punishment to motivate learning and behaviour beneficial for society, and opposed any idea of authority from above telling us what to believe, with religious ‘dogma’ seen as the worst form of this kind of ‘oppression’.

It’s not difficult to see how these theories have influenced contemporary education. But increasingly they have taken hold in the church. It is surely positive to find creative, learner-centred methods of enabling the faith to be passed on and for people to hear God’s word in every generation, even in preaching. But theologians and other church leaders are going way beyond this, saying the content of the faith and the meaning of the Word itself should be changed, not just the methods of passing it on and learning it. Following 20th century theorists in other politics, education and other disciplines, they deny that there is any fixed ‘truth’ to be passed on, that doctrine has a core component of information deriving from an authoritative source from the past, acting as a guide rail for discipleship, worship and church life. Instead, for them, the content of Christian doctrine is something to be decided by the innately good human self.

David Runcorn’s latest article, versions of which have recently appeared in Church Times and on Via Media, is an example of this thinking. 

In LLF: Building the bridge as we cross it, He commends Living in Love and Faith as a successful model of education for the church, where laity and clergy together “discern faith, doctrine and discipleship”. This is not done by grasping afresh ancient truths, which he sees as dependent on people seeing themselves as powerless and that truth can only be mediated through so-called “great leaders”. Instead, truth is found by “abandoning the familiar ways of speaking of and defining what is going on”, and then liberating “God’s people to imagine themselves in radically new and adventurous ways.” The role of leaders, according Runcorn, is specifically not one of “guarding received understandings, or telling people what the truth is”, but to journey with people as they discover their version of the mind of God, and flourish and grow as a result. He claims that God in the bible does not issue commands which he expects us to obey, but encouragement to listen and take “responsibility”. When he says that the aim of LLF is to produce “biblically discerning” Christians, he does not mean those who, from a worldview based on the bible and Christian tradition, discern right and wrong in the world around us and in our own character and psyche; rather he seems to advocate discerning what is right and wrong in the bible based on the ‘truth’ of our own perspective.

And in saying this, he is correctly identifying the method of LLF. The collection of videos, fat book and study guides which constitute the LLF ‘suite of resources’ are in fact an example of ‘humanist’ educational theory and method, rather than Christian teaching. They do not encourage participants to evaluate traditional and contemporary views of relationships, sex, gender and marriage from the perspective of an ‘authoritative’  Christian worldview as agreed by the church down the ages and the worldwide church today. Rather, they put forward different ways of questioning the historic doctrine from the standpoint of new ‘authorities’- personal experience and theories emanating from the world. It is here that ‘truth’ can emerge. And this is not just in the view of Dr Runcorn, but according to the authors of LLF and hence the leadership of the Church of England.

Evangelicals in the Church of England are being encouraged to take part in local discussions of LLF. The rationale appears to be, that this will demonstrate the winsome and friendly nature of a group often maligned for inflexibility and bigotry, and that participation provides opportunities to communicate the truth of God’s word to those who have not heard it properly. But as Runcorn’s piece shows, the game has moved on. LLF is not a level playing field, where different views can be expressed politely on the common ground of shared worldview. Instead, a different, humanistic philosophical and educational method, now dominant in Western society, is being employed which doesn’t recognise the assumptions of the authentically Christian understandings about how we know what is real. So at best, there can be no real communication; at worst, evangelicals will soon realise that to play the game, they will have to play by the rules of the new referees, give up the idea of objective ‘biblical truth’, and accept that their view, apostolic, historic Christianity, is no more than a minority opinion which hopefully will be still permitted in the church.

Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Posted by on Jun 11, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gay activism | Comments Off on Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“If I was to stand up on a soapbox and start spewing hate speech, the fact that I might begin by saying ‘Dear God’, and end by saying ‘Amen’ wouldn’t protect me…” But what the Bishop of Manchester goes on to say in this interview in the Guardian, and the context of his comments, lay him open to the charge of doing what he condemns – using a position of influence to promote a divisive ideology, relying on emotion and appeals to groupthink rather than reason, giving it a veneer of religious respectability.

He continues in the comment just quoted, that “hate speech” should receive “the full force of the law”. What is this “hate speech”? Perhaps he is referring to words which incite violence, or which are gratuitously insulting? Maybe it’s radical jihadists he hopes will face prosecution, or nutters who threaten to kill female MP’s on social media? No – he is referring to any Christian who says, or prays something to which an LGBT person takes offense.

Bishop David Walker sets out his view supporting a hard line interpretation of the proposed ban on ‘conversion therapy’ in an article on the Jayne Ozanne blog viamedia.news   . 

He argues for a ‘victim-centred’ approach, whereby if anyone claims to have experienced ‘harm’ through prayer, counselling or other “attempts to change sexuality”, they automatically are deemed to have suffered abuse, and that abuser must be punished.  To buttress this ideological position which obviously could lead to unjust persecution of some orthodox Christian pastoral ministry, the bishop quotes the Magnificat and refers to the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Is this not remarkably similar to the behaviour he so condemns – that of using a position of power as a ‘soapbox’ to promote views that call for punishment of those he doesn’t agree with (aka ‘hate speech’?), and using religious language in so doing?

Bishop David begins his article with what might be described as a humility deficit. After successfully (in his estimation) chairing the 2017 General Synod debate on ‘conversion therapy’ [has anyone asked whether it was appropriate to give this task to someone so obviously biased?], the bishop “could hardly move for members wanting to thank me for having managed the debate with pace, clarity and good humour.” Now at last, he implies, Parliament has caught up: “I took the opportunity to remind Parliament of the Synod vote and was delighted when the government minister responding to the debate, Baroness Susan Williams, endorsed my comments.”

He moves on to complain that the proposed government consultation process is “foot-dragging”. Nor should time be wasted, in his view, establishing clearly in law the difference between bullying and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation, which is already proscribed, and prayer and/or counselling carried out in response to request for help by those choosing to follow a path in accordance with their beliefs. While in the Guardian interview he does appear to draw such a distinction, in his Via Media piece he says let’s just “get on with it” in terms of a blanket ban; let’s leave it up to judges to decide whether certain types of prayer have broken the law; we can always tweak the law later.

The Bishop uses an analogy to compare Christians involved in such pastoral care, with privileged male abusers of young teenage girls in the 19th century. Those arguing for a nuanced approach to government legislation are, he says, like those arguing against the raising of the age of consent to 16 years.

It is almost unbelievable that a bishop in the Church of England can make these statements. He must surely realise that although he says in his Guardian interview that he couldn’t “guarantee that nothing inappropriate ever happens in the diocese of Manchester”, there are many clergy and lay ministers in his Diocese who believe and teach that marriage between a man and a woman is the only context authorised by God for sexual expression. These folk would in a pastoral situation not simply affirm LGBT identity and behaviour; they might refer same sex attracted church members to organisations providing support and encouragement for celibacy, they might pray and/or offer counselling in response to expressed hope for change in behaviour or desires. It’s one thing for the Bishop to disagree with the sexual ethics of the Christian church down the ages. He is going much further than that – he is campaigning for the criminalisation of many of his own faithful clergy who hold to the traditional view.

Again, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. He quotes Scripture to remind us that God is on the side of the poor and oppressed, and believes that he is taking a stand on behalf of powerless victims against a shadowy majority of abusers with power. But he is the one with power; the elites who share his view are about to use their power to get what they want. Meanwhile this so-called powerful conspiracy of abusive conversion therapists against whom the bishop is so bravely and prophetically taking a stand and seeking to punish and eliminate, in fact consist of a few Christians seeking to follow Christ in helping others, with no influence at all.

He claims there is a “massive pile of evidence” to show the prevalence of Christian ‘conversion therapy’ and its “harm”, in the form of “harrowing stories”. While it would be a mistake to minimise the psychological damage which can happen in any situation of coercive control, bullying and manipulation, or to call into question the authenticity of the testimonies on the Via Media site, it would be disastrous to base potentially unjust new laws on such testimonies, without weighing up other evidence.

We regularly hear through all forms of media how people have found happiness after embracing an LGBT identity. Have the legislators heard testimonies from those who have had a different experience, who have moved away from same sex attraction, relationships or identity which did not bring contentment, and have found a new wholeness as a result? Is it not possible that in the current cultural climate, it is these people, who number perhaps in the thousands, those who are no longer LGBT following freely chosen prayer and/or therapy, who are the silenced, the oppressed, the not valued, and the tiny number of those who help them and are punished for doing so, who are the true victims?

The bishop, rather than upholding the wonderful biblical doctrines of sex and marriage which remains the Church of England’s official teaching, is campaigning for the agenda of Stonewall (increasingly discredited), and the Ozanne Foundation. In conjunction with politicians, lawyers, media and other powerful forces living in their own echo chambers, he is threatening ordinary Christians, while using biblical language to claim that he is advocating for the oppressed.

One could take the view that this is just one bad apple in an otherwise sound institution. On the other hand, is his prominent position in the church and in the national discourse in fact symptomatic of its trajectory, and it is faithful and concerned members of that institution, rather than the bishop, who should ‘consider their position’?

See also: Thinking about harm, by Martin Davie: “We simply cannot say that the evidence shows that conversion therapy in relation to sexual orientation is necessarily harmful.”

 

 

Symbols of a new era

Posted by on May 19, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Culture, Editorial Blog, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on Symbols of a new era

Symbols of a new era

From American Anglican Council’s ‘Anglican Perspective’:

Canon Phil Ashey interviews writer and reporter, Rev. Andrew Symes, of Anglican Mainstream and the Anglican Network in Europe. This follows on from the blogs by Ashey and Symes setting the US Equality Act in the context of today’s cultural issues in the Western world, pitting the Church against a standard secular orthodoxy of the day. What is going on, and how is the Church to respond in this new era?

Click here for podcast of the interview

See also:

The Equality Act And The Future Of Religious Freedom, By Phil Ashey, AAC

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response, by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream