Living in Love and Faith: early thoughts

Nov 11, 2020 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I have skim-read the main 480+ page document and am now ploughing through the text line by line. I’ve also watched a couple of videos and have been part of a couple of Zoom seminar discussions.

The Living in Love and Faith project depends on certain assumptions:

  1. Church teaching and practice can never be static or set in stone; they need to move with the times. This is evidenced by a number of sections in the LLF book devoted to explaining the history of ‘development’ of Church of England approaches to marriage and divorce, contraception, homosexuality and transgenderism. The implication is that change in attitudes, doctrines and canons is not just possible, it is inevitable.
  2. The Church of England needs to come to an agreement on policy with regards to sexual ethics and marriage, and especially a way of offering “radical inclusion” to LGBT people. This needs to be done in a way that does not cause schism, in order to demonstrate the possibility of reconciliation across theological and cultural divides, and so be a witness to the world.
  3. Factors preventing this unity-in-diversity are “tribal loyalties”, caused by an ignorance of the complexities of history, psychology, sociology and theology around the issue, the fear of those who are different, and the absence of warm relationships and genuine conversations across difference. Hence a large section of the LLF reading material is devoted to comprehensive outlines on current trends in society, the agreed opinions of ‘science’, and summaries of past events, all of which are presented as neutral and uncontested fact, but are not as will be mentioned later.
  4. What is needed is a journey of “love and faith”, in which those who share the same faith in Christ but with a wide variety of views on sex and marriage walk together in learning and exploration, not confronting, but learning and exploring together in an attitude of mutual caring, being “open to the Holy Spirit who may provide surprises” (this phrase was used by a member of the LLF team in a recent Q&A session).
  5. The massive expense and effort in producing the LLF materials, and then the 18 month process of more conversations at parish level, will achieve the aim of 2) above.

How are people reacting to this? On the pro-change side, while some are frustrated that the document does not go further in openly advocating change in the form of, for example, same sex marriage in church or the appointment of partnered LGBT bishops, many see the process as an opportunity to further break down resistance to what they see will inevitably happen soon. On the conservative side, while there will be disquiet at the liberal ideology underlying much of the material, there will be relief at the absence of a clear call for rapid change. Some will see an opportunity to creatively and winsomely present the historic biblical teaching in the forthcoming discussions, to win people over; others will be hoping for higher level discussions about more formal differentiation and protection for conservatives in the event of change to liturgy and canons later.

On the ground, many clergy and lay people will be bewildered: “we have to discuss this again? You’re expecting me to read all that?” Others will be fearful, especially middle of the road vicars in small parishes with a mixture of people with strong views on both sides, and conservative vicars who know that the majority of their parishioners would be in favour of change. Meanwhile a minority will conclude that a church which can produce this material cannot be trusted as a safe guide in the difficult journey of discipleship in contemporary society, and will quietly slip away to other homes.

There is a wearying sense of deja vu all over again about this. If anyone reading this is doing a PhD on the recent history of this interminable  Church of England process, here is a list of articles from March 2016 about the ‘Shared Conversations’

In the report on my experience of the Shared Conversations, I said this:

When Christians talk to one another…we should share the same worldview based on faith as defined by the Scriptures. I have experienced this many times in fellowship with Christians from different cultures and languages. However if different constructions of reality have been allowed to develop in parallel as part of the same church, then when people from these different tracks come together in conversation, not only is communication very difficult because of a lack of shared reference points, but we very quickly discover that our differences are not just about sexuality but many other theological elements of the Christian faith.

Has this changed with LLF? No. As I read the document, I see the same evidence of parallel universes, manipulative techniques, and mixture of truth and falsehoods. Some parts, particularly where there is engagement with the bible, have been written by individuals with high regard for Scripture, a love of Jesus and excitement about the gospel of salvation. Other parts, for example the sections on sociology (p65-100) and psychology (102-120), contain no Christian reflection whatsoever, and while purporting to be factual and ideologically neutral, the material they select is slanted towards a liberal, progressive viewpoint.

For example, certain controversial statements are presented as settled conclusions by experts: children are not disadvantaged at all by same sex parented households; attempts to change sexual orientation do not work and are harmful; high prevalence of mental health problems among LGBT people are caused by societal stigma. This website has for many years presented clear well-researched evidence to question these claims which are not compatible with a Christian worldview, but they will be presented as facts to be accepted as baseline by all in the discussions at parish level.

There is continued disagreement on issues of sex and marriage in the Church of England. How can Archbishop Welby’s vision of unity and reconciliation, along with inevitable “progress” in the eyes of the cultural elites outside the church, be achieved? Only through a process of smoke and mirrors, whereby the church moves away from authentic Christianity and replaces it with something else, which looks like the real thing but isn’t – and to do this in such a way that most people – conservatives in particular – don’t notice. One could say that LLF isn’t the method to achieve this – it’s evidence that it has already happened.

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