Why Synod’s decision on ‘therapy’ is UnAnglican.

Aug 3, 2017 by

by Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden,  Church of England Newspaper August 4:

What has happened to General Synod that it now appears unable to weigh evidence in coming to a decision, especially decisions that relate to human sexuality?

A group of pastors and social activists persuaded good hearted and well intentioned members of the Church of England to pronounce on extremely complex matters that belong to the realm of psychology and psychiatry. Thoughtful people were railroaded into a decision that seems not only hasty, but given the state of the professional debate on this issue, manipulated.

Ideologues, and even bullies, persuaded synod through emotive anecdotes from people who have had bad pastoral experiences and so feel qualified to guide the synod on all scientific, medical and therapeutic matters to do with unwanted same-sex attraction. This is like people who have had bad treatment at the hand of a GP claiming to direct the General Medical Council on issues of clinical research and practice.

For centuries the Church of Jesus Christ has offered prayer and loving support through both its ordained priests and devoted lay people to those who struggle with life’s many storms and dilemmas. This is part of its mandate from its Lord who says  “Ask and it shall be given you” and through his apostle Peter “Cast all your care on him”.

Why is it that, in certain areas, when society goes one way, the corporate Church of England wants to be cultural when all its spiritual resources and the historical experience of the Christian church are to be counter-cultural. It has paid a heavy price for its collusion with culture in the past – with slavery, with colonialism, with the spread of western ‘ civilisation’, with being ‘the Tory Party at prayer’.

As the established church the Church of England prides itself on being the Church of the English people. So the argument is deployed that it must not alienate those people or espouse views that they regard as ‘toxic’. For this reason, even people who believe that a man married to a woman who experiences same-sex attraction, should be able to access counselling to save his marriage and family, cannot bring themselves to go against the drift of the culture.

The power of the culture in this case has been such that a Church which has traditionally  sought its authority from scripture, reason and tradition, and has used reason and scientific knowledge very carefully in coming to its decisions, has now taken a decision that has ignored the careful debates and nuanced findings of scientific study on this matter.

A powerful article by Professor Glynn Harrison and Canon Dr Andrew Goddard published before Synod by a member of the Archbishop’s Council, Ian Paul argued: “the fact of this complexity should perhaps cause Synod to reflect on whether as a body it is equipped to make broad declarations about the effectiveness, or potential for harm, of SOCE (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts). This is particularly the case given the vast array of different counselling and pastoral approaches included under this general label.”

Debate still continues whether same-sex attraction is a condition which may be addressed by counselling.  Does ‘therapy’ necessarily assume sickness? Edmund Mann, a sociologist, has insisted that there has been no thorough scientific investigation of outcomes for therapeutic attempts to change unwanted sexual attractions. There is certainly no ‘evidence’ of actual harm. Dermot O’Callaghan notes that in a major study Robert Spitzer reported that “the majority of participants gave reports of change”.  Professor Michael King reported this to the Pilling Commission as, “change was possible for a small minority (13%) of LGB people”.

Taking a decision based on emotion and even fear rather than reason, tradition and scripture undermines the very way Anglican Christians accept truth. The General Synod is in great danger of being unAnglican in the way it makes decisions.

Orthodox Anglicans have pointed out repeatedly since Lambeth 1998 that unless scripture and the life of the kingdom of God is the rule and guide of the church in the matters of human sexuality, the church will end up being merely an echo chamber of the culture. While some attempt to dialogue on the issues from their professional and pastoral knowledge, as Harrison and Goddard and many others have done, they are ignored since cultural agendas in society allow for no middle ground.  People are not allowed to take time to consider the evidence and remain neutral, but are rushed into a decision that will hurt a lot of people who want to seek Christian advice and God’s help through pastoral support and prayer.

For General Synod to enter this field and decide in the way it has done is to shut the mouths of pastors, and ban prayer to God.

Churches who want to be in the Mainstream of Global Anglicanism and base their understanding of truth on scripture, reason and tradition will no longer trust the Church of England’s decision making bodies, especially when the House of Bishops completely rolled over, since the one vote against was from a bishop who pressed the wrong button. Most Anglicans all over the world will think General Synod is not fit for purpose. These leaders will become marginal to global Anglicanism.

For their decision does not emerge from any recognised Anglican theological tradition, professional expertise or settled scientific study. It has emerged from fear of the opprobrium of society and of the church’s own social activists on this topic. What kind of church acts out of being ashamed of Jesus and his words ‘in this adulterous and sinful generation” (Mark 8.38)?

This is not the end of the matter; it is not the beginning of the end, it is the end of the beginning because the demands on the church to conform with the culture will increase.

Canon Dr Vinay Samuel is a former General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion

Canon Dr Chris Sugden is Convenor of Anglican Mainstream and a former member of General Synod

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