Are we about to go to war?
That’s what Ruth Gledhill thinks.
The liberal fightback against Anglican conservatives and the Archbishop of Canterbury has begun. Open warfare is now declared.
Pro-gays in the Church of England are planning a survey of all LGBT clergy, in and out of the closet, in London, Southwark and throughout the Church. In the capital, they reckon, it is as many as 20 per cent. They are also intending to survey precisely how many gay blessings have been and are being done. Again, estimates put the number in the hundreds.
The full details are in a statement produced by a coalition of revisionist groups who, looking at the success of the liberal agenda in TEC, are planning to undertake the same guerilla campaign here in England. Their strategy, according to Ruth, is to run a project leading up to the General Synod elections of 2011 which will involve surveying priests involved in sexual relationships outside of marriage and other clergy who have conducted same-sex blessings. This is essentially an attempt to present a fait accompli to the Church of England and to position very clearly “facts in place”, the same tactic used by revisionists across the Atlantic.
But let’s take a look at what they’re actually saying to see the issues involved.
We have read and reflected upon the Archbishop’s response to the Episcopal Church of the USA “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Futureâ€ and have a number of questions about the consequences of his response. We question whether the voices of those within the Church of England who are or who walk alongside lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people have been adequately heard within the recent discussions. These discussions have gone on in various places around the Communion, and we believe it is important in this context that the LGBT faithful and those who work alongside us speak as well.
I find this opening paragraph hard to believe. There have been numerous consultations, uncountable Diocesan and Deanery panels, seminars and discussions on the issue. Every time you go to a Church political event (e.g. Synod) the stands are there. If “discussions have gone on in various places around the Communion”, why do the same people who issued this statement normally cry that discussions haven’t gone on in this and that place around the Communion.
If anything, England (and the wider United Kingdom) is the place where the discussion has happened, but the real problem for Inclusive Church is that despite a generation of talking and listening, the conservatives haven’t changed their mind because no good Biblical argument has been presented to support endorsing, let alone blessing, homosexual relationships. All that the revisionist groups have to go on is “justice”, and as Rowan reminded them last week
However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.
And while we’re on the subject of “whether the voices of those within the Church of England who are or who walk alongside lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people have been adequately heard”, let’s not bring up the issue of the revisionist activist who is one of the signatories to this statement, who objected to my presence at a secret but formally arranged mixed gathering to discuss these issues so much that I was dis-invited. Or what about the house magazine for one of the Anglican provinces that was perfectly happy to have a front page interview with Gene Robinson, but then when asked to do an interview with myself (or someone similar) suddenly battened down the hatches?
Who’s listening now?
I’m afraid this is simply the repeated double-speak of some in the revisionist camp, where listening actually means “hearing until you agree”.
We wish to reaffirm our loyalty to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the scriptures, our commitment to the Anglican way, and our celebration of and thanksgiving for the tradition and life of the Church of England. Above all, our concern is for the mission of the Church in our world. We have no doubt that the Church of England is called to live out the Gospel values of love and justice in the whole of its life; these values are intrinsic to the calling of Jesus Christ to follow him and it is out of this context that we speak.
Sounds visionary, but the problem with this is that once you look at where the revisionist agenda has taken hold and examine how “the mission of the Church” is actually going you get a completely different understanding. Attendance and membership numbers in TEC have collapsed, some dioceses (often the most liberal) are at the brink of numerical and financial collapse. Compare this to the ACNA (and in particular the Anglican Mission in America) where numbers are booming and plans for church plants are announced almost every week. As opposed to this TEC massacred their evangelism budget in Anaheim (but put loads into the pot for litigation).
When Bob Jackson wrote his survey of mission strategy effectiveness, The Road to Growth, he concentrated on the hard figures when assessing effectiveness. Any dispassionate assessment of the mission worth of the revisionist agenda would consign it to the evangelism graveyard, yet what Giles Fraser and Inclusive Church want us to do is to focus on nebulous values of “love and justice” while jettisoning any reference to holiness, the key factor in all historical revivals. For example, listening to these accounts of the Hebridean revival after the second world war, and ask yourself, “What was the key contributing factor for hundreds and thousands of men and women coming to the Lord – just love and justice or also holiness and the repentance of sinners”?[audio:https://www.peter-ould.net/audio/hebrev.mp3]
While we acknowledge the intention of the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek a way forward for the Anglican Communion, we have grave concerns about the implications of his reflections in “Covenant, Communion and the Anglican Future.â€ For example, we consider that references to same-sex unions as a “chosen life-styleâ€, and assertions that those who have made such a commitment are analogous to “a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bondâ€ to be inconsistent with the Archbishop’s previous statements on committed and faithful same sex relationships (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article4473814.ece) and are at odds with our reading of the message of the gospel. Whilst we applaud his assertion that we are called to “become the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christâ€ we find no indication of how that can be achieved for those who are not heterosexual.
Now we get to the nub of the complaint of Inclusive Church – the Archbishop’s unequivocal condemnation of sexual relationships outside of marriage. The best that can be offered against it is an almost decade old correspondence between Rowan and a psychiatrist. So if Rowan held a revisionist view in the year 2000, what has happened since?
Well chiefly, Rowan became Archbishop of Canterbury and started moving in theological circles beyond the ivory towers of western academia. He encountered the Global South and the millions and millions of Anglican Christians who dwarfed the tiny remnant churches in the UK and North America. He discovered that the mind of the church was on global scale conservative and orthodox. His ecumenical discussions with Rome and the Eastern Orthodox reminded him that the revisionist perspective was absolutely minuscule, that almost everywhere outside of the small liberal talking shops of the Western Church the understanding of the biblical doctrine of sexual expression was very clear, that the witness of the Holy Spirit through his church was unambiguous.
But as we have discussed before, when listening leads you to a result not shared by the revisionist lobby that isn’t counted as listening – it’s bigotry.
The interesting thing about this letter from Inclusive Church and others is that most of the questions raised have already been answered by Rowan in his statement. For example take the last sentence above again
Whilst we applaud his assertion that we are called to “become the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christâ€ we find no indication of how that can be achieved for those who are not heterosexual.
Where is this coming from? What do the words “we find no indication of how that can be achieved for those who are not heterosexual” actually mean? Can Giles Fraser or somebody else from the myriad of tiny organisations who have signed this letter tell us what things those people who are attracted to those of the same sex cannot do that those who are attracted to those of the other sex can do that are intrinsic to the spreading of the Gospel? Can they not preach the Word? Can they not pray for healing? Can they not exercise gifts of charity? Can they not, if ordained, celebrate and remember the sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at the Eucharistic table?
And the answer to all these things is an abundant yes, but the one thing that they cannot do, like the rest of us, is enter into sexual relationships outside of marriage. There is no difference between all people – there are not those who can marry and who can’t marry. There are not those who can signify Christ and the Church in their sexual relationships and those who can’t (Eph 5:31-32). There are not those who have to carry their cross, and those who don’t, and today’s Collect reminds us of this very same thing.
Lord God almighty, who so kindled the faith of King Oswald with your Spirit that he set up the sign of the cross in his kingdom and turned his people to the light of Christ: grant that we, being fired by the same Spirit, may always bear our cross before the world and be found faithful servants of the gospel; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Unless sexual activity is intrinsic to the sharing of the good news then the Inclusive Church statement is clutching at straws in its attempt to link the need to act as our bodies incline us to to the Good News of salvation from our sinful and fallen natures which are in rebellion to God.
Rowan’s answer in his statement is equally as rejecting of this line of argument
4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.
5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion’s life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.
6. However, the issue is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage.
Let’s continue with the Inclusive Church statement.
We acknowledge, once again, that there are and always have been many loyal, committed and faithful bishops, priests and deacons – properly selected and ordained – and many lay people who are LGBT or who work alongside LGBT people with delight and thanksgiving. We know ourselves to be part of the church of God in England and we work, together, to bring about the reign of God in this part of God’s creation. We pray earnestly that the Church of England will continue to select, train, ordain and deploy LGBT people and enable them to exercise their calling from God in the Church of England.
Amen, Amen, Amen. But let’s read between the lines here. The scriptures and church tradition show very clearly that being attracted to people of the same sex isn’t even vaguely a bar to ministry, so most of this paragraph is a straw man of the highest order. It’s the act of sex, not the attraction to somebody or other that is the issue. We don’t see the modern language of gay and straight used once in the Bible, not because God was ignorant of such things (for that is the logical implication of saying that the inspired writers of the Scriptures were naive on this issue) but because these are not ways that we are meant to think about ourselves above other things. We are not defined by who or what we are attracted to, and more to the point, who or what we are attracted to cannot as Christians prescribe how we ought to live out our lives sexually. The issue is not the church and Christ condemning who we are, but rather asking the serious questions about what the love and holiness of God demands of us to do with who we are and how we feel.
Together, we reaffirm our commitment to working for the full inclusion of all people at all levels of ministry. We will continue to work towards liturgical and sacramental recognition of the God-given love which enables many LGBT couples to thrive. We will seek to strengthen the bonds of affection which exist between those in all the Churches of the Anglican Communion who share our commitment to the full inclusion of all of God’s faithful. We will also continue to work closely with our brother and sister churches, especially those with whom we have mutual recognition of orders such as the Nordic churches.
We will work to ensure that if the Church of England is to sign up to the Covenant, it has potential for rapid progress on this and other issues. We find the notion of a “two track communionâ€ flawed in the way that the Act of Synod is flawed, and we commit ourselves to continuing the effort to find ways forward through which those who disagree profoundly on this and on other issues can continue to celebrate their common membership of the Church of England and unity in Christ.
Why the Nordic churches? Because they are the ones who are pushing ahead the agenda of blessing same-sex relationships. This last sentence is a clear challenge to the House of Bishops who have, through the Faith and Order Advisory Group, warned in no uncertain terms the effect that the Church of Sweden would have on the Porvoo Agreement if it pushed ahead with its plans.
The revisionists will make ties with liberals in North America (which completely undermines any criticism of ACNA that they may have and also implies a direct criticism of the TEC leadership who are trying to litigate against similar practices in their jurisdictions) and they will push forward for “liturgical and sacramental recognition of the God-given love which enables many LGBT couples to thrive”, i.e. same-sex blessings.
This is a direct challenge to the Episcopal authority of the Church and nothing but a clear and firm response from the House of Bishops to it will do. Essentially, the revisionists like Giles Fraser have looked across the Atlantic, seen the effect that “facts on the ground” and a weak and impotent House of Bishops have produced and fancy their chances here. They are quite blatantly preparing to take on the church hierarchy, to challenge them to either do something about their gross misconduct (for that is what a clergyman living in a sexual relationship outside of marriage is doing) and to get them to either “martyr” them or cave in. They will literally out themselves (and others) and then wait to see what happens.
So what is our response as those who are faithful to the Word of God? Well let me suggest that first of all we should adopt that most British of virtues, patience. Let’s take a deep breath, let’s pause and let’s all reflect on what is about to come upon us and only then let’s draw up the battle plans, because unless we have a way to avoid this fight (Sun Tzu’s golden rule) we need to be prepared for what is to come.
One last thought – I was reminded this morning of a fellow Austrian countryman who, when at the height of his powers, thought that he could steamroller his way through the opposition to produce facts on the ground (or facts on the Lebensraum in this case). In reality, he awakened a sleeping giant which, through the struggle of half a decade and millions of lives ended up trampling all over him. The moral of that story (and that of the French Emperor before him) is that if you’re planning to go to war, don’t bite off more than you can chew, and never, never underestimate the strength of the forces lined up against you. That’s a lesson that both sides in this upcoming struggle might want to reflect upon, because “every battle is won before it is fought”.