Evangelicals make their position clear

14 October 2016

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A GROUP of almost 100 Evangelicals have written to the College of Bishops warning it that any greater acceptance of same-sex unions would “set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity”.

The Bishops are currently considering what steps to take next, after the Shared Conversations exercise — which encouraged debate between churchpeople with opposing views of sexuality — ended in the summer.

The group describe themselves as “Evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches and organisations”, which is, they say, “indicative of the breadth and depth of support” for their letter, sent on Tuesday. Signatories, they say, include some who “could be labelled as LGBTI but are living in conformity with the historic teachings of the Church”.

Among the 89 signatories are nine women. Nine are lay. The vast majority are ordained men.

The letter declares: “The Church of England is at a crossroads in her calling to bring hope and transformation to our nation.”

It describes sexuality as the presenting issue, but says that “the tectonic issues beneath, and driving, this specific question include what it means to be faithful to our apostolic inheritance, the Church’s relationship with wider culture, and the nature of the biblical call to holiness in the 21st century.”

It states that, “as culture and attitudes continue to change, the Church faces a range of new social realities,” admitting that “The Church has not always navigated these social realities well.

“We recognise the damage caused by judgmental attitudes. We have sometimes failed to recognise acts of great kindness and humanity. We have elevated some sins above others. We have ignored the plank in our own eye. There is much work ahead, not least in ensuring that our communities offer sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.”

The letter goes on, however: “The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality. . .

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“Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice — such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman — would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine.

“It would also, inevitably, be a further step on a trajectory towards the full acceptance of same-sex sexual partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage.”

The letter rejects attempts to downplay sexuality as a personal matter. “We do not believe . . . that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of ‘secondary importance’. What is at stake goes far beyond the immediate pastoral challenges of human bisexual and same-sex sexual behaviour: it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human, to honour God in our bodies, and to order our lives in line with God’s holy will.”

The signatories urge the Bishops “not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted.

“Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity. It would cause a break, not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion, but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries.

“It will trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans in England. Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.”

The letter concludes: “We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the gospel, all are invited to repent and receive the grace of God, and all are called as followers of Jesus to live out the Christian moral vision — in lives of self-sacrifice and mutual care — for the common good.”

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