Beware losing a generation on gay issue, Synod told

24 June 2016

ST BRIDE’S. LIVERPOOL

Gift: Yvonne Bell’s artwork Urban Mission was given by the Bishop of Liverpool, when he visited the Open Table LGBT service at St Bride’s, Toxteth, last year

Gift: Yvonne Bell’s artwork Urban Mission was given by the Bishop of Liverpool, when he visited the Open Table LGBT service at St Bride’s,...

WARNINGS that it has become “impossible” to oppose faithful gay relationships without being regarded as an extremist, and that an entire generation is being “lost to faith in Christ”, are included in a new book published in the run-up to the Shared Conversations on sexuality at the General Synod in York next month.

Amazing Love: Theology for understanding discipleship, sexuality and mission, edited by Canon Andrew Davison, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge, was published this week by DLT.

In the same week, senior Evangelical clergy set out their positions on theology and sexuality in a new book, Journeys in Grace and Truth: Revisiting scripture and sexuality, edited by Jayne Ozanne, a member of the General Synod. Among them is the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, who writes about being “profoundly changed” by his interaction with the LGBTI community, and his desire to “make room and to extend the table”.

Both books have been given to Synod members.

Journeys in Grace and Truth, published by Ekklesia, features ten essays by Evangelicals. The Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, calls on Evangelicals to “engage biblically” with those who hold differing beliefs, “without just writing such people off as ‘revisionists’ or, as described by a previous generation, ‘woolly liberals’.”

He also challenges the assertion that questions of sexuality are “on an equal footing with the great credal truths of the Trinity or the humanity and divinity of Christ”. He is not arguing for a change in the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, he writes. “I still think that it is a strong position to defend theologically.”

Much of Bishop Bayes’s essay focuses on the time he has spent with Open Table, a Fresh Expression in his diocese which serves the LGBTI community, and how this has left him “profoundly changed”. He concludes that the Church must “make room and to extend the table”.

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Bishop Bayes’s family includes the children of a civil partnership and of a same-sex marriage. He writes that the parents of some of these children “have had difficulty in finding a welcome in the Church of Jesus Christ”. Becoming a grandfather recently had given him “perspective”, he said this week.

He went on: “I am advocating an openness and a direction of travel, not any policy position. Shared conversation and shared listening demands an openness to the future, not the abrasive clash of fixed points of view.”

Also writing in Ms Ozanne’s book, the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd David Ison, describes his journey to the conclusion that it is important that LGBTI people “have access to what I’ve termed ‘the virtues of marriage’”.

Although he is “not convinced that the theology of marriage can be separated from its roots of being between a man and a woman”, he calls for further work on “what ‘marriage’ means in Christian understanding in a very different social context”. His essay warns that “There is inconsistency between public and private policy, which corrupts church life and brings the gospel into disrepute.”

The Vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Harrow Weald, the Revd Jody Stowell, writes about the link between gender and sexuality, and suggests that “the charge that ordained women are ‘the wedge’ through which gay sex will be accepted in the Church has kept many women silent.” But she has concluded that it would be “sheer hypocrisy . . . to say that I was included and they [LGBTI people] were not”.

This week, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, said that Ms Ozanne’s book “describes the honest journey of some, but by no means all, who call themselves Evangelicals in the Church of England. This clear difference of conviction arises because some of us are still looking for sufficient evidence from scripture for a change in the Church’s teaching.”

The authors of Amazing Love also contend that they can differ from other Christians “without being ‘extreme liberals’”, and that “many leading advocates are really quite conservative theologians.” The book is part of the wider programme of LGBTI Mission, a coalition launched this year (News, 5 February). Its ultimate goals are same-sex marriage in churches, and full access to all three holy orders for those in such marriages.

The final chapter focuses on mission. It argues that “equality and diversity are now normative values in almost all public contexts, except the Church. Getting its house in order about them will not necessarily attract new members, but it may help stem the drain.” It also highlights a recent YouGov survey that found that 93 per cent of unaffiliated 25-35-year-olds believe that same-sex marriage is right.

“Unless there is a really good reason for opposing same-sex relationships — and we don’t believe that there is — we are shooting ourselves in the foot in the worst possible way.” An entire generation is being “lost to Christ”, and to elevate a “hard line” against gay marriage or relationships to the status of the creeds would be “suicidal”.

The authors refer to the execution of gay people by ISIS, and warn: “A Church that is seen to deny equality to gay people will have to work increasingly hard to distance itself from fundamentalist extremism in the public imagination. In fact, it has become well-nigh impossible to articulate a theological conviction that loving and faithful gay relationships are wrong without seeming extreme and fundamentalist.”

Canon Davison’s co-editors include the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson; and Canon Jane Shaw, Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University. The book also includes a foreword by the chief executive of Church Army, Mark Russell.

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