Same-sex relations, the Bishop of Grantham, and the ‘shadow synod’
From the Revd Dr Nigel Scotland
Sir, — The letter to The Sunday Times (4 September) urging greater acceptance of their same-sex unions throws into stark relief the difference between Jesus’s teaching and other expressions of marriage.
Same-sex relationships were widespread throughout the Roman Empire; indeed, 13 of the first 14 Emperors were in same-sex relationships. Yet, in contrast, Jesus, and indeed St Paul and the entire apostolic community, understood marriage to be only between one man and one woman.
It goes without saying that Jesus calls his followers to extend welcome and friendship to all. That said, apart from sophistry, it is not possible to entertain another understanding of Jesus’s teaching on marriage. To do so would be both a lack of integrity and a denial of a fundamental creation ordinance and first order of the Christian faith.
8 The Rowans, Woodmancote
Cheltenham, Glos. GL52 9RL
From Mr Gwilym Stone
Sir, — The “news” that the Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, is gay has, within my circle of friends, been celebrated; and those who know him personally have spoken of his courage and integrity. Yet for me it is a reminder that the Church’s handling of matters of sexuality has stripped me of the capacity to receive such news with a generosity of spirit.
There is a fine line between being discreet, exercising a legitimate right to privacy, and being dishonest and colluding with the forces of oppression. I apologise to him that, despite the judgement of people I trust, I am struggling to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, it strikes me as remarkable how the various statements of those in authority spoke with one voice; for this is the Church of England: we are never speaking with one voice. Clearly, these were not hastily prepared answers of those backed into a corner, and we must conclude that, ever since his appointment, the Lambeth Palace Press Office has had these words ready and waiting in its file marked “Gay Bishop(s) — Damage Limitation”.
Also, if everyone was as OK with the Bishop’s relationship as they are now desperately trying to convince us they are, why was it not mentioned at the time of his appointment? The Downing Street announcements of new bishops are generally replete with personal information of limited relevance to the individual’s ability to discharge the office and function of a bishop — be it their wives or the hobbies of their dogs.
Yet Dr Chamberlain’s stated simply that “his interests include music, reading, running and cycling.” At the time, you might have concluded that he was a bit of bore, but now we know that the fact that between the reading and the running there was somebody he was not having sex with was deemed too interesting for words.
11 Rollesbrook Gardens
Southampton SO15 5WA
From Miss Joyce Dawson
Sir, — When I read in Friday’s issue of the meeting in Tunbridge Wells, I thought, when will this obsession with sex end? There are far better things for the Church to do. Then the Bishop of Grantham made his brave announcement; and I started to count how many gay bishops I have known. At the age of 85, I got up to eight in record time. Saintly men, doing their best.
I have never found any mention of sexuality in the records of our dear Lord’s teaching; so surely that puts it in its place: just part of our physical make-up. The Daily Telegraph on Saturday reported the Archbishop saying: “His sexuality is completely irrelevent to his office.” Let that statement bring to an end all these unseemly discussions.
I have found that all the average person wants in a priest is the gospel on the lips, the feet on the pavement, and the finger on the doorbell. Their private lives are that, provided that they hurt no one.
5 Palfrey Road
Bournemouth BH10 6DL
From the Revd Pat Dickin
Sir, — I read with disbelief your report on the Tunbridge Wells synod. I am a priest in the same diocese, under Bishop James Langstaff. We are meant to be working together: priests, lay people, and Bishop. We are called to ensure that the gospel of Christ and the mission of God is proclaimed in every city, town, and village in the diocese; and there are plenty in the diocese doing precisely that. Many Christ-centred churches are growing, reaching out to the lonely, the isolated, the older, younger, and all in between.
I was livid when I read that the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon and ten other churches were working to promote their own agenda — which is not the gospel of Christ, or the message of the Kingdom. They are using resources and assets that do not belong to them (stipends, vicarages, and churches) with the purpose of setting up a parallel synod, disregarding the authority of the Bishop, the diocesan synod, and the General Synod of the Church of England, to pursue a separatist movement that denies the unity of the body of Christ and the mandate we have to love God and our neighbour (Mark 22.37-40) — without judging them.
We have a gospel to proclaim, but it seems that these 11 churches would rather discriminate on the basis of gender (no women priests), sexuality (condemning the ministry to the LGBTi community), literacy (a “wrong” interpretation of scripture), and other discrimination hidden in the small text of their agreements and founding documents — as if Christ’s mandate to love God and love our neighbour were not enough.
We have a gospel to proclaim, and we must do it together, side by side. In a world that is hurting and in need of the healing and reconciling love of God, surely the genuine efforts of ministry of all Christians, and in particular of us who are ordained and “set apart” to proclaim that gospel, should be joined up, and not used to try to divide, insult, separate, and discriminate.
Christianity in England is under attack, not from other religions or atheists, but from the likes of Dr Sanlon and others who would rather undermine the truth of the gospel, the good news of reconciliation and salvation, and cause damage and division. Would it not be better to stay and be part of a conversation that requires them to hear as much as to speak rather than have a tantrum and walk away with resources and assets that are held in trust for future generations?
We have a gospel to proclaim, and, with hundreds of other clergy in this diocese, I will do so under the Bishop of Rochester and his lawful successors. I invite all other priests in the diocese to stick firmly to their oaths of canonical obedience made at their licensing and ordination, and to the gospel that we must proclaim together: men and women in the service of Christ.
The Rectory, The Street
Mereworth ME18 5NA
From the Revd John Telford
Sir, — I read with interest various reports of the “shadow synod” convened by almost a dozen parish churches. This move appears to be schismatic and therefore a danger to the very existence of the Church of England.
I am serving in my title post, and so have, I hope, many years of ministry in the Church of England ahead of me. If the “shadow synod” is the start of the practicalities of schism, then perhaps those years of future ministry may not look quite how I and many other curates imagined they might at our ordinations.
The potential schism is not, however, the doing of the Kent and Sussex rebels. Indeed, I do not believe that they are rebels at all. The blame must lie firmly at the door of revisionists who would seek to move the Church of England away from the teaching of the apostles, the church Fathers, the Reformers, 2000 years of church tradition, and even her very own formularies.
The “shadow synod” seeks to protect parishes from the systematic dismantling and cannibalisation of traditional Anglicanism pursued by the so-called progressives in the Church of England’s ranks.
Therefore, it is with great joy, irrespective of possible personal cost, that I give thanks to God for the visionary leadership of the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon, which, I hope and pray, will rescue the Church of England from herself.
St Mark’s Vicarage
1055 Anlaby Road
Hull HU4 7PP
From the Revd Julian Hollywell
Sir, — I am no church historian, but is not the purpose of a synod to encourage dialogue across difference?
Spondon DE21 7GL
From the Revd D. T. Phillips
Sir, — What does the Church now think of the New Testament? We said in one of the collects on the Sunday before last that we wanted to follow the apostles’ teaching. Do we?
We are concerned that the Church of England is dwindling away, and no one seems to have an answer. Could it be it is because we have turned our back on the teaching of the New Testament, and so many have gone to more believing churches, or have left altogether and worship only in their own hearts at home?
I know that many older people left when women priests were ordained, and now that the gays are pushing for recognition of the marriages they have entered into, we are in danger of losing even more.
Most people don’t care that gays can have a civil marriage if they want one, and all are happy that women can do anything in this world. But the world isn’t the Church. Are we, as a Church, not supposed to reflect God’s original intent in creation? How does a union between two men or two women reflect that? It doesn’t.
Where are the leaders who will carry the cross of self-denial? Where are the leaders whose attitude is the same as that of Christ Jesus? This grasping at what some see as equality is very bad for the Church, and is against the apostles’ teaching. It will divide the Church once more, as did the ordination of women.
D. T. PHILLIPS
22 Cams de Baille, Olette
Historical context of the Gorham judgment
From the Rt Revd Dr Geoffrey Rowell
Sir, — Dr John Mair (Letters, 16 August) rightly points out that the Gorham judgment, delivered by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1850, was a legal ruling that the views of the Revd G. C. Gorham on baptismal regeneration were not at variance with the teachings of the Church of England as expressed in its official statements.
None the less, this ruling clearly meant that baptism might be regarded as no more than an empty sign until the Spirit’s gift of new life in Christ was bestowed through conversion at some later stage in life. It was this that seemed to those like Henry Manning and Robert Isaac Wilberforce, and also Gladstone, to be undermining baptism as the sacramental gift of life in Christ as affirmed in the Catechism, where baptism is described as the sacrament “wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and in inheritor of the kingdom of heaven”.
It was not, Manning was clear, for secular courts to determine Christian doctrine by saying that Gorham’s contrary view was permissible. It was this that led Manning to leave what he saw as the compromised, Erastian Church of England for the Church of Rome.
As a Roman Catholic, he wrote two books on the Holy Spirit, and, in supporting strongly the definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council, he did so because of a deep belief in the charism of the Holy Spirit as the enabler and protector of the Petrine ministry as an essential part of the teaching office of the Church.
There is a clear and consistent trajectory from Manning’s belief in baptismal regeneration, his repudiation of the Gorham judgment, and his commitment to the Church as a “wonderful and sacred mystery” energised by the life-giving Spirit bestowed by the Risen Lord on his disciples.
2 Roman Wharf, Fishbourne
Chichester PO19 3RZ