Conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England
From the Revd Stephen Southgate
Sir, — In response to the Revd Rachel Marszalek’s article, appealing to “conservative Evangelical” friends to stay on board the national Church (Comment, 4 August), I think I speak for a quiet majority when I say that we are rather tired of the damage caused by the militant dogmatism of that sector to the credibility and effectiveness of our national Church, especially over the past three decades.
In conversation with colleagues, I find that many of us began our journey of faith in adamantly Evangelical circles, and have gone on to study the scriptures and our history in open scholarship, to learn from the rich wisdom and devotion of our Catholic tradition, to know the liberation and joy of the Holy Spirit in Charismatic ministry and worship, to listen to and work beside godly people of different faiths and sexual orientations, and to find fresh awareness of God in creation — all of which informs and tempers our early outlook of “Scripture Alone”.
And yet we are made to feel excluded from the gospel-centred epithet “Evangelical” because we cannot honestly subscribe to a particular doctrine of atonement or style of biblical literalism. But we are not pushing a “liberal” agenda: we simply bring our breadth of experience and insight to the divine work of mission and ministry in our messy, savvy, multicultural, post-modern, post-Christendom communities, before they all give up on the Church of England as just the last deluded bastion of bigotry and wilful ignorance.
However reasonable and accommodating we try to be, people of extreme and particular outlooks will not compromise or remain in the company of those who differ, and any form of departure will be costly and painful; but the Church of Christ is the body of the people of the Spirit, not the letter, and we must each follow our conscience, wherever it leads.
Henley on Thames
Oxfordshire RG9 6RS
From the Revd Julian Hollywell
Sir, — I commend the Revd Rachel Marszalek for encouraging her conservative Evangelical brothers and sisters not to jump ship . . . just yet . . . And good on her for advocating commitment to parish share. She may want to recommend that they look to the experiences of LGBTQI Anglicans who have lived their entire lives faithfully committed to an institutional Church that has, at best, ignored them in the love of Christ. In doing so, she might find more in common with the LGBTQI community than she realised.
She artfully draws lines convenient for her particular circumstances. Conservative alternative episcopal oversight might indeed not be particularly comfortable for a “woman ministering as a lead pastor to a mixed-gender congregation”, but I doubt whether she has the largesse to allow such ecclesiological dexterity for any trans or non-binary members of her flock. Nor is her call to stay and fight a particularly healthy model upon which to move forward and build “unity in Christ”.
After the General Synod in February, the Archbishops issued a call for a new radical inclusion (News, 17 February). I think that this has been misinterpreted as relating only to issues in human sexuality; but, as someone who took part in the Continuing Indaba conversations, I hear in this call a deeper and more genuinely radical commitment to unity, not based on domination and subjugation, or on who is right and who is wrong, but on a commitment to reconciliation as a genuine and radical Anglican charism, through which we will indeed find unity in Christ.
I, too, wish to see conservative Evangelicals stay, but I have no interest whatsoever in fighting any longer, and, eventually exhausted, seeing who is left standing and then having the effrontery to call that “unity in Christ”. Our future lies in a genuine commitment to diversity, to being reconciled, to living with more than one narrative.
Too often, as a Church, we talk of how particular people may be “allowed” a place, or of how far we are prepared to go, or who may be tolerated, if at all. This is a contradiction of the way that Jesus related to his own community, which is rightly challenging the way that we construct ours.
Synod member for Derby diocese
St Werburgh’s Vicarage
Gascoigne Drive, Spondon
Derby DE21 7GL
From Mr Alan Bartley
Sir, — It might cast some light on the thinking, frustration, and strategy of the Revd Rachel Marszalek’s fellow Evangelicals if we remember the ghost of Peter Ramus.
Little known outside those who study the history of logic and rhetoric of the early post-Reformation period, Ramus precipitated a revolt against scholasticism, which affected our study of fields such as law, science, medicine, and, of course, theology. It led to the dichotomising analysis and worldview that caused Walter J. Ong to see parallels with computer programs, and suggest that Ramists were building their dichotomising knowledge bases in their heads (2nd ed. Ramus, Method and the decay of dialogue).
The pervasive influence of Ramism among the Puritans and those who follow them was shown half a century ago by Perry Miller in his volumes on the New England Mind. Unlike the modern man who senses and feels his way to conclusions and solutions, the Ramist wishes to assemble a network of scriptural rules by which to live. In fact, Ong even suggests that it was John Wesley’s group’s revival of the studying of scripture by the Ramist Method that got them the nickname of Methodists.
Thus bound in conscience to observe their rules of scripture, such Puritan-influenced Evangelicals find themselves duty bound, to give but one example, to refuse to submit to women in ministry, be they lay leaders of congregations, ministers, incumbents, or bishops. Whether their internalised rules are sound or not, whether their consciences are ill-educated or not, as Luther is reputed to have said: to go against conscience is neither right nor good. Such people cannot be happy, cannot prosper, and cannot flourish while they have a bad conscience by going against what they believe is their duty; for as St Paul asserts: “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14.23).
Reluctantly, I have reached the conclusion that the only release for such troubled and oppressed consciences is a parallel patriarchal Third Province. Given the gathering momentum, the only question is whether this will be within or outside our Established Church.
17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD
Bishop North’s remarks on abandoning the poor
From Mr David Candlin
Sir, — You rightly gave space to the warning by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, that the Church is “complicit in the abandonment of the poor” (News, 11 August). The parish structure, while lauded as evidence that the Church is in every place, may paradoxically be a barrier to effective ministry in poorer areas, because it impedes the effective redistribution of resources to support activity in deprived communities.
The Church of England achieves a modest redistributive effect through the parish share, but, apart from this, parishes can husband their resources as they see fit. PCCs can become inward-looking — holding on to wealth “for a rainy day” or spending mainly on the maintenance of their church buildings — rather than putting resources in the service of a genuine missionary vision or to support compassionate action toward those in immediate need.
This may be because congregations in wealthier parishes simply do not see, and cannot comprehend, the extensive and varied needs in deprived areas.
Can I suggest parish twinning as an initiative which might help bring communities together and encourage a wider understanding of who our neighbours are?
At its simplest, folding in half the Church Urban Fund’s list of parishes arranged in order of deprivation would put the wealthiest and the most deprived parish together, and so on through the list, so that every parish in the Church of England is twinned with another.
Parish twinning would create opportunities for engagement between very different places and congregations, and encourage friendship, mutual understanding, and sharing.
Ripon College, Cuddesdon
Oxfordshire OX44 9EX
Visit the local mosque — it is for everyone
From Mr David White
Sir, —Sometimes, to play one’s tiny part in building community cohesion, it is good to get proactive. Most of your readers will have visited a mosque on holiday abroad, to experience the wonderful architecture. But may I encourage them to visit their local mosque to experience the wonderful people there? It is hardly a revelation that British Muslims come in all shapes and sizes, love their children, work, volunteer, joke, laugh, and support different football teams like the rest of us.
I first visited the mosque in Tunbridge Wells in March 2016, as part of a prearranged mixed-group friendship visit by my parish church in Sevenoaks. We were shown around, and given an interesting and informal talk on what Islam is really all about, followed by questions, tea, hearing the Call to Prayer, and then, as observers, sitting in on their prayer time.
Since then, I have frequently popped in unannounced to shake a few hands and perhaps share a meal. There has never been less than a fulsome welcome and willingness to chat.
Non-Muslims are welcome to visit: as the imam says, “The Mosque is for everyone.”
Mutual respect and greater understanding avoid stereotyping and lead to real friendship. They are not trying to convert me, nor I them. We are friends who will happily try to answer each other’s questions.
Feel free to contact me if you want to know more; or look up your local mosque on the internet.
Sevenoaks TN13 1SX
The value of local media for the Church
From the Revd Peter Crumpler
Sir, — Andrew Brown is right to point out (Press, 4 August) that the Church’s grass-roots activities are best covered by the local press. But for how much longer?
As companies such as Google and Facebook hoover up advertising spending, and readers increasingly consume news through social media, many local newspapers have closed, and others are struggling to survive.
Local-newspaper websites are popular, but make little money. Experienced journalists have become expensive overheads.
Some argue that this is just the advance of technology and consumer patterns: the local newspaper will go the way of videotapes and phone boxes. But we are losing a vital way in which constituency MPs and local councils are kept accountable, and where local issues can be discussed by a broad audience.
There are no easy solutions. Some have suggested that the big technology companies should set up a fund to promote local media; others that the tax regime should give more support.
The Church has often had an am-bivalent attitude to the media, largely because of its varying national coverage. In the likely demise of the local media, the Church may be about to lose a friend that it has not always valued.
57 Kingshill Avenue
St Albans, Hertfordshire AL4 9QH