SOME Evangelicals in the Church of England are contemplating “alternative solutions”, including new provincial arrangements, if the outcome of the Living in Love and Faith process (News, 13 November) leads to changes in doctrine or practice on sexuality.
In a video, The Beautiful Story, produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and posted on Sunday, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, who is the CEEC’s President, says: “I’m not sure there are many of us in the Church of England who want to leave the Church of England. Staying in is, I’m sure, the hope and the aspiration of most of us. But, as and when the Church gets to the point where it changes its teaching and its liturgy and its practice in these areas, is going to be a moment for people to have to reconsider their allegiance to the Church.
“At the moment, I want to be in the Church of England, I want to fight for the traditional teaching of the Church on these matters. But the time may come when it’s going to be essential for those who hold to scriptural teaching on marriage and same-sex relationships to say ‘We cannot operate under this particular system and support this kind of doctrine and practice within the life of our Church.’ And that may then lead to having to look for alternative solutions.”
Bishop Henderson has since responded.
The Revd John Dunnett, who chairs the Evangelical Group of the General Synod, says in the video: “I guess if we were looking for an ultimate solution, or where this might have to go ultimately, would be to ask questions about provincial arrangement. . . We may have to say could we do something with the current provinces, organising them differently.
“We might want to say is there any possibility of creating a third or a fourth province and perhaps allocating some of the dioceses differently to the existing or new provinces. No one knows the answer to this, and I’m not offering a solution. I’m simply saying that we may have to have that kind of a conversation in order that we can create safe, sustainable space for these clearly fractured groups across the Church of England as a whole.”
The Revd Hugh Palmer, who chairs the CEEC, says: “We want to keep the Church of England in standing in the historic truths that it stood on. But if it was to move away from there, then we couldn’t go with that, if it was, say, the blessing of same-sex unions. I know a number of people as they’ve talked through and tried to work out what steps they would have to take realise it would need something really quite radical, even of a provincial nature, to provide an adequate place where people with integrity could remain true to the gospel as they’ve been taught it and understood it.”
Mr Dunnett also calls on Evangelicals who hold to traditional teaching on sexuality and marriage to stand for election to the General Synod in elections next summer.
“I imagine that during the course of the 2021-2026 General Synod, some kind of report will come back from the Living in Love and Faith discussions around the dioceses, and there will be probably enormous pressure for some kind of change,” he says. “So, the elections in the summer . . . are massively important, and Evangelicals need now to be thinking about whether they might be a good candidate. They need to be now asking who would be, if not me, a good candidate. And we need to be doing that in both the Houses of Clergy and Laity.”
The video is presented by the Revd Dr Jason Roach, an adviser to the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and a member of the LLF Co-ordinating Group. It also includes contributions from another member of the Co-ordinating Group, the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff.
Some of the contributors are conservative Evangelicals, who opposed women bishops. But the video also includes contributions from female priests and members of the New Wine network.
Unlike the LLF resources, which seek to present different theological and biblical arguments for and against same-sex relationships, the contributors to the CEEC video say that the traditional teaching is indisputable.
The Vicar of St James’s, Westminster, the Revd Lis Goddard, says: “On this issue, the Bible is absolutely clear. . . This is not an issue where we can say ‘Well, you know, we’re not really sure and actually that passage is not really clear. The passages are absolutely clear.”
The Revd Dr Ian Paul, who is a member of the Archbishops’ Council, says: “It’s really striking in the whole discussion in this area, a very large number of what I might call liberal scholars — that is, people who believe that the traditional teaching of the Church is wrong but who’ve studied those scriptures in this area — they are very clear: scripture prohibits, in every way, in every form same-sex sexual relationships. . . And these scholars say, ‘Yes, we agree, that is what scripture says, but, of course, we think the scriptures are wrong.”
Dr Roach says in the video: “There’s legitimate room for disagreement when it comes to, say, the role of women in ministry. But God’s good design for sex and relationships is non-negotiable.”
Dr Duff says: “I know people say, ‘Well, we’ve had women bishops, so this is the next progression.’ For me, that argument works the opposite way round; that actually in New Testament culture there was already an incredible honouring of women that went above and beyond the surrounding culture, whereas on this particular topic the culture was actually really permissive, engaging, and yet the New Testament chose to put almost tighter standards on where sex was permitted.”
Contributors to the video acknowledge that the Church has treated gay people badly, and call for repentance.
The Associate Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, in London, the Revd Charlie Skrine, says: “There are so many areas where we’ve got this wrong and that we have been straightforwardly homophobic in lots of ways. We have certainly been guilty of making the single life and the same-sex-attracted single life a second-class Christian life.”
The video was criticised on social media by some Anglicans. They included the Vicar of St Mark’s, St Marylebone, the Revd Kate Harrison, who wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “I’m saddened and angered by some of the assertions — including that ‘liberals’ agree SSR [same-sex relationships] are prohibited by the Bible but choose to ignore. NO!”
Dr Charlie Bell, an ordinand at St Augustine’s College of Theology, Kent, wrote in a blog post: “This is meant to be an opportunity for members of the Church of England to listen to each other — yet it appears that the CEEC . . . have decided that a bare-faced political assault is in order instead. . .
“People who don’t agree with the Church of England Evangelical Council do not ignore the Bible. It’s really not that difficult to understand.”
Dr Bell also criticised a contributor to the video who said that the #MeToo movement “has exposed to us all the damage that the sexual revolution . . . has brought so many people in society, particularly women”.
Dr Bell wrote: “On this at least, you might think, church people might keep their mouths shut after the IICSA report. The sickening assault on children, young people and vulnerable adults was not made in a church culture steeped in the sexual revolution.”
Read more on the story in Letters to the Editor this week