THE Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has warned the House of Bishops that its proposal to allow the blessing of same-sex couples will lead to “broken fellowship” within the Church of England, and will damage its mission to young people.
The CEEC released a statement on Friday calling for Evangelicals to take “wide-scale and far-reaching action” in response to the proposals, announced two weeks ago (News, 20 January).
Moving to bless same-sex couples would, the statement warned, “create further division and broken fellowship within the Church of England and a greater tearing of the fabric of the worldwide Anglican Communion”.
On Monday, the CEEC’s director of strategy and operations, Canon John Dunnett, described the proposals as a “lose-lose” situation. “The liberals don’t get what they want, and we have been dragged into a place that that we can’t accept. We need to look for a win-win outcome. And the win-win outcome has to involve some visible differentiation.”
Evangelicals have already called for significant changes to the Church of England to create a structural distinction between opponents and supporters of same-sex relationships (Comment, 6 January).
And far from helping the Church to align itself more closely with the views of young people, as has been claimed, the statement on Friday asserted that the Bishops’ proposals “will undermine and damage the mission and discipleship of our churches, especially among young people”.
Canon Dunnett said: “The churches up and down the country who have got lots of young people are the churches that take what might be called a traditional view on sex and marriage.”
He said that the proposals threw into confusion the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics. “If it’s now possible to bless any two people in a stable relationship, what has happened to the whole idea of the gift of sex for marriage?” he said.
“What’s wrong with these services, fundamentally, is they are asking us to bless something that the Bible says we cannot bless.”
The CEEC statement says that the proposals “blatantly disregard the convictions of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion”, and quotes the Archbishop of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi, who is chairman of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA).
In a press release last week, Archbishop Badi said that the GSFA would “seek to continue to ‘shepherd’ those who want to be faithful to the covenant-keeping God revealed in Christ and the scriptures. This includes orthodox Anglicans in England, bishops, clergy and laity. We will do this as best as possible in a non-schismatic way” (News, 25 January).
“We find ourselves needing the prayers and support of the majority of the Anglican Communion in order that we can contend for what is the overwhelming Anglican position,” Canon Dunnett said.
The former Bishop of Singapore, the Rt Rennis Ponniah, who is the honorary director of the GSFA executive secretariat, was present at the annual residential meeting of the CEEC last week, at which Friday’s statement was agreed.
Bishop Ponniah’s presence, Canon Dunnett said, was “indicative of a warm relationship” between the CEEC and the GSFA.
IN A wide-ranging interview, Canon Dunnett echoed the apology made by the House of Bishops on 20 January, saying: “I think there are times over the years where we [Evangelicals] have not offered a Christ-like welcome to LGBT people, and we need to apologise and repent of those times.”
This included times when Evangelicals had “not pastored well enough to celibate gay Christians”.
The CEEC statement expresses concern that the new pastoral guidance that will replace Issues in Human Sexuality could “redefine the discipline and teaching of the Church of England”.
“If Issues is redrawn, my concern is that it will be redrawn in such a way that no requirement are made of potential ordinands in terms of lifestyle,” Canon Dunnett said on Monday.
He also touched on how the traditional position on sexual relationships was, in his view, compatible with marrying heterosexual couples who were already in a sexual relationship.
“When I was a parish vicar, I was very happy to marry heterosexual couples who were living together at the time, and my reason for wanting to marry them was because I wanted to encourage them to live in keeping with a biblical understanding,” he said.
Canon Dunnett also questioned the distinction, made last week by the Church of England legal office, between civil marriage and holy matrimony (News, 30 January).
“I think a number of people are questioning whether the advice that the House of Bishops has received on this is sufficient to carry the weight that is going to be put on that distinction,” he said.
Also on Monday, Anglican Orthodox, a conservative group not affiliated to the CEEC, called on Evangelical bishops to prevent the prayers for same-sex couples being used in their dioceses, and to “require all clergy to declare their agreement to the Church’s biblical and historic teaching on marriage and sexuality”.
It is understood, however, that the way that the prayers are framed gives ministers discretion over whether to use them without reference to their bishop (News, 30 January).