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Letters to the Editor

12 January 2024


Parties and the divisions over prayers for gay couples

From the Revd Michael Bailey

Sir, — A new year often focuses our hopes for the year ahead in the light of the year past. Life in the Church of England in 2023 for LGBTI+ people was difficult. The past two General Synod debates were more intense than a Game of Thrones battle scene. Our hopes for the LLF process have brought some small progress, but there is still a take-home message of more injury. The Synod was emotionally bruising to listen to, as sides were quickly drawn; the via media of our Anglican roots felt abandoned.

As a traditional Catholic, I was disappointed to hear my “party” not even want the prayers to be offered. This was followed by ad clerums that, frankly, seemed baffling. We were told that the doctrine of marriage was under threat; we were strongly urged for the sake of unity to take (unnecessary) PCC resolutions; the bishops’ discouragement went as close as they could to forbidding the use of the prayers without explicitly saying so.

We traditional Catholics seem to have a culture of silent hypocrisy: we say the bishops know best, but bitch and moan in private. I am immensely grateful for the bishops who had the courage to vote for these prayers. This speaks of their love, respect, and care for all their clergy. Indeed, as a gay priest, I now feel reservations about how I can with integrity work with any bishop who is not in favour of enabling us to offer God’s blessing to those whose loves and lives already bear the fruits of holiness and blessing.

The breadth of discussion on social media is too often marked as much by ignorance and vitriol as it is by grace and scholarship. These unhelpful echo chambers leave me longing for a new Clergy Code of Conduct.

Many, like me, may wonder what is going on. The Catholic wing of the Church for generations has had devoted parish priests who lived with their partners in the vicarage: the man who goes on holidays with Father; the fellow who takes out the bins and drives Father home after the S.O.L.W. cheese-and-wine fund-raiser; the person with whom a loving, supportive relationship kept the priest going.

Surely, the days of silence should be over. These life-giving relationships already know the tacit blessing of God and the support of the church community. The gift of public, liturgical blessing is a gift whose time has come, and thanks be to God for the Synod’s vote. And thanks be to God, too, that no one’s conscience is compromised by being compelled to offer such a blessing. Some of the via media broke through.

The bishops who voted for this along with the forward-looking clergy and laity have my immense thanks. This is a small step forward for the Church. For my traditional Catholic wing, there remains the call to wake up and smell the Rosa Mystica. LGBTI+ priests and laity are here, and are not going anywhere.

The Vicarage, Cressingham Road
London SE13 5AG

From the Revd Nick Henshall

Sir, — Poor theology — like woolly thinking — has unintended consequences. The current claims from the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and elsewhere that there is a “biblical” or “orthodox” theology of marriage is simply the latest case in point. There is no thematically developed theology of marriage either in the Bible or indeed till pretty much up to the 19th century. For most of Christian history, Christians have simply complied with the version of marriage endorsed by the secular authorities. Indeed, the thoroughly secular nature of marriage is precisely why Paul classes it among the “things of this world”.

For the first 900 years, there is nothing resembling a distinctively “Christan” marriage service, and priests were not welcome at weddings. The medieval Church made a successful landgrab and gained all sorts of power over marriage, but little that was intrinsically Christian. Marriage took many forms in different seasons and even King James I openly called his male partner his “wife”.

It is only in the 19th century that the Churches begin to develop a distinctive theology of marriage and family life. Up to that time, things had been a great deal more fluid (as, indeed, they remained among the elites).

So, as a parish priest, I am puzzled by the CEEC’s statement now being adopted by a range of churches. At best, it is poor theology; at worst, it is unhistorical, and neither biblical nor orthodox.

But what really concerns me are the unintended consequences. I see people leaving congregations, having woken up to the fact that they are worshipping in churches where they love the worship, the music, and the work with young people, but are suddenly now confronted with teaching about human sexuality that they cannot reconcile with the Jesus of the Gospels.

I serve an open Catholic church with a strong family base — which includes families of all shapes and sizes, including same-sex couples and people who identify as trans. Recently, we have been approached by a church-based youth group asking to move their affiliation to us, having suddenly discovered that the church to which they are currently affiliated now feel — courtesy of the CEEC statement — that they have licence to speak and act in ways that are homophobic and transphobic. Inevitably, the organisation is deeply concerned about the impact of this on the young people for whom they have responsibility.

If that is the experience in a small part of rural East Sussex, I would suggest that it is a matter of wider concern for all of us — and, yes, a good illustration of how poor theology leads to unintended consequences.

The Vicarage, The Close
Groombridge TN3 9SE

From Mr Simon Friend

Sir, — Nic Tall reports (30 December 2023) on ViaMedia.News that the Revitalise Trust, an enabling partner for some £50 million of the SDF fund for diocese-based church-planting projects, is now using that network and a wider Alliance network to divide the Church of England.*

It is alleged that the Revd Nicky Gumbel and the Revd Sarah Jackson are actively contacting church leaders within the networks to offer them alternative spiritual oversight by “orthodox” bishops, thereby giving spiritual safety for clergy and parishes who cannot “walk together” with what they consider to be false teaching and false practice. The claim of false teaching is a reference to the General Synod’s November 2023 support for the Bishops’ recent commendation of the Prayers of Love and Faith for same-sex couples.

Having been part of the HTB/New Wine Charismatic church movement for more than 40 years, I deeply respect the work of Alpha and the drive for church growth which the Revitalise Trust brings through its church-planting initiatives and Peter and Caleb leadership training programmes. The Revitalise Trust/Alliance needs to make a clear public statement, however, on whether it is encouraging churches to seek alternative oversight away from their diocesan bishops and also withhold or place restrictions on parish-share payments.

Within our own diocese, I have fully supported SDF-funded Revitalise-partnered resource-church initiatives. It seems to me that clarification should be forthcoming, because, if the allegations are true, then the use of central church funds given in good faith to grow the Church, but with senior figures behind the scenes acting to bring about a split in the Church, would clearly be a serious betrayal of trust and the vision for the SDF programme.

Synod member for Exeter diocese
Address supplied

[See our own coverage of the same story (News, 15 December). Editor]

From Mr Mike Lawlor

Sir, — At our parish sung eucharist on Sunday, during the intercessions, the word “turmoil” was used in the contexts of Ukraine, Gaza, and “our Church”.

This prompted me to ask as many people as I could during after-church coffee if they were aware of the church turmoil mentioned. Mostly, the answer was in the negative, but when I referred to examples of certain current divisive issues being aired in the Church of England, there was universal disapproval.

So, to those in leadership who seem at this time to be actively attempting to divide us, both spiritually and financially, into true believers and apostates, I issue a word of caution. The reality among worshippers in the congregations of our Church is that we love each other too much to let such divisions prevail. If you don’t believe us, then ask us.

The Charterhouse
Charterhouse Square
London EC1M 6AN

From Dr Brendan Devitt

Sir, — Pat Johnson (Letters, 5 January) makes an egregious error in linking the “courage” of the Methodists in supporting same-sex marriage with Jesus’s unwillingness to “compromise” his “radical teaching”. If we had evidence that Jesus held radical and inclusive ideas about marriage, then we would have been spared pointless debates about Living in Love and Faith. But the reality is rather different.

In the Gospels, Jesus is remembered as a teacher who strictly upheld the Torah, to the point that he issued a stern warning to anyone who would dare even to alter the physical shape of a single letter contained in the law. So long as the Church of England is guided by people who do not share Jesus’s presuppositions about the scriptures, there will not be unity in theology or practice.

206 Lowestoft Road
Gorleston NR31 6JQ

From the Revd Bob Weldon

Sir, — I totally agree with Pat Johnson that the Church of England has much to learn from the courage of the Methodist Church. As a vicar, I have been unable to conduct a same-sex marriage. This marriage ceremony will now take place at our local Methodist church, who have been most welcoming to the couple in particular, and the gay community in general, in Folkestone. I am aware that the attendance will be huge.

Trinity Benefice Vicarage
21 Manor Road
Folkestone CT20 2SA

Parallels between the Post Office scandal and the delay over Smyth’s abuse

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — The ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office tells the story of how a faulty computer system first installed 25 years ago resulted in tragic consequences for more than 700 sub-postmasters. Rightly, this has outraged most of us about the greatest miscarriage of justice in this country. As a result, our politicians feel obliged to take some action. Up to now, the injustices have been processed case by case, and the Post Office is able to drag its heels. There are proposals now to remove the Post Office from the process to achieve speedy redress for all those who have been wronged.

There are parallels with how the Church of England is treating the survivors of the shocking abuse committed by John Smyth. The Church of England continues to delay publication of Keith Makin’s report. By the time it is published, bishops who knew about Smyth’s abusive behaviour and took no effective action are likely to have retired and will face no consequences.

Smyth’s abuse began around 50 years ago, since when survivors who reported abuse have been treated appallingly again and again by the Church of England. Will the Archbishops take action immediately to bring this distressing state of affairs to a speedy conclusion? This could require the Church’s removing itself from the process and handing it to a disinterested body acceptable to the survivors.

Or will we need a drama to be broadcast?
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

Facts before prophecies, please, on the climate

From Canon R. H. W. Arguile

Sir, — On your letters page (5 January), I see the contention that God works through the environment. I would prefer to say that good theology depends on good facts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a political organisation whose agenda was to seek to provide a consensus on the matter of climate change. A number of scientists have argued against that notion, in my view quite rightly, in so far as the job of scientists is to seek to discover what is the case, not what will drive a programme of action. That is for others.

Thus, when a tenured professor is dismissed because he holds dissentient views, I worry. When academics of vast experience bale out of education and set up their own organisations because their views are not acceptable, I think something is wrong. But when even the IPCC for all its flaws cannot claim high confidence in many of the alleged claims of climate degradations, I think we should take note. And when states such as South Australia have suffered severe power outages arguably because they have gone headlong for renewables, we should ask what is going on.

When countries such as Bangladesh have experienced huge growth and the massive reduction in mortality from tidal surges, arguably as a result of their retaining and developing fossil-fuelled power generation, we should ask more questions. When increased carbon-dioxide levels have coincided with a 15-per-cent increase in the greening of the planet (according to NASA), we should agree that matters are not simple and that carbon-dioxide levels have differential effects.

What characterises the likes of Amos and Isaiah is the speaking of uncomfortable truths. I am all for that. The question is where truths are to be found and what the solutions are to the problems that we face. Some of the facts are in wide dispute. If the scepticism of, for instance, William Happer and Judith Curry is to be refuted, let it be by scientific argument.

As to solutions, we may, as a community of nations, be able to withhold funding to developing countries wishing to develop their fossil-fuel resources, but we shall not stop India or China doing so. I doubt much if the work of the China Inland Mission is likely to be resumed or what its effect would be.

There are many terrible things happening in this world on which divine judgement might be desired. War and poverty come to mind. The former has nothing to do with climate change. The latter, it has been argued, is best dealt with by increasing prosperity, one of whose great engines is access to reliable energy.

For the present, such energy is derived largely from fossil fuels, which undoubtedly have deleterious effects, but also good ones. There is an increasing desire to seek alternatives, among which is nuclear energy, a resource that most countries have neglected or developed poorly.

We should trust in divine providence as well as exercise wise stewardship of the planet and pay due attention to facts (as Bernard Lonergan would say), speak without hyperbole or threat, and act with proper dispatch, but without fear.

10 Marsh Lane
Norfolk NR23 1EG

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