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Hypocritical and ‘catastrophising’: Bishop of Oxford calls out Alliance over LLF threat

02 July 2024

ROWAN LAKE/OXFORD DIOCESE

Dr Croft addresses Oxford Diocesan Synod, in March

Dr Croft addresses Oxford Diocesan Synod, in March

A THREATENED “parallel Province” over blessings for same-sex couples would amount to a “deep and disproportionate schism” in the Church of England, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said on Tuesday.

He was writing in response to an open letter sent last week to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York by members of the Alliance — an umbrella group which has been co-ordinating much of the opposition to the changes brought about by the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process (News, 27 June).

Dr Croft’s response, which was published on his blog on Tuesday afternoon, argues that, in his experience, “the number of clergy and congregations who say they require the degree of legal/provincial differentiation proposed in your letter is very small.”

He suggests that most congregations contain a diversity of opinion and prefer to “solve problems locally and get on with the mission of God”, rather than committing themselves to one side or another.

Dr Croft also questions the Alliance’s claim that it is supported by 2000 C of E clerics, and notes that the representatives of Catholic groups in the Church are not listed among the signatories of the latest letter.

In previous letters sent by the Alliance over the past year, the director of Forward in Faith, and the chair and vice-chair of the Catholic Group on General Synod, have signed, but the signatories of the latest letter are all associated with the Evangelical wing of the Church.

A statement on the Forward in Faith website explains that the three felt that it would “not be appropriate” to sign, owing to already having alternative episcopal provision based on the settlement of 2014.

On the issue of whether the current proposals, outlined in a paper published in advance of the Synod meeting which spans this coming weekend (News, 21 June), required synodical authorisation via Canon B2, Dr Croft’s position is clear:

“I genuinely do not believe”, he writes, quoting the letter, that the proposals are “indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in an essential matter”. Instead, the proposed changes are “modest”.

For example, the prospect of rescinding the document Issues in Human Sexuality would, he argues, merely “extend to clergy the same freedom of conscience in the ordering of their relationships as has been given for more than 30 years to lay Christians”.

The B2 process for which the Alliance has been calling amounts, he suggests, to a “device for blocking any kind of change”, as it requires a two-thirds majority in the Synod, although Dr Croft acknowledges that, were the C of E to move to allowing same-sex marriage in church, it would require this process.

On the proposals as they stand, however, Dr Croft suggests that B2 authorisation might actually be unhelpful for opponents of the introduction of the Prayers of Love and Faith, as it might make it more difficult for them to opt-out of using them.

Dr Croft’s letter, which runs to five pages, criticises the language used by the Alliance, suggesting that it is “catastrophising”, while also delivering “threats in veiled language”.

He also queries the authority of the Alliance to put forward an alternative structure of episcopal provision for opponents of the changes, suggesting that doing so is hypocritical: “On the one hand you are openly criticizing the bishops for uncanonical processes. However, at the same time, you declare your intention to act unilaterally, outside any formal and transparent process of consultation, or Synod, or legal structure, or theological reflection, or recognisable ecclesiology, but through a set of actions determined in closed rooms.”

The idea of any such “parallel Province”, Dr Croft writes, “undercuts the very essence of Anglican ecclesiology and represents a red line we cannot cross”.

He concludes by saying that he holds “many” of the signatories in high regard, but that he believes that “the letter you have been persuaded to sign is a deeply unhelpful and misleading contribution to our present debate.”

The next day, Together, an umbrella group of organisations which support the changes, wrote to the lead bishop for LLF, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, welcoming the proposals being put forward at the Synod.

They refer to Bishop Snow’s admission that the proposed settlement is not ideal, but write: “Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good, and seeking perfection only delivers paralysis. We therefore welcome these proposals, acknowledging that they cannot deliver everything that all seek from the LLF process, and look forward to engaging with them further.”

The letter is signed by 52 individuals, including representatives of Evangelical and Catholic groups in the Synod, and members of HTB and New Wine network churches.

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