First, this is not a PR exercise. Although the sending of the letter has been reported in Christian Today, it has not been circulated to media outlets, unlike some other previous letters. It is intended to be an honest communication to the bishops of the concerns of the signatories and others like them.
Secondly, it attempts to give a clear outline of the major theological reasons why this is felt to me such an important issue. I think it is a shame that Anthony Archer (in Christian Today) offers such a superficial response (that comes over as rather sneering) rather than engaging with these substantive issues. Reaching for the idea that change is inevitable, or that certain ‘trains have left the station’ doesn’t do anything to engage with the well-thought-through concerns raised here.
Thirdly, it is striking that the signatories come from the whole range of the evangelical constituency, including ‘open’, ‘charismatic’ and ‘conservative’ evangelicals. These are people involved in key initiatives in the Church at the moment, and although they do not claim to represent the groups they work for, there will be many others who share these concerns.
There are many exciting things happening in the Church of England at the moment. There is a renewed commitment to evangelism and mission, a seriousness in confronting the causes of decline, a commitment to prayer, a confidence in the possibility of church planting, a willingness to tackle financial issues, a rising vision for the ministry of the whole of the people of God. Many of the people and groups represented here are key to these initiatives. If there is a change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality which leads to division, then the impact will be felt in all these other areas.
The Church of England is at a crossroads in her calling to bring hope and transformation to our nation. The presenting issue is that of human sexuality, in particular, whether or not the Church is able to affirm sexual relationships beyond opposite sex marriage. But the tectonic issues beneath, and driving, this specific question include what it means to be faithful to our apostolic inheritance, the Church’s relationship with wider culture, and the nature of the biblical call to holiness in the 21st Century.
As culture and attitudes continue to change, the Church faces a range of new social realities. These include the rise in cohabitation and the wide scale acceptance of divorce with its negative impact on children, the explosion of diverse types of family relationships, the emergence of gender fluidity and bisexuality, and the recognition of same-sex unions. These far-reaching social changes raise questions and – in some quarters – undermine confidence in our inherited teaching.
The Church has not always navigated these social realities well. We recognise the damage caused by judgmental attitudes. We have sometimes failed to recognise acts of great kindness and humanity. We have elevated some sins above others. We have ignored the plank in our own eye. There is much work ahead, not least in ensuring that our communities offer sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.
At the same time, we remain convinced of the essential goodness of the Christian moral vision. The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality. We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design.
Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice – such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine. It would also, inevitably, be a further step on a trajectory towards the full acceptance of same-sex sexual partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage.
There are substantive issues at stake here about the Christian understanding of what it means to be human. We do not believe that God has left us alone in the confusion and uncertainty of constructing our own identity. The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality, is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.
We do not believe therefore that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of ‘secondary importance’. What is at stake goes far beyond the immediate pastoral challenges of human bisexual and same-sex sexual behaviour: it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human, to honour God in our bodies, and to order our lives in line with God’s holy will.
At this crucial juncture, as our bishops pray and discern together regarding how the Church of England should walk forward at this time, we urge them not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted.
Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity. It would cause a break not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion, but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries. It will trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans in England. Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.
We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the Gospel, all are invited to repent and receive the grace of God, and all are called as followers of Jesus to live out the Christian moral vision– in lives of self-sacrifice and mutual care – for the common good.
**Those signing below do so in a purely personal capacity. They are evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches and organisations and indicative of the breadth and depth of support for this letter. Some could be labelled as LGBTI but are living in conformity with the historic teachings of the church.**
The author of the blog‘Psephizo’ by ‘Ian Paul’, a conservative evangelical of the Church of England says his publication of this Letter from 100 Evangelicals of the C. of E. to the House of Bishops is “not a P.R. exercise” – He obviously forgets that his blog is seen by people all over the blogosphere. His assertion, as to its primary purpose, is here :-
“First, this is not a PR exercise. Although the sending of the letter has been reported in Christian Today, it has not been circulated to media outlets, unlike some other previous letters. It is intended to be an honest communication to the bishops of the concerns of the signatories and others like them.”
Interestingly, while suggesting that ‘previous letters’ (presumably sent by Church of England people who want the Bishops to affirm same-sex relationships) have been highly publicised; Mr Paul is claiming the purity of intention of his friends appending their signatures to the Letter he advertises here. Presumably they really only want the Church of England’s Bishops to be informed of their intentions!
While the authors’ intention for semi-private publication may indeed be laudable; by publishing the Letter himself, Mr Paul is already bypassing the declared intention of its writers by opening up its contents to the world through his blog.
Contrary to that intention, the Letter of those who wrote to the Bishops of the Church of England – urging them to follow through with the acceptance of LGBTI people in the ministry and mission of the Church – unashamedly declared their open support for a class of people in the Church whose right to marry has now been accorded to them by the State, at a time when the Church of England is still contemplating how to cope with those people who have contracted legal Same-Sex Marriage while retaining membership in the Church.
One thing that seems to have been forgotten by the authors of this letter is that the married state was in existence well before the Church’s insistence on bringing it under its purlieu. In fact, in certain countries of the world, marriage is a legal contract enacted only by the state and its civic beneficiaries do not have to resort to a Church Blessing to confirm this.
**I do not propose to publish the names of those 100 Conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England who petitioned the Bishops to avoid any collusion with those in the Church who want the Church of England to provide some sort of liturgical rite of Blessing for such marriages. They can be found on Ian Paul’s ‘Psephizo’ web-site.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand