We have reached Chapter 5 in the great Anglican sexuality saga: ‘Church of England parishes consider first step to break away over sexuality‘. It isn’t clear what the dénouement shall be, but the same-sex marriage/blessing plot thickens: ‘shadow synod’; ‘alternative Anglican church in England’; ’embryonic structures’; ‘church within a church’…
The Rev’d Dr Peter Sanlon, Vicar of St Mark’s Church in Tunbridge Wells, is the protagonist. He explains: “If senior leaders of the Church of England water down the teaching of the Church of England on key issues like homosexuality, then this synod could easily evolve in to a new Anglican jurisdiction in England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has signalled that he is aware of the possibility that a significant proportion of the church will not accept a change in the church’s teaching. This could be the beginning of that playing out.” And for those who think this faction will just get up and go and conveniently leave the liberal-progressive wing to get on with it, Dr Sanlon adds: “I am not leaving the Church of England..”
It’s hardly 95 Theses stuff. Dr Sanlon may say with Martin Luther: “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” But a dozen congregations in the Home Counties is hardly a schism: ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ is more troublesome priest than reformer. But there is a prophetic voice:
An Address to Churches from 3 Dioceses in the C of E gathered in Tonbridge- June 2016.
Dr Gavin Ashenden.
As a way of approaching the question of discerning the state of the C of E, we are going to begin with the Canticle that opens Morning Prayer:-
We are invoking the presence of God – and we will also reacquaint ourselves with a hesitation that is a hallmark of the spirituality of the Church of England.
10 Venite – A Song of Triumph
O come, let us sing to the Lord; •
let us heartily rejoice in the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving •
and be glad in him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God •
and a great king above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth •
and the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, •
and his hands have moulded the dry land.
Come, let us worship and bow down •
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God; •
we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
The canticle may end here.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
In almost every public service I have been to, the canticle does indeed end here.
But there are four more verses.
We have had the blessing – but now comes the warning. The Church of England however does not have much stomach for warnings from God, and so cuts them out.
What the psalmist continues with before the liturgical censor let us off the hook is:-
O that today you would listen to his voice: •
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
on that day at Massah in the wilderness,
‘When your forebears tested me, and put me to the proof, •
though they had seen my works.
‘Forty years long I detested that generation and said, •
“This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways.”
‘So I swore in my wrath, •
“They shall not enter into my rest.”‘
Sadly, it is not just the Venite that is artificially shortened to keep our ears from the offence of God’s warning.
The compilers of the lectionary – the schedule for reading through the Bible – show the same instincts. There are often verses missing – and usually – they are verses of judgement.
The Church of England has liturgically stopped its ears – so that it does not hear the words of judgement from the Lord.
WHY IS NOW DIFFERENT FROM BEFORE?
The question is quite rightly asked, why is what is happening now any different or more serious than what has happened often before?
The Church of England has always been a place of width and largesse – embracing a generous latitude of spiritualities.
After all, we have had bishops who denied the virgin birth and bishops who denied the resurrection. Wasn’t that equally serious?
To which the answer was that these were examples of the mistaken or heretical people being placed in offices they were unworthy to hold.
But before long, they retired or died, and the office was filled by someone who did believe. This was an occasional aberration of faith, not a structural flaw of fatal proportions.
What we face now is a structural flaw of fatal proportions.
Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you live in a block of flats and above you is a noisy neighbour who ruins your sleep. You complain to the management committee and they say, don’t worry, their tenancy will soon be at an end, and we will replace them with someone more polite, respectful and congenial. You don’t have to leave.
But one day, you get a rich tenant on the ground floor beneath you, and he has aspirations to build a large underground swimming pool and car park. He is rather quieter and muffles his pneumatic drills. The noise is no longer a problem. But an engineer friend of yours visits and takes looks at it and warns you that you are in real trouble. There are no reinforced steel girders,- he has undermined your foundation and very soon this whole block of flats will collapse. He refuses to change his plans. The lack of noise and temporary unpleasantness gave no indication of how serious the problem was about to become.
The building would fail to stand if there was the slightest tremor.
No representation to the management committee was in a position to make the building any safer. You have to leave, or it will fall about your head.
We have had heretical bishops who have disbelieved in aspects of the creed, who have come and gone.
But what we are facing now is different because it is re-writing the DNA of the Church with a theology of both gender and sexual practice which is in direct contradiction what the Bible teaches us is God’s intention for us.
When things go wrong in the Church it is usually about sex, money, power or alcohol. The good news, is that I don’t think we are going to be bothered by the alcohol element tonight. But the three other elements we will be troubled by.
We will look at the way the change in the practice of ordination has not only overthrown two thousand years of biblical and apostolic tradition, but has muddied the waters of our biblical anthropology by giving a new controlling idea – ‘equality’ which will lead us quickly and inevitably on to a validation of homosexual marriage and the subsequent dilution and distortion of family life, family stability and the use of children deprived of their biological parents as hostages to an un-Christian ideology.
This will take us on to the misuse of power to enforce these patterns on orthodox Anglicans, and the consequent struggle over the control of the way in which our own money is used against us to promote a pseudo Christianity that we never believe in nor can support.
In the New Testament, the Greek world for judgement is Krisis, from where we get our word crisis. When Jesus warns humanity of the judgement to come, the word we have in St Matthew 10.15, the original word is Krisis.
Speaking of a community that rejects the Apostles and their message of salvation he says, “Truly I tell you, it will more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of crisis – or judgement – than for that town.”
We ourselves have come to a time of crisis, both in the Church and in our culture. The Christian ethics that have held our society together for hundreds of years have been subverted – in both social and cultural theory and practice.
Our culture is in pursuit of pleasure and gratification, which are its gods, and has given itself licence to ignore the Judaeo-Christian foundations on which it was built.
More than ignoring them, it has decided to reject them by re-defining them.
Marriage, over the millennia within the Judaeo-Christian communities has been held holy, honoured and practised as being between one man and one woman, for the procreation of children.
It is being changed across the world to accommodate same-sex intimacies and to become the vehicle for designer children – children who are biologically conceived by a mother and father, in order to be removed from them and augment a different relationship.
We are at a time both of crisis and judgement.
We know as we look back in history that when the Church distorts, ignores or undermines the Bible, which is the umbilical cord through which the life of God flows into the Church, we can find ourselves in the most serious predicament.
How is that happening today?
In particular in the whole movement towards the legitimisation of gay practice and the redefinition of marriage away from one man and one woman.
The whole exercise in what is being called conversations for “Good Disagreement” is intended to soften up orthodox Christian so that they will become either more marginalised and demoralised and accept the change of culture both outside the Church and increasingly within it.
There are, of course, times when good disagreement can and should take place. But how can you disagree well about something that is forbidden in Scripture and the whole of orthodox Christian experience – which we call tradition?
We cannot bless what God says is un-blessed.
THE RELIGION OF ‘TED’
How might we explain how quickly secular ideas have overwritten the conviction of the Christian world.
A helpful and perhaps memorable analysis is to identify that might be described as the religion of TED- a religiosity that has filled the vacuum in post Christian culture.
TED is not a person or a movement but a kind of spirituality.
It stands for: therapeutic ethical deism. Here is how these three components of spirituality come together:
The ‘deism’ describes people who want to believe in a God, rather than no god.
So what kind of God?
An ethical god.
The ethical god would want us to be nice to each other;
Nice never challenges things that are wrong.
The therapeutic bit describes a God who wants us to feel good about ourselves.
Like all heresy, this picture contains some truth – but what it leaves out is more important, and dislocates a kind of warm fuzzy spirituality from the source of God’s revelation.
The God of the Bible offers us affirmation and unconditional love, but mercy is intended to lead to repentance. The primary goal is not feeling good about ourselves.
He calls us not so much to be nice, as to forgive those who wound us, without limit, dying to self interest in the most extreme way. This is more and different from the practice of the dilute narcissism of niceness.
How does one slip from awe and obedience into a kind of self-serving spiritual consumerism?
It happens when you let go of the Holy Scriptures, when you give preference to secular, contemporary, cultural fashion over the living word of God.
In giving up on the pattern of relationship between men and women and the invitation to sexual continence that the New Testament calls us to, the Church of England detaches itself from the blessing and the enabling of God.
DIAGNOSIS AND DISCERNMENT – THE ISSUE OF REPENTANCE
Why is repentance what we are called to rather than cultural assimilation?
C.S. Lewis explains it well.
When he wrote his book “The Great Divorce”, it was because he wanted to give expression to a point of Christian understanding that he thought was vital to the health of the Church and the salvation of souls.
The poet William Blake had written a piece called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. Tempting though it is to turn this into a theological lecture on Blake and Lewis, what we need to know for our purposes, is that Lewis believed there are times when you can only access the Kingdom of heaven by repenting – turning round.
Blake was for experimenting with morality as a method of finding your way assimilating the preferences of contemporary culture. Lewis thought the New Testament taught the opposite.
He said that faith was rather like mathematics in that once you had gone wrong, the only way to get to the right ending was to go back to wherever it was you went wrong, put it right and start again.
Faced with what we do as a church when we have to choose between assimilating what our culture prefers or being faithful to Scripture, Lewis reminds us that we have to repent, find a metanoia, a change of mental map, and go back to get it right.
The lure of what the Church often calls heresy, it that there is so much that is appealing and right in it.
Heresy is appealing because it is the presentation of half-truths.
GK Chesterton said that: “a heresy is a half truth turned into a whole falsehood”. (America, November 9, 1935).
What is the heresy – the half-truth that we are finding so attractive?
THE CULTURAL CONTEXT
First, it helps to try to explain the cultural context.
The controlling idea that is dominating our social conversations, politics and education is ‘Equality’.
When the Christian bakers in Northern Ireland refused to promote gay weddings with their cakes, it was the Equality Commission that took them to court.
Equality builds on moral relativity – that one idea, one morality is no better than another, and finds Christianity’s claim that it is following a special revelation offensive.
But it begins as a Christian idea.
There is a vision for a new heaven and a new earth in the Scriptures, where the powerful no longer oppress the weak. The Lion lies down with the lamb. Heaven is a form of spiritual utopia.
In Europe, there have been a number of responses to this utopianism – those who saw it promising a new heaven preached the Gospel more fervently and were prepared to wait for what theologians call the “parousia” – the final rolling-up of time and space in the promised Kingdom.
But some idealists felt that this was too long to wait and we needed a bit of heaven on earth now. What was needed to end the oppression of the weak by the powerful was an insistence on the equal worth of all people irrespective of their social status or economic power. After all, doesn’t Genesis teach that everyone is made equally in the image of God? Surely this equality of worth should challenge the inequality of social oppression?
Early atheists borrowed the idea of equality, and came to the conclusion it was the role of the state to bring in peace, equality and justice – by compulsion if necessary.
We might look at how this politicizing of equality in or by the state worked out. The French Revolution and Russian revolution in 1917 were the prime examples of state imposed equality.
The death toll in France was over 150,000 – but in Russia much worse. As you already know the death toll under Stalin alone was about 11 million in Russia.
In China under Mao Tse Tung in China, it reached between 70 and 90 million.
Do these figures matter? They warn us that the forcible imposition of equality by the state is a dangerous and violent business.
They remind us that it should come as no great surprise that Jesus was so very wary of the politicizing of his role as Messiah.
They warn us of what happens when you try to impose a version of the Kingdom of heaven, namely the pursuit and enforcement of equality, by political – rather than spiritual – means.
Communism saw itself as a politicization of Judaeo-Christian values. Social ethics without the metaphysics. What was interesting about the way in which these states that set out to impose equality on people was the way they turned so energetically against the Church, setting out to persecute or eradicate it.
But as we know the economic foundations of Communism collapsed. In China it morphed into a communist/capitalist hybrid, in Russia they simply imploded.
But something rather strange emerged from the ashes which will we will call ‘Cultural Marxism’ for now.
It was as if quest for equality disengaged from economics, and attached itself instead to our secular culture.
Instead of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality, we have the three refreshed gods of equality, inclusion and ‘non-discrimination’.
It is very hard to explain exactly how this new project has attached itself to our Western culture. Some people have described it as a meme – an idea that almost has a life of its own that finds people to host it. The meme sounds surprisingly like a demon, or an evil spirit, as they are described in the New Testament. In Europe and America especially, this ‘meme’ has created a new ideological and political climate.
But whatever we call it, this quest for equality turns on the Church and Christian witness with what feels like a determined antipathy. And there are two areas in which the quest for equality has set its face against the Church and they are feminism and the pursuit of gay marriage.
FEMINISM AND HOMOSEXUALITY
Perhaps it should be no great surprise that, in a culture which has progressively sexualized itself, the heresies of the day would express themselves in terms of a distortion of the Biblical picture for sexual expression and gender relations.
We have had so many years of being bombarded by feminism that it has become a wholly normal part of our outlook. Of course there are varieties of feminism. Academics write about four waves of feminism – the beginnings being in the late 1840s, then the 1960s, the 1990s and now. So feminism can mean different things, some constructive and some damaging.
It is clearly good that injustice and unfairness be challenged and changed, but less good that the ancient struggle of difference between the sexes becomes a war of attrition. But ending injustice is not the same as enforcing equality. They are two very different projects. And the problem we face is one that takes place when you use the tools of power to interpret theology.
Cultural Marxism looks through the lens of power. Everything is judged in terms of power relations.
But theology is not about power – it is about Love and they are two different languages. The difficulty we face is having brought the tools of power relations to the language of Love.
How does this affect the Church? We need to make a distinction between ministry and structured symbolism (or office).
It is so important to say at the outset that ministry in the Holy Spirit is for every Christian, regardless of category. And it is obvious to most of us that women have often been so much more gifted in terms of openness to God and the gifts of God. There is an obstinate independence and self-reliance in many men that makes us harder nuts to crack.
The only thing that stands between any of us and God is our ‘yes or no’.
And women so often say ‘yes’ more quickly and more effectively than men do.
But the orders in the Church are about more than simply ministry.
They resonate with a structured symbolism.
We have an added problem in the Church of England. We are a hybrid Church: part Catholic and part Reformed. Many of the structures of the Church are Catholic and much of the furniture is Reformed. And we have two different languages, which makes it hard to have conversations in which we all understand each other.
I want to look at the influence of equality on each of these languages very briefly.
The Reformed part of the Church, when it comes to looking at ministry, values quite rightly St Paul’s teaching about headship, which is rooted – as with orthodox Judaism – in the template of Genesis.
For some of us the close study of Pauline texts on men, women and marriage has been a life long concern. For others, the strength of Paul’s picture of headship, and St John the Divine’s use of gender imagery with Jesus the bridegroom and his Church the bride are startlingly counter cultural.
If you have yet to have found the time to carefully research what Scripture unfolds as the mystery of the faithful interaction of Christian men and women, may I urge to you ask your vicar for help with reading and commentaries that help move us from the assumptions of our culture to the insights of the dynamics of the Kingdom.
For those who look to Scripture for their understanding of gender, we find there not equality but a hierarchy – only it is a hierarchy turned upside down by love. There we find Jesus, who did not count equality as a thing to be grasped, but submitted himself in love to the Father.
We find in St Paul particularly the language of this love-inverted hierarchy, where humility takes precedence over rights. And we find this lovingly-inverted hierarchy played out between the genders. It is of course a mystery of faith. After we have been born again by the Spirit, we see something of the mystery of God’s love – that those who are not born again cannot grasp. It makes no sense to them, because they are not working in the Spirit, but what Paul called ‘in the flesh’– politics and power are rooted in the flesh.
And it is part of the tragedy of the Church that so much of the theology and the politics of the Church of England is done by people who show no evidence of having been born again by water and the Spirit, and who are therefore only too happy to replicate the secular structures and ideas that they do understand.
Male headship to them is an anathema, because they have chosen social and secular equality over the mystery of the self-giving Trinity.
Does it matter? Yes, in so many ways, not least because it doesn’t stop there.
Because the next step is to eradicate the term ‘Father’, because it is resonant of patriarchy and the secular worldview rejects and even despises patriarchy.
Bit by bit, step by step, the secular driven spirituality which pressed for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy have started to dismantle the language of the Bible and the language and concepts Jesus taught us to us.
St Paul tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who moves in our heart to make us call out ‘Abba’ – daddy – to God. But those who do not live in the Spirit and do not have the Spirit want to remove Abba – daddy – from the language of the Church.
The first woman diocesan bishop refused to accept consecration, until the term ‘Father in God’ was removed from the rubric – because of course she is not a ‘father in God’.
It is common practice now in many Anglican Churches, both here and in America, to amend the description of the Trinity and change “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to the gender-free “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer”.
The first thing that the WATCH , the pressure group for the ordination of women, did after Synod had voted for women bishops, was to press for gender free liturgies, eradicating the fatherhood of God, and obscuring the masculinity of Jesus.
Headship matters theologically, because it protects and promotes the language of mutually accountable vulnerable love that holds the genders together, in the face of the language of rights and equality, which is in effect the language of political power. Whenever the Church adopts the language and idioms of power, it becomes less than fully Christian.
I realize that, for many here, “priesthood” is a problematic term. It is part, not so much of the Catholic inheritance of the Church, as something common to both the Eastern and Western Church that grew out of the teaching of the apostles. We have been arguing about this for four hundred years in the Church of England, but this balancing of the Apostolic inheritance and Holy Scripture is what Anglicanism does.
Let me briefly try and explain a little the language of the undivided Church that existed in all places and everywhere for one and half thousand years.
If you ask the Orthodox Christians why they look to the first three centuries of the Church for their foundational theology, they will tell you that, if in the year 160 you had asked Bishop Polycarp, on the eve of his martyrdom, where he had got his theology of the Church, he would have said he got it from the Apostle John, who taught him the faith. Polycarp was born in AD 80, and John lived long enough to teach him what Jesus said and what Jesus meant. And by the year 160 we find a Church with Bishops – who were the apostles’ successors and who guaranteed the truth of the resurrection, priests or presbyters – who were their delegates – and deacons. The marks of this church were bishops who guaranteed the faith, priests who stood in for the bishop in places he could not bilocate to, deacons, the Eucharist, explosive evangelism and martyrdom.
The Apostle, and his successor the bishop, and his delegate – the priest – stood in for Jesus and celebrated the Eucharist.
The early Church saw the priest or presbyter as the ikon of Christ at the Eucharist. An ikon is something between a picture that you look at and a window that you look through. And the priest represents Jesus at the Last Supper.
To the orthodox, gender is part of the way God reveals himself. To the progressives it is irrelevant or a distraction. Does masculinity have role in revelation?
CS Lewis is helpful:
But Christians think that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.
Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in Heaven” as to “Our Father.” Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son… Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped; many religions have their priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity… Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential… We know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life different from that of a Christian child.
(CS Lewis, ‘Priestesses in the Church’).
There are some interesting points made about the way in which the theology of gender is a battleground for revelation.
The witness of Judaism was often about the perpetual struggle the prophets had with fertility religion – which was dominated by the feminine – because it is the fruitful feminine in our biological experience which life to birth. But the worship of the feminine very quickly moves to a placating of fertility, in particular the earth that provides us with sustenance.
God as father was the sign that Yahweh was the creator – who was to be worshipped, and not nature or mother earth. This was about idolatry. The people of God were invited to discover the Creator – who was masculine, and not turn their living devotion to the creation, which was fruitful and feminine.
Does this have any application today?
Yes, I think it does. The whole ecological movement is rooted in a devotion to the feminine principle of Gaia, a self-sustaining, self-balancing self-healing earth, that is feminine and decidedly not masculine.
The venerating of the feminine continues to draw people away from God the Father, who created heaven and earth, to creation, instead of creator.
The problem that the consecration of women as bishops has brought to many, is that it breaks the integrity of Apostolic succession.
For some people in the Church of England the unbroken line of ordination and consecration from Jesus through the apostles was a sign that they belonged to a Church which was not invented in any particular century or culture.
It was linked by a direct chain of accountability to the Apostles who saw Jesus rise from the dead.
Down through the centuries many sects and groups claimed to be Christian, but changed some of the essential ingredients of the faith. It began with the Gnostics.
The simplest way to refute them was to ask: “Who founded your Church?” If the Church you belong to was founded by the apostles, you were on solid ground. This still matters to many and is, of course, a powerful refutation of sects like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Indeed, if you meet an Orthodox Christian, very often the first thing they ask you is: “Which apostle founded your Church? Was it St Peter in Rome, or St Mark in Alexandria, or St Thomas in India?”. In our case it was both St Peter and St Paul – because it was founded by the evangelistic mission that Peter’s successor Pope Gregory sent out in 597 to Kent. The early Church was founded on the Apostolic Patriarchates of Jerusalem – Antioch, Alexandria, Rome and later Constantinople.
It doesn’t matter to everyone, but it mattered greatly to some Anglicans. And the unbroken episcopacy was an umbilical cord that linked our Christian community to the New Testament.
It linked the Church of England to the other children of the apostles, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. It had always been understood in the Church that you were not entitled to make any major changes without the whole of the rest of the Church, praying together and consulting one another – in and under the Spirit.
The seven ecumenical councils of the whole Church have given us our creed and determined the canon of the Bible. It is inconceivable, if one is accountable to the historic Church of the apostles, to make a major theological change in the structure of the Church without consulting the Catholics and the Orthodox.
When we did consult them over adopting secular gender models, they begged us not to do it and warned us that, if we did, we would be splitting the body of Christ even further apart. But the secularists who were now the majority in the Church of England were so convinced that their pursuit of so-called gender equality was “progress”, that they didn’t object to further splitting the body of Christ and pressed on regardless. So, in the name of equality, headship was denied, the symbolism of priesthood and episcopacy was altered and the Church further divided.
But the equality agenda had further ambitions.
HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY RIGHTS
Many members of the Church of England, having been exposed to the relentless secular agenda, are more comfortable with that model than with the Scriptural one. But what became clear was that the feminizing of the priesthood and the episcopate was only the first step to a dismantling of biblical and apostolic theology.
The next step was the assault on marriage and the rights of children. When you discover that the majority of women in senior positions in the Church of England say they are in favour of gay rights, it gives credence to the belief that a deal was struck between the gay community and the more senior women – if you support our cause, we will support yours. Equal gender rights and so-called “equal marriage” are two carriages being pulled by the one engine of Cultural Marxism.
Let me be personal for a moment and say something about my relationship with the gay rights movement.
FROM LIBERALISM TO ORTHODOXY
In the mid-1980s I began to attend Greenbelt which, as many of you know, is an evangelical Christian arts festival. It was at Greenbelt that I was first exposed to the rather fresh and exciting idea of the proper way to assess gay relationships is to use what St Paul describe as the fruit of the Spirit.
If the relationships were loving, stable and permanent, if they seemed kind of generous and generative, then perhaps this demonstrated God’s blessing and acceptance, and showed that we had misread Scripture.
I also worked at one of our most secular Universities in the country, in a place that was a centre of gay culture, where I was both chaplain and senior lecturer for 23 years; and there, of course, I met many gay students and faculty members.
I became very fond of my gay friends. I identified with the fear and difficulty they felt as they came to terms with their sexuality.
My sense of pastoral concern and natural affection convinced me that I and the Church had misunderstood the Biblical texts. Sodom and Gomorrah was not about homosexuality; St Paul was not talking about loving stable gay relationships.
I became a spokesman for LGBT questions and was invited to give talks and lectures of encouragement.
There came a point when my mind was radically changed.
I had an experience in which I found I was being told to repent. The details of this are less important and I’m happy to explain them at length later, but for the moment let me say that I was surprised and shocked. I revisited the two different theologies of sexuality I had known, and I decided that, for the next year, I would hold both approaches in my head, one traditional and the other “progressive”, and would apply them in the situations I encountered.
As the year went by, it became clear that the traditional reading of Scripture told much more truth about the situations I was encountering pastorally than the Greenbelt progressive view I had adopted before.
So many aspects of the gay propaganda I had been so impressed by simply weren’t true.
Many of the young women students I had sat with as they came out as gay in their late teens and 20s, fell in love with men 10 years later, and asked me to rejoice as they planned their weddings. When I asked them is they had been truly gay when they came out, they replied, “clearly not.”
So far from being stable and faithful, I discovered that even the most committed of gay men had open relationships, in which they allowed each other a certain number of other sexual partners every month.
Restricting yourself to less than a certain quota of sexual partners per month, outside your relationship, was deemed to be faithful and stable.
I remember going to one of my favorite lesbian friends, a woman of intellectual and moral stature, whom I cared for and admired very much, when I discovered Scandinavian research which said that lesbian relationships were eight times more likely to fail than straight ones, and that lesbian relationships contained exponentially higher levels of domestic violence then straight relationships.
“Yes,” she said, “Both as things are true and we are very grateful that the media never exposes them.”
As the movement to change the definition of marriage to include gay relationships developed, the whole question of babies ordered from a third party arose.
Many gay couples decide to have children by find a third party – two men need to rent a womb; two women need sperm from another man.
Whatever else one thinks of this arrangement, the fundamental problem is that the designed or ordered child has no right of access to their biological parents.
In America at the moment, the first generation of these children are telling a different story from that which the media promotes.
Kay Faust, one of a group of adults raised in gay marriage, recently spoke out against the movement to change the definition of marriage in an American court.
She testified: “Now we are normalizing a family structure where a child will always be deprived daily of one gender influence and the relationship with at least one natural parent.” She explains: “Our cultural narrative becomes one that, in essence, tells children that they have no right to the natural family structure or their biological parents, but that children simply exist for the satisfaction of adult desires.”
When children are imported into a gay marriage, what happens to their rights to have access to their real mother or real father?
But there are other changes that flow from this.
One very serious development is that there is no reason to restrict marriage to 2 people once you have remove from marriage the centrality of having children together in a biologically natural way.
POLYGAMY AND POLYAMORY
Equal marriage advocates are already demanding the change of laws in Brazil and Canada, to allow polygamy and polyamory. There are couples who find themselves wanting to augment their romantic and erotic relationship with a third or even a fourth person.
Sadly, polygamy and polyamory are exponentially more unstable than one man partnering one women, and will cut at the roots of stable family life, and introduce a level of incoherence and chaos for children yet undreamed of.
The responsibility for this shift lies, I believe, with heterosexuals. During the last century, we promoted a narrative of marriage that concentrated on the romantic and erotic components of relationship and away from children and grandchildren.
Once straight couples began to diminish the role of children as defining characteristics of family and marriage, particularly as the divorce rates exploded, we can hardly blame the gay community for saying that, if marriage is about romance and sex, they can do that too.
THEOLOGY AND DISCERNMENT
If we go back to our bibles and ask the Scriptures what it is that is taking place, we find an analysis in St Paul’s letter to the Romans.
He says in chapter 1 one that one of the effects of a society that turns to idolatry rather than the living God will be a dissolving and dissolution of natural and gender identities.
He talks about the disruption in our understanding of sex and sexuality as being a consequence of idolatry.
It doesn’t come as any surprise, then, that as our own culture throws off our Judaeo-Christian tradition and pursues a range of other gods, that the scaffolding that holds us together in the image of God will be loosened and begin to fall apart.
The very notion of a single gay culture is of course deceptive.
As the glue that holds together biology and the mental identifying with one’s own biology melts, so do the descriptors.
THE INCOHERENCE OF FRAGMENTING SEXUALITY: LGBTQIA
The category is no longer homosexual or even gay. It has subdivided to the point of incoherence.
LGBTQIA stands for : “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual.”
Other people add aromantic, pansexual, polysexual.
Nor do they even feel able to make common cause. The annual conference of the National Union of Students debated a motion to kick out the gay white men from LGBT special protected categories, because they weren’t oppressed enough. The secular spirit of equality driven by power relations turns on, and cannibalizes, its own offspring.
Gore Vidal, as many of you will know, was one of the great figures of letters in America in the last century. He claimed credit for inventing the term “gay” to start a political movement that protected homosexuals from persecution.
At the end of his life he said this was the one achievement that he most regretted. He believed that there was only one humanity, and its subdivision into different categories was to be regretted. And what he had done was to produce a new subcategory of humanity, which created further division and incoherence.
What I like about Gore Vidal’s analysis is that this is essentially not a problem with gay people or gay sex or gay marriage. If we accept Vidal’s advice, there are just people. One category of human beings, but some of whom have a variety of sexual appetites.
It’s interesting how, for a while, the media propaganda was that being homosexual was something you were born with and had no choice over.
Amongst the 1.7 % of the population the National Statistics Office who self-identify as gay, they have found no gay gene. There is no scientific evidence that you are born gay. In fact, no one has any idea what causes sexual attraction.
A different, and contradictory, rationale is now being launched as stage two of this experiment in gender dissolution gets under way, and that is that people have complete choice. You may identify with any kind of sexual persona you care to.
They began by saying: “We cannot help it or ourselves.” But move on to claim that people have the right to choose any variant of sexual identity that starts to appeal.
So let’s go back to Scripture and adopt a biblical anthropology. There we find there are just people, as Galatians chapter 5 describes; human beings who are made in the image of God, and who – if we follow the Church fathers – are people in whom God is trying to develop the image into also being in His Likeness. The work of the Holy Spirit is to affirm the image of God in us, and then to re-make us in His Likeness.
But, to do that, the warring appetites of fallen humanity need to be confronted and conquered by the Love of God.
And people have a variety of different appetites. They relate to sex, power, money, self-pleasing, food, drink, drugs, but we believe in a God who looks to heal all our disordered appetites – including and especially those of the 98% who are heterosexual.
There have been so many assaults on the Old Testament, that the concentration on moments of violence and social incoherence have masked that the Bible is a study in purity.
God took a people he had chosen, and gave them rules and prophets to make them pure. The purity was sexual, social, spiritual and ethical. Of course Jesus had nothing to say about sex between people of the same gender outside marriage, because it was already declared forbidden or unclean. The word we translated that by was ‘an abomination’ – but the Hebrew might be better translated as implying something ‘forbidden and unclean and not to be done’.
There are many ways for immoral behavior to make one’s soul unclean and this is just one.
But it is not for the Church, the people of the New Testament, to declare unclean moral behavior clean – whether by legitimizing sex outside marriage, or adultery or same sex intimacy.
We must not declare holy what is profane, or profane what is holy.
But that is what the Anglican Church has done and is continuing to do.
THE STATUS QUO IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
If we were in any doubt about the direction in which things are moving, we have the example what has happened in America over the last 40 years.
You will be only too aware of how the Episcopal Church in America has driven this particular change in theology and culture, and how other Anglican Christians across the Anglican Communion have objected.
The Global Anglican Fellowship met together in Jerusalem in 2008 and signed the Jerusalem Declaration and its preface.
It affirmed that “…marriage is between one man and one woman…”
And directly referring to the Episcopal Church: “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word and deed.”
It condemned the “false gospel” that “promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behavior as a universal human right. It continued that GAFCON was “out of communion” with the churches of the “false gospel” [TEC]. It also called on those who shared these values to separate from them and realign with Global South Anglicans.
But over the last decade we have watched both the recent Archbishops of Canterbury prevaricate in order to keep together two kinds of Anglicanism that cannot and should not be kept together.
For many of us the last straw came when the agreement that was reached by the Primates last January, in which the Episcopal Church was sanctioned and given a three-year cooling off period to reflect, was derailed at Lusaka only weeks later.
Archbishop Justin Welby, who had brokered the original deal, then appeared to sanction its breach.
When he was appointed many evangelicals were delighted that someone with such a direct experience of conversion was elevated to such a position of responsibility.
But doubts soon began to creep in. In his speeches to the House of Lords he began to affirm the cogency of gay relationships.
Only this last week in the press he was reported as saying: “Don’t evangelise unless you are asked to.”
When he was asked about his personal faith, in a Spectator interview a few months ago, he made a central plank of the interview a promise to go to the entirely hypothetical gay wedding of a hypothetical gay child.
The Church of England has just entered into a close ecumenical relationship with the Church of Scotland who have just voted to allow their homosexual clergy to be married to each other. Clearly the next stage will be to offer to the laity what the clergy enjoy and move from there to the celebration gay weddings.
The ‘Shared Conversations’ which the wider Church and the General Synod has embarked upon seem designed to have only one outcome – to validate homosexual experience and expectations, which have been shared and listened to in order to legitimise the move to gay blessings and then gay marriage.
Some dioceses are appointing clergy to senior positions who live openly in gay relationships.
Within the Church of England itself, despite solemn promises made for mutual flourishing, clergy whose ethics and world view are biblically orthodox, are marginalized and even blacklisted.
The term for this is apostasy – which comes from the Greek word apostasies signifying a revolt.
‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions‘ (2Tim 4.3).
We cannot say that we have not seen the trajectory of this struggle for the heart of the Church taking place over the last 40 years in America. We have seen there an Anglican Church intoxicated with the spirit of the age that turns on orthodox clergy and deposes them; that has adopted all the a fully developed syncretism with other religions.
What was the response of the orthodox in America?
Large number of Anglicans decided that they could no longer belong to a Church that had reconfigured the Apostolic and Biblical DNA. In 2009 they left.
The new Anglican Church in North America now has 28 dioceses, one thousand congregations and over 100,000 members.
MONEY AND POWER
Despite the promises that different theological integrities would be allowed to flourish our experience is that Dioceses ask you to affirm your support of female episcopacy and priesthood, and if you can’t or won’t, then you don’t make it to the short list.
There is de facto marginalisation of conservative evangelicals.
As the Church finds itself running out of money the training and the provision of curates is changing.
There are proposals for a group of churches to share curates.
But how will it be possible for a heterodox curate to preach biblically to an orthodox parish?
The effect will be to remove access to curates from parishes that hold biblical values.
Many dioceses look increasingly to the generous giving of biblically faithful churches to underwrite their attempts to remain solvent. The bishop of Truro has predicted he faces insolvency in about three years. The diocese we are in at the moment is running a deficit this year of half a million pounds and next year a projected deficit of three quarters.
Certain dioceses have appointed to their senior posts gay partnered clergy who actively promote the progressive agenda, and look for traditionalists to foot the diocesan bill.
As the pressure to conform to accept these changes grows we find few options in front of us.
1 We cannot opt to do nothing, keep our heads down, becoming refugees in a Church that adopts the spirit of the age.
2 We will not leave to join other denominations and turn our back on a church that has been our home in faith.
3 We must then stay and find ways to support one another in networks and fellowship that allow those who want to remain faithful to the Scriptures to draw strength, purpose and vision from each other.
We have been very used to being confined by geography rather than conviction. But tonight we have PCC’s from three different dioceses taking counsel together.
- We need to find ways of drawing churches together who share biblical values across the boundaries of Victorian geography.
- We need to follow the example of the Good Steward’s Trust in Southwark and move the flow of money from the Diocese to the orthodox network.
- We need to repent of our clericalism and take counsel with the whole people of God.
- We need to prepare ourselves for a Church of England which is changing rapidly and find ways of organising, identifying and defending what we stand for and believe in.
Synods have a reputation for dealing the mundane administration and politics of the Church as an organisation, but the word describes something more wholesome, a walking together.
We have the unprecedented experience of representatives of nine Church councils coming together to take counsel.
We already tonight constitute a synod of orthodox Anglicans.
As someone who has been praying for years for the renewal of a compromised church, I can see tonight that you constitute the ever-fresh stream of faithfulness, that obedience to the Holy Scriptures produces.
Can I urge to commit yourselves to one another as Church Councils who share the same view of a Church that guards and celebrates the whole faith.
In a moment Peter is going to lead us in prayer, and then we can begin to have a conversation about the practical steps that might lie ahead of us and be begun tonight.
Let me end with the words of Joshua to the people, when they were faced with a stark choice of being faithful to God or turning away in a different direction:
If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24.15).
The Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden. May 2016