The Church of England Evangelical Council describes itself as “a network of networks, bringing evangelicals in the Church of England together for the sake of the gospel”. It was created by John Stott in 1960 “to provide a ‘collective’ evangelical voice”, and they have just used that collective voice to write a letter to the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) Coordinating Group (the what?), which is presently considering certain matters of identity, marriage and relationships (ie, whether or not the Church of England should accommodate same-sex marriage). The bishops state unequivocally:
We believe that this vision of (1) sexual intercourse as “an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship” (Lambeth 1988), (2) marriage as a union of a man and woman in a covenant of love marked by exclusivity and life-long commitment, and (3) faithful, sexually abstinent love in singleness and non-marital friendships, is the teaching of Scripture. It therefore expresses the character and will of God which is our guide in ordering our lives and in addressing public global ethical issues.
The whole letter is worth reading, because its warmth, compassion, reasonableness and discernment will soon be drowned out by a chorus of ‘homophobia’, ‘bigotry’ and ‘hate’. Indeed, it has already started…
For a moment there it seemed sensible to link to a number of tweets issued in response to this letter, which tell of Evangelical arrogance, self-righteousness, shallowness and judgmentalism. Yet merely to have drawn your attention to the authors of these tweets would have been met with a chorus of ‘homophobia’, ‘bigotry’ and ‘hate’. It is no longer possible to reason with some anti-Evangelical revisionists because (from experience) it simply isn’t worth the hassle.
The Church of England is manifestly divided on this matter (as, indeed, is Evanglicalism), and the Bishops of Carlisle, Durham, Ludlow, Birkenhead, Willesden, Peterborough, Plymouth, Blackburn, Maidstone, Lancaster and (formerly) Shrewsbury are concerned that knee-jerk tweets alleging ‘homophobia’, ‘bigotry’ and ‘hate’ aren’t elevated above Scripture, catholicity and traditional morality:
We also believe that LLF must recognise and address the wider challenges in church and society to traditional Christian teaching. In recognising these wider challenges alongside the questions raised by LGBT+ people it is therefore important we do not lose sight of our common, shared humanity and the need for the church to offer a coherent, single ethic for all of us as people whose fundamental identity is not something we define for ourselves: rather that we are made in God’s image, have fallen captive to sin, are redeemed by Christ, and are being sanctified by the Spirit.
What this comes down to is that if the CofE’s “radical new Christian inclusion” doesn’t extend to full equality and full inclusion (ie, same-sex marriage), the church will continue to be ‘homophobic’, ‘bigoted’ and ‘hateful’. If, however, the “radical new Christian inclusion” extends to a fundamental change in the doctrine and liturgy of marriage to incorporate the union of two men or two women, it will cease to be faithful to Scripture or to traditional Christian morality (and so, some will aver, it will cease to be recognisably Christian). If you think the Prime Minister is between a rock and hard place with Brexit at the moment, just wait until the skubalon hits the flabellum when LLF finally reports in 2020.
Evangelicals generally no longer manifest a tendency to treat liberal Christians virtually as non-Christians, so quite why so many prominent liberal Christians should treat Evangelicals as an arrogant, self-righteousness, shallow and judgmental sect is unknown. Certainly, some Evangelicals may entertain a lurking suspicion that what liberal progressives believe cannot be genuine Christianity, yet you won’t find an Evangelical anywhere who wouldn’t mindful of that Jesus’ priority was that his followers should live and love an unity.
You may deplore the Evangelical focus on sin, redemption and salvation, but please don’t think they believe that Jesus was frozen in first-century Palestine or that St Paul is the archetypal Christian. Evangelicals, as this letter shows, are open to the infinite variety of human experiences which alter from age to age. Anglican Evangelicals are collaborative and sensitive. They have a problem with unfaithfulness and a lack of discipline because they care about the truth and the church’s credibility. They care about ecclesial ecumenicity and historical catholicity because they care about moral orthodoxy and the consistency of Christian witness. They want the healthiest discipleship, the truest maturity, the worthiest worship and the weightiest witness which flows from deep acquaintance with God’s revealed truth.
But hurl ‘homophobe’, ‘bigot’ or ‘hater’, if you must.