Tuesday 6 July 2010

Conservative evangelicals threaten to split church, defy bishops and withdraw financial support

Western societies have learnt a great deal in the past century about the way human beings behave and construct themselves in social systems. We have learnt about our capacity for self-delusion and how easy it is for individuals and groups of people to ally themselves with a cause which history reveals to be a gross error.

We in the west have learnt that equality for minority groups in society has to be worked and campaigned for positively. This is not simply a question of human rights but of justice for those children of God who are marginalised and abused by the majority because of perceived differences. This is prejudice. Minority groups pursuing a prejudiced agenda are now driving a wedge into the Anglican Communion.

Andrew Brown speculates that the leak about Jeffrey John came not from the liberals but from conservative evangelicals. It is the conservatives who are spoiling for a fight, he says.

‘They’ have been spoiling for fights since 1997 when they began to organise their campaign against homosexuality which resulted in the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10. ‘They’ have waged a determined, aggressive campaign against homosexuality in general and against particular individuals for the past 13 years.

‘They’ claim to represent the majority of people in the Anglican Communion. The people they claim to represent have never been formally asked about their views on homosexuality and have certainly never exercised a democratic vote.

In England a minority held the church to ransom when Jeffrey John was appointed to Reading and are attempting to do the same again now his name is in the frame for Southwark. They are doing it by issuing threats to split the church, seek alternative Episcopal oversight, withdraw financial support and deny canonical obedience to bishops they refuse to acknowledge or respect.

This is how conservative evangelicals are reacting to the news about Jeffrey John and Southwark and I don’t recognise the issuing of threats as Christian. It is abusive behaviour. I could quote Biblical passages to support my claim but their abuse includes dishonest and selective use of Scripture.

Reform warns that the church could split if Jeffrey John is made bishop of Southwark. Paul Dawson said it would cause very serious damage within the Church of England and precipitate the sort of split that has happened in America. This threat comes from small conservative groups and individuals in the Church of England, but the threat is real.

Anglican Mainstream, represented by Chris Sugden, say a number of clergy and parishes would not take the oath of canonical obedience to the bishop and would seek alternative episcopal oversight elsewhere. What has happened in America will happen here.

Ray Skinner, rector of Morden in the diocese of Southwark, says there will be a formal divide. He claims there are two groups already within the Church of England, Inclusive Church and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

He claims that both are linking with other Anglican provinces. A Reform spokesman says that to appoint Jeffrey would send a very clear signal that the diocese of Southwark wants to walk in a different direction to the Church of England's doctrine. Both statements are lies, though I’m not sure Ray or the spokesman realise they are telling lies.

Inclusive Church and Changing Attitude have both developed strong relationships with bishops and primates in different parts of the Anglican Communion. These relationships strengthen our commitment to our unity in Christ as Christians first and Anglicans second. We are not and never will threaten to split the Communion.

Reform and Anglican Mainstream are threatening the church in various ways, one of which is to split from the Church of Anglican and form alliances with other groups who oppose truth and justice for LGBT and want to replace allegiance to Canterbury with a new, independent Anglican body.

A small group of conservative parishes in Southwark have been agitating for independence for some time now, causing bishop Tom Butler a great deal of distress. I know that some of the priests in no way represent the majority in their congregations.

The shocking thing about this whole campaign in the Anglican Communion is that a few self-appointed, media savvy men are holding the church to ransom and seeking to destroy its unity and fellowship in Christ.

Faced with such abusive and destructive behaviour, it is sometimes difficult to maintain Christian charity and not respond in kind. I was being so careful to maintain my composure during the Premier Radio interview with Chris Sugden yesterday that I was lost for words at the end and had no idea what to say. Changing Attitude continues to be committed to achieving full equality for LGBT people in the Anglican Communion and committed to the Communion as a Christian body which has always respected difference and diversity.

Thank goodness for God, who is not going to be phased as we vulnerable human beings are, by the vainglorious threats of a minority who are spoiling for a fight.

Colin Coward


  1. There are plenty of ways to split the CofE in two. Personally I see belief in the real presence as more important to orthodoxy than views on sexuality and gender. Why not split it that way?

    Except across the country there are members of the CofE working and worshipping together in teams and parishes who hold different sacramental understandings. As there are those who work together with different understandings of sexuality and gender. Yes even the clergy.

    So the Rector of Morden's approach is completely untenable. It would only work for a number of distinctive city parishes. It would destroy rural, sub-urban and urban teams and parishes. As would my suggestion of sacramental fundamentalism.

    However I would be nervous about assuming the support of the average Anglican in the pew. I imagine there are many who feel uncomfortable with same sex orientated Priests or Bishops, even if they don't have theological or moral reasons.

    Female Priests faced (and still face) the same prejudice, but they did have a clear mandate from the Bishops and the Clergy of Synod.

    So we do need to make theological arguments for inclusivity, support gay clergy, and as with female Priests, many minds will be turned as they see the gifts of god in the lives of same sex orientated pastors.

  2. One wonders if those threatening the withholding of finances have considered that they are guilty of simony-in-reverse. That sin obvisously does not rank high on their list of 'sins that matter'!

  3. Either the church is primarily spiritual or primarily institutional. If it is primarily spiritual, and there are two main divided views, then the one that came later caused the division. Best wishes, Christopher Shell

  4. I don't care whether you retain your composure or not. *Some* who retain their composure are speaking lies; *some* who don't are speaking the truth and/or showing that they care. Therefore deliberate retaining of composure can sometimes be tactical, even manipulative, putting people's perceptions, and spin, above the truth. This is the 'style above substance' attitude which is one good reason for not taking a given position seriously. Best wishes, Christopher Shell.