A clergy letter proving the point

I previously wrote about the re-issuing of the Church of England’s guidelines on marriage and civil partnerships. You can read the full post here. But there, I argued that the very issuing of this guidance – factually true as it may be – spoke to the deeper problems therein.

As if on cue, 800 members of the clergy – and a further 2200 people – have insisting on proving the point. They have written an open letter taking the bishops to task. The Guardian report:

The signatories express “anger and disappointment” at the bishops’ “pastoral statement”, which says a same sex or opposite sex civil partnership should be celibate.

The letter says the statement is “anything but ‘pastoral’ – it is cold, defensive, and uncaring of its impact on the millions of people it affects.

“The Church of England has … become a laughing stock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex.”

What we are witnessing is the following:

  1. A statement of the official position of the church on sex and marriage being roundly rejected by large swathes of its clergy
  2. A total lack of discipline from the church towards those who are openly rejecting what it has stated as its clear teaching
  3. A clear desire to hold onto those who openly reject the church’s teaching
  4. No response (perhaps beyond a letter to the bishops) passed off as ‘contending’

If you take seriously the episcopal system at all – that is submission to the authority of bishops – it is entirely unclear how those faithful to the teaching of scripture are in any way able to remain. It is quite clear they are in submission to those who would appease, and have no interest in disciplining, those who have departed from orthodoxy. That is before we get into the specifics of things that bishops themselves are happy to believe and affirm. How can one submit to those they believe are compromised without themselves being compromised?

I have said a number of times before, but it bears saying again, Anglicans that want to remain faithful to the Lord are now between a rock and a hard place. When the Very Rev’d Dr John Shepherd was appointed as ambassador of the Anglican Church to the Vatican, I said the ‘gospel issue’ argument sailed a long time ago when office holders denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. I have some sympathy with those who now argue – despite the protestations of those countenancing leaving – that if you were bothered about gospel issues, you would have left long ago. You now either stay and appear comfortable with the latest heterodoxy; or, you leave and, given your refusal to jump out when Christ was being more directly attacked, appear more bothered about people’s bedroom antics than the gospel you now say is being undermined by them. It is difficult to avoid the charge that it looks remarkably homophobic rather than gospel-centred.

Now, there are a group of people refusing to accept the orthodox official teaching of the church. The church have no desire to discipline those who depart from orthodoxy. Those who choose to remain are actively submitting to this. Given that the one job you have as a minister of the gospel – our primary job as a church – is to remain faithful to Christ, it is hard to see how this can happen while they submit to those who deny the gospel, have no desire to discipline those who depart from it and actively choose to prefer fellowship with such people over those who are theologically (if not ecclesiologically) much closer to them.

And the implications of this for Evangelicalism at large should not be underestimated.