According to the BBC, Church in Wales have now voted to bless same-sex marriages. The church will not be able to marry same-sex couples but they will now bless such marriages in their churches. The BBC report, ‘The bill authorising a service of blessing was passed by all three orders of the church’s governing body at a meeting in Newport. The bishops passed it unanimously, the clergy passed it by 28 to 12, with two abstentions, and the laity passed it by 49 to 10, with one abstention.’ They go on to rightly note, ‘the change is significant because a blessing, in theological terms, signifies God’s approval.’ The Church in Wales stated, ‘it was a step on the way towards repentance of a history which has “demonised and persecuted gay and lesbian people”‘.
In terms of the wider Anglican communion, this will probably mean very little. The Church of England does not recognise same-sex marriages and does not permit clergy to bless them in their churches. However, the Scottish Episcopal Church does recognise and permit all these things and remains part of the worldwide Anglican communion. Others are in a similar position. Anglicanism continues to want to hold their communion together at all costs. The decision by the Church in Wales in unlikely to change very much.
The question for those Conservative Evangelicals in the Church in Wales, however, have become starker still. The question about red lines that repeatedly get crossed have not gone away. Indeed, the drawn lines have been crossed again and it seems will always be crossed because those pushing such doctrinal deviations are only too aware that the threats are toothless. When the position is we will never leave, there really is no incentive for those who hold you in contempt to give any ground. The move is as unsurprising as it gets. The question is, will Conservative Evangelicals who always claimed this was a ‘gospel issue’ and a ‘red line’ do as they said and leave? I hope they do, but that will be the bigger surprise if it happens.
Anglicans in other places should take note. The warnings from your nonconformist brethren have been happening over and again. The trajectory of the former red lines that have long been crossed to the current ones being crossed time and again in different places does not bode well for the Church of England either. What has been around for a while in the United Reformed Church, recently passed in Methodism and now exists in the US and Scottish Episcopal churches and now the Church in Wales, is creeping inexorably closer to England. The chances of holding out is, in my view, close to zero. None of it can come as a surprise when the bishops to whom the church is accountable deny basic, fundamental Christian doctrines and affirm such things in their positions of influence. The only people who do not see it coming are those with their eyes closed.
No doubt there will be those who get upset that I think they should leave. I have been told that it is ‘discouraging’ and ‘unhelpful’. They tell me that other Christians shouldn’t be saying these things. But if nobody is allowed to even suggest that anyone should leave, that seems a bit like loading the conversation with a bias that makes it impossible for anyone to reach that conclusion. More to the point, it doesn’t strike me as ‘unkind’ or ‘unhelpful’ to call people to biblical fidelity and to do with the false teachers in their own communion what scriptures tells us we should do; namely, have nothing to do with them (which, in my view, minimally means not remaining in a church with them and affirming them as believers). Plenty of Anglicans – including Stott and Packer – said they would leave if same-sex marriage was brought in. Many Conservative Evangelicals who stand in their tradition have long said the same. If we aren’t telling the truth, have we not disqualified ourselves from ministry? If we are telling the truth, and are people of integrity, our red lines ought to actually lead us toward the door once crossed.
Of course, it is all very well me saying people should just up and leave. I do think that is what should happen. However, I appreciate that it is difficult for many to see exactly how they can do that. That is where I think it is important for those of us making these calls to provide meaningful routes out. If we really believe it is not possible to be faithful in many Anglican groups, it seems important to try to offer alternative places to go for those we are calling out.
If we don’t do that, many will conclude that there are no options for them. They will make the calculation that there is nowhere else to go. If we provide meaningful alternatives for them – and, in truth, I think there are options available for people that do not lead to compromise – those who do not leave are making an active choice to remain under their bishops and to submit to doctrinal changes that undermine the gospel. That, in turn, must cause us to ask whether we want to remain in fellowship ourselves with those who see no problem with that.