Evangelicals predict split over same-sex relations

‘A DIVISION of the Church of England would be required’ if the Church declares that ‘permanent, faithful same-sex relationships are a legitimate form of Christian discipleship’, warns the ‘realistic’ Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC).

A letter from CEEC President, the Rt Rev Julian Henderson, its Chair, the Rev Hugh Palmer, Treasurer, the Rev George Curry and Secretary, Stephen Hofmeyr, warns that there are three options available for the Church of England, but that only one of them will ensure that evangelicals represented by the CEEC won’t leave.

They say that while they were encouraged that the House of Bishops sexuality report contained no proposal to change the Church of England’s doctrinal position on marriage, there have been ‘disappointing developments’. They pointed to the fact that ‘a small majority of the House of Clergy refused to “take note” of the report and so, although the majority of General Synod members wished to do so, it was not taken note of by Synod’.

They say that ‘The Archbishops’ letter following this vote left many unclear as to what was meant by “radical Christian inclusion” and has led to many believing there has been not only a change in tone but a change in direction’. A number of members of the General Synod expressed confusion by the term ‘radical Christian inclusion’ and a need for clarity at July’s Synod meeting.

They also explain that: ‘A number of bishops have openly signalled their support for changes in teaching and/or practice and the Bishop of Liverpool became a Patron of Liverpool Pride’ and that the ‘Behaviour and decisions at the July General Synod, including the rejection of good amendments tabled by evangelicals to the motions on conversion therapy and welcoming transgender people, have further heightened concerns’.

They say that another development is the recent change to the Scottish Episcopal Church’s marriage canon, which now permits its clergy to preside at same-sex marriages.

The CEEC leadership explain that the consecration of Andy Lines (who represents Crosslinks on CEEC) as a missionary bishop of the Anglican Church of North America, supported by GAFCON, has been an encouraging development, as has the involvement of many evangelicals in the groups working on the House of Bishops Teaching Document ‘and the call for a renewed orthodox Anglicanism gaining signatures online’.

They say that while their preferred way forward for the Church of England, to maintain its current teaching and practice, has not been formally rejected, ‘there are many signs that the Church could reject it by embracing either the proposals of the Pilling Report or an even fuller acceptance that permanent, faithful same-sex relationships are a legitimate form of Christian discipleship’. This would give rise to a number of ‘structural possibilities’, they explain.

They offer ‘Option II’ as a possibility for the Church of England. This would allow priests to opt out of same-sex weddings.

Another option for the Church is to allow same-weddings and to agree that ‘being in a sexually active same-sex relationship should no longer be a bar to the exercise of ordained ministry’.

However, they warn that ‘If either of the two other options were to be pursued, a division of the Church of England would be required to prevent continuing conflict over sexuality within the Church and in order that those who remained orthodox would visibly separate from error, maintain a distinctive and permanent witness to the apostolic teaching and practice and remain united with other orthodox Anglicans around the globe’.

They say that a third province could be created or that there could be two overlapping provinces with orthodox clergy and parishes in Canterbury and those wanting to pursue options II and III in York.

Another alternative, they explain, could be a third province ‘for those wanting to maintain the apostolic witness, or a society or association for clergy and parishes loyal to the apostolic witness with oversight from orthodox bishops’. This would be achieved through delegated episcopal ministry from orthodox bishops, but without the formation of a society.

Another option they explain would be ‘The departure of those loyal to the apostolic witness from the Church of England to join another church inside or outside the Anglican Communion’.

“Without being able to be explicit, it is important to say that behind the scenes a number of initiatives are being planned, which hopefully will bring welcome reassurances and send clear messages to the evangelical constituency and the wider C of E and the even wider Anglican Communion,” the letter states.

“Whilst we are committed to praying and working for a renewal of orthodox vision within the C of E, we are being realistic and thinking through what ‘visible differentiation’ might look like.”

General Synod member for Oxford, Jayne Ozanne, commented: “Yet again CEEC continues to claim it speaks for all evangelicals when they know full well they do not.

“Their constant disregard for this truth does them no favours – especially as there is a growing body of inclusive evangelicals who are keen to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus whilst also keeping their ears open to hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church.”