by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Chair of Human Sexuality Group on General Synod
50 years ago the watershed conference at Keele University committed Anglican Evangelicals to working within the Church of England. Evangelical readers of this blog will know very well how the conference transformed relations with the C of E, starting a process which is still continuing. The appointment of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury is, partly, a result of the Keele gathering.
Although not without its problems, the relationship between evangelicals and the rest of the church has been fruitful and creative; the mainstreaming (!) of Holy Trinity Brompton and its cousins has brought a new dynamism to the C of E. Speaking as someone within the Anglican catholic tradition, I hope that the engagement has worked both ways.
In the run-up to the conference, John Stott said, ‘It is a tragic thing…that Evangelicals have a very poor image in the Church as a whole. We have acquired a reputation for narrow partisanship and obstructionism… We need to repent and to change.’
It’s nicely ironic that, fifty years on, the hardline conservative evangelical wing is laying plans to leave the C of E again. There has been an irregular consecration of a bishop in Jesmond, and preparations are afoot for a parallel structure.
From their point of view, the experiment has failed. It’s not just about sexuality, it’s about leadership more generally. ReNew, the latest iteration of the GAFCON/AMiA nexus has a statement of faith which is very clear about male headship as well as the indissolubility of marriage (really?) and gender complementarity. It reads like a document from history.
We’ve been here before, many times. There have been protestant and catholic departures from the C of E. The history of the Dissenting movement in the 17th , 18th and 19th centuries is well known, as is the conversion of John Henry Newman to Rome. It’s hard to see how an organisation like ReNew with its rigorously regressive theological positions will get much traction, and there are many within the C of E who would breathe a sigh of relief if some of our most vocal conservatives moved to pastures new. Many conservative evangelical churches have already begun to withdraw financially anyway….
Underlying all this is, of course, the vexed question of sexuality. The question is most pointed in relation to same-sex relationships but ReNew is clear that ANY sex outside marriage is sinful (again, really?).
Readers of this blog do not need the arguments in favour of inclusive Christianity to be rehearsed. As chair of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group I was very involved in preparations for the February Synod debate in which Synod voted not to take note of the Bishops’ latest report. It is becoming clear that, both for conservative evangelicals and those of us working for inclusion, that vote was another watershed moment.
We are all working out, collectively, what possible next steps might be taken. Ultimately those of us who voted not to take note are urgently seeking a way of welcoming LGBTI people, especially vulnerable young people who may have been harmed by the church, into the family of Christ. There are practical outworkings: there is a strong desire for an authorised liturgy to be used in the celebration of same-sex relationships and to end the differential treatment of LGBTI ordinands & clergy in relationships.
But there is also a desire not to exacerbate the divisive behaviour of the conservative evangelical wing by pushing for the approval of same-sex marriage too soon. We want a mixed economy, similar to the mixed economy we enjoy liturgically and over other issues such as the remarriage of divorced people.
These are complex times. We are certainly seeing a realignment in English Christianity. At the heart of our shared life is a fundamental question: who did Jesus come to save?
I am with Desmond Tutu on this. My favourite quote from him is: ‘I wish I could shut up. But I can’t, and I won’t.’ My second favourite is this: ‘Jesus did not say, “I, if I be lifted up, I will draw some.” Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all, all, all, all, all.” ‘