Teetering on the brink: shared conversations at Synod

Joint statement from Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, and Member of General Synod and Rev. Dr. Joe Boot, Director of the Wilberforce Academy and Senior Pastor of Westminster Chapel, Toronto following the Church of England’s ‘shared conversation’.

It has been a troubling week for Western Anglicanism. The Canadian General Synod, after some bureaucratic confusion, carried a motion to accept recommendations for the full adoption of same-sex ‘marriage’ by the church – the decision will become canon law in 2019. There was no real shock here. The Anglican Church of Canada has long been in the vanguard of assaulting the orthodox teaching of the church on sexuality and revelling in their divisiveness. Here in the UK, the ‘shared conversations’ of the past two years culminated in a General Synod meeting at York University, where plenary sessions and small group work largely proved to be the stage-managed piece of theatre many were expecting. [i]

The Canadian philosopher George Grant understood the spirit of the age that is today actuating these ‘conversations’:

Justice is understood to be something strictly human, having nothing to do with obedience to any divine command or conformity to any pattern ‘laid up in heaven.’ Moral principles, like all other social conventions, are something ‘made on earth.’ Human freedom requires that the principles of justice be the product of human agreement or consent, that is, they must be the result of a contract, and these principles must therefore be rooted in an understanding of the interests of human beings as individuals rather than in any sense of duty or obligation to anything above humanity. The terms of the contract may well change as circumstances and interests change. But the restraints free individuals accept must always be ‘horizontal’ in character rather than ‘vertical.’ [ii]

The Bible states: “so justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14).

Both Canadian and British Anglicanism has unashamedly drunk deeply from these cultural wells and has been steadily undermining that vertical restraint. Its moral principles are shifting like sand and its contract with the culture is changing as social interests change. But the church is not a democracy, a social club, nor a political party that is called to be taking the temperature of culture to determine its course. It has one manifesto – Scripture – and one platform – the Lordship of Jesus Christ. St. Paul does not convene a Synod to discuss the merits of sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness in the church, he simply puts out the unrepentant and offending parties (1 Cor. 5). 
We therefore agree with the logic of those evangelical critics (some of whom boycotted the whole affair) who argued that the ‘shared conversation’ process itself was an ill-conceived, pluralistic exercise that falsely placed LGBTI activism on a level playing field with the plain teaching of Scripture and the historic teaching of the church which the bishops swore to uphold – as such the ‘listening’ agenda itself was divisive, with the sole aim of softening opposition to revisionism and change. I (Andrea) attended the shared conversation and I was not the only one to conclude that the proceedings manipulated and patronised the orthodox and infantilised those interested in serious discussion with psycho-babble. Every time I sought to raise the substantive issues – How do we view the authority of Scripture? What is the gospel? What is truth? What is an Anglican? I was pushed back by the facilitator to consider how others might feel. I needed to express myself in terms such as “The way I see the truth is…” and forced to accept that the revisionist position of truth was equally and as keenly felt by others in my group (this was true) but that it was also as valid a truth position (which it is not).
The scriptural perspective was powerfully set forth forth by a small minority on the platforms in plenary; but was always outnumbered by the revisionists, as is all too common. There was ‘passive aggressive’ hostility toward those trying to stand clearly for the current teaching of the church. Terms such as homophobia and the acceptance of a ‘gay identity’ were givens; if you sought to challenge this you risked being branded a ‘bigot,’ ‘phobic,’ ‘unloving’.

The outcome of the shared conversations was as many predicted; confusion, frustration, disappointment and division. The paucity of the biblical argument to support anything other than that of the Orthodox and presently held position was ignored. It was replaced by a simple appeal to secular norms. . At a time when what the church needs is clear leadership and biblical clarity we are confronted with the hand-wringing of leading bishops, with head shakes and hand-waving at the Christian Concern booth as though Jesus own words from the New Testament on Christian Concern banners in the lobby were offensive. Traditionally orthodox bishops are now refusing to ‘state their position’ and the rudder of the ship is being steered in the wrong direction.  

Predictably, and as indirect proof of the tone of proceedings, as soon as the talks finished, a statement was issued by the LGBTI Mission coalition celebrating the ‘conversations’ and calling on the House of Bishops to”bring forward bold proposals to move towards LGBTI equality,” which is a clear effort to bypass the Synodical process that would involve robust and potentially embarrassing debate and ‘disunity.’ 

Another senior LGBTI activist with a prominent and official position on synod, who has been in a homosexual relationship for many years, dared ‘the conservatives’ to tell him to his face “you are not a Christian.” One thing that he can be told very clearly is that he is not living in obedience to Jesus and His commands. Shouldn’t he be lovingly disciplined and removed from his position?

A homosexual priest in a relationship for nineteen years and in a civil partnership addressed the whole of synod from the platform. Shouldn’t he be lovingly disciplined and removed from his position?

I have participated in the shared conversations, but sadly I am left with little confidence that this process can prevent a sharp division. One vocal group in synod call what is sin, holiness. Of course, we can and we must relate to one another in our shared humanity, but we can’t stay together if the church wants to bless what is not holy. The fundamental question at stake is whether the church belongs to Jesus Christ or whether it belongs to the revisionists who would reshape it in the image of today’s cultural moods. If the church is to flourish and be a true blessing to society, she must repent and rededicate herself to Jesus Christ, trusting his teaching, example and the rescue from sin that he freely offers. It is essential that the bishops, having heard all that has been said, provide true leadership and direct resolutely in the path of Jesus’ own teaching on marriage and sexuality. If not, then decline and irrelevance will be the hallmarks of the rebellious church. The church must call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and, that needs to begin with the Church of England herself, for “it is time for judgment to begin at the  household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).

The stated ideal of unity (meaning only ecclesiastical unity) has become an idol in itself. The apostles did not envision a ‘big tent’ church that indulged false teaching and sexual immorality in the name of unity. The distinction between believer and non-believer, true and false brethren is clearly and unequivocally set forth in Scripture:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practises lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practises righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practise righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:4-10).

The habitual practice and promotion of sin in the life of the church is surely a mark of the same kind of heresy that the apostle John was addressing in this letter. It is time for the bishops in the church to make a clear stand with Christ and with Scripture, or a godly separation is the only course that would not grieve the Holy Spirit, for it is He who the revisionists are truly offended by.

[i] See a fair-minded appraisal at Ian Paul, “Synod’s Shared Conversations,” Psephizo,, last modified July 13 2016. 
[ii] Hugh Donald Forbes, George Grant: A Guide to his Thought, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 46-47.

Reprinted by permission of the author from Christian Concern.

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