Double standards in the church?

Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel ask why the Church of England’s leadership has a selective sense of outrage

It would appear so. Consider the evidence.

An Archbishop of Canterbury with 57 years of service, including very risky visits to the trouble spots of the world where he is still much revered, who maintains the faith once delivered to the saints, who failed the 11 plus but progressed to secure a Ph D, is publicly asked to resign by the current Archbishop.

A team of social workers, with no lawyer on the committee, found that during his tenure at Lambeth, prior to any guidelines about safeguarding, and despite constant reference to the police and advisers, complaints made in a few letters were not adequately investigated according to criteria now prevailing in the field.

Forced resignation goes beyond the public humiliation meted out by the church authorities.  Media seize on the word ‘collude’ and vilify Lord Carey for supposed implication in the crimes of Peter Ball. Invitations to minister in Churches in England and America are suddenly withdrawn. He has committed the unforgiveable sin – systemic mistakes were made, which he admits, on his watch, so he personally has to carry the public opprobrium.

Meanwhile his successor, Rowan Williams, and all the episcopal and legal advisers involved, suffer no penalty. Lord Carey’s penalty bears no relation to safeguarding: at 82 he is a threat to no-one. He carries no authority to permit any one to minister. His penalty can only be punishment which the Church feels necessary to preserve its place in the public square.

On the other hand the past few years have seen a procession of clergy, some highly placed, deliberately flout the teaching of the Church of England which they have sworn before God to uphold, and its canons which they have sworn to observe in obedience to the office of their bishop.

Some in high office along with members of General Synod deliberately question and oppose the teaching of the Bible and of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality.

Others have placed ‘facts on the ground’. For example, under the leadership of its dean, Southwark Cathedral advertises availability of prayers for a civil partnership, while noting the Church has no authorised prayers or service of blessing.

One dean has called on the Church to embrace gay marriage, revealing that he has previously held services of blessing for same sex couples at another Cathedral and would consider doing the same again. Did he seek permission from the Archbishop of York before going ahead with the ceremonies? (See further below)

A parish clergyman entered into a same-sex marriage, specifically forbidden to members of the clergy, and remained in post. Both the deans and the vicar remained on General Synod which makes the laws of the church. Yet calls are made to remove Lord Carey from the Lords because a lawbreaker cannot be a lawmaker.

These actions and their justifications convey a feeling of ‘being above the law’. We recognise the struggles of Christians to relate their sexual experience with the teaching of the Bible and the church. We are not suggesting exclusion from Christian fellowship or ministry or that they are involved in any criminal discourse.  But when the Church has an agreed teaching put in Canon Law, we are concerned that attempts to change the law should not be made by flouting it.

Currently those entrusted with authority in public office are allowed free rein to act above the law and are not touched. Such lack of discipline signals that the church has already given up on maintaining the teaching of Jesus and the Bible on sexual matters, knows better in the light of modern knowledge, and wants to be acceptable to the mores of secular society.

Secular society attacks vulnerable people who disagree with and oppose its pagan morality.  But when the church leadership fails to stand up, and even inflicts further wounds on people caught in this storm, it reveals its moral and ethical ambiguity and weakness.

Why are double standards being applied?  Those who self-confessedly question and flout biblical teaching, upheld throughout history and by the vast majority of Anglicans, especially in the area of sexual behaviour, appear to be a protected minority in the church.

Those who publicly make the case for traditional Christian ethics, as Lord Carey has done, are regarded as “toxic” to the Church of England brand, which must distance itself from them as speedily as possible.

A survey of public opinion reported to Lambeth Palace that orthodox church teaching was ‘toxic’, whose reaction prompted some on the Evangelism Task Force to resign quietly out of conscience.  Of what or whom is the Church hierarchy afraid?  Headlines in the press by the mediocracy?

They appear supine to never ending demands from those who are never satisfied; after calling for allowing lay people to enter into same-sex partnerships, clergy put facts on the ground by entering same-sex partnerships themselves; some then want to ban people who are troubled by unwanted same-sex desires ( such as a married man who has a night of madness and does not want to lose his family) from praying to the God who made them for his help directly or from seeking help through skilful counsellors.

Where is this heading?  Will the ranks of Church of England clergy be depleted of men because of the threat hanging over anyone who teaches the bible of engaging in spiritual abuse, or of mishandling a false allegation, or being falsely accused themselves as happened to Lord Carey’s son, a former social worker now a successful church planter?

If Church Reviews do not include legal counsel, and proceed to judgement without trial, can the call for completely independent legal reviews be resisted? This would reverse Magna Carta and hand over church discipline totally to the state.  Given the palpable double standards now operating, that does seem attractive.

Vinay Samuel, former General Secretary of EFAC

Chris Sugden, former member of General Synod

Reprinted with the authors’ permission from Anglican Mainstream and the Church of England Newspaper.

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