Former evangelical and current Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, has published a fifty-two-page essay in which he advocates change to Church of England doctrine and practice on marriage to allow same-sex weddings to be conducted.
His views were welcomed by his suffragan episcopal colleagues within the Diocese of Oxford, and the Bishops of Worcester and of Dudley.
This is another example of what we have often seen in church life, the rise of the BINO (Bishop in Name Only). These ecclesiastical figureheads have kept the title of bishop with associated dress, stipend and all social and legal niceties, but hallowed out the substance in terms of believing, teaching and defending sound biblical doctrine.
Would Dr Croft’s episcopal supporters be so admiring when they realise that he has probably let their cat out of the bag? He has exposed the hand of the BINOs. While Croft’s essay admitted that the “obvious interpretation of key biblical passages” seemed to support the view that gay relationships were sinful, it was his ‘pastoral instincts’ that led him to seek a way to interpret the scriptures to allow the blessing of same-sex partnerships.
“If the common understanding of our faith, our ethics and our pastoral practice can change and evolve because of our increased knowledge and experience, derived from the sciences and the human sciences in all these areas, why should it not evolve and develop in similar, careful and considered ways in our response to questions of human sexuality?”
While Dr Croft writes about the importance of the Bible and tradition, his real difficulty was that they stood against what he really wanted. Would his outlook conform to the Scriptures or might they be used to affirm his outlook?
Despite paragraphs and pages of the usual tortuous reading of key texts, surely this part of his essay underscores that the whole debate was not really about the Bible after all. If the Bible stands in the way, then other sources of authority (special pleading, social sciences, pastoral instincts) must be asserted in its place.
Dear Bishop, thank you for your honesty as this point, but we knew it all the time. We noticed it so often when your fellow-bishops sounded forth on all manner of topics, such as Brexit, the environment or immigration, and confidently added a biblical proof-text as a garnish. We noticed then that bishops suddenly found it difficult to understand the Bible when it came to the single issue of human sexuality. We noticed how a fog of obscurity descended upon the Bible so freely cited elsewhere, thereby rendering certain texts mysterious and therefore unquotable to today’s generation. These verses and passages alone were evidently so confusing that they required endless papers, conferences, indabas and listening processes. It was not a fog of obscurity that descended, but a smokescreen that was erected. Rest assured, we noticed, and we were not fooled.
Bishop Croft’s key principle seems to be that in order to fulfil the church’s mission, biblical teaching should be discarded when it is out of step with its culture. However, it is not merely the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality that causes offence to society, but many other aspects of the gospel: the uniqueness of Jesus as God and only Saviour, the necessity of the cross to save, the idea that God will judge. Should the gospel call of repentance and faith be dropped in order to make the Christian message more palatable to the world, and thus the church’s mission more ‘successful’? The Bishop’s mission strategy seems to come from the military leader at Vietnam who reputedly said, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Bishop Croft’s vision of a future church that assimilates and sanctifies the prevailing winds of its society is a Church that will never again produce a Wilberforce let alone a Bonhoeffer.
What can be done to stem the rise of the BINO? Some faithful churches and parishioners may bring legal pressure under appropriate Ecclesiastical Law, others are seeking episcopal oversight elsewhere. Parishioners across the nation who give, often sacrificially, should not see monies used to finance and promote the views of BINOs. These are the ‘rogue traders’ of church life, peddling their wares to the nation under the guise of a bishop but not providing the goods as they had promised.
The British public already have legal protections from shoddy workmen and dodgy businesses that do not live up to their name and fail to deliver according to their promises. Surely it is now time to extend the Trades Description Act to cover the College of Bishops?