The Church of England’s formal separation from Rome five centuries ago began over a dispute about marriage. Now, it appears it will soon end as we know it over a dispute about marriage.
Despite a busy news week that included controversy over President Biden’s State of the Union address and new revelations that a prominent evangelical megachurch threatened abused women with church discipline for leaving their husbands, the General Synod of the Church of England’s Feb. 9 decision to bless same-sex relationships marks a major development in global Christianity that has been tragically underreported.
This is why we have taken up our pens to offer our commentary and concerns as Anglican ministers with deep love for our unique tradition. I, David, in addition to being a longtime BNG contributor, am a licensed Anglican evangelist and postulant to holy orders. And I, Page, serve as missional lead and bishop of Missio Mosaic, a ministry partner of the Anglican Mission International, a missional and apostolic society of Anglicans whose spiritual covering comes from a group of evangelical bishops in the Majority World.
‘A lose-lose position’
The Church of England adopting prayers to bless civil same-sex unions has stopped well short of the demands for full marriage equality in the church by progressive activists and has gone frighteningly too far for conservatives.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the historic “first among equals” in the Anglican tradition, conceded as much in a statement just two weeks prior to the vote of the church’s General Synod: “What we are proposing today will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others.”
“Non-celibate LGBTQ people are left in ecclesiastical limbo.”
Now that the church has said same-sex relationships can be blessed, but not given the designation of holy matrimony, non-celibate LGBTQ people are left in ecclesiastical limbo. Meanwhile, celibate and conservative same-sex-attracted people are left wondering if their perceived faithfulness to Scripture and tradition is “worth it.”
We echo the sentiments of the Church of England Evangelical Council, a diverse group of evangelicals within the Church of England that was founded by the late and great Anglican evangelical John Stott:
This seems to us to be a lose-lose position for everyone in the Church of England. Those who wanted more change will continue to ask and push for greater change. Those of us who have been trying to uphold the historic and biblical understanding of marriage and singleness say change has gone too far. This decision has settled nothing and has only served to deepen divisions and cause deeper hurt.
What’s in a name? The Anglican ‘communion’
As a tradition, Anglicanism is often described and marked as a via media. Such cannot be the case here. It is either that same-sex sexual relationships are sinful or they are not. Barring some sort of miraculous settlement, or, in the words of the CEEC, some “new imaginative structure,” these two conflicting positions on human sexuality are simply irreconcilable, and thus further shared ecclesial life in the Church of England is impossible.
Already calls to leave the Church of England and seek “faithful (alternative) episcopal oversight” have been made by conservative Anglican groups in Europe whose spiritual covering comes from majority world bishops who somehow recognize what their Western counterparts, inexplicably, cannot and will not. What’s more, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, which represents nearly 25 nations, announced it is now in a state of “impaired communion” with the Church of England.
“A proposition and its negation cannot be true at the same time and in the same manner.”
While some may be tempted to argue that we are creating a false dichotomy, we would like to suggest humbly that we are merely honoring the principle of non-contradiction: to wit, that a proposition and its negation cannot be true at the same time and in the same manner. This time-honored and self-evident philosophical axiom seems to be more fully grasped by leaders in the majority world than by the historic church that boasts centers of theological education in Oxford and Cambridge.
A million miles away
The progressive position, in our view, not only lacks theological coherence, but humility.
Progressives, in their thoughtless and hasty accusing conservatives of homophobia, have forgotten that peoples of other faiths believe sexual relations and marriage are designed for men and women.
But most tragically, members on Synod fearful of the ire of Western cultural elites have forgotten the horrific stains of colonialism that still mark global Anglicanism. All throughout the majority world, Anglicans are often accused of holding to a colonizing and “white man’s” religion that traces its roots back to England. We have seen it with our own eyes and heard it with our own ears.
Further, this half-way act of the Church of England fosters a disingenuous posture to the LGBTQ community. In our experience, those in the LGBTQ community are thankful when churches are absolutely clear on their sexual ethic. It is disingenuous to pretend like a church is fine with homosexual behavior but then, later, tell individuals they cannot participate in the full life or sacraments of the church. The Church of England position becomes a bait-and-switch for members of the LGBTQ community by telling them they can have a “blessing,” but not full marriage rites.
In an act that we can only describe as pure selfishness, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, which is comprised of nearly 100 million people around the world, has self-righteously declared itself to be the arbiter of truth in sexual ethics without as much as a passing thought to the plight of persecuted Anglicans. England, in this case, is an island (both literally and metaphorically) worlds away from millions of Anglicans who now face the very real possibility of swift retribution from religious extremists.
Jill Duff, bishop of Lancaster, was one of the few members on Synod to express this concern:
Quite a lot of our brothers and sisters around the world are not in our discussions, and some of these guys are incredible people of the gospel and it is possible that (blessing same-sex relationships) will have major impacts on persecution in Asia and parts of Africa. They are already facing persecution. I might get some kickback on Twitter if I put out a conservative view but that isn’t really anything compared to what might be happening in other places.”
And so, we must wonder along with representatives of 60 million Anglicans if, in fact, it is time for us to pick our own “first among equals.” We must wonder if it is time for a new archbishop, a mew Canterbury, and a new communion with a new generation of Anglicans that look markedly different from the king whose marriage disputes began the Church of England and from the Synod whose marriage disputes ended it as it has since been known.
Page Brooks serves as missional lead and bishop of Missio Mosaic Society, affiliated with the Anglican Mission International. He is an author and contributor to several books and articles. He serves as professor and chair of the theology department at SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary, as well as senior pastor of Canal Street Church in New Orleans. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Stellembosch (South Africa), a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is completing his second Ph.D. in philosophy of religion and ethics from at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He also serves as state command chaplain with the Louisiana Army National Guard.
David Bumgardner is a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He is a former Southern Baptist — and holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas Baptist College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — who now is a licensed evangelist with the Anglican Mission International.