First of all, it would be impossible to start anywhere else but by paying tribute to the long-term co-writer of this column, John Richardson, who has passed away. A fuller obituary can be found on here. But John was a doughty campaigner for evangelical causes within the Church of England, not least in the Diocese of Chelmsford, where he ministered for many years, and through his involvement with the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference, begun in 2010.
This latter event aims to ‘to encourage the development of a new generation of denominational leaders’ who are ‘committed to the principles of the proclamation of the gospel of Christ for the salvation of the nation and the transformation of the Church of England’. Only recently, one colleague was telling me how influential John had been in encouraging him and others to remain committed to Anglicanism.
No conservative Bishop
One of John’s ongoing campaigns was to keep an automatic update on his website of how many days the Church of England has been without a conservative evangelical bishop committed to ‘complementarian’ views of men and women. (It stands at 523 days at the time of writing). He would have been disappointed, then, with the appointment of the new Bishop of Lewes in succession to Wallace Benn, since the new bishop, unlike his predecessor, will ordain women.
But the new bishop in question, Richard Jackson, is in many ways an outstanding appointment – a man already much loved in the diocese. He is a member of the Sussex Gospel Partnership and is a great addition to the episcopal bench.
Orthodox views on sex
But being an evangelical bishop is an almost impossible task, as Justin Welby is no doubt realising. Interviewed on LBC Radio at the start of April, he affirmed an orthodox view on same-sex relationships, declaring: ‘My position is the historic position of the Church which is in our canons which says that sexual relations should be within marriage, and marriage is between a man and a woman.’ Asked whether he could imagine a day when two people of the same sex married in the Church of England, he said: ‘I have real hesitations about that.’
Another piece of fudge
Nonetheless, the latest pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops on this issue is at best a ‘fudge’ (as John Sentamu admitted), since it suggests that while clergy cannot enter a same-sex marriage, lay people in such relationships should not be denied access to communion (thus incidentally raising an unanswered question about unmarried opposite-sex couples too). Either way, it’s utterly incoherent.
At the end of the LBC interview Justin Welby was asked by one caller: ‘What is a definition of God, please?’ The Archbishop replied simply: ‘When you look at Jesus, you see God’. The caller responded: ‘Thank you very much, that’s very helpful’. But, of course, this was not widely reported.
David Baker, rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex