Anglican update: Always grace and truth


Anglican Update

(view online version here)

Someone once remarked that we shouldn’t be aiming for a ‘balance’ of grace and truth – but rather, a full measure of both.

Such is certainly the need as Anglican evangelicals seek to be faithful to the gospel in a denomination full of difficulties – but also, still, many opportunities.

The vexed question of sexuality is one which isn’t going to go away. There is a ‘conspiracy theory’ school of thought which sees ‘the bishops’ conniving to change church policy on this issue, and which almost views Justin Welby as some Machiavellian figure manipulating people into change.

Well, maybe there are some bishops doing exactly that. But I continue to see Justin Welby as a man who is basically traditional on this issue (as he has stated several times), genuinely wrestling with it in his mind, but nonetheless seeking to do what is right under God.

Some of the criticism of him for his interview with the gay newspaper Pink News reminded me of the criticism of Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Which other evangelical or Anglican leader has ever spoken to them or even been offered a hearing? Nevertheless, it wasn’t a perfect interview – as well as being substantially misrepresented in some reports.

Welby’s gay secretary?

However, sometimes conspiracy theories do turn out to be true. Thus the website Virtue Online revealed at the end of May: ‘An ex-gay Anglican blogger in England is charging that Archbishop Justin Welby’s secretary is gay and is deliberately blocking correspondence that might help gays break free of homosexuality from the evangelical archbishop.’

It would indeed appear that the story has substance to it. The blogger in question, Phelim McIntyre (at whose website, aflame.blog.co.uk, you can read the material in full) has indeed taken a courageous stand – full of grace and truth – in tackling the individual in question head on about it.

Unfortunately, however, grace and truth seemed missing in the way that Virtue Online – which calls itself the ‘voice for global orthodox Anglicanism’ – then covered the story. As McIntyre subsequently explained: ‘I chose specifically not to name the person at Lambeth Palace as I believe that it is the issue that is important…’

He continued: ‘Virtue Online posted an article, which I had no involvement with and have complained to Virtue Online about, which names the Correspondence Secretary in tones which I disagree with. To me this is an example of tabloid journalism at its worst. The first I knew about the article was when a friend told me about it via Facebook!’. He concluded: ‘I used to have time for Virtue Online but after this I do not’.

It’s a classic example of an evangelical own goal. And I rather fear similar mistakes may be made in approaching the Church of England’s ‘facilitated conversations’ on sexuality. Should Anglican evangelicals take part? Not if the terms on which it is run make it impossible to do so per se – for example by going against conscience.

But otherwise, if possible, yes – certainly. To fail to do so would merely hasten the outcome which is feared; would let down the many genuinely wrestling with the issue; smacks of running away from the battle scene; deprives our archbishops of support; and makes conservative evangelicals look aloof, self-righteous and closed in on themselves. Grace and truth, people. In full measure.

David Baker, rector of the churches of East Dean with  Friston and Jevington, East Sussex

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates

Anglican update: Changing times


Anglican Update

Reactions to the announcement of new guidelines for Church of England Schools on countering homophobic bullying have perhaps been predictable. On the one hand you have those who declare the guidelines themselves homophobic and on the other there are those who believe they will prevent Christian children expressing biblical views in the playground.

The Church of England finds itself, once again, in the eye of a storm. Stonewall may have been key advisors for this report but you only have to look at the comments on Justin Welby’s interview with the gay news service, Pink News, to see that many people will not be satisfied until there is wholesale change in the church’s teaching. But these are not just issues for the Anglican Church. How do Christians learn to live in a country that is no longer shaped by Christian values?

Of course, we have never considered England to be a ‘Christian country’ in any theological way. We know that God’s people are those he has rescued, by his grace, and who seek to live under his lordship. God’s people are scattered throughout the world. God is not actually an Englishman!

We have, however, lived in a country where our laws and customs have been founded on Christian values. This has generally allowed us to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness, without threat of prosecution or imprisonment. We should be grateful for that blessing, but we should also recognise that times are changing.

Exciting or scary?

Perhaps we should see this as exciting and encouraging, rather than scary and disheartening. After all, as Justin Welby said earlier this month, ‘the Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition’. I don’t know about you, but I fear I prefer comfortable indifference. I like to forget that Jesus warned me that his disciples would be hated.

It should not take a Church of England report to remind us that the Bible does not license hatred or bullying of anyone, for any reason, whether at work or in the playground. Neither does the Bible affirm sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Some will claim that this makes the Bible (and even God) homophobic, but as Christians we have the privilege of knowing the goodness of our Creator and the rightness of his Word. In a world that thinks tolerance means complete affirmation and the only sins are injustice and prejudice, it will be hard for us to be understood. But that doesn’t mean we should not try. Our task, whether we are five or 55, will be to find ways of expressing the hope that we have with gentleness and respect, so that those who speak maliciously against us will ultimately be ashamed.

Contend for the faith

There is much to do. Anglican evangelical leaders are working together to contend for the faith inside the Church of England and it was heartening that the leaders of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) met in London this month and encouraged us to persevere. But ultimately we place ourselves in the hands of the one who judges justly and died because we are all sinners; wonderfully, that is a truly ‘safe place’.

 Suzie Leafe – Director of Reform

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057