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