What miracle(s) does the Church need on sexuality?

There was a brief report in the Daily Mail online that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, believes ‘that the Church of England will need a miracle from the Holy Spirit to solve its long-running row over gay rights.’

The Most Reverend Justin Welby said the divisions cannot be healed by human hands but only by divine intervention. His remarks indicate deepening desperation among Anglican leaders over the irreconcilable gap between liberals who demand gay equality within the Church and conservative evangelicals who say that gay sex is sinful.

I was interested that it was this one sentence that an eagle-eyed reported picked out from the fairly brief paper explaining the process of creating the promised teaching document on sexuality; perhaps it is still surprising that church leaders expect God to be involved in their processes? The paragraph quoted is worth reading in full:

We do not expect the teaching document, or the process of writing it, to achieve reconciliation of all views across the Church of England. Such reconciliation, were it to happen, would be the work of the Holy Spirit, not of human hands or brains. But we need our internal debates to be grounded in the best available scholarship, across many disciplines and to draw in the perspectives of people in all their difference. And we need the whole process to happen prayerfully, and with the supportive prayers of our fellow Christians across the world. If the teaching document can express clearly the ground on which we are agreed – and be very clear about where we disagree, and why – it will have done its work well.

It is interesting to note the phrase ‘were it to happen’, indicating some doubt that the disagreement will ever end. And I think quite a few people in Synod will be curious about the last sentence; this reads like a mapping exercise, not a teaching document. ‘Teaching’ involves discerning the truth, and expressing that in a way which can be passed on. It’s not clear that mapping alone will achieve what is needed. And will there be boundaries to the issues on which we disagree? Are there grounds for that? After all, there are clergy who don’t even agree that God exists in any meaningful sense; is that the kind of disagreement that we might include?

I would certainly agree that we need a miracle—in fact, it seems to me that we need three miracles, in three distinct areas.

The first is in relation to what I think can only be called the furious assault on the Church’s current teaching on sex and marriage. It is currently taking the form of two motions in the July session of General Synod, one from Chris Newlands and Blackburn diocese on liturgies for transgender people undergoing transition, and the other from Jayne Ozanne on what she calls ‘conversion therapies’. I previously commented on Chris Newlands’ motion, including the Radio 4 discussion I had with him. But following that, I wrote to him and suggested we talk about a ‘friendly’ amendment, where we could agree on the important pastoral issue, but where we might remove the request for liturgy since there is no agreement on this, and such a debate would simply be divisive. In reply, he was not willing to consider this, since he was clear that liturgy was what was needed—and that there could be no negotiation.

Jayne Ozone’s Private Member’s Motion on ‘conversion therapy’ has been criticised by Dermot O’Callaghan, a former member of the Synod of the Church of Ireland, for lacking supportive evidence.

In 2013 I corresponded with the Bishop of Buckingham, who had been vocal on the matter.  I said, “I hope you will not feel it unreasonable that I should ask you for the name of just one reputable study to represent the ‘overwhelming evidence’ that such therapies are harmful.  My conviction on this is such that if you can do this, I shall donate £100 to a charity of your choice.”  The bishop declined my offer.

I would make the same offer to you, Jayne – £100 to a charity of your choice.  And if, as I anticipate, your researches don’t yield even one study that follows participants through therapy and finds that on average they were harmed more than helped (using a scientifically recognised measure of distress), I would appeal to your integrity not to support the unscientific 16thJanuary statement. 

The whole question of change of sexual orientation is a controversial one—though one strange thing about the discussion is that, outside the church, promoters of gay rights are very happy to agree that sexuality and sexual orientation is fluid. But the two things that are concerning here are the lack of scientific evidence involved, even on the part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (whom O’Callaghan believes has misled the Church of England in evidence they have provided) and the lack of engagement. O’Callaghan reports that:

Jayne responded to me with a strongly worded letter characterising my request as amounting to bullying and bribery, and refusing to work alongside me to try to find an agreed position regarding the claim that such therapy is ‘harmful and not supported by evidence’, and therefore unethical.   I shall leave it to you to decide whether the charges of bullying and bribery are justified.

The third current part of this assault is Jayne Ozanne’s attempt to have ‘spiritual abuse’ recognised as an additional, separate category of abuse alongside physical, sexual, domestic and emotional abuse. In her paper arguing for this (which received national press coverage and was discussed on Radio 4’s Sunday programme last week), she specifically names HTB and Alpha, New Wine, Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, True Freedom Trust, and the Evangelical Alliance as organisations in which spiritual abuse takes place because of ‘their attitude to the Holy Spirit’. She goes on to argue that the Church’s current teaching position, that sexual intimacy properly belongs in male-female marriage, is inherently abusive to LGBTI Christians.

I am reluctant to use the term ‘evil’ to describe this relentless attack on church teaching, since it does not help to demonise individuals—and I have valued the engagement on this blog with people with whom I disagree yet from whom I continue to learn. Yet these moves appear to be of a different order. They lack a willingness to discuss, and they are often undertaken in close partnership with individuals and organisations who have, in the past, been seriously antipathetic to the Church and to Christian faith. I don’t see any obvious prospect of such campaigns abating the near future.

The second area we need a miracle is in handling the legacy of historic abuse. Last week, Dame Moira Gibbs released her report ‘An Abuse of Faith’ on the way the Church of England handled former bishop Peter Ball’s abuse of teenagers.

The review found that “Ball’s conduct has caused serious and enduring damage to the lives of many men… Peter Ball betrayed his Church and abused individual followers of that Church” and “The Church colluded with that rather than seeking to help those he had harmed, or assuring itself of the safety of others.”

Stephen Kurht comments on the radical change that is still needed in church culture:

The most tragic aspect for me, as a Church of England Vicar, is my total lack of surprise at these findings. I’m a fervent believer in the Church of England and its mission to share God’s love with as many people within this country as possible. But none of this will count for anything until the Church of England reaches a proper clarity over safeguarding.

The review acknowledges that safeguarding procedure has improved within the Church of England over the last few years. But this is not enough. The only thing that will prevent such cases and institutional collusion with them reoccurring, will be a change of culture within the Church of England.

But there remains the fundamental difficulty of how to deal with spurious accusations. It is not a little ironic that George Carey’s son, Mark, was recently cleared of a charge which looked from the beginning to be entirely implausible—but had to endure an agonising five months from October last year to April this before the decision was made that the accusation was groundless. The needed change in culture which focusses on individuals rather than defending the institution cannot work without a comparable review of how to filter out spurious claims.

The third area where we need a miracle is in the area of Christian leaders articulating confidence in orthodox teaching on sexuality. For the Church of England, I cannot recall any public statement by any bishops expressing such confidence. I am not interested in criticising my bishops; I don’t think it is helpful, and their job is already difficult and complex enough as it is. I am also acutely aware that no individual wants to be known as ‘the anti-gay bishop’ or ‘the one obsessed with sex’. But it seems odd to me that those who question the Church’s current teaching position (and, it has to be said, the pretty clear teaching of the New Testament) feel no such reticence. Neither do the leaders of other denominations; Catholic leaders don’t equivocate on their church’s position, and see this example of Andrew Wilson addressing the question of transgender. It is not just bishops are are reluctant, it is also others who exercise episcopal ministry in other ways. The leaders of one of the networks mentioned in Jayne Ozone’s paper on spiritual abuse have been conspicuous by their silence—and it is creating a vacuum of confidence for members of the network on the ground.

It is not just the external situation which I think makes bishops nervous, but the internal one of disagreement. Since bishops are supposed to be a ‘focus of unity’, they are rightly nervous of alienating clergy and churches with other views. But surely this ‘focus of unity’ is supposed to be around the Church’s teaching, and not simply a holding it all together by not offending anyone. At the heart of this is the phrase ‘radical new Christian Inclusion, … founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it’ used by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their rapid response to the February synod debate. If it is ‘new and radical’ how can it be ‘founded in scripture’ etc? What does the phrase mean? As David Baker asks:

As you have written publicly calling for ‘a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church’ after last week’s General Synod I wanted to write and ask the question which many are now asking: what exactly is that?

You see, the thing is, I’ve always thought the gospel was radically inclusive already. I’ve always believed that ‘the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives’ – as the famous hymn puts it. And when I look back on churches of which I have been a part, I recall them including paedophiles, an associate of the Kray twins, pornography addicts, adulterers – and others, including myself, whose middle class respectability masked sins which might have been less obvious but were equally heart-breaking to God. We, together, were vile offenders (in the eyes of God’s law if not of the world) who chose to repent and believe. And gloriously, all of us were welcomed and included! When you add in the mind-blowing mix of age, ethnicity and background as well, that seems pretty inclusive already.

We need not one but three miracles: that the assaults on the Church will abate; that we will see a change in culture about abuse without leaving church leaders vulnerable to spurious claims; and that we will hear some clear, confident teaching on sexuality. It feels like quite a lot to ask—but we need them soon.

Missionary Bishop introduced by Archbishop Foley Beach

Recognising the pastoral need that arose following the initial SEC vote (in June 2016), in April of this year the Gafcon Primates authorised the consecration of a Missionary Bishop to care for those who seek to remain faithful to the scriptures and Jesus’ teaching on marriage.

Today at a press conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, Archbishop Foley Beach, speaking on behalf of the Primates Council, introduced the new Missionary Bishop:

Statement on Gafcon Missionary Bishop by Archbishop Foley Beach

Good afternoon. Thank you for being here today.  I plan to make a brief statement. Canon Andy Lines will make a brief statement. Rev. David McCarthy will make a brief statement. And then we will have a time for questions.

I speak to you today as the Archbishop and Primate of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America, and as a sitting primate on the Gafcon Primates Council.  On behalf of the Chairman of Gafcon, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, the Primate of All Nigeria, the Assistant Chairman, The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, and the Gafcon Primates Council:  Grace and peace to you in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

We continue to have a crisis in the Anglican Communion as the virus of revisionist theology and practice continues to spread to various Provinces.  Rather than correcting and disciplining those who have departed from the biblical faith and practice which has been handed down to us from the Apostles, some church leaders are embracing false teaching, and then going even further by promoting it around the world.

The Nairobi Communiqué from the Gafcon meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013 clearly stated that the Gafcon leadership would not ignore the pleas of the faithful who are trapped in places where false doctrine and practice occur.  We promised that we would provide pastoral care and oversight for those who remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on marriage.

At our April meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, the Gafcon Primates decided to provide a missionary bishop for Europe with the initial focus on those in Scotland and those faithful Anglicans in England outside the Church of England. Today’s decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to change the biblical and historic definition of marriage has highlighted the need to respond to the cries and pleas of those Scots who today have been marginalized by their leaders. The attempt to redefine marriage is not one that a faithful Christian can support.

The Gafcon Primates have asked our Province, the Anglican Church in North America, to take on the task of providing a missionary bishop for Scotland.  Our Province was formed at the direction of Gafcon 2008 after many of the Provinces of Gafcon had provided the same kind of oversight for clergy and congregations in North America.  They have asked us to consecrate Canon Andy Lines.

Our College of Bishops discussed and decided to accept this responsibility. Following the Canons of our Province, the Executive Committee of the Province was not only consulted, but also voted unanimously to support this endeavor.  We also appointed an oversight Committee of Bishops to provide guidance and accountability for Canon Lines as he walks through our consecration process and to support him after he is consecrated a bishop. Archbishop Robert Duncan is chair of the committee which consists of three diocesan bishops: The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood, The Rt. Rev. Charlie Master, and The Rt. Rev. David Hicks.

Canon Andy Lines is now canonically resident in the Diocese of the South as a “priest in good standing” after having been transferred from the Province of South America as a priest in good standing.

The Consecration will take place on the morning of 30 June in Wheaton, Illinois and the service will include Primates, Archbishops, and bishops from all over the world.  Although the Anglican Church in North America is the consecrating Province, this is an initiative of the wider Anglican Communion.

Lastly, as the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, I consider it an honor to serve the Scots in this way. After the American revolution in the United States, the Anglican leaders in England would not consecrate bishops for the newly formed Anglican Church in the United States. It was Scotland who came to our rescue and consecrated our first bishop, Samuel Seabury. It is Providential that we in North America are now able to honor our Scottish heritage by providing a bishop for the faithful in Scotland.  It is my hope that the missionary bishop will lead an effort to plant dynamic churches all over Scotland which are Jesus-centered, practicing the teaching of the Bible, and holding to the long-standing tradition of the Anglican Faith.  As Samuel Seabury once said:

“Error often becomes popular and contagious, and then no one can tell how far it will spread, nor where it ends. We must in such cases, recur to first principles, and there take our stand. The Bible must be the ground of our faith.”

Consecration of New Style Bishops – Q & A

jesmondMay 15, 2017

(Handed out at Jesmond Parish Church yesterday)

What can we achieve through new style bishops?

The growth of the Church because one of their key roles is to ordain (that is, authorise and appoint) new ministers who will provide the next generation of ministry in both existing churches and new church plants.

Why are they needed?

Because in the confused Church of today such bishops need to be faithful to 1) the biblical miracles of the virginal conception of Jesus and his Resurrection and empty tomb; 2) the biblical ethic that sex should be reserved for lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage; and 3) the biblical principle that means bishops should be male – all issues in the North East in recent years. So bishops Martin Morrison and John Ellison have helped churches like Jesmond Parish Church, St Oswald’s Walkergate, Christ Church Durham, Holy Trinity Gateshead, St Joseph’s Benwell, and other churches when needed. But they cannot go on for ever!

How will the Church of England grow?

By new English bishops working to a new style of being bishops – that is working primarily to establish new churches. Martin Morrison provides such a model: he continues in his local church, while exercising a wider role to establish new churches and provide external accountability.

How will the Church of England benefit?

The aim is not to create a new denomination. No! This is one small but necessary step on behalf of faithful Church of England ministers and congregations nationwide in our mission to the nation. This is not a step of ‘leaving the Church of England’. It is the theologically liberal bishops and clergy that have ‘left the Church of England’ doctrinally. This is a step to preserve the Church of England’s heritage and mission which we have received.

Could we not have carried on just as we are?

No! We need new style English bishops here ‘on the ground’ to plan for and enable the urgent spread of the gospel nationwide – especially through church planting. And ‘carrying on as we are’ would almost certainly mean biblically faithful ministers finding it increasingly difficult to be ordained and deployed by the current system, as people are ‘filtered out’ according to their views on homosexual practice and the ordination of women.

Will it produce more clergy and growing churches?

Yes, with prayer! For it requires, fundamentally, the ordination and deployment of new ministers who are biblically faithful – which the current system, sadly, can hinder. And we hope that some of those ministers will move into existing Church of England posts as well as new church plants, to contribute to the recovery of the gospel and to further the ministry of men and women for church growth.

(Reproduced with permission)

Easter Message: Glenn Davies

Glenn Davies

The leader of Australia’s largest Anglican Diocese, the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, has paid tribute to those who risked their lives to perform rescues in the recent cyclone and flooding.

“Australia is a nation that honours rescuers.” Dr Davies said in his annual Easter message. “We have seen in recent days, those who selflessly rescue people from cyclone storm and flood. They have our admiration, gratitude and thanks.”

“Destructive winds wreak havoc in a moment. The TV news shows us people who have been quickly surrounded by floodwaters. How welcome are the brave faces of those who appear just in time to bring them to safety?”

Dr Davies linked their selfless acts with Easter – saying “Jesus is the ultimate rescuer. His name, in Hebrew, means ‘God saves’. There are some who would say the events on a Judean hill two thousand years ago have no relevance for the 21st century. But that first Easter tells us that Jesus is alive today and rescues those who cry to him.”

Archbishop Davies will preach at the Cathedral on Easter Day (Sunday).

In his Easter Message, Archbishop Davies urged a spiritual renewal, saying “You and I need someone to rescue us from sin and bring us back to God. Jesus is the only one who can do this. No-one who is in trouble looks at a rescuer and says – don’t rescue me. This Easter, get to know Jesus – the greatest rescuer of all.”

The main service at St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, Sydney Square (next to the Town Hall) on Good Friday will be at 10am led by the Dean, the Very Revd Kanishka Raffel. Archbishop Davies will preach on Easter Day (Sunday) at 10:30 am.

Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney 2017 Easter Message

Australia is a nation that honours rescuers.

We have seen in recent days, those who selflessly rescue people from cyclone storm and flood. They have our admiration, gratitude and thanks.

The need for rescue comes suddenly. Destructive winds wreak havoc in a moment. The TV news shows us people who have been quickly surrounded by floodwaters. How welcome are the brave faces of those who appear just in time to bring them to safety?

Jesus is the ultimate rescuer. His name, in Hebrew, means ‘God saves’.

There are some who would say the events on a Judean hill two thousand years ago have no relevance for the 21st century. But that first Easter tells us that Jesus is alive today and rescues those who cry to him.

You and I need someone to rescue us from sin and bring us back to God. Jesus is the only one who can do this.

No-one who is in trouble looks at a rescuer and says – don’t rescue me. This Easter, get to know Jesus – the greatest rescuer of all.

Churches grapple with questions of survival through research

A major new doctoral initiative aimed at equipping leadership in the non-western andvinay s
persecuted church has been launched by two
leading academic institutes – the Oxford Centre for Religion in Public Life (OCRPL) and the Theology department of the South African University of Stellenbosch.

The collaboration aims to research questions of mission and ministry that are central to the survival of churches under pressure and persecution. Researchers, who will work towards a PH D, will remain in their place of ministry but complete their research through study time and under the guidance of supervisors from Oxford and Stellenbosch.

The four year programme will combine internet study and four month’s worth of residential seminars.

Dr Vinay Samuel of OCRPL said: “Christian faith in the West has been undermined in the last one hundred years by the intellectual attack of the rationalist enlightenment on the reliability of the Bible and the historical reality of Jesus. This has meant that theological study in the West has been largely focused on apologetics, either by orthodox scholars addressing the sceptical questions of the rationalist to give a reason for the hope within them, or by liberal scholars finding ways to make the intellectually discredited faith “relevant” to the prevailing culture.”

Dr Samuel pointed to exponential growth of Christianity in Africa and China and the massive challenges to Christian mission and ministry in those areas. He said the questions which will be addressed by researchers are: “How can churches maintain security and freedom to witness in the face of aggressive nationalistic religions; how can churches engage with those members of those religions on the basis of common citizenship of their countries; how does Christian faith bring change and healing to those with mental, psychological and sexual problems; when people convert from one faith to another, how much continuity, if any, is to be expected in their religious outlook and personal identity; what impact has a Christian community had on the life chances of people in their neighbourhood and how; what balance should be maintained between prophetic challenge to injustice and freedom to evangelise; what practical steps can churches take to eliminate corruption, especially within its own ranks.”

Dr Samuel argued that these were not the questions raised by the average theological curriculum, but they are the questions that trouble senior Christians in non-western countries. “Answering such questions depends on careful research of available information and case studies, and on engaging the questions and perspectives of biblically-based theology with the questions and perspectives of other branches of knowledge.”

It is vital, he said, that global south church leaders have access to such research and where possible were training in researching such questions themselves.

The first seminar is being held in Stellenbosch South Africa from September 1 -22 2017.  Barnabas Fund and East Mountain Ministries South Africa are providing support for students in the programme for which applications are now welcomed.

Encountering contemporary liberal theology – in its own words

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.symes A

Conservative evangelicals are often accused of not ‘listening’ to other points of view. We’re told that we only engage with each other; we only read or listen to ‘approved’ versions of our faith; we caricature the arguments of revisionists without really hearing them. So I was delighted to receive a press release from Modern Church, summarising the keynote address from the recent annual meeting of their Council, and giving a link to the substantial 12 page text of the talk itself, by Dr Lorraine Cavanagh, which can be found here. ‘Reclaiming the soul of Modern Church’ reads like a manifesto for mission for liberal Christians, and it’s worth reading with genuine enquiry, to ask whether this revisionist version of Christian faith offers a coherent and compelling vision that threatens orthodox biblical faith in any way.

After an opening illustration, Dr Kavanagh begins by defining liberalism in a Christian context. Firstly as “hospitality”: respect for one another around a “central altar” as we “encounter God in one another”. Then ‘freedom’ to encounter God “in a myriad of ways”, particularly through openness to “non-propositional truth” of the heart not just the head. It is also an intellectual freedom, a continual willingness to think in different ways. This can be seen as subversive, but provides a vital different voice against the contemporary tendency to conservatism, according to Cavanagh.

(To me it seems bizarre that the Church of England could be accused of undergoing a “shift to the extreme right” as the Acting General Secretary of Modern Church claims. I’m currently reading Justin Welby’s proposal of a radical Gospel-directed alternative to current models of capitalism, in the Lent book ‘Dethroning Mammon’. Meanwhile Bishops are publicly affirming the Archbishops’ call for “radical inclusion” in the Church, and are regularly critical of government economic and social policies).

Cavanagh sees the gift that liberals can offer is to bring the voice of “the unchurched, the de-churched and the marginalised” to the table. She takes a term of insult, “half-believers”, and turns it into a virtue – believing but with questions, understanding but not tied down to a particular version of the faith. Many liberals feel rejected by the institutional church or representatives of it, perhaps alienated from traditional views of God, but still want to be Christians and C of E. They have much to offer a church that, with clear echoes of Martyn Percy, she describes as “stifled by managerial concerns”. The Church’s inner spiritual life needs insights from “the humanist and the secular”, she continues, claiming that this is the opposite of extremism.

(This idea of ‘reverse mission’, of the Church learning from the world about some of its core principles, is a familiar feature of liberal theology and ethics. It is unintentionally ironic that liberals are attacking the C of E leadership for borrowing from secular management principles to improve efficiency, while at the same time themselves openly advocating the taking on board of other secular ideas.)

Modern Church stands for a fellowship with no “criteria for membership” which are divisive and sectarian. Cavanagh links the “recruitment” emphasis on evangelism and discipleship in the C of E’s Renewal and Reform programme with “dangerously emotive worship”, fundamentalism and the rise of Donald Trump. By contrast liberals look for something of the sacred, found in contemplation, with more “theological substance”. People returning to church after a long absence, including some evangelicals, are finding this helpful, says Cavanagh, although there is no evidence to indicate how many.

The worshipping community and the “life of the spirit” prevents the intellectual explorations into religious philosophy from “running aground”, and provides the liberal Christian alternative to the atheist Assemblies. Referring to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, Cavanagh describes God’s pneuma as “a new and life-giving force at work in any number of human contexts”, insisting that understanding of God should be “non-dogmatic”, relevant to the 21st century, and not “protectionist” (which I take to mean framed by doctrinal boundaries).

A radical new vision of Christian faith based on these principles will result in transformation of the Church, Cavanagh believes. Biblical interpretation should be based on the primary hermeneutical keys of justice and love; the authority of divine revelation is found not in Scripture but in “respect for one another, including those of other faiths”. While God “is known in different ways, as part of different and still evolving stories”, there is agreement about a quality of “loving kindness”, and that the Kingdom of God is coterminous with “reconciliation and peace in the world”.

The mission of a Modern Church is to be a “bearer of hope”, voicing liberal thought in contexts of neo-conservatism, not seeking to convert, but to liberate; challenging injustice and abuse of power in the Church, and fundamentalism in religion generally. While conservative versions are “literally unbelievable”, liberalism sees concepts of God as sacred, holy, open to a process of questioning, combining the rational and the spiritual.

Cavanagh appears to recognise the problem that the account of faith that she describes, a combination of vaguely left of centre philosophical musings and spirituality free of any biblical anchor, is seen by many as “not really Christian”. Orthodox Anglicans, confident in the authority of Scripture, and of basing theology and ethics on the Bible’s coherent and thrillingly inspiring vision of God’s relationship with humanity past, present and future through Christ, would find it difficult to see anything in Modern Church’s presentation which could offer anything helpful, or be a challenge to evangelical understandings of faith and mission.

But this kind of revisionism still remains a threat. Many Bishops see their role as referees between different theological positions rather than guardians of the faith once delivered, and liberal theology still appeals to a small but influential number of those who have rejected biblical truth but want to be involved with Church leadership. Modern Church may feel that the C of E is moving in a conservative direction, but the Synod’s House of Clergy has voted against a document advocating caution in moves towards affirming same sex marriage. Revisionist ideas have got a hold in theological colleges, Diocesan training schemes, parish pulpits and Cathedrals.

In response, orthodox Anglicans need to continue to teach the truth and refute error, and resist appeals to settle for ‘good disagreement’ when it means accepting that Modern Church’s self-confessed humanistic theology is as validly Christian as robust biblical faith.

The Gathering Storm: Religious Liberty in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution


March 21, 2107

In the first volume of his history of World War II, Winston Churchill looked back at the storm clouds that gathered in the 1930s portending war and the loss of human freedom. Churchill wisely and presciently warned Britain of the tragedy that would ensue if Hitler were not stopped. His actions were courageous and the world was shaped by his convictional leadership. We are not facing the same gathering storm, but we are now facing a battle that will determine the destiny of priceless freedoms and the very foundation of human rights and human dignity.

Speaking thirty years ago, Attorney General Meese warned that “there are ideas which have gained influence in some parts of our society, particularly in some important and sophisticated areas that are opposed to religious freedom and freedom in general. In some areas there are some people that have espoused a hostility to religion that must be recognized for what it is, and expressly countered.”[1]

Those were prophetic words, prescient in their clarity and foresight. The ideas of which Mr. Meese warned have only gained ground in the last thirty years, and now with astounding velocity. A revolution in morality now seeks not only to subvert marriage, but also to redefine it, and thus to undermine an essential foundation of human dignity, flourishing, and freedom.

Religious liberty is under direct threat. During oral arguments in the Obergefell case, the Solicitor General of the United States served notice before the Supreme Court that the liberties of religious institutions will be an open and unavoidable question. Already, religious liberty is threatened by a new moral regime that exalts erotic liberty and personal autonomy and openly argues that religious liberties must give way to the new morality, its redefinition of marriage, and its demand for coercive moral, cultural, and legal sovereignty.

These are days that will require courage, conviction, and clarity of vision. We are in a fight for the most basic liberties God has given humanity, every single one of us, made in his image. Religious liberty is being redefined as mere freedom of worship, but it will not long survive if it is reduced to a private sphere with no public voice. The very freedom to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and thus so is the liberty of every American. Human rights and human dignity are temporary abstractions if they are severed from their reality as gifts of the Creator. The eclipse of Christian truth will lead inevitably to a tragic loss of human dignity. If we lose religious liberty, all other liberties will be lost, one by one.

Religious Liberty and the Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage

Even though same-sex marriage is new to the American scene, the religious liberty challenges became fully apparent even before it became a reality. Soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts, several seminars and symposia were held in order to consider the religious liberty dimensions of this legal revolution. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sponsored one of the most important of these events, which produced a major volume with essays by prominent legal experts on both sides of this revolution. The consensus of every single participant in the conference was that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage would produce a head-on collision in the courts. As Marc D. Stern, of the American Jewish Congress stated, “Same-sex marriage would work a sea change in American law.”[2] He continued, “That change will reverberate across the legal and religious landscape in ways that are unpredictable today.”[3]

Nevertheless, he predicted some of the battlefronts he saw coming and addressed some of the arguments that could already be recognized. Even then, Stern saw almost all the issues we have recounted, and others yet to come. He saw the campuses of religious colleges and the work of religious institutions as inevitable arenas of legal conflict. He pointed to employment as one of the crucial issues of legal conflict and spoke with pessimism about the ability of religious institutions to maintain liberty in this context, for which he advocates. As Stern argued, “The legalization of same-sex marriage would represent the triumph of an egalitarian-based ethic over a faith-based one, and not just legally. The remaining question is whether champions of tolerance are prepared to tolerate proponents of the different ethical vision. I think the answer will be no.”[4]

Stern did not wait long to have his assessment verified by legal scholars on the other side of the debate. One of the most important of these, Chai R. Feldblum, presented rare candor and revealed that an advocate for same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality could also see these issues coming. Feldblum pointed to what she described as, “the conflict that I believe exists between laws intended to protect the liberty of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people so that they may live lives of dignity and integrity and the religious beliefs of some individuals whose conduct is regulated by such laws.”[5] She went on to state her belief that “those who advocate for LGBT equality have downplayed the impact of such laws on some people’s religious beliefs and, equally, I believe those who sought religious exemptions in such civil rights laws have downplayed the impact that such exemptions would have on LGBT people.”[6]

As Feldblum argued, she called for the society to “acknowledge that civil rights laws can burden an individual’s belief liberty interest when the conduct demanded by these laws burdens an individual’s core beliefs, whether such beliefs are religiously or secularly based.”[7]

Thus, in Feldblum’s argument, we confront face-to-face the candid assertion that an individual’s “belief liberty interest” must give way to what are now defined as the civil rights of sexual minorities. Feldblum believed she saw the future clearly and that the future would mean “a majority of jurisdictions in this country will have modified their laws so that LGBT people will have full equality in our society, including access to civil marriage or to civil unions that carry the same legal effect as civil marriage.”[8]

In that future, religious liberty would simply give way to the civil liberties of homosexuals and same-sex couples. Feldblum, then a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, also understood that this moral revolution would mean that the government is “taking sides” in a moral conflict, siding with the LGBT community. This necessarily puts government on the side of that moral judgment, which is precisely the point Feldblum is insisting we must recognize. Once government is on that side of the moral judgment, its laws and its coercion will require those who hold to a contrary moral system, whether based in religious or secular convictions to give way to the new moral judgment affirmed by the government.

In her very revealing argument, Feldblum struggles to find a way to grant recognition and a level of liberty to those who disagree with the normalization of homosexuality, especially on religious grounds. Nevertheless, as she shares quite openly, she is unable to sustain that effort, given her prior commitment to the absolute imposition of the new morality by means of the law and the power of the state.

Appointed and later confirmed as Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, nominated by President Obama, Feldblum stated in a different context that the end result of antidiscrimination legislation would mean the victory of sexual rights over religious liberty. She commented that she could not come up with a single case in which, at least hypothetically, religious liberty would triumph over coercion to the new moral morality.

It is crucially important that we understand the moral judgment being made and enforced by legal mechanisms in the wake of this revolution. Feldblum, a lesbian activist who has advocated for same-sex marriage–and for the legalization of polygamy–fully understands the law teaches and reinforces a morality. She insists that the law must allow no deviation in public life from the dictates of the new morality. In this case, this means allowing virtually no exemptions to regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In her presentation at the Becket Fund event, Feldblum cited the writings of Judge Michael McConnell, who both offered support for same-sex marriage and the assurance that the religious liberty of Christians and other religious citizens must be protected. McConnell’s argument is straightforward:

“The starting point would be to extend respect to both sides in the conflict of opinion, to treat both the view that homosexuality is a healthy and normal manifestation of human sexuality and the view that homosexuality is unnatural and immoral as conscientious positions, worthy of respect, much as we treat both atheism and faith as worthy of respect. In using the term ‘respect,’ I do not mean agreement. Rather, I mean the civil toleration we extend to fellow citizens and fellow human beings even when we disagree with their views. We should recognize that the ‘Civil Magistrate’ is no more ‘competent a Judge’ of the ‘Truth’ about human sexuality than about religion.”[9]

Feldblum dismissed his argument by accusing McConnell of failing to recognize “that the government necessarily takes a stance on the moral question he has articulated every time it fails to affirmatively ensure the gay people can live openly, safely, and honestly in society.”[10]

In other words, there must be no exceptions. Religious liberty simply evaporates as a fundamental right grounded in the U.S. Constitution, and recedes into the background in the wake of what is now a higher social commitment–sexual freedom.
This post is an excerpt from my chapter in First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty, edited by Jason Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm Yarnell III.

Article Citations

[1]Edwin Meese, Major Policy Statements of the Attorney General, Edwin Meese III, 1985-1988 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 1989), 168.
[2]Marc. D. Stern, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Churches,” in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, eds. Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, and Robin Fretwell Wilson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 1.
[3]Ibid., 1.
[4]Ibid., 57.
[5]Chai R. Feldblum, “Moral Conflict and Conflicting Liberties,” in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, eds. Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, and Robin Fretwell Wilson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 124-125.
[6]Ibid., 125.
[7]Ibid., 125.
[8]Ibid., 126.
[9]Ibid., 133.

“GAFCON is enabling the Anglican Communion to be fit for God’s purposes in the twenty-first century. We are uniting Anglicans around the world in faithful witness to Jesus Christ and recovering Biblical truth where it has been compromised. There is much still to do, but we give great thanks to God for his grace at work among us.”
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh – GAFCON Chairman

GAFCON is the future

The Anglican Communion worldwide is a most amazing gift of God, but it is being squandered by false teachers determined to substitute their own ideas for God’s revealed will in Scripture. They do this without rebuke from the Communion’s traditional leadership.

Gafcon is the future. Through Gafcon the true gospel is being proclaimed and the Bible guarded. We hope this snapshot will demonstrate that the faithful of the Anglican Communion have risen and have begun to reclaim the Communion for a confident and clear witness to Jesus Christ.

By becoming a Gafcon supporter you are helping shape the future, a future where we will see the West re-evangelised and the gospel continue to spread in the fast growing parts of the world.


  • GAFCON 2018 will be held in Jerusalem, returning to the place where the movement began in 2008 when over 1,000 delegates acclaimed the inspirational Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. Attendance increased to over 1,500 for GAFCON 2013 in Nairobi and we expect a healty increase in 2018. We aim to fund 500 bursaries so that no one is excluded for financial reasons.
  • The Gafcon Primates Council meets annually and represents the majority of practicing Anglicans worldwide. Last year’s meeting in Nairobi included representatives from ten provinces and we expect a similar attendance this year.
  • From the beginning, Gafcon has stood with faithful Anglicans who have been pushed to the margins or even ejected by revisionist leadership. In South America, the pattern seen ten years ago in North America is being repeated and the Anglican Diocese of Recife is to become a new Gafcon province, the Anglican Church in Brazil, a safe place for faithful Anglicans in Brazil and throughout northern and central South America.
  • As the Scottish Episcopal Church prepares to make official its rejection of apostolic teaching about marriage and sexuality in 2017, the Revd David McCarthy, Rector of one of Scotland’s largest Anglican congregations, has spoken movingly of how Gafcon is a ‘source of great hope’.
  • In addition to Provinces represented at the Gafcon Primates Councils, there are a growing number of branches to serve regions where there is no provincial involvement. This map shows how widely Gafcon is now established throughout the Communion.


  • The Gafcon Bishops Training Institute (BTI) was launched with an inaugural international conference in September 2016 in Kenya, led by Director the Rt Revd Dr Samson Mwaluda. Nearly thirty recently consecrated bishops attended for eight days of fellowship, leadership training, Bible teaching, robust discussion and fun. The next conference will be held in May 2017.

  • The Gafcon website has had a major upgrade so that all our supporters can be informed and equipped through regular high quality content including personal testimony and teaching videos.
  • The Gafcon Theological Consultation was launched in February 2017 at a meeting hosted by Uganda Christian University and chaired by Archbishop Peter Jensen. This group will work with Gafcon aligned theological colleges across the Communion to ensure high quality bible training and teaching resources are widely available.

Gafcon Theological Consultation - February 2017


  • In January 2016 the Gafcon Primates played a leading role at the Canterbury Primates meeting called by Archbishop Justin Welby. The Primates voted overwhelming to apply disciplinary measures to the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC), following its official adoption of same sex ‘marriage’. Sadly, these measures were not followed through, but the Gafcon Primates were widely quoted by the BBC and international media as the leading voice for orthodoxy in the Communion.
  • Meanwhile, violations of the mind of the Communion on marriage and sexuality, as expressed in Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998, continue in the Church of England itself as revisionists attempt to establish ‘facts on the ground’. In November, GAFCON UK courageously drew international attention to this trend. A subsequent House of Bishops report recommended no change in the Church of England’s doctrinal position, but indiscipline continues.
  • An Epiphany service at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, included a liturgical reading from the Koran in which the divinity of Jesus was explicitly denied. The Archbishop of Canterbury declined to comment, but Gafcon UK leaders were prominent in the protests that followed this shocking departure from apostolic faith.


The historic Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 concludes with the words ‘The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ’. Partnership in the Gafcon movement is stimulating new mission initiatives worldwide. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • The Anglican Church in North America has now linked up with the Gafcon aligned Diocese of Recife and the Anglican Church of South America to form ‘Caminemos Juntos’, an evangelistic and church planting initiative across the Americas.
  • The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) created by Gafcon, has announced plans to pioneer twenty-five new local churches by 2020 and two hundred and fifty by 2050.
  • In January 2017, the Gafcon Church Planting Consultative group met to plan a global church planting network for mutual learning, collaboration and encouragement. Church planting is seen as a key strategy in the re-evangelisation of the West.

How you can help

  1. Pray
    This is our top priority. Without prayer we labour in vain.  Hopefully the emails you receive with links to Gafcon news, our blogs, videos and regular updates provide useful fuel for your prayers. Why not encourage others to subscribe by forwarding this link to other Bible believing Anglicans you know? (www.gafcon.org/join)
  2. Become a Supporter
    For the movement to grow and have real influence around the world we need to recruit as many active Supporters as possible who will assent to the Jerusalem Declaration, Gafcon’s commitment to Biblical truth and apostolic orthodoxy. If you have not yet done so, please read the Declaration here and email us at support@gafcon.org to say you assent.
  3. Become a Partner (donor)
    We need finance to resource the movement properly: to provide effective communications, to mobilise the Gafcon Primates, to connect supporters worldwide and train and equip church leaders. Our hope is that most of our Supporters will become Partners by donating to the movement. A modest donation given regularly by a large number of Partners will make it possible to maintain a sustainable movement. Please become a Partner by donating here.

How to Make Disciples Jesus’ Way


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“How can we be a light to the world rather than a mirror of the world? There is probably no greater foundational challenge from Western culture today than the challenge of living our lives as Jesus would, so that people see light rather than darkness and confusion. We call it discipleship, and it is a BIG deal to Jesus himself. In fact, it was his last and greatest commission to us, his Church. Come and see how Jesus himself boldly and winsomely modeled the way you and I can live as he did, and help others to do the same. “Before his ordination, Fr Ashey was a Deputy District Attorney in Orange County, California. He completed his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, law degree at Loyola Law School, and his Master of
Divinity at General Theological Seminary in New York City. Fr. Ashey is now the Chief Operating Officer of the American Anglican Council (AAC), which provides pastoral care for clergy and other leaders as well as legal and canonical advice to churches. AAC programs include the Clergy Leadership Training Institute,
spiritual coaching and peer support

for clergy and Sure Foundation, a congregational development program. He has been a member of the Governance Task Force which drafted the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and currently serves on the Provincial Council. He has served congregations of all sizes in California, Virginia, Pittsburgh and has taught at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA; lead and participated in mission trips to Uganda and Kenya; and was pastor and counsel for the Christian Legal Society.

Jeffrey John: Pressure mounts on Church in Wales after allegations of homophobia

Pressure is mounting on Welsh bishops after they were accused of homophobia by a senior gay cleric on Sunday.

Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral, narrowly missed out on being appointed Bishop of Llandaff, despite strong support from local church figures.

Senior bishops in the Church in Wales then blocked him after ‘a number of homophobic remarks’ were made against Dr John in the appointment process. He was told bishops were ‘just too exhausted’ to deal with the problems they believed his appointment would cause.

Dr. Jeffrey John outside St Albans Cathedral.

Dr John’s own cathedral issued a statement on Monday condemning the decision amid calls on bishops to reconsider.

‘The fact that it appears Jeffrey’s sexuality and civil partnership have been used against him in the selection process is wholly wrong and it is only right that the bishops in Wales review the process before making an appointment,’ it read.

An LGBT pressure group, One Body One Faith, added to the pressure by accusing the Church of ‘unjust and discriminatory behaviour’. They called on bishops to apologise to Dr John and reconsider his name in the appointment process.

‘The bishops’ behaviour is a very clear example of the instability and inconsistency of the institutional practices of this Anglican church in the way it treats LGBTQ+ people.

‘The open integrity of Jeffrey John causes them more psychological disturbance than gay clergy who are closeted or semi-closeted, certainly far more than a heterosexual man who was divorced and remarried, and they have been unable to act with professional and pastoral integrity themselves.’

Prominent General Synod member and human rights campaigner Jayne Ozanne also joined the criticism. She told Christian Today: ‘Jeffrey is already a bishop in many of our eyes – he has been the “chief pastor” to those of us who have felt discriminated against and vilified for the sake of our sexuality, and has led and taught us how to respond in grace.

‘His treatment at the hands of the Church – both in England and Wales – has been despicable, and is one of the clearest examples yet of the high levels of institutional homophobia. He has constantly been told privately one thing while another story has been given publicly, I therefore salute his courage and dignity in bringing matters into the open, so to avoid the use of “confidentiality” as a cloak for injustice and deception.’

It comes after Dr John was strongly supported by locals in the area and won more than half of the votes in the initial election body, Christian Today revealed. But his sexuality and long-term civil partnership to fellow Anglican priest Grant Holmes meant he was barred by a handful of opponents meaning he failed to secure the two-thirds necessary.

The decision was then passed to senior bishops in the Church in Wales who asked for views across dioceses. Dr John said despite local church leaders being ‘unanimous’ in support and hundreds writing to back him, the bishops ignored their views and barred his name from the new shortlist.

Details of the appointment process were leaked to Christian Today and One Body One Faith praised the source saying they exposed ‘shameful and homophobic behaviour’ in the Church.

‘Far from showing a lack of integrity or faith in the process, what they have exposed is just the tiny tip of an iceberg in terms of injustices which are meted out to ‘rank and file’ LGBTI+ people by bishops on a weekly basis, behind closed doors, and under the cloak of “confidentiality”.

‘Such behaviour – lack of accountability and transparency – is shameful and homophobic. It does not belong in the processes of any organisation and certainly not a Christian church.’

The pressure is growing after Dr John made the highly unusual move or writing publicly to a senior Welsh bishop following his rejection to accuse the Church of homophobia.

‘The only arguments adduced against my appointment – in particular by two of the bishops – were directly related to my homosexuality and/or civil partnership – namely that my appointment would bring unwelcome and unsettling publicity to the diocese, and that it might create difficulties for the future Archbishop in relation to the Anglican Communion,’ he wrote.

‘To ride roughshod of the very clearly expressed, unanimous view of a diocese in this way is extraordinary, unprecedented and foolish,’ he told Bishop Davies.

‘You decided, arbitrarily, to ignore the submissions that you had asked for, and to declare that those who were discussed at the Electoral College were now, in fact, no longer to be considered. This is a clear and ludicrous breach of process, and a further insult to the people of the diocese, and very many others who took the trouble to contribute their view.

‘I trust there will now be an open and honest examination of this process in the light of day, and that you will not attempt to appoint a bishop for Llandaff until it is complete.’

A Church in Wales spokeswoman strongly denied allegations of homophobia.

‘At the recent meeting of Electoral College no one candidate secured the necessary two-thirds majority to be elected Bishop of Llandaff,’ she said.

‘The appointment will now be made by the Church’s bishops. After a process of consultation they have drawn up a shortlist of names which is confidential. However, the Bishops strongly deny allegations of homophobia.’

The spokeswoman added that neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate being either nominated or elected as Bishop of Llandaff.