Synod and the Stonewall revelation

The following by the Revd. Andrew Symes is from the AAC weekly International Update. Sign up for this free email here. 

As predicted, the big talking point after last week’s Church of England General Synod was the overwhelming support for the proposed procedure to take forward the legislation for Women Bishops. Further discussion and votes will take place next year. Synod was also remarkable for many members’ reports of a sense of optimism about the future of the church, and civility and respect between those of different points of view. But some news did emerge which has taken the gloss off for optimistic conservatives and has confirmed the reasons for gloom for the pessimists.

In the July Synod, Archbishop Welby expressed his concern that the Church should be seen to be listening to the culture over issues of sexuality. While the C of E has officially opposed gay marriage there has been a tacit acceptance of the reality of gay relationships and especially Civil Partnerships. It also accepts a need to avoid a negative and critical attitude to same sex couples. Following on from this, there seems be a commitment to proactively addressing the problem of “homophobic” bullying in schools – see paragraph 9 of Welby’s July address. Such bullying might take the form of victimising children who have identified themselves as, or are perceived to be, “gay”, ridiculing families with same-sex parents or making unpleasant remarks about gay people generally. A Diocesan educational officer from Bristol was tasked to produce some materials to specifically help Cof E schools tackle the problem, and specifically to comply with new legislation in this area. Anglican Mainstream offered to give face to face input into this process as did others, but this was politely declined because of the amount of help being given by other “experts” in the field.

We now know from responses to questions in last week’s Synod that LGBT lobby group Stonewall have been invited by the C of E to share their expertise in tackling homophobic bullying and will certainly be giving a lot of input into the materials to be used in schools. The BBC reported it and Anglican Mainstreamresponded to it as well.

The extent of Stonewall’s involvement, and to what extent other views have been taken into consideration, is unclear because it’s a closed process. Already, Bishops are trying to downplay Stonewall’s influence in response to concerns being expressed from evangelical groups. But of course any endorsement of this organization by the church is a concern. Stonewall’s website shows that they are ahead of the game in a well-resourced campaign to influence young people in schools and so inevitably this will feed into the C of E anti bullying materials.

We are surely all in agreement that bullying in schools is a constant scourge. We should always be looking at new ways of teaching civility to each generation of young people, and making schools safe and happy places in our increasingly diverse culture. It is good that the Church of England wants to help its own schools have a zero tolerance attitude to bullying. But Stonewall is the wrong choice of partner to have invited for help with this project. Stonewall are one of the leading lobby groups behind the redefinition of marriage, which runs directly counter to the Church’s teaching. Their input will skew any anti-bullying programme to focus on “homophobia” when other forms of bullying are far more common. Stonewall’s agenda is not just to prevent bullying of children for perceived sexual orientation. It is to use the curriculum to normalize and celebrate homosexuality. High quality, professionally produced resources to this end can be found on their website.

It is difficult to think of another example where one organization invites another organization as a lead consultant in such a key area when their core beliefs, values and aims are so at odds with each other. Stonewall’s power and influence in society in shaping attitudes to sex is far greater than that of the Church, so this relationship is bound to be unbalanced, and can only benefit the agenda of Stonewall, not the other way round.

Ethics? I’m not interested…

 

Seasoned watchers of the culture wars in the Church of England will not be asking why Stonewall have been invited to help teach children about sexuality in church schools, but rather why there is so little in terms of protest, even from the theologically orthodox. The fearless leader of the Christian Medical Fellowship, Peter Saunders, raises this question in his blog post “Why many British evangelicals are not that bothered with ethics”. He quotes statistics to show how the views of many evangelicals on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia are either kept to themselves, or not much different from the majority in society. He concludes with these reasons:

1. Many Christians are just following the trends in society, thinking that the majority view must be the correct one;
2. There is genuine fear of persecution for speaking out on certain issues,
3. Respected Christian leaders including Bishops have “changed their minds”,
4. There is widespread ignorance of the Bible and on how to think biblically.

The issue is not so much an absence of ethics, as a tendency to follow an ethical framework from popular culture rather than from theological reflection.

Saunders is not an Anglican, but his analysis is shared by many Anglicans concerned about the Stonewall partnership and other examples of the liberal trajectory in the C of E. The Conservative evangelical movement Reform is holding a conference this week for over 200 church leaders to discuss how to renew the church and reverse the trend. Key areas of focus will be finding the best ways to teach the truth and enable people in the pews to grasp and articulate the living Christ of the Bible in the whole of life, and planting and growing Gospel churches.

But inevitably, the question has to be faced: as the laws of the land become increasingly hostile towards orthodox faith and the policies of the Anglican denomination follow suit, how can like-minded churches unite and what can they hope to achieve together? What are the “red lines”; what could and should be done if they are crossed? Scenarios have to be imagined, and plans have to be made: to what extent should they involve alternative structures and of course questions of finance? But balanced with this is a determination to stay in the Church of England for as long as possible, and to remain Anglican always, even if necessary under newly formed jurisdictions. The imminent release of the Pilling Report is giving extra urgency to the need rapidly to find lasting solutions.

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