Talk 3: Law and Courageous Leadership

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1. The law on homosexual activity

What is the Church of England's teaching on homosexual sex?

a) Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974

It is crystal clear for on 1st September 1975 the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974 came into operation. Unlike the Canons, Measures have the same force as an Act of Parliament. And section 5.1 says this:

"References in this Measure to the doctrine of the Church of England shall be construed in accordance with the statement concerning the doctrine contained in the Canons of the Church of England, which statement is in the following terms: 'The Doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.'"

Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974

The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, of course, refer to the 1662 edition.

b) General Synod Resolution 1987 'homosexual genital acts… are… to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion'

So let me remind you of the teaching of the Church of England. It is that of the General Synod resolution following a debate in 1987 passed by 403 votes to 8 that reads as follows:

"this Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and expression of, God's love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:

  1. that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;
  2. that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
  3. that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
  4. 4. that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality; and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders."

It is true that General Councils, and therefore, subordinate Councils and Synods, and so General Synods 'may err' (Article 21 of the 39). But as that 1987 resolution was fully consistent with Canon A5, it provides for the Church of England its doctrine or teaching on sexuality. Indeed, the Bishops in a subsequent report Issues in Human Sexuality asserted (Section 2.29) that it was biblical teaching.

c) Issues in Human Sexuality: Bishop's Report

They wrote:

"There is … in Scripture an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Sexual activity of any kind outside marriage comes to be seen as sinful, and homosexual practice as especially dishonourable."

2. The Church's teaching historically

a) Teaching in the Reformation Period

So with all that in mind listen to the following:

"Although there want not, good Christian people, great swarms of vices worthy to be rebuked – unto such decay is true godliness and virtuous living now come – yet above other vices, the outrageous seas of adultery, or breaking of wedlock, whoredom, fornication, and uncleanness, have not only burst in, but also overflowed almost the whole world; unto the great dishonor of God, the exceeding infamy of the name of Christ, the notable decay of true religion, and the utter destruction of the public wealth … and that ye may perceive that fornication and whoredom are, in the sight of God, most abominable sins; ye shall call to remembrance this commandment of God, Thou shalt not commit adultery; by the which word adultery, although it be properly understood of the unlawful commixtion, of joining together of a married man and with any woman beside his wife, or of a wife with any man beside her husband, yet thereby is signified also all unlawful use of those parts which be ordained for generation [the genitals]."

That was written in the 16th century and is from the first book of our Anglican Homilies and the one entitled – A Sermon against Whoredom and Uncleanness. It was possibly by Thomas Becon a pupil of Latimer and one of Cranmer's circle.

b) 1930 Lambeth Conference

Listen now to this:

"What many church people need to recognize is that Christ's community has been commissioned to set a standard of life which is not that of the world. Too often has the standard of Christians been assimilated to that of the surrounding society or of the spirit of the age. But the tremendous commission of the Head of the Church confronts us. 'You are the salt of the earth.' 'You are the light of the world.' No metaphors could be more searching. Salt and light, He says, and that in every place and relationship of life – first and foremost in all that concerns the family.

The beauty of family life is one of God's most precious gifts, and its preservation is a paramount responsibility of the Church. Its foundation is the life-long union of husband and wife on which our Lord decisively set His seal. 'One flesh,' He said they were to be. Holy marriage is part of God's plan for mankind. It follows that any community disregards this at its peril. Empires have perished before now because the dry rot of laxity and corruption in home life set in. To maintain the ideal of marriage is therefore to preserve the social health of the community. It is a national interest of supreme value. It follows that divorce is unnatural. It destroys the security of the union and the stability of the family. If there are children, they are deprived of the guardianship to which God called both their parents. To the defence of Christ's standard of marriage we summon the members of the Church."

That was part of the Encyclical Letter from the 1930 Lambeth Conference. Of interest are some of the Resolutions from The Life and Witness of the Christian Community section, for example section 16 said that "The Conference further records its abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion" and section 18, quite clearly said that, I quote, "Sexual intercourse between persons who are not legally married is a grievous sin."

3. The Current Context

But nearly 100 years later it is back to the 16th centuries.

a) 2017- General Synod voted for the 'conversion therapy' motion, calling on the government to ban 'conversion therapy' and against an amendment to that motion

As many of you know a resolution at the July 2017 General Synod voted in favour of calling on the government to ban 'conversion therapy' (therapy helping individuals deal with same sex attraction) and against an amendment to that motion. This amendment merely wanted to affirm that "pastoral care, prayer, and professional counselling are legitimate means of supporting [same-sex attracted] people". So this was voted down!

b) Bishop of Newcastle: involvement in Pride march 'does not exhaust the ways we can offer a welcome'

And at the same time the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, who chairs a Pastoral Advisory Group on how the Church should treat LGBTI people, said that involvement in Pride marches "do not exhaust the ways that dioceses can offer a welcome." This, sadly, is in line with her contribution to the recent February 2019 sessions of the General Synod when she said:

"I think there is no doubt that within the Pastoral Advisory Group there would be a general agreement that conversion therapy is wrong. And in terms of our general approach to our work, which is the profound respect for the worth and dignity of every person, conversion therapy starts from a premise that there is something wrong that has to be changed. So that presumption cannot accord with our core value of the innate rightness of people in their essential identity. So, although we haven't got minuted discussions on this particular topic, it is at the heart of everything that we're doing which is about valuing, welcoming, respecting and honouring each person as a child of God."

4. Right Responses

a) Respect everyone, but do not respect what they do

Of course, you respect everyone, but you do accept what they do. As we heard, from Jonathan Pryke, regarding the Church of Ephesus, for all their serious fault in lacking love, they were commended by the risen Jesus for one thing:

"Yet this you have: you hate [note that word – and you hate not the Nicolaitans as people but you hate] the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Rev 2.6).

And most commentators think those works (or deeds) involved idolatry and, yes, sexual immorality of various forms.

b) Acknowledge that Gay Pride is not about supporting people per se but the homosexual activity of those people

But the Bishop of Newcastle knows what the LGBTI agenda is all about, so what supporting Gay Pride is all about. It, therefore, is publicly to support not just people who have homosexual temptations but their giving into those temptations in a galaxy of genital activity (see the ex-President, now vice-President of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson's A to Z of Gay Sex, which is both sad and, I judge, perverse).

c) Acknowledge that Gay Pride celebrates rights to homosexual sex

So these events have as their raison d'être neither the communal celebration of non-sexual brotherly love [Philadelphia], nor unselfish Godlike love even for the unlovely [Agape], but erotic love that involves "homosexual genital acts" [Eros]. And, yes, Gay Pride events celebrate gay rights, but these are rights to "homosexual genital acts."

In one city with an established Pride event, a small number of participants have appeared naked. This undermines, of course, the family-friendly image that is wanted. However, the ensuing debate has revealed the Parade's true nature. It is, indeed, the celebration of homosexual rights but also, quite unashamedly, homosexual sex. Here is one participant, himself identifying as a homosexual journalist, who writes about homosexual sex and his Pride event:

"the thought of two men 'having sex' [he uses a cruder word] triggers a primitive hatred. When we celebrate this live during Pride – whether it's naked on a parade float surrounded by colourful drag queens or dancing topless in a Church Street beer garden – it reminds them of what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms. So let's call it what it is and stop allowing these bigots and nudity-haters from masking their issues with concern for wide-eyed children. And let's remember that Pride is not the Santa Claus parade – its roots are in protest and sexual liberation."

So for this journalist a Gay Pride event is when, he tells us, for a few hours on a Pride day he can, I quote, "head downtown to celebrate gay rights and gay sex."

d) Affirm that 'homosexual genital acts…are…to be met by a call to repentance'

With all that in mind, is such support by Christine Hardman and encouragement for Gay Pride events compatible with the 1987 motion? For that said:

"homosexual genital acts … are … to be met by a call to repentance."

e) Acknowledge that the celebration of something which requires repentance…
  • is breaking 'church law' as identified in the 1987 Synod Resolution

Supporting and encouraging others to join in celebrating something which requires repentance is surely breaking "church law" as identified in that 1987 Synod resolution.

  • is breaking 'divine law' as spelt out by Canon B30.1

Supporting Gay Pride is certainly breaking "divine law". For the clear teaching of the Bible on marriage and sexual relations was so well summarized by the bishops in their report already quoted. That divine law is spelt out by Canon B 30.1 as it spells out Jesus' teaching on marriage and sexual matters. And that is sufficient to provide the Church of England with its summary of "divine law" with regard to sexual morality. Canon B 30, of course, has to be the Church of England's teaching and B 30.1 is crystal clear – here it is:

"The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

What Gay Pride is proud about is its celebration or hallowing of the wrong, not the right, direction (as the Bible and especially Jesus teaches) of the natural instincts and affections.

f) Acknowledge that the celebration of 'the wrong direction of the natural instincts and affections' is 'conduct unbecoming or inappropriate' for a minister of Jesus Christ

So speaking in support of such a celebration that hallows the wrong direction of the natural instincts and trying to recruit others to do the same, surely is an offence under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 under at least section 8.1(d), "conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders". It is pretty clear from the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 Code of Practice as revised in 2016 what conduct unbecoming is. For Clauses 28 and 29 under the heading "What is unbecoming or inappropriate conduct?" are as follows. Clause 28 says:

"The Measure does not define unbecoming or inappropriate conduct, but clergy in their conduct and everyday living are expected to be examples of what is acceptable in Christian behaviour. Members of the church and wider community look towards the clergy to set, and conform to, appropriate standards of morality and behaviour."

And Clause 29 says:

"In particular the clergy should live their lives in a way that is consistent with the Code of Canons (principally C26, C27 and C28). Canon C26 is particularly relevant."

Canon C26 says:

"A clerk in Holy Orders shall not give himself to such occupations, habits, or recreations as do not befit his sacred calling, or may be detrimental to the performance of the duties of his office, or tend to be a just cause of offence to others; and at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ."

Publicly to support and encourage people to join in celebrations of the wrong direction of the natural instincts and affections, as is done in "Pride" events, surely is "conduct unbecoming or inappropriate" for a minister of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Okoh, the Primate of Nigeria and then chairman of GAFCON, in his Chairman's August 2016 Letter, voiced the offence caused to millions by support being given by bishops and others to Gay Pride events. This was in his chairman's letter. He wrote that …

"the greatest case for concern continues to be the British Isles … in England Salisbury Cathedral has become the latest of a growing number of cathedrals which publicly support and even bless 'Gay Pride' marches [the former Dean, June Osborne (now Bishop of Llandaff, Wales), prayed the blessing]. Chichester Diocese has issued a statement commending those of its churches 'with open doors to celebrate all that the Pride Festival stands for'."

5. The Duty of Church Leaders

a) "with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word"

Yes, a number of other bishops will be supporting Christine Hardman. But what is our duty as Bishops and Presbyters here today having promised in our ordinations or consecrations "with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word" or similar words in the more modern services?

b) Ordinands promise to be 'against error' in the ASB and Common Worship Ordinals

It is important to note that both the ASB and Common Worship still have the concept "against error" in the promises the ordinand makes. I was on the Revision Committee for the new ASB ordinal and had to fight the Archbishop of York, John Habgood, who didn't want my proposal for "against error" in the service. But Keith Weston, the vicar of St Ebbe's, also on the committee helped it succeed. So it is still very much a part of the Bishop's and Presbyter's duty having been carried over to the Common Worship ordinal.

c) Bishop's duty is to be 'against error' - Canon C 18.1

And for a Bishop it is a duty under Canon C 18.1. But any action must be engaged in biblically and in no way hating the errant one but only the error.

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