When Nice and a Cappuccino Won't Do

This week, the Revd Rico Tice - a Minister for evangelism at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London - resigned his position on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Taskforce for Evangelism. He did so because he objects to the views of another member of that group - The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool - who is supportive of LGBT+ Christians  and who has expressed - albeit rather cautiously - support for equal marriage.

Tice claims that he and Bishop Bayes have different religions. This is quite different from suggesting that they have a contrasting understanding of the same religion, and he is quite right. Bishop Bayes is a Christian who appears to live by the principles taught and demonstrated by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus spent a great deal of his time reaching out to, and mixing with, those whom the 'respectable' religious leaders of his time (the Scribes and Pharisees) saw as beyond the pale. The latter were scandalised and appalled by Jesus' dangerously liberal views and his apparent total disregard for scripture. In reality, their approach to scripture was shallow and blinkered, and they clutched at specific texts to justify their prejudices and exclusivity. Time and time again, Jesus criticised them for their smug self-righteousness and judgmentalism.

One wonders, therefore, with what religion Tice now aligns himself, as it appears to be dangerously close to a contemporary form of Pharisaism. There's a lot of it about. This week has also seen the third meeting of GAFCON - a group of hard-line conservative 'Christians' who demand that the Anglican Communion - even though it is actually only a loose network of independent churches - should comply entirely with their views.

For Tice and GAFCON, attitudes to the LGBT+ community are the 'touchstone' for 'Biblical Orthodoxy'. In seizing on a handful of texts that are read superficially and uncritically - and the Bible really does deserve a more intelligent approach - they fall into the very trap into which the Scribes and Pharisees fell. In doing so, they set themselves at odds with the overarching message of the Gospel which commands us to love God and our neighbour and forbids us to judge (unless we are the one without sin). They can't or won't see this, of course; prejudice is always blind to itself. Furthermore, in terms of scripture's obvious priorities, homosexuality hardly looms large compared with issues of justice and poverty; nor is it a 'first order' (salvation) issue; but there again, bigotry is never characterised by a sensible perspective.

Members of GAFCON are delighted that their latest global conference attracted two thousand people. Given that there are an estimated eighty-five million Anglicans worldwide, this isn't really such a big deal. But these hard-line conservatives are good at shouting and making their presence felt. Indeed some rather unkind commentators have previously said that the Anglican Church is a bit like a swimming pool - all the noise comes from the shallow end.

Obviously I believe people like Rico Tice and the supporters of GAFCON to be seriously misguided. Indeed I would go further and say that they are doing the very thing of which they accuse the so-called 'liberals' - they are 'cherry-picking' texts and perverting the true message of the Gospel. But rather than being angry I tend to feel sorry for them. What a sad and joyless existence it must be to be so obsessed with one issue, to harbour such feelings of anger and resentment and to be so insecure that they have to try to seize control by resorting to the tactics of the bully.

Sadly, however, so far their bullying tactics have often been successful.

Whilst many of those attending the GAFCON conference will have come from countries where homosexuality is (unfortunately) culturally unacceptable and where their religious conservatism is supported by - and in truth probably largely stems from - prevailing societal attitudes and, often, the law - this is not the case in our own nation.

For some time now, the Church of England has been seriously out of step with British society in its attitudes to sexuality generally and homosexuality in particular. As someone said to me recently, "Where sex is concerned, the Church appears to be living in Cloud Cuckoo Land".  Certainly when it tries to assert that sexual activity belongs only within heterosexual marriage, the CofE effectively makes sinners of the vast majority of couples who still (amazingly) come to it seeking marriage. The Bishop of Maidstone has recently articulated his belief that anyone having any kind of sexual relationship outside heterosexual marriage should be denied communion on the grounds that they are 'unworthy' - which somewhat bizarrely implies that everyone else is worthy (presumably regardless of whatever other sins they may have committed).

The Church of England is certainly in danger of making itself a laughing-stock; but this is no laughing matter. We are doing ourselves serious missional damage, and the constant mishandling of these sensitive issues by our current leadership seriously undermines our credibility. The Church of England is already reeling under the shock revelations of its previous dismal failures in terms of safeguarding, but its leadership seems hellbent on shooting itself in the foot once again by failing to recognise the safeguarding implications of its appalling attitude to the LGBT+ community.

Many people are now familiar with the high profile case of Lizzie Lowe, a fourteen year old girl who took her own life because she was struggling to reconcile her sexuality with her faith. Her death rocked the local church, and the You Tube video 'Beyond Inclusion' tells the powerful story of how that church then learnt to embrace the  'radical inclusion' of which some others just glibly speak.

But Lizzie's story is also the story of many other young people struggling to come to terms with who they are. Lizzie's story was my story many years ago. As a teenager realising that I was gay, I felt a real sense of self-loathing and found it impossible to believe that God could love me as the person I truly was. When I confided in Christian friends, they prayed for healing of my 'personality defect' (yes, those were the exact words) and when this failed, they urged me to seek exorcism. Throughout this time I suffered bouts of depression and on several occasions considered taking my own life.

Since then, because of the love and acceptance of family and friends (some Christian, some not) I have long since learned to accept myself and to recognise that if people have a problem with who I am, that is their issue not mine. Nevertheless, I still often feel emotionally battered by a church that seems to see me and others like me as a 'problem'.

There are countless people within the Church of England with similar stories to tell, and the Church  has a responsibility to protect young people - and indeed vulnerable adults - who are struggling with their sexuality. It is, I believe, failing miserably in this regard, not least because the Bishops are intimidated by the bully-boy tactics of GAFCON and its supporters. Rather than grasping the nettle and addressing the real problem of Pharisaism and Homophobia, they opt time and time again to kick the issue into the long grass. Evidence of this lies in the number of reports and papers they have commissioned over the years:

The Working Party on Sexuality 1968
The Gloucester Report 1979
The Osborne Report 1987
Issues in Human Sexuality 1991
Some Issue in Human Sexuality 2003
The Pilling Report 2013

Having commissioned yet another report in 2017, which General Synod (quite rightly) refused to receive, the bishops decided to commission a 'Teaching Document' on sexuality and marriage  to be published in 2020. It is difficult to imagine what could possibly be said in this document that has not been said already. It is also incredibly naïve of the bishops to think that the stalling tactics that have worked for half a century will continue to work in the very different climate of today's church and  society. Nevertheless, it seems that the business committee of the General Synod has put a block on any private members' motions or diocesan Synod motions proposing any discussion about LGBT+ issues until the Teaching Document is published.

Not surprisingly, the patience of LGBT+ Christians is now wearing very thin indeed; so for that matter is the patience of other church members who really cannot see what all the fuss is about and who desperately (and quite rightly) want the church to concentrate on the issues that really matter. Put another way, it feels as if the gloves are coming off, and many will say it's not before time.

A friend of mine sometimes says, "Nice and £2.50 gets you a Cappuccino, but it doesn't get the job done."

It seems that procrastination and obfuscation will no longer be tolerated. The church leadership is being and will be increasingly challenged on this issue, not least from a safeguarding perspective which is already its most vulnerable spot. It's time to grasp the nettle and to get the job done.

Nice and a Cappuccino will no longer do.

Comments

  1. Dear Fr Trevor
    You are right of course that there is deep disagreement between Rico Tice/GAFCON on the one hand and Bishop Bayes and those who agree with him on the other hand about whether or not same-sex behaviour is sinful. There is much in your article with which I disagree but in this post I only want to draw attention to what, in my view, is the fundamental disagreement among members of the Church of England. I cannot prove that my view is true and I would be glad to be humbled and put in my place if it could be shown that I am mistaken. My view is that the terrible but true doctrine of Original Sin, that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God and we are all born with a nature which is inclined to evil, is believed and preached by only a minority of ordained persons in the Church of England. With the result that the note of solemn warning, so prominent throughout the Bible, not least from Our Lord’s own lips (Luke 13:1-5,Luke 19:27,Matthew 13:36-43,Matthew 7:21-23,Matthew25:1-13,Matthew 25:40-46,Matthew 15:4,Matthew 10:14-15
    Matthew 11:20-24) is not being generally taught and preached as it should be. This warning , alongside the wonderful truth that God and Christ sincerely and genuinely invite, exhort, command all to embrace the offered salvation and submit to Christ in his atoning death and life giving resurrection, is an essential part of the gospel, the diagnosis of our deepest need – to be delivered from that wrath and condemnation. I can’t speak for GAFCON but I am reasonably sure, from item 4 in the Jerusalem Statement, “We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.”, that GAFCON agree with my view.
    Your “This week has also seen the third meeting of GAFCON - a group of hard-line conservative 'Christians' who demand that the Anglican Communion - even though it is actually only a loose network of independent churches - should comply entirely with their views” is not quite fair. What is being ‘demanded’ (and prayed for and hoped for) is that the whole Anglican Communion, especially the Church of England, should be faithful to the Declaration of Assent (Canon C15) made by all ordained persons – see also Canon A5.
    Phil Almond



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    1. Dear Phil,
      Thanks for your comments. I note what you say about the doctrine of original sin and the warning of God's wrath. I actually have no problem with either of these concepts. However, I think history shows time and time again that at its worst, humankind's natural inclination towards evil is manifested in the judgment, marginalisation then exclusion and eventual hatred of the 'other'. We are seeing an alarming growth of this in today's world, and it's sad and profoundly disturbing that rather than speaking out clearly against this collective sin, the church is falling into exactly the same trap and obsessing over internal disagreements. We won't see eye to eye on this, but my reading of the Gospels leaves me deeply troubled by the preoccupation that Gafcon and others have with what they perceive (rightly or wrongly) to be sexual sin and their failure to recognise the sinfulness of their attacks (albeit delivered with smiles) on some who are 'other' in terms of sexuality. A case of motes and beams perhaps?

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  2. Excellent article.

    There's one point with which I'd take exception.

    In the third paragraph, you compare Mr. (I assume he isn't Fr.) Tice with the 1st century Pharisees. Comparing conservative evangelical Christians today with the Pharisees is manifestly unfair ... to the Pharisees. Given that the Pharisees were essentially a progressive force within the Judaism of their day, and given their role in shaping post-biblical Judaism, comparing ultraconservative forces within Christianity to the Pharisees tends to reinforce anti-Judaic and even antisemitic attitudes among Christians.

    Otherwise, a great article.

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    1. Dear Fr Bob,
      Thanks for your comments, which I take on board. I certainly didn't intend to send out any anti Judaic or anti-Semitic message. Regardless of the role that the Pharisees played in shaping post biblical Judaism, within the Gospels there is no escaping their inability to grasp where Jesus was coming from in terms of his inclusivity, nor his frustration with them. I have often preached - and will continue to do so - on the fact that the Pharisees weren't evil villains and were struggling to be faithful to the scriptures as they understood them. Their failing at that time was - to use modern parlance - the inability to think outside the box or to dare believe that they might just have got some things wrong. Similarly, whilst it is temptingly easy to demonise those with whom we are at odds, I try to see conservative evangelical Christians as doing great good and striving to be faithful to the scriptures, as they understand them - but they simply don't get the bigger picture that others see - hence the comparison.
      Trevor

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  3. Dear Fr Trevor
    To further a serious discussion:

    Firstly, it would be helpful if you could explain what, in your view, is the ‘bigger picture’ which evangelicals ‘don’t get’ but ‘others see’.
    Secondly, do you agree that there are many who hold the view that same-sex behaviour is sinful not because they are ‘homophobic’ but because they are convinced that the Bible teaches that it is? I am not of course asking you to agree that they are right in that view but just to recognise that the use of ‘homophobic’ as a blanket term to characterise that view is inaccurate
    Phil Almond

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    Replies
    1. Hi Phil,
      The first problem we have to address when looking to scripture on the gay issue is the absolute silence of Jesus on the subject in the Gospels. This isn't to claim that silence indicates approval, but Jesus does seem to make a point of mentioning those things that he does see as important (including, of course, remarriage of divorcees). The central importance given to the gay issue by some evangelicals seems hard to justify in the light of this. The handful of texts that remain - looked at critically rather than superficially - appear to refer to the deliberate perversion of the natural sexual instincts of the individual (so it could be argued that a gay person acting as if straight would count here) and the use of temple prostitutes. Nowhere is there any reference to adult, consensual and committed relationships, nor would you expect there to be as the concept of homosexuality (and homosexual orientation) didn't exist in biblical times. These complexities are often quickly dismissed by evangelicals whereas similar questions on other issues are taken much more seriously. It is hard to believe, therefore that a personal distaste or prejudice (i.e. homophobia) however subconscious, doesn't underlie their position at least to some extent. Whilst the Gospel is silent on homosexuality per se, Jesus is very clear in his teaching on self-righteousness and judging others. The clear over-arching message of the Gospel is one of a generous and even reckless love and grace. This is the bigger picture in which our understanding of sexuality- and all other issues - has to be worked out, and I increasingly see little evidence of a willingness to do this on the part of SOME evangelicals, although I am heartened to see a growing readiness to do so in other quarters. I doubt we will get very far in any debate on this, especially as the time I will have to devote to my blog is now going to be limited, but it has been good to have this exchange.

      With prayers and good wishes,
      Trevor

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