Last week, the lead bishops for Living in Love and Faith process, Rt Revd Helen-Ann Hartley and Rt Revd Martyn Snow set out some of their thinking in a comment piece for the Church Times – Living in Love, Faith and Reconciliation.
“We are at a crossroads: either we have reached the point of separation, accepting that different views cannot co-exist within the same Church, or we must shift the debate to the question how we live well with difference. We believe firmly in the latter approach, and, therefore, we are issuing a call for reconciliation and bridge-building.”
Their attempt to ‘reset’ the debate will rest on a number of commitments, which will be brought to General Synod for discussion in February. They have yet to be published – but for once the devil will not be in the detail - but in their purpose and underlying premise:
“These commitments will honour the votes already taken by the Synod and the general sense of direction, while also inviting the whole of the Synod to make a commitment to the principle of being a broad Church in which different views are not just accepted, but honoured as part of what it means to be the living, dynamic, and beautiful body of Christ.”
The orthodox should be shocked.
But instead, there is a danger that this development is being seen as a partial victory.
Why? Because the bishops have used a simple bait and switch. Alongside the ‘broad church’ principle was the offer of a ‘prize’ – a delay to the introduction of standalone services and a promise that Synod will examine “legal safeguards and appropriate structures” for those needing reassurance.
Ever since Rev Vaughan Roberts spoke of the need for "a mediated settlement," in his speech at General Synod in February 2023, evangelicals have been focused on persuading the Church of England to offer them 'formal structural pastoral provision'. CEEC set out the needs and John Dunnett, their National Director has said, "to remain truly Anglican, any ‘solution’ must provide orthodox archepiscopal oversight." Anglican Futures even attempted to offer a solution.
Now the bishops are saying they are committed to finding a settlement, it is unsurprising that for many the hope of such a prize will prove a sufficient distraction from the principle. Encouraged by the negative response to the proposal from liberal social media many will even be tempted to believe things are moving in the right direction.
And that is the bait.
But the switch is devastating.
If the bishops are to be believed, Synod will be asked to commit to:
“...the principle of being a broad Church in which different views are not just accepted but honoured as part of what it means to be the living, dynamic, and beautiful body of Christ.”
If words mean anything, such a commitment has serious implications:
It means accepting that the presenting issue of same-sex blessings and the underlying debates about the nature of marriage, the authority of Scripture and the means of salvation – are to be considered adiaphora – things indifferent.
It is a commitment to accept those who deny the teaching of Christ, rather than rebuke them, and to honour those who promote a false gospel, rather than avoid them.
It is to affirm that the presence of sin makes the body of Christ more beautiful.
And ironically, it is when the commitment is made, that the real switch takes place. Once General Synod has agreed "the principle of being a broad Church in which different views are not just accepted but honoured," the need for any meaningful structural pastoral provision is fundamentally undermined. It is hard to justify the need for an orthodox Archbishop if those whith different views should be honoured.
As General Synod will also be asked to commit to ensuring "the highest possible degree of unity and communion in the church", the orthodox may discover that the 'prize' being offered is more glitter than gold.
Ten years ago, David Porter announced that his job was to find a place of compromise that was acceptable to 80% of the Church of England. This week the new lead bishops say they are committed to the same task - "a settlement that allows as many people as possible to remain within the Church of England."
The lead bishops are right about something. We are at a crossroads - and there is a danger that General Synod will be asked to take the wrong turn.
With thanks to Feng Yu Wan at Unsplash for the image
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