Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A response to Stephen Kuhrt on the Church of England Evangelical Council becoming a 'Rump Parliament'

A couple of weeks ago on the Fulcrum ‘Open Evangelical’ website, John Martin, one of the founding members, raised a question about bias against Conservative Evangelicals. Pointing to a report that the Bishop of Montreal in Canada was about to authorize a rite for blessing same-sex relationships, contrary to Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 and the many efforts for unity since then, Martin sought the ‘mind’ of the Fulcrum constituency.

“Critics of Fulcrum,” he observed, “say we bash evangelical conservatives but stay silent about liberal trends in the Church. Your comments please.”

There followed just six replies, two by declared supporters of same-sex relationships, one against, two of unclear intent, and one by Martin himself in response to an earlier post. Apart from that, the thread, and therefore presumably the Bishop of Montreal’s action, has failed to gather further interest and has now slipped off the front page of the thread list.

I mention this because today the website contained an article by Stephen Kuhrt, to be published in tomorrow’s Church of England Newspaper, which accuses the Church of England Evangelical Council of becoming a ‘rump parliament’ because it is dominated by evangelical conservatives.

Kuhrt defines this as an “unrepresentative remnant left in power following the deconstruction of a legitimately elected and representative body”. His justification for levelling this accusation at the CEEC is that its predominance of Conservative Evangelicals does not reflect the wider ‘evangelical constituency’ which used to be present on the CEEC. And in support of this contention, he lists the affiliations of every council member (including my own), particularly where these include a conservative body or involvement.

What is immediately striking about Kuhrt’s article is that he clearly sees this as a bad thing not simply in terms of those who are not on the CEEC but those who are. That the executive of the CEEC is “dominated by conservatives” is “of major concern”. The fact that the President of the CEEC is the conservative Wallace Benn “suggests a strong priority of agenda over process”. Kuhrt does not, however, explain exactly why this conservative dominance is bad, nor what the problems with the ‘agenda’ might be.

One might rather be forgiven in these turbulent days for suggesting that a largely conservative CEEC is a good thing and an encouraging sign, if what is conserved is evangelicalism. Indeed, the tenor of discussions in the Fulcrum forum — the demonstrable silence on liberal trends, and the confusion of voices on core issues — rather persuades me this is the case.

As Kuhrt observes, however, the reasons for this imbalance lie in the changed habits of evangelicals themselves:

Whereas DEFs [Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships] were once a genuine constituency basis they no longer contain all evangelicals since many are now nourished by alternative networks such as New Wine, Fulcrum, Spring Harvest, blogging and many more.

The full truth, however, is more harsh. It is not simply that evangelicals are “nourished by alternative networks”. Rather, they have long-since ceased to value evangelical fellowship for its own sake. Contrary to the warning of Hebrews 10, they gave up meeting together and encouraging one another.

When I first arrived in the Diocese of Chelmsford as a young man in 1983, the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association attracted the broad range of Evangelicals whose absence Khurt now laments. However, even at that stage, and increasingly as time went on, the Secretary of the CDEA found that his letters of invitation to newly-arrived clergy were greeted with polite disdain. “Thank you for your letter,” went the responses, “but I don’t regard a divisive involvement with an Evangelical group appropriate these days.”

And thus over time the CDEA narrowed, not because the Conservatives took it over, but because the rest gave it up. Indeed, the recent relaunch of the CDEA was not organized by non-Conservatives, as Kuhrt seems to hope might happen in order to broaden the representation on the CEEC, but by Conservatives seeking precisely to broaden the Evangelical constituency within the Diocese. In fact, it was organized by me.

Hence I have long said that the answer to complaints such as those by Stephen Khurt is simple and straightforward. You — that is, you Open Evangelicals — need to commit yourselves again to evangelical fellowship, which means being committed to those who share your evangelical distinctives. You need to come to meetings, just as you come to church, not because you ‘feel like it’ but because you have a responsibility to the Fellowship. You need to attend patiently, over the years, waiting until you know people, and are known by them, before you put yourself forward for election to an office. And when you are elected, you must be a faithful servant of the evangelical constituency.

In short, you can’t suddenly decide you should be allowed onto the ‘representative’ bodies until you play a full part in the constituency that body represents. And if you don’t share the ‘heat and burden of the day’ — the brickbats in Synod, the scorn of the world, the attitude of the hierarchy towards the ‘awkward squad’ — don’t complain when you are overlooked by those who do.

Revd John Richardson
11 November 2008

When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may not be posted.

18 comments:

  1. John, what makes you think that Hebrews 10 refers to meeting with other evangelicals in a diocese, rather than meeting with all the Christians, either in one's area as a local church or in a wider area? Doesn't 1 Corinthians 1:12,3:4 etc have something to say about meeting together in sectarian groups?

    Nevertheless some of us not-so-conservative evangelicals in this diocese appreciate your hard work in getting CDEA restarted, and are working to give it a broad evangelical base.

    (Chelmsford)

    ReplyDelete
  2. whatever you might say about Fulcrum John, I don't think you can say that we don't play a part in the evangelical constituency!




    jody stowell maidenhead

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think my query, Jody, regards the part Open Evangelicals play in the Evangelical constituency.

    Have they understood Evangelicalism as (to paraphrase Gavin Reed from memory) the 'best expression' of Christianity available to us (certainly us within the Church of England)? And have they therefore been willing to stand up and say that if Evangelicalism is that 'best expression', then other, non-Evangelical expressions of Christian faith are not as good? (This, I think, is a characteristic of Conservative Evangelicalism.) And have they been willing to accept opprobrium for the maintenance and defence of the evangelical gospel? Is fellowship with Evangelicals prized and is there is a desire to advance evangelicalism within the Church of England and across the nation and globe?

    This once used to characterize Evangelicals - and explained why the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Christian Unions was so strong, and so broad denominationally, in the middle years of the last century.

    I would commend to you this essay which details the trip to Australia undertaken by Howard Guinness in 1930. As well as demonstrating the extraordinary vision of young people in those days, it captures both the sense of unity amongst Evangelicals and the reasons for their separation from earlier Christian student groups.

    Reading the history of this period, and especially what happened in Oxford and Cambridge, I have a sense of deja vu when I look at current Evangelical divisions. It is worth remembering that slogan of the forerunner of the Student Christian Movement was ‘The evangelisation of the world in this generation’. Yet how many Evangelicals were there to be found in the SCM by the 1960s?

    My point is that a generation of Evangelicals may leave no future legacy, not because of their own convictions regarding evangelism, but because of the long-term effect of their convictions regarding the boundaries of Evangelicalism itself.

    ReplyDelete
  4. John, I was brought up as a Christian with the ghetto mentality of CICCU which decades later was still celebrating its split from SCM. And there is part of me which still thinks in that way, that Christians with a particular set of opinions should separate and set up their own churches. But another part of me, and I think think this is the more biblical picture, wants to remain in close fellowship with all who call themselves Christians and accept at least the basics of the faith. What I find hard to understand is people like you who insist on staying within a church which has (at least from your perspective) liberal and apostate leaders, but wants to set up divisive parties within that church to oppose its leadership. That simply destroys the church. My feeling is that you should either work for the good and unity of that church or get out.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dear Peter,

    at the risk of sounding conformist, surely it's not the case that John is destroying the church? He is staying in a denomination in which the churches have varying and contradictory theologies. It can only be for the good of that denomination (and The Church) to seek to work for reformation.

    John commands respect from this non-conformist evangelical precisely because he stays and works for change, rather than just stays. The former demonstrates a real love for Christ's church. The latter is an ecclesiology of despair.

    In Christ,

    John Foxe
    Hertford

    ReplyDelete
  6. John F, Peter invites me to leave the Church of England every few weeks. It is rather ironic given that I've just had an e-mail from someone else asking me to use my 'good offices' to work for greater unity amongst Anglican Evangelicals.

    Hmmm - what to do? Leave the CofE or work for unity? ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dear John,

    Work for unity by recognising that you have most in common with your non-conformist evangelical brethren whilst working for the reformation of the Church of England. ;)

    And if you reach the conclusion that the CofE is unreformable then you're welcome in non-conformity.

    In Christ,

    Foxe smiling.

    ReplyDelete
  8. There are more than six replies to the Canada event on Fulcrum now, and the latest one is on the front page of the thread list as of Nov. 14. We need a little help--it's been just two of us the last couple of days: an American "open evangelical" (I don't think we have that phrase in TEC) and a British evangelical who has to be what you all call "closed evangelical" or "classic evangelical" (a history of that phrase would be appreciated).

    ReplyDelete
  9. Fr. Richardson--there are now more than 6 comments on the thread you mention above, and the latest one is on the front page of the thread. Just two of us have been commenting and we need a little help. One of us is an American "open evangelical" and the other must be a "CE." (Question: if the term can also mean "classical evangelical," could you give its history? It doesn't match the type of evangelicalism discussed in MacCulloch's biography of Thomas Cranmer, so I'm imagining the bases of the position were developed in a later century).

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Celinda. I tried Googling 'Evangelical history UK' and, rather depressingly, came up first with this article I wrote back in 1993. You may also find this book review useful.

    There are a number of books around. If you can get hold of it, Oliver Barclay's Evangelicalism in Britain is quite comprehensive.

    Let me know whether this is any help.

    ReplyDelete
  11. PS to Celinda, I note that although that thread now has more contributions it seems to be mostly you and Nersen clarifying terms, whereas the thread was started by John Martin to see whether Open Evangelicals would 'have a go' at Liberals in Canada rather than Conservative Evangelicals in England ("Critics of Fulcrum say we bash evangelical conservatives but stay silent about liberal trends in the Church. Your comments please."). I think the answer is sadly evident from the thread and the site at present!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Celinda,

    I suggest you read the article by John entitled " While Open means Closed and Conservative means radical at

    http://ugleyvicar.blogspot.com/2007/05/why-open-means-closed-and-conservative.html

    if as an American, you want to get a handle on the OE/CE divide in the UK. The reality in Fulcrum is that in practice, OE's consistently reveal themselves as having an antipathy to CE's but not to liberals. My impression is that they de facto define themselves as in opposition to CE's.


    Chris Bishop

    Devon

    ReplyDelete
  13. There is a very odd lack of discernment by a lot of Fulcrum contributors. GAFCON seems to be regarded there as the biggest threat the Anglican communion faces at the moment. Now, fine if someone disagrees with GAFCON, but surely understanding it from the perspective of orthodoxy would need to see it in the context of heresy which is rife and the lack of church discipline against it.

    Another example is their support for the single clause (code of practice) option on women bishops. It seems clear to most people that going down that road is going to split the church further, leave open evangelicals dangerously isolated and in the long run and turn them into the new conservative wing.

    I think the only way to understand them is to realise that many of them have been hurt in more conservative evangelicalism or by more conservative colleagues. There is probably an element of personal antipathy there which overrides logic and shared theological convictions. The only way forward is to try and rebuild relationships on the basis of repentance, forgiveness and charity. But that is more easily said than done.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "Having a go" at liberals is hard, as John Martin knows. It's easier to talk to other evangelicals because we all believe in the doctrines supported by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; and as far as Holy Scripture goes, we don't think (like those who admire Marcus Borg and other members of the Jesus Seminar) that much of the NT (including many of the sayings of Jesus) was put together by the early church in order to support pre-determined doctrines. And we don't think--like some liberals--that all of Holy Scripture is simply a group of man-made documents put together by people who hoped they were saying what God wanted them to say, but by and large not really sure. Although liberals--descendants of 16th century radicals in their desire to think freely about doctrine-- weren't part of the established church in the days of Thomas Cranmer, at least in the American Church they were active from the late 1700s and tried to modify the Book of Common Prayer to appeal to other liberals like Benjamin Franklin. They were willing in the late 1800s to subscribe to the doctrines supported in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, but they don't like to be pressed very firmly on them. To conclude: there have been liberals in most of the parishes to which I have belonged in TEC. I have been satisfied as long as there have been at least a few evangelicals in the parish, and a few Anglo-Catholics, and the rector has been either Anglo-Catholic or evangelical. The sexual issues have upset the balance which has been in TEC for as long as I can remember. In short: I don't think liberals can be persuaded to change. What I do think is that it's important for the evangelical presence--and the Anglo-Catholic one--to remain in the Anglican Communion and to grow, sometimes by convincing liberals, but more often by having church programs that attract more people in general (sermons, Christian education, outreach, etc.)
    In general liberals give as generously both in
    time and treasure to outreach as conservatives; we may disagree with them on our duty to God, but they are very helpful with our duty to our
    neighbor when it comes to corporal works of mercy.

    ReplyDelete
  15. In the light of your leading post in this thread it was refreshing to hear Bishop Pete Broadbent's honesty at NEAC 5 on Saturday (Nov 15th). From the stage he said that part of the reason why CEEC had gone more conservative was that Open Evangelicals like himself had not opted in.
    At NEAC 5 I (naively) could neither believe nor understand the reticence to 'express our support' for the Jersualem Declaration. But now I've come across this blog I can see that it was the public outworking of the Fulcrum mindset you mention. They were, to my mind, reluctant not so much to condemn TEC and its doings, but reluctant to accept that there might be real live human targets of TEC who should be encouraged and supported. I felt it was a shame that this internal CofE evangelical squabbling resulted in our persecuted brothers and sisters in the States and elsewhere receiving no word of encouragement whatsover from us. It's tragic, really.

    Fergus Pearson, vicar of Hensingham, West Cumbria

    ReplyDelete
  16. Fr. Pearson, Nersen on "Fulcrum" put the underlying dispute very well: whether those who believe in the authority of scripture can be in fellowship with leaders who go against Lambeth 1.10 or not. He says it's unscriptural (elsewhere citing Corinthians 5 and 6 on false teachers) to say we can. Those who disagree with that application of scripture say "yes, we can be in fellowship even though we disagree" are being targeted by those who say we can't, not vice versa. Those who want to have nothing to do with bishops who disagree council whole dioceses to leave their provinces and form another.
    To say that the Bishop of Pittsburgh was "targeted" without saying why is misleading: he was deposed because he had "targeted" the national church as not worthy of associating with and was counseling his whole diocese to leave. When you talk about persecution, please be aware that whole parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh are being persecuted over these issues as they face possible dissolution on the
    issue of whether or not people who disagree with Lambeth 1.10 can be in communion with one another.

    ReplyDelete