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