Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Bishop of Chelmsford and Human Sexuality — here we go again?

Long-term readers of this blog, and that under the heading Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, can hardly have been ignorant of the significant difficulties experienced by conservatives and traditionalists in the Diocese of Chelmsford caused by former Bishop John Gladwin’s stance on human sexuality.
Bishop John was, amongst other things, a patron of the campaign group ‘Changing Attitude’. The fact that he took up this position in 2006, whilst already in difficult face-to-face discussions with representatives of those conservative and traditionalists in his own diocese did much to heighten the tension.
The stance of Changing Attitude, incidentally, may be gathered from the following comments in its Tenth Anniversary Report on the ideas put forward in a book titled Same Sex Intimacies: Families of choice and other life experiments:
Social changes are affecting both non-heterosexual and heterosexual lives alike, underpinned by a widely accepted friendship ethic in which men and women who have rejected the ‘heterosexual assumption’ are creating ways of being that point to a more diverse culture of relationships than law, tradition and the church have sanctioned. [...] Many individuals in contemporary society have a strong sense that opportunities now exist on a greater scale than ever before for the construction of more open and democratic relationships than are allowed by the traditional family.
The disquiet with Bishop John’s approach began before his appointment to Chelmsford. Interviewed on Channel 4 news at the time of Gene Robinson’s election, Bishop John was asked rather directly, ‘Either a practising homosexual is to be appointed as a bishop or he is not. Which way should it go?’
His reply was thus:
Well, that’s just exactly the sort of way not to approach this problem and this issue. If this move is something which is good to the Holy Spirit ... um ... and to the people of God, it will flourish. If it isn’t then time will wither it upon the vine. So I think we need to exercise a little bit of patience and to allow some space to see whether a development like this is going to be wholesome to the Church or otherwise.
The response of many us would be, well we’ve waited and now we know.
As a Diocese, therefore, Chelmsford does therefore have ‘form’ with regard to the position of incoming bishops on the issue of human sexuality and their comments to the press. It was thus with some concern that I read the following in the Church of England Newspaper for April 1st, regarding newly-elected Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s views on Bishop James Jones’s recent highly controversial remarks to the Liverpool Diocesan Synod:
Bishop Cottrell said: “I think it was a very helpful and interesting contribution to the ongoing discussion. I think one of the things which probably distresses me the most is that were not very good at actually having an open discussion about these issues. It can often be a kind of megaphone diplomacy, or megablog diplomacy!”
‘Helpful and interesting’ was certainly not how Bishop Jones’s remarks were regarded in conservative and traditionalist circles — ‘alarming and divisive’ would be more like it, especially when one takes into account Bishop Jones’s apparent attempt to position his diocese halfway between Africa and TEC (and therefore not with the rest of the Church of England!)
The really difficult point to accept, however, is Bishop Stephen’s assertion that there has been a lack of ‘open discussion’. On the contrary, one sometimes feels there has been discussion about almost nothing else for more than a decade. I myself was on a working party, put together by the Bishop of Chelmsford before John Gladwin, which drew up a study document on this subject for use around the parishes.
In any case, one must ask whether more discussion is what is required. It has long struck me that the first ‘dialogue’ in Scripture, recorded in Genesis 3, did not end well for the human race — and that one also began with the famous word, “Has God indeed said ...?”
Bishop Cottrell is well-known as a member of the Liberal Catholic body ‘Affirming Catholicism’, which also includes Dean Jeffrey John amongst its members. It is perfectly reasonable to ask about the Bishop, therefore, what it is in the ‘AffCath’ approach to life and faith that he finds particularly appealing. It is also reasonable to ask, since he has called for “open discussion” what exactly he thinks on the subject of human sexuality and how and why he has reached these opinions.
The truth is, though, that I wish it were unnecessary.
John P Richardson
17 April 2010
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  1. Canon Andrew Godsall17 April 2010 at 19:55

    Are you really saying you didn't know this about Stephen Cottrell before he made the statement? it was absolutely common knowledge when he was appointed to Reading way back that he held the same views on the gay issue that Jeffrey John did. That was the irony. He just happened not to be gay himself.

  2. T.E.C. history shows that calls for more discussion are just a ploy to allow the liberal agenda to move forward unopposed.

  3. Canon Andrew, personally I was well aware that Bp Stephen was alleged, even in his Reading days, to share Dean John's views on sexuality. I even hinted as much here on this blog as well as engaging in a more direct discussion here on a fellow Chelmsford blogger's blog.

    To that extent, I had my doubts. However, Bp Stephen seemed to have kept his views very much to himself whilst as Reading, and has a reputation much more for mission than for engaging in this controversy. I therefore felt he should get the 'benefit of the doubt' on this matter.

    Unfortunately, his stance in this area is bound to be closely watched by traditionalist clergy in Chelmsford who made it quite clear during the search for a new bishop that the fences broken down in John Gladwin's time needed to be repaired. This is therefore a disappointment to us, but sadly, not a great surprise to me.

  4. Canon Andrew Godsall18 April 2010 at 08:09

    John I think the majority of Christians in the UK hold the same views as Bishop Stephen. It's interesting that many conservative blogs have had links to Ruth Gledhill's blog over several years. But Ruth has been much clearer over recent months about her views on the gay issue, and this last week made it clear that she also believes that most Christians here in the UK are more tolerant than people like Anglican Mainstream would have us believe. Conservative clergy in Chelmsford may need to get used to that idea.

  5. Andrew, it rather looks as if your mind is made up (and that you are suggesting Bp Stephen's may also be).

    In that case, I doubt whether you would see the need for more discussion, but then there will undoubtedly be more division, and that may be something we all have to get used to.

  6. Canon Andrew Godsall18 April 2010 at 08:40

    john i would always see the need for more discussion - and that's why I think James Jones is absolutely right and advocates the only possible way forward. We shall be having discussion about the mater at Exeter Cathedral this morning as part of our adult sunday school following my sermon referring to the issue this morning.

  7. Andrew, then excuse me replying with some haste, but I trust that the discussion will be genuinely two-way, such that people may move to a more 'traditionalist' position.

    In that case, Paul's caution in 1 Cor 11:19 surely applies on this point: "for there must be divisions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized."

  8. If Ruth Gledhill's views are considered to be the barometer of "what most Christians believe' then I as many others, would beg to differ.

    Bishop Chris

  9. Canon Andrew Godsall18 April 2010 at 12:53

    John it seems to me that you are using St Paul for your own arguments and as a sound bite to try and prove who is 'genuine' here. I am not sure that's a very helpful way to use scripture.

    And of course the discussion is genuinely 2 way - we try to make it three dimensional if possible, following good principles from our Archbishop. People hold different views and the purpose of good adult education is to enable more detailed exploration of why so that people feel more confident expressing and exploring them in public.

    People beg to differ with what Ruth Gledhill and others say. That's fine. What we try to do is enable a forum in which people can beg to differ but still 'drink from the same cup of salvation' - something James Jones pleads for in his approach.

  10. Canon Andrew,
    You wrote:

    "John I think the majority of Christians in the UK hold the same views as Bishop Stephen."

    Could you show us your evidence for this assertion please?

    Do you think the majority of the AC holds the same views as Bishop Stephen?

    Bishop Chris

  11. Canon Andrew Godsall18 April 2010 at 18:29

    Bishop Chris

    Bishop Stephen said: "I think one of the things which probably distresses me the most is that we’re not very good at actually having an open discussion about these issues. It can often be a kind of megaphone diplomacy, or megablog diplomacy"

    My evidence for thinking that the majority of Christians also hold that view is based on talking to many Christians over 22 years of ordination. in my current role, which is both in Cathedral and Diocese, I have opportunity to hear many views. The one I hear most is that people are tired of the extreme positions - they want to able to debate and discuss.

    I think the AC is extremely mixed in its view. We know that some primates think TEC should be expelled from the communion. They appear to be in a minority.

    Where in Devon are you a bishop Chris?

  12. "People hold different views and the purpose of good adult education is to enable more detailed exploration of why so that people feel more confident expressing and exploring them in public."

    But the purpose of Christian teaching is to reach the truth, not make people who are wrong feel more confident about being wrong.

    In that respect, all the talk about how many people hold a particular view isn't particularly relevent.

  13. "John I think the majority of Christians in the UK hold the same views as Bishop Stephen."

    The "majority of Christians in the UK" probably think Deuteronomy is a cat in a Lloyd Webber musical.

    Ahab: Let's have a vote! Who's for stoning Elijah? Sorry, old chap - you got only 7,000 in THE WHOLE NATION.

    Zedekiah: Let's have a vote. Who's for keeping Jeremiah in the well? Well, that settles it.

    (John, I think Chris is a Bishop wherever he finds himself... :) )

  14. "We know that some primates think TEC should be expelled from the communion. They appear to be in a minority."


    The person to whom they appear that way may need to get some new spectacles!

    Neil Barber
    Derby, UK

  15. Canon Andrew Godsall18 April 2010 at 22:25

    Anonymous, Chris may 'be' a bishop wherever he finds himself, but he can only exercise an episcopal ministry in a diocese where permission has been granted to him. As I work with all the Anglican bishops in Devon, (where he describes himself to be) I know that we have none called 'Chris'. So it would be interesting to know where he exercises his ministry.

  16. My dear Andrew,
    I confess that I must put you out of your bafflement by affirming that I am indeed a Bishop but in surname only! I am in fact a leader of a Baptist Church in South Devon but have great respect for the Anglican Church and its traditions including many Anglican friends. I have often thought what it would be like to be Bishop in the Anglican church where I could take the title 'Bishop Squared' but believe I would be much too extreme for the ordination board.

    Chris Bishop

    (We Baptists are wet all over BTW).

  17. Canon Andrew Godsall19 April 2010 at 09:15

    Excellent Chris! I too am glad to affirm the good relationship we have with the Baptist Church in Devon - and presumably you are only wet all over as you are nearer the coast?!

  18. "There hasn't yet been adequate dialogue!". One of the preoccupations of the present leadership of the C of E (being "liberal" (revivsionist))is endless - but endless - dialoguing; the Abp of C is, indeed, the leader here; and one gets to wonder if maybe it might be the case that we (orthodox Christians) are being fooled, and diverted, by a process/practice just intended to draw us away from calling for true Christianity to be restored. As often pointed out, in the end, a party to this endless dialogue just gets weary, and agrees to anything; this (it has reasonably been said) is just a tactic ...

  19. Canon Andrew Godsall19 April 2010 at 21:18

    John I'm not sure what your definition of 'orthodox' is, but it is surely a rather wider thing than just related to human sexuality. Is this the only defining issue of the day? I know lots of 'orthodox' clergy and laity who happen to be gay.

  20. "I know lots of 'orthodox' clergy and laity who happen to be gay."

    Feeling an attraction to something and acting upon it are two different things. Most men I know feel the appeal of pornography and adultery, however fleetingly. What does this tell us about the moral status of homosexual attraction or action? And what would Andrew say about a clergyman I know of who left his wife and children to follow his homosexual desires? Or a church leader and mother who left her husband to begin a lesbian relationship with another church leader? Is this godly behaviour?

    Please, Andrew, spare us the straw men. Of course 'orthodox' means MORE than just NT teaching on marriage and sexual relations. But it does not mean *other than that.

    Not a Bishop

  21. Canon Andrew Godsall20 April 2010 at 07:48

    It always seems clear when conservatives use the phrase 'straw man' that they feel up against the ropes. Especially when they put up straw men of their own.
    The word 'orthodox' is not a slippery adjective - which it has become in the way that you use it.
    Would a 4th Century Orthodox christian regard a protestant as 'orthodox', or revisionist?
    Would a 10th century Roman Catholic Christian regard any Protestant as Orthodox?
    Is a Roman Catholic or indeed Anglo Catholic bishop who moves a known paedophile priest to another parish 'orthodox'?
    Was a first century biblical letter writer who didn't challenge slavery 'orthodox'?
    Orthodox is not an adjective for conservative christians to bandy around. By relativising it in such a way you take away its meaning. You put orthodoxy, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

  22. I share Andrew's impression that the majority of UK Christians sympathise with +Stephen's opinions, but similarly without hard evidence - it would be interesting to see research on this, although, of course who is in the majority has no bearing on who is right or wrong. I'm particularly noticing a generational shift: those in their 20s and 30s seem far more likely to take the position that gets labelled 'liberal' than those in older generations, where their views on other points of doctrine co-incide. The labelling is interesting: people are not (as far as I can observe) taking a position because it is 'liberal', but because that is what they read the message of the Bible to be. This then gets labelled as liberal by those who read the Bible differently. Making views on sexuality a test case of orthodoxy (pace Anonymous) may falsely inflate the number of liberals the church really contains.

  23. Just a quick note to say I haven't been ignoring this thread - just too busy to contribute.

    However, I feel with regard to Andrew's comments and responses an issue which I think is generally part of the problem.

    Andrew, you speak of the need for "more discussion" as "the only possible way forward", yet it does seem to me that your own mind is made up.

    The question then becomes, "What's to discuss?" Is it to establish who is right and who is wrong? My reason for quoting from Paul's comments to the Corinthians was along these lines - that discussion must then proceed, "in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized."

    Furthermore, if the discussion is to decide on who is right and who is wrong, then the final outcome should be a church where the 'wrong' (whatever that may be) is finally purged (or at least minimalized and never allowed into positions of teaching or authority).

    Alternatively, is the discussion to find ways of accommodating one another, because there is room for disagreement? Is homosexuality comparable, for example, to baptismal theology?

    What I mean is that I, as an Anglican, have no problem recognizing Baptists as Christians, but I acknowledge they think our way of doing baptism is wrong, and that therefore they cannot co-exist with us structurally. Indeed, theologically we can't both be right (it cannot be that infant baptism both isn't and is valid). However, it seems we generally do not feel that fellowship in the gospel is compromised by our disagreement on this point - even though it is a fundamental matter of Christian initiation.

    If that is the case regarding homosexuality, then it should be possible for those who accept same-sex relationships to recognize as 'partners in the gospel' those who deny them - even though it may, ultimately, be necessary for them to leave the existing church structures and set up their own, as the 'revisionists' did over baptism.

    Now it seems to me that many 'revisionists' are speaking the language of the second case ("Let's discuss how we can get along"), whilst adopting the stance of the former case ("You are wrong and we are right"). This is inherently incoherent, and until that is recognized, no real progress can be made.

  24. Canon Andrew Godsall20 April 2010 at 13:40

    Well John I think James Jones recognises exactly that point and proposes the only way forward. The same has been true in the C of E about the ordination of women to the priesthood. I think opponents of it are wrong, but I am still in communion with them and have no problem with that (and the ones that do have a problem with it have, by and large, chosen to leave).

  25. Just to be clear then, Andrew, I take it you think that revisionists on this issue are right, but that this view must not necessarily prevail throughout the Church of England - rather as I can accept as a practising Anglican someone who, nevertheless, does not present their infant children for baptism.

    I presume you would also therefore hold that the revisionist position is not so distinct that revisionists need to leave the Church of England - that the revisionist viewpoint can be accommodated in the Church's structures.

    One of the things that would then need discussing is how a traditionalist bishop, who believed homosexual practice was immoral, would act if he were confronted with revisionist clergy, wishing (for example) to live together in active homosexual relationships. How would their views and his be accommodated?

    Could you outline your thoughts?

  26. Canon Andrew Godsall20 April 2010 at 15:55

    I think a clear case in this area relates to the many partnered gay clergy in the C of E: many of them are in the traditionalist Anglo Catholic wing (I think of London diocese in particular where I worked for 13 years) and were ordained by traditionalist bishops using the 'don't ask don't tell' policy. They do more than exist - they keep the church going in some very difficult areas.
    Revisionism is another very relative term.

  27. You have been talking for days and have got nowhere. Not one of you has mentioned what Jesus said on the subject of homosexuality. A man with such widely publicised views, the most quoted leader in History must surely have said something. I have just scanned my Words of Jesus in Red Bible. I found nothing, however I found plenty about adultery, judging others, casting the first stone and so on. We all could stop wasting words and write something positive that could be stumbled upon by for example my gay son. It is this
    'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'

  28. Andrew Godsall @ 8:48 - argumentum ad hominem
    If you can show me that Jesus approved of homosexual relationships, I'll change my mind.
    The cases I mentioned are real. How would you deal with them?
    Anonyomous @ 18:14 - argumentum ad misericordiam
    Try reading the website of Robert Gagnon for a VERY full answer to the question you raise.

    'dont ask don't tell' is not an honest way to conduct the life of the church, not least because parishioners are required now to fund the pensions of partners in 'civil partnerships'. The Chuch of England made a serious error in allowing its clergy to enter such partnerships. It needs to repent of this error.
    Not a Bishop

  29. Andrew, I can't see that what you've said addresses the situation of a bishop who cannot, in conscience, turn a blind eye.

    Moreover, unless I've misunderstood, you're not asking for a blind eye to be turned, but for open and public acceptance, which is certainly a 'revision', if I can put it that way, of the Church's position.

  30. Anonymous with the gay son, the trouble is we cannot decide what Jesus stood for or understand what he did purely on the basis of the 'red letter' words in the Bible.

    There are, for example, no 'red letter' words from Jesus about idolatry. Do we then conclude that this was something on which he had no particular view?

    On the other hand, Jesus' 'red letter' words about the Law are quite emphatic: "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:19)

    Meanwhile, your own quotation, "No one comes to the Father except through Me", is regarded by many outside the church as being as deeply offensive as anything else we say.

    The reality is, Jesus did not leave behind a 'red letter' Bible, but his Apostles and his Holy Spirit. And there is, of course, good news, even from that source!

    "Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Co 6:9-11)

  31. Canon Andrew Godsall20 April 2010 at 21:36

    What I'm asking for John is the way that James Jones suggests.He concludes:
    'This address has been about how we handle disagreements about ethical principles within the Body of Christ. It is also about how we promote a Christian humanism whereby we discover before God both how to flourish as human beings in Christ and how to treat each other humanely in the process of that discovery. It is my plea that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion must allow a variety of ethical views on the subject as in this Diocese we do and that to do so finds a parallel in the space it offers for a diversity of moral positions on the taking of life. Although it will doubtless remain a disputed question for some time in the wider church I hope this approach will continue to allow for the development of a humane pastoral theology here in the Diocese of Liverpool.'

    I fully agree with you that, having decided on that as way forward we need to do some work on structure to allow for consciences. That will take time.

  32. But Andrew, how does a Bishop who holds the Church's traditional (and certainly, until perhaps, recently the prevailing view of the House of Bishops) deal with a situation where one of his clergy, in obedience to his own conscience, is living in a way that the Bishop judges to be immoral?

    Can that circle be squared?

  33. What Andrew Godsall is saying is that every bishop is a pope in his own diocese - provided, of course, he agrees with liberal views on homosexuality.
    But NO bishop can decide to overrule the teaching of the church sua sponte.
    That is what Jones did in Liverpool.
    Not a Bishop

  34. Just as an aside, could I please ask contributors not to post anonymously or pseudonymously unless there are real reasons to withold a name and location. We don't expect to see letters in the local press without a name and address at least 'supplied'. I have come to the conviction that the internet would be a better place if the same convention prevailed here.

  35. John, would you see any parallel/precedent in how we have handled different views on the ordination of women? There are bishops who are opposed to the ordination of women, and who will not celebrate or receive communion from a woman priest, who yet have pastoral oversight over women priests.

  36. Canon Andrew Godsall21 April 2010 at 07:59

    Stuart raises the parallel I've already raised John. Another question for you is this: what about an Evangelical bishop who knows that Anglo Catholic clergy in his diocese use the Roman Rite and process with the sacrament? Does he do anything about it? Or an Anglo Catholic bishop who knows that evangelical clergy in his diocese refuse to wear any of the robes that the canons require?

  37. Andrew, I'm not the one trying to square the circle, so I'd still be interested in your answers.

  38. Canon Andrew Godsall21 April 2010 at 10:00

    I've given my answers John. We are not yet in the position that James Jones proposes, but I think we would use the same approach I've outlined above. Stuart has also said something similar.

  39. John,

    To be quite specific, you asked "How does a Bishop who holds the Church's traditional... view... deal with a situation where one of his clergy, in obedience to his own conscience, is living in a way that the Bishop judges to be immoral? Can that circle be squared?"

    The answer that I and I think, though not to speak for him, Andrew, are making is that to be a bishop is to have to square such circles. You may be against women clergy yet have to minister to and with them, you may be liberal/conervative and have to ordain clergy whose conservative/liberal views you believe to be erroneous, etc, etc.

    As to how they square all these circles, we might need to get a bishop into the discussion to testify, but I would presume it's through humility and a focus on what unites us above what divides us - which I'd imagine is also what drives your ability to work with Baptists, despite the differences.

    The church has always through history had one or two issues which have at the time seemed utterly crucial to disputants of the day and engendered massive argument (anyone for a riot over ritual?) In the vast majority of cases, the argument ultimately, often after many decades, dies down and we now no live with the array of differences within the one communion - over ritual, over baptismal regeneration, over divorced persons receiving communion, remarriage after divorce; to give just a few relatively recent examples from Anglicanism.

  40. Stuart, thank you for your fuller reply. However, the implication of what you seem to be saying is that the bishop is simply the arbiter of opinions which in some way are decided as 'acceptably Anglican'.

    I wonder, though, whether that is the best way for Anglican doctrine to proceed, or whether it is a true reflection of the role of the bishop.

    I have to say that at this point I have a lot of sympathy with what Jeffrey John wrote some years ago in his Permanent, Faithful, Stable:

    "‘[T]he bishops themselves must realize that no effective process of education will begin in the Church until they see to it that ‘what is whispered in private rooms is shouted from the housetops’. This means taking their episcopal teaching office seriously [...]. The gospel does not allow a divergence between public and private moralities, and political expediency is not a Christian virtue — rather the opposite.’ (My emphasis).

    I actually think he was right, though we will probably never know whether he would have stuck to his guns had he become Bishop of Reading. In other words, the bishop ought to preach, teach and advocate through his office, what he believes to be true even if that inconveniences others in the Church.

  41. I find it interesting, and revealing, that though (some) Anglican leaders will go to absolutely any lengths whatever to find a minute, hair-splitting excuse, or cover, or smokescreen, for justifying ongoing homosexual behavior, but have no problem whatever instantly, roundly, and totally condemning anyone even tempted to support the BNP (no room for "dialogue" there, or "feeling their pain", etc.) - and yet homosexual acts are one thing unambiguously proscribed by the Bible and all of Christian tradition (up until the secular-materialist "Christianity" of our own day); and yet neither the Bible nor Christian tradition condemn some aspects of right-wing politics (eg. patriotism). The C of E's rulership truly is "the Guardian readership at prayer".

  42. John (Richardson),

    Thank you for your response, it brings up the interesting question of what constitutes authority within the Church of England. We do not have a Magisterium, which can make defining the source of authority difficult, but I believe this can still be a strength in our witness.

    We would all agree (well, having said that.. most of us, anyway) in the authority of Scripture, the creeds and the councils [brief note, I didn't mean to lump those together, but having accidentally deleted a much fuller post at the very end of writing it, will now be somewhat more concise]. But at the heart of the current controversy are different interpretations of Scripture - so if we are to have a definitive statement we need some source of authority on the correct interpretation of Scripture.

    To many outsiders, resolutions of Synod (my heart sinks at the concept) and above all the Canons of the Church of England would seem the obvious place to look. They resemble a neat set of bye-laws that govern what we do. And yet, if you'll forgive an amicably intended illustration John, by your profile photo I might ask whether your apparel is always "such as to be a sign and mark of [your] holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to [your] spiritual charge" (Canon C27). If we had to restrict the clergy to those who truly adhere to all of the Canons and all of the Articles with no Newmanesque obfuscation - well, we'd solve the pensions crisis for a start. [Not that that's relevant for you personally, I know.]

    So I think we are, then left, with those in authority within the church - bishops, definitely, and others as well - interpreting within unclear bounds, but with a certainty that if one goes too far from what is "acceptably Anglican" in a largely uncodified way, you will be brought back into line.

    I think there is something in the Anglican approach. The lassitude given to clergy in particular, has proved a bulwark against "groupthink" in the CofE and has aided our discernment to grow organically rather than by means of sudden dramatic changes - which seems to be more the case in the RC, for example.

  43. Stuart, can I get back to you on this? Once again, I am now flat out with other demands. As to your "having accidentally deleted a much fuller post at the very end of writing it" - I have done that so often.

    To be honest, if its going to be a long one, these days, I usually compose it in a word processor first!

  44. John, please take your time. One thing which (I'd confidently presume) we do agree on is that this current debate must not be allowed to detract from the mission and ministry of the church. So go about God's work!

    Best wishes,


  45. Canon Andrew Godsall22 April 2010 at 19:30

    John you said: "I have to say that at this point I have a lot of sympathy with what Jeffrey John wrote some years ago in his Permanent, Faithful, Stable:

    "‘[T]he bishops themselves must realize that no effective process of education will begin in the Church until they see to it that ‘what is whispered in private rooms is shouted from the housetops’. "

    I'm fascinated by this. Bishop John Gladwin effectively did what Jeffrey John asked, and what you have said you have sympathy for. What I have always assumed Jeffrey was referring to here was the practice of SOME bishops to be very welcoming and accepting of gay and partnered clergy in their dioceses in private but not in public. It is well known that some bishops are very affirming of their gay partnered clergy, but make it clear to them that they could not support them in public. But Bishop John Gladwin was prepared to shout from the rooftops what he also said in private it seems to me.

  46. John,

    I think it may be a mistake to go looking for trouble. Your new bishop is hardly challenging the orthodox understanding. May I suggest you check with evangelical leaders in Oxford and Reading and find out how he worked out as a bishop. I would also be interested if you could find time to review some of his books. He seems to have a heart for mission so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt until he nails his colours to the mast.

    West Yorkshire

  47. Andrew, though he did adopt a standpoint, and express it in some of his actions as a bishop, the problem was that John Gladwin did not do what Jeffrey John rightly advocates, which is to say, teach. The result was a sense of constant ambivalence about where he was - and we were.

  48. An intriguing conversation with many viewpoints covered. I perhaps stand with the view of traditionalist but realistic in terms of what can be achieved from that position.

    It has highlighted to me that the Anglican Church is one which accommodates Christians, but whose sexuality is different. I do not see this changing any time soon - and perhaps I do not want to turn my back on those who are different, rather welcome and affirm them as God's children.

    I can recall in the Armed Forces the prejudice towards those who were gay, and who were often persecuted to the extent of losing their jobs and even being sent to prison. The attitude of non-acceptance was wide spread. However, when one or two, brave individuals took the MOD to the ECHR, and won their case - the Generals were forced to change things and to give equal employments rights to Gays. The attitude from many than serving was that they could not and would not work alongside gay personnel and would resign. In fact, I cannot recall one single resignation over the issue - and today, gay personnel serve openly and well alongside their colleagues in high pressure operational environments and their sexuality is not an issue.

    I am aware that the situation is not directly comparable - but if Gay personnel, have demonstrated their loyalty and capability and been accepted as true equals in a service environment, sharing the risks of harm and hardships of such service - I cannot see any reason why in the Church they should be discriminated against for being different.

    I noted a comment about younger people being more accepting of those of different sexuality, I do not see any evidence of that - I am in my sixties and would not wish to discriminate on the grounds of difference of race, gender or sexuality - I cannot see you as a Christian you can adopt that standpoint.

  49. Stuart, I said I'd get back to you on your earlier comment, and I have an opportunity to do just that.

    It seems to me that many words of wisdom were spoken in the last century in the Report of the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline, which reported in 1906.

    This was called to address the issues arising out of the ritualist controversy which had been rattling along for some decades. The Commissioners (in my view, wisely) noted that, "If a Bishop should now determine to administer the Acts of Uniformity with absolute strictness, he would have to make requirements which would hinder the fruitful activities of many clergy, others which would entail a great deal of useless trouble, and others which would produce an indignant agitation in many congregations."

    At the same time, however, they noted that inconsistency by bishops within and between dioceses had created a climate of uncertainty, in which discipline had somewhat broken down. Thus they state that, "When we come to consider the administrative actions of the Bishops ... it appears to be undeniable that the period of greatest growth of ritual excess, at any rate in the metropolitan area, was during the ten or twelve years which followed 1885. It seems clear that this growth was in a considerable degree assisted by the inaction of the Bishops, especially in the diocese of London, where, as already mentioned, a great liberty was allowed which made it more difficult to maintain discipline in the neighbouring dioceses and indirectly affected other dioceses."

    Both these points are, I think, pertinent in the present. A sudden, rigorist, approach to the Canons would create great difficulty - but that is in part due to a past laxness that has not always been helpful.

    Things are made worse, however, by inconsistency across the dioceses (just as a local baptism policy can be vitiated by differences between parishes).

    There would be no value in suddenly wanting a canonical 'work to rule'. But equally, there cannot be an 'anything goes' approach and, specifically, it would help if bishops maintained some consistency.

    I am actually all for bishops doing a bit more 'bishopping' - but this must start with them taking a lead in the teaching office, not lording it over their presbyters but (as Hooker advises) working with and listening to them.

  50. John,

    Thank you for your response. It makes complete sense - but the problem remains: how and where is that consistency to come from, when it cannot come from Scripture (because there is no consistency between bishops on its interpretation) nor the canons (for the reasons we have each stated).

    It runs the risk of coming down to us being happy with our bishops when they say things we agree with - whilst they're probably being of use to us primarily when they are teaching, guiding or even disciplining us by words that challenge our own settled views.

  51. Stuart, I think the Royal Commission was itself quite interesting at this point. Although they recognized the difficulties of being over-scrupulous with the Canons and the Act of Uniformity, and although they recognized that the 16th century took a very different view of the issue of 'conscience' in religious matters, nevertheless, there were several things they felt should be ruled entirely 'out of court', principally because they were "clearly inconsistent with and subversive of the teaching of the Church of England as declared by the Articles and set forth in the Prayer Book".

    Now it seems to me that would not be an unreasonable principle on which to operate - that their can be some flexibility in the application of the rules, but that there should be some boundaries, which ought to correspond to a degree to those things we acknowledge in the Declaration of Assent as being part of our Anglican 'identity'.

    What we should not have is the application of cuius regio, eius religio ("Who rules decides the religion") simply with respect to the individual bishop.

    I am actually very happy to discuss the shape this might take, and very unhappy with the 'Let's keep the bishops out of the parishes' approach that tends to characterize Evangelicalism - but I recognize the hazards this invites.