14 October 2015 A.D. Will revisionism save the CoE? We’re about to find out
Symes, Andrew. “Will revisionism save the Church of England? We’re about to find out.” Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. N.d. but we believe it to be 14 Oct 2015. https://fcasa.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/will-revisionism-save-the-c-of-e-were-about-to-find-out/. Accessed 14 Oct 2015.
Will revisionism save the C of E? We’re about to find out.
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
“Superb article, Andrew. You’ve cleared up several points on which I was confused. But then your articles are rarely less than superb.”
Sadly this commendation did not apply to me, but was the first of 640 readers’ comments on an article by Andrew Brown in last week’s Guardian Online. But more of that later.
Presiding Officers in each Diocese are this week counting the votes to elect members for General Synod for the next five years. I have a more than passing interest as I am a candidate for Oxford Diocesan clergy, but definitely an outsider to be one of the nine chosen among the 30 candidates.
Some Dioceses have already posted their results, and the headline has been the election of Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain as a representative for London. The background: In February 2014 the Bishops’ post-Synod statement reiterated that the Church of England cannot bless same sex relationships nor change its doctrine of marriage. Specifically an appeal was made to clergy in same sex relationships (which were supposed to be “celibate” anyway) not to take advantage of the forthcoming change in law (March 2014) to get married, because this would cause confusion about the Church’s teaching. Two clergy who defied this ruling became focal points for media interest: Jeremy Pemberton and Andrew Cain. What are we to make of the fact that the latter has become part of the decision making and governing body of the organisation whose teaching and practice on a crucial matter he has rejected?
London has the highest number of clergy reps for Synod – 11 – and there are some evangelicals in the list as well. But clearly, Foreshew-Cain has attracted many votes from other clergy because he represents a groundswell of opinion that the Church’s line on sexuality and marriage should be changed. He will become, then, a “focus of unity” for revisionists on Synod. Some may think the Bishops should be embarrassed, but I’m sure the official response will be that as the Church is involved in a “conversation”, all views can be expressed robustly, providing there is “good disagreement”.
For his supporters, Foreshew-Cain will be a symbol of “inclusion”. In his recent media statements he assumes that those who are concerned about his lifestyle simply “dislike gay people”. He goes on to say that the church with its teaching about sexual morality is not only alienating gay people, but divorced people as well. The implication is that whatever people choose to do with their relationships and private lives, that is ‘who they are’, and there should be no barriers. For revisionists, Foreshew-Cain’s presence at Synod will be a prophetic challenge to the boring, oppressive establishment, whose traditional doctrines about sex and marriage are excluding large numbers of people who don’t live in monogamous heterosexual marriage and are not celibate. ‘Including’ them will be the key to church growth.
Andrew Brown, veteran Guardian journalist, made similar points in an article last week, entitled Opposing gay Bishops for the sake of church unity is stupid. In his first paragraph he dismisses two common beliefs about what makes churches grow: a foundation of truth, and certainty of faith and its communication. The fact that different religions are based on mutually incompatible truth claims, and all seem to survive and thrive, suggests, according to Brown, that any such claims by any religion should be treated with suspicion if not ridicule. He then refutes the idea that certainty in religion is a good thing, by using two examples of “conviction” Christianity. Prosperity preachers are “obvious charlatans”; Calvinists are “boring and wrong”. This analysis of the motives of those who disagree with you is similar to Foreshew-Cain’s accusation that all with a conservative theology on sex and marriage hate gay people.
Brown dismisses the idea that sticking to orthodox doctrine will strengthen ecclesiastical institutions, because it hasn’t worked with the Catholic church in the West. Nor, apparently, with Anglicanism – since the notoriously heterodox David Jenkins retired from the See of Durham, a succession of Bishops “of unimpeachable orthodoxy” have failed to prevent a steep decline in church attendance. For Brown, like all revisionists, orthodoxy, like “Calvinism”, is a turn off even to most churchgoers, who would prefer to be led by a Bishop who shared their doubts, and this may in fact arrest the decline.
All of this builds up to the main point of Brown’s article, which is that Jeffrey John should be a Bishop, but has been blocked by “noisy evangelicals”, who insist that he could not be a focus of unity in a Diocese. Again there is caricature – we are told that conservative clergy are threatening to “march out” of the C of E in the case of John’s episcopacy, and that being governed by this threat is “cowardly and stupid”. Brown says that making John a Bishop might cause disunity but it would not be any worse than the current decline in numbers under Bishops with conventional beliefs and lifestyles, and may even cause some to stay. The same argument would presumably be made about the election of Foreshew-Cain to Synod as a hero for the revisionist cause.
But of course for those concerned about a foundation of biblical truth in the Church of England, the hypothetical problem with Jeffrey John being a Bishop would not be his sexuality, but his heterodox teaching. The actual high profile presence in Synod of a clergyman married to someone of the same sex will be a guarantor of division, and a symbol not of inclusion of people but of rebellion against God and his word. It is delusion to think this is a brave challenge to the powers that be – it is rather a capitulation to them, to the Stonewall-controlled, secularised new Establishment.
Will the policy of inclusion without repentance and faith, of rejecting traditional doctrines and reimagining Christian faith in line with contemporary urban white Western culture, bring more people to church? The Episcopal Church in the States and in Scotland, and the Anglican Church in Wales have journeyed along this road, and are declining rapidly. While it may be true that orthodox Bishops per se do not guarantee church growth, the evidence shows clearly that revisionism leads to church decline. And its not difficult to see why. If the Gospel isn’t true, why should I go to church on Sunday rather than go shopping or play golf? Community? Inspiring architecture? Help to be a better person? Those who want clergy to be “tentative in speaking about God” and “honest about doubts” have certainly failed to convince me why I should bother with the church if the whole thing is an “imaginative construct” to use Andrew Brown’s phrase.
If Foreshew-Cain’s presence on Synod passes without any comment from Bishops or senior evangelicals, does this signify another milestone in the C of E’s inevitable slide towards revisionism? What will the orthodox Anglicans do in the light of the latest example of this trajectory, in England and worldwide?
See also The all-inclusive church, by David Robertson, Christian Today