Church of England: Reviewing 2017 as a Conservative Evangelical

Well we've past the end of the year and the Church of England is still intact, well sort of. It was a very bad year for both conservatives in the Church of England and for the state of the Anglican communion. I'm sure I won't cover everything significant here (and of course my focus is somewhat on the negative 'issues' rather than much good day-by-day work in parishes), but here are a few of the things that took my attention.

1. Aggression continued to be aimed at those who are conservative on women's ministry

The most obvious example of this was the selection of Philip North to be Bishop of Sheffield followed by an outcry and him stepping down (it should be noted this is the second time this has happened to him). This made it clear that no-one conservative on the ministry of women will be allowed to be a bishop. It also made it clear that the incoherent 5 guiding principles are not only incoherent, but also irrelevant. Despite a little outcry at the time, there has been no actual change, in fact rather the opposite as non theological conservatives have been appointed!

However, this wasn't the only example. Philip North's experience was simply a very public version of what has been happening to conservative clergy for some time. I've experienced it repeatedly, as have many others. The consecration of women bishops and the 'compromise' has just made it worse.

Perhaps the other obvious example was the recent appointment of the Bishop of London. Apart from being somewhat lacking in ministry experience or academic credentials (although she has been a very senior nurse, which should perhaps raise its own ethical questions about how she dealt Christianly with medical ethics), she is, as it turns out, a woman. This is surprising and somewhat aggressive, in part, because the Diocese of London was one of the few that voted against women bishops and, in part, because the Diocese of London has a large number who are conservative on women's ministry including some large churches. No doubt she will be working for "mutual flourishing" and attempting to show it can all work. In some ways this may be good for conservatives. We will see their true colours when faced with it on their own doorstep.

2. Aggressive liberalisation continued with respect to the legitimizing of LGBT lifestyles

It's tricky to know where to start here. Increasing numbers of Bishops have been speaking in favour of  LGBT lifestyles - in particular the Bishop of Chelmsford and the Bishop of Liverpool. Increasing numbers of cathedrals and churches have been 'blessing' pride parades. There have been increasing examples of not quite gay 'marriages' in Church of England buildings. The Archbishop of Canterbury seems unable to give a clear lead or answer to the question (and the new Bishop of London seems to be following his lead).

The LGBT campaigners within synod seem to be more organized and have pushed through some tangential but significant motions on conversion therapy and transgender baptism. Jayne Ozanne seems in particular to have been making a name for herself as an 'evangelical' campaigner and has set up a self-named foundation to pursue these sort of goals across the world (with trustees including the Bishop of Liverpool and my own archdeacon - oh joy!).

Despite the fact that the Church of England position remains that of the Higton Motion, there doesn't seem much doubt that to be conservative on this issue is becoming almost as damaging for your prospects as being conservative on women's ministry. At best, if you want to progress, you'd best keep quiet about it and prevaricate when asked. Hence, we seem to have had practically no lead from any conservative bishops - in some ways the opposite, as they by-and-large voted for the synod motions.

The future seems uncomfortably clear when we see the 'progress' of the Scottish Episcopal church, which voted this year to allow same-sex marriages. It likely to be a question of how far down the road it is for the Church of England. Similar examples seem to be in place in New Zealand, as well as the well-known examples of TEC and ACoC in North America.

3. The orthodox fightback?

There have been some interesting moves in response. At an international level, the GAFCON movement continues to resist liberalisation with resect to LGBT lifestyles (although it is mixed on women's ministry amongst other things). Under Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, we are seeing particularly trenchant responses to Canterbury and liberalisation. However, it is not all good news, as we have seen some issues with newer primates in the global south (e.g. Kenya) seemingly towing the Canterbury line.

Perhaps the key move was the consecration of Bishop Andy Lines as an ACNA bishop for Europe, followed by him ordaining a number of men for ministry particularly for AMiE. There was, of course, also the consecration of Bishop Jonathan Pryke as a REACH-SA bishop. It is less clear what the consequences of that will be.

In general there have been moves by the orthodox to distance themselves from Church of England liberalisation: the ongoing development of a shadow synod; the development of Good Stewards trusts; dual-licensing with the Free Church of England, planting with AMiE and the Free Church of England and even the posting of the Southwark declaration to cathedral doors. For many, the question has become when rather than if they will leave the Church of England.

However, truth-be-told, there is little coherent plan, much disagreement about what to do, when and a lack of widely respected and accepted leadership. Beyond that, there is substantial theological disagreement within the orthodox camp. As it stands, it looks like it's a loose every-man-for-himself kind of network.

4. A brief response

Where does that leave us? Well, let's be honest if you're a conservative evangelical like me the future (in the medium term) doesn't look very bright in the Church of England and for the Church of England. While we don't know God's plans for it, it would seem reasonable to feel that the lampstand could be removed to quote Revelation!

Perhaps more disturbingly still, the future for Anglican evangelicals, due to lack of unity, theological coherence and leadership is concerning. I for one, won't be entirely surprised to find myself outside of paid ministry in the none-to-distant future, whether actually pushed or more likely forced to leave to be faithful. It doesn't look like there will necessarily be anywhere to go.

For what it's worth this pushes me to prayer, the Scriptures and to action.


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