Church of England bishop: 'Nothing we agreed at General Synod undermines Scripture'

Bishop of Norwich Graham JamesReuters

A senior Church of England bishop has defended the General Synod against accusations that it 'failed to uphold the teaching of the Bible'.

Bishop of Norwich Graham James contests the assertion of former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir‑Ali, and other  conservative Anglicans that the recent synod which voted against 'conversion therapy' and in favour of inclusivity for transgender people went against the Bible.

In a letter to the Telegraph he writes: 'The threefold sources of authority in the Church of England are scripture, tradition and reason, with scripture as the foundation. Nothing agreed at the recent synod undermines that.

'On human sexuality, the General Synod called for an exploration of inclusivity in the context of "the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it" within a teaching document yet to be written.

'The synod voted against "conversion therapy", which purports to make gay people straight. It did not seek to prevent prayer or accredited counselling for people uncomfortable with their sexuality.

'The synod also asked the bishops to consider authorising liturgies to welcome transgender people. This was prompted by stories of those who have felt rejected by the Church, and out of a biblical compassion for those who are frequently marginalised.

'Members of very different views and theological traditions were heard respectfully and applauded. When one intervention included personal remarks about a non-member, that speaker was rebuked from the chair and from the floor. Booing is discourteous and inappropriate within a Christian body, but, as an important point of clarification, it was not the speaker's views that provoked it at the last synod.'

The conservatives' letter, also published in the Telegraph, was signed by senior figures including the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and the former Queen's Chaplain, Gavin Ashenden.

The conservatives warned that the decisions on LGBT issues at synod, which met York in July, had caused 'great concern' among Anglicans: 'There are times, particularly in the face of social disintegration, when it is the duty of the Church to be counter-cultural.'

The letter added that the 'booing of traditionalists' and the 'personal abuse' that they endured at the synod had 'deepened mistrust' between the two camps.

One signatory, Rev James Paice, told Christian Today: 'The Church of England response to this unprecedented letter is woeful and does not deal with the concerns expressed at all. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not so that we debate nicely about redefining morality. Jesus came to give us an eternal hope and transform us by his Holy Spirit into his likeness.'

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, leader of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, has also slammed the synod for 'false teaching' and warned that it is in 'grave spiritual danger'.

In further comments last night, Bishop James told The Times that votes to condemn 'gay cure' therapies and to welcome transgender people at this month's General Synod were 'pastoral' issues, dealing with the Church's duty of care to vulnerable people rather than changing  itsfundamental teachings on sexuality or gender.

Bishop James said: 'The Church needs to be true to itself and to its call to interpret the Scriptures it has received in the light of the demands of the time. I don't think it's a case of being counter-cultural for its own sake or being captive to secular society. It should be neither of those things.'

Bishops are aiming to produced a new teaching document on sexuality and marriage by 2020, the same year the next Lambeth Conference, a gathering of all Anglican bishops from around the world, is due to meet.