Evangelicals in the Church of England are running out of options

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The latest attempt by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) to hold up the launch in November of services of blessing for same-sex couples has little chance of becoming reality.

Ahead of the General Synod meeting in York in July, CEEC is circulating a paper by Dr Andrew Goddard, tutor in Christian ethics at CofE theological college, Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He says same-sex blessings, called in CofE parlance "Prayers of Love and Faith", which were approved by simple majorities in the three Houses of Synod (Bishops, Clergy, and Laity) at February's meeting, should be put to a vote requiring two-thirds majorities.

Goddard's argument is that, "as this is clearly a highly contentious issue", the "only defendable option" is for the bishops to follow Canon B2 of the CofE's rules, which "requires Synod's scrutiny and enhanced majorities" for new services.

Unfortunately, that tactic was tried in February and failed. The Rev Patrick Richmond of Norwich diocese moved an amendment requesting that a draft of the services be brought to General Synod "for approval prior to publication".

Though this amendment succeeded in the House of Laity by 104 votes to 96, it fell in the House of Bishops by 39 to 4 and in the House of Clergy by 106 to 94. Measures need a majority in all three Houses to pass, so by 241 votes to 202 Synod effectively voted itself out of the Prayers of Love and Faith drafting process and passed the buck to the bishops.

The Prayers of Love and Faith bus has departed and there is nothing CEEC can now do to stop it. At the pre-Synod press briefing on June 22, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said the new services "are on track for November". CofE evangelicals now belong to a denomination whose leadership has forsaken the traditional Christian sexual ethic and has earned the condemnation of the overwhelming majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion for doing so.

Officially the services will be optional. But there is a lack of clarity about the decision-making process for parishes. Will clergy be able to use them without approval by Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) or will the services require a PCC vote?

Will curates (assistant clergy) serving in churches whose PCCs have approved the services be allowed to opt out of taking them on conscience grounds? What about clergy in teams serving several churches with perhaps differing views on the services? Episcopal clarity on such issues is awaited.

Do Anglican evangelicals wish to remain in such a denomination? Do they really believe they would be serving the gospel of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by staying in? Apart from the problems caused by the Prayers in Love and Faith services, do they think that a denomination in the depth of the safeguarding chaos the CofE is now in is a good place for them to be?

It is actually not too late for CEEC to start to co-ordinate an exit strategy out of the CofE. The large evangelical churches among its members have resources and they could lead the way. Of course, leaving would be difficult, risky and messy. Among the various hurdles, new meeting places would have to be found for churches and accommodation for their ministers.

But a manageable way of leaving might be for large evangelical churches to disperse around a city or town in groups of, say, 50 people each supporting their own minister. Through regional trust funds, the larger evangelical churches could help smaller churches in rural areas to leave the CofE as well.

The Goddard proposal would seem to indicate that institutional routes are running out of road for CofE evangelicals. They need to start tunnelling out! It would take just one large evangelical church to emerge beyond the barbed wire and others could follow. These orthodox churches could form a new Anglican federation in the UK, similar to the Anglican Church in North America, which launched in 2009.

In proclaiming and defending the biblical gospel and the legacy of the 16th century English Reformers, Anglican evangelicals should arguably be looking to the derring-do of the Allied escapees from Colditz castle during World War II for inspiration rather than to Canon B2.

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Lancashire.