'Going, Going, Gone?' The Church of England and LGBTQ Part 1

The Church of England

Much has been written about the latest development in the CofE. I speak of the prayers of blessing for same-sex couples to create a more 'inclusive' church.

On 9 October, we read the House of Bishops were pressing ahead, regardless of the opposition. This was countered by 11 brave dissenting bishops a couple of days later.. C of E General Synod members have since received papers on the implementation of Prayers of Love and Faith ahead of Synod meeting from 13 to 15 November. Only God knows how this will end.

I will not rehearse the various legal, theological, biblical and moral argument - you can find more of these at Anglican Mainstream and Anglican Futures.

Here, I would like to take my reader across the English border, to see how a similar situation has unfolded in the beautiful country of Wales. Though there are differences, the similarities are profound.

Sobering news from the 'progressive' Church in Wales

Earlier this month I received below from a Church in Wales [C in W] clergy, presently still in post. He writes:

"The C in W has been taking a revisionist position for a number of years and this has resulted in a haemorrhaging of good, Bible-believing orthodox clergy...

For the Evangelicals, 2016 marked the beginning of the end with the 'Pastoral Letter' from the bishops which commended some prayers for use with same-sex couples to 'bless' their relationships.

The Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales [EFCW] responded, challenging the bishops on their move away from the biblical and historical position on marriage. The bishops were unmoved, but their tone was conciliatory.

However, this was to change.

By September 2021 the Bill for the Blessing of Same Sex marriages went before the Governing Body and the tone of the bishops had significantly changed.

The meeting ... was engineered to bring about the result the bishops wanted, which was approval of the Bill. It was passed by a very slim margin.

At this point a number of clergy resigned their positions, some retired, some moved to England and some started new churches which later joined the Anglican Convocation in Europe (ACE).

Although a meeting was held with the EFCW Executive in November 2021, it was clear that the tone had changed and that any opposition to the revisionist agenda would be firmly rejected.

In some dioceses there has been a quiet campaign to get rid of any remaining orthodox clergy.

This has included blocking appointments of orthodox clergy alongside the 'buying off' of others (the offering of resources, position, profile in return for silence) and 'suggestions' that involvement with EFCW and Anglican Essentials Wales (AEW) hinders the cause of the orthodox and should be avoided.

At the same time some orthodox believers have changed their minds on the subject.

Clergy (including myself) found themselves removed from committees and responsibilities outside of their parishes.

There are now very few orthodox clergy, either Catholic or Evangelical, left in the Church in Wales and life feels like a struggle...

Evangelical leaders face difficult conversations all the time from the leadership and feel very much under attack.

It's quite bleak, but a few of us are remaining for the moment. Should the Archbishop's stated plan to bring in Same Sex Marriage by 2026 come to fruition, more clergy will leave."

Lessons from the progressive Church in Wales

I was struck by three things in particular:

First, note how the bishops shifted the goalposts from 'liberal', all welcome and included, to 'progressive', orthodox-views-no-longer-wanted. Theological cleansing comes to mind.

Second, note how a few evangelicals have managed to prosper under this punitive progressive regime - a sort of 'If you can't beat them, join them'. They are likely the ones who have 'changed their minds on the subject'.

One thinks of Jesus' clear warning: 'Whoever is ashamed of me and my words [which are very clear in terms of LGBT issues], the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels' (Luke 9).

But perhaps, the new reality is that Jesus' views here are actually irrelevant. Mostly, they are not challenged - after all, we love Jesus, don't we? They are simply ignored as we get on with life. .

Third, it is encouraging how orthodox Anglican entities are emerging. More power to those who are going forward, unencumbered by a 'post real Jesus' (in key ways), increasingly totalitarian church hierarchy.

Evangelicals in the Church of England: any different?

I believe there are many similarities between evangelicals both churches. Thankfully there is some good pushback in the C of E, but I am aware of the many areas where 'the line' is no longer holding.

Sadly, clergy are often the last to find out. As former lesbian Rosaria Butterfield insightfully observed, their jobs "put them out of reach of the very people they think they know".

Moreover, clergy and other leaders who used to be willing to preach and teach on these matters now stay eerily silent, or if they do comment, say very little. Others sit on the fence, deflect, dodge, ignore.

Why the silence?

There are various reasons for it, in my view. Temperament, calling, experience and environment (local, regional, national, international) all play their part.

I am reminded of CS Lewis' observation, 'What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are'.

However, I believe a key reason for this silence is the refusal and/or inability to respond to spurious but powerful ubiquitous LGBTQ myths - innate, fixed sexual orientation; gay suicidality; harmful change-allowing therapies, etc.

Moreover, gay has become the new black, and who wants to be seen as a 'racist', or be seen in the company of 'racists'? The propaganda war waged on this front has been spectacularly successful.

Also, personal knowledge of someone in the LGBTQ community - especially if it is a son or daughter - is often the means by which Evangelical parents are led to 'see the light'.

Many acutely feel the pain, grief and despair of a beloved child whose attractions refuse to shift, leaving them saddled with unasked-for, unwanted feelings. Many LGBTQ truly are victims, and that in a variety of ways. Who would want to make things worse for them?

Perhaps the progressives in both Churches are not so wrong after all. How can any keep holding to Jesus' words in real time, confronted by real people in pain? I will consider the answer to that question in Part II. 

Dr Lisa Nolland is CEO of the Marriage Sex and Culture Group, London.