'Living in Love and Faith': there may be much to encourage, but there is also every reason to stand firm

So here it is, everybody – to paraphrase rock band Slade's great Christmas hit.

Finally, after much deliberation, the much-heralded Church of England report - sorry, 'learning resource' - on issues such as same-sex marriage, gender and relationships, optimistically entitled 'Living in Love and Faith', has arrived. However, unlike those celebrating in Noddy Holder's song, it is hard to see that as a result of this everyone will be 'having fun'.

Indeed, many predict that what will unfold now is a prolonged and bloody battle between wholly incompatible and irreconcilable worldviews, albeit couched in the (mostly) low and hushed tones of 'Anglicanspeak'.

There is a vast amount of material in 'Living in Love and Faith' (LLF). There may be a few people who since its launch yesterday have read and analysed all 450+ pages of the book, watched the 17 films, listened to all 16 podcasts, done the five-part course and scrutinised the 300 further resources offered... Reader, I must tell you candidly: I am not one of them. Nonetheless, there are of course some general observations that may be made.

The first thing to say is that some of those actually involved in compiling LLF and who have therefore already looked at all its material in depth say there is significant support for an orthodox position within it. By orthodoxy, of course, we mean the long-established Christian view on issues of morality, sex and ethics which has been shared by all major denominations (whether Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal) for the last 2,000 years, and which continues to be the overwhelming consensus globally. Therefore, those who uphold this stance should stay steady and hold their nerve. There is much, it seems, to encourage them.

Secondly, although there has been criticism of some evangelical leaders in the C of E (including from my own pen) for being too timid, there are those who are now stepping up to provide real leadership on this issue. We might think, for example, of the bold, thoughtful and gracious statement from the Church of England Evangelical Council, including some bishops. They are not the only ones. This will be welcomed with a great sense of relief by many, and hopefully others will likewise find courage.

Thirdly, it is vital that as the LLF process unfolds, the views of orthodox LGBTQ Christians who have chosen the radical path of Christ-like self-denial found in the New Testament are heard. There are many articulate voices to speak for this often overlooked (and sometimes abused) group, including those within Living Out. Revisionist gay Christians are not the only representatives of the same-sex attracted community.

All that said, however, I must confess quite frankly that as a member of the clergy I need this report - sorry, 'learning resource' - right now like a hole in the head. I mean, let's be honest: here we are, in the middle of the first global pandemic for a century, at the end of a wearying year, in a second lockdown, trying to grapple with the dynamics of what Christmas with Covid looks like, and the Archbishops decide to toss into our ministries just about the most controversial topic in the whole of Christendom. Whatever one's views, the timing is ... truly extraordinary: glad tidings of great joy it ain't.

In addition, much as one wishes to salute all the hard work that has been put into it (and, as we say these days, 'respect' to all involved), at the end of the day everyone knows that LLF is attempting the impossible. It is trying to reconcile two wholly incompatible viewpoints. Well, in fact it is trying to bring together more than two stances – because the 'liberal' view is itself very fragmented on things like sex outside marriage, same-sex marriage and so on.

Underlying all this is a tragic misconception of what church unity is. On the one hand, the Apostle Paul declares: 'You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler... Expel the wicked person from among you.' And on the other hand Justin Welby says: 'We are not a political party – we do not chuck out people we disagree with.' You can read the first quote in the Bible and the second on the BBC . With a starting point like this, is it any wonder the result is a recipe (albeit rather a long one, as LLF is) for conflict?

Given the significant endorsement of the orthodox position reportedly found in LLF, perhaps the best thing would be for those who wish to overturn the Church's teaching to be offered a new home in their own structure – perhaps getting oversight in England from the US Episcopal Church (which, in a darkly ironic twist, does indeed discipline people who disagree with them on this very issue – unlike the C of E). This 'amicable divorce' option perhaps offers the greatest sense of real integrity for both 'sides' and has widespread support. 

So let those of us representing the consensus of historic global orthodoxy stand firm. Let us remember theologian Richard Neuhaus' law, 'Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.' The venerable ship 'C of E' is under attack but ultimately those who are with us are more than those who are with them.

And finally let us heed the encouragement of Scripture: 'Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.' And so we shall.

David Baker is a Church of England minister, Contributing Editor at Christian Today, and Senior Editor of Evangelicals Now.