Orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England have two choices - and neither of them is easy

A Pride flag flies at the Church of St Peter & St Pauls in Bromley, Kent.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The flawed tactics of orthodox Anglicans on General Synod was unfortunately evident in the debate on same-sex blessings on Monday. The Church of England's parliament voted by narrow majorities in the Houses of Clergy and Laity to give the House of Bishops a mandate to push ahead with standalone services for same-sex couples.

The motion also gave the bishops a clear mandate to ditch Issues in Human Sexuality, the 1991 teaching document that stipulates that homosexual clergy should live celibate lives. C of E revisionists are pushing for new Pastoral Guidance that will allow clergy to enter into same-sex civil marriages.

Canon Andrew Cornes, a retired conservative evangelical vicar in Chichester Diocese, tried to get an amendment passed that would have prevented the bishops from ditching Issues in Human Sexuality before new rules had been published.

Canon Cornes's amendment fell in all three Houses of Synod; by 23 votes to 11 with five abstentions in the House of Bishops; by 97 to 93 with two abstentions in the House of Clergy; and by 93 to 90 with three abstentions in the House of Laity.

Why was the Cornes amendment ill-judged? Arguably for two reasons:

First, if a Synod member moves an amendment to a motion that he or she disagrees with, that strongly implies that if the motion is duly amended, its defects are rectified and therefore it becomes acceptable.

But the obvious reality was that Canon Cornes, a former director of training at All Souls Langham Place, the conservative evangelical flagship church in central London, is opposed on principle to standalone services of blessing for same-sex couples. So, he was never going to vote for the motion, amended or not, and the revisionist majority knew that.

Secondly, the amendment was bound to fail. In every vote on the same-sex blessings since Synod first approved them in February 2023, the narrow revisionist majority has prevailed and it was never likely he could persuade any revisionists to back his amendment. They know his stance and they knew in this instance that his aim was to keep the restriction on clergy from entering into same-sex civil marriages.

Another example of poor tactics from the orthodox side came from Canon Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe's in Oxford. Speaking against the motion in the debate, he said he had recently given an address at the General Convention of the orthodox Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which broke away from The Episcopal Church (TEC) of the United States in 2009 over sexual morality.

Canon Roberts said ACNA was "vast in number, vibrant, growing but at the same time I was conscious that elsewhere in America there was another assembly - The Episcopal Church".

He continued: "Those two Churches are completely divided. That could happen here and what we're about to decide if you vote in favour of this motion could catapult us in that direction."

Why did Canon Roberts think that would play with revisionists on Synod? Again, they have consistently shown that they are not prepared to accept any slowing down of the bus towards full LGBT celebration in the C of E.

Many of them could not care less whether the likes of Canon Roberts jump off the bus. And they know that the parallel with ACNA and the C of E is far from exact. They know that if St Ebbe's Oxford were to leave the C of E, its congregation would lose their church building on which in 2017 they spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on a refurbishment project designed by classical architect Quinlan Terry.

Whilst there have been legal disputes over the ownership of church buildings between ACNA and TEC, US courts have by and large ruled that the buildings belong to the local parishes. In the cases of clergy and congregations leaving the legally established C of E, church buildings would indisputably belong to the Church Commissioners and the local diocese.

The split of orthodox churches from the C of E which Canon Roberts threatened would involve far more disruption than the ACNA congregations experienced, difficult though their departure from TEC was.

The C of E's bishops are promising opponents of same-sex blessings some kind of delegated episcopal oversight. But the problem with that is in the word "delegated". An orthodox bishop operating in a diocese would be accountable to the revisionist diocesan bishop.

That is not the kind of clean break which ACNA has achieved from church leaders whom orthodox Christians would regard as false teachers.

So, orthodox Anglicans in the C of E are faced with the same choice as their counterparts in the US. They can either get off the bus or try to change the direction of travel. But, given the revisionist bishops' resolve and the repeated mandates they are getting from Synod, the inside strategy is looking increasingly unviable, not helped by the poor opposition tactics in the latest debate.

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