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Anglican Mainstream ten years on

By Andrew Symes, CEN

Ten years ago, Gene Robinson, an openly gay man who had divorced his wife and was living with his same sex partner, was elected as a Bishop in the Episcopal Church of the USA. This was closely followed by the attempt by the then Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, to secure the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. John was (and remains) like Robinson a strong advocate of a liberal revision of Christian sexual ethics. While John’s appointment did not go ahead, Robinson’s did, and the fabric of the Anglican Communion was torn irrevocably. As one South African Bishop put it, using language from the Iraq war raging at the time, “they’ve bombed the church”.

The response from “orthodox” Anglicans, along with many from other Christian traditions, was swift, united and motivated by indignation at this blatant attack on the biblical teaching and practice. The emotion came not from head in the sand traditionalism or “bigotry”, but from concern for holiness and true discipleship in the church, for a correct doctrine of God and humanity, sin and salvation, and for Spirit-led mission to the world. Worldwide, church leaders condemned the appointment of a Bishop who clearly did not by his life and teaching uphold the biblical faith as historically interpreted. If Lambeth 1998 had given the Anglican leaders of the Global South new voice, Robinson/John 2003 confirmed the emergence of African Anglican prelates as religious leaders on the global stage.

In Oxford, a meeting was convened, comprising Bishops, clergy and laity representing a wide coalition of different ministries and constituencies local and international, including Anglo-Catholics, conservative Evangelicals and charismatics. What emerged from this was Anglican Mainstream, an organization dedicated to uniting orthodox Christians within the Church of England around central doctrines, campaigning on marriage and family issues in the public square (because this is the main issue on which Christian orthodoxy is under pressure), and facilitating global networking.

So much for the history. Where are we ten years later? We have just seen pass into law the undemocratic and divisive re-writing of the definition of gender, marriage and family life for everyone, called “Same Sex Marriage”: why has the response of orthodox Anglicans to this been much more muted and divided compared with the response to Robinson/John in 2003?

Archbishop Justin has recently spoken of a “revolution” in Western culture, which we cannot ignore. This revolution has not been violent, or a spontaneous grassroots response to oppression, but the result of a planned manipulation of popular philosophy and the takeover of institutions and sources of information which shape us. The origins are in European and North American academic Marxism; the practical plans developed and shared in popular books such as “After the Ball” by Kirk and Madsen. The spokespeople are articulate and angry activists, often celebrities. The strategy has been to disseminate widely the powerful ideas that homosexual practice is good, that being “gay” is an innate unchangeable condition, that gay people are oppressed victims, that those who say otherwise are hateful oppressors, who must be either converted, branded as right wing lunatics, or cowed into silence through legislation. The last ten years have seen the effectiveness of this strategy to change attitudes within the church, for example the emergence of Accepting Evangelicals. Biblically orthodox Anglicans now are united against (for example) poverty and human trafficking, but divided about whether the redefinition of gender and marriage in society, and of sexual ethics in the church, are a big deal.

Some have concluded that making our voice heard in the public square about sex and family life, or about anything controversial, is counter-productive to mission. But the opposite is the case. I worked in South Africa for more than 12 years, mostly in poor communities. I saw how some evangelical and charismatic Christians happily did church in their affluent homogenous groups, and refused to address publicly the iniquities of apartheid. Other churches were bravely confronting injustice and involved in compassionate social action, but were unable to promote loudly the life-saving message of sexual self control in the context of the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic, often because their pastors were compromised in that area. In both cases fear of unpopularity prevented prophetic Gospel-driven action to save lives.

Anglican Mainstream remains committed to the local church’s vital role in pastoral care, evangelism and mission in our own nation and worldwide in contexts of genuine poverty and oppression. These will be main themes at GAFCON 2 in Nairobi in late October. But listening to the revolution in our culture will also involve discerning what is wrong as well as affirming what is good. The gospel of the Kingdom is good news, but inclusion depends on repentance, and faith in the one who has not changed.

Revd Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream

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