The Bishop of Dorchester’s statement on the ‘Ministers’ consultation response’ on conversion therapy.

In response to an open letter sent by thousands of ordained and lay Christian ministers (including ministers from the Church of England) responding to the Government’s consultation on ‘Banning ‘Conversion Therapy’’[1] the Bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins, issued the following statement: 

‘The letter has undoubtedly upset a lot of people. It puts out a message that people aren’t safe or welcome in our churches, and it cuts across the settled view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned.

I am disappointed that the authors have used an open letter to diminish people who are in faithful same sex relationships and those who are transgender. Thankfully, the views expressed in the letter are not representative of the Church of England today. I am clear that we are all made in God’s image, that all are welcome in His church and that everyone has a place at the table.’[2]

This statement is problematic in several ways.

First, the fact that the letter may have upset a lot of people does not mean that the letter should not have been written. The fact that a lot of people were upset does not mean that they should have been upset. The question that has to be answered is whether what was said in the letter provides adequate grounds for people to be upset and as we shall see below the answer to that question is ‘No.’

Secondly, it is not true that the message of the letter is that ‘people’ (presumably LGBTQ+ people) are not safe or welcome in Church of England churches. The letter says:

‘In our churches we welcome and show love to many people who have different experience and views, including same-sex attraction and forms of gender transition. We always seek to act in love, with gentleness and respect, for the good of all, and never with any form of coercion or control.’

How does this send a message that people are not safe or welcome?

Thirdly, the statement claims that the letter ‘cuts across the settled view of the Church of England that coercive conversion therapy is unacceptable and should be banned.’ However, as we have just seen, the letter in fact specifically rejects ‘any form of coercion or control’ and thus any form of coercive conversion therapy.

Fourthly, the statement declares that the authors of the letter have used it ‘to diminish people who are in faithful same sex relationships and those who are transgender.’ The issue here is what it means to ‘diminish’ someone.

From a Christian perspective people are diminished when they are prevented from flourishing as the people God created them to be. The point made by the authors of the letter is that such flourishing involves living according to the biological sex in which God created us and respecting God’s institution of heterosexual marriage as the proper setting for sexual intercourse. This being the case, they are right to warn that it is a ban on conversion therapy which would seek to prohibit all efforts to help people with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria to flourish in this way that would in fact run the risk of people being diminished.

Fifthly, the statement says that ‘the views expressed in the letter are not representative of the Church of England today.’ What it does not do is give any evidence for this claim. How does Bishop Collins know what views on the matters discussed in the letter are representative of the Church of England?  The number of Church of England ministers who have signed the letter indicates that there are many people in the Church of England who feel that it does represent their views.

Sixthly, Bishop Collins concludes the statement by saying ‘I am clear that we are all made in God’s image, that all are welcome in His church and that everyone has a place at the table.’ This statement is unproblematic in itself. The problem is that the bishop uses it to suggest this is not the position of those who wrote and signed the letter, whereas they would agree with all of it. The letter is clear that human beings are all made in the image of God, and it specifically says, as we have noted, that ‘we welcome and show love to many people who have different experience and views, including same-sex attraction and forms of gender transition.’

Finally, Bishop Collins totally avoids engaging with the substantive issue raised by the letter, which is that the term ‘conversion therapy’ is so broadly used that passing legislation to ban it runs the risk of criminalising the ‘loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage’ and thus leaving  ministers with no option but to break the law in order to continue to offer such ministry.

He might argue, as others have done, that the harm brought about by all forms of conversion therapy is so great as to justify a total ban regardless of the consequences. However, the research that has been done on the topic indicates that this is not the case. See, for example the article ‘Do efforts to change sexual orientation (‘conversion therapy’) cause harm?’ published on Ian Paul’s blog Psephizo on 4 February.[3]


[1] ‘Ministers’ consultation response’ at https://ministersconsultationresponse.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Dear-Secretary-of-State-Letter-from-2546-signatories-to-the-consultation-on-banning-conversion-therapy.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2cA2L8z6UrIK4h2FcmdbI894wrytIjledSSlaFlP5OwYRH-pr4mVPk8aA

[2] Bishop Gavin Collins, ‘Statement: conversion therapy’ at https://www.oxford.anglican.org/news/conversion-therapy-statement-feb22.php

[3] ‘Do efforts to change sexual orientation (‘conversion therapy’) cause harm?’ at https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/do-efforts-to-change-sexual-orientation-conversion-therapy-cause-harm/.

On taking the log out of our own eye -the growth of Western totalitarianism.

In the current media coverage of the stand-off between Russia and NATO about the future of Ukraine, and Eastern Europe in general, there is a subtext which implies that underlying the specific issues under dispute between Russia and NATO there is a wider conflict between the political values of a totalitarian Russia on the one hand and Western liberal democracy on the other.

There can be no doubt that there is a very strong degree of totalitarianism in Russia at the moment. If you are an opponent of President Putin and his government your life is likely to be difficult, unpleasant, and even dangerous. However, before we draw too stark a contrast between Russia and the West we have to remember Jesus’ warning about the need to face up to the reality of our own conduct before we sit in judgement on others.

‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’  (Matthew 7:1-5)

In our present situation one of the applications of this teaching by Jesus involves recognising that while there is indeed totalitarianism in Russia there is also a growing totalitarianism in Western liberal democracies as well. In the West you will not run into trouble for opposing the ruling political party, but your life will get difficult and unpleasant if you publicly oppose the pro LGBTQ+ agenda now favoured by the Western cultural and political elite.

A prime example of what the American author Rod Dreher has called this ‘soft totalitarianism’[1] is the trial of the Finnish Christian MP, and former Finnish interior minister, Dr Päivi Räsänen, and the Finnish Lutheran bishop Juhana Pohjola,  the Dean of Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, which starts in Helsinki tomorrow  (24 January).

The alleged crime for which Dr Räsänen is being prosecuted, and for which she faces a fine or a prison sentence if convicted, is declaring in a pamphlet published in 2004, and in a 2018 television show, that God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman and that same-sex sexual relationships are contrary to God’s will, and for posting a tweet critical of the Church of Finland’s support for the Helsinki LGBT Pride event in 2019. Bishop Pohjola, meanwhile, is being prosecuted for publishing the pamphlet and making it available (for full details see Dr Räsänen’s press release appended to this blog).

There are several odd things about this prosecution. First, in spite of being accused of hate speech, it is clear that  Dr Räsänen has never at any time expressed hatred of gay and lesbian people or disparaged their God given human dignity. Secondly, it is also clear that the Finnish police did not want to bring a prosecution. The decision to prosecute was a political decision  by the Finniah Prosecutor General. Thirdly, the statute under which Dr Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola are being prosecuted is a statute which is designed to prevent ‘ethnic agitation,’ and it is very difficult to see how members of the LGBTQ+ community can be accurately described as an ethnic group.

What really seems to be going on is what used to be called a ‘show trial.’ That is to say, the purpose of the prosecution is not to seek to punish an actual crime, but to deter Christians from publicly teaching the truth that according to the Bible same-sex sexual relationships are sinful in the eyes of God, by making it clear that public Christian opposition to same-sex sexual activity will no longer be tolerated in Finland, the Finnish commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of religion notwithstanding.

It is deeply ironic that Finland, the home of the Helsinki Declaration on human rights which was so influential in challenging the totalitarianism of the old Soviet Union, is now itself willing to try to undermine the human rights of Christians in this way as part of a liberal totalitarianism that seeks to stamp out all opposition to the LGBTQ+ agenda. ‘Totalitarianism is a state in which nothing can be permitted to exist that contradicts a society’s ruling ideology’ [2] and tomorrow’s trial shows that Finland is moving in a totalitarian direction. 

In theological terms what is happening is what is described by John in Revelation 13, the attempt by state authorities, inspired unknowingly to them by the Devil, to force Christians to accept the governing ideology of the state even when this goes against Christian truth. In Roman times accepting this ideology meant participating in the Imperial cult, in Finland today it means accepting same-sex sexual relationships, but in spite of the differing ideologies involved the goal is still the same, namely, to force Christians to acknowledge a higher authority than the truth revealed by God in Scripture. And because there is in fact no higher authority than the truth that God has revealed in Scripture, this means, in Rod Dreher’s words, seeking to force Christians to ‘live by lies.’

This being the case, Christians cannot rightly criticise Russia for its totalitarianism while ignoring the Western totalitarianism shown in the prosecution of Dr Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola. To be critical of Russia and ignore what is taking place in Finland because it is part of the democratic West is to engage in precisely the sort of hypocritical judgement that Jesus warned us against. Yes, Christians must criticise the abuse of human rights in Russia, but they must first be willing to criticise the abuse of the human rights of Christians in the West and the attempt to force them to ‘live by lies.’

In specific terms this means:

  • Taking the time to find out about cases such as the prosecution of Dr Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola.
  • Being willing to pray for suffering Christians in the West, as well as in other parts of the world, and to protest about their treatment.
  • Taking action to stop the spread of liberal totalitarianism in the West by, for example, challenging the proposals to prevent ‘conversion therapy’ which would potentially prevent Christians from teaching biblical truth and supporting those struggling with same-sex attraction and gender confusion. [3]
  • Committing ourselves to resist any demand to ‘live by lies’ by compromising our Christians beliefs in what we say, or how we behave, remembering the teaching of Revelation that it is those who stand firm in the face of opposition and persecution who will in the end ‘eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’ (Revelation 2:7).  

PRESS RELEASE 15.9.2021

Member of Parliament Dr. Päivi Räsänen

Court date announcement

The Helsinki District Court has informed me that the main hearing of the charges brought against me by the Prosecutor General (R 21/3567) will take place on 24 January 2022. Contrary to previous assumptions, the case will not be heard this autumn.

The process started more than two years ago, in June 2019, when I posted a tweet addressing a question to the leadership of my church that had signed up to support Pride. The main content of my post was a screenshot of verses 24-27 from the book of Romans chapter 1 from the New Testament.

Following a preliminary investigation launched because of a citizen’s complaint, a total of five criminal complaints were filed. On 22 April 2021, the Prosecutor General brought three separate charges against me for the tweet, a pamphlet I had written in 2004, ” Male and female He created them” and a humorous radio interview with Ruben Stiller. The police did not consider any crime to have been committed in these two latter cases, but the Prosecutor General nevertheless ordered preliminary investigations to be carried out. Bishop Juhana Pohjola, the Dean of Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was also charged with being responsible for publishing and making available the pamphlet.

I am suspected of “ethnic agitation” against a group because of a tweet, a pamphlet published 17 years ago and statements I made on the Ruben Stiller talk show on 19 December 2019. Because of this, the police have spent hours of their working time questioning me and many more on investigating my reports and written statements. The Public Prosecutor’s Office investigated the case for more than six months before reaching a decision, and from the beginning of next year, these charges will concern the judiciary, which is already extremely busy with work. I think it is likely that the charges will be taken to higher courts, even to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.

In all the charges, I deny any wrongdoing. My writings and statements under investigation are linked to the Bible’s teachings on marriage, living as a man and a woman, as well as the Apostle Paul’s teaching on homosexual acts as sin and shame.

According to the press release of the Prosecutor’s Office, they make my view out to be that ”homosexuals are not created by God like heterosexuals” and that I would consider them inferior to other people. Nowhere did I say that. These statements are completely contrary to my convictions. I consider this to be an unfounded statement and also highly offensive to homosexual people. I have stressed many times that all human beings are created in the image of God and have equal dignity and human rights. All human beings are sinners and are forgiven of their sins by recourse to the atoning work of Jesus.

The possible sentence for the crime of ethnic agitation would be up to two years imprisonment or a fine. But an even more serious problem would be the resulting censorship: an order to remove social media updates or a ban on posting. The sentence would open the floodgates to a ban on similar publications and the threat of modern book burnings. I await the court proceedings with a calm mind, confident that Finland will respect the freedom of expression and religion enshrined in fundamental rights and international conventions. I will not back down from my conviction based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts.

The tweet that triggered the investigation is illustrated by a biblical text from Romans chapter 1, verses 24-27: ”Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

To accompany the picture, I wrote a question addressed to the church leadership:

”The Church has announced that it is an official partner of Seta Pride 2019. How is the Church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, suitable with raising shame and sin as a matter of pride?”


[1] See Rod Dreher, Live not by Lies (New York: Sentinel, 2020).

[2] Dreher, p.30.

[3] For this see the website ‘Let us pray’ at https://letuspray.uk and Cary Moseley ‘Government fails to quell fears over ‘conversion therapy’ ban’ at https://christianconcern.com/comment/government-fails-to-quell-fears-over-conversion-therapy-ban.

Statements on the nature and development of the Anglican Communion from the first Lambeth Conference to the Anglican Covenant – Part I

The fact that the Lambeth Conference is going to be held next year means that in the coming months there will be much discussion about the nature of the Anglican Communion. In order to provide a historical perspective on these discussions, I have decided to post a paper I first wrote in 2010 which uses primary sources to trace the development of Anglican thinking about the nature of the Anglican Communion from the time of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 up to the issuing of the proposed Anglican Covenant in 2009.

Because the paper is 81 pages long, I shall be posting it in three parts over the next three weeks.

Part I:  From 1867 – 1930

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of statements about the nature and development of the Anglican Communion and its relations with the Church universal made by representative bodies of the Communion, or representative individuals speaking on behalf of the Communion, from the time of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 until the Anglican Communion Covenant in 2009.

The overview starts with the 1867 Lambeth Conference because this was the first time that representatives from the Anglican Communion as a whole met to take counsel together and as such it is the first time that statements about the nature of the Anglican Communion are made on behalf of the Communion as a whole. The overview finishes with the Anglican Covenant both because this is the most recent statement about the nature of the Anglican Communion produced on behalf of the Communion as a whole and because, as we shall see, what the Covenant has to say about the nature and development of the Anglican Communion reflects the way that thinking about this topic has developed since 1867.

This paper will take a chronological approach, starting in 1867 and looking at the statements in the order that they were produced. At the end of the paper there will be a concluding section that notes the key issues that arise from the statements and explains how the development of thinking about the nature of Anglicanism reflected in the statements finds its culmination in what is said in the Anglican Covenant.

1.The Lambeth Conference 1867

The Lambeth Conference of 1867 was convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, at the request of the Canadian Anglican bishops, and other bishops from around the world, and with the agreement of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury in the Church of England. As Longley himself explained the matter in the letter sent out to those invited to attend:

‘The Metropolitan and Bishops of Canada, last year, addressed to the two Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury the expression of their desire that I should be moved to invite the Bishops of our Indian and Colonial Episcopate to meet myself and the Home Bishops for brotherly communion and conference.

The consequence of that appeal has been that both Houses of Convocation have addressed to me their dutiful request that I should invite the attendance not only of our Home and Colonial Bishops, but of all who are avowedly in communion with our Church. The same request was unanimously preferred to me at a numerous gathering of English, Irish, and Colonial Archbishops and bishops recently assembled at Lambeth; at which – I rejoice to record it – we had the counsel and concurrence of an eminent Bishop of the Church in the United States of America. – the Bishop of Illinois.

Moved by these requests, and by the expressed concurrence therein of other members of the Home and Colonial Episcopate, who could not be present at our meeting. I have now humbly resolved – not, I humbly trust without the guidance of GOD the Holy Ghost – to grant the grave request, and call together the meeting so earnestly desired.’[1]

Longley was clear in his letter of invitation that this Conference ‘would not be competent to make declarations or lay definitions on points of doctrine.’ [2] Nevertheless, the seventy six bishops who attended the Conference made four key statements about the nature of Anglicanism.  

The first is contained in the Introduction to the resolutions of the Conference. It declares that the resolutions have been produced by the:

‘Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church in visible Communion with the United Church of England and Ireland, professing the Faith delivered to us in Holy Scripture, maintained by the Primitive Church and by the Fathers of the English Reformation.’[3]

This statement is significant because it implies that the Anglican Communion is part of a greater whole, namely the ‘Holy Catholic Church,’ and that it is defined by visible communion with the United Church of England and Ireland and profession of the faith taught in Scripture and maintained by the Early Church and the English Reformers. The fact that communion is said to be ‘visible’ indicates that the fellowship between the Anglican churches had an outward shape as well as an inward substance and the fact that the defining characteristic of these churches is their communion with one another indicates that these churches are not simply linked by being the churches of the British Empire (this was not true for example of the American Church, bishops from which attended the Conference).

As well as being in visible communion these churches are also said to profess the same faith and the way this faith is defined is indicative of the diversity within the Anglican tradition, the reference to the ‘Primitive Church’ reflecting the emphasis of High Church bishops and the reference to the ‘Fathers of the English Reformation reflecting the emphasis of the Evangelical bishops. 

The second statement is also contained in the Introduction to the resolutions of the Conference. It declares that the bishops of the Anglican Communion assembled at Lambeth ‘view with deep sorrow the divided condition of the flock of Christ throughout the world’, long for the fulfilment of Christ’s prayer for the unity of the Church contained in John 17:21 and believe that:

‘..unity will be most effectually promoted by maintaining the Faith in its purity and integrity, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, held by the Primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils, and by drawing each of us closer to our common Lord, by giving ourselves to much prayer and intercession, by the cultivation of a spirit of charity, and a love of the Lord’s appearing.’[4]  

This statement is significant because it indicates that from the time of the 1867 Lambeth Conference onwards the Anglican Communion was marked by a concern for the unity of the Church and also because it indicates that in 1867 it was felt that unity could best be achieved through the maintenance of the faith found in the Scriptures, upheld by the Early Church, and summarised in the creeds and through a growth in appropriate forms of individual piety.

The third is Resolution IV of the Conference which declares that in the opinion of the Conference:

‘Unity in Faith and Discipline will be best maintained among the several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the Synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a Synod or Synods above them.’[5]

This statement implies that unity in faith and discipline across the Communion is something that ought to be maintained and it sees that best way of achieving this as being through the development of a hierarchical structure of Synods with the Synods of the various churches of the Communion being subordinate to a Synod or Synods operating at a higher level within the Communion. The nature of this Synod or these Synods is not further defined.

The fourth is Resolution VIII of the Conference which states that:

‘…in order to the binding of the Churches of our Colonial Empire and the Missionary churches beyond them in the closest union with the Mother Church, it is necessary that they receive and maintain the standards of Faith and Doctrine as now in use in that Church. That, nevertheless, each Province should have the right to make such adaptations and additions to the services of the Church as its peculiar circumstances may require. Provided, that no change or addition be made inconsistent with the spirit and principles of the Book of Common Prayer, and that all such changes be subject to revision by any Synod of the Anglican Communion in which the said Province shall be represented.’ [6] 

There are a number of points of interest in this statement

  • It is seen as important that the colonial and missionary churches should remain in ‘the closest union’ with the Mother-Church, which at this stage was the United Church of England and Ireland. The hierarchical nature of the relationships then existing in the Communion are clear here. The Church of England and Ireland is the Mother Church and the other churches need to keep in conformity with her.
  • The way to achieve this is the acceptance and maintenance of the faith and doctrine of the Mother-Church.
  • Nevertheless this does not preclude adaptation of the services of the Book of Common Prayer in the light of local circumstances providing that the ‘spirit and principles’ of the Prayer Book are maintained and providing that such adaptations are subject to revision by the sort of representative Anglican Synod envisaged in Resolution IV.

2.The Lambeth Conference 1878  

Although a number of bishops, including the Archbishop of York, had not attended the 1867 Conference it was felt to have been a successes and, again after prompting from the Canadian Church, it was decided to hold a second Conference in 1878. This Conference did not produce any resolutions, but its thinking is expressed in the reports from the various committees of the Conference.

The Conference considered the nature of the Anglican Communion in the report of the committee ‘on the best mode of maintaining union among the various churches of the Anglican Communion.’

This report begins by noting with thankfulness ‘the essential and evident unity in which the Church of England and the Churches in visible communion with her have always been bound together.’[7] This unity, it says, consists in the fact that:

‘United under One Divine Head in the Fellowship of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church, holding the One Faith revealed in Holy Writ, defined in the Creeds and maintained by the Primitive Church, receiving the same Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary to salvation – these churches teach the same Word of God, partake of the same divinely ordained Sacraments, through the ministry of the same Apostolic orders, and worship one God and Father through the same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Holy and Divine Spirit, Who is given to those that believe, to guide them into all truth.’[8]

The report then goes on to explain that alongside this unity there is also a ‘variety of custom, discipline, and form of worship’ resulting from the exercise by the churches of the Communion of the principle laid down in Article XXXIV of the Thirty Nine Articles that each ‘particular or national Church’ has the right ‘to ordain, change or abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.’[9]

The report declares that at the present there is no grounds for anxiety about this diversity, but it notes that the desire has been expressed to adopt some ‘practical and efficient methods’ both in order ‘to guard against possible sources of disunion in the future’ and in order ‘to manifest that true and substantial agreement which exists among these increasingly numerous Churches.’ [10]  The report sees the obvious method of maintaining unity as being to follow the example of the Apostles in Acts 15 and of the Primitive Church by holding a Council of the Church. However it regards the idea of holding a General Council of the Church as ‘unhappily but obviously impossible’ and also rejects as too difficult the idea of convening a ‘Synod of all the Anglican Churches.’[11]

Having rejected these two ideas, the report suggests that the solution to the problem of ‘combining together for consultation representatives of Churches so differently situated and administered’ may instead lie with the approach taken at the two Lambeth Conferences of holding a ‘Conference of Bishops called together by the Archbishop of Canterbury and meeting under his presidency.’  It also suggests that such conferences ‘might with advantage be invested in future with somewhat larger liberty as to the initiation and selection of subjects for discussion’ through, for example, the establishment of a committee representing the churches of the Communion which could receive communications from the bishops and then draw up ‘a scheme of subjects to be discussed.’[12]

As well as advocating the further development of the Lambeth Conferences the report puts forward three principles of Church order which it sees as being ‘of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.’ These principles are:

‘First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.

Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.

Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.’[13]

Finally, the report touches on six other areas which it thinks are important for Anglican unity. It calls for dioceses to unite together in provinces, for churches to co-operate together in common work such as the creation of schools for training native ministers, for clergy visiting other churches to take commendatory letters from their bishop, for information about the churches of the Communion and about representative bodies such as the Lambeth Conferences to be disseminated across the Communion and for the establishment of a day of prayer for the unity of Christendom.

The last area which the report touches on is the area of ‘diversities in worship.’ Here it notes that the Book of Common Prayer has been a ‘principal bond of union’ between the churches of the Anglican Communion and that ‘such communion in worship may be endangered by excessive diversities in ritual.’ It argues that while ‘such large elasticity in the forms of worship is desirable as will give wide scope to all legitimate expressions of devotional feeling’ this needs to be balanced by ‘the apostolic precept that all things be done unto edifying’ and by the Catholic principle that ‘order and obedience, even at the sacrifice of personal preferences and tastes, lie at the foundation of Christian unity, and are even essential to the successful maintenance of the faith.’[14]

3. The Lambeth Conference of 1888

The Lambeth Quadrilateral

Following the success of the 1878 Conference, Lambeth Conferences then began to be held every ten years or so. The Lambeth Conference of 1888 considered the question of the basis on which particular Anglican churches might enter into union with other churches, what it called ‘Home Reunion.’ Building on a resolution passed by the General Convention of the American Church in 1886, Resolution 11 of the Conference declares that:

‘..the following articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards home reunion:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles’ Creed, as the baptismal symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c ) The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.

(d) The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church.’[15]

The encyclical letter from the Conference explains that reason that these articles are necessary is because although Anglicans are ready ‘to enter into brotherly conference with any of those who may desire intercommunion with us in a more or less perfect form’ nevertheless:

‘…we must not be unfaithful stewards of the great deposit entrusted to us. We cannot desert our position either as to faith or discipline. That concord would, in our judgement, be neither true nor desirable which should be produced by such surrender.’ [16]

Authoritative standards of doctrine and worship

The Conference also considered the subject of authoritative standards of doctrine and worship. Addressing this subject, the encyclical letter from the Conference reiterates what was said by previous Conferences about the faith held in common by the churches of the Communion. It also declares that the Church of England’s standards of doctrine and worship should be set before the overseas churches of the Communion in unmodified form, but that it would be wrong to impose the Thirty Nine Articles in their entirety as conditions of communion:

It conformity with the practice of the former Conferences we clear that we are united under our Divine head in the Fellowship of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church, holding the one Faith revealed in Holy Writ, defined in the Creeds, maintained by the primitive Church, and affirmed by the undisputed Ecumenical Councils; as standards of doctrine and worship alike we recognise the Prayer Book with its Catechism, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-nine Articles – the special heritage the Church of England, and, to a greater or lesser extent, received by all the churches of our Communion.

We desire that these standards should be set before the foreign churches in their purity and simplicity. A certain liberty of treatment must be extended to the cases of native and growing churches on which it would be unreasonable to impose, as conditions of communion, the whole of the Thirty-nine articles, coloured as they are in language, and form by the peculiar circumstances under which they were originally drawn up.  On the other hand it would be impossible for us to share with them in the matter of Holy Orders, as in complete intercommunion, without satisfactory evidence that they hold substantially the same form of doctrine as ourselves. It ought not be difficult, much less impossible, to formulate articles, in accordance with our own standards of doctrine and worship, the acceptance of which should be required of all ordained in such churches.[17]

The report of the Conference committee considering the issue of authoritative standards notes that there are variations between the Book of Common Prayer and the rites used in Scottish, American and Irish churches, but it strongly deprecates:

‘…any further material variation in the text of the existing Sacramental offices of the Church, or of the Ordinal, than is at present recognised among us, unless with the advice of some Conference or Council representing the whole Communion.’[18]

In a similar vein, Resolution 10 of the Conference declares;

‘That, inasmuch as the Book of Common Prayer is not the possession of one diocese or province, but of all, and that a revision in one portion of the Anglican Communion must therefore be extensively felt, this Conference is of the opinion that no particular portion of the Church should undertake revision without seriously considering the possible effect of such action on other branches of the Church.’[19]

4. The Lambeth Conference of 1897

The organisation of the Communion

At the 1897 Conference a committee was appointed to consider the organisation of the Anglican Communion. The report of this committee declares that:

‘Each decade as it passes brings out more clearly the importance of our duty to maintain and develop the unity and coherence of the Anglican Communion.  We learn to realise more and more explicitly the value of the unique combination of respect for authority and consciousness of freedom in the truth, which distinguishes the great body in which God has called us to minister.  We begin to perceive in what degree it may impress the rest of Christendom, and in union, in God’s good time, with the rest of Christendom, may impress the world in accordance with our Lord’s desire (S. John xvii, 21, 23). We also grow more conscious, as time goes on, what are the lessons which the different portions of our Communion may learn from one another. Yet at the same time we perceive that there are tendencies within and without which require to be directed or guarded against with the greatest watchfulness and foresight, if this characteristic type of unity is to be maintained and thus to appeal to the intellect, the imagination and the heart of mankind.

In order to help guard against these tendencies and to maintain the unity of the Communion the committee recommended that in addition to the Lambeth Conference being held every ten years and its resolutions disseminated throughout the Communion, an additional consultative body for the Communion should also be established.

This recommendation is reflected in Resolution 5 of the Conference which declares:

That it is advisable that a consultative body should be formed to which resort may be had, if desired, by the national churches, provinces, and extra-provincial dioceses of the Anglican Communion either for information or for advice, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury be requested to take such steps as he may think most desirable for the creation of this consultative body.’[20]

The encyclical letter from the Conference explains that this new body:

‘…must win its way by the services which it will be able to render to the working of the Church. It can have no other than a moral authority, which will be developed out of its action.’[21]

Adaptions to the Prayer Book and additional services

Another committee considered the question of adding additional services to those in the Book of Common Prayer or developing local adaptations of it. This committee concluded that this was a matter which came under the liturgical authority, or ius liturgicum of the bishops and this conclusion was reflected in Resolutions 45 and 46 of the Conference which declare that:

‘…this Conference recognises the exclusive right of each bishop to put forth or sanction additional services for use within his jurisdiction, subject to such limitations as may be imposed by the provincial or other lawful authority.’[22]

and that:

‘….this Conference also recognises in each bishop within his jurisdiction the exclusive right of adapting the services in the Book of Common Prayer to local circumstances, and also of directing or sanctioning the use of additional prayers, subject to such limitations as may be imposed by provincial or other lawful authority, provided also that any such adaptation shall not affect the doctrinal teaching or value of the service or passage thus adapted.’[23]

A further committee considered the subject of foreign missions. Among its recommendations were that, in line with the principle of having only one bishop in each place, overlapping episcopal jurisdictions of different Anglican churches should be avoided in the mission field. This recommendation became Resolution 24 of the Conference:

‘That, while it is the duty of the whole Church to make disciples of all nations, yet, in the discharge of this duty, independent Churches of the Anglican Communion ought to recognise the equal rights of each other when establishing foreign missionary jurisdictions, so that two bishops of that Communion may not exercise jurisdiction in the same place, and the Conference recommends every bishop to use his influence in the diocesan and provincial synods of his particular Church to gain the adhesion of the synods to these principles, with a view to the framing of canons or resolutions in accord therewith. Where such rights have, through inadvertence, been infringed in the past, an adjustment of the respective positions of the bishops concerned ought to be made by an amicable arrangement between them, with a view to correcting as far as possible the evils arising from such infringement.’[24]

5. The Pan Anglican Congress of 1908

In 1908 a Pan Anglican Congress was held in London in advance of the Lambeth Conference which was held in the same year. This was a voluntary gathering of clergy and laity from all over the Communion which was described by George Bell as:

‘…an unofficial assembly intended to stir the imagination of the Anglican Communion and to give the rank and file a new sense of unity, besides leading to fresh offers of service by clergy at home to the Church Overseas.’

A series of papers on a range of topics was produced for the Congress and the sixth of these was a paper on the nature of the Anglican Communion by the Bishop of Gibraltar, William Collins. In this paper Collins argues that particular groups of churches ‘have a message for one another and for the whole world’ and what the Anglican Communion stands for is ‘free growth in every part, and free choice in every sphere, where growth and choice alike are not already determined by fundamental facts.’[25]

He then goes on to explain what this means in relation to the Anglican attitude to the past, the present and the future, declaring that:

‘As regards the past it is the Church of the new learning, making its appeal to the ancient principles, but to those principles as tested and determined by impartial scholarship. As regards the present, it is the Church of reasoned liberty, submitting to all new facts, but coordinating them with its existing knowledge and so making them its own. As regards the future, it is the Church of the larger outlook, which can contemplate the most marvellous developments of the faith amongst new peoples without the necessity for a re-adjustment of its whole spiritual equation. It is the one great ecclesiastical force which yields to facts and rules by yielding; tenacious of the past, yet capable in an unlimited degree of adapting itself to new conditions.’[26]

6. The Lambeth Conference of 1908

Adaption of the Prayer Book

The Lambeth Conference of 1908 returned to the question of the adaptation of the Book of Common Prayer which had been considered in previous Conferences. The outcome of its deliberations was Resolutions 24 and 27.

The former lays down the principle that:

‘While the educative value of the Book of Common Prayer and the importance of retaining it as a bond of union and standard of devotion should be fully recognised, every effort should be made, under due authority, to render the forms of public worship more intelligible to uneducated congregations and better suited to the widely diverse needs of the various races within the Anglican Communion.’[27]

The latter then goes on to look at specifics, declaring that:

‘In any revision of the Book of Common Prayer which may hereafter be undertaken by competent authority the following principles should be held in view:

a.) the adaptation of rubrics in a large number of cases to present customs as generally accepted;

b.) the omission of parts of the services to obviate repetition or redundancy;

c.) the framing of additions to the present services in the way of enrichment;

d.) the fuller provision of alternatives in our forms of public worship;

e.) the provision for greater elasticity in public worship;

f.) the change of words obscure or commonly misunderstood;

g.) the revision of the Calendar and Tables prefixed to the Book of Common

     Prayer.’[28]

The Anglican commitment to unity

The Conference also reiterated the Anglican commitment to Christian Unity. Resolution 58 of the Conference:

‘…reaffirms the Resolution of the Conference of 1897 that “every opportunity should be taken to emphasise the divine purpose of visible unity amongst Christians as a fact of revelation.” It desires further to affirm that in all partial projects of reunion and intercommunion the final attainment of the divine purpose should be kept in view as our object; and that care should be taken to do what will advance the reunion of the whole of Christendom, and to abstain from doing anything that will retard or prevent it.’ [29]

7. The Lambeth Conference of 1920

The unity of the Church

The focus of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 was on the unity of the Church. As the encyclical letter from the Conference explains, this was because the bishops at the Conference had come to see that:

‘…in order to accomplish its object the Church itself must be a pattern of fellowship. It is only by showing the value and power of fellowship in itself that it can win the world to fellowship. The weakness of the Church in the world to-day is not surprising when we consider how the bands of its own fellowship are loosened and broken.’[30]  

The encyclical further explains that the importance of unity had been underlined by the First World War:

‘…the war and its horrors, waged as it was between so-called Christian nations, drove home the truth with the shock of a sudden awakening. Men in all Communions began to think of the reunion of Christendom not as a laudable ambition or a beautiful dream, but as an imperative necessity.’ [31]

In order to respond to this imperative necessity, the Conference passed Resolution 9, the well known ‘Appeal to All Christian People.’ As the encyclical notes, the purpose of this Appeal is to urge churches:

‘…to try a new approach to reunion; to adopt a new point of view; to look up to the reality as it is in God.  The unity which we seek exists.  It is in God, Who is the perfection of unity, the one Father, the one Lord, the one Spirit, Who gives life to the one Body.  Again, the one Body exists.  It needs not to be made, nor to be remade, but to become organic and visible.  Once more, the fellowship of the members of the one Body exists.  It is the work of God, not of  man. We have only to discover it, and to set free its activities.’[32]

The encyclical goes on to say that in the light of this need for a fresh approach to reunion the Appeal offers a path towards unity that does not involve churches seeking to impose their distinctive forms of ecclesiology on other churches, but instead involves holding diversity within the framework of common faith, common sacraments and a common ministry ministry. This is, it says: 

‘… is in idea and in method a new appeal.  If it be prospered, it will change the spirit and direction of our efforts.  Terms of reunion must no longer be judged by the success with which they meet the claims and present positions of two or more uniting Communions, but by their correspondence to the common ideal of the Church is God would have it be.  Again, in the past, negotiations for reunion have often started with the attempt to define the measure of uniformity which is essential.  The impression has been given that nothing else matters.  Now we see that those element of truth about which differences have arisen are essential to the fullness of the witness of the whole Church.  We have no need to belittle what is distinctive in our own interpretation of the Christian life: we believe that it is something precious which we held in trust for the common good.  We desire that others should share in our heritage and blessings as we wish to share in theirs.  It is not by reducing the different groups of Christians to uniformity but by rightly using their diversity, that the Church can become all things to all men.  So long as there is vital connexion with the head, there is positive value in the differentiation of the members.  But we are convinced this ideal cannot be fulfilled if these groups are content to remain in separation from one another or to be joined together only in some vague federation.  Their value for the fullness of Christian life, truth, and witness can only be realised if they are united together in the fellowship of one visible society whose members are bound together by the ties of a common faith, common sacraments, and a common ministry.  It is towards this ideal of a united and truly Catholic Church that we must all set our minds.’[33]

The nature of the Anglican Communion

The encyclical also connects the search for unity between churches with the internal development of the Anglican Communion. It states that:

‘The more our minds are filled with the hopes of seeing the universal fellowship in full and free activity, the more zealous ought we to be to improve and strengthen in every way the fellowship of our own Church. This is one of the most direct and obvious methods of preparing for reunion.

It further suggests that the characteristics of the fellowship that exists within the Anglican Communion might have something to offer to the wider search for unity. In this connection it notes that:

For half a century the Lambeth Conference has more and more served to focus the experience and counsels of our Communion.  But it does not claim to exercise any powers of control or command.  It stands for the far more spiritual and more Christian principle of loyalty to the fellowship.  The Churches represented in it are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and of love. They are not free to deny the truth.  They are not free to ignore the fellowship.  And the objects of our Conferences are to attain an ever deeper apprehension of the truth, and to guard the fellowship with ever increasing appreciation of its value.’[34]

In line with what is said here about the nature of the authority of the Lambeth Conference, Resolution 44 of 1920 emphasised the advisory nature of the Central Consultative Body of the Communion:

‘In order to prevent misapprehension the Conference declares that the Consultative Body, created by the Lambeth Conference of 1897 and consolidated by the Conference of 1908, is a purely advisory body. It is of the nature of a continuation committee of the whole Conference and neither possesses nor claims any executive or administrative power. It is framed so as to represent all branches of the Anglican Communion and it offers advice only when advice is asked for.’[35]

The ministry of women

As well as considering the unity of the Church, the 1920 Lambeth Conference also gave its attention to the issue of the ministry of women in the Church, passing a series of resolutions (Resolutions 46-54) which among other things agreed that women should be admitted to all Councils of the Church open to lay people on equal terms with  men, that the order of deaconesses should be formally recognised as the Anglican order of ministry for women and that women should be permitted to lead services, lead in prayer and ‘instruct and exhort the congregation’

The encyclical letter explains the thinking behind these resolutions, noting that in the past the Church ‘has under-valued and neglected the gifts of women and has too thanklessly used their work’ and explaining that:

‘We feel bound to respect the customs of the Church, not as an iron law, but as results and records of the Spirit’s guidance. In such customs there is much which obviously was dictated by reasonable regard to contemporary social conventions. As these differ from age to age and country to country, the uses the Church makes of the services of women will also differ.  But this use will be further determined by a more important consideration.  It is the peculiar gifts and the special excellences of women which the Church will most wish to use.  Its wisdom will be shown, not in disregarding, but in taking advantage of, the differences between women and men.  These considerations seem to have guided the Primitive Church to create the Order of Deaconesses.  We have recorded our approval of the revival of that order, and we have attempted to indicate the duties and functions which in our judgement belong to it.  We also recognise that God has granted to some women special gifts of spiritual insight and powers of prophetic teaching. We have tried to show how these gifts can be exercised to the greatest benefit of the Church.  The arrangements which we have suggested are not applicable to all countries alike. Yet everywhere the attempt must be made to make room for the Spirit to work according to the wisdom which He will give, so that the fellowship to the Ministry may be strengthened by the co-operation of women and the fellowship of the Church be enriched by their spiritual gifts.’[36]

Anglican liturgical development

A final aspect of the 1920 Lambeth Conference that is worth noting is what it said about liturgical development within the Communion. The report of the Committee looking at ‘missionary problems’ notes that previous Lambeth Conferences had recognised the need for ‘the adaption and enrichment’ of the services in the Book of Common Prayer  to meet the need of ‘races and countries overseas.’ However, the demand has now arisen on the Mission Field not just for adaptation of the Prayer Book but for new entirely new ‘forms and services.’[37]

The report argues that the sort of liturgical uniformity envisaged in the Preface to the Prayer Book is now out of date, being ‘neither applicable to Dioceses or Provinces in the Mission Field, nor in itself necessary as a bond of union between Churches which have unity of faith.’[38]  It therefore recommends:

‘(i) Rigid liturgical uniformity is not to be regarded as a necessity throughout the Churches of the Anglican Communion in the Mission Field.

(ii) It should be recognized that full liberty belongs to Diocesan Bishops not only for the adaptation and addition alluded to earlier but also for the adoption of other uses.

(iii) In the exercise of this liberty care should always be taken: –

a.) To maintain a Scriptural and Catholic balance of Truth.

b.) To give due consideration to the precedents of the early Church.

c.) To observe such limitations as may be imposed by higher synodical authority.

d.) To remember with brotherly consideration the possible effect their action may have on other Provinces and Branches of the Anglican Communion.’ [39]

The report also recommends the appointment of permanent committee of liturgical experts to which Dioceses and Provinces might turn for advice.   

The committee’s recommendations were eventually reflected in Resolutions 36- 38 of the Conference. These declare:

’36. While maintaining the authority of the Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican standard of doctrine and practice, we consider that liturgical uniformity should not be regarded as a necessity throughout the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The conditions of the Church in many parts of the mission field render inapplicable the retention of that Book as the one fixed liturgical model.

37. Although the inherent right of a diocesan bishop to put forth or sanction liturgical forms is subject to such limitations as may be imposed by higher synodical authority, it is desirable that such authority should not be too rigidly exercised so long as those features are retained which are essential to the safeguarding of the unity of the Anglican Communion

38. The Conference recommends the appointment of a committee of students of liturgical questions which would be ready to advise any diocese or province on the form and matter of services proposed for adoption, and requests the Archbishop of Canterbury to take such steps as he deems best to give early effect to this Resolution.’[40]

8. The Lambeth Conference of 1930

The unity of the Church

The Lambeth Conference of 1930 gave further consideration to the issue of the unity of the Church highlighted in 1920. The committee tasked with looking at this subject endorsed the approach taken in 1920, and went on to look at specific issues which had arisen in the light of it. Among these were the issue of the importance of the historic episcopate and the issue of inter-communion.

With regard to the former, the committee’s report declares that during the history of the Church the Episcopate has been:

‘…an institution fulfilling certain purposes. As an institution it was, and is, characterised by succession in two forms, the succession in office and the succession of consecration. And it had generally recognised functions: the general superintendence of the Church and more especially of the Clergy: the maintenance of unity in the one Eucharist; the ordination of men to the ministry; the safeguarding of the faith; and the administration of the discipline of the Church. There have been different interpretations of the relation of these elements of the Historic Episcopate to one another; but these elements themselves are constant.’[41]

It follows, says the report, that when Anglicans say that they are committed to the Historic Episcopate:

‘…we are not to be understood as insisting on the office apart from the functions. What we uphold is the Episcopate, maintained in successive generations by continuity of succession and consecration, as it has been throughout the history of the Church from the earliest times, and discharging those functions which from the earliest times it has discharged.’[42]

The report states that Anglicans:

‘…readily agree that there are other elements in the full life of the Christian Church, and we hold that the episcopate should be ‘constitutional’ in the sense that provision should be made for the due co-operation of the presbyterate and the congregation of Christ’s faithful people in the ordering of the Church’s life. Indeed, this is already secured in varying degrees in all parts of the Communion by the revival of Diocesan and Provincial Synods, or by other similar means.  We recognise that in this respect we have much to learn and to gain from the traditions and customs of the non-episcopal churches.’[43]

However, it says that the special responsibility of Anglicans ‘is to bring into the complete life of the united Church those elements which we have received and hold in trust.  Chief among these, the matter of Order, is the Historic Episcopate.’[44]

With regard to inter-communion, the report argues that:

‘The will and intention of Christians to perpetuate separately organised churches makes it inconsistent in principle for them to come before our Lord to be united as one body by the sacrament of His own Body and Blood. The general rule of our Church must therefore be held to exclude indiscriminate Inter-communion, or any such Inter-Communion as expresses acquiescence in the continuance of separately organised Churches.’[45]

According to the report, this is why Anglicans:

‘…hold as a general principle that Inter-communion should be the goal of, rather than a means to, the restoration of union, and also why the general rule of the Church has been, as set forth by the last Lambeth Conference, that members of Anglican Churches should receive the Holy Communion only from ministers of their own Church or of Churches in full communion with it.’[46]

The report notes, however, that this is rule of Church discipline and as such ‘is subject to exception where the purpose of that discipline can thus be better served.’ It holds that this rule falls under the dispensing power of the bishops who should be free to grant exceptions in accordance with any relevant national, regional or provincial principles on the matter. [47]  

The nature of the Anglican Communion

As well as considering the issue of Christian unity the Conference of 1930 also spent time considering the nature Anglican Communion. The report of the committee that looked at this issue argues that there are ‘two prevailing types of ecclesiastical organisation.’ In one type there is ‘centralised government.’ The Roman Catholic Church is the great example of this type. In the other type there is ‘regional autonomy within one fellowship.’ This was the type of organisation that existed in the Church of the first centuries and which is upheld in the today by the Orthodox churches and by the Anglican Communion.[48]

As an organisation of the latter type the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of self-governing local churches, historically linked to the British isles, ‘whose faith has been grounded in the doctrines and ideals for which the Church of England has always stood.’[49]

The report describes these doctrines and ideals as follows:

‘What are these doctrines?  We hold the Catholic faith in its entirety: that is to say, the truth of Christ, contained in Holy Scripture; stated in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds; expressed in the Sacraments of the Gospel and the rites of the Primitive Church as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer with its various local adaptations; and safeguarded by the historic threefold Order of the Ministry.

What are these ideals?  They are the ideals of the Church of Christ.  Prominent among them are an open Bible, a pastoral Priesthood, a common worship, a standard of conduct consistent with that worship, and a fearless love of truth.  Without comparing ourselves with others, we acknowledge thankfully as the fruits of these ideals within our Communion, the sanctity of mystics, the learning of scholars, the courage of missionaries, the uprightness of civil administrators, and the devotion of many servants of God in Church and State.’[50]

The report goes on to add that ‘while, however, we hold the Catholic Faith, we hold it in freedom.’ What this means is that:

‘Every church our Communion is free to build up its life and development upon the provisions of its own constitution.  Local churches (that quote the words of Bishop Creighton) ‘have no power to change the Creeds of the universal Church or its early organisation.  But they have the right to determine the best methods of setting forth to their people the contents of the Christian faith. They may regulate rites, ceremonies, usages, observances and discipline for that purpose, according to their own wisdom and experience and the needs of the people.’[51]

The report acknowledges that such freedom carries with it

‘….the risk of divergence to the point even of disruption.  In case any such risk should actually arise it is clear that the Lambeth Conference as such could not take any disciplinary action. Formal action would belong to the several churches of the Communion individually; but the advice of the Lambeth Conference, sought before executive action is taken by the constituent churches, would carry very great moral weight. And we believe in the Holy Spirit.  We trust in His power working in every part of His Church as the effective bond to hold us together.’[52]

According to the report:

‘The freedom of each separate church thus resembles, both in its scope and in its limitations, the freedom of a member of a living organism.  It performs its distinctive functions under the direction of the Head, and for the benefit of the whole body. If it functions in separation from the other members, or in imperfect correspondence to the will of Christ, is not necessarily separated from the body, but its own life is impoverished, and the whole body is weakened and distracted.‘[53]

As part of its emphasis on the freedom existing within the Communion, the report notes that this means that the Central Consultative Body of the Communion:

‘ …should be recognised as possessing no authority beyond that possessed by the [Lambeth] Conference itself. We call attention to the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1908, reaffirmed in 1920, that the Consultative Body is purely advisory. It has no legal function as an Appellate Tribunal, and we do not recommend any central Appellate Tribunal should be appointed.  Such centralised authority would, we believe, be contrary to the spirit of the Anglican Communion. We contemplate that Appellate Tribunals will be constituted locally.  The authority of the Consultative body is moral.’ [54]

The report of the committee on the Anglican Communion was eventually affirmed by the Conference as a whole in Resolutions 48 and 49:

’48. The Conference affirms that the true constitution of the Catholic Church involves the principle of the autonomy of particular Churches based upon a common faith and order, and commends to the faithful those sections of the Report of Committee IV which deal with the ideal and future of the Anglican Communion.

49. The Conference approves the following statement of nature and status of the Anglican Communion, as that term is used in its Resolutions:

The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:

a.) they uphold and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several Churches;

b.) they are particular or national Churches, and, as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and

c.) they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.

The Conference makes this statement praying for and eagerly awaiting the time when the Churches of the present Anglican Communion will enter into communion with other parts of the Catholic Church not definable as Anglican in the above sense, as a step towards the ultimate reunion of all Christendom in one visibly united fellowship.’[55]


[1] The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920, London: SPCK 1920, pp.5-6. For the background to the

   Conference see A M G Stephenson, The First Lambeth Conference 1867, London: SPCK, 1967.

[2] The Six Lambeth Conferences, p.6.

[3]Ibid , p.53.

[4] Ibid pp.53-54

[5] Ibid p.54

[6] Ibid, p.56

[7] Ibid, pp.82-83.  Reference is made here to the Church of England as opposed to the United Church of

  England and Ireland referred to in 1867 , because the Church of Ireland had become an separate

  church following its disestablishment in 1871. 

[8] Ibid p.83

[9] Ibid, p.83

[10] Ibid, p.83

[11] Ibid, p.83.

[12] Ibis, p..83-84.

[13] Ibid, p.84.

[14] Ibid p.86-87.

[15] Ibid, p.122

[16] Ibid, p, 114.

[17] Ibid, p. 117.

[18] Ibid, p. 173.

[19] Ibid, p. 121.

[20] Ibid, pp.199-200.

[21] Ibid p. 187.

[22] Ibid, p.207.

[23] Ibid, pp.207-208.

[24] Ibid, p.203.

[25] W Collins, Pan Anglican Papers No 6 – The Anglican Communion, London: SPCK, 1908, p.10.

[26] Ibid, pp.10-11.

[27] The Six Lambeth Conferences, p.322

[28] Ibid, p.323.

[29] Ibid p.331.

[30] Ibid, p.11  – The record of the 1920 Lambeth Conference has its own numbering within the Six

   Conferences collection.

[31] Ibid p.11.

[32] Ibid p.12

[33] Ibid, p.12.

[34] Ibid pp.13-14.

[35] Ibid, p.38.

[36] Ibid, pp.14-15.

[37] Ibid, p.87

[38] Ibid p.87

[39] Ibid p.88

[40] Ibid, p. 36.

[41] Report of the Lambeth Conference of 1930, London: SPCK, 1930, p.115.

[42] Ibid, pp.15-16.

[43] Ibid, p.116

[44] Ibid, p.116.

[45] Ibid p..116-117.

[46] Ibid, p.117.

[47] Ibid, p.117.

[48] Ibid, p.153.

[49] Ibid, p.154.

[50] Ibid, p.154.

[51] Ibid, p.154, quoting Creighton, Church and Nation, p.212 and also referencing Article XXXIV.

[52] Ibid pp.154-155.

[53] Ibid, p.155.

[54] Ibid, pp.155-156.

[55] Ibid, pp.54-55.

On the Way forward for Anglicanism – A response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s vision for the Anglican Communion.

On 14 October the Archbishop of Canterbury posted an update of the plans for next year’s Lambeth Conference on the Conference website.

Part of this update includes a section entitled  ‘God’s Church for God’s World – Our life together as the Anglican Communion.’ [1] What the Archbishop writes in this section is extremely important because it sets out his vision for what he thinks the Anglican Communion is and should be, and what he thinks is currently endangering this vision.

In this article I shall offer a commentary on this section, explaining where I think what the Archbishop says is correct and where I think it is mistaken.

The Archbishop begins the section by writing:

The conference will also explore internal matters in the life of the Anglican Communion. We will seek to find a way forward on the issues that have divided us for so long over marriage, sexuality and relationships. It is unlikely that we will have a single common understanding. We are a global communion with more than 2000 languages and such deeply embedded and possibly different views of what is right and wrong, both culturally and in our understanding of the Bible. But this is what marks the Church out as different. We are called to find ways of continuing together, knowing that we belong to one another and obeying the commands of Jesus to love one another, and where we disagree, disagreeing well.

In this paragraph the Archbishop correctly notes that, as things presently stand, it is unlikely that those who attend the Lambeth Conference will have ‘a single common understanding’ on ‘marriage, sexuality and relationships’ and he also correctly notes that those who belong to the Anglican Communion speak more than 2000 languages and have ‘deeply embedded and possibly different views of what is right and wrong, both culturally and in our understanding of the Bible.’  However, the moral he draws from this is problematic.

The Archbishop says, as we have seen, that the members of the Anglican Communion, as members of the Christian Church, are called by God: ‘ to find ways of continuing together, knowing that we belong to one another and obeying the commands of Jesus to love one another, and where we disagree, disagreeing well.’ The problem is with the implicit connection that the Archbishop makes between loving one another, disagreeing well, and continuing together.

The Archbishop does not spell out what he means by ‘disagreeing well’ but in context it appears to mean continuing in fellowship with those with whom we disagree about what is right and what is wrong and how to interpret the Bible. The problem with this approach is set out in paragraph 89 of the 2004 Windsor Report. This paragraph makes the point that not all differences that exist within the Church can be bundled together as being ‘adiaphora’ – matters on which we can simply agree to disagree. It declares that it is not the case that:

‘…. either for Paul or in Anglican theology all things over which Christians in fact disagree are automatically to be placed into the category of ‘adiaphora’. It has never been enough to say that we must celebrate or at least respect ‘difference’ without further ado. Not all ‘differences’ can be tolerated. (We know this well enough in the cases of, say, racism or child abuse; we would not say “some of us are racists, some of us are not, so let’s celebrate our diversity”). This question is frequently begged in current discussions, as for instance when people suggest without further argument, in relation to a particular controversial issue, that it should not be allowed to impair the Church’s unity, in other words that the matter in question is not as serious as some suppose. In the letters already quoted, Paul is quite clear that there are several matters – obvious examples being incest (1 Corinthians 5) and lawsuits between Christians before non-Christian courts (1 Corinthians 6) – in which there is no question of saying “some Christians think this, other Christians think that, and you must learn to live with the difference”. On the contrary: Paul insists that some types of behaviour are incompatible with inheriting God’s coming kingdom, and must not therefore be tolerated within the Church. ‘[2]

When things that should not be tolerated are tolerated this is not love, but rather indifference resulting from a failure to love. This is because loving someone means seeking the best for them as someone whom God has created and redeemed. Allowing them to engage in behaviour which God has declared to be intolerable without any attempt to encourage them to change their ways, is not loving because it means leaving them at odds with God and potentially facing being cut off from him for all eternity.

The matters currently under dispute in the Anglican Communion are about matters that are intolerable.

The big dispute that is currently dividing the Anglican Communion, along with many other churches, concerns two issues. Is it right for someone to have a sexual relationship with someone of their own sex (and for this to be called marriage),  and is it right for someone who is are biologically male or female to identify as members of the opposite sex, or as having an alternative, non-binary, gender identity  such as agender, bi-gender, genderfluid, or polygender and for the Church to recognise these new identities?  To say ‘yes’ in answer to either or both of these questions is to tolerate that which is intolerable.

The reason why both same sex-sex relationships and gender transition are theologically intolerable is because they go against the basic truth that God has created all human beings in his image and likeness.

A central part of what it means to be created by God in his image and likeness is to be male or female. In the words of Genesis 1:27: ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ This teaching is reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 19:4: ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female.’

There is a very small percentage of people, some 0.018% of live births (approximately 1:500), who are genuinely ‘intersex’ in the sense that they combine both male and female elements in their physiology. However, the existence of such people still points to the fundamentally dimorphic, male or female, nature of human sexuality. Where they are able to reproduce, and that is often not the case, they do so either as male or female. Their condition is a developmental disorder rather than the existence of a third type of human being and is the exception that proves the rule.

Because this is the case, except in these highly exceptional and biologically distinct cases, believing rightly in ‘God the Father who hath made me and all the world’ in the words of the Prayer Book Catechism, means accepting with gratitude that I am the particular male or female human being that God has created me to be and living accordingly.

As Oliver O’Donovan writes in his book Begotten or Made? :

 ‘When God made mankind male and female, to exist alongside each other and for each other, he gave a form that human sexuality should take and a good to which it should aspire. None of us can, or should, regard our difficulties with that form, or with achieving that good, as the norm of what our sexuality is to be. None of us should see our sexuality as mere self-expression, and forget that we can express ourselves sexually only because we participate in this generic form and aspire to this generic good. We do not have to make a sexual form, or posit a sexual good. We have to exist as well as we can within that sexual form, and in relation to that sexual good, which has been given to us because it has been given to humankind.’ [3]

This means that it is not legitimate either to deny the God-given form by rejecting the division of humanity into male and female, or to deny the particular version of that form that God has given to us by making us either male or female, something that is determined not by our feelings (as many today would claim), but by our biology. This is because the embodied nature of human beings means that we cannot separate ourselves from our bodies. ‘My body is me’ and this means that ‘my biology is me.’

However difficult the forms that God has given us may be for us to accept, to deny it would be sinful because it would involve refusing to say to God ‘thy will be done’ by refusing to love  the self who God has made us to be.

Refusing in this way to say to God ‘thy will be done,’ in either our thinking or our behaviour, is not something that can be regarded as adiaphora and therefore tolerated within the Church. This is because it brings with it the inescapable risk of eternal separation from God. As C S Lewis writes in his book The Great Divorce, there is an inescapable binary choice facing all human beings. ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’’[4]

Lewis’ point is that God has given human beings freedom to shape their own destinies. We can choose to say to God ‘thy will be done’ and be happy with God for ever in the world to come, or we can choose to turn our back on God. If we do this God will respect our decision, but the inevitable consequence will be that in the world to come we will be cut off from God and all good for ever. The fundamental problem with both gender transition and same-sex relationships is that they do involve a rejection, in both theory and practice, of the sexual identity which we have been given by God and thus a failure to say to God ‘thy will be done.’

As Martin Luther explains in his Small Catechism of the answer to the question of what it means to confess ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth’ is ‘I believe that God has created me and all that exists; that he has given me and still sustains my body and soul, all my limbs and senses, my reason and all the faculties of my mind’.[5] In other words, the Christian belief in God the creator is not just a vague deistic belief that God is the ultimate source of all that is, but also the very specific belief testified to in Psalm 139 that God made me as the particular combination of body and soul that I am. Both same-sex relationships and gender transition involve in different ways a rejection of this basic truth. They thus involve, ultimately, a failure to say to God ‘thy will be done’ and to glorify God in the body by living according to this truth, and this, as previously noted, carries the risk of eternal damnation. That is why Paul warns the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:10 that those who persist in same-sex sexual activity ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God.’

Because this is the case, any church which supports same-sex relationships or gender transition is a church which is in serious error in its teaching and practice. It is giving support to forms of behaviour which involve serious moral error because they involve people departing from the way God created them to live.  To put it simply, it is a church which does not love people enough to seek to prevent them from living in ways that are contrary to way God made them to live.

Love does not mean simply affirming whatever choices people wish to make. It means seeking their ultimate good by helping them to understand what the right choices are and then choose them. A church which gives support to same-sex relationships or gender transition is failing to do this and its action is therefore intolerable.

All this being so, for the Anglican Communion to actually be a communion of churches which do truly love, and which treat disagreements in a godly manner, it cannot be a communion which allows churches which give support to such things to remain part of it. Just as individuals who are behaving in a seriously ungodly manner need to be excommunicated in order to make this point clear to them so that they have the opportunity to repent and be saved (1 Corinthians 5:1-5), so also there needs to be a break in communion with churches that behave in a seriously ungodly manner by tolerating the intolerable. This is what Paul’s command ‘not to associate with immoral men’ (1 Corinthians 5:9) means when translated into ecclesiological terms.

The Archbishop then goes on to say:

We also need to be clear about what it should mean to be part of the Anglican Communion as part of God’s Church. The Anglican Communion is an extraordinary, wonderful, and powerful collaboration of rich and poor, of powerful and weak. A genuine expression of the vision of the Church that we find in the New Testament.

Yet too often it has slipped into being a tool of power, the absolute opposite of discipleship in the service of Jesus Christ. Some groups are intent on changing the way in which the Anglican Communion works, so that those outside of a province may interfere with its actions and tell people what to do. There is a danger of becoming a communion that finds itself with a load of small groups that claim extraterritorial jurisdiction.

This goes against the understanding of the Church from the New Testament onwards, set out clearly in the great councils of the Church. It reverses the understanding of what it is to be Anglican which was established from the first Lambeth Conference. It tries to narrow us from being a global church with open doors and a welcoming heart of love for the needy to one that – rather than depending on Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw in those who are not yet members – sets its own tests based on its own way of doing things.’

Here again there is a measure of truth in what the Archbishop writes. When it is working properly the Anglican Communion is indeed ‘an extraordinary, wonderful, and powerful collaboration of rich and poor, of powerful and weak’ and, as such, ‘A genuine expression of the vision of the Church that we find in the New Testament.’

However, he departs from the truth when he describes recent events in the life of the Communion. For him the big problem is that groups within the communion (and it is clear that what he means is GAFCON) have illegitimately claimed ‘extraterritorial jurisdiction’ within other Anglican churches as a means of exerting power. This is a deeply misleading depiction of what has taken place.

What has taken place is that in places such as Canada, the United States, Brazil, and New Zealand the existing Anglican churches have come to tolerate the intolerable in the ways described above. When this has happened other Anglican churches and their bishops have warned that this is not a godly thing to do, and when this warning has been ignored, they have then offered fellowship and oversight to those in such churches who have remained orthodox in their belief and behaviour and who as a result have separated themselves from those churches.

This has not been about the exercise of power. It has been about love, love shown in warning people against pursuing an ungodly course of action, and love shown in seeking to give practical support to those who want to continue to live in a godly fashion.

Furthermore, this action has not been an attempt to unduly narrow down what it means to be Anglican or to reject dependence on ‘Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw in those who are not yet members.’  

Those whom the Archbishop is criticising have not departed from the breadth of traditional Anglicanism. On the contrary, they have remained steadfastly loyal to traditional Anglican teaching and practice and are committed to the Anglican Communion being a ‘global church’ (the G for ‘global’ in GAFCON is a big give away here).

In addition, there is no evidence at all that they have rejected the need to be dependent on Christ and the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith and it is wrong of the Archbishop to claim that this is the case.

There is no contradiction between taking a clear and strenuous view of the requirements of Christian discipleship and holding that Christian faith is the gift of God the Father bestowed by Christ through the Spirit. A reading of the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Ephesians, for example shows that it is perfectly possible for both ideas to be held together.

The Archbishop finishes the section by writing:

Anglicanism is both Catholic and Reformed. Both our Catholicity and the traditions of the Reformation need renewing so that each person answers to God for their own decisions, and churches are autonomous but interdependent in love.

The problem with this paragraph is not that it claims that ‘Anglicanism is both Catholic and Reformed.’ This is true. What is problematic is the way that the Archbishop goes on to depict the renewal of Anglicanism in terms of individuals and churches being simply free to go their own way.

This has not been the accepted Anglican view of the matter. It is true that when the Anglican Communion came into being there was  a deliberate rejection of the sort of centralised command and control found in the Roman Catholic Church. However, this did not mean that Anglicans were seen as being completely free to do what they wanted.

Drawing on their reading of the  practice of the Early Church those who developed the Anglican Communion held that bishops and their churches should be independent of each other, but also held that their exercise of this independence should be constrained by two factors. First, adhesion to Apostolic truth as taught in Scripture and reflected in the writings of the Fathers and in the historic Anglican formularies. Secondly, loyalty to the fellowship of the Anglican Communion, manifested in adhesion to the decisions collectively arrived at by the Bishops of the Communion gathered together at the Lambeth Conference.

As the Encyclical Letter from the Bishops of the 1920 Lambeth Conference put it:

‘For half a century the Lambeth Conference has more and more served to focus the experience and counsels of our Communion.  But it does not claim to exercise any powers of control or command.  It stands for the far more spiritual and more Christian principle of loyalty to the fellowship.  The Churches represented in it are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and of love. They are not free to deny the truth.  They are not free to ignore the fellowship.  And the objects of our Conferences are to attain an ever deeper apprehension of the truth, and to guard the fellowship with ever increasing appreciation of its value’[6]

The resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences did not have legal authority, but they were seen as having binding moral authority because they were, in the words of  Owen Chadwick, resolutions ‘taken after due debate and after prayer by the ministers who represented the apostles to their churches.’[7]

This view of what membership of the Anglican Communion involved held sway until it was breached by the Canadian and American churches in the years after the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Resolution 1.10 of that Conference laid down quite clearly that same-sex relationships and the ordination of those in same-sex relationships were unacceptable and yet the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in  Canada authorised the celebration of same-sex relationships and the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated Gene Robinson, a man in same-sex relationship as Bishop of New Hampshire and they and other liberal churches have made similar decisions in the years that have followed. It is the liberal revisionists in the Anglican communion who discarded the principles of the Anglican Communion by rejecting the ‘restrains of truth and love.’  Orthodox Anglicans have simply responded to the pastoral emergencies that their actions have created.

If what the Archbishop writes about the way forward for the Anglican Communion is thus unsatisfactory, is there a better alternative?  The answer is ‘yes, there is a better way forward.’ This would have four elements.

  1. The Archbishop of Canterbury would exercise his authority as the convenor of the Lambeth Conference by not inviting to the 2022 Conference any bishop from a province of the Anglican Communion that has breached Resolution 1.10, but would invite the bishops from the new orthodox jurisdictions in their place.
  2. The Conference would pass a new resolution upholding the basic principles of Lambeth 1.10. but extending it to include opposition to gender transition. The American Nashville Statement of 2017 would serve as a good model. The Conference would also spend time considering how to provide appropriate pastoral care, consistent with Christian ethics, to LGBT+ people.
  3. Anglican churches would rescind ecumenical relationships with all non-Anglican churches whose theology and practice was incompatible this new resolution.
  4. Anglican churches would begin to work ecumenically with other churches to uphold traditional Christian theology and practice with regard human sexual identity and practice and to resist the efforts of revisionist bodies to change or undermine these or to make them illegal.

This is the way forward for a godly and truly loving Anglican Communion.


[1] The Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘God’s Church for God’s World – Our life together as the Anglican Communion’ at ‘https://www.lambethconfrence.org/the-lambeth-confrence-the-journey-is-under-way.

[2] The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report, 2004, para 88. p.39.

[3] Oliver O’Donovan, Begotten or Made? (Oxford: OUP, 1984), pp. 29-30.

[4] C S Lewis, The Great Divorce (Glasgow: Fontana, 1972), pp. 66-67.

[5] Martin Luther, Small Catechism, Section I , in Mark Knoll (ed), Confessions and Catechisms of the

   Reformation (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2004), p. 68.

[6] The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920 (London: SPCK 1920), pp.13-14.

[7] Owen Chadwick, in Roger Coleman (ed.), Resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences 1867-1988 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1992), p.xvii.

Why discrimination is not the way forward – A response to the Cooper report on ‘conversion practices.’

Why discrimination is not the right way forward – Reflections on the Cooper report on Conversion Therapy

Jayne Ozanne has long campaigned for a complete ban on ‘conversion therapy.’ She was, for example, the driving force behind the motion passed by the General Synod of the Church of England in 2017 which declared:

‘That this Synod: (a) endorse the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK of November 2015, signed by The Royal College of Psychiatrists and others, that the practice of gay conversion therapy has no place in the modern world, is unethical, potentially harmful and not supported by evidence; and 3 (b) call upon the Church to be sensitive to, and to listen to, contemporary expressions of gender identity; (c) and call on the government to ban the practice of Conversion Therapy.[1]

The latest move in her campaign is a new report published by the foundation which she heads up, the Ozanne Foundation. This report was commissioned  by the Foundation from the ‘Ban Conversion Legal Forum,’ a ‘cross-party group of MPs, peers, academics, barristers, legal professionals, campaigners, survivors and service providers who support to victims of ‘conversion therapy’’ and who support ‘a legislative ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy.’’ [2] The report has the title ‘The Cooper Report’ as a tribute to the LGBT + campaigner Joseph Cooper who died this year. Its full title is ‘The Cooper Report: How to Legislate against Conversion Practices.

A. What does the report propose?

What the report proposes is that what it calls ‘conversion practices’ (the term it prefers to ‘conversion therapy’) should be made criminal offences and that there should also be ‘ancillary civil protection orders’ to protect the victims of such practices, ’given they cannot afford to wait for lengthy investigation and prosecution.’ [3]

It further proposes that any activity undertaken in connection with conversion practices that is already in itself illegal (such as rape, assault, or false imprisonment) should receive an increased sentence because it was undertaken in connection with conversion practice:

‘Where an existing criminal offence is also a conversion practice, its reprehensible nature is especially heightened and the harm to a victim’s physical and psychological health often aggravated. As such, where conversion practices take the form of activities that are already criminalised, the Forum recommends the introduction of increased sentences akin to the uplifts applied to sentences under s.66 of the ‘Sentencing Code’, as set out in the Sentencing Act 2020. This imposes a duty on criminal courts to treat any offence more seriously when it can be shown to be aggravated by hostility towards persons of a  particular sexual orientation or gender identity. Courts should therefore treat an offence more seriously if it  has been motivated by a desire to suppress, “cure” or change an individual’s sexuality or gender identity.’[4]

As part of the prevention of conversion practices, the report recommends that

‘…. intelligence gathering and tracking systems be developed to identify repeat offenders who continue to promote and undertake conversion practices in order to bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities.’[5]

The report also recommends that there should be a regulatory body that oversees the issue of conversion practices and that this body ‘must have a hotline for reporting suspected conversion practices.’[6]

How does the report define a conversion practice?

The report proposes that :

‘…. an act constitutes a conversion practice where it is directed against another person or specific group of persons, and attempts to suppress, ‘cure’ or change that person’s or those persons gender identity or sexual orientation.’[7]

The report thinks it is important that ‘suppress’ should be included in the definition because:

‘…. if suppression is not included, perpetrators will simply shift their focus from trying to change or ‘cure’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity to trying to suppress it. They would still rely on the same methods and continue with the same belief that anything other than a heteronormative and non-trans (sometimes referred to as cisgender) identity is wrong. Indeed, the primary aim of many conversion practices is already focused on trying to suppress a person’s sexuality or alter their behaviour or gender expression because their sexual orientation or gender identity is deemed to be unacceptable. Such attempts are both harmful and morally wrong.’[8]

The report goes on to insist, however, that:

‘Legislation must … distinguish between harmful conversion practices and other practices that help people come to a consensual, comfortable, and self-accepting place with their gender identity or sexual orientation.’[9]

This last point means that helping people to accept that they are transgender or helping them to come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, would be acceptable. However, helping people to reject a transgender identity or to refrain from same-sex sexual activity would be illegal.

What does the report believe is wrong with conversion practices?

According to the report the problem with conversion practices is that they violate people’s human rights as these are laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

First, the report says conversion practices involve degrading treatment:

‘Conversion practices amount at least to degrading treatment, and under certain circumstances may constitute inhuman treatment or even torture – all of which are absolutely prohibited by Article 3 ECHR. Conversion practices are at a minimum degrading as they combine direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity with a real risk of grave physical or psychological harm for anyone subjected to them.’[10]

Secondly, conversion practices violate people’s right to respect for their private life:

‘Conversion practices also interfere with an individual’s right to respect for a private life under Article 8 as they violate their ability to live their life without arbitrary disruption or interference. States are again under a positive legal obligation under Article 8 ECHR to protect an individual’s right to a private life, and these obligations may involve the adoption of measures even in the sphere of relations between individuals.’[11]

Thirdly, conversion practices damage the LGBT + community as a whole:

‘Conversion practices not only harm the individual but negatively impact the LGBT+ community as a whole. The mere existence of conversion practices conveys the belief that LGBT+ identities can and ought to be suppressed. This sends a message which ‘reproduces, and promotes, the social images of LGBTIQ+ people as abnormal, disgusting etc which ground their pre-existing stigma’, thus contributing to and maintaining the continuum of violence and stigma that LGBT+ individuals continue to face.’[12]

Fourthly, conversion practices treat LGBT+ people as having less value than other human beings:

‘All conversion practices have in common that they treat LGBT+ people as being of less value,  manifesting contempt for LGBT+ identities and refusing to respect the equal value of the well-being of LGBT+ people. They are consequently an affront to the human dignity of LBGT+ persons because they fail to recognise that all persons are of equal moral value irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.[13]

The Issue of consent

The report argues that it should not be possible for someone accused of engaging in conversion practices to defend their actions on the basis that the person who was the subject of those practices consented to them.

This is for three reasons.

First, as previously argued, conversion practices amount to ‘degrading treatment’ under Article 3 of the ECHR and consent is not a defence against this.

Secondly, in an any event, people cannot be said to give free and informed consent to such practices:

‘Individuals who seek out conversion practices in the hope of being “cured” are not made aware of the severe psychological harm to which they are exposed to, and so cannot give informed consent. The motives of individuals seeking out such practices lie in stigmatisation, social pressure and the historic oppression of LGBT+ identities. Given the noted deceptive and unscientific nature of conversion practices and the stigmatisation that leads individuals to these practices, it is impossible to speak of an ability to give free and informed consent in relation to conversion practices.’[14]

Thirdly, allowing exemptions on the grounds of consent would undermine the welfare of the LGBT+ community as whole:

‘It is not only the individual who would be harmed if exemptions were made. Allowing any LGBT+ person to undergo conversion practices would contribute to and promote the continued stigmatisation of LGBT+ persons in wider society and damage the LGBT+ community as it furthers the belief that LGBT+ people are undesirable, abnormal and need to be “cured”. As such, even where an individual states that they were not harmed by conversion practices or that they ‘consented’, public policy still requires a full ban in order to give a clear indication as to what is and is not acceptable for matters of public health and safety. This is akin to other public policy areas such as the requirement to wear a seatbelt, which is required whether or not a driver believes they are at risk. Irrespective of different levels of risk between the two settings, the reality that an exemption would create loopholes and confusion justifies an outright ban with no exceptions.’[15]

B. What does the report say a ban on conversion practices would mean for religious organisations?

The report explains that what it proposes:

‘… allows religious practices and expressions of views on sexual ethics and morals which may be opposed to LGBT+ identities but intervenes where acts that constitute conversion practices are directed at LGBT+ individuals.’[16]

This means, it says, that:

‘Contrary to the publicised fears of certain religious groups, the expression of religious views on sexuality and gender will remain unaffected and the ban should not constitute an inherent restriction on religious freedom.’[17]

What this would mean would be that churches, and other religious organisations, and individuals within them,  could still teach that engaging in same-sex sexual activity or adopting a transgender activity was contrary to the will of God but they could not urge any specific individual to act in accordance with this teaching.

On the topic of prayer, the report argues that forms of prayer that are directed at a particular individual for a ‘predetermined purpose’  should be banned. In its view

‘….exempting prayer that is directed at an individual with a predetermined purpose would lead to a significant loophole that would be open to abuse, especially as this exemption would also exclude exorcisms that are conducted as a form of conversion practice from a ban. This type of exemption would be misguided given that a great number of conversion practices are prayer-based and given that they are often conducted in a religious context and environment.’ [18]

What would continue to be allowed, however is:

‘… any prayer that seeks to help an individual come to a point of peace and acceptance about their sexual orientation or gender identity, that is which does not have a predetermined purpose.’[19]

  • What would the report’s proposals mean for Christian practice?

If the Cooper report’s proposals ever became law, then what very many Christians would regard as perfectly normal aspects of Christian pastoral ministry would become criminal offences. Three  examples illustrate this.

First a woman decides that she no longer wishes to be in a lesbian relationship, but who wishes to live as a celibate Christian instead. Offering pastoral support to help her do this would be illegal because it would involve the suppression of her previous lesbian sexual activity.

Secondly, someone who is biologically male, but who has transitioned to living as a female now wishes to de-transition and live as a male and seeks help from the Church to do this. Offering help to do this would be illegal because it would involve a change to someone’s gender identity.

Thirdly, a man in a heterosexual marriage has been having extra-marital sex with other men. He asks for prayer that God will help him to stop such behaviour and that he will henceforth remain faithful to his marriage vows. Any such prayer would be illegal because it would be prayer with the ‘predetermined purpose’ of suppressing homosexual activity in the life of a particular individual.

Overall, what the Cooper report’s proposals would mean would be that, while Christians would still be free to express traditional Christian teaching on sexual identity and sexual behaviour, they would be prohibited from taking any form of action, whether in terms of counselling, pastoral guidance and support, or even prayer, to help people struggling with same-sex attraction, or with issues of sexual identity, to live according to that teaching. 

C. What are we to make of the proposals in the Cooper Report?

The key thing that needs to be grasped about the Copper report is that what it proposes is discrimination against a particular group of people, namely those who want to live their lives in line with traditional Christian anthropology and Christian ethics by living in accordance with their biological sex and refraining from same-sex sexual activity.

As we have seen, one of the objections to conversion practices in the report is that involves ‘direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.’ This claim is mistaken because, at least in a Christian context, conversion practices are not based on treating different individuals differently.  Rather, they are based on regarding everyone as called by God to accept their biological sex and to restrict their sexual activity to heterosexual marriage, and acting towards everyone on the basis of that conviction.

What the Cooper report proposes, however, would involve discrimination. We can see this if we consider the three examples given in the previous section of this paper.

Under the proposals in the Cooper report:

  • It would be legal to help someone with same sex attraction to come out as a lesbian and to enter into a lesbian relationship. However, it would be illegal to help someone who wanted to cease to be in a lesbian relationship, but to be celibate instead;
  • It would be legal to help a biological male to transition to living as a trans woman. However, it would be illegal to help someone living as trans woman to detransition and resume life as a man;
  • It would be legal to help someone in a heterosexual marriage to break his marriage vows by entering into same-sex relationship. However, it would be illegal to help someone to be faithful to his marriage vows by ceasing to involved in a same-sex relationship.

These three examples are all examples of discrimination in that they declare that some people may receive help, but that other people may not. However much the second person in each example may need or want help, help must not be given to them or a criminal act will have been performed.

If what the Cooper report proposes is discrimination, the next question is whether the report offers any valid justification for such discrimination. The answer is no.

First, the report claims that no one can possibly offer free and informed consent to conversion practices. This would be news to the large number of people who would testify that they did give their free and informed consent. These people exist, their testimonies are easily accessible, and it is not legitimate for the Cooper report to simply write them out of the picture.

As recently as May this year Jayne Ozanne herself testified to the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons concerning conversion practices: ‘the vast majority of people, like me, chose willingly to go through this … We did it because we truly believed it was the right thing to do.’ [20]  To be fair to Ozanne, she went on to say that for her it turned to be the wrong decision. Nevertheless, her testimony still stands. The ‘vast majority’ of people who have entered into conversion practices have done so ‘willingly’ because ‘they truly believed that it was the right thing to do.’

Secondly, the report claims that  conversion practices ‘fail to recognise that all persons are of equal moral value irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’  The report does not give any evidence to support this conclusion and it is not a conclusion that can be seen to be necessarily true.

It is perfectly possible, for instance, to hold that a desire to have sex with a member of one’s own sex, or a desire to live as a member of the opposite sex, are results of the Fall which conversion practices can help to address, without holding that people who have such desires have lesser moral value than other human beings. Thus, from an orthodox Christian perspective all human beings, whatever their desires, have an absolute and intrinsic moral value because they have been created by God in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Far from denying this conviction, Christian conversion practices are based on it, since they are attempts to help people live rightly as those whom God has created.

It can be argued, however, that the Cooper report itself attributes lesser moral value to some people as opposed to others. This can be seen in two respects.

  • The discrimination proposed by the Cooper report is based on the belief that the wishes of those who want to be involved in conversion practices should be ignored. If other people, such as those in the LGBT+ community, want to receive help to live in the way they want to live, then their wishes should be respected, but the wishes of those who want to be involved in conversion practices simply don’t count as far as the Cooper report is concerned. What is this if not giving less moral value to a particular group of people?
  • The proposal in the Cooper report that crimes such as rape, assault. or false imprisonment. should receive a more severe penalty if undertaken in the context of conversion practices implies that the same crimes have less significance  when they are committee in other contexts. This means, for example, that the sufferings of a rape victim where rape was committed in the context of domestic abuse or the sufferings of someone assaulted on the way home from the cinema, are less important than suffering endured by someone involved in conversion practices. Again, what is this except giving less moral value to some people rather than others?

Thirdly, the report claims that conversion practices are ‘degrading’ because they involve discrimination against LGBT+ people plus a real danger of ‘grave physical or psychological harm.’ We have already seen that the charge of discrimination is unfounded, and the evidence for widespread harm also seems to be lacking.

The Cooper report declares That:

‘There is now a vast library of testimonies from members of faith communities who have denounced conversion practices following their participation in them.’[21]

However, the only evidence it gives to support this claim is a footnote referring to eleven testimonies from ‘LGBT+ individuals that underwent and advocated for conversion practices rejecting their previous statements and denouncing the practice.’ [22] Eleven testimonies hardly constitutes a ‘vast library.’  Furthermore, the report makes no reference to the large number of testimonies from people who have found conversion practices beneficial.

Two examples will serve as evidence of such testimonies.

The first comes from Rosaria Butterfield’s book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Butterfield was a prominent Lesbian activist, who was in a long-term lesbian relationship and taught Queer studies as a Professor at Syracuse University, but who gave all this up after her Christian conversion.

In her book Butterfield testifies that she felt ‘very comfortable, very at home in my body, in my lesbianism’,[23] but she also declares her gratitude for the way in which the ministry of her Pastor and others in her church subsequently enabled her to repent of, and move away from, her lesbianism (ministry which in terms of the Cooper report was a form of conversion practice). In her words:

‘God sent me to a Reformed and Presbyterian conservative church to repent, heal, learn, and thrive. The pastor there did not farm me out to a para-church ministry ‘specializing’ in ‘gay people.’ He and the session knew that the church is competent to counsel (to quote the title of one of Jay Adams’s useful books). I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamour that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture. I had to lean and lean hard on a full weight of Scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lords call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend, and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself. Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives.’ [24]

The second comes from Walt Heyer’s book A Transgender’s Faith. In this book he describes how he transitioned from a male to a female identity, underwent gender re-assignment surgery and lives for eight years as a woman called Laura. His transition did not being him the emotional peace and stability he was looking for, but eventually found these when he de-transitioned and resumed life as a man. At the end of the book he expresses gratitude to those who helped him on his journey of de-transition.

He writes:

‘While I had many counsellors throughout my long journey, two stood out. Dr. D, a psychologist, who from the time I first arrived at the Thompson house provided very strong, confronting counselling on the one hand and loving guidance and support with the other: a balance that worked. The second psychologist was Dr. Jonathan ‘Sunny ‘Arnold, a friend of Pastor Jeff Farrah, who helped specifically with my switching back and forth between Laura and Walt.

The families in the rural town of Murphys protected me, loved me, fed me and housed me during the difficult financial and emotional times. Their deep caring was consistent no matter how confused I was. They allowed me to see what normal was, they gave me a home away from home, a quiet place to rest. Together we still laugh and cry remembering the past. We marvel together what God has done to restore my life. Our heart bonds run deep….

I’m humbled by and grateful to, all the people who opened their hearts, gave of their time, and made many sacrifices on my behalf because they love the Lord and trust in His power to heal broken lives, even one so seemingly destroyed beyond repair as mine. I am grateful to those whom I loved and hurt badly that they found in their hearts to forgive, and allow me back in their lives.

My story testifies to the truth that we must never give up on people, no matter how many times they fail or how long recovery takes. We must never underestimate the healing power of prayer and love in the hands of the Lord. We must never give up hope.’[25]

The people referred to by Heyer were not all engaging in what the Cooper report calls conversion practices, but many of them, including the two psychologists he mentions, were doing so, and Heyer is clearly very grateful to them for what they did for him.

The testimonies of people like Butterfield and Heyer do not negate the fact that there are people who have undergone forms of conversion practice that they have found to be harmful. This fact needs to be acknowledged. However, what they do show is that the idea that conversion practices are necessarily harmful is clearly not true. Unless a huge number of people are lying, we have to acknowledge that many people who undergo conversion practices have found them beneficial.

The limited number of research studies on conversion practices point in the same direction.

At the time of the General Synod debate on conversion therapy in 2017, the Anglican writer Peter Ould  noted that Synod members needed to be wary of the claims put forward in a paper from Jayne Ozanne about the harm done by Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), what the Cooper report calls conversion practices.  Having surveyed the relevant evidence, his conclusion was that:

‘The overwhelming majority of ‘proof’ that is offered to support the idea that SOCE harm people is both anecdotal in nature, and lacks any independent assessment of the alleged harm. Often, as in Shidlo and Shroder 2002, the raw data reveals more than the headlines and indicates complexity and nuance which needs to be taken into account. Finally, leading secular therapeutic organisations recognise that the level of research that is required to make a definitive declaration of the outcomes of SOCE has yet to be undertaken.’ [26]

In the four years since Ould’s article nothing seems to have changed. We simply cannot say that studies have shown that conversion practices in relation to sexual orientation are necessarily harmful. This has been claimed, but not demonstrated.

As Ould points out in another article, the one really rigorous study that has been undertaken to assess the impact of conversion practices in relation to sexual orientation, the 2011 study by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse,[27] found that there was ‘no statistically significant evidence of harm, even in those for whom the therapy ‘failed’ or who dropped out.’ [28]

If we turn to the issue of conversion practices in relation to gender identity, we find that there is a debate about whether ‘conversion therapy’ is happening at all[29] and there does not seem to be any robust evidence that if it is happening it is causing harm. The ‘2020 Conversion Therapy and Gender Identity Survey’ claimed that there was evidence that ‘GICT[30] is harmful and has negative effects on public health’[31] but as Michael Biggs notes in his review of the survey:

‘The research reported in the pamphlet has little, if any, scientific value. It reinforces the impression that the proposed legislation is motivated by the desire to further institutionalize gender ideology rather than the need to address a real social problem.’[32]

A similar conclusion is reached by Andrew Blunt in his article ‘The impact of Gender Identity ‘Conversion Therapy’’ in which he outlines the ‘many significant weaknesses’ in the 2020 survey. [33]

Fourthly, the report claims that conversion practices violate people’s right to a private life since they ‘violate their ability to live their life without arbitrary disruption or interference.’  Providing people give their consent to conversion practices it is hard to see how this claim is justified.  It is hardly ‘arbitrary disruption or interference’ if someone asks for help to live their life in a particular way and then receives the help they have asked for. In fact, it would seem to be the case that it would be a ban on conversion practices that would violate people’s right to a private life because such a ban would involve interference in people’s ability to live their lives in the way they want to live them.

Fifthly, the report claims that conversion practices should be banned because they convey ‘the belief that LGBT+ identities can and ought to be suppressed’ and by so doing contribute to the ‘violence and stigma’ that LGBT+ individuals face. There are two problems with this argument.

The first is that no evidence is produced that people who commit violence against, or who stigmatise, LGBT + people do so because of the influence of conversion practices.

The second is that this argument suggests that those who want to receive help through conversion practices may not be allowed do so because preventing violence and stigma against LGTB + individuals needs to take a higher priority. As indicated before, this is discrimination against a particular group of people, and arguably also interference in their right to a private life, and as such unacceptable.

It cannot be acceptable to say that if LGBT +  individuals should be free to live their lives in the way they want but that this same right should not extend to those who want help to cease to be LGBT+. If the rights of all individuals are to be respected this has to include the rights of those who want to benefit from conversion practices. Pitting the welfare of one group in society against the welfare of another group is not the right way forward.

The correct way to tackle violence and stigma against LGBT + individuals is not to discriminate against those who want to be involved in conversion practices, but to encourage an ever greater public acceptance that violence is never acceptable against anyone, except when it is necessary in order to protect oneself or others and that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual preferences or gender identity.

D. Conclusion  

The only conclusion that we can draw from the review of the Cooper report in part C is that the report has not made out a convincing case for a blanket ban on conversion practices. Because this is so, legislating to introduce such a ban would be, as we have seen, an act of unwarranted discrimination against those who want to be involved in these practices because of their convictions about the way in which they want to live. Such discrimination should have no place in a free society.

A better way forward on the issue of conversion practices would be for the Government to work with the groups and individuals involved in conversion practices in order to develop protocols to ensure that those who enter into such practices do so willingly, and that steps are taken to root out practices that are illegal, or can otherwise be shown to cause harm. It  would also make sense to develop agreed standards of training, accreditation, conduct, and continuing professional development for those who are professionally involved in helping people who have same-sex attraction or issues of sexual identity and yet who do  not want to engage in same-sex activity or identify as transgender.

If we truly want reduce harm while allowing  people to receive the help they want in order to live in the way they want to live, then this is the way to go.


[1] ‘General Synod backs ban on conversion therapy’  at https://www.churchofengland.org/news-and-

   media/news-and-statements/general-synod-backs-ban-conversion-therapy.

[2] The Cooper Report, The Ozanne Foundation 2021, ‘The Ban Conversion Legal Forum’.  

[3] The Cooper Report, p.2.

[4] The Cooper Report, p. 4.

[5] The Cooper Report, p.11.

[6] The Cooper Report, p.11.

[7] The Cooper Report, p.2.

[8] The Cooper Report, p.3.

[9] The Cooper Report, p.4.

[10] The Cooper Report, p.5.

[11] The Cooper Report, p. 6.

[12] The Cooper Report, p.6.

[13] The Cooper Report, p.6.

[14] The Cooper Report p.9.

[15] The Cooper Report, p.9.

[16] The Cooper Report, p.7.

[17] The Cooper Report, p. A.2.

[18] The Cooper Report, p.8.

[19] The Cooper Report, p.8.

[20] Jayne Ozanne, response to  Q.35 from Bell Ribeiro Addy MP at

https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/2217/html/.

[21] The Cooper report p.9.

[22] The Cooper Report, fn. 39.

[23] Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant

    Publications, 2014), Kindle edition, Loc. 518.

[24] Butterfield, Loc.542.

[25] Walt Heyer, A Transgender’s Faith (Walt Heyer, 2015), pp.139-141.

[26] Peter Ould, ‘Do sexual orientation change efforts cause harm? Possibly, but….’  at

   https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality – 2/do-sexual-orientation-change-efforts-cause-harm-possibly-but.

[27] Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, ‘A longitudinal study of attempted religiously mediated sexual

    orientation change,’ Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Vol.37. Issue 5, 2011. 

[28] Peter Ould, It’s easy to talk about banning gay conversion therapy. But how to do it – and where’s the

   evidence?’ Christian Today, 23 June, 2017.

[29] See Shelley Charlesworth ‘Is Gender identity conversion therapy taking place in the UK?’ at

   https;//www.transgendertrend.com/gender-identity-conversion-therapy-uk.

[30] Gender Identity Conversion Therapy.

[31] 2020 Conversion Therapy and Gender Identity Survey at https;// http://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources /2020 –

   conversion-therapy-and-gender-identity- survey.

[32] Michael Biggs, ‘Conversion Therapy’ & Gender Identity Survey: an analysis by Michael Biggs’ at

   https://trangendertrend.com/conversion -therapy-gender-identity-survey-analysis.

[33] Andrew Blunt, ‘‘The impact of Gender Identity ‘Conversion Therapy’,’  CMF Blogs, 5 April 2021 at

    Htttps://cmfblog.org.uk/2021/04/05/the-impact-of-gender-identity-conversion’therapy/.

Unpersuasive and unorthodox – a response to Bishop Gregory Cameron’s words to the Welsh Governing Body.

I was away on holiday when the Governing Body of the Church in Wales narrowly voted on 6 September to permit the blessing of same-sex marriages. Nothing I write now will change that vote, but I still want to comment on the case for such blessings that was set out by Bishop Gregory Cameron when he opened the debate on the matter on behalf of the Welsh bench of bishops and exercised a right of reply at the end of the debate.[1] The reason I want to comment is because what Cameron said at the meeting of the Governing Body provides a classic example of the weakness of the case for blessing same-sex relationships, and thus shows both why the Welsh church should not have voted to permit such blessings, and why the Church of England should not follow the Welsh example.

I have known Bishop Cameron for many years and greatly respected him as a colleague when I worked with him on Faith and Order matters when I was on the staff at  Church House, Westminster and he was at the Anglican Communion Office. I therefore find it very sad to have to say that his remarks at the Governing Body were a very poor piece of theology indeed.  However, there are a number of reasons why this has to be said.

Beginning with his opening statement to the Governing Body, Cameron’s claim that the bill to permit the blessing of same-sex marriages is not a ‘a sell out to the secular spirit of the age’ goes against the historical evidence.

The historical evidence is clear that until the second half of the twentieth century there was unanimity across the Christian Church that, in the words of  C S Lewis, the Christian rule with regard to sex was ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’[2] Furthermore, there was also complete unanimity that marriage was between one man and one woman. From the second half of the twentieth century onwards, however, there has been an increasing acceptance across the Christian Church (particularly in churches within the Protestant tradition) both that sex should not be restricted to marriage and, most recently, that marriage should not be restricted to couples of the opposite sex.

If we ask why this change has taken place, the answer is that during the course of the twentieth century Western Society has become increasingly dominated by two key ideas, that people should be free to live in whatever way seems good to them, and that human beings need to engage in sexual activity in order to find happiness and fulfilment.  The confluence of these two ideas, both of which were developed in deliberate rejection of traditional Christian teaching, has inevitably meant that Western society has embraced the further ideas that people should be able to have sex in whatever form they want, providing that it is consensual, and that therefore same-sex sexual activity should also accepted as legitimate.[3]

The increasingly radical change in Christian sexual ethics has been a reflection of this wider social change. The reason why Christians now accept things that Christians have never accepted before[4] is because many Western Christians have become seduced by the thinking of the world around them and have sought for apologetic reasons to develop a reading of the Bible and an understanding of Christian sexual ethics that is line with it. However loath Cameron may be to admit it, liberal Christians have been playing catch up with developments in secular thought, and the Welsh bill to permit the blessing of same-sex marriages is part of this process of cultural assimilation.

Secondly, Cameron’s account of what he thinks  conservative Christians want to say to same-sex couples is misleading.

He declares that what they want to say is ‘Repent, go your way and sin no more – we’d prefer you live in secrecy and shame: to accept the disapproval that fractures fidelity, and is scandalised by your attempts at stability.’  

It is true that conservative Christians do want same-sex couples to repent of being in a sexually active same-sex relationship and wrongly  calling that relationship marriage. However, it is not attempts at stability by same-sex couples that scandalise conservative Christians (they have nothing against stable relationships), but the fact that such relationship involves sex outside marriage. Stability is not the issue. The issue is extra-marital sex.

Furthermore, as numerous books and articles by conservative Christians have repeatedly said in recent years, they do not want individuals with same-sex attraction to live lives of secrecy and shame. What they want is for them to feel free to be honest and open about the sexual attraction they experience while at the same time not engaging in sexual activity outside marriage (the same discipline that also applies to unmarried people with heterosexual attraction) and receiving  love, support and prayer from their fellow Christians to help them live in this way.[5]

Thirdly, Cameron misrepresents the point of the account of the baptism of the Gentile converts in Acts 10 when he says that it was a matter of ‘Scripture and tradition on one side, and the grace of God and experience on the other.’

What Luke is not in fact saying is that Peter’s experience of seeing the Spirit descend on Cornelius and his household was sufficient justification for admitting them into the Church even though such a move was contrary to the witness of Scripture. If we read on in Acts, we find that James addresses this issue in Acts 15 when he declares that Peter’s experience was in line with the predictions of Amos  9:11-12, Hosea 3:5. Jeremiah 12:15 and Isaiah 45:21 that when God had sent the promised messianic king from the line of David (‘ I will rebuild the dwelling of David’ Acts 15:16) then the Gentiles would ‘seek the Lord’ (Acts 15:14-18). The very point that Luke is making by recording the words of James is that what Peter experienced was in agreement with Scripture, and that for this reason the action  he took was legitimate (the corollary being that if it had not been in agreement with Scripture then it would not have been legitimate).[6] The lesson for us from this is not ‘experience trumps Scripture,’ but that we have to assess experience in the light of Scripture.

Fourthly , Cameron is correct when he says that the Bible ‘speaks overwhelmingly of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness, of God’s embrace of humanity without precondition or even repentance, for God’s grace always comes first.’  It is absolutely the case that the unconditional grace of God precedes repentance.

However, in Scripture the grace of God always necessarily leads to repentance, that is, turning from our ways to God’s ways. Thus, according to Mark, Jesus began his ministry with both a declaration of God’s grace and a call to repentance ‘’The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). Similarly, in Acts 2:38, when the crowd on the day of Pentecost asks how they should respond to Peter’s  message of the grace of God he tells them ‘Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’

The reason that repentance is required as a response to grace is that where there is no repentance God’s grace cannot achieve its goal of restoring people to a right relationship with him. If we are not willing to respond to God by accepting what he has done for us and amending our lives accordingly by the spiritual power that he gives us through the Holy Spirit, then  our relationship with God will remain fractured, and if this remains the case we will eventually be cut off from God for all eternity.

Seen from this perspective it is not the case, as Cameron suggests, that there is something wrong in principle with conservative Christians saying to those in same-sex relationships ‘unless you repent you are in danger of hell.’ If they are in fact in danger of hell it would be wrong for Christians not to say it.

This  brings me to my fifth point, which is that Cameron fails to do justice to the seriousness with which Scripture regards same-sex sexual activity. He does this first of all  by deploying the standard revisionist argument that there are numerous commands in Scripture that are no longer being binding on us today, and then asking why it should be different with regard to the Biblical prohibition of same-sex sexual activity. Why should we think that people will face eternal judgement for being in a same-sex sexual relationship, but will not be rejected by God for being uncircumcised or eating non-kosher food?

The problem with this argument is that it fails to note that there are four different types of commandments in the Bible. There is the basic command to worship and serve God alone. There are commands concerning cultic activity which regulate the worship of God under the Old Covenant. There are commandments which establish cultural markers which distinguish Jews from Gentiles (the laws regarding circumcision and kosher food come under this category). Finally, there are moral commands which regulate people’s ethical behaviour (for example, the prohibitions against murder and theft in the Decalogue come under this category).  Of these four types of commandment, the second and third cease to be obligatory as a result of the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. According to the New Testament, however, the first and fourth remain obligatory. Thus, idolatry remains forbidden as does murder.

The  Old Testament commandments regarding sexual ethics come into the fourth category, and like the other moral commands in the Old Testament they are regarded by the New Testament as continuing to have binding authority.

In the words of the late John Richardson:  

‘…there is no indication in the New Testament that sexuality per se belongs to any other category than the moral. There is no point at which sexual practices are analysed either from a cultic perspective (and hence as fulfilled in Christ’s priestly ministry) or from a cultural one (and hence as part of the now-obsolete barrier between Jew and Gentile).

Where the New Testament does take up themes on sexuality from the Old Testament it generally assumes that what was wrong then is wrong now. If there is a difference, it consists in raising the standards of moral behaviour required of God’s people. Thus concubinage, divorce and polygamy may have been tolerated once, but are tolerable no longer (1 Corinthians 7:26, Matthew 19:7-8, 1 Timothy 3:2).

Even more so than under the Old Covenant heterosexual marriage is consistently presented under the New Covenant as the proper context for sexual activity, outside of which is only adultery and fornication. The remedy to sexual sin may be speedy marriage (as suggested in 1 Corinthians 7:26) or rigorous abstinence (as demanded by the Sermon on the Mount – see Matthew 5:27-30), but there are no sexually active alternatives to marriage envisaged. Marriage is to be welcomed, fornication is to be fled from (1 Corinthians 6:18). These are the two options for the New Covenant people.’ [7]

In the New Testament same-sex sexual activity is specifically rejected in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, I Timothy  1:10 and Jude 7. In each of these cases it is assumed that the Old Testament prohibition of such conduct remains in force. Furthermore, such activity is also included implicitly in the New Testament’s reject of porneia in passages such asMark 7:21, Acts 15:20, Romans 1:29, Galatians 5:19 and Revelation 21:8. Contrary to what Cameron states, porneia does not mean ‘sexual behaviour divorced from relationship and commitment and love.’ That is to put a misleading modern gloss on the term. Porneia is in fact a catch all term used in the New Testament to refer to ‘unlawful sexual intercourse,’ which means any form of sexual activity forbidden in the Law of Moses.[8] This in turn means any form of sexual activity which falls outside the pattern of marriage between one man and one woman established by God in Genesis 2:18-24 (same-sex sexual activity included).

In consequence, Cameron’s statement that ‘Same sex couples who commit themselves to civil partnerships or marriages are committing themselves to the very opposite of porneia’ is simply wrong. From a New Testament perspective such relationships are precisely porneia, in that they are forms of sexual activity contrary to the pattern of sex within heterosexual marriage established by God at creation. 

In addition, Cameron fails to acknowledge that the New Testament regards all forms of porneia, like all other forms of sin without repentance, as leading people to eternal damnation.

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.’ (Matthew 5:27-30)

‘Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’ (Galatians 5:19-20).

‘But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’ (Revelation 21:8)

In the light of such passages the questions that Cameron has to answer is why he thinks it can possibly be right for ministers of the Church in Wales to invoke God’s blessing on a way of life that God himself has said will lead people to be cut off from him for ever. How can such blessings possibly be justified?

If we move on to what Cameron said in his words at the end of the debate, we find that he says that he finds it ‘particularly hard when people tell me the Bible can only be read in a way which is hostile to gay and lesbian relationships; because that is not my conviction.’ Whether or not this is his conviction is not germane to the issue. The issue is whether Cameron can show that the Bible can be read in a way that supports gay and lesbian relationships. As far as what he has said at the Governing Body goes,  for the reasons set out above he has failed to establish that this is the case.

Cameron then goes on to state

‘I refuse to be told that because I’ve come to a conviction about reading scripture in the way that I do, I am ‘unorthodox’ and when the term orthodoxy is claimed for one side in this debate. I’ve been in discussions with the Eastern Orthodox Churches at Anglican Communion level and what they’ll tell you is that you can only claim Orthodoxy if you’re defending decisions of the Ecumenical Councils against heresy. No Ecumenical Council has decreed on this issue, and we should not disfellowship each other because we disagree on this issue.’

There are two problems with this statement. First of all, it ignores the fact that the Eastern Orthodox churches have in fact consistently said that those churches that have accepted same sex relationships have succumbed to heresy (a fact of which Cameron must be aware). Secondly, it fails to acknowledge the fact that the reason why the Orthodox have felt it necessary to take this stance is because they are aware of the point that I made earlier in this paper that the universal tradition of the Church since New Testament times has been that homosexual relationships are sinful and must therefore be abstained from or repented of.

A heresy is a form of teaching that goes against orthodoxy, that is, the teaching of Scripture and the historic teaching of the Christian Church based on Scripture. The reason that the great Ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries condemned Arianism and the various Christological heresies was because they were heretical in this sense due to their rejection of the Trinity and the fact that Christ was (and is) one person with two natures, one fully human and one fully divine. In similar fashion the acceptance of homosexual relationships is heretical because it involves a rejection of the orthodox teaching that the only legitimate place for sexual intercourse is within heterosexual marriage.

Even if one accepts the Eastern Orthodox view that only an Ecumenical Council can formally define something as heretical in a universally authoritative way,  it is both possible and necessary to make a judgement that something is heretical without a formal decision being made in this fashion. This is because all that an Ecumenical Council does is recognise that something is heretical. It does not make it heretical. Thus, Arianism was already heretical before the Council of Nicaea. All that Nicaea did was recognise this existing fact.

In the case of homosexual activity, it is true that no Ecumenical Council has yet ruled on the issue. However, for the reasons just given it is still possible to say that the acceptance of homosexual relationships is heretical and that anyone who does accept them is unorthodox. It follows that if someone says to Cameron that he is being unorthodox on this matter they are not just being insulting. They are in fact simply being theologically accurate.

Furthermore, because such acceptance is unorthodox and has the capacity to lead people towards eternal separation from God, orthodox Christians have to differentiate themselves from those who espouse it through  some form of ‘disfellowship’ in order to bear witness to the people concerned, and to others inside and outside the Church, that this is the case. 

Finally, Cameron claims that:

‘The Gospel is advanced, not by cutting people off, but by inviting them in; not by telling them what they should do, but by feeding them with the waters of life.’

It is obviously the case that the Gospel is primarily advanced by inviting people to come to Jesus and drink of the living water leading to eternal life that only he can provide (John 4:13-15). However, as John’s Gospel also makes clear, we receive this water on the condition that we are willing to abide in Christ and such abiding involves obedience to Christ’s commandments. ‘If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love’ (John 15:10). This being the case, it is a necessary part of the Church’s task to tell people what they must do  in order to keep Jesus’ commandments. That is why in the Great Commission Jesus tells the disciples that they are to teach people ‘to observe all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:20).

In addition, just as Christians need to differentiate themselves from those who put foward unorthodox teaching, so also those with pastoral authority in the Church need to cut people off if they refuse to live as Christ commands in order to bear witness to them and to others that they are living in an ungodly fashion and need to repent (see for example Paul’s command to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 that they should expel someone guilty of sexually immoral  behaviour).

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, the purpose of such discipline:

‘ …is not to establish a community of the perfect, but a community of men who really live under the forgiving mercy of God. Discipline in a congregation is a servant of the precious grace of God. If a member of the Church falls into sin, he must be admonished and punished, lest he forfeit his own salvation and the gospel be discredited.’[9]

What Cameron says sounds loving, but in reality it is not. Refusing to tell people how they should behave as Christians, and refusing ever to discipline them  when they go astray deprives them of the possibility of learning how to abide in Christ and so achieve eternal life,  and (however well intentioned) this is therefore  not love, but rather cruelty.

In summary, what Cameron says does not demonstrate that the Church should bless same sex marriages and his support for such blessings does have to be judged unorthodox. As I said at the beginning of this piece, what his words show is precisely why the decision by the Church in Wales was wrong and why the Church of England should not follow the same path. 


[1] What Bishop Cameron said can be found at ‘Proposal and Reply on Same Sex Blessings’ at https://dioceseofstasaph.org.uk/bishopgregory/

[2] C S Lewis, Mere Christianity (Glasgow: Fount, 1984), p.86.

[3] For the evidence for this point see Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway 2020).

[4] For the evidence for this point see Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams, Unchanging Witness (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).

[5] See for example, Ed Shaw, Purposeful Sexuality (London: IVP, 2021), Sam Alberry, Is God Anti-Gay? (Epsom: Good Book Company, 2013) And David Bennett, A War of Loves (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018).

[6] See Richard Bauckham, ‘James and the Gentiles (Acts 15:13-21)’ in Ben Witherington III (ed), History, Literature and Society in the Book of Acts (Cambridge: CUP, 1996), pp.154-185.

[7] John Richardson, What God has made clean (Epsom: The Good Book Company, 2ed, 2012), Kindle edition, Loc. 590-603.

[8] Walter Bauer, F W Gingrich and Frederick Danker, A Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Chicagoand London: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p.693 and John Nolland, ‘Sexual Ethics and the Jesus of the Gospels,’  Anvil, vol.26, no.1 2009, pp. 26-27. 

[9] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM, 1959) , p.360.

Yes, but…A response to Christina Beardsley’s letter to the Next Steps Group.

In her letter to Bishop Sarah Mullaly as Chair of the LLF Next Steps Group on 19 July 2021[1]questioning the need for a further working group on gender identity and transition, Christina Beardsley declares that the understanding of the Changing Attitude group is that:

‘…the Church of England is committed to:

  • the ‘unconditional affirmation of trans people’
  • the liturgical marking of gender transition
  • the opposite sex marriage in church of a trans person with legal gender recognition
  • and that trans and non-binary people are welcome to enter the discernment process for  ordination.’

She then asks:

‘Can the Next Steps Group tell us what the missing elements are that a working group on gender identity and transition would need to consider? Are there substantive matters needing research beyond the fact that some people choose to disagree with the Church of England’s official position?’

She further adds that if the Next Steps Group:

‘…. wish to be better informed about trans people’s lives and the current scientific research in this field, I will gladly fund an evidence-based training session for the Group, delivered by GIRES (the Gender Identity Research and Education Society), which has an excellent reputation.’

In response to the first of these points I agree with Beardsley that the Church of England has committed itself to the ‘unconditional affirmation of trans people,’  that it has made provision for services to liturgically mark gender transition, that it does allow those who have legally changed their gender to marry in church according to their new legal identity, and that it is happy for trans and non-binary people to enter into the discernment process for ordination.

However, there is an elephant in the room which she does not acknowledge, which is that the Church of England has never provided a proper theological justification for its position on these matters.

With regard to the ‘unconditional affirmation of trans people,’ the House of Bishops’ 2018 paper – ‘An update on ‘Welcoming Transgender People’ (GS Misc. 1178) states in paragraphs 3 and 6:

‘The House of Bishops welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the Church, the body of Christ, and rejoices in the diversity of that one body, into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit.

The image of God, in which we are all made, transcends gender, race, and any other characteristic, and our shared identity as followers of Jesus is the unity which makes all one in Christ (Galatians 3.27-28).’

What is said in these two quotations is in itself true and helpful. It is right to welcome and affirm unconditionally as people those who identify as transgender and it is right to rejoice in the God given diversity of the body of Christ. It is also right to say that all human beings are created in God’s image regardless of their gender, race, or any other characteristic and that it is being followers of Jesus that unites Christians together.

However, none of this tells us why it is right to affirm gender transition.  Welcoming and affirming people as those whom God has created and redeemed, rejoicing in the contribution they make to the diversity of the body of Christ, and acknowledging that they have been made in God’s image and that we are united to them as fellow followers of Jesus, does not mean that we have to accept every claim that people make about themselves or everything that they do. Indeed, the warning given by St. Paul in Romans 1:18-32 about the way in which human thinking and behaviour has been distorted by the Fall means that we have to accept that some of the claims people make about themselves will be untrue, and some of things that they do will be wrong.

This means that we cannot simply accept at face value the claim made by transgender people that they are trapped in bodies which do not express their true, God given, identities, or that it is, or has been, right for them to undergo a process of gender transition.  Reasons have to be put forward for accepting either of these claims and GS Misc. 1178 does not offer such reasons.

With regard to the liturgical marking of gender transition, neither of the two supporting papers for the 2017 General Synod debate on holding services to mark gender transition, ‘Welcoming Transgender People, A note from The Revd Chris Newlands’ (GS 2017A) and Welcoming Transgender People, A note from The Secretary General’ (GS 2071B), explain why it is right to hold that someone who is biologically male or female is in fact in the sight of God a member of the opposite sex. A service to mark gender transition only makes liturgical and theological sense of this is the case and yet neither of these papers show why it is the case (and no explanation  was offered during the Synod debate either).

The House of Bishops’ ‘Pastoral Guidance’ published in December 2018 which explains what would be involved in using the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith (or the rites of Baptism and Confirmation if these are felt to be more appropriate) in order ‘to recognize liturgically a person’s gender transition’ simply repeats what was previously said in paragraphs 3 and 6 of GS Misc. 1178 and therefore presents the same problems.

What all this means is that the Church of England permits the liturgical marking of gender transition, but it has given no adequate theological justification for doing so.

The same is true with regard to the marriage of people who have legally changed their gender. The Church of England has never explained why it thinks that a legal change of gender means that someone is genuinely a member of the opposite sex from their biology and why, therefore, it is right to regard them as a member of that sex for the purposes of marriage. This means it has never explained why it thinks that marriages between a cisgender man and a transgender woman, or a cisgender woman and a transgender man, are not in fact same-sex marriages and therefore contrary to the definition of marriage in Canon B.30.

Likewise the Church has never explained why it is right to ordain trans or non-binary people. The decision that people who had gone through gender transition could be ordained was decided at a discussion in the House of Bishops in 2002 prompted by a specific case in the Diocese of Bristol. I was present in the room when the decision was taken as the then theological consultant to the House of Bishops, and I can say with certainty that there was no theological discussion of the matter. The issue was whether there was any canonical prohibition of transgender people being ordained and, as there was not, it was accepted that they could be, with the caveat that no bishop had to ordain in such circumstances. This decision was then simply later extended to include non-binary people.

The question of whether someone who identifies as transgender (or non-binary) can rightly be seen as embodying the holiness of life that the Church requires of its ordained ministers was not discussed in 2002 and has never been discussed by the Church of England since. As before, the theological work simply has not been done.

The nearest thing that the Church of England has to a theological statement on transgender is the memo issued by the House of Bishops in 2003. As Beardsley notes in her letter, this memo (HB 03 M1)  runs as follows:

‘The House recognised that there was a range of views within the Church on transsexualism and accepted that (as matters stood at present) both the positions set out below could properly be held:

 a) some Christians concluded on the basis of Scripture and Christian anthropology, that concepts such as ‘gender reassignment’ or ‘sex change’ were really a fiction. Hormone treatment or surgery might change physical appearance, but they could not change the fundamental God-given reality of ‘male and female He created them’.

b) others, by contrast, whilst recognising that medical opinion was not unanimous, were persuaded that there were individuals whose conviction that they were ‘trapped in the wrong body’ was so profound and persistent that medical intervention, which might include psychiatric, hormone, and surgical elements, was legitimate and that the result could properly be termed a change of sex or gender.’

The context of this memorandum was the discussions which the Church of England was then having with the Lord Chancellor’s Department to safeguard the freedom of bishops not to ordain transgender candidates and the right of clergy not to marry transgender people in their chosen sex once such a marriage became possible in law (as it did under the Gender Recognition Act the following year).

In this context the purpose of the first paragraph was to make clear that the view that ‘gender reassignment’ or ‘sex change’ was a fiction could properly be held by members of the Church of England and that therefore freedom of religion meant that such a view should be protected in law with the consequence that bishops should not have to ordain transgender candidates or clergy have to marry people in their assumed identity.  

From the standpoint of orthodox Christian theology, it is easy to see why the bishops state that this position (position a) can properly (i.e. rightly) be held within the Church of England. Orthodox Christian anthropology holds on the basis of Scripture, reason and tradition, that the unity of the human person means what makes someone male or female is their biology. Because this is immutable it follows that any claim to have changed sex is a fiction. Someone can adopt the role of a member of the opposite sex (or of someone who is neither make nor female), but this is not who they truly are.

What the bishops do not make clear, however, is why the alternative position (position b) can also properly be held. There is a growing body of evidence that medical intervention is not necessarily the best way to help people who find it difficult or impossible to accept their sex.[2] Furthermore, it is difficult to see on what basis the results of such intervention could rightly be called a change of sex. Hormones and surgery can mask someone’s biological sex, but they cannot fundamentally alter it. It follows that a change of sex does not and cannot occur. As John McHugh puts it, ‘Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men.’[3]

The only way it could be held that someone’s true identity was different from their biology would be to go down the route of dividing the self from the body and the problem with this approach is that it involves a gnostic dualism which is incompatible with orthodox Christian anthropology.

This anthropology tells us that  in his goodness and wisdom God made human beings as a unity of body and soul. Rocks are purely material, angels are purely spiritual, but human beings are a unity of a material body and an immaterial soul. This unity means that we are our bodies and our bodies are us, which is why it makes sense to say I got up in the morning, I ate and drank, and I went to bed at night. All these are actions of the single self who is both body and soul. It is this combination of body and soul that we see exhibited in the stories in the Gospels about the humanity of Christ. Christ is one self in whom a human body and soul exist and act together.[4]

It is as this unity of body and soul that we are either male or female. To be male or female is to have certain bodily characteristics that are designed by God to enable us to fulfil his command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28) by playing a particular role in the procreation and nurture of children. Furthermore, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body teaches us that we will be biologically male or female for all eternity.

The bishops’ memorandum suggests that it is possible for medical intervention to change someone’s sex by changing their body, but for the reason noted above this suggestion does not work. Even after the application of hormones and surgery a biological male will always remain biologically male and a biological female will always remain biologically female. This means one either has to buy into body-self dualism, or say that the claims about their identity made by those who have undergone gender transition are indeed fictitious.

What all this means is that, in response to Christina Beardsley’s question, there is indeed something for a working party on gender identity and transition to consider. Such a working party needs to undertake the theological work on these matters that the Church of England has never properly done, and then consider whether the Church of England’s current policies with regard to transgender and non-binary people are compatible with the results of such work.  

It is not the case, as Beardsley seems to suggest, that all the information that the Next Steps Group needs can be provided by a briefing from GIRES. This is for two reasons. First, GIRES is a secular think tank that is not in position to help either the Next Steps Group with the theological work that needs to be done on the transgender issue. Secondly, GIRES is a partisan think tank that represents only one side in the current secular debate about the nature of transgender and the best treatment for  gender dysphoria. A briefing solely from GIRES would give the group a very biased view of the nature of contemporary secular thinking about these matters.

To summarise,  Beardsley is right is what she says about where the Church of England currently stands on the issue of transgender and non-binary people. However, what she fails to note is that this position lacks a proper theological foundation, and so there is still further work that the Church of England needs to do, work that could potentially lead to the current position being changed. Her suggestion of the Next Steps Group being briefed by GIRES fails to take into account that GIRES is a secular group representing only one side of the current debate about transgender issues. A briefing by them would therefore not tell the Group everything it needs to know.


[1] Christina Beardsley, ‘We’ve made our decision’: the Church of England and trans people’  at:

   http://www.unadulteratedlove.net/blog/2021/7/20/weve-made-our-decision-the-church-of-england-and-   

   trans-people

[2]  See Lawrence Meyer and Paul McHugh, ‘Gender identity’,  New Atlantis, Fall 2016,Part 3 and Ryan T  

   Anderson, When Harry became Sally (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), Ch. 5-6 and Mark Yarhouse,   

   Understanding Gender Dysphoria, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015) Ch. 5.

[3] John McHugh, ‘Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme,’  Public Discourse, June 10, 2015 at:  htttps://www.thepublic

discourse.com/2015/06/15145/

[4] In the words of the Athanasian Creed, Christ was (and is) ‘Perfect God and Perfect Man: of a reasonable

   soul and human flesh subsisting.’

Why we need to have sex on the brain – a response to Bishop Paul Bayes.

The keynote address given by the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, at the conference of the new MoSAIC[1] network in the Church of England entitled ‘Sex on the brain’ [2] has attracted headlines because of his argument that the Church of England should adopt a ‘gender-neutral marriage canon’ that would allow the Church of England to fully endorse and celebrate same-sex marriages. As the headline to the Guardian report puts it. ‘Church of England should recognise same-sex weddings, says bishop.’ [3]

What is interesting about the Bishop’s address, however, is not only the conclusion that he reaches, but the argument that he employs in order to get there. In this response to his address I shall explore why the argument that he puts forward is unconvincing, and why, therefore, it does not provide grounds for the Church of England to amend its teaching on marriage in the way that he suggests.

Why inclusion is code.

The Bishop begins his address by declaring that MoSAIC is a ‘valuable and indeed necessary part of the Church’ [4] and that the reason this is the case is because ‘inclusion is a Gospel matter. Inclusion speaks of love, and inclusion is seamless.’[5]  The problem with this part of the Bishop’s argument is that he fails to explain what he means by the term ‘inclusion.’  As it stands the statement runs the risk of saying ‘we should be in favour of everything.’ If inclusion is ‘seamless’ this would seem to mean that the Church should provide a home for every kind of belief and practice, in which case the logical outcome of the Bishop’s argument would be the Church’s acceptance of Neo-Nazi ideology and the racist practices that flow from it.

Now, of course, the Bishop does not mean this. As his comments later on in his address make clear, inclusion is a code word which means being not only anti-racist and supportive towards people with disability, but also in favour of same-sex sexual relationships and gender transition.  The question becomes, therefore, why it is important to be inclusive in this specific sense.

What should set the Church’s agenda?

The answer that the Bishop gives to this question can be summarised in the words ‘because the world says so.’ He quotes with approval what he says was the understanding of mission developed by the Would Council of Churches in the 1960s,  ‘Let the world set the agenda,’[6] and goes on to argue that in our day this means accepting the forms of inclusion I have just described, and embracing same-sex sexual relationships in particular.

There are five major difficulties with his argument.

First, the Bishop misrepresents what the World Council of Churches said. If you take the time to look at the report of the 1968 Uppsala meeting of the WCC to which the Bishop is obliquely referring, you will discover that what the WCC actually said was not, as the Bishop suggests,  ‘Let the world set the agenda’ in the sense that the Church must follow the moral agenda set by the world. What it said was ‘The world sets the agenda’ in the sense that in its mission to the world the Church has to discern how to respond to what is happening in the world at any given moment of time. In other words, mission always has to be contextual. [7]  The Church’s God given mission and message remain constant down the ages (Matthew 28:19-20), but the form of its activity will necessarily vary in the light of the different situations it encounters in the course of its journey towards the city of God, as we see from the paradigmatic account of the history of the early Church in the Book of Acts.

Secondly, the claim that the Church should follow the moral agenda set by the world begs the question what we mean by the world’s moral agenda. If what we mean by this is that the Church should accept what people in the contemporary world believe to be right the obvious question is ‘which people’?  There are a very large number of people in the world, probably the majority of the world’s population, who do not agree with all or some of the inclusive agenda that the Bishop advocates. On closer inspection, it turns out that, like ‘inclusion,’ the ‘world’s moral agenda’ is a piece of code. What he really means is the approach to ethical issues that has become dominant in Western society from the latter part of the twentieth century onwards and which includes acceptance of same-sex sexual relationships.

Why the appeal to the arc of history does not work.

This brings one to the third difficulty with the Bishop’s argument, which is the issue of why the Church should accept this approach to ethical issues. The answer the Bishop appears to give is because ‘the arc of the moral universe keeps on bending towards justice.’[8] This phrase, which the Bishop takes from Martin Luther King, is rather opaque, but the argument that the Bishop seems to be putting forward is that history is on a trajectory towards justice, therefore our ideas of what constitutes justice are necessarily developing in the right direction, therefore more recent ideas of justice are better than older ones.

A little thought shows that this argument is extremely difficult to accept. This it because it would mean that every new idea of justice would automatically be right. In 1917 the Bolshevik idea that it was right to institute a dictatorship of the proletariat was new. Was it therefore correct?  In the 1930’s the Nazi idea that it was right that the Aryan race should rule over the Untermensch was new. Was it therefore correct? In our day the interpretation of Islamic justice put forward by Islamic state is new. Is it therefore correct?  One could expand such a list of examples almost indefinitely, but the point is clear. The rule  new = right does not allow for sufficient moral discrimination between different forms of belief and practice. The point is not that new ideas are never better than old ones. Sometimes they may be. The point is that we have to discern whether they are better or not.

The only way that we can engage in such discernment is if there is a transcendent and unchanging standard of justice standing outside the flux of history against which new ideas of justice can be measured, and as the Christian faith tells us, this standard is provided by the will of God. On the basis of God’s self-revelation through Scripture and the created order, we know that God is unchangeably perfect in goodness, love and wisdom, and because this is the case what he tells us about what it means to behave justly is the plumb line that establishes whether we are behaving justly or not.

In thinking about justice what we need to do is engage the brains that God has given us in order to understand what God has said about how we should behave, and therefore what justice requires, and behave accordingly.

Why we have to use our brains.

This brings us to the fourth difficulty with the Bishop’s argument which is that he advocates abandoning the use of the brain when engaging in sexual ethics. As the Bishop sees it, our bodies and our loves are ‘mysterious’ in the same way that God is mysterious[9] and this means that it is wrong to ‘have sex on the brain’  in the sense of seeking to determine rationally how people ought to behave.[10] According to the Bishop: ‘People grow up and fall in love and their mysterious bodies lead them to love as they love, and they will love whom they love, and no amount of harrumphing is going to change that.’ [11]

There are two problems with this argument.

First, although God is certainly mysterious in the sense that (in this life at least) we only have incomplete knowledge of what God is like, this does not means that what we do know about him does not provide us with a reliable guide as to how we should behave. Similarly, although we do not fully understand ourselves or our fellow human beings, this does not mean that we do not know enough to understand how we and others should behave.

The Bishop clearly does not in fact believe this, or else he would give up on all attempts to instruct people on how to behave, and hence would cease his advocacy of liberal religious and social causes. His advocacy of such causes only makes sense if he thinks that we can understand how people should behave and can cause people to change their behaviour accordingly.

Secondly, it is certainly true the people do not choose the sexual desires they have or the people they fall in love with. However, (a) this does not mean that people cannot choose how they behave and (b) it does not mean that people cannot be led to behave in ways that  go against their desires. If either were true we would simply have to give up on sexual ethics entirely. We would simply have to say that people will behave as they want to behave and there is nothing that we can or should do about it.

The question the Bishop’s argument begs is whether he really wants to adopt this position. Does he really want to say, for example, that casual sex, adultery, incest, polyamory, paedophila, and sexual violence are things we just have to accept and that we should stop ‘harrumphing’ about?  After all, in all these cases people can and do claim that their conduct was motivated by love.

I suspect that the Bishop would claim that these forms of behaviour are not truly loving and that for this reason people should not engage in them, but he would have to make a rational argument in order to make good this claim. The brain would have to make a come back and so his argument that we should not use the brain would be fatally undermined.

In reality, as I have said, sexual ethics is, or at least should be, a rational branch of human intellectual enquiry in which we employ the reason (the ‘brain’) that God has given us to determine how God wants us to behave in relation to a given situation. To give a basic example, I discover by rational enquiry that God forbids adultery (Exodus 20:14). I further discover that adultery means sex with someone who is not my spouse. I conclude as result that I should not have sex with a person who is not my spouse.

Why there is no good argument for changing the Church’s position on same-sex marriage.

This brings us to the fifth and final  difficulty with the Bishop’s argument which is that although he tells us he wants the Church of England to adopt a gender-neutral marriage canon and as an interim measure he wants ‘conscientious freedom for the Church’s ministers and local leaders to honour, recognise and, yes indeed, to bless same-sex unions whether civil partnerships or civil marriages,’[12] he fails to give any reason why the Church should do any such thing.

As we have seen, his appeals to seamless inclusion, to following the world’s moral agenda, and the need to give up the use of our brains simply do not work, and he offers nothing else.

Furthermore, the Bishop cannot in fact make a convincing Christian argument for either marrying people in same-sex relationships, or blessing such relationships, because no such argument exists.

The reason for this is very simple. As both nature and Scripture tell us, God has created human beings as male and female creatures designed to have sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex and by this means to propagate the human species (Genesis 1:26-28). God has also established life-long marriage between one man and one woman as the context for sexual union between men and women and for the begetting and raising of children (Genesis 2:18-25, Matthew 19:3-6). In addition. God has instituted marriage between men and women as a living witness to the eternal relationship of loving communion that exists between God and his people and that will be fully enjoyed in the would to come (Ephesians 5:21-33, Revelation 19:7).  Because all this is the case, marriage cannot be between two people of same-sex and all sex outside marriage (including sex between two people of the same-sex) is contrary to God’s will and therefore sinful.

To put it in the form of a logical argument. God wills that sex should take place solely within marriage, marriage is between two people of the opposite sex, therefore people of the same sex cannot be married, therefore same-sex sex is sinful.

What follows from this is that the Church of England cannot institute a marriage canon saying that marriage can be between two people of the same-sex when this is simply not the case, and it cannot bless same-sex sexual relationships as though they were not contrary to God’s will.

None of this means that the Church should not welcome those who are same-sex attracted, give them appropriate forms of love and support, and gratefully receive the range of gifts which they have to offer.  The Church can and must do all these things, but in so doing it cannot compromise on the pattern for sexual relationships that God has laid down. This pattern is the agenda to which the Church must adhere as it engages with the challenges posed to it by the contemporary world using God’s good gift of rationality as it does so.

As Paul teaches us in Romans 12, if we submit to God and allow him to work in our lives he will renew our minds through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we are able to discern rightly his perfect will for our lives and how we are to serve him in the world in which he has placed and to which he calls us to bring the good news of Jesus Christ.

‘Do not be conformed to this worldbut be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’. (Romans 12:2)

We need to have sex on the brain.

Note:  the anthropology of the Uppsala Report

In view of Bishop Paul’s appeal to the WCC’s 1968 Uppsala Report it is worth noting what that report had to say about what the Christian faith teaches about what it means to be human. 

In the section of the report on ‘Renewal in Mission’ we find the following words:

‘Men can know their true nature only if they see themselves as sons of God, answerable to their Father for one another and for the world. But because man refuses both the obedience and the responsibility of sonship his God-given dominion is turned into exploitation, and harmony into alienation in all his relationships. In this condition man, with all his amazing power, suffers an inescapable dread of his own helplessness and his deepest cry, albeit often unrecognized, is for the Triune God.

Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is the new man. In him was revealed the image of God as he glorified his Father in a perfect obedience. In his total availability for others, his absolute involvement and absolute freedom, his penetrating truth and his triumphant acceptance of suffering and death, we see what man is meant to be. Through that death on the Cross, man’s alienation is overcome by the forgiveness of God and the way is opened for the restoration of all men to their sonship. In the resurrection of Jesus a new creation was born, and the final goal of history was assured, when Christ as head of that new humanity will sum up all things.

But the new manhood is not only a goal. It is also a gift and like all God’s gifts it has to be appropriated by a response of faith. The Holy Spirit offers this gift to men in a variety of moments of decision. It is the Holy Spirit who takes the Word of God and makes it a living, converting word to men. Our part in evangelism might be described as bringing about the occasions for men’s response to Jesus Christ. Often the turning point does not appear as a religious choice at all. Yet it is a new birth. It sets a pattern of dying and rising which will continually be repeated. For we have to be torn out of the restricted and perverted life of ‘the old man’. We have to «put on the new man» and this change is always embodied in some actual change of attitude and relationship. For there is no turning to God which does not at the same time bring a man face to face with his fellow men in a new way. The new life frees men for community enabling them to break through racial, national, religious and other barriers that divide the unity of mankind.’ [13]

These paragraphs are an excellent summary of the teaching of the Bible about what it means to be human. To be human is to be disobedient to God’s call to sonship, to be restored to sonship through the saving work of Jesus Christ, and to converted and renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit and thus called into a life marked by a new pattern of relationship with other people.

If we go on to ask what the New Testament tells us about how human sexuality fits into this picture,  Paul tells us in no uncertain terms in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:   

‘Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;  you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.’

The word translated ‘immorality’ in the RSV is the Greek word porneian which is a catch all phrase referring to all types of sexual activity outside marriage (same-sex sexual relationships included). What Paul is saying is that as Christians we have been redeemed from sin and death by the work of Christ  (‘you were brought with a price’) and our bodies have become places where God dwells through his Spirit. We are to live accordingly and this means that all sex outside marriage is strictly off limits.

What Bishop Paul is hoping that the Church of England will do flies directly in the face of this teaching and for this reason it should not happen.

Martin Davie


[1] Movement of Supporting Anglicans for an Inclusive Church.

[2] Paul Bayes, Sex on the brain’  (MoSAIC keynote, June 2021) at

https://drive.google.com/file/d/18wweoQMUOVZP5Y4pYqxHk2o2-Z79iJtP/view

[3] ‘Church of England should recognise same-sex weddings, says bishop,’ The Guardian 26 June 2021.  

[4]  Bayes, p.1.

[5] Bayes, p.1.

[6] Bayes, p.1.

[7] The World Council of Churches, The Uppsala Report, 1968 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1968). 

[8] Bayes, p.1.

[9] Bayes, p.3.

[10] Bayes, p.3.

[11] Bayes, pp.3-4.

[12] Bayes, p.5.

[13] Uppsala Report, p. 28.

On leadership and building bridges – a response to David Runcorn.

Where David Runcorn and I disagree.

In his article ‘Living in Love and Faith ‘is building the bridge as we cross it’ published in the Church Times on 19 June 2021 David Runcorn declares that Living in Love and Faith (LLF) says to:

…. those in leadership — national, local, and all expressions between. Your task is not to take front stage, guarding received understandings, or ‘telling’ people what the truth is. It is to stand in the midst, to enable others to think, to be alongside them, to journey with and guide the discernment of the mind of God within that.[1]

I agree with David that this is what LLF says. Where I disagree with David is that, while he thinks this is a good thing, I do not. In the rest of this essay, I shall explain why.

The key issue is that David seems to be in favour of what I would describe as a ‘non-directive’ approach to Christian leadership, whereas I think the calling of Christian leaders is precisely to give direction.

The meaning of shema.

In his article David accepts the claim made by the late Lord Sacks that the Hebrew Bible has no word which means ‘obey.’ This idea is misleading. The reason that it is misleading is that the Hebrew verb shema, although it has the basic meaning ‘to hear,’ also has the wider meaning of ‘hear and obey.’

This point is helpfully made in Lois Tverberg’s article ‘Shema: to hear is to obey.’ In this article she writes as follows:

‘Biblical Hebrew includes only about 8,000 words, far fewer than the 100,000 or more we have in English. Because Hebrew has so few words, each is like an over-stuffed suitcase, bulging with extra meanings that it must carry in order for the language to fully describe reality. Unpacking each word is a delightful exercise in seeing how the ancient authors organized ideas, sometimes grouping concepts together in very different ways than we do. For example, the word shema (pronounced ‘shmah’) is often translated as ‘hear.’ But the word shema actually has a much wider, deeper meaning than ‘to perceive sound.’ It encompasses a whole spectrum of ideas that includes listening, taking heed, and responding with action to what one has heard.

I discovered the wideness of the word shema in my first Hebrew class. One classmate had a smattering of Hebrew knowledge gleaned from other places, and he let us all know it. He’d come late, leave early, and goof around during class. The teacher would pose a question to someone else, and he’d blurt out the answer before they could respond. Annoyed, one classmate pointedly inquired, ‘How do you tell someone to obey?’

‘Shema,’ responded my instructor.

Later that afternoon, curiosity prodded me to search for verses that contained ‘obey’ in my computer Bible program. In almost every case, the Hebrew behind ‘obey’ was shema!

For instance, in the English, we read Deuteronomy 11:13 as, ‘So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today…’ Literally, though, this verse reads, ‘And it will be if hearing, you will hear…’

And after Moses recited the covenant to the people of Israel, they responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey’ (Exodus 24:7, NIV). But the Hebrew here actually reads, ‘All that God had said we will do and we will hear.’ The two verbs here are really synonymous—to hear is to do, to be obedient.

This became even more clear one sticky summer evening when I was visiting an old college friend. As we chatted together in her front yard, we could hear squealing and laughter coming from behind her house. Her kids were drenching each other in a water fight, a duel between the garden hose and a big squirt gun.

As the sun sank below the horizon it was getting past their bedtimes, so we paused our conversation so that she could call them inside. ‘It’s getting late—time to go in,’ she announced. But the giggling and chasing didn’t even slow down. She repeated her command, louder and louder. No effect.

‘My kids seem to have a hearing problem, Lois,’ she sighed, wearily.

Since I knew that she had studied some Hebrew, I commented, ‘You know, actually, what I think your kids have is a shema-ing problem.’ Her words were vibrating their eardrums, but not actually moving their bodies toward the door to her house. She could have been talking in Klingon for all their response. She knew as well as I did that the natural outcome of listening should be response.

Grasping the wider meaning of shema yields insights to other biblical mysteries. In the psalms, David pleads, ‘Oh Lord, please hear my prayer.’ But he wasn’t accusing God of being deaf or disinterested. Rather, he was calling on God to take action, not just listen to his words. When the angel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with John, he declared that their prayer had been heard—that God was answering the barren couple’s prayerful longings to have a child. (Luke 1:13)

Understanding the word shema also helps us see why Jesus often concluded his teaching with the words ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’ What he really meant was, ‘You have heard my teaching, now take it to heart and obey it!’ He wants us to be doers of his words, not hearers only (James 1:22).’ [2]

Obedience and the role of leaders in the New Testament.

This Jewish understanding of the need for hearing to result in obedience is also found in Matthew 28:19-20 and Romans 1:5, two key passages which summarise the missionary mandate given by Jesus to  his Church.

In Matthew 28:19-20 we read

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’

Here we see that making disciples involves teaching people to be obedient to what Jesus has commanded. Jesus is the new and better Moses who gives God’s commands to God’s new covenant people drawn from all nations, and the Church’s calling is to teach people to obey these commands.

In Romans 1:5 we read that Paul has received ‘grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.’ In other words, the apostolic task given to Paul by the risen Christ is, as in Matthew 28, to establish obedience to God among people from all nations. This obedience consists first and foremost in obedient acceptance of the gospel message taught by Paul (‘faith’), but, as Paul’s letters make abundantly clear, it also involves living a new way of life in which this obedience of faith is manifested in daily life.

In neither of these passages is there any idea that the task given by Jesus to the apostles was to accompany people as they discerned for themselves what obedience meant. Just as Jesus taught the apostles what obedience meant so they were to teach others in their turn. Moreover, contrary to what David suggests in his Church Times article,  this did not involve simply telling stories, either the story of what God had done in Jesus Christ, or their own personal stories. What we see in the New Testament. as in the Old , is that teaching people to live obediently involves teaching people the overarching story, the ‘meta-narrative,’ of the mighty acts of God in creation and redemption, but not stopping at that point. People also need to be taught how to live rightly in the light of that story rather than being left to try to work this out for themselves.

Leadership in the Early Church and in the 1662 Ordinal.

In the earliest days of the Church such teaching was undertaken primarily by the apostles, but as time went on and they knew that death was coming they passed on this responsibility to a new generation of leaders as we see in Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38), in 1 and 2 Timothy, James and 1 Peter, and in the testimony of writers from the Patristic period.

In this way the leadership of the Church by bishops and elders was established, with bishops in particular having responsibility for teaching their flocks the path of Christian obedience, a path which involved both right belief and right conduct. That is why the bishop had a cathedra, a teaching chair, with the cathedral being the place where the chair was situated. [3]

At the Reformation the Anglican Reformers sought to re-emphasize the teaching responsibility of both bishops and elders (‘priests’). That is why in the 1662 Ordinal both are asked whether they will ‘instruct the people committed to your charge’ on the basis of the teaching of Scripture, such instruction to include both belief and behaviour as we see, for example, in the Prayer Book catechism.

Because deacons are assistant leaders and therefore do not have people committed to their charge in the same way as bishops and priests the Ordinal does not ask deacons the same question. However, it does say that instruction is part of their role too since they are to ‘instruct the youth in the catechism’ and to preach if authorised by their bishop to do so.

The standard criticism of this view of the role of leaders is that it gives insufficient responsibility to the laity, but in fact they have very important responsibilities. They have the responsibility to listen with attention and understanding to what is taught to them, to take it to heart, to act upon it, and to pass it on to others.

The view of the role of leaders that I have sketched out remains the pattern to which the Church of England remains officially committed, the major change being that the responsibility for instruction is now given to authorised lay ministers as well as to bishops, priests and deacons.

The problem with LLF.

The reason why, unlike David, I have a great problem with LLF is that I think that it involves a failure by the bishops to fulfil their responsibility to give instruction to the people given to their charge.

There is now great confusion not only in society, but also in the Church, regarding sexual ethics. In this situation the responsibility of the bishops is to teach those in the Church of England, and anyone else who is willing to listen, that obedience to God means living as the men or women God created us to be (as determined by our biology) and refraining from all forms of sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage, same-sex marriage included. It is in this way, and only in this way, that people can fulfil the biblical injunction to ‘glorify God in you body’ (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Tragically the bishops have failed to fulfil this responsibility. Instead  In LLF they have essentially told the faithful to try to work out a pattern of sexual ethics for themselves on the basis of material that only adds further to the existing confusion because of the way it combines orthodox and unorthodox views of sexual ethics with no criteria for how to distinguish between them.

Contrary to what David thinks, the task of Church leaders, and bishops in particular, is precisely to tell people ‘what the truth is.’

One of the standard images used for a bishop in in the early Church is a physician of souls, the idea being that like a doctor they are responsible to helping people to live healthy lives, but in this case spiritually rather than physically (see for example Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule). Now, imagine someone saying that a doctor should not tell you the truth about your condition and what you need to do about it. You would think that they had entirely failed to understand what a doctor is for. Similarly,  anyone who thinks that a bishop should not tell people what the truth is and what they should do about it has entirely failed to understand what a bishop is for.

The calling of bishops is to tell people the truth about what obedience to God involves on the basis of the teaching given to us by God himself in Scripture. In the case of LLF the bishops of the Church of England have failed to live up to this calling.

Why do we need to build a bridge?

A final issue raised by David’s article has to do with the idea that LLF involves ‘building the bridge as we cross it.’  The image itself is confusing as it is not entirely clear how you can cross a bridge while you are still building it. However, the more fundamental question is why the bridge needs building in the first place.  

Imagine a group of travellers approaching a river. They see a bridge, but rather than going across it in order to continue their journey, they stop and build a bridge of their own. Assuming that they are not mad, or simply like building bridges, the reason for their action must be that they do not trust the existing bridge to get them safely across the river.

If we use this as an image for the current disagreements in society and in the Church about human sexuality we can say that there is already a bridge built by God himself, namely the teaching about sexual ethics given in Scripture and the orthodox Christian tradition drawing on Scripture. If people are now seeking to build a new bridge this must be because they think the existing bridge is inadequate. That is to say, it must mean that they think that the teaching that God has provided is inadequate as a guide for human sexual conduct.    

This means that they implicitly are denying the wisdom and goodness of God. They are saying that God cannot be trusted to teach us how to live our lives. And, of course, this is something which no one can ever rightly say. It is a repetition of the primordial sin recorded in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve conclude that they can decide better than God whether they should eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As Christians we do not need to build our own bridge. We need to thankfully use the bridge that God in his wisdom and goodness has already built for us.


[1] David Runcorn, ‘‘Living in Love and Faith ‘is building the bridge as we cross it,’ the Church Times, 19 June 2021 at  https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2021/25-june/comment/opinion/living-in-love-and-faith-is building-the-bridge-as-we-cross-it.

[2] Lois Tverberg, ‘‘Shema: to hear is to obey’ at https://ourrabbijesus.com/Shema-to-hear-is-to-obey.

[3] For a good overview of Church leadership in the Early Church see Christopher Beeley, Leading God’s People (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).  

Why the silence, Archbishops?

The brilliant 1995 film The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin, ends with the film’s hero, the fictional President Andrew Shepherd, saving his presidency (and getting the girl) by breaking his silence and telling a press conference exactly what he thinks about the issues raised against him by his chief, opponent, the villainous Senator Bob Rumson.

Even if, like me, you do not agree with Sorkin’s particular brand of social and political liberalism, the message he gives in the film is nonetheless a very important one, namely, that a healthy political culture depends on politicians (and by extension others in public life) not taking refuge in silence, but being willing to stand up and say what they really believe.

I was reminded of the film, and Sorkin’s message, today, as I reflected on the continuing silence from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York  about the case of Dr Päivi Räsänen who is being prosecuted by the authorities in Finland for publicly upholding traditional Christian teaching on sexual ethics. I posted an open letter to the Archbishops concerning her case on 5 May[1] and since then, although there has been widespread coverage of the matter, the Archbishops have remained silent about it.

This raises the question, why the silence? Why aren’t the Archbishops willing to say what they think about this case, which has become a cause of concern among Christians across Europe and around the world? Do they believe that it is right that a Christian from a church with which the Church of England is in communion should face the prospect of up to two years in prison for declaring publicly traditional Christian teaching about human sexuality (teaching to which the Church of England still officially adheres)? If they don’t believe that this is right, then why aren’t they willing to come out and say so?

This week the European Evangelical Alliance, representing 23 million Evangelical  Christians across Europe wrote to the Finnish Government about the prosecution of Dr Räsänen. Its letter runs as follows:

‘The  European  Evangelical  Alliance  (EEA)  defends  freedom  of  religion  or  belief  and freedom of expression for people of all faiths and none. These human rights are vital pillars of democracy.

EEA  is  therefore  dismayed  to  hear  of  a  case  in  Finland  of  a  woman  who  faces prosecution and up to 2 years  in prison for 3 separate cases for  expressing  biblical views.

The police were asked to investigate 3 incidents  of supposed ‘hate speech’, or more precisely in Finnish law ‘ethnic agitation’.  On each occasion, they concluded that there was no case to answer. In the case of a brochure published in 2004, the police added that, if it was decided that biblical views were considered per se to count as agitation, then it would have to become a crime to make the Bible available. Clearly, such  a  situation  would  be  ludicrous.  Foundational  issues  of  freedom  of  religion  or belief and freedom of expression are both at stake.

Despite the police’s warning, the Public Prosecutor has decided to proceed with the prosecution  of  the  individual  at  the  heart  of  this  situation;  Päivi Räsänen,  former Minister of the Interior of Finland.

International  human  rights  law  protects  the  fundamental  right  to  freedom  of expression.  Under  Article  10  of  the  European  Convention  on  Human  Rights  and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, people have the right to express their views in public.

The United Nation’s Rabat Plan of Action has set certain criteria for defining hate speech. In all three situations for which she stands trial, Päivi Räsänen’s actions do not cross the Rabat threshold for hate speech. The context, content and form of her words were fine.  There is no hint of intent, likelihood, or imminence of acts of hatred happening. The only thing one could say is that, as a public figure, Mrs Räsänen’s words  have  reach.  But  there  is  obviously  no  problem  in  having  reach  when  the content, form and context were all fine.

Is  the  Public  Prosecutor  attempting  to  redefine  human  rights  law?  Freedom  of expression gives the right for anyone to share their opinion.  The right to freedom of expression exists to legally protect those that express views which may offend, shock or disturb others. 

Therefore, EEA calls upon the Finnish court system to uphold freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. We urge the Finnish government to make clear its unequivocal support for these fundamental freedoms, and the Rabat Plan of Action’s threshold for hate speech.

Thomas Bucher

General Secretary

European Evangelical Alliance’[2]

Do the Archbishops agree with what the EEA have said in this letter? If they don’t, then why not? If they do, then why haven’t they said something similar? Why the silence, Archbishops?


[1] ‘An open letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on the prosecution of Dr Päivi Räsänen’ athttps:/mbarrattdavie.wordpress.com

[2] EEA Statement on Päivi Räsänen,’ 12 May 2021 at https://www.europeanea.org/eea-statement-on-paivi- rasanen-may-2021/