From 9th to 11th July the parliament of the Church of England – known as General Synod – will be meeting in closed session to discuss issues of human sexuality. Why should we be aware of this meeting? For the very simple reason, that the outcome will affect every parish church throughout the land.
Now it can be hard to make sense of all the recent developments about the Anglican church, so here in a very summary form is a history of why we have reached this point.
Every ten years there is a meeting of Anglican bishops known as the Lambeth Conference. When the conference met in 1998, it was aware that on the one hand there is a history of homophobia in certain sections of the church, and on the other, parts of the church had moved away from a traditional and Biblical understanding of human sexuality. Attempting to meet both concerns, a resolution known as Lambeth 1:10 was passed (click on the link for the full text). Among other things, this resolution stated that the conference …
- in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
- recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.
However it became apparent soon afterwards that some member churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion were not going to abide by the resolution. In 2003 The Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) appointed as a bishop an openly gay and divorced man. For many congregations in the United States this was the final straw in a whole line of departures from Scriptural teaching.
These churches eventually formed the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). This church has never been formally recognised by the Church of England, nor has any action ever been taken against TEC. Rather TEC has pursued a line of relentlessly litigating to recover property from breakaway churches.
So what might have appeared to be a dispute about the treatment of the LGBT community developed into a fundamental disagreement about the traditional view of Scriptures and a major issue of discipline in the worldwide Anglican church. TEC have subsequently and logically moved to approve rites for same-sex marriage, and although earlier in the year it looked like action would finally be taken against this church, in reality no discipline has been applied.
The events in North America and the Western hemisphere appalled many of the churches in the Global South who formed a movement known as GAFCON. So when the next Lambeth Conference came about in 2008, their bishops did not travel to London to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury but instead met separately in Jerusalem.
Out of this meeting came about the Jerusalem Declaration which not only addressed the issue of same-sex marriage but also reaffirmed a faith that is consistent with the teachings of the Bible and the foundation documents of the Anglican church. Please take time to click on this link and read the text in full, and please be aware that I stand fully in line with this declaration.
Since this first meeting of GAFCON in 2008, the movement has grown and spread in influence. The Church of England however continues to wrestle with the Biblical teaching on marriage, and over the past couple of years has held shared conversations to try and ascertain the way forward. The meeting of General Synod next month is all about the result of these conversations.
There is no doubt that the media will portray the meeting as being about the experience and the treatment of the LGBT community. But as I have already said, the issue at stake is far greater. It is about whether we live under the authority of Scripture and how we apply discipline within the life of the church.
It may well be at the end of the meeting the Church of England will be heading towards some kind of split, which will certainly affect our attempts to reach out with the good news, and be a credible, united voice in the nation.
So please pray for those three days of conversation. Please pray for our Archbishop Justin as he wrestles with these deep divisions. And pray for a spirit of repentance that all might seek the Lord with humility and in search of wisdom.