Global View from Bishop Bill Atwood
Contacts in some of the senior levels of leadership in the Church of England tell me that they think that “the votes are there” for “some sort of pastoral accommodation” to be made for blessing same-sex relationships. For now, they do not think that accommodations would extend as far as same-sex marriage, but there would be some sort of accommodation for the blessing of same-sex couples’ relationships.
This week, more than 130 members of General Synod signed a letter to the English House of Bishops demanding full acceptance of “Gay and Lesbian” members, insisting that the Bishops should be “unequivocal in . . . acknowledgement that LGBTI Christians are essential to the health and future of our Church.” Although 130 of the more than 400 members of Synod is not an overwhelming number, it is a significant statement and seems to be in line with what others are saying is the direction the Church of England likely will take.
One could have more confidence that the Church of England might hold a Biblical line if there were examples of clear, outspoken Biblical teaching being offered by senior leaders addressing the issue and making it clear how God’s redemption works. Of course, sexual morality issues are not the only concern at play, but they are certainly the lightning-rod issues in the UK these days.
It has been a long time since really vocal rejections of other cardinal doctrines have occurred. I remember many years ago when David Jenkins, who passed just last week, (Bishop of Durham) spoke about not believing in the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection, just before his consecration as a Bishop. (Remember, it’s hard to find people to fill the well-paid, prestigious office of Bishop in England. One can understand how they just weren’t able to find another candidate who believed in those things.)
His consecration as Bishop took place in the York Minster Cathedral. I was a brand new deacon then, years ago in a tiny town in the Texas desert. I remember being deeply weighed down by what he had said prior to his upcoming consecration as a Bishop. I can still remember saying, “Although we are thousands of miles away, and he certainly has never heard of me, I stand in the pulpit as a new Deacon in the church, under conviction that I have pledged to defend the faith, so someone needs to say, ‘David Jenkins, you are wrong! It is important in the Kingdom of God for that to be said even if you never hear it. You cannot mock God. I urge you to repent!’”
Three days later, lightning struck the York Minster Cathedral, destroying much of the roof. (pictured above) Cause and effect? Perhaps not. But…then again.
Issues today focus largely around matters of sexuality. The culture is pretty well sold-out to the “new morality” and increasingly hostile to those who continue to believe what the Bible has taught for thousands of years. Regardless of gentle language or genuine concern, one who does not authenticate (or participate in) the “new morality” will soon be vilified by the surrounding culture––or even by leaders in some of the more liberal Western Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
In England, some clergy and laity have stood up for Biblical faith, but less outspoken truth is coming from Bishops. The culture is heavily weighted against that happening. Quiet acquiescence, or at least quiet, is what is being expected. Sadly, most of the Bishops are willing to oblige—or are obliging.
With the pressure of advocacy and the unwillingness of orthodox Bishops to battle publicly for Biblical faith, it would be a great surprise if an orthodox solution surfaced. The tragedy is not that “our side” is looking like it will “lose one.” Rather, it has to do with the consequences of the decisions that Western Provinces are making.
If, when I get to heaven, the Lord may say to me, “You were wrong. I really don’t care about what people believe about Christology. I don’t care about the atonement. I don’t care about sexual mores. You were too hard on people. You should have just affirmed them all. All of them, no matter what they believed or did. Just affirm, affirm, affirm. That is what I wanted. You were off base to follow Biblical teaching. It just doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to you.”
If that happens, I will say, “Oops! I’m sorry, Lord!!” And all those people who didn’t believe in the atonement, the divinity of Christ, Biblical authority, and Biblical sexual mores will inherit eternal bliss despite my mistake.
Instead, if I was not wrong, and Jesus cares about His divinity, the atonement, and sexual behaviors, and if, as I have understood, that departing from Biblical faith can result in diverging from Christ’s redeeming love, all those people will not be OK. Here is the compelling issue for me: because I believe that it is possible for people to depart from Christ’s love and redemption, I don’t want that to happen to them. I want to call them back to Him. I understand that the Church has a very deep responsibility to share the truth so that people won’t perish. I don’t want anyone to go to Hell. We need to share Biblical truth about how we behave sexually, because there are terrible consequences of those behaviors and terrible consequences of wrong belief––at least some wrong belief.
In the arena of same-sex intimacy, I have often mentioned the shortened life-spans of American males who engage in that sexual expression. Various studies have consistently shown shortened life-spans, even up to almost three decades! It is not acceptable to stand by while people are perishing, especially when there are also eternal consequences. The Bible is clear that there are things that people do that can separate them from Christ’s redeeming love. We should love people better than that. Just affirming them at any turn is cheap, false grace, which is no grace at all.
Remember to pray for the Church in England. Even if we accept that people mean well, any serious reading of the Scriptures makes it clear that there are consequences to what people believe and do. Right now, it doesn’t look good.
If things go as I suspect and the Church of England joins the ranks of the culturally shaped churches, all is still not lost. Just like Elijah learned, there are thousands of knees that have not bowed to Baal. There will be a faithful church in England even if the Church of England waffles.
Recently, someone sent me a scathing article that named me as one of the problem people in the Communion. The author excoriated GAFCON, me, and others, saying that we should all just get along. Maybe he’s right, but the Biblical witness is very much to the contrary, and I have not seen any reason to back away from it. Scores of millions of Anglicans still believe and live under Biblical authority. I’m happy to throw in my lot with them. And here is an encouragement for those in England (or Wales, or Scotland, or Brazil, or other places that are under the theological gun): Biblical faith will still be found where you are. There are faithful leaders in the Global South and GAFCON who are committed to linking with faithful people. You are not alone.
P.S. He’s not going to say, “It didn’t matter.”
The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the ACNA’s International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.