Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 9 January 2016

John Bingham has interviewed William Nye for The Telegraph: The ‘silencing of Christians’ in the public sector.

Bob Morris The Constitution Unit ‘Living with Difference’: The Butler-Sloss Commission’s report reflects the interests of its members rather than the public interest
[also online at Law & Religion UK]

Giles Fraser The Guardian Doesn’t Bishop George Bell deserve the presumption of innocence?

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Pope Gregory and #Primates2016 – diversity, sex, and church order

Jayne Ozanne Church of England Newspaper Resolutely passionate

Hannah Cleugh Church Times No need to patronise men with toughness


  • As Jayne Ozanne says, LGBT individuals are not ‘perverts’. I love this paragraph:

    “So, just to be completely clear what I’m talking about – we LGBT Christians are not going away. We’re here to stay. We’re part of the Body of Christ too – just like you. We’ve had enough pain. Enough rejection. Enough judgement. Enough of being slandered as “pedophiles and perverts”. We are your sons and daughters, your neighbours and your friends. We are decent, honourable human beings who just want to be able to live normal lives like you do – we want the joy of being loved, of being chosen, of being desired and adored.”

    She rightly asserts that “We all belong to one Body of Christ – as we all share in one baptism, one faith and one hope.” Our union and communion is in Christ alone. As such, I wish that our Church would accept that unity can thrive in diversity – in a diversity of consciences and a diversity of people. We don’t have to doctrinally dominate each other, or try to insist on a uniformity where no such uniformity exists.

    And yet, although critics of LGBT claim to love gay and lesbian people, they still draw on biblical statements to claim that we are essentially perverted and ‘outside’ the kingdom of God. And to be clear, this is the religious tradition out of which Justin Welby has come, which framed his formative years, and the religious tradition that is asserted even more bluntly by some of the prelates visiting next week.

    (continued in 2 of 4…)

  • One of the most concerning (and arguably insidious) expressions in this whole debate is that Christians “should love the sinner, but hate the sin.” For a gay or lesbian person, this implies hating something deeply personal and precious about who they are, yet placating the conscience of the accuser by suggesting “but we still love you” – as sexual orientation is somehow detached from who a person is.

    To try to fathom where Justin Welby comes from in this debate – he is of course at liberty to be open and transparent, and explain for himself – it is quite instructive to look back at the teaching of Alpha and HTB which seems to have been formative in Justin’s own Christian life. Many people, understandably, praise Alpha – it is a method that can work, in drawing in people to faith in Christ. However, if you look at Alpha publications at the time Justin was involved with HTB, and Nicky Gumbel’s own teachings, it is apparent that as well as the evangelistic intent of Alpha, there was also a bolt-on evangelical agenda, based on biblical inerrancy, including the condemnation of gay and lesbian sex. I will quote from Nicky Gumbel’s own work, in an Alpha publication:

    1. “The Christian community needs to show sensitivity towards those for whom their homosexual orientation is a daily struggle.” This is the sugar-coating. But it pre-supposes that whereas heterosexuality is a wonderful gift, gay or lesbian sex is a ‘struggle’ – something that blights people’s lives. Straight off we have the ‘love the sinner’ meme.

    2. Nicky Gumbel goes on to assert “the biblical writers clearly disapprove of same-sex sexual practices” and are “uncompromisingly negative”. They – along with all “the wicked” – “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, if they don’t repent, they are out. Nicky Gumbel points out that homosexual sinners are not the only ones, citing it as part of a group of “lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious”. These are the group that active gay and lesbian people belong to, it is argued. It is “rebellion against God”.

    3. He develops the biblical context to seek to vilify and condemn gay and lesbian sexuality. “God gave them over… to sexual impurity and the degrading of their bodies… to shameful lusts.” To Nicky Gumbel, drawing on the inerrant bible, gay and lesbian lovers are “perverts”.

    (continued in 3)

  • 4. On AIDs Nicky Gumbel, in this Alpha publication, argues that “people are getting hurt as a result of God’s laws being broken.” Gay sex may not be the only example, according to Nicky, but AIDs can still be seen (and is cited) as “the inevitable results of breaking His laws”. “It can be seen as the effectus of His judgment.”

    5. Nicky Gumbel then goes on to suggest what gay and lesbian people should do – namely celibacy, repentance, and healing of their sexual orientation. Quoting Tony Compolo, he asserts “I cannot help but admire these brave saints who endure lives of sexual frustration because of their commitment to what they believe are biblical admonitions against homosexual intercourse.” That resonates with what seems to be Justin Welby’s position – and the collective position of the bishops – as seen in the sacrifices made / imposed on people like Jeffrey John, and expected of other gay and lesbian priests. Nicky Gumbel argues: “The life of Christ shows us that neither a committed, exclusive partnership nor sexual experience is essential to personal fulfilment.” He argues that homosexual orientation “may be caused by lack of love… incest, or sexual abuse.” “Even if there was a scientific basis for sexual orientation, it does not mean that it is God’s will. Genetic conditioning produces good things such as the wonderful diversity of human beings, but also bad things like congenital disease.” Nicky likens gay sexuality to the “congenital disease” category… “the result of sin entering the world.” “We should seek healing.” “Since the Fall,” (that is, if you believe the Genesis account) “sin has been the root cause of a deep state of disorder within human nature”. He sees gay sexuality as one form of a “deep state of disorder”… a “culpable rebellion”. He cites cases of gay people “who were totally released” from this disorder, in some cases “helped by psychiatrists or psychologists”. Clearly, Nicky Gumbel is teaching as part of the Alpha literature, that gay and lesbian sexuality is a deep disorder that needs healing.

    6. He finally goes on to say that while we should love the sinner, we should be insistent on not condoning it, but rather, actively opposing it. “We are called to speak out… It is wrong to promote a homosexual lifestyle in schools. It is wrong to ordain unrepentant, practising homosexuals into Christian leadership.”

    (continued in 4 of 4)

  • And he concludes, “talking to someone about their struggle is often the first step to bringing light into the darkness.” In other words, gay and lesbian sexuality is part of the “darkness”.

    This is the Alpha and HTB context that Justin grew within. Of course, both Justin and Nicky may well have evolved further in their views, but these were the teachings – embedded in Alpha literature – that taught new converts a fundamentally homophobic view of gay and lesbian sexuality. What is striking, is how similar some of its teachings are to the positions the bishops are still trying to enforce today… and how similar they are to the views of some of the visiting prelates who are coming next week to demand these kinds of attitudes, Communion-wide.

    In an English society that has moved on, and recognised both the normality and preciousness of gay and lesbian relationships – and the importance of social justice, not vilification of who they are and how they live – the teachings that Alpha and HTB promoted, and Justin was engaged with, seem appalling and alienating. What exactly are Justin’s views now? Is he still sugar-coating? Does he still see gay sexuality as sin?

    And does that give him the right to impose his conscientious views on a church here in England, and priests, and churches, and communities, who sincerely regard the views quoted here as devastating, harmful, discriminatory, and prejudiced?

    However much some African provinces and societies may still espouse the Alpha teachings quoted here, from the days when Justin was at HTB, does that necessitate our English Church having to champion these teachings, and demand uniformity, when no such uniformity exists? This is not Africa. We operate in a different society, with different needs and values. There can be no one-size-fit-all any longer.

    Rather, I urge our focus to become union in Christ. I urge the Church of England to follow the lead of Scotland, Canada the US etc… and focus on our common union, our eternal union and the only true union, in Jesus Christ. And then, instead of demanding uniformity and rigid rectitude along these Nicky Gumbel lines… seeking, instead, grace… to co-exist, to accept divergent consciences… and to do the hard work of loving one another, even with our differences, and getting on with all the good work the Church should be focussing on.

    • Gordon says:

      I found your comments very thoughtful, fair and insightful. Could you say which Alpha publications your quotes are from? There has been some effort to detoxitfy Alpha and I’m curious to track that process. Thanks.

  • Father David says:

    Congratulations to both Giles Fraser and Charles Moore for keeping before our eyes the gross miscarriage of justice perpetrated anonymously against that great bishop George Bell of Chichester. All the secrecy surrounding this alleged and unproven misdemeanour is most disturbing especially as it destroys the reputation of a very great and brave man. It is to be hoped that in the name of British justice these allegations will be examined by the current ongoing investigation into alleged child abuse. Charles Moore describes the alleged victim as a child but Giles Fraser identifies the gender as female – something which I don’t recall being revealed, such is the secrecy surrounding this allegation, until it was reported by him in The Guardian.
    Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, especially as the accused, now long dead, is in no position to defend himself against what the Chichester Diocesan Authorities have responded to in a highly secretive manner.

  • Barry says:

    Well said, Father David. I also have been disgusted at the treatment of the great Bishop George Bell by his former diocese. I have yet to hear of anyone who knew Bell, or has studied his life and work, who has even hinted at private misbehaviour on his part – at least until this anonymous accuser materialized. Great people may have great faults, of course, but before they are condemned for them we must be told the evidence supporting such condemnation.

    Charles Moore’s article on the Bell case is a magnificent example of journalism doing its job well. By contrast, the reply which the Bishop of Chichester was driven to make was so evasive as to seem almost shifty, and it simply strengthened Moore’s argument. Alas, such is the hysteria surrounding cases of alleged sexual abuse that, whatever the law says, we have arrived, in effect, at a situation of Guilt by Accusation. It is another flagrant injustice about which one waits in vain to hear our bishops raise their voices.

  • Kate says:

    Jayne Ozanne’s article seems part of a recent trend to see two issues, not one:

    1. To accept LGBTI Christians as mull members of the church communion

    2. To consider separately teaching on sexual activity

    I think this is entirely right, as well as being the only way forwards which might build a compromise consensus. I think anybody who opposes the first call will seem unduly hardline and liable to be marginalised. The second is much more problematic because the Church needs to update its teaching IMO on all sexualities. Even the presumption that sex within marriage is always acceptable and sex outside marriage always wrong, should be challenged and re-examined.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    Susannah- a recent biography of Justin Welby (sorry I am away on holiday so don’t have the reference) in its chapter on the Archbishop, HTB and Alpha, traces the developing thought in Nicky Gumbel’s seminal Alpha text. I haven’t read it but I gather from the biography that in the first edition the usual homophobic HTB teaching is expounded but by the latest the whole section relating to same sex relationships and pre marital sex are expunged in order to ‘detoxify’ the Alpha brand. What is actually taught in Alpha is another matter.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    In all the discussion about Bishop George Bell please spare a thought and a prayer for those of us at the Cathedral, caught up in the middle of all this and trying to do the right thing.

    I understand that it’s not too late for the forthcoming biography of Bishop Bell by Andrew Gardner of the George Bell Institute at Chichester University to include something about the allegations.

  • Kate says:

    Once I have passed, then people may say anything at all about me: if it helps the living, bring it on. I know, as a Christian, I should say the same while I still live, but my humility is a work in progress 🙁

    So for me it is blindingly irrelevant whether Bishop Bell deserves the presumption of innocence. Allegations, whether untrue or not, can not hurt him in anyway. If giving credence to the allegations of the living provides them with comfort, then that must be far, far more important. In a century’s time, then historians can pick over the bones of the matter. That’s one of their jobs: to offer lasting assessment on reputations once all the dramatis personae are no more and the matter can be considered with clean, dispassionate hands.

  • Barry says:

    Richard Ashby, you ask us to “spare a thought and a prayer for those of us at the Cathedral, caught up in the middle of all this and trying to do the right thing.” I will gladly do so; but surely the “right thing” is to see justice done to Bishop Bell, innocent or not? We are dealing here with one of the outstanding Christian figures of the twentieth century. If his name and reputation are being blackened, we have a right to know the grounds for this. So long as we are denied facts, speculation will grow that something is being covered up, even if that is not so. Why is such a cloak of secrecy apparently being placed over this particular case?

    Kate, your comment leaves me dumbfounded. The assumption of innocence until guilt is proved is a foundation of British law, and every Christian should applaud it. Slandering someone after their death may not be actionable in law, but it is as abhorrent as slandering them during life. These are fundamental issues of Truth and Justice. Sympathy toward those who make allegations does not excuse us from enquiring into their honesty and into the substance of what they claim to be facts. Likewise, the person accused must be presumed to be guiltless until the weight of evidence convinces us otherwise. That presumption of innocence is being gravely eroded at present in abuse cases, and the result has been instances where innocent people have had their lives ruined by malicious allegations. That ought to be our Christian concern.

  • James Byron says:

    I must agree, Barry, despite my misgivings about compounding a victim’s suffering by doubting their word. The accusation may well be true, but unless its substance and, crucially, the identity of the complainant are revealed, there’s no way to assess it. Especially when no further allegations against Bell have been made.

  • Barry says:

    James, thank you for your comment, with which I entirely agree. Your point that allegations against Bishop Bell have been made by only one person is most important.

    The case also raises the issue of whether we need to set a time limit within which claims of abuse can be accepted, simply recognizing the difficulty of investigating allegations fairly as years pass. I am reminded of a case where a priest was alleged (by one person) to have committed several serious offenses some thirty years previously. As the priest said, “how am I supposed to defend myself after all this time?” When he had spent a year in a living nightmare, the entire case was thrown out by a jury in twenty minutes.

    The notion of the guilty avoiding justice in this world because years have passed can never be pleasing, but the notion of the innocent suffering, even posthumously, through accusations which can no longer be adequately tested is no less disturbing. I am no lawyer, but there seem to me to be issues here which require urgent consideration in the interests (as I said) of Truth and Justice.

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