Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 3 June 2017

Andrew Lightbown Theore0 Scottish lessons for the English church (or at least the C of E)

Rowan Williams New Statesman The Benedict Option: a new monasticism for the 21st century
A new book by the conservative blogger Rob Dreher asks whether Christians should turn their back on society – is he right?

Revd Nathan Writes of the Church Letters to the Church Magazine – June 2017

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Making systemic homophobia in the Church of England more visible

Andrew Brown The Guardian Theresa May is like Jesus? Let’s examine this …

Eve Poole Church Times From Alpha to VUCA: the art of unknowing


  • I agree with Andrew’s implicit support for the Scottish model: what he calls a ‘non-binary approach’ which seeks the flourishing of multiple integrities; or what I’d call ‘unity in diversity’.

    He warns against English bishops seeking a binary and uniform doctrinal position: trying to impose only one doctrine and one way on the whole Church of England.

    In my recent correspondence with the bishops, it was clear that while some conservative bishops were intransigent about giving any recognition to alternative views – “marriage is a salvation issue” – and some liberal bishops who felt ‘unity in diversity’ gave too much ground – “not radical enough, leaving one wishing for a whole-hearted inclusion” – there were a good number of bishops who actually do believe that Andrew/Scotland’s ‘non-binary’ approach is the only way this decades-long debate can be resolved (and the circle squared) so the Church can move on and give more focus to its mission. These 7 bishops among others:

    “You’ve nailed the issue – the question is will the Church be willing to accept diverse views on sexuality?”

    “I almost exactly agree over Unity in Diversity, but you under-estimate the conservative response if it was adopted.”

    “If the Church could model a different way of living unity in diversity, it would have much to show a wider and fragmenting society.”

    “The basic thesis of agreeing to disagree will have to be acknowledged in some way.”

    “Unity in diversity may well come into play in the difficult days ahead.”

    “Particularly struck by your comment ‘In other words, rather than trying to “win”… love and grace’ which is spot on.”

    “It is a complex subject… but the key issue is unity in diversity.”

    Scotland is moving towards an accommodation of diverse opinions, in a generosity of grace and love. There are English bishops who would agree, and they should maybe speak out.

    Historically, a distinctive feature of the Church of England has been it is a broad Church reaching beyond narrow uniformity.

    If the Church of England wants to be a national church serving a nation which has (as Justin Gau pointed out recently) sometimes led on progressive principles of justice – on slaves, on race, on gender, on sexuality – and if the Church is going to represent at least half of its membership which endorses gay and lesbian sexuality… as well as those who don’t… it needs a non-binary approach.

  • Father David says:

    Beyond a shadow of doubt Jeremy Corbyn, who shares the same initials as Jesus Christ is the most Christ-like of all our current political leaders for, as we all know, our Blessed Lord was, like myself, a Christian Socialist. Unlike the vicar’s daughter Jezza does not resort to personal criticism of his political opponents and turns the other cheek when faced with a barrage of insults. Unlike the Conservative manifesto, the Labour manifesto is the one which most closely resembles the Good News of the Gospels. I wish him well on June 8th – he certainly has my vote. JEZ WE CAN!

  • It seems rather strange that someone is asking which of the British party leaders most resembles Jesus, given the fact that Jesus refused all invitations to be a political/military leader – despite the fact that this was exactly what ‘Messiah’ meant in first century Judea.

  • Father David says:

    Surely, as Christians, we all must strive to be more and more Christ-like?

  • Father David says:

    I should have added – “….whatever our political allegiance”

  • Father David, I recall from my days as Asst DDO that I was required to comment about people’s growth in “christlikeness”. i thought it the most fatuous question. What sort of Christ? The Christ who shows a bit of temper? The Christ who’s more than a touch narky? The Christ who berates his disciples for being a bit slow on the uptake?. The Christ who casts out demons? And more. I suspect what the powers that be wanted was a Christ who says his prayers, grows the church, and knows his place in the pecking order of bishops, priests and deacons .. and ordinands. Oh yes, and the Christ who fills in faculty forms and is a fundraiser. I see that in Liverpool diocese priests of parishes who cant pay their share are denied study leave.

  • Fr John E. Harris-White says:

    As Thinking Anglicans we each will come to our own conclusion as to which party we shall vote for on election day.

    This will be as a result of our background, upbringing, and our understanding of the needs of our nation and people. Each person will make their own decision, and this act will be done in the safety of the election booth, without fear or favour.

    I do not believe this site is the place to wave our political colours, but to pray for those brave enough to put their heads above the political parapet, and seek our vote.

    Then to pray for those elected, and who will form our government, to lead this United Kingdom forward into the future.

    Fr John Emlyn

  • Lavinia Nelder says:

    It is interesting that the non-binary or non-dualistic viewpoints are being aired with greater vigour of late. What seems to be catching on in peoples minds is that ‘me right you wrong don’t darken our threshold’ model is precisely what Christ didn’t state. The writings of Rob Dreher encapsulate this perfectly. I see a strong element of the ‘we’re bound for glory everyone in and haul up the drawbridge’ school of thought that has been passed off as Christian thinking for way too long. Although if the conservatives wish to pursue that path good luck to them.
    We as people live in a relational society, both with the Trinity and the rest of creation. To that end I find any kind of dualistic, thinking counter to Christs teachings and contrary to how I feel led to live out my Christian life.
    Happy Pentecost

  • Lavinia – thank you but I would note it is not just ‘conservatives’ who get stuck in binary mindsets.

  • RevDave says:

    It’s strange, isn’t it, to have in the same list of Opinion pieces by liberal commentators, one article arguing for diverse views on sexuality and another arguing against it – accusing non-liberals of “systematic homophobia”? It all suggests to me that a similar trajectory will occur on homosexual marriage as started 25 years ago regarding women priests: liberal progress by first asking conservatives for inclusion.. and then progressing further by exclude conservatives? All the time accusing the HoB of being wrong in every imaginable way!

  • Fr John E. Harris-White says:


    Thank you for your piece. We can share and bring to Our Lord those people who have lost their position, and employment because they were found to be different, and didn’t fit the regular pattern, thought as ‘normal’

    They are many, and have been hurt beyond measure, all in the name of a so called ‘Christian’ community.

    Let us all be very aware of those folk whose lives have been blighted with fear from their earliest days, because they were different. A fear that sinks deep, and does not go away, but rears it head from time to time, often in unexpected places and ways.

    Try telling them, Perfect love casts out fear,’ when the source of their fear is often a christian community.

    We are all human, and very much in need of GOD’S Love, which does indeed cast out fear, when that love comes from a true source.Christ himself, in the Holy Sacrament.

    Fr John Emlyn

  • Lavinia Nelder says:

    David – don’t I know it! I used Richard Rohr to explain the trinity. The no faith teenagers found it useful, helpful and reassuring about Christianity. The faithful population in the main found the non-binary ideas a profound shock.

  • RevDave says:

    Lavinia – Yes, it ‘s hard to label the Trinity “binary”. However I think that binary thinking is not just the preserve of conservatives like me. Many liberals use the simplistic “agree with us or you are a homophobe” dialectic.

    IMHO binary thinking is so prevalent because our Anglo-Saxon culture loves simplicity (and win-or-lose outcomes).

    However, relational thinking does not erase truth – it just means that we learn to relate to people with whom we disagree (provided they are prepared to admit that they too may be wrong) and join a common search for the Truth!

    ps I’m not usually a great fan of RR

  • Cynthia says:

    Again, the problem is power, not binary or non-binary thinking. What does “mutual flourishing” look like? This is precisely the question that went unanswered in the debacle with +Philip North. If “mutual flourishing” means the enforced continuation of misogyny or LGBTQI exclusion throughout particular dioceses, then clearly some people won’t be flourishing. If it means assuring that there’s a welcoming place for everyone at the local levels, then we get closer to the possibility of mutual flourishing. If church X won’t have female priests, gay marriage, or incense, there should be another one fairly nearby that does have those. That sort of thing. The bishops can be pro or anti gay marriage, as long as they let it flourish in some churches. The problem of bishops who don’t support WO is more vexing, maybe co-bishops.

    The problem is power. The reason the conservatives get low marks is because of power. Liberals can seem intolerant, but at the end of the day, liberals aren’t persecuting conservatives in employment in CoE, but the opposite is clearly happening. Liberals can’t be “just as bad,” because we don’t have power to abuse. It’s really important to defang false equivalencies.

  • Cynthia Greetings but I am struggling with this piece from you. Power is certainly part of it but so is binary thinking. The question of mutual flourishing was precisely what forced the issue in Sheffield actually. ‘we don’t have the power to abuse’. Actually ‘we’ do – and denying we do is generally where the potential to abuse starts. And I can’t thinking that ‘we’ and ‘they’ here sounds a bit binary?

  • Cynthia says:

    David, greetings back at you. I’m trying to address the false equivalency between the “intolerance” of liberals and conservatives. After all, we know about the employment situations of Jeremy Pemberton and other gay clergy. It is power that continues to exclude and mistreat LGBTQI people. LGBTQI people seek a place and dignity in the church, clearly some conservatives advocate to continued the enforced status quo. In this context, binary thinking isn’t relevant. It becomes relevant when inclusion becomes policy. At that point, “mutual flourishing” would need to be addressed.

    The failure in Sheffield was not abuse. No one had worked out how women and girls could “flourish” with +North as diocesan. As it stood, women and girls in Sheffield were being asked to suffer, to bear injustice, on behalf of a feel-good but ineffective solution.

    I believe that there are solutions for mutual flourishing, for women, girls, LGBTQI people, and potentially conservatives, but they aren’t going to come from the very closed and homogenous “group think” situation that seems to be CoE’s College of Bishops.

    The problem of the extreme conservative position is precisely the demand to have the power to exclude. This makes mutual flourishing incredibly difficult. I don’t see that liberals want to exclude conservatives, I could be wrong. The desire is for radical inclusion. The problem is how it is possible to include at all levels when one group (which is likely not “all conservatives”) holds exclusion as a tenant of their faith.

    As a creative, I believe there are solutions. I can imagine a range of possibilities that include all people of all persuasions. All of the possibilities require that the extreme conservatives allow inclusion (synonymous with “flourishing”) to happen, in every diocese (though not necessarily in every church).

    The liberal rhetoric is as it is, because we are the oppressed people here. The oppression causes real harm, I’ve been through two deep and dangerous depressions, and I’m a strong person with access to mental health care. We are railing against power for our place and dignity, let alone calling for a stop to harsh oppressive practices (the Pemberton case and others).

    My take away from engagement on TA and personal interaction is that in the CoE rank and file, including TA contributors, there is a tendency to make false equivalencies; it’s as if the pain caused by exclusion is somehow equivalent to the pain conservatives suffer by losing arguments and losing power to exclude. The College of Bishops seems deaf to the suffering of the vulnerable, LGBTQI, women, and girls and very uneducated on Social Justice 101: Power. That could also be a theology course on the theological underpinnings of justice movements.

    So, binary/schminary, it doesn’t seem like an accurate view from the lens of power. The argument about “those intolerant liberals” can be used a bludgeon to try to shut down the real conversation and maintain the status quo. Tone policing is a thing, and it is used to continue oppression, sometimes wittingly, sometimes unwittingly.

  • Cynthia I didn’t say Sheffield was about abuse. As I said it centred around an understanding of mutual flourishing that was plainly anything but mutual. I take it we agree on that. I made no reference either to ‘those intolerant liberals’. But I do try to resist a tendency to speak as if one side has a monopoly of nastiness and intolerance. Liberalism has its shadow side like everyone else. That’s all I am saying.

  • Cynthia says:

    I hear you David, and I have noted your gracious and compassionate comments about the flawed understanding of mutual flourishing.

    No side has a monopoly on nastiness, but intolerance tends to get into issues of power. When you are on the oppressed side, it’s very difficult to find the right language. No power has ever been given up with perfectly polite language. Power needs a wake up call, and a sense that if they don’t share power they will lose it altogether. The Civil Rights movement provoked power into violent deeds to expose them. We can’t exactly do that in the church. So it is a sticky wicket – an expression I love although cricket is a game that I just can’t fathom…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *