After Southwark

While the LGCM celebrated its 20th anniversary at Southwark cathedral, over 200 people took part in a day of prayer and fasting at St., Mary Magdalene’s Church Bermondsey. It was one of around forty similar events organised by Cost of Conscience and Reform that took place up and down the country, and expressed our first and most important response to the moral and doctrinal anarchy that we are facing in the Church of England: it was a move not to point fingers, or to brandish placards, but to cry to God, to acknowledge our own failings, to affirm our dependence on His keeping us in the Truth, and to plead that He would defend the honour of His name.

It was in that spirit that 200 people met at St. Mark’s, Battersea Rise, on December 2nd, to consider what our next move should be. The Revd. Hugh Balfour called us to start drawing lines. Orthodox Christians have tended to keep their heads down, waiting for the issue on which to fight. And if the failure of Southwark Diocese to uphold the Bishops’ statement that “homosexual practice falls short of God’s ideal” is the one that is stirring large numbers of lay people to take action, I want to suggest that this is not because it is the issue on which to fight, but because the debate surrounding it has clearly exposed the theological presuppositions that are dominating the ecclesiastical landscape. And people have been alarmed.

This is no minor discussion of sexual ethics that we are fussing over here. It is the Church’s understanding of the nature of God that is at stake. Is He the God who is really there, the One who made us, and who has spoken to us, and told us about himself and about His good ways for us? Or is He merely a symbol for our culture’s most cherished ideals, a tame God employed to bless our shifting values with the seal of divinity? If the Bible’s teaching on morality is wholly trapped within the culture of its day then we are not dealing with a God who has spoken in any sort of meaningful way, but one who has, at best, mumbled. Odd that the mumblings that we do seem to be able to make sense of merely endorse the preoccupations of our times…

The irony is that by gagging God, we ultimately gag ourselves. Once we have started worshipping a “god” whose ways are a reflection of the culture that we find ourselves in, then, as the German churches Church found in the face of Nazism, we have condemned ourselves to silence. We have invented a god who can only say “yes” to the prevailing view, and never “no”. That is a very dangerous door to open. It plays straight into the hands of Foucault and friends, who see all talk as power play. In a world into which God has not spoken, then it is just your word against mine, and the loudest voice wins. And this is what we have seen in the homosexuality debate; power-play. At the centre of the LGCM’s ethos is the notion of self-expression. But I have been startled at the way that my right to express myself has been censored, and that, because the assumption is that theological conviction is merely the product of personal bias, it is not just my convictions that have been despised, but my personality. Liberalism is proving itself once more to be the enemy of tolerance. And that is why now is a time to draw lines.

When we block our ears to His Word we naturally drift from His ways. Thus preaching the God of the Bible will, inevitably, involve preaching against ourselves and against our culture. And I fear a day when that is the one thing the Church of England will not let us do; that it will prevent us from proclaiming the good news of God that this country so desperately needs to hear, and reduce all our religion to talking about ourselves, and turn the God who has revealed himself into symbol floating helplessly on a cultural tide.

So what might some of our next moves be? People talked about how PCCs had agreed to divert quota directly to needy situations; of having written letters; of boycotting diocesan events; of having told bishops that until they stand for orthodoxy they will not be invited to preach or to take confirmation services; and arrangements for alternative episcopal oversight were talked through. Painful things to have to do, all of them, but do them we must.