Lambasting Lambeth

THE WEEK AFTER the Archbishop of Canterbury called on Christians and Muslims to stop demonising each other, Bishop Spong – and it seems at least one bishop this side of the Atlantic – were busy demonising the Anglican Church.

In his final address to the Newark Diocesan Convention before he retires, Bishop Spong pronounced the Lambeth resolution on human sexuality ” un-Christian, prejudiced, and evil”. His sentiments found an echo at last month’s LGCM/University of Derby conference on what to do after Lambeth. Bishop Peter Selby of Worcester, addressing that conference, reportedly said that “a profound atmosphere of the sinister” had hung over Lambeth.

What lies behind these remarks is an accusation of prejudice. Richard Kirker of LGCM frequently presents the issue as one of human rights, arguing simply that churches which are opposed to the ordination of practising homosexuals are discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. So are those who hold to historic, Biblical, Christianity prejudiced against gays? There are two reasons for answering “no”.

First, it is questionable whether an issue of human rights arises at all. Homosexual people, whatever the reason for their condition, have a choice about their behaviour. We have no choice about our race or our sex, but we do have choices about our sexual behaviour. A large number of Christians who face homosexual issues choose to try to remain celibate.

It could, of course, be argued that we guarantee freedom of religion to people, and since that is to some extent a matter of choice, the same rights should apply to gay people. That leads to the second argument. It is one thing to guarantee equal legal rights to people, but quite another to give equal rights of access within the church. Take, for example, the right to religious freedom. Does my support for religious freedom mean that I should accept a practising member of another faith for ordination in the Church of England? Of course not; it would be inappropriate. Why? Simply because it would be incompatible with the Apostolic faith, revealed in the Bible, on which the church is founded.

We come, then, back to the Bible and in the face of the strictures from Bishops Spong and Selby, it is worth remembering what some of the key Lambeth Resolutions affirmed:

“This conference…. reaffirms the primary authority of the scriptures ….. Urges that the biblical text should be handled respectfully…. building upon our best traditions and scholarship”

“This conference…. affirms that our creator God…?… communicates with us authoritatively through the holy scriptures….”

“This conference…. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation….”

These are not the resolutions of a group suffering from sexual prejudice, but the convictions of Anglican leaders about the conclusions that should be drawn from Scripture. It is not surprising that for Anglicans, Scripture should be the primary concern. Even Bishop Selby at his consecration, will have affirmed, in the words of the ASB, “the faith that is revealed in the holy Scriptures”. He will also have explicitly accepted “the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation…”

Not only does a denigration of Lambeth sit oddly with consecration vows about Scripture, but it brings to mind warnings that Jesus himself made. When the religious leaders of his day accused him of being evil, Jesus pointed out that those who insist on describing as “evil” what is spiritually pure have put themselves beyond forgiveness: “”I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “he has an evil spirit.”” (Mark 3: 28- 30)