Any new province must have a vocation to holiness. Jane Gore-Booth hopes that it will practise a traditional sexual morality in keeping with its adherence to a traditional understanding of Holy Orders
We hope and pray that the new General Synod will give traditionalists the free province which will enable us to remain within the Church of England. What sort of a province will it be?
One of the hallmarks of the Oxford Movement was its emphasis on holiness of life. We all know people who live chastely – sex within marriage is chaste – and strive for holiness, but sadly there does not appear yet to be a consensus in our constituency that there is a standard of Christian doctrine, in faith and morals, which is beyond private judgement, and that it is necessary to maintain this standard.
We may call ourselves traditionalists because we do not accept the modern doctrine of provincial autonomy in the matter of Holy Orders, but are we truly traditionalists and heirs to the Anglican divines of the seventeenth century, the Oxford Movement and indeed the Fathers of the first centuries if our moral theology is not in line with theirs?
At the Sacred Synod in 2002 the Provincial Episcopal Visitors and the Bishop of Fulham helpfully issued a Marriage Statement on remarriage after divorce to help those who look to them for guidance. Similar guidance about sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, outside marriage would be helpful. The proposals for the free province generally envisage a provincial synod similar in structure to General Synod, so the dangers of trying to discern the will of the Holy Spirit by majority vote will remain. There is a real danger that a free province could slowly follow the liberals down a slippery slope.
What would the policy of the new province be on homosexuality? In the aftermath of the Gene Robinson consecration it seems clear that it would not accept a bishop in an active homosexual relationship. But would it allow its priests to be in active homosexual relationships? And what about the laity?
What would the policy be on heterosexual relationships outside marriage for life? Could a bishop or priest remarry while his first wife was still alive or be married to a divorcee? Would it allow its communicant laity to be remarried divorcees? Could bishops and/or priests live in heterosexual relationships outside marriage, what used to be called living in sin and what the Bible calls fornication? Would it allow the laity to live such relationships? No one would have thought in the past that there should be different discipline in these matters for bishops, priests and lay people. This no longer seems to be the case.
Importance of baptism?
Many readers of New Directions are opposed to women priests because they doubt the validity of the Eucharists they celebrate: the Sacrament of the Mass is too important to allow doubt. Is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism similarly important or would priests in a free province baptize homosexual and heterosexual adults living in relationships outside marriage? In baptism one is washed clean from all previous sin. Surely therefore there ought to be a firm intention not to relapse into the sins of one’s former life? How honest is the confession at each Eucharist? Is it appropriate to give the Body and Blood of Christ to those who intend to go on living in sexually irregular relationships or to continue with any other deliberate sin?
In Mark 7.21, Our Lord lists the sins which come out of man and make him unclean: it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. The first word in that list which is translated as fornication is porneiai in Greek. The word pornography derives from it. Porneiai (the word is plural) includes adultery, fornication and homosexual acts.
I admire people who shoulder the cross of a homosexual orientation but who struggle for self-mastery and live celibate lives. Indeed to castigate them at the same time as accepting heterosexual relationships outside permanent marriage is hardly in accordance with holy Scripture.
Pride the worst sin
The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but I hope no one would suggest that sexual sin is worse than other sin. The traditional teaching has always been that pride is the commonest and worst sin. We are all guilty of it. Those who are not tempted to sexual sin should pray for those who are, that they may be given grace to resist temptation. But they also have to remember the warning in the Sermon on the Mount: the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.
If the free province is liberal in matters of personal morality, then some people will go to Rome or Orthodoxy; if it is conservative, then other people who cannot accept the discipline which was taken for granted in the past will not be able to join. In either case we will probably lose people. Surely we have to be honest enough to accept this; the alternative would be a fudge.
Change of life
The early Christians lived in an atmosphere of loose morality in the Roman Empire. They realised that, if their faith and prayer was to be true, it meant a whole change of life, becoming a new creation. Is that true for us today? Is Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and evermore? We used to be taught that all sex outside marriage was a sin; also to love the sinner but hate the sin. We do not want a ‘holier than thou’ province – but I hope we want a province of repentant sinners, of sinners daily struggling with their sin, rather than of people who teach that certain sins are no longer sinful.
Like St Athanasius and other giants of the past, Christians today have to be prepared to stand alone for what is right. If we are not prepared to do so, or if we avoid tackling contentious issues, then we shall end up going Forward in Fudge.