The Hypocrisy of Authoritarian Bishops
By the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss
Did the prayers that are suggested in GS2289 come from the Liturgical Commission? That is the official body which discusses and drafts our liturgies. Surely they carefully looked at all this, before deciding to use prayers of St Augustine to hallow things which would make Augustine himself blanch with shame? Or was this another rush job to circumvent that due process too? It’s a good thing to be able to occasionally “commend” new prayers, for use on a significant anniversary or special occasion, such as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Those don’t need full synodical approval, obviously. But is this the right mechanism for resolving decades of theological debate? Just put out some “commended prayers”, and assert that they are entirely in line with our doctrine (because we say so)?
And is it right to do all this without so much as a paragraph of biblical or theological reflection? There are two verses in the report: “God is love” from 1 John 4, and “love one another” from Romans 12 — completely shorn of context of course! We are assured “the bishops have been studying the Scriptures”, but there is almost no evidence of that here, from those entrusted with the spiritual and doctrinal safeguarding of the flock. Instead they simply assert that all this is all based on “a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.” Because Jesus (God the creator incarnate) had a flawed understanding of those things which we need to move away from? Jesus didn’t understand human nature properly? The suggestion — from our bishops! — is bewildering.
The bishops are playing fast and loose with the doctrine of the church on an essential matter — and all for the sake of a political balancing act. Keeping the church together, so it doesn’t fall apart before the Coronation and Justin Welby can still put the crown on the King’s head. The Archbishop of Canterbury knows that all this departs from the teaching of Jesus on sex and marriage as Anglicans have always received it. That’s why he himself won’t perform the new ceremonies, because he knows the rest of the Anglican Communion can see through the whole manipulative masquerade and he wants to continue being head of the Anglican Communion for a bit longer. He thinks they’ll let him.
But what of the other bishops, many of whom are (we have been assured) orthodox on this topic? I’m very sad to say that GS2289 presents itself as the mind of all the bishops. It expresses their “shared desire to find a way of walking together in Christ”. It says: “Whatever our convictions as bishops, all of us are committed to serving all the churches and clergy in our dioceses, and to respecting and supporting those who want to use these resources in their church community and those who do not.” Apparently, “We are not all agreed on the extent of these prayers, but nevertheless have agreed to offer them to the Church.” So this is being done to us by evangelical bishops just as much as by liberal ones.
Or have I misunderstood? I hope I have. I look forward to some minority reports, such as we had when Bishop Keith Sinclair courageously wrote a dissenting statement on the last episcopal attempt to foist such things upon us. Will I have to wait long? Is there courage out there?
Be assured, there’s more of this ridiculous politicking to come. New pastoral guidelines will soon be issued to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with its insistence on clerical chastity for unmarried clergy. GS2289 promises us more debates on changing our doctrine as “Bishops have also agreed that the conversations about these, and related matters, need to continue…” This is just a “milestone.” Or a millstone perhaps (Matthew 18:6).
What we need to do, after all, is “create a generous space for the Holy Spirit to fill” the bishops tell us, whatever that means. But this apparently mustn’t include disagreeing with the bishops. No: “We live in a society in which we are often pressured towards adversarial behaviour. As God’s church, we are called to a different way”, they tell us. This is manipulative, telling those who fundamentally disagree with all of this that they are not gracious people and should do better (and shut up). But there is a rich vein of biblical teaching about how we are meant to respond to false teaching, which the bishops seem to have entirely ignored. You can read more about that in “Fight Valiantly: Contending for the Faith against False Teaching in the Church”. I’m afraid it does involve being a little bit adversarial.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” — Isaiah 5:20.
The Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society and reprinted with his permission.