Evangelicals ready to challenge Williams for the Church’s soul

The Times (England), Dec. 10, 2002
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The battle for the soul of the Church of England hots up today with a summit of the country’s evangelical church leaders in London. The lay and ordained members of the four most influential bodies from this wing of the Church are expected to challenge the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr cbecause of his view that passages in the Bible are open to reinterpretation on the issue of homosexual relationships.

The signatories, who met for the first time on All Souls’ Day last month to plan their strategy, include Viscount Brentford, president of the Church Society, whose wife, Viscountess Brentford, the Third Church Estates Commissioner, is a friend of Dr Carey and was a member of the Crown Appointments Commission, which selected Dr Williams.

Another signatory is Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate and Metropolitan of Nigeria, and leader of 20 million of the 70 million Anglicans in the worldwide Communion.

The four bodies heading the initiative are the influential conservative evangelical body Reform, the Church Society, the Church of England Evangelical Council and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. But other bishops, archbishops and evangelical leaders from England and around the world are backing the move.

The statement comes at a time of widening divisions between the liberal line taken in dioceses in Canada and the United States and the deepening conservatism of the developing world. Dr Williams has admitted ordaining a practising homosexual and has said that he believes the Bible can be interpreted to support homosexual relationships.

The New Westminster diocese in Canada has already voted to bless gay “marriages” and an American diocese is understood to be on the verge of selecting an openly gay man as its bishop. Further liberalisation of the American Episcopal Church’s stance on the issue is expected at its general convention next July.

Evangelicals in Britain fear that what happens across the Atlantic will follow here in a decade. But, as one of the few parts of the Church that is growing, and with most of the financially better-off parishes under its wing, the evangelical movement can afford to enter into battle with Dr Williams for the moral high ground.

Figures from the 2000 Church Attendance Survey show that the evangelicals represented by groups such as Reform and the Church Society have increased their strength fivefold. Over a decade when every other section of the Church declined, evangelicals increased and now represent more than a third of total church membership.

For evangelicals, the best case scenario would be that Dr Williams should change his mind and have a “conversion experience” to put him back in the fold of conventional biblical belief. Failing that, they hope that he will stand by his stated intention: to keep his private views private and hold fast publicly to the 1998 Lambeth Conference statement on sexuality, which endorsed biblical principles.

The worst case scenario is that Dr Williams will lead the Church in the direction already taken by dioceses across the Atlantic, towards same-sex blessings and homosexual ordinations.

The weapon that would be used against him in such a scenario would be the withholding of funds from dioceses in the form of the “parish share”. Given the wealth of the evangelical wing, such action would leave the wider Church on the brink of bankruptcy.

In a recent column in The Church of England Newspaper Andrew Carey wrote: “God always has plenty more work to do, even in the lives of distinguished churchmen. Which is why evangelicals must continue to have a conversation with Dr Williams, to ensure that he understands why we believe him to be utterly wrong on human sexuality.”

The Rev David Holloway, Vicar of Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, and a member of the council of Reform, said: “As a matter of history, at the time of Bishop John Robinson and Honest to God, evangelicals thought the way to counteract error was positively to preach the truth.

“At the time of the former Bishop of Durham (The Right Rev David Jenkins), evangelicals saw that you also needed to drive away erroneous and strange doctrines, as the canons and the Book of Common Prayer put it.

“At the time of Rowan Williams and gay theology, you don’t only have to teach the truth and refute error, you also have to take action.”

He quoted Romans xvi, 17: “Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching that you have learnt. Keep away from them.”

The Rev George Curry, chairman of the Church Society, said: “As loyal Anglicans, we are faced with the fact that we have bishops across the world and in the Church of England who are teaching error when their job is to drive away error and teach the Gospel.”

Christina Rees, a prominent member of the General Synod who resigned from the Church of England Evangelical Council after some members criticised Dr Williams, said: “This is an attempt to make a statement around which all evangelical strands can gather.

“I have seen a draft of the statement and, although it does not mention the archbishop by name, it clearly alludes to the Rowan situation. It is intended to be a rallying point. It refers to sexuality.”

She criticised the evangelical movement’s focus on the issue. “Making a person’s attitude to homosexuality a touchstone of the Christian faith is elevating it to a place it has never held in Christian tradition,” she said.co.uk

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday December 10, 2002.
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