At the end of the recent General Synod when an alliance of orthodox Christians and pr0-gay progressives defeated the Bishops’ report on Marriage and sexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a rallying cry to a perturbed and divided Synod and whatever part of the wider Church was listening in.
It had three elements:
1- “We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.
2- “It must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.”
3- “The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”
The problem these words present, is that they involve a distortion of Christianity. They preference a non-Christian ideology that gives us a sub-Christian or even perhaps an anti-Christian version of the faith.
That is a very serious charge to make. Because if it is true, it challenges the authority of an ancient office and both the direction and integrity of the Church of England.
Where does this idea of inclusion come from? We don’t find it in the historic orthodox voices of the Church. It is not in the Gospels, or the Fathers of the Church. It is not found in the authentic mystic visionaries or in charismatic revivals.
So where is it from?
Its antecedents are Marxist. It is Marxism that addresses the problem of what it called ‘alienation’ in society and recommended that a new economic social order that removed inequality and drew the economically and socially excluded into a new social inclusion.
As our culture has shifted its attention away from economics to what we might call existential comfort, the alienation we now talk about deals more with a sense of belonging or unbelonging than it does having an equal income.
In an increasingly sexualised culture, the group that has claimed it feels pain because it does not feel it belongs, are people who define themselves by their sexuality as homosexual and bisexual.
If we take the Marxist diagnosis of alienation and apply it to our present cultural context, then the solution is obviously to address their complaint of feeling disconnected and alienated, by changing our understanding of human society and the ordering of relationships, so that it conforms to what they call for and say they need.
Why would this be a mistake or a category error for an Archbishop to urge such a course of action on the Church?
It would be a mistake because it adopts a progressive analysis of social discomfort that is at root Marxist. The next part of the mistake is that the social norms it then tries to overturn are formed by the Gospels and by the Christianising of culture. It launches the process of undermining biblical marriage with its essential component of parenting by biological parents, with so-called equal marriage, where children become a designed accessory to a relationship with one biological parent written out of the script to preserve the feelings of a same sex partner. So the solution ignores the Gospels and betrays the achievement of centuries of evangelism and prayer.
The effects of this are then sub Christian and even anti-Christian.
But do we find this Marxist idea in the Gospels and the reflection on the Gospels which we call tradition?
We find the opposite world view to the one that Justin Welby is urging on the Church of England.
In the Bible, this sense of alienation is addressed very clearly. It is traced back to our separation from God. Christian theology tells a story in which it makes a connection between pride and wilfulness, the pursuit of some kind of self-authentication, and the rupture this creates between us and the holiness and intimacy of the God who made us and longs to mend us.
St Augustine described it so well when he wrote “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find themselves in Thee.”
Justin Welby has re-written this theology and implies instead. “Thou made us to do as we please, and the only solution to the restlessness we feel is to change Christian ideas until they conform to secular ones.”
In the Gospels Jesus addresses ‘alienation’. On each occasion he addresses the sin, or the cause of the alienation. If it lies in the behaviour of attitude of the victim, he calls for repentance and a change of direction (metanoia). If it lies with the oppressor, he does the same.
The use of the word ‘radical’ in Welby’s call to the Synod to qualify inclusion, adds nothing to the meaning. It is an attempt to give rhetorical weight instead of theological weight.
Adrian Hilton as Archbishop Cranmer puts it succinctly when he commented
“Of course, the way must not be narrower than Jesus made it. And yet he made it narrow: there is salvation and damnation; heaven and hell; sheep and goats. Should the “radical new Christian inclusion” extend to damnation, hell and goats? What is to be the threshold of tolerance?”
Welby talks as if there is no repentance, no sin, no turning required. So, this is radical, but only in that it is radically different from the teaching and example of Jesus. It is not Christian.
Whether it is just vacuous religion or actually by wiping sin and repentance out of the human equation is anti-Christian, is a matter of discernment. But it is a serious matter when an Archbishop reformats the faith in a way that ignores the Bible, tradition, spiritual good judgement and the mind of the wider universal Church.
2 21st CENTURY SEX
Closely associated with the Marxist ‘inclusion’ trope is the myth of progress. It is not a Christian myth. It is part of the narrative of secular utopianism. How can any serious thinker look at the 2oth Century and the few years that have followed it and whilst being grateful for technology where It works for good (and it is almost always double edged like the rest of the human condition), see progress?
The mind boggles at what the Archbishop may think he means by referring to “a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual”.
What great anthropological insight into being human has this century brought? What apart from the chaos and misery of the confusion of gender dysphoria on a growing scale, has our culture added to our understanding of sex and gender? What scientific or genetic discovery is Justin Welby referring to? What shift of consciousness has brought a further light to sex that we do not find in the Holy Scriptures?
It’s hard to know whether the hubris exceeds the ignorance or vice versa. But this is not Christian. It is sub Christian. It may be anti-Christian.
3 THE IMAGE OF GOD.
Welby writes “The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”
On what basis does he identify this as the way ‘forward’? Surely he knows that the rich patristic literature from the Church Fathers where so much consideration is given to the imaging of God in humanity is matched by the awareness and lamenting over the sin which spoils both image and likeness?
How is it possible to celebrate our humanity when it is so flawed? What we celebrate as Christians is the salvation of our humanity, achieved by repentance from sin meeting the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.
Does Justin Welby think perhaps that in the context of disordered sexuality there is no sin? He writes as if sexuality and desire were a sin-free zone? A cursory reading of St Paul reminds us that we approach our humanity not to celebrate it but to put off the old warped disordered stuff and put on the new nature, formed in righteousness and holiness.
“Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:33-24. See also 1 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; James 3:9).
Ignore Gregory of Nyssa perhaps, though to our serious loss, but there is no excuse for ignoring St Paul.
It is a shock to hear a rallying cry to the Church containing such vacuity and such a distortion of Christian teaching and insight.
The Archbishop has swallowed some poor theology that has distorted his understanding of both the human condition and the antidote to it, the Gospel. He has taken half the truth and turned it into a pseudo whole truth, which is the way of all heresy.
He appears to prefer the insights and categories of Marx to the insights and categories of St Paul. He filters the words and actions of Jesus through a progressive lens, and ends calls offers a rallying cry to the Church to follow him over the cliff edge of human perversity and pride.
It is not for nothing that the philosophy that has captured his imagination has labelled itself ‘gay pride’.
As Hilton/Cranmer observes of this empty inclusivity
“If we are to be friends with all and the enemy of none (ie ‘tolerant’; no ‘hate’), then formalism and spiritual rigour must give way to ever-expanding freedom and humanism.”
But it is not freedom in Christ, and it is not saved humanity, so the freedom and humanism that Justin Welby celebrates is the old imprisonment in un-repented sin and disorder, and the chaos that is the repetitive experience of human hubris out of relation with God.
May the Church of England find the insight, the courage and the voice to repudiate the category error that is the Archbishop’s flawed charge, and return to the safer ground of obedience to the Scriptures and a common confidence forged by a common mind with the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and its understanding of sin, sex, sanctity and the dangers of separation from the living God.