AS THE General Election campaign enters its frantic last days, church leaders have made a number of interventions which tread a fine line between the pastoral and the political. Interestingly, these have not always been, as one might expect based on past form, offering strong hints of support towards parties on the Left (as in this Bishop’s recent piece). The joint message from the Archbishops of York and Canterbury sets out a vision for the nation which does not explicitly advocate a greater role for a high-spending State, but rather a more ‘conservative’ approach of freedom for individual enterprise while maintaining a strong safety net for the disadvantaged (‘open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition; supportive of those who struggle’).
After the Chief Rabbi’s unprecedented criticism of the Labour Party leadership’s perceived failure to deal with unregenerate stereotyping and hatred of Jews among some of its members, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered immediate support, warning of the ‘deep sense of insecurity and fear’ experienced by many British Jews, and called for more action against anti-Semitism. Advisers would have no doubt spent time discussing whether the Archbishop’s obligation to speak out on this issue outweighed the potential risk of appearing to criticise one of the two major political parties at election time.
Perhaps even more unusual has been the media briefing from the Church of England website in response to a letter to Bishops signed by hundreds of clergy and lay people. The letter warns about how Labour and the Liberal Democrats plan to ‘decriminalise’ abortion, essentially abolishing all the current restrictions nominally in place and allowing terminations at any time in the pregnancy, on demand. The official response from Church House reiterates the C of E’s ‘principled opposition’ to abortion, combined with pastoral sensitivity and realism, and commits to ‘vigorously challenge any attempt to extend abortion provision beyond the current 24-week limit’.
Editorials on this website have in the past (eg here) asked why in contrast to Roman Catholic colleagues, Church of England Bishops (with the exception of former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali) have not spoken out for the unborn child. Their silence in the summer on the undemocratic forcing through of liberal abortion law revision in Northern Ireland, claiming convention of not presuming to speak on issues outside the jurisdiction of England, was especially shameful.
No doubt there are very different views on the subject among the Bishops themselves. So it is very good that this statement from the Church has been made, moderate in tone but nevertheless opposing the plans of the progressive parties on abortion, even though it risks accusations of ‘political bias’ and probably risks division in the House of Bishops. Is the Church of England reverting to its former role as ‘the Conservative Party at prayer’?!
As usual though, sadly, complete clarity on the Church’s position on abortion was avoided after the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a radio interview, appeared to offer support for the draconian ‘buffer zones’ imposed around abortion clinics, imposed to deter any kind of protest against the killing of unborn children. His comment that we need to care for the woman in distress as well as the child shows how his main concern is the potential ‘harassment’ of women seeking abortion, rather than maintaining liberty for principled and appropriate Christian presence and witness. The recent arrest and detention of a man in a wheelchair praying across the road from a clinic in Ealing has highlighted again questions about increasing restrictions around freedom of expression (including religious freedom) when it involves any challenge to the hegemony of the sexual progressives.
While the Church’s official statement about abortion is welcome, it’s at odds with the general trend of Bishops following politicians of all parties in either being unwilling to endorse Bible-based Judaeo-Christian ethics around life, gender, sex, marriage and family, or much worse, actively promoting the views of the cultural Marxists and sexual revolutionaries, that ‘traditional, conservative’ ideas on these topics are somehow repressive and discriminatory. The Conservative Party may offer slightly more protection for the unborn child (in its latter stages) than other parties, and the Church of England leadership appears to support this, but none of these institutions inspires any confidence in the possibility of slowing the relentless advance of the sex and gender ‘liberation’ agenda more generally.
It is the Conservative Party which introduced the change in the definition of marriage; which has overseen and facilitated the exponential rise in ‘gender transition’, and is now pushing through the new Relationships and Sex Education programmes in schools. Rather than oppose this, or at least equip faithful Christians to understand the rapid cultural change and live distinctively in relation to it, the C of E has taken the side of the sex and gender radicals. This website has tracked many examples of this, but just in the area of education: following on from the release of Valuing All God’s Children, the C of E’s LGBT-affirming guidance on ‘homophobic and transphobic bullying’ co-written with Stonewall was released two years ago; Church of England primary schools are using the transgender lobby group Mermaids to ‘train’ staff and governors and are backed by Diocesan education departments in doing so, and now senior leaders have expressed approval for the new RSE programme in this document released last week.
The C of E leadership appears to be ignoring the groundswell of concern about the way the new RSE is being introduced and its lack of safeguards against being used for ideological indoctrination against the wishes of parents.
A number of criticisms of their approach have been written in recent days by Anglicans:
‘ . . . there is no commitment to advocating any particular approach to morality, The idea seems to be that children and young people should be offered a smorgasbord of different approaches to sex and relationships and then left to make up their own minds . . . If Church of England schools are simply going to echo the variety of voices in contemporary society rather than clearly and confidently declaring Christian truth to the next generation, then there is very little point in their existence’: Martin Davie, former theological adviser to the House of Bishops.
‘[The Church of England’s] new Charter for Relationships, Sex and Health Education fails to protect teachers, governors and children who wish to state and uphold the Church’s own teaching on marriage and family. It also represents a missed opportunity to bring the good news of God’s purposes and pattern for human relationships to the confused and toxic environment in which the one million children they are responsible for are having to grow up’:Andrea Williams, Christian Concern and General Synod.
‘This Charter is another reminder that the Church of England appears to have lost all confidence in its own biblical teaching, exchanging it for the thin gruel of progressive relativism where the highest goal is muddling along together. We all deserve better than this from our established church’: Will Jones, Anglican blogger.
No doubt many Bishops see RSE as a done deal and not worth risking the relationship between church and government; some see the new regulations as merely a way of teaching children to be positive about difference and kind to others, without understanding the anti-Christian philosophy behind the LGBT agenda. But this ideology, like a virus, has proved adaptable: previously attaching itself only to the political Left and secular atheism, it has morphed to be find a home also among Conservative politicians and church leaders. The long march through the institutions is almost complete.
This article first appeared on Anglican Mainstream on December 3, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.