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Monday, July 15, 2024
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Thou shalt not criticise – bishops plan speech code to silence rebels

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AHEAD of the General Synod meeting this week in York, the House of Bishops has revealed that it is looking to enforce institutional unity on the deeply divided Church of England through a speech code.

The idea has emerged in the bishops’ proposal to Synod that vicars should be allowed to offer ‘stand-alone’ Prayers of Love and Faith (services of blessing for same-sex couples) on a trial basis from 2025.

Vicars have been allowed to bless homosexual couples in regular services since December 2023. But the stand-alone services where couples could have dedicated celebrations in parish churches after civil marriage have become bogged down in legal arguments. Church lawyers have told the bishops that the services could be open to legal challenges on the grounds that they represent a change in the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and so require a two-thirds majority vote in Synod.

Such a threshold would be unattainable in the current General Synod which is why the bishops are trying the experimental route to get the stand-alone services launched. The bishops are possibly calculating that the tsunami of political and media outrage which would follow if the gay wedding celebrations were withdrawn will deter synodical attempts to stop them.

The July Synod paper outlining the proposals, called without any apparent irony ‘Moving together as one Church’, reveals the bishops’ plan to impose institutional unity on the deeply divided C of E. 

The bishops’ paper states: ‘It has been suggested that a statement from the House of Bishops affirming common ground would be helpful in providing a recognition of the integrity of different approaches and setting out how we speak or relate to one another across these. It was noted that specific pastoral guidance would be required for ordinands or those in the discernment process.’

It goes on to declare: ‘It is important to remember that opinions and beliefs on the Prayers of Love and Faith are by no means binary. As well as the group within the Church who wish to make full use of the PLF, including in stand-alone services, and the group who are troubled by this change, there is also a substantial body of opinion in the Church who fall into neither camp . . . All those views are held with integrity and deserve respect.’

The problem the bishops face in stamping out ‘disrespect’ among theological opponents is that they would have to get their speech code approved by General Synod. It would have no legal force otherwise. But bishops can exert pressure on front-line clergy.

‘I don’t like your tone’, a managerial bishop tells a biblically orthodox vicar. ‘I would not like to receive a complaint against you that I would have to uphold.’

An experienced vicar would know that he or she is able to contest an allegation under the Clergy Discipline Measure and that ultimately it would be a tribunal which would decide whether a minister is guilty of misconduct. But it is not difficult to see how a bishop might be able to muscle an inexperienced minister with vague threats.

Jesus would have got into trouble under a neo-Marxist speech code as would the Apostle Paul. Matthew’s Gospel records the Lord speaking to the religious leaders in 1st Century Jerusalem: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make a long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation’ (Matthew 23v14 – King James Version).

The Acts of the Apostles records Paul telling the leaders of the Church in 1st Century Ephesus: ‘For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them’ (Acts 20v29-30).

As the C of E careers further away from its biblical moorings, is it not increasingly coming to resemble the secular world? Davos, where the globalist elite gets things done, is infinitely preferable to the adversarial world of Westminster, so let’s impose a speech code to ensure everyone gets along on our terms.

The extent of the divisions in the Church over the same-sex blessings is evident from a letter the Archbishops of Canterbury and York last week received from leaders of an orthodox coalition supported by around 2,000 clergy.

The signatories told Archbishops Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell that the House of Bishops’ plans are ‘clearly contrary to the canons and doctrine of the Church of England’ and ‘clearly indicative’ of a departure from the Church’s ‘essential’ doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman.

That is an unmistakable statement of their view that the proponents of the same-sex blessings are heretics. How does the House of Bishops like the tone of that?

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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