By what authority does Caesar impose moral relativism upon the Church?
From the Rev'd Julian Mann:
The recent exchange between Labour MP Ben Bradshaw and the Second Church Estates Commissioner Sir Tony Baldry in the House of Commons has huge potential implications for local parish churches in the Church of England and their ability to shape their communities according to the revealed truth of God.
Thinking Anglicans has helpfully set out the exchange from Hansard on July 4th. It merits very careful reading by anybody concerned about the Christian integrity of parish churches serving local communities around the country:
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter, Labour) What guidance the Church of England plans to issue to parishes and Church schools on pastoral care for same sex couples and their children?Note Mr Bradshaw claimed the same-sex couple in Exeter were debarred by the conservative evangelical church from 'worship'. That claim raises significant issues. Was the couple banned from attending the church? That, in practice, is almost inconceivable in any local Anglican parish church holding a public service of corporate worship. It would only happen in the case of a major breach of the peace.
Tony Baldry (Second Church Estates Commissioner; Banbury, Conservative) The House of Bishops issued a pastoral statement before the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in 2005. I expect that the House of Bishops will want to issue a further statement before the legislation on same-sex marriage comes into force. The House of Bishops is due to consider this December a report on sexuality, chaired by former permanent secretary Sir Joseph Pilling. The work of that group will assist the House of Bishops in its deliberations.
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter, Labour) I am grateful for that reply, because I recently came across a case of a Christian couple in a same-sex relationship and with children in the local Church primary school to whom it was made clear by the local conservative evangelical church that they would not be welcome to worship in it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such intolerance and bigotry have no place whatever in the Church of England? When the Church issues guidance, it is very important that that is made quite clear to both parishes and Church schools.
Tony Baldry (Second Church Estates Commissioner; Banbury, Conservative) Of course I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. If he would like to give me the details of that case, I will most certainly take it up with the diocesan education officer. Children in Church schools come from a wide variety of family backgrounds, and teachers offer the same compassion and care for all. Each child is valued as a child of God and deserving of the very best that schools can offer. I would not expect any Church school to discriminate against any child, whatever their personal or family circumstances. If any right hon. or hon. Member comes across any instance where he feels that a Church school is in any way falling short of the standards that this House would expect, I hope they will get in touch with me."
But it is conceivable that the minister, with the support of his churchwardens, told the couple that Holy Communion was not appropriate for them. Clearly, the claim that the couple were debarred from worship sounds much more sensational and enhances their victim status. But there urgently needs to be clarification in this case as to what precisely the couple were debarred from.
If it was Holy Communion, then the issue here is not primarily that of practising homosexuality. Many of us in the Church of England and more of us in the wider Anglican Communion believe that such practice is contrary to Holy Scripture and therefore disobedient to God. But practising homosexuality is very far from the only sin forbidden by the Word of God. In some cultures - for example The Honduras - being an unrepentant drug dealer might be considered compatible with professing Christian faith. A local church that refused Holy Communion to such a person would certainly be doing the right thing and risking life and limb by so doing.
The issue here is the authority of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to exercise due biblical discipline over its members and rightly and duly to administer His Sacraments. The Church of England's own rules, its Canons, with which Sir Tony is no doubt familiar, are very far from advocating a free-for-all at Holy Communion. Canon B16 - Of notorious offenders not to be admitted to Holy Communion - clearly states that worshippers guilty of 'grave and open sin without repentance' should, after due process, be debarred by the local minister from the Lord's Supper.
By what right does Caesar impose moral relativism on the precious Body of Christ meeting locally?
Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire.