So say conservative evangelicals when people like me draw a connection between the alleged abuse of teenagers and young men by John Smythe and the abusive culture of conservative evangelicalism and the effect this has on LGBTI Anglicans and the culture of the Church of England.
Giles Fraser has written about the evil effects of substitutionary atonement in today’s Guardian.
“That, of course, is what the evangelicals are most afraid of: people making a connection between their theology and John Smyth’s beating of the children in his care. Yet the connection is obvious – and at the very core of the evangelical story: that God the father violently punishes his son for the salvation of the human race.”
There’s something I learnt from the amazing Brenda Harrison, colleague in Changing Attitude and leading light in the Evangelical Fellowship and European Forum, and from Jeremy Marks who founded Courage, and with courage, faced reality and turned around - there are many varieties of evangelicalism, and I should always distinguish between the conservative end of the spectrum and the majority (a growing majority, I suspect) who are evangelical, but not because of this kind of theology.
They are evangelical because of divine love. This results in a totally different ethos and quality of faith - of course it does, once you've binned the violent, abusive God. I hope this is one of the transformations we are now witnessing - the overthrow of God the abuser, God who needs a sacrifice, and everything that goes with it, including headship. Until the bishops confront this, they are stuffed.
We have reached a critical moment for the church and for those who hold to penal substitutionary atonement. There is no escaping this. The theory creates an abusive culture and abusive teaching and relationships. If the bishops mean what they say in paragraph 23 (a), that they want to establish
“across the Church of England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people, for those who experience same sex attraction, and for their families, and continuing to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the Church.”
They are never going to achieve” a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” until they confront the dogmatic requirements of the conservative evangelical lobby and rid themselves of the abusive ideas they want to impose on the church. This includes recognising that our identity is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and NOT EVER as “those who experience same sex attraction”.
The conservative evangelical defence of their abusive teaching is that it’s not their fault, they are simply following God’s rules as written in the Bible, and they are not responsible for such people as John Smyth, he’s not “one of us”, he’s a “one-off.” But there are now numerous testimonies to prove that he is not a one off, but an extreme version of abusive behaviours which are the result of belief in a punitive, abusive god.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, is their man. And they have him by the short and curlies at the moment. He’s the top man, he is responsible for setting up the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality and for the contents of the report they have produced. He is responsible for its failure to confront conservative forces in the House of Bishops. He is responsible for the intense anger that has erupted, not only among LGBTI Anglicans but in those for whom we are family – and ultimately, that means everyone.
Conservative evangelicals have, with the Archbishop’s help, achieved power in the Church of England through appointments to the office of bishop and an enculturation of HTB style teaching and practice. One result is this report.
There are other places to locate blame. The failure of those bishops who in the past have given strong support to LGBTI people, Graham James, David Walker, Nicholas Holtam and Paul Bayes, who have either made inadequate statements or were directly involved in writing the report; the spineless support given to the bishops by Malcolm Brown in the Church Times; the general failure of courage in the Church of England when under pressure from GAFCON Provinces; and the shocking scandal of their inability to hear and see and follow the God of Love incarnated in Jesus Christ.
I am being asked what happens next – something I am curious about for myself. What hope is there for a better place in the Church of England for LGBTI people. I’m not sure that the bishops of Justin Welby’s church are capable of undertaking the task. It should certainly never be left to them alone – but we have been saying that for many years, and the new report continues to reject our involvement.
- It means recognising that relational, loving, sexually and physically intimate LGBTI people are already fully a part of God’s people, the church. This is true for God even if it’s not true for conservative evangelicals
- It means seeing Jesus and God and the Spirit in a different way. It really is that degree of back to basic for the House and College of Bishops
- It means examining and overcoming assumptions and prejudices
- It means rejecting pressure from Provinces riddled with homophobic prejudice against LGBTI people
- It means a resolution next Wednesday to do something totally different in the future
But like Lear, rejected by his favoured, obsequious daughters, now reduced to begging for mercy from his two "unnatural hags", I hope and pray the bishops and synod "will do such things", but
“What they are, yet I know not, they shall be
the terrors of the earth. You think I’ll weep;
No, I’ll not weep:
I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
Shall break into a thousand flaws,
Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!