Full text of the Bishop of Stafford’s Pastoral Letter for February

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The media have reported what they think is depressing news for Anglicans in England. First came the announcement that Tony Blair has been received into the Roman Catholic Church. Then statistics showed that in 2006 the numbers of people in England attending Roman Catholic worship had exceeded those attending Anglican worship for the first time since the Reformation. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear remarks in the media about how mainstream churches in the UK have “lost it”, or are in “terminal decline.”

Now in part we only have ourselves to blame. We English Anglicans are extraordinarily good at talking down our church. It’s frightening to ask yourself: how often have I been in a conversation with non-churchgoers during which I’ve criticized “the Diocese” or “the Evangelicals” or “the Prayer Book groupies” - or simply failed to use the opportunity to say what I really value about my church and my faith? And we are incomprehensibly obsessed with sex - or at least that’s the impression we often give. Perhaps we’ve never really got over the fact that one of our founders (Henry VIII) had serious marital problems.

But all this is light years away from the real purpose and vision of our church, which is to proclaim and celebrate what God has done and is doing for us in Jesus Christ, who died for us and now lives and reigns as lord and king. There’s a crucial moment in Matthew’s Gospel when Peter (rather reluctantly) gets out of the boat and walks towards Jesus on the water. At first he stays upright; “but when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened” and begins to sink. And Jesus both rescues and rebukes him, saying “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31). Notice two things: first, Peter is able to walk on water for as long as he focuses single-mindedly on Jesus. The moment he gets worried about the wind (or gay bishops, or the parish share), he starts to sink. Secondly, the word translated “doubt” really means “look in two different directions at once.”

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE Bishops

19 Comments
Posted January 28, 2008 at 4:27 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Pageantmaster [Katie bought Welby] wrote:

Amen +Stafford - but always Christ at the centre

January 28, 8:06 pm | [comment link]
2. SaintCyprian wrote:

“Notice two things: first, Peter is able to walk on water for as long as he focuses single-mindedly on Jesus. The moment he gets worried about the wind (or gay bishops, or the parish share), he starts to sink.”

The Bishop of Stafford seems very happy that we focus single-mindedly on Jesus insofar that the Jesus in question is unrecognisable from the one who we encounter in the scriptures or the fathers. The suggestion is that we focus on the person of Jesus, but not on his words or what he teaches. Of course, words and teachings are ultimately components of what comprise of a person, and to remove these from Christ is to compromise his soul and mind.

“And we are incomprehensibly obsessed with sex - or at least that’s the impression we often give.”

If the church is to focus single-mindedly on Christ, it stands that the fruit of this focus will be the maintenance of the orthodox and catholic faith that he provides. Defense of this faith is therefore a paramount responsibility of the church. The theory that we live within a community that is “obsessed with sex” is blatantly just empty rhetoric. In reality we live within a community that is, with Christ’s help, obsessed with orthodoxy.

January 28, 8:39 pm | [comment link]
3. Betty See wrote:

how often have I been in a conversation with non-churchgoers during which I’ve criticized “the Diocese” or “the Evangelicals” or “the Prayer Book groupies” - or simply failed to use the opportunity to say what I really value about my church and my faith?

Another reason to refrain from these characterizations of other Christians is that It is misleading to evangelize non-churchgoers by criticizing “the Diocese” or “the Evangelicals” or “Prayer Book Groupies”. It also belittles those churchgoers who have a gift for evangelizing or an understanding of Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer.

First Corinthians 12: 1-6
1. Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
2. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.
3. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
6. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

January 29, 12:23 am | [comment link]
4. Bob G+ wrote:

For those who have ears to hear.  The problem we have, too many of us have, is that we would rather not hear because we like our fights and our self-justifications and our pride and all the like.

The bishop is right, those parishes that focus on Jesus, even if there are differences between congregations in how we live out the faith concerning certain theological and social issues, will tend to grow.  Believe it or not, there are liberal churches that are thriving.  But, whether liberal or conservative, if the focus is on Jesus, the parishes tend to grow.  It is He that causes the increase.

January 29, 7:43 am | [comment link]
5. Hakkatan wrote:

The Bp of Stafford says,

“Now this is not to say that gay bishops or the parish share don’t matter. It is to say that they only matter in the context of what we believe about Jesus Christ. If as a church our overriding priority, in worship and PCC meetings and wherever Anglicans come together, is who Jesus is and what Jesus is asking of us today, we will find these secondary issues look after themselves - because what unites us will then be far greater than what divides us.”

This statement is true enough as it stands—but what happens in actual practice is that those who seek to advance the acceptance of homosexual relationship as the moral equivalent of marriage will slowly and bit by bit slide their hidden but real goal into place.  They will keep on saying, “What unites us is far greater than what divides us,” even though the Jesus they actually worship is the Jesus of their imaginations and not the Jesus of the Bible.

January 29, 8:05 am | [comment link]
6. Bob G+ wrote:

Hakkatan - What is their real goal? Now really. 

You paint a picture of homosexuals (or at least those who support the acceptence of homosexuals within the structures of the Church as) having a hidden agenda and believing in a false Jesus - at least that is what I read in your comment.  Correct me if I’m wrong. 

One of the intents of the bishop’s letter, I think, is to get us beyond these imaginative conspiracy theories and the bearing of false witness against groups to conveniently support what we already want to believe about them, but to get our focus back on Jesus.

I don’t find your accusation to be true either anecdotally or statistically.  Just like some straight people, there are some gay people who have theological ideas or beliefs that are heterodox or outright heretical.  At any particular time in our faith-lives, every one of us have had an opinion about God, Jesus, Scripture, the faith that was(is) heterodox.  Just like most straight people, most Christians who are gay believe in the Jesus of Scripture as delineated in the Creeds.

January 29, 10:02 am | [comment link]
7. Larry Morse wrote:

But we are obsessed by sex.  And why should we not be? Where in the US is it not sold as a commodity, sold as a sine qua non for                             a civilized, sophisticated, “whole” life? What HASN’T been sexualized? Indeed, whether one favors sexual expression without inhibition has become the criterion that separates the modern from the antique, parochial and fundamentalist.

    The bishop’s casual dismissal of the issue is really nothing more than one more attempt to deflect (and limit) the damage the homophile agenda has done to the church. It ‘s skillful enough, t o be sure. By making a simple distinction, he suggests that the verso is that if one pays attention to TEC’s rewriting of scripture,one is by definition not paying attention to Jesus. We have seen this often enough, so we should give it a label, “the bishop’s gambit.” It belongs in the same class as asking someone if he has stopped beating his wife.
  And so, Bob G, does TEC and the homosexual component have a hidden agenda? No, not hidden, plain as can be. Susan R made it clear that her church is going to go right on marrying homosexuals regardless of what the parent church says or does. Nothing hidden about that. Is it an agenda?  Is the Pope Catholic? Is this an “imaginative conspiracy”? I’m not sure that Susan R is proposing a conspiracy, but it certainly isn’t a product of my imagination. Is t he harrying of dissenting churches a conspiracy?  What ever it is, it isn’t a product of anyone’s imagination. Hakkatan is arguing the “nose of the camel…” Are you arguing that this is not so, t he TEC is not subverting both the Anglican Church and scripture. If you are, I submit someone needs to draw a camel for you. (Elves, here’s a thought. You have Smileys. Why not Camel Noses?  Larry

January 29, 5:57 pm | [comment link]
8. Bob G+ wrote:

It’s a sad day when in the name of orthodoxy or purity or even Christ, bearing false witness becomes alright as long as the end goal is achieved.  While I do not agree with liberal theology or anthropology, I have been so repulsed by the actions and the lies and the stereotyping of too many of the so-called “conservatives” that I certainly cannot align with too many of you all.  I may be conservatively-moderate theologically and socially, but the worst of American cultural - the lust for power/control, the inability to practice humility, the determination to demonize the opposition - has so infected the extremes on both sides of the hot-button issues (“conservatives” and “liberals”) that the whole endeavor has become very contrary to the cause of Christ.  We refuse to obey Christ’s two great commandments.  A corrupt soul in the quest for doctrinal “purity” or identity-politics is no good end.

The bishop calls us back to sanity and humility and right focus.  Some will hear and respond.  Some will simply continue to castigate and bely and bear false witness against those with whom they disagree theologically and socially.  Shame on us all.

January 29, 7:53 pm | [comment link]
9. Betty See wrote:

Hakkatan #5,  I agree that we do need to open our eyes to what actually happens in practice. Mr. Louis Crew, a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church explains this process on his blog:

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/crew.html

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/rel.html

http://www.standfirminfaith.com/mt/archives/000447.html

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=32497

January 30, 1:15 am | [comment link]
10. rob k wrote:

Thanks, Bob G. - I’ve been wanting to say the same thing.  You said it well.

January 30, 6:36 am | [comment link]
11. Bob G+ wrote:

Betty See - I’m not sure of your point concerning your links.
- The first is Louis Crew’s Vita??
- The Second is the splash-page for his website (perhaps because he is upfront about his desire to inclusion of gay people in the Church or that he has reconciled his orientation and faith??)
- The Standfirm article??  (perhaps because of the comment that include Crew’s statement about traveling to hear Orombi preach??)
- I really don’t understand your point at all concerning the Church Times link??

I’ve heard Crew speak several time and had a seminary roommate who conducted his field placement in Louis Crew’s home church in Newark, NJ.  Perhaps because of his Southern Baptist upbringing, but he is frankly more moderate theologically.  If the very fact that someone advocates for homosexual people’s participation in the Church or for a re-examination of our interpretation of Scriptures concerning the actual meaning of the few verses that may apply to the current homosexual issue, if simply doing such things (or being homosexual) means to you that the “camel’s nose is in the tent,” as Larry might write, then perhaps I may understand why you included the links.  I could be completely misunderstanding your reason for the links.  Let me know.

January 30, 6:48 am | [comment link]
12. Larry Morse wrote:

When we bear witness against those who rewrite scripture to serve their own ends, is that false witness? The excesses you complain of are real enough, but the essence, from which the excesses arise, remains sound and correct. Scripture’s remarks concerning homosexual relationships are quite clear - so clear they are not subject to interpretation save by torturing the text (a common enough practice among those who wish to rewrite scripture or justify their own non-scriptural beliefs). And what do you think here, that such texts DO need reinterpretation, or that scripture in NOT clear in the matter of homosexual relations? Larry

January 30, 10:02 am | [comment link]
13. Bob G+ wrote:

Larry -  (this is another long one, but regrettably for you all I process “out loud.”)

We aren’t capable of knowing fully until we see Him face-to-face!  Doesn’t that necessitate humility and admitting that we could be wrong?  Iron can’t sharpen iron unless we engage and stick with each other, right?

There are plenty of examples of when our human understanding of certain portions of Scripture (or even a primary thrust of Scripture concerning certain issues) has changed throughout the history of the Church - throughout the Churches of East and West, of Catholic and Protestant, and even within Protestant theological systems.  These portions of Scripture are not clear, and that is why we are all suffering through this stuff at this time. 

It isn’t the “rewriting” of Scripture; it is a “re-examination” of our UNDERSTANDING of Scripture to perhaps discover a more correct understanding of what God is actually saying to us through His unchanging, written Word.

If we are not willing to admit that we (as individuals, groups, or even theological thrusts of understanding through the tradition) could be wrong at any point, then we are not honestly wanting God’s Truth, but only confirmation of what we already want to believe for perhaps the conservation of what has always been - whether right or not.  By FAITH, we proclaim the Creeds to be true, as we understand Scripture to contain all things necessary for salvation, but it is not by FACT.  We see in part, we know in part, and Scripture itself tells us that there will be more revealed to us by the Holy Spirit because people then and now are not ready to receive or understand fully.  Is this the case concerning homosexuality in our time?

The tricky part is the right discernment of whether what may be changing in our understanding of Scripture is truly of the Holy Spirit or not.  We aren’t there yet concerning the issues of homosexuality and the very few portions of the Scriptures that have traditionally been used to condemn all forms of homosexuality - Sodom & Gomorrah (what really is the sin of Sodom - Ezekiel 16:49), the force of the Levitical Code upon Christians (Paul’s response in Galatians), Romans 1 (what is Paul’s purpose in relationship to chapter 2, the logical sequence detailed in chpt.1 and idolatry, what is truly meant my “nature” and what really does go on within the earthly natural realm), what do certain Greeks words in a couple of Paul’s letter really mean?  Not only that, but the attempt to apply overarching themes like creation of man and woman, marriage, child bearing, etc., within the debate.  These questions are in play right now, and some want to forbid the questions and the debate by declaring that no change is allowed and would be a rejection of God’s truth.

There are plenty of people - scholars and non-scholars alike within all the variations of Christianity - that come down on a variety of different sides of the whole debate over homosexuality.  Groups side with various scholars or theories or ideologies and declare that theirs’ is absolutely God’s unchanging will, when in reality it may or may not be.  Is the Holy Spirit bringing us into a fuller understanding of the few portions of Scripture that seem to deal with this issue? 

The jury is still out - except for those who have already concluded the debate is over or that we are not even allowed to question the traditional understanding or politically-correct ideals.

January 30, 12:57 pm | [comment link]
14. Betty See wrote:

I was responding to the post of Hakkatan #5, you will have to read his post to understand my post #9.
In today’s world, the word “inclusion” is often used to indicate “control”. It seems to me that the Orthodox, the “Prayer Book Groupies” and Evanglicals have not advocated for their own “inclusion”, (we did not think it was necessary) and we should be mindful that others have a strong lobbying effort in this regard.
I am not suggesting that the Orthodox use the tactics of those who oppose them but we should be aware that these political actions do affect the church.

January 30, 1:22 pm | [comment link]
15. Bob G+ wrote:

Very good point, Betty See.  Thanks.

January 30, 2:20 pm | [comment link]
16. Betty See wrote:

Bob G+, 
Thank you for understanding my post.
In reply your post #13 - I am sorry to say that I do not believe that the meaning of what we read in Scripture is as obscure as you suggest and the longer this debate about Scripture continues the sadder are the consequences for those, of this generation, who are lead astray or proselytized into dangerous, unhealthy, lifestyles.

January 30, 9:33 pm | [comment link]
17. Bob G+ wrote:

Betty See - and we disagree.  It seems you assume that a same-sex relationship is by definition unhealthy. 

If I base my judgment of the health and dangerousness of heterosexuality by the college students I’ve worked with for the last 20 years or by the two straight students that awakened me at 3:30 AM having sex in his jeep outside my apartment window or by watching “Girls Gone Wild” videos or on statistics of spousal abuse and divorce or by observing all the drunk “players” that roam around at 4:00 AM after partying all night, well then I will have a very biased, tainted, and plainly wrong view of the heterosexual “lifestyle.”  Too many people who hate the idea of same-sex relationships that might be healthy and whole base their opinions or “facts” on the gay equivalent of all the above, rather than on the very average lives of most gay people.  This is why the anti-gay crusade that is going on in American right now will not succeed - because the assumptions that underpin their opinions, conclusions, and actions are not valid.

Part of what I get out of the bishop’s letter is a call to sanity over all this stuff.  We have gone too far and lost our way - both those who are single-minded advocates of full inclusion of gay people and those single-minded rejectors of full inclusion.  The rest of the world looks on and believes we are hypocrites and that we’ve become irrelevant to the real lives of real people.  They are right; we have.

January 31, 6:22 am | [comment link]
18. Betty See wrote:

I am sorry that we disagree but I do think same-sex and bisexual practices are unhealthy emotionally and physically (because of AIDs and other sexually acquired diseases) and that that is why Scripture warns us against these practices.  I don’t “hate the idea”, hate has nothing to do with it, I am concerned, I wish there was a place in the Episcopal Church for people who are disillusioned with the Gay and Bisexual life could go for counseling and help when they realize this is not the life they want to live, because I believe that in spite of the bravado many show, at Gay Pride parades and etc., many may be trapped in the Gay life because they do not have the courage to face the derision of their friends if they leave that lifestyle. 
I acknowledge that some heterosexual lifestyles are unhealthy and dangerous also, Scripture also warns us against these practices and I do not think Scripture should be revised to accommodate these sins either.

January 31, 11:56 am | [comment link]
19. Bob G+ wrote:

Betty See - I really don’t doubt that you are concerned.  Your concern is justified and good, but your focus and your conclusions about most homosexual people are off.

As I’m sure you know, HIV infection and AIDS, for example, are primarily a heterosexual issue - far more heterosexuals are HIV positive than homosexuals (with the caveat, of course, that “per capita” in the U.S. there are more gay _men_ infected than straight men, but this is not the case in most of the world).  Of course, lesbians don’t really have to worry about such things, generally, while straight women do.

So, if I take my last post and if I were to use your criteria of concern as to judge the healthiness or dangerousness of heterosexuality by the fact that most of the HIV infections are among heterosexuals, I might have to thusly conclude that heterosexuality is in fact unhealthy.  You can’t have a double standard when you claim that the reasons you are opposed to same-sex relationships are based on health issues!

Besides, you read into Scripture something that isn’t there by attempting to claim that health reasons are why Scripture supposedly condemns all forms of same-sex relationships.

Betty - there are so many gay people that have nothing to do with Gay Pride stuff, urban hedonistic gay subcultures, and the like.  Just like tons of heterosexuals don’t engage in the same kind of heterosexuals “lifestyles,” to use your term.  Until you understand that all homosexuals are not all just alike you will not understand why what the church generally says to gay people falls on deaf ears.  They know what is claimed about them by so many Christians just isn’t true in their own lives.

Yes, many gay people are trapped in unhealthy emotional and physical activities, just like heterosexuals.  Yes, they need help and they need Jesus, just like straight people do.  Unhealthy is unhealthy, no matter the orientation of the individual.  The fact that so many “conservative” Christians spend so much money, time, energy, and political capital focused on only one class of people and not all is very revealing of what their true motivations really are.

January 31, 1:12 pm | [comment link]
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