Concern for ”˜right doctrine’ is not even present in the majority of evangelicals, argues Dr Anna Strhan; experience of God, being in community and speaking the language of hope are more important among charismatic Anglicans, according to her research.
Its easy to see where this is leading. The Pilling Report and the Bishops’ response is largely based on the reasoning we find here. The sociologists writing in the Church Times are describing reality, the “revolution” of which Archbishop Justin spoke last year. The old “Christendom” is gone, but what has replaced it is not a secular state with inevitable church decline but a new opportunity for preaching the Gospel in a new context. And the Gospel is: you can have your cake and eat it! You can have a relationship with God, be part of a warm welcoming community, but be relaxed about theological doctrine and sexual ethics. Those with a more conservative or puritanical streak can still have their congregations, and we do not need to immediately change liturgies or have damaging debates in Synod about official documents. Rather, Bishops and congregations can show by their words and actions that the church is listening and changing, including and affirming, “de-toxifying the brand”. It is this which will arrest decline and promote growth, not anxiousness about the Pilling Report.
There is a variation on this theme which is more acceptable to some conservative Anglicans. That is to say that we should teach heterosexual monogamous marriage and celibate singleness within the church to those who have accepted Christ, but we should not pronounce on sexual morality outside in the public square as if to fight a rearguard action in a culture war which as already been lost. It is too toxic, and Christians who do this are harming the mission of the church.
How to respond to such compelling arguments? Why does it matter that the Church holds on to traditional sexual morality? What has sex got to do with the Gospel, and how can the Church engage with a culture that considers this aspect of its teaching ridiculous and even harmful?
The answer is in the way we interpret the Bible, in how we understand God and the spiritual realm, and in whether we trust him and his word even if it seems foolish and offensive. When a main feature of prevailing humanistic philosophy is to deny God’s clear plan on gender, sexuality and marriage, a main feature of countercultural Gospel preaching and disciple making must be to talk plainly about sex. The idea taking root among some evangelicals that we can promote the biblical Gospel more effectively by not talking about sex and silencing conservatives who do, comes from a love of popularity and fear of offending, and becomes a capitulation to a false and deceptive philosophy.