An open letter to Bishop Jonathan Baker from a concerned Anglo-Catholic priest.
20 October 2014
Dear Bishop Jonathan,
The Roman Catholic Church has, at its recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, shown its determination to uphold its traditional understanding of the sanctity of marriage. In the light of recent events it is far from clear where the leadership of Forward in Faith stands on this key matter of Christian faith and practice.
With the proposals for provision for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops, Anglican Catholics have, it seems, a chance to remain in the Church of England with integrity. But Catholic integrity is not separable from Catholic moral teaching and discipline, and the question of the viability of a continued Catholic presence within the Church of England affiliated to Forward in Faith and the College of Bishops of The Society under the patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda is now very acute.
I am deeply disappointed that, as Acting Editor of Forward in Faith’s journal New Directions, you have not allowed me to respond, in time for next month’s National Assembly, to Canon Nicholas Turner’s criticisms of my article ”˜Stewards of Mysteries’ in his ”˜Pro-gay and Pro-matrimony’ (New Directions June). This was subtitled ”˜Nicholas Turner was disturbed by Stephen Keeble’s article and continues to support the Bishops of The Society’. A right of reply is a recognised courtesy. As you know, the text of a response to Nicholas Turner had, after some discussion, been agreed for the July issue between myself and the then Editor Fr Philip Corbett. I was both surprised and puzzled when, without explanation, this did not appear.
Moreover, in July, when the General Synod was passing the legislation introducing women bishops, photographs of Forward in Faith’s Vice-Chairman Dr Lindsay Newcombe at this year’s LGBT ”˜Pride’ festival in London, sporting a ”˜Pride’ sticker, were circulating on the internet with predictably adverse reactions from orthodox Anglicans around the world. This, together with Nicholas Turner’s apparent free rein in New Directions and your unexplained endorsement of the Pilling Report ”“ albeit not in your capacity as Chairman of Forward in Faith ”“ appears to have given rise to the opening words of Forward in Faith, North America’s statement of 18 July: ”˜In the light of recent events in the Church of England and reports regarding Forward in Faith (UK) ”¦’.
Forward in Faith, North America, however, maintains an intelligible, biblical and Catholic position:
Under the authority of holy scripture and tradition of the church, we affirm that sexual activity can only properly take place within the context of holy matrimony between a man and woman. We affirm that any other type of sexual relationship is sinful regardless of context or degree of fidelity, and that the church cannot bless any type of sexual relationship outside of holy matrimony between a man and woman.
I have twice asked you to publish unabridged in New Directions the important statement from Forward in Faith, North America. It comes from faithful Anglo-Catholics who have been willing to suffer for their faith ”“ to the extent of exclusion from their former churches in the United States and Canada. My requests to make the statement available to New Directions readers have been ignored even though the stance of our sister organisation is fully in accord with the Agreed Statement on Communion of 1994, which has a key constitutional role in defining the Objects of Forward in Faith (UK).
The Preamble of the Agreed Statement on Communion says:
We want a Catholic understanding of faith and morals, and the practice of Catholic sacramental discipline to flourish in our Church, for we are convinced that they are essential features in the presentation of the gospel to our nation. Remove these elements and our Church’s witness will be greatly impoverished and weakened.
These elements, following the eclipse of classical Anglican theology which sustained them, are disappearing in the Church of England. But it is the duty of orthodox Anglo-Catholics, and a constitutional duty of the leadership of Forward in Faith, to maintain their combined sanctifying grace. Without both, the substantive legacy of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England will be gone. Would readers of New Directions be allowed to notice?