Two hundred clergy and lay members of Reform, the evangelical pressure group, met in the week beginning 11 October at a conference centre in Derbyshire. They overwhelmingly supported plans to start disengaging from liberal bishops and refusing to pay funds to their dioceses, to indicate their disapproval of what they see as the church’s slide into acceptance of sexual immorality.
Reform is developing links with the Anglican church in the developing world in readiness for the outcome of the report of the commission headed by Archbishop Robin Eames, set up a year ago in response to the decision by the US Episcopal church to ordain its first partnered, openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, to lead the diocese of New Hampshire. Evangelicals want the commission to discipline the Episcopal church, or at least those of its bishops who supported Bishop Robinson’s appointment, until they repent, though there is at present no mechanism for the Anglican Communion to do so. They warned that they might seek the ecclesiastical oversight of more theologically congenial bishops from the developing world if the church did not offer them the chance to align with bishops of their own stamp in England.
In England the first targets of conservative evangelicals are likely to include the eight diocesan bishops who publicly supported the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as suffragan bishop of Reading in 2003. Reform members are already beginning to demand answers from their diocesan bishops about where they stand on the gay issue before deciding whether to continue to support them.
Some at the conference believed that shunning bishops was not going far enough. Ian Seymour, a churchwarden in Arborfield, Berkshire, said: “The Church of England is over, its days are numbered. “If our rector was an adulterer, a drunk or a liar, he would be removed, but if he was in a same sex relationship he would be cherished. “The institution is sinking – new groupings will emerge.”
Philip Jensen denounces Dr Williams as a theological prostitute
The Very Rev Phillip Jensen, the Anglican dean of Sydney and brother of Peter, Archbishop of Sydney , addressed the conference. The two brothers have led the way in aggressive low church conservatism in Sydney Diocese. Jensen denounced Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as a theological prostitute. He condemned Dr Williams for holding liberal private views about homosexual relationships, even though he has struggled to uphold the church’s unity by maintaining its traditional opposition to ordaining gay priests. “That’s no good. That’s total prostitution of the Christian ministry,” the dean declared, to applause and cries of “Amen”. “He should resign. That’s theological and intellectual prostitution. He is taking his salary under false pretences.”
He was applauded again as he launched a sweeping denunciation of the Church of England which took in the Prince of Wales – a “public adulterer”; King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, attacked as a “temple to paganism” for selling the records and compact discs of its famous choir in the ante-chapel; and women priests because, “as soon as you accept women’s ordination everything else in the denomination declines”.