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28th November 2023

The following is a personal statement by the Revd Tom Parsons who is a member of the Rochester Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship. I am posting it on this site because I think it is an important theological response to the vote by General Synod a fortnight ago to give a green light to the blessing of same-sex couples in Church of England churches.

On Wednesday 15th November this year, the Church of England's General Synod voted to give the House of Bishops a green light to develop liturgy of blessing for sexually active same-sex couples.

The following day, Thursday, I prepared and delivered a seminar on the momentous Barmen Declaration. This defiant statement of faith takes its name from the German town in which it was formally accepted in May 1934. It states the convictions of those German Protestants who resisted the Nazi regime's agenda for the Churches. It's an utterly inspiring document, drafted principally by Karl Barth and supported strongly by Dieterich Bonhoeffer, then serving as a pastor in London. It asserts the rule of Jesus Christ over the Church and the prevailing culture, and it stands in stark opposition to those who welcomed National Socialist influence in the Churches.

By the Friday, my mind was full of both the General Synod and the Barmen Declaration. Today's situation is not comparable with the uniquely dire circumstances that engulfed the German Church in 1934. Yet as two divergent theological visions emerged from Synod, Barmen's sheer theological clarity got me wondering what a similar statement might say today. What would it affirm in response to the Synod debate, and what would it reject? To give my mind some rest, I eventually drafted a statement of my own theological convictions at this moment in the Church of England's life, written in the form of the Barmen Declaration.

Here's what I came up with. Barmen itself only has six sections. I couldn't be so succinct, hence my eight. I have written a preamble, followed by eight sets of Bible verses, affirmations and rejections, all underlined by a concluding statement.


In view of the vote of a majority of the members of all three house of the General Synod in favour of blessing same-sex sexual unions, thereby devastating the Church and breaking up the unity of the Church of England, I confess the following, which I understand to be catholic and apostolic truths:

John 1:14. Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus Christ, as he is attested in holy Scripture, is the one living word of God. The church in every age is summoned to trust and obey him as he addresses us in the Spirit-inspired words of these holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

I reject the false doctrine that the church can receive as a revelation of Jesus' mind insights derived from human opinions, lived experiences or historical processes, and all the more vigorously if such insights contradict his Spirit-inspired word.

Mark 10:6-8. Hebrews 5:14

Jesus taught, as the Canons of the Church of England affirm, 'that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or for worse, till death us do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.' (Canon B30)

I reject the false doctrine that the Church can hallow and bless any enactment of sexual instincts and affections that takes place outside the one context in which, according to the teaching of our Lord, God righty directs them and makes them holy.

Genesis 2:22-24. Matthew 19:4-5

Jesus grounded his teaching on marriage in the creation of humanity male and female, and he taught that the one flesh union is enjoined specifically for a husband and wife as a direct consequence of God's creative intent for the bodies of this gendered combination.

I reject the false doctrine that the combination of genders joined in sexual intimacy is beside the point, recognising in such teaching an underappreciation of the significance of the human body and thereby a diminishing of the full dignity of the human person.

1 Corinthians 15:45. Revelation 22:1-2

God redeems the creation from its fallen state and, through Christ and by the Spirit, leads it to a greater glory, which does not abolish and replace the structures of the original act of creation, but restores and perfects them.

I reject the false doctrine that, in redeeming humanity, God blesses human sexual interactions that are at odds with his initial creative pattern.

John 14:23-24. Romans 13:10-13

The teaching of Jesus and his apostles on marriage and sex is consonant with their teaching about love, justice, freedom and grace.

I reject the false doctrine that any Christian virtue can be detached from the whole ethical counsel of the New Testament and used to regulate, relativise and limit the application of any part of that body of teaching, as if some deeper essence of Christianity stands in tension with Christ's call to obey his commands.

Mark 1:15. Corinthians 6:9-11.

The blessing of eternal life is received by repentance and faith in Jesus, which entail, by their nature, obedience to his teaching and an ongoing determination to put sin to death by the Spirit's power.

I reject the false teaching that the blessings of eternal life are compatible with an unwillingness to accept the teaching of Jesus and his apostles on marriage and sex, because disobedience to Jesus' word is, by its nature, incompatible with repentance and faith.

1 Corinthians 3:11-13. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2

The Church's pastoral leaders are answerable to the Chief Shepherd, and their stewardship consists in proclaiming and defending the word he has entrusted to them. In this way Jesus' sheep will be well cared for until that Day when pastoral faithfulness is assessed against the yardstick of the entrusted word.

I reject the false doctrine that church leaders are stewards of the views and feelings of the flock, even of its majority, as if the demands of the sheep reveal the mind of the Chief Shepherd or represent their own true interests.

John 17:20-21. Ephesians 4:3

Jesus prayed for unity among all who believe in him through the apostles' teaching. He has established unity in the Spirit between them and charges them maintain this bond of peace as a matter of obedience to him, regardless of their denomination.

I reject the false doctrine that it is a Christian duty to maintain unity with those who compromise apostolic teaching on sex and marriage just because they belong to the same denomination, since this kind of unity exalts a human institution over Christ's word.

Concluding statement

The acknowledgment of these truths and the rejection of these errors will form, for me, an indispensable theological basis for navigating the complexity of this passage of the Church of England's history. I appeal to all concerned to return to unity in biblical, catholic and apostolic faith, to eternal hope and true love.

Verbum Dei manet in aeternum.
The Word of God remains forever.

Tom Parsons,
Vicar, Christ Church, Sidcup

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