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By Julian Mann
June 16, 2018

As GAFCON gathers in Jerusalem, a sermon on June 7th preached at a church in Clapham in south-west London would probably not be deemed worthy of an agenda item or even of much passing discussion. But actually it is highly significant in the battle for biblical orthodoxy in the Church of England.

For the sermon by the Revd Dr Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields on London's Trafalgar Square, entitled 'Not until you give me your blessing', aptly illustrates why the LGBTQI++ movement is so close to capturing the Church of England as well as the English alphabet.

Dr Wells was preaching at 'the Service of Hope for LGBTI equality in the Church of England' at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Clapham. He began with a bit of learned myth-busting about St Francis of Assisi's Prayer of Peace. It was in fact written by a Frenchman in 1912, the relevance of which, according to Dr Wells, is that 'like the Prayer of St Francis, the connection between the blessing of same-sex unions and the controversy that surrounds them sometimes gets lost in sweeping assumptions and half-remembered history'.

He then posed a series of questions about the contemporary state of marriage in UK society:

'Just to offer some examples: is marriage always, in every case, monogamous? Only in theory. Statistics suggest that 45% of married women and 55% of married men cheat on their spouses. Is marriage always lifelong? Clearly not, since around 40% of UK marriages end in divorce. Do marriages invariably bring forth children? Evidently not, whether by accident or design. Is church or society clear about what the relative roles of married couples should be, in relation to income, career development, housekeeping, and child-rearing, or are we all in fact completely at sea about such things, or perhaps instead swimming in a sea of hypocrisy? What is the place of erotic desire within marriage? Is it central, dangerous and safely contained, only there at the start, crucial and to be carefully maintained, or best not discussed? Is marriage akin to friendship, or completely different?'

After a discourse about the meaning of blessing in the Old Testament - his text had been Genesis 32v22-32 - his conclusion exuded purported Anglican reasonableness and moderation:

'Let's not fear same-sex couples will destroy heterosexual marriage; conventional marriage is fast becoming unconventional without any assistance from elsewhere. Let's not be put off by the weakness and folly to which we're all prone: people seek a blessing for many ambivalent reasons. Let's not be waylaid by inadequate views of blessing -- it's not necessarily a casual, worldly, or instrumental thing. Let's see the call for same-sex blessings as an opportunity to renew our understanding of what blessing really involves: a request to discover what love is, what healing encompasses, and what it means to be an instrument of God's peace.'

In the light of this sermon, GAFCON delegates might like to reflect that it is unlikely to be the strident LGBT voices that like that of Jayne Ozanne that capture the CofE. Those voices are surely more likely to make the CofE hierarchy want to keep sexuality off the agenda for as long as possible.

Surely more likely to carry the day are the urbane, erudite-sounding voices of apparent Anglican moderation like that of Dr Wells?

Hence the vital importance of biblically faithful preaching to counter the plausible-sounding 'via media' spin and to keep the authority of the infallible Word of Christ at the heart of contemporary Anglican teaching on marriage:

'But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder' (Mark 10-6-9 - King James Version).

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK - http://www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk/our_prayers.html

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