Homosexual activists in the Anglican Communion have enjoyed a string of strategic victories in recent months, giving evangelical Anglicans much to pray about:

  1. The Church of England almost installed Jeffrey John, a priest who has been in a homosexual relationship for 27 years, as a bishop. John says his relationship became celibate when the church issued a report that affirms historic Christian teaching on sexual morality. On July 5 the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff met for six hours with John, who then declined the appointment. British newspapers depicted John's resignation as a bowing to financial pressures rather than a principled decision.

  2. Despite warnings from around the world about the schismatic nature of doing so, the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, British Colombia, has blessed two cohabiting men, and plans to offer more such blessings.

  3. The Episcopal Church's Diocese of New Hampshire has elected as its bishop V. Gene Robinson, who divorced his wife when he believed God was calling him to "acknowledge [himself] as a gay man." Robinson has lived with his male partner for 13 years, and they are not celibate.

These three developments may seem distant, as significant to evangelical life as the daily weather forecast for Greenland. On the contrary, they are harbingers of a moral and theological conflict that will not go away. Evangelicals in mainline churches have confronted these issues for decades and we expect all evangelical churches will struggle with them in the next few decades.

If this summer's developments indicate anything about those who favor a more liberal teaching on sex, it is this: they never surrender. Indeed, many of these activists openly work toward the church's pronouncing its blessing on any sexual intercourse that occurs within a vaguely defined committed relationship of any two people.

Despite their frequent depiction of the church as a heartless oppressor, liberationists are in fact the aggressors in this conflict. More often than not, they describe those who defend the church's historic teaching as driven by fear, hatred, "biblicism," or fundamentalism. For most evangelicals, it's clear that Christians must submit their lives to God's authority, especially in areas Scripture addresses directly. To these activists, that notion is baffling and inconceivable.

Essentially every mainline Protestant denomination is engaged in this debate, and the differences are merely a question of intensity. Even the Southern Baptist Convention, which has turned back liberal tides on so many other issues, must occasionally deal with a congregation that hires a homosexual pastor or staff member.

Article continues below

Churches such as the SBC have so far kept the debate from dominating their annual conventions, apart from the clockwork protests by Mel White's Soulforce movement. But Soulforce's message to evangelicals is clear: You are next. What may now seem like the plot of a farcical British novel, with stuffy Anglican clerics debating sex over tea and crumpets, is becoming an inescapable conflict for every church that dares to teach Scripture's clear message on sex.

The next time you talk with a fellow evangelical who is a weary but faithful member of a mainline Protestant denomination, ask a few questions about what countercultural obedience looks like, and what it may cost. You'll probably hear some helpful guidance for the future.

A Christianity Today editorial

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today articles referenced above include:

Turning the Mainline Around | New sociological studies show that evangelicals may well succeed at renewing wayward Protestantism. (July 25, 2003)
Anglican Communion Frays | Bishops worldwide chastise Canadian bishop who approved gay unions. (July 9, 2003)

The official site of Soulforce gives more information on the group and its aims.

More articles on church and denominational battles are available in CT's Sexuality and Gender and Church Life archives.

Previous Christianity Today articles on the New Westminster debate include:

Anglican Communion Frays | Bishops worldwide chastise Canadian bishop who approved gay unions. (July 9, 2003)
Why I Walked | Sometimes loving a denomination requires you to fight. (Jan. 3, 2003)
Mortified in Vancouver | A church's actions can be in conflict with its professed faith only so long before faithful Christians wonder how much hypocrisy they can stand. (July 30, 2002)
Anglican Diocese Endorses Same-Sex Unions | Traditionalists walk out, issue global call for outside intervention. (July 12, 2002)
Vancouver Anglicans Approve Same-Sex Unions | Conservatives walk out after synod vote to bless gay couples. (June 17, 2002)

CT articles on Jeffrey John and the Church of England include:

The African Lion Roars in the Western Church | Anglican liberals are fretting, conservatives rejoicing, and all are scrambling to their history books: whence this new evangelical force on the world scene? (July 7, 2003)
Weblog: Homosexual Anglican Priest Withdraws from Bishop Posting (July 7, 2003)

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.