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Robert Gagnon responds to Church of England's guidance on bullying

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Robert Gagnon, former Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writes about Archbishop Justin Welby and the Church of England's new advice on handling 'homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying'. Article reproduced by permission.

Justin Welby for some time now has shown himself to be unfit to head up the Church of England. The purpose of the office of bishop (episcopos, overseer) in the church is first and foremost to secure faithful adherence to the doctrines, including ethical stances, of the core teachings of Jesus and the apostolic witness to him in the New Testament. As regards matters of sexual ethics the current Archbishop of Canterbury has failed. Indeed, he has been slowly working in the opposite direction from that which his position demands. This latest appalling "guidance" to 4700 CofE schools regarding how to handle transgenderism provides further evidence for his unfitness.

To claim that providing space for children to be socialized into a "transgender" or homosexual life is consistent with the teaching of Jesus and the apostolic witness to Christ (especially Paul) is heresy, pure and simple. It is not for nothing that Genesis 1:27 (to which Jesus appealed as the central text for sexual purity, along with Gen 2:24) correlates being made in God's image closely with being made "male and female," an expression that everywhere else in the Hebrew Bible (all in Gen 1-9) denotes a complementary sexual pair.

This was ancient Israel's way of saying, via divine inspiration, that God's creation of "male and female" impinges on the affirmation of humans being created in God's image. To act immorally, especially to offend against one's God-given identity of "male" and "female" through gender-negating acts, is to commit sacrilege that effaces rather than enhances one's divine image-bearing.

Consequently it is absurd to appeal to the fact that all humans are made in God's image as a justification for providing "safe spaces" for affirming homosexual practice or transgenderism. Sadly, this is precisely what Welby does when he states in support of this new "(anti-)guidance":

"Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God. This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion."

On the contrary, a faithful appeal to our image-bearing is a call against any compromise to the inherently self-dishonoring actions associated intrinsically with homosexual and transgender activity. God loves people unconditionally not as an encouragement to celebrate sexual immorality but as a stimulus and empowerment away from such practices.

Moreover, while God's love is unconditional, salvation by grace is not: It requires faith in Christ's atoning work and resurrection, which, while not meritorious, in turn leads invariably to a transformed life away from sin's lordship. Otherwise the faith in question is not true faith but rather mere intellectual assent to the truth. This is why Paul warns self-professed believers of destruction if they should persist unrepentantly in gross sexual sin (1 Thess 4:1-9), including homosexual practice and transgenderism (1 Cor 6:9-10).

As a result, those who violate these commands with impunity are indeed excluded (as a remedial, not punitive measure) from the fellowship of the church (1 Cor 5). The point of such discipline is to bring about repentance, without which the individual will be excluded from God's kingdom. To turn this around to mean that allowance (and, by action, implicit promotion) of transgenderism is consistent with "the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion" is to make a breathtaking nullification of the NT witness.

That the Archbishop of Canterbury does not know this, much less comply with it, is all the proof any faithful Anglican needs that, however nice Welby may be or faithful in other respects, he has violated the obligations of his office and should no longer be accorded the authority normally associated with it.

Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern is quite right when she states:
"These rules are unkind, unloving and lacking in compassion. We are all against bullying, but the Church is using these guidelines to pursue an agenda that runs counter to the Church’s teaching.... We are getting to the point where if you are not careful the slightest slip from the correct agenda in a Church of England school will get you punished. The anti-bullying agenda is aimed against people who step out of line – the anti-bullies are becoming the bullies."


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