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A Heartfelt Plea: An Open Letter to the Bishop of Oxford


Dear Bishop Stephen,


Thank you for having been so open about the position that you have come to and for being so open about the reasoning that brought you to this decision. It is clear from your essay that it was your pastoral concern that led you to question your previous position and to ultimately change your mind. I write to you in your role as a shepherd of the flock with care of the souls in Oxford out of concern both for you, and the followers of Christ in your Diocese and beyond who will be impacted by your position. God is love and cares deeply for every one of his children. As we read his word, and come to know the Word, we come to see how “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”[1].


It is with the nature of God in mind that we should read these words of the Lambeth Fathers “The Church is not over the holy scriptures, but under them, in the sense that the process of canonisation was not one whereby the Church conferred authority on the books, but one whereby the Church acknowledged them to possess authority. And why? The books were recognised as giving the witness of the apostles to the life, teaching, death and resurrection of the Lord, and the interpretation by the apostles of these events. To that apostolic authority the Church must ever bow”[2]. The Church receives the scriptures as being the authoritative interpretation of the “life, teaching, death and resurrection of the Lord” which tell the wonderful story of God’s love for us. The scriptures do not just tell us a story of what God has done, but also, of what God has taught us. As a bishop you have vowed to faithfully teach that which you have received from God through the witness of the apostles in scripture.


In your letter you raise various passages that you say may conflict with your conclusion and to your credit you not only say that they may be legitimately read as such but actually agree that one, Romans 1:26-27, does in fact conflict with your stated position. Your principle of development of doctrine i.e. that the “The Christian Church is entrusted with responsibility and flexibility in matters of ethics, consistent with the principles of love, to enable development and evolution in the light of changes in knowledge and culture in which the gospel is taking shape”[3] is used here to justify teaching and ordaining that which is “contrary to God’s word written”[4]. Stephen, God loves you and all his children, God has given you the scriptures to guide you, I beg you please to sit under them and not over them. The story of the two sons reveals to us where the dangers of self-righteousness can lead. It is not out of ‘rightness’ that the younger son is received but out of the love of the father, yet it is out of the sense of moral superiority that the elder son refuses the fathers love. Everyone who reads the story knows that the younger brother has behaved terribly and done things which have wounded the family, but, he is willing to accept the fathers free offer of love. I know full well that those who hold to the teaching passed down and received by the Church (the Tradition) have often got things wrong and in the way some have acted they’ve damaged the family. So I appeal to you, no one enters the party apart from by receiving the love of the father, receive his words as words of love to you and all his children.


Having read your letter I believe your faith has been shaken. I believe you don’t see the actions of those who claim to be faithful to the God of love as loving, and so you’ve rejected them and what they teach. I believe you have sat with people who love God but who have said to you I don’t believe a God who loves me would deny this opportunity for a romantic relationship to me and your heart has gone out to them. I believe that it has caused you real turmoil over an extended period and that you truly believe that the only way you can square the love you’ve experienced from God and the situation is to say that this must simply be a new thing God is doing in our time. I am asking you to step back for a minute and ask this question all the pain we experience in the world what is it due too? As you think about this remember God loves you and all his children. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.


The God of the Jewish people is our God, he prepared the Jewish people so that he might bless all people, he appeared to them so that he might be a light to all people. To simply dismiss something in the New Testament as being ‘Jewish’ is to deny the reality that the God of the Jews is our God. God loves you and he loves all his children.


To quote you on Romans 1:26-27 this passage “does seem to refer unambiguously to same-sex relationships between both men and women, and describes both as an outworking of sin and judgement in the universal human condition.” In doing so it is “mirroring (rather than challenging) the Jewish understanding of same-sex relationships”. This understanding “also came to characterise the Church (and was in contrast with some of the prevailing morality in the culture” at the time.[5]


You know what the scriptures say – so here is my heartfelt plea – teach what they say. In teaching what they say keep before you the love of God for his children that want to be in sexual relationships which the scriptures proscribe whether they are same-sex attracted, or the many many Christian women who long for a Christian partner, but who live a life of celibacy which they have not chosen, a group which is so often forgotten. Do all you can to remind them of God’s love, do not abandon the flock, and do not affirm the lie Satan has told them “If God loved you, he wouldn’t deny you this, either God loves you and approves of this sexual relationship you want, or he doesn’t love you at all, after all how can a God of love deny someone love”. This is a pernicious lie, one so many have believed, but the truth is that singleness is not a denial of God’s love for someone. I ask you to read 1 Corinthians 7 again and hear in it the heart of a pastor, the heart of someone who loves God’s children, and who hears their struggles. I wonder if you can see yourself in the love Paul demonstrates for those in the Corinthian Church, it is my prayer, that God would use you to show that same love to those in the Diocese of Oxford and beyond.


Stephen please remember these words of Jesus “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”[6]


With love,

A concerned brother in Christ, Cornelius Harding


P.S.

God is good all the time…

[1] Romans 8:28 [2]The Lambeth Conference 1958, London, SPCK, 1958, part 2, p.5. [3] Together in Love and Faith, Bishop Stephen Croft, Oxford, 2022, p29. [4] Article 20 of The Articles of Religion [5] Together in Love and Faith, Bishop Stephen Croft, Oxford, 2022, p33. [6] John 15:5-8



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