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The Philip Fiasco


If you’re not a UK Christian, you may be excused for being ignorant of the Philip North dog pile this week. In that wild and wacky world of British Anglicanism, this was a man set to become a Bishop. There are a few elite perks to being a Bishop over here which include dressing as a pink Jedi.

Now as a Congregationalist, I could chuckle and wonder why anyone should be a Bishop in the first place. But let’s leave that fun for another time. In the Church of England being a Bishop means – in theory – having a significant degree of influence. Philip North was set to become the Bishop of Sheffield, but the problem was that he held to Biblical views of gender and sexuality. And that was simply too much for some – and the intoleristas began a smear campaign. In the midst of intense, personal attacks, North stepped down.

This got so big that Martin Bashir has an article on the BBC over the whole mess. He traces the source of this bullying back to the theologically liberal couple, Revs. Emma and Martyn Percy. The attacks were so bad that even those with pro-female bishop views came to his defence for, in addition to his Biblical views of gender, he was also had an outstanding commitment to helping the poor and being kind to those with whom he disagreed.

Bishops may wear pink, but they're not
all agreed on Feminism
Now the leaders of this whole dog and pony show need to go back to their think tanks and wonder how post-feminist Anglicanism is actually supposed to work. I’m usually an optimist, but I also hold to a book that asks, ‘How can two walk together unless they be agreed?’ And these are not small matters of disagreement. What it means to be a man or a woman is high up on the ideological eye chart and we are reading the letters with different lenses.

What can we (Anglicans, Congregationalists, and ‘others’) learn from the Philip fiasco? Two things come to mind…

Punching Bag for Jesus

First of all, if you hold to Biblical views of gender and sexuality and you want to be a leader, you need to be prepared for vicious, nasty attacks. Jesus, Paul, the apostles were all dudes who were slandered and attacked for their teaching. There is tremendous pressure in the current climate for Christians to bow to certain social pressures and kiss the rainbow coloured ring. Some do. Those who don’t are targeted. Perhaps Philip North was not expecting so much attack to come from within Anglicanism itself, but the NT is filled with examples of slanderers who are also religious.

North is one of the nicest men in all of England. But simply being nice won’t stop the haters. They will come after you with everything just because you articulate a truth that they find offensive. There is a particular type of evil at work in Western society today and it’s in the church. It’s an evil that preaches tolerance until it is dominant – then it seeks to behead that which is righteous. It’s a totalerance that not only wants you to make a concession for its views but to actually celebrate them. 

When they come for you, the worst thing you can do is apologise for your beliefs or back down. And though I don't know all the details of what on behind the scenes, it seems that here is where our nice Mr.North erred. He withdrew himself. I am ashamed that at times in my life, I have done the same and I hope - by God's grace - to never do so again.

Befriend those who Differ

Secondly, when we give ourselves to the Biblical commands of caring for the poor and being kind to those we disagree with, we find unforeseen allies at times. Some of those who came to Philips defence were female clergy who were in obvious disagreement with Philip’s views. But such had been his kindness to them, that some were compelled to come to his aid. Kindness doesn't mean being unwilling to boldly speak the truth or take a stand, but it does mean being kind to the individuals behind the ideas.

Scripture says that ‘as much as depends on you, be at peace with all people.’ Some will reject our friendship simply because of our beliefs, but not all. Paul writes to Timothy that we must have a ‘soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say.’

I’ve been blessed to see this in my life to a small degree (I’m certainly nowhere near as nice as Philip). When I write on LGBT issues, I get a lot of attacks – often from the ‘straight allies’ – being called homophobic, self-righteous, etc. One of my biggest defenders is a gay, atheist man whom I’ve befriended (he’s a great guy). We share a mutual appreciation in the midst of our rather feisty disagreements.

The Goal

The challenge for the 21st Century church in the West will be to resist ungodly sexual and gender ideologies with courage and perseverance while reaching out to the individuals in those systems with compassion and friendship – seeking to save, not condemn. Be prepared to take a beating and keep on loving.
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bkTo read about how friendship can cross the gender divide, check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.

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