Friday 17 February 2017

Regulator’s proposal to remove pharmacists’ conscience rights is unethical, unnecessary and quite possibly illegal

Should pharmacists be forced to dispense drugs for what they consider to be unethical practices – like emergency contraception, gender reassignment, abortion and assisted suicide?

Or should they have the right to exercise freedom of conscience by either referring to a colleague or opting out?

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the independent British regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises, is proposing to replace the current ‘right to refer’ with a ‘duty to dispense’.

The Council calls this ‘person-centred’ care. 'Person-centred care' which puts the dignity and best interests of the client first is, of course, crucial and at the very heart of true professionalism.

But the Council then goes on to frame this care in terms of a universal right for clients to ‘access’ legally prescribed drugs and devices.  Pharmacists would thereby be pressured to comply or risk disciplinary procedures and/or possible loss of employment. Potential trainees could be dissuaded from pursuing a career in pharmacy altogether.

The consultation on the draft proposal is open until 7 March 2017 (background here; full consultation document here - the response form is on pages 23-30 and is summarised on p31).

Pharmacists who believe that human life should be respected from the time of fertilisation will generally object to dispensing potentially abortifacient drugs like levonelle and ellaOne.

Although marketed as ‘emergency contraception’ or the 'morning-after pill', these drugs are known in some cases to act by preventing the implantation of an early embryo and causing, in effect, an early abortion.

Currently pharmacists have a right to refer these cases to another pharmacy or colleague, but under the new draft guidance, which the GPhC admits represents ‘a significant change from the present position’ this right would be removed.

All health professionals are currently protected by a conscience clause in the Human Fertilisation Act 1990 from having to participate in ‘any activity’ governed by that Act. So, for example, if they have a moral objection to disposal of, or experimentation upon, human embryos, they do not have to take part.

But ironically, no such statutory conscience protection exists for those 'contraceptives' which act by killing embryos.

The Abortion Act 1967 has a conscience clause which allows health professionals to abstain from ‘participation’ in abortion. However, it also does not cover abortifacient contraceptives. Its scope has also recently been narrowed by a Supreme Court judgment so that it probably does not now protect pharmacists from being forced to supply drugs used in medical abortions either.

Highly contentious gender reassignment procedures, involving hormones to bock puberty in children, or to aid transsexuals to ‘transition’ to the opposite gender, are another area where the new regulations will put pharmacists under pressure to comply.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are currently not legal in Britain, but were they to become so, this could be yet another situation where the new proposed guidance would leave pharmacists exposed.

Freedom of conscience has been a core ethical value, foundational to healthcare practice as a moral activity, from the Hippocratic Oath to the General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice.

The right of conscientious objection is not a minor or peripheral issue. It goes to the heart of medical practice as a moral activity. It helps to preserve the moral integrity of the individual clinician, preserves the distinctive characteristics and reputation of medicine as a profession, acts as a safeguard against coercive state power, and provides protection from discrimination for those with minority ethical beliefs.

Most people can understand and respect the right of health professionals not to be involved in activities which they regard as abhorrent – obvious examples in other jurisdictions in which doctors have been complicit include female genital mutilation, punitive amputation, capital punishment or organ harvest from prisoners or street children.

But equally we need to recognise that many healthcare professionals in Britain regard such practices as abortion, assisted suicide, gender reassignment or embryo disposal or experimentation to be similarly morally wrong.

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals in their own right. Accordingly they deserve to be treated by their regulators with the respect due to their professional status. This latest proposal does not do that.

The contribution of community pharmacists to the provision of primary care is being actively promoted by the profession. Given that pharmacists are now taking on many of the roles once seen as the preserve of doctors, the GPhC should surely be protecting their freedom of conscience in a way commensurate with that shown to doctors by the GMC.

There are simply better ways in a democratic society to ensure that freedom of conscience is respected whilst still enabling people to access services to which they have a legal right. 

In this case there are at least three alternatives available to the GPhC.

First would be to leave the current guidance, which grants a right to refer, unchanged. Whilst this does not give full freedom, as many would regard referral as involving a degree of complicity, it does in practice give enough wiggle room for pharmacists who have a conscientious objection to dispensing certain drugs to avoid direct involvement. It has served the profession well up until now.

Second, the GPhC could follow the example of the GMC, the doctors’ regulator. GMC guidance (para 8) permits doctors to ‘opt out of providing a particular procedure because of [your] personal beliefs and values, as long as this does not result in direct or indirect discrimination against, or harassment of, individual patients or groups of patients’. In such situations, a doctor must ensure the patient understands her right to see another practitioner and has the necessary information to exercise that right.

Third, the GPhC could follow the example of the pharmacists’ professional body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), in a policy statement they drew up in 2013 to preserve freedom of conscience in the event of assisted suicide being legalised. This required pharmacists to ‘opt in’ by placing their names on a register of those willing to dispense barbiturates for assisted suicide. What is to stop a similar opt-in system operating for the practices I have mentioned above, rather than making a blanket imposition on all pharmacists?

If instead the GPhC ignores these solutions and presses ahead with imposing a ‘duty to dispense’ it will not only be running roughshod over the professional status of pharmacists, but could also be opening itself up to a legal challenge.

There is already a substantial body on law on conscience protection in British and European Law.

Article 9(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) provides a right to freedom of ‘thought, conscience and religion’. Whilst this is not absolute, and needs to be balanced against other democratic rights, any intervention must be shown to be both necessary and proportionate. It is hard to see how this move by the GPhC fulfils either of these requirements.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has affirmed rights of conscience for sincerely held religious and moral beliefs as falling within the gambit of Article 9 (ECHR, Bayatan v. Armenia [GC], (2012) 54 E.H.R.R. 15.) They base their reasoning on the premise that a refusal to allow conscientious objection fails to strike a proper balance between the interests of society as a whole and the fundamental rights of the individual; providing rights of conscience ensures a cohesive and stable pluralism and promotes religious harmony and tolerance in society ( § 124, 126).

The British Equality Act 2010, which is the sole legal precedent that the GPhC quotes in their consultation document in support of their proposal, lists nine protected characteristics, one of which is ‘religion and belief’.

It is therefore almost inconceivable that this draconian draft proposal will not be challenged in court by an aggrieved individual or organisation. 

But it should not come to that. It is just not worth the time, energy and expense and can be avoided.

There is little real evidence of widespread complaints by clients denied access to drugs under the current regulations. GPhC council meeting notes from 12 April 2012 specifically state that no data is collected and mention that only ‘a small number of complaints’ relating to 'fitness to practice' are received annually. We would expect complaints specifically about FOC to make up only a tiny subset of these.

The regulator, it seems, is using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

The GPhC’s proposal to remove pharmacists’ conscience rights is disproportionate, unethical, unnecessary and quite possibly illegal.

For the sake of professional freedom and reasonable accommodation, essential in a pluralist multi-faith democracy, let’s hope that they chose instead a more flexible, tolerant, respectful and eminently sensible path.

Thursday 16 February 2017

The one speech at the General Synod marriage debate which brought it all together

Yesterday the General Synod of the Church of England voted not to ‘take note’ of the House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships. 

The report upheld the historic position of the church on marriage as the exclusive coming together of one man and one woman for life.  However it also gave some scope for the affirmation of those in same-sex partnerships.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the report attracted the wrath of both sides. Whilst the House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly to support it by 43 votes to 1, and the laity followed suit by the narrow margin of 106 to 83, the house of clergy rejected it by a majority of 100 to 93, and so it fell. 

This means that the House of Bishops is now back to square one without any clear way ahead after three years of ‘shared conversations’.

In a debate lasting the best part of two hours, in which a total of 34 people spoke, many excellent points were made by clergy and laity who held to the biblical position on marriage.

But there was only one speech which mentioned all of Jesus, the love of God, the Cross, the definition and purpose of marriage, sin, repentance, judgement, heaven, hell, discipline & the need for clarity and leadership from the bishops. 

I have reproduced it in full below (full audio here).

‘From what we have heard this afternoon the two positions are irreconcilable. The Bishops’ report has sought to straddle the two positions but they cannot be straddled. And this is where we as a group of people and the wider church cry out to the bishops to make a stand and to make the position clear.

Jayne Ozanne, Simon Butler, Andrew Foreshew-Cain and Robert Hammond: you have all spoken movingly this afternoon. The Lord Jesus, he loves you, he died for you, he died for each one of us. We are all broken sinners all fall short of the glory of God and it’s on the cross that he took away our sin. We are all beggars, as Andrew Foreshew-Cain described us, in need of a Saviour. But that requires repentance from what (Jesus) says is sinful.

And clearly, Genesis 2 and Matthew 19 demonstrate that all sexual expression outside the lifelong and permanent union of one man and one woman is sinful. It’s contrary to God’s purposes. We have the picture of Christ who will come for his beautiful bride clean. He died for her. We rob society of that picture when we seek to destroy the truth of what marriage is.

God’s people are called to be set apart and clergy are to be examples to their people, to model holiness, chastity, purity, to model the way of the cross.

If sexual immorality were simply a secondary issue as opposed to a first order salvation issue then the Bible would not link it specifically with salvation (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). And that is why it is so important to speak clearly with regard to sexual sin, because, actually heaven and hell depends upon it. Our very eternity depends upon it. That’s why it’s loving to hold firm to it. And it’s also beautiful and freeing for all that hear this message.

When {the apostle) Paul heard of the specific case of persistent sexual immorality in Corinth involving a person who claimed to be a Christian believer he acted decisively urging that that person be immediately excommunicated (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

We have to make a choice about discipline. Paragraph 64 of the Bishops’ report states that there needs to be a fundamental trust in the clergy to know and be faithful to the teaching of the church in their own lives and in their ministry to others. We are looking to the bishops to lead in this.’

Andrea Williams (286, Chichester)

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Sexual immorality is a first order salvation issue. The Church of England is now needing the surgeon’s knife.

On Wednesday 15 February the Church of England General Synod will decide whether or not to “take note” of the House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships.

Within the Church, it is now very clear that the two main positions held are irreconcilable.

On the one hand are the “conservatives”, represented by the Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, who hold to the biblical and traditional position of monogamous heterosexual marriage.

On the other are the “progressives”, represented by “One Body One Faith” (previously the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement), who are seeking “a significant level of LGBTI+ representation” on church boards and councils, an “approved liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples after a Civil Partnership or Civil Marriage” and “a change to Canon C26 to make clerical civil marriage not a matter for discipline”.

They add that these demands are “very far” from “all we want to see” but they represent “a way forward, a start”.

In between, is a body of currently indeterminate size, who are seeking to live with some kind of “arrangement” in a desperate attempt to keep those holding two radically different ideologies together.

But in reality, given the current level of entrenchment, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable separation takes place. If the bishops’ report is not “taken note” of then that separation may come earlier rather than later. If Synod does “take note” then the whole enterprise may limp on a little but the writing is on the wall.

Earlier this month, a group known as “accepting evangelicals” (who are ironically neither) wrote a letter to members of the evangelical group of General Synod (EGGS) outlining their position. The letter was signed by five well-known exponents. A few others have added their signatures on the website.

The letter, which can be read in full here, makes a number of highly contentious but familiar arguments but the signatories’ bottom line is that they remain “unpersuaded that this (ie. homosexual behaviour) is a first-order or salvation issue. We find nothing in the Bible to imply that it is so: indeed, quite the reverse.”

Interestingly, they don’t marshal any biblical arguments to back up this position but regard it as a self-evident truth.

I was surprised today to see the normally theologically sound “Archbishop Cranmer” making exactly the same point. In a blog post titled “The Church of England should not tear itself apart over homosexuality and same-sex marriage” he argues that “homosexuality is not an issue worthy of schism” as it “affects only a tiny minority of Christians” and is “of distinctly secondary, even peripheral, scriptural importance”. It is not “a battle for the soul of the church”.

This is a different argument than those normally advanced by people seeking to justify sex outside heterosexual monogamous marriage. But it is equally unbiblical.

The “one man, one woman, for life” pattern is an Old Testament creation ordinance, upheld by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament (Gn 2:24; Mt 19:3-12; Eph 5:22-33).

Sex in the context of marriage (Gn 2:24, Mt 19:3-12) is viewed as the good gift of a good creator (Pr 5:15-20, Song 4:11-16) and a sign of Christ’s coming marriage with the church (Eph 5:32, Rev 19:7)

Anything outside this context, by contrast, is seen as a disaster (2 Sa 11, 2 Sa 13, Gn 34), offensive to God (Lv 18:6-30, 20:7-21; 1 Cor 6:12-20) and accordingly worthy of judgement (Lv 18:29; Dt 22:20-22, Rev 21:8).

All wrong sexual patterns are spelt out specifically in detail (Lv 18:1-30; Lv 20:1-27; Ex 22:16-19; Dt 22:13-30) and include all homosexual acts (Lv 18:22, 20:13; Gn 19:1-29; Jdg 19:1-30; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-11).

God’s people are called to be ‘set apart’ (holy) with respect to sexual behaviour (1 Thes 4:3-8; Mt 5:27-32).

Obedience to Christ, in this and all other areas of morality, is of course only possible by God’s grace, through the indwelling work of his Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-27), but Christians are nonetheless called to obey him. In fact the heart of the great commission, sadly so often distorted into an exhortation merely to evangelise, is to ‘make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19, 20).

“If you love me”, says Jesus, “you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15, 15:14).

As a clear corollary of this teaching that loving Christ means obeying him we are told that a life without demonstrable evidence of faith through a changed life is valueless. It is evidence of non-regeneration.

Furthermore, if sexual immorality were simply a “secondary issue” as opposed to a “first order salvation issue”, then the Bible would not link it specifically with salvation. Yet this is exactly what it does.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 tells us, ‘neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God’.

Galatians 5:19-21 warns that those who exhibit the ‘acts of the flesh’ - sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like - will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-5 echoes, ‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people…. For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

The book of Revelation (20:12) tells us that the dead will be ‘judged according to what they have done’.

In case we are in any doubt it adds that ‘the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur’ (21:8).

Outside the holy city will be ‘those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood’ will not partake of the tree of life (22:15).

The book of Hebrews (10:26) tells us that ‘If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God’.

Now it is clearly evident from these and other passages that sexual immorality (including all homosexual acts) are just some of many sins that are offensive to God.

But it is equally clear that sin that is justified and not repented of is a “first-order” or “salvation” issue and certainly not something “insignificant” or “peripheral”.

As I have argued elsewhere, Satan does not attack the same Christian truth in every generation. This is why the dominant heritage heresies of the past are not necessarily those of the present nor the future.

But a crucial heresy today is that which says that sexual immorality, or for that matter any other sinful behaviour, is a secondary issue not worthy of formal discipline or, if widely enough spread, splitting the church over.

The Apostle Paul’s approach was very different. When he heard of a specific case of persistent sexual immorality in Corinth involving a person who claimed to be a Christian believer he acted decisively, urging that this person be immediately excommunicated:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Excommunication is simply a recognition that a person is no longer behaving as a member of Christ’s kingdom. It is, at heart, a step of obedience to Christ aimed at bringing the guilty party to their senses in the hope that they will choose to repent and become reconciled again with their brothers and sisters.

It is precisely, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the unwillingness of the Church of England to practise godly discipline leading if necessary to excommunication that is the cause of this current deadlock.

The problem now is that the church, and especially its ruling body the General Synod, is now so full of people practising, promoting and defending this particular form of sexual immorality that nothing short of radical surgery will resolve it.

When the necessary steps of discipline are not taken over a prolonged length of time, then as I’ve argued, schism is inevitable. Rather than allowing this to occur spontaneously, it is far better to make the separation cleanly and proactively. It is better to be cut apart than to be ripped apart.

There will inevitably be bleeding edges, but they will heal far more quickly if the incision is decisively and expeditiously executed.

The time for shared conversations is over. It is now time to act.

Thursday 9 February 2017

The time for shared conversations is over – the Senior Bishops now need to act

Open letter to Archbishop Justin Welby

In 2014 I sat next to a senior staff member in the Church of England at a Christian event and discussed the way the church was likely to handle the issues of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. 

This person thought that there were three groups: 15% who wouldn’t settle for less than full acceptance of same-sex marriage, 15% who would refuse it absolutely and 70% who might accept some kind of ‘arrangement’.  I asked ‘How is it going to end?’ ‘One of the 15% groups will split off’, came the reply. ‘Which one?’ The question was left hanging when the speaker began talking at that very moment.

Since 2014, seeing events unfold… the legalisation of same sex marriage,  the quadruple lock, the rise of GAFCON, the facilitated conversations, and now the publication of the House of Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same Sex relationships… I have often pondered over that brief yet candid conversation.

Now, next week, on 16 February the Church of England General Synod (full agenda and papers here) will finally debate the Bishops’ report. There is expected to be very little meeting of minds and a real possibility that the proposed ‘take note’ motion will not pass.

The LGBT lobby within the church, backed by powerful ideological and political vested interests in wider society, abhor the fact that the report upholds the teaching, recognised by canon law, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.

But many Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are wary about plans to ‘revisit’ and ‘clarify’ advice to clergy on informal prayers for same sex couples marrying or forming a civil partnership. They feel red lines have already been crossed.

Paragraph 64 of the Bishops’ report states that, ‘there needs to be a fundamental trust in the clergy to know and be faithful to the teaching of the Church, in their own lives and in their ministry to others’.

But the current breakdown in trust is due precisely to the fact that some members of the clergy are not being ‘faithful’.

The Bible is clear that the only admissible context for sexual relations is within the context of a lifelong marriage relationship between one man and one woman. It is equally clear that all homosexual erotic acts are morally wrong (see here and here).

But some Church of England clergy are already involved in active homosexual partnerships, others have clearly signalled their openness to involvement and others are openly teaching that sex within such partnerships is morally acceptable.

This situation deeply compromises the witness of the church.

The foundation document of the Church of England, the 39 Articles, makes it crystal clear where ultimate authority lies:  

‘The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority- in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’

The Church of England’s official doctrine on marriage in Canon B30 (and in other statements including the 1987 Motion of General Synod and the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10) upholds the key principles in this biblical testimony.

The 1987 Motion reads as follows:

This Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships as a response to, and an expression of God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:

1. that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;

2. that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;

3. that homosexual genital acts also falls short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by call to repentance and compassion

4. that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required for Christian leaders

So, given this clear doctrine, why are those clergy who dissent in word or deed not being called to repentance? Why further, if they refuse to repent, are they not being disciplined by being removed from office?

The biblical pattern of church discipline is unambiguous: ‘If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.’ (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3). Its purpose in restoring erring members of the church is clear: ‘Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.’ (James 5:20) Discipline is necessary not only to protect and preserve the church but also to save sinners from judgement.

The Lord Jesus Christ himself lays down the pattern of restoration in Matthew 18:15-20:

‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’

The Apostle Paul addresses a specific instance of serious sexual sin in 1 Corinthians 5. The principle taught is that, although we should not judge those outside the church, it is our duty to judge those inside and to call people to repentance. If someone calling themselves a Christian refuses to repent, then they are to be excommunicated.

The Bible is equally clear (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) that ‘homosexual offenders’ will not ‘inherit the kingdom of God’. This is not a secondary issue (one on which true believers might have flexibility to disagree) because it impacts on salvation itself. Therefore, those Christians ‘who are spiritual’ (Galatians 6:1) have responsibility to restore their erring brothers and sisters ‘in a spirit of gentleness’ in order to stop them facing God’s judgement.

Just as culpable in the eyes of Jesus as those who persist in sexual sin are those who give false teaching, who ‘mislead my servants into sexual immorality’. The Lord tells the church in Thyatira not to ‘tolerate that woman Jezebel’ who promulgates such teaching (Revelation 2:18-29).

The Church of England appears to suffer from two key problems. First of all, there are some in leadership who seem not to hold to biblical authority or the traditional teaching of the church. Second, there are others who are clearly violating Christian biblical standards of sexual behaviour and are not being properly disciplined or called to account.

There are a number of practising homosexual clergy who are ‘tolerated’ and have not been disciplined by the relevant bishop(s). A clergyman currently on the Church of England Synod has also  had a same sex ‘marriage’ in defiance of Bishops’ guidelines, openly advertises his church hall as a venue for celebrating same sex partnerships, and is vocal in the media about his heterodox views.

A leading member of the Archbishops’ Council makes no secret of the fact that his same-sex relationship is not celibate. At least one bishop advocates the full acceptance of homosexual relationships, undermining the Church of England’s historic teaching on sexuality without being censured.

These individuals are personally known to, or under the oversight of, either yourself, the Archbishop of York or to the Bishop of London, the three men occupying the highest offices in the Church of England.

Bishops in the Church of England are not primarily managers, politicians or administrators – they are rather ‘ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles’. This is based on the Apostle Paul’s commissioning of Timothy and Titus. They are to teach the truth, protect the people from false teaching and correct error. The Lord’s servant must be ‘able to teach’, and opponents ‘must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth’ (2 Timothy 2:24-26). He must ‘hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it’ and appoint people to positions of leadership ‘who love what is good’ and who are ‘self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined’ (Titus 1:5-9).

The Bible is clear that from those to whom much has been given much will be demanded (Luke 12:48). This surely means that those with highest office in the church should be leading by example.

The Church of England is currently drifting slowly towards an inevitable disintegration with no possibility of reconciliation. The situation cries out, not for mediation and more conversation, but for discipline and for leadership.

The upcoming Synod may well be the last chance to grasp this nettle. But before that the three most senior bishops surely need to lead by example and fulfil the first two steps of Christ’s commands in Matthew 18 – going to the offending clergy they know individually and then as a group. They can then, if these men refuse to repent, present the matter to the entire Synod when it meets on 13-16 February.

If the three leading bishops are not willing to take the lead then others must do so. Once the process has begun it must continue throughout the church.

Those who support, or are involved in, homosexual partnerships (ie. not celibate) who are not willing to repent, according to the 1987 resolution, should be removed from leadership. This of course applies equally to all involved in any other form of sexual sin.

The principle is clear. There has so far been much conversation but no real action. It is now time to act.

You have been felt burdened to apologise, on behalf of the church, for sins and failures for which you are not directly responsible. But with respect to the discipline of clergy promoting or involved in homosexual partnerships you, along with John Sentamu and Richard Chartres, are in fact directly responsible.

To obey Christ in this matter will undoubtedly lay you open to criticism from the media, the LGBT lobby, other sections of society and dissenters within the church itself. It may cost you dearly in terms of popularity and in other ways. But the key question is whether, like the apostles, you are willing to ‘obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).

Jesus was uncompromising, ‘If you love me you will obey my commandments’ (John 14:15, 15:14).

May I urge you and your two fellow bishops to perform your duty before God as ‘shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles’.

I appeal to you to be faithful in this matter to the Lord you profess to love and serve. The future of the Church of England depends on it.