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Heresy and heartache

Melvin Tinker reflects theologically on the half-truths of prominent Anglican, Jayne Ozanne

Melvin Tinker

Figure Image
Original sin includes the pollution of our whole nature | photo: iStock

If one is to claim that a certain teaching is heretical, we need to be clear what we mean by the term.

Alister McGrath writes: ‘Heresy arises through accepting a basic cluster of Christian beliefs – yet interpreting them in such a way that inconsistency results. A heresy is thus an inadequate or deficient form of Christianity. By its very deficiency, it poses a threat to the gospel.’ The reason why heresy gains traction in the church is that it contains at least an element of truth; as such it is parasitic on orthodoxy. ‘In the Catholic faith, we recognise that a heresy is not so much a false doctrine as an incomplete doctrine. It has rejected part of the truth and is representing what is left over as the whole truth. But what a heretic usually ends up doing is attacking the greater truth.’

Jayne Ozanne illustrates this well. Wikipedia describes her in the following terms: ‘Jayne Ozanne is a prominent British evangelical Anglican. Having come out in 2015, she campaigns for gay equality within the Church of England and the wider evangelical community.’

Partial truth

In July 2017, Ozanne placed a private member’s motion to the General Synod meeting in York (GS 2070A) calling upon the Synod to effectively repudiate the practice of conversion therapy for those who experience same-sex attraction. The heresy can be found in the summary statement: ‘The Bible teaches us that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps.139.14), and that we should praise God’s gift of our creation. Thus, our diversity as human beings is a reflection of God’s creativity and something to celebrate. The biblical concern is not with what we are but how we choose to live our lives, meaning that differing sexual orientations and gender identities are not inherently sinful, nor mental health disorders to be “cured”.’

The partial truth, which is being taken and exaggerated as the whole truth, appears in the first sentence: ‘The Bible teaches us that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps.139.14), and that we should praise God’s gift of our creation.’ This has been taken by Christians in the past as a basis for the sanctity of human life which is undermined by the practice of abortion. But it is a non sequitur for Ozanne to then conclude ‘Thus, our diversity as human beings is a reflection of God’s creativity and something to celebrate.’ If anything, as we have noted, it is the belief in human sanctity (which is to be protected) which logically arises out of this passage, not human diversity.

This is followed up by a falsehood, for it is certainly not the case that the Bible isn’t concerned with ‘what we are’ but simply ‘how we choose to live our lives.’ How we choose and what we choose arises, at least in part, from ‘what we are’ in terms of our dispositions. Some of those dispositions are towards things which God forbids (such as idolatry, greed and same-sex genital relations). They not only flow from ‘what we are’ (idolaters, gluttons, homosexual, etc.) but they reinforce what we are becoming.

The missing truth

The missing doctrine which is necessary to check the heresy Ozanne is promoting is the doctrine of original sin. To be sure, according to the psalmist we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. But, according to the same psalmist: ‘I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51.5). At one and the same time, David is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in the womb and ‘sinful’ from the moment he was conceived in the womb.

We are ‘warped wood’ (Immanuel Kant), ‘incurvartus in se – turned in upon ourselves’ (Luther) or, to use traditional terminology, contaminated by original sin, which is ‘the fault and corruption of Nature of every-man… and is of his own nature inclined to evil.’ (Article 9, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion).

Jayne Ozanne is effectively promoting two heresies at once. The first is Pelagianism. The second is Socinianism.


In the fifth century, the monk Pelagius argued that ‘Evil is not born with us, and we are procreated without fault; and the only thing in men at their birth is what God has formed.’ This was effectively dealt with by St Augustine and condemned decisively at the Council of Carthage (418), as ratified at the Council of Ephesus in 431.


The second heresy is a variation of the first and is named after its exponent, Faustus Socinus (the Latinised name for Fausto Sozzini). This teaching has been well summarised by Andrew Fuller: ‘They consider all evil propensities in men (except those which are accidentally contracted by education or example) as being, in every sense, natural to them; supposing that they were originally created with them; they cannot, therefore be offensive to God, unless he could be offended with the work of his own hands for being what he made it.’

In both cases the entailments in terms of the distorting effect on other Christian doctrines, not least our understanding of salvation, are immense.

We are not only ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, but, due to sin, fearfully and dreadfully corrupted, having bodies which are subject to death and internal struggles which the gospel delivers us from (Romans 7.24-25). It is the gospel which leads to a liberation from self-gratification, from being led by our fallen impulses which twist everything including our sexual affection (Ephesians 2.3), which result in us coming under God’s righteous anger (Ephesians 2.3). In our unregenerate state we are darkened in our thinking, which leads to our indulging in impurity (Ephesians 3.18-19), from which the gospel frees us as we put on a new self in Christ (Ephesians 3.20-24). The heresy of Ozanne ends up affirming what God denies and denying what God affirms.

Heresies are cruel

We must understand that by its very nature heresy is cruel.

If orthodoxy is health-giving truth, heresy is the exact reverse – it is disease-spreading error and toxic: ‘Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene’ (2 Timothy 2.16); ‘There were false prophets amongst the people as there will be false prophets among you. They will introduce destructive heresies’; ‘…they will be paid back for the harm they have done’ (2 Peter 2.1, 13); ‘They must be silenced for they are disrupting whole households’ (Titus 1.11); ‘They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord’ (Jude 4).

It is difficult to imagine anything more cruel than doing something to someone whereby they develop gangrene, resulting in amputation or death. That is the biblical assessment of what heresy does to the Body of Christ. That is why bishops are charged ‘with all faithful diligence …[to] banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same.’

Sadly, this is one aspect of their charge their Lordships seem most reluctant to carry out.

Melvin Tinker is the vicar of St John, Newland, Hull.