Get­ting it right on mar­riage

The Church of England - - COMMENT -

The House of Bish­ops’ re­cent pas­toral guid­ance on same-sex mar­riage con­cedes way too much ground to re­vi­sion­ists but on the fun­da­men­tal is­sue of mar­riage has things about right.

I have been ar­gu­ing for some time that David Cameron has set off a tick­ing time bomb for the Church of Eng­land with his leg­is­la­tion on gay mar­riage. By per­mit­ting civil part­ners to con­vert their ar­range­ment to a civil mar­riage li­cence he has laid a trap for the Church of Eng­land. Mar­ried gay and les­bian clergy and bish­ops could soon be­come a fea­ture of the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal land­scape.

The House of Bish­ops state­ment at­tempts to close off this op­tion through the ap­pen­dix to their pas­toral state­ment. They write: “The house [of bish­ops] is not, there­fore, will­ing for those who are in a same­sex mar­riage to be or­dained to any of the three or­ders of min­istry. In ad­di­tion it con­sid­ers that it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct for some­one in holy or­ders to en­ter into a same-sex mar­riage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teach­ing in their lives.”

The state­ment ac­knowl­edges a tra­di­tion of con­sci­en­tious dis­sent in the Church of Eng­land but nev­er­the­less urges clergy to “act con­sis­tently” with their or­di­na­tion oath to “ac­cept and min­is­ter the dis­ci­pline of this Church.”

In other words, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that clergy who en­ter into same-sex mar­riages could face dis­ci­pline for do­ing so. At least one cler­gy­man has in­di­cated his will­ing­ness to face the bish­ops down by an­nounc­ing his wed­ding plans, but it is un­likely that there will be any but a very small num­ber of clergy seek­ing this sort of con­fronta­tion.

That said, the howls of ou­trage from many lib­eral clergy and laity is sur­pris­ing. One of the most dis­hon­est things about this con­tem­po­rary de­bate in the Church of Eng­land is the pre­tence that there are two di­ver­gent views wor­thy of equal re­spect in the Church of Eng­land. This is com­pletely un­true: the po­si­tion of the Church of Eng­land is set out in the Bi­ble, in tra­di­tion, in canon law, in the mar­riage ser­vice and in the res­o­lu­tions of Gen­eral Synod.

There can be ab­so­lutely no ques­tion that mi­nor­ity the­o­log­i­cal views in sup­port of gay mar­riage have any sort of equal va­lid­ity. They are cam­paign­ing views. They are at­tempts to change the doc­trine of the Church of Eng­land. As such they have to ar­gue their case and seek to con­vince the Church of Eng­land to change its teach­ing through the proper chan­nels. They have not done so.

The other dis­hon­est thing in the de­bate is the pre­tence that pub­lic opin­ion has any rel­e­vance. A sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis of whether 40, 50 or 60 per cent sup­port gay mar­riage is nei­ther here nor there. The fact is that most people have never had that strong an opin­ion on the mat­ter and it is only mi­nori­ties on ei­ther side who spend any time at all cam­paign­ing about the is­sue. The Church, how­ever, should be pre­pared to be counter-cul­tural if needed.

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