Monday, February 28, 2011
Before this media-manufactured spat blows up into a full Church v State crisis – the likes of which Europe has seen quite regularly over two millennia, though increasingly less in England since the Erastian settlement by which the state has been supreme in matters ecclesiastical – His Grace would like to clarify a few things.
A few months before the 2010 General Election, David Cameron jumped in with both feet and presumed to lecture the Archbishop of Canterbury on gay rights. Mr Cameron said: “I don’t want to get into a huge row with the Archbishop here, but the Church has to do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through. Sorting this issue out and recognising that full equality is a bottom-line, full essential.”
And he didn’t get into a huge row with the Archbishop because the absoluteness of ‘full equality’ and the unequivocal ‘bottom line’ were quietly dropped after the election.
And yet, on the face of it, the Prime Minister appears fully to support ‘gay marriage’, for nothing else could be meant by ‘full equality’.
This, coupled with the (untrue) announcement a few weeks ago that the Government are intent on permitting ‘gay marriage’ to be performed in churches (and other religious buildings), has apparently led to some frantic meetings between MPs and bishops to find a typically Anglican via media solution to the issue.
Firstly, let us dispel the whole ‘gay marriage’ canard. The Government has made no proposals to redefine marriage. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is preparing a Bill to allow all religious venues – churches, synagogues, mandirs, gurdwaras and mosques to perform some kind of blessing upon homosexual unions if they wish, and to permit sacred scriptures and religious paraphernalia to be used in civil partnership ceremonies. There is no compulsion or coercion of anyone: the state is not redefining marriage, for it cannot.
As His Grace has said, the prohibition on the use of pseudo-spiritual poems in civil ceremonies is absurd: it amounts to state censorship and an enforced division between the private realm of spiritual belief and the public realm of political policy. If consenting adults wish to read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Gita, the Upinishads or a divine piece of Shakespeare as they make their vows, that should be a matter for them. We do not have a tradition of laïcité in this country, and the fundamentalist secularisation of society amounts to the systematic elimination of all religion from public life. Conservatives should see such a violation of conscience and property rights as utterly abhorrent.
If two consenting adult Muslims wish to trundle off to their local mosque to get their gay-friendly imam to pray Allah’s blessing upon their happy civil partnership, what business is that of the state? Having legislated for same-sex civil partnerships, it is bizarre to permit ceremonies to be performed in the Palace of Westminster whilst barring them from Finsbury Park Mosque. The state should have no interest other than in the licence of partnership by which property rights may be determined in law.
Notwithstanding this, Jonathan Wynn-Jones reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘is not prepared for the Coalition to tell the Church how to behave’ and ‘would not be dictated to by the Government’.
Apparently, he had no fewer than four sources for this article, so it must be true.
While we may quibble over the use of the terms ‘Coalition’ and ‘Government’ in this context, His Grace would like to point out to His Grace (if accurately reported, by four sources) that it is indeed for Parliament ‘to tell the Church how to behave’, just as it is for Parliament to license the Church’s Prayer Book and choose its Supreme Governor.
Mr Wynn-Jones informs us that Dr Williams ‘told a private meeting of influential politicians that the Church of England would not bow to public pressure to allow its buildings to be used to conduct same-sex civil partnerships’ and that the Church ‘held a clear position that marriage is between a man and a woman and would not consider changing this stance’.
And so the Archbishop has been accused of ‘alienating homosexuals’ and rendering the Church ‘out of touch with society’. According to Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kempton: “Public opinion is moving faster than the Church on this issue and it is increasingly in danger of getting left behind.”
Well, thank God for that.
It is not for the Church of Jesus Christ to accommodate every passing fad and societal obsession: sometimes, being ‘left behind’ is very much the best place to be.
But The Daily Mail (which has plagiarised Mr Wynn-Jones’ article verbatim) quotes Dr Williams as saying: “Gay weddings will never take place in church buildings.”
Again, His Grace would like to point out to His Grace (if accurately quoted) that a Church of England building has already been used to conduct a ‘gay marriage’.
So ‘never’ is already negated.
Perhaps Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has this sort of marriage liturgy in mind when she talks of ‘gay marriage’:
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God to join these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity. Such a covenant shows us the mystery of the union between God and God’s people and between Christ and the Church… As David and Jonathan’s souls were knit together, so these men may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made.”
But getting this form of Nuptial Mass through Parliament is fraught with so many complexities that they would be easier for a camel to pass through St Stephen’s Gate.
It should be evident to politicians of all political persuasions and faiths that marriage is not an exclusively Judaeo-Christian institution; it is a union observed in all cultures, and seems, according to Aristotle, to exist by nature. Marriage in the Bible is essential for the functioning of society, and is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’. This has its basis in the Old Testament, where YHWH says: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Gen 2:18). It continues: ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
There are three principal purposes for marriage arising out of v24: (i) the procreation of children; (ii) companionship, and (iii) sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before God, which Jesus confirms with the phrase ‘God has joined together’ (Mt 19:26); when a person ‘leaves’ and ‘cleaves’. Iain Duncan Smith (at least) has realised that it is the erosion of this foundation which has contributed to ‘Breakdown Britain’.
While the Church in England is subject to Parliament, Parliament is not so omnipotent that it may alter the Word of God. But the Government is not proposing to do so. Permitting religious buildings to be used for the blessing of civil partnerships is not the same as imposing a redefinition of marriage upon the Established Church. So let us stop all this hype, for the Prime Minister is rather busy and can do without such disinformation.
posted by Archbishop Cranmer
Religious Correspondent Ruth Gledhill has just pointed me towards this new article on ‘Cranmer’s Blog’ which more clearly states what the Archbishop of Canterbury actually did, and did not, say in a private conversation with parliamentarians recently about the Church of England’s attitude towards the prospect of ‘Gay Marriage’, and the move by Government to reverse its ban on celebrating Civil Partnerships on religious premises and in as religious setting.
One is already aware that at least one such ‘Blessing’ has already taken place in an Anglican Church in England, so that the expressed (or maybe not expressed) will of the ABC that such relationships would ‘never’ be Blessed in Anglican Churches in the UK is already undermined.
What this article does is take the pressure off Government officials who have been accused of ‘forcing’ religious authorities to allow such Blessings within their premises; when, in fact, what the government is proposing is that religious organisations should now be ‘ALLOWED’ – if they so desire – to celebrate same-sex partnerships.
This demonstrates how The Press can sometimes exacerbate tensions that may not actually exist in reality. However, it is still important that the Free Press be allowed to examine each and every rumour, as and when they detect them.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch