The Church is alienating an entire generation over gay marriage. It’s breaking my heart
Committed Christian, Helen Coffey, is furious with the Church because they won’t marry her religious friend Ella and her girlfriend this summer. A 2000-year-old message of love, humility and grace is in danger of being lost on her generation
By Helen Coffey – ‘The Telegraph – 11:44AM GMT 10 Mar 2014
But, for my friend Ella*, these issues and obstacles seem blissfully trivial in comparison to the worries that keep her up at night as the big day approaches. She’s marrying her girlfriend of two years in the summer, and the wedding preparations are well under way. It should be a time of excitement and celebration, despite the anxiety-inducing ‘wedmin’ – but Ella, as well as being in a same-sex relationship, is also a Christian. And, as things currently stand, this creates some pretty insurmountable problems.
We’ve both been attending the same Anglican Church for years, and actively serve as part of our church community, leading services and helping with children’s work. It’s a big part of our lives, one that we get a lot out of but also put a lot in to. Thankfully, it’s a very forward-thinking (dare I say “liberal”) church, and when Ella started a relationship with a woman, there was little in the way of fall out, criticism or, in fact, any reaction at all other than unconditional support.
However, tragically, this kind of loving acceptance isn’t always the norm within the Church of England. As I sat with my friend one evening last week, genuinely devastated as she told me of the House of Bishops’ recent ruling that vicars are not allowed to perform any kind of blessing at gay weddings, I felt something that is very rare for me: anger.
I was angry that the girl in front of me, who has devoted a huge amount of time and energy to serving her parish, suddenly feels unwanted by the Church. I was angry that this ruling, decided by what amounts to a room of old, conservative men, is making her question whether her relationship is wrong in God’s eyes. And, most of all, I was angry at the hypocrisy that the Church shows in remaining so intractable in this area.
Yes, the whole issue of whether the Church can endorse or recognise same-sex marriages has now become a much bigger battle, with some arguing it’s a human rights issue akin to racism, and others convinced by doctrine in the Bible stating incontrovertibly that marriage is designed for heterosexual couples. And sadly, views have become so entrenched on both sides that it’s actually really difficult to talk about in a considered, reasoned way at this point.
It’s not for me to point the finger and call people prejudiced or narrow-minded – that won’t get us anywhere. However, I can’t help but notice the discrepancy between the issues where the Church of England has decided to relax its view, in spite of clear, Biblical doctrine to the contrary, and those where it refuses to budge.
Think about it – most vicars will marry couples who are cohabiting these days without kicking up a fuss, despite adultery (sex outside marriage) being forbidden by the 10 Commandments. They’ll perform blessings at the weddings of people who have been divorced, despite Jesus saying that: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
If it’s really an issue of doctrine, pure and simple, then why have these become acceptable practices while same-sex marriage remains the ultimate taboo? Where’s the consistency?
The real problem with all of this is that it’s creating a Church in which many do not feel they are welcome. Particularly for my generation, who’ve grown up in an increasingly diverse and tolerant society, an institution in which your sexuality is not accepted is not only unappealing; it’s inexcusable. For years, it’s seemed as if the only two things non-Christians think about the Church, if they think of it at all, is that we don’t let women be bishops and we don’t like gay people. A 2000-year-old message of love, humility and grace, which has influenced nearly all elements of Western culture, has been reduced down to that. It’s heart breaking.
Those who work within the Church have identified this issue, too – an open letter from 46 clergy under the age of 40 was recently published in the Church Times, highlighting their concern about “the disconnect between the Church of England’s official position on the subject of same-sex marriage and the attitudes of many churchgoers”. The letter also referenced research from Professor Woodhead, which claims that for many young people religion is seen as a “toxic brand” and the Church of England as an organisation that “discriminates against women and gay people”. Clearly, something has to change.
I’m as committed to being a Christian as ever – but I do wonder whether a Church that refuses to endorse committed, faithful same-sex relationships through marriage is able to serve the needs of today’s society. We should be modelling an alternative way of living, one that is markedly different from modern consumerist values because it is grounded in love and acceptance. Instead our Church is more often referenced for its allegedly bigoted views.
Perhaps it is simply a generational thing, and in 20 years we will have naturally moved forward with this. Whatever happens in the future though, it doesn’t change the fact that Ella, and many others like her, will have to forgo the part of her wedding that is most important to her – the affirmation and blessing of her Church.
*not her real name.
This article in The Telegraph, by an Anglican journalist, Helen Coffey, should alert all conscientious Anglicans to the fact that homophobia in the Church, which is preventing the recognition of faithful, monogamous, Same-Sex couples by the Church of England (and by Anglican Churches in other parts of the world), can be a real turn-off for young people who want to celebrate such relationships with their friends in an enabling Church environment.
In a world where the Church is doing its best to encourage young people to express their love in faithful, monogamous marriage relationships – in the face of the modern tendency towards more casual, promiscuous, sexual relationships – surely to discourage innately homosexual couples from committing themselves to a one-on-one faithful marriage relationship, with the blessing of the Church, is counter-productive. To imagine that such Same-Sex marriages would discourage heterosexual couples from getting married is ridiculous. And for the Church to tag on to that idea is to ally itself with homophobic speculation.
Wherever love can be found between two individuals who love one another – within the accepted boundaries of such relationships, but not on account of gender – what is wrong with accepting that situation and rejoicing in its implications for human nurturing?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand