Room to manoeuvre – ‘Church Times’ Editorial
Posted: 28 Mar 2014 @ 00:18
The problem for the Church is that significant numbers among the faithful cannot share these prayers. Two global markers from this week: an interview with the Nigerian Primate, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh: “There is a group trying to put a new interpretation and they are arguing about human rights; but . . . if we do believe in God, then we should know that He also has a right; right of ownership.” And reactions to the announcement that the US aid agency World Vision would employ gay people who were in a committed relationship: “You have sold out to the world and turned your back on Christ.” “World Vision has given us another sign that we are in the end times.”
The Bishop of Oxford, addressing his diocesan synod, sounded unambitious: “I hope it’s common ground that we’re part of a Church that’s called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to gay and lesbian people as children of God.” But he must know that the ground is uncommonly rutted. When the English Archbishops wrote in January expressing this same view to the Anglican Primates, Archbishop Okoh called it an “obnoxious letter”.
So, what can be done? The most immediate prospect is an outbreak of small-arms fire, as liberals attempt to counter the House of Bishops’ negativity by expressing their welcome for same-sex marriage in various ways, perhaps not all legal. Similarly, we can expect conservatives to reassert traditional views of marriage, quietly supported by a significant proportion of churchgoers who remain uncomfortable with the new definition of marriage.
These are more than mere skirmishes, and the Bishops find themselves with little room to manoeuvre. The time and energy needed for the facilitated talks is running out, undermined by the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in society at large, and the damage being done to the Church’s pastoral reputation every time a couple is rejected or a potential ordinand is turned down. If meaningful dialogue is to take place as it ought, a new interim position needs to be forged that takes a more realistic view of the new terrain. The half-hearted homophile passages in the Bishops’ pastoral guidance should be revised, and the reluctant concession about prayers for couples in civil partnerships needs to be strengthened and extended to same-sex marriage. The Church’s reservations about the equivalence of gay and straight relationships needs still to be acknowledged; but some of the pressure would be off. And then the Church might learn how to disagree well rather than, as at present, obnoxiously.
By the time this message is being read here in New Zealand, the very first Same-Sex Marriages will already have taken place in England – the home-ground of the Church of England. (First S/S Marriages to take place on Friday, 28th March 2014)
From this editorial, and the above-linked article from the ‘Church Times’ in the U.K., it will be seen that the Church of England has not handled the prospect to the best advantage of that Church. In the wake of the C.of E.’s resolute opposition to the Blessing of Same-Sex Civil Partnerships – which may possibly have averted what the Church sees as the ‘problem’ of Same-Sex Marriage – the new move on the part of the British Government to legalise S.S. Marriage has put the Church in a position of seeming homophobic opposition to the possibility of accepting monogamous, faithful, officially-sanctioned same-sex partnerships for Gay people.
The Bishop of Oxford stands apart as one of the Church’s Diocesan Bishops who sees the irony of what has been taking place in the House of Bishops as an inefficient and ineffective way of expressing a workable accommodation with, and acceptance of, the reality of homosexuality – as it affects not only secular society, but also members of the Church, both clerical and lay.
This singular lack of affirmation of the LGBTI people in the Church who are part and parcel of its organic life – though formerly hidden under a cloud of hypocrisy and official double-mindedness about the ontology of the homosexual condition, which had been thought to be a thing of the past with the advent of the ‘Pilling Report’ on Human Sexuality – has been exacerbated, rather then humanely dealt with.
What perhaps is even more serious, for the Church of England, is that already there are threats of disobedience to the blanket ban of Same-Sex Blessings in parish churches; and also the prospect of clergy going ahead with the Civil Marriage of their same-sex partners.
In the light of the fact that the Church of England is an integral part of the establishment in England, there could be upcoming legal problems with the Church on the part of the clergy, challenging their right to avail themselves of the opportunity to marry under the new law. What this might mean in terms of the prospect of being disciplined by the Church of England may very soon be tested.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand