Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Not This Again

'There was one person on Sunday morning who didn't want to take communion' one of the pastoral assistants told me, 'because they were so upset at what the bishops didn't do. I persuaded them they should, but you might want to think about saying something about it some time.'

And I suppose I might. What she's talking about is the report from the House of Bishops about the Church of England's approach to same-sex relationships which came out a couple of days ago. 'Church of England bishops reject lifting opposition to same-sex marriage', said the media reports, which, as is often the case with these things, is true as far as it goes. What the bishops seem to have said - I can't find the full document in a few minutes' searching, but the statement by the Bishop of Norwich here is fairly full - is more a stage in a conversation than some final decision. The report resulted from a two-year process of groups of clergy and laypeople all across the Church talking to one another about the matter, and will itself go forward to General Synod in a couple of weeks for a debate which isn't intended to decide anything either, only provide an opportunity for an exchange of views. 'this isn't the end of a process but we are somewhere in the middle of it.  We are sharing where we have reached in order to be as transparent as possible, and open to other voices', says the Bishop, which is as Anglican a statement as you could ever hope to read. 

You might have thought enough views had already been exchanged after all this conversing. Some people I know are exasperated and a gay priest friend has decided to take up blogging for the first time, which is serious. But it doesn't seem to have been a completely purposeless business. The statements - about repentance of homophobic attitudes, greater support for gay people, more clarity over the ways same-sex relationships can be acknowledged, and fairer ways of dealing with ordinands who may be gay - all represent shifts in position, painfully slow and small though they may seem to be to those who want something more radical to happen. This is, to lift a wonderful phrase from Cardinal Ratzinger-as-was, not nothing: you can hear the sound of great icebergs thawing and cracking against one another. A couple of years ago I was very critical indeed of the bishops' response to the equal marriage legislation which seemed so hand-wringing and inconsistent, and it does seem as though we are moving on from there. It appears abundantly if tacitly clear that the Anglican Church no longer believes homosexual acts to be sinful, even if it won't state it openly. I never expected a change in the doctrine of marriage, nor do I want that; but being able to bless a same-sex couple in the same way as I can bless heterosexual couples who've been married in a civil ceremony would be helpful, even though at the moment I could interpret the phrase 'informal prayer', which I could offer to a same-sex couple, in a variety of interesting ways. 

What's missing is any awareness that the Church's 'doctrine of marriage' needs to be not so much changed as discovered. I've still never heard a convincing explanation of why the Church marries anyone at all, why this particular relationship of all human relationships is made into a sacrament. If homosexual relationships are fine, as it seems they are, why not marry people of the same sex to each other in church? If we don't want to do that, why not? What quality about the sacrament of matrimony makes it appropriate for couples of different sexes and not those of the same sex? I tried to grapple with that question a couple of years ago, although I didn't get very far. Until the Church manages to answer those questions, whatever it comes up with will seem at its heart hollow and unjust.

No comments:

Post a Comment