Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Church of England Takes Another Backwards Step

Archbishop Justin Welby

Archbishop Justin Welby
The Church of England has an interesting system of alternating evangelicals and Catholics when appointing the Archbishop of Canterbury. It seems that they are adopting a similar system for the control of their (possibly) unruly LGBT members. The Pilling Report published at Thanksgiving offered some (small) hope that attitudes were shifting, with its recommendation that clergy could be allowed to offer a service to mark same-gender unions. This pleased liberals and annoyed conservatives. But just a day after St. Valentine’s Day, the Church of England House of Bishops made it quite clear that that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Responding to the fact that same-gender marriages will happen in the UK starting next month, they issued a pastoral statement saying once again that marriage is only for a man and a woman. Consequently, CofE clergy, already banned from performing such weddings, may not offer a service of any kind – merely "informal prayers." Not surprisingly, this is annoying liberals and pleasing conservatives.

It wouldn't all be quite so baffling if the same House of Bishops hadn't stated just last month, "We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained. We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found."

Why then, do this pastoral statement and its accompanying guidelines make it very clear that gay Anglican clergy may not marry and married gay people need not apply to become clergy?

"Marriage" is socially defined. A quick survey of the history of marriage shows that it has meant different things at different times and in different places. The only difference the CofE seems to make between civil partnerships (which it allows for gay clergy) and marriage (which is reserved for heterosexuals) is gender. Is banning people from being able to live their lives fully and joyfully just because of gender "standing firmly against homophobia?” I don’t think so.

The fact that the statement was sent to bishops and archbishops throughout the Anglican Communion makes it seem as though this statement had a particular audience. Whereas the Pilling Report, which seemed to open the door of equality just a chink, was directed at the Church of England, this missive was directed at the Anglican Communion. Just as the Most Rev. Rowan Williams found it politically necessary shortly after his appointment to declare Lambeth 1.10 the "standard of teaching” of the Anglican Communion, thus promulgating the notion that homosexual activity is incompatible with Scripture, so now the Most Rev. Justin Welby may be finding it necessary to show that he’s not going "soft” on gay marriage.

The day before the statement was published, he told the General Synod of the CofE "There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that [special services for gay couples] will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word,”… "And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism."

It seems that once again the Archbishop of Canterbury is choosing to bow to those Anglicans who insist on a traditionalist view of Christian teaching rather than daring to boldly re-interpreting God’s grace for contemporary times.

My heart goes out to those in England who will pay the price.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Integrity and author of A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church.

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