Fulcrum has published an article by Andrew Goddard which is titled Men and Women in Marriage: Study or Ignore? It starts out this way:
No recent report from the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission (FAOC) has caused as much media confusion and engendered such vehement repudiation and anger as the publication of Men and Women in Marriage on April 10th. Some erroneously claimed the church was now more flexible on blessing gay partnerships but the press release made clear this was false. It quoted FAOC’s Chair, the Bishop of Coventry, stating “the document is clear that public forms of blessing belong to marriage alone”. The Church Times, in a short, dismissive comment, advised “the kindest thing to do with the new report Men, Women and Marriage is to ignore it”.
These responses show just how volatile this subject is in the Church of England and how difficult many find it to engage in constructive theological discussion. Despite some weaknesses, the six-part, 50-paragraph document represents a valuable contribution which richly repays the careful study called for by the Archbishops. The rapid campaign to sideline and silence it by opponents is an illuminating and worrying sign of where things may be headed in the Church of England.
The document’s purpose and central claim
A common complaint has been that the document does not reflect the diversity of views among Anglicans on the subject of marriage. This fails to understand its clearly stated purpose. Aware of government plans to redefine marriage in English law to include same-sex couples, last year FAOC requested and was authorised to produce a summary of the Church of England’s understanding of marriage and in particular its doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. Its report complements the Church of England submission to the government consultation which opposed “equal marriage” (to a similar outcry from the usual suspects) but with limited theological rationale.
As the report’s first part makes clear, the document is therefore not a contribution to wider debates on human sexuality. That will appear from the group under Sir Joseph Pilling whose crucial report is due to be submitted to the House of Bishops by the end of this year. Indeed, sensitivity about not encroaching on that report has weakened this one which simply expounds the definition of marriage found in various Church of England documents. It does so to resource Christians in publicly defending marriage and to correct misunderstandings of marriage liable to have negative consequences. It is especially defending the claim that “the sexual differentiation of men and women is a gift of God” (para 3, citing Genesis 1.27-8). Rather than condemn and dismiss it for not setting out the views of those who reject church teaching, critics need to refute this central claim or show why it is no longer essential to the church’s teaching on marriage…