Friday, 17 May 2013

More on that CofE marriage report

Stephen Bates writes in today’s Diary column in the Guardian about that report.

  • Rumblings of discontent emerge from the distant shrubbery as some diocesan bishops quietly take issue with the church’s recent report outlining its adamant opposition to gay marriage. The wobble is important as the coalition’s bill is up for report stage and third reading in the Commons next week. The report by the church’s standing faith and order commission was subcontracted to be written by two conservative academics, Oliver O’Donovan and Michael Banner, and has been widely criticised, including by members of the commission and by church conservatives as well as liberals They say it is badly written, incoherent and theologically superficial. Its launch too was naively mishandled, with the commission’s chairman Christopher Cocksworth, bishop of Coventry, declining to answer questions at a joint press conference but instead seeing selected journalists separately – a sure sign of institutional nervousness and one bound to fail since the reporters compared notes anyway. John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, apologised – a very rare event – at a private meeting of diocesan bishops for the botched publication and the way the report was railroaded through. The trumpet’s certainly giving an uncertain sound (Corinthians 1, 14:8). Good old CofE!

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…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 12:44pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

Ah, the fantasies of persecution dreamed up by conservative Christian clergy. I wish we might put the emphasis where it belongs:

An EU survey out today reports one in five European GLBT people have been victimized by homophobic attacks or violent threats in the past five years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22563843

And meanwhile, in Georgia (the one in the Caucasus), a clergy-led mob violently disrupted a gay rights parade. Thirty people were injured. http://en.ria.ru/world/20130517/181207800.html

That's persecution!

Posted by: Charlotte on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 6:28pm BST

"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."

"Worrying" for YOU, Mr Goddard. For (ahem) Thinking Anglicans, the aforementioned campaign is a sign the CofE ain't dead yet!

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 3:43am BST

Thanks Charlotte, for the reminder of what real persecution looks like. There's also not having your full human rights, losing employment, being barred from the hospital bedside of one's life-long partner, depression, etc.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 4:46am BST

While Stephen Bates has dug out some new and interesting information, Andrew Goddard has not.

Still, you have to admire Andrew's solitary defence of this deeply flawed document. He shows loyalty and is unconcerned at the impact on his own reputation and credibility.

Everyone I have read criticises the document specifically and with just cause. It does not do well what it was intended to do.

He is right when he calls on those who are not believers in a flat earth to come out and tell us more. If the document failed to reflect what we now understand to be true, then we need more scholars to speak up. Equal marriage is about to happen, the Church needs to have something better to say than "it just cannot be!", and to try and protect itself from successful legal challenge. It is arguing itself into a deeper hole and a smaller corner, while God (as ever) seems to be inhabiting the real world and enlivening real people and real sacramental relationships.

So while I understand the call to ignore the Commission's thinking because it adds nothing new (that was its brief!), we need to do much more so that our faith and message does not become ever more profoundly irrelevant to the world it came to set free.

I have helped place children born to married couples whose lives had been destroyed and seen them resurrected, transformed and restored by the love of same sex families. Those of us who have adopted or have been adopted should find within Christianity THE DEEPEST understanding and theological support for our families. In the most perverse way and for the most perverse reasons, the Church continues to do us great harm.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 9:13am BST

I am just petrified by the rise of homophobic violence in New York, Paris, Russia, where bishops, far from defending their persecuted flock, are fanning the flames. The selfrighteousness of homophobic Anglican clergymen chills me, but happily they are a minority.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 19 May 2013 at 5:56am BST

"I am just petrified by the rise of homophobic violence in New York, Paris, Russia, where bishops, far from defending their persecuted flock, are fanning the flames."

Spirit, I'm wondering if there really is a rise in homophobic violence, or if people are starting to report it for what it is? There has been an awful lot of hate related violence here in the US for a very long time. I suspect that now that a majority believe in human rights for LGBT persons, that the hate crimes are reported as such, rather than as a random assault.

Religion has long fanned these flames, much to their shame. Praise God for a sea change. The moral arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends toward justice. As I was contemplating these issues (relative to my recent Civil Union), a double rainbow appeared in the Colorado sky. That New Zealand MP would have even more to wax poetic over!

Posted by: Cynthia on Sunday, 19 May 2013 at 9:32pm BST
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