Jonathan Clatworthy at Modern Church has written a response to the CofE report, which is titled Marriage and Diversity.
This is a response to the document Men and Women in Marriage by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission, published on 10 April 2013. The accompanying press release makes clear its purpose, that ‘public forms of blessing belong to marriage alone’, so there should not be public blessings of gay partnerships.
Much of the document is a general account of the purpose of marriage, and is to be commended. As such it is timely. Over the past 60 years the Church’s earlier restrictive teaching about marriage, partnerships and sexual relationships has been rejected and then forgotten by British society at large, which now openly tolerates a wider range of relationships and often expresses moral indignation at those who disapprove of gay partnerships or single parents. However a complete free-for-all is also unsatisfactory. Most people need some guidance, and the experience of the ages does reveal that some types of relationship are more satisfactory than others. For the Church to revisit its teaching on marriage with the positive aim of offering pastoral guidance on relationships is much needed.
Sadly, Men and Women in Marriage does not perform this role. Instead it aims to rescue as much as it can from earlier restrictive teaching, offering minimal concessions to alternatives. It does this by appealing to natural law to affirm the role of marriage but then departing from natural law to define it very tightly and to treat marriage so defined as the ‘norm’ (§§48, 49)…
And Jonathan has also written in a lighter vein: We don’t want the riff-raff having marriages.
…The document tells us that ‘public discussion at this juncture needs a clear view of why Christians believe and act in relation to marriage as they do, and this statement is offered as a resource for that’ (§4). Yet the authors know perfectly well that Christians believe and act in a wide variety of different ways, many quite contrary to what the document recommends. In other words, while claiming to tell us how Christians believe and act, it is really telling us how they think Christians ought to believe and act. It is an example of that technique we used to associate with conservative evangelicals, of claiming that anyone who disagrees with their opinions cannot be a Christian.
Perhaps the saddest thing about it is that it’s yet another example of the batten-down-the-hatches mood in the Church’s higher echelons. After a disastrous year last year – Anglican Covenant, women bishops, gay marriages – they still haven’t, apparently, learned that they can’t stop the world. If they think gay partnerships, divorce et al are all to be condemned, they should explain their reasons and allow truth to emerge from open debate – not pontificate from on high, and so erroneously, about ‘how Christians believe and act’.
One cannot help suspecting that this document is all about power relations in the hierarchy. The proposal for an Anglican Covenant began as an attempt to ‘discipline’ churches with openly gay bishops. That and the chaos over women bishops revolved around threats of schism. At times of intense disagreement, some are quick to put on their boxing gloves while others are determined to keep the peace, whatever the cost to those whose needs don’t fit the theory. We should be able to do better than this.