Giles Fraser: Which party really wants a divorce?

05 December 2007

[COLLord Carey has said some pretty foolish things in his time. But few can be as absurd as his claim that gay people undermine the institution of marriage — a claim he repeated last week in From Calvary to Lambeth on Radio 4, when he took on Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A newspaper cartoon in the United States also recently addressed this subject. Two fancy New York women are talking over lunch. One says to the other: “It isn’t homosexuals that are threatening my marriage. It’s the straight women that are sleeping with my husband that are the real problem.”

Dr Carey’s position is even more ridiculous when one recalls that the gay people who most upset conservatives such as him are the ones who are so anti-marriage that they want to get married themselves.

A few years ago, a set of statistics was published that suggested that Evangelicals have a higher divorce rate than atheists. According to the now-notorious findings of the Barna Research Group, 27 per cent of born-again Christians in the United States have been divorced, compared with 24 per cent of other American adults.

I do not remember anybody at the time asking whether Evangelicalism is actually bad for marriage, but there is certainly a prima facie case. It is true that Evangelicals are the ones calling for divorce in the Anglican Communion. Traditionally, they are the ecclesiological splitters: serial offenders at always finding another pretext for division. Once again, they are leading the way towards a messy separation.

So why are Evangelicals so divorce-minded? If I were going to speculate, I would suggest it might have something to do with a rigid mindset that is unable to tolerate compromise or disagreement. As any half-decent therapist will tell you, this sort of attitude leads many a couple to the divorce courts. For conservative Evangelicals, it always seems to be: my way, or the highway. Thus they have become the masters of the threatened walkout.

The Anglican Communion is a bit like a marriage. We are united with others, for better and for worse. We are called to love each other, even when we don’t see eye to eye. And, above all, we are called to stay together and work things out — with a good marriage-guidance counsellor, if necessary.

All this “You chose to walk apart” stuff, often directed at progressives, is as childish as “You started it,” or “You are the one who changed.” The plain facts are: liberals don’t want a divorce; many conservative Evangelicals do. This alone speaks volumes.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney.

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