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The christening dispute and the changes in British social attitudes

20 September 2013


From the Revd John M. Overton

Sir, - I read with sympathy the letter from Elaine Bishop (13 September), in which she bemoans the changes in meaning that words such as family, marriage, mother, and father are undergoing, and asks the question: "Has no one pondered the consequences?"

Those of us who reached the age of majority in the 1960s or earlier (and I am not implying that Elaine Bishop belongs with me in this category) have a subconscious model of a world in which the norms of behaviour held by society, the laws of the land, and the teachings of the Church of England appeared to be broadly in alignment. Until comparatively recently, we could hold to that model and simply bemoan the changes that were occurring as lapses from it, but lapses that were susceptible of correction.

With the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Unions) Act, we have to acknowledge that a cusp has been passed. That model of the world is like Humpty-Dumpty - well and truly broken.

A recent British Social Attitudes survey (News, same issue) showed, inter alia, that only 12 per cent of the population disapproves of sex outside marriage on moral grounds, almost two-thirds believing that it is "not wrong at all". When asked whether people who want to have children "ought to get married" seven out of ten people agreed in 1989. Last year, only 42 per cent agreed with this.

Clearly, the other 58 per cent, who do notexpress the belief that people who want to have children ought to get married, are not going to understand why two people of the same sex should not be able to marry in the same way as a heterosexual couple. Marriage has become, in the eyes of the majority, simply an institution that makes some people feel cosy. The laissez-faire consequence of this view is that if any two people want this, let them get on with it and be happy.

As a society, we have gone through similarly dramatic changes before (e.g. changes in outlook on sexual morality after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660). Nevertheless, it does mean that we in the Church have to look afresh at what the Bible is telling us on such matters, and not just stick unquestioningly to teaching that was prevalent half a century ago.

We are seeking to share the good news of Jesus in a generation whose background values and norms are completely different from those of even 25 years ago. We are well past the packaging issues of styles of worship, and are into serious matters of content.

Perhaps the archdeacon who found a solution to the problem of "two mothers" in the christening dispute was behaving in a manner that was prophetic, and not simply being "clever"?

6 Brown Edge Close
Derbyshire SK17 7AS


From the Revd Martin Oram

Sir, - Your article "Christians more liberal, survey finds" reminds me of an issue of Buzz Magazine in the 1980s, whose cover read: "There was a time when the church invaded the world; now, it seems, the world has invaded the church." And, alas, it clearly continues to do so.

12 Ash Grove, Rode Heath
Staffordshire ST7 3TD


From Mr David Greenfield

Sir, - I refer to your report (News, 13 September) that the Bishops of Gloucester and Worcester have called for the Church to acknowledge that it is out of step with society on homosexuality. Am I the only one who feels uneasy at the implication that the Church should reflect the views and behaviour of the society it is in?

I agree that it is right to acknowledge that, like society in the past, the Church has not treated minority communities very well. But does this necessarily mean that we should accept the modern thinking of our over-sexualised society that sexual relationships outside marriage (be they of the same or opposite sex) are good?

I raise these questions, as I am conscious that Jesus and the early Christians in their day, unlike the Church today,were counter-cultural, proclaiming a Kingdom that had values radically different from the prevailing culture. They did not go along with the trends in the culture and society of the first century AD.

My own view is that the Church today should not necessarily adopt society's views, but proclaim positively the gifts ofsingleness and marriage in today's society, which is full of broken relationships.

86 Thetford Road, New Malden
Surrey KT3 5DZ

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