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"?
JOHN M. OVERTON
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
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