THE release of the Bishops' Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex
Marriage missed St Valentine's Day by one minute, but it was a near
thing, and perhaps not the best end to a week in which the C of E
attempted to demonstrate that, despite differences, it had a
working knowledge of what unity demanded.
In his presidential address to the General Synod, Archbishop
Welby spoke about reconciling the Church over women bishops.
"Already, I can hear the arguments being pushed back at me, about
compromise. . ." But it is not doing great violence to his words to
apply them to a similar, if not exactly parallel, matter. It was
instructive that the language changed during the course of the
address. On women bishops, the key word was "love": "There is going
to have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people
with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ, and
therefore must be loved by me." On gay relationships, "love" was,
at best, implied: "We have to find a way forward that is one of
holiness and obedience to the call of God, and enables us to fulfil
our purposes." The tone mirrors, perhaps unconsciously, the
sternness at the end of the House of Bishops statement.
Still, in the spirit of the Archbishop's address, we express our
sympathy for the position in which the Bishops find themselves.
They are themselves divided; so vision is out, and a form of holy
pragmatism is all one can hope for. First, it is in nobody's
interests for the matter to come to a vote. Recent polls, ours
included, have shown that there is strong opposition to same-sex
marriage in the Church, certainly enough to block the two-thirds
majority any change to any Prayer Book rubric would require. And,
second, the Archbishop's Communion visits have reinforced the view
that the issue of homosexuality is still regarded as a litmus test
of "soundness". No Church-wide agreement is possible in the near
future, especially if, as here (but, strangely, on few other
matters), you widen your definition of Church to something near
So, what do you do? You accept that you are in an interim
situation - an "untidy Church" - and behave accordingly. You accept
a degree of anarchy, having first, it appears, ascertained that you
have no real sanctions to apply. You reinforce existing doctrine.
You initiate conversation between opposing views - still to come.
And you shame the extremists by condemning bigotry and using the
language of love and respect for all parties. The Bishops score
half marks here.
Given their consistent opposition to same-sex marriage, the St
Valentine's statement was predictable. It would help greatly,
though, if it were acknowledged for what it is: a holding position.
We do not think it will hold for long; nor can it, unless
congregations feel no responsibility for what is clearly a pastoral
disaster, or are willing to be seen as "akin to racists".
Archbishop Welby spoke of "courageous Churches". It ought not to
take courage to treat LGBT people more lovingly. But perhaps
courage is precisely what the Bishops lack, since to treat someone
lovingly is to treat him or her equally.