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What God cares about

28 February 2014

THE clergy tweet was unambiguous: "Today I hate the Church of England. I am under authority, but I hate and resent it. I call it as I see it. It is wrong." So what had provoked such raging clarity of opinion?

In preparation for the legalisation of same-sex marriage next month, the House of Bishops recently offered pastoral guidance on the subject ( News, 21 February). It was accompanied by a letter from the Archbishops, a preamble, in which we are called to "integrity, self-discipline, and grace": a sure sign in church circles that there could be trouble ahead.

We are all familiar with the priest's opening prayer at the difficult PCC meeting: "O Lord, who calmed the storm, so calm our hearts tonight that we might be in peaceful agreement, and not turbulent or disruptive like the weather is sometimes, which can be disappointing."

Initially, I struggled to get past the tone of the words of the Archbishops' letter and guidance. It had the strong feel of Uriah Heep, with much hand-wringing and repeated talk of God's love. I am suspicious when people speak of God's love quite so much: it usually means that what they propose is the living incarnation of quite the opposite. And so it transpires.

We learn that the Church has come round to accepting same-sex relationships among the laity, because these embody social values such as "mutuality and fidelity". So there is a change in church thinking. We then hear of another: these relationships may include sex. No, the sexual side of the relationship does not need to be asked about before baptisms or communion - which is a relief. So far, so sane.

But then we reach rules for gay clergy, which is when we enter a time that sanity forgot; because what is acceptable for laity turns out to be unacceptable in clergy, who are asked to live their life "according to the way of Christ" - a phrase so non-specific as to be meaningless. And now I am reading back, wondering whether I missed something; but I don't think I did.

The thrust of the piece seems to be this: what is OK for laity is not so for clergy. God appears to look on clergy differently, as if appalling personal lives are fine for hoi-polloi laity, but when it comes to the ordained, the gospel's storm-troopers, then we really see what God cares about: stopping gay sex, which, as we have been told, is not "the way of Christ".

It would be hard to parody all this double-speak: "The Church abhors the demonisation of gays; for God loves them, and so does the Church - if only they'd stop being who they are. Especially gay clergy."

"God delights always to give good gifts to his children," the Archbishops say in their accompanying letter. Well said. But then, I suspect, God is not the problem here.

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