A CODA to the Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships: since its publication, contrasts have been drawn between their policies on the blessing of same-sex unions and on marriage after divorce. Last Sunday’s Gospel brought this to the fore again: Christ’s direction is unequivocal, and preachers, most of whom would have been addressing people who have entered into a second marriage, will have tried to explain the apparent discrepancy between this text and current Anglican pastoral practice. Many will probably have spoken of forgiveness, the word that Dr Malcolm Brown used in his article last week to disqualify any analogy between the situation of divorced and same-sex couples. It would be outrageous, he argued, to suggest that gay partners were seeking forgiveness or confessing a failure.
Similarly, however, there are circumstances in which it would be outrageous to use such language of someone seeking a second marriage after an unhappy first one: marriage breakdown has many causes, and spouses can be divorced against their will. It is mercy, not forgiveness, that is at the heart of Pope Francis’s struggle with reactionary elements in his Church, and mercy is the quality at issue here, even when it is unrecognised by those who are already exercising it. By seeking to find ways to admit couples in prohibited marriages to communion, the Pope has been seeking to avoid the legalism of those who would regard them primarily as adulterers. In agreeing, in certain circumstances, to bless or even solemnise marriages contracted after divorce, C of E pastors take a different approach, but are effectively exercising mercy by dispensing a party to a previous marriage from at least some aspects of the earlier vows. Since all human activity operates under God’s mercy, and no relationship survives without it, it is difficult to see why, by thinking more along these lines, the Church of England’s bishops could not develop new means of exercising the same quality towards people who find themselves attracted to the same sex.
Plea for justice
THE current argument about the failure of the Government to honour Lord Dubs’s amendment feels like a squabble over scraps. Lord Dubs had attempted to undermine the Government’s hard-heartedness by appealing to the UK’s history of welcome and its love of children. This, in turn, was undermined by hostile coverage of resourceful teenagers — who deserved to be praised and nurtured, not vilified. The Government clearly felt bumped into making the offer, and has quietly (until last week’s publicity) capped the figure at 350. But by far the greatest hardship is felt by the many thousands of adult refugees in camps in countries such as Greece, who can ill afford to care for them. The UK’s continuing refusal to help is shameful.