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Press: Synod debate treated as idiotic disagreement

17 February 2023


ONE of the most significant outcomes of the General Synod debate on Living in Love and Faith is that it appears that All Souls’, Langham Place, and St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, will no longer help to fund the diocese of London (News, 10 February). Of course, this decision had nothing to do with anything said in the debate on the Synod floor: it had been prepared in advance. Still, it seems such an odd decision — no one is asking them to do anything that they feel is wrong. Surely celibacy is an individual choice, and forcing it on other people is wrong. That is certainly the line that even conservative Evangelicals nowadays take about second marriages.

But if you believe that gay sex is always and everywhere wrong, you are in a minority in today’s West — and in the Church of England, too — but pretty much in the mainstream of Christian thought through the centuries. This is an uncomfortable position, especially if you are also a beleaguered minority within your tribe on the question. Perhaps all that keeps you going is the thought that you have a vast invisible army on your side, and that the physical church members and leaders around you are only a part of that.

To have a great chunk of that Church announce that you were wrong all along is not, then, a disagreement: it’s a defection. Disagreements can be resolved by argument, or subsumed in wider agreements. Defections are different. They must be punished, or, if punishment is unavailable, they must be made permanent. In a disagreement, you can be wrong; in a defection, you are unfaithful. And, if you situate the word “unfaithful” in the thought-world of church politics, it is a concept that must lead to schism.

BELONGING and betrayal are powerful and dangerous emotions, but newspapers don’t handle them very well. There is something absurd about them when they animate other people. It is completely different when we feel them, as the Brexit referendum showed. But the coverage of the Synod debate showed the papers treating it as a perfectly idiotic disagreement.

Thus, Deborah Ross, in The Times: “You may think it ridiculous that the Church of England’s attitude to gay marriage isn’t: ‘Sure. Why not? A loving relationship between two people that harms no one else and is good for everybody? It’s a no-brainer. Let’s do it. We done for today? Great. I’m off to pick up my dry cleaning.’ Rather than: ‘Let’s schedule six long years for this, tie ourselves in knots, get pretty much nowhere and never see our dry cleaning again’.”

The same paper’s news report of Archbishop Welby’s speech was mystifying: “Welby choked back tears as he spoke of ‘people who die, women who have been raped and children who have been tortured’ across the Anglican Communion for their beliefs. He said: ‘I’ve been held hostage in Nigeria and told I was going to be killed in the morning. This isn’t something I take lightly.’

“The archbishop added: ‘There is nothing in my life or heart or prayers that comes as high as the safety and the flourishing of the people I love in the Anglican Communion,’ but he added that the church ‘must do right’ by backing the change.”

I suppose the intended audience was not the one in the chamber, but the Anglican Communion Primates whom he has been talking to this week. Unless, of course, it was Sandi Toksvig whom he had in mind when he said that he had spent the past two weeks being told exactly what to do and “I’m not doing any of it.”

One small interesting point about the divide between paper papers and their online equivalents: Wednesday’s Mail had as its splash front-page story “Now even God could be going gender-neutral”; but, when I checked the online site, there was not a word of the story anywhere.

AND now for something completely different. The Free Press, a well funded and professional online newsletter, carried an article by an American Muslim intellectual, Shadi Hamid, on the conversion to Islam of the misogynist influencer Andrew Tate, currently held in Romania on charges of human trafficking.

“When Tate explained why he chose Islam, he didn’t mention theology, salvation, the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad — or anything to do with spirituality or faith.

“As Tate sees it, where Christianity in the West is weak, undemanding, and devoid of firm rules, Islam is exacting, masculine, and vigorous. It refuses to be mocked, and it refuses to accommodate itself to progressive norms — particularly when it comes to gender and the family. Where Christianity has, in effect, accepted defeat, Islam, Tate said in the same interview, ‘feels like the last religion on Earth,’ the only faith that stands a chance of mounting an effective resistance to moral decay and decline. (Whether Tate himself is moral, or wishes to be, is secondary.)”

That last parenthesis is perfect. Hamid concludes that “Secularization doesn’t make religion irrelevant; instead, it creates new ways of being ‘religious.’”

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