So here’s a question for conservatives in the CofE. What do you fear? I don’t see anyone wanting to force you to marry people or bless them if it’s against your conscience. As with divorced people. So what do you fear?
This was something I tweeted last week. Living in Love and Faith is still going on, and there’s a certain amount of speculation as to whether compromise is possible, or whether this is the end of the road. As you’d expect on Twitter, my tweet led to a range of responses, some of them taking us down quite bizarre rabbit-holes like whether the Methodist Church is a church or a social club. Although some people engaged, many were not those taking a conservative position themselves, but those who assumed they knew what conservatives thought. Hmmm. I was trying to get away from such an approach. Like everyone else, my Twitter bubble is no doubt slanted towards people who largely agree with me, but it is not entirely closed.
Some took issue with the wording of my question, not liking the word ‘fear’ and saying they feared nothing. One person answered ‘The Lord’. Another wrote ‘No Christian fears what any man says or thinks about them. Why would they – it’s not another human who they are ultimately going to be judged by!’ Fair enough: so what they fear is judgement. Me too, actually. Someone tweeting as ‘Justin Welby’s cat’ (!) said ‘We fear the Holiness of God, as the bible tells us too. We fear more getting deceived as being lost eternally, as the book of Jude tells us. That many more will end up as you, clouds without rain’. So that’s Jude 1:12 (surprised that the Bible didn’t start with an upper-case B). Nobody mentioned 1 John 4:18, and perfect love casting out fear.
I asked this question because I am surprised that those who take a more evangelical view (and yes, I know, all these labels are very approximate and risk putting together people whose positions are quite different) are so resistant to offering church marriages to same-sex couples when some – not all – of them are prepared to do so for couples where one or both partners has been divorced. There are two reasons for my surprise.
First, if a person uses the Bible as their sole or preferred source of authority, well, there are comments from Jesus on divorce but none on LGBTQI+. So I’d expect the sola scriptura people all to be opposed to second marriages: but they aren’t. As for those who are opposed, the position of the Church of England is that no parish priest is obliged to marry someone who has been through a divorce. Individual conscience is respected, and people taking this position are able to remain in a Church which accepts such marriages.
Second, if your faith is very much about your individual response to God – saying the ‘sinner’s prayer’, giving your testimony – then I’d have expected you to say that your own salvation depends on that response, not on the position taken by the wider Church body to which you belong.
When I was opposed to the ordination of women, alongside the theological arguments that then made sense to me (that there aren’t any women priests in the Bible; and that only a man can represent Christ at the altar), I most definitely felt fear. This fear was focused on church unity; this was the time when my favourite hymn was the one including the lines ‘make thou our sad divisions soon to cease’ and ‘We pray thee too for wanderers from the fold/Oh bring them back, good Shepherd of thy sheep’. If we were to ordain women, wouldn’t this put a further barrier between the C of E and the Roman Catholic church? When I had my Damascene moment of conversion from anti to pro, caused by hearing Mary Tanner talking at our Deanery Synod, the fear ceased. The good we would be doing, by including the gifts of women in our leadership, felt as if it outweighed that hope for unity with Rome.
Those who remain anti on this question can remain in the Church of England. If your reading of the Bible tells you that women should not be admitted as priests, you can ask your parish to pass a resolution that no women will be sent your way. If you believe that women can’t be bishops, your church can ask for episcopal oversight from a bishop who is not a woman and has not ‘laid hands’ on one.
Yet somehow it still isn’t seen as theoretically possible to stay in a Church which welcomes same-sex couples who want to mark their committed relationship in the place where they regularly worship God, even if that Church accepts that not all priests will want to be involved in such a ceremony.
Sorry, but I still don’t get it. The talk about salvation issues, first-order issues, and creation being applied to same-sex marriage reminds me of what was said when women’s ordination was being discussed, and somehow we came through that. But not this?