Home/Rod Dreher/Breaking: Anglican Man Bites Dog

Breaking: Anglican Man Bites Dog

Lord Carey, the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury addresses a 2012 rally held by the Coalition for Marriage (Photo by Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images)

We are not used to seeing headlines like this about the Church of England:

 

Story in The Guardian:

The Church of England has stated that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage, and that sex in gay or straight civil partnerships “falls short of God’s purpose for human beings”.

Bishops have issued pastoral guidance in response to the recent introduction to mixed-sex civil partnerships, which says: “For Christians, marriage – that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

The church “seeks to uphold that standard” in its approach to civil partnerships, and “to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships” within such partnerships.

It adds: “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”

A marvel! This is from the Church of England. The old girl is still capable of surprises. Good for the bishops. That’s stronger than I would have expected (and, as the Catholic UK reader who sent that item to me said, stronger than what one would expect these days from the Pope). Ah, but there is dissent:

Linda Woodhead, a professor in the department of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster University, said: “The C of E is unable to get over its fixation on homosexuality, which is driving the the national church into a position more like a fundamentalist sect and does not speak to the vast majority of younger people today.”

A “fundamentalist sect,” for believing what all Christian churches have believed for nearly 2,000 years, and what most Anglicans in the world today believe. If anybody here is a fundamentalist sect, it’s the liberal Anglicans.

The sad fact is, for a variety of reasons, all Christian churches, wherever they land on the morality and theology spectrum, are having trouble connecting with young people today. But it is a special conceit of progressive Christians that if only they make themselves more like the world, especially on sexual matters, the young will beat a path to their doors. How’s that working out for the Episcopal Church, the main American branch of world Anglicanism, which has gone super-progressive, and is still declining: average age, 57. 

It is also funny that progressive Christians within the various churches have been the ones who have put homosexuality front and center, and loudly — yet blame church conservatives for being obsessed with the matter, simply because they refuse to abandon Scripture and Tradition. I think of the older Baby Boomer priest at my Catholic parish in Fort Lauderdale, 1995-98, who preached at least two sermons on the evils of homophobia, and how the Church is so hung up about homosexuality. In 13 years of faithfully attending mass on Sundays and holy days, the only time I ever heard homosexuality spoken of from the pulpit was from this old dude banging on about how unhealthily obsessed the Church was over homosexuality.

It’s kind of like this:

“Good evening, I would like to order the rib eye, medium rare.”

“I’m sorry, sir, this is a seafood restaurant. We don’t serve steak.”

“But I want the rib eye.”

“Sir, this is a seafood restaurant.”

“Did you not hear me, waiter? I said I wanted beef. Bring me a steak!”

“Sir, I beg your pardon, but I cannot do that. We only have fish and shellfish.”

“BRING ME A STEAK! I came here tonight hungry. Steak is what I want. What is wrong with you that you will not let me have what I want to eat?”

“We have been here for a long time, sir, and have always been a seafood restaurant. Perhaps you would be happier, sir, at the steakhouse on the next block.”

“This is where I wanted to eat tonight, and I am entitled to steak! Why do you hate me so much that you would deny me what I want? Isn’t the customer always right?”

“Sir, here is our menu. Look, right here on these pages. There is fish, and there is shellfish. There is no beef anywhere on this menu. No beef, sir! You cannot have beef because it is not on the menu. There is no beef in this restaurant. We are a seafood restaurant, sir. If you do not wish to enjoy seafood, then you should dine elsewhere this evening. I cannot bring you a steak. That is final.”

“Waiter, I just don’t understand why you so obsessed with steak.”

UPDATE: Reader Stephen Walton:

The pastoral guidance is better than expected, but as a Church of England minister I can only give it two cheers out of three. As always, the devil is in the detail. Paragraphs 29 and 30 say:

“29.The House considers that lay people who have registered civil
partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their
relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion.

30.In relation to infant baptism, Canon B 22.4 makes it clear that,
while baptism can be delayed for the purposes of instruction (including on
marriage and the family), it cannot be refused. The responsibility for taking
vows on behalf of the infant rests with the parents and godparents. Provided
there is a willingness, following a period of instruction, to give those vows,
priests cannot refuse to baptise simply because those caring for the infant are
not, in their view, living in accordance with the Church’s teaching.”

So any sacramental discipline is ruled out- and a same-sex relationship would be given de facto acceptance. Also, the guidance talks about the Church’s present teaching- but hints that this could change, through the “Living in Love and Faith” process, (see paragraphs 10, 18 and 25). This is why they talk about the Church’s teaching and not biblical teaching- the former can change, the latter cannot. I don’t think that we will the Church of England embrace Same-Sex Marriage, and change its liturgy and canons, as The Episcopal Church has done- at least not in the short term. But in the next couple of years it is likely that the Church of England approve some kind of blessing of a Same-Sex relationship. “Living in Love and Faith” is part of a softening-up process for this. A new Archbishop of York has just been appointed, who is known to favour revising the Church’s teaching, and has allegedly told clergy who disagree that they should leave. In autumn of this year, a new General Synod will be elected, the liberals may get a majority, (their election campaign is well-organised), and if they do, Synod will probably approve some kind of prayers for those in a Same-Sex marriage or civil partnership. Indeed, read carefully, paragraphs 17-21 would allow some kind of prayers in a public service.

This of course won’t satisfy fanatics like Linda Woodhead, who will be content with nothing less than immediate and full acceptance of same-sex marriage. But the medium- and long-term direction of travel is clear

Reader Rhys Laverty:

Writing as a UK evangelical here. I’m not an Anglican, but have worked and worshiped in Anglican churches, and evangelical Anglicans are work much more closely with other evangelicals from free churches than they do with non-evangelical Anglicans.

This might look heartening, but it’s meaningless. It’s not enough to please evangelical Anglicans — they know it won’t be enforced, and they loathe the House of Bishops anyway. Meanwhile, liberals will make noise about how dreadful it is, but it’s equally meaningless to them. They’re already ignoring the official line.

To build on your closing illustration: imagine your beleaguered waiter has stood his ground against his insufferable customer on fact that there is no steak to be had… and then the head waiter swans in and says “I’m sure we can get that for you!” and politely ushers the customer to a special table. THAT is the House of Bishops.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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