Tuesday, January 31, 2017

After the Shared Conversations

It may not have escaped your notice that the Church of England has been holding what it has called Shared Conversations about human sexuality, and particularly same-sex marriage, over the last couple of years.  Of course, it may have escaped your notice, and that's fine too.  The report of the bishops commissioned to close the process has now been published, and it essentially represents two things: a maintenance of the doctrinal status quo, alongside an attempt to create a more open and welcoming atmosphere for people who identify as gay or lesbian.

Commendable goals, in my view.

And yet I have a big problem with this report, and it goes beyond the immediate issue and to the heart (I think) of Anglican polity.  There is a lot of talk in the report about disagreeing well, and about seeking to maintain unity, and it all sounds jolly noble (and no doubt actually is noble, at least in intention).  But there is not a lot of 'thus says the Lord'.  And that really matters.  Because if we cannot preface what we have to say on this issue - and so many others - with a Dominus dixit, do we have any right to call people to listen?  In short, what authority do the bishops of the Church of England, or indeed anybody else, have to regulate people's sexual conduct?

For as long as the impression given is simply that it's best for the unity of the church if we don't accept gay marriage, or that there just isn't the appetite for change at the moment, or any number of more or less sincere and more or less pertinent and powerful reasons to maintain the status quo, Christians in favour of gay marriage will be appalled, because it is appalling to lay burdens and laws that come so close to the heart of people's own existence and identity for any of those reasons.  It is only if we can say with authority that this is God's law - flowing from his gospel - that we can make any such pronouncement.  Because it's only the law that comes from the gospel that brings freedom.

So, anyway, I guess I'm not an Anglican.  But we probably all knew that already.

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