The Church of England continues not to serve its members or itself very well. The latest is a statement of pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops in response to movements towards same-sex marriage. The full text, and much comment is available at Thinking Anglicans.
I call this statement "incoherent" due to its many internal contradictions, as well as its frequent assertions that contradict both received tradition and plain sense. Not being in a mood to "fisk" it (as I've done with things like Some Issues in Human Sexuality), I leave it to knowledgeable readers to do the work themselves. Leave it at this: a church that has come to tolerate remarriage after divorce cites the teaching of Jesus and its own tradition (including the plain text of its own traditional marriage liturgy) as a reason not to include same-sex couples. It is as if we were living on Animal Farm: the values of monogamy, permanent fidelity and mutual love (which the document cites as evident in at least some same-sex relationships) can be erased from the constitution, leaving only "man" and "woman" — the crucial defining adjective "one" no longer being applicable, even, as has been noted, for the likely future governor of the church. The Bishops have hinged the sole significant virtue (fidelity and so on being all very well but not restricted to mixed-sex couples) upon heterosexuality itself. Gender has become a virtue, and virtue insignificant. And they have the gumption to call this the teaching of Christ.
The document also calls upon the notion of a higher standard for clergy. This is a notion with which I am not entirely unsympathetic, as I do think clergy ought to model behavior that attests to a moral and virtuous life. However, in this case we are back to an Animal Farm model whereby all people are equal but clergy are more equal than others, and virtue now resides not in recognizable goods such as fidelity and love, but gender. In a further astounding application of this clerical principle, a cleric can say "informal prayers" for a same-sex couple in church (though not as a special "service of blessing") but cannot be so informally prayed for him or herself — so clergy who are gay or lesbian must remain celibate (which is to say, unmarried), while celebrating (informally!) the very thing they are forbidden to enjoy (because it would be an unwholesome example to the flock before whom they've just invoked their "informal" prayer. Moreover, even that informal prayer must be accompanied by a lecture to the effect that it is all rather out of keeping with the teaching of the church — surely the church giveth and the church taketh away.) I said it was incoherent, and it is.
Moreover, citations from Lambeth 1998 notwithstanding, this requirement of celibacy for gay or lesbian clergy is not in keeping with the church's own proper rule concerning the marriage of ordained persons. Article XXXII states:
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.The emphasis in the last line is mine, and is intended to remind us that this is a matter of individual conscience, not to be tampered with or tempered by ecclesiastical authority.
It is distressing that a document that so often calls upon Christ should be so blind to his actual teaching, and one that cites tradition so blind to its own history. I shall pray the bishops take a trip to Damascus, and a new bright light shine upon them, as it knocks them for a loop.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG