March 2, 2014

A Lesson for the English Bishops

The really distressing thing about the C of E Bishops' Pastoral Guidance is that deep down they pretend to hold the line, Canute-like, at same-sex marriage, but have already swallowed incest and adultery whole, and like the adulteress of Proverbs 30:20, wiped the lips and said, "I've done no wrong." This is the inconsistency to which some of us have been pointing, and it is shameful.

They will be in the long run about as successful as Canute in keeping back the tide. Of course, he was really just making that very point. Perhaps the Bishops should copy his humility and admit that God is working out a purpose beyond their previous comprehension.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


rick allen said...

This strikes me as a very odd form of moral reasoning: if one errs in enabling some particular vice, it becomes shameful and hypocritical to oppose any other.

If there were suddenly some great popular enthusiasm for incest or polygamy, would it be shameful for a church to oppose them, even if it had previously jumped on the bandwagon and deserted a prior position on some other issue?

This proposition of course comes up (as all of them seem to, lately) out of the gay question. But, in any other context, does surrender on one issue necessarily mean hypocrisy for failure to surrender on any and all others?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, I don't think you've characterized the issue correctly. It isn't a question of "any" issue, but of issues where a moral equivalence can be demonstrated. In that light it seems to be exactly the sort of moral critique that Jesus engaged in all the time. You are familiar enough with the gospel for me not to need to cite the situations in which he critiqued such inconsistencies.

I believe that from a moral standpoint the "gay question" as you call it is certainly in a similar moral category with incest and adultery. And surrender on those issues does indicate a level of hypocrisy if consideration of the other is ruled out as somehow incapable of change.

Perhaps you have not been following the discussion concerning the Bishops' Pastoral. The issue is their claim that the current English civil law is for the first time out of sync with the law of the church. That claim is false. Why they made the claim, as it is not central to their argument, remains a mystery. But the fact remains that the church eventually came to allow that which they had previously opposed with considerable vigor. That does not in itself mean that a further change is required; but their refusal to acknowledge their own past changes certainly gives the whole affair a hypocritical air.

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

One suspects...ok, I suspect...that they feel they must maintain the position of being an arbiter of all moral issues. They must preserve the appearance of being a mystical oracle to which one can submit moral questions and receive certain answers. Not even the pope claims as much!

But they are bound to assert this kind of "we are the moral conscience of everything", because otherwise they would necessarily lose any claim to civil power. Their role in the House of Lords depends upon it; their role in England requires it.

So they must say as much; they can say no other. Unlike Canute, they are not pointing out the absurdity of their opponents position. They are, instead, living out the absurdity of their own.

Would that they would spend more energy on being bishops for their fold, and less voice on being some pretended moral voice for England.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Thomas. I think that an accurate diagnosis, and sadly, prognosis.

In a way, the Church of England has become like a rather pathetic elder of a family, whose advice and influence was once much sought out, but who has failed to notice that no one is paying much attention any longer, and yet keeps issuing sage and serious commentary it imagines people are heeding. The same is largely true, of course, for the Roman regime, a large portion of whose membership is so very much out of step with the "official" positions. At least Francis P.P. appears to have noticed this dissonance; and to be fair, so has Justin Welby. It's the apparatchiki of the curia and the synod who keep churning out the moral irrelevancies.

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

Tobias I believe that the problem is the fact that the Bishops think of themselves as arbiters of morality.

The Church's call is not to be the morality police, it is to be the purveyor of the Gospel and the instrument through which the world will be reunited with God.

Francis is trying to make the Roman segment of the Church less of a scold and more of a welcomer. Some evangelicals (though nor nearly enough) are doing the same thing.

The Taliban and other extreme proponents of Islam are also primarily scolds trying to impose their order on everyone else.

My reading of scripture tells me that God wants us to return voluntarily and out of love rather than be dragged back kicking and screaming

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Deacon Charlie, I think that's a good way of looking at the issue.

Erika Baker said...

They're more likely to lose their claim to civil power if they stick with this ridiculous line.
Long term British parliament will not tolerate a homophobic organisation as part of the legislative.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, I think they are playing a foolishly unnecessary game; no doubt feeling they need to wave the flag from the benefit of the Global South (who aren't convinced by their vexillations!) But as you note, this puts them at odds with the state, and with a good portion of their own actual membership. What doth if profit to gain the Global South at the loss of ones own souls?

Erika Baker said...

I don't know... if they were genuinely convinced of gay equality they would not be able to play that game.

I sometimes wonder whether it isn't the other way round - they're using the Global South as an excuse not to have to come to terms with the changes in their own country and their own church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

You may be right. I do not think there is great enthusiasm for equality in the HoB, and many would rather it would all just go away. It is a divisive issue, and a deal-breaker for the arch-conservatives, so the weak liberals may just be giving in to that particular desire not to have yet another row (women bishops having fairly worn them out coming to a "solution" that I can guarantee won't hold for long...)

At the same time, I assume the few gay bishops are fearful and closeted.

And you may well be right that the Global South gives them all as a body the cover they need. They are certainly not keen to change, for various reasons, so you may be right that this allows them an out.