February 7, 2023

Maybe Two (or more) Churches of England?

General Synod of rhe Church of England is meeing this week, and it is forcing them finally to begin to address the fact that there have been two Churches of England for a while now. It is a bit like acknowledging that a couple have been pretending their marriage isn't at an end. This is understandable because the awfulness of admitting to the death of a marriage may be as awful as trying to keep up appearances. Much depends upon the reason for maintaining the appearance: is it for the sake of the public, or of the children? 

This might be a way to look at the current woe in the Church of England. The real "communion" of the Church, both internally and in its wider connections (Anglican and otherwise) — in the terms one uses for determining communion between differing church traditions: mutual recognition of ministers — was severed over the ordination of women (particularly to the episcopate) and an arrangement with what amounts to separate bedrooms (to extend the marital analogy) has kept up appearances of unity to some degree; though the joins begin to show at consecrations of bishops with various combinations of people participating — or not — in laying on of hands.

But it was only and ever an appearance; communion was and is severed; and now, it seems, we are talking about acknowledging the breach with a real divorce, and deciding the terms of who gets the silverware — perhaps literally. It is time for those on both sides of the divide to sit down and take this seriously. It is a pity that optimistic progressives failed to take full note of the conservative position that these were church-dividing issues. So they were, and are.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller

January 21, 2023

There will always be an England [, Church of?]

Reading the Church of England’s bishops’ half-hearted outreach to same-sex couples (many of whom have already bypassed the church and are married according the civil law): they are over-anxious about reaffirming their allegiance to the current definition of Holy Matrimony, and trying to distinguish it as much as they can from civil marriage — even though the tradition of marriage ascribes (where and when it does) the "sacrament" to the couple, who administer it to each other; the church imparts a blessing and its witness, but it does not "make" the marriage a marriage. This effort to shore up the tradition is, of course, a largely self-referential and circular exercise — affirming that the institution of marriage cannot change because it hasn't changed. This is axiomatic or definitional thinking; and it doesn't hold up too well if you look at the history of marriage theology and law, in which all sorts of things once forbidden become tolerated and then common. I sympathize to a degree with the English situation, made all the more difficult by a number of factors largely involving the status of the established church: people who in the US would be Southern Baptist or Assembly of God members are well within the fold of the Church of England, and many serve on the governing body and will never support a change in the marriage law; and Parliament carved out an exception for the established church that prevents it from marrying anyone. This makes it very messy and hard to make changes even when there is a desire so to do; and the majorities needed simply do not seem to be there. But my sympathy for their situation does not extend to the ham-handed way the bishops apologize, and yet continue to offend.

What will this mean for the future? Some will be satisfied with the offer of prayers of blessing and thanksgiving for civil marriages, and see it as a small step forward. Others will not; some will see it as an outrage and apostasy. There will be leavers and remainers on all sides. I suspect the larger public will continue its bemusement with the institution.