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.