David Cameron tells the Church of England to be more ‘gay friendly’
She refers to his ‘astonishing attack on the Church of England over its attitudes to homosexuality’.
One wonders why Mr Cameron has not seen fit to criticise the Roman Catholic Church, which is rather more robust on the issue.
Or his local mosque, which he might find even more robust.
That aside, Mr Cameron is of the opinion that ‘if our Lord Jesus was around today he would very much be backing a strong agenda on equality and equal rights, and not judging people on their sexuality’.
Cranmer begs to differ: if ‘our Lord Jesus’ were around today, there is nothing at all to suggest that he would be remotely interested in talking about ‘equality’ or ‘rights’ at all.
He would be preaching the gospel, in season and out, and calling on people to repent of their sin and prepare for the coming of the Kingdom.
Mr Cameron says: “I don't want to get into a huge row with the Archbishop here, but the Church has to do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through. Sorting this issue out and recognising that full equality is a bottom-line, full essential.”
To be frank, Cranmer is rather irritated by this, not least because Mr Cameron appears to be completely ignorant (as Mrs Gledhill points out) of the ‘endless debates, committees, reports, schisms and not-quite-schisms that have played out in the Anglican Communion over the last decade and more on this issue’.
His Grace would like respectfully to point out to Mr Cameron that the Church of England began the process to which he refers while he was still a whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly past Bekynton to Lower Chapel.
And now, in the tenor of Tony Blair lecturing the Pope on this very matter, David Cameron is suggesting that the Archbishop of Canterbury should ‘modernise’ the Church of England.
The Church of England has been adapting, compromising and perpetually 'modernising' along via media after via media since 1534. The genius of Anglicanism is that it seeks to reconcile opposed systems, rejecting them as exclusive systems, but showing that the principle for which each stands has its place within the total orbit of Christian truth.
Mrs Gledhill continues:
‘On civil partnerships, Cameron said it was “worth looking” at changing civil partnerships to marriage but at the moment he favoured staying where we are.
‘He said gay people should be able to adopt. He confessed he had argued about it with him but believed he could convince even the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Scotland (he didn't say which RC AB in Scotland...) that “there are occasions when gay adoption is a perfectly sensible and straightforward thing.” He said he believed that children do best when there are two parents to help bring them up and that “the ideal adoption is finding a mum and dad, but there will be occasions when gay couples make very good adoptive parents. So I support gay adoption.”
‘Cameron was then asked: “Do you think that the right of gay children to have a safe education trumps the right of faith schools to teach that homosexuality is a sin?”
‘He answered: “Basically yes – that's the short answer to that, without getting into a long religious exegesis. I mean, I think, yes. I think...(long pause)... I don't want to get into an enormous row with the Archbishop here. But I think the Church has to do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through – sorting this issue out and recognising that full equality is a bottom line full essential.’
But, Mr Cameron, the Church of England is not a political party that may be recreated in the image of man.
It is no-one’s private fiefdom (though it may once have been).
Her Majesty the Queen is the Supreme Governor, and Jesus Christ is the Head.
It is acutely concerned with all that Mr Cameron talks of: the persecution abroad of homosexuals; the adoption of children by suitable parents irrespective of sexuality; the provision of services for the poor and marginalised; the expression of compassion to the alienated, outcast, oppressed and persecuted, irrespective of their gender, skin colour, sexuality or religion. The doors of the Church of England are open to everyone in the land. For centuries before the Conservative Party even existed, it has possessed the capacity for the via media which was never in its essence compromise or an intellectual expedient but a quality of thinking, an approach in which elements usually regarded as mutually exclusive were seen to be in fact complementary. These things were held in 'living tension', not in order to walk the tightrope of compromise, but because they were seen to be mutually illuminating and to fertilise each other.
This is the ‘living tension’ which was first advocated by Hooker (of whom Mr Cameron has probably never heard), who was opposed to absolutism in both church and state and an exponent of conciliar thought. This ensures that the laity, clergy and bishops all participate in guarding against autocracy in a system of checks and balances that in many ways apes the parliamentary process. If authority is dispersed, spiritual tyranny is prevented. The similarities between the synodical and parliamentary procedures are unsurprising when both expressions of representative government have a common root in mediaeval political thought.
Yet Mr Cameron appears to be intent on pursuing the Harman agenda and forging an absolutism. The Archbishop of York has said of Labour:
“Our current Government is in danger of sacrificing Liberty in favour of an abused form of equality – not a meaningful equality that enables the excluded to be brought into society, but rather an equality based on diktat and bureaucracy, which overreaches into the realm of personal conscience.”
While the observations may be wholly valid and politically astute, they only add to the perception that the Church of England seeks to exclude or is out of sympathy with some distinct groups of people for whom it should have a pastoral concern. This would be less of a problem if the Church’s Supreme Governor were not also the Head of State, for by virtue of being so, she is obliged to exercise her public ‘outward government’ in a manner which accords with the private welfare of her subjects – of whatever creed, ethnicity, sexuality or political philosophy. The royal supremacy in regard to the Church is in its essence the right of supervision over the administration of the Church, vested in the Crown as the champion of the Church, in order that the ‘religious welfare’ of its subjects may be provided for.
While politicians may argue over the manner of this ‘religious welfare’ in a context of ‘equality’ and ‘rights’, by focusing on such issues they alienate and distance the Church from political engagement.
Since Mr Cameron is likely to be Prime Minister when the Pope visits in September, Cranmer will be listening keenly to see if he lectures His Holiness and insists that his church must also ‘do some of the things that the Conservative Party has been through. Sorting this issue out and recognising that full equality is a bottom-line, full essential’.
Or would that run the risk of accusations of being ‘anti-Catholic’?
Yet if ‘full equality’ is ‘the bottom line’, if it is ‘full essential’, we are in for a far more interesting religio-political time under the next Conservative government than Cranmer could ever have dreamed.