Bishops ‘working together creatively’ for gay marriage
The new Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam (left), has already broken episcopal collegiality on sexual ethics. The announcement of the appointment of Jonathan Clark (right), an ex office Trustee of the so-called ‘Inclusive Church’ pressure group, as Bishop elect of Croydon, threatens to do the same. What has happened already with the Bishop of Salisbury will instruct us on what is likely to be the case for the Bishop elect of Croydon
The Bishop of Salisbury has spoken recently of ‘working together creatively’ on the notion of marriage. This is curious because, frankly, there really is no creativity to discuss. The introduction to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer sets out the Anglican understanding of what marriage constitutes and means:
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained. First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body. Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.The Bishop of Salisbury, on his Diocesan website, has stressed that he reaffirms his commitment to:
• Supporting marriage as it is currently understood
• Upholding the current discipline and practice of the Church of England
• Supporting those clergy whose standpoint differs from my own
The Bishop of Salisbury is, of course, utterly unable to do the first two of these things by maintaining his current position of campaigning for same-sex marriage. He cannot commit to supporting marriage as it is currently understood if, with the very next breath, he seeks to change the definition.
The same irrationality applies to the Bishop elect of Croydon, with his membership of both ‘Affirming Catholicism’, which opposes same-se marriage, and ‘Inclusive Church’, which campaigns for it. This must be a via media too far. The Ugley Vicar blogger John Richardson makes the point:
“If the Bishop disagrees with his clergy about the definition of marriage, but supports marriage as it is currently understood, then presumably they have a different view of marriage from the current one. Either that, or the reverse is true. What seems clear is that they cannot both be supporting the current view of marriage (whatever the word “current” is supposed to mean) and be disagreeing.”Recognising that this is a matter of ongoing debate within the Church of England, and understanding that we all have an obligation to listen to each other with respect, it must be recognised that the General Synod does not condone the teaching of same-sex marriage. This was, of course, the line taken by the Lambeth Conference 1998 – that we should listen with respect but that the doctrine on human sexuality remains unchanged. What is worth asking is whether Jonathan Clark takes the same policy on other matters which have been determined by the church – on, for example, drunkenness, pre-marital sex, or dishonesty...?
There is a kind of integrity here, for we have someone who is theologically liberal who acts according to conscience. For that, he should be commended, for to act according to one’s conscience and conviction is something generally praiseworthy. But there is a manifest lack of integrity in matching that same action with a blatant disregard for the polity and doctrine of the church in which he is a senior leader. If Jonathan Clark wishes to push the homosexual agenda on the church, he is free to do so. But he should then be prepared to step aside for the sake of someone else who is prepared to keep the consecration promise to ‘drive away all strange and erroneous doctrine’ (The Ordinal). Now that would be real integrity, and utterly praiseworthy.
Blessings to the Rev’d David Ould for the inspiration for this post.