"..quite amazing how (the Church of England) can preach honesty but produce this masterclass in doublespeak, obfuscation and internal contradiction," tweets John Bingham, Social and Religious Affairs editor of the Daily Telegraph. And when you read the statement issued on same-sex marriage by the House of Bishops, you may wonder at the depth of duplicity which underpins the theology, and the breadth of naïvety which surrounds the politics.
Essentially, for those who can't be bothered to read the Pastoral Letter (which His Grace always exhorts, for secondary comment is no substitute for primary cognisance), the Bishops have decreed that gay and lesbian couples who get married (in accordance with and by the definition of the law of the land) will be permitted to ask their local vicar for special prayers of thanksgiving (not blessing).
However, if your vicar happens to be gay (or lesbian), and he (or she) is in a relationship (with a person of the same sex), they will be prohibited from getting married in accordance with and by the definition of the law of the land.
His Grace has only a few things to say (for he is thoroughly sick of this subject, and is mindful that people are starving, children are being euthanised, and souls are being lost):
i) The Bishops of the Church of England have not pleased all of the people all of the time since 1534: this via media holding statement is not a new religio-political device, but it is particularly inept. If priests and bishops are free to be contracted by civil partnership (provided they remain celibate), it is inconsistent and unsustainable to prohibit them the (new) institution of marriage.His Grace is all for relationships of mutuality and fidelity, and desires that these virtues be encouraged and extended in society - in cohabitation, civil partnership or holy matrimony. But there is absolutely no point Christians pretending that the institution of marriage has not changed: Parliament has deliberated, debated and redefined. This 'battle' has been lost: the law will not be repealed. Our task is to preach the truth of Christ and Him crucified; to minister in love and compassion to the sick and dying - physically and spiritually. That is the Christian vocation. Those who expend all their energies dissecting this dog’s breakfast are depriving humanity of its daily bread.
ii) It is not, however, un-Christian, un-loving or un-compassionate to prohibit priests from entering into a covenant relationship which is permitted to the laity: it may not be very Anglican or Reformed, but it is perfectly Catholic.
iii) There are Roman Catholic priests who are in same-sex relationships: most are illicit, but a few are apparently quite open about the fact. Homosexual acts are not uncommon (and some say ubiquitous) among seminarians. His Grace is also aware of gay imam (in a relationship) who is (covertly) pushing at the boundaries of Islam to minister openly to young gay Muslims, and others are fighting to be acknowledged and accepted. Hypocrisy and inconsistency abound, but so do grace, dignity and respect.
iii) The political naïvety of this statement is that it ensures the unending frolicking of the (homo)sex-obsessed media: the story will now run and run and run as one-by-one gay (and lesbian) vicars decide to get married (in accordance with and by the definition of the law of the land). And so martyr after martyr will be disciplined by their bishop, who will himself (or herself) be crucified between the thieves of lenience and laïcisation. In a sense, this document is theologically bungling and spiritually vacuous: it is not what Canon Law prohibits in theory but how the bishops handle disobedience in practice which will determine and define the Church's theology on same-sex marriage.
iv) The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has already observed that the Church is "viewed like racists over homosexuality". However histrionic, inaccurate or unjust, this perception is undoubtedly the case: there are many who equate the horrific persecution endured by gays with the appalling treatment of slaves; and many more see little difference between sexuality and skin colour. The Archbishop is not endorsing such views: he is simply recognising the sociological reality. But it is hard to see how the House of Bishop's statement mitigates or modifies this view.