This is an article from the Telegraph on gay marriage – what the synod will be debating this week. A divisive subject-matter which always drives debate. As always, an interesting read. The author is George Pitcher, the Rector of the Parish of Waldron in East Sussex.
I’m a bleeding-heart liberal cleric –but the Church of England must not accept gay marriage
This week sweethearts of the same sex were able to exchange Valentine cards purchased, for the first time, from that bellwether of Middle England’s tastes, Sainsbury’s. And on Wednesday the General Synod of the Church of England meets and will be asked, inter alia, to “take note of” (that is, approve) a report from its bishops that holy matrimony can only ever be between one man and one woman.
Cue siren voices from the gay and transgender lobby claiming cruelty and heartlessness from our established Church, discriminating against those Christians of the same gender who want to celebrate their lifelong, loving commitment to each other in vows made before their God. Surely further evidence, if it were needed, of an institution stuck in its bigoted past and out of touch with its own committed and loving clergy and congregants?
Well, no. For a start, the Church isn’t a supermarket, responding to the demands of customers, though it may look like it sometimes. But, more importantly, the House of Bishops, led in this instance by the estimable Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, who is no creepy old patsy, has got its report about right. And I say that as one of the Church’s hand-wringing, bleeding-heart liberals.
I don’t seek to paraphrase the bishops’ report when I say that our liturgy for the marriage service is crystal clear on this. It is a “gift of God in creation” in which a man and a woman may know the grace of God and, in this way, be united “as Christ is united with his bride, the Church”. It is “a way of life made holy by God” and blessed by Christ’s attendance at just such a union at Cana, in Galilee. And one of its three sacramental purposes is “the increase of mankind”, put more bluntly in the Book of Common Prayer as “the procreation of children”, reflected in the conjugality of the two sexes that enter into marriage.
That is just what it is. We may, as a society and as a Church, want to change it into something else, and we are at liberty to do so. But have the implications of doing so been properly considered? I don’t think they have.
A measure of the paucity of the debate so far is that supporters of gay marriagehave been allowed to pretend that all we’re doing at a church wedding is celebrating the commitment of two people who love each other. That’s not true. Yes, love is the fuel that drives the engine of marriage, but marriage itself is doing and representing other spiritual and societal things (see above).
Were it just about two people loving each other, then there is an inescapable logic to the idea that a mother and son or brother and sister should be allowed to marry each other, otherwise gay couples could legitimately be accused of pulling up the ladder to marriage from others in the way that they have accused heterosexual couples of doing to them.
This argument is caricatured by cutting-edge Radio 4 comedians as belonging to red-faced buffers from the shires blustering: “They’ll be saying I can marry my labrador next!” But that’s plain silly. The point of the incest analogy is to demonstrate that loving commitment isn’t a sufficiency for marriage. Unless gay campaigners are saying it should be confined to people who can legally have sex. But that would mean that marriage is only about sexual union, which it isn’t (again, see above).
What we’re considering is what we start to unravel once we make marriage something it hasn’t been before. This was not a thought that detained David Cameron, who as prime minister allowed gay marriage as a means of burnishing his socially liberal credentials. Cameron did this, he explained, because he was a Conservative. That’s a matter for the Tories and we shouldn’t intrude on private grief. But the General Synod has to decide what to do about it.
It’s a shame that the Church finds itself at such odds with what a secular state has decided marriage now is. Had we had a new liturgy for blessing civil partnerships in church – as we should, if we’re in the business of blessing God’s love wherever we find it – we might have avoided this.
That said, the Church, not for the first time, has an opportunity as well as a responsibility to clear up the mess left after the wedding party by lazy politicians.
George Pitcher is Rector of the parish of Waldron in East Sussex