What will Andrew Sullivan say to this?

That sound you just heard on the other side of the Atlantic was the million or so people who still sit in pews in the postmodern Church of England picking up a copy of the Sunday Times and shouting, in unison, “Say WHAT!?!?!”

This will be followed by a louder response to the same headline at altars in the more traditional Anglican Third World.

The headline on reporter Christopher Morgan’s exclusive says it all: “Church to let gay clergy ‘marry’ but they must stay celibate.” And here is the opening of this amazing story, which will almost certainly infuriate all kinds of people on both sides of the church aisle.

Homosexual priests in the Church of England will be allowed to “marry” their boyfriends under a proposal drawn up by senior bishops, led by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The decision ensures that gay and lesbian clergy who wish to register relationships under the new “civil partnerships” law — giving them many of the tax and inheritance advantages of married couples — will not lose their licences to be priests.

They will, however, have to give an assurance to their diocesan bishop that they will abstain from sex. The bishops are trying to uphold the church doctrine of forbidding clergy from sex except in a full marriage. They accept, however, that the new law leaves them little choice but to accept the right of gay clergy to have civil partners.

You have to hand it to Williams, that bookish Oxford don with the knack for splitting hairs — poetically. This compromise is really going to calm things down before that tense June 21 conclave that is supposed to sort out all of the loose ends about sacraments and sexuality (and major donations from the rich Episcopal Church in the United States). Things were tense enough in the Anglican Communion as it was.

“Married,” but with mandatory celibacy. I wonder who came up with that compromise? Try to figure out the theological logic of it, beginning on either the left or the right. In other words, Pope Benedict the XVI may want to check his voicemail for calls from England.

Which raises another question. Anyone want to predict what Andrew Sullivan will have to say about this? I asked him, a year or two ago, why he had not left Rome in order to join the C of E. He never answered back.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://davidsbundler.typepad.com TheLeague

    When you think they can’t get any more absurd; they do. It’s hard to believe that the Anglican/Episcopal Church is going to be able to dig themselves out of this hole.

    The Archbishop should be prudent enough to at least follow the First Rule of Holes. This is not an example of such prudence.

  • http://thinkinganglicans.org.uk Simon Sarmiento

    I thought GetReligion was about criticising the MSM for not reporting religion accurately. Where’s the analysis of the accuracy of this MSM report then?

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    Instead of gay marriage, try making this work for heterosexual marriage. A priest may marry, but they cannot have sex with their spouse. Then try to defend it Biblically.

    This change is theologically awful from any perspective, logically slipshod, and just plain dumb. The CofE would do well to just take a position on either side of gay marriage.

    And this should serve as a reminder of why the First Amendment is so wonderful.

  • Stephen A.

    When I glanced at the photo with this blog, I thought it was another Revenge of the Sith character. Silly me! Then I read the posting, and realized it *was* actually “Darth Ludicrous.”

    I actually am going to look carefully at how the media cover this story, especially gay marriage apologist Sullivan, who was noted above in the post.

    Incidentally, in his recent column, he says of Catholicism: “I cannot see any basis within Catholic theology for granting the sacrament of marriage to gay couples.” That’s honest. But maybe he’ll attempt to justify it in his adoptive denomination – according to his Church’s Scripture. We’ll see how that works out.

    (Speaking of ludicrous, Sullivan’s post includes a rather bizarre quote about Pope Benedict’s early “idealism” being “corrupted” by power. Brother. I’m not even Catholic and I find that insufferable nonsense. Just disagree with him and make your case, for crying out loud!)

    As for The Archbishop’s Solomonic judgement on gay marriage, it will be interesting to see if the inevitable outrage of the Global South and Conservative West will be recorded by the mass media after this latest event as it has been, mostly accurately, up to now.

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com/ Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, this seems to me like a merger of two trains of thought that I have long associated with Tony Campolo and C.S. Lewis.

    First — and this is from memory, so correct me if I am wrong on any point — in 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch, Tony Campolo basically argued nearly 20 years ago that the Bible is against same-sex sexual activity, but not against friendships and emotional attachments etc. He figured it was wrong to expect gay people to be lonely, so he wanted there to be some way to recognize same-sex partnerships, provided that they were non-sexual. (And of course, virtually everyone I know would say this is really naive, and Campolo himself recognized this, but there you go…)

    Second, in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis advocated a strict separation between civil and religious understandings of marriage — a point he confirmed some years later when he married Joy Davidman twice, first in a civil ceremony that he considered spiritually meaningless, and then in religious ceremony before a priest. (Those who have seen any of the stage or film versions of Shadowlands will be familiar with this story.)

    It would seem the Anglican Archbishop is trying to find a way to recognize the civil technicalities while separating them from the religious responsibilities, just as Lewis arguably did. And in doing so, it would seem he is trying to meet the emotional and social needs of gay clergy while holding them to biblical standards of sexual conduct, just as Campolo would prefer.

    That’s how it looks on paper, at any rate.

  • Stephen A.

    Questions upon further reflection. Perhaps an Anglican can explain these things to me.

    The article in the Times says: “The bishops are trying to uphold the church doctrine of forbidding clergy from sex except in a full marriage. They accept, however, that the new law LEAVES THEM LITTLE CHOICE but to accept the right of gay clergy to have civil partners.” (My bolding.)

    + Why do they have “little choice” to accept the right of male priests to marry other men? Surely a government cannot force them to permit this. Surely a Church can set its own policy on marriage for its clergy — right?

    + If the State CAN force a church to accept gay partners for priests, what CAN’T it force it to accept, or reject?

    + Why is the issue of not having sex an issue in this situation? New Hampshire’s gay bishop lived openly in a sexual relationship with a man even when he was a priest. He still is, as a bishop, and he’s not shy about saying so. The US has the same doctrine on this issue as the UK. So what’s the urgency now, with this law, since both churches have let it slide thus far?

  • tmatt


    That is a fair comment. That form of media criticism is a large part of what we do, especially with my writing. But that is not all we do. Run through the site and you will see us point out stories that we think are big and not getting attention or, as in this case, stories that are nailed by one media outlet as an exclusive. We like to cheer the good, as well as underline the bad.

  • Stephen A.

    Commenting on and reporting on how the Times and other outlets (including Andrew Sullivan) cover this bombshell announcement IS media criticism, as is urging us to keep an eye on it and comment on it ourselves.

    So it was a fair posting, in my view, simply from the media critique viewpoint.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Perverse though this obviously is, I actually think I *get* what Williams is trying to do, which is what Mr. Chattaway pointed out.

    After all, the Biblical, natural-law and tradition-based arguments for homosexual actions being sins are MUCH stronger than for homosexual orientation itself being so. Even that gay-friendly institution, the Roman Catholic Church, in the specific case of a 1986 Inquisition letter, from the pen of that heterodox gay-coddler Cardinal Ratzinger no less, has explicitly said the orientation is not a sin in itself.

    And what Williams is trying to do is preserve that much ground on homosexuality (thinking that Rome’s acknowledgement will give him cover; the Africans can’t very well insist on outflanking Rome “to the right”*) while not run afoul of the state, *his* state (meaning his own church to a significant extent) in the increasingly-likely event that gay “marriage” becomes at least a civil fact, and I understand civil unions are already a fact in Britain.

    As I say … it’s perverse — a marriage that is categorically and by design sexless is almost a contradiction in terms. If sex isn’t in the picture, what distinguishes marriage from friendship?

    And to answer some of Steven A.’s questions … if marriage is understood as a civil institution at least in part (which is uncontroversial; and for “civil” unions, the civitas’ lead role is practically true by definition), then it’s not clear how a church can prevent persons from engaging in legal civil contracts. They can set marriage rules, true, as long as marriage is understood as partially the church’s, but civil unions are closer to driver’s licenses in that the church doesn’t perform them or have anything to do with them. This is not saying the state can force the CofE to actually perform homosexual “marriages” (for now anyway; we’ll wait and see how greedy the gay activists get) … it’s closer to the state allowing priests to have driver’s licenses. And the CofE trying to find a way to live with it. And it HAS to find a way to live with it simply because as a state church with the monarch at its head, the CofE is not really structured to play a prophetic role against the British state. Its logic** is to express the nation, not to judge it.

    * Yeah, I know, not the best language. But nothing that short and direct in that particular phrase struck be as better or instantly clearer.

    ** I don’t mean its sacramental logic of the CofE as part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, but the logic of the secular role it plays in the state structure, its legitimacy and the national mythos.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Terry writes:

    Anyone want to predict what Andrew Sullivan will have to say about this? I asked him, a year or two ago, why he had not left Rome in order to join the C of E. He never answered back.

    I think these excerpts from a post on Sullivan’s blog provide some insights:

    . . . I’ve changed over the last decade. In the interview, I said I felt no anger toward the church. Obviously, I do now. What pushed me over the edge was the sex abuse crisis and the hierarchy’s response to it. But I stand by my questions and by my faith. You know I wish in many ways I could simply leave this church, and say to hell with it. But I cannot. For one, I keep believing. This is not experienced as a choice. It is just my reality. When I read the Gospels, they speak the truth to me. When in the past, I have been at Mass, I have felt as a reality the presence of God. . . . This is my family. I can no more divorce myself from it than I can my biological mother. . . .

  • Pingback: Sarx:GenX@40 (Death to the World)

  • Paul Barnes

    Stepen A. although I have by no means studied this issue, I wonder if the structure of the CofE has anything to do with it. Specifically, I wonder if the monarch, ergo the state, officially being the head of the church has anything to do with bishop Williams choice. That’s what you get with a national church.

  • Pingback: titusonenine » GetReligion on Yesterday’s new about Civil Partnerships and the C of E

  • Bob Koch

    I wonder how many folks know that Williams, the ABC, did his doctoral dissertation on the work of Vladimir Lossky? When I read the drivel that comes from Lambeth Palace I have to think he never read a word of Lossky, or that to an unheard of degree, his subject made absolutley zero impression on him. For another giggle, try the clown mass done at Trinity, Wall Street a few days ago.

  • I’d rather not say

    Before any writes any more nonsense in response to the Times article (as opposed to the substance of the proposal by the bishops of the C of E), may I strongly suggest that they go to


    and read all the comments from #49 to the end?

    People really should think a little more carefully before they post.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Unless I’m missing something–which is always a remote possibility–this Times Online piece uses terrible judgment, and I’m surprised that nobody (esp. tmatt) seems to get it. The proposal drawn up by the Archbishop of Canterbury is *not* to allow clergy to marry. It is to allow clergy who choose to have their already existing domestic partnerships recognized by law not lose their licenses as clergy. There is no new decision regarding marriage and no changes to policy concerning sexuality. The journalist’s decision to insert his own editorializing (putting “marriage” in sneer quotes) is the headline and lead is questionable (and so is the lack of criticism of this editorializing in these pages, IMAJ). Domestic partnerships are *not* marriage, and using the lattter in this context is surely meant to fan the flames of religious conservatives and prejudice the reader. Dreadful journalism, that.

    P.S.: I doubt Andrew Sullivan will have much to say about this. I’m sure he’s quite accustomed to reading about the garden variety hypocrisy and bigotry that all gays and lesbians in the Church deal with–this Anglican “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is nothing new or particularly interesting.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    P.P.S.: I’ve expanded my comment here:


  • http://phillycatholic.blogspot.com/ Lauda Jerusalem Dominum (dcs)

    Instead of gay marriage, try making this work for heterosexual marriage. A priest may marry, but they cannot have sex with their spouse. Then try to defend it Biblically.

    The Church has had such rules in the past.

  • Fred

    The story here is that the ABC and senior bishops actually felt a need to create this policy. Their nervousness is understandable given some of the unilateral moves in some parts of the Church, but now they seem to be sticking fingers in the dike but expecting chaos. This is rather a slap in the collective faces of the priests who apparently know no better and must be reminded of Church law. The C of E always has the option of removing errant priests. Perhaps it is trying to forstall the scandal of any such proceedings.

  • Jon R

    OK, so then according to the equal opportunity laws which demand equality for all as a hetrosexual I then should be allowed to live with my girlfriend as long as I (nudge nudge wink wink) promise not to have sex with her!!!

  • Pingback: RatherNotBlog » Blog Archive » What’s All the Fuss About?

  • dmitri

    This confirms what Archbishop Hutcheson has been saying. There are more gay priests in the C of E than in Canada and more blessings of same sex unions but the Anglican Church of Canada and Ecusa are being censured because they are slightly more honest and less hypocritical about it. The C of E is adding to “don’t ask don’t tell don’t be a Bishop” the imperative “swear to a lie”. We should all try to practice instead what St Paul cites as genuine Christian ministry “genuine love and honest speech”.

  • Daniel Lozier

    Appears the ABC recommended the baby be cut in half, and the senior English bishops agreed.

    Dead baby.

  • http://tennessee-catholic.blogspot.com/ John

    I honestly don’t know if Archbishop Rowan Williams is being incredibly cynical or unbelievaby naive.

  • http://people.hws.edu/domoore Circuitloss

    He’s not being cynical OR naive. He’s trying to hold together the two strains of Anglicanism long enough for them to settle down and live with each other again.

    I don’t think he WANTS this paticular rule, it’s just an attempt at temporary compromise.

  • http://analyzetoparalyze.blogspot.com benito!!!

    ***Has anyone actually found the document that the Times article is speaking of?*** I’m searching in vain for it and am beginning to think that the article at the Times is not really reporting so much as editorializing.

    ps Was it the Times that claimed Williams doubted God after the tsunamis last December or was that another British paper?

  • Stephen A.

    To IdRatherNotSay:

    I took your advice and went and read Titus Online from #49 down, including your piece.

    Two excellent points were made by a poster Katherine:

    “the underlying assumption about “civil unions” is that they are sexual relationships. They don’t seem to be simply a way for long-term friends, or siblings or other non-married relatives, who live together to share insurance benefits…How many of these “civil union” partners will be able to honestly tell his/her bishop that sex is not involved?”

    and, about the same issue I raised regarding the State dictating policy to the churches, she said:

    “Christian martyrs in the early centuries went to their deaths rather than accomodate themselves to pagan worship. Christian martyrs today die rather than defy God’s commands at the behest of Islamist or atheist states. But the Church of England “must” conform to civil law?”

    That’s a baffler for me, too. What business does the State have telling churches whom they may have as priests, and whom they may marry, if anyone? (Even as the “State Church” the connection between the CoE and the Queen is tentative and ceremonial, as far as I can tell. Perhaps a Briton can shed light on this if I’m wrong.)

    “IdRatherNotSay” says on TitusOnline that France has de-linked marriage and church (as the UK is presumably doing) “for ages.”

    First, I hope England doesn’t see France as a role model on moral issues, and second, divorcing marriage from any sacred root will simply take all meaning away from it.

    If marriage has no religious connection, and it’s whatever one says it is at any given moment, it has no definition and is meaningless. Of course maybe that’s the point at which it best serves the Gay Cause, and maybe that’s the goal.

  • Pingback: Noli Irritare Leones » Blog Archive » Anglican drama round up

  • Phil Blackburn

    The Sunday Times was clearly more interested in being provocative than being accurate here. Christopher Morgan is an experienced reporter who must be perfectly well aware that civil partnerships are not the same as marriages, but he chooses a sensationalist spin instead – presumably to provoke the sort of reaction that Terry and most commenters here have provided.

    Here in the UK there has been a recent law brought in to tidy up some clear injustices whereby same-sex couples – whatever ‘couples’ means – were not allowed the legal rights of married couples, particular when one partner died, but were also not allowed to marry. Thus ‘civil partnerships’ were born. There are also a number of anti-discrimination laws that prevent a church from sacking clergy just because they are in such a civil partnership. On the other hand, churches do have the right to insist that people in key positions, such as priests, adhere to basic church doctrines.

    Given that background, I hope it is clearer what Rowan Williams is saying: the anglican church has no doctrines that says that couples of the same sex cannot live together; the anglican church certainly does not in any way equate civil partnerships with marriage; the anglican church does have key doctrines (restated several times over the past few years) that sexual activity outside of marriage is incompatible with scripture. Therefore the church has no basis on which to discipline clergy for being in a civil partnership, but they do have a basis for disciplining clergy for sex outside marriage.

    The CofE, like all churches, operates within a state which has laws (it’s late and I can’t remember the reference for the scripture passage that says this is a good thing at the moment). It seems to me that Rowan Williams is simply setting out a position of rendering unto Ceasar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    There are also a number of anti-discrimination laws that prevent a church from sacking clergy just because they are in such a civil partnership.

    That’s the nub right there — absurd anti-discrimination laws are forcing the CofE into this equally absurd stance. And whatever the differences between gay “marriage” and civil unions that exist for now, don’t think for one second that if and when gay “marriage” comes to Britain, that we won;t see the rinse-and-repeat drill.

    It couldn’t happen that way in the United States because religious employers have generally been able to win exceptions to discrimination laws. For now, and the court precedents to the contrary are starting to bubble up. And this proclamation from Williams, which sounds so utterly perverse (and will sound doubly so if and when gay “marriage” happens), should be Exhibit One for why they need to be expanded and firmed up in this particular area.

  • Daniel Lozier

    I just want to cry my eyes out that no major issue or question facing the Church today is being examined in light of Holy Scripture. The moral and Scriptural integrity of our Church Leaders is lost. When did it become okay to overrule God’s creative intent? When did He say that what He created and ordained to be His Will was valid only if we agreed with Him? When was the last time God changed His Moral Laws?

    The arrogance is mind-boggling.

  • Stephen A.

    The law is clearly being “tidied up” to make gay couples (“whatever ‘couples’ means” as you say) will have exactly what married straights do. Then, whoever is in ‘love’ (whatever ‘love’ means, as the Prince of Wales once famously said) can become ‘married,’ or some such thing.

    So to say in one sentence this exercise in legal experimentation doesn’t change marriage, and the next to say pretty much it gives eqivalency is a contradiction.

    Clearly, gay couples want exactly the same ‘right’ to marry as straights do. Therefore, they want, and are basically getting, marriage. To call it another name is clever semantics.

    This same equivalency happened in Massachusetts last May, and will likely soon be forced on every other American state by the courts, with little real debate as to whether this is the right, moral or even pragmatically wise thing to do.

  • Pingback: RatherNotBlog » Blog Archive » Goin’ to the Chapel?

  • Stephen A.

    RatherNotBlog expresses outrage over the so-called “scare quotes” around the world “marriage” in the headline but then points to the rather skewed headline in the CofE’s media organ “Bishops decide clergy can register same sex partnerships” as a paragon of balance.

    It is not balanced, nor is it honest, especially since that very article equates civil partnerships with marriage when it says, “Senior clergy members, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, are trying to uphold the Church doctrine of forbidding sex OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE.” (bold mine)

    So what’s with the chastisement of those on GetReligion and elsewhere calling this for what it is – a substitute for marriage?

    The truth is, call it “civil partnership” or “civil unions” or whatever else, if it has every legal benefit of marriage except the name, it’s the SAME THING, and most people realize this.

    Trying to give the church credit for upholding marriage because they’re proposing to allow men to pretend they’re married to other men (as long as they don’t have sex) is just plain sillyness – and bizarre reasoning.

    The question still is why the CofE or any other church must allow clergy to “marry” in this newly-contrived way at all. No one has answered that question yet.

  • http://thinkinganglicans.org.uk Simon Sarmiento

    “skewed headline in the CofE’s media organ”

    The Church of England Newspaper is NOT a media organ of the Church of England. It is not in any sense an official publication, and neither is the Church Times. The Church of England has no official publication of this kind.