Church of Everybody?

The article is interesting and well written. It explains the tensions that have arisen due to the homosexualist’s pressure for “equality.” The core of the argument is that up until now the way the state defined marriage was the same as the Christian definition. Marriage is for life and between one man and one woman. The demand for homosexuals to marry in church means that the state is imposing on the church a new definition of marriage. The church may do this for so called civil partnerships, but for the state to impose a new definition of a basic belief on a religious group is outrageous. What the British government doesn’t seem to understand is that marriage for Christians–even for Protestants with a watered down view of sacraments–is not only a civil agreement, but also a theological and spiritual issue.

For Christians, marriage is linked with a Christian anthropology, Christian ecclesiology and Christian cosmology and theology. What we do with our bodies affects what happens to our souls. For any state to barge in and impose a new definition of marriage is as outrageous an infringement on religious freedom as it would be, for example, to make Christian ministers endorse and bless abortion and say that abortion was not only a civil right, but a religious responsibility. British Christians are right to stand their ground. They do not wish to impose heterosexuality on those who make other moral choices, but they also insist that homosexuality should not be imposed on them.

For any other church the decision is clear. We are separate from the state. We will not be forced to conform to the civil rules. If a law violates our conscience then we must violate the law. For members of the Church of England it is not so easy. Their privilege, their wealth, their property, their position in society is all bound up with being a state church. Disestablishment of the Church of England would be painful, but there seem to be few options as the secular state advances it’s reach.

What complicates the matter further is that there are plenty of members of the Church of England who have no problem with homosexual marriage. Opposition to the innovation is by no means universal, and it may be that the Church of England submits to the law of the land and embraces the innovation by arguing for “equality.”

The predominant arguments in favor of homosexual marriage are utilitarian, egalitarian and sentimental. That is to say, “Heterosexuals are able to marry in church and it is also a civil union. That works. Why should it be different for homosexual couples?” The egalitarian argument goes like this: “Christianity is for all equally. We don’t discriminate against different racial groups. We should also not treat homosexual people in a prejudiced and judgmental way.” The sentimental argument is: “George and Steve are such nice guys. They only want to be accepted by God and have their love blessed. It’s so harsh and unkind to say ‘no’ to them.”

These three arguments: utilitarian, egalitarian and sentimental are pretty much the only arguments recognized by modern secular people. That they have some weight is to be admitted, but that they are the only arguments to be used is to be lamented. Where the Church of England comes unstuck is with their lack of ability to make any other kind of argument. Arguments from Scripture are debated back and forth with proof texts being thrown out by both sides and with no firm conclusions. Its the same with arguments from tradition or the spiritual writers. Homosexualists throw out their proof texts. Traditionalists do the same.

There is no final voice of authority which can rule on the issue. Consequently the lightweight utilitarian, egalitarian and sentimental arguments hold the day. In the past the civil authority was the final authority in the Church of England. Legislation in the General Synod (the ruling body of the Church of England) had to be passed by Parliament. Now Parliament is making rules which affect the very nature of Christian belief in the Church of England and what will they be able to do about it?

The jam in which the C of E finds itself calls into question the whole notion of a “Church of Everybody”. Certainly such an ideal was noble and good when virtually the whole population were baptized believers at least in some sense. Now, in a multicultural and increasingly atheistic and secular society the Church of England should adopt another model. Like the Catholic church, the Church of England will be seen as a small band of Christian believers–out of step with the secular society and even persecuted by the secular society. If this is the way things develop it might be the best thing that ever happened to the C of E.