In the last couple of weeks or so the Church of England has made the national news for a couple of issues which are clearly divisive, both within the church and more widely.
After many years of discussion, the Bishops are proposing that there can be services of blessing for gay couples (though this is justified by recourse to the argument that a civil registration, partnership or marriage is not the same as Holy Matrimony, a wedding in a church). The conservative wing of the church and most of the Anglican bishops in Africa (where Anglicanism is most numerous) are deeply opposed and see this as a betrayal of the bishops’ vows to teach and uphold the faith. The inclusive wing see it as very few crumbs on offer – what they want is equality, and so for the church to conduct and properly bless a same-sex wedding as they would a wedding between a man and a woman.
There are two strands to the conservative / traditional argument; first that God made us male and female to procreate and ordained marriage for this purpose – so it is against the design of God; and second that there are passages in both Old and New Testament that make clear that same-sex activity is a sin that God will not ignore. There are two strands to the inclusive argument – first that it is clear from evidence that some people love others of their own sex – that is how God has made them; and second, a loving committed faithful and exclusive gay relationship has the same ethical values as a similar heterosexual relationship.
Two deep questions – How has God made us and what are the “rules”, Law, way of living that honours God. In the last 70 years there has been a so-called sexual revolution; the church has changed and accommodated on issues of divorce and remarriage, it has accepted women in positions of leadership, it changed its view on capital punishment; While the RC Church remains officially against contraception, Anglicans accepted that a couple could have sex deliberately seeking to avoid a pregnancy and that family planning was to be applauded.
The second issue that has caused a stir, is the forming of a fund, using £100 million from the Assets of the Church Commissioners to make some sort of reparation to those places which suffered slavery, while the English organisations became wealthy. Is this too little? Is it virtue signalling? Is it an attempt to claim we are now ok? Is it a good intention but wrongly worked out? Can the church afford to give that to outside when so many are struggling here? These are typical questions about political decisions. Christians have been good at giving to charities, but we often struggle with how we confront structural and systemic injustices. Historically the C of E has sided with the Establishment mostly, or made some noises or increased its charitable intervention. Some say the example of the C of E may open the door to other businesses, universities, etc acknowledging that their foundations were built on wealth that came from exploiting other human beings in the most awful way. There is no denying that slavery and slave-trading caused untold harm and death not just to individuals but to whole communities and tribes. And yes, the “whites” were not the only baddies, but they were the ones who made the most profit and gained the long-term benefits.
Two deep questions – How should we face historic injustice, and should we try and put right the wrongs of the past? What is the contribution of Christians in this area? Also, how should the Church speak, today, of what is wrong today? How do we speak clearly yet acknowledge the complexity of how things are.
How do we pray for our Church and its leaders, for our nation and its leaders at this time? Do we pray for them?
And for all of us, church-goer or not, there are these deep questions about individual ethics and social ethics / political ethics. Most of the historic signs and markers have been pulled down in the name of freedoms, but that may have left us uncomfortable adrift.