Thursday, 29 March 2012

Ecclesiastical gesture politics: much heat, little light

A Welsh Anglican priest has announced his resignation over the Church's reluctance to sanction gay marriage.
Report and interview here from the BBC.
"Some members of the Anglican communion, including elements of the Church in Wales, have become more homophobic, claims a vicar who has resigned over the issue of gay marriage.
The Reverend Andrew Morton, vicar of Llangybi, Monmouthshire, is the first in Wales to step down over the issue.
He says he would have been willing to carry out such ceremonies....
Mr Morton, who has been a vicar for 33 years, says many of his colleagues privately agree with his stance, and that homophobia is endemic in some respects.
"First of all I felt that the church's position on same sex relationships, never mind same sex marriages, was increasingly judgemental and not really inclusive in the way that I felt that it should be," he told BBC Wales.
"I feel a greater degree of homophobia in the church than I've felt for a long time. Maybe it's just my personal perception but it certainly seems to be more prevalent in some quarters of the church.
"I felt that in order to offer an authentic critique of the church as an institution, the most honourable thing was to do it from the outside rather than from the inside which was what prompted the resignation."  
...The Church in Wales said: "We regret the resignation of any of our clergy over an issue that has not been resolved by the church.
"We are trying to move forward gently in a way that takes everyone along with us and that calls for time and patience."

The Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales said in a statement it abided by the Christian doctrine of marriage as the union between one man and one woman freely entered into for life.
"We acknowledge that whilst issues of human sexuality are not resolved, there are couples living in other lifelong committed relationships who deserve the welcome, pastoral care and support of the church and we are committed to further listening, prayerful reflection and discernment regarding same-sex relationships," it said."

We should hesitate to criticise someone who is prepared to make a stand on matters of conscience even when we strongly disagree with him. 
We should applaud Andrew Morton for his courage in being prepared to put his head above the parapet - just as long as we see his gesture for what it  is, a piece of theatre designed to give additional momentum to an increasingly vocal campaign for change within the Church itself. 

The sad but predictable use of the word 'judgemental'  to describe the Church's present position and those who seek to defend the existing Christian teaching on marriage does little to advance understanding and, like the allegation of widespread 'homophobia,'  is grossly unfair to many Anglicans (not to mention those of other traditions), who, for theological and scriptural reasons rather than gut prejudice, have grave reservations about the change in the very definition of marriage which lies at the heart of the British Government's present proposals. 
Even the Archbishop of Canterbury (certainly no homophobe and, in his youth, the author of The Body's Grace) has signalled his reluctance to see the law used in this way as a blunt instrument to engineer social change.

Moreover, in relation to the Church in Wales' stance on this issue,  a commitment on the part of the Province "to further listening, prayerful reflection and discernment"  should not imply that we are moving towards a commitment to support change, either to the civil law or to ecclesiastical discipline, although I fear that is precisely the direction in which we are heading. The 'inclusion' the advocates of change are working for in the Church will be anything but inclusive for those who hold to a traditional Christian theology of marriage. 

It doesn't detract from the principled stand he is taking, but Andrew Morton, now 61, will, when he leaves office at the end of June next year, be approaching the age of retirement...(my apologies for initially suggesting he had already reached it.)

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