The bishops and laity of the Church of England voted in the Synod today to support the traditional Christian view that the sacrament of marriage can only be celebrated between man and woman. The clergy, by a narrow margin, rejected that view and voted in favour of same sex marriages being celebrated in church.
This is a tremendously sensitive subject. I quite understand why many of you will say I should not tackle it. There are lots of reasons why I shouldn’t. First, perhaps most obviously, it is not for me, a Catholic, to comment on Anglican doctrine. Secondly, anything I say in favour of traditional Christian teaching on marriage is bound to be construed by a lot of you as being homophobic. Thirdly, though this doesn’t worry me enormously because I am unlikely to live a great deal longer, it must be likely that, at some time in the future, it will become a criminal offence for anyone to assert that Christian marriage can only be entered into by people of different sexes.
Let me deal with each point.
I think I am entitled to a view on the Church of England’s understanding of what constitutes the sacrament of marriage. I, and many Anglicans, long for the day when the universal church, in which both Anglicans and Catholics profess their belief, may become a reality. But every time the Church of England goes out on a limb, denying what one might call Catholic doctrine, church unity is inevitably set back. Catholics as well as Anglicans have a legitimate interest in curbing the Church of England’s clergy’s desire to make that church a secular, rather than a religious, organisation.
As to the allegation that I am homophobic, all I can say is that I am not. I applaud the fact that my homosexual friends can now openly declare their sexuality. I take enormous pleasure in seeing them commit their lives to their loved ones. The fact that unions between people of the same sex are now seen as entirely normal seems to me to be a cause for celebration, not distress.
Who knows what our rulers will, in the future, decree to be criminal? Yes, of course, there is every likelihood that pieces like this one will, one day, be declared illegal. But, even if I live to see that day, I think there is every possibility that the law will not be retrospective. I am reasonably confident that Liz Truss will not be able to boast that she has added me to the prison population which she is so keen to keep growing.
What a horribly long introduction. I apologise, but I think it was probably necessary. Let me get on with what I really wanted to say.
Actually, it was all said, brilliantly, by George Pitcher in the Daily Telegraph today. He described himself, quite rightly, as being a “bleeding-heart liberal cleric”. His views on almost every social issue are entirely right-on. But he believes that the Christian sacrament of marriage, following the teachings of Christ, can only ever be contracted between man and woman.
The state may institute a new form of civil marriage between people of the same sex, but it can’t legislate to deny Christian doctrine. The church, other than the representatives of the Anglican clergy in the Synod, has no doubt that the sacrament (that is the important word) of marriage can only be entered into by man and woman, not by two men and not by two women. That does not mean, obviously, that we should not give thanks for the many gloriously loving partnerships between people of the same sex. All it means is that the sacrament of marriage is not the same as the state’s concept of marriage.
The Anglican clergy’s desire to renounce the teachings of Christ in order to be kind to homosexual Christians is understandable, but plainly wrong.