Posted by: ronontheroad | November 16, 2014

Anglican fudge

I was in York earlier in the year to attend the Inclusive Church 2014 annual lecture given by Linda Woodhead. (You can read about it in the blog on the Changing Attitude site).

I stepped into the Minster shop (free, unlike the Minster itself!), and couldn’t help noticing they were selling, amongst other things, fudge. Seems appropriate, somehow. You see, fudge can mean “A soft crumbly or chewy sweet made from sugar, butter, and milk or cream” but also “Present or deal with (something) in a vague or inadequate way, especially so as to conceal the truth or mislead”.

york minster fudge

Dare I accuse the CofE of concealing truth or misleading? Let me see…

First, a bit of background. I have never called myself an Anglican, although I have served in an anglican parish for around 20 years as DCC, PCC, and deanery synod member, and as part of the leadership team of a church plant. I have also lead a workplace Christian fellowship for a number of years. To me, the label is not important (and if you must know, I was a full member of the Methodist church, I now serve in a Vineyard church, but that’s not important right now).

So if I am critical of CofE, it is because I have seen so many missed opportunities at the local parish level and at the deanery level to develop and engage with the community, to be relevant to peoples’ lives, and to be that salt and light that not only flavours the community but makes an encounter with Christ inevitable.

So fudge, huh?

Consider if you will that Her Majesty’s Government introduces a bill to parliament to allow people to get married. Rightly or wrongly, the church thinks that a re-definition of marriage is a bad thing, but something that needs to be discussed. Something that people at all levels in the church hierarchy have strong feelings about. To some, “about time!” to others “anathema!”. OK, says the church – we need to talk.

(Sound of the countdown theme tune…)

The change passes into law.

A few days before the law comes into force, the bishops issue what they describe as “pastoral guidelines” that say priests (ordained clergy) must not get married.

Let me say that the church had many months to say this – when the initial proposal was put to the House of Commons, the bishops could have said “priests – please give us time to talk through these issues”. They did not need to wait until the 11th hour – or St Valentine’s day – to issue the statement.

The practical outcome is that we have a situation where a priest, someone who has been following his vocation for over three decades, who has been faithful to his partner, who is employed by an equal opportunity employer in a capacity where he is able to bring salt, light, and Christ’s comfort to people, is now denied the opportunity for advancement in his career, or to serve the church as a priest in the geographical region in which he lives (although he can officiate in other places).

Not a good position. It is made worse because the supply bishop – a retired bishop standing in because the diocesan bishop has moved to another diocese, and his assistant (suffragan) bishop is on long term sick leave – both revoked the licence that allows the priest to officiate, and refuses to provide a licence (even a restricted one) that would allow him to take up the new employment.

Now I realise that some people reading this will be throwing up their hands in horror – surely, they say, the Bible is very clear on marriage and on same sex relationships, and the bishop is right.

May I humbly offer a different perspective here:

  • The handful of verses that are used to justify this clarity are often taken out of the cultural and scriptural context that they belong.
  • The picture painted of God through the whole of scripture and beyond in the the history of the church is one of a patient, caring, compassionate God who wants the best for each of us.
  • There is a theme of fidelity running through the scriptures – God seems more concerned about people being faithful, loving, and caring to each other and society than about the sexual nature and expression of that faithful relationship.

The thing is, as I see it, that the bishops and the church have had a long time to talk things over – but within the hierarchy there has either been no will to do so, or worse an attitude of “don’t rock the boat”. And here’s the fudge. It seems that it’s OK to be gay if you are a priest, but keep it quiet – or better keep it hidden. It’s probably OK to be in a civil partnership which is pretty much the same thing as a marriage, but saves us having to have any discussion on the nature or theology of marriage itself. But it’s not OK to get married, because this will undermine the traditional teaching of the church.

One thing is certain, at the moment a lot of people are coming to the conclusion that the church is no longer relevant and is out of step with society.  This is sad, because our community, our country, our world, needs a way of connecting corporately with God.

Fudge? Taste and see that the Lord is good. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you. That’s the sort of fudge I like!

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