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Thought of the week

A Dilemma for the Church of England

Who would be Archbishop of Canterbury!  Poor Archbishop Justin has got it in the neck again just for doing his job: being a focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.  His role is not just to be archbishop of the province of Canterbury and the senior church leader in the land.  If it were only that his job would be simpler.  But only to an extent; there are still divisions aplenty amongst Anglicans in England.  But when you factor in his responsibility for all the international Churches of the Anglican Communion, the task becomes impossible.

Because the Anglican Church exists in many countries around the world, with wide-ranging customs and beliefs.  In Africa the Church is numerically stronger than in the UK and that is an important fact to bear in mind when stating doctrine and ethics.

What has brought all this to a head is the recent announcement by the House of Bishops of their policy on same-sex marriage.  This is based on the Living and Love and Faith course that many parishes (Including ours) studied and responded to in the last couple of years.  The bishops have been cautious.  They apologise for the Church’s negative treatment of gay people and resolve to do better in future.  The Church will not solemnise marriage between two people of the same sex but will allow clergy to bless such relationships.

This seems not only to please nobody but to upset everybody.  Campaigners for equal marriage here have been very cross and so have conservative bishops in African provinces.  That’s one thing they have in common, then.  Some say Archbishop Justin should have challenged the conservative bishops in African provinces about the wrongs in some of their countries, such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, lack of women’s rights, rather than tempering the CofE’s policy to avoid upsetting the applecart.  Furthermore MPs threaten the Church with disestablishment if they don’t conform with secular law on this subject. Considering that most people of faith in the world – Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelical Christians, Muslims – don’t entertain the idea of same-sex marriage, perhaps they should give the CofE credit for at least discussing it.

I think the bishops’ decision honestly reflects the confusion many of us feel.  Yes, it would be great to share the wonderful institution of marriage with our gay friends.  But the traditional biblical teaching of the complementarity of the sexes and how the image of God is found in male and female together rather than in either/or is a big hurdle to get over.  Could we use the “understanding of human psyche and sexuality has moved forward radically since then” argument, as with our understanding of mental health?

As I said, the Anglican Church represents only a small fraction of all the believers in the world. If we move on this matter we would be saying to them that they have got it wrong and we have a new insight.  Are we at that point?

It's impossible to know at the time if you’re “on the right side of history”.  As we say today, I am “conflicted” myself about this.  In the meantime, I pray for the ABC and all our bishops, together with our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, and pray that we may be guided in the way of peace and justice.


Michael Kingston

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