I grew up in a church environment: religious schools and tea towel nativities. My grandma is on our local church council so I sometimes did the readings on a Sunday too. I stopped going before the pandemic, and I haven’t been since. Quite a few people have done the same, my grandma told me, but it was not the people you would expect. It was the ones you could have imagined bringing a foldable chair and home Bible to the carpark if the building collapsed. They didn’t stop going because of the pandemic. The church I grew up in had just voted in support of same-sex marriage.
The Church of England outlaws ministers from carrying out same-sex marriages but “your local church can still support you with prayer.” It represents the 1998 Lambeth conference, which welcomed a sea of bishops to discuss Christian ethics. Lambeth 1:10 found that homosexuality is wrong. The church cannot sanction same-sex unions; it would be incompatible with scripture, since the Bible can be read to castigate any relation between two men. They fail to account that the Bible can also be read as accepting, and mandating love towards the marginalised. It is inherently a book of uncertainty. The answers are not clear-cut. It needs to be applied to the world lived in today.
They didn’t stop going because of the pandemic. The church I grew up in had just voted in support of same-sex marriage.
One approach saw the Oxford Union debate same-sex marriage in the church. A quarter of a century after Lambeth 1:10, the Union retained the narrative that homosexuality is morally debatable. It is worrying that their contribution is a debate, instead of a sole speaker event. They invited an LGBTQ+ activist just to counter her with the opposition’s hurtful rhetoric. Branding their bicentennial year as a celebration of Free Speech – where free speech seems code for provocation – means I guess we ought to be thankful that it was not just the opposition invited.
Discussions of homosexuality widely transcend the Union’s chamber. With the General Synod this month, where bishops have the opportunity to vote on recommended change, the topic has proven prevalent. Over a thousand licensed priests said they would conduct a service for same-sex couples, instilling hope for a recommendation of same-sex marriages. This would allow England to catch-up with other Anglican churches, such as in Scotland and America, where they already occur.
The bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, expressed support for same-sex marriage in the church. It would allow bishops to opt in or out, the same system used for marrying divorcees. The traditional view, he believes, must remain a “legitimate and honourable position.” That is those who opt-out – as the leader of the Anglican Church, Justin Welby, has said he would. Croft, by contrast, would opt in, due to his need to “acknowledge the acute pain and distress of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the Church.”
Over a thousand licensed priests said they would conduct a service for same-sex couples, instilling hope for a recommendation of same-sex marriages.
There was also involvement from MPs. Tony Baldry, a former Conservative MP, threatened that, should no progress be made, “MPs will soon feel the need to intervene.” Labour MP Ben Bradshaw professed the church to be “actively pursuing a campaign of discrimination” and Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons, wrote to her local bishop on the importance of recognising “the pain and trauma that this continues to cause many LGBT+ people who are left feeling that they are treated as second-class citizens within our society.”
It was confirmed, however, that the Anglican church will not give this recommendation. They will not back the LGBTQ+ community in this way. The 1998 view that marriage can only exist for a man and woman still applies. The difference is the recommendation of blessing a same-sex union. This marks the church’s first recognition of LGBTQ+ existence. Bishops are to apologise for “rejection, exclusion and hostility” towards LGBTQ+ lives. The Archbishop of York claimed it a “real step forward” but “not the end of (the) journey.” Bishop Croft was “disappointed, as many others will be, that we’ve not been able to find a consensus to remove the barriers to marriage in C of E churches.”
Though a “step forward”, this decision is unsatisfactory. Members of the LGBTQ+ community remain second-class citizens through depriving their right to marry in church. The church cannot apologise for “exclusion” and then exclude further. It’s like apologising to your friend for not inviting them to your party before proceeding to do it again. Worse, you offer some tokenistic left-overs. You have acknowledged their existence, true, but you have failed to value them as an equal.
The 1998 view that marriage can only exist for a man and woman still applies. The difference is the recommendation of blessing a same-sex union.
The Bible is not clear about a lot of things. Sexuality is one of these elusive topics. The church is hesitant to have an opinion, for having an opinion may automatically negate something in the Bible. One passage may uphold a view that another plainly contradicts. The Bible is open to interpretation. To learn from the Bible that homosexuality is a sin is disheartening. It means that one has enabled a homophobic rhetoric to prevail. Outlawing gay marriage treats gay people as inferior. Unworthy of resources, time and love.
Scripture does not teach that God loves all his children, but the straight ones a little more. Theistic God loves everyone equally. To be selective with Biblical passages in this way, moulding them into prior views, is harmful and has real-world implications. Someone, I am sure, will claim this the other way round. One is actively seeking passages of love and acceptance. I fail to see the problem. It is not a deviation of Christianity, rather a manifestation of the golden rule.
One passage may uphold a view that another plainly contradicts. The Bible is open to interpretation.
The Bible is uncertain – there is a lot we do not know – and a lot to make sense of in this world. Failing to allow same-sex marriages does not do this. It breeds hate, and that is incredibly frustrating. The church needs to recognise their impact upon real people in real time. LGBTQ+ people want to get married and the church will not marry them. So they ought not to expect LGBTQ+ people to stick around. The church cannot expect people of the opposing opinion to remain either, since the blessing of a same-sex union takes half a stance. This is clearly not the right end goal. Perhaps naively, I do not think this was their end goal. It was a small piece to a larger puzzle. At least I hope so. If not, people may begin to fold up their chairs, before the building actually does collapse.