Peter Ould envisages a future Church that, born out of crisis, returns to its true purpose
THE coronation of King William V was held on an auspicious day: 24 April 2034. A week of sun in the run-up to Easter had meant that the outdoor Good Friday service in Trafalgar Square was well attended, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Katie Tupling, had preached a powerful sermon in the presence of the King, Queen, and Prince George.
Up and down the country, the churches were full on Easter Day, as congregations showed another record rise in attendances. Not since the 1970s had the pews been so full, and millions prayed for the reign of their new king.
Twenty years earlier, the picture had been remarkably different. In the midst of the second failed vote on women bishops, and the collapse of the “Croft discussions” on human sexuality, schism had looked the Church of England square in the face – until the fateful General Synod of July 2017.
When the late Archbishop Welby had begun his presidential address – “Communities of holiness, centres of resurrection” – no one had expected what came next. After the second great credit-crunch earlier that year (accompanied by the dramatic TV pictures of the rioting in European capitals), the former oil executive told the gath-ered clergy and laity that it was time to refocus.
“The internal battles of the past few decades have distracted us from the core mission of the Church,” he said. “It is time, once again, to do what the Early Church did so well – simply preach Christ crucified and risen, and love the world around us that has lost sight of any vision, both politically and spiritually.
“There is no place for agendas, there is only space for the work of serving God, and serving the people we live among. Anything else is not what the Church of England is about.”
FACED with a House of Bishops that closed ranks on the desire of some to advance their particular causes, some lobby groups found themselves frozen out, financially and socially.
The second generation Pilgrim Course (written by a retired archbishop, Dr Sentamu, and Bishop Michael Langrish) was a radical rewrite, focusing on a simple but effective basic discipleship. It was endorsed by Holy Trinity, Brompton, and by the GAFCON Primates, as the official follow-on from Alpha.
But the one thing that really turned the Church around was the way that the United Ecclesiastical Credit Union stepped into the breach after the failure of the Royal Bank of Scotland, in 2023. With nowhere else to turn, millions of men and women moved their money into the hands of church-sponsored local banks, and put their dinner plates in the hands of locally resourced foodbanks (the four million unemployed were extremely grateful).
Suddenly, in the midst of a national malaise, the ordinary men and women of England saw a Church of England that knew what it believed (even if it was often at odds with the Government), and lived out a genuine public life of love.
In his address to the nation on Easter Monday, King William paid tribute to “the Church of our people that has walked alongside each of us over the past decade, through our pain and joy, just like the Saviour whom the Church and I serve.”
And, as Archbishop Tupling settled with a cognac in her chair, watching it on her holographic TV, she joined the people of England in giving thanks for all God’s mercies over the past 20 years.
The Revd Peter Ould blogs at www.peter-ould.net, and is founder of the Twitter aggregator, the Twurch of England.
The Bishop of Salisbury asks the clergy and laity of the Diocese to note the pastoral guidance which was agreed at the House of Bishops meeting on 13th February 2014. It supports lay people who enter the new possibility of same-sex marriage in civil law and it should be expected that some will want the pastoral support of Christians in prayer that their joyful covenanted relationship be loving, faithful and lifelong.
The pastoral guidance notes the conflict created with Canon Law. Therefore if a person in holy orders contracts a same-sex marriage a complaint could be made against them, which would result in discipline for which the full range of penalties are possible.
This pastoral guidance allows the Church of England to begin the facilitated conversations that have been agreed following the recommendations of the Pilling Report without any predetermined outcome. The Bishop asks for the prayers and understanding of the Christian community at this time.
And here’s Oxford.
This is a very difficult part of the letter to get right. I know that what I write will be unacceptable to gay clergy who despair of the Church of England, and to conservatives who will see compromise looming. But I can’t not write about the Pastoral Letter and Appendix on Same Sex Marriage which emerged recently. I wish I could talk individually to everyone in order to engage properly and personally, but we all know this is impossible. I sit amongst many different loyalties and seek to honour as many of them as possible.
First I apologise for the tone of the letter (or rather the Appendix). It was written by committee and that is always bad news. This is a deeply personal issue, indeed a visceral one, and every word and inference is capable of harm. I hope it’s common ground that we are part of a Church which is called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to gay and lesbian people. Nor have we listened well to those whose voice has not been heard, including the experience of those called to celibacy, those in committed same sex relationships, and clergy who have lovingly and sensitively ministered to gay couples over the years.
It was never going to be likely that the House of Bishops would change two thousand years of teaching during a day in February at Church House Westminster. The intention was to respond to a new legal situation in the context of a longer conversation in the Church about an issue which has theological, biblical, ethical, missiological and ecclesiological implications. This longer conversation is what the Pilling report has asked us to do and to which the College of Bishops is committed.
The House was also aware of a huge level of interest and concern from other parts of the Anglican Communion, and from other denominations and faith traditions. The Archbishop told us how in the previous few days, literally in the midst of corpses and tales of systematic rape, he had been quizzed by his African episcopal hosts about the Pilling Report, such was their anxiety.
The resulting letter and appendix is supposed to be a holding statement on the logical position of the House in the new situation, given the Church’s history and teaching – while the longer conversation goes on. The fact that this was done in a way which has caused dismay is a source of huge regret to me but that’s back to my first point above.
The longer conversation is one on which David Porter, the Archbishop’s Adviser on Reconciliation, is to give advice in three or four months, having worked on the task with a well-chosen group.
I appreciate that some are unwilling to participate in this process on the grounds that they believe the scriptural position is perfectly clear and ‘facilitated conversation’ can only mean an intention to change, while conversely others will be wary because they believe that to have participated in a process that didn’t in the end change anything might expose them to adverse treatment by bishops and/or others. Nevertheless, I dare to ask that we do enter the conversation with integrity and trust because we do need to seek God’s mind and heart, and we can’t do this without all of us being round the table and being honest with each other.
I also know that many will be reluctant to examine the biblical material yet again. But the Bible is our core authority and issues of both exegesis and hermeneutical method are crucial. Let me be absolutely honest here. I don’t expect that many people will change their mind through this biblical exploration. I hope some might, because we must have the highest loyalty to truth, but in reality I don’t expect many to change their basic position.
What I do very much hope, however, is that we can get to a point where we can respect the integrity of the biblical interpretation of others. I hope we can come to understand deeply why others take a different view, and to respect that conviction even though we disagree, perhaps profoundly. None of us is taking a cavalier attitude to biblical authority, but thoughtful, honest people can thoughtfully, honestly disagree.
The task then becomes twofold: to discover how much we can agree on, and to learn how to disagree well on what we can’t agree on. Archbishop Justin often uses that phrase ‘disagree well’. So then the third question becomes whether we want to affirm that spectrum of honest belief or detach ourselves from it. I dearly want to keep intact the range and scale of the Church of England’s theology, and we will be grievously hurt by the loss of any from the richness of our calling and our reach in the nation’s life.
As you will know from my statement on the website in December 2012 I have been very happy to affirm civil partnerships as a positive development which gives same sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples. As that statement says, such relationships ‘are capable of the same level of love, permanence and loyalty as marriage, and I believe God delights in such qualities’.
Nevertheless I believe that to say that civil partnership is the same thing as marriage is a category confusion. To use a musical image, nature has its ‘theme and variations’, both part of the music, but not the same thing. I have therefore looked for different ways of recognising two different patterns of relationship. I realise that that puts me at odds with most people on both ‘sides’ of the argument! And society has largely gone past that argument now anyway. The issue has become same sex marriage, though some may still want to opt for a form of civil partnership.
So where do we end up? That’s just the point – we don’t know. The Pilling Report urges us to talk, and although it makes at least one recommendation about the recognition of a same sex relationship in a public service, its main recommendation is to talk and listen so that God may be heard. And that voice of God will undoubtedly be a gracious, gentle and challenging voice, just as I trust our conversations with each other will be marked by humility and grace.
It’s quite clear that these conversations take place in a wider context of deep sexual confusion in society with everyone making up their own script, and the result is much chaos and pain. We have a responsibility to model something better in the way we handle principle and practice, disagreement and hope.
As I wrote at the start, I’m sorry that the attempt by the House of Bishops to hold the ancient borders while the conversation goes on has proved so divisive in itself. The train crash was probably inevitable; the only question was when, where and involving how many. But be sure of this – there will be no witch-hunts in this diocese. We are seeking to live as God’s people, in God’s world, in God’s way. And we do that best as we stand shoulder to shoulder and look together at the cross, and at its heart see an empty tomb.
Dressed up in fine words and aspirations, a traditional European marriage was at root a deal. The parties agreed to have sex with each other and only with each other, and to provide materially for one another and for any children of the union. In practice, by and large, and expressed overly-bluntly, a marriage was society’s acceptable way of women trading sex for material support.
Consent to sex was permanent and ongoing. There could by definition be no concept of “rape” within marriage, because “rape” implies the absence of consent — by definition ruled out. The husband could of course be convicted of beating his wife, but not of raping her. There also had to be laws and principles setting out just what she had and had not consented to. (This was a key practical import of those so-called “sodomy laws” that restricted within-marriage sex acts — she’d consented to have sex but not to do just anything.)
Under English law this arrangement came to an end in 1991, when in the case of R v R what is often referred to as the “marital rape exemption” was abolished. This judgement can be understood as saying that, like selling oneself into slavery, a contract notionally providing permanent and ongoing consent to sexual intercourse will not be recognised in law.
There is of course a strong case for contending that contracts of permanent consent to sexual intercourse may have had their historical role at a time when women needed physical and material protection from some man and needed something to trade to obtain it, but are now (perhaps long) obsolete.
However, we should notice something important here. If we say that the law should not recognise permanent and ongoing consent to sexual intercourse, we are creating a wedge between the legal obligations of marriage and the undoubted moral obligations of Christian marriage. Christian spouses are not entitled to withhold their bodies from one another and are specifically instructed by Paul not to do so unless for some agreed temporary spiritual purpose (e.g. see I Corinthians, 7:1-5). And how could it be otherwise? For if divorce and adultery are both forbidden, then the denial of the provision of sex is the denial of access to sex for the denied partner. A marriage could not be stable under such conditions.
That means that a Christian marriage – a moral and indissoluble contract of permanent and ongoing consent to sexual intercourse – is profoundly different in nature from a legal marriage – a dissoluble contract that does not imply permanent or ongoing consent to sexual intercourse.
Many Christians argue that adultery should be treated more severely in law, that divorce should be harder, that legal re-marriage should be forbidden and for many other ways they urge that legal marriage should be brought in line with Christian marriage. But how many of you really bite this bullet? At its most basic, a Christian marriage is a contract of permanent and ongoing consent to sexual intercourse, and as such implies that it is impossible, by definition, for a man to rape his wife. If you truly want to bring the law in line with Christian marriage, start there. And if you quail from that – as I expect most sensible readers do – then you are accepting that legal marriage should not, even at the deepest levels, mirror Christian marriage. And once you start to accept that the legal obligations of modern marriage should (not merely do) differ from the moral obligations of Christian marriage, you may find you think of a “state marriage” in a whole new way…
Much as I love Uganda, I must say this: the legislation signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni this morning is an evil thing masquerading as a good thing. It will bring persecution of people with same sex attraction and that is cruel.
That is no way to treat anyone, and it will have a negative effect on Uganda’s standing in the world. In addition, it’s definitely not the best Christian attitude available towards those one does not agree with.
Perpetua and Felicity
who gave great courage to Perpetua, Felicity and their companions:
grant that we may be worthy to climb the ladder of sacrifice
and be received into the garden of peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Aber mit der Heimat
geht man immer herum,
durch die Welt,
dort und dort
No one could describe
the Word of the Father;
but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos,
He consented to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former beauty.
We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and image.
Kontakion of the Triumph of Orthodoxy