Sexual Revolution

Two interesting pieces this morning on the subject of “Sexual Revolution”.

First, Andrew Goddard on Fulcrum explores the possibilities for the Pilling Report and how the Committee fashioning it will have to explain themselves.

What does it mean to be reasonable?

Andrew Goddard1. In relation to doctrine there needs to be either (a) a theologically reasoned defence of the current teaching or (b) a theological rationale for changes to that teaching.

2. If the doctrine changes then discipline should change to be consistent with the new doctrine and reasons given connecting the two.

3. If the doctrine does not change but the discipline does change (either to be more restrictive or more permissive) then reasonable arguments need to be given showing that the new discipline remains consistent with the doctrine.

4. A change in discipline cannot simply appeal to the existence of a diversity of opinion as the basis for greater diversity in authorised discipline. It must also offer reasons why (a) officially acknowledging and sanctioning that greaterdiversity in discipline remains consistent with the stated doctrine and (b) the new discipline is now the best way of responding to longstanding diversity.

5. It is unreasonable to change the discipline while claiming to uphold thedoctrine unless it can be convincingly shown that the new discipline remains consistent with the doctrine.

6. If a change (including authorising greater diversity) in discipline cannot be shown to be consistent with the doctrine then the only reasonable conclusion is that the doctrine has been effectively abandoned.  It has been replaced in practice either by (a) no doctrine and the purely pragmatic authorization of an expression of a “diversity of opinion” or by (b) a new but unstated doctrine.

7. Faced with the diversity of views, a reasoned argument needs to be offered in response to Archbishop Rowan’s argument at the ACC in 2005 that a change in either doctrine or discipline also requires “an exceptionally strong critical mass to justify it” (and he meant in the Communion and ecumenically not just within one province). This reasoning would need to show (a) that within the longstanding diversity there now exists such “an exceptionally strong critical mass” or (b) describe what would constitute it and so justify the change or (c) show why this criterion should no longer be applied.

8. More specifically, in relation to division, attention needs to be given to the judgment of General Synod in February 2007 that the commended “continuing efforts to prevent the diversity of opinion about human sexuality creating further division and impaired fellowship within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion” would (italics added) “not be advanced by doing anything that could be perceived as the Church of England qualifying its commitment to the entirety of the relevant Lambeth Conference Resolutions (1978: 10; 1988: 64; 1998: 1.10)”. Unless this recent commitment of Synod (including the House of Bishops) is simply ignored, the reasoning behind any changes therefore needs to address each of these areas:

(a) Can the changes in doctrine or discipline reasonably be perceived as the Church of England qualifying its current commitment to Lambeth Resolutions?

(b) If they can, are there now reasons to overturn General Synod’s judgment and argue that the changes nevertheless advance efforts to prevent diversity creating division?

(c) If the changes in doctrine or discipline can be perceived in this way and there are no good reasons to overturn the Synod’s judgment, why is it reasonable now to act in ways that we acknowledge would not advance efforts to prevent our diversity creating further division?

Challenging stuff. Andrew demonstrates how whatever decision the House of Bishops come to, they will have to clearly justify why they are doing what they are doing.

Archbishop Vincent Nicholls of Westminster (Roman Catholic) has written a pastoral letter in response to the passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill. In it he addresses how faithful Roman Catholics should respond.

Archbishop Vincent NicholsDifference and confusion over the understanding of human sexuality and the principles governing sexual behaviour ran through the recent debate. Even though most people still seek a faithful love, and aspire to a faithful and lasting marriage and family life, our society has, in effect, thoroughly abandoned the fundamental principle that sexual relations belong properly with the bonds of marriage between a woman and a man. In contrast to the Christian tradition and the Church’s teaching, any sexual activity between consenting adults is now viewed as a matter of moral neutrality, to be decided upon by those involved, as long as no evident physical harm results. Also, the intrinsic link between sexual relations and the procreation of children has, in practice, long been abandoned.

It is easy to be carried along by these opinions and practices. They can have a great influence on our conscience and action. But this is not the way of the Catholic as a follower of Christ. We try to present and live by Catholic teaching as given by God for the ultimate good for each person. This may indeed lead us to feel, in these matters, out of step with popular culture. But that is our calling and not a matter for discouragement. Rather, with the confidence of faith, we stay resolute, encouraging one another and all who recognise the values we wish to uphold.
How should we conduct ourselves in these circumstances? There are many detailed points to be addressed in due course. But, in general, there are three principles which must guide our thinking and behaviour within our families, within the family of faith and in the roles we have in society. We must pay particular and respectful attention to those who experience same sex attraction, offering them consistent pastoral care in love and truth.

The first is that we try to live faithfully by the teaching we have received and to present it robustly and intelligently. Given to us in love by Christ our Lord and his Church, this teaching is no human construct but God’s gift for our happiness. Nor is it an ideal to which we can but aspire. It is an invitation put before us in love. It is a goal towards which we positively strive on our pilgrimage. It is a goal we can attain because we are always accompanied by the loving friendship of Christ himself who constantly renews us in our efforts by his never failing forgiveness and grace. Failures neither surprise nor defeat us. Rather we press on knowing that in his invitation lies our true hope of stability in this life and happiness in the next. So we are willing to explain to each other the demands and coherence of Christ’s invitation in every sphere of life and to offer each other encouragement for every challenge.

The second principle is that we are to make every effort to accompany one another through the difficulties and trials of life. We offer to others unfailing respect as they strive to do their best. We defend them from harshness and prejudice. Ready always to attribute the best of motives to others, we are slow to judge them in the particularity of their circumstances. Within our families and within the Church, in our parishes and groups, this loving support should never be withdrawn even in the times of confusion and disagreement about the right course of action to be taken. Together, with patience, we strive for that stability and peace for which we long. Most of all we remember that we are all engaged in a search for the loving presence of God in our lives, recognising that His presence comes to us most often through those who love us. We support each other in prayer, and find encouragement in the sacraments, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we receive God’s mercy and the call to change our way of life. Each day we entrust ourselves to God’s loving providence which goes beyond all that we can see for ourselves.

The third principle is that we are always willing to engage in dialogue and conversation with those who see things differently. This lesson was taught to us with extraordinary grace by Pope Benedict XVI during his Visit to the United Kingdom in 2010. In his manner and his words he engaged with the leaders of our society, offering both respect and challenge. He acknowledged the positive achievements of Parliament, yet challenged it regarding ‘the objective norms governing right action.’ Highlighting the ‘worrying signs of a failure to appreciate… the rights of the believer to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion’, he called on us all ‘to seek ways to promote and encourage dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.’ With respect and charity, then, we are always ready to present the reasons for the hope we have within us and to listen attentively to those who disagree.

This, then, is our mandate. We are to be energetic citizens and contributors to the common good of all. Crucial to this is our firm conviction of the truth and worthiness of our Catholic vision of life, and its moral principles and challenges. These we are always willing to present and to defend. We know the contentment that adherence to this way of life brings for at its heart is the love of Christ for all without exception and especially for those who are most burdened. In this we all have a part to play, keeping in mind the words of St Paul: ‘Now there are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’ (1 Corinthians, 12.4-7)

It’s interesting that the focus now seems to be how Christians live in a society that rejects their morals. As Archbishop Welby rightly pointed out in his Synod speech, the vote on the second reading in the Lords was quite a dramatic one in favour of the Same-Same Marriage Bill. We need to learn how to defend our rights, but also at the same time we need to recognise that living in a heathen world means you can’t pick and choose which heathens to interact with and do business with.  And ultimately, the Church of England is going to eventually have to decided which side of the debate on same-sex unions it is going to end up supporting.

2 Comments on “Sexual Revolution

  1. The Church of England teaches that marriage is for life.
    It allows for remarriage after divorce.

    I am not sure how this practice is consistent with the doctrine.

    It seems from what I have read of the teaching of the Archbishop of Nigeria on the death penalty, that Lambeth resolutions have little impact on member churches.

    Andrew is writing of a “Church” that was struggling to emerge from the Communion, it has yet to take form, his offerings always assume much that is already no longer true, they do not help at all.

    • I think that it’s important to distinguish the doctrinal policy from provisional accommodation and concession.

      Paul upheld the doctrinal policy of lifelong marital commitment as issued from the Lord: ‘A wife must not separate from her husband.’ (1 Cor. 7:10) At the same time, Christ does say that separation can occur for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

      There is a precedent of pastoral accommodation in Paul’s subsequent regulation: ‘But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.’
      The difference between doctrinal affirmation and pastoral accommodation lies in the fact than an accommodation is not a revision to the exemplar. It merely tries to achieve a workable solution to the often inextricable complexities of our struggles with human brokenness. Paul’s conditions for ministry would prevent a person who was not ‘husband of one wife’ from becoming an elder. As such, Paul holds elders and deacons to maintain the exemplary standard as part of a ‘pattern of good works’, while providing the greatest openness for all to continue participating in the community of faith.
      The conditional accommodation of polygamous baptismal/confirmation candidates and the church re-marriage of divorcees acknowledges polygamous union and divorce/re-marriage to be less than exemplary situation.
      We will have to wait for Pilling to discover what a pastoral accommodation will look like, but the idea that polygamy or second marriages are favoured by God for pastoral accommodation more than monogamous homosexuality is an unacceptable homophobic distinction.
      Still, for those in favour of same-sex marriage, I doubt that anything less than ‘welcoming and affirming’ revision of the current Christian marriage exemplar from heterosexual monogamy to a genderless union would do.

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