Rage Against The CofE

I’m fuming. Absolutely fuming.

I grew up in the Church of England and I remain a member of the church – well, as much as I’m a member of any church. I know there are plenty of strange and extreme views in the CofE, as a natural consequence of being a very broad church, but despite some high-profile missteps, I always believed that it was a basically sane, reasonable institution. After today’s press release opposing every aspect of the proposals for same-sex marriage, it looks like I’m going to have to revise that view.

It isn’t that I disagree (although I do), and it isn’t that the church is presuming to speak for me (although it pretty much is), it’s that the arguments are so distorted, disingenuous and outright false that it’s hard to believe they’re made in good faith. Worse, this statement on behalf of the church has been made anonymously, with no open consultation or discussion. I can’t even tell who I should be complaining to.

The statement attempts to establish the church’s gay-friendly credentials and head off charges of bigotry by repeating the claim that the church supported civil partnerships. That might be quite persuasive but for the fact that bishops spoke mainly against the legislation in the Lords, before voting 6-1 in favour of a wrecking amendment. That they eventually conceded the inevitable and voted the bill through at the second time of asking against a virtually identical amendment (8-2 this time) doesn’t make it reasonable to describe this as support from the church.

That blatant deceit is already sufficient to get my back up, but then there’s the scaremongering over the prospect of the church being forced to conduct gay marriages against its will (current total of marriages of divorcees the church has been forced to conduct: 0), and the bizarre assertion that same-sex marriage will devalue existing marriages, because it adds a new feature to an existing term. That’s like saying that new brands of car are acceptable, but only as long as they’re known by new brand names, and if they’re known as cars, it would harm existing car-drivers in some way.

And then there are the constant attempts to value “complementarity” in marriage. I feel moved to recommend Rachel Held Evans’ excellent blog at this point, as she’s been covering mutuality in exhaustive depth recently. Complementarians claim to believe in “separate but equal” partnerships, but the practical outworking of that principle always seems to be men in charge, women doing what they’re told. And now the CofE has officially embraced this vile doctrine, in an attempt to prevent basic equality in a different area. Well done, guys.

But what gets my goat above all is the sheer nerve of the attempt to claim ownership of a clear, consistent and unbroken tradition of marriage. Every single part of this claim is wronger than wrong, but the assertion is made nevertheless. This sort of laughable squirming, dissembling and special pleading makes the whole statement into a very bad joke.


The church does have a point on the flaws in the idea of retaining civil partnerships, but only for same-sex couples, and arguably on the sloppy and prejudged way the consultation has been carried out, but the hysterical overreaction has obscured those points. I’d also have a lot more sympathy if the response had simply said that the church was unable to agree on the morality of same-sex partnerships, and was unable to endorse the proposals for that reason. But instead, it resorted to the sort of crude strawmen and scaremongering that I thought were the preserve of Rome.

I’m seriously considering whether I want to have anything to do with an institution that produces such a statement. It’s rather ironic that for all my doubts about the church’s metaphysical claims, my final exit could be prompted by a simple issue of equality and decency.

Photos by Fibonacci Blue and striatic, used under Attribution License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

11 responses to “Rage Against The CofE”

  1. jonnyscaramanga says :

    Well said, and with passion. It’s a civil rights issue, it does matter, and if you do finally leave the church over this, it would be a bold and moral stand.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I have no idea how I’ll feel in a few days, and it’s possible that the reaction to this statement may change things, but I’ve been fuming over this all day. I wanted to write an open letter to express my disappointment, but I have no idea who’s responsible for this and I need to calm down before I write that, so that I pick my arguments carefully and don’t just come across as a nasty, ranty person.

  2. jonnyscaramanga says :

    Well, perhaps not bold, as leaving the CofE is hardly a unique move. But nevertheless commendable.

  3. Travis Berry says :

    You said: “Complementarians claim to believe in “separate but equal” partnerships, but the practical outworking of that principle always seems to be men in charge, women doing what they’re told.”

    Me: It is abundantly clear that you and Rachel Evans does not understand the Christian position of marriage. Women don’t do what they are told. The apostle Paul makes it clear that men should love their wives like Christ loves his church. It always bothers me when non-Christians attempt to pigeon hold Christians to things they don’t hold to. Unfortunately, that is what you are doing in the blog post. Not only that. Why don’t you give some credit to the CofE? Look at the churches in Europe. It is crazy to see how liberal they have become. Few of them actually hold to sola scriptura. I would think that you would give some credit to a church standing on their principles instead of folding over like so many churches have.

    Travis (AnotherChristianBlog.org)

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Rachel is a notable Christian author who can speak for herself, and I have spent my whole life in the church, so no, evidently we have no idea what we’re talking about. I’m also only criticising complementarian beliefs, which create a distinction between men and women that goes way beyond what can be justified with evidence. But this post isn’t about that, so I’ll say no more.

      Now, why should I give credit to the CofE? Sure, they’re being consistent (more or less) on this particular issue, but so what? What’s so great about being consistently wrong? “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”, as Emerson once said.

      You appear to consider it axiomatic that liberalism (however that’s defined) is a bad thing. I can only guess at the reasons for that. But do you really consider it a reasonable application of the Golden Rule to attempt to deny to others something that you value yourself?

      No doubt you’d say that you’re not denying anything, just observing that people of the same sex can’t get married, however much they might want to, because that’s not what marriage is. I can see that argument, although it presumes to define marriage for the whole of society on your say so. Yet the church remains happy for divorcees (for example) to be married by the state, even though the church believes that isn’t true marriage and Jesus had some tough things to say on the subject. Why is this different?

  4. Erika Baker says :

    Excellent post! Here’s a bit more about the background to this statement and about who wrote it.

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