My letter to Rowan
I’m not generally the sort of person who goes quietly into the night, but more than that, I care about what the church is doing to gay people. So I wasn’t about to leave without making my point to the church hierarchy. Having already been in discussion with both my vicar and my bishop, I finally went right to the top to express my feelings. I don’t have any real hope that it will change anything, but I feel that it needs to be said, so I’ve said it. Here’s my letter.
To: Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
I write this letter in some sorrow. I was brought up, baptised, confirmed and married in the Church of England, continue to be a member of the church, and have always considered the CofE as a whole to be a reasonable, thoughtful body, even if the broadness of the church meant that some of its individual members could be very wrong. Unfortunately, in the light of the church’s statement on same-sex marriage, I can no longer sustain such a belief, and feel I have no choice but to leave the church.
Let me be absolutely clear that this decision is not down to my disagreement with the church’s position on same-sex marriage, or even the fact that the church statement effectively claimed to speak for me, although both of these have made me very unhappy. What has finally convinced me that I have no place in the church is what seems to me to be a spiteful and disingenuous justification of an attempt by the church’s leadership to use controversial theological views to deny people rights in a civil context.
The claim that permitting same-sex marriage in some way affects existing marriages and the scaremongering with unjustified fears that the church could be compelled to conduct marriages against its will are both very disappointing. Most of all, I was astonished at the misleading claim that the church supported civil partnerships, when in truth, the Lords Spiritual mostly spoke and voted against the bill at the first reading, before a majority eventually supported it at the second time of asking, and the church continues to forbid its clergy from blessing civil partnerships.
I fully accept that my perception is subjective, and may be inaccurate or even unfair – I can’t claim to be infallible. If my perception is correct, I would feel unable in good conscience to remain within the church responsible for the statement. If I’m wrong, however, my alienation from and distrust of the church’s leadership still seems to me to make my continued involvement with the church unhelpful and divisive. For the sake of my conscience and/or the wellbeing of the church, I feel I must leave.
Since the statement came out on 12th June, I have taken some time to consider my position and the issues, to see if there was any revision or challenge to the statement, and to allow my initial emotional reaction to subside, to ensure that my decision was made soberly and carefully. In that vein, I also feel it would be unwise, as well as offering a hostage to fortune, to say that I will never return to the church. What I can say is that my view of the church has been very badly damaged, and I suspect it will be a long time before that changes.
I can understand and agree with certain criticisms of the consultation. I suspect if the statement and response to the consultation had expressed these criticisms moderately, with consideration for the people who wish to marry their partners, and requested assurances about areas of concern rather than asserting that the church’s worst fears would inevitably be realised if civil same-sex marriage were to be permitted, I would have been content to remain within the church. As it is, I cannot understand how these extreme reactions can be necessary or justified when people’s rights are in question.
My parents are divorced and remarried. This puts them outside the definition of marriage given in your statement as “a lifelong union of one man and one woman”, and the sterility of both subsequent marriages also means there was no possibility of procreation. Nevertheless, their current marriages were both blessed and recognised by the church, and continue to be regarded as true marriages, despite the church’s claim that such details disqualify couples from being married.
The church exercised its freedom of conscience in refusing on religious grounds to conduct their perfectly legal remarriages, so they had civil ceremonies. Already, this clearly indicates a meaningful distinction between religious and civil marriage. No one in the church has ever been compelled to marry divorcees against their will, nor has the church ever claimed that their legal remarriage has any effect on existing marriages. Indeed, the church was happy to bless those marriages, something it continues to refuse for the civil partnerships it claims to support.
I say this not to carry on an argument on either divorce or same-sex marriage, but to illustrate why I find the church’s position so disingenuous. I have no desire to see my parents ostracised by the church, but nor do I see why their remarriages are treated more favourably than same-sex relationships, when both fall some way short of your own stated criteria for marriage. The fact that this distinction is made makes it clear that the arguments given do not fully explain the church’s opposition, which consequently looks unpleasant and prejudiced.
I can only hope that this letter will make you aware of the damage your words and actions are doing to the lives of other people, and indeed to the reputation of the church. One day, possibly quite soon, I believe the church will look back at its behaviour on this subject with shame and regret. The longer it is before that happens, the more people will be hurt and the more unpleasant and backward the church will look in the eyes of many people.
Photo by @boetter, used under Attribution License