Fresh from his trip to Africa to persuade Johnny Foreigner to be a bit less nasty to those awful gays, Justin Welby’s been hard at work demonstrating exactly how it should be done, issuing a “pastoral letter” which combines woolly “oh, it’s all so complicated” blather with incongruously bald, dogmatic statements that marriage is our special word, not for the likes of you, all backed up with some staggeringly backward views from the House of Bishops.
We all know that the church doesn’t easily shift its position, but it’s notable how often this statement – even more conservative than the ridiculous Pilling Report – supports its arguments with variations on “we’ve always done it this way”, including frequent reference to current Canon Law and multiple appeals to the Book of Common Prayer, a document that dates back over 350 years. Reconsidering your position: You’re doing it wrong!
The church’s position has been messy for a long time, riddled with fudges and contradictions, but this takes it to a new level. The church “should not exclude” gay married couples or enquire about their sex lives, and it is recognised that those marriages can embody crucial social virtues, but there will be no formal liturgy to affirm those acknowledged virtues, and any informal prayer must be accompanied by “pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” – how welcoming!
If you think that’s bad, the clergy’s situation will make your head spin. They can be civilly partnered, but only if they remain celibate. However, they can’t enter a same-sex marriage whatever they get up to in bed, because that would be “at variance with the teaching of the Church of England” on account of using their copyrighted word. Clergy can freely disagree with that teaching in good conscience, because the church is a broad one, but may not live in accordance with that conscience. Makes sense.
The church is very good at saying that everyone is loved by God, and how bad homophobia is, as it does again here, but actions speak louder than words. When considered alongside their actions, the message is rather less friendly. “Homosexual persons… are loved by God” – yes, God even loves them! Condemning “irrational fear of homosexuals” – we prefer rational hatred, discrimination and marginalisation.
It seems incredible, but in the time since I had enough of being associated with this ridiculous bigotry, the church seems to have started talking a better game while acting even worse. A few more years of this, and the CofE will be a reactionary rump, left behind by the rest of society.