Living in Love & Faith
Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage
The Church of England
Church House Publishing, 2020 (ISBN: 978-0715111673, 468pp, £11.99)
Confusion was fostered when the title of the church’s current temporary authorised liturgy was also the title given to the main volume thereof (‘Common Worship’). Twenty years on, Church House Publishing has pulled a similar trick, naming both a suite of resources and the main book among these resources ‘Living in Love & Faith’. More responsible perhaps is the Archbishops’ Council, the body which convenes this enterprise. The Council, which dates only to 1999, has merrily daubed the ‘Church of England’ logo all over LLF, unfortunately implicating the entire establishment with the ill-conceived project. However, frivolities aside, there is a more serious confusion at play than either titles or logos.
LLF represents different things to different people. The very existence of LLF subtly shifts the assumed doctrine of the church further from one in which ethical revisionism is tolerated to one in which it is assumed and, by contrast, ethical orthodoxy is merely tolerated. The desired goal of many revisionists is, inevitably, one in which orthodoxy is no longer tolerated, but rather is persecuted. One need only glance at the US Episcopal Church to see this trajectory gruesomely in action. LLF is a significant stepping-stone toward that goal in England. For a wider constituency of the current church, LLF represents an earnest endeavour to consider differing perspectives on a hotly contested cultural issue. This may come across as generous, but is in reality naïve, as LLF casts issues which are straightforward and closed (ubique, semper, et ab omnibus) as complex and open. The middle ground, or what remains of it, lacking clarity or discernment, is being taken for a ride by a small but noisy band of revisionist campaigners.
LLF the book is, like many committee-churned products of CHP, gorgeously produced and thorough, but clunky and theologically mixed. Processes unseen have fomented a volume which strives to say everything and to do so in a rather toothless manner. An unusually colourful presentation represents a subtle nod to the increasingly ubiquitous six-band rainbow flag as well as a ‘Messy Church’-esque mode of inviting the participation of a wide audience.
The plodding emphasis throughout LLF, not least in the book, is on a discipline of listening together, for example by reading transcripts of dialogues on relevant topics or hearing a ‘scientific’ view. Listening is indeed a compassionate act, but only if ultimately accompanied with speaking the truth in love. Moreover, undertaking an action ‘together’ with another is superficially attractive, but spiritual togetherness for Christians is premised on unity in the gospel – a gospel not compromised in its definition of what sin encompasses. The alleged ‘rediscovery’ of baptismal ecclesiology by western liturgists in the late twentieth century however replaced a comprehensible doctrinal gospel with a nebulous sacramental one. The heavy-handed administration of the LLF discipline is therefore misplaced.
Love at this cultural moment calls not for endless listening but for carefully articulated reaffirmation of the true liberation found in Christ. Such work does occur, wonderfully, in many places on the front line of ministry. Would that the Archbishops Council directed its extensive resources to that end as well, rather than to fuelling confusion.