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Northern Churchman: Awkward Questions Part One

Northern Churchman

Awkward Questions – Part One

Happy New Year! As 2023 dawns, it offers fresh opportunities to look forward, to dream dreams, and in Christ, to continually have hope.

As we look at the year ahead, hope is tinged with realism; many are concerned about what the coming year means for the Church of England, particularly in relation to its doctrine of marriage. Will it continue to maintain apostolic, catholic and reformed teaching, or adopt ideas to please the siren calls of the current generation? 

In considering General Synod 2023, I have put myself in the shoes of those on the other side of the theological debate on human sexuality. What are the issues I would hope not to have to address? Here are my musings so far.

Where does the Bible clearly and unambiguously speak of same sex intimacy and relationships in the same way it does of marriage? A correspondent to this paper expressed it similarly, that, since the Church’s doctrine of marriage is based on our Lord’s teaching, those who advocate change must explain what is deficient in the teaching of Christ. That is correct. The burden of proof must lie with those who advocate change. 

However there now seems to be an assumption that change must happen without an adequate case having been made. If I wanted to change the doctrine of marriage, I would be glad to have been let off the hook so easily. I would be relieved that no one has ever asked me to state publicly whether I consider the Lord’s teaching to be at fault.

It is interesting to note how many biblical scholars, and more recently the Bishop of Oxford, have abandoned the idea of making a substantive case from the Bible, instead appealing primarily to other sources of authority, a most un-Anglican idea! (Article VI – whatsoever is not read therein [in the Bible], nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith.)

The appeal to pastoral concerns ahead of Scripture is particularly pernicious. It casts those who maintain the teaching of the Bible as uncaring and unloving. On the other hand, it reveals an unconscious egotism of those who advance this argument. Do they really believe that their novel doctrine is more pastoral than the teaching of Christ? Do they possess a higher wisdom than the wisdom of God, that they can set aside Scripture so readily?

What does an acceptance of same-sex marriage say pastorally to Christians who experience homosexual temptation yet have lived celibate lives in faithfulness to Christ’s teaching? I can think of many faithful Christians who live with feelings of same-sex attraction yet live lives that bear witness to Christ’s teaching on singleness and marriage. If the doctrine of marriage were to change, what pastoral message is the Church bringing to them? Thanks a lot, but you needn’t have bothered? Your diligent discipleship has been an unnecessary sham? You are the wrong type of gay?

These are the first two, and I think most important, questions in the ongoing debate. I have asked them to those who hold a different opinion, and have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to either. Indeed, these questions are more frequently avoided than answered, in my experience. Perhaps General Synod members may have more success if they were to ask them.

I have more questions, and they shall appear next time.

 NORTHERN CHURCHMAN has served in parochial ministry
for over twenty-five years.