Dissembling BINOs and a Bishops’ Egg
Those familiar with the BCP’s service for Morning Prayer would have immediately seen through the word salad offered by the Bishops in their explanation and commendation of blessings for same-sex marriage.
For centuries, Anglicans have been called to prayer with these words: “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scriptures moveth in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and weaknesses; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient hear; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy …”
What our bishops have done is nothing less than to dissemble and attempt to cloak their approval and commendation of that which God has declared as sinful. They should be ashamed. They should repent. If they cannot, they ought to have the integrity to say they have rethought their ordination and consecration vows and leave in peace.
An illustration is in order.
In the 1890s the satirical magazine Punch published the famous cartoon of a curate and a bishop breakfasting together. The bishop says: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.” The eager to please curate replies: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!” Thus was born the phrase ‘The Curate’s Egg’.
Last week the long-awaited (and substantially leaked) statement on Human Sexuality from the Bishops of the Church of England was published. No amount of cooing over positive and helpful aspects of this document, Prayers of Love and Faith, can disguise the rotten stench overall. We have been offered The Bishops’ Egg.
Towards the end of the document prayers and sample orders of service are commended to the Church for use on a voluntary basis.
The prayers are not, as stated, simply for two people who love one another, like a prayer for an engaged couple when their banns are read in church. They specifically reference those in civil partnerships, a legal arrangement available to heterosexual and homosexual couples alike. Civil partnerships, like same-sex marriage, presume a sexual relationship of some sort; they are not for siblings for example. For the first time in history, the Church of England is officially seeking to bless heterosexual partnerships outside of marriage, as well as homosexual. How can this not undermine the doctrine of marriage? No amount of episcopal assertion and bluster can disguise this hard fact. The Emperor has no clothes; the doctrine of marriage has been changed, all sexual pairings outside marriage are blessed.
The Bishops assert that the prayers commended are offered to the Church under the provisions of Canon B5. They state that “the prayers and forms of service commended here are ‘neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the Doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.” However that is not demonstrably a legal opinion; that is merely the Bishops marking their own homework. It may well be the Bishops’ intention not to depart from Church doctrine, but it would a matter for an ecclesiastical court to determine whether they have departed, and the nature and extent of such a departure.
Reality cannot be defined by wishful thinking and theological confusion. What we have is a record of the Bishops’ collective failure to be bishops, in defending the doctrine of the Church of England. The motivating factor influencing change does not seem to be scriptural principle or theological insight but a desire to accommodate the Church to how people live now. Scripture and doctrine no longer define the practice of the Church, they must follow the pressures and predictions of society.
The document is a record of the rise of the BINO (Bishops in Name Only); it is fitting testimony to their ascendency in the Church of England. Not only has there been a change of doctrine, there is also a change of battlefield. The sphere of conflict moves from the national and international to the local and parochial. A parish by parish policy will bring heartache and division to many local churches.
Peeling back the Ozanne layer of liberal outrage, we see the progressives remain determined. They are not satisfied with this crumb (or egg!) thrown from the episcopal table. They never will be, until the entire meal is theirs. The Bishops have given them an appetite for more. They will be back.