by Felicity A Morse
If marriage and traditional family life is this beacon of unparalleled Christian values then why can divorced couples still marry in the church?
I’m a Christian and I’m angry. Same-sex marriage is to be made illegal in the Church of England and Wales after a debate which has seen disgusting comments made about gay people, both by so-called Christians and Tory MPs claiming to be on the side of the church.
Same-sex marriage will make fewer straight people get married, said Rugby MP Mark Pawsey on Tuesday.
If the bill remains in its current form then I agree, though perhaps how he hoped. I don’t want to get married in a church if their blessing infers my relationship is any more sacred one between members of the same sex.
I know why gay marriage is being made illegal. It’s to ensure no minister or church will be forced to marry same-sex couples because of a threat of legal action.
However the Church’s concerns over individuals being forced to act against their conscience has respected the voices of few over the feelings of many.
The same happened to the vote over whether women could become bishops. This bid was stoppered by the House of Laity, which claims to represent congregations, despite widespread support by Church leaders.
Despite being well-meaning, attempts to respect these voices have eroded the essential message of Christianity, which at its core radiates out an inclusive, compassionate reach to everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality or social status.
It seems the shepherd is pandering to his flock, rather than guiding them towards what is right. It makes the church appear weak, offering a sop to its ailing congregations, rather than standing up for what to me, seems less like a moral issue and more like an issue of common sense.
The Church’s arguments for making same-sex marriage illegal are also wildly hypocritical and essentially homophobic (obviously I hear you cry… wait me out). If marriage and traditional family life is this beacon of unparalleled Christian values then why can divorced couples still marry in the church? At the moment, the Church of England operates an ‘opt in or out’ policy for couples previously married. On the Church of England website it states
The Church of England agreed in 2002 that divorced people could remarry in church under certain circumstances. However, because the Church views marriage to be lifelong, there is no automatic right to do so and it is left to the discretion of the Priest.
Obviously the discretion of the Priest is not deemed good enough for same-sex couples.
Despite these contradictions, few Christian voices have spoken out in support of gay marriage.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams was asked at a theos think tank lecture how he felt about the church’s stance affecting the mental health of millions of young gay men.
He told the audience the church had long had a troubled relationship with sexuality and he very much doubted many people looked to the church for advice on their sex lives.
I hugely respect Dr Williams and his answer was a valid one. Yet in true ecumenicial style, it was also dodged the question.
The Church has had a long and very troubled relationship with sexuality. He’s right. A quick flick through Deuteronomy and Leviticus will tell you that. But the Church has been able to move on from such advice as “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” (Deuteronomy 22:22) So there must be room for movement on what the Church once held as iron-clad scripture.
Dr Williams also inferred the Church’s view on sexuality doesn’t matter because no one looks to the church for advice on their sex lives. Perhaps not. But the issue is not about a hoary old priest agreeing to sex in its panting sinfully lustful form, its about wanting a blessing for loving relationships. There’s a world of difference. Yet again the Church has been unable to separate the body and the mind it seems.
The Archbishop of Wales provided a more temperate response to same sex marriage, declaring the response a “step too far.” He has previously said “All life-long committed relationships deserved the welcome, pastoral care and support of the Church.”
His words were still extrememly measured on the matter, as you might expect. Apart from Giles Fraser whose fantastic columns on the matter I cannot praise enough, few have come out in bald faced support of same-sex marriage in church.
So it will now be illegal for me to marry two people who live each other. Now there is a cause worth going to prison for.
I realise taking on God (and now the law) is a big ask, but if Christianity is to survive not only as a religion, but as an identity, it needs to address these issues head on.
People should not have to read their faith between the lines. The 2011 Census showed a sharp decline in the number of people in England and Wales identifying themselves as Christian, down to 59% from 72%. It’s hardly surprising. I find it difficult to explain to my religious friends how I am still a Christian if I support gay marriage and women as bishops. Ironically my non-religious friends are far more understanding.
I’m a Christian and I’m sad. Because I think in recent months we are going to be mocked in the media, denounced by young people and the church will lose any sort of mandate to provide spiritual guidance. And I can’t blame the people who hold those views.
Morse is an editorial assistant on Huffington Post UK