The Church of England have now – after 6 years of consultations and deliberations – determined they will not be changing official doctrine in favour of gay marriage. They have decided to maintain the church’s fundamental teaching ‘that holy matrimony is between one man and one woman for life’. The Times report, however, ‘the church will allow priests to give God’s blessing to married same-sex couples, allowing them to come for a service after a civil wedding.’ Which means, whatever your view on the matter, the Church of England has now officially embraced hypocrisy.
One of the problems with always insisting on a via media is that, though it may have the potential to placate everyone, there is always the risk that it will also please no one too. I suspect that is what this position will do. For conservatives and traditionalists, the blessing of same-sex marriages is anathema, even if it has stopped short of actually marrying same-sex couples in the church. For liberals and progressives, permitting the blessing of civil same-sex weddings is a cop out. This does not equate to parity of esteem for heterosexual and homosexual couples and continues to treat homosexual couples, on their view, as second-class citizens. Which is to say the position being floated is unlikely to please anybody.
But it is worse than merely not pleasing anyone. It is hypocrisy officially adopted. It is evident that the conservatives and the liberals, the traditionalists and progressives, cannot both be right. There are only three possible positions:
- The Bible does not say homosexual relationships are sinful (or says they are actively good), in which case the church is wrong not to conduct nor affirm gay marriage
- The Bible does say homosexual relationships are sinful, but the Bible is wrong and not the ultimate source of authority for the church, in which case the church is wrong to forbid gay marriage and not affirm it
- The Bible does say homosexual relationships are sinful, and the Bible is the ultimate source of authority for the church, in which case the church is wrong to permit or affirm gay marriage
However, the line the Church of England have taken is to insist that it is wrong for the church itself to conduct gay marriages because they are sinful but it is acceptable for the church to affirm such relationships after the fact. So their position is now that gay marriage is sinful and wrong for the church to do, but not wrong for the church to affirm and bless such sin after the fact.
Aside from pleasing nobody, this is just hypocrisy. The church is either denying God-ordained marriage to people whom it recognises can be blessed in those relationships, in effect forcing them into adultery as an unmarried couple, or it is promising to officially bless what God has expressly called sinful and encouraging sinful behaviour. The Church of England cannot have it both ways.
But that is precisely what the Church of England are doing. They are officially saying marriage is only between one man and one woman yet in practice affirming that marriage can be between same-sex couples and officially stating it is so. It is hard not to see how this is anything short of rank hypocrisy.
The church must surely determine whether it actually thinks same-sex marriage is legitimate or not. If it thinks it is, then they should say so and conduct gay marriages as God-honouring unions. This would allow the conservatives and traditionalists to decide whether they can stay in a church that has breached one of their red lines. Alternatively, if it thinks same-sex marriage is not legitimate, they should say so and refuse to bless them as though God is pleased by these unions and, indeed, enact church discipline against those who would affirm what God does not. This would allow the liberals and progressives to determine whether they can remain in a communion that calls sin what they want to call good and the church to remove those who continue to say it is in the face of what they expressly teach the Bible to be saying.
What the church have actually done is managed to please nobody. Moreover, they are officially stating their hypocrisy. They are saying with one side of their mouth that gay marriage is unacceptable and sinful, incompatible with scripture and rightly forbidden by the church and yet, out of the other side they insist it is good and capable of receiving God’s blessing in the church. The question for those on all sides of this discussion is whether they wish to remain in a communion that is officially adopting hypocrisy?
No doubt there will be conservatives who are delighted that official doctrine hasn’t changed. There will potentially be some progressives who find the step closer to their position to be one more on the road to full acceptance of it. The we-will-never-leave-under-any-circumstances brigade will sit tight come what may. But in the most part, it is hard not to see the vast majority of people, on all sides, being both unhappy with the outcome and noting the risible hypocrisy of the position. I, therefore, find it hard to understand why anyone would want to remain in a denomination that has now moved beyond fudge to officially enshrining its own hypocrisy for all to see.