It hadn’t been on my radar, but apparently, the Church of England has been “studying” the question of sexuality for a number of years, as in the manner of Episcopalians of a decade ago, trying to make up its mind about whether or not to allow same-sex “blessings.” In a sort of Pastoral-ish document called “A response from the Bishops of the Church of England about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage” the spiritual leaders of that once Christian body take the bold step of disappointing everyone. They decide to offer prayers for the blessing of same-sex relationships, but not to call it marriage. And don’t worry, they say, everything will be fine. No one will be forced to do anything they feel uncomfortable about. Here is one good response, and here is another.
The whole document is a study in corporate secularism, as far as I can tell, betraying no anxiety about what someone like God might think about what they are intending to do. Four bits I found to be particularly discouraging. First this:
We have studied the Scriptures, paid attention to the Church’s tradition and listened to wider society, as well as to the voices of our sister churches in the Anglican Communion and ecumenical partners. Above all, we have sought the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in prayer and worship. The differences among you are also present among us, the College of Bishops. We are partnered, single, celibate, married, divorced, widowed, bereaved; heterosexual, gay, bisexual and same-sex attracted. We have diverse convictions about sexuality and marriage.
For bishops in a “church” to say that they have “diverse convictions about sexuality and marriage” is, as someone in the Bible said somewhere, to be already defeated. I love, too, the “we studied the Bible” and now we can do what we like because we also “paid attention” to the “Church’s tradition” and “listened to wider society.” I wonder which of those three activities weighed on the scale most profoundly. Was there a lot of time in Bible “study” do you suppose? Because, if you want to know what it says about sexuality, the Bible doesn’t take a lot of studying to figure that out. And what of “tradition?” That, also, would require only a casual glance to see that what the scripture says about marriage and sex has also been what the church said for two thousand years. So it must be that the last, the “wider society,” had a louder voice in the process of throwing over the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But that’s ok because the C of E Bishops also prayed about it and discovered that the Holy Spirit—whoever that is—is fine with whatever they already think.
This next bit is also very depressing:
Whenever we encounter diversity, difference and disagreement, we, as bishops, must remind ourselves of the need to address ignorance, to cast out fear, to acknowledge prejudice, to speak appropriately into oppressive silence, to admit hypocrisy and to pay attention to power. We continue to commend these Pastoral Principles to the whole church so that together we can grow more clearly into the likeness of Christ and make his love known to this generation.
Remember the olden days when Bishops understood that their job was to guard the faith? To feed the sheep? But these bishops want, in a twist of cosmic irony, to “admit hypocrisy and pay attention to power.” Whose power? The culture’s? Their own? What about the power of God? Oh well. Here’s a bit more:
We continue to seek to be a church that embodies ‘the radical new Christian inclusion’ to which the Living in Love and Faith project was called by the Archbishops in 2017: an inclusion that is ‘founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it – based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.’
Embracing the shibboleths of today as a measure of what it means to be “human” and “sexual” is too bad. Do they not follow Libs of TikTok? Of course they don’t. That line alone—“healthy, flourishing, relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual” is a punch in the spiritual gut, and not in a good way. Here is the last bit:
For all of us, the Bible is central to our understanding and living out of the Christian faith: as Anglicans, we believe that Scripture witnesses to God’s saving work brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ and contains within it all that is necessary for salvation. Despite being united in this belief, we interpret the Bible differently and have come to different conclusions about numerous matters, including what it has to say about gender, relationships and marriage.
How on earth did they do that? How on earth can you say that the Bible is “central to our understanding,” though that is a tepid, if not actually fatuous, way of putting it, and then announce that there are many different possible conclusions for what it says about gender, relationships, and marriage?
I happened to have time to glance at the lections before reading this, as we used to say, Anglican Fudge, and couldn’t help but mouth aloud:
“Do two walk together,
unless they have agreed to meet?
Does a lion roar in the forest,
when he has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from his den,
if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth,
when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground,
when it has taken nothing?
Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the Lord has done it?
If Amos had been around today, enduring the stupidity of the 21st century, he would have added one:
Does an Anglican Ecclesiastical Authority come across an opportunity to compromise the Gospel, and not “live into the question?”
Amos goes on:
“For the Lord God does nothing
without revealing his secret
to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
who can but prophesy?”
Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod
and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt,
and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria,
and see the great tumults within her,
and the oppressed in her midst.”
“They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
“those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”
Therefore thus says the Lord God:
“An adversary shall surround the land
and bring down your defenses from you,
and your strongholds shall be plundered.”
They “do not know how to do right,” declares not Amos, but God himself. The little capital letters let you know that Amos was quoting God. It doesn’t take very much Biblical scholarship to learn about how God is often quoted in the scriptures, directly. God is able to speak. Worse yet, he knows everything—not just about the world, but about you personally. Indeed, there is nowhere you can go to get away from him, not even a pastoral “response.” Just to glance at the portion of Psalm allotted for my church this morning:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
Do you suppose—just bear with me here—that God himself might have some clue about what would be “healthy” or good for people who did not bring themselves into existence, but rather were made by him? So many Christians find this psalm a deep and abiding comfort in the difficulties of walking through life essentially in the dark. No one can know what will happen tomorrow. And yet God—who does know what will happen tomorrow—sheds his light over the world by the gift of his own speaking, his own Scriptures.
Don’t look to the scriptures for comfort, though, if you are going to blaspheme marriage and lead the Lord’s little ones further into the darkness. Don’t mouth the words of the Daily Office, or fuss about perfectly timed liturgy if you’re going to be disobedient to the commands of God. What is that called? I think the Lord himself likened it to being a “white washed tomb” or, that word already bandied about, a “hypocrite.”
Jesus, in this morning’s gospel, steps onto the world stage to reconstitute faithful Israel, by implication rejecting the corrupt and spiritually bankrupt version who read people like Amos but didn’t understand that the words still applied to them.
The whole document provided by the CofE is something like fourteen pages long. In the middle I found this:
The plan to develop and commend Prayers of Love and Faith is a sign of joy and thanksgiving for couples who have entered a civil partnership or marriage, a new stage in their relationship, or wish to form a covenanted friendship. They will be a celebration of God’s faithfulness and of the gift of human love. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 1 John 4.16
How clever to take the word “Love”—the great idol of this age—and twist it around so that it does not refer to the Love of God who came to rescue sinners from sin and bring them into the way of life, hut rather make it about changeable human feelings. One single line, torn out of context, to confuse and destroy those so desperately needing the mercy and grace of Christ’s work on the cross. Just a little bit after the Epistle text for this morning, Paul writes:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
Take heart, all of you, wherever you are in the world, toddling off to church, trying to keep your eyes on Jesus. No principality or king or bishop can undo the riches of his grace. How vast is the sum of them. If you could count them, they would be more than the sand. As you sit there, beleaguered and sad, he is still with you.