How does the Church of England manifest genuine truth and love in its public handling of issues to do with sex?
Of course we do not need a ‘balance’ of truth and love — but, rather, a full-on measure of both, together, at the same time. But that is easier said than done. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was right to meet gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and spend time with him recently. In a way, given the exhortations to love both our neighbour and our enemy — in other words, everyone — it is surprising that none of his predecessors have done so. Peter Tatchell had written a critical letter in the press. Justin Welby’s move was a direct response to this.
It seems to me that in countering Tatchell’s words of hostility with a gracious invitation to meet, the Archbishop was acting far more in line with biblical ethics than the counterproductive and unchristlike ‘tit for tat’ actions of those who responded to the ‘some people are gay — get over it’ bus adverts with a like-for-like slap-in-the-face response from some Christian groups.
The Archbishop has described the meeting as private. But Peter Tatchell was quoted as saying: ‘I got the impression that he wants to support gay equality, but feels bound by church tradition’.
Very recently, Justin Welby told the BBC: ‘The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman. At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human, is the essential dignity of the human being. And so we have to be very clear about homophobia’. And in an interview with The Sunday Times he has also said: ‘My understanding of sexual ethics has been that, regardless of whether it’s gay or straight, sex outside marriage is wrong’.
Recent weeks have also seen the publication of a report from the church’s Faith and Order Commission (FAOC). Commenting on the document, entitled Men and Women in Marriage, evangelical ethicist Dr. Andrew Goddard commented: ‘Some erroneously claimed the church was now more flexible on blessing gay partnerships, but the press release made clear this was false’. However, he did add: ‘The report fails to make clear that the first and major hurdle facing those challenging the doctrine that marriage is between one man and one woman is that they are proposing that marriage embrace a pattern of sexual relationship [which] Scripture never commends and always identifies as sin’.
John and Durham?
Meanwhile, it was reported that Jeffery John was among candidates to be Bishop of Durham. Writing elsewhere, Dr. Goddard wrote: ‘The Church of England cannot now run away from examination of its teaching in relation to same-sex relationships… The danger is that it will instead simply embrace civil partnerships through playing catch-up with social changes… It would be much better were the Church of England to reaffirm traditional teaching and communicate that vision of human flourishing positively. It could then put its energies into commending those with same-sex attraction who embrace that teaching and pursue that vision, and developing good forms of pastoral support for them, while continuing to explore the appropriate pastoral responses to those who in conscience reject traditional and biblical teaching’. A full measure of truth and love?
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex
This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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