Welcome to St John the Baptist Church in Smalley, Derbyshire.

HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS DISAGREE?

I take one important current issue – same-sex marriage; but there are plenty of other areas of disagreement, locally, nationally and internationally. Should we compromise faithfully held views? Can we be reconciled to those with whom we worship but with whom we profoundly disagree?

Surely the key word has to be “love”. Only love can help me accept that people with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by God, and therefore must be loved by me. Perhaps a form of holy pragmatism is all one can hope for. This is certainly true of the Church of England’s struggle with same-sex marriage. While we must accept as legal the relationships that the state now allows, it is at the same time illegal for any Anglican clergyman to conduct a marriage in a Church of England church of two people of the same sex.

This is not about to change. Recent polls have shown that there is strong opposition to same-sex marriage in the Church, certainly enough to block the two-thirds majority any change would require. And if two-thirds of the members of the General Synod were to vote in favour of same-sex marriage in Church, most of the world-wide Anglican Communion would be up in arms; there the issue of homosexuality is regarded as a litmus test of “soundness”. No Church-wide agreement is likely in the near future.

So, what do we do? I think we have to accept that we are in an untidy Church in an interim situation, and behave accordingly. Our Bishops will have to accept a degree of anarchy, having ascertained that they have no real sanctions to apply. They have to reinforce existing doctrine, while initiating conversations between those who hold opposing views. And they will have to shame extremists by condemning bigotry and using the language of love and respect for all parties. Let them admit, though, that this is a holding position.

I do not think it will hold for long – unless congregations feel no responsibility for what is clearly a pastoral disaster, or are willing to be seen as similar to racists. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of “courageous Churches”. It ought not to take courage to treat LGBT people more lovingly. But perhaps courage is precisely what we in the Church lack, since to treat someone lovingly is to treat him or her equally.

The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall

 

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