REsponse To A Recovering Evangelical
Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England writes: Well done Tom Harris for tackling the question of same-sex marriage and for coming out as a “recovering evangelical”. Having an insider’s understanding of a culture you no longer share usually leads to worthwhile insights, and Tom’s piece here is no exception.
But there is a lot more to the Church of England than its evangelical wing, and there is a lot more to the church’s submission to the GEO consultation on “Equal Marriage” than Tom has spotted, so may I try and put the record straight?
Tom conflates two things – the opposition of some Christians to gay lifestyles and all that goes with them, and the church’s official response to a flawed government consultation on the very specific issue of same-sex marriage. If you read that submission (here: http://bit.ly/MoNuTX ) you’ll see that it states, in terms, that same-sex relationships can embody important Christian virtues and that it affirms Civil Partnerships very strongly. That’s not quite consistent with the viscerally anti-gay stance that Tom attributes to all Christians.
The key point in our submission on same sex marriage is that the virtues of faithful homosexual relationships cannot embrace everything that is good about heterosexual marriage. There is an inescapable difference and complementarity between men and women that allows procreation to be an important component of a marriage between a man and a woman. Yes, of course many marriages are childless, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that a flourishing society needs some sort of social institution that celebrates and encourages having children and their upbringing in a family with their biological parents wherever possible. Our concern is emphatically not to say that same-sex relationships are wicked, but to ask what sort of a society we would have if the social meaning of marriage was stripped of any expectation at all that it involved having children. You don’t have to agree with our analysis of this, but many would surely agree that it is a question worth asking.
Unfortunately, the Coalition’s consultation on Equal Marriage is based on a profound ignorance of the current laws about marriage and, to be blunt, is a dog’s breakfast of erroneous assumptions and begged questions. The mistaken assumption that “religious marriage” and “civil marriage” are two different things in law is only the most egregious example of the GEO document’s failings. These points have nothing to do with Christian approaches to sexuality, but the church had no option but to oppose a proposal which would be based on such an utter misreading of the law and of the Church of England’s present role as a “purveyor of weddings to the nation”.
So, Tom, please don’t attribute the views of some homophobes to all Christians. There’s a profound debate going on in the CofE about ethics and sexuality, and our submission on same-sex marriage does not foreclose on that debate. The issue of same-sex marriage raises wider questions about the nature of a good society, and in particular about how far societies need to balance the common good against individual freedoms. The Church of England was not likely to rewrite the law of marriage because David Cameron waned to detoxify the Conservative Party or because Lynne Featherstone put out a confused and misleading consultation paper. But we would hope that friends in all the parties, including you, might want to be part of a mutually respectful debate about the common institutions which might make for a better society.