This month the Church of England has suffered a one-two self-inflicted punch. First, the General Synod narrowly defeats women bishops, now the reaction to the proposal to marriage equality, which went from panic to stepping back from the ledge. This is not just an institutional battle. It has become the way that many people have come to know the Gospel. The preoccupation with women and sex is driving people away from the Church.
Jerome Taylor writes in The Independent:
New census data revealed this morning showed that just shy of 1,100 people in England and Wales ditch their Christian identity every day.
Meanwhile the only organisation that has a duty to marry British citizens will, the government announced this afternoon, be legally allowed to discriminate once more against gay men and women. Not a good day for the Church of England. If I were a Lords Spiritual right now, I’d be rather nervous about keeping my job. The established church has never looked so out of touch with the rest of Britain.
It must come as no surprise that the same decade which has resulted in four million fewer people calling themselves Christian has also been a period in which Christianity has been paralysed by polemical debates about genitals – mainly what type of genitals you have and what you do with them.
True, secularism has been consistently on the rise since the Second World War. But at times over the last ten years it has felt like Christianity – and the Church of England in particular – has rarely talked about anything other than sex in the form of women bishops and gays.
It leaves the Church of England facing a genuine crisis. The historical goodwill traditionally shown by the British public and political classes towards Anglicanism is beginning to run dry.
Thinking Anglicans points to an editorial in the Church Times which says that the time has come for the Church of England to stop being the “Church of No.”
However mollifying various sections of the Church have been in the past, Tuesday thus established the C of E as a gay-unfriendly institution: the Church that says “No.” Religion has been a key part of marriage for many, but this is not a given. The Church has the privilege of blessing the unions that people bring to it. Since the blessing it offers or withholds is God’s, it needs to be sure that its interpretation is sound and explicable. Many believe that it is not. The way of testing this in the C of E is through the amending of canons – a long and, on such a divisive issue, tortuous process. The Government proposes to leave Churches to make up their own minds. In the mean time, there are the twin concerns of public perception and mission. A greater enthusiasm for the blessing of same-sex partnerships in church would be one effective way of countering the negative impression given this week.