Introducing the next Archdeacon of Wilts November 3, 2015Posted by Phil Groom in Church, Life, News.
Tags: Archdeacon of Wilts, Church of England, Devizes, Diocese of Salisbury, Good News, Henlow and Langford, St Andrew's Langford, Sue Groom
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TODAY it gives me immense pleasure to introduce the next Archdeacon of Wilts, someone most readers of this blog will already know: none other than my wonderful wife, the Revd Canon soon-to-be-Venerable Sue Groom.
Sue’s present dual-role post as Priest-in-Charge of Henlow & Langford and St Albans Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) requires her to give three months notice, so the lovely people of Henlow and Langford haven’t seen the last of us yet: we don’t leave until the end of January 2016; but both of us would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has welcomed us and made our 6+ years here in Bedfordshire so enjoyable and worthwhile — it’s been a genuine privilege to share this part of our lives with you.
Sue’s last service in the Benefice is scheduled for Sunday 31st January, a combined service with the two parishes together at St Andrew’s, Langford, and we’d love to see as many people there as possible: please do join us if you’re in the area. Her licensing as Archdeacon of Wilts is scheduled for Monday 22nd February at St John’s, Devizes — close to where we’ll be living, a superb location on the Kennet & Avon Canal — followed on Thursday 25th February by a diocesan welcome service for both Sue and the new Bishop of Sherborne at Salisbury Cathedral: look out for more details of these services nearer the time.
The news was announced in both parishes on Sunday 1st November 2015, and further announcements and a press release are being issued today via the official St Albans and Salisbury diocesan news channels; all that remains for me to say now is:
- St Albans: DDO to be New Archdeacon for Wilts | Archdeacons Abound
- Salisbury: A New Archdeacon for Wilts
- BBC News Wiltshire: Reverend Canon Sue Groom to be Archdeacon of Wiltshire
- Salisbury Journal: New Archdeacon of Wiltshire named
- Swindon Advertiser: New Archdeacon of Wiltshire named
- Wikipedia: Archdeacon of Wilts
Epitaph for an Archbishop? For fear of sailing over the edge of the world, he never put out to sea April 7, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
Tags: Africa, Archbishop of Canterbury, Equal Marriage, Fear, Homophobia, Justin Welby, Pastoral Guidance, Same-sex marriage
NO, THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY hasn’t died; but he does seem to be doing a remarkably good job at digging his own grave, at least insofar as establishing good relations with the LGBTI community is concerned. In February — on St Valentine’s Day, to be precise — together with the Archbishop of York he signed off the House of Bishops’ now notorious Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage; last month he appeared to signal an end to the Church of England’s opposition to same sex marriage but offered no lessening or withdrawal of the restrictions placed upon clergy in that Pastoral Guidance; and now this month, in a phone-in on LBC radio (full transcript), he has outlined some of the thinking behind his own resistance to change: if the Church of England recognises same sex marriage, Christians in Africa will die.
This is flat earth thinking at its worst (or best, depending on your point of view), refusing to put out to sea for fear of sailing off the edge of the world — in this case, the refusal to put out to sea being the Archbishop’s resistance to same sex marriage in the Church of England and the edge of the world being Africa and the fear of further atrocities by extremist homophobes.
It’s the kind of slippery slope reasoning typified by the so-called Coalition for Marriage, C4M, driven by their fear of unintended consequences, and the moral equivalent of refusing to offer sanctuary to Jews during the Second World War for fear of Nazi reprisals; of refusing to take a stand against racism in apartheid South Africa for fear of worse oppression; of arguing that women ought not to be educated in the UK for fear of Taliban reprisals in India; or refusing to speak out for Palestinian land rights for fear of Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes — the list could go on and on, as the atrocities surely will, for those whose hearts are full of hate will always find reasons to justify their evil.
The dangers are real: all of these fears have at least some validity, but allowing them to hold sway over our decisions is not the way of Christ, who gave his own life rather than capitulate to prejudice and hate; more than that, who called his followers to take up their cross and follow him. That Christians will die is a given, given by Christ himself, but that does not make the scenes the Archbishop has witnessed any less a tragedy.
Archbishop Justin Welby is a man with a massive heart, a heart for the poor, for the oppressed and the underdog, evidenced most recently by the launch of the Listen to God: Hear the Poor initiative with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. As I noted with reference to the House of Bishops, he is right in what he affirms, but wrong in what he denies: he is right to be appalled and he is right to call us to awareness of possible global consequences; but he is wrong to allow fear of those consequences to counter right action. Refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong paves the way for evildoers to continue with their evil and it can never be the way of Christian thinking or living: to quote Kes (aka Rebel Rev), the priest who asked the question that led to the Archbishop’s remarks, “What Justin said put the power in the hands of the oppressors and those who wield violence.” (Rebel Rev lives up to her name).
But here in the Church of England in England, this leaves us with a deep seated problem: we have an Archbishop who has publicly stated his belief that sexual relations are for marriage and that marriage is between a man and a woman, but who also says that there must be no predetermined outcomes to the Church’s ongoing conversations about human sexuality; who has signed off a document — the Pastoral Guidance — that denies his fellow priests the right to follow their conscience but which caters specifically to his own; and the reason the conservative conscience must take priority over the progressive conscience is fear.
Thus we have an Archbishop who perceives himself not as refusing to do what is right for fear of others doing what is wrong but as refusing to sanction what he believes to be wrong and backing up that refusal for fear of possible consequences elsewhere, exacerbated further by a failure to recognise his attitude as homophobic: homophobia kills; he and the House of Bishops merely hold reservations. He most likely would not recognise this statement, but it is as if he has said, “Let us show solidarity with Africa’s homophobes in the hope that they will see that our homophobia is nicer and moderate their behaviour accordingly.” And that, of course, will never work: instead, Africa’s homophobes will — indeed, do — perceive the Church of England’s position as weakness whilst theirs is strength. Thus holding back on full equality here in England has the very opposite effect to that which ++Justin hopes for: rather than moderate their behaviour, Africa’s homophobes dig in their heels, turn up the heat and expect us to follow their lead.
There can only be one way through such a brick wall and that is enlightenment by God. That enlightenment will come, as it came for me, when those opposed to equal marriage see that their fear and prejudice are groundless. It will come not by our screaming, shouting, denouncements and ad hominem attacks against a man caught between the cliff of conservative resistance and the tide of progressive opinion but rather by our willingness to follow Christ regardless of personal cost, by our willingness to show love, to show the better way.
It will come not by calling for ++Justin Welby’s resignation but by prayerful engagement; by those in favour of equal marriage demonstrating that God is, indeed, with us; that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of LGBTI believers in exactly the same way as in the lives of all other Christians; by showing that God does not condemn but accepts all of us just the way we are, regardless of sexual orientation; and further, that God does not curse but blesses those committed to loving, faithful marital relationships, regardless of gender difference or identity.
Christ’s message is twofold: first of all, he bids us trust in God, fear not, for he is in the boat and it won’t go down; but then comes another storm and another challenge: suddenly he is not in the boat but out there in the storm, inviting us, like Peter, to risk all, to step out of the boat and walk with him among the wind and the waves of uncertainty. It is as if he says, Who dares wins — but not so, for Jesus says, Who loves wins; it is love that conquers fear, it is love that brings courage, it is love that wins.
Pray, then, with me for Archbishop Justin’s eyes to be opened. Pray that he will discover that love which drives out all fear, and in particular drives out his fear of where it might all end, his fear of sailing over the edge of the world — for the world is not flat, as some suppose, and the answer to that question of where it will all end is this: back at home, when we have circumnavigated the globe (not without some adventure, danger and yes, even death, along the way) and returned to safe harbour, to Jesus himself, the one who is Lord of the Church and who is able, more than able, to keep his Church from falling.
And pray too for our brothers and sisters in Africa…
Some Responses and Reactions Elsewhere
- Rt Revd Marc Andrus, A word on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statements
- Claire George, [Opinion] What did Justin Welby say about Africa and Gay people?
- Savi Hensman, Archbishop of Canterbury, equal marriage and safety of Africans
- Symon Hill, Welby, homophobia and the lives that are at risk
- Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, You condemn it, Archbishop
- Revd Rachel Mann, Justin Welby, Homosexuality and Unintended Consequences
- Revd Susan Russell, Archbishop of Canterbury chooses pathetic over prophetic
- Gillan Scott, Justin Welby’s debut radio phone-in was a breath of fresh air
Petition by Revd Mark Kenny to @C_of_E’s House of Bishops to rescind their opposition to equal marriage and take back their recent Pastoral Guidance March 10, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
Tags: Church of England, Equal Marriage, Homosexuality, House of Bishops, LGBT, Pastoral Guidance, Same-sex marriage
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- Rescind their opposition to equal marriage
- Take back their recent Pastoral Guidance
- Create a Church where all are welcomed
If you share these concerns and haven’t already signed Mark’s petition, please sign it today:
Heaven is Weeping: An Open Letter to the House of Bishops @C_of_E @JustinWelby @JohnSentamu March 1, 2014Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Current Affairs.
Tags: Church of England, Equal Marriage, Homosexuality, House of Bishops, LGBT, Pastoral Guidance, Same-sex marriage
MY LORD BISHOPS,
Greetings in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, your Lord and mine in our common journey of faith: to him be the glory for ever and ever!
I am writing this letter hesitantly because, as a member of a clergy household myself, I am aware of the immense pressure that you live under and of the immense burden of responsibility that you shoulder as the Lords Spiritual in our land: may the Lord give each and every one of you the courage, grace, strength and wisdom you need as you carry out your duties in his service.
First of all, I would like to thank you for all the time and effort that you put into so many different and often conflicting areas of life, especially on matters of injustice here in the UK and elsewhere in the world. Thank you, in particular, to those who put their names to the letter recently published in the Mirror newspaper challenging the government over the impact of its welfare reforms; my thanks also for the work that went into producing the Pilgrim Course, which has been well received and appreciated in the parishes I belong to; and for all the other work you carry out, so much of it unseen and unheralded by media attention.
My further thanks for the time, consideration and careful reflection that went into your recent Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage: this brings us to my main purpose in writing as I add my voice to the many others expressing concern and dismay over this matter.
I’d like to start by sharing something of my own faith journey: I was brought up as a free-church, conservative evangelical. The Bible, prayer and church were the bedrock of my early life: I read the Bible and prayed daily, more than daily; I attended the Christian Union at school and at college; and I became a Sunday School teacher and a street evangelist whilst still in my teenage years. I knew the Bible better than any of my contemporaries and was referred to as ‘the living concordance’, such was my enthusiasm; and I knew — or rather, believed I knew — what the Bible taught about sexuality. Homosexuality and Christianity were mutually exclusive: to be gay was a lifestyle choice that set a person at odds with Scripture and the revealed will of God. This did not mean that I hated gays: they were no worse sinners than anyone else and I followed the mantra of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’
I know, then, how some of you and some the churches under your care feel about homosexuality in the Church, for I too once felt that way; and in those days, not surprisingly, I had no dealings with gay people: why would any gay person want to know me, a person who would claim to offer them Christ’s unconditional love whilst simultaneously condemning that which lay at the very core of their being?
That was to change, however, not overnight or by any dramatic experience, but over time as I began to encounter gay people; and not simply gay people but gay Christians; and it became clear that God was as much at work in their lives as mine. Without any sign of repentance for their ‘lifestyle choice’, God was blessing them: the fruit and work of the Holy Spirit was as evident in the lives of gay Christians as it was in the lives of straight Christians!
What was going on? Was God a liar, saying one thing in Scripture yet doing another? Was God the ultimate hypocrite, playing games with people’s lives and sexuality? Surely not! So I revisited the Scriptures and by God’s grace my eyes were opened: it became clear that faithfulness was the key. From beginning to end, from Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in the Garden of Eden, through the Law, the Histories and the Prophets and all the way on to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus’ trust in the Garden of Gethsemane and beyond into the book of Revelation, God’s call to his people has been to be faithful: faithful to God, faithful to our neighbours and faithful to one another. God loves faithfulness!
Everything fell into place: the condemnations of same-sex activity that we see in Scripture all represent betrayals of trust. The world of the Bible, of ancient Israel and of the Early Church, was a world where heterosexual relationships formed the bedrock of society, where homosexual activity could only represent a betrayal of trust; and so homosexual behaviour was condemned in the same way as other promiscuous behaviour such as adultery. This, however, is not the world we live in today: today we find ourselves in society where long-term, faithful same-sex partnerships co-exist and thrive alongside straight relationships; and against such relationships there is neither law nor biblical prohibition. Loose living, promiscuity and adultery are out, for all of these betray both human and divine trust; faithfulness is in, for this echoes the very heart of God.
Like St Peter in prayer on the rooftop, who found himself confounded by God’s apparent change of attitude towards the things and people he believed that God had declared unclean, I too was confounded; but also like Peter, seeing God transforming the lives of those whom I once regarded as unclean, I am set free and I ask, “Who am I — who are we, the Church — to deny blessing to those whom God is blessing?”
This, then, has been my journey of understanding and this is why I support equal marriage; this too is why I believe the Church of England should support equal marriage; and this is why I now find myself dismayed by your Lordships’ Pastoral Guidance on the matter when I see you making such a prohibition. Gentlemen, you are the Lords Spiritual: you yourselves commissioned the Pilling Report, which included the following amongst its recommendations:
… we believe that parishes and clergy, who conscientiously believe that celebrating faithful same sex relationships would be pastorally and missiologically the right thing to do, should be supported in doing so. […] Consultation and agreement between clergy and PCC on the policy would be essential, although the decision whether to conduct such a service in individual cases should be for the priest alone. (Pilling, paras 391-2, p.112)
Yet rather than accept that recommendation, rather than offer priests that support, rather than allowing them to follow their conscience, you advise that any prayer with a same-sex married couple should “be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” then state unequivocally that “Services of blessing should not be provided.” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 21).
How did this come to pass? How have you managed to turn that which is supposed to provide pastoral support into a blunt instrument that can only serve to drive a further wedge between the Church of England and LGBT people? How has welcoming a same-sex couple to prayer for their ongoing relationship become an opportunity to berate them for departing from church teaching? For make no mistake about it, that is how such a so-called “pastoral discussion” — no matter how sensitively broached — will be perceived by those on the receiving end. This approach, your Lordships, is a betrayal of trust that flies in the face of all that has gone before, that undermines almost all of your introductory remarks about gay people being children of God, loved and valued as full members of the body of Christ.
In your early paragraphs you cite Part 6 of the Dromantine Communiqué of 2005, stating that “The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us” — but then you go on to do precisely that very thing, victimising and diminishing LGBT people by excluding their relationships from the possibility of affirmation or formal recognition by the Church, even going so far as to declare that “it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage” (Pastoral Guidance Appendix, para 27).
So you place both gay clergy and gay laity in a double-bind, in a Catch-22 situation, caught out by the Church’s proper teaching that sexual activity belongs within the context of marriage but, when presented by the State with a lawful opportunity to marry, either denied that opportunity altogether (clergy) or denied the opportunity to celebrate that relationship (laity) by the Church.
You cite the Canons in support of your position; but you cite them selectively, for the Church’s Canons in the Thirty Nine Articles (Article XXXII) stipulate quite clearly that the call to the Priesthood within the Anglican tradition is not a call to celibacy: the clergy are free to marry at their discretion. So as the law of the land changes, you override one canon at the expense of another, making that canon which describes marriage as being between a man and woman more important than that which grants clergy freedom to marry, at the same time as denying the validity of state-sanctioned marriage in any case.
Which is it to be, your Lordships? Is the state sanctioned marriage in fact valid, such that it carries sufficient weight to threaten canon law? Or is it invalid, in which case it carries no weight whatsoever and is no different to a civil partnership?
As so often happens in theological disputes, your Lordships, you are right in what you affirm, but wrong in what you deny. You affirm the sanctity of marriage, but deny it to gay people. You affirm God’s love for gay people but deny them full inclusion as God’s people. You open the door to the sacraments of baptism and communion, but close it to marriage: you weigh the sacraments and say, “Thus far and no further!”
You are right when you say that Jesus affirmed male/female relationships; but you are wrong when you say that by that affirmation he denied same-sex relationships: for you know full well that Jesus did not say a word either for or against such relationships. He did, however, speak of the sanctity of marriage and declared that anyone who divorces and remarries, except in the case of their partner’s unfaithfulness, commits adultery — yet you allow priests discretion over whom they will remarry. Thus you not only pick and choose which aspects of Christ’s teachings you follow, but you make an area in which he gave no specific teaching more important than one in which his teaching is clear. If a priest’s discretion is permitted over remarriage of divorcees, upon what basis is it not permitted over a public act of worship which recognises a same-sex marriage?
A song from Boy George/Culture Club comes to mind and I’ve rewritten the lyrics for you:
You are men of deep conviction,
You are men who surely know
How to tell a contradiction?
You surely know, you surely know!
Your Lordships, you surely know! You surely know how Jesus responded to those whose lives were riddled with such contradiction, the religious leaders of his own day, men who swallowed camels whilst straining at gnats. I appeal to you, do not be like them! Do not say of LGBT people that the Church welcomes them as equals but deny that welcome in what you permit or prohibit!
You speak of ‘facilitated conversations’ but rather than pave the way for them, you make such conversations futile by issuing a statement that reinforces barricades instead of taking them down. You say, “[…] we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.” What, then, is the point of these conversations when you have unanimously predetermined their outcome? Forgive me, my Lords, but I find it difficult to believe your declaration that you are all in agreement on this: was there truly not even one dissenting voice, not one person open to the possibility of change?
More than this, gentlemen, I find your choice of words here less than helpful: the Christian understanding… — what? Is there but one definitive Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage? Do you really set your understanding over and above that of other Christian churches? By all means speak of the Church of England’s traditional understanding, but please do not presume to speak for the entire Christian community!
Your approach to this matter, your analysis of it and your response to it are not the way of Christ, the living door, who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all who will come in. I appeal to you, as a fellow pilgrim on the way: do not close the doors that Christ is opening. Do not seek the way of the law when we are saved by grace: heed the warnings of St Paul, that those who choose to live under the law are obliged to obey the whole law — do not return to slavery but accept the freedom Christ offers!
Listen also to the wisdom of Gamaliel: if what is happening here is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it — in which case you may even find yourselves fighting against God!
At the beginning of this letter, I thanked those of you who spoke out recently about the disastrous impact of the government’s welfare reforms: you protest injustice on the one hand whilst you practice it on the other, for that issue and this are both matters of injustice. Thus we have a government that is pro-equality in one arena but blind to its obligations to the poor, whilst we have a Church leadership that has a clear vision of its obligations to the poor but appears blind to injustice here: can you not see, then, why the media cry out and people castigate the Church as a haven for hypocrites?
May the Lord grant you, the leaders of his Church, the vision of our government to see that equal rights require equal rites; and may the Lord grant our government, the leaders of our nation, the compassion for the poor that you see so clearly.
And may he further grant you, as Bishops in his Church, grace and wisdom to facilitate conversations — as some of you are doing — rather than close them down, and so ensure that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed good news for all people in all times and situations.
As I draw to a close, the sun is shining in our garden, the sky is no longer weeping; but heaven is weeping, weeping over every lost sheep driven away from the Church by this failure of love. You are the Chief Shepherds appointed over Christ’s Church: I urge you, then, to behave as the Good Shepherd himself and follow where his Spirit is leading to help bring heaven’s tears to an end.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
- Don’t want to comment here? Join the conversation on facebook.
For further reading, reflection and information
There is, of course, much more out there: these are simply a few links to material that I personally have found most helpful and interesting…
- Accepting Evangelicals
- An Evangelical Apology, The Revd Kevin Ellis
- Changing Attitude facebook group
- Generalizations, Just-So Stories and Marriage Law and Doctrine, Scott M Peterson
- My reflections on the Pilling report, Bishop David Gillett
- Plucking blackberries, The Blog of Kevin
- Posts on Marriage Equality by Bishop Alan Wilson
- Posts on Marriage Equality / Same Sex Marriage by Tobias Haller
- Thinking Anglicans posts referring to marriage
- Why Christians should accept gay marriage, Peter Kirk’s Gentle Wisdom
If God does not withhold blessing from gay people, upon what basis does the church? January 18, 2013Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Chalkegayte, Equal Marriage, Equality, Homosexuality, Inclusion, Matter of Integrity
FROM THE BLOG OF KEVIN, Plucking Blackberries:
Where I see genuine love, commitment, and a desire for a covenant relationship, I see God. Where I see people who love God, who serve God, who God speaks to and through as much as the next person, I see God. And to deny them equal status, to keep them at the edge like women at the synagogue, is wrong. If God does not withhold his Holy Spirit from gay Christians, how can we withhold anything?
It’s the same question the early church faced when the challenge was whether or not Gentiles could be baptised:
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Who amongst us dares argue with the Holy Spirit? Wake up, O Christians!
Reclaiming Marriage: What it is, what it isn’t, what it will finally be December 22, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Advent and Christmas, Church, Current Affairs, Life.
Tags: Church of England, Equal Marriage, Faithfulness, Insane ramblings of a deranged Christian, Marriage, Marriage Equality
MARRIAGE: We’re hearing a lot about it these days as Her Majesty’s Government crosses swords and angry words with the religious right and the Church of England’s officialdom in particular, an ecclesiastical officialdom that appears to be increasingly out of touch with its own people, who are the Church. Whilst the government seeks to make marriage inclusive and available to all irrespective of gender and orientation, these self-appointed guardians of public morality seek to restrict it as an exclusive preserve of heterosexuals. Marriage, they declare, is sacrosanct: the government has no right to govern it. Marriage, they insist, transcends government: it is ordained by God, the union of man and woman, given by God to provide a stable family life in which children can be brought up.
To which God, to anyone prepared to listen, replies: balderdash and piffle! And does so in no uncertain terms as he begets a bastard to save the world: yes, Jesus, the bastard babe of Bethlehem, born to an unmarried woman in poverty, dependent upon gifts from strangers to survive as a refugee on the run from the authorities; and this child grows up, remains single, owns no property, befriends prostitutes and others outside mainstream society, ends up framed by the religious leaders of his day and gets murdered. That, my friends, is the true Christmas story: no fairy lights, no romance, no happily ever after as the hero carries his blushing bride over the threshold. Instead, God eschews marriage both as Father and as Son, and delivers a whole new twist to the meaning of “stable family life” — all our precious human conventions tossed aside as eternity breaks into time.
In engaging with humanity, God sets himself outside marriage, for marriage is a human institution, one of the ways that our society has developed — not so much ordained by as approved by God, God’s gift to humanity, like the Sabbath; and if we would but heed his voice, I suspect we’d hear Jesus saying, as he said of the Sabbath, “Marriage was made for people, not people for marriage.”
What, then, is marriage? To marry is, quite simply, to join together: it’s a term used in the construction industry, in carpentry, plumbing and engineering as items are bonded to one another. “I’ll marry up that joint,” says the carpenter. We don’t hear the religious right objecting to the use of the term in these contexts, only when it comes to human relationships. I wonder why?
And what is marriage about? There is an absurdity here: those who claim they want to defend the importance of marriage seem to want to reduce it to nothing more than a sexual union. Really? Is that what marriage is about? A licence to have sex? Of course it isn’t: marriage is about far more than what people get up to in their bedrooms; if you dare, ask any couple, married, cohabiting or partnered, what proportion of their time is spent having sex — I’ll wager few apart from newly-weds make it up to even 5% of their time, and for most it will be far less than that.
What, then, is marriage about? Above all, it’s about faithfulness, about commitment; about making that commitment under the terms of a covenant: a covenanted relationship. Faithfulness is what God calls people to, throughout the Bible. Faithfulness versus unfaithfulness is the constant, recurring theme of scripture: from the story of Adam & Eve’s betrayal of God’s trust in Eden to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane; in the Commandments; in the Prophets as Israel is lambasted for her unfaithfulness to God; in the New Testament as the church is called to remain faithful to God — and it’s this relationship with God that the human institution of marriage but faintly reflects. Again and again, God cries out to his people to be faithful. Go read those ancient prophets and experience the sorrow in God’s heart at his people’s inconstancy!
What makes a marriage is faithfulness; what breaks a marriage is unfaithfulness — and if marriage is in danger, if marriage is in disrepute, it’s heterosexuals who have done the damage and made a mockery of it. Seems to me God is now saying, “Enough! You people have disregarded my call, have betrayed my trust: you’ve thrown it away; but now I will give that trust to all people who will commit to faithfulness regardless of gender” — a repeat of what happened to Israel when Christ came and threw the doors of the covenant wide open to the Gentiles: no longer an exclusive covenant but an inclusive one, for all who will put their trust in God. Just as God once used an outsider, Cyrus, to restore Israel, it seems — irony of ironies — that God is now using the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular to restore marriage.
Those people to whom I entrusted this gift of marriage have not honoured it, says the Lord, therefore I will find a people who will honour it.
So, at least, it seems to me. Many will disagree; and no doubt numerous marriages of gay couples will fail just as they have done for so many straight couples. No matter: because the story is not over until our hero carries his bride over the threshold. I said that in this story that didn’t happen, didn’t I? I spoke too soon, for the final threshold is death; and our hero, Jesus, tenderly carries his bride — the Church, his broken, bleeding bride, ravaged by her own self-harm and self-interest — in his own broken, bleeding arms over that final threshold into a place where marriage is no more, where questions of gender are set aside, because all are one in Christ and love wins.
Marriage: here we have the Church being precious about it, trying to put a hedge around it, and all the time Christ calls us beyond it to something far deeper — an eternity of love. Marriages are not made by church or state; nor are they made in heaven: they are made in the heart, forged in the home. Church and state, heaven and hell, can only look on in wonder at a covenanted relationship of love that culminates in God and, for those who will, in that glorious consummation between Christ and the Church, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
And what a party that will be!
I’d like to acknowledge the following, whose recent thought-provoking posts have helped to shape and clarify my thinking in this area. Those named, however, bear no responsibility for anything here written; that responsibility is mine, and mine alone.
- Gary of The Not So Big Society; specifically: Does God Need A Make-Over?
- Gillan Scott of God and Politics in the UK; various posts but in particular, Today is the day the Government seizes control of marriage and David Cameron, gay marriage and the betrayal of democracy
- Laura Sykes of Lay Anglicana; in particular: Let’s Cut The Gordian Knot of Language!
- Members of the Christians for Equal Marriage (UK) facebook group for thought-provoking conversations too numerous to list.
Women Bishops: Over 13,000 petition signatures call for action whilst Synod dithers November 26, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Archbishops' Council, Church of England, General Synod, Women Bishops
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HOW LONG, O LORD?
As of this morning, across the four petitions noted over the weekend by Thinking Anglicans — Women Bishops: online petitions — there are now more than 13,000 signatures calling for action in response to General Synod’s failure to ratify its draft legislation for women bishops:
- Petition to the Cabinet Office: No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords – over 7,500 signatures
- Petition to ‘The Group of Six”: Women Bishops – Another Vote Now – over 5,000 signatures
- Petition to The General Synod of the Church of England: Unconditionally ordain Women as Bishops in the Church of England – over 1,000 signatures
- Petition to the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops and ABC Designate the Rt Revd Justin Welby: No Confidence in General Synod: Calling for an Urgent Review – over 150 signatures
And the official response of the Church of England? Silence and Synod deferred. Yes, a number of bishops have blogged their dismay, but as yet, only silence from those who are in a position to move things along.
To quote Sir Tony Baldry, Second Church Estates Commissioner, from his session answering questions in parliament, this issue “cannot be parked, and work needs to be done urgently to try to ensure that it is resolved as quickly as possible.”
On Saturday the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, described the decision to delay Synod as “extraordinary”, resembling “a bad case of loss of nerve”:
In Tuesday’s backwash, there was an ominous symptom of attitude in the church that needs examining. We were told that General Synod will not now meet in February but only in July 2013. This is extraordinary. When the nation is in crisis, Parliament is summoned within days to consider it and guide those who have to make rapid decisions in life-threatening situations. When the Church of England is in its gravest crisis for decades, the Synod postpones its next meeting and decides that it will be sufficient to meet in 8 months’ time.
This looks like a bad case of loss of nerve. It’s as if we are in denial that the situation is as serious and urgent as it is. This is how it’s being perceived in the nation. Most significant at a time of trial, it looks like a failure of governance. There is a big reputational risk here. Just when you want your governing body to be there and exercise its proper authority, it vanishes like the Cheshire Cat into the thicket not to be seen again till the sun comes out next summer. I urge the Synod to meet in the next few weeks to show both church and nation that it has noticed what is happening and is doing something about it.
And today, news has emerged of a strong warning to the Archbishops from William Fittall, General Synod’s Secretary General, in which he is reported to state:
Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church-State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.
Enough dithering, my Lord Bishops: Synod must be recalled sooner not later. Please do not keep us hanging in limbo; the period for quiet reflection is over: it’s now time for action. Failure to respond will only result in further pressure as those campaigning for Bishops to removed from the House of Lords grow in number and measures to enforce equality legislation become increasingly likely. Please don’t wait to be pushed: take a lead.
Dear Bishops, Synod is broken: have you got the message yet? November 23, 2012Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: Church of England, General Synod, Petition, Women Bishops
THANK YOU to everyone who has signed my petition, No Confidence in General Synod: Calling for an Urgent Review: 50 signatures in the first 24 hours and still gathering momentum, approaching 90 as I write. I’m aiming for 500+.
All the distress notwithstanding, the more I reflect on this situation, the more I think the way things have panned out is actually for the best. Daron Medway hits the nail on the head in this twitter exchange:
Not so much a tragedy, then, as an opportunity; but in the meantime, Synod is broken and thousands of people, men and women alike, feel severely bruised and battered by that discovery. We have a voting system that is not fit for purpose — but which can be fixed very simply without compromising on the two-thirds majority principle: 2/3 majority overall backed by a simple majority in all three houses. This retains the 2/3 majority protocol but ensures that a minority can’t hold the whole of Synod hostage yet still allows a majority objection in any single house to veto a motion.
All we need, Right Reverend gentlemen — yes, that’s you I’m speaking to, your Bishopnesses — is for you to make it happen. Call an emergency session or whatever it is you have to do, and fix it. Don’t faff about: just “get with the programme” as a certain other gentleman has expressed it, and mend the broken pipe before it floods us all with despair. In the meantime, I look forward to the day I can address a paragraph such as this to “Right Reverend ladies and gentlemen.”
If my little petition isn’t enough to persuade you that urgent action is needed, please see these other petitions:
- Petition to the Cabinet Office: No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords – over 6,000 signatures
- Petition to ‘The Group of Six”: Women Bishops – Another Vote Now – over 3,000 signatures
- Petition to The General Synod of the Church of England: Unconditionally ordain Women as Bishops in the Church of England – approaching 600 signatures
Tags: Church of England, General Synod, House of Laity, Justin Welby, No Confidence, Unfit for Purpose, Women Bishops
AFTER THIS WEEK’S DEBACLE in General Synod in which a minority within the House of Laity were allowed to hold sway over the proceedings by blocking draft legislation for women bishops in the Church of England, I find myself asking, quite simply, is General Synod fit for purpose?
How can a governing body that repeatedly fails to ratify the clear wishes of the vast majority of its members be regarded as fit for purpose? Upon what basis does the Church of England continue to allow the tail to wag the dog?
To the majority in the House of Laity who voted in favour of the legislation: I salute you – thank you. But I must nonetheless ask how we have reached the point where the wishes of that majority are so easily undermined? The decision of the House of Laity does not represent the laity at large, and this is fundamentally wrong: a vociferous minority have infiltrated the House and thus done away with the possibility of true lay representation within Synod itself.
I therefore, as a lay member of the Church of England, hereby lodge a vote of no confidence in General Synod until such time as it can bring its affairs into order by effecting a genuinely democratic voting system that gives a fair and proper representation to its members in place of the current inequitable system.
I call upon the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops to conduct an urgent review into the rules of governance in Synod to correct this grossly unfair system; and if the matter is not resolved before his enthronement, I further call upon Archbishop Designate the Rt Revd Justin Welby to make addressing this inequitable situation one of his first priorities following his installation at Canterbury.
If you are with me on this, please sign this petition: