It really is time to choose

Wed, 15/02/2017 - 21:05 -- James Oakley

Yesterday, I wrote about the debate before the Church of England's General stood as to whether to take note of the House of Bishops' report into human sexuality.

I explained that the document, and the process that led to it, was all about "good disagreement" - how can traditionalists and progressives get along together without falling out.

I explained how what is at stake is whether same-sex marriage should be something all are willing to live with in the Church of England, whether or not they partake or officiate. As such, it is logically impossible to agree to disagree. Indeed, to call (as some have been) for us not to fall out over this, is to take the view that such things can be tolerated. It therefore chooses one "side", thus proving the impossibility of staying neutral.

The vote to "take note" fell, so a brief follow-up post is in order.

The report contained bits to delight traditionalists (no change to the doctrine of marriage) and bits to delight progressives (maximum freedom within that definition, for example).

On paper it should have passed. Doubtless the bishops hoped each group would find the bits that were meant for them, and vote to take note.

Instead, each group found the bits they disliked. The progressives really disliked the idea that marriage was not to be redefined. The traditionalists distrusted the idea that developments on the ground could now unfold without necessarily having future input from Synod.

So each group voted against. At least, that's what I believe happened. It's hard to say, until we can all look at who voted each way. But I don't believe, for all the bluster of the liberal campaign to get "take note" to fall, they could have done it on their own. They only just managed about 20 to demonstrate outside during the debate, and I know of several evangelicals planning to vote against for precisely these concerns.

So what happens next?

We're already seeing liberals calling the vote a victory. It doesn't feel like one for anyone, and if it is a victory in any sense it is not theirs alone.

The report fell not because it was too conservative. It fell because it pleased no-one. It tried to hold together what cannot be held together. It was a pantomime horse.

It's back, then, to yesterday's thesis: it is time to choose. General Synod has just put the ball back into the bishops' court. They need to write another document. This time, it needs to be unambiguously clear. The issue cannot be fudged in the hope of pleasing all - we've just seen that no-one is having that wool pulled over their eyes.

Over to the bishops: We're looking to you for clear and strong leadership. Which kind of church do you want the Church of England to be? Which God will you ask us to serve? The god of this age, or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

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