Forget the issue of Women Bishop's, the big issue affecting the Church of England is the issue surrounding Same Sex Marriage. Recently there has been a lot of anger expressed over the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, where it has reiterated the churches teaching that
'The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.' (Canon B 30)
The House of Bishop's Statement also makes clear what is expected of the clergy.
The preface to the Declaration of Assent, which all clergy have to make when ordained and reaffirm when they take up a new appointment, notes that the Church of England 'professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.' This tension between the givennness of the faith and the challenge to proclaim it afresh in each generation, as the Spirit continues to lead the Church into all truth, stands at the heart of current debates about human sexuality and of what constitutes leading a life that is according to the way of Christ.
At ordination clergy make a declaration that they will endeavour to fashion their own life and that of their household 'according to the way of Christ' that they may be 'a pattern and example to Christ's people'. A requirement as to the manner of life of the clergy is also directly imposed on the clergy by Canon C 26, which says that 'at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.'
The implications of this particular responsibility of clergy to teach and exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church have been explained as follows; 'The Church is also bound to take care that the ideal is not misrepresented or obscured; and to this end the example of its ordained ministers is of crucial significance. This means that certain possibilities are not open to the clergy by comparison with the laity, something that in principle has always been accepted ' (Issues in Human Sexuality, 1991, Section 5.13).
The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.
Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity.
The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives.
The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context. Neverthless at ordination clergy undertake to 'accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.' We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.The whole issue of Same Sex Marriage is a sensitive one, and there are many people who believe that the House of Bishop's statement alienates people who are in same sex relationships, or who support same sex relationships. There are many groups who are trying to change the Churches stance on this issue, including Inclusive Church and Accepting Evangelicals. There have been various Ad Clerum responses to this House of Bishop's Pastoral Guidance, which you can read on Peter Ould's excellent website An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy.
Where do I stand in all of this? At the top of this blog I posted the statement from Inclusive Church. I believe in an inclusive church, a church that is open to all, a place where people can experience God's unconditional love and acceptance, whether male or female, young or old, able bodied or disabled, married or single, divorced or widowed, hetrosexual or gay. Jesus welcomed all, and we should welcome all too.
But Jesus also called people to be transformed, to turn from their life of sin, and turn to God. When a women caught in adultery was brought to Jesus (John 8:1-11), Jesus issued a challenge, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." One by one the people left, realising that they were sinners just as much as this women. Jesus then turned to the women and said
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” "No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)Jesus did not condemn this women, but he also challenged her to leave her life of sin. The message of God's unconditional love, is such an important one, but what worries me is that we are in danger of saying "God loves you as you are, therefore there is no need to change." But that is not the message of the Gospel. Yes God loves us, but he loves us so much, that he wants us to become the people we are truly created to be.
It troubles me when I here people say that the church is out of step with the values of the world. Since when was it the calling of the church to be in step with the values of the world? Instead we are to be the agent of transformation and change. Jesus said:
"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33)Our concern should not be about pleasing the world, but about pleasing God, and being faithful to Him. St Paul wrote:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)This should be our focus and our priority.
The reality is that the message of the Gospel is challenging, and uncomfortable, because it calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ. The call to become more like Christ, will inevitably mean changes will need to take place in our lives, and that is easy. Jesus will challenge us about our life style, attitudes, our pride and self centredness, he will challenge us on our priorities, how we use our time, relationships and money, and that can be uncomfortable, and difficult, as the rich young man found when he came to Jesus, and Jesus challenged him to give all his money to the poor (Mark 10:17-22).
My daily challenge is to strive to be faithful to God, to be in step with him, and through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within me to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. That means recognises those areas of my life which need to change, learning to submit to God's will, and being faithful to the teaching of Scripture, even when this is costly. I know that I can only achieve this through the grace and mercy of God at work within me.
I long to see a truly inclusive church, where everyone can find love and acceptance, no matter who they are, but also a church which seeks to be faithful to the teaching of scripture, and seeking to please God in all things.