LAYING aside the tired vestiges of Marxism, the task of preachers is to interpret the world not to change it. Description, not prescription, is what we have to offer an activist world. A good definition can and should be a shared, comprehensive and coherent understanding (what Darwinians call a cultural meme).

June saw a second series of John Keble workshops The Second Time of Asking. Now that Scott-Joplin (the House of Bishops’ proposals on remarriage in church after divorce) is dead in the water, the discussion was more clearly directed to the work of next year’s Sacred Synod, at which the subject of marriage and marriage discipline will feature large on the agenda. We cannot predict what General Synod will decide to do, probably in July 2002, to bury or to resuscitate Scott-Joplin, but it seems likely that we ourselves will seek to move towards a more rigorous and coherent marriage discipline within traditionalist parishes. Underlying this will be our most important contribution (by the guidance of the Spirit): the definition of a Christian understanding of marriage.

Sounds too simple and banal to be worth the journey to London? If a definition of marriage were simple, others would have found it by now. The government with its recent booklet? More like spun sugar. The House of Bishops’ 1999 booklet? To call it thin would be an exaggeration; it was anoxeric.

To define the traditional understanding in terms that make sense in our own generation, in a manner consistent with the past and yet not a mere copy from earlier texts, that remains coherent despite the loss of definition around the words used, all this is a difficult task. What emerged from the John Keble sessions is just how rich, full and complex is the sacrament we call marriage.

So powerful would a clear definition be of this social and religious institution (in a world of confused and competing ideas and opinions) that its effect, if shared, would be a greater force for change than any deliberate activism. The key of course is not simply to produce a text, but to repeat it, to prove its worth in our parishes, and most important of all to convert those outside the Church. NT