DISPUTES are messy. If they must be fought, clarity must be found. For clarity, we need to draw a line in the sand, a line that can then be defended against the rising tide of heresy and atheism or bigotry and fundamentalism.
Our own history has shown that we may draw the wrong line but still gain victory in the war it seeks to define. Keble’s Assize Sermon of 1833 took a matter of amazing irrelevance, the number of Irish bishops, in order to fight for the Catholicity of the Church of England.
But not every line will do. The Mothers’ Union drew a line against divorcees as members, in order to defend the sanctity of marriage, and held to it with admirable tenacity against almost the whole of the rest of the Anglican Communion, until finally the waters overwhelmed them in 1974. It was a traumatic surrender, all the more so because of the stubbornness of the earlier fight.
It is not enough to gird up one’s loins, to be strong and of a good courage, and to be determined to remain faithful to the Gospel. We also have to draw that line in the sand, or decide which of so many lines is the one. No wonder indecision reigns; no wonder we would rather talk about other things; no wonder we hope the line may be drawn for us.
The problem is just as acute for those who will be our opponents when the battle is joined. Indeed, and this may be of some encouragement, it would appear to be even more acute.
If, as a liberal by conviction, you were going to fight for the rights of an ‘openly gay bishop’ within the Anglican Church, could you have found a better candidate to defend than Jeffrey John? Moral, intellectual, spiritual, priestly. And yet they dropped him.
And could you, fighting the same battle, have imagined a worse candidate than Gene Robinson? Lovely man no doubt, charming, humorous, debonair. But if he had deserted a wife and children for a woman, would he have become a symbol to break a church over? And yet his sordid little sexual arrangements are set to become the front line. Before we sink into the sands.