It is good to be on the side of the angels. Two CofE bishops and members of the House of Lords published articles during August regarding the Civil Partnership Act. The Bishop of Winchester, as we read, gave us two and a half pages in ND, upholding traditional Christian teaching and warning of further legislation which threatens society’s understanding of marriage.
In the same month, in the Church Times, the Bishop of Worcester, took an opposing view. Two sides of the argument? No. What was interesting and significant is that this was not a dispute between equals. With just a single letter +Worcester sank his own boat.
Speaking of those he is criticizing, he said, ‘what they fear is that marriages…are somehow threatened by this development.’ Not marriage, note, but marriages. If he genuinely thinks this is what his brother from Winchester was talking about, then he is simply obtuse. If he is misrepresenting the argument of his opponents the better to defeat it, then he is being culpably dishonest. This does indeed appear to be his approach: ‘I find this fear difficult to understand since nobody has ever been prepared to tell me that their own marriage was threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships.’
If he were a mere politician playing to the gallery, it might be excusable. As it is, by missing the point himself, he is only inviting others to do the same. It is not marriages that are threatened, and no one other than the benighted bishop has ever said so; it is the institution of marriage.
To personalize the issue by seeing it only in terms of individuals is to have misunderstood the entire argument, indeed it is to have abandoned the institution of marriage already. Society, the Church, government all have an interest in and responsibility for marriage because, as an institution, it is one of the fundamental building blocks of community and crucial to the nurture of children. If it were merely a private arrangement between any two individuals, same sex or otherwise, there would be very little to talk about.
Institutions, like sacraments, matter; and they deserve serious and mature debate.