Some of the finest coal-mines, mills and factories in this country, that had been the economic powerhouses of the nineteenth century and survived through most of the twentieth, became museums not ten years after they finally ceased production near the turn of the millennium. So swiftly can one era be consigned to history by another.
Not ten years ago, there was still in Britain (albeit severely restricted) a married persons tax allowance. Yet, when the Conservative Party suggested in July that this or some similar tax advantage be restored to married couples, it was received with incredulous outrage by commentators, as something from the legislative museum no longer fit for the modern age.
It was presumed that any tax advantage for married couples would, inevitably and unarguably, be unfair to unmarried couples, notwithstanding the fact that at present, a non-married couple, by filling in their tax and benefit forms separately as single people, have a financial advantage over those couples who marry. Even correcting this anomaly is felt by some to be an unacceptable attack on the notion of justice.
The contemporary definition of equality maybe a moral imperative for many, but it cannot be allowed to obscure the wisdom of the past; that is mere arrogance. Social institutions need not be consigned to the past, nor closed up in historical display cabinets: they are no worse for not being invented yesterday. Methods of production maybe easily superseded as new ones take their place, but methods of sustaining a community are not so lightly set aside.
We must be clear that political parties have every right and duty to support marriage as an institution and, when this is appropriate, to offer it practical support in the form of tax allowances. Government has a responsibility for all vulnerable persons, and for children in particular. It is an entirely reasonable duty and policy to support the institution which best takes care of children (at considerable financial saving to the government and the rest of society).
Furthermore, the Church of England, which shares with government the guardianship of the institution of marriage, has every right and duty to support such moves to give help where it will prove valuable. Fanciful notions of secularism are irrelevant: the guardianship of the institution has been a matter of history, and the support for marriage has been for its own sake, not for any ulterior religious motivation.
Cries that such help for married couples is unfair are simply misconceived. No judgement is being made about the worth as individuals of those who marry, nor is any discrimination being effected against those who are not married, any more than the age tax allowance discriminates against the young.
Support for an institution that will best care for and nurture our children is for the benefit of all in society, and therefore an entirely worthy aspiration for any political party. No one need apologize for saying so, nor fear the accusation of unfairness. There may or there may not be sound economic and political reasons for re-introducing the married couples tax allowance, but it should be properly discussed.
There has been some evidence in the pages of New Directions, though not as much as we would have wished, but it is clear that a range of important and interesting ideas will emerge from the Forward in Faith College of Deans Working Parties this coming autumn. Whatever structural solution is proposed, so as to allow the majority to pursue the innovation of women bishops, it is clear that there will have to be, for those who remain faithful to the tradition, radically different ways of living the Gospel within the Church of England.
The challenge ahead of us is far greater than we have yet imagined, at least in our shared and public understanding. We have not yet, as a constituency, fully grasped the implications of remaining faithful to the tradition received. It will be immensely demanding and challenging, and many will fall by the wayside, if Jesus’ warnings in Scripture are to be believed.
It is ironic that when the rest of the Church of England seems almost to have lost interest in the need for women bishops – one half suspects that had Synod not begun the process even Watch and Affirming Catholicism would have shifted it to a back burner – it is up to us to imagine what the future might look like, without the comfort of the established church.
Many of the ideas which emerge from these working parties in the autumn will be unwelcome to many, but let us agree that they should be seriously considered, and the implications equally seriously discussed. If the rest of the Church of England, not to mention the Anglican Communion, is tearing itself apart, it is unlikely that we ourselves will have a quiet and peaceful ride.