Paul Griffin reflects upon the mutable nature of most kinds of human love
I love the Church of England,’ says someone. Me too. I also love my wife, my dog, Mozart, Gilbert and Sullivan, fishing, reading. Importantly, I do my best to love God – intellectually easy, but emotionally often hard.
It is our love of the Church of England that occupies our thoughts at present. It is one of those loves like marriage and entering an enclosed order which are signified in special ceremonies; in this case, baptism and confirmation. They are lifetime promises to the Church of England, some would say, as part of the Church Universal. People do become divorced or jump over the convent wall, without losing their faith, which brings us to admit that dire circumstances may alter cases, and that true commitment is more than ceremony. Yet others who love their own sex reject this and positively demand a ceremony to signify their firm intention. It is all confused and confusing, and raises the question of what on earth is firm and lasting, and what is not.
There is no ceremony when you acquire a dog, though many of us feel it is a firm commitment. Then again, every human being is a mass of loves of one sort or other, and it is inevitable that some loves may eventually be irreconcilable. We do not come back from our honeymoon, and kick the dog off the hearthrug with the remark: ‘Get out, you brute: I don’t need you any more.’ On the other hand, if our new bride has an allergy to dogs, I presume that alters matters, certainly more permanently than if our dog has an allergy to brides.
Certain things are genuinely immutable: you cannot choose a new mother, or decide to get your oxygen from water; but most loves are mutable. I may tell myself I will never leave my wife, or cease to love Handel’s Messiah; but the fact is that people not unlike ourselves do leave their wives and tire of works of art that seemed inexhaustible. The astonishing thought may even sometimes, if rarely, come to wives or husbands that truly to love their partners might actually involve leaving them.
Under present circumstances, this is among the thoughts that come to us. Without those who cannot accept female priests and bishops, there must be every chance that a Church of England can thrive and remain. Is it our duty to stand aside and permit this to happen, for the general good?
So far, we have insisted that the general good must be that of the whole Church on earth, and that schism can never serve that end. But is it not true that whatever lip service they may pay to ecumenism, the majority of members of the present Church of England are not at any time in the near future going to consent to give the arguments of Rome and Constantinople a fair hearing? That an attempt to reverse their present liberal course could only produce a vast and totally unhelpful reaction?
This may sound like an argument for cowardice, running away. Even so, we have to ask whether a denomination settled in its general mind is in a better position to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I cannot answer this, or any other of the main questions, but we need to lay them out and not dodge them.
Our big problem of what to do next is not one for the majority of the Church of England, unless of course they choose to make it their concern. Our hopes that they would so choose have been considerably dampened. When a marriage faces irretrievable breakdown, the question before the departing person will inevitably be: ‘Where and with whom am I to live?’ The difficulty of answering that question cannot be allowed to have any significant bearing on the original difficulty.
Love is of God, to whom we owe our one immutable loyalty. He waits somewhere in these complexities, and it is in them that we must find him.