See you in court

Ed Tomlinson on fashion, finance and fidelity

What is the most unfashionable thing in Britain today? Lionel Blair’s flared trousers? Frizzy perms and shellsuits? Sandals and socks combined? All might occupy space on the leader board of passé things. Now, lamentably, we can add the Christian state of holy matrimony, and, as of this month, the legal status of pre-nuptial contracts. A biretta tip to +Edwin for drawing our attention to this on his blog this month.

One can see why pre-nuptials are proving popular in our ‘me first’ society. The insidious rise of litigation means gold diggers can amass fortunes simply by marrying and divorcing a spouse. Consider the millions granted to Heather Mills who, in fairness, contributed nothing to the Beatles’ legacy. Clearly Paul McCartney had a duty to care for her, but was she deserving of such fortune? And yet nobody forced Sir Paul to say ‘all that I have I give to you’. Well the debate is academic in future because the pre- nuptial contract ensures such vows can be made lightly. Marriage has been weakened once again.

Once marriages were widely viewed as sacramental lifelong unions, summed up by the words ‘for better or worse until death us do part’. Not anymore. Today’s society encourages a contractual arrangement that can be broken off should one party feel individual needs are not met. We might expect the church to take a stand and defend the biblical model of faithfulness, but, if our eyes look to the Anglican church, we will be disappointed. For within just half a century the Church of England has softened its stance on divorce to the point of incredulity.

Why does Common Worship bother to retain the lifelong aspects of marital vows when almost every parish casually re-marries in church? Where are the stringent marriage preparations demanding couples embrace the requirements of our faith and fully understand the sacramental concept of marriage? Where is the Anglican demand for annulment or sacramental confession? The church wedding seems to have become a cash industry, with little to separate those unions crafted before the altar from those made before civil registrar.

And, as of this year, the House of Bishops moved to allow divorcees to be consecrated as bishops. (Hardly surprising within a communion that ordains active homosexuals thus tacitly accepting sex outside marriage – but shocking nonetheless.)

Put all of this together and we come to an unavoidable and tragic conclusion. The Church of England has colluded with the secular state in cheapening holy matrimony. The effect has been devastating on society blighting the lives of countless children. Where dedication to lifelong matrimony once made them a priority they now play second fiddle as adults champion their right to sex, novelty and escape from commitment. How many children from balanced, loving and Christian homes go on to a life of crime and destitution? How many from broken and abusive homes go on to thrive in accordance with God’s will? Clearly exceptions exist but none can deny the premise.

And if society has been eroded by the abandonment of marriage it is nothing compared to the damage caused to faith. For Christianity is a faith founded on the family and holy matrimony runs like a river through scripture. Creation begins with man and woman formed together within a union springing from the Godhead itself. After the fall God is likened to a faithful husband whose people behave like a promiscuous spouse. Then, as old covenant gives way to new, Christ the Groom recalls his bride, the church. Revelation ends with a wonderful marriage in heaven! God is reconciled to man! At last we who believe can submit, be impregnated by his living word and give birth to fruits of the Spirit. The marital bond of husband and wife reflects the eternal union of God and man. A vision largely lost on those whose own experience of marriage is now thin and incomplete.

For how can we possibly understand sacramental marriage, chaste and life long, within an over sexualised culture of death? Sex has been divorced from procreation. It has become mere commodity, selling magazines, filling television screens, giving rise to a multi-billion pound sex industry but, in the process, losing all meaning. How much sex there is in modern society but how little self-giving intimacy. People are largely ignorant of what sex is and what it is for and even where marriages hold together couples have no idea concerning God’s purpose for their sexual lives.

I began by asking what Britain’s most unfashionable thing might be. I suggest it is not marriage so much as chastity. A virtue which died when the sexual revolution began. Suggest Cardinal Newman’s friendship was chaste and modern minds scoff. Argue that a celibate priesthood is a blessing to the church and expect accusations of ‘repression’ and ‘weirdness’ -as if to live without sex is a debilitating thing. What a long way from Christian truth we have drifted.

As we ponder our future as AngloCatholics we would do well to look beyond the single issue of women bishops. Blocking their arrival might please those forming new societies but, in truth, the problems within our church go much deeper and much wider. Do we want to reside in a church that panders to our godless society and colludes in the breakdown of the family and the rise of the individual? Or will we embrace the catechism of the Catholic church and stand with those who still live out the orthodox faith in accordance with biblical standards? Ambiguity or clarity? The choice is yours. ND