David Clues on the range of views emerging in the CofE in the continuing debate on marriage and civil partnership

The bandwagon is rolling. Along the intended path of the government’s drive to equalize contracts between consenting adults (heretofore known as ‘marriage’ and ‘civil partnership’), the factions are ranging. One or two have broken cover in an attempt to slow the bandwagon’s momentum. Others, ostensibly from the same organization (heretofore known as ‘church’), have just as petulantly jumped on board to gee up the horses. Canon Angela Tilby, in a recent Thought for the Day, urged us to remember the significance of the matter of a sacrament – well, there’s an area we haven’t touched on before!

Petition to General Synod

A petition of 100 or so clergy in the Diocese of London – all legends in their own looking-glass – called upon the General Synod to leave aside tinkering with the ‘wholly-irrelevantto-real-people’ business of who can wear frocks and instead focus on the pressing need for blessing couples where neither or both might wear the trousers.

The Bishop of London fee-fi-fofummed in response, urging none to be distracted from the Church’s primary mission – though such counsel should have been applied to any and all of the General Synod’s agenda. The Archbishop of York with customary restraint and delicacy, whilst holding back from shedding an article of clothing, suggested that the Prime Minister might not have been acting in an altogether consensual or democratic way. And leaving to one side for now the contributions of Aunty’s Cardinal (‘grotesque’) and Archbishop (‘disappointed’), it must be serious ’cos Lord Carey (sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, for the benefit of readers), in a uncharacteristic example of outsidethe-tent activity, has declared himself ‘baffled’. (Resist, dear reader, resist.)

Yet there are others of a different point of view. The new boys – boys for the time being only of course – in the big jobs of the Church of England have been prepared to contradict the old guard. The Bishop of Salisbury with ‘fresh vision’, which he tells us helpfully is about getting us to see what he sees, wants everyone to feel the love. The new Dean of St Paul’s, within hours of the announcement of his appointment, pitched a rainbow tent right on the Bishop of London’s doorstep, so recently swept of malcontent chapter members. ‘Ah, the blood of another Englishman…’

It all adds up to a frothy time ahead.

Not since a former Canon Chancellor lasso-ed himself and the Dean with a guy-rope on the steps of St Paul’s has there been such an opportunity for the Church of England to self-harm. The conflict between Parliament and National Church has been rumbling for some time. Ironically, on this issue, both sides have been headed in the same direction, but not necessarily with the same self-awareness – the government in an uncharacteristically straight-talking (forgiving the pun) manifesto pledge and detoxification-of-the-Tory-brand-with-the-help-of-the-Lib-Dems kind of way; the CofE in a disingenuous chronic destructivist kind of way, like the nibbling of bedbugs on the snuggled toes of sleeping traditionalists.

More squabbling

If the government were inclined to listen to the Church of England’s contradictory ramblings, should it listen to heavyweights who have already proved troublesome on the red benches in fighting to keep clergy stipends well below welfare benefits, or should it listen to a fresh crop of vision-errors (being the collective noun for the latest Anglican bantamweights)? Mr Speaker’s Chaplain is sure to know what to do and, no doubt on Today, will tell people where to go. Ms Featherstone, the minister responsible, has no need of vestigial old men in chimeres in the House of Lords to carry her legislative will, so the Church of England will spit and ramble toothlessly to itself in yet another bitter and acrimonious matron-baiting squabble over the Garibaldis.

Get ready for T-shirts, aprons and umbrellas being paraded in Dean’s Yard – ‘Knotting the knot will not do’ or A‘ couple’s place is in the town hall’.

End the charade

There really is only one way forward, that is to accept the will of the Parliament (as being the will of Parliament and nothing else), but to relinquish rights to rites. In other words, the time is come to end the anachronistic charade of clergy masquerading as registrars. Let the people come, if they wish, to solemnize their nuptials in the presence of God and his Church, but not before they have first visited a bureaucrat in a disagreeable and ill-appointed suite of offices to register their contractual arrangement. Thus the Church of England will at least be spared the need to froth, fret and flagellate itself as to the distinction between law and grace, convention and sacrament. Couples of whatever gender and permutation (nature is so restrictive in providing so few, but be sure the government can legislate to change that), having signed on the line elsewhere, need present no risk to the pusillanimous parson, who would prefer theological anarchy rather than be arraigned before the European Court of Human Rights because of subscribing to some absurdly outdated religious principle. God forbid. ND