Nicholas Turner was disturbed by Stephen Keeble’s article and continues to support the Bishops of The Society
I share with Stephen Keeble his desire for clear teaching on `marriage and sexuality’ [ND May], but am worried by his own confusions. He ended his article with this rhetorical flourish, ‘What now the future of the Society/Forward in Faith? Facilitated convergence with Affirming Catholicism?’
What an unfortunate irony? Affirming Catholicism began as a small group of liberal theologians grouped around Rowan Williams, Jeffrey John, Richard Holloway. It has never achieved wide support among the laity. But big gains among male clergy came in the mid-Nineties thanks to FiF’s perceived homophobia.
As one who was working in Greater London at that time, I believe that FiF all but created AC as an significant grouping, by its failure to give any clear support to gay clergy. It is not so much that it said anything wrong; rather, it allowed an impression to be shared (through the pages of ND, for example) that it agreed with the much harder line of the conservative evangelicals.
I truly believe that Fir’s implicit (unintentional?) homophobia alienated many priests who might otherwise have stayed faithful to the tradition in those uncertain years. I fear that Fr Keeble’s article may only repeat that process.
The Society’s bishops’ statement, which he so objects to, gave clear support to the Scriptures and tradition of the Church’ and upheld The Christian doctrine of marriage as set out in the liturgy and canons of the Church of England: As a brief, holding statement, what else should it have said?
Fr Keeble’s long quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church was both provocative and disingenuous. Provocative, because it introduced an apparent condemnation of homosexual activity that has no direct relevance to the current debates about marriage and blessings. Disingenuous, because it implicitly confused two very different approaches to moral theology.
The Catholic Catechism is a logically constructed complete whole (as those who entered the Ordinariate were required to acknowledge). The part he cited cannot be understood without proper reference to other aspects of Catholic sexual teaching. The Church of England’s moral theology is easier to quote from, being based on the Anglo-Saxon empirical model. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but to quote from the former as though it were like the latter was simply wrong; it was certainly deceiving, being unfair both to the Catholic Church and to sexually active homosexuals.
Our real concern
The Pilling Report on human sexuality needs to be studied, and this will take time. How far that study should extend, I am not sure. I accept that liberals are obsessed with sex, and much of value has come from that, but I am not sure the rest of us have to be. Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m old, but what people do under the duvet, whether they be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or heterosexual, is of no real interest; it is certainly not a top concern.
Our real concern should be for Holy Matrimony, in full accord with Canon B 30. A proper church wedding is a wonderful evangelistic tool. As a means of bringing non-churched young p eople to the Gospel, it is more valuable than almost anything else; and this is because of, not despite, its weight, tradition and seriousness. In this regard, yes, there is a huge difference between ourselves and the liberals.
So let us continue to insist on the traditional understanding and importance of matrimony. And then, at the same time, let us be generous to any same-sex couples, clergy or laity, who wish to avail themselves of what the state now offers. No, it is not ‘real marriage (even the Marriage Act acknowledges that!) but, if you can remember only a decade ago, it looks remarkably like what the Christian peers were asking for when civil partnerships were first debated in the Lords.
I hope that our bishops will continue to uphold Scripture, tradition and marriage, as they have declared they will. I also hope that, carefully and irenically, they will allow, and support, clergy same-sex couples to enter an equal civil marriage (note: this is not the ‘same-sex marriage’ referred to in the rather confusing House of Bishops’ Statement).
Why does this matter? Because the so-called gay issue is a totem of our time. Do nothing, and it will be presumed that our support for the Christian understanding of marriage means we are anti-gay. Why does this matter to me? Because the Anglo-Catholic tradition relied, and still relies, on a disproportionate number of gay priests (practising or non-practising? not interested). I would not be who I am without the commitment and sacrifice of gay colleagues. They deserve full support if and when they wish to take up their rights under law. Full support.
An honourable position
Being anti-gay does absolutely nothing to support the traditional Christian understanding of marriage. If liberals are (I exaggerate a little) pro-gay and anti-matrimony; if conservative evangelicals are anti-gay and pro-matrimony; why cannot we, as Anglo-Catholics, be pro-gay and pro-matrimony? To me, this is the most honourable Christian position.