The Bishop of Oxford made the news recently, making clear his views on same sex marriage had changed and he was now advocating that the Church of England embrace this practice. He apologised for causing distress and pain to LGBTQ+ people.
This evolution of views is presented as an act of contrition, compassion, love and understanding. But in truth it is none of these things. Rather, it is betrayal and deceit. Strong words. To understand why this is so requires a little background.
The traditional position of the Church on matters of sexual morality is, and has been for millennia, that the best functioning of society and families can be found in the joining together of one man and one woman in marriage – forming the stable core to raise children and contribute to a healthy society.
The Church of England’s current position could most charitably said to be somewhat muddy. We jettisoned the historical position decades ago, tacitly approving adultery and fornication under the guise of pastoral care. Approval of same sex marriage is just the latest in misguided compassion. Come as you are, stay as you are, it’s all good. Only it isn’t all good. And we know that really. A Jesus who comes to pat us on the head and mouth gentle platitudes is no Christ at all. If we have no need of saving, we have no need of a saviour.
Rather than the comfort of a false cocoon, we need to be faced with the reality that our unredeemed nature is inherently disordered. Just because we want something, feel something, desire something, ‘are’ something – doesn’t make it good. And that is often so hard to see. Especially when our whole identity – the very essence of ‘who we are’ gets wrapped up in our inherent disorder. Then any challenge, however gentle, becomes an attack on our very selves. We are diminished and turned in on ourselves, and we can’t see it. We are called to be so much more.
A Christian sexual ethic isn’t restrictive, old fashioned, bigoted – though all these epithets and more will be thrown at the Church. Rather it is compassion – true compassion – not the cheap sort that leaves you as you are. Genuine compassion is the love of a friend to challenge the path we are on and point us in a new Way. Whether or not we accept it is then up to us.
So, back to betrayal and deceit. Why so?
It is a betrayal of those who are same sex attracted and for years have endeavoured to live according to the Christian sexual ethic. Who have denied themselves, so that they might follow Christ. It says to us, well, all your sacrifices were completely pointless. Because we have discovered a new truth which just so happens to conform to the spirit of the age. It is not wrong, or hyperbole, to call this a betrayal.
It is a deceit to leave people where they are, and say everything is good. It is the false compassion of cheering on, celebrating and comforting someone whose path leads to the edge of a cliff. It is the deceit of the snake, whispering in our ears the message that we want to hear: “did God really say….?”
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12 v2
The Church isn’t called to bless whatever society is doing right now. We’re not called to be popular or liked. Rather Jesus said we will be hated because of Him.
We’re called to be salt, to be light. Which means being different. If the salt loses it’s savour, what then is it good for? This is a question the Church of England will have to answer in the months ahead. The writing is on the wall.